What I mean that “I would not worship that god”

Apparently my honest statement (in answer to a student’s honest question) that, if somehow it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says and as its good and necessary consequences imply, I would not worship that god, has stirred some people up to the point of questioning my salvation (and calling my religion humanistic).

I don’t know if this will help at all, but I will clarify my statement this way: IF it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says AND as he must logically be if all the good and necessary consequences of TULIP are true of him, I would not worship him.

I have been saying for a long time now that IF I WERE A CALVINIST I would have to believe things most Calvinists do not believe.  Most Calvinists insist that God is good and loving and merciful and kind and faithful and reliable and gracious, etc.  I think some of the things they believe about God’s sovereignty flatly contradict those characteristics.

I think those who object by calling into question my conversion or calling my religion “humanistic” are missing my point entirely.  My point is that they, the TULIP Calvinists, are being inconsistent.  They attribute to the true God, worthy of worship, characteristics and actions impossible for a good God.  I will say that IF they drew out their doctrine of God’s sovereignty to its good and necessary conclusions (which they usually don’t) they would also not be able to worship that god.  Somewhere a line would be crossed and they would realize that the god they are trying to believe in and worship is not good.

Now, they say something similar about me and other Arminians.  They say that IF we believed in all the good and necessary consequences of our own doctrine of salvation we would find that we are Pelagians.  In effect, they are saying that IF we Arminians drew our doctrine of salvation to its good and necessary consequences God would not be doing the saving at all.  That would, then, be a different gospel.

I’ll just mention one example.  John Piper has said publicly that Arminians “must say” that the cross did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves.  But of course, no Arminian says that.  What he means by “must say” is that IF we did what we don’t do, draw out and believe all the good and necessary consequences of what we do actually believe (e.g., universal atonement without universal salvation), we would have to believe we are saving ourselves.  In other words, he is saying that our theology is on the precipice of heresy (his very words to me) even though we do not fall into heresy because of (here using Sproul’s words) our “felicitous inconsistency.” But surely Piper is saying that IF HE believed what Arminians believe he would have to go to the logical conclusion and believe we must save ourselves and that would not be the gospel and then he would not be a Christian.

It seems to me that people who don’t understand what I mean when I say that if I believed what Calvinists believe I could not worship God are missing the point.  They need to start over and hear me clearly and consider what I really mean and not what they jumped to the conclusion that I mean.  Or maybe for some of them this is all just too deep.

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  • The class I’m teaching on the history of doctrine has come to the topic of salvation and grace. The various doctrinal paradigms they will learn are just that, doctrinal–not dogma. The core issue is we humans do not like to walk in tensions; yet tensions best describe the real world. The two great tensions important to this conversation are the tensions of love and holiness and, of course, God’s sovereignty and Man’s responsibility. By definition, a tension is two seemingly paradoxical concepts that must be held at full strength with each other; if one side is mitigated, both sides fall.

    The core of the Divine nature is love/holiness (not love/hate as some Calvinists would assert–easily refuted by Matt. 5:43-48). We know this by surveying the scriptures; God consistently presents Himself this way (e.g., Micah 6:9, Eph. 1:4 etc.)–often referred to as mercy and justice because that is love/holiness as it is expressed in response to the Fallen cosmos. This nature will not contradict itself–God will not not be God; so please, God did not create, cause, or encourage evil (James 1:13). God created all things on the basis of His character: a just universe maintained in, by, and for Love. For this reason Man had to be created with free-authority (autexousia) as the Eastern church fathers rightly called it. This means the ability to respond to a proposition given either by God or Satan, but not the ability to actualize the choice for God without grace from God–we can actualize choosing for Satan because it is a given that we die when we forsake grace.

    If God created the cosmos on the basis of a will that trumps His character instead, as stated above, driven by His character, then it would be as Calvin taught: God created Man with the intention that Man would fall. This would contradict Love that must be a two-way street. All through the Bible, in way or another, God is saying to us “This is my covenant promise, or this is my covenant promise fulfilled in Christ (gospel)–and these are equivalent–how do you respond? Love is a two-way deal. It is this way within the Trinity, it is therefore the way the creation must be and will be–it defines the Kingdom of heaven.

    Paul makes for us the most clear statement of the Sovereignty/responsibility tension in Phil 2:12-13. What more need be said? We must as Kingdom dwellers obey God because that is the only way we actually love God, and we know that we shall succeed in this because God, through the faithfulness of Christ, has promised, as He did before the Fall, to maintain us. This is faith; it has nothing to do with merit, or earning things, or works (please let’s take Jesus and His disciples out of the middle ages), but everything to do with being in the Kingdom of heaven where God dwells with us.

