Roger Olson, “My Response to John Piper Regarding ‘The Heart of the Calvinist-Arminian Divide’”

, posted by Steven Wolf

Before reading this you should read and/or watch/listen to John Piper’s June 24, 2019 explanation of his perspective on the “heart of the Calvinist-Arminian Divide.” (You can locate it by using a search engine to find “John Piper” and “The Heart of the Calvinist-Arminian Divide Desiring God” (key words).

First let me say that I am flattered that Dr. Piper considers me a worthy proponent of classical Arminianism and that he represents my view of the order of salvation fairly if not completely. That is not to say I agree with his interpretation of my view of the order of salvation; I am only saying that I appreciate that he does not intentionally misrepresent it. “My view,” which I believe is the classical Arminian one, would say more than is found in the quotations he provides. But I do not fault him for limiting it to the quotations and I think his interpretation is fair from a Calvinist point of view even if wrong.

Second let me say that I am pleased by Piper’s irenic tone in this particular talk and blog essay; there is in it none of the “attack” approach to Arminians and Arminianism that I have sensed in the past in many Calvinists’ talk about Arminianism. One could almost think now that perhaps Piper considers at least some Arminians fellow evangelicals and not heretics.

However, Dr. Piper and I have two major disagreements that need to be mentioned here.

First, what Piper identifies as the “heart” of the Calvinist-Arminian divide is not that. The true heart of the divide has to do with the character of God. I have made that abundantly clear in my writings and every classical Arminian I know agrees with me about that.

Second, Arminianism does not, as Piper suggests, make the free decision of faith the “decisive factor” in a sinner’s salvation. It is a factor, yes, but not the decisive one and I can demonstrate that by means of an illustration.

So, to the first disagreement. The heart of the Calvinist-Arminian divide is the character of God implied by Calvinism. True, Calvinists rarely say that their theology makes God the author of sin and evil, but there really can be no escaping that. And Arminius himself made abundantly clear that this was for him the single most important difference between his theology and that of what today is called TULIP Calvinism, double predestination Calvinism, which is the theology of Dr. Piper and others who today promote Calvinism among evangelicals.

Calvinism strives to say that the God they describe is loving and good, but it is impossible to show convincingly how he is loving and good toward all people. Saying that he gives the reprobate temporal blessings while predestining them to hell is only saying that he gives them a little bit of heaven to go to hell in. That does nothing to rescue God’s character. As John Wesley said, that God is a love such as makes the blood run cold.

To the second disagreement. An underlying issue is, of course, whether salvation is sheer gift or partly earned. The argument that Arminianism makes it less than a sheer gift such that it is partly earned by the free decision to accept it simply does not make sense once one really understands the Arminian view.

Here it is necessary to offer an illustration. The questions it seeks to answer is whether a gift freely accepted is still wholly a gift and whether freely accepting a gift can fairly be called “the decisive factor” in having the gift.

Imagine a beggar who is homeless and hungry. A generous person gives him a money order of sufficient value to rent a nice little apartment, live in it comfortably, and to buy groceries for a month. All the beggar has to do is sign the money order and cash it at the nearest “money store.” He does that and settles comfortably into his new digs and eats heartily. Now he is able to go out and find a job and the man who gave him the money has already set up several interviews for jobs the former beggar is qualified to have.

Now imagine that the former beggar begins telling people that his decision to accept the money order and cash it was the “decisive factor” in his having this new lifestyle. First, would anyone really agree with him or would they frown and think “He’s an ingrate”? Second, would anyone think the gift was any less a gift because the man accepted it (even if some others rejected an identical gift offered)? I don’t think so.

This saying that Arminianism makes the free decision of faith the “decisive factor” in having salvation is an old canard that has been passed around among Calvinists for decades if not centuries. It simply cannot be supported once one thinks about the nature of “gift.” A gift is rarely imposed on someone. And a gift not imposed but freely received is no less a gift.

All classical Arminians affirm that salvation is sheer gift and that no works done by sinners, including freely receiving it, merit any part of it. The decisive factor in receiving and having salvation is God’s work in Jesus Christ and his free offer of the gift of salvation to undeserving sinners.

[This post was taken from Roger Olson’s blog, where comments can be made.]