Roger Olson’s ‘Arminian Theology’– Part Four

olsen

BEN: On p. 55, you talk about Wesley’s treatise on divine sovereignty compared to Calvin’s view. Would you say that while Wesley agrees with Calvin that God is sovereign, absolutely so, and could do what He will, that they disagree on how God exercises that sovereignty. In other words, sovereignty for Calvin is the attribute which norms and directs all God’s other attributes, whereas for Wesley, sovereignty is exercised and normed by the love of God, the mercy of God etc.

ROGER: Right. As I say, in Arminian theology, God is sovereign over his sovereignty and his love governs the exercise of his sovereignty. He doesn’t have to be all controlling to be sovereign. His absolute, all encompassing sovereignty is now de jure but it will only be de facto when he chooses for it to be—in the eschaton.

BEN: In America we hear a lot about voluntarism and free will, whereas it seems clear that Wesley, Arminius, and Calvin all agreed on human fallenness, namely that it affected and warped all the human faculties. In fact, Wesley even talks about our having lost the image of God in the Fall! They don’t really disagree about the T in Tulip, it would appear (see Wesley’s large tome on Original Sin). But Wesley also believes in universal prevenient grace, which it is not clear that Arminius does. Thus while the accusation of having a Pelagian anthropology is false for both Arminius and Wesley, it would appear that Wesley’s approach to the matter raises more questions than Arminius for Reformed thinks about human ability, even if grace enabled. Do you agree? In any case it’s clear enough that many American Methodists are in fact Pelagian when it comes to natural free will, rather than grace enabled will.

ROGER: I have always said most American Christians are Pelagians or at least Semi-Pelagians. That’s one thing Reformed critics of American Christianity like Michael Horton and I have in common. Classical Arminianism is very rare. My own study of Wesley has led me to believe he was ambivalent and ambiguous (or varying in his opinion) about original sin and depravity. But I don’t think universal prevenient grace would nullify total depravity. It’s like this. Imagine a group of people who are all blind except when they wear glasses and all of them have glasses on. Are they no longer blind? They are. So even if prevenient grace is universal, people are still all depraved and not only “hypothetically” as some Reformed critics of Wesleyan Arminianism say of it.

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