A report on some recent conversations about Calvinism

Someone recently asked me here how many times a day I think about Calvinism. Well, lots. But that’s largely because people contact me by phone, letter, e-mail and in person many times every week, pretty much daily, to ask me questions about Calvinism and Arminianism because of my books, articles, radio interviews, this blog, etc. I guess I have to accept my fate as what Collin Hansen said about me in Young, Restless, Reformed–that I am the (paraphrasing) “go to guy” when it comes to anti-Calvinism. (Again, I have to emphasize because some people still don’t get it, that I am not anti-Calvinists. And I am only anti-Calvinism with regard to certain situations which I have described and will describe here again.)

Here are two examples of this from this past week. But incidents like them happen all the time and consume a great deal of my time, attention and energy.

A seminary student told me about his home church. His parents are members there and he grew up in it. It’s a Baptist church that has never had any official position on Calvinism or Arminianism. It’s background is Pietist (as opposed to, say, fundamentalist). In other words, it has traditionally had a policy of not fighting over secondary doctrines such as predestination.

The church recently called a new pastor. He is relatively young, not long out of seminary but with some previous pastoral experience. During the search and interview process he did not reveal to the committee or then to the church’s leaders that he is a five point Calvinist. Hardly anyone in the church has been a five point Calvinist and he knew very well that it would be controversial. After he was called and accepted the call, he began pushing Calvinism in a very heavy handed way. He gives books by Wayne Grudem and Mark Driscoll to adult teachers to use in preparing their lessons. He unilaterally removed books from the church library he considered unbiblical or unorthodox from a Calvinist perspective. (This is an evangelical church and probably didn’t have many, if any, really liberal books in its library.) He began to insist on being present at all church committee meetings. A committee is not supposed to meet if he cannot be there. He is preaching and teaching Calvinism as if it were the one and only truly evangelical theology. He admits to being inspired by John Piper. The students’ parents are not very knowledgeable about theology but sense that the pastor’s behavior and teaching are a problem. The congregation is gradually being disturbed by this situation.

Second, a youth pastor asked if he could meet with me. He works primarily with college age young adults. It’s a Methodist church. Recently, an increasing number of college students in his church are embracing Calvinism under the influence of Passion conferences and especially John Piper. One young female college student has natural leadership abilities and feels called to ministry, but because of Piper (and his network of surrogates) she is now doubting God’s call on her life. According to this student minister, most of the newly minted Calvinists in his group have never even heard that there are problems with Calvinism. They have embraced it thinking it is simply what the Bible teaches. They have never thought about the consequences such as the character of God. They tend to just point to Romans 9 as proof of their newfound theology.

These are typical of the stories I hear all the time.

My problem with Calvinism is both theological and practical. But, as I have said before, I have no desire to debate Calvinism with confessionally Reformed folks. I respect their tradition even as I disagree with it. What bothers me is illustrated by those two true situations. First, that many Calvinists are sneaking into pastoral positions in churches where they know Calvinism is not confessionally traditional and where they have good reason to believe it would be controversial if preached and taught as THE evangelical theology. By “sneaking in” I mean they don’t ever mention it even if asked if they have any beliefs that might be a problem for the church. They become pastor and only then, when they feel firmly ensconced, begin to preach and teach Calvinism as the one and only biblical view.

Second, many “young, restless, Reformed” Christians are adopting Calvinism without ever being told its weaknesses or objections to it by non-Calvinist Christians. It is promoted to them as if it were the one and only truly biblical, authentically evangelical, and God-honoring belief system. They take it back to their non-Calvinist church and youth group and often refuse to listen when their youth pastors or student ministers try to point out flaws in it. The impression one gets is that for SOME of them it is like they have joined a cult; their minds are firmly closed to even considering any other viewpoint or listening to any problems with it.

In years past (or about 17 years when teaching at two different Christian universities) I taught courses on cults and new religions and read dozens of books about the marks of cults. I participated in attempted interventions with family members getting caught up on cults. I am NOT accusing Calvinism of being a cult; what I am saying is that SOME young Calvinists returning from Passion conferences and devouring Piper’s and Driscoll’s books and spending hours every week watching their podcasts, following them on twitter, etc., seem to exhibit some of the traits seen in people joining a cult. Everything about this new found perspective (and the teachers they follow) is good and true; everything else is spiritually dangerous and they are not willing to take any criticism of their new perspective seriously. And I think some Calvinist pastors are behaving in a cultish fashion by being sneaky and non-transparent about their Calvinism until they feel safe and then they begin to impose it on their unsuspecting congregants in a heavy-handed manner.

Actually, what it all reminds me of is the Bill Gothard phenomenon of the 1970s. I can’t count the number of times I was told by fellow evangelical Christians that Gothard had the solution to all of life’ sproblems and if I would just attend one of his seminar…. I remember a young Gothard fan interrupting a seminary class and chastising the professor for something he said that was contrary to what Gothard taught. (The professor wisely told the student that if he really believed in “God’s chain of command” he would not contradict his professor!) I was never a fan of Gothard or his teachings; I had seen how his teachings could be used as a weapon of spiritual abuse when I was in college. We (the students) were told to stay in our place in God’s chain of command and never challenge anything the college leaders did. (The then president was not much later discovered to be misappropriating funds and was fired with the result that the college almost went bankrupt and closed!) But just because I did not “buy into” Gothard’s teachings I was often accused of being unspiritual by his fans and followers. They had the same look and “voice” as people becoming involved an several new cults that were popular at that time.

Personally, I am afraid of Christian teachers who pretend to have it all figured out so that there is no ambiguity left in Christian doctrine. I am afraid of them when they give young followers the impression they are Messiah-like figures speaking from a mountain top of perfect insight into God’s own mind. I am especially afraid of them when they speak disparagingly of fellow Christians, even fellow evangelical Christians, who hold differing beliefs about secondary doctrines.

I will say it straight out: something cultic is appearing among the young, restless, Reformed Christian followers of Piper, Driscoll, et al. Evangelical leaders need to speak up about it and express real caution to them about being overly enthusiastic about any doctrine outside of the basics of Christian orthodoxy and especially any person other than Jesus Christ himself. Instead, what I am reading is evangelical leaders saying why the young, restless, Reformed movement is good for the churches. In some ways it is; in other ways it is not.

  • http://joysthoughtsonstuff.wordpress.com Joy F

    We don’t like to wrestle with questions do we? As people, uncertainty is a scary thing. When someone comes along, gives easy answers, is a charismatic and like able speaker and good things seem to be happen, it’s difficult to question, difficult to be out of sync with the group. Yet, like with Gothard, whenever someone thinks they have the Bible figured out and all of life is in easy steps, something in the depth of humanity is lost. By essence of who we are, we wrestle with questions, there is a natural, God-given curiosity about humanity, that when quenched also drains us of our passion, and replaces it with duty.

  • PSF

    Thanks for your post, Roger. It seems to me that something cult-like seems also apparent in the link these leaders make between the ‘real’ (Calvinist) gospel and gender stereotypes (as you allude to). Driscoll especially seems to go well beyond general ‘complementarianism’ to imposing controls on how genders relate. Do you see a common link between this kind of Calvinism and patriarchy (I know Grudem, Piper, and Driscoll support it, but is it widespread).

    On another note, what would you suggest is the best commentary [/ ies] or essays on Romans 9-11 from an Arminian perspective?

    thanks!

    • rogereolson

      The best commentary on Romans 9 from an Arminian perspective is Ben Witherington’s. I don’t think there has to be a link between Calvinism and complementarianism. Millard Erickson, for example, is a four point Calvinist and an egalitarian. But I think there is a link between fundamentalism and complementarianism. And, in my book, anyway, most of the most vocal leaders of the young, restless, Reformed movement are fundamentalists or neo-fundamentalists (as per an essay I posted here recently).

      • PSF

        Thanks for the reference and the clarifying distinction.

        • Lewis

          Can someone clarify what is meant by ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘neo-fundamentalism’? In the UK fundamentalism tends to be a sort of catch-all pejorative term used by in the media to single out any religious person that actually believes something other than the secular narrative.

          • rogereolson

            That’s the way the secular media uses the term in the U.S. as well. I remember hearing on TV journalist refer to C. S. Lewis as an “Anglican fundamentalist!” Here we use the term more historically–as referring to Christians who believe in and practice “maximal conservatism” in reaction against modernity and (whatever they perceive as) liberal theology. They also typically practice “biblical separation” from people who claim to be Christians but are doctrinally “impure.” But, occasionally here, I use the term to refer to that conservative Protestant movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that attempted to identify a list of “essentials of the faith” that would exclude people they perceived as liberals. The turning point came when W. B. Riley, one of the leaders of the early (pre-1925) fundamentalist movement added premillennialism to the list of “fundamentals of the faith.” Then, increasingly afterwards, the movement became what Fuller Seminary president E. J. Carnell called “orthodoxy gone cultic.”

  • Ann

    As one who’s been deeply involved in both the new Calvinist movement and Gothard’s movement (at different times, and in neither movement now), I agree with the comparison. The attitudes are similar – and from my experience, the churches following either have similarities too. I am inclined to think that in many ways, the New Calvinist movement appealed to me simply because I was coming out of Gothardism – and New Calvinism offered some of the exclusivity and authority I grew up with under Gothard. Cultishness is dangerous in and of itself, regardless of what theology is used with it. I would not call myself a Calvinist anymore, but I think the theology itself is less dangerous than the cultishness that seems to be growing up with it in the YRR movement.

  • http://www.apologeticsindex.org/ Anton

    You have put into words what we have experienced over the years here at Apologetics Index. We have even been told, all too frequently, that we’re ‘not saved ‘ because we do not embrace Calvinism.

    We tend to stay away from discussions about the topic; not because we can’t handle the heat, but because such exchanged produce hardly any light.

    We have been involved in counter-cult ministry for many years (myself nearly 40 years), and your comments resonate with me.

    We recently updated a brief collection of research resources on Calvinism and Arminianism:
    http://www.apologeticsindex.org/2642-calvinism-and-arminianism

    It includes an interesting article titled, “What Calvinism And Arminianism Have In Common.”

    (Ah… I only just now realized that you’re the author of one of the books listed.)

    Blessings,

    Anton

  • Troy Mueller

    Roger,

    At some point could you do a blog on your views regarding eternal security?

    Thanks,

    Troy Mueller

    • rogereolson

      When I get it figured out, I will. :)

  • Annie Quick

    Thank you for drawing the parallel between Bill Gothard’s IBLP/ATI movement and the YRR movement. I was raised in Gothard’s ministry and my family worked with/for them at various periods of time. I left the movement as a twenty-year-old and was quickly caught up in the YRR movement, which provided a similar “framework” for my theology without the readily apparent trappings of a cult.

    However, while finishing my undergraduate degree at a Christian Bible college, I too began to suspect the “Christian teachers who pretend to have it all figured out so that there is no ambiguity left in Christian doctrine.” Adhering to the YRR movement became increasingly difficult as I studied more about their somewhat deficient theology of suffering, nouthetic counseling, complimentarianism, and five-point Calvinism.

    Although I often feel like I am “shooting in the dark”, so to speak, in my attempts to sort through the traits of these neo-fundamentalist movements, your blog has proven incredibly helpful. After leaving Gothard, I found it therapeutic to try and identify the driving theories/beliefs/philosophies behind his heavy-handed theology. That has been a healthy expression of my grief. There are a few primary influences in Gothard’s teachings that I’ve discovered since studying at Moody… they are worth looking into, and I wonder if you think that they are in any way similar to points in which the YRR movement is “off”:
    (1) Platonic dualism
    (2) Greek stoicism
    (3) fundamentalism
    (4) natural law ethics
    (5) Keswick model of sanctification (in this, Gothard is not similar to YRR movement at all).

    I’m not 100% sure that this is an accurate account of the philosophies behind Gothard, but I would appreciate your insight into these categories if you see further similarities to YRR.

    Thank you sincerely for writing and sharing your knowledge with all of us!

    • rogereolson

      Those are good questions, but I don’t have definite answers to them. I see strains of fundamentalism in both, but beyond that, it’s hard to say. Perhaps Stoicism and natural law ethics?

  • Dan Johnson Sr.

    You are right on! I just read this sentence in a post, “The great minds of the church have been Reformed.” There you have it. The “barely saved” un-Reformed are not too bright, may be due some pity, but no credibility.

  • Aaron

    Hey Dr. Olson

    I just watched a clip of your debate with Michael Horton on Youtube. It cut off after Horton was responding to the idea that since God is Love he would make it possible for all to be saved. He said If Gods love mess that he has to make it possible for all to be saved than it is not of Grace, because God has to. I was just wondering how you resound to that?

    Thanks

    • rogereolson

      That’s Paul’s whole point in Romans 1–that God has made it possible for all to be saved. That some are not is their fault, not God’s.

      • Luke Gossett

        Dr. Olson, what within Romans 1 or the rest of Romans makes you think this is Paul’s point there?

        • rogereolson

          I think virtually every agrees that Paul’s point is obvious: God has provided a general revelation of himself so clear that if people did not rebel against it, shutting their ears to it and refusing to acknowledge the God it points to, they would repent and believe. Paul’s point is that people’s sinfulness and condemnation are not God’s fault because God is revealed to them. It is their fault for worshiping the creation rather than the creator to whom it points.

          • Luke Gossett

            Thank you for your response Dr. Olson, I was just unclear as to what you were alluding to in that statement.

            I would take a point of particular redemption here, and I am aware you disagree. I just was wanting further clarity. Yet again I will thank you for your time responding.

  • http://www.merechristianradio.com Orthodoxdj

    I see it all the time. Most Christians are not Calvinists, but Calvinists-especially the “young, restless, and reformed”-are a very vocal minority.

  • Rob

    I have seen the “Passion syndrome”. I personally enjoyed the sermons and music and I know many people who attended the conferences quite regularly in the early 2000s who did not become young, restless, and reformed, but there are definitely others who become a little fanatic.

    By the way, did you know that Passion has its origins at Baylor? Louie Giglio had a wildly popular weekly college ministry called Choice in the early 90s and it seems to have been the blueprint for Passion. My understanding is that there were hundreds even thousands of students attending weekly–my sister was one of them. Someone who has been at Baylor for awhile could probably fill out the rest of the details. (I would be interested in finding out if there is any connection with the end of Choice in 1995 and the rise of another infamous college ministry/church that became popular among Baylor students in the late 90s.)

    If you know which one I am referring to then you might notice some similarities between the Passion folks and these college students.

  • http://www.utmgr.org/blog_index.html Joel Shaffer

    I agree with you, and I probably fit in the category as a “young, restless, and reformed (embracing non-confessional reformed, Calvinistic theology). There are some overzealous types that do not appreciate the entire body of Christ and could even be labeled as cultic.

    However, know that there are also many who are not. For instance, in the Grand Rapids area, some of us young, restless reformed types rejoice that a Wesleyan Church, Kentwood Community Church of some 3,000 people preaches the gospel and has planted around ten churches including a Hip-Hop church in inner-city Grand Rapids called THE EDGE. Even though we differ in certain areas of our theology, we can rejoice that they are also gospel-centered.

