Questions about the theology of salvation (soteriology) are a persistent part of Christian theology and the experience of the average churchgoer. Indeed, no line of theological questioning could be more practical. The last 20 years have witnessed a reinvigoration of Calvinist soteriology.
For most of my career, I have taught in an interdenominational context and have seen first-hand how prevalent Calvinist theology is among the thoughtful millennials. As changing trends cause the church to ask some of the same questions in new ways, it is important to have good answers as to what Calvinists and Arminians actually believe. J. Matthew Pinson’s 2022 publication 40 Questions About Arminianism offers clarity on this very misunderstood theological position.
40 Questions About Arminianism is part of a larger series by Kregel Academic in which experts on various topics tackle 40 questions. Each question is given a short chapter (4-7 pages) and a few questions for discussion. Rather than summarize the entire work, I will organize this review by examining the book’s strengths and weaknesses.
For me, the biggest strength of 40 Questions About Arminianism was its clear and concise chapters. If you are interested in this topic, this approach can be very rewarding. It is very easy to finish a chapter in a few minutes before bed or when you have 10 minutes between other tasks. I found myself taking it around the house and reading a quick chapter whenever I had the chance. It also makes the book an excellent resource for looking up an answer on a certain topic. This is the first book I have read in the 40 Questions series, and I am fairly certain that it won’t be the last.
This is a book for those who want to seriously explore questions related to Arminianism. It is not a basic introduction to the topic. I looked at most of the footnotes in the book because it was fascinating to see what sources Pinson was drawing from. He consistently interacts with the best Calvinist scholars like John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Richard Muller, Thomas Schreiner, and Michael Horton as well as great Arminian thinkers like Jacob Arminius, Thomas Oden, Richard Watson, Scott McKnight, Leroy Forlines, and Thomas Grantham. Each chapter will provide the curious reader with a bibliography of some of the best sources on the topic.
This point builds on the point about scholarship. One of the more compelling aspects of this work is that Pinson connects Arminian theology to the historic universal church. Despite Calvinist rhetoric, Arminianism is not a strange or heterodox position.
He first historically roots Arminianism in the reformation and in the Dutch Reform Church. He magnificently argues that Arminius and his views were in keeping with much (although not the majority) of pre-Dortian Calvinism. According to Pinson, Arminianism is a Reformed theology.
As he discusses other issues related to Arminianism (the extent of the atonement, resistible grace) he also links Arminian views to church fathers like Chrysostom and John of Damascus.
Finally, Pinson resources the best of the Lutheran tradition. In all this, Pinson shows that the distinctive beliefs of Arminius were in step with the reformation as well as the early church.
Pinson is a historian and a theologian more than a biblical scholar. Even so, I found the exegetical sections of 40 Questions About Arminianism to be well-argued and well-researched. Pinson wisely relies heavily on the biblical scholarship of Robert Picirilli for his conclusions. The result is a book that deals aptly with the key text in the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. The reader will have a great resource to turn to for an Arminian interpretation of these passages.
Because I highly recommend 40 Questions About Arminianism, I will be brief with my description of the book’s shortcomings.
It seems to me that in an effort to distinguish “Reformed Arminianism” from other sorts of Arminianism, Pinson wanted to distance his beliefs from those in the Wesleyan tradition. Perhaps this is necessary, but I know of many in this tradition who would claim to be every bit as “reformed” as Pinson. Thomas McCall and Keith Stanglin’s excellent historical scholarship on Arminius and Arminianism is occasionally cited but always disagreed with. As I read these footnotes, I couldn’t help but think that Pinson could have found more common ground with his fellow Arminian theologians. For my money, McCall and Stanglin are better seen as allies than adversaries in our historical understanding of Arminian theology.
The First 1,500 Years
This complaint is more about what 40 Questions About Arminianism isn’t rather than what it is. As mentioned above, Pinson interacted with some of the Church Fathers to show the continuities between Arminianism and the patristic church. While this was partially achieved, it left me wanting more.
Aside from biblical exegesis, one of the best arguments for a non-Calvinist soteriology is that it was the theology of the early church. Although I understand Pinson’s reticence to connect Arminian theology with the works-based theology of medieval Catholicism, some ideas like libertarian free will and universal atonement are bedrock components of the great theological tradition found in Anselm and Aquinas.
In an age when Calvinists like Craig Carter and Matthew Barrett desire to retrieve some medieval sources of theology, Arminians will find that they are even more in step with the Great Tradition than their tulip-loving brothers.
(The reviewer was given a copy of the book for the purpose of reviewing it. He has not been compensated in any other way; the review is his honest assessment.)
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