Roger Olson, “A Classic Book about ‘Corporate Election’ Revised, Enlarged, and Re-Published”

, posted by SEA

I’m delighted to announce here the new publication of a modern Arminian classic:The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election by William Klein, Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. This “Revised and Expanded Edition” is published by Wipf & Stock (2015).

“Wait!” someone will say. Maybe Klein will say it: “This isn’t an ‘Arminian’ book! It’s a proposal for going around both Calvinism and Arminianism.” That’s the impression given about the book by Klein himself in the two introductions—to the first edition and to the revised edition. However, as a somewhat knowledgeable Arminian I can say with some confidence Klein’s account of election is completely consistent with classical Arminianism. As I have demonstrated in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (InterVarsity Press), in classical Arminian theology “election” is a corporate concept—as it is in Scripture (which Klein demonstrates in this fine book).

The issue that separates classical Calvinism from classical Arminianism is a simple and straightforward one and it can be expressed in several different ways. Klein himself asks it in several ways near the end of his book. One example is this: “Does the NT teach that people have a ‘free will’ (a volatile an debatable term) which puts them in a position to accept or reject the offer of salvation?” (283) Klein’s answer is the classical Arminian one: “While the unaided human heart is wicked, God has granted grace so that people are able, with that divine enablement [which elsewhere Klein specifically names as “prevenient grace”] to turn from their wickedness to God, embracing his salvation. What would be the point of the prophet’s appeal, if the inhabitants of Jerusalem were incapable of heeding it?” (284) Then Klein continues (later in that section answering that question) “God desires to save all. It is illogical to assert that despite that explicit statement of his will, God grants the capacity to believe only to a select few. If God desires that all be saved [which Klein affirms on the basis of many Scripture passages] and that none perish, then it must mean that God has graciously given people the capacity to believe, if only they will.” (284-5)

On pages 295-297 of this new edition, Klein specifically discusses Calvinism, Arminianism and “Calminianism.” He is cautiously critical of the “Calminian” hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism: “Many cling to Calminianism in a benighted effort to be faithful to Scripture. My observation is that they have misinterpreted what Scripture teaches about God’s will and the nature of his sovereignty.” (297) Overall his account of individual salvation, including God’s provision of it in the atonement, is entirely compatible with classical Arminianism. He seems hesitant, however, to embrace that label (viz., “Arminian”) for himself or his theology. I suspect that is because in his/our evangelical Baptist circles labeling oneself “Arminian,” no matter how carefully that is explained and nuanced, is an invitation to accusations of heresy (viz., “Pelagianism!” or “Semi-Pelagianism!”).

I could pick out many statements by Klein in this book to which any knowledgeable Arminian can only say “Yes” and “Amen!” and to which any knowledgeable Calvinist can only say “No.” Here is one example: “My analyses of the relevant election texts have led me to adopt the view of corporate election, so my contribution to this particular debate [between Calvinists and Arminians] is minimal…. I contend that those who exercise faith in Christ enter the company of the elect, the church of Jesus Christ. Christ’s death is not merely sufficient for all; it is God’s intention that all enjoy his redemption. God wants all to be saved; the criterion for entrance into the elect body is faith or trust in God’s provision. Therefore, the question of whether God determines to save some and to damn others, or whether he decides to save only some and simply leaves others to their fate, is moot. Jesus will not cast out any who come to him; those who refuse to come to Jesus have only themselves to blame.” (297)

I would argue that Klein’s “contribution to this particular debate [between Calvinists and Arminians]” is enormous and entirely supportive of the classical Arminian side of the debate.

My experience, however, is that many writers on this subject (viz., God’s sovereignty, election, predestination, free will, etc.) think they have found a way “around” Calvinism and Arminianism. Most often, when I read their proposals I say (first to myself, then sometimes to them) “That’s classical Arminianism.” The notion that “Arminianism” is semi-Pelagian, that it discounts total depravity, for example, or necessarily rejects the “eternal security of the believer” is very deeply entrenched among American evangelicals—including some Arminians! I have spent years attempting to correct that mistaken interpretation of Arminianism and Arminian theology.

Klein’s book is an excellent treatment of “election” and related theological subjects and I find it completely compatible with classical Arminian theology. The only thing I fear is that some readers will think it provides a biblically-based alternative to Calvinism and Arminianism. It doesn’t. It’s entirely supportive of classical Arminianism—whatever the author’s intentions may be.