    Also know that even though we appreciate and have benefited much from the teachings of Piper or Grudem, some of us know how to “eat the chicken and spit out the bones.” We don’t agree with everything they say because we believe in sola scriptura . Unfortunately, you may not hear much about us because we are actually in the trenches doing ministry making disciples, planting churches, and doing justice and having compassion for the poor so we don’t have time to quarrel against with our Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ.

    My theory is that some of them are former fundamentalists. They might have abandoned the KJV onlyism and they may listen to CCM, but they haven’t got rid of their inner-fundy mentality and attitude. (Having grown up in the GARBC and still connected to the GARBC through my sending church, I know many Baptist fundamentalists who are men and women of grace and love that I look up to as well as many that are quite quarrelsome, mean-spirited, and narrow-minded so I feel I can use the word fundamentalism appropriately) At the same time, I know some former fundamentalists who are now among the young restless reformed movement have transferred their issue-orientedness where they once attacked certain types of Bible versions and certain types of music, they now attack Arminianism. But it isn’t just Arminianism. I even know a former-fundy pastor that was so bent on changing the worship style in his church from traditional to contemporary that he burned all of the church choir music and other music that would remind them of their traditional roots as a Baptist Church. He demonstrated that he was just as “fundy” as the older generation who used to burn rock music records at revival meetings 40 years earlier.

  • Jason

    The “cult like” behavior is a result of enthusiastic and zealous young Christians who have had Calvinism presented to them as the basics of Orthodox belief. Their actions many times are with the best intentions as they believe they are zealously defending the only true Gospel, and the believe they are following the handful of people who are willing to preach the only true Gospel (Piper, Driscol and so on).

    You are quite right when you say that many of these young people have simply accepted Calvinism as truth without even being aware of the other options. It is the framework through which they view the church and the scriptures and anything that differs from that framework is a false gospel. When your belief structure appears to be air tight, and Calvinism certainly has this appearance, why would you accept another way of looking a things.

  • Chris White

    I hope the extent of what you are describing is not very wide. It seems to me that if Mr. Piper and Mr. Driscoll know about this problem that they would speak up with integrity and demand these young pastors/leaders to be open and up front when applying for positions of leadership. And if they are confident of the rightness of their view of this issue they would counsel believers to hear the Arminianist view.

    I am sad for this state of affairs within the Church.

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

    Well said. One disturbing trend that is also cultish, is quoting the leader (Piper, Spurgeon, Calvin, etc) more than the Scriptures. It is almost like Mary Baker Eddy or Ellen White, the truly blessed ones who know for sure what God meant that must be read along with Scripture to really get the true gist. I suppose this should not shock as Calvin’s Insitutes are largely a huge quotation of Augustine.

  • JamesT

    I wonder if there might be a book written 20 years from now authored by one of the “young and restless” titled, “Missing Parts”, exposing the lack of full disclosure to an earlier generation from former Pastors Piper and Driscoll, as well as others. I can imagine such a book that explores a fuller study of the relevant scriptures, written by a former dyed in the wool Calvinist. Perhaps quoting an Olson author they never heard of.

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

    Roger,

    My blog is oriented around introducing folks to what I consider to be the spiritual dangers associated with what I call classic Calvinism (V. the mood of Evangelical Calvinism that my blog and our forthcoming book advocates for). I am currently doing a series on the genesis of the two wills in God theology that both Piper and his understudy, Matt Chandler advocate. Here is a video you might find interesting, Roger, that illustrates some of your points about the self-surety through which the young, restless, Reformed (Chandler in this instance) communicate their 5 pointism in:

    http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/interviews/john-piper-interviews-matt-chandler-part-3

    My life, not at your exposure level though, sounds very similar to yours, Prof Olson. Calvinism and this whole discussion dominates my life, and I actually enjoy it!

  • David

    Brother Roger,

    As with the majority of the blogs you post, I wholeheartedly agree with this one. In fact, I was conversing with my friend (Calvinist) about that today, how Calvinists tend to raise the banner of the distinctive of their theology so high it almost covers the cross of Christ and anything else that unites Christians. My friend didn’t disagree with me, though he didn’t necessarily validate what I said. However, I do get this response from more aggressive Calvinists: “Well, Arminians do the same thing too!”

    Yesterday I read the whole article you posted on January 19th (by Michael Clawson). When I got to the part of John Piper suggesting that Arminians should not be allowed to teach I was profoundly disappointed at him (again). I actually had to go to Dr. Piper’s website and hear the sermon for myself, a task I was not eager to partake in but had to in order to hear it right from the horse’s mouth. By the end of the message I was appalled. I honestly cannot comprehend nor agree with the incorrigible urge that consumes Calvinists to isolate a few elements (elements, not the gospel itself) of the whole gospel and elevate these factors into an unhealthy emphasis.

    I would even argue that even if some of the points of Calvinism were true I would still not make them the emphasis of my ministry; for how can the Calvinistic doctrine of reprobation inspire one to love the goodness of God?

    Furthermore, Calvinists consistently misrepresent other views. For example, in Piper’s sermon he said that “[Arminianism] diminishes the glory of the cross and encourages people to take into their own hands what belongs to the work of the cross, namely the purchase of their own rescue from unbelief”. Dr. Olson, is he kidding? Has he never heard of the doctrine of prevenient grace?

    I am a 27 year old Arminian and my best friend is a 28 year old Calvinist. I’ve learned a lot from him and I love him profoundly, though I doubt he has ever learned anything from me. Sadly, I get the feeling that Calvinists don’t even take my views seriously, and this is before I ever even fully explain myself to them! It can get pretty discouraging. So thank you for all the time and energy you invest in this. I love your book “Against Calvinism”.

    By the way, I have a very real sense of pride in considering you the “go to guy” when it comes to anti-Calvinism. I do not agree with absolutely every minute thing you believe but I would like to unashamedly communicate to you that you are a hero of mine. Pardon me if that sounds exaggerated but it is not. God knows how often times I have drawn much needed strength, comfort, clarity, and validation (for some of my own criticisms of Calvinism) from your ministry, especially in times when Calvinists have driven my theological patience to the edge of oblivion. Consequently, I humbly request that you never hesitate in often revisiting the topics of Calvinism/Arminianism because there are people (me!) who look up to you and truly need you.

    David Martinez

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the affirmation and encouragement. I’m humbled by it. I know that Piper knows Arminianism well. We talked about it face-to-face and we have corresponded about it. I sent him a copy of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. He told me that he used to be an Arminian. So, I’d saddened that he is keeping up this drumbeat of misrepresentation of Arminianism. It smacks of demagoguery to me.

  • http://leadme.org Cal

    The Young, Restless and Reformed are (despite some warnings) seemingly becoming more and more hyper-calvinist. That once the basic theological doctrines are understood and accepted, salvation falls into ones lap. So what keeps the fire going? All the hip, cool cultural infusion. It’s rock-n-roll fused with puritanism to create a strange brew. Piper has said some good things, but I see out of this movement another radical shift.

    I’ve read enough of folks in this movement be hyped up on talking theology and not interested in walking as Jesus did, which means self discipline, sacrifice and compassion. Not machismo, authority and acerbity.

    Cal

    (First time posting, read around the blog a bit. I’m not an Arminian, nor a Calvinist. Thanks for the insightful posts!)

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

    It is the responsibility of the leadership to so exercise their influence that a right kind of restraint is exercised. There are a number of ways to do this. One, preach your theology but publicly be charitable toward those who see things another way that fits with conciliar and consensus Christian teaching. Two, support other good institutions and movements. You don’t always have to start your own; even if you can, that doesn’t mean you should. Even if what you started would be better, that doesn’t mean you should. Three, preach in venues where consensus Christianity has to be preached in order to be effective, like an Urbana or the Pastor’s conference regularly held in San Diego. Four, call off the dogs publicly when they rip and gouge. Five, regularly express your need for the broader body of Christ to do what needs to get done. No one denomination, no one theological position, no one movement is going to get it all done. Act as if this is true. Six, when the passions that you arouse become useful to the flesh, crucify your preaching style. Paul stayed away from certain communication strategies because they too exalted the flesh. Seven, refuse ubiquity. The mark of undue influence, for me, begins when a speaker feels he must answer every question, preach on every topic, solve every problem, address everything and all. Personally I feel a line is near being crossed in those “Ask Pastor……” your question. I remember when Edith Schaeffer did this when I was a younger man and the Schaeffers were at their pinnacle of influence. This reminded me too much of the yogi, of people seeking too much from a person. I began to move away and consciously depended less and less on the Schaeffers. I was uncomfortable with how much they thought they knew. You can feel when that line is being crossed, and the speaker has a responsibility to feel it, too. Eight, focus on calling the unsaved to Christ. This will keep your preaching from angularity and being of a party spirit that divides. Yes, there is still opportunity to develop your theology. But a theological movement without the salting of evangelism will most naturally tend toward a fractious thing. And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut says.

    • rogereolson

      Excellent set of guidelines!

  • David Simpson

    Dear Brother,
    I am a person who is a Calvinist but you have caused me to do more seeking and searching the scriptures. I have checked some of the Arminian sites and listen to some of there teachers and I was not challenged at all ! You only have caused me to wonder!!! Could you direct me to audio and books that could help ?

    Your brother In Christ,

    David Simpson

    • rogereolson

      I always recommend Thomas Oden’s The Transforming Power of Grace as the best relatively small, relatively simple presentation of classical Arminianism. I guess we Arminians don’t go in for the audio-visual media. I don’t know of any CDs or videos. There must be some.

      • jesse

        A number of Roger’s books are available as audio books on the ITunes store including Against Calvinism.

        • rogereolson

          I did not know that! :)

    • Joshua

      I would also like to chime in and recommend “Elect in the Son” and “Life in the Son” by Robert Shank.

    • Jeremy

      Brian Abasciano’s essays on the Society of Evangelical Arminian’s website is also good. I would also recommend Oden. I found the book God’s Strategy in Human History to be helpful as well.

  • Dmitriy

    I liked the article Dr. Olson. I have been treated as heretic because I don’t agree with Calvinism by some pastors. But I think where we drop the ball is, there is so much well presented material about Calvinism today, but you don’t see a lot information about Arminianism. When we tell young folks Calvinism is not the only way, then we should be able to present something alternative which makes theological sense. But I found totally opposite, I hear people say Calvinism is wrong and then they can’t formulate what they believe. So it sounds that they just on bang wagon against Calvinism. I found your books, and those are great. But that’s about it, there are so many famous Calvinistic preachers and authors but there is not much Arminian influence in the culture. Not, that I am aware of at least.

    • rogereolson

      I guess we Arminians are an introverted bunch! And we don’t tend to go in for demagoguery and pulpit-pounding. We’re kind of low key. But we have some good stuff, anyway. See the Society of Evangelical Arminians’ web site http://www.evangelicalarminians.org.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thanks for stating this so clearly. There are lines that should not be crossed when we call someone in or out of the faith, and I appreciate your wisdom here.

    What troubles me so much is the certainty some have about the biblical system of Calvinism and the implications of being more right than others. It betrays a kind of linear thinking about Christianity. I prefer to think of truth as a 3-D map where we we are all scattered throughout a variety of points with some certainly closer to the truth than others.

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  • http://www.crispinschroeder.blogspot.com Crispin

    I agree with your concerns. It scares me to see the increasing emphasis on unquestionable obedience to spiritual authority by many who embrace Neo Calvinism. In fact, this is what truly concerns me most about where things seem to be going with Driscoll and Co. I have experienced the destruction that comes from an emphasis on very authoritarian structures of leadership firsthand in my early years of being a Christian. It took me many years to recover and looking back I see that my issues weren’t all that different from folks that had come out of cults. I can understand the allure of Neo Calvinism particularly to many males in their twenties. As one who became a Christian at age 20 I was looking for something to give my whole life to. I quickly jumped in to a group that had a very gifted and charismatic leader, passionate worship, and very hierarchical approach to discipleship. It took me a couple of years to see the dark side of it all. My experience was with a very small group. What concerns me is that Driscoll and others are moving to franchise models of church that will likely be coming to a town near you. We do need to address these issues because they cannot be ignored.

  • Eric Miller

    First of all, this is a very well written and well thought out article. I can really relate with the two stories you spoke about: two of my friends who, like me, plan on being preachers were driven from their United Methodist denomination by liberal theology and a lack of biblical preaching. One of my friends is now a fire-breathing, young, restless reformer and pretty much considers me (a Stone-Campbell adherent) sub-Christian. My other friend was recently taken to a Piper manhood conference by his youth minister and now says he’s becoming more Reformed (however he mistakenly equates Calvinism with conservative theology). That being said I would like your opinion a completely separate matter:

    My generation is facing new challenges as more and more young people slip off into atheism and agnosticism. In addition, we are experiencing a renaissance of Christian philosophical thought in the Anglo-American realm. My inquiry is what do you think should be the balance between dealing with the question of the so-called “New Reformation” and other in-house theological debates versus focusing our attention on combating the New Atheists and equipping Christians to defend their faith. Do you think one should one take precedence over the other? Thanks!

    • rogereolson

      I think some people feel more called to do one of those things and others feel more called to do the other. Both should be done with honesty, humility and a spirit of love for those with whom we disagree. It does seem to me that we evangelical Christians shoot ourselves in the foot when we speak to the secular world about our gospel as having answers to life and then fight among ourselves like a bunch of squabbling children. I’ve always thought we should be able to discuss and debate our differences among ourselves in a civil and respectful manner without using the rhetoric of exclusion that is unfortunately so common among us these days.

    • Rob

      Amen bro! Are you involved in philosophy?

    • Jeremy

      It can be tricky to find a church if you’re a conservative Arminian. Baptists churchs can work, but a lot of them are very influenced by Calvinism these days and it’s hard to tell that when you’re first visiting a church.

      • rogereolson

        Very true. These don’t use the label “Arminian,” but they are baptist denominations that include that perspective. Many of their churches have Calvinist pastors, so one has to ask: Baptist General Conference (WorldConverge), North American Baptist Conference, Conservative Baptists of America, Southern Baptist, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptists, USA (have some liberal churches as well). The Arminian Baptist denominations are General Baptist Convention and Free Will Baptists. Most Mennonite and Brethren churches are also baptist and Arminian. Most Evangelical Free churches are baptistic and at least favor Arminianism although many are now leaning toward Calvinism under the influence of professors at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

  • Jerry

    A Methodist church being taken over by Calvinists?! Problem there is that they have forgotten their own heritage. strart by reading John Wesley’s Free grace. It is available online at the Wesley Center.

  • Jerry

    A Methodist church being taken over by Calvinists?! Problem there is that they have forgotten their own heritage. start by reading John Wesley’s Free grace. It is available online at the Wesley Center.

