Thursday, June 26, 2008

Arminianisms and Hobbs

Saturday's post brought up one of the more troubling features of modern-day Arminianism - that it is often, especially in its more educated and influential advocates, highly philosophical rather than founded in the Bible.

J.I. Packer wrote an excellent article, originally a paper at the 1968 Puritan Conference, entitled 'Arminianisms' . In it he distinguishes between different strands of Arminian theology, principally the Wesleyan type and the more philosophical and rationalistic type taught by the Remonstrants (those expressly condemned at Dort). It sounds like Hobbs falls into the Remonstrant or rationalistic category - I note how his theology seems a massive logical and philosophical construction rather than being firmly rooted and grounded in the Scripture. It was this sort of Arminianism that led the old English General Baptists into Unitarianism in the eighteenth century, and the Wesleyan or evangelical type was the basis of the formation of the New Connexion of General Baptists by one of Mr. Wesley's converts. These two versions of Arminan theology are significantly different.

Rationalistic Arminianism was the basis of the old English General Baptists, as I have said. This body was always smaller than the Particular or Calvinistic Baptists, and its theology left it wide open to the killing influences of the 18th century enlightenment. The result was all too plain. An example of one of the old General Baptist Churches can be found here, at Chatham in Kent. Another is here, at Godalming in Surrey. Yes, they went Unitarian. A few were saved through the work of evangelical Arminians, but as a rule in Kent, Surrey and Sussex in particular, where the General Baptists were strongest, the old General Baptist churches are now Unitarian where they still exist at all. Presbyterian churches like the Octagon in Norwich had first embraced Arminianism before they abandoned the deity of Christ for Arianism, then Socinianism. It is indeed a form of liberalism and assumes that man as man is able to respond to God of his own ability.

Wesley taught a fairly robust doctrine of total depravity, as will be seen by any who care to read his answer to Dr. Taylor of Norwich on the subject of Original Sin. Taylor was a Socinian, a rationalistic unitarian who was the pastor of the Octagon Chapel, Norwich (indeed the Octagon was built for him). Thus Wesleyanism set itself against the Rationalistic Uniarianism that had captured the English General Baptists. Wesley taught substitutionary atonement (inconsistently), and his theology was in general founded on the Bible, not philosophical speculation. Unfortunately many who followed Wesley fell into the same errors that the Remonstrants had, leading to today's liberal Methodism.

Wesleyan Arminianism, as Packer noted, contained a lot of its own antidote. Hobbs' Arminianism is a long ay down the path that leads to the Octagon Chapel's doors. John Wesley noted that the Octagon was the finest chapel in England: "But who can think that the plain old Gospel should ever enter here?"

"Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?"

Now, as I have criticised Packer elsewhere for his stance on co-operation with ritualists and Romanists, I commend 'Arminianisms' to all our readers.

1 comment:

Strong Tower said...

Thanks for the article. And excellent read.

J. I. concluded what I had said in my stumbling stunted way: The lapse is less serious in some cases, more so in others, but in every case it calls for responsible notice and compassionate correction. The logical conclusion of Arminian principles would be pure Pelagianism, but no Arminian takes his principles so far (otherwise one would call him a Pelagian, and be done with it). Calvinists should therefore approach professed Arminians as brother evangelicals trapped in weakening theological mistakes, and seek to help them to a better mind.

As I discussed with a friend tonight, I do not think necessarily that Hobbs was even conscious of where his system leads. It is the Arminianism, as J.I. said, and not the brother that we must be clear that we are addressing. We need to be open to the fact that we are all subject to ignorance. Neither my friend nor I have been Reformed very long, only a few years, so we know first hand who we are, where we were and understand that the desire we have is not to win the game of the label, but to win the minds of brothers we love and believe confused.

Whitefield died considering Wesley his friend and what more fitting tribute to that friendship than Wesley's preaching of his funeral?That should be our aim while at the same time maintaining as Whitefield did, a strict "responsible notice" toward the errors of Wesleyan Arminianism.