For and Against Calvinism 1

There is a new set of books coming out from Zondervan called “For Calvinism” and “Against Calvinism.” The former written by Michael Horton and the latter by Roger Olson. I got the latter first so I begin with it, but as soon as Horton’s book comes, I’ll begin to intersperse the books so that the series gains the flavor of the books. Olson, whose studies in the history of theology, is the ideal person to offer a critique of Calvinism in Against Calvinism and Horton is ably fitted for his book For Calvinism.

Roger Olson is a well-known Arminian, and he has been an able defender of Arminianism against those who have made false charges and unfair caricatures of what Arminianism is, and Horton will do the same for Calvinism. So, if you are hoping for a fight, go somewhere else: this series is designed for education and for understanding, not for polemics.

Roger Olson thinks it is time to say a firm and loving No! to extreme comments by new Calvinists and it is time to make it clear what Calvinism and Reformed thinking teaches. Olson traces the origins of the new Calvinists to Lorainne Boettner, John Piper, RC Sproul, John MacArthur, and Michael Horton. For some, the major influence has been Jonathan Edwards, and he tells an interesting story about how Piper discovered Edwards in a class by Lewis Smedes at Fuller seminary. But Todd Billings is not alone in saying that such forms of Calvnism are overemphasizing some of the more exotic forms of Reformed theology. [On this blog I have pointed out this at times but I confess to being one who has learned from such voices as Ken Stewart and Jamie Smith that the popular new Calvinism does not represent all of Reformed thinking.]

So again from Olson: “So, the time has come for an irenic and loving but firm ‘No!’ to the extreme version of Calvinism being promoted by leaders of the young, restless, Reformed generation and too often uncritically being embraced by their followers” (24). I was speaking at a conference not long ago, was in an engaging conversation with a young pastor about theological topics when I mentioned “the Reformed theologian Karl Barth” when the young pastor said, “Barth wasn’t Reformed.” So I asked him, “What was he?” His response was “Liberal.” “Perhaps more liberal than you, but Barth was in the Reformed Church.” He was shocked so I asked him who he thinks represents Reformed theology today the best. His response: “Piper and Driscoll.” As I read Olson, that is the problem he is addressing.

“Someone has said that no theology is worth believing that cannot be preached standing in front of the gates of Auschwitz. I, for one, could not stand at those gates and preach a version of God’s sovereignty that makes the extermination of six million Jews, including many children, a part of the will and plan of God such that God foreordained and rendered it certain” (25). Olson wants to challenge that kind of high Calvinism who events occur in the plan of God because God determined them to happen.

Part of the issue getting into this issue is what “Calvinism” means and what “Reformed” means. Does Calvinism mean a centralization and elevation of divine sovereignty? Olson says that is what some today think. But… the terms are contested, so he sketches the meaning of Calvinism and Reformed.

Olson is against high Calvinism or the TULIP schemes of Reformed theology, or radical Reformed theology, and he argues it is not the same as moderate Reformed theology. There is a World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC), and it does not include any Baptist (even if they call themselves Reformed); some identify as Reformed those who confess the three symbols of unity (Heidelberg Catechism, Belgic Confession, and Canons of Dort) but this excludes the Presbyterians (who focus on the Westminster Confession). A good example of a moderate, or revisionist, Reformed theologian is Alan P.F. Sell, who suggested that election was corporate. Sell was the president of the leading coalition of Reformed churches. He also mentions Berkouwer, Hendrikus Berkhof, James Daane, and Andrio König.

Don McKim, a notable Reformed theologian, argued that “Reformed” is contested and multivalent, and McKim himself is a moderate Reformed. RC Sproul, on the other hand, represents a stronger form of Calvinism in seeing Calvinism in terms of TULIP, what some call the doctrines of grace. There the emphasis is on the total sovereignty of God. Olson then shows how Fuller President Richard Mouw walks between these two poles.

Olson synthesizes Reformed to three points: an ideal type of Prot theology tied to the Reformation through the Swiss (Zwingli, Calvin); God’s supremacy and sovereignty (not the same as TULIP); it is confessional in that it is tied to Reformed Confessions. [In my view, it is fair to ask if anyone can call themselves “Reformed” accurately if their local church does not confess one of the Reformed confessions.]