    • rogereolson

      I assume you are referring to Wesley’s sermon “On Free Grace.” People should read that and his sermon Predestination Calmly Considered.” The new Calvinism is filtering into every denomination through the influence of Piper, Driscoll, Grudem, et al. on young people. I keep meeting older pastors (forty and up) who still do not know anything about the YRR movement or Passion, and yet their young people are becoming involved in these and hearing nothing to counter their influence in their home churches.

  • Ryan Szrama

    And yet, how can someone respond to the original article or ensuing comments without (at least feeling like to you he’s) coming across as just another one of those cultists?

    • rogereolson

      By being civil and respectful and acknowledging that Calvinism is not the only evangelical perspective. A person can do that even if he or she is a true believer in it. I have found it nearly impossible to get people caught up in the new Calvinism to admit it has problems. Every theology has problems. And even if we think our perspective is right we can acknowledge that others have strengths and ours has weaknesses and we can at least acknowledge people of other perspectives as equally Christian and not say things like “Arminians can be Christians…just barely” or Arminians shouldn’t teach in churches, etc., etc., etc.

  • http://lifeandbuilding.com kyle

    “It is promoted to them as if it were the one and only truly biblical, authentically evangelical, and God-honoring belief system.” In my observation this kind of radical Calvinism can be very cruel towards those who don’t embrace it. I agree with a number of points that Calvinists do but just often not to the same degree, if that makes sense. Certain aspects of Calvinism are out of balance and yet they are behind many innocuous sounding church names that attract a lot of college age believers. I think many of them are attracted based on the worship/music style or the relevance yet don’t understand the full implications of what is being taught. So for instance there is nothing wrong with teaching about God’s holiness or glory or righteousness or sovereignty but if you have read enough you kinda know what is behind all that when they say those words even though the full force of it may not come out in the sermon.

  • Pingback: Is Neo-Puritanism evidencing trajectories of cult-like patterns? « From My Heart, Out Of My Mind

  • Phil Miller

    Dr. Olson,
    I’m almost all the way through your Against Calvinism, and I want to commend you on writing a very well thought-out, concise argument against the belief system. You mention one of John Piper’s sermons from the 2005 Passion Conference in one of the chapters, and I was actually in the audience at the conference. From the stage, in front of 18,000 or so college student, Piper out and out said “God ordains evil”… I was actually shocked. I was a campus pastor at the time, and to me, that was the thing that made me realize that I could no longer in good concience recommend Piper’s books to my students. It’s not I think that everything Piper says is worthless, but I think that for many students, he is seen as an “expert theologian”, and so they take his words as, well, truth.

    So I think that’s where the cult-like aspect comes in. I think students haven’t been exposed to a lot of sound theological thought, so when Piper comes along speaking about these things that seem like deep, theological truths, they are more apt to accept it. And when Piper speaks, he does certainly make it seem as if his views are THE biblical views. When they then hear people contradict these, they then take the stance that his opponents are contradicting the Bible itself. To me, that’s where the element of danger is in the YRE movement. They’re very convinced that they’re way is the (only) biblical way.

    • rogereolson

      One of my students who was present at a Passion conference where Piper said that reported that a member of the audience shouted out “You’ve lost your mind.” Did that happen when you were there? I don’t advocate such interruptions, but I can certainly understand someone simply losing it and saying that out loud.

      • Phil Miller

        I don’t recall that, but it would be entirely possible. It was in a big arena, and if someone on the other side yelled something, I’m sure I would not have heard it distinctly.

        I do remember my jaw dropping when I heard Piper’s remark, though…

      • Luke

        I was there and remember those exact words. I actually felt like saying them myself! It didn’t interrupt Piper or anything; in fact, he probably didn’t even hear it. However, it was definitely loud enough for at least half of the arena to hear him (it was a guy who screamed out “You’ve lost your mind!”).

        I was riding the Passion train from 2004-2005. Between that year I believe I did a lot of growing. In 2004 I thought the conference was “life changing,” but then in 2005 it was basically the same thing and I wondered what it was about it I liked so much. It’s a celebrity Christian event where college students come to worship Christian musicians and famous speakers/authors. I recalled in 2005 college students absolutely trampling one another to stand in front of some wooden cross they lowered from the rafters so they could essentially worship it (raise their hands in front of it). It would be a miracle if nobody got hurt by that, and to me it was essentially idolatry. In the main sessions they sing for an hour and fifteen minutes and preach for 25-30 minutes. I think every single message was about being “God-centered,” and even in their pamphlets and such Louie Giglio would write stuff about it. It was essentially a conference devoted to the complete teachings of John Piper, and college students ate it up and believed every word just because the atmosphere made it so easy to do it. The resurgence of Calvinism I think is almost exclusively devoted to it, and the repercussions have only recently been felt. Unfortunately they are not losing any steam. Calvinism (though it is not explicitly called such by Passion) is presented as THE only biblical and faithful view of the Christian faith. What I found quite comical during this time was that Beth Moore was always one of the main speakers and Piper still participated. He had to do some serious philosophical gymnastics to make that work for him theologically since he is a staunch egalitarian, but he did somehow.

        To be clear, Louie Giglio is the brains behind the Passion movement. However, the influence of Piper is clearly seen and it essentially evolved into a Desiring God conference for college students. It was my understanding that Passion didn’t use to be this way until Piper started getting heavily involved. Giglio swallowed everything he said lock, stock, and barrel, and it was eventually reflected in the music written, the themes focused on, the breakout sessions they offered, and the literature published. While it’s impacted many lives for the good, I wonder if it had been better for young Christians if the movement would have never happened due to the argumentative, arrogant, heresy-hunting, and Calvinism-is-the-only-version-of-faithful-and-biblical-Christianity-and-everything-else-is-heresy attitude. I’m glad I’ve grown out of it and God rescued me from such a mindset

        • rogereolson

          As you said, I’m sure many young lives have been affected for good by Passion conferences. I do wish the theology taught there wasn’t so narrow as it seems to be (from yours and the many other first hand reports I’ve heard).

  • Troy
    • rogereolson

      Do you mean his works on Romans 9′s usage of the Old Testament?

      • Troy

        Well of course I did, and I’m glad you were paying attention! :)

  • JohnD

    Dr. Olson, well put. I have long felt this way about the cultlike tendencies in Calvinism.

    Part of it is, I think, related to the idea that there is “nothing” we “do” in God’s economy that is of any significance (except sin, of course). But deep within ever believer is the Spirit’s prompt to walk in ways that please Him.

    For the Calvinist, the only thing they have to “please” God is to fight for Calvinism. That is what gives them everyday meaning. So it’s automatically swords drawn, for they are fighting for the King! (And if we miss the irony in that vis-a-vis their theology, we are not looking hard enough).

    Keep up the great, theologically sound and loving work you are doing here.

  • http://theprotestantpastor.blogspot.com/ David Peterson

    I appreciate the post and discussion here. I agree with much of what is being said about fanatical Calvinism.

    Of course part of the draw of Calvinism is that there is truth to what is being said. Likewise, there is truth in the Arminian perspective, and hence the pull that way.

    I disagree with both you, Roger, and Michael Horton that there can’t be a middle ground (as you both stated in your recent discussion).

    Lutherans hold to divine monergism while also holding to the resistability of grace. Southern Baptism Kenneth Keathley takes a similar position in his recent book, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.”

    I discern something like the Lutheran position in Donald Bloesch as well (which makes sense given his German Evangelical/Union roots).

    John Nevin, the 19th century German Reformed theologian, as far as I can tell seems to have held something like the Lutherans.

    Conservative Lutherans see themselves as standing between the two extremes (see “The Seduction of Extremes” by Peter Kurowski).

    I pastor a German Evangelical/Union church and lean Lutheran on these issues. I affirm the monergism of the Calvinists and the universal atonement and real desire of God to save all people of the Arminians (and the possibility of falling from grace).

    • rogereolson

      What both Mike and I mean is that there is no consistent hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism. Sure, lots of people believe in some of each. Our point is that each is a coherent (within itself) soteriological system. Of course, I think his is inconsistent with some other things he believes (especially God’s goodness) and he thinks I am inconsistent with some other things I believe (especially that salvation is a free gift). But at least the U and the I of TULIP are inextricably tied together logically. I don’t see anyway to separate them. For example, what is a monergism that denies irresistable grace but self-contradictory. Yes, many Lutherans and others (Bloesch, for example) are/were inconsistent. But, overall, I think Bloesch’s Pietism inclined him toward an evangelical synergism. He just wouldn’t go all the way. But in an early book (The Evangelical Renaissance), as I have pointed out here several times, he affirmed what is now called open theism. See p. 53.

      • http://theprotestantpastor.blogspot.com/ David Peterson

        Roger,
        I will concede your point that a monergism that is resistible at least appears inconsistent.

        The criticism conservative Lutherans make about both Calvinists and Arminians is that they value consistency to the point of flattening out the Bible, refusing to live with the tensions. Here I see a connection with the later Bloesch who emphasized the transcendence of God even in our encounter with him in the Bible (the Theology of Word & Spirit volume).

        The idea that only God can make alive (creation and new creation) but he allows us the freedom to take life (kill the life he gives us) isn’t all that inconsistent to me.

        I find Kenneth Keathley’s illustration of resistible monergism to be helpful. If you wake up and find yourself in an ambulance and are taken to the hospital you did nothing to save yourself. If you get up and leave the ambulance you are to blame, you rejected your salvation.

        Not perfect but seems to me to fit better the biblical picture of the dead in trespasses and sins being made alive as a sheer gift of God while still being called to persevere in faith.

        I don’t expect it all to make perfect sense to me, that would be to fall into the kind of rationalism Bloesch rejects in his Christian Foundation series.

        A theology based on a transcendent revelation would seem to have to rest with not being given all the details and with not knowing in precisely the way Calvinists and Arminians want to know.

        • rogereolson

          I don’t claim to “know” in the sense of have certainty about. But I think a paradox is always a task for further thought. Don Bloesch and I talked about that and agreed to disagree. I remember telling him I got that phrase (paradox is always a task for further thought) from Pannenberg (with whom I studied) and he asked me “How many paradoxes has Pannenberg resolved?” I had to admit I didn’t know of any. But I just can’t be comfortable with an apparent contradiction. It seems like special pleading. When I’m talking with, say, a Mormon, I point out what I see as contradictions in his or her beliefs. If I embrace them, I’m really not able with integrity to point to them in other belief systems as flaws. But even more, it seems to me allowing paradox just opens the door to all kinds of nonsense.

          • http://theprotestantpastor.blogspot.com/ David Peterson

            Roger,
            I appreciate your reply. I’ve read most everything of Pannenberg’s work and do appreciate his approach as well. I think he’s right to emphasize the external/historical referent of faith.

            Bloesch says his theology is also rooted in the historical events but he emphasizes heavily the knowledge that comes by faith. It can seem too heavy to me at times, too fideistic.

  • Robert

    Hello Roger,

    I could say a lot more about this topic. Partly from by background (I knew and worked with the late Walter Martin and so I have done a lot of work with cults and other aberrant religions and theologies) and past experiences. But I will try to limit myself here. :-) First a disclaimer, while I do not view Calvinism as a cult per se, I do see CULT LIKE TENDENCIES that are in fact quite alarming among these contemporary Calvinists. Here are some tendencies to be alert for, listed not in any rank of importance.

    (1) A herd like mentality (by this I mean that followers are encouraged to obey and follow the leaders, to not think for themselves, to follow the “party line” no matter what, people are not encouraged to think for themselves or be critical of anything believed or done by the group)
    (2) An argumentative spirit more concerned about proving and supporting and defending the beliefs and practices of the group (rather than an emphasis on loving and biblical interactions with others, a real strong “us” versus “them” mentality is present).
    (3) A perverted view of the “gospel” (rather than the biblical gospel being the gospel or good news, some person, teaching, set of beliefs other than the biblical gospel becomes the TRUE GOSPEL, and this false gospel is elevated far beyond proportion)
    (4) A judgmental spirit in particular with relation to others who believe or think or practice differently than the group (this is especially seen in a ready mentality of anathematizing anyone outside of the group, so members of the group have the truth, outsides have not truth are to be distrusted and are hell bound, I once had a JW get so angry at me in our conversation that he said I was going to hell! Even though they are annihilationists in their theology, but it is this readiness to condemn all outsiders who believe or think differently to hell that is common)
    (5) An inappropriate reverence and allegiance to persons other than God (this is especially seen where there is a single guru or leader, but it can also be seen with regards to the non-biblical writings of others, they put certain people on a pedestal and it becomes a form of veneration of these individuals and their teachings above even God).

    I have seen all of these elements in the contemporary calvinist movement.
    Just recently I was posting at a prominent Calvinist blog site and saw another clear and unmistakable example of these tendencies. In response to my post a overly zealous calvinist wrote:

    [[“1st ~ Do you confess the eternal conscious punishment of the wicked (all who are not trusting Christ alone on judgment day)?
    2ndly ~ How do you know that I am “convinced that [I] would step in and prevent all of these evils from occurring”?
    3rdly ~ I am glad you profess a big god. But could you just as easily go to hell (assuming you answered “yes” to question #1) as to heaven?
    If you believe that your A-god merely made salvation possible for those who rightly exercise their free will, and doesn’t regenerate & give faith to his elect prior to their believing, then you’re wrongly reading the Scriptures. Such is part of another ‘gospel,’ not that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
    All your “AG” big god bluster notwithstanding, if you hold to partial depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and no sure salvation for the elect, then you have a faulty view of God, man, ‘free will,’ sin, depravity, God’s love, Christ’s atonement, redemption, etc. Such is not the teaching of the God of the Bible, and your soul is in peril.
    Thank you.”]]

    Note this person first asks me whether or not I believe in the orthodox view of hell. His reference to “you’re a-god” is reference to my having Arminian beliefs. Note according to this person I do not worship the God of the bible, but instead the “A-God” (as if there is more than one God, and he and his group worship the true God while outsiders such as myself do not). He then says I have misinterpreted the bible (standard argument by cultists and others who are sure they alone have the truth while none of the rest of us do).

    Christians have and do disagree regarding the interpretations of various scriptures, nothing unusual or cult like about that. But look at his next claim: “Such is part of another ‘gospel,’ not that of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Whoa, wait a minute, we have descended from Christians who disagree about interpretations of particular texts (Arminian Christians and Calvinist Christians) to He has the gospel and I have ANOTHER GOSPEL. The apostle Paul when he spoke of a false gospel was referring to UNBELIEVERS, persons who had rejected the true gospel for some other gospel. This person has this mentality towards me. In his mind, he has the gospel, while I, not being calvinist, not holding calvinist doctrine promotes a false gospel. Well this is exactly what cults do and here we have a calvinist with this mentality.

    Note he also goes further explains precisely how we know that I supposedly promote a false gospel:

    “If you believe that your A-god merely made salvation possible for those who rightly exercise their free will, and doesn’t regenerate & give faith to his elect prior to their believing, then you’re wrongly reading the Scriptures. Such is part of another ‘gospel,’”

    According to him, if you hold Arminian beliefs (such as “rightly exercise their free will” in response to the gospel) and you reject his own calvinistic beliefs (“and doesn’t regenerate & give faith to his elect prior to their believing” the calvinist belief that regeneration precedes and causes saving faith), then “Such is part of another gospel.”

