Some thoughts about my conversation with Michael Horton

Some Thoughts about My Conversation with Michael Horton

            I spoke about why I am “Against Calvinism” for about 15 minutes focusing on the goodness of God and how classical, “high Calvinism” is inconsistent with any meaning of “good” and “love” known to us. Then Mike spoke for about 15 minutes focusing on humanity’s depravity and God’s mercy in electing some to salvation. In other words, he also said that God is good even if not in terms of our “fairness” (because he doesn’t save everyone).

            Then we asked each other questions. I had tried to think of a question he may not have heard before. We’ve both had so many conversations with proponents of the “other side” that we have heard all the relevant questions. I started off our conversation by asking him why we can’t just agree to disagree about the secondary issues. We (evangelical Arminians and evangelical Calvinists) agree that salvation is a free gift and that there is nothing we can do to merit any part of it. Salvation is one hundred percent God’s doing and none of ours. And we agree that God is good and loving. Beyond that we get mired in disagreements about the details. Sure, they’re important details. So important that in our own churches we want agreement about them. But why can’t we just agree to disagree about them in the larger spaces of evangelical cooperation?

            To a very large degree that has been the case in the past and is still somewhat the case in the present. When the National Association of Evangelicals was put together in the early 1940s it included both Arminians and Calvinists on equal footing. To make a long story short, over the decades since then, some Calvinists have become dissatisfied with what they see as the dominance of Arminianism in evangelical folk religion and have moved out of their Reformed circles to publicly lobby for Calvinism as “the” evangelical theology. One example of that, among many, was David Wells’ article “The Stout and Persistent ‘Theology’ of Charles Hodge” in Christianity Today (August 30, 1974). Wells decried the lack of good theology among evangelicals since Hodge and clearly held Hodge and his theology up as the norm for good evangelical theology. Gradually, over the last two to three decades many Reformed evangelicals have spoken and acted to promote the idea that Calvinism is the norm of sound evangelical theology. In many cases they have openly denounced Arminianism as sub-evangelical if not sub-Christian theology, not only in their own Calvinist churches but in the wider trans-denominational evangelical community. In most cases, however, the tendency to promote Calvinism as the norm for evangelical theology has been more subtle. I personally think one evidence of that was Christianity Today’s celebration of John Calvin throughout 2009 with one article about him in eveyr issue. There was no mention of that year being the 400th anniversary of the death of Arminius (except in my letter to the editor signed by a couple other Arminians). I could go on enumerating and describing evidences of that trend, but I’ll mention just one more. My uncle was on the executive board of the NAE for many years. One year he heard a leading Calvinist evangelical author and conference speaker say that anyone who takes one iota away from God’s sovereignty is not an evangelical. That same Calvinist has been very active publicly portraying Calvinism as the only truly evangelical theology.

            So, my first question to Mike was really to all those Calvinists who are actively trying to promote Calvinism as the normative evangelical theology. Why can’t we get back to the original idea of the neo-evangelical movement of the 1940s that the gospel is so important that we evangelicals need to focus on that in our public gatherings and cooperative endeavors and among ourselves outside our confessional circles and not on our secondary distinctives? Why do Calvinists (and some Lutherans) feel the need to marginalize Arminianism outside their own confessional circles? The original idea of the NAE and neo-evangelical movement in general was to counter the drift away from the gospel in “mainline” Protestantism by coming together as believers in the gospel, setting aside our doctrinal differences of interpretation (except, of course, in our own denominations and churches). One reason for it was that two of the major national radio networks were limiting time for “religious programming” to people affiliated with the Federal Council of Churches (which later changed its name to the National Council of Churches). Evangelicals needed to band together to present a united front to the culture.

            That led into a lengthy discussion of those “details” of disagreement about the gospel. Mike asked me if Arminians really believe what I say we believe—that salvation is all God’s doing and we contribute nothing meritorious to it. Of course, his point was that in Arminian theology, from his perspective, the free decision to accept grace is meritorious (This is why his movement to bring about a new Reformation among American evangelicals does not include Arminians). But that just gave me opportunity to assert again that we do not believe it is.

            Now this is a perfect illustration of the whole problem. To what extent should we attribute what we see as the “good and necessary consequences” of a person’s belief to them when they honestly deny that they believe those? We both have this tendency. Arminians look at Calvinists and think “They must really, secretly, in their heart of hearts think that God is a moral monster.” Calvinists adamantly deny it. Calvinists look at Arminians and think “They must really, secretly, in their heart of hearts think that humans earn their salvation.” Arminians adamantly deny it.

            The ensuing conversation followed the usual pattern: areas of wonderful agreement followed by disagreement about the same subjects we were just agreeing about. Humans are totally depraved. We agree. They are capable by the grace of God of making a free choice to resist God’s offer of saving grace or accept it. We disagree. God is a wonderfully good, merciful God who loves people. We agree. God willfully passes over some people he could save, damning them to an eternity of hell. We disagree. And on it goes.

            Apparently it isn’t going to be possible to avoid talking about our areas of disagreement in public. By “talking about” I mean actively seeking to marginalize the other view as defective evangelical theology. (To be honest, however, from where I sit, it is only Calvinists and a few Lutherans who do that! I’ve never known Arminian evangelicals publicly to try to demean or marginalize Calvinism as defective evangelical theology.) Once it becomes clear we can’t just agree to disagree about what I am calling the secondary issues and promote them in our own denominations and churches–I try to get down to our bedrock disagreement AFTER making clear our areas of agreement. Why and how is it that Mike and other Calvinists can think as they do about those secondary issues? I can’t even wrap my mind around those secondary beliefs. I can’t imagine why anyone would believe those things about God. BUT, I do not consider those who believe them sub-Christian or sub-evangelical. I tend to think of them as just confused.

            Mike’s testimony of his change to Calvinism is that he read the Bible with fresh eyes and there it was; he couldn’t deny it. “It” being TULIP (not the scheme but the doctrines).

            My response is that I can understand how certain passages of Scripture can be interpreted that way taken out of the context of the whole of Scripture which simply cannot be interpreted that way. Romans 9 can be interpreted the Calvinist way. But the whole of Scripture cannot be interpreted that way. What I think is going on is that Calvinists interpret the whole of Scripture in light of Romans 9! I know they don’t think that’s what they’re doing but I can’t explain to myself how they come up with their “doctrines of grace” any other way.

                        One thing that bothered me and still does bother me about our conversation (and many I’ve had with Calvinists) is Mike’s insistence that Adam and Eve fell by their own free will. He insisted that  God did not cause them to fall. Why say that unless it’s to get God off the hook, so to speak? In other words, from where I sit the only reason for a Calvinist to speak so adamantly about the freedom of the fall is to make two points: 1) God is not responsible for it, and 2) Humans are (because in some mysterious way we were all either “there” in Adam or represented by him depending on which Calvinists you listen to). If those are not the points, why insist so strongly that Adam and Eve sinned freely?

            However, when pressed on the point, Mike admitted that God planned, foreordained and rendered certain the fall and that when he says Adam and Eve sinned freely he means they did what they wanted to do (compatibilism), not that they could have done otherwise. When pressed on whether they could have done otherwise he referred to the classical Calvinist distinction between natural ability and moral ability. They naturally could have done otherwise, but they couldn’t have done otherwise morally. But the only way that distinction works with Adam and Eve (who were not yet fallen) is to say that God withheld the grace they would have needed to exercise their natural ability so that morally they were unable not to fall. (The distinction between natural ability and moral ability is usually only brought up to explain why already fallen human persons both can and cannot refrain from sinning. We are responsible for our sinning even though we can’t not sin because we have the natural ability not to sin but not the moral ability not to sin. This distinction doesn’t work with unfallen Adam and Eve UNLESS it refers to God withholding or withdrawing their moral ability.) In the end, after all is said and done, a Calvinist does not really believe Adam and Eve fell “freely” except in that highly attenuated sense that most people would never guess at.

            Mike made a big point of how God did not “coerce” Adam and Eve to sin. Right. But exactly what difference is there between “coercing” and “rendering certain?” Okay, there is a difference, but it’s a very technical difference that doesn’t relate to the issue of Adam’s and Eve’s falling by their own free will. It’s possible to manipulate a person to do something “freely” without coercing them to do it if “free” means only doing what you want to do (compatibilism). But that meaning of “free” is not what is meant in any court of law. Nor is it what most people mean by “free.” Most people think “free” means “capable of doing otherwise.” It seems disingenous to me for a Calvinist to claim that Adam and Eve fell freely WITHOUT explaining what they mean by “free.”

            In the end, the claim that Adam and Eve fell “freely,” with the accompanying admission that God foreordained and rendered it certain, does nothing to get God off the hook or explain how Adam and Eve (to say nothing of their posterity) were solely responsible.

            But then, it would be disingenous of me not to mention that Mike turned the tables on me (at least twice!) and claimed that Arminians have the “same problem.” Allegedly, we also believe that God foreordained and rendered the fall certain—by foreknowing it and creating anyway. But, of course, he doesn’t understand the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge. God doesn’t “foreknow” as in “foresee what will happen  IF he creates.” He foreknows BECAUSE what he foreknows will happen. Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow. 

            There’s another one of those areas where Calvinists and Arminians use the same word but mean something very different by it. When a Calvinist hears “foreknows” he hears “foreordains.” When an Arminian says “foreknow” she means “see what WILL happen.” When an open theist says “foreknow” (future free decisons and actions) he means “see what MIGHT happen.”

            Mike just gave me a funny look when I said that Arminians believe our deciding and acting causes God to foreknow. I don’t think he had heard that before.

            Back to my main point here. It seems to me that for Calvinists to say Adam fell by his own free will is very misleading and unhelpful. The only reasons to say that are to get God off the hook (for being responsible for Adam’s sin) and lay all the responsibility for the fall on Adam. But how does it accomplish those once “free will” is defined compatibilistically (as only doing what you want to do even if you couldn’t do otherwise)? If God actually wanted the fall to happen and planned it and rendered it certain, how is that functionally different from causing it to happen? How does that get God off the hook?

            Well, the next step for the Calvinist is to say that even though God rendered the fall certain he did it with good intent while Adam sinned with evil intent. But how does that get God off the hook? God is still the ultimate cause of Adam’s evil intent. And what was God’s good intent? The answer is: to overcome sin and evil to show his goodness and glorious power. Okay, but what about hell? Even that, Mike said, has a good purpose in God’s plan. What is it? He said “God’s glory.” So there. We finally get down to why Arminians say Calvinism’s God looks like a moral monster. In what setting in any human experience would rendering another person’s unending torture for one’s own glory be considered good? Oh, but they say, God’s goodness is different from ours. Then, the Arminian says, it (the word “good”) become meaningless. How does it differ from “gobbeldygook?” If it has no analogy to any meaning of “good” in our experience, how is it meaningful? Even Calvinist philosopher/theologian Paul Helm makes that point and insists that Calvinists should NOT say that God’s goodness is wholly different from ours.

            As a result of that conversation and many, many others I’ve had with Calvinists, I come away feeling two things. First, it was beneficial for us to hear each other and understand what we say we believe. Second, it was frustrating because once we went below the primary beliefs about which we agree to their deeper meanings we seemed to be like ships passing in the night or like people speaking different languages to each other.

  • Chad

    Dr. Olson, you wrote:

    But, of course, he doesn’t understand the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge. God doesn’t “foreknow” as in “foresee what will happen IF he creates.” He foreknows BECAUSE what he foreknows will happen. Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow.

    This might be nit-picking, but wouldn’t Molinists say that God does indeed “foresee what will happen IF he creates”? That seems to be one of the defining features of ‘middle-knowledge’. It seems like that kind of foreknowledge is a live option for SOME Arminians. (Obviously not yourself, but other Arminians who also hold to Molinism)

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I was speaking as a non-Molinist Arminian. My own opinion is that Molinism is a disguised form of divine determinism and therefore closer to Calvinism than to Arminianism. Molinism does fall to Mike’s comment about foreknowledge. I suspect he thought I am a Molinist. I hope he now realizes his error.

      • John Inglis

        It seems to me that “Arminianism” takes a position on the interplay of foreknowledge and freedom without taking a more detailed position on how it is that God is in possession of foreknowledge, or how it is that any being can make a free exercise of will. To go that far is supportable by the Biblical text, but to specify further–such as in Molinism or Openess, wherein the issue of God’s possession of foreknowledge is detailed–is not indicated by the Text but by further philosophical reflection. Am I getting the gist of it?

        John

        • rogereolson

          Yes.

        • Randall

          That is a very cogent statement of the basic position regarding the relation of foreknowledge and freedom, I think God reveals their fact or truth without explaining the underlying relationship and how they can both be true. The answer doubtlessly involves parts of reality that man isn’t fully conscience of and that shouldn’t impair our living with the acceptance of what’s revealed to us.

  • Bev Mitchell

    “Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow.” Huh!? For me, this needs a lot of unpacking. As it stands (as understood on the surface) it could easily cause one to look elsewhere, especially toward Open Theism. In fact, I think some version of OT will be part of standard evangelical theology in the future (meaning a generation or two from now, given the glacial speed of such sea changes).

  • scotmcknight

    Roger,
    The only way Calvinists can lay claim to evangelicalism necessarily being Calvinist is by excluding Luther from the definition and excluding the Evangelical Awakening from defining it. Luther was not a Calvinist.

    But neither were the major players of the Awakening — think of this original coalition as the model of evangelicalism: Wesleys, Whitefield, Howell, Edwards. That’s evangelicalism.

    • scotmcknight

      I should say “neither were all the major players….”

    • rogereolson

      You know I agree, of course. Thanks for making the point. However, Mike includes confessional Lutherans (e.g., LC-MS) with Calvinists under the umbrella of “Reformation theology” which, to him, is true evangelicalism. For some reason, Anabaptists and Wesleyans are excluded from that category. What it comes down to is monerism. Mike regards only monergists (which includes some Lutherans) as truly evangelical in the theological (as opposed to sociological) sense.

  • James Petticrew

    Your thoughts on this conversation made me think about my theological education. I studied in one institution in Scotland where the lecturers in theology were from moderate to full 5 point Calvinism. I then studied at denominational college with a commitment to Wesleyan theology.

