A personal testimony (some won’t like)

I have an essay all ready to post here and was going to do it today. It’s about the current issue of Modern Reformation magazine and an article in it that misrepresents Arminianism. I’ll post it next time (Lord willing).

One commenter today inspired me to share a story of God’s intervention in my life recently. I know some aren’t going to believe it, but I don’t really care. I think sharing stories of God alive and well and at work is an important part of being evangelical. We don’t have “testimony time” in our church, so this is the place for me to share such things.

A couple years ago I was working on my book Against Calvinism. One thing that was a burning issue for me was to display non-Arminian evangelical Christian scholars who disagree with “high Calvinism.” I thought it was almost worthless to just quote Arminian scholars. I very much wanted to show that the kind of “radical Reformed theology” I criticize in the book is also criticized by some Reformed theologians.

I couldn’t find just the right source to use. The revisionist Reformed theologians I knew about who published against TULIP and double predestination were not really evangelicals in our American sense of the word. One I admire very much and did quote in the book is Alan P. F. Sell–former theological secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC–now the World Communion of Reformed Churches). But Alan, though a wonderful Christian whose writings in theology I have reviewed several times and always appreciatively, is not part of the “evangelical subculture” of America. I knew what he had to say wouldn’t probably impress American evangelicals “on the fence,” so to speak, between evangelical Arminianism and evangelical Calvinism.

This problem was weighing on my mind heavily and causing me to have temporary “writer’s block.” I did make it a matter of prayer.

One day I was in another city and found a used theological bookstore. I can never stay away from those! I went in and spent a couple hours browsing with nothing particular in mind. At the moment I had put aside my dilemma and Against Calvinism and was just waiting for something to come along and break the impasse I felt I was at.

The selection of used theological books was huge–covering an entire wall (about 25 feet) floor to ceiling. (And this was just the systematic theology section! The bookstore has thousands of used books on all subjects related to Christianity.) Most of the books were fundamentalist and Calvinistic. The usual suspects were in prominent display: Spurgeon, Pink, Boettner, Sproul, et al. Then, lo and behold, my eyes fell on a book I had never heard of before by an author I had only read once–and that only an essay in an edited volume. The title piqued my interest for some reason even though it didn’t really stand out from the rest. In fact, the title on the book’s spine didn’t even indicate anything about Calvinism. “The Freedom of God.” But something moved me to take it down from the shelf and look at it. I saw at once the author “James Daane” and the subtitle “A Study of Election and Pulpit.” (Eerdmans, 1973) I had read that one essay by Daane but knew nothing else about him. The essay was “Can a man bless God?” in God and the Good–a collection of essays honoring a Reformed theologian edited by Clifton Orlebeke and Lewis Smedes. I remembered thinking the thesis of the essay that, yes, a person can “bless God” was a bit odd for a Reformed theologian (which I could tell Daane was from something in the book or in his essay).

I felt that little thrill of serendipity that comes when you come across something unexpected but potentially helpful. So I sat down in a corner and started reading The Freedom of God. Well, if you’ve read Against Calvinism you know the rest of the story. Daane (1914-1983) was a minister of the Christian Reformed Church of America–a conservative Calvinist denomination. (Some of my cousins were members when I was growing up and I always marveled at their church youth group’s name–”Young Calvinists!”) Daane clearly was NOT your typical Calvinist, though. But he was clearly evangelical and Reformed in his basic theological orientation.

To make a long story short, this was the book I needed and I found it purely by accident, by sheer coincidence. (I have never seen it in any other bookstore and I have perused the theology sections of used bookstores for many years.) Or was it purely by accident, a sheer coincidence?

The book energized me to keep writing; I now had the missing piece. Daane’s polemic against what he calls “decretal theology” is powerful. By “decretal theology” he means double predestination and all that surrounds it–a God removed from history and suffering and turned into a tyrant.

Unfortunately the book is out of print. But if you can buy it used or borrow it, I strongly urge it. There is no question of Daane’s commitment to biblical authority or of his evangelical credentials. He taught theology at Fuller Theological Seminary in the 1950s and 1960s.

So what actually happened there “behind the scenes?” Was this a “God thing?” Well, I am convinced it was. I don’t expect others, especially Calvinists, to think so. On the other hand, if they are consistent Calvinists, they have to believe it was! After all, nothing happens that is not foreordained and rendered certain by God. I believe it was an answer to prayer. I’m not sure I would have finished the book without Daane’s book.

