Tuesday, August 05, 2014

“What you choose to be your opposite says a lot about you”

From Stephen Wolfe

The Calvinist’s chief theological opponent should not be Arminianism; it should be Roman Catholicism. The “five points” debate is an Arminian construction, and while Arminianism can be reduced to its “five points,” Calvinism cannot be reduced to such a limited set of doctrinal points. Calvinism is ultimately a comprehensive view of living in the world, just as Roman Catholicism is a comprehensive view of living in the world. Calvinism (with Roman Catholicism) is a unique orientation toward God, one’s neighbor, and creation. Arminianism is just a narrow set of doctrine fitting for analytic philosophers. When Calvinists make Arminians their chief opponent they either elevate Arminianism to something it is not or they demote Calvinism to a pathetically limited set of doctrine. The Arminians should be known for their five points, not the Calvinists.


  1. With all due respect to Wolfe, Arminianism isn't reducible to the five points of the Remonstrants. It wasn't frozen in place in the 17C. As a theological tradition, Arminianism has undergone a lot of internal development over the centuries.

    To the extent, moreover, that Arminianism defines itself in opposition to Calvinism, it's a useful foil for Calvinists. We use Arminianism as a reference point to expound and defend Calvinism. Of course, we should also oppose Catholicism.

    1. Steve, this was a piece that I found on Facebook that appealed to me a lot. It is not a "down-in-the-weeds" analysis of Arminianism. And I think, from a Facebook level, it describes Arminianism in very clear terms.

      I don't disagree with anything you've said here. But the way Arminianism has developed, and the way it is presented today, en-masse, you'd think it is reducible to the five points. And huge swaths of Reformed thinking are ignored, while the popular writers put up a caricature of God and focus on the all-important "free will of man". I do think the remedy for this is a deeper study of the Doctrine of God.

      However, I did see Stephen's statement as one of broad-based strategy. And this is true: "When Calvinists make Arminians their chief opponent they either elevate Arminianism to something it is not or they demote Calvinism to a pathetically limited set of doctrine".

      I have always perceived that Rome was the 800 lb gorilla sitting around virtually every discussion of Christians among themselves -- imposing their smiley-faced pope on everyone, with the happy declaration "we're not so different from you". With a common heritage in the Reformation, Calvinists and Arminians do have more in common than either of them has with Rome. And then there are the broad-based evangelicals who haven't even begun exploring that question.

      The question is, where is the best place where Reformed believers should place their admittedly limited resources? What should be the "chief" theological opponent?

      Even though many believers become enmeshed in Reformed/Arminian struggles, and some do so profitably, I think the greater struggle is vs Rome. Arminians don't want to swallow up all of Christianity, but Rome does. Arminians don't claim to be the "default position", but Rome does (and even someone like Carl Trueman, who ought to know better, has been snookered into offering that position to Reformed Seminarians).

      Considering limited resources, and looking at a world where Reformed Christians have many enemies, I think a case can be made that Islam is #1. But they are not yet a part of our culture. Rome suffuses our culture. It is everywhere around us. It seems to me to be the obvious first choice, and I happily re-posted this, with the understanding that it's a suggestion worth considering.