Review of “Recanting Calvinism for A Dynamic Gospel” by Steven L. Hitchcock

Over the years, since I “came out” publicly among evangelicals as an Arminian (beginning with my 1999 Christianity Today article “Don’t hate me because I’m an Arminian”) Ihave received many books and manuscripts about Calvinism and Arminianism from authors. Often they CLAIM to have discovered a via media between Calvinism and Arminianism or a biblical alternative to both. In most cases (perhaps every case!) I have found them to be promoting either Calvinism or Arminianism without knowing it. In other words, the authors are not really well versed in Calvinism or Arminianism.

Some years ago C. Gordon Olson sent me his book Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism (Global Gospel Publishers, 2002). When an author sends me his or her book or manuscript I assume he or she wants my honest feedback. I wrote to Olson (not a relative) and told him that his theology “beyond” was really just classical Arminianism. I had not yet written Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, so I couldn’t send that to him. But I tried to point out where his discovery actually agreed entirely with Arminius and Wesley and other classical Arminians. I didn’t hear back from him.

Once an author writes and publishes an article or book he or she can’t take it back. So I understand when he or she discovers his or her fundamental mistake it’s tempting not to respond and just hope others don’t notice. But the frequency of this problem (not just with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism) should be a lesson to all who are tempted to write a book to make sure they are really knowledgeable about their subject. Otherwise, they should expect to receive negative reviews.

This year I received another book like Olson’s: Recanting Calvinism: For a Dynamic Gospel by Australian evangelical Steven L. Hitchcock (Xulon Press, 2011). Hitchcock must have either sent me his book or had the publisher send me this complimentary copy. (Xulon Press is a Christian self-publishing firm.) I did not order it or even know of it until I received it. Being extremely busy when it came, I simply put it on my shelf and waited until I had time to take it down and give it a perusal.

Hitchcock says he was a Calvinist for many years and was a member of “three Reformed Baptist Churches in the States and Australia” (back cover). Through a fresh and thorough study of scripture he came to recant his Calvinism while rejecting Arminianism. The back cover says “Let there be no mistake, Recanting Calvinism is no defense of Arminianism.” (Does that sound familiar? Several Southern Baptist scholars who have publicly criticized Calvinism in print have said the same.)

The problem is–the book IS a defense of Arminianism! Well, almost. I’ll explain.

First, I’d like to say some positive things about the book. It’s huge (671 pages) and mostly well-researched. That is, the author clearly has read a great deal of Calvinist literature. His bibliography and index of references are full of Calvinist books and authors from John Calvin to D. A. Carson. For the most part it is well-written AND its critique of Calvinism is, I judge, generally fair and correct.

Second, however, I am dismayed at the author’s misrepresentations of Arminianism and his apparent lack of awareness that the view he is promoting is very close to classical Arminianism. The difference is negligible. Interestingly, his bibliography does not contain one book by a leading Arminian from Arminius to Oden (to say nothing of Olson!). I cannot find any evidence that he has read or studied any classical Arminian literature; his knowledge of “Arminianism” seems to come solely from Calvinists (e.g., Erwin Lutzer)!

Here is the problem. Several times throughout the book the author explains why he is not an Arminian: “Arminians say that while men are sinful they still possess an ability within themselves [italics his] to believe as it is maintained that they have freewill.” (240-241) Then he continues “Dynamism [his term for his own alternative to both Arminianism and Calvinism] is a corrective to both Calvinism and Arminianism. It simply asserts that the power is in God’s Word for a sinner to believe in Jesus, though he is dead in his transgressions and sins. Dynamism is about an empowered gospel making a breach upon those dead in their sins so that simple faith can occur. It is this simple faith by means of an empowered gospel that results in salvation.” (241)

What Hitchock calls “empowered gospel” is nearly identical to classical Arminianism’s prevenient grace. I say “nearly identical” because sometimes throughout the book he describes the pre-regenerative work of God enabling a sinner to accept the grace of salvation through faith as “illumination,” “enlightenment,” etc.–a mostly intellectual change. At other times (as in the quote above) he describes it as a power of enablement as if the sinner is strictly unable to respond to the gospel without some inward change that goes beyond the cognitive or intellectual. That would be more in keeping with Arminianism, at least some of the time, that seems to be his view.

Obviously, to anyone to has read and studied Arminianism, Hitchock is completely wrong about Arminianism. He seems to think of it as Calvinists tend to–as semi-Pelagianism if not outright Pelagianism. I have proven that false in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. (I would like to know why he didn’t read that book before writing his? It would have prevented him from falling into this common error.)