    This may be a generalisation but not a gross one. When studying under the reformed lecturers we approached the subject, election, soteriology etc through specific texts, this then seemed to provide the hermeneutic through which the “the whole biblical narrative” is interpreted.

    In contrast the Wesleyan theology I was taught, it seems to me, was taught by looking at the “big biblical picture” and then reading specific texts in the light of salvation history.

    In my limited debates with Calvinists I wonder if this difference in approach is why we talk past each other because we are starting from completely different perspectives?

    • rogereolson

      Yes, that is the conclusion to which I am coming.

  • Jonathan

    Dr. Olson,
    I’ve not had the opportunity to ask a well-informed Calvinist this question(s) and was wondering if you’ve asked it and been given an intelligent response:

    If Got can unconditionally save (foreknow, predestine, elect, call, regenerate, give faith, etc.) without technically violating man’s will, why is it better for him to save some and not all? Does he get more glory for determining some to damnation than he would for determining none to damnation? If so, how?

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I deal with that question and typical Calvinist responses in my book Against Calvinism. The typical Calvinist response (which Mike gave in a very brief comment during our conversation) is that God is more glorified by there being a hell than by there not being a hell. That is because his justice “needs” hell for its full display. My argument is that such a view demeans the cross of Jesus Christ which was a full display of God’s justice and love at the same time.

      • James Petticrew

        “that God is more glorified by there being a hell than by there not being a hell.” ….. That statement distils why I could never be a Calvinist, what sort of God needs his glory to be magnified by eternal punishment? Certainly not the God I encounter in Scripture ESP in verses like John 3:16, 2 tim 2:4, 1John 2:2

      • http://www.styleye.se/kol128 Andreas

        I started reading your comment and if that is the “standard” Calvinistic answer that is a horrendous answer! It is essentially saying that God would not be able to display his Justice through the cross of Christ or even make the croos meet his standard of justice. And if that is the case how do we know that Christ actually satisfied the need for justice?

        • rogereolson

          In my opinion, this is one of the Achilles heels of Calvinism. When pushed to answer why hell they always say “for God’s glory.” When asked how hell glorifies God, the answer is “it displays his justice.” That automatically demotes the cross as something less than a full display of God’s justice.

          • Jonathan

            If God, as Calvinists like Piper say, ultimately desires the full manifestation of his justice, and the full manifestation of his justice necessitates hell, then God’s desire (through whichever kind of ‘will’ it may be) for all to be saved is a desire contrary to his desire for the full manifestation of his glory. Thus, God both does and doesn’t desire the full manifestation of his glory. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the law of non contradiction says P cannot be both P and not P at the same time and in the same way. How is that not a logical contradiction, then?

          • rogereolson

            John Piper attempts to answer this by referring to God’s “two wills.” I discuss this in Against Calvinism. He uses the example of George Washington and a certain Revolutionary War officer who was convicted of cowardice. Washington sorrowfully signed his death warrant. So God sorrowfully consigns many to hell so that his full glory can be revealed. As I point out in Against Calvinism, the analogy does not hold up. First, Washington did not render certain the officer’s cowardly acts. Second, Washington did not (presumably) sign that officer’s death warrant while giving pardon to another officer who acted in the same cowardly way. Also, it seems improper to say that God is beholden to a law such as Washington was.

          • http://www.radicallynormal.com Josh Kelley

            Amen! How dim must God’s glory be if it needs hell in order to display his goodness?

  • Mike

    Hey there Dr. Olson,
    I appreciate the post – you’ve helped clarify a few things for me.

    I’m not a ‘staunch’ Calvinist (at least I don’t think I am), but I have found myself going more and more in that direction over the past few years.

    There are a lot of things in this post that I would like to tease out further, but for now I’d love your help with just a couple questions/observations.

    I’ve always found the ‘compatibilism’ argument quite helpful in understanding the tension between the freedom of humankind and God’s sovereignty. That said, I was a little surprised by Dr. Horton saying that Adam and Eve could not have done otherwise morally. I thought that the Augustinian view of that problem is to say, ‘Yes, pre-Fall Adam and Eve were indeed morally and naturally free, and not until after the Fall were they no longer morally free.’ Can you help me with that one? Does Dr. Horton deviate from Augustine on that issue, or am I remembering something incorrectly? Either way, I don’t see much of a chance of anyone explaining how the first sin happened in a way that is really satisfying.

    And the main concern I keep bumping into is this:
    You say that when Dr. Horton responds with saying, ‘God’s glory’, he’s taking the first step down a road that eventually leads ‘goodness’ into arbitrariness. But I think it’s far more comforting (not to mention logical and biblical) to believe in a sovereign God that, although mysterious, indeed has a plan to work all of the events of the cosmos to the end of his own glory than it is to believe in a God that, while satisfying my definitions of ‘good’ and ‘loving’, seems to be outpaced and outmuscled by evil.

    I really need you to explain your thoughts to me on this. You keep on coming back to the ‘moral monster’ argument; yet when I reflect on my mother’s cancer, all the while trusting that a sovereign God has a perfectly wise plan that is going to perfectly work to the end of his glory…I feel like I can rest in that more than in a God who says, ‘Shoot…really wish I could do something for you, but I just can’t.’ I’m not trying to be facetious – I just don’t know how else to explain my thoughts on this. In other words, I just don’t understand how God can both be sovereign and limited by a thing which He neither created nor could prevent.

    Help me out on this, Dr. Olson. I just can’t make sense of the Arminian response to this.
    Thanks so much.

    • rogereolson

      Have you read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities? Or Against Calvinism? In both books I make clear that the Arminian view is not that God is limited by evil but that God is self-limiting for the same of human freedom which is necessary (at least in this world) for a truly loving relationship. We talked about that in my conversation with Mike as well. Irresistible grace does not yield a relationship but a condition. It’s all well and good for you to think that your mother’s cancer was planned and willed by God for some greater good. Her suffering as well? The Holocaust? Hell? Well, if it seems good to you to believe all those things (including the kidnapping and rape and murder of little children) are planned and rendered certain by God for his glory, then there’s really nothing I or anyone else can say. We simply live on different sides of a continental divide in theology. I cannot believe eternal hell is “good” if planned and rendered certain by God for his glory. As for Augustine. Well, it depends on what you read in Augustine. Yes, he did argue that Adam and Eve fell by their own free will. Before the fall it was “possible not to sin.” Yet, in his account of divine providence, Augustine clearly believed everything that happens was planned and rendered certain by God. So I don’t know “which Augustine” to believe is the “real Augustine.” Overall, I think his view of free will was compatibilist. After his controversy with the Pelagians he did not believe in libertarian free will (as power of contrary choice).

      • Mike

        I’ve often heard this ‘self-limiting’ term used in these sorts of discussions. I don’t see how this does any better in terms of ‘getting God off the hook’. Either way, you still have a sovereign God who, at the end of the day, is permitting/sanctioning/willing/planning (pick whichever word) the Holocaust/rape of children/rapid spread of cancer throughout bodies (pick whichever evil). The fact that God freely chooses to limit himself for the sake of respecting the freedom of sinful individuals doesn’t change the reality that he is still consciously choosing to not intervene.
        I know you’ve heard all of these arguments before, and I’m certainly not putting this out there for the sake of debate – I feel like I just want a bird’s-eye view of these positions so I can decide which difficulties are less difficult to live with. I’m so exhausted by both camps saying that they’re misunderstood by the other. I’ve just yet to hear the Arminian camp openly confess that they too come to some conclusions that fare little better in terms of the ‘moral monster’ argument. It seems that many Arminians often love to hide behind the safe wall that their theology preserves God’s plainly-observable goodness, love, kindness, etc. But I don’t buy it. Because right now, this seems to be the clearest conclusion I can come to:
        Calvinist: “God permits some pretty atrocious things, but in his sovereignty and wisdom, he will use them to bring glory to his name.”
        Arminian: “God permits some pretty atrocious things, but he is forced (by himself) to allow them, because he wants to respect the freedom of humankind.”
        So does it really boil down to this? Either way, I have to live with God permitting some pretty atrocious things, and my choice is between God permitting them for the sake of the glory of his name throughout the earth, or God permitting them for the sake of respecting my freedom?

        • rogereolson

          No, you’ve missed the main difference. “God’s permission” in classical Calvinism is efficacious permission. God plans and renders certain what will happen. God’s permission in Arminianism is not efficacious and is compatible with not even wanting things to happen that do happen. I’m a teacher. I don’t want any of my students to fail the course. But some will. I permit it. Does the fact that I permit a student to fail mean that I wanted him to fail or caused him to fail? No. However, if I grade on a curve it means I render certain that some will fail. The latter is closer to Calvinism’s “God’s permission.” However, I would even take it further and say that in Calvinism, the teacher sets up students to fail (e.g., by not providing the help needed to pass) and then is said not to be responsible for their failure.

          • Mike

            I agree with you on the point that you permitting a student to fail doesn’t mean you caused it. However, if your students get up in the middle of class and incite a bloody riot and you do nothing to stop it, then I’m still left to wonder what kind of a teacher would permit such a thing. Why would you consciously choose to not intervene? And I’m not talking about efficacious permission here (which, by the way, I in no way implied in my summary of Arminianism at the end of my last post). Again, my choice seems to be between a God who can sovereignly and mysteriously work through the sinful motives and actions of humankind to bring about his divinely appointed ends, or a God who seems so hung up on being a polite gentleman that he stands idly by while letting the riots and rapes play out. I just don’t see how, when the Arminian asserts that God’s permission is not efficacious, he’s doing a better job of preserving God’s moral reputation. And you can’t tell me that the Arminian doesn’t notice this kind of mixture of sovereign permission and human freedom in the sweep of Scripture. When Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him, why do they ask him, “Is it I?” instead of resolutely deciding to not be that person? Judas was certainly within earshot when he heard that it would be better for him to have not been born, and he still went through with his betrayal. Why? Because he wanted to see the ‘Son of Man go as it is written’? Or because he freely chose?

            I unequivocally admit that Calvinism offers some difficult things to swallow. A God who effectively ‘renders certain’ many evils is difficult to understand and explain. But isn’t it also pretty difficult to understand and explain a God who just can’t seem to get what he wants because pesky humans keep on surprising him with their waywardness? Is crucifying Jesus no longer wrong simply because it is part of the ‘definite plan and foreknowledge of God’?

          • rogereolson

            Your description of God according to Arminianism shows that you have not read Arminius or any leading Arminian theologians on God’s providence. Please read my chapter on God’s sovereignty and providence in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and then describe the Arminian view as it really is rather than caricaturing it. Then we’ll talk.

          • Robert

            Mike I was going to leave this alone but you keep making these statements that are really coming from left field and I want to make a few points for you to consider.

            “I agree with you on the point that you permitting a student to fail doesn’t mean you caused it. However, if your students get up in the middle of class and incite a bloody riot and you do nothing to stop it, then I’m still left to wonder what kind of a teacher would permit such a thing. Why would you consciously choose to not intervene?”

            Seems to me Mike that you seem to want a sinless world, where sin and suffering are impossibilities.

            First of all, believers know that in fact this world will come, the book of Revelation talks about this New Heaven and New Earth where there is no suffering and sin. So let’s get that on the table first. You seem to want THAT world to come NOW. Personally I believe one of the reasons God allows certain things is that people will respond with the sincere desire for God and this world to come (i.e. one function is to draw people to Himself).

            Second, believers know (and believe) that in fact God has intervened in significant ways in this world. Take only two examples, the Exodus story in the OT and Jesus’ incarnation in the NT. So anyone who claims something dumb such as: “well your view of God leads to a God who NEVER intervenes in the world” obviously is forgetting or neglecting the testimony of the bible. It is also true that those who focus on some particular evil (say a person having cancer as you have done) and talk about God seemingly not to care or not ever intervening: MINIMIZES THE INCARNATION. Acts as if the incarnation was just a particular and singular action by God in history. When in fact it was like a nuclear bomb compared to other events being like a fire cracker. Looking at one fire cracker and then being all alarmed and alleging that God doesn’t significantly intervene unless he eliminates your particular fire cracker. Completely minimizes the Incarnation as if that was just some insignificant intervention on the part of God.

            Third, I find it interesting that a Calvinist such as yourself brings up the teacher permitting such a thing example (i.e. you bring up a scenario where the person should choose to do something, in your scenario, to choose to intervene to prevent or stop something). Interesting because according to consistent Calvinism, the form where God predetermines every event, ordains every event and every detail which occurs. We do not have free will, we never have a choice, we always and only do what God ordains us to do. So if a riot occurs in that class (God ordained THAT), if the teacher chooses not to intervene and stop it (God ordained THAT), if the teacher chooses to intervene and stop it (God ordained THAT). So in such a world where everything is ordained it is foolish to speak about people having choices (they could and should intervene). Because in fact they never have a choice ever in such a world. So if you are going to talk about a world where people could choose to either intervene or choose not to intervene, you cannot be talking about a Calvinistic world. You cannot even talk about what people would freely choose to do unless you grant that the world is not completely and exhaustively predetermined.

            Fourth you intentionally caricature the Arminian conception of God as meaning that it is as if God just stands by and does nothing: “or a God who seems so hung up on being a polite gentleman that he stands idly by while letting the riots and rapes play out.”

            Fifth, you also forget something very important about God. He does not deny himself, He does not contradict his own purposes and plans. This is important because we need to look at the original creation of God as presented in Genesis. God had a design plan for different animals, plants, angels and even mankind. Each creature was to have a certain nature, a certain set of characteristics and capacities. Birds fly, we do not fly unaided. Animals tend to do everything within a fixed nature/by instinct, people seem to have both a fixed nature or physical side as well as an element of freedom. We have the capacity to make all sorts of choices which allows for us to have education and transmission of culture. So while an animal behaves a certain way (e.g. cats meow, dogs bark), people have different languages, different cultures, different educations, etc. etc. we have no evidence that cats now behave against their nature because God changed their design plan. Similarly, we have no evidence that humans behave against the design plan that God intended for us either. And our nature includes the capacity to have and make choices. Wherever you find people you will find them having and making choices. Adam had this capacity before the fall which indicates it was part of the design plan for humans that God had.
            What this means is that if God does not deny himself, does not contradict his own purpose or design, then if his original purposes for man’s nature included the capacity to have and make choices, God is not later going to go against himself and take away this capacity to prevent things (such as a riot in your hypothetical classroom).