    Think through what this logically entails, it means that anyone who does not hold Calvinistic beliefs “is part of another gospel.” So that means that all Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Protestants that are not calvinists (including Lutherans) are all hell bound as they all promote another gospel (NOT THE TRUE GOSPEL WHICH IS CALVINISM!!!). What this really means is that the true gospel by which all Christians are saved (whether they be Catholics, Eastern Orthodox or Protestants) has been replaced by Calvinism as the true gospel according to this man. Talk about getting things backwards. Talk about promoting a false gospel. This is precisely what this contemporary calvinist is doing.

    He then again attacks others who believe differently, who do not hold Calvinism with:

    “All your “AG” big god bluster notwithstanding, if you hold to partial depravity, conditional election, unlimited atonement, resistible grace, and no sure salvation for the elect, then you have a faulty view of God, man, ‘free will,’ sin, depravity, God’s love, Christ’s atonement, redemption, etc. Such is not the teaching of the God of the Bible, and your soul is in peril.”

    So he lists non-Calvinistic beliefs and say if you hold these things you do not hold “the teaching of the God of the Bible.” Now again if all he said was that in his opinion I was mistaken that I did not properly hold the teaching of the bible, while not conducive to dialogue that is not necessarily an alarming statement to make. But it is that next line that gives away the show: “and your soul is in peril.”
    What? Let me translate what he just claimed. He is saying that unless you hold Calvinistic beliefs you are in danger of going to hell as an unbeliever. Again, this would apply to ANY AND ALL non-Calvinist Christians. If this is not manifesting a cult like mentality then I do not know what is.

    This post alone demonstrate an alarming and cult like mentality. But he said other things to others as well. One other example. In response to another poster he wrote:

    “I have little interest in dialoguing if you believe that God loves everyone, wants them all saved, Christ died for mankind, and God leaves it all up to us to decide for ourselves whether or not to believe. Such is heresy.”

    Whoa, this is amazing as he outright states and denies the biblical teachings that Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and non-Calvinist Protestants hold to (i.e. that God loves everyone, wants them all saved, that Christ died for mankind and God leaves the decision up to us). He then adds that these are not just mistaken beliefs THEY ARE HERESIES.

    He also said in this same post:

    “Saying Arminianism is a kind of dualism shows your lack of interaction with Arminian theologians.
    ~ Thank you for the compliment. The more I read Arminians (classic, revisionist, tepid or rabid), the less I want to touch the unclean thing.”

    Unclean thing huh? It is rantings like this that motivate me to oppose modern Calvinism. Not only will find others making these kinds of statements and exhibiting a cult like mentality. Something that I have noted on these calvinist blogs is that someone will make outrageous and false and hateful comments like these, and none of the other calvinists will disagree or say these comments are inappropriate. If other calvinists spoke out and distanced themselves from these kinds of people and their statements, that would be commendable and I could respect that. But I never see other calvinists point this out as error when these statements are made. I don’t’ see other calvinists saying that CALVINISM IS NOT THE GOSPEL, that other people who believe differently are also Christians. Roger in my opinion this modern Calvinism is like a Trojan Horse within the church, it needs to be exposed and opposed.

    Robert

    • rogereolson

      Yes, everything you encountered with that particular Calvinism is, unfortunately, all too common these days on the internet. The leading spokespersons (why don’t I just say spokesmen as they are, of course, all men) of the YRF movement stop short of saying those things. But they imply them by saying things like Arminians are saved “just barely.” I have an audio tape of a live conversation before an audience between Sproul and Piper. I don’t know when or where it took place. But their voices and names are unmistakeable. Sproul says “semi-Pelagians” (his description makes clear he means Arminians) can be Christians but open theists cannot. He names Clark Pinnock as a person who is not a Christian and with whom he would not have fellowship. Piper hesitates to agree and Sproul lectures him about it. Then Piper asks Sproul how he can allow Arminians to be Christians but not open theists. Sproul says because Arminians believe in the sovereignty of God even though the way they explain it leaves very little sovereignty left. Piper then says open theists say they believe in God’s omniscience even though their description of it is wrong. They end up seemingly disagreeing about whether open theists can be Christians, but they end up agreeing that whatever open theism is (heresy, extreme error?) “all Arminians are headed there.” What is truly bizarre and shocking about the conversation is that the audience laugh uproriously when Sproul condemns Pinnock as not a Christian and goes on to say that Pinnock’s theology is pagan. The loud, sustained laughter comes when Sproul asks Piper to respond and Piper says “Well, I won’t say anything stronger than that.” It’s just a weird conversation and gives a frightening insight into these two gentlemen’s minds on these subjects.

      • Rick G.

        Wow, if we apply their logic (Armenianism leads to open theism) to Calvinism, then Calvinism leads to making God responsible for evil.

        • rogereolson

          In the words of a famous contemporary Calvinist one might say “They’re all headed there.” :)

    • John Inglis

      It seems to me that part of the Calvinist ethos stems from a very western and modernist orientation to knowledge, such that what is necessary for secure salvation is correct belief. We value knowledge and knowing and certainty so much in western (especially North American) culture that our relationship to Jesus becomes knowledge based: if I have right knowledge then I’m OK, Jack. Forget about faith and right living and giving a cup of water in Jesus’ name. From this culture soaked and uncritical position comes a very word (lower case “w”) based evangelism wherein we try to give people correct information and if they give intellectual assent to that knowledge then they are saved. Then their profession is accepted as valid even though their life is not transformed. So we end up with all these head knowledge christians attending church and we now have to debate lordship salvation v. decisional salvation. At that point we’ve arrived at a salvation, faith and body that Paul would not even recognize except to chastise.

      John

  • Peter HisbyGrace

    By grace you are saved through FAITH and that ( faith.) not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. ( The FAITH to believe / trust, Christ as Yahweh and Saviour, is the gift )
    A dead man can do nothing.
    Give God the glory, as I’m sure the great multitude from every kindred tribe and tongue in Christs presence do, not your sacrifice at the alter of freewill.
    Peter.

    “His by Grace” Eph. 2 vs 8

    • rogereolson

      A dead man can do a lot once he is resuscitated. Including, if he chooses, to go back to being dead.

  • Shane

    Dr. Olson,

    Thanks for your article. I’m sure that you speak with sincerity and genuine concern for problems that you think you see in the New Calvinism movement. But after reading your article and many of the comments, could it be that you (and others) have fallen into the same errors that you accuse others of falling into?

    Could I not do the very same thing against Arminianism? Could I not cut and paste quotes from immature, prideful students at Liberty University, Calvary Chapel Bible College, Baylor, etc., and present the “worst of” Arminianism? Could I not paint in broad brush strokes why I feel that Arminianism is “cult-like” and that many of the comments left on your blog (your own little personal “followers”) are left by “hyper-fundie”, thoughtless followers of Olson, “who don’t think for themselves”, and “throw out misrepresentations” of what true Calvinism is? Could I not come up with stories about where hyper-Arminianism has destroyed a church, or has led to liberalism, or has led people astray from the Gospel?

    I think that your analysis of the New Calvinism is considerably pessimistic and doesn’t rightly illustrate what is truly happening in many church planting movements, churches, seminaries, etc. I find it almost humorous that when many people express their concerns about Calvinism they typically say something like “I’m just concerned about evangelism and the affect this will have on reaching the lost.” What about the Protestant Reformation? The Great Awakening? The Modern Missions movements? Is it any coincidence that some of the most successful church planting networks today are calvinistic by conviction (Acts 29, PCA, Redeemer Church Planting Center, etc.)? Is the fact the Southern Seminary is now packed out with students (since switching to it’s Reformed roots) and is one of largest seminaries in the world a coincidence? Isn’t it a bit strange that some of the biggest, fastest growing churches in America are calvinistic? Even Time Magazine has picked up on this movement:

    http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html

    Could you take a second and highlight some of the positive fruit that has been born our of Piper’s influence (on behalf of church planting , missions, inner-city ministries, etc.)? Could you highlight Piper’s zeal for the lost by living in a poor area, witnessing on the street corners, and living a modest lifestyle? Could you highlight some of the thousands of pastors who are now graduating from Southern Seminary and other Reformed institutions and planting churches, going into full-time missions, starting up new ministries to reach the lost, etc.? Could you highlight Tim Keller and how he’s reached a culture that many thought was unreachable?

    Zeal for Christ and His Gospel is an interesting thing. Sometimes there are those who don’t rightly represent Him or His Gospel. This has always been true and these elements are always present in any true move of God’s spirit. We are all flesh and blood (and that does include Arminians as well). We sin, we speak out of pride, we are insensitive–this is true in any movement or group of Christians. It’s easy to point out flaws in people–especially young, immature Christians. But it takes a considerable amount of maturity to look at those with whom we disagree with theologically and note the many evidences of God’s grace that we see. Piper has inspired thousands to preach the Gospel, church planting, going into missions, etc. He’s not perfect, but he is being used by God. Mark Driscoll has reached thousands of young people in Seattle and has planted hundreds of churches world wide. He isn’t perfect (and continues to prove that time and time again) but he is being used in a powerful way. I’ve seen first-hand the works that both of these men have been apart of in their cities–and it’s quite impressive. I’ve met and have heard the testimonies of many who got saved at Mars Hill Church who came out of a homosexual lifestyle, drug use, and other ungodly lifestyles. Some of these guys are now Pastors and Deacons, or serving on the mission field. I’ve met folks who got saved on the mission field because Piper endured the heat, stink, and jungles to preach the Gospel to them.

    I just think that there are bigger fish to fry within the Evangelical Church. Why don’t we look at liberalism and how it destroys churches, seminaries, and denominations? Why don’t we highlight the Prosperity Gospel and it’s devastating effects on the American Church? Perhaps the hyper-fundie King James only groups? I think you’re doing a disservice by connecting the ideas of being “cultic” to a genuine move of God’s spirit in America and the world today. It’s cheap, it doesn’t involve much thoughtful interactions with others, and it doesn’t build unity within the Body of Christ. By making these associations, you are sewing more division, misunderstanding, and even slander against many who subscribe to a more Reformed understanding of the faith. Has the Arminian side helped the conversation at all with these terms?

    • rogereolson

      I’ll allow others who have been here quite a while to judge whether your accusations are justified or not. I have commented a great deal here on the positive aspects of the ministries of leading Calvinists. But so many are already doing that. My problem is that very few voices of evangelical leaders are speaking out to hold them accountable for some of the outrageous things they say about other, non-Calvinist evangelicals.

    • John Inglis

      This blog is about “evangelical arminian musings”, not about boosting ministries. Consequently, it’s not within its general purview to “take a second and highlight some of the positive fruit”. Furthermore, a criticism along those lines has to engage with the fact that this is a blog, not a single op ed article or a guest post. The overall tenor of this blog (as well as Arminians who post replies) does accept and acknowledge the positive contributions of those who are Calvinists.

      Furthermore, if the shoe fits then people should wear it. There may be other fish to fry, but frying those fish is not the purpose of this blog, and the fish fried here do need some attention and cooking. And you do not seem to deny that the flaws being pointed out do need to be addressed. If so, then it becomes a matter of opinion and judgment as to whether the issues are significant enough to warrant addressing seriously in a blog.

      John

    • Robert

      Let’s look at Shane’s attempt to defend the New Calvinism:

      “Thanks for your article. I’m sure that you speak with sincerity and genuine concern for problems that you think you see in the New Calvinism movement. But after reading your article and many of the comments, could it be that you (and others) have fallen into the same errors that you accuse others of falling into?”

      I don’t think so. When I and other non-Calvinists teach (if we are effective and competent teachers) we encourage questions and independent thinking, when we disciple we do not aim for “cookie-cutter” replicas. Instead we aim for strongly committed Christians who know how to study the bible for themselves and who exhibit Christian character.

      Because of my own past experience dealing with cults I have some real strong cautions in mind to avoid those cult like tendencies that are being discussed here.

      “Could I not do the very same thing against Arminianism? Could I not cut and paste quotes from immature, prideful students at Liberty University, Calvary Chapel Bible College, Baylor, etc., and present the “worst of” Arminianism?”

      It is not a case of taking the worst examples of isolated calvinists and exhibiting them as representing all of the new calvinism.

      It is the case of presenting ****patterns and trends**** that involve more than just some isolated individual.

      I gave the example of the misguided calvinist who publicly posted alleging that I held heretical beliefs and questioning my salvation. Shane why didn’t you or any other calvinists rebuke this fellow when it happened? [I also notice that when I brought this example up here not a single calvinist including you Shane responded and said what the guy did was wrong.] Or correct him or distance yourself from him by saying something like: “while I disagree with Robert and consider his beliefs mistaken, it is wrong to attack him as a heretic merely because he disagrees with calvinism. Or to question his salvation based on his disagreeing with calvinism . . .”

      But I have seen this kind of thing happen frequently with myself and others and I **never** see other calvinists correcting this mentality when it appears. Since you and other calvinists never speak out against these things at the time when they surface, we can only conclude that you must in some way approve of them. What we do not correct and instead tolerate: we teach as acceptable.

      “Could I not paint in broad brush strokes why I feel that Arminianism is “cult-like” and that many of the comments left on your blog (your own little personal “followers”) are left by “hyper-fundie”, thoughtless followers of Olson, “who don’t think for themselves”, and “throw out misrepresentations” of what true Calvinism is?”

      I don’t think that you could do that with this blog.

      Actually one of the things that I enjoy about Roger’s blog here is that there are people with different views here and for the most part they are cordial as they interact well with one another even when they disagree. On the other hand I have consistently seen calvinists come here trying to bait Roger Olson or engage him in some set-up type argument.

      “I think that your analysis of the New Calvinism is considerably pessimistic and doesn’t rightly illustrate what is truly happening in many church planting movements, churches, seminaries, etc.”

      I don’t think it is pessimistic at all, from both my experience and observation; the new Calvinism is like a Trojan horse in the walls of the church which is bringing all sorts of confusion, division and false teachings.

      To use one example. The Southern Baptists are strong on evangelism and most of them are in favor of altar calls. The calvinists on the other hand are usually strongly against altar calls. There are some calvinists in the SBC who would like the whole denomination to be more Calvinistic. Just watch what happens when the pro-altar calls and the anti-altar calls SBC’ers meet. And say the anti-altar call calvinists win out in individual congregations or in the denomination as a whole, how will that help the SBC when it comes to evangelism and church unity???

      “Is the fact the Southern Seminary is now packed out with students (since switching to it’s Reformed roots) and is one of largest seminaries in the world a coincidence? Isn’t it a bit strange that some of the biggest, fastest growing churches in America are calvinistic? Even Time Magazine has picked up on this movement:
      http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html”

      I would be very careful of judging something merely by numbers. Joel Osteen has the largest church that I know of and yet I do not see him as a good example of a biblical pastor teaching the bible properly (he teaches instead a positive message similar to Robert Schuller’s “possibility thinking”).