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  • Simon

    Hi Scot, Love your blog. The theological landscape here in the UK does appear to be a bit different to the USA, we, certainly around where I live, do not seemed to be overly concerned with labelling ourselves Calvinists, Arminian or what have you (and this is not taking any spiritual high road but personally I just don’t get why anyone would want to label themselves after mere men anyway. To me this labelling seems to cause more division than unity and the global church seems to be pretty divided anyway), perhaps we in Yorkshire are just theological mongrels or maybe I just don’t get out enough :-). However in all seriousness being no expert on high Calvinism, if the belief is that God would have ‘foreordained and rendered it certain ’ any acts of atrocity it seems to be totally incongruous with his nature and it may be a bit strong to say, but a God I wouldn’t want to worship.
    Much Love

  • As a former Calvinist of the moderate variety, I have come to learn that Calvinism is only a facet of Reformed theology. We are all Reformed in some sense, but Calvinists take the term in a much more dogmatic way. I believe a person can adhere to Calvinism and not be Reformed, while we can be Reformed and only adhere to a few (or zero) points of TULIP. The main issue that delivered me from Calvinism is that it is too exclusive. Christianity in of itself is exclusive to some degree (and also very inclusive), but Calvinism takes it to another level. God either chooses you OR He doesn’t… plain and simple… black and white. You are either in OR you are out. And, that is what turns many people away from the faith. This, not to mention the argumentative nature of many Calvinists and those within the Reformed camp. But, the more I have grown in my faith and study the Scriptures, the more I am led to believe in the freewill of men. It seems the doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement are taken from obscure verses scattered throughout Scripture. Whereas, freewill and unlimited atonement are prevalent throughout Scripture.

    As I have matured in the faith I have also learned to stay away from the age-old argument of Arminianism vs. Calvinism. It’s essentially the same as “beating a dead horse”. Both sides want to win. Entire treatises and books have been written defending each side. The Bible makes the case for both theologies, so rather than getting into the specifics of these two armies, I try to keep “the main the main thing” and keep it simple; especially with those who are not believers or young believers. So, whether we are chosen or we do the choosing, the bottom line is that God loves us and desires that we all be saved.

  • I don’t know if it’s just me so much, but I find the Calvinist-Arminian debate uninteresting. Except for extremes and variants, I really don’t see all that much difference between the two. But that is what Roger Olson is addressing, and I welcome that. I’m inclined toward the Arminian camp myself, though not very dogmatic about it. But maybe that shows my lack theologically.

  • gingoro

    FiveDills gets it right that Calvinism does not have a good response to the all-ness of the gospel. Two ways I have heard it explained are:
    1. The all refers only to the elect.
    2. The all refers to mankind of all sorts.
    Neither of which I find very convincing.

    By the all-ness of the gospel I mean texts such as: “And I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto myself”, in rough paraphrase.
    Dave W

  • I picked up review copies of both and am looking forward to reading them. I am glad about the tone of the books. Thanks for your thoughts Scot

  • I read the first couple of chapters of “Institutes of the Christian Religion,” and from what I’ve read so far Calvin sounds nothing like the New Calvinists! Heck, Calvin doesn’t even sound like Jonathan Edwards!

  • Jason Lee

    This is very informative. Thank you. Olson is clever … correcting New Calvinists such as John Piper using the roots of their own tradition.

  • Hi Scot – Thanks for this series. Looking forward to following it. I try to hear (preachers, books, etc.) from both sides, as I think both rightly emphasize certain aspects of God and scripture, while neither encapsulates the entire story. One without the other can easily become a very unbalanced theology. At the same time, when one reacts to the other (rather than scripture) it seems that we have an equally unbalanced theology.
    Anyhow, I was wondering if you had any book recommendations from Alan P.F. Sell – specifically around a corporate view of election. I grew up with a similar teaching, but haven’t found any one who explores this in depth. Any recommendations (Sell or otherwise)?

  • I too agree that we must get past this either-or debate. So wearisome. It is time to admit that it is our theological systems that are limited, not the atonement; and that the central person in history is Jesus, and no theology can domesticate him. I’ve tried to nudge prominent Calvinists to admit that their “system” has flaws, to which they seemingly nod. But when I ask which aspects they see are most problematic, they are at a loss for words.