            Sixth, we know that this perfect and sin free world is coming and that God invites us to be part of it. So knowing this perfect sin free world is coming, why do you clamor that God must prevent all suffering and evil now, or else if he does not then according to you he just sits by like a gentlemen doing nothing?

            What kind of world do you want?

            Do you want a world where God always prevents all terminal cancers?

            Or do you want a world where no one could ever in any way be physically or psychologically abused?

            So as soon as someone raises say a hammer to strike someone, God instantly turns the hammer into spaghetti. Is that the kind of whimsical and magical world that you want? Where will you draw the line? Should God prevent only the sinful actions that impact you and your loved ones? Should God make sure that Christian never experience any suffering in this world? What should God prevent and allow according to you?

            Mike you also wrote:

            “But isn’t it also pretty difficult to understand and explain a God who just can’t seem to get what he wants because pesky humans keep on surprising him with their waywardness? “

            Who says he does not get what he wants?

            He wanted to create a good world. He did that.

            He wanted to create humans with the capacity to freely love and worship Him (if you worship one person doesn’t that mean you have to prefer or choose to prefer that person over other things and persons, and if you have that capacity to prefer one over another and the capacity to value one person over others, doesn’t that require the ability to have and make choices? And if you have that capacity to worship the true God doesn’t’ that mean you also have the capacity to engage in idolatry?): He did that.

            He wanted to set up a plan of salvation in which all who choose to trust Him can be saved and be present in the coming perfect and sin free and suffering free world: He did that.

            He wanted to come to the earth as a man and provide an atonement for all men: He did that.

            What do you mean that he “just can’t seem to get what he wants”?

            You add that he can’t get what he wants “because pesky humans keep on surprising him with their waywardness?” What is your basis for saying that? Just because he has not brought the perfect and sinless world yet, he is not doing enough according to you???

            If God foreknows everything as all orthodox Christians across all traditions affirm, then how is God “surprised” by our sinfulness?

            Perhaps if you have an open theist conception of God, God is surprised how things go. If you have a non-open theist conception of God then God foreknows all events.

            “Again, my choice seems to be between a God who can sovereignly and mysteriously work through the sinful motives and actions of humankind to bring about his divinely appointed ends,”

            Wait a minute, Arminians believe that. Arminians believe that God sovereignly and mysteriously works by sometimes using the sinful motives and actions of humankind (e.g. those who planned and carried out the crucifixion of Jesus) to bring about his divinely appointed ends (again the cross of Jesus being the best example of this).

            “or a God who seems so hung up on being a polite gentleman that he stands idly by while letting the riots and rapes play out.”
            And there is your caricature of Arminian theology. We don’t’ believe that God stands by idly. He does a lot (even if that does not include what certain people want him to do). But in doing what he does he will not contradict his own purposes. So he will not eliminate the capacity of people to have and make choices in order to eliminate even the possibility of a sinful choice NOW.

            Robert

        • John Inglis

          I don’t see how believing that God rendered certain that one’s mother suffers and dies from cancer is more comforting than the Arminian alternative. The Arminian alternative is that all such evil is of evil origin and not of God, nor made certain by God. Evil occurs in this present age because God allows evil beings to do it and allows the earth to remain corrupted, but He has determined that at some point the evil will end.

          Hence my own mother’s illnesses were not rendered certain by a meticulously sovereign God, but permitted to be for a short time (this age) by a self-limiting sovereign God.

          Just because the Arminian described God does not defeat all evil in this age does not make him weak or impotent, though Jesus did look weak in death and we still have evil. The Arminian described God is powerful because He will end this age and renew all things, including our bodies.

          In the meantime, does one want to worship a God who appears to be evil by determining that my mother WILL get sick because of His determining it? or does one want to worship a God who appears to be weak, but who currently works through weakness and will defeat all evil by his power through Jesus at the end of the age?

          Furthermore, what hope is there in Calvinism for current evils? Whether or not one prays for an end to sickness, what will be will be. Moreover, whether one even prays for the sickness to be gone has been determined. With a meticulous God each moment has been independently determined by God and is not causally related to the foregoing except in that one event precedes another in time.

          With an Arminian described God, one’s prayers may indeed affect God (and thus they are so described in the Bible) and result in him doing something (true causal relation). That God foreknows both the prayer and His response, does not affect the causal relationship between the two events.

          John

          • Mike

            Hey John,
            I appreciate your response, and it really does help me to understand this position a bit clearer.

            It seems like the deeper people go in this discussion (I’m particularly thinking about God’s sovereignty), we have to admit that there are no human categories in which we can place some of these concepts. I suppose the thing I find a little disconcerting is how some (not all) Arminians seem to act as though their conception of God is without any real problems. How prayer works, how God’s sovereignty works, the purpose of evil – there’s a simple and comprehensible answer for it all. Calvinists, however, are apparently logically inconsistent monster worshipers.

            The self-limiting God you describe sounds dangerously close to the deist’s god – he has a hands-off approach. Mind you, he rectifies all things at the end of the age, but until then he limits himself.

            Fair enough. But how then do you explain what God decides to permit? If you say, ‘Some things, and not others,’ then that sounds like a meticulous God. If you say, ‘He lets the natural world, complete with evils and disease, run its course,’ then that’s deism.

            Some of the things you mentioned in describing your view are things I fully agree with: God allowing corruption for a time, promising that it will someday end; God renewing all things at the end of the age, including our bodies. Amen and amen. Please don’t think Calvinists don’t glory in those wonderful things.

            However, the places where we disagree are places where I just can’t follow your biblical or logical reasoning. Doesn’t Jesus state clearly that God knows what we need before we ask him? Didn’t Jesus pray earnestly to the Father, all the while submitting to the Father’s will? The view of prayer that says that its nothing more than me notifying God of what he needs to do is incredibly shallow in my estimation. Where’s the fellowship? The humble desire to be changed through prayer itself? And no, I don’t think I want to worship a God who appears to be weak. This is not to mention (as I pointed out in my last post) that the entire sweep of Scripture is replete with God working through sinful motives and actions to his ends and for his glory.

            Again, none of this addresses the key issue, which is that Arminians are no better in getting God off the ‘moral monster’ hook. The only way they can do that is by collapsing into deism. You can talk about efficacious permission and self-limiting all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that God willfully chose to create a world in which great evil is possible. Now, did he do this because human freedom (complete with the power to abuse it) is essential to meaningful relationship? Sure! But I think it’s much, much more than that as well.

            I really do find this conversation helpful, so thanks.

          • Robert

            Mike wrote:

            “I suppose the thing I find a little disconcerting is how some (not all) Arminians seem to act as though their conception of God is without any real problems.”

            The Arminian view does not have any problems with its conception of God. This is true because its conception of God corresponds with the things that God reveals about Himself in the bible. Furthermore, The conception of Arminians about God’s character is the same as that held by Catholics and eastern Orthodox. Christians agree about the character of God and that conception has never been a problem. Calvinism however, if true, presents God as doing things that contradict and do not fit with the things God reveals about Himself in the bible.

            “How prayer works, how God’s sovereignty works,”

            I don’t have to understand HOW God does things, so I don’t have to understand HOW prayer works. I know how sovereignty works (i.e. God does as He pleases). And I don’t have to understand or agree with why God does one thing in one situation and another thing in another situation (again that is simply God being sovereign, which is another biblical concept, i.e. that He does as He pleases in line with his character and purposes).

            “the purpose of evil – there’s a simple and comprehensible answer for it all.”

            No one said that Arminians or any other believers have **all** the answers. No one claimed that we fully understand everything about God or why He does what He does. That being said, the problem is not with what God reveals of himself or his plan of salvation in scripture. The problem is with the false and unbiblical Calvinist theology that ends up leading to division, confusion, and maligns God’s character by its claims of what God does.

            “Calvinists, however, are apparently logically inconsistent monster worshipers.”

            Actually you’ve got that opposite what Roger and others claim. The claim is that Calvinists are genuine believers who worship the true God (hence Calvinists do not worship the devil nor do they knowingly worship a monster), the same God of Arminians, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers.

            The claim that you don’t’ seem to understand and which really bothers you, is that Calvinistic theology if consistent and true, leads to God doing things that if he did them reflects the actions of a moral monster.

            “The self-limiting God you describe sounds dangerously close to the deist’s god – he has a hands-off approach. Mind you, he rectifies all things at the end of the age, but until then he limits himself.”

            Allow me to use an illustration to make a point about God’s “self-limitation”.

            Imagine a man who is 6 ft 4 inches tall, weighs about 240 lbs, has been lifting weights and playing sports for years. He is also a black belt in martial arts. He has a six year old daughter who sometimes likes to wrestle with him. Now if he went full out, did not limit or restrain himself at all, he could easily kill or seriously injure his daughter. But he limits himself, restrains himself, does not go full out when wrestling his daughter, in order to have genuine interaction with his daughter.

            Now that is just a mere man interacting with his daughter: how much more is the difference between God and man when it comes to this possibility of interaction?

            Fact is, God has to limit himself quite a bit or we would be destroyed instantly.

            What would happen if God just revealed himself to all of us with no restraints at all?
            We would all be dead instantly.

            Doesn’t the bible explicitly say that in our present condition No man can see God and live? Apparently you don’t take this bible passage seriously enough in your thinking concerning God’s “self-limitation”. If you did, you would acknowledge that God has to limit himself in some way or we would all die instantly. So God limits himself and then you complain that God does not eliminate all suffering and evil NOW.

            Instead of trusting in God and his plan which he has revealed, you end up sounding no different than a non-believing skeptic. They also constantly complaining and questioning why God allows X, Y and Z.

            “Fair enough. But how then do you explain what God decides to permit? If you say, ‘Some things, and not others,’ then that sounds like a meticulous God. If you say, ‘He lets the natural world, complete with evils and disease, run its course,’ then that’s deism.”

            You present a false dilemma here (either deism or “meticulous God” views).

            (1) Deism is not Christianity (that is the **no** intervention view).

            The (3) Christian view is that God is sovereign and does as He pleases so he intervenes sometimes and sometimes he does not (and that is completely up to Him). You say that “sounds like a meticulous God”, but actually it is not the “meticulous God” view it is the biblical view.

            The (2) “meticulous God” view is that God decides every detail beforehand and so everything is prescripted. So you just hope that you are lucky enough to have been chosen to be a believer (God could have just as easily chosen a scenario where you were not chosen for salvation, because it has nothing to do with a personal love for you, and everything to do with which particular scenario God decided to actualize as he fully prescripted world that he wanted. THAT is Calvinism, that is not biblical, that leads to the conclusion that everything that happens is precisely God’s will. I reject both (1) and (2) and hold to (3).

            “Some of the things you mentioned in describing your view are things I fully agree with: God allowing corruption for a time, promising that it will someday end; God renewing all things at the end of the age, including our bodies. Amen and amen. Please don’t think Calvinists don’t glory in those wonderful things.”

            So if you agree that God is allowing corruption for a time and that it will someday end: why do you then sound like a skeptic and complain about how God should eliminate all evils and all suffering NOW?? Why did you bring up the cancer of a person important to you as something God should prevent NOW?

            “However, the places where we disagree are places where I just can’t follow your biblical or logical reasoning. Doesn’t Jesus state clearly that God knows what we need before we ask him?”

            Yes, because God knows what you will ask beforehand (that is called foreknowledge). Furthermore, some prayers involve out actions and God’s actions, so they are part of the means to a particular outcome or end. Then of course God desires relationship with us and one of the greatest ways for the believer to engage in relationship with God is through prayer. Frankly, you sound like a skeptic again here.

            “Didn’t Jesus pray earnestly to the Father, all the while submitting to the Father’s will? The view of prayer that says that its nothing more than me notifying God of what he needs to do is incredibly shallow in my estimation. Where’s the fellowship? The humble desire to be changed through prayer itself?”

            If God preprograms everything, so we only and always do what he preprogrammed and preplanned for us to do: then how is there ever genuine fellowship and interaction between God and man? If all is prescripted and you don’t pray (God prescripted that). If all is prescripted and you do pray (God prescripted that). If you do pray whatever words you pray were not chosen by you, but were prescripted by God for you to say. True fellowship and personal interaction between God and man, would only exist if everything was not prescripted, in a word if the “meticulous God” view were false.

            “And no, I don’t think I want to worship a God who appears to be weak. This is not to mention (as I pointed out in my last post) that the entire sweep of Scripture is replete with God working through sinful motives and actions to his ends and for his glory.”

            You really seem stuck on this: God is weak unless Calvinism is true nonsense. But the fact is the greatest works of God (God creating the world, God sustaining the world in its moment by moment existence, God raising Jesus from the dead, God bringing a new transformed world where there is no more sin or suffering, God raising all of the dead, etc. etc. are all things believed by all genuine Christians most of which are NOT CALVINISTS, in fact one need not believe or accept calvinism to believe any of these things).

            “Again, none of this addresses the key issue, which is that Arminians are no better in getting God off the ‘moral monster’ hook. The only way they can do that is by collapsing into deism. You can talk about efficacious permission and self-limiting all you want, but that doesn’t change the fact that God willfully chose to create a world in which great evil is possible. Now, did he do this because human freedom (complete with the power to abuse it) is essential to meaningful relationship? Sure! But I think it’s much, much more than that as well.”

            You also seem hung up on the false claim that God is a moral monster under both Arminianism and Calvinism. This is not true because if Calvinistic theology is true, then God does things that the God of the bible due to his character would not engage in (e.g. like reprobating most of the human race, prescripting their every sin, then judging them for being the sinners he made them to be at the final judgment and then eternally punishing them for doing and being exactly what he predetermined and ensured they would be, a person who does this to others is hateful and malicious and cruel to the extreme, what could be more hateful than doing THIS to people??). If the bible is true then God’s character is awesome, he really does love, really is compassionated, does not play games with people or reprobate people as is true under Calvinism.

            Robert

          • John Inglis

            Good reply, Mike, thanks for the discussion.

            I don’t agree that with the statement, “‘He lets the natural world, complete with evils and disease, run its course,’ then that’s deism.”

