It is common among Calvinists to say that Arminians do not believe in total depravity. In his book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, Roger Olson lays to rest this and many other misconceptions concerning Arminians. On this topic he quotes Arminius saying:

“In this state, the Free Will of man towards the True Good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent and weakened [attenuatum]; but it is also imprisoned [captivatum], destroyed, and lost: And its powers are not only debilitated and useless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatsoever except such as are excited by Divine grace.”

Olson continues, “This Arminian statement alone should put to rest the all-too-common misconception that Arminius and Arminians believe the human free will survived the Fall intact. Leading Reformed scholar Robert Letham perpetuates this myth in his article ‘Arminianism’ in The Westminster Handbook to Reformed Theology. Describing Arminius’ theology he writes, ‘Moreover, [for him] the fallen will remains free.’ This is, of course, simply not true.”

Olson does acknowledge that some Arminians have strayed from classic Arminianism. Most notably the late-seventeenth-century Remonstant leader Philip Limborch and Charles Finney but both of these men do not represent classic Arminianism. Olson says, “Unfortunately, so it seems, many Calvinist critics of Arminianism know only of Limbach’s and Finney’s ideas and are totally unaware of Arminius’ own affirmation of total depravity.

The debate between Calvinists and Arminians will always be with us but it is vitally important that we correctly understand the views of those you are challenging. Olson’s book is a must-read for properly understanding classic Arminianism.

Arminian Theology