    Any man-made system that refuses to be self-critical will simply be critical. I have found a more gracious spirit in recent years by so-called Arminians, though I have also found among some of them an abiding hatred (yes, that strong) of Calvin, et al. And this too is very sad.

    But sadly the tone most of us pick up when we talk with the premier Reformed, Calvinist proponents today (or the younger enthusiasts) is a smugness, a condescending kind of “one day you will really understand the Bible and be like us” attitude. It is scary when the chief proponents are arrogant, intellectually dismissive and almost pharisaic in their judgment of all non-C’s.

    When the desire to be right overwhelms the longing to be righteous, we are in serious trouble. Let’s learn from these books. And lets write some new ones. It is time for a more reflective theology to emerge that engages the truth of God with mystery and uncertainty, humility and dialogue, resulting in more joint efforts to plant churches and send workers into the harvest where no one really cares if the cup of cold water they are drinking came from an Wesleyan, Franciscan, or Calvinist.

    Let us embrace a theology that produces humble, gracious, courageous men and women more eager to expand the Kingdom than to enlarge our respective tribes.

  • That’s a huge point, Scot, that many “neo-Calvinists” simply aren’t aware of the larger Reformed tradition, its many strands and streams of thought, and its internal theological debates.

    Most folks in that crowd are evangelicals who longed for deeper theological engagement and found it in Edwards and the Puritans, mainly through the influence of publishers like Banner of Truth and figures like Martyn Lloyd-Jones. More recently, MacArthur, Piper, Sproul, et al have spread this influence, but mostly a “thinned” out version of it. They’ve grabbed hold of the “doctrines of grace,” thinking that’s the whole of what it means to be “Reformed.”

    M. Horton is an example of one who made this journey but more recently has increasingly discovered and engaged the richness of the tradition.

    The young & restless crowd would do well to read their Barth, a student of Calvin if there ever was one, along with others in the Reformed tradition. Heck, they’d do well to engage, at the very least, some of the recent Dutch biblical theologians (e.g., Vos) and systematicians like Murray.

  • To me, the new “Reformed and Restless” take Calvinism to the extreme. I was having a conversation with a “Calvinist” pastor and was telling him about the healing ministry my husband and I were involved with and the move of the Spirit and such, and he looked puzzled and said, “I thought you were Reformed?” And I looked at him and said, yes, I believe Salvation is by faith and not by works. Again, reformed taken to the extreme.

  • Rick

    Katie #10-

    “To me, the new “Reformed and Restless” take Calvinism to the extreme. I was having a conversation with a “Calvinist” pastor and was telling him about the healing ministry my husband and I were involved with and the move of the Spirit and such, and he looked puzzled and said, “I thought you were Reformed?”

    That is not necessarily the rule. The Acts 29 Network, for example, has many (I have even heard perhaps 1/2) who are open to charismatic teachings and practices.

    In regards to the distance between some Calvinist teachings of today and those of the past, let’s keep in mind that the same is true for Arminianism. That is why some, such as Oden and perhaps Olsen, clarify their positions with terms such as “classic Arminianism”. We just need to be careful to not throw all of the New Reformed into one category.

  • Anybody who thinks this dialogue is a waste of time doesn’t understand what is ripping the evangelical church apart right now. In my region, Calvinism has co-opted the Gospel. To the opinion of the larger evangelical network, if I’m not preaching Reformed theology then I don’t really believe in the Gospel. When they define the Gospel it sounds exactly like Calvinism; still I’m not sure they realize it. For the “young restless and reformed” I’ve also experienced them making Arminiansim synonymous with liberalism and once your given that label it’s hard to shake.

    I’ve appreciated modern voices like Roger Olson and Bruxy Cavey who teach and show that Classical Arminianism is not theology-light, is not liberalism and is faithful to the scriptures.

  • @Tim #10–I personally prefer Barth over Edwards. Not sure if the Young, Restless, Reformed crowd will dig him, though, since Barth didn’t believe the Bible was 100% inerrant. For a Neo-Calvinist, that’s about as bad as saying you don’t believe in the Trinity!

