Quick report on Calvinst-Arminian dialogues

This past weekend (Saturday, January 28) I engaged in another public dialogue with my favorite Calvinist Michael Horton. While I strongly disagree with some of his characterizations of Arminianism (e.g, “man-centered theology”) he is a gentleman and a scholar who never stoops to using ridicule or insults and always strives to be fair in his descriptions of theologies with which he disagrees. And he never makes it a personal issue; he can express very strong disagreement while remaining friendly. That’s rare in today’s theological climate among evangelicals. I won’t even bother to read or engage in conversation with people who use ridicule to demean those with whom they disagree theologically. But I will go out of my way (for example to Orange County, CA and Miami, FL) to engage in friendly, vigorous conversation about theological differences. And I have done that many times.

This past weekend Mike and I spoke and engaged in conversation about our theological differences before an audience of mostly Calvinists. No one was hostile or aggressive or uncivil. Nobody made jokes at others’ expense to humiliate or ridicule them. No one misrepresented others’ views. (There were many questions from the audience and everyone was extremely polite.) I didn’t feel like Daniel in the lions’ den at all. Many members of the audience bought my book Against Calvinism and asked me to sign it for them. (A couple even had me sign’s Mike’s book For Calvinism!)

And yet, in spite of all the niceness, Mike and some of the audience members asked hard questions and pressed for biblical and reasonable answers. I did my best to provide them from an Arminian viewpoint. I pressed Mike for Calvinist answers and he always responded helpfully.

I told the audience and I repeat here that I have no problem with Calvinism in confessionally Reformed churches. My problem is when Calvinism becomes popular in contexts where it is not historically the norm and then is promoted as THE only truly biblical view. In such non-confessional contexts (e.g., many Baptist churches) Calvinism should be held as opinion and not elevated to status confessionis. What is happening in many Baptist churches is the adoption of the Second London Confession of Faith as an instrument of doctrinal accountability.

And I object when many in the young, restless and Reformed movement tout Calvinism aggessively as the one and only respectable Christian theology (“the doctrines of grace” and “simply a transcript of the gospel”).

If only these disagreements could be handled everywhere and at all times as they were by us at this event in Miami.

I believe the event will be posted for viewing at the web site of The White Horse Inn (Mike Horton’s radio program) and at Zondervan’s web site. The event was co-sponsored by those organizations.

  • gingoro

    “I told the audience and I repeat here that I have no problem with Calvinism in confessionally Reformed churches.” I don’t understand. From reading your blog I get the impression that you have a problem with R C Sproul who is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America. The PCA was formed in the 1970s by churches leaving the mainline old liberal Presbyterian denominations and definitely is a confessionally reformed church (Westminster Confession).

    As a moderate Calvinist I find Sproul extreme.
    Dave W

    • rogereolson

      My statement will take a lot of explaining. Let me mull it over and post something further about it.

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

    Thanks for keeping these issues on the stove top. I think that many Calvinists are looking for a narrative that will enable them to move away from the high calvinism that they feel trapped in. This certainly was me. I could never teach double predestination but would mumble that it is true if you pressed me. And, of course, I was (and am) absolutely fixed on the sovereignty of God and was ready to slay any dragon that seemed to threaten it. High calvinism seemed to be the only way to do that. It is not. You have insisted that there is another way and have taken it into the calvinist camp. That’s not easy, especially when one is attacked for questioning the character of God and obfuscating his glory. That is hard to hear for a brother who loves the Lord and lives in his grace. In fact, you are putting the shoe on the other foot by demonstrating that calvinists are vulnerable to the same charge, even if you are not the one who would make it against them, which you do not. Your “if..then” language keeps it on a higher plane than personal attack, as in “if God were such and such then I would not be able to worship him.” That is a wise way to put it. Of course, it looks like you are throwing yourself into the lion’s den one more time when you do, being accused of deciding what kind of God you want. But at least you are not accusing the brethren of not loving the glory of God. Thomas Oden’s book, The Transforming Power of Grace, that you recommended is part of the way out for boxed in calvinists. I am on my third way through. I have also worked my way through twice Douglas Sweeney’s “Nathaniel Taylor, The New Haven Theology, and the Legacy of Jonathan Edwards.” (At $80 I had to get this through library loan!! One can get it on Kindle for $45) For me this is an illuminating study of the stress marks in calvinistic anthropology. I think that ultimately high calvinism has to give way because it cannot bear the weight it promises to carry. This book is a study of just such an episode and how that happened.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the book recommendation. I hope our library has it! :)

  • http://www.contendingforthefaith.com John Metz

    Roger,
    Both you and Michael Horton are to be commended for engaging in such a dialogue. I cannot help but long for more such events, both public and private.

    On a related subject, I thought the idea behind the Elephant Room was tremendous and was surprised (not really too surprised) to see so much opposition to it. It seems to be in line with the dialogue between you and Horton. Have you commented on this yet. I am still digesting the results of ER 2.

    Thanks both for the post and for being open to dialogue in a friendly, respectful way. We need more of this.

    • rogereolson

      Help me with this. I don’t know what the Elephant Room or ER2 are.

  • http://www.contendingforthefaith.com John Metz

    Sorry, Roger.

    First, ER2 is an abbreviation for Elephant Room, a format used by James MacDonald (former Gospel Coalition, recently resigned in a friendly way) to gather certain leaders to discuss controversial matters. In the second session (ER2) the most controversial participant was T.D. Jakes. Mark Driscoll and others also took part. Because of Jakes, ER2 has been all over the blogosphere both before, during, and after the event itself.

    Depending who is interpreting the event, Jakes either endorsed Trinitarianism or did not go far enough in his statement to be considered Trinitarian. Many were upset that Jakes was even invited to participate.

    Without commenting on the content or execution of the event, it is hard for me to see how bringing people with diverse views together for a civil discussion of controversial topics can be harmful. In fact, it seems more needful given today’s contentious tendencies. MacDonald’s blog site is http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/. Treven Wax, Ed Stetzer and many others have posted on the event and its aftermath. Many varying opinions.

    Perhaps the concept would interest you more than the controversy.

    • rogereolson

      Sounds good to me. I can’t see what harm dialogue does. People who are opposed to dialogue scare me.

  • http://N/A Kevin Douglas

    Mr. Olsen,

    I share your views on fair and honest dialogue. I have a question. I am understanding your opinion about Calvinism in Baptist churches to suggest that Calvinism doesn’t have a strong confessional history within the Baptist denomination. Is my understanding of your opinion correct?

    • rogereolson

      Of course, there is no “the Baptist denomination.” Each church is autonomous and can decide whether to be formally confessional or not. The church I attend is not and never has been (formally confessional). We have Calvinists and Arminians and “Calminians” and people who don’t know or care about the issue. My complaint is when a Baptist pastor tries to convince non-Calvinist Baptists they must become Calvinists to be either good Christians or good evangelicals or good Baptists. There have always been Calvinist (Particular) and non-Calvinist (General) Baptists. As a whole, Baptists have never been confessionally Calvinist. In the past some were, but “all” never have been.


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