by Roger Olson
I hold in my grubby little hands the first ever copy of Against Calvinism (outside the publisher’s warehouse). I received my author’s advance copy yesterday.
You know, when you’ve worked on a book for two years (and actually longer if one includes the years of preparing to write such a book) and gone through the ordeal of reading the edited manuscript and answering editors’ questions and making revisions and reading page proofs, etc., etc., the arrival of the book itself is kind of anti-climactic. I finished the manuscript well over a year ago and submitted to the publisher. It doesn’t usually take that long to get a book published, but for some reason….
During the year leading up to my writing of the book (which took nine days) I read numerous books by Calvinists about Calvinism and Reformed theology. I totally immersed myself (I am a Baptist after all) in solid Calvinist literature. I wanted to make sure I knew Calvinism inside and out and so read many books that repeated each other looking for that one morsel of something distinctive to one Calvinist author — perhaps an explanation of a murky point of Calvinism other authors don’t explain. It was quite the exercise in cognitive dissonance! Nothing I read even slightly caused me to re-think my stand against Calvinism.
The book is itself not very impressive looking. That’s on purpose. We (the publisher and I) want it to be the kind of book that doesn’t intimidate anyone. It’s just over 200 pages (with somewhat small print,unfortunately) and paperback and cheap. My whole purpose was to write a book that young people attracted to Calvinism could afford and read with ease. But I didn’t want to write something shallow and easily shot down, either, so it’s not written in too popular a style. I quote Calvinists a lot and go fairly deeply into underlying issues such as nominalism versus realism (always explained, of course) and different views of free will such as compatibilism and non-compatibilism. I realize those sections may turn some readers off, but if I didn’t cover them critics would score me for those omissions. It was a delicate balance and I hope I achieved it.
I had several trusted people read the manuscript and comment on it. Some of them were not theologians, but all were aware of the issues. I revised parts of the manuscript they pointed to as too technical or difficult to understand to make everything accessible to people not trained in theology. All of them had the same reaction–that my book absolutely devastates high federal Calvinism (“decretal theology” of the TULIP variety) UNLESS one is willing to worship a God who is at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster OR embrace sheer contradiction.
I have no illusions about my book convincing dyed-in-the-wool Calvinists. I hope it will raise questions in the minds of many attracted to Calvinism who haven’t realized its “good and necessary consequences” (a phrase borrowed from the Westminster Confession of Faith). And I hope it will help pastors, youth pastors, parents and friends talk with young people (and others) attracted to Calvinism. My goal is not to abolish Calvinism; I don’t even envision that as a possibility. My goal is only to point out good arguments against it so people will know it is not a theology without problems. (I admit mine is not without problems, either, but so much has been published about the “problems” of Arminianism and so little has been published by major publishers pointing out the most serious problems of Calvinism.)
I anticipate some critics will accuse me of being divisive with this book. It’s not “nice” to write books with the word “against” in the title, right? (Unless it’s against a cult or false worldview such as secular humanism.) What those critics need to take into account is that MOST books about Calvinism by committed five point Calvinists INCLUDE arguments AGAINST Arminianism even if that’s not part of the titles. Almost every book I read explaining and defending Calvinism by a Calvinist included harsh attacks on Arminianism–often unfair ones.
One thing I hope to have accomplished in Against Calvinism is fairness toward a view with which I strongly disagree. I bent over backwards not to accuse Calvinists of believing things they do not believe. What I do say, however, is that IF they were being consistent they would have to say those things. I don’t say (as some Calvinists do with Arminians) that they do actually believe those things (e.g., that God is the author of sin and evil). What I say is that their beliefs about God inexorably lead there even if they don’t all go there (some do). But their views of God still injure God’s reputation by strongly implying that God is the author of sin and evil (as Zwingli, for example, openly admitted and had no qualms about defending).
My one request to my friends and supporters is that you read the book and then post favorable reviews of it at amazon.com and other sites like that. I full expect that some Calvinists will post negative reviews there to try to keep people from even reading the book. (Within a few days after Finding God in the Shack was published one Calvinist blogger posted an extremely negative review at amazon.com. Unfortunately, it was the first one and may have convinced some people not even to read the book. I’m convinced he didn’t even read the whole book because he implied that I had no criticisms of the book and swallowed its depictions of God whole.)
Of course, I invite discussion of Against Calvinism here [at his site]. Read it and feel free to post comments; I’ll respond as much as possible.
[Editor’s note: The original post and commenting can be found here.]