The Nature Of Atonement In The Theology Of Jacobus Arminius -- By: J. Matthew Pinson

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 53:4 (Dec 2010)
Article: The Nature Of Atonement In The Theology Of Jacobus Arminius
Author: J. Matthew Pinson


The Nature Of Atonement In The Theology Of Jacobus Arminius

J. Matthew Pinson

J. Matthew Pinson is president of Free Will Baptist Bible College, 3606 West End Avenue, Nashville, TN 37205.

Jacobus Arminius is one of the best known and least studied theologians in the history of Christianity. His writings have been neglected by Calvinists and Arminians alike. Calvinists have disliked him because of his opposition to scholastic predestinarian theology. Most Arminians have neglected him because what little they have read of him reminds them more of Calvinism than they like. Arminius scholar Carl Bangs is correct when he says that most modern treatments of Arminius assume a definition of Arminianism that does not come from Arminius. Bangs states that most interpreters of Arminianism

begin with a preconception of what Arminius should be expected to say, then look in his published works, and do not find exactly what they are looking for. They show impatience and disappointment with his Calvinism, and shift the inquiry into some later period when Arminianism turns out to be what they are looking for—a non-Calvinistic, synergistic, and perhaps semi-Pelagian system.1

This is the approach many scholars have taken toward Arminius regarding his doctrine of atonement. For example, the Calvinist scholar Robert L. Reymond has said that the Arminian theory of atonement is the governmental theory, which “denies that Christ’s death was intended to pay the penalty for sin.” He claims that the governmental theory’s “germinal teachings are in Arminius.”2 Similarly, well-known Wesleyan-Arminian scholar James K. Grider states: “A spillover from Calvinism into Arminianism has occurred in recent decades. Thus many Arminians whose theology is not very precise say that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Yet such a view is foreign to Arminianism.”3

Recent scholars have taken one of two positions on the soteriology of Jacobus Arminius. One group says that his theology was a development of the Dutch Reformed theology of his day, while the other says that it was a departure from those Reformed categories. Scholars such as Carl Bangs and

John Mark Hicks fall into the first category, while Richard Muller is a recent example of scholars who fit the second.4

This article is representative of the first perspective.5 It argues that Arminius...

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