Hitchock distinguishes between what he calls “the lesser inward call” and “the greater inward call” (pp. 111-130). The lesser inward call seems identical with general revelation and, according to him, cannot help a sinner toward salvation WITHOUT the “greater inward call” which, apparently unknown to Hitchock, is prevenient grace. “It is in the gospel message [the greater inward call] that the Holy Spirit opens our hearts to respond….” (125) “We are absolutely needy that God will reveal the gospel to us; otherwise we cannot be saved. It is in the disposition of our hearts, the readiness of the soil that determines our response when God opens our hearts by means of His Word.” (125-126) The reference to a change of “disposition of heart” that proves he is thinking of prevenient grace and not only of an intellectual or cognitive illumination (although he uses cognitive language for it most often).

Hitchcock is also wrong about Arminianism and predestination as foreknowledge. He argues that predestination IS God’s foreknowledge of the elect sinner’s love for and faith in God. “Predestination is determined by this [God's] Foreknowledge….” (102) He THINKS he is offering something other than Arminianism because, he says, Arminianism’s foreknowledge is temporal and there is no temporality in God. “The Calvinist is rightly critical of the Arminian’s position on Foreknowledge, that is, that God looked ahead in time to see who would choose him.” (95) Apparently, he does not know that Arminius himself and the vast majority of Arminians at least up until the 19th century believed God’s “foreknowledge” is timeless. Many Arminians still believe that. It’s a basic difference among Arminians as to whether God is temporal or lives, decides and acts timelessly (whatever that might even mean). Interestingly, in Hitchcock’s section “An Attempt to Make Sense of God’s Relationship to Time” (94-103) he lays out a view of God’s eternity as “eternal now” that he seems to think is novel but actually goes back at least to Augustine. It has been the majority view of BOTH Calvinists and Arminians! (Some 19th century Methodist Arminian theologians such as Richard Watson began to rethink that in light of the biblical narrative and philosophical problems with agency in nontemporality.)

Evidence that Hitchcock did not do his theological homework thoroughly before writing is found in his discussion of the Trinity. He is rightly rejecting Luther’s “hidden will of God” and turns to Karl Rahner (a Catholic theologian) to refute Luther: “This notion by Luther is absolutely slain by an underlying principle laid out in Rahner’s Rule, which has famously guarded against those who would speculate over the immanent Trinity. Rahner’s Rule: ‘The “economic’”Trinity is the “immanent’”Trinity and the “immanent” Trinity is the “economic’ Trinity.”‘ The ‘economic Trinity’ refers to that which is revealed to us in the Scriptures as we are presented with the Persons of the Trinity relating and conversing with each other. The ‘immanent Trinity’ refers to that which is hidden and unknown about the Trinity.” (264) That is, of course, wrong and not at all what Rahner meant. Exactly what Rahner meant is debated (Moltmann has one interpretation and Walter Kasper has a different one, but neither one thinks the “immanent Trinity” refers to that which is “hidden and unknown about the Trinity.” (Interestingly, Lutheran theologian Ted Peters, who has written much about the Trinity, has attributed the term “Rahner’s Rule” to me. I attribute it to him. Maybe we came up with it at the same time. After all, it’s not all that difficult to think up! :)

Then, Hitchcock says this in a footnote: “Any use of ‘economic’ and ‘immanent’ by theologians in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity can be traced back to Rahner.” (264, fn. 532) Huh? Rahner did not invent those categories or terms! He was simply trying to correct a tendency among scholastic theologians to allow the immanent Trinity to swallow up or set aside as unimportant the economic Trinity.

Well, that’s enough. Clearly, Recanting Calvinism is a deeply flawed book. One could excuse its flaws (especially in technical theological discussion about the Trinity!) by saying it is written by someone without a Ph.D. in theology. (According to the back cover Hitchcock’s highest degree is the BTh–Bachelor of Theology–which is equivalent to the M.Div. in the U.S.A.) However, what is unexcusable is the misrepresentation of Arminianism in the face of an abundance of information about Arminianism including my book! (I don’t know why the author sent or had sent to me his book if he hadn’t even bothered to read what I have written on the subject! At least there’s no evidence in his book that he read mine which was published well before.) Hitchcock claims to know about Arminianism, but he never cites one notable Arminian theologian (that I could find). The only footnote I could find about Arminianism refers to Erwin Lutzer, a well-known Calvinist pastor (of Moody Memorial Church).