Here I was, in the middle of writing my book Against Calvinism and stymied by a lack of a source. I had prayed about it. I was actually in anguish over it. I decided to take a couple of days and drive to that distant city to visit my nephew and his wife and to hear a friend lecture at the Christian college my nephew attended. (My friend was a guest lecturer that weekend.) I didn’t really have a great reason to go. It’s a 10 hour drive each way. But I felt “led” to go. And then I saw the bookstore. And then I spend a long time perusing the shelves finding nothing. And then I found the much-needed book I didn’t even know existed (and I don’t know any better one to fit the need).

I guess God wanted me to write that book.

  • Zach

    Manna from heaven; a bookstore with lots of theology materials! If it means anything I for one am glad that someone has the strength of conscience and Biblical convictions to stand up to TULIP like you are doing; I think that’s a “God thing”, mos def. Have you seen the post by James White on the other Patheos column? I’ve tried to rebut some of the arguments he makes there myself.

    • rogereolson

      Who is James White?

      • Zach
        • rogereolson

          I don’t read all my critics–especially those I don’t think it would do any good to read and respond to. But watch for a post here in the near future that may address what I think this person is saying (because several people have e-mailed me paraphrasing it). (I admit to having a list of people I just don’t read for my own reasons.)

          • Sam Gonzales

            Dr. Olson,
            Many, MANY thanks for your work “Against Calvinism”…I actually bought the book after purchasing another with the same title, only to find the “other” authors left blank pages for any “logical defense against Calvinism”. Needless to say they are of the Young, Restless, Reformed group whose arrogance about the high view of Calvinism is breath-taking at times throughout their book. Your book has provided the balance needed as our Sunday School class is tackling TULIP. In fact, a dear, very-Reformed ‘best friend’ recommended your book (which I already had) with this idea, “He is Arminian, but does a fair treatment of the subject.” I have to agree … great book. And perhaps my experience of the ‘other’ book left me outraged enough to coincidentally learn about yours. Coincidence is a wonderful thing in the hands of a Sovereign God. :)

          • rogereolson

            Thank you and you’re welcome. An old saying is that a coincidence is when God chooses to remain anonymous. :)

  • Bob Brown

    Great testimony Roger. James wrote, “We have not because we ask not.” And Paul, the great Apostle surprised us that he needed favors that came only as a result of other Christians praying for him – “And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” 2Cor.1:11

    I actually feel “led” everytime I preach as the Spirit puts the right texts, authors and thoughts in front of my eyes. PTL! God wanted your book written and those thoughts shared. It’s a great book and I thank you for it. It’s amazing we don’t pray more.

  • Joel M. Ellis

    I’m thankful He led you to it when He did. This kind of providence is best recognized and interpreted in retrospect, but it is a powerful reminder of the goodness and guidance of God in our lives. Thank you for sharing it.

  • http://notdarkyet-commentary.blogspot.com/ Charles Kinnaird

    Roger,

    I love this story! It rings true with how so often things unfold and we realize, “Someone’s” hand must have been guiding this. There have been times when I have declared to a friend, “This was an answer to prayer.” I have other friends to whom I couldn’t make such a remark without engaging in some kind of debate on the nature of God or the world. To those friends I will still declare that it was a wonderful “act of synchronicity,” or “graceful serendipity,” or a simple, “Can you believe it!”

  • JRS

    And everybody said . . . Amen!

  • ME

    I enjoy reading your posts. This is the best I’ve read- it cannot be told enough that our Lord is a living God! If more often we shared all God does for us in our lives maybe a piece such as this wouldn’t require a warning message.

  • http://profanefaith.com profanefaith

    Have you looked into Herman Bavinck on this at all? Maybe he was not current enough to be a useful resource.

    • rogereolson

      I only know about him; I’ve never actually read him. What does he have to say about predestination?

      • Russ

        From his Doctrine of God, after describing then rejecting the whole infra/supralapsarian debate:

        “Briefly stated, God’s decree together with the history of the universe which answers to it should not be exclusively described–after the manner oif infra- and supralapsarianism–as a straight line to indicate a relation merely of before and after, cause and effect, means and goal; but it should also be viewed as a system the several elements of which are coordinately related to one another and cooperate with one another toward that goal which always was and is and will be the deepest ground of all existence, namely, the glorification of God. As in an organism all the members are dependent upon one another and in a reciprocal manner determine one another, so also the universe is God’s work of art, the several parts of which are organically related.”

        • rogereolson

          Arminius could have said that! (I take it you’re quoting Daane?) Daane also firmly rejects the whole “numbers” approach to election. He adopts the corporate election idea.

