The distinction between Reformed Arminians and Wesleyan Arminians

In Roger Olson’s helpful review of Free Will Baptist theologian Matthew Pinson’s book, Arminian and Baptist: Explorations in a Theological Tradition, the distinction between “Reformed Arminianism” and “Wesleyan Arminianism” is described very helpfully. Olson explains that

Pinson’s book is a defense of “Reformed Arminianism” which he treats as the historical theological tradition of Free Will Baptists—as opposed to other Baptists and Wesleyans/Methodists. He appeals to Arminius himself to show that the Dutch theologian was firmly rooted in traditional Reformed thought even as he broke from the then (early 17th century) growing Calvinism of Beza and his followers over unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. And he appeals to Thomas Helwys and Thomas Grantham—early General Baptists—as precursors of contemporary Reformed/Free Will Baptist Arminianism. He drives a wedge between Helwys and John Smyth, for example, portraying the latter as a defector from the classical Protestantism of the Reformers.

Pinson posits that,

 generally speaking, the Free Will Baptist tradition stuck with Augustinian-Reformed doctrines of original sin and satisfaction-substitutionary atonement and justification as imputation of Christ’s righteousness. According to him, Wesley, following certain Anglican Arminians, so amended these doctrines that his view and the majority of his followers, while still Arminian, left behind the Reformed tradition entirely.

So the upshot of Pinson’s argument is that there always has been a stream of Arminianism, going back to Arminius himself, that includes many Baptists, that is thoroughly Reformed with regard [to] original sin, human depravity, atonement and justification. This he calls “Reformed Arminianism” and he seeks to disassociate it from Wesleyan Arminianism.

I would add to the distinction the great importance of the Wesleyan doctrine of complete sanctification which I see as an innovation that does not derive from classic Arminianism.

Olson commends Pinson’s exposition of both Reformed Arminianism and the Free Will Baptist tradition, but he locates himself between Reformed and Wesleyan Arminianism, so he is much less critical of Wesleyan Arminianism than Pinson is. Olson also disagrees with Pinson in regard to open theism, and perhaps that disagreement illustrates a way in which Pinson is more Reformed in his Arminianism than Olson is. Olson thinks that Pinson is wrong to exclude open theism “from being considered truly Arminian,” and I agree with Olson, because I too have found that most evangelical open theists “wholeheartedly agree with basic Arminian soteriology.” I think that open theists are very consistent Arminians, and I agree with them that the classic Arminian doctrine of simple foreknowledge does not give God a significant advantage providentially when compared with open theism. On the other hand, Olson heartily agrees with Pinson “that ‘Molinism’ is inconsistent with the most basic impulses of Arminian theology. On this point, I am less certain of my own opinion than I used to be. Olson is very worried “about Arminians who use Molinism in a deterministic way or even open that door,” and I have been warming up to this suggestion by Olson, though I am naturally happy to see the direction of that movement, whereas it troubles Olson.

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7 Responses to The distinction between Reformed Arminians and Wesleyan Arminians

  1. Steven says:

    Molinism seems consistent with traditional Arminianism in many ways (Universal Atonement, Prevenient Grace, and Libertarian Free Will are some of the obvious and important similarities), so I’ve been thinking of it as a version of Arminianism for a long time now. I would like to see Open Theism, Wesleyan-Arminianism, Reformed Arminianism (or Classical Arminianism? those are the same thing, right?), and Molinism all focus more on the distinction between Calvinism and Arminianism and maybe not concentrate so much on debating amongst themselves. I don’t think Thomas Oden, for example, should have been so harsh on Open Theism (calling it heresy), since in many ways their view of human responsibility, God’s grace and love, and the atonement are very similar.

    Not to say that we shouldn’t distinguish between the different kinds of Arminianism that we see today.

    Something I noticed (but I may be wrong about) is that Classical Arminianism is unique in how it views apostasy. As far as I know, it is only Classical Arminians (or “undeclareds” like Scot McKnight) who, based on their reading of Hebrews 6:4-6, believe that when one “makes a shipwreck of their faith” they are certainly lost forever–with no possibility of coming back to Christ.

    So there are obviously important distinctions among all four views. I just wish they could all be seen as types of Arminianism and could therefore be considered to be “playing for the same team” in the Calvinist-Arminian debate–at least in many respects.

    • Terrance Tiessen says:

      Yes, Steven, Reformed and Classic Arminianism are the same, and most Calvinists would be reluctant to speak of Reformed Arminianism.

      I think you make a good point about the benefit of putting more emphasis on the difference between all types of Arminianism and Calvinism than between types of Arminianism. The watershed between synergism and monergism is the big divider, even if Molinism is closest to the top of the synergist side of the mountain and open theism is the furthest down the mountain on that side. But the really significant difference is between the two sides of the theological water shed, between risk and no-risk models of providence.

  2. Stan Fowler says:

    I just got back from vacation and discovered that Matt Pinson had sent me a copy of his new book, and I am looking forward to reading it. He and I have become friends at ETS, and he the Arminian and I the Calvinist agree that the common Southern Baptist attempt at a hybrid is incoherent. I think our connection is a bit like yours with Roger Olson.

  3. Matt says:

    Is the Wesleyan Arminian position the same as the traditionalist southern baptist position that Leighton Flowers and others are advocating today?

    • Terrance Tiessen says:

      Sorry, Matt, but I don’t know Leighton Flowers or the others of whom you are speaking. Perhaps someone else will read and be able to respond to your comment. As I said in my post, a very significant part of Wesley’s version of Arminianism is his perfectionist soteriology, which sets the stage for the doctrine of subsequence which Pentecostalism then takes in the direction of baptism with the Spirit. But for Wesley the subsequent stage was reaching a state of perfect love, in which one acts always out of love for God, but this is not the proposal that one ever becomes totally sinless this side of glory.

      From my somewhat limited knowledge of Southern Baptists, my hunch is that very few (if any) of them are perfectionists. Non-Calvinist SBs often deny original guilt (which Arminius did not) and they posit “eternal security,” about which Arminius was agnostic and which Wesley rejected. I gather from Roger Olson that very few Southern Baptist leaders are willing to name their theology as a form of Arminianism, but they reject the same essential Reformed doctrines (unconditional election and effectual calling), which the Arminian Remonstrants rejected.

    • Stan Fowler says:

      The view described as “the traditional Southern Baptist doctrine of salvation” is not the Wesleyan Arminian view. I don’t know Leighton Flowers, but I am familiar with the view as expressed by people like Eric Hankins, Steve Lemke, and Malcolm Yarnell. The essence of that view is that they affirm eternal security while denying the Calvinistic doctrines of election and grace. You can find it expressed in the statement called “The Traditional Southern Baptist Doctrine of Salvation,” released in May 2012, and also in a book like Whosoever Will, edited by David Allen and Steve Lemke. The view is widely held, although I have argued that it is incoherent in a paper read at ETS 2014. I don’t see how one can make sense out of eternal security without efficacious grace, and efficacious grace in history makes sense only as the outworking of a particularistic understanding of election.

  4. William Lewis says:

    Molinism is inconsitent with Arminianism because Molinism is not Arminianism.

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