  • Robin

    As a 30-something calvinist, I agree that one of the main drivers of the movement has been young, relatively unchurched adults coming to Christ, and then looking for something deeper. I came to Christ as a lapsed Catholic, was convinced of Justification by faith alone, and turned from the Catholic Church when I started reading Catholic theologians who taught salvation by works or explicit universalism (and my local priests confirmed that they thought explicit pronouncement of the gospel was unnecessary, and that the apostles were martyred, not because the gospel needed to be preached, but just because they were zealous beyond necessity).

    When I turned away from that tradition the only deeper theological tradition around me was calvinism and I lapped it up. Who knows what would have happened if I had been surrounded by theologically sophisticated arminians or gospel-believing Catholics.

    My experience at Southern Seminary and reformed churches in the past decade leads me to believe that my story is a common one.

    As to reformed confessions, Scot would you accept the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith as reformed? It is a pretty much word-for-word, except the sections on baptism and church government.

  • Robin

    …word-for-word copy of Westminster

  • I’m looking forward to this series, Scot!

  • Re: Confessions. Olson has the correct focus. Granted, to a greater or lesser extent, the adherence to the confessions is something one can expect to hear in sermons, and other forms of theological reflection.

    What appears to be represented among the YRR- and their mentors- doesn’t offer that commitment: to their detriment.

  • Robin


    Is your last paragraph stating that the YRR crowd doesn’t offer commitment to Creeds and Confessions? I don’t know if I would feel confident with that statement. All of my exposure to creeds and confessions has come from this crowd, including Piper’s encouragement to catechize your children (using the Westminster Shorter or a confession you feel more comfortable with).

    He might not sign off on every word of it, but it is encouraged by him, and especially the likes of Sproul, Ligon Duncan, etc.

    I also wonder if you would expect the same thing of arminians. I grew up in a heavily arminian section of the bible belt and the only theology they could ever tell me about was “once saved always saved” and I never heard any mention of confessions, or really any historic teaching for that matter.

  • I hope to read both, although I admit right now I’m likely gonna be biased towards Olson’s.

    I grew up Calvinist; my theology professors were Calvinist; most of the theology books on my shelf were written by Calvinists. There’s just something in Calvinists that make them want to articulate systematic theology. Some of them really do think we’re saved by orthodoxy instead of grace.

    But I always had nagging problems with limited atonement, and it wasn’t until I read Olson’s Arminian Theology that I realized it was because I was Arminian. The Calvinists had done such a thorough job of blackguarding Arminianism as Pelagianism that I never recognized it as a viable alternative. I always figured I was in-between, neither this nor that… along with pretty much every other Christian I know.

    Those Christians honestly don’t care about the Calvinist/Arminian debate, and I see their point: How salvation works, which is the point of that debate, is secondary to living in the Kingdom, which is the point of Christianity. But it is important to look at: Our attitude about how the lost become found influences how we go about looking for them. And with so many looking for any excuse to do little—or to justify going overboard—it’s always good to back up and examine that thinking before we start building more stuff atop it.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Years ago when our non-Arminian, non-Calvinistic Baptist church decide to become a Reformed Baptist church, I resigned from the board and left my colleagues with what I call the “Gospel Tulip”:

    Total incapacity of mankind to merit salvation
    (because of mankind’s universal alienation from God)

    Universal offer of salvation
    (because of God’s unconditional love and unmerited grace)

    Limited response to Christ’s atoning sacrifice
    (because of mankind’s unbelief and selfish, sinful will)

    Indwelling of believers by the Holy Spirit
    (empowering them to live Christ-like lives)

    Perseverance of God’s grace and mercy
    (promising and providing eternal life to believers and
    reconciliation of the cosmos to God)

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Oops, “decided”

  • Ann

    As someone who considers herself proud to be Reformed, the YRR crowd and all the attention around it makes me cringe. There is so much beauty and robust theology in the Reformed tradition and so much room for diversity of belief. I have no interest what so ever in the “Calvinist”/Arminian debate (I use quotes b/c I have my doubts whether Calvin would identify himself with the tradition parading around with his name). As an alumni of Calvin college, TULIP was not the central theme of our theology. That was just such a small part of our theology and most of the students I knew and many of the professors were not 5 point Calvinists. If you are interested in seeing the beauty of Reformed theology…. read some Nicholas Wolterstorff (Lament for a Son is so beautiful I can’t read it without crying).
    If the YRR crowd wants to do battle with whoever it is they are battling, there’s nothing I can do to stop them, but I’m uninterested in their version of Calvinism. Maybe the Reformed tradition needs to cut itself free from the label of Calvinist.