          • Russ

            No, this is Bavinck, and of course it’s just one snippet in which his main concern is to create an alternative to the pointless infra/supralapsarian debate rather than address Arminianism, so it’s inadequate on its own. In other places he will stress the priority of God’s sovereignty in the decrees, though as the quote above indicates, not necessarily following the standard Reformed scholastic approaches to the question.

  • http://usforabolition.blogspot.com/ Rachel Ann

    This was encouraging! When you said “But I felt ‘led’ to go” it was a kick in the pants to remind me how important it is to listen to those promptings. Thank you for posting this!

  • Russ

    I’m comforted that God chose a Calvinist to help you.

    And while I get what you mean by saying “Daane clearly was NOT your typical Calvinist,” it just shows how odd our terminology has become, that in the United States, a group of fundamentalist, sometimes dispensational, Baptists have somehow become the standard of “Calvinism” (nearly everyone in _Young, Restless, and Reformed_ is a Baptist – this isn’t a slam against Baptists, I’m not noting how far Baptists are by necessity from much of Calvin’s theology) but a Christian Reformed minister teaching at a seminary that was (in the 50s and 60s, certainly) clearly Reformed in its orientation, is an oddball.

    • Russ

      Must have dozed off mid-sentence – should be “I’m noting,” not “I’m not noting.”

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    Thanks for the posting. BTW, I am reading Arminius at your suggestion. I also bought a copy of Oden’s Transforming Power of Grace and am on my third reading through. I feel myself being untangled knot by knot from the severe logic of high Calvinism. Oden’s assertion that we are students of grace. Grace is what we study, it is what we do. That God is sovereign and calls us to account our consciences alone teach us. No Bible needed here. That God is mercifully kind is the great revelation. It is ironic to me, come to think about it, that in my Reformed background and studies, the one thing that everyone kept coming back to again and again, the sovereignty of God, was the one thing everyone intuitively knows. What is not known and mysterious is that God’s story with us is his love and grace – and that his love wisely moves to bring out of this broken world the great end of reconciliation. It is love and not decrees that moves the story along. While high Calvinism looks to the power of decrees, I am finding that God’s “intervention” seems to be more function of his wise love, which knows how to bring out of our mess the right ends, not by sheer fiat but an honest responding. This makes so much more sense of the biblical narrative rather than the safer and more stark position of decrees that issue from the secret will of God.

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  • gingoro

    When I read your post I thought that the book you mention was familiar and that I had picked it up from the book table at some conference and had not gotten around to reading it. However, when I looked in my library I found that my copy had originally been in my dad’s library. My dad was a Baptist minister who started out holding the Arminian persuasion and over time migrated to the Calvinist persuasion, although he was only a four pointer and never held meticulous providence.
    As a moderate calvinist I would agree that God lead you to that bookstore and that book.
    Dave W

  • Scott Gay

    There is an aspect of your testimony that I would like to put a label on. If you type “being labeled” on Google, the first thing you notice is the negative connotation. But here goes what I believe to be positive. Jaspers saw we experience limits at the boundaries and breakthroughs that are truly freeing. To me justification by faith is a boundary situation rather than the law(or 4) that it has evolved into culturally. Being stymied, feeling anguish goes along with the boundary situation( typical ones imposed on us being death, uncertainty, impermanence; and others by our own actions like conflict, guilt, communication, sexuality, technology, historocity). The call to action and creative fidelity is the way to freedom over the boundary. Denial of the situation, the passive role, believing it is a working of fate is the forfeiture of the same. To me it is the way of life( way, truth, life). He is unbelievably capable of orchestrating intricacies knowing the very DNA sequences of the hairs( or lack thereof) on our heads.

  • http://sentimentsassuch.wordpress.com Brendan P. Burnett

    Dr Olson, your book ‘Against Calvinism’ seems to have caused quite a stir out there in the evangelical world. I have read your book ‘Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities’ and it greatly helped me to think through some of the accusations I had heard about Arminians’ beliefs. In fact, it gave me an interest in Arminianism (especially Arminius) which I still possess to this day, which led me on to John Wesley, and to finally to adopt the Classical Arminianism label myself.

    I just think that good Arminianism is so important today. I haven’t read ‘Against Calvinism’ yet, but I think know the kind of ‘radical reformed theology’ you might have been thinking off; young, bashful adults, zealous for Calvinist dogma. In my own Church context in the Sydney evangelical Anglican Church for example, there exists one certain supralapsarian Calvinist in my parish who isn’t even afraid to call God the author of sin!

    In the light of THAT fellow, let’s just say, then, that I am so glad I came across your writings which pointed me to Arminius before I myself got swept away in the ‘young, restless and reformed’ hype. To be honest, I think Arminianism is very wonderful and perhaps beneficial.

