It’s All in Arminius: Mormonism as a Form of Hyper-Arminianism

In 2005, a Calvinist scholar named Mark Hausam presented a paper at the Sunstone Symposium. The title of that paper is “It’s All in Arminius: Mormonism as a Form of Hyper-Arminianism.” His paper was very insightful, and walks through some of the commonalities and differences between Calvinism, Arminianism, and Mormonism. For Latter-day Saints who need a better grasp on what exactly Calvinism and Arminianism is, and how they relate (or don’t relate) to Mormonism, I highly recommend this paper.

I’ve attached his paper (linked below), and I’ve also linked to an audio recording of the presentation. At the end of the presentation in the audio recording you will be treated to a response by LDS philosopher Blake Ostler. Much thanks to Mark Hausam for sharing this paper with me, and for permitting me to share it with others.

Paper (pdf):  It’s All in Arminius: Mormonism as a Form of Hyper-Arminianism

Audio: https://www.sunstonemagazine.com/shop/products/?product_id=1094&category=3

P.S. I’m not a big Sunstone fan. But sometimes I find gems like this when searching through old symposiums. Nothing against Sunstone, it just isn’t my thing.

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6 comments on “It’s All in Arminius: Mormonism as a Form of Hyper-Arminianism

  1. EditorJack says:

    Overall, a cogent and thoughtful analysis of Mormon versus Calvinist belief. However, I think Mr. Hausam misunderstands the basis of the Mormon view of salvation. On page 31 he writes, “In this state of bondage to the flesh, we are unable to choose the right. But if we are unable to do good, we cannot be justly condemned for doing evil. God would be unjust if he were to condemn us without giving us the opportunity, or chance, to be saved.”

    I believe that analysis to be incorrect. The Book of Mormon teaches that because of the Atonement, we *are* able to do good, and that our condemnation comes because we don’t.

    A better understanding of the LDS view comes from a close reading of D&C 45:3-5: “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified. Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”

    As I understand it, God’s grace comes not because he “would be unjust if he were to condemn us without giving us the opportunity, or chance, to be saved.” (Actually he is perfectly just to condemn us, not for the evil that we *are* but for the evil that we have *done*–another reason for agency’s importance in Mormon theology.) God’s grace comes because it was unjust for the Savior to suffer and die when he didn’t deserve to do so. Thus, the Savior can call upon God to “spare these . . . that believe” on his name, even though they don’t deserve to be spared. Thus, they are saved by grace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

    That leads us to the need for a conversation about what it means to “believe on [his] name,” which is where the notion of merit comes in. But it’s not merit that saves us–not by any stretch.

  2. James says:

    Thanks for your comments Jack. Are there any authors, books, articles, etc. that you would recommend for a rigorous study of LDS soteriology (besides the standard works)?

  3. David Wetzel says:

    Thank you for the link to Hausam’s paper. I might want to cite it in my master’s thesis. Has it been published anywhere? Does Sunstone publish articles from their symposium? Please help if you can. thanks!
    david
    raelynnmogli@yahoo.com

  4. James says:

    David,

    As far as I know Hausam’s paper has not been published anywhere. He presented it at Sunstone but it only exists in audio. I contacted him directly and asked for his paper.

    What is your thesis about?

    James

    • David Wetzel says:

      James–thanks for responding; I re-visited this website and just found your reply. Do you know how I can contact Mark Hausam?

      I’m studying Book of Mormon atonement doctrine in its historical context. It’s published into a wonderful theological discussion between Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism.

      I just checked the box that says to notify me when follow-up comments are posted. Thanks for you help!
      david

  5. I read the entire paper. It was very well written, and I think his point about Arminianism and Mormonism being so similar is correct. I think he had enormous errors in his summary or conclusions about Mormon doctrines and beliefs. He frequently altered the meaning of key words (like “deserve”) halfway through the paper. I placed several marginal comments in my PDF copy. If you’d like a copy of my annotated version, I can email it to you; just give me your email address.

    It seems to me that this ongoing disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism can be summarized as a conflict between two classical, absolute attributes: omnipotence and omnibenevolence (God being all-powerful and perfectly good). If God is perfectly good, then he only holds us responsible for things that are within our ability to choose; he doesn’t punish us for things we can’t choose. If God is all-powerful (by an extreme, hyperlogical definition), then he controls everything; everything that we think we are choosing is really God’s actions.

    So if we think God is both all-powerful and perfectly good, then why does he punish people for their actions, since he determined their actions? One of the two definitions has to give a little, and be given a slightly softer definition.

    Mormons and Arminians choose to alter the definition of all-powerful. We say things like, “Of all possible things, God can do them all.” We say all-powerful doesn’t mean he is the only free agent. We say that the existence and action of other free agents, doing things that God doesn’t want, does not make him no longer Almighty.

    Calvinists choose to alter the definition of perfectly good. In his paper, Hausam asserts odd things like, “We don’t need to ‘activate’ grace by our good choice; grace is efficacious because it itself ‘activates,’ or, more properly, creates, a good will in those to whom it is given.” So people “freely” choose things once they have been given a “will” that chooses only good things. How can you “choose” if your choices are predetermined by something else?

    A Mormon or Arminian would respond that Calvinists make choice, and thus goodness (because it involves applying punishment only to choices), meaningless. The simplest response I can think of to Calvinist ideas is, “Well, maybe everything you say is true. But since God hasn’t reached into my heart and replaced it with a believing one, I’m powerless to accept your persuasive explanations. But it’s not my fault that I’m unable to believe you; God just hasn’t done it to me yet.” That’s the logically consistent result of Calvinist thinking.

    A Calvinist would respond that Arminians and Mormons make God’s sovereignty meaningless. “How can he be in control of everything if you and I are free to accept or reject him?”

    It seems to me that this is the simplest way to frame the disagreement—a contradiction between an absolute definition of goodness, and an absolute definition of all-powerfulness. One of them has to give.

    It’s another matter entirely whether a person’s way of resolving this contradiction should determine whether they can be called “Christian.” Hausam seems to conclude that Arminians really shouldn’t be called Christian, just like Mormons aren’t, but the rest of the Christian world just hasn’t realized it yet.

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