5 Stars Out Of 5
Book Review: "Classical Arminianism"
May 17, 2011
By Christopher Talbot
The distinguished British evangelical John Stott once said, "Theology is a serious quest for the true knowledge of God, undertaken in response to His self-revelation, illumined by Christian tradition, manifesting a rational inner coherence, issuing in ethical conduct, resonating with the contemporary world and concerned for the greater glory of God" . If one seeks to understand God through His revealed word, the Bible, then theology is inevitable.
In a culture of diverse theological opinions, a biblical perspective on systematic theology is scarce to say the least. Even more rare is an academic Arminian theology, particularly since Calvinism is dominant in many evangelical seminaries in America. That is the precise reason F. Leroy Forlines' book Classical Arminianism is so important. Forlines has been on the frontlines of a growing movement, of which many are calling "Reformed Arminianism" . The reason for this is found in his balanced treatment of biblical texts, leading to well-reasoned arguments on the nature of salvation and God.
The Purpose and Summary of the Book
Classical Arminianism is largely a revised volume of the soteriological material found in Forlines' systematic theology, The Quest for Truth. J. Matthew Pinson, President of Free Will Baptist Bible College, took on the task of editing Forlines' material into a more readable and structured collection. Pinson reconstructed the material under more concise headings, and outlined the subject matter more sequentially.
As for the book, its thesis is simple: To present a soteriology that would (1) adequately represent the theology of Jacobus Arminius in his "reformed views"; and (2) systematically explain a biblical theology of salvation. Forlines accomplishes this goal with sound logic and diligence. He surveys a wide host of scholars, even citing those who generally oppose his viewpoints (e.g., Theisen, Hendriksen, and others). In so doing, he gives a fair evaluation to their theological statements, but logically reasons to reaffirm his own thesis. For example, he emphasizes the importance of fair scholastic evaluation even in dealing with the view of apostasy: "A well-formulated doctrine of security requires much careful thought and study. The same is true if we are going to understand the other person" .
Forlines begins his first chapter of Classical Arminianism by stating, "The psalmist asks one of the most important questions ever to be raised by a human being in Psalm 8:4 Ã¢â¬ËWhat is man, that you are mindful of him?' The answer to this question is not simply an exercise in mental curiosity by those seated at the intellectual round table. Our whole being cries out for an answer" . By bringing to light the greatest question concerning one's humanity, Forlines lays a beautiful foundation for the rest of his book.
The organization of the book is simple. It is separated into ten chapters. The book begins by discussing human nature, total human depravity, and the effects thereof on the concept of the imago dei. In dealing with this principle of depravity and human free will, one of the greatest misconceptions of Classical Arminianism arises, which is, that Classical Arminianism is in some way semi-pelagian. Forlines asserts this is a complete fallacy. He writes, "Most interpreters have assumed that Arminius was a semi-pelagian, thus espousing a view of freedom of the will that Ã¢â¬Ëmakes individuals totally able to choose God or spurn Him.' Yet_ Arminius holds that human beings have no freedom to do anything good in God's sight" .
After discussing depravity and human personhood, the book continues by examining the doctrine of election in Chapters 2-5. Chapter 2 explains the theology behind election, while Chapters 3 and 4 evaluate major proof texts, giving extensive attention to Romans 9. Forlines uses Chapter 5 to present an argument for conditional election.
The book proceeds in Chapter 6 to discuss a theology for the nature of atonement and justification, explaining the interrelation between the two. Within this chapter Forlines draws a distinct dichotomy between Classical Arminianism and Wesleyan Arminianism, discussing in particular the differences in their doctrines and theologies. Forlines provides an invaluable tool in doing so. He is careful to contrast his views with those of Hugo Grotius, Charles Finney, and John Miley, among many others. He allocates ample time in making the much-needed distinction between the substitutionary view of atonement of Classical Arminianism and the governmental view of atonement of popular Wesleyan Arminianism. Forlines carefully explains these differences, not only with the doctrine of atonement, but also with many other doctrines related to soteriology.