            If we take as a given that God is omnipotent, then at any moment God could end the entire universe. Or he could stop every landslide, volcano and earthquage before they start. Or he could stop every bullet and knife from ending a life.

            But God does not, on any orthodox Christian view. How then do we account for the presence of evil?

            We not only see evil, but also the good and direct acts of God who did part the Red Sea, healed many through Jesus and the apostles, and still heals and provides other extraordinary spiritual gifts or graces today.

            The most Biblical way of understanding this is, I suggest, the line championed by G.E. Ladd: we now live in the already / not yet. We already experience some of the first fruits of Christ coming and overcoming the Satan, but we do not yet experience the full blessing of the renewed heaven, earth and physical bodies.

            The Old Testament saints, living before Christ, experienced even less of God’s coming victory over evil, though they still did experience the direct handiwork of God.

            Letting evil run its course temporarily does not, however, entail deism–the completely hands off God. Just as I let my children run around and do their own thing most of the time does not mean that I don’t pull them back out of traffic, or grab their hand when they are about to hit their brothers. My children don’t experience me “deistically” just because I don’t constantly make direct interventions in their lives. They experience both the consequences of their evil deeds and the evil of this world, and also the grace of me saving them from some of theses evils.

            The reason that a Calvinist view of this already/not yet experience is inexorably evil and monstrous, is that it does not posit a moral source for evil other than God himself (in the sense that the Bible portrays as moral). Everything is alsways determined by God.

            Arminians, however, see humans as original sources of action that are independent of God. That is, evil can originate in humans independently of God. That is, God is not the only original source and cause of actions. Of course, this is challenged by Calvinists and determinists as being illogical and nonsensical (how can we initiate anything without a prior cause, etc.), but the same criticisms they make of origination in humans can be made of God (at which point they retreat into obscurantism, though they sugar coat it as “mystery”).

            The self limitation of God is not, therefore, that he never interacts with his creation, but that he has given parts of creation the ability to be the first source / cause / originator of their own actions–a.k.a. free will. If this is then true, then it is not possible for God to determine these freely willed decisions, but only possible for God to know them.

            Of course it is important to note that not all decisions need to be free willed, nor that every decision and action be completely free–any mixture of free, unfree, or partially (un)free decisions will still provide the necessary room for a self-willed origination of sin.

            Arminians are challenged on the possibility of a God in time knowing a future free decision, but there are responses that seek to make sense of this (God is also still outside of time, or the future is might/might not rather than will/will not, or the future doesn’t exist, or its mysterious, etc.).

            It is also not fair to charge that this makes us authors of our own salvation by a free choice for God. Arminianism can accommodate alternate, Biblical descriptions and even total depravity. If we are not capable of choosing God and seeking him out, then the Arminian can rely on the prior act of God in drawing all people to Himself (prevenient grace). God is actively drawing us to him, with the result that we will be saved unless we actively resist from our own evil intentions (i.e., intentions that only have their source in us and not in God) and so reject the indwelling of the Spirit.

            This approach dovetails with God’s revelation of himself in his inspired word, where we read that children are not guilty of the sins of their fathers (Ezekiel) and where God presents a choice to the Israelites to follow him or not (Deuteronomy). Calvinists must take these words allegorically or metaphorically or mysteriously, but not literally.

            Prayer can be dealt with similarly (e.g., no orthodox Arminian believes that we have to notify God of anything, etc.), but this reply post is long enough.

            cheers,
            John

          • rogereolson

            I love your and Robert’s defenses of Arminianism. (I don’t mean that you two agree about everything.) I am coming to rely on both of you to respond to Calvinist arguments brought here. That’s so I can work on my book and create new posts rather than spend all my time repeating things I’ve already said many times (and in Against Calvinism). Both of you come up with new ways of expressing classical Arminianism and fending off arguments against it that help me. I wish I had some of your comments to use when I wrote Against Calvinism! Thanks for being such helpful allies. (Again, that’s not to sweep aside things about which we disagree.)

          • John Inglis

            Thank you, Roger, for allowing commenters like Robert and me to reply with longer posts (though I do try not to go on and on), and for allowing us to repeat things that you’ve said elsewhere.

            I learn, and remember better, by working through answers to questions posters ask (often they are quite good) and then, since I’ve worked through an answer, I figure I may as well post it.

            I’ve also used posting to learn how to post, and I’ve become much more irenic over time and better able to anticipate potential reactions to how I might phrase things (who really wants a flame war?).

            I would also like to give my appreciation to the other people who post here. It is one of the few theologically challenging blogs that seldom gets overheated or hijacked. The posters generally seem eager to dialogue and learn.

            cheers, and good luck with your book.

            J.

    • Bob Kundrat

      Mike, I know this comment was months ago but I wondered if you ever found any satisfactory answers. As I read what I genuinely believe you were attempting to communicate I was very sympathetic. I lean Calvinist for sure and I see the issues with Calivinism. At the same time I read many of what I consider to be the good Arminian authors, like Dr. Olson, in order to understand Arminianism so as to not misrepresent it. Yet in doing so I see issues in Arminianism as you have already stated them. Yet it seems that Arminians in the course of this thread anyway aren’t willing to admit that they have any problem areas in their view. I wonder if and what an Arminian might be willing to admit is a problem area for their view.

      • rogereolson

        If you’ve read deeply enough in this blog (many past posts and discussions) you would see that I and other Arminians here have often admitted that Arminianism has problem areas. I have stated many times that one chooses the theology with the least problems or with the problems one can live with (when Scripture is not as clear as we wish it were). In my experience, it is the new crop of “young, restless, Reformed” Christians and their mentors who are reluctant, even unwilling, to admit their theology has problems. I have never heard of aggressive Arminians going out and trying to recruit converts by claiming Arminianism is the “the only” biblical theology. This happens routinely on especially Christian college campuses and in churches.

  • Troy

    Robert Shank, in “Elect in the Son,” pointed out that to say God “passes over” the reprobate and individuals he never intended to give necessary grace to believe unto everlasting life, makes Him out to be exactly like the priest and Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan–both of whom saw one wounded and half dead, but passed by him. Though at the conclusion of the parable, Jesus told them to go and be like the good Samaritan, and have compassion. Yet ironically, Calvinism’s picture is just the opposite. Strange. Cold. Uncaring.

    • John Inglis

      Great point. Thanks.

  • Bev Mitchell

    On re- reading, my comment above probably needs some unpacking as well. It certainly is more abrupt than intended. I think this piece is one of your clearest on the misunderstandings among Calvinists and Arminians. But, when I got to the part re God knowing absolutely everything as fixed, I had my usual problem with the idea, and your quick, highly packaged summary comment gave me the same reaction Michael Horton showed, though probably for different reasons. I looked up one of your 2010 blog statements on Open Theism and see that you too feel it’s too early for many evangelicals to take on such a big sea change. Unfortunately, you are probably correct. However, something in this direction will probably be necessary if we are to seriously consider rather well established facts that have emerged and are ever more rapidly emerging from all kinds of physical and biological investigations – not to mention history, anthropology and archaeology.

    In this regard, are you considering  reviewing/commenting on Pete Enns’ new book “The Evolution of Adam”? I haven’t read it yet but, judging from his earlier work, it should be very good, if provocative for the community. It would be great to know your thoughts on his ideas.

    • rogereolson

      Another book to add to my “must read” list! Thanks. I’ll try to get around to it. Right now I’m writing a book and it’s taking most of my reading (researching) energy and time. But I will keep Ens’s book in mind.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I now have a working hypothesis that Calvinism believes in a zero sum game while A does not. Calvinism offsets the bad side of humans with increases in g0d’s glory, but they miss out on the opportunity to have both man’s, and god’s glory increase.

    I believe that god works with an everyone wins agenda.

    • John Inglis

      Or is it that there is a minimal amount of evil and minimal number of people in hell that must occur in order for justice to be displayed?

      The other side would be focussed on a maximum rather than a minimum. That is, the maximal amount of love that could be shown by rescuing creation and saving humankind.

      There may be some sort of relationship along the lines of some of Plantinga’s discussion of evil, wherein if any more love were shown (i.e., more people saved) then one would not be able to attain the minimum number of people that must be in hell in order to display justice.

      Or, from a Calvinist so-called “antinomy” point of view, both numbers / amounts are determined independently by God for reasons (or none) that we may never know.

      John

  • http://www.eric-michael.com EricMichaelSay

    I’m always confused as to why God foreordained such conversations about Gods foreknowledge…

    • rogereolson

      Funny. Yes, this is a Calvinist “conundrum.” Why have anything but patience or even pleasure in the face of doctrinal error (if you’re a Calvinist)? After all, even heresy was foreordained by God for his glory. Thus, heresy glorifies God. Why fight against it? Okay, a Calvinist will say that fighting heresy is also God’s foreordained means to the foreordained end of upholding orthodoxy. But why, if you’re a Calvinist, feel any kind of horror or indignation or even consternation in the face of…anything? If it’s all predestined by God for his glory, then all of it is…what? Good? Why not? I think divine determinism has only one logical outcome in terms of psychology–Stoicism.

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

    I have been reading Nathaniel Taylor (per Doughlas Sweeney’s book on him) on moral government. It seems to me that the second and third generations of Edwardseans tried to do something that is important to Arminians, introduce real moral categories into soteriology. Without any strong working definition of prevenient grace, the Calvinist soteriology comes down to a more arbitrary scheme of salvation without any significant place for moral suasion. God saves some because he merely wills it to be so for his own glory. That’s it. That’s about all there is. People are not really choosers in any normal sense of the word, the power of contrary choice. Keeping this dynamic alive seems to be part of the work of the Arminian. In Calvinism it is as if we are talking to logs, inanimate objects. This is one of Nathaniel Taylor’s constant points. VanTil’s apologetics is the outworking of this. For him there is no point of contact between the Christian and unbeliever. There is no real moral dialogue going on, only the call for repentance. Sproul rejects VanTil’s approach, but there remains a view of others which feels condescending, as if we are not talking to real, active moral agents, all of whom by the grace of God are enabled to sustain moral reasoning and make moral choices. Certainly Arminians are more optimistic in their anthropology than Calvinists, an optimistism based on the preceding grace of God that raises up the unbeliever to the noble state of “chooser”. The Calvinist feels we have already stepped over a line here, giving people too much credit and dignity. This creates a “culture of condescension” that I struggled with during my years in Calvinism.

    • rogereolson

      I agree with it all, of course, but I would not go so far as Nathaniel Taylor in rejecting total depravity.

  • CarolJean

    “He foreknows BECAUSE what he foreknows will happen. Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow. ” Do you explain this more fully in any of your books?

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t. If you have access to I. A. Dorner, look into his idea of God’s immutability. Ultimately, I suspect, this will be a mystery. But the only alternative is to think that God’s foreknowledge is determinative.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger: “God doesn’t “foreknow” as in “foresee what will happen IF he creates.” He foreknows BECAUSE what he foreknows will happen. Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow.”

    Say what? Pardon me, but I’m scratching my head trying to figure this one out.

    • rogereolson

      Don’t scratch too hard! You’ll hurt yourself. :) What alternative is there (that doesn’t make God’s foreknowledge determinative)?

    • Robert

      Hello Ivan,

      Some points to consider.

      First, if a future event will actually happen, can we agree that it will not involve a contradiction being actualized? For example, Alvin Plantinga is going to give a talk next Sunday. Say that I choose to attend and hear Plantinga next Sunday. Can we agree (assuming that Plantinga delivers this talk next Sunday) that I will either choose to hear him and attend or choose not to attend? Do you agree that I cannot BOTH be there and hear him and not be there and hear him at the same time? My point is that the future will involve actual outcomes (not what could happen, but what will in fact happen).

      Second, when we speak of God foreknowing a future event (at least this is the view of most Christians throughout church history, not including Calvinists or open theists): we are talking about God’s knowledge of actual outcomes/what will in fact take place.

      Third, the Calvinist understanding of foreknowledge is that God foreknows what will happen because he ordained it (and events only occur if God ordains them and then ensures that they take place by controlling all circumstances to ensure the outcome). Dr. Olson refers to this as God knowledge is determinative of what will happen (or God’s knowledge causes the future event to occur). Arminians on the other hand, do not believe that God’s foreknowledge CAUSES the future event to occur. Instead, God’s knowledge **corresponds with** what will in fact occur (so if I will in fact go to hear Plantinga next Sunday, then God foreknows that I will go to hear Plantinga next Sunday, if I do not go hear Plantinga next Sunday, then God foreknows that I will not go to hear Plantinga next Sunday, either way God’s foreknowledge CORRESPONDS with BUT DOES NOT CAUSE what will in fact happen in the future). For Arminians and other Christians who believe in foreknowledge in this way, God’s knowledge does not cause these future events to take place, but instead corresponds to what will take place.

      A few years back when OJ Simpson was leading the Los Angeles Police down the Los Angeles freeways, this “chase” was televised live on Television and I saw it as it was happening. So I knew what Simpson was doing, but did my knowledge which was true and corresponded with what was actually happening, CAUSE HIM TO DO WHAT HE WAS DOING? No, likewise God knows what we have done, are doing and will do, but his knowledge does not cause us to do what we do. Hope that helps,

      Robert

      • rogereolson

        Very good. Thank you. I like the language of “corresponding with.”

        • Robert

          “Very good. Thank you. I like the language of “corresponding with.””

          Glad to see that you appreciate this way of talking about the relation between God’s foreknowledge of an event and the event itself.

          God’s knowledge is not causative when it comes to the event. God’s knowledge does not cause the event. Rather, God’s knowledge (which is a belief about the event) corresponds with the event. So it is not true that God’s knowledge causes the future event to take place, nor is it true that the future event causes God’s knowledge. That is a category mistake.

          The relation between God’s knowledge and the event is not causal but LOGICAL. In other words: do His beliefs CORRESPOND WITH these future events? If they are correct beliefs, then they do correspond with these future events.

          Many people failing to make this distinction between a causal and logical relation end up saying crazy things such as: “but if God’s foreknowledge depends upon the event, then God is no longer independent of His creation, God becomes dependent upon the event, rather than vice versa. . . So your view of foreknowledge makes God dependent upon the creation and God is never dependent like that!” This type of statement which is quite common, mistakenly frames it as a causal relation (the future event causes God’s knowledge). When it should instead be framed as a logical relation (the belief that God has about a future event corresponds to what in fact will take place).