Clearly, in spite of what Hitchcock says, his soteriology is NOT substantially different from, let alone an alternative to, Arminianism. That is so often the case with books and articles and chapters that claim to be offering an alternative but really just repeat what classical Arminianism has been saying for hundreds of years. (Another example is “Congruent Election: Understanding Salvation from an ‘Eternal Now’ Perspective” by Southern Baptist non-Calvinist Richard Land in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism that I blogged about earlier.)

  • http://judahslion.blogspot.com/ Rick Frueh

    Wow. I have difficulty in understanding the purpose in all these nano-dissecting of doctrines to, I believe, the detriment of the core issues. The defining and dividing issues concerning Calvinism and Arminianism to me are these two pillars.

    Did Christ die for every single sinner?
    And
    Can every sinner freely believe on the Lord Jesus through wooing and not force?

    600+ pages? Wow. Sometimes too many words provide too many opportunities for error or misrepresentations. That comes from one who has tested that theory and found it true. :)

  • Eric Miller

    This is truly unfortunate. Whenever a book like this is published (“Chosen but Free”, “What Love is This”), it only serves to further mischaracterize Arminianism and muddy the waters of of honest debate.
    I do find it hypocritical that Reformed and Arminian folks are constantly using “Pelagianism” as a slur but refuse to deal with the man honestly. I sympathize with both Calvinists and Arminians in their chagrin about their views being misrepresented but the irony is not lost on me, considering the fact that they routinely do the exact same thing with Pelagius and his teachings.

    • rogereolson

      Well, the problem is that Pelagius kept changing his views. So “Pelagianism” has simply come to mean the denial of original sin as spiritual bondage to sin without supernatural grace. Exactly what Pelagius believed is hard to know. At least some of the time he seemed to believe in natural ability to attain salvation with “grace” being only knowledge of God’s law and forgiveness if people fail to keep it and repent.

  • Aaron

    unfortunately it takes courage to claim the Arminian label thanks to the Calvinist Rhetoric these days.

  • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

    I’ve been guilty of this very same mistake, though: Because I was taught that Arminian thought was semi-Pelagian, I felt I had no choice but to declare myself “neither” and describe my dissenting view. It bothered me greatly that I was forced to come up with a novel “third option,” because the last thing I wanted to do was invent a strain of theology that might ultimately prove to be heresy. I was greatly relieved to discover that my “third option” was actually classical Arminianism, and that I wasn’t being novel; I was confirming, unaware, the very same thing generations of Christians had concluded.

    But the reason it took me years to realize this was because of a deficiency in my education. My theology professors (at an Assemblies of God school, of all places) were Calvinists. They repeated the same old anti-Arminian slanders, and I didn’t know or think to doubt them. Why would I? They’re good, godly people who earnestly believe as they do. They don’t mean to steer anyone wrong. Jesus said we’ll know the wolves in sheep’s clothing by their fruit, but apart from Calvinism these guys are producing the right fruit. So why would anyone suspect them of teaching untruth?

    Well. In the process of developing and defending my “third option” I of course was searching for confirmation that I wasn’t reinventing the wheel, which is how I eventually discovered I wasn’t. And one might think that if you’re gonna go to the trouble of writing and publishing an entire 600-page book about it, you’d have sought and found some evidence that you aren’t the only Christian on the planet who believes as you do; that there are entire churches of such people. I suppose there’s some appeal in thinking yourself the only true prophet of God left–like Elijah on the one hand, or Joseph Smith on the other. I just could never believe that myself.

    • rogereolson

      I’m shocked to hear that there are Calvinist professors teaching theology at an AG school! The AG is traditionally Arminian. If I’m not mistaken, the AG HQ sends out a questionnaire to every licensed and ordained minister every year asking them to re-confirm certain beliefs. One of them is that true Christians can lose their salvation (denial of “eternal security”). Of course, no honest Calvinist could sign that. I have never heard of a version of Calvinism that is compatible with the possibility of apostasy.

      • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

        This was at Bethany in the ’90s. My primary theology professor preferred to call himself “reformed” instead of Calvinist; probably he thought himself a soft Calvinist. Another, an adjunct whose classes I regularly attended, wasn’t Assemblies; he was a charismatic Presbyterian.

        I don’t know how they filled out their questionnaires, or if they were allowed to slide on eternal security. I just know what they taught, and that all our textbooks were from the Calvinist viewpoint. Erickson’s Christian Theology in particular.

        • rogereolson

          I heard that Bethany recently closed its doors. Maybe having Calvinist professors of theology had something to do with that?

