3 - Arminianism: the controversy that never was  pp. 45-66

Arminianism: the controversy that never was

By William Lamont

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The relationship of Arminianism to the coming of the English Civil War satisfies two reasonable requirements of any controversy. It sparked off debate at the time; it continues to divide historians today. In what sense then can it be called a non-existent controversy? Only in one sense, but an important one, namely that the theological issues raised by Arminians in the Netherlands at the end of the sixteenth century got a proper airing in England, neither just before the Civil War, nor even during it, but after it. The rival schools of historians explain this phenomenon differently; one ascribes it to censorship, and to the ability of a clerical elite to throttle debate – at least until the 1650s, while the other sees it as proof of the consuming lack of interest in such matters, until taken up by the politicians for their own self-serving ends. But at least they agree that the golden age of theological debate on Arminianism was in the England of the 1650s, not of the 1630s or 1640s.

That debate could be said to begin with Richard Baxter's Aphorismes of Justification in 1649. His was a Puritan attack upon anti-Arminianism, just as it had been in New England between 1636 and 1638 when the ministers there attacked Anne Hutchinson (a parallel drawn on by Baxter and his supporters). That attack was to drive a doctrinal wedge between Presbyterianism and Congregationalism, culminating in the Pinners–Hall schism at the end of the century.