          That is why I gave the watching Simpson on the freeway example in my previous post. My belief that it was happening corresponded with the fact that it was really happening: but my true belief did not cause the event to occur nor did the event I was watching cause my true belief.

          Robert

      • John Inglis

        I disagree that the future is necessarily actual. It could be thus, (1) at any present time the future is only possible and not actual. Yes, ’tis true that at the time when the future becomes present, then it will be actual. Or it could be the case as argued by Robert that (2) what is actual includes the future because there is no sense in which the future could ever be, or have been, other than what it turns out to be when it becomes the present. In this latter view, the truth value of a future event is taken as a simple truth (in philosophy speak, “truth simplicitor”).

        The point being that Robert’s view is not philosophically necessary and that there are alternative understandings of the future that are valid and consistent with an Arminian perspective. Note also that view “(1)” does not necessarily entail that God does not know the future, but only entails that the knowledge that God possesses of the future is not a knowledge of actualities as simple truths.

        The view expressed by Robert is that time is bivalent, that is, any statement about a time is either true or false. This view gives rise to the following fatalist series of propositions:

        (1) There exist now propositions about everything that might happen in the future.
        (2) Every proposition is either true or else false.
        (3) If (1) and (2), then there exists now a set of true propositions that, taken together, correctly predict everything that will happen in the future.
        (4) If there exists now a set of true propositions that, taken together, correctly predict everything that will happen in the future, then whatever will happen in the future is already unavoidable.
        (5) Whatever will happen in the future is already unavoidable.

        Of course, these propositions can be challenged, especially nos. 2 & 4.

        It is also possible to take a non-bivalent view of future time–as is the case with many (but not all) open theists.

        For Arminians, however, these issues are not germaine to God’s revelation. What is key is the proposition that God knows the future as he created it to be understood (before time was created, God was timeless, and there was no such thing as the future). Arminians are free to discuss and understand the unpacking of that proposition in different ways.

        John

        test test

        • Robert

          Hello John,

          I would make the point that a distinction must be made between:

          (1A) = the future being actual NOW (it is not actual, does not now exist, as it has not yet occurred, though it is known to God before it occurs);

          And

          (2A) = the claim that there will be an actual future (a set of events that will in fact occur in the future).

          I do not affirm (1A) though I do affirm (2A).

          “I disagree that the future is necessarily actual.”

          If you disagree with (1A) then I agree with you.

          If you disagree with (2A) then I disagree with you.
          I want people to keep these two different notions in mind.

          “It could be thus, (1) at any present time the future is only possible and not actual.”

          That does not make sense to me. At the present time, if there is going to be a future, though that set of future events is not actual now (2A above), it will be actual in the future when it takes place. The only way there could be at the present time only a possible future is if God had decided to end everything at some point in time. But he tells us there will be an eternal state and tells us about some of the features of this future, so there will in fact be a future with those characteristics.

          “Yes, ’tis true that at the time when the future becomes present, then it will be actual.”

          That is a common sense notion that I agree with (i.e. when a future event becomes actualized “then it will be actual”).

          “Or it could be the case as argued by Robert that (2) what is actual includes the future because there is no sense in which the future could ever be, or have been, other than what it turns out to be when it becomes the present.”

          You seem to be misrepresenting my view here. I do not claim that “what is actual (NOW) includes the future. The set of future events that will occur is not in existence now (except as known in the mind of God).

          You go on to say that: “because there is no sense in which the future could ever be, or have been, other than what it turns out to be when it becomes the present.”

          Now THAT I would agree with, that there will be a future and that that future cannot be other than what it “turns out to be when it becomes the present.”

          Take a trivial example. A friend Joe is either going to work next Wednesday (Feb 15 2012) or he is not. If he does not go to work next Wednesday, then the future will include the fact that next Wednesday when that Wednesday becomes the present, he will not be present at work. If he does go to work next Wednesday, then the future will include the fact that next Wednesday when that Wednesday becomes the present, he will be present at work. He will actually either go to work next Wednesday or not go to work next Wednesday. So the future, next Wednesday, Feb 15 2012, will include one of (but not both) of those two possibilities. One of those possibilities will become actualized as the actual present on Feb 15 2012, and the other will not. The possibility which does in fact becomes actualized is THE ACTUAL FUTURE. Now that actual future may not be present now and may known only to God, but it will in fact occur. The only way neither of those two possibilities could occur is if there will be no future, if God just eliminated everything instantly before that time frame comes. Most of us assume that there will be a future, so most of us assume that when next Wednesday comes, Joe will either go to work or not go to work. He won’t be doing both, he will do one of the other. The one that he does is the actual future which God foreknows.

          “ In this latter view, the truth value of a future event is taken as a simple truth (in philosophy speak, “truth simplicitor”).”

          It is a simple truth, quite commonsensical, some events will occur in the future or they will not.

          Again keep in mind the distinction between the future being actual NOW (it is not actual, as it has not yet occurred) and the claim that there will be an actual future (what will in fact occur in the future).

          “The point being that Robert’s view is not philosophically necessary and that there are alternative understandings of the future that are valid and consistent with an Arminian perspective.”

          There may be alternatives, but not every understanding of the future is “valid and consistent with an Arminian perspective.” For example, Arminians reject open theist conceptions of the future. I don’t care if someone wants to hold to the open theist conception of the future, just don’t say you are Arminian then or claim that Arminians hold this view.

          I am only, as far as I can tell, espousing the common sense and ordinary notion that most people in our culture have concerning the future. This is the understanding that (A) the past has already occurred, (B) we are now in the present, and (C) the future consists of events that have not yet occurred but will occur. In addition to the notion that these future events have not yet occurred is the notion that if an event is part of the actual future it will in fact occur.

          “Note also that view “(1)” does not necessarily entail that God does not know the future, but only entails that the knowledge that God possesses of the future is not a knowledge of actualities as simple truths.”

          My view is simple and held again by most Christians throughout church history: it is the view that God knows everything. So he knows all possibilities and all actualities (i.e. what did in fact occur, what is in fact occurring and what will in fact occur). Since he knows what will in fact occur (i.e. the actual future that will take place, he has foreknowledge of that future).

          “The view expressed by Robert is that time is bivalent, that is, any statement about a time is either true or false. This view gives rise to the following fatalist series of propositions:
          (1) There exist now propositions about everything that might happen in the future.
          (2) Every proposition is either true or else false.
          (3) If (1) and (2), then there exists now a set of true propositions that, taken together, correctly predict everything that will happen in the future.
          (4) If there exists now a set of true propositions that, taken together, correctly predict everything that will happen in the future, then whatever will happen in the future is already unavoidable.
          (5) Whatever will happen in the future is already unavoidable.
          Of course, these propositions can be challenged, especially nos. 2 & 4.”

          I have dealt with the compatibility of exhaustive divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will elsewhere , see here: http://evangelicalarminians.org/?q=outcomes-foreknowledge-freewill

          So I will not elaborate about it here in this post. I will say only here that my view does not give “rise to the following fatalist series of propositions”.

          “It is also possible to take a non-bivalent view of future time–as is the case with many (but not all) open theists.”

          Of course it is possible to make that choice, but is that the right choice to make?

          It is not an Arminian choice.

          And I reject Open theism primarily because it appears to me that the bible (properly interpreted) presents God has having knowing of the future (including freely made choices that will in fact be made in the future).

          “For Arminians, however, these issues are not germaine to God’s revelation. What is key is the proposition that God knows the future as he created it to be understood (before time was created, God was timeless, and there was no such thing as the future). Arminians are free to discuss and understand the unpacking of that proposition in different ways.”

          True, but it needs to be noted that open theism is not Arminianism. Arminians “unpack” things in such a way that they affirm that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events: open theists do not share this way of “unpacking” things. John I am not bothered if you want to espouse open theism (though I believe open theism to be mistaken), just be accurate, fair, and be forthright that open theism *****is not***** Arminian.

          Robert

          • rogereolson

            I believe that open theism is a version of Arminianism just as supralapsarianism is a version of Calvinism in spite of what Sproul says about it.

          • John Inglis

            A few comments:

            (1) As to whether some varieties of so-called Open Theism can be included within the family of Arminianism broadly understood–I would include Molinism as a species of Arminianism–I have posted below (search for “February 10″ and you’ll eventually find it). Note that the issue of knowledge of the future is a general one that applies to reformation orthodoxy in general, and not to Arminianism in particular (i.e., both Calvinism and Arminianism hold to exhaustive foreknowledge). So if one takes Robert’s view of Open Theism (which I do not), then it is more proper to say that that view is unorthodox, rather than claiming it’s particularly un-Arminian.

            (2) Note that I did not say that the fatalist propositions were inevitable, only that the can arise from certain other assertions, and I noted that there are possible defeaters. My point was that Robert’s assertions are not without their own problems.

            (3) There is a bit of ships passing in the night as regards the use of the term “actual”. I meant it in the limited sense of equal validity of frames of reference on a time line, that each frame is equally real in that each is immutable–unchangeable. It is in this sense that the future, on an eternalist view of the ontology of time, is just as actual as the present (or past, even).

            Robert points out that the future hasn’t happened yet and is therefore not “actual” like the present. That is a different sense, one that depends on the point of reference of the observer along the timeline. That is, at one point Joe views his going to work as the “future”, at another point he views it as “present”, and at still another as “past”.

            Whether Robert’s views are true depends on whether one takes an eternalist or presentist view of the ontology (beingness) of time, whether one subscribes to an A-, B- or C-theory of time, whether one believes that time is symmetrical or assymetrical, and whether time is just an artifact of our biological processing of information.

            These things are useful and necessary to explore, but they are secondary to basic Arminianism. Arminians can disagree about them and still remain Arminian.

            Furthermore, though it is possible for an Open Theist to believe in God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future, it could also be that this doctrine–like that of impassibility–is one that falls within the scope of requiring reanalysis to be more Biblical and less captive to the philosophies of the time it was developed.
            semper reformada

            regards,
            John

          • Robert

            Hello Roger,

            “I believe that open theism is a version of Arminianism just as supralapsarianism is a version of Calvinism in spite of what Sproul says about it.”

            I don’t agree with you on this Roger.

            Supralapsarian and infralapsarian Calvinists do and would recognize their counterparts as fellow Calvinists.

            I do not think the same is true with Arminians regarding open theism as fellow Arminians.

            The soteriology is very similar, and I believe that conventional Arminians and Open theists hold similar views concerning God’s character and the issue of man’s free will. But due to the open theist’s conception of “foreknowledge” (they deny it as understood by other believers, they redefine the nature of the future) the views of providence and God’s knowledge are substantially and significantly different.

            From my reading of open theists they themselves also distance themselves from Arminian theology and say in their writings that Arminians are mistaken in their views. Open theist philosopher William Hasker in multiple published writings attacks the “simple foreknowledge” view which is the standard view among Arminians. Calvinists like to lump open theists with Arminians as this makes Arminianism an easier target for them, they believe.

            For these reasons it seems to me that we should differentiate the three groups (Arminians, Calvinists, and Open Theists).

            Now important disclaimer here. My separating Open Theists from Arminians does not mean that they are not to be seen as believers, that they are to be seen as heretics, that they are lesser Christians, etc. All of these uncharitable and false descriptions are unacceptable.

            Robert

          • rogereolson

            If I’m not mistaken, I believe Sproul has said (perhaps in What Is Reformed Theology?) that supralapsarianism is not true Calvinism. My view of Arminianism is a “big tent” view. I am inclined to accept as Arminians any who claim to be Arminians and who believe in the basic tenets of Arminianism whatever the “add ons” might be (so long as they do not contradict the distinctive beliefs of classical Arminianism about salvation). Thus, as I have said here before, I accept Adventists as Arminians (so long as they do not deny salvation by grace alone through faith alone). There is variety within Arminianism over several issues such as whether it is possible for a saved person to become fully, entirely sanctified before death. I think most open theists are Arminians even if not “classical” Arminians.

        • http://ersatz-systems.com C james

          When these 14 expressions are mapped into predicate logic, they constitute the proof that time is bivalent.

          LET ii, qq = 01 present, 10 past, 11 future; and LET pp= 01 verifies, 10 falsifies, 11 proves

          (The three digit ordinals refer to expressions in a bivalent logical system.)

          090 01 01 10 = 11
          Present verifies past.
          095 01 01 11 = 11
          Present verifies future.

          106 01 10 10 = 10
          “Present falsifies past” is false; hence, Present verifies past.
          111 01 10 11 = 11
          Present falsifies future.

          122 01 11 10 = 11
          Present proves past; ie,
          Present verifies past OR Present falsifies past:
          090 01 01 10 = 11 OR 106 01 10 10 = 10 == 01 11 10 = 11
          127 01 11 11 = 11
          Present proves future; ie,
          Present verifies future OR Present falsifies future:
          095 01 01 11 = 11 OR 111 01 10 11 = 11 == 01 11 11 = 11

          149 10 01 01 = 01
          “Past verifies present” is true.
          159 10 01 11 = 11
          Past verifies future.

          165 10 10 01 = 11
          Past falsifies present.
          175 10 10 11 = 11
          Past falsifies future.

          181 10 11 01 = 11
          Past proves present; ie,
          Past verifies present OR Past falsifies present:
          149 10 01 01 = 01 OR 165 10 10 01 = 11 == 10 11 01 = 11
          191 10 11 11 = 11
          Past proves future; ie,
          Past verifies future OR Past falsifies future:
          159 10 01 11 = 11 OR 175 10 10 11 = 11 == 10 11 11 = 11

          213 11 01 01 = 01
          “Future verifies present” is true.
          234 11 10 10 = 10
          “Future falsifies past” is false; hence, Future verifies past.

          • rogereolson

            I confess that I am completely unable to evaluate this. Would anyone else like to try?