      “Could you take a second and highlight some of the positive fruit that has been born our of Piper’s influence (on behalf of church planting , missions, inner-city ministries, etc.)? Could you highlight Piper’s zeal for the lost by living in a poor area, witnessing on the street corners, and living a modest lifestyle?”

      No one said that calvinists like Piper have done any good at all. That is not the theme of this thread; the theme is whether or not there are cultic tendencies among the new calvinists. And in that regard it is interesting that you should mention Piper who functions as a guru figure in the movement.

      “Could you highlight some of the thousands of pastors who are now graduating from Southern Seminary and other Reformed institutions and planting churches, going into full-time missions, starting up new ministries to reach the lost, etc.?”

      Since you mention all these new calvinist pastors who are coming out of seminaries. Shane can you explain to us why they often come in cognito (i.e. they candidate for a position and keep quiet about their calvinism until they get the position, they then seek to change the thinking of entire congregations)????

      “Could you highlight Tim Keller and how he’s reached a culture that many thought was unreachable?”

      If you want to play the famous persons names must make it right game. Ravi Zacharias has done this in colleges and he is not calvinist. Hugh Ross has done this with scientists and other educated people and he is not calvinist. Citing one name of a calvinist who has been successful does not justify the new calvinism as a movement.

      “It’s easy to point out flaws in people–especially young, immature Christians. But it takes a considerable amount of maturity to look at those with whom we disagree with theologically and note the many evidences of God’s grace that we see.”

      Again your reasoning seems to be that if we see cultic tendencies among the new calvinists, then it follows that the new calvinists are doing absolutely nothing for God.

      None of us here is arguing that because there are some problems with the new calvinists therefore calvinists are doing nothing right today.
      Where did you see any of us make that argument?

      Where did you see here, any of us say that calvinists never do a good thing whatsoever?

      So you go off on this emotional tirade in which you mention all the good things you believe calvinists have done. Ok, it is great they have done these good things. That nevertheless does not change the fact that there are problems with this movement and one of those problems is cult like tendencies.

      “Piper has inspired thousands to preach the Gospel, church planting, going into missions, etc. . . .. Mark Driscoll has reached thousands of young people in Seattle and has planted hundreds of churches world wide. . . .I’ve met and have heard the testimonies of many who got saved at Mars Hill Church who came out of a homosexual lifestyle, drug use, and other ungodly lifestyles. . . ..”

      Again you can keep ranting about the good done by some calvinists and no one here will disagree.

      And I personally happen to like Driscoll. He has put out some good books, I like his style of preaching and he has done some tremendous ministry. None of that is being questioned.

      “I just think that there are bigger fish to fry within the Evangelical Church.”

      I disagree cause that calvinist Trojan Horse is causing completely unnecessary division, confusion and presenting false teachings in the church. Now you can try to hide that in the closet but it won’t work.

      “I think you’re doing a disservice by connecting the ideas of being “cultic” to a genuine move of God’s spirit in America and the world today.”

      That ASSUMES that God is behind all of it. What if God is not behind it? What if this movement will lead to all sorts of division, confusion and false teaching in the church? If that is true, then it needs to be opposed. If God is behind it don’t you think he will convince believers that this is true?

      But some of us know our church history. We know there was no Calvinism for the first four centuries of church history (deterministic theology appears to have been introduced into the church’s blood stream by Augustine and later systematized by the Reformers, this same deterministic theology was rejected by early church fathers as pagan and false, and continually and repeatedly rejected by the Eastern Orthodox church and Catholic church [though even the Catholic church went through its own deterministic theology debate]) and the vast majority of the Christian church).

      Some of us also know our bibles and we do not see that theological determinism is taught by the bible properly interpreted. For example, the vast majority of Christians interpret passages like John 3:16 very differently than the new calvinists do.

      Again what is particularly concerning about the new calvinists and their leaders is that they seem incapable of acknowledging that one can be a strong Christian, hold to essential Christian doctrines, have effective and fruitful ministry, and be a non-Calvinist and opposed to calvinism. On top of this some of these leaders continue to perpetrate untruths about non-Calvinists. For example with regard to Arminianism: (1) that Arminians are Pelagians, (2) that Arminians if they are consistent will become open theists, etc. etc. when they know better.

      Robert

  • Matt

    As a Calvinist who journeyed there on the basis of Scripture over several years – I appreciate your viewpoint, but unfortunately it is flawed. Namely, because you have not walked a mile in any Calvinist’s shoes – you cannot speak to the heart of a Calvinist. My heart, and the heart of almost every other one I have talked to is not one that you describe. That is the problem of being on the outside looking in.

    The issue with the pastor not bringing up his views on who saves whom is an issue I have dealt with. Unfortunately, the modern church rejects Calvinism. They reject the sovereignty of God and the fallen nature of man. So to say you believe in God’s sovereignty, His glory, man’s inability is to commit suicide in many churches. It causes you to be ostracized from a church. I have literally been frightened to mention that I believe in Calvinism (a nickname that doesn’t exalt Calvin, only God’s freedom and justice and glory). I have expressed my views to very few people in my local church and only when it has been brought up by them. It led quickly to me being ostracized from some people despite the fact that my wife and I led children’s ministry faithfully (but were careful not to use anything “overtly” Calvinistic), counseled young couples, headed up parenting classes and were preparing for a marriage conference. People HATE this doctrine. And thus, it is very difficult for a Calvinist at times to express to an Arminian congregation that they are in disagreement on the issue of who saves whom. But we are absolutely certain and convicted of the power of what we believe to be the true Gospel.

    But when we come to this heart-felt conviction, it’s not a matter of being “cultists” or “cult-like.” You are not the first person to throw out that phrase. It’s really inaccurate. That’s like early Christians believing in Jesus and following the Bible and the apostles’ teaching. And someone comes along and calls us cultists because we only want to listen to the Bible and His apostles (this is a bad analogy and in no way am I saying that Arminians are not Christian). No – we listen to teachers whom we believe accurately teach God’s Word. Again, it’s called conviction.

    There are denominations out there who have their own set of pastors, their own circle and the members rarely go outside of it for teaching. Using the same analogy, would you also call those denomination members “cultists” or to be engaging in cult-like behavior? If not, you can’t accuse Calvinists of the same thing.

    But I understand your side. I don’t blame you, because you haven’t been down the same spiritual journey. I would have said the same thing years ago. It was a difficult, pride-destroying, ego-smashing journey to admit my complete helplessness and giving all glory to Him and giving Him “permission” to be the Potter and admitting that I am nothing but the clay. We don’t come to this belief out of pride, in fact it is the opposite. Nothing can make you more humble. But when you see the glory of God and trust His perfection to do with His creation what is perfect and just – you cannot help but speak about it. It’s joy, love, worship and conviction that causes us to speak and to reject anything that would take away from God’s glory and place it on the head of man. So it’s not cult-like. It’s not narrow-mindedness. It’s not “fundamentalism.” It’s absolute conviction and excitement in God and His glory.

    Therefore, we are not ambiguous in areas we believe the Scriptures reveal certainty. Not because we are better, but because in our hearts, we believe what God has revealed Himself in the area of salvation. We don’t try to work around the hard parts or explain them away as many Arminians do (and I knowingly did), as difficult and even shocking as the truth may be. We just believe it and submit to it. We understand that some things go against our human pride (like the much hated dilemna of God’s sovereignty co-existing with human responsibility). We can’t and won’t deny it. We just preach it and let God sort it out – trusting that His plan, His freedom and justice are perfect, even if my rebellious heart disagrees.

    You also slipped in a subtle warning of Calvinism being outside the mainstream of orthodoxy. If you’re talking about the American church over the past century and a half, or Roman Catholicism – that might be accurate. If you’re talking about the Protestant Reformation and the preceding years of church history – not so much. For those who are not knowledgeable about church history, they would take this as a fact. It is not.

    So ultimately – is this a secondary issue? For the Calvinist who has seen God’s glory – it’s like a spiritual awakening. As Spurgeon said – it’s like growing from a boy to a man overnight. It ultimately is over the gospel. So in one major sense, that answer is no.

    But despite the divide, do I fellowship with my brothers and sisters who deny God’s freedom and sovereignty in their salvation? Yes I still do. Do I still love them with all my heart? Yes. Why? Because that was me. I love them because they are brothers and sisters and I understand them. I’ve been there. Unfortunately you have not been here. So I hope you can better understand our journey while still walking in your shoes.

    • rogereolson

      Your language is a good example of what I’m talking about. What real Arminian denies God’s sovereignty and freedom? Or the fallen nature of man? None. But many Calvinists continue to say these things even after I have proven them false. Now, if you say we do not believe in them as Calvinists believe in them, fine. That’s true (especially about God’s sovereignty in salvation). But my complaint is that many of the leaders of the YRR movement are claiming that their theology is the ONLY one that believes in these things as if every other theology is not only flawed but downright unbiblical (meaning–without qualification and explanation to untutored ears–unchristian). Of course not all Calvinists are guilty of these behaviors and I never said they are. But these days there are very loud voices being raised from within that camp implying that non-Calvinists cannot be authentically evangelical.

      • Matt

        I’m not sure how my language is an example of your point. The difference in God’s sovereignty, as you pointed out yourself – is a difference in definition. So by definition, Arminians don’t believe in the same thing Calvinists do in regard to God’s sovereignty. That much is clear.

        There are certainly theologies that are flawed. Of course we believe that Arminianism is. But I would never state that Arminians are not Christian or evangelical. I would rather define it as they see in a glass darkly (as I did) regarding the source of their salvation. But until you see it, you can’t see it. So I certainly am understanding while disagreeing. But in either case, God Bless Roger. Thanks for your blog – even if we disagree.

    • Robert

      I wrote an earlier post sharing some of the cult like tendencies frequently found in the new Calvinism circles. As expected some Calvinists have responded trying to defend and support their allegiance. Looking at these attempts at apologetics (not apologetics for the Christian faith, but apologetics for Calvin- ISM) one can note identical things as when cultists defend and support their cult. Again the similarities are amazing. Matt provides a good example of this, so let’s look at some of his comments (I could comment on all of it but that would take too long).

      Matt writes:

      “As a Calvinist who journeyed there on the basis of Scripture over several years – I appreciate your viewpoint, but unfortunately it is flawed.”

      I cannot tell you how many non-Christian cultists that I have encountered who made this same claim: they journeyed to their present destination based upon a greater and better understanding of scripture (usually given to them by the teachings of their new group).

      “Namely, because you have not walked a mile in any Calvinist’s shoes – you cannot speak to the heart of a Calvinist. My heart, and the heart of almost every other one I have talked to is not one that you describe. That is the problem of being on the outside looking in.”

      Notice Matt and his ilk are the “insiders” and others critiquing or disagreeing with them are the outsiders (“the problem of being on the outside looking in”). This insider/outsider mentality will also become an “us” versus “them” mentality with many of them as well.

      “Unfortunately, the modern church rejects Calvinism. They reject the sovereignty of God and the fallen nature of man.”

      Aberrant groups modeled after Christianity always contrast themselves with the apostate “modern church”. Just look at Mormons for an excellent example of this. It is them and their new teachings versus the apostate “modern church.”

      There is always a redefinition of terms as well. Common Christian terms are redefined according to the teachings of the aberrant group. In this case, the sovereignty of God is a concept held by all genuine Christians (it means that God as God has the right to do as He pleases in any and all situations, with this right always being influenced by his character, in opposition to nominalistic tendencies where God’s will is divorced from his character). The bible clearly teaches this concept of the sovereignty of God. But calvinists are determinists and so they redefine sovereignty to mean that God is not and cannot be sovereign unless he has meticulous determined every event. That new definition of sovereignty is neither biblical nor has it been around throughout church history. This new definition is not held by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, nor Protestants that reject deterministic theology. In the minds of the new calvinists then, if one denies THEIR DEFINITION OF SOVEREIGNTY, then one does not believe in the sovereignty of God.

      “People HATE this doctrine. And thus, it is very difficult for a Calvinist at times to express to an Arminian congregation that they are in disagreement on the issue of who saves whom. But we are absolutely certain and convicted of the power of what we believe to be the true Gospel.”

      Again, it is true that most Christians reject (and even hate) deterministic theology. Most Christians reject the false teachings that God only loves some, only intends and seeks to save some, and that God has prescripted all of history in every detail. And this “hatred” has been around throughout church history. The early church fathers saw determinism as both pagan and false. Deterministic theology has been repeatedly rejected throughout church history across all theological traditions. Proponents of the new Calvinism seem completely unaware of the testimony of church history against their deterministic views.

      Note Matt includes the phrase “the true gospel.” Again the new calvinists want us to believe that they alone possess and understand and propound the “true gospel.” As if God and His Spirit have been inactive in church history (except in the case of Augustine and later in the Reformers time). There is also a very short step to go from “we alone have the true gospel” to the conclusion that everyone else who is not calvinist holds and propounds a false gospel. As I shared earlier in this thread I had this just happen to me recently by a new calvinist.

      “But when we come to this heart-felt conviction, it’s not a matter of being “cultists” or “cult-like.” You are not the first person to throw out that phrase. It’s really inaccurate.”

      Actually it is accurate. And I say again, I do not view the new Calvinism as a non-Christian cult. At the same time they definitely have cult like tendencies and practices and beliefs. The parallels are real and unmistakable.

      “That’s like early Christians believing in Jesus and following the Bible and the apostles’ teaching. And someone comes along and calls us cultists because we only want to listen to the Bible and His apostles (this is a bad analogy and in no way am I saying that Arminians are not Christian). No – we listen to teachers whom we believe accurately teach God’s Word. Again, it’s called conviction.”

      Many cults claim that they alone are holding the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Again, this claim is often connected to the “modern church” is apostate and we have the truth claim made by cultists.

      “There are denominations out there who have their own set of pastors, their own circle and the members rarely go outside of it for teaching. Using the same analogy, would you also call those denomination members “cultists” or to be engaging in cult-like behavior? If not, you can’t accuse Calvinists of the same thing.”

      No one is claiming that the new calvinsts are the only group within Christian circles that has cult like tendencies and practices. But we are not talking about the other groups right now we are talking about the new Calvinism. And it ought to be noted, if other groups have these same cult like tendencies this does not eliminate the problem from the new Calvinism. It only means that there are multiple groups within Christian circles that have cult like tendencies.

      “But I understand your side. I don’t blame you, because you haven’t been down the same spiritual journey. I would have said the same thing years ago. It was a difficult, pride-destroying, ego-smashing journey to admit my complete helplessness and giving all glory to Him and giving Him “permission” to be the Potter and admitting that I am nothing but the clay.”

