in Church & History

Roots of Arminianism

Liberalism & Unitarianism

Do you believe that God has given you the moral capacity to choose or reject Christ on your own free-will using human reason alone? You might be surprised where the roots of such thinking in this country began.

I’ve been reading through a book on historical theology, Our Legacy, by John D. Hannah. I was surprised to see that the source of Arminianism in the United State is traced to liberal Christian movements within Christianity. Jonathan Edwards was one of the first to sound the warning against Arminian theology that was beginning to take root. Other leaders, such as Cotton Mather dismissed it as being any potential threat:

The Arminianism that Cotton Mather dismissed and Jonathan Edwards feared was the first phase of the liberal movement in theology which in the nineteenth century was named Unitarianism. It rejected the awful and inscrutable God of the Calvinists, and replaced him with a God of benevolence and law. It rejected the concept of human nature as totally corrupt and depraved, and supplanted it with one in which the ability of every man to strive for righteousness was admitted. It was, in a sense, the New England version of the theology of the Age of Reason, occupying a middle ground between orthodoxy on the one hand and infidelity on the other.1

In Eckman’s book, The Truth About Worldviews, he descibes how Unitarianism relates to humanism.

“In many ways, the religious institutionalization of humanism (or naturalism) is the Unitarian worldview. The Unitarian worldview has its origins deep in early church history when many denied the triune nature of God. However, its modern form has its origin in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New England. The theological descendants of the Puritans (the Congregationalists) denied the doctrine of the Trinity. The official movement was founded in 1825 as the American Unitarian Association, which merged with the Universalists in 1961. The movement acknowledges that it is no longer a part of the Christian worldview.2

Ouch, not exactly the kind of roots you want to be tied to if I was an Arminian. It’s understandable that Arminianism was attractive to Universalists, because Universalists believe in the innate goodness of human kind through the use of human reason. Arminianism teaches that God gives man innate moral capability to choose Jesus Christ as their Savior based on listening to and understanding the gospel with their human reason. So both elevate the human intellect and human reasoning to have an innate goodness. Calvinism–which I would say is more in line with historic Christianity–understands man to be in a depraved sinful state that is in need of the gracious work of God to revive their minds; the Universalist, humanistic view of man is that he is generally good and can achieve moral progression through the use of the intellect and human reason. For both the Arminian and the Universalist, they both seem to lack an understanding of Scripture such as the following:.

“The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Co 2:14)


1. Hannah, John. Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 2001.

2. Eckman, J. P., The Truth About WorldViews:  : A Biblical Understanding of Worldview Alternatives. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2004.

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