        • http://ersatz-systems.com C james

          Further implications: if time is bivalent then time cannot be dimension, it simply must always be around. What follows is that we live in a strictly Cartesian space, and not in a vector space because otherwise time would be a dimension (technically, dimensions are linked to vector spaces, but not necessarily convincingly so). This implies that proof of the existence of a moral God requires simply that the atheist (existentialist) utter the words “I ought to”, thereby invoking conscience. For such a moral God to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent is easy. See the (bivalent) proof below of Popper’s personal spirit named God (who from the above is now the moral God of Orthodox Christianity) at: 4-vbc.com (or request the pdf by email).
          4VBC rendition of Karl Popper (Demarcation between science and metaphysics, 1972 ed, pp 275/7)
          4VBC@cec-services.com

          • rogereolson

            Okay, sounds good. But would you care to spell it all out in a way most people can understand?

  • Linda

    Am no theologian but have always believed God extends His salvation invitation to, all. I can’t imagine the Lord’ s glory being enhanced by sending some to hell and some to heaven, before they were ever born. Thank the Lord, precious be His name, He offers redemption to ALL. We are so fortunate to have a God who is big enough in allowing us to respond by, ” no or yes”, to His plan of salvation.
    I am learning much through reading your books and blog, on how to defend the faith. Thank you.

  • David Booth

    Dear Dr Olsen,

    Thank you for the manner in which you have sought to dispel erroneous and misleading characterizations of classical Arminianism (of the heart). Although it has taken me sometime to move from the Calvinism of my youth, I have found a more settled theological and exegetical home in Arminianism – and the notion of Corprate Election as espoused by Dr Wiliam Klein.

    One matter has however remained a thorn in my side. It is Paul Jewett’s footnote in his small monograph “Election and Predestination” (n 14, page 15, Eerdmans, – 1985). He suggests there, that although now long forgotten, Arminius rejected that “the Son of God is homoousios (very God), for the Father alone is very God”, and that he also asserted that “The righteousness of Christ is not imputed to us for righteousness [as Luther contends] but to believe (or to the act of believing) justifies us” (Arminius, Writngs, 1: 339, 355).

    I raise this simply because this comment of Jewett is then used to bolster the genetic fallacy against the orthodoxy of Arminius’s view on election and free will.

    Not having access to Arminius’ writings and have only read a few extracts and secondary literature, I would very much appreciate your informed response to this. I do not mean to hijack your post, but it does seem to be related to how Jewett’s comments have colored some Calvinst opinion of Arminius and Arminians.

    Thank you again for the way you have used your learning in the service of the Gospel.

    Cheers,
    David
    (please feel free to email me if it seems a more suitable way to respond)

    • rogereolson

      Arminius explained this in his “Sentiments.” He did not deny that the Son is homoousios with the Father; he affirmed that the Father is the “fount of divinity” of the Son and Holy Spirit. We’ve been discussing that very traditional, orthodox idea of the Trinity here quite a bit lately. You might look back at the archives to find those posts and comments. This was another case of vicious calumny against Arminius by his enemies. If you have access to the internet you do have access to Arminius. Google his name and you’ll find several web sites that contain his entire Works. Also they are at http://www.ccel.org. As for the issue of imputed righteousness: another misunderstanding. I explain what Arminius believed in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. He clearly did believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone and that God’s righteousness is imputed to us in justification. He probably did not believe in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the traditional Lutheran or Reformed sense, but he believed (as did Wesley later) that God imputes righteousness to us on account of our faith by his grace.

      • Marc

        Dr. Olson,

        What is the difference between Arminius’ view of imputation and that of Calvinists?

        And is N.T. Wright’s view of justification being a declaration compatible with either? (pretty sure it is not compatible with the Calvinist view since Professor Wright argues substantially with John Piper on the issue.)

        • rogereolson

          So far as I correctly understand Wright’s view (and I read and reviewed Justification here), it is similar to, if not identical with, Arminius’ view. God imputes righteousness in justification as a declaration of rightness; God does not impute Christ’s righteousness in justification. But, ultimately, they are the same righteousness because both mean being right with God.

      • David Booth

        Thany you so much for clarifying those points. It is a shame Jewett footnotes those two ‘quotes’ without any discussion simply, or so it seems to me, to suggest Arminius was not orthodox in his theology.

        I shall Google and read Arminius first hand and also search back through your blogs … I only discovered your site recently.

        The issue of Homoosious was more troubling to me as With regard to imputation I tend to towards Mike Bird’s suggestion of incorporated righteousness … Think Robert Gundry was correct that the imputation of Christ’s righteousness has no solid exegetical support – though perhaps as Carson responds, it is a valid inference from the perspective of systematic theology.

        Thank you again for taking the time to respond.

        • rogereolson

          Be sure to read Arminius’ Sentiments. It’s there he deals with the false accusation of Arianism.

  • Sean

    Question: Much of the ongoing debate seems to presuppose that Calvinism and Arminianism are the only two possibilities. Little is said of dispensationalism, which–as far as it addresses soteriology–has sometimes tried to position itself (unsuccessfully, in my view) as a via media between the two. I have long suspected that the resurgence of Calvinism has come largely at the expense of dispensationalism, especially its traditional form, which in my view is an inherently unstable system, and that the more closely the issues are examined, the less viable dispensationalism’s middle course will appear. That at least is my impression, as a distant outsider, of the SBC situation (for example). Dr. Olson, what do you think?

    • rogereolson

      I think dispensationalists have always been either Arminian or Calvinist or some unstable, inconsistent hybrid of the two. Dispensationalism itself does not answer the questions Arminians and Calvinists are answering in different ways. So far as I know (and I have read lots of dispensationalist literature including Dwight Pentecost’s massive Things to Come and was raised in a dispensationalist church and home where Clarence Larkin’s Bible Prophecy charts were common and almost all Bibles were Scofield Reference Bibles) dispensationalism has never had its own distinctive doctrines of election (conditional or unconditional). One of my earliest “mentors” in dispensationalism was Donald Grey Barnhouse, pastor of 10th Presbyterian Church of Philadelphia. He was, as I recall, a four point Calvinist as were many leading dispensationalists. But many Arminians also embraced dispensationalism.

  • John Inglis

    Confessional Differences>/b>

    Thanks for you comments. I understand better now your position on confessional differences, that is, for sake of unity evangelicals should allow each other to differ within each confession (where such exists) and not attack the differences qua>/i> confessional differences. The broader evangelical community is not the place for the kind of attacks that question the others’ evangelicalness. Jesus pleasing discussion of differences is fine, as is adhering to one’s confessionally unique doctrines, but stating or implying that the other is not properly evangelical because of the difference(s) at issue is not. Your report of your discussion was a good example of how this can be and the dangers of it not being.

    John

  • Glen

    Was this conversation recorded on audio, by chance?

    • rogereolson

      It was filmed. It should be available at the Modern Reformation/White Horse Inn web site.

  • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

    Dear brother Roger:

    In terms of Calvinism, I have struggled, and continue to do so, with the same things you have; I’m just not as clear on them, nor with the alternatives, as you seem to be. When God told Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, was this a moral monster? Most (which is your common sense, moral intuitive argument against Calvinism) would seem to think so; indeed, I can find no one who would affirm such an action by another human being as ‘good’. To claim that, well, he God prevented him from doing so. That’s great. But it’s the VERY ASKING that creates the moral monster. To retreat to ANE culture also unsatisfying. Does God have to participate in such depravity to make a point? I find this attempt as vacuous as the others. And let’s not forget the ethnic cleansing of men, women and CHILDREN, is this not also a moral monster at work? I find the explanation that the ‘Canaanites were among the most immoral’ as kind of a diversion. In effect, I feel the same moral anxiety of many Arminian attempts to find a good God, as equally frustrating. On a side, Helm’s comment and warning was directed against those who say God’s goodness differs in every respect; that’s quite different than to say tension abounds on every side. My problem with your presentation is that it assumes that Arminians have ethical clarity on ‘the God as monster’ problem; I frankly do not see it.

    • rogereolson

      One does not have to have perfect ethical clarity to have some ethical clarity. I agree with philosopher Jerry Walls who argues cogently that IF God’s goodness is wholly contrary to our best ethical intuitions, then the word “goodness” is emptied of all meaning. I take it that one reason we have a New Testament is that the Old Testament portrayal of God was not sufficient. IF God has allowed Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, then I would have to say God was acting in that moment as a moral monster. Fortunately, he did not. What standard of morality am I applying? That given by Jesus.

      • http://www.natejohnsongallery.com Nate Johnson

        Dear Roger,

        First let me say ‘thank you’ for your openness and your servant attitude toward those who read your blog. You would not need to justify a ‘no reply’ due to your stance within Christendom; it would not be even inconsiderate, let alone immoral, for you to do so. But you have chosen to interact, and though I can only speak for myself, it stands to reason that many of us common folk are grateful for the engagement.

        I find your argument attractive on a level of degree, but ultimately unsatisfying. Hoping not to sound too crass, it seems like you are saying that the Arminian God is less monstrous than the Calvinist God; therefore, it’s the right one, or at the very least, the best of the two options. I can resonate; I am not a perfectionist, or better yet, I am not a perfectionist when I’m a pragmatist. My problem is that I do not find cognitive rest as a pragmatist when God is the subject, not the God of the Bible anyway.

        So where do we go from here? Well, I must keep to your post. Your admission that IF God had allowed Abraham to ‘offer up’ Isaac, then, “…I would have to say God was acting in that moment as a moral monster,” would seem to give you that monstrous God. Though I differ with you on the distinction of ‘asking’ and ‘allowing’ (I think ‘both’ make God a monster), some, including myself, would be repulsed by such an approach, and would claim by rightful moral intuition that a being who asks and allows these things, i.e., child sacrifice, could not be God. This would be on par with Jefferey Dahlmer dismembering and storing body parts in his refrigerator. A God of holiness and righteousness could never do these kinds of things; again, in my book the very asking eliminates his status as God; he would be a moral monster.

        My conclusion? I would think by virtue of what you conceded above, i.e., that of allowing such immoral acts makes God a moral monster, that you would have to conclude that even the Arminian God is a moral monster, since God did command and ALLOWED ethnic cleansing, which included men, women and children, no?

        And it’s precisely these conundrums that won’t allow me to accept your ‘lesser of the two monster’ kind of argument – not as one who deserves my adoration, worship and submission. The lesser of two evils simply rules out ‘God’ as a possible option. If the NT corrected such (which you implied), then you would have to either conclude that 1) God changed (which is not acceptable), or 2) they didn’t understand, and therefore God did not command what he is said to have commanded, which falls in the face of God’s commendation of Abraham’s and Israel’s actions. It might work logically, but it is simply an abstraction, and I think it would be a ‘hard sell’ to claim it as an Evangelical option.

        Why did I respond to your response? I think both camps must concede basic conflict with some pretty basic moral intuition. Once this is done, I think charity can be the basis of dialogue.

        Blessings,
        Nate

  • David Rogers

    I’d like to suggest that there be a massive non-Calvinist movement that refuses to give Calvinists priority in labeling the discussion. They should not get to use the phrase “doctrines of grace” or “Reformed” without challenge. These labels should instead be called the “doctrines of sovereign control” or the “Calvinist doctrines of grace,” and “Calvinist Reformed.” Would there be another way to accurately re-label Calvinist positions? One internet blogger calls the Calvinist perspective on sovereignty “omniderigence.”

    • rogereolson

      I certainly agree that Reformed folks have mislabeled their own doctrines with success. That is, leading evangelical opinion-makers have not stood up to them and said they should adopt labels that more accurately describe their distinctive doctrines. We (evangelicals) ALL believe in “the doctrines of grace.” I have no desire to sling insulting labels at Calvinists; I do not, however, refer to their distinctive doctrines as “the doctrines of grace.” I think labeling their distinctive doctrines that way is disGRACEful. :)

  • http://reasonablechristian.blogspot.com Charlie J. Ray

    Since I graduated from two Arminian schools of theology, Southeastern College of the Assemblies of God (Southeastern University), Lakeland, Florida and Asbury Theological Seminary, you cannot accuse me of not adequately understanding the Arminian position. Basically, the Arminian position has to say that God is either not omniscient and does not foreknow the future (Open Theism) or that God foreknows the future and is unable to do anything about the future, which means that somehow the future happens by itself and is therefore independent of God, meaning God is not omnipotent.

    In either case the god of the Arminian is not the God of the Bible. I sincerely appreciated your open admission in part one of the discussion that the Bible must line up with your presupposition of what YOU think God OUGHT to be like. The Calvinist, on the other hand, takes the plain teaching of Scripture at face value. Reading your own presuppositions into the text is called eisogesis.

    Scripture teaches both God’s absolute sovereignty over good and evil AND man’s free moral agency and accountability. Both are equally true.

    Even Luther said that nothing happens by contingency so that if God foreknows what will happen, then it necessarily and absolutely follows that God determined it. And in fact Scripture says this over and over. God planned to have Ahab killed in battle: 2 Chronicles 18:1-34. Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28

    Prevenient grace is basically semi-pelagian since it allegedly meliorates the doctrine of total inability but that does not actually make anyone savable since the vast majority do not accept Christ.

    Arminianism has more in common with atheism or papist theology than with the Protestant theology. Arminianism is the “middle ground” between Calvinism and “pelagianism” precisely because Arminianism IS semi-pelagianism.

    Charlie

    • rogereolson

      Well, all I can say is that, in spite of graduating from two Arminian schools, you didn’t get it right. Please go back to school and learn. Or read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities with understanding. To call Arminianism semi-Pelagian is to demonstrate ignorance of both. To say that Arminianism “has more in common with atheism or papist theology” is uncivil and offensive and will not be tolerated here any more than if I went to a Calvinist blog and said their theology is fatalism (which I never say).

      • Robert

        Hello Roger,

        You wrote:

        “To say that Arminianism “has more in common with atheism or papist theology” is uncivil and offensive and will not be tolerated here any more than if I went to a Calvinist blog and said their theology is fatalism (which I never say).”

        I disagree with your last statement here because it depends upon how you define fatalism. If fatalism is defined as the claim that no matter what you do the outcome will be the same, then “No”, Calvinist theology is not fatalism (Calvinists like others rightfully believe that the outcome may not be the same no matter what you do, e.g. if someone hits another person over the head with a hammer or does not hit another person over the head with a hammer, the outcome will not be the same, the outcome will depend upon what the person actually chooses to do with the hammer).

        There is another definition of fatalism which is quite common in philosophical literature and discussion. This definition claims that fatalism eliminates alternative possibilities. I will give some examples. By this definition Calvinism definitely is fatalism.