      Now he appeals to his “testimony”. And I would note that again I have seen numerous cultists make exactly the same sorts of claims when giving their testimony of how they came to the truth. In particular, those who leave Christian churches or western traditions for the sake of Eastern traditions (such as the Hare Krishna’s). Often speak of having their pride and ego smashed and eliminated to make way for the teachings of the guru. What also needs to be noted is that in such a testimony, having Christ alone as Lord and Savior was not enough. They needed to leave the other Christian group in order to become truly spiritual. I have noted this often when hearing new calvinists share their testimony (rather than their coming to Christ being their ultimate experience, **the greater and more spiritual** later blessing in their thinking was becoming a calvinist!).

      “We don’t come to this belief out of pride, in fact it is the opposite. Nothing can make you more humble. But when you see the glory of God and trust His perfection to do with His creation what is perfect and just – you cannot help but speak about it. It’s joy, love, worship and conviction that causes us to speak and to reject anything that would take away from God’s glory and place it on the head of man.”

      Again the words are eerily similar to what I have heard out of the mouths of cultists. And note the words “and to reject anything that would take away from God’s glory”. That “anything” becomes anything that challenges or confronts or critiques the new calvinism. Cultists not only have conversion experiences. They are also often carefully indoctrinated so that they are “protected” from what outsiders outside the group might say.

      “So it’s not cult-like. It’s not narrow-mindedness. It’s not “fundamentalism.” It’s absolute conviction and excitement in God and His glory.”

      He can attempt to reframe things here, but this does not change the fact that the new Calvinism exhibits cult like tendencies. Anyone with experience with cults and aberrant groups will recognize some of the indicators.

      I had a Mormon once say to me: “This is no cult. We are not narrow minded. We are just absolutely convinced and excited about God and His glory being manifested through the Mormon church.”

      Compare Matt’s statement with the Mormon’s the words are slightly different but the concepts and mentality are exactly the same.
      “We don’t try to work around the hard parts or explain them away as many Arminians do (and I knowingly did), as difficult and even shocking as the truth may be. We just believe it and submit to it.”

      Speaking for myself and others that I have personally discipled, we do not attempt to evade bible passages or explain them away. And speaking of “explaining away” bible passages. A clear and unambiguous text that non-Calvinists all seem to understand and share in common. And yet this passage that is always completely twisted and explained away by Calvinists is John 3:16. Want to see a good example of explaining away a bible text: just look at the calvinist handling of John 3:16.

      “You also slipped in a subtle warning of Calvinism being outside the mainstream of orthodoxy.”

      This is not true at all of Roger Olson. He has never said that Calvinism is outside the mainstream of orthodoxy. He has said that while he disagrees with it and finds it mistaken at points, it is also within orthodox Christianity. And I agree with Roger on this. At the same time I am concerned about what are obvious cult like tendencies among the new calvinists.

      “So ultimately – is this a secondary issue? For the Calvinist who has seen God’s glory – it’s like a spiritual awakening. As Spurgeon said – it’s like growing from a boy to a man overnight. It ultimately is over the gospel. So in one major sense, that answer is no.”

      And how has the calvinist “seen God’s glory” in contrast to the non-Calvinist who has not?

      Simple, the ***newly converted*** calvinist views CALVINIST THEOLOGY as “God’s glory.” Those who accept calvinist theology have seen the light, seen the glory of God, have the deeper experience of Christianity, are further along on the spiritual path, “growing from a boy to a man overnight.” This mentality will result in “insiders” who have experienced the glory and “outsiders” who have not. It will result in “us” (who have seen the glory of God) versus “them” (those who have not seen the glory of God, those who reject calvinism or challenge it as false).

      “But despite the divide, do I fellowship with my brothers and sisters who deny God’s freedom and sovereignty in their salvation? Yes I still do.”

      And again where is the divide? It is over Calvinistic deterministic theology.

      “Do I still love them with all my heart? Yes. Why? Because that was me.”
      That was **me** before I saw the glory of God in calvinistic theology!
      “I love them because they are brothers and sisters and I understand them. I’ve been there. Unfortunately you have not been here. So I hope you can better understand our journey while still walking in your shoes.”

      I think those of us who know the problems with deterministic Calvinistic theology are quite aware of what “journey” the new calvinists are on. And those of us who have worked with cults and other aberrant groups are also quite aware of what “journey” they have embarked upon as well. It is sad that this movement has and will continue to lead to such false teaching, confusion, division and people sharing testimonies where they more excited about their coming to the “doctrines of grace” than their coming to Christ!

      Robert

      • Matt

        Robert…I would love to meet you and have a cup of coffee. Your comments about me and my heart are so off-base, it’s not even worth answering. Unfortunately, the internet is often a place where we can misunderstand each other.

    • John Inglis

      Eh? Where has Dr. Olson painted an entire denomination with one brush? Or even all of Calvinism? His point relates to a small, specific and identifiable part of Calvinist advocates. It appears that you likely do not fall within the group that he wrote about.

      There are at least two problems with “And someone comes along and calls us cultists because we only want to listen to the Bible and His apostles “. First, who is “us”? Roger is not referring to all Calvinists, but your post does, so you are taking what he wrote about a specific subset of Calvinists and applying it holus bolus to all Calvinists. That’s a scoping and reference error.

      Second, what is the reason? You write “because . . .” However, on any reading of what Roger wrote that is incorrect. Roger is not calling anyone anything simply because “only want to listen to the Bible and His apostles”. He is writing about a subgroup who act a specific way. Furthermore, your point does not distinguish you from Arminians, who also “only want to listen to the Bible and His apostles” and who also “we listen to teachers whom [they] believe accurately teach God’s Word” and whom also have “conviction”. On those grounds Calvinists and Arminianists are the same. But those are not the grounds Roger is using to talk about cult-like behaviour.

      Third, Roger did not call them “cultists”, but rather wrote about “something cultic is appearing” and referred to specific behaviours.

      I respectfully suggest that the above three points appear to indicate that you read Dr. Olson’s post with an agenda that interferred with an appropriate understanding of what he wrote, and then you wrote to make a point relevant to your agenda, but not relevant to what he was talking about.

      regards,
      John

  • Tammy White

    Love your post, I live in West Michigan and I feel like I am drowning in Calvinism! So good to read a different point of you, more in line with what I believe!

  • Matt

    Either way you believe – the same number of people are going to be heaven. What we believe doesn’t change that. There will still be a multitude from every tribe, tongue and nation. Calvinists say that God’s mercy saved them. Arminians say that their own free will saved them (since all people receive God’s “prevenient” grace, God’s grace is not the determining factor). Calvinists believe that more people will be saved through God’s mercy than through man’s free will. Arminians believe the opposite. Therein lies the main differences.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you for making my point–that contemporary Calvinists are prone to misrepresentation of Arminianism.

      • Matt

        I probably should have phrased it – “At the end of the day, that’s what Arminians believe.” It’s not a misrepresentation. I was Arminian. No Arminian would define it that way. Nor would I have. I honestly wouldn’t even have thought it. But when it comes down to it, that’s the logical conclusion. If we’re elect because of our future choices, then ultimately it is our merit that saves us. If we all get the same prevenient grace – then the playing field is level and the ultimate difference between a saved person and their unsaved neighbor is the exercise of their will. So the difference is the human, not God.

        • rogereolson

          Well, I’ve answered that in several of my essays (posted here) and books. It’s simply false, you know. Suppose two poor students are both about to be evicted from their apartments and a professor, knowing of their plights, offers each $1,000 to pay their rent and keep their roofs over their heads. One student accepts the gift and the other one does not. Who would claim that the one who accepted the gift “merited” it? Nobody. And if he started to claim any credit for it because he accepted it, everyone would call him an ungrateful wretch. I could turn the tables on you and say that Calvinism implies that in Calvinism the elect merit their salvation because, in spite of what Calivinists say, there has to be some reason God chose them. It has to be something about them or else God would either not have chosen them or he would be choosing arbitrarily. When I bring this up to Calvinists they always appeal to mystery, but they won’t allow others to appeal to mystery. A serious double standard there.

          • Matt

            There is no double standard. If Arminians say that God chose us according to our future choices, that gives us merit. If, like Calvinists say, God chose us according to His purpose…not because of anything in us – then we have nothing to boast about just like Eph 2:8-9 says. What His purpose is, only He knows. It has nothing to do with any merit on our part (Rom. 8:28; Eph. 1:9; 2 Tim. 1:9)

          • rogereolson

            But you deftly avoided the question. On what grounds does God choose the elect? If not on the basis of anything he sees in them, then what? Jonathan Edwards bit the bullet and admitted it is arbitrary which depicts God as capricious. And, you also didn’t address my analogy of the two students. Does the student who accepts the $1,000 “merit” it? Come, please. Speak to the issues or this is not dialogue. If you’re just here to throw out assertions and not consider or respond to what others say, then you’re not here for the reason this blog exists–to promote dialogue.

  • Paul

    Roger: “I will say it straight out: something cultic is appearing among the young, restless, Reformed Christian followers of Piper, Driscoll, et al. Evangelical leaders need to speak up…”

    Amen.
    It is not just “appearing” however. The warning signs have been evident for years, and increasing more visible. But instead, most of the “big-names” in ministry remain silent, and by their continuing silence are giving consent – and by their consent are complicit in the sheep being ravaged by wolves.

    “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also FROM AMONG YOURSELVES men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.” — Acts 20:26-31

    If anyone disagrees with your premise above, just have them read this post by a courageous woman who remained silent for years, and has now spoken out:
    http://www.theologyforwomen.org/2012/02/our-review-of-real-marriage-by-mark-and.html

    • Matt

      I really don’t get some of the logic here. So for every bad book that is written by an Arminian…should I blame the cult of Arminianism? It has nothing to do with Calvinism or Arminianism. While Driscoll has some helpful stuff, which I own, he does push boundaries and offends people. Even I, a Calvinist, prefer not to read or listen to some of his stuff. My wife and I passed on Real Marriage. Mainly because we felt that his exegesis of 1 Corinthians was faulty and not meant as a guide to use in the bedroom. And the fact that his language is often juvenile.

      But in any case, to take a small portion of people within evangelicalism – Calvinists and Arminian – who bought Real Marriage and translate that into some type of cult following? There are PLENTY of blogs and websites of people who have been hurt by “cult-like” churches who ascribe to Arminian theology. Sorry, but that’s just a fallacious argument.

      • rogereolson

        Well, would you care to offer examples of Arminian “cult like” churches? Saying “Sorry, but that’s just a fallacious argument” isn’t any response at all. If you are going to claim there are “PLENTY” of blogs and websites of people who have been hurt by “cult-like” churches who [sic] ascribe to Arminian theology, back it up with examples. I’m certainly not going to deny it may be the case, but just claiming it doesn’t make it so or convince.

        • Matt

          Robert, your comments just made me laugh. In no way do I deny justification by faith. That is absolutely absurd. It is the foundation of the Gospel. Nor do I believe that faith is a work. Not at all.

          I believe, as Ephesians 2:8-9 states, that my salvation, God’s grace and my faith is a gift of God and not from myself. In the Greek, it is undeniable in that verse that the entire salvation process – which includes the faith – is a gift of God. But it is through the work of regeneration, through the preaching of the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit, that we are able to exercise our wills and respond in faith.

          In short, Calvinists believe that the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration leads to a renewing of the human will which in turn results in the exercise of faith. Whereas Arminians believe that regeneration is caused by man’s faith. Small but huge divide. It’s like the age-old question: Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?

          Second, as to your assertion that Arminians believe that they merit salvation, I know that they would never say that. When I was Arminian, I would NEVER have said that nor even thought it. I come from a background of thirty plus years of Arminianism. So I’m with you in denying that Arminians “believe” that in their hearts. But it IS the logical end of that theology. If the difference between you being saved and your neighbor going to hell is the exercise of your free will rightly and the failure of your neighbor to exercise their free will rightly, then you have grounds on which to boast. Your election becomes based on God’s foreknowledge of your exercise of your free will. And your neighbor’s non-election is based on his failure. Paul argues against this specifically in Romans 9. Again, nobody would ever outright state that they merit salvation. That’s not what I was saying. What I was saying, is that is the conclusion if you follow the theology to its logical end.

          • rogereolson

            Alright. That’s it. I won’t post anymore of your comments about Arminianism including “merit” until you answer my question about the two students and their acceptance or rejection of $1,000 gifts.

          • Matt

            I answered your question, I just didn’t agree with the analogy. But…Fair enough. It’s your blog. Thanks for your blog and being even “willing” to discuss the issue ;)

          • rogereolson

            What do you mean you “didn’t agree with the analogy?” Do you mean you think the poor student should or could legitimately boast of meriting the $1,000 gift? Would you boast of meriting a gift like that? Would you say to a person who did boast of accepting such a gift “Yup, you’re right to boast. You had just as much to do with it as the professor who gave it to you. Yes, you are right to boast. You merited it!”? If so, then I don’t even know what to say. I’ve never heard anyone boast of accepting a gift or congratulate someone for accepting a gift. It’s absurd.

  • Robert

    In the past when I worked more directly with non-Christian cults and aberrant groups. One of the things that I came to expect was that the nonbelievers would attack and reject the biblical doctrine of justification through faith. At that time I innocently thought that you could tell the “good guys” with the whit hats and “bad guys” with the black hats rather easily when it came to the doctrine of justification through faith. The good guys, believers, affirmed that we are justified through faith and not of works lest any one should boast. The bad guys, the cultists, **always** denied justification through faith.

    Some denied it by saying that faith alone does not justify you, that you needed to do something additional (like join their group or do certain works).

    Others denied it by arguing that if faith was something you did (it was your choice to trust), then faith itself was a work and so they attempted to claim that if the person chooses to have faith they are doing a work and so they are justifying themselves through works!!!!!!

    Now I expected that from cultists, sadly, I now see more and more the new Calvinists making this same argument and so the result is that they (who are supposedly following the Reformers) end up denying justification through faith (the doctrine that Luther said was critical).

    Matt provides a perfect example of this sad trend among the new Calvinists when he writes:

    “There is no double standard. If Arminians say that God chose us according to our future choices, that gives us merit.”

    Whoa, wait a minute, stop the horses.

    Arminians do not believe that we are saved by “merit”. This is a false representation promoted by people like Matt.

    Arminians do not believe that initial saving faith is a religious work or **merits** anything from God.

    Matt says that God chooses us “according to our future choices” and claims “that gives us merit.”

    This is the identical argument that I heard from cultists when they attacked justification through faith.

    We are saved through faith (the book of Romans is particularly clear on this point, as is Galatians). According to the apostle Paul, our initial saving faith, the faith through which we are saved EXCLUDES BOASTING. Now that is the Bible. Anyone who rejects the notion that saving faith excludes boasting is denying the bible.

    Furthermore, Paul distinguishes faith from religious works. The Reformers held this same view, that we are saved through faith not works. The Reformers did not conceive of our faith as a work or something that we might boast in.

    So what has happened?

