Roger Olson on John Piper’s View of Arminianism

Roger Olson:

However, while I think there is some truth in that regarding some Reformed theologians (clearly in the case of Zwingli, for example), I will not use that argument here. Here is what I will say—much to the chagrin of many Calvinists and Arminians alike: The Bible can be interpreted either way, both ways. I do not accuse Calvinists of “dishonoring the Bible” as I have heard many Calvinists say about Arminians. I can see how Calvinism (except “limited atonement”) can be derived from Scripture. I think it’s a mistaken interpretation; I think sound exegesis is on the Arminian side, but I do not say Calvinists place philosophy over the Bible or cannot be good exegetes. What I say is that if you are going to interpret the Bible that way—viz., as teaching double predestination, God as designing, ordaining and governing (rendering certain) all that happens including the fall and the Holocaust and hell itself including who will be there selected individually without free will “in the picture,”—you must swallow the “picture” of a monstrous God who gets glory out of the torturing of children and the eternal torment of people created in his own image and likeness predestined to that eternal torture without their free will decisions or choices.

I tell my students that when the Bible is not as clear as we wish it were, which is often the case (I’m not a fundamentalist), the way “forward” when you must move toward a doctrine about which the Bible is not perfectly clear you must look at all the options rooted in Scripture, good biblical exegesis, and choose the one that has the consequences you can live with. Then I tell them that there is nothing in the universe more important than that God is good in some meaningful way and not a moral monster completely unlike Jesus who wept over Jerusalem because he wanted them to embrace him but they would not.

I have heard all the objections to this approach, but they all come from a fundamentalist approach to the Bible deeply colored by a systematic theology launched first by Augustine, then promoted by the magisterial Reformers, then taught by Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge. No Christian before Augustine believed in unconditional individual election to hell or irresistible grace.

These Calvinist attacks on Arminianism are shameless and unworthy of Christian gentlemen and scholars. So much has been published in recent years about true Arminianism that anyone who continues to misrepresent it as Pelagian or semi-Pelagian or even “humanistic” or “man-centered” or “self-centered” or preferring philosophy to the Bible—is simply bearing false witness against his or her brothers and sisters in Christ. Or else he or she is ignorant. I don’t want to believe either about John Piper; I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But on what would that be based? He’s a scholar; he reads biblical and theological literature voraciously. He’s brilliant and articulate. I personally explained true Arminianism to him face-to-face. I sent him a copy of my book. So I do not believe he is ignorant. What’s left to think?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.