Classic Arminianism: The Grandfather of Rationalism

Every now and then while reading Herman Bavinck, I run across this loaded proposal: moralism, mysticism, rationalism, and deism go hand in hand.  I know what he means, but until recently I had to make the deductions myself in light of his other writings.  In Saved by Grace, I found his own explanation of this proposal.

First of all, Bavinck describes the early 17th century teaching of the Remonstrants (a.k.a. ‘classic Arminian’) that God gives sufficient grace to all humans which gives all people the moral ability to choose or reject Christ.  This means that universal, sufficient grace inside all people gives all people moral ability and capacity to do the good.

Bavinck argued that this view was moralistic (i.e. emphasized what people can do), it denied the effectual call (i.e. people can accept or reject as they please), it “undermined God’s entire special revelation” because the Quakers, Anabaptists, and other Enthusiasts highlighted the “internal word” (i.e. who needs a preached word when you can find it inside yourself), and is ultimately contractual rather than covenantal (i.e. God does his part, you do yours).

Add Remonstrant moralism, Anabaptistic mysticism, to Enlightenment rationalism, and you get deism.  Or, in Bavinck’s terms, moralism, mysticism, and rationalism lead to deism, and vice-versa: “deism leads to rationalism and moralism.”

This is part of the reason why the reformers (specifically at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19) rejected Remonstrant moralism and the Anabaptistic interior word and mysticism.  Bavinck:  “History has placed its seal upon the decisions of the Synod of Dort.  The doctrine of the Remonstrants, at first glance so moderate and sweet, paved the way for rationalism and deism, for the disappearance and dying away of all religion.”

In clear summary form – the Remonstrant position was “moderate and sweet” at first glance because it emphasized God’s grace and man’s ability.  But it led to moralism because of its focus on man’s ability.  This led to rationalism and mysticism because who needs God when man has built-in moral ability?  This led to deism and naturalism, which only needs God to wind up the clock and let ‘er tick down…

Above quotes and summaries can be found in Herman Bavinck, Saved by Grace (Reformation Heritage Books, 2008), p. 25-6, 72-3, and 149.  Side note: R. Scott Clark argues similarly in chapter 3 of Recovering the Reformed Confession.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

3 thoughts on “Classic Arminianism: The Grandfather of Rationalism”

  1. Actually I can think of two placed where Bavinck offers justification for that proposal in Reformed Dogmatics. Don’t have them to hand. But the first one is in his consideration of Medieval/post-Medieval theology. He argues that scholasticism led to mysticism.

    He also offers the Enlightenment explanation similar to the one you’ve given there, and traces Cartesianism through to Kant through to Schleiermacher. Sorry I can’t remember where he does it! Quick search of the index would get you there though.


    1. Thanks, Pete. By the time I was finished with the four volumes, this was one of the recurring themes I saw in Bavinck (along with great CoW and CoG emphases and the Reformation truth that grace restores nature to name just two of the many). I wrote down these other recurring themes, but didn’t write down the rationalism one because it “hit” me too late. When/if you [have] read “Saved by Grace” you’ll see it again, and he hints at it in “Certainty of Faith” and “Our Reasonable Faith” as well. Thanks for the reminder! I’ll do some digging…
      shane lems


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