  • It’s interesting living here in Grand Rapids, Michigan, home of Calvin College and Seminary, etc., just how the Calvinism here differs from the New Calvinism which must be active elsewhere. I frankly think it is much more like John Calvin with the strengths and weaknesses that brings. There are variants here of smaller groups who mirror something of what happened after Calvin. And I don’t mean to exonerate Calvin entirely. But by and large the Calvinism around here seems to hold certain things quite loosely if at all, such as TULIP.

  • Scot McKnight


    I tend to see “Reformed” as nearly synonymous with covenant theology, so “Reformed Baptist” is problematic. Baptist Calvinists are more or less Calvinist/Reformed in soteriology but not in that larger Covenant theology context. And not sure that I’ve given it enough thought to say whether Philadelphia or New Hampshire confessions/statements are “truly Reformed.”

    Ann, and if you read Jamie Smith’s letters to young Calvinists, if my memory serves me right, TULIP is not at all the focus.

  • Dutch Rikkers

    As my name implies, I’m Dutch, and I live 10 minutes from Calvin College in Grand Rapids. I have a good number of friends who teach there and other friends who have graduated from Calvin. As Ann has commented, TULIP probably does not come up a lot there anymore, but that was not necessarily always the case.

    My mom and dad were both reared in strict, TULIP-teaching Christian Reformed Churches in the Grand Rapids area, were baptized as infants, and made their compulsory affirmation of the Netherlands Confession of Faith at age 18. CRC beliefs (rendered in both English and Dutch) at that time were sometimes more a provincial, cultural thing, and children were taught simply (or simply came to believe) that because of election and predestination, they were “in” (the covenant) automatically. They were the fortunate elect by being born into a CRC family.

    My parents, therefore, simply went on into adult life without ever considering the fact that they needed to “accept Christ” themselves—personally. They eventually made that decision when they came under the preaching and teaching of M.R. “Doc” De Haan, a Reformed Church pastor who had rejected a number of things from his Western Theological Seminary (at Hope College in Holland) training and started Calvary Undenominational Church, the church that trained Rob Bell and assisted him in starting Mars Hill Bible Church. De Haan went on to found RBC Ministries in 1938.

    That conversion revolutionized my parents’ lives–the first aspect of it being my dad’s giving up smoking (an important Reformed practice in those days!). He never smoked again. My dad went on to live an exemplary Christian life, leading all his three boys to faith in Christ and showing us what it means to be an evangelistic and loving follower of Christ (and thoroughly Dispensational thanks to Scofield!).

    That does not mean, of course, that others brought up in the Reformed faith in Dutch West Michigan did not remain Reformed and Christian. But my parents’ story does reflect the reality that religious tradition can actually become a stumbling-block to faith–especially formulaic ones.

    I once came across a wonderful little book (in the Calvin library) on rearing children in the faith by Calvinist/Reformed icon Abraham Kuyper and after reading it, said to myself, “If my grandparents had been instructed according to Kuyper’s method, they likely would not have missed the importance of a personal relationship with Christ.”

  • Robin


    You might not be familiar with the London Confession or OFFICIAL reformed baptists (ARBCA is a small denomination, but fairly representative of the movement). They have been around, and officially reformed for about 40+ years and do hold to covenant theology.

    Up until about 10 years ago anyone that wanted to be an ARBCA pastor or missionary had to go to Westminster and take a slightly altered baptist-friendly courseload, or come up with an agreement with another Presbyterian seminary. In recent years they have started their own seminary and formed some partnerships with Southern, and Capitol Hill Baptist Church.

    So, Baptistic, Reformed, and Covenental, and adherents to a confession almost identical to Westminster. THe first book I ever borrowed from my pastor (at his recommendation) was Vos’ biblical theology and the first he recommended I buy was Christ of the Covenants.

