The symposium opened with a prayer offered by professors in the historical costume and persona of John Calvin, Martin Luther, James Arminius, John Wesley, and Ellen White—each highlighting their particular theological contribution. Following an official welcome, a video produced for the symposium on the histoical background the questions the symposium intends to address. The narrator explained that Adventists are not a rootless tree and that although we agree, together with all Christians, that Christ is our salvation, the question is, What exactly does that mean?
The dean of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Dr. Denis Fortin, presented the first paper of the symposium, "Historical and Theological Perspectives on the Rise of Arminianism and the Place of Seventh-day Adventism in the Calvinist-Arminian Debate." Dr. Fortin affirmed that the Seventh-day Adventist understanding has roots in Arminianism via Methodism, and therefore the goal of his paper is to clarify the Arminian dispute with Calvinism as a background for Seventh-day Adventism
Arminius began his conflict with traditional Calvinism in the area of predestination, and therefore it is necessary to understand Calvinist articulations of predestination in order to understand why Arminius saw it necessary to propose a alternative. The Calvinist conception of God is an impassible, timeless being existing in an eternal present that causes everything that happens outside of himself. The supralapsarian Calvinists ("before the fall") decided that logical order (as opposed to chronological order, since for Calvinists God experiences everything at once) of God's eternal decrees would be that which, in their view, most glorifies God:
- To predestine some to eternal life in heaven and some others to eternal damnation in hell
- To create both the saved and the reprobate;
- To allow the fall of humanity;
- To provide atonement and salvation only for the elect;
- To give salvation only to the elect.
The five points of the Remonstrance did not reject the conception of God on which these decrees were based. Rather, they took issue with the theological coherence these decrees in the Five points of the Remonstrance:
- God’s election of people is conditional to their response.
- Christ died for all sinners.
- Human freewill is restored by the Holy Spirit.
- Grace can be resisted.
- Believers may persevere in the faith or fall from grace.
The Synod of Dort was formed by Reformed churches in Holland, France, England, and Switzerland to consider these Remonstrance. Because these points allowed for human cooperation in salvation, they were seen as tending towards the justification by works, the very point on which the reformers differed with the Catholic Church. Therefore, the Synod of Dort rejected the five points of the Remonstrance, and responded with five points of their own—the TULIP of Calvinism:
- the Total depravity of human beings,
- the Unconditional election of the redeemed,
- the Limited atonement of Christ only for the redeemed,
- the Irresistible grace of God toward the redeemed, and
- the Perseverance of the Saints.
Thus came the split between Arminianism and Calvinism, from which Adventism emerged on the Arminian side. Fortin finds five points in Arminius' Doctrine and Sentiments that resonate well with Adventist theology.
- The order of salvation as described in the Bible—repentance and belief followed by forgiveness, gifts of the Spirit, and eternal life—is to be taken at face value.
- It is a flawed conception of God's character that makes possible the claim that God predestined some to salvation and by extension others to damnation.
- If human beings were predestined to eternal life or damnation, then God has given us only the appearance of free will.
- If God derives more glory from the salvation of some and the damnation of others than he does from the creation of human beings, why create human beings in the first place?
- If God predestines everything, including the fall, then that makes God the first and, in the final analysis, only sinner.
Fortin noted that although Adventists do not have an Augustinian or scholastic worldview, they have an essentially Arminan theology. Adventists believe the core characteristic of God is selfless love, and therefore God allows Satan's rebellion against him in order to demonstrate that the foundation of his law is truly love. God's eternal plan to save in Jesus was formulated before creation, and Jesus came to show God's true character. Since God's law is based on love, Adventists believe the strongest expression we can give to God's love is keeping the commandments, not in order to be saved, but to thank God for salvation.
At their core, these convictions are based on an Arminian understanding of God's character, the origin of evil, human freed will, and the role of grace in salvation. Therefore, Fortin concludes that although Adventism has much in common with other Christian groups, it is fundamentally Arminian.