Arminius’ affirmation that regeneration precedes even the first movement of the will toward God may surprise even many Arminians. It is usually thought that only Calvinists believe that regeneration precedes conversion. However, as later Arminians explain perhaps better than Arminius himself did, the regeneration of which the Dutch theologian here spoke is not complete regeneration but a partial regeneration in which the bondage of the will to sin is released so that the sinner can for the first time respond freely God’s offer of mercy in Jesus Christ. This is, of course, prevenient grace—an Arminian doctrine much neglected, misunderstood and sometimes maligned by Reformed critics of Arminianism. It is a, if not the, distinctive doctrine of Arminian theology that sets it apart from all forms of monergistic soteriology. For Arminius, at least, this prevenient grace of God, which is not merely common grace but supernatural grace, is not automatically salvific but it is essential to salvation. Without it, the fallen human person could never exercise a good will toward God.
My buddy John Meunier clued me into Roger Olsen’s blog which has been spurring much thought in recent days. Roger is a Baptist by heritage who proudly claims his identity as one who walks and studies in the stream of Arminian theology. He is a Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University, and an expert on Arminian theology, the tradition that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism claimed as his tradition.
It is striking that a Baptist has become one of the defacto apologists for Arminianism in the face of evangelical Calvinists that attempt to suggest that our theological heritage is heretical and not worthy of consideration, for in fact the Baptist movement seems to be moving more and more toward a radical Calvinism that seems far from their theological roots. What Olsen offers me, however, is a reminder of how far the question of our theological distinctiveness is from the minds of our church leaders who instead somehow think that structures and programs are what make up a church, not a particular set of teachings about the nature of faith, God, and Jesus Christ. Our bishops call us to action through a set of practices (which may or may not be universally applicable) but fail to suggest that our Arminian theological stream offers a unique and needed proclamation in a consumer driven, materialistic, individualistic world.
I suggest you read some of Olsen’s writings, for he offers a sense of who we are that we need to hear and embrace as we think about where God is calling us into the future.