  • Ted (#24), that’s exactly it. Calvinists with deep ties in the Reformed tradition don’t resemble at all the “neo-Calvinist” crowd, neither in theology nor ethos. The “neo-Calvinists” are basically evangelicals drifting toward a controlling fundamentalism along with a few theological notions that resemble slices of reformed theology.

    “Reformed theology,” however, is far richer and more diverse than they realize, and it isn’t at all centered around the doctrines of grace (TULIP).

    That’s why folks at Calvin and “neo-Calvinists” wouldn’t even recognize a family resemblance. As it happens, Sproul wasn’t ever part of the Westminster crowd, either. His brand of popularized cherry-picking from reformed thinkers here and there doesn’t resonate with many branchers of serious Reformed thought. It might be fair to say, however, that the tradition is big enough to have folks like him in it, however. Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, however, aren’t really part of that heritage. They’re among the “neo-Calvinists” for fundamentalist reasons, largely.

    By the by, Ted and Dutch, we must be neighbors! I live just east of Calvin — heading there tomorrow to pick up a friend for lunch.

  • Robin

    One thing about TULIP. Everyone thinks the YRR crowd is just obsessed about TULIP and predestination, and that is all they can think about, and that forms the entirey of their theology. Largely they think this because those are the topics that come up the most frequently on the internet and in discussions between arminians and calvinists.

    I’ve been reading through church history and you would think that the only thing Ignatius cared about was the REAL physical nature of the incarnation, passion, burial and resurrection of Jesus (along with submitting to the overseer). In the most recent letter I read he spends about half of it stating and restating the importance of Jesus’ physicality.

    I could read that and say, man, the religious life of the early Christians was way to focused on this aspect…or, I could realize that he is talking about it so much because that was the current point of contention in the church.

    I think it is the same with TULIP. Reformed people, YRR included, don’t talk about TULIP and predestination all the time because that is the sum of their theology, they talk about it because that is the one part of their theology that is routinely attacked, the one part they feel the need to stand up for.

    Every baptist church in my county is arminian (probably not in the classical sense) and if I tell a random member in one of those churches I am a calvinist they aren’t going to start critiquing my covenant theology of amillenialism or theology of Christian vocation. They are going to poke around on predestination and TULIP.

    I think this also explains why the “reformed” crowd that lives in the “reformed” part of the country has had such a different experience and such a different perspective than the YRR.

    THey grew up reformed in Grand Rapids and other places where they are surrounded by other reformed folks, or at least folks who are familiar with reformed theology. And if they meet a believer around town and mention they are reformed, noone is going to start questioning them about pre-destination or TULIP, they are just going to nod politely and move on.

    I assure you the same is not the case for people with reformed leanings in the south or other areas where the YRR crowd is growing. When you are reformed and constantly interact with people who aren’t, those are the only doctrines you have to defend, so they are the ones you talk about.

  • Ann

    You are right about Jamie Smith, Scot, and I do love his work (Desiring the Kingdom being my favorite).

    And Dutch, you are right that the language “accepting Christ as my personal savior” is not prevalent in the CRC & RCA. I realized this when I applied to be a counselor at a Baptist Bible camp and the question “When were you saved?” was on the application. I had no idea how to answer that question. But I would argue just b/c that language isn’t there, it doesn’t mean the idea isn’t there, just in a different form. If I might borrow something from Scot’s new book, there is a difference between making a decision and becoming a disciple. The Reformed tradition tends to focus more on the latter. It’s more about deciding EACH day to try to see the world through God’s eyes. Salvation isn’t just about me becoming right with God… that’s certainly part of it, but not all of it. Salvation is cosmic in scope, and the Reformed tradition emphasizes this. THAT is what I love about my tradition.

  • Scot, I reckon you’re right on the money about reformed being synonymous with adherence to the six forms of unity (I.e. Three forms plus Westminster Standards). R. Scott Clark makes this point in his Recovering the Reformed Confession. I think the designation “Reformed Baptist” is oxymoronic, in exactly the same way as “Lutheran Baptist” would be. Particular Baptist or Sovereign Grace Baptist are better descriptors.

