Historical Theology

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.


By Terrance Tiessen

I am Professor Emeritus of Systematic Theology and Ethics at Providence Theological Seminary, Canada.

16 replies on “The distinction between Reformed Arminians and Wesleyan Arminians”

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

I believe traditional SBs would also not agree with Wesley on entire sanctification, or a “second blessing”.

Arminius affirmed middle knowledge in his polemic against Calvinism, but not in the Maverick Molinist (so-called deterministic) way of Suarez. Suarez’s molinism is like that of contemporary Calvinists who employ it, so-called Maverick Molinism. Molina’s view is consistent with Plantina’s take on Molinism. Check out William L. Craig’s Middle Knowledge a Calvinist-Arminian Reapproachment. Essentially, middle knowledge is consistent with both Calvinism and Arminianism.


God’s knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom only needs to be “middle” if creatures are libertarianly and, therefore, indeterministically (or incompatibilistically), free.

Within the compatibilist tradition, God’s knowledge of counterfactuals has always been affirmed, but theologians differed as to whether God knew them as part of his natural/necessary knowledge, or as part of his free knowledge. As a compatibilist, I believe that God knows counterfactuals as part of his natural knowledge, because he knows the principles of agent causation. I posit, however, that the compatibilist tradition (including Calvinism, of course) has generally not taken seriously enough the usefulness of God’s knowledge of counterfactuals in the formation of his eternal plan (or decree). Consequently, I have appropriated a good deal of wisdom from Molinism, in a construct I now call “hypothetical knowledge compatibilism.” (In Providence and Prayer, I called my position “middle knowledge Calvinism,” but I later came to realize, as I said above, that God’s hypothetical knowledge is only “middle,” if creatures have libertarian freedom.)

Along with both Open Theists and Calvinists, I deny that Arminians (or anyone who believes that creatures have libertarian or leeway freedom) can know counterfactuals of free creaturely action. This objection is usually called the “grounding objection.” If creatures have the power of alternative possibilities, it is impossible to know what they would do in hypothetical situations. Hence Molinism is incoherent, and Arminians who wish to affirm divine middle knowledge can not do so, coherently. So middle knowledge is not “consistent with Arminianism.”

I was merely saying that Arminius affirmed at least some version of Molinism. There is so much that is assumed in the grounding objection, like the controversial “truthmaker” take on the correspondence theory of truth. Assuming a conceptualist model of divine knowledge one might reason thusly, “If however, the principle of bivalence applies to future tensed propositions involving creatures with libertarian freedom, then God knows all those true propositions.” The aforementioned is the case because God necessarily knows all true propositions as an essentially omniscient being. It is true that God’s knowledge of counterfactuals must be known to him before his instantiating decree, otherwise, their truth values are already predetermined and they are not truly counterfactuals. Of course, the skeptic may ask how God knows counterfactuals concerning human free choices if those choices do not exist. Arminian-Molinists could respond either that God knows the individual essence of every possible creature so well that he knows just what each creature would do under any set of circumstances stances he might place him in, or that God, being omniscient, simply discerns all the truths there are and, prior to the divine decree, there are not only necessary truths but counterfactual truths, and therefore God possesses not only natural knowledge but middle knowledge as well. I would like to think more of God’s knowing counterfactuals in his necessary knowledge. This seems like saying that he knows the possibilities that he could instantiate. It is interesting to note that the Dominicans held that God only knew counterfactuals after the decree. Since this topic is too large to argue exhaustively in this forum. I would recommend reading the 4 views on divine foreknowledge that includes Paul Helm and William Lane Craig as contributors. Craig is an Arminian-Molinist, he has said this publically and to me directly. The question of whether God can know future free decisions was not what I meant when I said that one can be both an Arminian and a Molinist.

Pinson contrasts the Free-Will Baptist View with that of Wesley, as if this shows a contrast between Arminius and Wesley. Wesleyanism is closer to Arminius than the Baptist inspired split in Arminianism.

“Classic” and “Reformed” Arminianism are not synonymous.

As a reformed Arminian and student of Pinson, I must respectfully disagree here. Reformed Arminianism and Classic Arminianism are indeed the same.

Although I am late to this discussion, I will still comment for what it may be worth. Wesleyan Arminianism is quite different from Arminius in several ways, with the most prominent being their doctrine of Christian Perfection. Classic/Reformed Arminianism very purposefully identifies through their name that they follow the interpretations of Arminius almost in full. Also, the Classic Arminian has only recently begun to identify as the Reformed Arminian to identify with their Reformed tradition. There are certain doctrines, such as believing in Total Depravity, which RA shares with Calvin. However, they emphasize God’s ability to communicate despite humankind’s depravity in a way that could be viewed as a form of prevenient grace.

I live in a Calvinist city with several Calvinist seminaries & publishing companies (GR, MI). This old fashioned Dutch Calvinist town has sent some of its children over the edge into Reformed Arminian camps back in the 1930’s-60’s. The Dutch-American Calvinists are so divided that it’s funny to read that you Arminian brothers feel too divided. Everyone is divided! Let us agree with St. Paul that unity is essential. Everyone is born a sinner. Pelagius is the only one who didn’t think so. Everyone to the right of Pelagius is splitting hairs. Let’s all take a deep breath and say the Apostles Creed together. I myself grew up with Nazarene grandparents but in a General Baptist church, then was brainwashed by Grand Rapids Reformed Baptists into Calvinism, and I’m now being blessed by Leighton Flowers (see youtube) and Michael Heiser to see the errors of the dogma. I am returning to a Biblical theology (see NT Wright), study the ancient world of Greece, Rome, Israel, the structures of the text and story, let the Spirit speak through the text, let Calvin and Arminius sleep in peace. Leave the 16th century buried.

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