    Remember, someone asked Jesus the direct question: Will only a few be saved? And He did not answer, “Only God knows,” or “Yes, God has only chosen a few,” or “no, God has chosen a lot,” or “God only knows the number.” No, He said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” And He said that even though He also said, after the disciples lamented “How can anyone be saved?”, “With Man it’s impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus forces us to remain in the sovereignty/responsibility tension because that’s reality.

    Therefore, let’s stop all the name calling and remember that regardless of how we came to believe–either irresistibly (although I don’t personally believe this) or by enabling grace (not Pelagianism)–we are saying that Jesus is King and we will love Him by obeying Him. And His primary command is to love each other so that the world will know that God has sent Him. If we really believe Christ our lives will be characterized by love in tension with holiness, where we walk just as Jesus walked: completely synergistically with the Holy Spirit–square-on in the tension of God’s sovereignty/Man’s responsibility.

    I leave you with Paul’s admonition in II Cor. 13:5. God bless you dearly.

  • rogereolson

    Read my book.

    • I will if you read mine: A Final Word on Love (amazon/kindle).

      • rogereolson

        I would if I came to your blog to argue with you. What I wonder is why you come to my blog to argue with me without even reading the book I’ve written that is giving rise to the discussion we’re having.

        • My pastor recommended your blog to me two days ago. Since the topic is fresh in my mind because of the class I’m teaching I thought my statements would be helpful to the conversation. I didn’t think I was arguing with you, in fact I thought I was agreeing. I don’t think I need to read your book to understand the question of worshipping a Calvinistic God; I’ve asked that question of myself while grappling with these doctrines. But my answer is to keep Christ always at the center. It’s like you said (above) when we see Christ we see the Father; therefore, the Father cannot be Calvin’s god. I just tried to explain why, which I believe is more developmental than just stating the fact. I apologize sincerely if I have intruded. I will read your book.

        • Dr. Olson,

          I have much respect for you and enjoyed “Arminian Theology” very much. I have purchased “Against Calvinism” and am eager to get the time to read it soon.

          However, because I have much respect for you, I am under the impression you have either misread Bruce Kokko or have mistaken his comments for someone else’s. He is not arguing with you (although, his last paragraph, which he began by saying, “let’s stop all the name calling”, may have thrown you off). His comments are friendly, non-combative, and, for the most part so it seems to me, in agreement with you.

          It seems your comment of November 17, 2011 at 12:02 pm to Kokko was unwarranted.

          Please know I am bringing this to your attention with utmost respect for you.

          I remain humbly, at the Cross…

          • rogereolson

            I know I am prone to make some mistakes in the welter of conversation here and I apologize to Bruce if I misunderstood him or reacted too harshly.

          • Prof. Olson, thank you for your book that is like opening a window to an oppressively stuffy room. For what it is worth, I hope to write a five-star review of it for Amazon. I would like to answer your question directly, now, if I may. If God really were the god of high Calvinism, then I could not and would not worship Him. But the idea is absurd (not you, the idea); let me explain. It reminds me of a scenario in an episode of the Cosby show (stay with me on this) where Claire comes home and fabricates this outrageous situation about her wearing a sexy dress and staying overnight at a drop-dead gorgeous playboy movie star client’s house, and then asks Cliff if he would trust her. He answers, “Of course I trust you, but why would you do such a thing?” To drive home his point, he devises his own extreme case of a TV repair person coming to their house with him alone at home, and she, a beautiful 19 year old—“firm and fully packed”– insists she can’t fix the TV without taking off all her clothes, and then asks Claire if she would trust him? The point is neither scenario would happen, so why insist that their mutual and sacred trust rest or fall on them? We are uncomfortable with the scenario you make, Dr. Olson, because it clearly isn’t the God who has revealed Himself in Scriptures, and I believe that is your point. So if such a being tried to pass himself off as God—perhaps through all the powers of logic, tradition, and whatever (and Jesus tells us that in the end-times such an attempt will actually be made and convincingly so)—we could only conclude that He isn’t God at all, but Satan; and I and I hope every follower of Christ will never worship Satan.

          • rogereolson

            Yes, hypothetical scenarios are always problematic and some folks just don’t seem to be able to handle them.

