One of our members, well known Arminian theologian Roger Olson, has weighed in on the controversy stirred up by Scot McKnight’s recent comments about those he has labeled the “Neo-Reformed” (see our recent post about McKnight’s comments). Roger has made his view available for posting here at SEA. Here are his comments:
- I appreciate and agree with everything Scot McKnight has written in his
blog postings “Who are the NeoReformed?” (See his blog The Jesus
Creed.) He was very judicious about naming names. Namely, naming names
would only inflame the controversy and make things worse. “If the shoe
I would like to add that many contemporary Calvinists who are feeding the “young, restless and Reformed” the fuel with which they go out and cause trouble (one of them told me I’m not even saved because I’m an Arminian!) totally misrepresent Arminianism (to say nothing of other traditions).
Here is a quote from one Calvinist pastor’s sermon on limited atonement: ”The Arminian limits the nature and value and effectiveness of the atonement so that he can say that it was accomplished even for those who die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for all men in the same way, the Arminian must limit the atonement to a powerless opportunity for men to save themselves from their terrible plight of depravity.”
Now, either this well-educated pastor knows little about classical Arminian theology or he is intentionally mispresenting it. But in the former case he should have read at least my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Because his statement is simply false. It completely ignores the Arminian emphasis on prevenient grace.
One thing I find appalling but often practiced by the people Scot calls ”NeoReformed” is attributing to others beliefs the others not only do not hold but explicitly deny. When confronted the NeoReformed say “But that’s the good and necessary consequence of what they do believe.” Then they should say that and also say “But they don’t actually believe that.”
So the followers of these highly educated leaders of the NeoReformed hear them or read them and go out thinking and saying “Arminians believe people save themselves.” That’s poppycock and the leaders of the NeoReformed movement know it.
There’s a lot of dishonesty going on in this “Village Green” we call evangelicalism. And frankly, as I see it, most of it is the result of NeoReformed people blatantly misrepresenting Arminianism and by that trying to marginalize Arminians (and Anabapts who basically hold the same theology). How? By convincing the movers and shakers of the evangelical movement that Arminianism is dangerously close to heresy.
I cannot read their hearts or minds, so I do not know whether they are misrepresenting Arminianism intentionally or not. But I am sure they are educated enough to have checked out their representations of Arminianism to see if they are correct. Either they haven’t done that or they are intentionally misrepresenting Arminian theology (even if only by saying only what they think Arminian theology leads to and neglecting to make clear that is not what Arminians themselves believe).
I’ve been fighting this battle, to clear the good name of Arminian theology (by showing how it different from Semi-Pelagianism) for years now with very limited success. I find that most of the people doing the misrepresenting of Arminianism and aggressively asserting the sole theological correctness of Reformed theology (their version of it) have little or no interest in being educated about real Arminian theology. Their minds are already made up; don’t confuse them with the facts.
Every year I have a group of Calvinist pastors from a local Reformed church come to my class and speak. One of them started out by saying ”Arminianism is just Pelagianism.” After several such unfortunate encounters I gave them copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities on the condition they read it. To the best of my knowledge they never have.
I have received e-mails and letters from scores of “young, restless and Reformed” evangelicals thanking me for clearing up their misconceptions (which they all say they were taught by leading Reformed evangelicals) about Arminianism. But I have not heard from a single evangelical Reformed leader saying that anything I wrote there made any difference in the way they think or speak or write about Arminian theology.
Without any doubt in my mind, the “Village Green” metaphor for evangelicalism is not a good one. After all, the Village Green in England and then New England was simply a place where all the citizens could come together and talk about the weather or politics or business. Evangelicalism is a loose coalition of like-minded Christians who acknowledge their differences. It’s motto has always been “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” (See the National Association of Evangelicals web site.) The multi-denominational tent revival is a much better metaphor for evangelicalism.
Lately, however, there’s been trouble under the revival tent. Some folks are trying to convince the organizers and sponsors of the revival and newcomers as well that their particular theology is an essential and not a non-essential. They are very careful how they choose their words; they usually strictly avoid the lable “heresy” for other views such as Arminianism and even open theism. But their rhetoric is the rhetoric of exclusion: “Arminianism is profoundly mistaken” and “Arminianism is on the precipice of heresy” and “all Arminians are on their way to open theism,” etc., etc.
It’s time for evangelicalism’s leaders to stand up and say no—not to Calvinism but to those evangelical Calvinists who are causing trouble in the evangelical camp by blatantly misrepresenting other evangelicals’ beliefs and by implying, if not asserting, that their theology is the only authentic evangelical theology.
Roger E. Olson