        First note that Taylor dismisses the first definition of fatalism that I just mentioned:

        “Determinism, it will be recalled, is the theory that all events are rendered unavoidable by their causes. The attempt is sometimes made to distinguish this from fatalism by saying that, according to the fatalist, certain events are going to happen no matter what, or in other words, regardless of causes. But this is enormously contrived. It would be hard to find in the whole history of thought a single fatalist, on that conception of it.”

        Taylor then goes on to present another description of fatalism as:

        “Fatalism is the belief that whatever happens is unavoidable. That is the clearest expression of the doctrine, and it provides the basis of the attitude of calm acceptance that the fatalist is thought, quite correctly, to embody. One who endorses the claim of universal causation, then, and the theory of the causal determination of all human behavior, is a kind of fatalist – - or at least he should be, if he is consistent. For that theory, as we have seen, once it is clearly spelled out and not hedged about with unresolved “ifs”, does entail that whatever happens is rendered inevitable by the causal conditions preceding it, and is therefore unavoidable. One can indeed think of verbal formulas for distinguishing the two theories, but if we think of a fatalist as one who has a certain attitude, we find it to be the attitude that a thoroughgoing determinist should, in consistency assume. That some philosophical determinists are not fatalists does not so much illustrate a great difference between fatalism and determinism but rather the humiliation to one’s pride that a fatalist position can deliver, and the comfort that can sometimes be found in evasion.” (p. 55, Richard Taylor, METAPHYSICS fourth edition)

        Here is a succinct definition of fatalism provided by John Martin Fischer:

        “I now wish to sketch an argument for fatalism and compare it with the first version of the Basic Argument. Fatalism is the doctrine that it is a logical or conceptual truth that no person is ever free to do otherwise.”(p. 12, John Martin Fischer, GOD, FOREKNOWLEDGE, AND FREEDOM)

        Note Fischer says that if fatalism is true then “no person is ever free to do otherwise.”

        One other example comes from David Foster Wallace:

        “so that it is necessary that whatever I do, O or O’, I do necessarily, and cannot do otherwise. . . . Hence fatalism: what I do is necessary, what I do not do is impossible, what does and will happen is not at all in my control.” (p. 146, David Foster Wallace, Fate, Time, and Language: AN ESSAY ON FREE WILL)

        Other examples could be given, but these given ought to be sufficient to make the point about what this definition refers to. The basic idea is fairly easy to grasp, under this definition of fatalism, we cannot do otherwise our actions are all necessary and so it is impossible for us to do otherwise than we do. The Calvinist who claims that all is predetermined by God so that we must always and only do what God ordained that we would do ****by this definition**** is espousing fatalism.

        Robert

        • rogereolson

          When I said “fatalism” I was referring to a non-theistic view of “what will be will be” (e.g., Stoicism).

    • Robert

      Hello Charlie,

      You make reference to your educational experience and then engage in some slams of Arminian theology. I will not address them all, but will discuss one. You provide a good example of the fallalcy of false dilemma when you write:

      “Basically, the Arminian position has to say that God is either not omniscient and does not foreknow the future (Open Theism) or that God foreknows the future and is unable to do anything about the future, which means that somehow the future happens by itself and is therefore independent of God, meaning God is not omnipotent.
      In either case the god of the Arminian is not the God of the Bible.”

      Let’s start with the first possibility you present: Open Theism. You state that the “Arminian position has to say that God is either not omniscient and does not foreknow the future (Open Theism).”

      Why does the Arminian position ***have to*** adopt Open Theism?

      I reject Open Theism as does every Arminian that I know. We all affirm the fact that God foreknows all future events that will take place. I believe the bible is very clear on this, which is why Christians from all sorts of theological traditions (including Protestants, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Independents) have always affirmed God’s ability to foreknow future events (even those including freely made choices). So that leaves us with your other possibility. And this one deserves to be logically analyzed as it is again not what Arminians believe or **must** believe. It is a false representation of what Arminians believe.

      Let’s start with your statement, to get it out in the open so its problems can be clearly seen:

      “or that God foreknows the future and is unable to do anything about the future, which means that somehow the future happens by itself and is therefore independent of God, meaning God is not omnipotent.”

      This is so riddled with problems a lot could be said so I have to restrain myself here. You present God foreknowing the future as meaning that God would then be “unable to do anything about the future”. Let’s take the example of the final judgment to make the point. God in various places in scripture (e.g. Matt. 25:31-46) refers to a coming (yet future) final judgment in which He will personally judge all people. How does he know that the final judgment will happen since it is future and has not yet happened? He foreknows that it will happen. IS GOD GOING TO BE INVOLVED IN THAT FUTURE FINAL JUDGMENT OF WHICH HE SPEAKS IN THE BIBLE???? Yes. So the final judgment provides a clear example in which God foreknows the future, a future event that he will definitely be part of, and involved with. You say that if God foreknows a future event that he will be unable to do anything about the future. Yet the bible provides the final judgment as a clear example of a future event that God has foreknowledge of (how else could he correctly be telling us about it in the bible if he did not know what would happen in the future?) AND HE WILL DEFINITELY BE INVOLVED IN.

      Next you state: “which means that somehow the future happens by itself and is therefore independent of God,”.

      How will the future HAPPEN BY ITSELF if God is going to be involved in the future events? Your statement could only be true if deism were true (i.e. God created the world and then has a hands off policy where he never interacts or intervenes with the world at all after creating it, but deism is NOT ARMINIANISM).

      You state that: “and is therefore independent of God”.

      How is the world independent of God if God sustains the world in existence (an Arminian belief) and God also interacts with people in the world (a belief held by Arminians, Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, even calvinists!)?

      How does God foreknowing the future equate with God not being involved in the future?

      Again the final judgment illustrates this perfectly. The final judgment is prophesied by God via his foreknowledge in multiple places in the bible. God is heavily involved in the final judgment a future event which he foreknows will occur. So how does God foreknowing the final judgment show that the future (which includes this final judgment) is “therefore independent of God”?

      Finally, how does God foreknowing future events lead to your conclusion that: “God is not omnipotent”???

      God foreknows the final judgment is going to happen, does that mean that God will no longer be omnipotent during the final judgment?

      Your point is irrational and mistakenly pits differing attributes of God against each other. God can be (and is) omnipotent and simultaneously foreknows the future. How is God’s foreknowledge incompatible with his omnipotence?

      So Charlie you present a false dilemma in your post regarding Arminian views of foreknowledge (either Open theism or a view where God foreknows everything but is not longer involved in the world and is no longer omnipotent). The Arminian does not hold any of these views that you claim an Arminian **must** hold. This means that you present both a false dilemma and a straw man against the Arminian view.

      And further the Arminian is perfectly justified in believing that God has foreknowledge of all future events, is involved in the future, and remains omnipotent. Charlie you left that possibility out, the very possibility that Arminians do hold.

      Robert

    • John Inglis

      Gee, and I think that Arminianism takes the Bible at face value. In addition, I do not believe that the Calvinist description of God lines up with God’s own revelation of Himself through the inspired word. So how is that impasse to be resolved? I doubt by fiat or declaration.

      Furthermore, the either/or listing of possiblities is neither accurate nor exhaustive of the ways in which an Arminian might understand God’s relationship to the future (and, of course, God created the future).

      The statements made by Charlie are not supported by reasoning, examples, or illustration and so I do not find them persuasive, or even engaging.

      John

      • rogereolson

        I agree and now that I’ve let him have his say, I won’t be posting his comments here unless he comes up with something more helpful and conducive to conversation.

  • http://www.michaellanderson.com/blog/ Mike Anderson

    “Our decisions and actions cause God to foreknow.”

    I were to unpack this statement I’d reveal my ignorance of all who have gone before and have no doubt have written volumes on it. This view seems to place God outside of time-dependent causual relations, which is why it is so difficult to talk about.

    “When an open theist says ‘foreknow’ (future free decisons and actions) he means ‘see what MIGHT happen.’”

    I think the open theist position is actually closer to the Calvinist position in that if God declares the future with confidence, it’s because He will ensure that it will happen, strongly influencing if not compelling others’ choices in some cases (e.g. Pharaoh’s hardened heart, intercessory prayer) . The mystery is how much overriding of others’ wills is acceptable for God to still be judged good. Perhaps He interferes in only a minimal way because of His perfect knowledge of us and what we are likely to choose under various circumstances.

    • G.

      Mike, the problem with us judging what is acceptable to deem God as good places man in the position of Judge. God is not in the dock. He defines what is good. There are some things in Scripture which we cannot completely fathom the depths of and have a certain mystery to them. As with the Trinity, we cannot fully understand it yet we must confess it as true. Our understanding of biblical goodness is limited so that we can at times only close our mouths, pause, and then with Paul say, “Oh the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways. For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counsellor. Or who has given to him a gift that it might be repaid. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To God be the glory, forever. Amen”

      • rogereolson

        Again, there is no sense of “good” that is compatible with consigning to eternal hell persons you could save from it because you always save unconditionally.

        • G.

          More a paradoxical than compatibility issue Roger. “Reason” asks, how can it be that a man is held responsible for that which he cannot do? Hyper Calvinism in answer to “reason’s” question denies that there is a universal obligation to trust in Christ and Arminianism says that man’s ability must be universal. Classic Calvinist doctrine says that no man can come to God unless by God’s irresistible grace He chooses to overcome his inability and draw him to Himself. It follows then that God must choose some to perish if He chooses some to live. Hyper Calvinism then resigns itself to inactivity- why evangelize others and pursue personal holiness if it is already decided? And Arminianism abandons the doctrine as monstrous- and it would be monstrous if man’s “reason” were the decisive factor here. True Calvinism must assert to both Hyper Calvinists and Arminians that as Paul says in Romans 9 – man’s “reason” is inadmissible when it comes to explaining the things of God.
          “Faith is reason at rest in God,” says Spurgeon. Humility of mind is the key.

          • rogereolson

            In my opinion, that’s an over simplification of the the issues that divide Arminians and Calvinists. Arminians are not following “reason” at the expense of faith anymore than Calvinists are. Both are attempting reasonably to interpret what God has revealed. The claim that one is simply “believing” and the other “rationalizing” is false. Both are doing their best to use God-given reason to interpret the Bible correctly. I have explained here before, and not that long ago, that, in my opinion, the basic hermeneutical difference is that Calvinists begin with Romans 9 and work out from there, interpreting all of Scripture through that lens, whereas Arminians begin with Jesus Christ, the fullest revelation of God’s character, and with the entire canon, and interpret individual passages such as Romans 9 through those lenses. If anything, it is, in my opinion, Calvinists who begin with a presupposed philosophical idea of what God must be like (as with Zwingli) and then interpret Jesus Christ and Scripture that way. I believe it is really Calvinism that is more susceptible to the charge of being rationalistic.

          • Robert

            “G” wrote:

            “And Arminianism abandons the doctrine as monstrous- and it would be monstrous if man’s “reason” were the decisive factor here. True Calvinism must assert to both Hyper Calvinists and Arminians that as Paul says in Romans 9 – man’s “reason” is inadmissible when it comes to explaining the things of God.

            “Faith is reason at rest in God,” says Spurgeon. Humility of mind is the key.”

            “G” I have some real problems with what you say here. Your words manifest an erroneous view of the place of human reason.

            Human reasons is not ultimate God is.

            Human reason is to be submitted to the Word of God (assuming that that scripture has been properly interpreted). And here is where your view breaks down. You assert that “”man’s ‘reason’ is inadmissible when it comes to explaining the things of God”. “G” in making that assertion DID YOU USE YOUR MIND????

            Fact is whenever we **say** anything or **use language** at all or **INTERPRET ANYTHING AT ALL** we are using our minds. Use of our minds is in fact inescapable as God made us with a mind and expects us to use it.

            The problem is not use of the mind, but use of the mind contrary to God’s will. Or use of the mind to plan and commit evil. Use of our minds is as inescapable as breathing. Most of the time we don’t even think about the fact that we are thinking and using our minds all of the time! :-)

            “G” makes a statement about Romans 9. How did “G” come to the conclusion that “as Paul says in Romans 9 – man’s ‘reason’ is inadmissible when it comes to explaining the things of God”???
            Answer = he must have USED HIS MIND in interpreting Paul’s words in Romans 9 to be saying that “man’s reason is inadmissible . . .”

            I have been teaching and preaching the bible for a while. That means I have to use my mind to interpret the texts (hopefully correctly! :-) ). I also use my mind when preparing the message (look at biblical texts look at the Greek and Hebrew, look at relevant and useful commentaries, etc. etc. etc.). Then when I actually deliver the message and am teaching (i.e. “when it comes to explaining the things of God”), again I am using my mind.

            “G” your position is also self-refuting; it shoots itself in the foot! :-) What I mean is that when you make the claim that man’s reason is inadmissible when it comes to explaining the things of God, YOU ARE USING YOUR MIND TO MAKE THAT CLAIM WHICH MEANS YOU REFUTE YOUR OWN CLAIM. Secondly, assume your claim is correct, that the use of our mind is inadmissible in explaining the things of God. OK, then how are you going to interpret the biblical texts, prepare for messages, and explain the things of God WITHOUT USING YOUR MIND? I mean is the Holy Spirit going to possess you and speak through you and control you to do all these things while you sit by and are merely along for the ride? :-)

            Robert

        • G.

          If God did not save unconditionally, that would mean that there was a condition humans would need to meet in order to merit salvation and then it would not be grace. God’s righteousness consists in him always upholding his glory and the essence of his glory is his free and sovereign dispensation of mercy, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy”. Just as God reveals his name as “I am who I am”, the idem per idem shows that his electing love in the giving of mercy accords to no-one outside of himself. He would not be righteous to act otherwise. The fact is we all deserve Hell and it is merciful of God to save any of us. You make out that God should save all because he can. Roger, I believe your starting point is wrong and you misunderstand the character of God. It is the Arminian notion of God that denies him the glory he is due because they limit his sovereign freedom which is intrinsic to his glory because it makes him righteous. By the way, I have many Arminian brothers and sisters whom I love dearly. I just think their theology erroneous.

          • rogereolson

            We have answered that many times here and I have discussed it at length in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Again, merely accepting a gift does not mean you earned it or any part of it. It’s still a gift. That holds in spiritual matters as well as in ordinary life.