  • Western Orthodox

    Thanks for pointing me towards your highly stimulating Theology Today article on deification, which I’ve just read (and which merits a much lengthier response than this kind of blog comment). For those readers who are interested, it can be downloaded at http://ttj.sagepub.com/content/64/2/186.full.pdf . It is extremely relevant to the present discussion in that my sense is that the gradual historical demise of the notion of theosis in the West (which was a standard notion for the first 1500 years – have you read A.N. Williams’ book ‘Deification in Aquinas and Palamas?’) occurs at precisely the same time as the rise of radically disjunctive, ‘extrinsicist’ accounts of the God-world relationship such as the one you’re critiquing. What seems to be happening now is that modern scholarship has relativized these extrinsicist views as historically-conditioned and therefore up for a radical re-assessment.

    The pendulum has swung back against extrinsicism in theologians right across the denominational spectrum over what is now an 80-year period – in Catholicism there was clearly a huge rethinking of the transcendence-immanence relationship initiated by the nouvelle théologie in the 1930s onwards by De Lubac (in ‘Surnaturel’), Marie-Dominique Chenu and Hans Urs von Balthasar, linked significantly to intensive Patristic research on the Greek Fathers (Hans Boersma at Regent recently published an excellent book on all of this). This happened in France and involved not only Catholic but also Russian Orthodox émigré scholars. So your comment that ecumenical dialogue has been an important factor in the return of theosis (and a parallel re-appraisal of the Son-Spirit relationship) also really resonates with me; the Eastern Orthodox presence in the conversation (e.g. via the World Council of Churches) has a lot to do with this, as can be documented historically. This is obvious if you take a look at the discussions of the 1970s that are very much reflected in the creative and constrcutive thinking of Congar, Moltmann and Zizioulas (e.g. re-visiting the issue of the Filioque). All this seems to have gone a little quiet since, which is a pity, although it’s interesting that, the Anglican Church started using essence-energy vocabulary in a joint Anglican-Orthodox statement a couple of years back (clearly under Zizioulas’s influence – I’m not sure he’s as anti-Palamite as you suggest!).

    What is getting played out in modern-day Protestantism – on blogs like this!! – strikes me as in some respects a replay of the debate between the neo-Scholastics and the ressourcement theologians sixty years ago in the period just before Vatican II – and it’s important to note that the neo-Scholastics came out a very poor second in this one. The questioning of theologies which regard the 16th century as normative has – as you mention – been given additional impetus by the new Finnish interpretation of Luther, to which you could (even if it’s not principally deification which is at stake here) add the New Perspective on Paul and more recently the work on the reification of doctrine during the period carried out by scholars such as Oxford Professor of Religion and Science Peter Harrison (in his research into the roots of the modern scientific enterprise). Extrinsicism’s days are numbered now that all this is coming to light, but clearly there is a theological constituency which has staked everything on taking the late 16th century as its principal reference point and therefore feels that its raison d’être is under threat. It is therefore getting very defensive and strident in its rhetoric. Hence the 140+ comments on this thread … This is my impression of what’s going on at any rate.

    All those folks who presently intuit that there is a ‘road less travelled’ in Western theology which the wrangling of the Reformation period has obscured, and who feel attracted to things like Celtic Christianity, St Francis of Assisi (probably influenced by the former through the conduit of the Celtic foundation at Bobbio), ‘Radical Wesleyanism’, contemplative prayer, social Trinitarianism, ‘open and relational’ theology etc. etc. as live options within Christian orthodoxy are working on more solid historical ground than they may perhaps realize, I think. The problem is that they don’t necessarily know the history that would really strengthen their case, and because they are often right-brained types who are suspicious (often justifiably) of systematics, they don’t know how they could use Lossky, Balthasar, Yannaras, Zizioulas, Pannenberg … Which makes them easy targets for contemporary Scholastics. Am I making sense here or am I just making all this up? [Please do edit this comment if I’m taking up too much space here!]

    • rogereolson

      I think I do agree with all that. But if you’re leading up to…I should join the EO church(es)…that’s not likely. But if you mean non-Calvinist Protestants can, like Wesley, learn much from the Eastern tradition and Western mystical traditions, then, I certainly agree. I hope that was apparent in my article on deification.

      • Western Orthodox

        Agreed. For clarification – I’m not Eastern Orthodox (intentionally ecumenical from a Methodist background, actually), I just agree with Robert Jenson’s idea that we don’t have to wait for the church to be undivided to do theology of the undivided church.

        • rogereolson

          I agree. I have met Robert Jenson. He’s a hard man to hold a conversation with! But some of his books (especially an early one entitled God after God) have greatly influenced me.

