Anti-Calvinists: The Rise of English Arminianism c. 1590-1640.By Nicholas Tyacke. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990 [reprinted, 1991]. xxi + 303 pp. Paper, $26.00.
Readers who enjoy church history will find this book truly absorbing. Tyacke’s study forms part of the Oxford Historical Monographs series and was first published in cloth in 1987. A foreword to the paperback edition (issued in 1990) allows the author to interact with the various responses to his views that had appeared since the book’s original publication.
Essentially the book traces the theological (and political) struggles between Calvinist and Arminian leaders within the Church of England over a span of fifty years. Tyacke shows that while Calvinism was the dominant religious perspective at the end of Elizabeth’s reign and during that of King James I, under Charles I the Calvinists fell from political power. Following the dissolution of Parliament in 1629 by Charles I, a decade followed in which the Arminians were favored by the king and held power. In 1633 one of their own number, William Laud, actually became Archbishop of Canterbury. After 1640 Arminian dominance was decisively terminated by events that climaxed in the English Civil War, which brought the Puritans to power.
The GES reader will be especially interested in the numerous quotations from Calvinists and Arminians which deal directly with soteriology. From these fascinating “snippets” of theological debate, one can make a number of observations. (1) Calvinists had already given up the concept of universal atonement (as held by Calvin) in favor of the view that Christ died effectively only for the elect. (The Synod of Dort occurred during this period, i.e., in 1618–1619.) The Arminians maintained universal atonement. (2) The doctrine of salvation by faith suffered distortion on both sides. Arminians maintained the view that faith alone, apart from works, was not enough to guarantee final salvation. For Calvinists faith had become, not so much confidence in Christ, but confidence in one’s own election. (3) Arminians denied the possibility of firm assurance of final salvation, while the Calvinists maintained it. So far as this volume’s quotations are concerned, one does not yet see the weakening of assurance which today is intrinsic to 5-point Calvinism. But the seeds were clearly already planted. Since faith, for the 17th century Calvinist, had become confidence in one’s election, it was inevitable that any search for “evidences” of one’s election (i.e., “works”) would undermine assurance even within Calvinism.
One hopes that the debates engaged in at the top levels of the Church of England between 1590 and 1640 are not a fully adequate cross section of English religious beliefs in that era. To the extent that they are, they bear testimony to widespread blindness to the biblical doctrine of grace during this memorable period of British history.
Zane C. Hodges
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society