New In Print And Online: “The Synod of Dort: ‘Keeping Venom from the Lips’”

In the October, 2019 issue of Ordained Servant is an introduction to the Canons of Dort, “The Synod of Dort: Keeping Venom From the Lips.”  It is also available in print. Here’s just a bit with a link to the rest.

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Introduction

Few of our Reformed confessional documents are as valuable and yet as neglected as the Canons of Dort. Today most who know about them think of them as the so-called and quite misleading “Five Points of Calvinism” or TULIP. Indeed, it is anachronistic and reductionist to call them the “Five Points of Calvinism” because Calvin had been dead fifty-four years when the Synod of Dort convened in the Netherlands. It is reductionist because the Canons were never intended to be a complete statement of the Reformed faith. They were the product of ecclesiastical deliberation on the attempt by some within the Reformed church in the Netherlands fundamentally to revise our doctrines of God, man, salvation, the church, and sacraments. Further, what the churches were defending was the Word of God as confessed by the churches, not the formulations of a single pastor, however significant and influential.

Background

Outwardly there was little about young Jacob Arminius (c.1560–1609) that would have signaled his dissatisfaction with the Protestant Reformation. Born in 1560, in Utrecht, he grew up in the Reformed church. His family was martyred by the Spanish when Arminius was away at school and he was supported financially by members of the Reformed church. He was a student in the famous university of Leiden. From there he studied in Geneva under Theodore Beza (1519–1605).

Given that he learned his theology from stoutly Reformed theologians in Leiden and Geneva, it is not easy to explain why Arminius became, if we may, an Arminian. One theory is that he reacted to Beza’s theology, but there is little evidence of this. Arminius’s student disputation shows no evidence of any theological movement. Further, the theory rests on a dated, untenable caricature of Beza’s theology. If Arminius did react to Beza’s supralapsarianism,[1] Beza was unaware of it. He wrote a letter of commendation for Arminius.[2] Another theory is that Arminius’s shift may be traced to his adoption of Ramist logic and pedagogy, but this theory fails to explain too many exceptions. Caspar Olevianus (1536–87), one of Beza’s friends and students, and a formative orthodox Reformed covenant theologian and editor of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) was a Ramist as were William Perkins (1558–1602) and William Ames (1576–1633), whose Reformed orthodoxy is also beyond question. Read more»

    Post authored by:

  • R. Scott Clark
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    R.Scott Clark is the President of the Heidelberg Reformation Association, the author and editor of, and contributor to several books and the author of many articles. He has taught church history and historical theology since 1997 at Westminster Seminary California. He has also taught at Wheaton College, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Concordia University. He has hosted the Heidelblog since 2007.

    More by R. Scott Clark ›

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6 comments

  1. I was wondering if the improperly called “5 Points of Calvinism” should be more properly called the “5 Dortian Points”? Or maybe the “Anti-Remonstrontian 5”?

    • Cynthia,

      If we understand that “Canons” means “rulings” then we know that this is Synod’s response to five issues raised by the Remonstrants and not a comprehensive account of Reformed theology. You’re right, though, that many people treat them (or a boiled down version of them) as such.

  2. A question of clarification: “Arminius rejected the Protestant doctrine of justification sola fide by making faith, rather than Christ’s alien righteousness, the thing imputed.”

    Was Arminius imputing Christ’s faith or fallen human as the thing imputed? I don’t understand how faith can be imputed.

    • Hi Shane,

      Yes, the sentence is correct. Arminius came to believe that the act of faith itself is imputed to us. This became an Arminian/Remonstrant conviction. It was part of the move back toward medieval theology, where faith is no longer a mere instrument that receives Christ and his righteousness but is itself a justifying virtue which, in medieval and Romanist theology, is “formed by love” (i.e., good works make faith justifying and saving).

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