          • Western Orthodox

            I can relate to that … I came across RJ at the ‘Offence of Beauty’ conference in St Andrew’s in Scotland in 2007 and remembering quaking in my boots when some terrified delegates volunteered me to ask him a question! I’ve heard similar things from friends of mine. RJ is always thought-provoking, though – I remember him ending his presentation by saying that he appreciated the ‘Beauty of the Infinite’ by David Bentley Hart (who wasn’t there to respond) but that he was wrong [not about providence] because ‘the beauty of God is not the peace of His being but the drama of His life’. Have been pondering that one ever since!

      • Sergei

        If I remember correctly, Wesley actually read a lot of EO works and was influenced by them.

  • Dr. Olson,

    Thank you for demonstrating what a Christian scholar should look like: thoughtful, careful, gracious, and long-suffering. I’m proud to have been your student and I’m amazed by your grace and self-control in the midst of this fiasco. My husband, Ronnie, has read Arminian Theology and just finished Against Calvinism. He gave up what you call high Calvinism prior to our engagement almost ten years ago (Thanks be to God!). Still, he found your books insightful and refreshing, helping him to reaffirm and deepen his theological convictions.

    Thank you again for setting such a good example for Christian scholarship. There are many of us out here cheering for you, even if many of those who comment here are doing the opposite.

    Grace and peace,

    • rogereolson

      It’s nice to hear from you, Emily. I have fond memories of your time here. I hope you’re doing well.

      • We are doing very well, though very stretched and busy with two small children, local church ministry, and a doctoral program. I should be ABD by next Christmas, though, so there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The best part about being at UD is that I’m teaching already. It’s been a wonderful experience.

        Blessings to you and yours,

        • rogereolson

          Thanks for the update, Emily. Last evening I had dinner with several seminary alums and its always good to re-connect. I wish you all the best!

  • I am increasingly finding the ‘new calvinists’ are way to similar to the ‘new atheists’ for my liking. So much rhetoric but so little reality. Massive statements presuming fact with little connecting the dots. There is something far more sociological to both movements than intellectual or theological.

    Carson will find, he is fighting angels.


    • Steve

      Great comment

  • Vervain

    I read “Against Calvinism” this past weekend. As a lay person, I found it exhaustive (understandable: your audience is a bit more sophisticated theologically than I am) and as an attorney, I found your reasoning sound. I was greatly encouraged to find that most of my “off the cuff” problems with “high Calvinism” hold water under strident defense. I do have one favorite criticism that I did not find in your book and wonder if it too holds water.

    Jesus challenged his hearers by asking that if they “being evil” knew to give good gifts to their children, how much more would God give good gifts to them that ask. Matt. 7:11; Luke 11:13 I’ve taken this to invite applying our concept of love (even in a fallen state) with that of God. This of course, cuts against the Calvinists’ implicit (or perhaps explicit) axiom that God loves, but in a different way–a necessary premise, I think, to their reconciliation of the logical conclusion of their doctrines. Am I off-base? As thorough as your book is, I half expect that these passages had somehow not made the “cut” for your arguments.

    • rogereolson

      But I did use the argument you mention. Somewhere in the book I argued that IF our most basic intuitions about love (drawn from Scripture itself) are wrong when applied to God, then the word has lost all meaning and we have no idea what we are even saying when we (and Scripture) say God is love.

      • vervain

        And so you did. I think that I only wished to see the particular scripture I cite as evidence of your point and merely mourn the loss of the self congratulations I hoped for from finding it in so thorough and well-reasoned an argument. I have the luxury of immunity from the criticism that your work draws to you, but it is heartening to me to see that my thinking was not as loose as I feared.

        My first thought on hearing a Calvinist’s argument was that if God is sovereign, doesn’t that mean that He can limit his “sovereignty”? To me, it is the Calvinist who is defensive about God’s sovereignty, and projects his fears on God. I agreed audibly when I read your point that Calvinism emphasizes (exploits, I think) God’s sovereignty over His love. The heart of it, I think.

        Hope to read your defense of Arminianism soon and trust that your books will stem the tide of thoughtless allegiance to High Calvinism among the restless young and the passive old. You’ve surely provided an exhaustive argument for those who will calmly reason from the whole of the Scriptures.

  • Dr. Olson
    When the student asked the question about what if it was undeniably revealed to you that God does operate the way Calvinism says he does with all the implications, what did he mean by reveal? Did he mean by direct revelation? or by scripture?

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know.