    Zealous new Calvinists like Matt are so zealous to promote their twisted view of “monergism” that they make the identical argument and mistake that non-Christian cultists engage in (i.e. they argue that if something we do, in this case our CHOICE TO TRUST THE LORD, our faith, is involved in the process, then THAT SOMETHING WE DO BECOMES A RELIGIOUS WORK, AND SO TRAGICALLY FAITH IS VIEWED AS A WORK, or in Matt’s erroneous thinking, faith is seen as something that “merits” salvation). The Reformers would roll over in their graves if they saw the kind of serous error being promoted by new Calvinists like Matt (people who claim to be following the Reformers on justification through faith).

    This is a serious, serious error. It is heresy to deny justification through faith.

    It used to be a mark of cultists and other non-Christian groups. It is particularly troublesome when it comes from the mouths of professing Christians. I have brought this up before and again I am very concerned that when new Calvinists make this kind of argument as Matt does here (in which saving faith if it is freely chosen becomes a religious work in which a person may boast). They are attacking one of the essentials of the Christian faith.

    And why when this happens aren’t other new Calvinists (or at least the leaders like Piper) speaking out against this attack on justification through faith? This is again why I see the new Calvinism as a Trojan horse of error that has crept into the walls of the Christian church.

    Robert

    • rogereolson

      I should let Matt (or other “new Calvinists”) respond first, but it seems to me they will say that they do believe in justification “by faith.” But the “faith” that justifies is a gift of God. But we all say that. Arminius said it; Wesley said it. all true Protestants say it. Faith is God’s gracious gift. But it is ALSO (and here is where Arminians differ from Calvinists and Lutherans) our human response. It is not a gift imposed that leaves us automata. Faith is something we do based on what God does in us. “Work out your own salvation…for God is at work in you.” This is the paradox of grace and it is also the paradox of faith. Calvinism is one sided in this matter. They are so enamored with the gift side that they neglect the task side. Our task is to accept the gift! Justification by grace through faith means that we must respond with faith to God’s offer of grace which is absolutely free. Our mere acceptance holds no merit. Calvinism turns grace and faith into the same thing. Both are imposed, something gifts never are.

      • Robert

        Hello Roger,

        “I should let Matt (or other “new Calvinists”) respond first, but it seems to me they will say that they do believe in justification “by faith.””

        I am not claiming that they deny justification by faith within their own scenario.

        I am saying that Matt engages in a “framing trick”. A framing trick is one in which you intentionally frame things in such a manner that of course your view is seen as acceptable and right while the other person’s view is presented as unacceptable and wrong. How does Matt do this?

        By arguing that if a person freely chooses to trust in Jesus alone for salvation (as would be true under non-Calvinistic scenarios including in the thinking of Arminians), then THAT FAITH is something that MERITS because it is something DONE BY THE HUMAN PERSON. In this way, faith is acceptable under his own scenario but unacceptable under a non-Calvinistic scenario.

        What gives away the framing trick is the words “merit” and “boasting.” A new Calvinist like Matt making this argument/engaging in this framing trick will use the word “merit” when speaking of faith under a non-Calvinist scenario (but when he speaks of the faith of the human person within his own scenario, then faith does not merit and does not lead to boasting).

        “But the “faith” that justifies is a gift of God. But we all say that. Arminius said it; Wesley said it. all true Protestants say it. Faith is God’s gracious gift.”

        Well if we all say that, then why do new Calvinists attack the faith under a non-Calvinist scenario as leading to merit or boasting???

        It is this claim by the new Calvinists that I was addressing in my previous post. This claim that faith under a non-Calvinist scenario involves merit and may lead to boasting. The bible itself says that faith excludes boasting. So the fact is, if anyone has a faith response, that faith is neither a religious work that merits salvation nor something the person will boast about.

        The way I convey it sometimes is to speak of how this kind of faith involves the humbling of a person, what I sometimes call a “begging faith.” It involved being in the condition after the Holy Spirit has been working in your mind and heart so that you see your helpless sinful condition. You see how you cannot save yourself. You see how trusting in what Jesus did rather than in what you can do is your only hope. This results in you **begging** God to save you, acknowledging that you cannot save yourself. It really bothers me that the new Calvinist will then attack this begging faith as something that will merit salvation or may lead to boasting. It also suggests to me that those making these criticisms and arguments have little actual experience in evangelism and in leading others to Christ. I have seen this begging faith so many times that I would never make the mistake of claiming or arguing that that kind of faith merits anything or leads to boasting. And yet the new Calvinists will attack it, because it is faith occurring under a scenario where the person freely chooses to trust the Lord.

        “But it is ALSO (and here is where Arminians differ from Calvinists and Lutherans) our human response. It is not a gift imposed that leaves us automata. Faith is something we do based on what God does in us.”

        Now this is a good observation, especially the last statement. Saving faith or begging faith as I call it (“something we do based on”), is something that follows and is completely dependent upon a prior and powerful work of the Holy Spirit in the person (i.e. “what God does in us”). Take away the prior work of the Spirit and the person can never make this choice, never have this begging faith mentality (cf. Jn. 6:44).

        ““Work out your own salvation…for God is at work in you.” This is the paradox of grace and it is also the paradox of faith. Calvinism is one sided in this matter. They are so enamored with the gift side that they neglect the task side.”

        Put another way, they talk as if; only God is operating during the conversion process. It is true that God, the Holy Spirit is operating in the conversion process bringing conviction of sin, revealing Christ, etc. But this does not mean that we are left completely out of the process. Our involvement is our choice to trust the Lord alone for our salvation. Now that choice to trust (i.e. our faith) in itself does not save us. But God has set things up in such a way when it comes to salvation that we cannot save ourselves and yet God chooses to save those who trust Him alone for their salvation.

        “Our task is to accept the gift!”

        I would be careful about the word “task” as that does sound like a work that we do. Preferable would be our involvement in the process is to trust God to save us rather than trusting in our own efforts to save ourselves.

        “Justification by grace through faith means that we must respond with faith to God’s offer of grace which is absolutely free.”

        Right and it is that part about “we must respond with faith” that the new Calvinist is attacking when it occurs under a non-Calvinist scenario. The way they frame things if faith occurs under their scenario it is acceptable and commendable. If faith occurs under a non-Calvinist scenario it is unacceptable, involves merit and may lead to boasting. And in attacking faith under a non-Calvinist scenario they are directly attacking justification by faith. If they were doing things correctly they would say that faith under either scenario does not involve merit does not lead to boasting by its nature (however they would argue that this kind of saving faith is only possible [assuming their scenario is correct] for those whom God has chosen to save. In this way the focus then goes to differing accounts of ability or inability on the part of sinners to exercise a faith response to the gospel (rather than attacking the faith itself under the non-Calvinist scenario).
        “Our mere acceptance holds no merit.”

        Right, faith, if it is begging faith involves a mentality completely opposite that of one in which the person believes their action (including faith) may merit something from God.

        “Calvinism turns grace and faith into the same thing. Both are imposed, something gifts never are.”

        True and that is exactly what you can expect from a theology that makes God the divine puppet master and us the puppets. The puppet master imposes his irresistible will upon the puppets depending upon which of their strings he pulls. So unless he controls you and pulls the strings that necessitate that you have faith, you never will be capable of doing so.

        Robert

        • rogereolson

          You will notice that Matt never did answer my question about whether the student who accepted the $1,000 gift check to keep his apartment “merited” it. He completely evaded the question which proves he is not serious about dialogue (which he claimed he was). His response to my question and the illustration was not even a response to it. I have never yet met a Calvinist who will say in response to my illustration (and Arminius used on like it) “Yes, the person who accepted the gift merited it and can therefore boast.” Because, of course, they know THEY would never do such a thing and, that, if they did, others would scoff at them and tell them they are ungrateful wretches–just what they would say to anyone else who boasted of “meriting” a gift accepted freely. The claim that our free acceptance of God’s mercy and grace “merits” our salvation is blatant nonsense. My illustration proves it. Matt’s inability to respond completely undermines the credibility of his claim.

          • Matt

            Actually, I was thinking about your analogy last night. You’re wrong on all counts on how I view it and how Calvinists view it. But before I got a chance to respond, I found your new post. I actually do want to dialogue despite your claims to the contrary.

            But as far as your analogy…refer to John 6:44…No one CAN come…CAN is a word of ability. Something neither men have. That’s why your analogy is faulty on its face. It assumes ability. But both men are dead. Both men know God. There is no honest atheist. But they both reject Him until He regenerates them. So apart from a miracle, both men will let their rents default and lose everything. The person actually has to go to the landlord and pay the rent Himself.

          • rogereolson

            You are still missing the point of the analogy and not answering my questions about it. Don’t evade the questions. Do you think a person who freely accepts a gift merited it just because they accepted it? Don’t drag other doctrinal issues into it; it’s an analogy for one point only–that a gift accepted does not by itself imply merit. Answer that, please.

          • John Inglis

            Of course for Calvinists the issue of accepting a gift never comes up because there is no possibility of accepting a gift (as Matt ably indicated in his response).

            Consequently a Calvinist cannot defeat, on their grounds, a question that does not, and indeed cannot, exist on their grounds. Calvinists undercut the entire enterprise by arguing that there is no case in which a person would be faced with the choice of accepting the gift.

            The point of the above argument is to clarify that Roger’s question cannot be addressed via Calvinist reasoning. It must be addressed on the basis of Arminian reasoning. Possibly defeating it by showing a defect in Arminian assumptions or reasoning.

            The Arminian base that one must answer from is prevenient grace. That is, for Arminians the question can arise because of prevenient grace: God gives this grace such that a person is sufficiently “alive” that she can accept or reject the proffered gift.

            It seems to me, then, that Matt must either take the position that all acceptances of gifts are meritorious (in which case any difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is irrelevant), or that there is a distinguishing characteristic inherent to accepting the gift of salvation (and which is also inherent to Arminianism) that makes the acceptance intrinsically meritorious.

            John

          • rogereolson

            But my analogy and the question attached to it have nothing directly to do with Calvinism or Arminianism. Set those aside for the moment. The question is simply this: Is there any case in which simply accepting a gift is NOT meritorious? The obvious answer is–yes, most if not all cases. In fact, my point is that Calvinists believe it is ONLY in the case of humans freely accepting saving grace that accepting a gift is meritorious. But why? Why do they insist that freely accepting the gift of God’s grace implies merit? That’s not the case in any other instance of freely accepting a gift. So far, it seems to me, everyone responding to my analogy and the question attached to it seems to misunderstand. Don’t think of the professor as God and the needy student as a sinner needing salvation. Just think of them as a professor and a needy student (about to be evicted). Then, we can move from that to the Calvinist claim about free acceptance of God’s grace necessarily implying merit. If it doesn’t in the case of the professor and student, it doesn’t necessarily in the case of the sinner and God either.

  • John Inglis

    Hmmmm, following and interacting with this post has made me realize that my current position is slightly more restricted than the range of positions that can be called Arminian. That is, it is within the pale for Arminians to argue that prevenient grace enables a sinner to choose whether to accept or not the gift of salvation. However, my current, tentative, position would be that prevenient grace is a drawing of God that will inevitably result in salvation unless it is resisted. That is, prevenient grace is not irresistable. I am not convinced, however, we make a positive choice for God in a strong sense. It’s more analogous to regaining consciousness in a river and realizing that we are being swept along to the river’s destination. We can “decide” to go with the flow or decide to fight the flow and struggle to reach the shore and an alternate destination. So in not resisting the flow, we are making a decision to go with the flow, but it’s not the same sort of strong decision as we would make if we were standing on the shore and deciding whether to jump in and go with the flow or climb up the bank and head for a different destination.

    There is no neutral place from which we can make a decision to go one way or another. We are alwasy going one way. First we were lost and going with the flow to hell, without any possibility of change in our destination. Adam’s death and our own state of spiritual death and Satan’s draw means our corpse will flow right on to the ocean of hell and that we would not resist the flow of our own choice or by our own power. Then God acts preveniently and puts us in the river to the ocean of heaven (shorthand for salvation) where we will inevitably land if we continue to go with the flow (i.e. stay within his grace and love), but He leaves us with our ability to resist him.

    Our landing in the ocean of heaven will thus be due entirely to God’s decision, love and efforts and not our own. However, our climbing out of the river and so not ending in the Heaven Ocean will be entirely our own fault.

    Or, to go with the hoary “drowning in the ocean” analogy, it’s like God in his prevenient grace has actually grabbed hold of us (no outstretched hand here; he just grabs us, maybe by the scruff of our necks). We will be drawn into the rescue boat unless we struggle to get out of his grasp and stay in the ocean.

    John

    • rogereolson

      What do you think of my water in the pit analogy (used in both Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and in Against Calvinism)? Does it work for what you’re after?

      • John Inglis

        Yes, I agree with it and like it for the point it makes. I was just trying to come up with other analogies. I like analogies that use water because of the indirect reference to water themes in Scripture representing God at work, not that the indirect reference is necessary or useful to the point being made.

        Having now read some of K. Keathley on-line, I find Keathley’s work somewhat inconsistent, and I am not persuaded by either his description of Molinism or by his use of it.

    • Robert

      “Hmmmm, following and interacting with this post has made me realize that my current position is slightly more restricted than the range of positions that can be called Arminian.
      That is, it is within the pale for Arminians to argue that prevenient grace enables a sinner to choose whether to accept or not the gift of salvation.”

      That is not just “within the pale” that is the standard Arminian position (i.e. prevenient grace enables but does not necessitate a faith response, this means that the person is enabled to choose whether to accept the gift or not, that he has the ability to make that choice once enabled, at the same time unless enabled by God to make that choice, he is incapable of making that choice in his unregenerate condition).

      “However, my current, tentative, position would be that prevenient grace is a drawing of God that will inevitably result in salvation unless it is resisted.”

      This statement is a bit mixed up. Prevenient the grace will not inevitably result in salvation. PG only enables the choice to trust to be available to the sinner. The other thing is that God is not obligated to “keep trying” with a person. A person may have multiple experiences of the Spirit working in them, and if they keep rejecting Him, there is no guarantee that it will continue (one of the reasonst the bible talks about “today is the day of salvaiton” and why Jesus said in connection with the building that fell and killed some people that people should repent while they still can).

      “I am not convinced, however, we make a positive choice for God in a strong sense.”

      You are dead wrong there. The bible speaks of repentinig of sin and repenting involves turning. The turning is from a lifestyle of sin to a lifestyle of following Christ (that is why Jesus spoke about denying yourself and following him). And that decision to follow Christ IS A POSITIVE CHOICE FOR GOD. How much evangelism do you do John? You appear to be speaking merely from an abstract and intellectualizing perspective.

      “ It’s more analogous to regaining consciousness in a river and realizing that we are being swept along to the river’s destination. We can “decide” to go with the flow or decide to fight the flow and struggle to reach the shore and an alternate destination.”

