Roger Olson’s “Arminian Theology’– Part Seven

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BEN: I take it as given that you have established both that there are some strong incompatibilities between Calvinism and Arminianism, but at the same time there are some strong agreements between the two theological systems. Is there a value in emphasizing the latter instead of the former, and if so why? Why as well do you think so many Baptists are illogical when they say things like ‘I’m a two (or even one) point Calvinist— I believe in once saved, always saved’??

ROGER: First, about Baptists, I don’t think they’re illogical on that score. I think one can believe in “once saved, always saved” (inamissable grace) and be a good Arminian. What I don’t think anyone can do is believe BOTH that God is the all-determining reality who predestines some to hell AND that God is love (unless “love” is so radically redefined that it is meaningless). I remember a time and place when/where Arminians and Calvinists got along just fine—my own extended family and various evangelical endeavors (e.g., Billy Graham crusades). I wish that were still the case. Unfortunately we live in an age of polarization. I would like to discover a common ground of “generic evangelical Christianity” where Arminians and Calvinists can learn to live and let live and cooperate and have fellowship—as they once did.

BEN: I have a theory as to why we have in recent years, particularly after 9-11, seen a resurgence of uber-Calvinism among the young (see the Passion movement. My theory is this—in a very uncertain time, the lust or desire for some kind of absolute air tight certainty about life, and perhaps in particular about salvation prompts people swimming in the choppy waters of our ever changing cultural sea to grab for the life buoy marked Calvinism, because it offers ‘eternal security’ and a host of other things that sound definite and logical, rather than requiring considerable faith and hope. It is also because of these choppy waters, that there is a tendency by some uber-Calvinists to want to caricature Arminian theology in various ways, as you point out in Chapter 3 (it’s semi-Pelagian, it’s humanism, its Socinian etc.). What do you think?

ROGER: My theory is that there are certain people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity and naturally gravitate toward absolutisms—especially when they are promoted by seemingly strongly spiritual or moral leaders. I do not think the present wave of Calvinism among young people would have happened without John Piper. I was there when it began (at Bethel College and Seminary and Bethlehem Church in Minnesota in the 1980s). It really “took off” with the Passion conferences organized by Louie Giglio where Piper is usually the keynote speaker. This seems to me very similar to the Bill Gothard phenomenon of the 1970s and 1980s. Before that it was the anti-communism crusades of fundamentalists in the 1950s that swept evangelicalism. But I agree that Calvinism, as promoted by Piper and his disciples, is especially attractive partly because of the morass of relativism and insecurity of the world. I also think its appeal is mainly to males who are scared of the “decline of men” in contemporary society. It is a very testosterone-driven theology that usually comes together with “male headship.”


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