    Even many baptists who self-identify as Reformed have forsaken the modified Covenant Theology of 1689 for the, IMO, more biblical New Covenant Theology of Jon Zens, Fred Zaspel, et al.

  • Russ

    Terminology note:

    “New Calvinist” is the young, reformed, and restless Discoll/Piper group, named by Time magazine. Worth noting that most of them are baptists.

    “NeoCalvinist” is the older movement with origins in Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck, seen in the USA in people like Richard Mouw, Jamie Smith, etc.

  • JohnM

    Along the lines of this subject – can anyone one tell me how Calvinistic the Presbyterian Church USA is at present? I May not be asking it the right way, but does the PCUSA nowdays hold to anything like TULIP? Any form of reformed theology, and in a way that’s binding on anyone?

  • Robin (19),
    Thanks for your reply and question. I need to keep this short, and so, this might not satisfy or may even raise further questions…

    My reply acknowledged Olson’s comment, which he’s made elsewhere and everywhere, as well as Scot’s. But, I didn’t include my other experience…

    I was in an event where a fellow with a strong commitment to Driscoll and his church planting movement was the plenary speaker. He was largely a disappointment, in that he articulated his commitment to a Reformed theology, and then spent most of the time describing why other orthodox Christian traditions were inadequate or ineffective. To be sure, in a conversation with him later, he disclosed some further details that lead him to make his conclusion about other traditions. But he said nothing constructive about his perceptions or allegiance to any creed or confession, nor how his understanding of the other traditions was in any way filtered or experienced through the creeds.

    To be sure, one data point does not make a line. However, as you pointed out, there sure does seem to be lots presence in literature and the internet that discloses how the YRR seem to think that the (their?) Reformed way is the only way. That thinking really doesn’t disclose how they are engaging with the creeds and confessions in context.

    While that experience doesn’t close my mind on this, my present opinion holds: failing to make that commitment explicit waters down some robust theology, and that is to the detriment of the YRR.

  • Bob Smallman

    Sorry to be so late to the discussion — today was a full day! But I want to inject a small historical note into the conversation.

    One of the most helpful classes I had in seminary was one on John Calvin. Not for the lectures — I don’t remember any of them. But one of our assignment for the quarter was to read both volumes of (the Battles edition of) Calvin’s Institutes.

    What an eye-opener. Every “Calvinist” should do it! The experience taught me to distinguish between Calvin and Calvinism (as, I suspect, one must distinguish between Luther and post-Melanchthon Lutheranism). One small example — if you chase down Calvin’s comments on the proof texts typically quoted in support of limited atonement, you’ll find that Calvin virtually ignores the idea.

    So keep in mind that the “Five Points” (TULIP) are five points of Calvinism, not necessarily of Calvin himself (his organizing theme was rather the knowledge of God).

  • Dutch Rikkers

    Ann (#30), you are right about the emphasis of the non-Reformed on personal salvation and “a personal relationship with Christ.” We Dispensationalists feared we didn’t quite get the formula right and would end up in hell. Many a time as a youngster I panicked when I didn’t find my parents at home right away–fearing that they had gone up in the Rapture, and I was “left behind.”

    Yet there is great irony in your correctly pointing out that many of us of the Baptist, Bible church, old-school fundamentalist sort did not grasp the cosmic nature of salvation as taught by the Reformed faith and an awareness of the four-part saga of human moral history: creation, fall, redemption, restoration/reconciliation. The irony in it is that while the Reformed believe that salvation/redemption and restoration are cosmic in scale, they are not proffered to the non-elect. So I suppose salvation to the Reformed is really “limited cosmic” since millions of creatures made in God’s image really have no chance to become right with God.

    That is always going to be the gorilla in the room where this discussion goes on. That was the gorilla that Calvinist-reared George MacDonald could not and would not bear; so he became a “hopeful universalist” believing that God’s human project would fail if even one human soul were lost forever. Now usher in Rob Bell and “Love Wins”!

    Lots to think about. These books by Zondervan should be interesting and also ironic when you think that Zondervan was founded by Calvinists.

  • I’ve appreciated Mouw’s work at Fuller as a student & alumnus. I really appreciated how carefully he explained his views and tied them to the Reformed theologians & tradition in “He Shines in All That’s Fair”. By his irenic writing and speaking, he’s much more in line w/ Olson’s valuation of moderate Reformed.

