What's wrong with Arminianism? Arminian theology is sweeping through the evangelical churches of North America. While most Arminians are good, sincere, orthodox Christians, authors Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams contend that aspects of Arminian thought are troubling both biblically and theologically. In particular, they argue, Arminians have too lofty a view of human nature and an inadequate understanding of God's sovereign love in Christ. Why I Am Not an Arminian explores the biblical, theological and historical background to the Calvinist-Arminian debate. The irenic nature and keen insight of this book will be appreciated by laypeople, pastors and scholars alike.
Robert A. Peterson (Ph.D., Drew University) is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He was formerly professor of New Testament and theology at Biblical Theological Seminary in Hatfield, Pennsylvania. His books include (all Presbyterian & Reformed) and (coedited with Chris Morgan, Zondervan). He has written numerous articles, was a contributor to the second edition of the (Baker) and edits Covenant Seminary's journal,
Williams is professor of systematic theology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.
In their book, Why I am not an Arminian, Peterson and Williams attempt to provide a defense of Dortian Calvinism by questioning the basic tenets of Arminian theology. Their study uses a two-pronged approach, sometimes discussing the controversy in the context of history, while at other times approaching the discussion on a topical basis.
The authors are aware of the pitfalls of writing a book with a polemical approach. They have seen, with concern, poorly written polemics on both sides of the Calvinist / Arminian debate. In their attempt to not repeat past errors, they do a passable job.
The book begins with a historical study of the early church controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. Calvinism, they argue, is grounded firmly in Augustine. Many have argued that Arminianism is Pelagianism reborn. Peterson and Williams argue that though there are similarities, reducing Arminianism to Pelagianism is an extreme oversimplification. In the end, they argue, Arminianism is similar to the semi-Augustinian view that prevailed at the Synod of Orange.
The book then moves to a discussion of the topics of predestination and perseverance. The approach of these chapters and those topical chapters that follow is the same. The Arminian view is stated, with supporting biblical texts. The authors then give a Calvinist exegesis of each of these texts and argue for their view. Occasionally representative Arminian or Calvinist theologians are used to illustrate a point.
In the next chapter, the authors give us an extended description of decretal theology as developed by Calvin, Beza, and others. They then move us into the Arminian debate that culminated at the Synod of Dort. This chapter is arguably the most revealing and marks a shift in the tone of the book.
The last three chapters (Inability, Grace, and Atonement) take an unapologetic and polemical view. The tone is decidedly less winsome than the chapters that precede it. And, in a way, they seem to reveal the true undercurrent of the book.
I would heartily recommend this book to an Arminian or a Calvinist, albeit for different reasons. Though unabashedly Calvinist, the authors do present Arminian views and arguments honestly and fairly, even to the extent that they give Arminian arguments against Calvinism. When presenting the counterview, the arguments often seem strangely assertive. They assert something to be true because a biblical text says it. However, when you finish the paragraph, youre not sure the text really said what they think it did.
In essence, the book becomes a cogent criticism of both Arminianism and Calvinism, and for this reason, I do appreciate it in a limited way. The image of Arminianism in the book is of a theological approach that is extremely uncomfortable with the effects of sin while the image of Calvinism is one that seems uncomfortable with a loving God. Though many examples could be given, one for each will suffice. It is hard to believe that 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God wants the false teachers, whom he condemns in 2 Peter 2, to repent. (p. 181) What? God doesnt want sinners to repent? This reader is forced to wonder if he could love this Calvinist god. Arminianism doesnt fair much better. Ken Grider explains, We can either accept Christ or reject Himand our eternal destiny depends upon our free response to Gods offer of salvation. (p. 175) My salvation depends on my choice? How can my choice be certain? How, if not based in Gods action, is my salvation certain?
As I closed this book my thought was clear. Im glad Im neither Arminian nor Calvinist. Though it is not surprising, it is somewhat disappointing that the book seems to present all theology as a choice between Arminius and Calvin. This is just the sort of false dichotomy that the authors condemn elsewhere. You see, there are other options. Nevertheless, this is a book that either a Calvinist or an Arminian may find helpful. Charles Lehmann, Christian Book Previews.com
"A highly nuanced, theologically erudite work which presents Arminianism in the best possible light and then shifts the focus onto a positive construction of Calvinism to counter Arminian claims."
"Peterson and Williams write with a grace which goes far deeper than their commendable style. The authors' Arminian conversants are fairly represented from their best literature and answered with impeccable arguments which are scripturally compelling, philosophically and historically exacting, and gracefully irenic. Why I Am Not an Arminian is a book that you can get your head and your heart around--and be graced!"
"Very beneficial to those learning about Calvinism or Calvinists who are looking to reinforce their particular perspective. . .Very useful as a supplemental text for one studying theology. Pastors who have an interest in theology will appreciate the brevity of the book."
"Peterson and Williams have addressed the historic debate between Calvinism and Arminianism with an irenic spirit and a zeal for truth. This is Christian scholarship at its best, characterized by biblical rigor, philosophical acumen, charitable expression and a willingness to engage opponents only after giving them a fair hearing in their own words. Not only are opponents treated fairly, so are the Scriptures. Peterson and Williams refuse to push the Bible into a box of easy answers and formula defenses. There are aspects of God's sovereignty that will remain mystery until we are face to face with him. Peterson and Williams do not shy from the mystery but embrace it as an expression of the greatness of the God who makes us his own."
"A quick glance at this volume's title might give someone the impression that the book is a harsh, polemical attack on Arminianism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Though clearly written from a Reformed evangelical perspective, Why I Am Not an Arminian is an evenhanded and careful critique of the Arminian approach to sin and salvation. To their credit, Robert Peterson and Mike Williams refuse to stack the theological deck in their favor by fairly evaluating only first-rate cases for Arminianism. After thoroughly addressing the historical context, theological concerns and biblical issues in a readable manner, Peterson and Williams show that even the best Arminian positions come up short. Why I Am Not an Arminian is a solid, valuable and biblically centered contribution to this never-ending discussion."
"Those who have been unclear about the issues separating Calvinists and Arminians will find here a carefully reasoned, understandable exposition of Calvinist theology. The authors treat their dialogue partners fairly, even compassionately, asking hard questions while avoiding triumphalism or caricature. Why I Am Not an Arminian will be a genuine help to anyone wanting to better understand the nature and application of salvation in Christ."
"Peterson and Williams do not fall prey to a rant against Arminianism. Their work displays an irenicism and charity that serves as a model for other authors. Even Calvinists may disagree with some of their arguments, but at the end of the day Peterson and Williams demonstrate that Calvinism is biblically grounded and Arminianism is not. This book is ideal for those who wonder what the debate between Calvinists and Arminians is all about."
"I can hardly say enough in praise of this book. It is not flashy, but it is attractive. It models both clarity and charity. It does not fixate on pet Bible verses but covers seminal discussions in church history. At the same time it is Bible-centered in its presentation; it does not simply rehearse partisan opinions. In a new millennium, the church is looking for new direction. I believe Peterson and Williams offer it with this corrective but positive exposition of the faith. They promote church unity, aid clear thinking and set forth divine teaching in constructive dialogue with human preference. Arminians, Calvinists and everyone in between are in the authors' debt."