      The problem with your analogy here is that the Holy Spirit does not just come and make you aware “that we are being swept along to the river’s destination”. No, He reveals YOUR SINFUL CONDITION TO YOU. He shows you that you are a sinner. That you are separated from God due to your sin. That if you do not repent and turn and follow Christ you will go to hell/eternal separation from God. That your only hope is to trust in Christ and not your own efforts to save you. Etc etc. Your analogy makes it sound like a picnic. Instead in the bible it is presented as a life and death matter. A friend of mine, Ray Comfort, uses the analogy that imagine you are on a plane and told that here is a parachute, this plane is going down, it going to crash. Either you believe it and put the parachute on or you don’t. The bible presents the final destinies as literally heaven and hell. Jesus himself made some strong statements about the fate of those who do not repent.

      “So in not resisting the flow, we are making a decision to go with the flow, but it’s not the same sort of strong decision as we would make if we were standing on the shore and deciding whether to jump in and go with the flow or climb up the bank and head for a different destination.”

      Again it **is** a strong decision. Just look at the bible and how those evangelizing strongly urge people to make the positive decision to repent and believe. It is literally a life and death matter from the bible’s perspective.

      “There is no neutral place from which we can make a decision to go one way or another. We are alwasy going one way. First we were lost and going with the flow to hell, without any possibility of change in our destination. Adam’s death and our own state of spiritual death and Satan’s draw means our corpse will flow right on to the ocean of hell and that we would not resist the flow of our own choice or by our own power.”

      When the Spirit starts revealing things to you. That leads to a series of decisions including: is this all true? What do I have to do in response to this? Should I start reading the bible? Should I pray? Should I beg God to forgive me? These multiple decisions converge and if certain ones are made culminate in a person asking God to save them and forgive them.

      “Then God acts preveniently and puts us in the river to the ocean of heaven (shorthand for salvation) where we will inevitably land if we continue to go with the flow (i.e. stay within his grace and love), but He leaves us with our ability to resist him.”

      And this act of putting us in the river/salvation, what do we do in this process? Do we decide to trust God? Do we decide to repent? Do we ask God to forgive us? Do we tell God that we cannot do it on our own but we need his help? Do we pray? Do we start reading the bible? Do we start having conversations with Christians? Do we go to a church service or other Christian meeting? It is a process and it involves multiple decisions on our part. You present it as if it is a single action, a single moment in time. Ask people about how they came to the Lord. While some can point to a single defining moment, most will speak of a process that took time (sometimes hours, days, weeks, months, and even years).

      “Our landing in the ocean of heaven will thus be due entirely to God’s decision, love and efforts and not our own.”

      Here you sound like a calvinist who completely leaves out the human side of the equation. It is true that God’s actions alone save us, but it is not true that duing this process we are doing nothing. Salvation is a restored proper relationship with God. As a relationship it involves mutuality and interaction both ways. We are not puppets whose every action is controlled by the divine puppet master.

      “However, our climbing out of the river and so not ending in the Heaven Ocean will be entirely our own fault.”

      It is true that if we end up in hell we have no one else to blame but ourselves. But even those who end up in hell had interaction with God. God reached out and revealed things to them, and they kept rejecting God over and over and over for a lifetime.

      “Or, to go with the hoary “drowning in the ocean” analogy, it’s like God in his prevenient grace has actually grabbed hold of us (no outstretched hand here; he just grabs us, maybe by the scruff of our necks). We will be drawn into the rescue boat unless we struggle to get out of his grasp and stay in the ocean.”

      God enables us to trust him but does not necessitate it. He has set things up this way, He has decided the nature of salvation. While his actions alone save us, as it is a restored relationship or continued rebellion, the result involves both parties’ actions.

      Robert

  • John Inglis

    In rereading Roger’s post and the ensuing thread, I came across “Kenneth Keathley’s illustration of resistible monergism “. The example provided seems similar to the current direction of my thoughts. I have heard of him, and have read material by him, but I cannot recall anything in particular nor the specific ambulance example. Nevertheless, I shall find and read some of his work for future contributions to future posts by Dr. Olson.

  • Robert

    In a fascinating example of presuppositional reasoning and its implications. John writes:

    “Of course for Calvinists the issue of accepting a gift never comes up because there is no possibility of accepting a gift (as Matt ably indicated in his response).”

    So if this is correct (under calvinism) then the nonbeliever is incapable of receiving the gift of salvation (unless regenerated first).

    “Consequently a Calvinist cannot defeat, on their grounds, a question that does not, and indeed cannot, exist on their grounds.”

    This is key, by their premises the question of whether or not a person could freely accept a gift of salvation cannot come up. Use train tracks as an analogy for differing presuppositons and where they take you. On one set of tracks you can get to destination X, while on the other set of tracks you are incapable of arriving at destination X. This is not because Roger’s question does not point to the truth, but because the train tracks of calvinism/their controlling presuppositions do not allow for the train to go to that destination.

    “Calvinists undercut the entire enterprise by arguing that there is no case in which a person would be faced with the choice of accepting the gift.”

    Right, if all is ordained as the theological determinist/fatalist believes. Then the sinner is not confronted with HAVING A CHOICE about whether to accept or reject the offered gift of salvation. The sinner can only HAVE A CHOICE under non-deterministic, non-Calvinistic premises. Under deterministic premises the sinner makes the choice to accept or reject and this choice is itself predetermined (as is everything else under this scheme).

    “The point of the above argument is to clarify that Roger’s question cannot be addressed via Calvinist reasoning. “

    Because Roger’s question presupposes non-calvinistic, non-deterministic reasoning.

    “It must be addressed on the basis of Arminian reasoning. Possibly defeating it by showing a defect in Arminian assumptions or reasoning.”

    Gotta be on the one set of train tracks or you cannot get there.

    “The Arminian base that one must answer from is prevenient grace. That is, for Arminians the question can arise because of prevenient grace: God gives this grace such that a person is sufficiently “alive” that she can accept or reject the proffered gift.”

    Again, it depends upon what train tracks/presuppositions you are operating from. If calvinistic/deterministic, the question can never arise: from non-calvinistic/non-deterministic train tracks/presuppositions you can get to that question.

    “It seems to me, then, that Matt must either take the position that all acceptances of gifts are meritorious (in which case any difference between Calvinism and Arminianism is irrelevant), or that there is a distinguishing characteristic inherent to accepting the gift of salvation (and which is also inherent to Arminianism) that makes the acceptance intrinsically meritorious.”

    That is an easy one: for zealous theological determinists, if YOU DO ANYTHING on your own, or by your own freely made choice then it is meritorius.

    Roger replied missing the presuppositional nature of the disagreement with:

    “But my analogy and the question attached to it have nothing directly to do with Calvinism or Arminianism.”

    While that is technically true of your analogy. You forget that as Van Til so aptly put it: all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye. If someone is wearing yellow tinted glasses then EVERYTHING they perceive will be seen from behind those glasses with the resulting and inescapeble yellow hue. Roger you bring up your illustration which makes perfect sense to us without the yellow tinted glasses.

    But to Matt or anyone who wants those yellow tints on, everything looks yellow to them!

    “Set those aside for the moment.”

    But that is just it, when it comes to their calvinistic presuppositions they refuse to put them aside for a moment. Everything has to be yellow or it cannot be accepted.

    “The question is simply this: Is there any case in which simply accepting a gift is NOT meritorious? The obvious answer is–yes, most if not all cases.”

    Roger you are like a seeing person trying to convince a congenitally blind person about the experience of sight. Sight is obvious to you and the rest of us who have it. But for the willfully blind, they cannot see and will not see no matter how plainly or clearly you present it.

    “In fact, my point is that Calvinists believe it is ONLY in the case of humans freely accepting saving grace that accepting a gift is meritorious. But why?”

    Because according to their train tracks/presuppositions/yellow tinted glasses, if humans do anything in the process then what they do may lead to merit and might lead to boasting.

    “Why do they insist that freely accepting the gift of God’s grace implies merit?”

    Again accordign to their glasses it has to be yellow. It has to be merit. It has to lead to boasting if it is something we do on our own and involves our freely choosing. Sadly with these tinted yellow calvinistic deterministic glasses on, they never see reality, they exclude themselves from what is actually the case, what is true.

    “That’s not the case in any other instance of freely accepting a gift.”

    True, but when it comes to soteriology, then those yellow glasses get firmly placed on their noses. And nothing can then persuade them that what they are seeing is not yellow.

    “So far, it seems to me, everyone responding to my analogy and the question attached to it seems to misunderstand. “

    I understand your analog fine Roger, but then I am not wearing those yellow glasses. I share the same train tracks as you do, so for me it is obvious that in freely choosing to accept a gift no merit or boasting will be involved.

    “Don’t think of the professor as God and the needy student as a sinner needing salvation. Just think of them as a professor and a needy student (about to be evicted).”

    Ok then the calvinist will perhaps take off those yellow glasses when you talk about that analogy.

    “Then, we can move from that to the Calvinist claim about free acceptance of God’s grace necessarily implying merit.”

    No, they cannot do that. As soon as soteriology is being discussed those yellow tinted glasses go on!

    “If it doesn’t in the case of the professor and student, it doesn’t necessarily in the case of the sinner and God either.”

    If you are not wearing the yellow glasses. And again the determinist could take off his glasses when speaking of the professor and the students. But then as soon as you try to then bring it into soteriology, the yellow glasses go back on and the party and the rationality are over.

    Robert

    • rogereolson

      My analogy is simply to prove that a gift freely received is not meritorious. If, generically, a gift freely received is not meritorious, then the Calvinist claim that freely receiving the gift of God’s saving grace is automatically meritorious falls to the ground. They will then have to argue that IN THAT ONE CASE, unlike all others, freely accepting God’s grace is meritorious. But the problem with that is–why? I think they are simply enchanted by a mantra they’ve always heard and can’t let go of: that freely accepting God’s saving grace involves merit. But if freely receiving a gift does not involve merit in any other case, they will have to explain why this one is an exception. So far I heard to convincing argument that this is the one exception.

  • Jared Hanley

    I am wondering something. I can understand some of what you’re saying here. But what about someone like me. There are a number of things that are different about me when compared to most of the YRR crowd.

    - I’m more egalitarian whereas most Reformed people are complementarians. There are very few exceptions to this and most of the exceptions are actually people who are not considered part of the YRR crowd. But most notably perhaps would be RT Kendall and Rich Nathan.
    - I can affirm every point in the statement of faith of my Holiness Pentecostal denomination in good faith. There is nothing in our statement of faith concerning Arminianism or Calvinism. The closest thing is that it suggests that faith precedes regeneration which I disagree with but I think there are ways around that. The Evangelical Free Church contains a similar statement in their denomination’s statement of faith and there are many EFC people who are Reformed in their soteriology so I’m sure that they have to maneuver around that in a similar way. Faith continues the process of regeneration is the way I see it. Therefore, faith does precede regeneration in a sense, just not in the sense that Arminians would say that it does. Faith itself is a gift of God however so it is all still very monergistic.
    - Like many Pentecostals (and some who are monergists I might add) I agree with certain aspects of Word of Faith doctrine though certainly not all of it. I am not alone in this because there are other monergists like Rick Warren, Beth Moore, and Tony Evans who also borrow to some extent from WoF teachings.
    - I am more of a Dispensationalist than some in the YRR crowd. Though there certainly are some dispies in the New Calvinism such as John MacArthur and Francis Chan, they do seem to be few and far between.
    - Finally, I also have some sympathies toward the Apostolic/Prophetic Movement as many other Pentecostals do. However, since C. Peter Wagner (I read somewhere that he was an Open Theist but he still calls himself a Congregationalist and he preached at my pastors church and my pastor says he is Reformed so unless his theology has changed, he is probably Reformed) was instrumental in spearheading this movement and since there have been others who have ties to this movement who were Reformed in their soteriology such as Sam Storms and Jack Deere just to name a couple, I don’t think I’m too far out with this one especially since I’m not out in left field. At least I don’t think I am.
    - Perhaps the most important place where I would differ from the people that you mention here is where my pastor knows about my Calvinism and he is having me teach his Sunday school class. I told him very bluntly in no uncertain terms where I stood concerning Calvinism and he said that it shouldn’t be a problem. But, he has worked with people like Rick Warren and C. Peter Wagner so perhaps he is a little different than most Pentecostal pastors. Anyway, I feel blessed that God has opened up the doors for ministry that he has for me. When you have some of the theological positions that I do, it can be difficult to find places to minister.

    I would say in these and perhaps a couple of other ways, I am different than the people that you mentioned in this article. I don’t want to bring radical reformation to the church that I’m serving. There is much that they’re doing that I think is to be commended that I wouldn’t want to change.

    Do you think it’s as deplorable what I’m doing as what some of these other people are doing?

    • rogereolson

      Of course not, assuming, as you testify, that you are completely transparent about your beliefs and not in any way trying to hide them. By the way, Wagner is an open theist. “Reformed” is a notoriously flexible concept in today’s world. It can mean only that one belongs to a denomination that is a member of the World Communion of Reformed Churches–of which (like the Remonstrant Brotherhood of the Netherlands) are not Calvinist. I doubt that Rick Warren is a monergist. Do you have proof of that?

      • Jared Hanley

        I do have proof that Rick Warren is a monergist. He has identified himself that way on numerous occasions and I’m surprised that you haven’t heard that by now, seeing as you keep up with a lot that goes on in Reformed circles due to your extensive writing and speaking engagements surrounding Calvinism and Arminian issues. He says so explicitly in his two hour interview with John Piper. That interview can be found at desiringgod.org.

        http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/john-piper-interviews-rick-warren-on-doctrine

        And, a number of years before that, in 2004, he had said that he was a monergist (that’s the term he prefers rather than Calvinist or Reformed) in an interview with Modern Reformation Magazine. That interview can be found here at Justin Taylor’s blog Between Two World’s:

        http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/03/31/rick-warren-monergist/

        • rogereolson

          I don’t make an effort to keep up with Rick Warren or every other popular preacher out there. And, if I were a monergist, I wouldn’t take any great pride in having Warren on my side.

  • Jared Hanley

    Personally, I like Rick Warren. There are several reasons that I like him. I think part of it has to do with the fact that I read his book “The Purpose Driven Life” when I was having a mountaintop experience with God. Another reason is that he is a self-described monergist who is also very friendly towards Pentecostalism. He spoke at the 100 year anniversary of the Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles in 2006. I also like how he puts theology in very simple terms that the average person can understand. He is well-liked by people from various traditions. I think he has done a lot to unite the church just like Billy Graham has done. I want to be a bridge-builder like them. I have tremendous respect for a lot of people with whom I disagree. Even John Wesley. As a Pentecostal, I like where Wesley said that he would set himself on fire and people would come from miles around to watch him burn. I want to have that kind of faith. And his love for holiness. That’s something that you don’t find much in some parts of the church today. There are many ways that I would like to be more Wesleyan despite my disagreements with Wesley’s Arminianism. I am part of a historic holiness denomination and I would like to live up to the holiness standard that was set by so many of the Pentecostal pioneers.

    I like the way that Rick Warren is able to bring different parts of the body of Christ together. It gives me hope that I can do that despite any disagreements that people may have with my Calvinism. I like the way that Warren says that he is a John 3:16 Christian who believes the doctrines of grace. I would describe myself that way as well.


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