J. Matthew Pinson, Arminian and Baptist. Nashville: Randall House, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-89265-696-7. 262 pages.

Dr. Vic Reasoner

THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE. Issue 1. Spring 2016. Volume 34.
Date Posted June, 2016

In his book, my friend Matt Pinson lists five species of Arminianism:

"Reformed Arminian" is his preferred label. Essentially Pinson defends the consistency of Baptists to also be Arminian. Historically, he demonstrates that the sixteenth and seventeenth century English General Baptists were Arminian and that the Free Will Baptists also hold to this doctrinal heritage. Pinson concludes that Thomas Helwys (1575-1616) was the first Baptist and that he was also an Arminian.

However, as Pinson wrote in A Free Will Baptist Handbook, p. 12:

The tendency among General Baptists in England and America for the first 250 years of their existence was, if they erred, to err on the side of Calvinism rather than on the side of extreme Arminianism, such as Wesleyanism or Campbellism.

In his book, A Free Will Baptist Handbook, p. 12, Pinson explained that there was the publication of a confession of faith which has come to be known as the 1812 Former Articles. According to Pinson, this confession of faith is a condensed and revised version of the 1660 English Baptists Confession of Faith. Article Ten establishes that General Baptists of this era were Calvinistic in their view of perseverance. It states, "We believe that the Saints shall persevere in grace, and never finally fall away (Jn. 10:27-29)." Pinson told me that this statement was "an anomaly and mystery" in Free Will Baptist history that disappeared in subsequent printings of that confession.

The defining mark of a Baptist is that they insist upon the ordinance of believers' baptism by immersion. While this was not the position Arminius held, Pinson affirms both this Baptist distinctive as well as an Arminian view of salvation.

"Wesleyan-Arminian" is my preferred label. However, I must express my profound concern that there are significant differences between early Methodist theology and the later American holiness movement. This problem is confounded by the fact that the American holiness movement claims to be "Wesleyan," but is much closer to Finney. I would agree with most of Pinsons rejections of "Wesleyan" doctrine and would attempt to explain that Wesley himself did not teach much of what has been identified with him. Thus, I am attempting to do for Wesley what Pinson is doing for Arminius.

"Stone-Campbell Restoration Arminian" refers to the theology of Barton Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell in their quest to restore apostolic Christianity. Historically, this emphasis has been referred to as the Campbellite movement. Pinson and I would be concerned that they were actually teaching baptismal regeneration through immersion. In fairness, however, Jack Cottrell is always careful to distinguish his position from the baptismal regeneration position. This would also be true of Tom Thatcher and Jon Weatherly.

Anabaptist Arminians. This strain would encompass Amish, Mennonites, pietism, mysticism, and a separation from civil government - including pacificism.

Charles Finney's theology. I would prefer to exclude Finney on the basis that he is more properly a Pelagian.

Pinson and I both reject Openness Theology, as developed by Clark Pinnock and articulated by Thomas Oord, as outside the bounds of orthodox Arminianism. We agree that denying God's foreknowledge as a means of solving the problem of Calvinism only results in larger problems since the Scriptures clearly teach God's foreknowledge.

The rest of this review is the result of an ongoing dialog between Dr. Pinson and myself, in which I will compare and contrast early Methodist Arminianism with his Reformed Arminianism.

1. Points of Agreement

We agree that the Bible is our final authority. As the Word of God, it cannot err.

We agree that the doctrine of total depravity means human inability to save ourselves. Thus, salvation is not the result of our free choice but the result of God's grace.

We agree that the atonement is universal. We also agree that the atonement should be understood in terms of the satisfaction of divine justice and not in terms of a governmental theory. These terms are often misunderstood and must be defined. Hugo Grotius was a Remonstrant who first articulated the governmental theory of the atonement after Arminius. This theory was revived by John Miley, an American Methodist, a hundred years after John Wesley. The governmental theory holds that God could have forgiven sin without the death of Christ on the cross, but that his death was intended as a deterrent against sin.

2. Points that deserve further dialog

While we both believe that election is conditional, I am more prone to see it as corporate while Pinson sees it as individual.

While we both affirm that justification is imputed righteousness, I am more prone to link imputed and imparted righteousness.

