We Methodists are “sentimental Arminians”

September 20, 2013
Wesley was a hard-headed Arminian

Wesley was a hard-headed Arminian

In this post, Roger Olson, a Baptist who loves Wesley more than most Methodists, complains about the infiltration of Arminian-oriented denominations (including Wesleyan-Holiness denominations such as the Nazarenes) by “young, restless and reformed”-style Calvinists. (He should probably throw the UMC in there, too, but he’s probably given up on the “mother church”!) As Olson implies, it should be an oxymoron to refer to someone’s being a Calvinist-Methodist.

Regardless, I’ve seen the “young, restless and reformed” up close in United Methodist churches. In the comment section of Olson’s post, I express some sympathy with them. (I should add that they also tend to know their Bibles better than most Methodists, too.)

I’m United Methodist and evangelical. I’ve seen the phenomenon you describe in my churches. (Of course the UMC has itself to blame because for years they were theologically adrift from their Wesleyan roots. I sense that the tide is turning, in least in some parts of the denomination.) Anyway, I think what appeals to the young men (aren’t they always men?) about this extreme Calvinist theology is that, like it or not, it is intellectually rigorous. It takes theology seriously. It takes seriously the tough questions we ask of God and faith and offers comprehensive answers—however unsatisfying those answers may be.

I feel like I’m stepping on my soapbox, but honestly… It’s embarrassing how many of my clergy colleagues act as if theology hardly matters. They are sentimentally Arminian, but they can’t formulate an argument in their favor.

I don’t blame some Methodists for trying to find a less squishy, more tough-minded approach to understanding God and the world.

2 Responses to “We Methodists are “sentimental Arminians””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Brent, I agree that unfortunately a huge chunk of Christendom doesn’t take theology very seriously. They believe “Jesus loves me,” and that as a result they are going to heaven.

    However, I don’t think we should give the predestinarians too much credit. Have they really thought through all the implications of their “tough-minded approach”? Do they really see the concept of God that necessarily results from a “rigorous” application of Calvinism? If they do, shouldn’t they be repulsed and run?

    So I think many Calvinists themselves “stop short” in fully applying the “logic” of the Calvinistic mindset. I think they “camp out” in one construction of Romans 9, and orientate their beliefs around that. (Not that there are not some other passages they can rely upon as well, but that is typically the “lynchpin.”) So maybe they give the matter somewhat more analysis than many Arminians, but still don’t give the matter ENOUGH thought.

    Finally, it may be that we should give some credit to Arminians who perhaps have not got the details of a theological system, but whose “heart is right,” so to speak. I don’t regard my wife as a student of theology, but she does reject Calvinism “out of hand” simply because it could not be right and God be good. There is something to be said for such a “reflexise” grasp of “God’s goodness,” I think, regardless of how well “reasoned” it may be.

    • brentwhite Says:

      Well said, Tom. Someone—I think it was David Bentley Hart—said that Calvinism makes the universe intelligible at the expense of making God a moral monster. I wouldn’t put it quite so strongly, in part because, as you suggest, the vast majority of Calvinists simply ignore or fail to follow Calvinism all the way to its logical conclusions. But I don’t know… I’ve always found it to be very logical. It just falls far short of both the Bible and moral reasoning.


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