40 Questions About Arminianism: A Review

By Dustin M. Walters

In 40 Questions About Arminianism, author J. Matthew Pinson[1] has written a “survey of Arminianism that is more didactic than polemical, but which every reader will see engages at times in “hard-edged debate” with scholars from differing perspectives (p. 13). This is a book about “what brings all Arminians together” and is biblically, historically, and doctrinally satisfying (p. 14). Some might wonder why issues over doctrine matter in an age when Christians should seek unity to advance the Gospel. Doctrinal debates are relevant because what one believes impacts practice. What you believe about the doctrine of salvation has significant implications for every other area of life.

This book helps locate Arminianism within the broader Reformed spectrum of theological interest. Pinson engages Arminius’s thoughts with clarity and conviction. He writes in an academic yet pastoral tone. This book will certainly become a treasure trove for Arminians and must be consulted in a future dialogue between Calvinists, Arminians, and Wesleyans. In this review, I will provide a summary of the book before my analysis and recommendation.

Book Summary

40 Questions About Arminianism is divided into five parts in which the author exposes the reader to the actual thought of Jacobus Arminius, rather than caricatures of Arminius’s thoughts that have become popular in our day. Pinson captivates the reader’s attention in the introduction and maintains it throughout the book. This work encourages irenic and faithful debate about the issues most important to Arminians. 40 Questions About Arminianism complements the entire series by Kregel, which will prove beneficial to students from all perspectives. A summary of each part is formative for understanding the content of this book.

Part 1: Introductory and Historical Questions

In part one, the author introduces the reader to Arminianism, Calvinism, and the broader Reformed tradition. Pinson answers questions about who Arminius was (ch. 1), who the Remonstrants were, and how Arminius’s thought compares and contrasts with Calvinism and Wesleyanism (ch. 3-5). One of the greatest contributions Pinson makes in this section is that he nuances the category of Reformed to include both Calvin and Arminius. Pinson’s identification of Jacobus Arminius as “Reformed” might surprise some readers who incorrectly assume that Arminius was a radical departure from the Reformed confessional theology of the sixteenth century. The author contends that Arminius affirmed two old standards, the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, which Pinson notes historically separated those within the Reformed tradition from those without.  Consider this excerpt from the book.

So the “Reformed” in “Reformed Arminianism” need not be only about what it means to be in a state of grace. It can also encompass classic Reformed thought on the effect total depravity has on one’s epistemology, approach to culture, and need for special revelation for knowledge of God and how he wants to be worshiped and served in his church. It is about a broadly Reformed kingdom eschatology and the way that impacts how one views the transforming impact Christianity can have on worldview, culture, knowledge, the academic disciplines, and human flourishing (p. 60).

That selection demonstrates Pinson’s fidelity to excellent scholarship and powerfully argues that one can be Reformed and Arminian. I share that long quote in this review to garner interest in and appreciation of the book.

Part 2: Questions About the Atonement and Justification

The second part of the book introduces the reader to two aspects of Arminius’s soteriology: the nature and extent of the atonement. Chapters 9-14 are included in this section. Pinson not only addresses Arminius’s thoughts on these important matters, but he also interacts with what later Arminians thought on these matters. Chapter 10 answers the question, “What have later Arminians believed about penal substitution?” This chapter highlights figures like Thomas Grantham, John Goodwin, John Wesley, and the General or Free Will Baptist tradition. Pinson concludes this chapter by stating, “While Arminius held to a Reformed view of penal substitutionary atonement, most Arminians after him moved away from this view” (p. 96).

Part 3: Questions About Free Will and Grace

Part three contains chapters 15-26. The author explains how Arminius rejected notions of Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism. Topics like free will and grace are sure to attract the attention of the reader. Pinson responds to key questions such as, “Are Arminians Semi-Pelagians who deny total depravity?” (ch. 15), “Does Arminianism detract from God’s glory?” (ch. 18), and “What do Arminians believe about universal prevenient grace?” (ch. 21), among other helpful clarifying questions. For the sake of brevity, that is all I will say about this section, even though I would like to interact more with this promising section.

Part 4: Questions About Election and Regeneration

Part four comprises chapters 27-32. The author explains the views of Jacobus Arminius on election and regeneration. This section includes a reflection on key biblical passages such as Ephesians 1:4-11 (ch. 27), Romans 8:28-30 (ch. 28) and Romans 9: 6-23 (ch. 29). Chapter 24 is entitled, “Does the Bible teach that people can resist God’s grace?” Pinson says, “This idea that God is repeatedly giving people an opportunity to come to him, giving them the grace to do so, and that the reason they do not is not his design but simply that they are resisting the grace he has given them, is the thrust of the Bible” (p. 225).

Part 5: Questions About Perseverance and Apostasy

The final section of the book contains chapters 33-40 and addresses the topics of the believer’s perseverance and the possibility of apostasy. These chapters provide the reader with an awareness of the different responses the Calvinist, the Reformed Arminian, and the Wesleyan Arminian offer regarding the believer’s security. One poignant quote stands out for the purposes of this review.

Thus one might say that the difference between Reformed Arminians and Calvinists is not in the nature of justifying faith but its extension. Calvinists believe that if one experiences justifying faith, that faith will, of necessity, extend to the end of life. Reformed Arminians believe, on the contrary, that the extension of one’s justifying faith to the end of life is not guaranteed (p. 360).

Analysis

Strengths

This work demonstrates Pinson’s commitment to excellence and clear communication. 40 Questions exposes readers to Arminius’s thought, locates Arminius within the broader Reformed tradition, and interacts with key biblical passages pertinent to the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. The chapters of the book build on one another yet each chapter can also be consulted in a stand-alone format. Bible college and seminary students will also appreciate the chapter summaries which precede reflection questions.

Limitations

One is hesitant to list any limitations with a quality book like this. It is only fair to provide a review that includes some limitations as well. 40 Questions About Arminianism comprehensively describes Arminianism and more particularly Reformational Arminianism yet is a bit academically heavy at times. This can easily be overcome because the author writes so well, yet some readers might desire a less academic treatment of the subject matter.[2] Additionally, this book is intended to be processed with careful thought and meditation and will likely require more time from the reader than some are willing to give. There are no limitations with Pinson’s thesis, structure, or depiction of Arminius’s thought, even though it is academically rigorous.

Conclusion and Final Recommendation

40 Questions About Arminianism conveys what brings all Arminians together winsomely. The author’s commitment to biblical, historical, and doctrinal faithfulness is evident throughout the book. Arminian pastors, students, and laypersons will benefit most from this work, even though non-Arminians will also benefit from this resource. I am happy to give this book five out of five stars for its readability, scholarly integrity, and irenic approach.


[1] J. Matthew Pinson serves as Welch College’s fifth president. He holds degrees from Welch College, the University of West Florida, Yale, and Vanderbilt University. Pinson has authored numerous books and articles including Perspectives on Christian Worship (B&H), Classical Arminianism (Randall House), and Arminian and Baptist (Randall House). https://matthewpinson.com/about/. Accessed April 14, 2022.        

[2]One of Pinson’s contributions to the Reformed Arminian movement is that he demonstrates the logical feasibility of Arminianism. This reviewer appreciates the academic rigor of the book, though others may not appreciate it as much. 

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