Monday, January 25, 2016

On the Use of "Arminian" as a Label

It has come to my attention that a couple of individuals have taken umbrage at my use of the word "Arminian" in my Pointless Prayer post. Since I do not wish to inflict unnecessary distress upon anyone, I want to take a minute to explain why I use the term the way that I do.

First, I am well aware there is a group of Internet Arminians who it seems treat themselves as the official guardians of what is or is not Arminianism. This group is called SEA, short for the Society of Evangelical Arminians. Most of these Arminians have blogs, and many of them are people I've interacted with in the past, especially through posts on Triablogue. In general, this group of Arminians are those who follow closer to what Arminius taught, and thus the moniker of "Classical Arminian" can be applied to them--and indeed when I am dealing with their members, that is what I call the group.

But the fact of the matter is that the Classical Arminians of SEA are a minority of those who claim the label Arminian today. To put it bluntly, I would doubt that even 10% of people who claim to be Arminian have ever once read a single word of Arminius. In contrast, while there is probably a huge minority of Calvinists who have never read a word of Calvin, most Calvinists--especially converts from Arminianism to Calvinism--read at least part of The Institutes, and thus have read something of Calvin. But since Arminianism is the default mode of theology taught in the majority of churches in America today, most American Christians are Arminian by default.

Now, I have no real scientific numbers to back up anything, but my impression is that probably 95% of Arminians in America fit that description of being Arminian by church tradition instead of through reading of Arminian works or understanding Arminian theology. This is why people claiming to be Arminian encompass such a wide range of people: from Randal Rauser and Roger Olson on one hand to Billy Graham on the other; from John Wesley to Frank Page. For that matter, Arminians can't even decide whether someone can lose their salvation or if eternal security is true.

But even if my numbers are off, it's still pretty obvious that the vast majority of Arminians today do not represent the actual beliefs of Arminius himself. I made this very point once to Billy Birch on his Classical Arminian blog: there's a reason that Birch has to differentiate himself by adding the word "Classical" to the label, and that's because the vast majority of people currently taking the label do not fit.

Think about that for a minute. If most Arminians held to the faith of Arminius, there wouldn't be a need for "Classical" to be associated with it. It is only when the majority have moved away from those beliefs that "Classical" even has any meaning. We see that in the political realm when we see that a classical liberal--someone in the vein of Thomas Jefferson, for example--is 180 degrees apart from what a modern liberal is.

Now it obviously is no fun for the person who is holding onto the classical view. In the political realm, it is quite apparent that the classical liberal is the one who actually holds to the concepts found in the term "liberal"--from liberty meaning freedom; our modern liberal movement is 100% straight up statist, and exactly what classical liberalism opposed. Yet if I wrote a blog post lampooning liberalism, a classical liberal ought to be smart enough to refrain from saying, "What you're attacking isn't liberalism, because liberalism is really what Thomas Jefferson believed." That's true as far as it goes, which won't even get you off the front lawn when 99% of people understand liberalism in the modern day usage.

Likewise, when dealing with Arminians, it does no good to say, "That's not what Arminius taught" or "Why don't you deal with Classical Arminians?" When 95% of those taking the label "Arminian" are really just anti-Calvinist, then the label fits. If Classical Arminians don't like that, they should clean their own house; it's not incumbent upon me to do that work for them.

Which reminds me. Lemme take a look at the SEA website and look at all the posts where they correct Arminians and show them that Arminius didn't say what they said.

Oh wait. You're telling me that SEA's blog is just a stream of anti-Calvinist thought, and they are likely to quote an open theist or other non-Classical Arminian without refuting the non-Classical Arminian aspects of their theology, so long as they are attacking Calvinism? Hmm. Maybe this Classical Arminianism label is just a distinction without a difference after all.

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