Ben Witherington and Roger Olson, “Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology – Part 3”

, posted by SEA

BEN: On p. 51 you quote the Westminister Confession about ‘the chief end of humans being to glorify God and enjoy him forever’. You go on to quote Arminius to that effect. But what that Confession in fact does not say is ‘the chief end or purpose of God is to glorify himself!’ a rather different matter than it being the chief purpose of humans to glorify God. Could you clarify this please? Was Arminius only saying just what the Westminister Confession says, or was he saying both these things about both divine and human ends and purposes?

ROGER: Taken alone that statement does not say God’s chief end is to glorify himself. The rest of the Westminster Confession may imply that, but when I affirm the statement in isolation I am not saying God’s chief end is his own self-glorification. I agree with Irenaeus that God’s glory is the human being fully alive. Arminius died approximately forty years before the Westminster Shorter Catechism was written, but I think he would agree with that single statement. In fact, I have written an essay about Arminianism being a theology of God’s glory; it’s published somewhere besides on my blog but that might be the best place to find it. “Google” for it.

BEN: Covenantal theology has always been important to Reformed theology, and I agree that Arminius is in agreement with the Reformed theologians that emphasize two covenants—the covenant of works established with Adam, and the covenant of grace established through and by Christ. Of course the problem is, this is a caricature of things from an exegetical point of view. The reason Adam was given only a commandment was he was already in right relationship with God! He didn’t require saving before his disobedience. But if instead we were to compare and contrast the Mosaic covenant with the new covenant, as say, Paul does, still Paul’s point is not works vs. grace, or law vs. grace, but rather that works of the Mosaic Law cannot save fallen human beings, whereas the grace of Christ can. Furthermore, Paul recognizes that the Mosaic covenant involved grace, came with glory and that the commandments were good, he simply wants to say that the new covenant involves saving grace through Christ, which eclipses the former covenant and the giving of the Spirit enables the believer to respond positively to the imperatives of the new covenant. As some Reformed theologians have pointed out— there is law in the new covenant (the law of Christ) just as there was in the Mosaic covenant. This fact seems to be problematic for the Lutherans, but not for the Reformed. Would Arminius have agreed with these lines of thinking?

ROGER: I honestly don’t know. I think Arminius bent over backwards to find agreement with Reformed theology in his context. I do not think Arminianism is tied inextricably with federal theology. But let me point out one area about federal/covenant theology where I think perhaps you get it wrong. As I understand it, in classical federal theology, the covenant of grace was established before Christ even though the grace of it is inextricably tied to Christ’s atonement. The covenant of works was with Adam until he disobeyed when God replaced it with a covenant of grace—at least for the elect. But I admit I find federal theology difficult to understand. There seem to be so many versions of it!

[Link to original post on Ben Witherington’s blog]