While we both affirm that apostasy is a defection from the faith, I also hold that there are degrees of apostasy. Here, again, sin must be defined. While I do not believe that one deliberate act of sin causes the loss of salvation in a believer, I am concerned that unconfessed sin starts a process in motion that must be aborted or the believer is liable at some point to apostasy. Thus, I see at least an indirect connection between sin and apostasy.

While Pinson rejects the Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification or Christian perfection, I would assume that he actually rejects the holiness distortion of that doctrine. At a popular level, it is understood as "sinless perfection," a term which Wesley explicitly rejected. However, the Free Will Baptist Treatise of 1842 taught that one should seek entire sanctification in this life, now! I concede that Pinson knows Baptist history better than I do, but I am particularly interested in his chapter 6, "Atonement, Justification, and Apostasy in Wesley."

Pinson's thesis is that Wesley was influenced by John Goodwin, while Reformed Arminians follow Thomas Grantham more closely. Pinson is correct in his assessment that Wesley held to a form of penal satisfaction in his view of the atonement. Pinson is also correct that Wesley did not regard the active obedience of Christ as the basis for our salvation.

The active obedience of Christ refers to his sinless life, while the passive obedience of Christ refers to his atoning death. The Wesleyan understanding is that faith is imputed for righteousness. Our concern is that an emphasis on the imputation of both the active and passive righteousness of Christ, without imparted righteousness, leads to antinomianism. Wesley denied that the righteousness of Christ is imputed in lieu of any subsequent obedience.

Pinson also makes a distinction between past and future sins in the theology of Wesley, but I think he misunderstands Wesley at this point. While all sins, past and future, are potentially atoned for through the death of Christ, we are forgiven of past sins at the moment of justification - not future sins.

However, J. J. Butler and Ransom Dunn, two leading educators of the early Freewill Baptist movement wrote in the first Freewill Baptist theology:

We do not understand that Christ's personal righteousness is imputed to the sinner, and that this constitutes his justification. No such doctrine of imputation is taught in the Scriptures. God never imputes either the sin or holiness of one being to another; nor does he punish or reward one for the deeds of another.... We are not to believe, then, that the obedience of Christ was imputed to men; but that in consideration of this obedience God can justly dispense pardon to believers, and accept them for Christ's sake.... The personal righteous of Christ cannot become the personal righteousness of any other being [Lectures in Systematic Theology, 248 - 249].

Pinson explained to me that these northern Freewill (one word) Baptists were a different group than the Southern Free Will (two words) Baptists. The northern branch was started by Benjamin Randall and were originally labeled "freewill" by Calvinists. Essentially, there were two strands of Freewill/Free Will Baptists and the northern group either merged with the southern group in 1935 or merged with the Northern Baptist Convention in 1911.

In 1942 Free Will Baptist Bible College began. The head of the Bible college was L. C.Johnson, a graduate of Bob Jones University, who brought with him the Calvinistic teaching he learned at Bob Jones. In 2012 the college changed its name to Welch College and Dr. Pinson currently serves as its president.

Pinson wrote, "The Free Will Baptists of the South defined themselves theologically in debate and interaction with Calvinistic Baptists rather than other types of Arminians." But some of the earlier strands of freewill Baptists were more Wesleyan.

I think Pinson also misunderstands Wesley's statements on imputed righteousness. He did not reject imputed righteousness but always wanted to keep it connected to imparted righteousness - connecting justification with regeneration.

Pinson concluded that Wesley was more works-oriented in contrast to the more grace-oriented emphasis of Reformed Arminians. The point is not that I must defend my man Wesley while Pinson defends his man Grantham. Certainly both men were fallible. But both men exemplify how modifications in doctrine have practical outcomes. Ultimately, we must all turn to the Holy Scriptures to settle such issues.

Essentially, Reformed Arminianism is guarding against legalism while Wesleyan-Arminianism is guarding against lawlessness. Both extremes must be kept in balance. I can only testify that as a college student reading Wesley's sermons for the first time, I discovered more grace than I had ever heard preached previously.

As much as anything, this review illustrates the need for proper definitions. I do not understand how Pinson can be confessional but not creedal. We could also discuss such distinctions as sacrament versus ordinance. Ironically, the Wesleyan-Armimian strain is more Reformed in ecclesiology and eschatology than the Reformed Arminian. But these differences need not rend our fellowship. While labels can divide, if we look past them we may find that our differences are substantial or that they are simply the result of misunderstanding each other.