    Peace.

    PS: Have you heard of The Society of Evangelical Arminians (www.evangelicalarminians.org)? For your possible interest, I posted a rather long exposition there on historical Arminianism, which was inspired by the nature and structure of your book ‘Arminian Theology.’ The exposition is called, ‘The Fallenness of Man,the Will and the Workings of Grace: An Exposition on Historical Arminian Theological Thought’ (http://evangelicalarminians.org/?q=burnett.the-fallenness-of-man-the-will-and-the-workings-of-grace-an-exposition-on-historical-Arminian-Theological-Thought). Perhaps read the abstract at that link!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for this. Yes, I’m a “member” of the SEA, I guess. I don’t have a membership card, but I don’t think I need one. Overall it’s a good organization and I often recommend its web site to people who have questions about Arminianism.

  • jeff martin

    I would have thought that comments by Turretin or Hodge or John Murray would be more effective in the book. To quote someone no one has heard of is not particularly effective. I believe God could have guided you to the book, but for a number of different reasons.

    I have read your book by the way, and it was good. But as an Arminian that went to a couple of reformed seminaries and working in those churches I understand the most effective ways to get to them. A deadly combination of quotes would be if one could find quotes from Turretin, Bavinck, Calvin, and Murray. Of which there are plenteous. I just do not have the time to sit down and write the book myself.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not at all sure about that. I don’t think Daane’s theology fits with theirs. Turretin and Calvin (who I know better than Bavinck or Murray) definitely held to double predestination.

      • Jeff Martin

        Dr. Olson,

        My mentioning all those people (Herman Bavinck, Calvin, Turretin, John Murray, and Hodge) was to help you see a broader range of Calvinists out there who, while they might be double predestinationists say things that either contradict themselves or those who would consider themselves the more academic Calvinists today like Piper and Sproul.

        In fact I mentioned I would love to do a book like that to a Calvinist and they immediately told me that would be unfair because I would be taking them out of context!! I had not even written anything down before getting criticized!! Wow! But that unfortunately was the most common experience I had with Calvinists.

      • raidel

        You say to know Calvin, but you say he held double predestination. I don’t think Calvin held the notion of double predestination. God predestines those to be saved. And those who are lost are lost because of their sins. If Calvin would have said that God predestines some people to be condemned he would saying that God is an agent of evil, which of course we all agree that he is not. Again, I don’t think that’s Calvin’s position

        • rogereolson

          Check out Institutes Book III, chapter XXI (and surrounding chapters) and especially paragraph 7 and especially the paragraph there that begins with “As Scripture, then, clearly shows….” You will see that Calvin most definitely did affirm double predestination and rejected any notion that it is based on foreknowledge.

  • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

    Recently a Calvinist asked me why would an Arminian pray to God for the salvation of a soul when salvation was up to man and not God. I was amazed at the question. The misrepresentation of Arminianism first off, but also the idea that prayer is unnecessary to the Arminian is awful. My retort, which probably misrepresented Calvinism as well, was along the lines of why would a Calvinist pray to God to save a soul when God does what He wants without your meritorious prayer? Alas, whatever, but still, the issue of prayer and how it works with God’s will, predestination etc, is a big issue. Thanks for the post.

    • rogereolson

      I pray for God to save my unsaved loved ones and friends. What do I mean? I mean–bring things into their lives that will cause them to sense very deeply their need for God and give them a special measure of prevenient grace (e.g., by causing them to hear the Word of God in an environment where they will listen and understand), etc. What does a Calvinist mean? Regenerate them against their wills? Do what you planned to do anyway?

      • http://antiitchmeditation.wordpress.com jeff weddle

        Agreed. Prayer seems highly irrelevent with a Calvinist mindset. The comeback is always that “God ordains the means as well as the ends,” but I think that’s just an end-around leaving the same predicament.

        • rogereolson

          It’s become a cliche in Reformed circles. When I ask some Reformed people what it means they can’t really explain it. What it really means is, of course, that prayer doesn’t really change anything. Prayer is simply God telling himself through you what he is going to do. It’s like me saying to someone “This morning my calendar told me to go to a meeting; I went to the meeting because my calendar said to” when, in fact, I wrote that memo on my calendar.

  • http://regraftedbranch.blogspot.com/ Stefan

    I’m kind of late to the party, but I LOVE this story! I have been a witness a couple of times now to the serendipity being in a bookstore or library and searching fruitlessly for a certain book until one’s eye is drawn to some nondescript volume that turns out to be a *different* book but *exactly* what one is looking for–for me, this has happened at a couple of very critical points in my spiritual walk with Christ.

