Roger Olson’s ‘Arminian Theology’– Part Eleven

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BEN: On p. 123 you say that sin does not thwart the will of God. I think this is a mistake. Surely any time evil or sin happens it goes against the will of God of a good God. I tend to find the phrase ‘permissive will’ something of an oxymoron—willing something is not merely allowing something it seems to me. If you will it, you want it to happen, even if reluctantly. In particular, if God really desires that all be saved, and has made available salvation for all, then surely that is in accord with God’s will! That being so, when creatures reject God’s salvation they are violating the will of God, at least for them! I’m not sure that it helps much to distinguish between the antecedent will of God and God’s revealed will, unless you are willing to put yourself in the same conundrum of contradiction as the Calvinists when they say God’s secret will can differ (or even appear to contradict) his revealed will. How do you respond?

ROGER: I prefer the terms “antecedent will” and “consequent will” of God. Sin and evil are against the antecedent will of God but not the consequent will of God. They thwart the antecedent will of God—what God ideally wished would be the case. But only because God permits that.

BEN: The Arminian concept of providence raises a variety of questions in a modern world where Holocausts happen and we have nuclear weapons. It’s really hard to argue that God allows things like the Holocaust in order to bring a great good out of it. There was just nothing good about it, nor has much good come from it— only trials, recriminations etc. What strikes me is that when you attend closely to “God works all things together for good for those who love God” this does not suggest he does such things for just anyone! I have a hard time swallowing ‘God allows evil that clears the way for a great good’ when so often even in our lifetime that doesn’t seem to be the case. How would you respond?

ROGER: Oh, I completely agree with that. Nothing justifies the Holocaust except that God chooses to let us have our own way. Again, I strongly recommend Greg Boyd’s book Is God to Blame? as the best guess at why these things happen in God’s world.

BEN: Let’s talk for a minute about irresistible and resistible grace. Wesley allowed that while most of the time God’s grace is resistible, that nonetheless sometimes it is not. Frankly in a fallen world, there are surely times when divine intervention involves thwarting evil wills, rather than respecting their libertarian freedom. Even when we are talking about some good purpose willed by a human being, sometimes God thwarts it. I’m thinking for example of Paul in Acts when we are told the Holy Spirit wouldn’t allow him to go on to Bithynia. In other words, what would be the problem with admitting as an Arminian that sometimes God’s grace is irresistible, and sometimes God’s divine intervention violates our free will? Does it have to be all one way or the other? If I am a drowning man and am desperately trying to swim to a particular shore with all my will and might, but the life guard knows I won’t make it so he drags me against my will to another spot and pulls me out of the water, I should just thank him for violating my will! I suspect God does operate that way sometimes, and not just by gentle persuasion. Indeed, I think we can find quite a few examples to demonstrate the point from Scripture.

ROGER: Well, as I understand the Arminian concept of resistible grace it is simply that God never saves anyone (in the sense of justification and regeneration) without their consent. It doesn’t mean God never graciously intervenes on people’s behalf with temporal blessings and rescues.


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