Systematically, Forlines then conducts an explanation on the condition for salvation in the believer in Chapter 7, followed by a study on sanctification in Chapter 8. Logically, he concludes Chapters 9 and 10 by contrasting the perseverance of the saints, with biblical views on apostasy.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Strengths and weaknesses are often dependent upon the preference of the reader. What one reader may view as a nuisance, another may appreciate as a helpful tool. Such is the case with Classical Arminianism. There are many times throughout the book that Forlines is quite "thorough" on a specific subject, giving that concept multiple pages and excessive evaluation. For example, Forlines spends an entire chapter just on Romans 9, and how it relates to election. More specifically than election, he also spends a vast amount of time on the soteriology of the Jewish nation. Part of this is due to the context of Romans 9. Another aspect of this is Forlines' writing style. He is very diligent to be exhaustive when dealing with important issues. This can become redundant for more knowledgeable readers, while being very helpful to new students of academic theology. One is forced to appreciate Forlines' dedication to truth and fairness to the material at hand.
Countering that point, Forlines could have covered a few subjects more extensively. These are few and far between, but nonetheless they are present. Two areas in particular would have benefited greatly from more discussion. The first area is definitions (e.g. mind, heart, will, traducian view, and creationist view)  and the second area is the lesser-known proof texts for election (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:6; Heb. 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:17) . In other words, certain sections could have used more explanation in reference to a point(s) made.
One helpful aspect of this book is its "self-awareness." There are multiple times throughout the book in which Forlines refers to other chapters or sections of the book for a better understanding on the subject at hand. This makes the volume an extremely helpful reference tool. In looking for information on a specific doctrine, the book itself will direct you to other areas within it that may be helpful for understanding. Reading along and being directed back or forth to know more about a certain doctrine is very helpful in understanding this systematic theology.
Who Is This Book For?
It should first be noted that Forlines writes his books in a way that any student of the Word may read and understand. In a logical pattern, he explains challenging theological truths in a way that any eager person could comprehend. With that said, Forlines does deal with some considerable theological content in this book. With thick theological matter spanning across 357 pages it may become weary for a layman or novice to work their way through this volume. It seems that this specific work of theology is directed to one of the following: the intellectually-curious pastor, the seminary student, or the seasoned theologian. As stated above, Forlines writes in a way that a diverse audience can understand. A young amateur theologian can understand these concepts, while a more advanced scholar can also evaluate Forlines' more weighty arguments.
Should I Read It?
If you are looking for a brief survey of Arminianism, this book is certainly not for you. On the other hand, if you are interested in having an extensive theological understanding of salvation from an Arminian perspective, not only is this book for you, it is one of a very few books for you. Seldom is Classical Arminianism explained so thoroughly, which makes this book a high commodity. For this reason alone, any avid student of theology should read this book. Both Calvinists and Arminians alike should weigh the theological arguments for themselves. Forlines' Classical Arminianism is a pivotal tool in the ongoing discussion of the ways of God in salvation.
 John R.W. Stott, "Theology: A Multidimensional Discipline" in Donald Lewis and Alister McGrath (eds.), Doing Theology for the People of God: Studies in Honour of J.I. Packer (Leicester: Apollos, 1996) 17,18
 F. Leroy Forlines, J. Matthew Pinson (ed.), Classical Arminianism (Nashville, Tennessee: Randall House, 2011), iv.
 Forlines, 356.
 Ibid., 1.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 5-6, 14-15.
 Ibid., 175, 191.
About the Author: Christopher Talbot is currently a student at Free Will Baptist Bible College, where he is studying theology and ministry. Originally a native of Tecumseh, Michigan, he now lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Apart from his studies he works full-time as an Enrollment Counselor at FWBBC. His academic interests include literature, ecclesiology, and hermeneutics.
Book Review originally posted on www.helwyssocietyforum.com