          • http://morechrist.blogspot.com K.W. Leslie

            Bethany closed its doors for financial reasons. But you might be on to something there. The theology of the Financial Aid office, when I went there for both undergrad and graduate work, was firmly predestinarian: “I firmly believe God meant for you to be here.” Unless your government aid package didn’t come in. Then, apparently, He didn’t. Ah, His inscrutable will…

      • Sean

        There has been a move afoot in recent years to rechristen non-Wesleyan Pentecostalism (such as the AG) as “reformed” Pentecostalism. I’ve encountered that moniker in numerous works, often by people that should know better. Because you (generic) know, if you don’t believe in entire sanctification as a discrete second work of grace, you’re obviously not a Wesleyan; therefore, you must be a Calvinist. Because those are the only two options available. Just like Wesley was really a confused Calvinist.

        It amusing on several levels & rather depressing on others.

        • rogereolson

          I think I can explain this phenomenon. I once found myself sitting next to Richard Mouw at a professional society meeting. He knew of my interest in Pentecostalism and my criticism of Calvinism. He informed me that a leading scholar of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, Edith Blumhofer, told him about “the Reformed roots of Pentecostalism.” So, I have been doing my research into this. Assemblies of God historian William W. Menzies discusses it in “The Reformed Roots of Pentecostalism” in the Asian Journal of Pentecostal Studies 9:2 (2006): 260-282. Apparently, from what I can discern, both Blumhofer and Menzies (and others who use this language) are talking about non-Wesleyan roots of Pentecostalism including (according to Menzies) John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards! However, these appear in a section of his article entitled “Reformed Precursors to the Modern Pentecostal Revival.” I think we have to distinguish between “roots” and “precursors.” Sure there are Reformed and even Calvinist precursors to Pentecostalism–people who were instrumental in revivals such as the Great Awakenings. I wouldn’t call them “roots,” however, as Pentecostalism transcends them too radically. I think, for the most part, “Reformed roots of Pentecostalism” and “Reformed Pentecostalism” refer to Pentecostals who believe in what Durham called the “finished work of Christ”–that sanctification is a benefit of the cross and is not a second definite blessing of the Holy Spirit subsequent to conversion. I think that’s somewhat misleading. From my studies of Pentecostalism I do not find real Reformed/Calvinist roots of it or any phenomenon that could legitimately be called “Reformed Pentecostalism.”

          • Sean

            >I think that’s somewhat misleading. From my studies of Pentecostalism I do not find real Reformed/Calvinist roots of it or any phenomenon that could legitimately be called “Reformed Pentecostalism.”

            I agree. “Reformed” is used as a short-hand for “non-Wesleyan,” but Menzies in particular has increasingly tried to make conscious connections with Calvinism. Compare his “Non-Wesleyan Origins of the Pentecostal Movement” published in 1975 to his more recent (2007) “The reformed Roots of Pentecostalism” at (hope you don’t mind links) http://www.glopent.net/pentecostudies/2007/fall-2/menzies-2007a. He definitely tries harder to make a bridge to Calvin and Edwards than he did in his earlier article, which emphasizes more the Keswick movement. A real Calvinist responds with an article, “Does Pentecostalism Have a Reformed Root?” http://www.glopent.net/pentecostudies/2007/fall-2/vlastuin-2007. He shows how Menzies is definitely reaching to try to find a basis for his claim.

            Among sections of more conservative Pentecostalism there have been serious efforts at gaining greater acceptance and respectability as evangelicals. Some feel that one way to do this is identify as quasi-Reformed or Calvinist. I don’t view this as a positive development.

          • rogereolson

            Nor do I, of course. I think Pietism is much more likely to serve as a root of Pentecostalism than Calvinism. In fact, I’m working on a paper on the Pietist roots of Pentecostalism and finding a lot of help in Darren Rodgers and Frank Macchia. No, when I was growing up in Pentecostalism Calvinism was far from anything we thought of as our theological roots. In Bible college we studied Zinzendorf (Pietist) and Finney (revivalist) but not Calvin or Edwards (as precursors). Now I am finding that some of the original Anabaptists spoke in tongues! I’ll call them precursors, but not necessarily a root of Pentecostalism. That initial fervor dropped away almost completely among Anabaptists after the Munster rebellion.

  • Mikael Stenhammar

    It was nice of you to spend time reading and reviewing a self-published book by a not fully qualified writer!