    Praise God that He will use all kinds of amazing means to speak to us!

    The unbelievable part is this, though: where on earth is there such a wonderful thing as a used theological bookstore!? Anyhow, I’m a four-point Calvinist, and I approve this message!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for your approval. The bookstore I mentioned in my testimony is in Springfield, MO. I assume it’s the only one there. I don’t remember it’s name. But there are many used theological bookstores. One of the largest is in Fort Worth, Texas and it’s owned by a Calvinist. I think it’s called Theological Pursuits.

      • http://www.brianroden.com Brian Roden

        Ooo, I’ll be in Springfield this weekend for a module class at AGTS. Unfortunately, as a seminary student, I have no money for books after getting the ones I need for my classes.

        • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

          You must have been at “Redeemed Books” in Springfield. That is a wonderful store. I was there just before Christmas with a gift certificate from my non-Calvinist mother-in-law, who I happened to be visiting at that time. I picked up “Evangelical Theology” by A.A. Hodge, “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” by Boettner, and “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott. I definitely think God led me to those books. :)

          • rogereolson

            Of course you do! :)

  • http://barrybiblicalnotes.com Barry Applewhite

    I like that story! May God continue to intervene in your writing.

    Also, I’m happy to own both the book you found and your book as well. Both are excellent.

    -Barry

  • David Morris

    James KA Smith describes this as “Bibliographic Providence”. In “Letters to a young Calvinist”, he tells how he found WGT Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology in a small Mennonite bookstore in Ontario. I don’t think I’ve met many Mennonite’s who have read that ;)

    • rogereolson

      I’ll bet more Mennonites have read Shedd than Calvinists have read Arminius. :) But, of course, being a Calvinist (I think) Smith has to believe his finding Shedd’s book was providence. Everything is providential. My testimony trumps his (:) insofar as, in my theology, my finding that book was an example of “special providence” whereas in a Calvinist’s similar testimony there really is no such thing.

  • Myk Habets

    Roger (we met briefly at the 2011 AAR and have emailed), I can’t recommend to you highly enough the soon to be released book ‘Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.’ Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, 2012. Given your comments in Against Calvinism, and here, an endorsement of the book by you would be beneficial to both ECs and EAs, don’t you think? Thanks Roger.

    • rogereolson

      The authors asked me to preview the book and consider giving a promotional statement for it but I was simply too busy at the time. From their description it sounds good. I will definitely buy it, read it and respond here. Thanks for jogging my memory about that. By the way, Alasdair Heron is one of those “Calvinists” who has moved so far away from traditional Calvinism that I would almost consider him an Arminian (although I’m sure he would not like that).

  • http://growrag.wordpress.com Bobby Grow

    Prof. Olson,

    I second my colleague’s sentiment; you, I think, will be impressed, or at least intrigued to read this soon to be released book: ‘Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church.’ Princeton Theological Monograph Series. Eds. Myk Habets and Robert Grow. Foreword by Alasdair Heron. Eugene, OR.: Pickwick Publications, 2012′; it is something that is not providing a via media through classic Calvinism/Arminianism, but instead a strain of Calvinism that unfortunately, heretofore has been overlooked, and seemingly eaten up by the machine of what we know as Calvinism today. Anyway, I will look forward to what you think of it as it is released in just the near future now.

    • rogereolson

      If you will have the publisher send me a review copy I promise to review it here and try to get a review of it published in a magazine or journal. This blog gets between 24 and 30 thousand views per month. Surely it would be worth Wipf and Stock’s investment to give me a copy, right? :)

      • http://www.wipfandstock.com Chris Spinks

        Roger,

        I will make sure our marketing department gets a copy of the book to you once it is out, which will likely be some time in late spring or early summer. The files are in my overly long queue at the moment!

        Peace,
        D. Christopher Spinks, PhD
        Editor, Cascade Books and Pickwick Publications
        Wipf and Stock Publishers
        199 W. 8th Avenue, Eugene, OR 97401
        Phone: 541.344.1528
        Fax: 541.344.1506
        Email: chris@wipfandstock.com

        P.S. I’m glad to have our paths finally cross. I am a graduate of Truett (first class in 1997!), and I spent my last few years in Waco as the youth minister at Calvary. I’d love to get the chance to meet you in person some day. Maybe AAR/SBL in November?

        • rogereolson

          Nice to hear from you and meet you even if only in the blogosphere. I hope our paths do cross sometime and somewhere. Thanks for the book. I look forward to reading it.


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