Recent responses to Against Calvinism
By Roger E. Olson, PhD
Here I post two e-mails that typify responses I’ve received from individuals about Against Calvinism.
I’m not going to comment on them, just reproduced them here. I’ll let you, my faithful readers, decide what you think and comment on them. I’ve removed anything that would identify their authors.
“First: I recently read your book, Against Calvinism. I first became aware of your work when I heard the debate you participated in with Dr. Horton on the White Horse Inn podcast. I have leaned towards the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty and will for the past few years and was eager to read your response to the parts of the TULIP that are particularly difficult for my finite mind to fully understand, being distorted by my sinful nature. To make it more interesting, my friend and I actually purchased both your book and Dr. Horton’s book to have a well-rounded presentation from both sides of the argument. My sincere hope is to be challenged in my understanding of this topic because I affirm what was said in your debate, that this is not a small theological matter but one of great importance, influencing everything from how we evangelize to how we view the Church.
I don’t want to waste any of your time because I know that you are a busy man, so I will cut straight to the point. I am very concerned with the way in which you approached your stance against Calvinism in your book. While I understand that you may disagree with the TULIP and many of the “young, restless, and Reformed” crowd, I do not believe that you made any compelling case for a non-Calvinist view. What I was most disappointed in with this work was the lack of Scriptural support for your views. I am certainly open to the plausible arguments that challenge my understanding of theology (because I stand firmly convinced that God uses the Body to sharpen itself) but these views MUST be based from Scripture. My concern is that the same “Reformed” pastors that you make sure to rebuke, all boldly offer Scriptural support for their statements, even if you do feel that it is being used out of context. Instead of rebuking them with Scripture that you believe says something on the contrary, it felt as if you went for an almost secular, agnostic approach to point out what you believe to be cracks in their philosophical foundations.
Secondly, while trying to point out what you feel is erroneous or even heretical within the TULIP, it often felt much more like you were putting God, the Omnipotent, on trial. I feel like I must warn you of the dangerous ground you inhabit by suggesting that if God is indeed the God of Calvinism, that you would not only cease to worship Him, but would refuse Him entirely. You and I are fallen creatures with distorted perceptions of truth, goodness, love, etc. For us, having been given revelation by God and redeemed by the blood of Christ, to suggest that if our theology is challenged on this subject that we would walk away from this God, who has no need to prove Himself to us, is utterly foolish. This kind of spiritual immaturity painfully parallels that in Romans 9.
Dr. Olson, I believe that you are fellow brother in Christ but I pray diligently that you would reconsider your argument as well as your words. Such talk seems much more suited for causing division and stumbling than for building up the Bride of Christ. While I will remain open to reproof concerning this argument, because I believe that we are biblically called to do so, I hope that are reminded that we have finite minds and must take great caution while pointing our finger at the Infinite God. Thank you for your time.”
“It is hard for me to express my thankfulness for your work in putting Arminianism back on the intellectual table as well as broad Evangelicalism. I am completing a book I will shop around. My wife says the title is too bland. It ought to be “Confessions of an Evangelical.” A little voyeurism could help sales!!!! Anyway, I finally switched categories and self-identified as an Arminian. While reading your blog, a most excellent contribution, and your books, I found a way to move beyond the fatal determinism of High Calvinism. It has been a bondage of sorts to me over the last 30 years since my Westminster days. I could never look a man in the eye and say “you might have been chosen for eternal damnation for God’s own pleasure.” I mumbled something or other. But I never had my heart in it. Yet I could find no credible way out. You shined the flashlight on the path I could take. I took that path and feel a freedom theologically I have not had before. The path was there all along, but I couldn’t find a fellowship of careful thinkers who could partner with me. At Westminster the real opposite of the reformed christian was not the lost man but the Arminian man, as the Roman Catholic. This always amused me when I was there. It was like the phenomenon of Roman Catholics thinking their opposite was a Baptist rather than a non-Christian.
I think there are many Christians who are Calvinists because they want to have a high view of God’s glory. They love him with all their heart and want a theology that lifts him up as worthy and full of honor. Deep down they have questions about the deterministic soteriology. It does not ring true to them. But what to do? How can God be God without a Calvinistic ordo salutis? Street version Arminianism, which is mostly semi-Pelagianism, as you so often remind us, has so tarnished Arminianism in many minds, that it is not an option for thinking Christians.
You are also arguing for an inclusive Evangelicalism. High Calvinists are very suspicious of it. For them, it’s watered down Christianity. By my measure I would like to see you confront this at levels that are as sustained as your defense of Arminianism. This is an area where the Calvinists do significant damage. It’s not their beliefs that are so much at issue here but their sheer inability to welcome into fellowship sincere Christ-believers and Christ-followers from other traditions. This is fundamentalism of the Bob Jones kind and its inbreeding creates all manner of strange life forms.
Evangelicalism, for me, is a kind of preservative that keeps the laity from giving any one church the prerogative to claim all that is Christian as their own. With regard to this, I am not a severe critic of denominationalism. The development of denominations of many kinds not only keeps Christians from killing one another but it also leads to an awareness that there is a core that all Christians share. If there was only one denomination, everything that one denomination believes would be all that Christianity is. On the face of it, that could not be true, not in this world. The existence of many denominations forces the laity to an awareness that there is a center. And that center is Evangelicalism.”
For the complete blog entry, go to: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/05/recent-responses-to-against-calvinism/