In their book, Why I am not an Arminian, Peterson and Williams attempt to provide a defense of Dortian Calvinism by questioning the basic tenets of Arminian theology. Their study uses a two-pronged approach, sometimes discussing the controversy in the context of history, while at other times approaching the discussion on a topical basis.
The authors are aware of the pitfalls of writing a book with a polemical approach. They have seen, with concern, poorly written polemics on both sides of the Calvinist / Arminian debate. In their attempt to not repeat past errors, they do a passable job.
The book begins with a historical study of the early church controversy between Augustine and Pelagius. Calvinism, they argue, is grounded firmly in Augustine. Many have argued that Arminianism is Pelagianism reborn. Peterson and Williams argue that though there are similarities, reducing Arminianism to Pelagianism is an extreme oversimplification. In the end, they argue, Arminianism is similar to the semi-Augustinian view that prevailed at the Synod of Orange.
The book then moves to a discussion of the topics of predestination and perseverance. The approach of these chapters and those topical chapters that follow is the same. The Arminian view is stated, with supporting biblical texts. The authors then give a Calvinist exegesis of each of these texts and argue for their view. Occasionally representative Arminian or Calvinist theologians are used to illustrate a point.
In the next chapter, the authors give us an extended description of decretal theology as developed by Calvin, Beza, and others. They then move us into the Arminian debate that culminated at the Synod of Dort. This chapter is arguably the most revealing and marks a shift in the tone of the book.
The last three chapters (Inability, Grace, and Atonement) take an unapologetic and polemical view. The tone is decidedly less winsome than the chapters that precede it. And, in a way, they seem to reveal the true undercurrent of the book.
I would heartily recommend this book to an Arminian or a Calvinist, albeit for different reasons. Though unabashedly Calvinist, the authors do present Arminian views and arguments honestly and fairly, even to the extent that they give Arminian arguments against Calvinism. When presenting the counterview, the arguments often seem strangely assertive. They assert something to be true because a biblical text “says” it. However, when you finish the paragraph, you’re not sure the text really said what they think it did.
In essence, the book becomes a cogent criticism of both Arminianism and Calvinism, and for this reason, I do appreciate it in a limited way. The image of Arminianism in the book is of a theological approach that is extremely uncomfortable with the effects of sin while the image of Calvinism is one that seems uncomfortable with a loving God. Though many examples could be given, one for each will suffice. “It is hard to believe that 2 Peter 3:9 teaches that God wants the false teachers, whom he condemns in 2 Peter 2, to repent.” (p. 181) What? God doesn’t want sinners to repent? This reader is forced to wonder if he could love this Calvinist god. Arminianism doesn’t fair much better. “Ken Grider explains, ‘We can either accept Christ or reject Him–and our eternal destiny depends upon our free response to God’s offer of salvation.’” (p. 175) My salvation depends on my choice? How can my choice be certain? How, if not based in God’s action, is my salvation certain?
As I closed this book my thought was clear. “I’m glad I’m neither Arminian nor Calvinist.” Though it is not surprising, it is somewhat disappointing that the book seems to present all theology as a choice between Arminius and Calvin. This is just the sort of false dichotomy that the authors condemn elsewhere. You see, there are other options. Nevertheless, this is a book that either a Calvinist or an Arminian may find helpful. – Charles Lehmann, Christian Book Previews.com
What's wrong with Arminianism?
Arminian theology is sweeping through the evangelical churches of North America. While most Arminians are good, sincere, orthodox Christians, authors Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams contend that aspects of Arminian thought are troubling both biblically and theologically. In particular, they argue, Arminians have too lofty a view of human nature and an inadequate understanding of God's sovereign love in Christ.
Why I Am Not an Arminian explores the biblical, theological and historical background to the Calvinist-Arminian debate. The irenic nature and keen insight of this book will be appreciated by laypeople, pastors and scholars alike.