  • Charles Yu

    I think the rhetorical stance of finding a third way between Calvinism and Arminianism makes sense for many authors in their faith communities. They do not feel like they can embrace the label of “Arminianism,” but they can embrace it in substance by calling it something else. By attacking a straw-man Arminianism, they gain credibility points with their intended readers, all the while sneaking in the substance of Arminianism through the back door. Not a bad move (unless you like clarity).

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

    Dr. Olson

    I have read your review of my book ‘Recanting Calvinism’ and I am very appreciative of your interest in it. Thank you for taking the time to read some of my book, though I expect you did not spend too much time on it.

    What a surprise to me that you have done this review. I mean, I have had hardly any feedback at all on my book and then a review by Roger E. Olson. Wow!

    You might find it interesting to know that I did not send the book to you, though I can understand why you would think that I had, if someone had left it on your desk. I mailed it to the theological library at the Seminary as a gift to the library. Someone must have passed it on to you! It was providential. ☺

    May I make a few responses to your review?

    Firstly, you point out that I do not acknowledge your works and the works of other Arminians, that my bibliography is exclusively Calvinistic, and that I misrepresent Arminianism.

    I acknowledge that my work is in some ways inadequate and does not give justice to the Arminian position. I am not an expert by any means of Arminianism and I am continuing to grow in my understanding, but I also acknowledge that I do have some knowledge of Arminianism. The book would certainly be way too large to fully and equally address Calvinism AND Arminianism!

    What I perceived that the Lord would have me to do was to write a book from that particular perspective of a Calvinist who was recanting Calvinism. The target audience is Calvinistic, while the indirect audience is Arminian. It would have been impossible to not make some observations about Arminianism when addressing the subject of Calvinism.

    As you know this controversy can be so heated that often it is nearly impossible for some to even give the other side a moments hearing. Consequently, I wanted the bibliography to be entirely Calvinistic. I did not mean to offend Arminians or yourself by creating the sense of being ‘cut off.’ My former experience of being a Calvinist was that we never EVER read Arminian literature. It would seem to me that most of your readers are Arminian and most of Horton’s readers are Calvinistic! To include such material would have necessarily set up barriers to those whom I wished to bring further along in the debate. Again, I just did not have the expertise and the time to sufficiently include the Arminian position.

    Yes, I did make certain statements about Arminianism, but these statements reflect the entrenched Calvinistic perspective about the Arminian position. I am not saying that I was insincere in my presentation of Arminianism, as I genuinely do not consider myself an Arminian, but that as a recently recanted Calvinist it is the position that I most identify with.

    Secondly, you assert that my answer of Dynamism is just another presentation of Arminianism. I acknowledge that there are some similarities in our understanding of a ‘pre-regenerative work of God’, but I do not think that you are appreciating what I am trying to say. I am seeking to give the Word of God a specific causal role as to how an unregenerate sinner can exercise a faith that results in salvation, while Arminians identify what I would see as a vague and non-specified “grace” that enables.

    Here are some definitions of prevenient grace – are they accurate?

    ‘Prevenient grace allows persons to engage their God-given free will to choose the salvation offered by God in Jesus Christ or to reject that salvific offer.’

    ‘Simply put, prevenient grace is the grace of God given to individuals that releases them from their bondage to sin and enables them to come to Christ in faith but does not guarantee that the sinner will actually do so. Thus, the efficacy of the enabling grace of God is determined not by God but by man.’

    Furthermore, you did not mention anything about how I deny that man has freewill. I am not aware of any Arminian that does to not hold to freewill.

    How can any Arminian accept my position as representing Arminianism, if I deny freewill?

    Furthermore, you said, ‘Hitchcock is also wrong about Arminianism and predestination as foreknowledge. He argues that predestination IS God’s foreknowledge of the elect sinner’s love for and faith in God.’

    I think you are misunderstanding me on the subject of foreknowledge. I am saying that predestination is determined by foreknowledge, not that predestination IS foreknowledge. I have also acknowledged Augustine’s contribution on the subject of time and that others have acknowledge God’s timelessness. Frequently, Calvinists hear Arminians say that God knows who will choose Him as the meaning of foreknowledge. Please re-read my explanation of what foreknowledge is.

    I think that it is unfortunate that you have focused on a perceived misunderstanding of Rahner’s Rule instead of critiquing the value of a comparison of the principle with Luther’s hidden will of God. I too have made the Trinity of particular study (I even have your book (Olson & Hall) and have read all of Letham’s ‘The Holy Trinity’ ) – though I am certain I still have so much more to learn about that doctrine too! ☺

    And, yes, I do not have a PhD, but I hope that is ok in these big woods.