  • Yes, Tim. There is a richness in the Dutch/Calvinist culture here which I think the rest of the United States would be blessed to have. Minus certain points, of course. 🙂

    Good to see that three of us live here. I linked your blog to mine, by the way.

  • ….let me add, your books and writing look good!

  • P.

    I’ve had similar experiences as Bill Donahue at #9 in that I’ve run across many Reformed people over the years who are Calvinists first and Christian a distant second. Arminians are not perfect of course, but they’re not as super-attached to their system of theology as Calvinists are. That said, these books will be very interesting.

  • TJJ

    Thoughtful and informative posts on this subject would be most welcome! I find the average Christian in the pew (or is it chairs now mostly) has very superficial knowledge and understanding of theology, a mile wide sometimes, in that they can throw the terms around, but an inch thick, if even that. Many times the pastoral leadership is not much better in that regard.

  • Ann

    Dutch- Interestingly enough (and you are right in your observation) is that if in the end all are reconciled to God, then limited atonement and unlimited atonement are one in the same.

  • Scot —

    Thanks for the good reviews and irenic tone in your comments on this issue. For many years, as a Pentecostal who is also quite Arminian, I have endured the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in being accused of both catering to the demonic (because I still hold to the presence of glossolalia in the church today) and a Pelagian. I can deal with the issues of the charismata, since most of the opposition comes from ardent, Dallas Theo-style dispensationalists. I am thankful for the erudition shown by Dr. Olson as regards the Biblical basis for Arminianism.

    What many who embrace Arminianism ought to take the time to read through Arminius himself and see that his views were not as radical as that of his successors, the Remonstrants, in their defense at Dort. Arminius essentially wanted a reexamination of Scripture based on the merits of the passages themselves, not to be interpreted in light of a theological system that is outside of the Scripture. Arminius’ reply to Dr. Perkins is a classic response to an ardently developing Calvinist / Reformed theology. It is my view (and I am open to correction) is that the Arminianism embraced in churches today is more the Wesleyan modification rather than the original Arminianism out of Leyden. Miley’s systematic theology defends moral government view of the atonement, and I doubt seriously most who call themselves Arminians would agree with Miley’s thinking.

  • Michael

    “I, for one, could not stand at those gates and preach a version of God’s sovereignty that makes the extermination of six million Jews, including many children, a part of the will and plan of God such that God foreordained and rendered it certain”

    Olson is not really solving the problem here. He’s just moving the issue back one step. If God didn’t forreordain it, then how did it happen? Did someone else make it happen that God could not prevent from doing so? God can prophecy that women will eat their babies in the siege of Jerusalem (Jeremiah, Lamentations) and it comes to pass, but anything bad that happens today is not part of God’s plan?

  • SamLam

    I look forward to both your analysis and reading the books themselves. I do wonder, however, how you would preach in the face of the twin towers or any other horrible act of mankind. Would you say that this was “God’s will” or is there some sense in which God either didn’t know this would happen (openness) or knew but couldn’t stop it? This may be a false dilemma and I welcome the third alternative but so far, I haven’t found it.
    As to the “all” passages, it seems to me that one must either be a universalist or admit that they are limited by the context. For example when Mark says of the Baptist that “all Jerusalem” was going out to him, no one (as far as I know) would argue that this means every single person in the city.
    Thanks for the work my friend and your newest book The King Jesus Gospel is wonderful (this coming from a Reformed reader). I believe that this kind of discussion, properly engaged in, is of real value so keep teaching us all.

  • Molly

    Hi, I’m new to this blog post. I guess I’m not understanding what a few of you mean when you say there is a difference between modern Calvinism and older Calvinism. I do enjoy reading Piper and McArthur, but I don’t want to be part of this exclusive YRR crowd that I’ve seen mentioned if that means I’m not adhering to what the Bible really says. Does anyone have any recommendation as to what else I could be studying to have a more broad understand of what being “Reformed” and “Calvinist” should mean? I feel like I’ve started studying the ideas with books by more modern thinkers, but I’m getting a sense that theologians of old have more to say than they do. Thanks!