Continuing Frustration with Calvinists Misrepresenting Arminianism

, posted by SEA

by Roger Olson

It happens all the time. I move around in evangelical circles quite a bit and overhear conversations and receive comments about Arminianism. And I invite Calvinists to my classes. I am certainly not claiming that all Calvinists are guilty of this, but many, in my experience, do not seem to care about representing Arminianism fairly.

Here’s a typical example. A friend and I drove quite a way to browse at a used theological bookstore. The owner is a passionate five point Calvinist who actually has TULIP tracts that he gives out. Here’s how the conversation went:

Owner: “Oh, you were here once before. We talked about Arminianism because you were preparing to write your Arminianism book.”

I: “Oh, yes, now I remember. That was a while back.”

Owner: “Yes, you tried to convince me that Arminius was not an Arminian.”

I: “Well, no, I tried to convince you that Arminius was not a Pelagian or semi-Pelagian.”

Owner: “Right. Arminius was not a Pelagian.”

Huh? Now perhaps he was just confused, but I doubt it. The way I interpreted his final comment was as saying that although Arminius might not have been a Pelagian, Arminianism is Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. (I know several Calvinists who try to drive a wedge between Arminius himself as Arminians and Arminianism. One well-known evangelical Calvinist actually calls Wesley a “confused Calvinist”!)

What I think is that many Calvinists are so stuck in thinking of Arminianism as Pelagian or semi-Pelagian that they simply can’t revise their opinion no matter what evidence is shown or told to them. I have sent Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities to many evangelical Calvinists. Only two have bothered to respond. A couple others that I know of reviewed the book for journals or at their blogs. Their critiques were that I am simply redefining Arminianism. Again, huh? I quote Arminius and almost every influential Arminian theologian since him demonstrating conclusively that they all absolutely rejected Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism (with the exception of the liberal Remonstrants such as Philip Limborch — that is, “Arminians of the head” who moved away from Arminius, and later Wesley, in many ways such that they can hardly be considered really Arminian).

I have yet to read a book by or hear a lecture by or listen to conversation by a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist who fairly represents Arminianism which means representing it as Arminians themselves represent it. I’m not asking them to buy into it or support it, all I want is fair representation such as they want from non-Calvinists of Calvinism! I’m not seeing or hearing that yet among Calvinists — even ones I know have read my book.

I go out of my way to represent Calvinism fairly. I require my students to read Calvin and Edwards and, when I teach an elective that deals with God’s sovereignty, I make sure the students read something by a Calvinist on that subject. And I don’t let them get away with distorting the Calvinist position. The same when I teach an adult Sunday School class or speak to a church group or whatever — I always first explain Calvinism as a Calvinist would explain it and only then say why I disagree. I never set up a straw man and then burn it.

I wish someone would point me to an exception. Where is a dyed-in-the-wool Calvinist who fairly represents Arminianism before criticizing it? I haven’t met or read or heard him or her.

So what am I after? Clear explanation of Arminian belief in total depravity and prevenient grace and that Arminians’ main concern is not free will but God’s character and of Arminian affirmation of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty over his sovereignty and Arminian affirmation of justification by grace alone through faith alone.

So, if you know of a Calvinist author or speaker who has fairly represented Arminianism in his or her book or article or whatever, let us know who this stranger is. I’d like to congratulate him or her!