    Thank you, again, for you review. I hope my response is received as a genuine Christian expression of thankfulness. Please respond as you desire.

    Regards
    Steven

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for responding to my response to your book. I was actually hoping you would come and weigh in. Perhaps I am dense, but I don’t see any substantial difference between your view and classical Arminianism. The differences seem semantic. Classical Arminianism says, with Augustine and Calvin, that man’s will is bound to sin until grace intervenes to restore freedom of the will to embrace the offered grace of God until salvation. The normal means through which that happens is the gospel message. (Some Arminians have argued for a universal prevenient grace, but I don’t think that’s an essential part of Arminianism.) Classical Arminianism also says that predestination is determined by God’s foreknowledge. May I suggest you read my Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Thomas Oden’s The Transforming Power of Grace? I think you will find that you are an Arminian. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t want to rejoice at that good news! :)

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

        Dr. Olson

        I am certain that you are not dense! :) I have no problem with being an Arminian if that is what I really am, but as I deny that man has freewill I am at a loss how I could count myself an Arminian.

        Perhaps I should explain that even as a Christian I do not believe that I have freewill. My will is often in conflict with the will of God. My will frequently wants to sin and to neglect the doing of what is good. So when you say that ‘man’s will is bound to sin until grace intervenes to restore freedom of the will to embrace the offered grace of God until salvation’, I would argue that faith does not arise out of this assumed liberating of the will of man. I maintain that faith arises out of the living Word of God (Rom. 10:17).

        Even as a Christian my will is often in conflict with doing God’s will. It is by faith in God’s Word that I do God’s will, not by having freewill. On page 228 I say, ‘Faith is wholly distinct in nature to the will of the flesh or the will of man. In fact, faith is above the will as seen in a man obeying God by faith, against his will.’ Consider the perfect example of our Lord Jesus, being without any sin and any taint regarding His will, who did not go to the cross according to His will (“not my will be done”), but rather it was by faith that He ‘endured the cross’ (Hebrews 12:2).

        Therefore, I regard the will of man as a non-issue in regard to salvation (Recanting Calvinism, 224-230).

        I will get the books you have recommended. I look forward with interest to reading what you and Oden have asserted.

        My hearts desire is for the Lord’s people to be revived in a biblical view of what the gospel is. I would be curious what your opinion might be of some YouTube videos I have done, of which one is entitled ‘What is the gospel?’ If interested please look up the channel on YouTube entitled ‘Recanting Calvinism.’

        The Lord’s blessing be with you!
        Steven

        • rogereolson

          You say you don’t believe you have a free will even as a Christian. And yet, it doesn’t seem that you believe in irresistible grace. If you do, then you are a Calvinist! If grace is resistible, then you have free will. “Free will” does NOT mean ability to do anything; it only means “power of contrary choice.”

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

            Dr. Olson

            Please allow me to give a final explanation of my position.

            Grace is resistible, not because man has freewill, but because of the reality of sin. What I mean by this is that the possibility of doing evil is an unavoidable reality of those who are finite image bearers (pp. 277-283 – please watch ‘Why Did God Create YOU?’ at the link below). It is because of sin that the will of God is not done, not because men possess an ability to freely choose what is contrary to His will.

            You have already acknowledged the view of prevenient grace that provides that men can have freewill who, because they are dead in sins, would otherwise be incapable of believing. Yet, men suppress the truth IN UNRIGHTEOUSNESS, not in a grace empowered freewill (Rom. 1:18). That is, they resist the grace of God because of their sinfulness, not because of a “power of contrary choice”.

            I am arguing that sinners without freewill are enabled to have faith because of the power of God’s Word. This Dynamism does not give them freewill to then believe as the Arminian prevenient grace asserts. The will of man is by nature at enmity with God and even after conversion, because of the reality of remaining sin, we find our wills are often in conflict with doing the will of God (Rom. 7:14-24). Faith arises out of the living Word of God, not out of an assumed freeing of our wills that then makes the playing field even.

            I think you have been too quick to categorize me an Arminian, as now you are beginning to see certain implications that seem to put me in the category of the Calvinist. Perhaps my view does not fit either category?

            Would you be willing to reevaluate my position?

            I would be deeply appreciative to you if you would show me this kindness in Christ.

