Don't Hate Me Because I'm Arminian
During the great awakenings of the eighteenth century, John Wesley and George Whitefield stopped cooperating with one another due to differing beliefs about predestination. And though they eventually made up, their disagreement has lived on in American evangelicals' waxing and waning debates about God's sovereignty and the doctrines of election and free will.
Despite this history, the postWorld War II evangelical coalition in North America has held Calvinist and Arminian believers together within one great movement. At least as many member churches of the National Association of Evangelicals are Arminian in theological orientation as Reformed.
But now signs of great stress within the coalition are appearing, including a new stridency and aggressiveness on the part of theologians in some more conservative Reformed circles. As a lifelong Arminian as well as an evangelical, and as one who cares deeply about the unity of the evangelical community, I find this very distressing.
Some of these theologians think that evangelicalism faces a crisis that centers on the issue of predestination. "Can Christians who deny unconditional election and irresistible grace be authentically evangelical?" they ask. Michael Horton, professor at Westminster Theological Seminary in California, argues in Modern Reformation magazine that "evangelical Arminian" is not an option but an oxymoron. "An evangelical," he writes, "cannot be an Arminian any more than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic." Even the great Arminian revivalist John Wesley is suspected of defective evangelical faith by Horton and some of his colleagues in two organizations, Christians United for Reformation (CURE) and the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (ACE). These and other contemporary evangelical movements seek to revive and enthrone monergism—belief in God's sole and sovereign activity in salvation—as crucial to authentic evangelicalism.
In recent years, a spate of books and articles edited and authored by leading Reformed evangelical scholars (like R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries) has raised questions about the validity of the evangelical credentials of any and all Arminians—Protestants who deny unconditional election and affirm resistible grace. ACE composed the "Cambridge Declaration," which criticized, among other alleged aberrations among evangelicals, the belief that human beings can cooperate with the regenerating grace of God.
I hope for a new detente between those of us who believe in the soul's ability to cooperate with regenerating grace (Arminians) and those evangelicals who believe that regenerating grace must precede even repentance and faith (Calvinists).
When I started seminary I was a Pentecostal preacher's boy bent on becoming a theologically educated pulpit-pounder. I graduated a post-Pentecostal, broadly evangelical theological scholar "wanna be." While in seminary I discovered that one could be Spirit-filled and also intellectually serious, open to diverse viewpoints within the broader evangelical heritage, and even theologically Re formed! That revelation came to me through the lives and teaching of professors such as Ralph Powell, Al Glenn, Sam Mikolaski, and James Montgomery Boice. Magazines such as Eternity and Christianity Today helped to transform my previously more narrow idea of authentic "full gospel" evangelical Christianity. But through it all, and in spite of serious wrestling with its problems, I held onto the Arminianism of my Holiness-Pentecostal heritage.