Ben Witherington and Roger Olson, “Roger Olson’s Arminian Theology – Part 6”

, posted by SEA

BEN: At one point you say (p. 70) “Scripture alone cannot prove one side right and other side wrong”. I think I must disagree. Scripture is consistent on these issues precisely because it reflects the consistent mind and revealed will of God. While it is true that equally good exegetes may come to different conclusions or privilege different texts in their interpretative schemes, this doesn’t mean they are both right. In fact they could be both wrong in their interpretations. On p. 43 as well you seem to think that one can do theology without detailed exegesis as its foundation. All of this raises the question— what is the relationship between careful exegesis of relevant texts and the doing of Protestant theology? Should theology be done simply on the basis of some sort inherent logic or internal consistency in a system, regardless of whether it accords with proper exegesis of key texts? And what is the relationship between Biblical theology, carefully built up from exegesis of the Scriptures, and Arminian and Calvinist theological systems?

ROGER: I didn’t say both are right! I clearly do think Scripture sides with Arminianism (or that Arminians is the better theology exegetically). What I MEAN is that one cannot prove in a sort of knock-down, drag-out way that Calvinist interpreters are just wrong-headed misinterpreters of Scripture. The solution is theology—a holistic and synthetic vision of WHO God is as revealed in the WHOLE of Scripture as opposed to proof texting. The “inner logic” of the Bible supports Arminianism, but I don’t say that Calvinists are stupid or (as some of them say of Arminians) “dishonoring Scripture.” Furthermore, I do say that strong, high Calvinism is internally incoherent UNLESS it is simply based on nominalistic voluntarism in the doctrine of God—which I think does lurk around in the background of that Calvinism. In other words, God is a-moral; whatever God does is morally good and right just because God does it. Very few Calvinists want to say that, but it’s difficult to avoid.

BEN: As an exegete, I do think it is possible to show that Calvinistic exegesis, for example of Rom. 8-11 is wrong at many crucial turns. And if the exegesis is wrong, then the theology built out of it is at least to a significant degree wrong. It would be fair to say that just as Lutheran views on human nature are based on a rather profound misreading of Romans 7.13-25, so Calvinistic views on election, foreknowledge, predestination are based on a profound misreading of Rom. 8-11. I simply do not think that classical Arminian interpretation of the Bible labors under these same deficiencies if by classical Arminianism one means the view that the goodness of God is the starting point of understanding God, and that human being, enabled by God’s grace, have the power of contrary choice when it comes to the issue of whether one will have a positive relationship with God or not. The Bible is perfectly clear that God cannot be tempted, does not do evil, and should not be credited with sin or evil. This means something is very wrong with the Calvinistic view of God and his plans for human kind. I am not saying there are not exegetical weaknesses in the Arminian approach to some texts, for example, it is hard to get Christian perfection as a live possibility here and now, before death, out of what is said about the matter in the NT. But of course Wesleyan perfection is a further development of classical Arminianism. You don’t find it in Arminius. What I found helpful about the discussion on pp. 70ff. is the idea of ‘perspective’, in particular over-all perspective on God and God’s relationship with humankind, affects of course how one interprets certain key texts. I take it that what you’re saying is that so strong is that perspective or world view, that when a Calvinist for example comes to a text that seems to clearly state that God loves the whole world and desires all to be saved, the instinctive reaction is to say ‘that text can’t possibly mean that as it conflicts with the overall tenor of Biblical theology’, or words to that effect. And similarly with Arminians, when they come to text that seems to speak about God predestining things, they break out in a rash and say— it couldn’t really mean that, could it? Talk to us a bit more about the philosophical notion of ‘blik’ and how it affects interpretation of the Bible one way or another. If we are not capable of doing reasonably objective exegesis of the Bible because of strong prior theological commitments, are we even capable of doing good theology?

ROGER: A blik is a way of seeing something “as.” That does not mean it is automatically correct. But a true blik is not amenable to simple “evidence” because it determines what counts as evidence. So how can a blik be changed? Only by being persuaded to see a thing (e.g., God) “as” different. I have never found exegesis alone to “work” on Calvinists. What I have found to work sometimes is persuading them to try seeing God “as” love through the example of Jesus Christ as the full revelation of God’s character. I am not saying exegesis is irrelevant; I am just saying it alone does not falsify Calvinism TO most Calvinists because they can only see the texts “as” saying that God is all-determining.

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