            Steven

            http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn

          • rogereolson

            “I am arguing that sinners without freewill are enabled to have faith because of the power of God’s Word. This Dynamism does not give them freewill to then believe as the Arminian prevenient grace asserts. The will of man is by nature at enmity with God and even after conversion, because of the reality of remaining sin, we find our wills are often in conflict with doing the will of God (Rom. 7:14-24). Faith arises out of the living Word of God, not out of an assumed freeing of our wills that then makes the playing field even.” One question: Can the sinner encountered by the power of God’s Word resist it and be lost? If you say yes, then in my book, you are an Arminian.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

    James says that such a man who has such an encounter with God’s Word is a natural man, not a man regenerated or a man enabled to have freewill. It is the Word of God that is the mirror that shows him what sort of person he is and yet is this one’s case he goes away and forgets. James 1:21-24.

    • rogereolson

      With all due respect, you still haven’t answered my question. Can the natural man, the sinner, encountered by the Word of God, the gospel message, resist it? If so, he has power of contrary choice which is the very definition of free will. If not, that’s Calvinism.

      • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

        Dr. Olson

        Yes, a sinner can resist, but not because his will is no longer enslaved by an act of prevenient grace, but because he is unbelieving in God’s Word (or as I said earlier because of the reality of sin). In your books I guess I am an Arminian, but have you thought about this…

        You assert that men are only able to have freewill because of a prevenient grace and also that a sinner’s ability to resist grace proves that men have freewill. Do you realize the implication of such a position?

        It means that the very ability that men have to resist God is due to this prevenient grace. God gives a “power of contrary choice” to sinners, owing to prevenient grace, which enables them to exercise such a freewill as either to believe or not to believe. Does God empower people to resist Him?

        My view of dynamism is not a power to not believe, but a power only to believe. I assert that when someone resists dynamism (an empowered gospel), it is not because dynamism gives him or her the power to also resist, but rather that they resist because of what they love (p. 128). Hence, predestination (God working all things for good) is conditional upon a love toward God (to those who love God).

        I understand faith to be the heart response to the Word of God that trusts in the promise, not a function of the will. I understand that faith governs the will and that this is even seen in false religions.

        It is not as though a sinner believes against his will; it is rather that he overcomes his own will by means of faith. The problem of the will of man is not overcome by means of a Calvinistic irresistible grace or by means of an Arminian prevenient grace; it is overcome by the sinner’s faith. That is, a faith enabled by the Word of God. This dynamism comes momentarily when the Holy Spirit speaks to a sinner by means of the Word of God.

        A Calvinist will never be able to hear you if you continue to assert freewill, even though it only exists due to a prevenient grace. In my opinion it is best to emphasize the Word of God as the means of faith, rather than an enabled freewill, because that is the emphasis of the Scriptures.

        Romans 6:17,18 (NASB) But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.

        You have the last word (unless you want me to respond further). I wish to express my sincere appreciation for your time in reviewing my book and in seeking to help further my understanding of these things. A very merry Christmas to you and your family!

        Steven

        • rogereolson

          No, you still are not understanding me. Apart from prevenient grace sinners are only “free” to resist grace. Prevenient grace frees their will to be able to respond positively to grace. Thus, it gives them a “freed will.” But they are still able to resist. Only a Calvinist (or perhaps conservative Lutheran) would deny that.

          • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

            If by nature a sinner is free to resist then by nature he is free to receive grace.

          • rogereolson

            This is why even Arminians accept the distinction between “natural ability” and “moral ability” (implied in Augustine and worked out in detail by Edwards–both relying on scripture). The sinner without prevenient grace has the natural ability to respond to grace but not the moral ability. He or she has only ability to choose between evils. Prevenient grace introduces moral ability to accept saving grace without destroying natural ability to reject it.

  • Kyle Carney

    Steven, many people try to reconcile the two positions, but simply using the word dynamism in place of regeneration does not create a middle position. Using this word in place of regeneration does form another way of articulating the Arminian position that faith comes through enabling grace (prevenient). BTW, I don’t think we Arminians have a problem using words like this to describe this concept. However, the only reason your position is not Calvinist is because you insist on the resistible nature of grace. I agree with you, but that means you agree with the Arminian concept of free will, or freed will as Dr. Olson has said many times, by asserting that the power (dynamao I think is the greek root word where you get your term) of God’s grace is resistible. You are going to have to decide whether you really think God frees peoples sinful wills from the bondage of sin to receive his gracious gift of salvation or if God regenerates the person so that the person will definitely have faith in God’s gracious gift.

    We Arminians don’t believe, as Dr. Olson already mentioned, that free will described in theology is the power to do whatever you want at any time. Free will only arises out of God’s grace in response to the sinful actions of man that put our will in bondage to sin. For most Calvinists, on the other hand, bondage of the will doesn’t mean no free will at all (cf. WCoF). For Calvinists, bondage of the will only refers to the inability of humans to please God (this is an area, btw, where good Calvinists and good Arminians agree). Also, Arminians and Calvinists agree that God has the power and right to use sinful human vessels in whatever way he chooses to accomplish his purposes. The real rub between the positions is in defining election and the order of salvation. Your ideas about dynamism speak to that difference in the order of salvation, but you are also missing the points that connect your ideas to either Calvinism or Arminianism by focusing on a concept of free will. However, it also seems to me that your concept of free will is a little undefined as you seem to somewhat affirm a concept of total determinism and simultaneously affirm a human will at enmity with God’s will. This confusion is what makes your argument sound Calvinistic at points until you start talking about the resistibility of grace. I think reading both Dr. Olson’s book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities as well as Dr. Horton’s book For Calvinism might help you to see the concept of free will defined in a little more systematic way from both sides. The fact that you can find agreement in parts of both Calvinism and Arminianism might seem to point to a middle position, but only inconsistency actually gives that appearance rather than a full position that mitigates the other two sides.

    In short, the ideas you presented can only be underneath the canopy of what is commonly referred to as Calvinism or Arminianism; those ideas presented are not a new position in and of themselves. If a real middle position is found many people would be so happy, not the least of whom would be Dr. Olson. However, just because your ideas don’t form a new position doesn’t mean that identifying them with either Calvinism or Arminianism would be a bad thing. I don’t see why these new ways of articulating old ideas can’t be used to breath a little life and maybe even relieve some unnecessary tension in debates.

    • Andy

      Your sentence, ” You are going to have to decide whether you really think God frees peoples’ sinful wills from the bondage of sin to receive his gracious gift of salvation or if God regenerates the person so that the person will definitely have faith in God’s gracious gift.”

      Is very clarifying

      Along with Roger’s questions, “Can the sinner encountered by the power of God’s Word resist it and be lost?”

      For those of us who are learning to articulate these things, these are helpful distinctions. It was in “Against Calvinism” that help me with the wording that it was the “U” “L” and “I” I was against (as I wrote in my Amazon review). And I should add that Roger’s “Arminian Theology” corrected a few misconceptions I had.

      What I’m thinking is that most of the people I hang out with say they are reformed, but are against “I” and certainly “L” and are really much more Arminian than they realize. And regardless of their stated beliefs, they live as if they were Arminian. Maybe that is a thought for another day.

      Thank you for you posts.

      • rogereolson

        Yes. I have encountered numerous evangelicals who say they are “moderately Reformed” but, upon questioning, turn out to be Arminian!

    • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

      Kyle

      Thank you for your comments. I have not sought to come up with something new, but have come to the conclusions I have from what I have learned from the Scriptures. In defense of the size of my book, I would say that it is about 1/3 Scripture. This provides the reader with the convenience of not having to look up things and to also look afresh at passages that have become too familiar.

      It is not just a matter of semantics. The Scriptures say that faith arises out of the Word of God, not out of freewill. What we should all want is a resolution to this age-old debate, not just a continuation of a stalemate. We must seek to encourage new ideas not just protect views that have failed to win over genuine Christians who are Calvinistic in their understanding. Maybe God has not given the blessing to resolving this very old debate because both sides have elements of error?

      Merry Christmas to you and to your family!

      Steven

      • rogereolson

        Steven, I just wonder why you are so resistant to being labeled Arminian when your view is so clearly consistent with, if not identical to, classical Arminianism?

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/stevenlhitchcock?feature=mhsn Steven L. Hitchcock

          I guess I am the one who is dense! :) I have no problem with being an Arminian if that is what I truly am. I just do not see how I could be counted one if I deny a prevenient grace that then enables me to have freewill or that faith arises out of having freewill.

  • Don Fisher

    As someone who considers himself non-Arminian and also non-Calvinist, I can empathize with Steven’s plight. His view sounds very close to the conservative Lutheran view of the word of God as a means of grace. The “confessional” Lutherans (such as LCMS, WELS) believe the sinner does not have free or freed will, but also that the grace of God is resistible precisely because of their concept of the means of grace. When God works through means he can be resisted, much as a physician’s orders may be resisted when a patient refuses to fill a prescription.

    • rogereolson

      How can a person resist the grace of God if he or she does not have free will?


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