          • G.

            You argue philosophically and emotionally; not exegetically. This is true of Against Calvinism. I would just like to see more exegetical depth in your arguments. It is the same for Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I am sure you have read John Piper’s Justification of God. Where do you think his main exegetical flaw is? If there is not just one , maybe you would point us to several. Or maybe you have reviewed it somewhere?

          • rogereolson

            I hear this objection all the time from dyed in the wool Calvinists and I simply reject it out of hand. There’s lots of exegesis in Against Calvinism. I think it just seems like a nice stick to try to poke in my (and other Arminians’) eye because what constitutes “good” or even “lots of” exegesis is always debatable. Besides, you’re missed my whole point. In order to believe the Bible we have to assume God, whose Word it is, is good because otherwise there’s no reason to trust the Bible. If God isn’t good in someway analogous to our best human understanding of “good,” then he might be lying or he might change his mind and decide not to keep his revealed promises. No amount or quality of exegesis can rescue God’s reputation and our ability to trust him if he’s as Calvinism says he is (taken to its good and necessary consequences). So why don’t you tell us if you think God foreordained and rendered certain hell and the reprobates’ destiny there and every event of innocent suffering such as a little child kidnapped and raped and murdered. Do you think God (to use Piper’s terms) designed and governed those things such that they are actually his will for his glory? Please answer.

  • Cary

    Dr. Olson,
    I’ve got two related questions to your comments.

    I’ve long wondered how the typical Calvinist would respond to the question of whether Adam and Eve had libertarian freedom. Do most take a tact similar to what you describe for Dr. Horton of saying they were free but with a different defintion of freedom? Or do some actually grant the notion of libertarian freedom before the fall? I’ve often thought this was a good place to challenge Calvinism at.

    What got me thinking about this, though, was a challenge by a Calvinist that ultimately those in heaven would have a compatibilist freedom in that they would no longer be able to sin. This seem both scriptural and traditional to me but would seem to imply that there will no longer be moral freedom in a libertarian sense. I would be curious as to your thoughts on this?

    Blessings

    • rogereolson

      So far as I know all Calvinists believe in compatibilist free will, not libertarian or non-compatibilist free will (power of contrary choice) even before the fall. That is because their doctrine of providence is completely incompatible with libertarian free will. As for heaven–I have discussed this here previously. In heaven we will be deified (made “partial partakers of the divine nature”) which is why we will never choose to sin.

  • LFDS

    Dr. Olson,
    Thank you for this blog. And, thank you for commenting on comments that need a comment. It is as if I am sitting in a classroom with you. You give your lecture and then students ask questions, share their opinions, etc. Then you respond. It is in this online dialogue , in your responses, that I learn even more. I find myself wishing there was a “like” button (as on facebook) I could hit next to some of your replies. :) Anyway, all this to say, thank you for all the time you put into this blog. It is appreciated by little ‘ol me who is in need of a rounded out education.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. I truly appreciate hearing from those who are in general agreement or at least appreciate the work I put into this.

  • Bob Brown

    Calvinists are the new Pharisees imho. If you don’t believe as they do, they cast you out of the synagogue and if you continue to fight against them they crucify you. Clearly, they think they understand God but they are blind to the kind of God they have created. “Let God be true but every man a liar.”

    The key is freedom. God knew that creating creatures with the freedom to rebel would find takers. God permitted it THIS ONE TIME to demonstrate what transgressing freedom looks like.

    I believe God foresaw that if He didn’t create the angels who abused their freedom and fell, there was destined to be rebellion ANYWAY….so He went ahead with the creation of the angels who rebelled. He also foresaw that once this current demonstration of rebellion leading to sin, pain and death is over, He will never ever have to allow it again. Permitting this little rebellion was worth it to Him so He went ahead with the creation of free creatures.

    It seems to me that if God had killed rebels quickly in the beginning it would have created only fear to rebel since it ended in death. But God in His wisdom allowed it to happen ONCE so the fruits of rebellion against love could be seen and so He could be justified in His judgment to remove rebels. And of course, God’s desire to have creatures free to love rather than programed to love is worth the pain…..this one time.

    Earth’s history will forever tell the story of what it means to use freedom to rebel and sin. After the final judgment God has justified Himself to keep evil from ever rising again. We will forever declare, “just and true are Thy ways.”

    In allowing rebellion God has used His foreknowledge wisely. Glory to God! May we love Him freely as He created us to do and be pleasing in His sight.

  • David Booth

    Apologies for misspelling your name.
    David

  • G.

    Roger, I am interested. But why do you write a book against Calvinism and fervently oppose the doctrines, if what you disagree on with Calvinists are secondary issues? Why don’t YOU just agree to disagree and leave it at that? If Calvinists believe that these are not secondary issues then let them believe that. By not arguing with them, you actually make a stronger case for your assertion that they are secondary. Yet your assertion, according to Arminianism, that Calvinist theology when followed to its end makes God out to be a moral monster, actually leads me to believe that you don’t really believe that the areas of disagreement are secondary…and neither do Calvinists. Respectfully yours.

    • rogereolson

      I think I’ve made that clear before. I’ve posted on that very subject several times. Go back to the archives and you’ll find them. In short, many Calvinists have been and still are claiming that Calvinism is “a transcript of the gospel” and non-Calvinists are saved “just barely,” etc., etc. Calvinism is being presented in transdenominational settings (e.g., huge youth conferences) as THE ONE AND ONLY sound evangelical theology. That gives me and other non-Calvinist evangelicals permission to critique it.

      • G.

        Ok thanks Roger. So if I understand you correctly, your true purpose in writing against Calvinism on blogs and in the public arena etc. is solely to say that although Calvinism is a sound evangelical theology Arminianism is equally as sound and evangelical? I then take it that because you regard the differences as secondary issues, you can say that Calvinists and Arminians need to agree to disagree because both are sound and healthy in terms of the primary issues, and these are what count. Arminians and Calvinists can then maintain their distinctives within orthodoxy. In that case it does come down to the fact that you see the differences as secondary and what you are fighting for is not that all should hold to an Arminian theology because Calvinism is equally sound, but that people can choose either and still be evangelical. In a sense you are asserting that both are right, with minor differences. I hope that is a correct understanding of your motives. Please correct me if not.

        • rogereolson

          I won’t go so far as to say both are “right,” but I do think both (not taken to extremes) are valid evangelical theological perspectives.

          • G.

            To what level do you agree that Calvinism can be believed without it being extreme. You have said in the past, “To those of us who are not Calvinists this seems right. That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted. ” So you say you cannot be a Calvinist. But you have just said to me that Calvinism (not taken to extremes) is “a valid evangelical theological perspective”, therefore you should surely be able to embrace it because it is evangelical. You have also said that if you believed in Calvinism you would necessarily think that God is “indistinguishable from the devil”, whilst you assert that Calvinists don’t think that way. How can Calvinism be valid and evangelical unless you are saying that for Calvinists Calvinism is valid and for Arminians Arminianism is valid and both are therefore valid? Seems very subjective! Can I choose either? I am not sure.

          • rogereolson

            I’m sorry, but I’m confused about why you don’t understand my point. I have said over and over again that my main complaint about Calvinism is that it is inconsistent. Some Calvinists, unfortunately, do take it to its logical conclusion. Most don’t. If I were a Calvinist, I would have to. There are lots of evangelical theologies I don’t agree with but think are nevertheless “within the pale” of evangelicalism.

  • David

    Excellent post, as always, Roger.

    I want to comment on your question “Why do Calvinists (and some Lutherans) feel the need to marginalize Arminianism outside their own confessional circles?”

    I see the answer as being related to the shift towards neo-fundamentalism that you’ve also eloquently written about. If people have to accept that their doctrinal convictions are simply one view amongst many (which is what Calvinists will have to do if they consider Arminianism to be valid), then they can no longer describe them as being the “truth”. Hence they have to accept that there are multiple valid interpretations of the Bible and cannot claim to have a monopoly on what is sound doctrine. In other words, it comes down to insecurity – they need things in black and white, not shades of grey.

  • http://atdcross.blogspot.com/ Nelson Banuchi

    Reading your article, I share your final sentiments. It is frustrating talking with Calvinist as they say one thing and then afterwards say something else that completely nullifies their first assertions; it’s double-think. And their terms do need to be defined but, then again, they define it in such a way as to form a contradiction within their stated meaning that nullifies what is being said. Yep…”like ships passing in the night”…there is no meeting of the minds. :( Is there any possible way to overcome this impasse?

    • rogereolson

      I haven’t found a guaranteed way, but I keep having these conversations with open-minded and well-intentioned Calvinists such as those I invite to my classes every year (pastors of the local PCA congregation and the leader of the local Reformed University Fellowship.

    • John Inglis

      To play upon one of Dawkin’s phrases, “contradiction and antinomy are the universal acids of theology”. Acceptance of those two concepts makes truth, theological reasoning and communication impossible–a situation that Philip R. Johnson commented on in 1985:

      “What they [church fathers discussing the trinity] knew—and modern Christians often miss—is that whenever our language shifts into the vocabulary of antinomy and contradiction, the words themselves no longer communicate. If we overthrow the law of contradiction, literally anything might be true. Black might mean white and hot might mean cold and everything would mean nothing. This is exactly where most modern men and women now live—in the abyss of existentialism, where Joe and Sally might hold world-views that flatly contradict one another—yet both earnestly deny that if one system is right the other must be wrong. This type of thinking seems merely affable and benign, yet it destroys the very concept of truth.

      Many discard the law of contradiction precisely so they can declare truth falsehood and make righteousness evil. Therefore the notion that truth might be inconsistent with itself is one of the most popular but pernicious misconceptions held by the unbelieving men and women of our age. It is a concept hostile to truth and fraught with deadly danger. That’s why it is absolutely crucial that we who believe every word of God is true must oppose irrationality with every fibre of our being.”

      (1995, The Law of Contradiction – No lie is of the truth (1 Jn. 2:21))

      • John Inglis

        BTW, it’s Phillip R. Johnson (two “l’s”) a calvinist blogger and not the anti-darwinist lawyer (whose middle initial is “E”). I find it ironic that a Calvinist blogger and promoter of Spurgeon would write so negatively about antinomy and contradiction.

        • rogereolson

          So does R. C. Sproul.

  • John Inglis

    It seems to me, from both the revelation in His word and the revelation in his creation, that the law of non-contradiction is just as much a part of God’s nature or character as is his goodness, his inability to lie, his omnipotence, etc.

    If so, then an Arminian need not let a Calvinist hide behind the concept of a mysterious “contradiction” or “antinomy”, that is, a contradiction that is false by reason of a cannot equal -A, but still true nevertheless. Moreover, it seems to me that contradictions are a species of lie and for that reason also not consistent with God’s revealed character.

    J

  • Bob Brown

    I wonder if they would mind some arminians crashing the cruise with their theology? http://kimriddlebarger.squarespace.com/

  • Robert

    Hello John,

    I want to piggyback on some of your comments (said much earlier in the thread but I can only reply here) and add a couple of things.

    “If we take as a given that God is omnipotent, then at any moment God could end the entire universe. Or he could stop every landslide, volcano and earthquage before they start. Or he could stop every bullet and knife from ending a life.”

    I am not convinced that God could stop every bullet and knife from ending a life. This sounds at first like a good statement on God being omnipotent. However, God being omnipotent does not mean that he can do anything (e.g. He cannot cause Himself to no longer exist, He cannot eliminate his attributes, He cannot lie, He cannot deny himself). Also, I am convinced that God will not contradict his own purposes (I know of no example of God contradicting His own plans or purposes in the bible). Well consider if God had a design plan for human nature that included the capacity to have and make our own choices where these choices were up to us. In addition consider if one of God’s purposes was to create an orderly creation where things happen in a regular and orderly way. A universe where the minute someone tries to strike with a knife the knife becomes a piece of spaghetti, would not be an orderly and regular universe with real cause and effect relations. It would instead become a magical and whimsical and chaotic universe. This does not mean that God never does miracles or never intervenes, but these things must be kept in mind when making claims about what God would do to prevent **all evils or sins** from occurring (consider what kind of world that would entail).

    “The most Biblical way of understanding this is, I suggest, the line championed by G.E. Ladd: we now live in the already / not yet. We already experience some of the first fruits of Christ coming and overcoming the Satan, but we do not yet experience the full blessing of the renewed heaven, earth and physical bodies.”
    The Old Testament saints, living before Christ, experienced even less of God’s coming victory over evil, though they still did experience the direct handiwork of God.”

    This is a very good point, and I have always believed that already/not yet distinction is a good and useful and biblical one. Someday we will be present in a world where these is no suffering, sin or evil (the bible makes some clear statements on that). But we are not THERE yet!

    And there is another reason that need be mentioned as to why God allows it to continue longer: he says in 2 Pet. 3:3-9 that he prolongs things so that more may be saved. That is a very good reason to allow for the existence of sin and evil during this “not yet” time period.

    “The reason that a Calvinist view of this already/not yet experience is inexorably evil and monstrous, is that it does not posit a moral source for evil other than God himself (in the sense that the Bible portrays as moral). Everything is always determined by God.”

    Correct, if everything is determined by God then he becomes the author of evil. And that leads to some insuperable problems.

    “Arminians, however, see humans as original sources of action that are independent of God. That is, evil can originate in humans independently of God. That is, God is not the only original source and cause of actions. Of course, this is challenged by Calvinists and determinists as being illogical and nonsensical (how can we initiate anything without a prior cause, etc.), but the same criticisms they make of origination in humans can be made of God (at which point they retreat into obscurantism, though they sugar coat it as “mystery”).”

    Very good and true points here.

    The point about humans (and this is true of angels as well) being the sources of their own actions and choices is particularly important in some evils which involve evil actions/choices/thoughts. As has been said by countless Christians in church history: God did not create evil per se (Genesis said after finishing the creation that everything was good), instead he created moral beings with a **capacity to do both good and evil**. He created us with that capacity, but we make the choices that result in both good and evil actions. This also relates to what I said earlier about God’s design plans for the universe and for man. He created an orderly creation where both men and angels have the capacity to make both good and bad choices. He maintains that purposed order and one of the consequences is that in such a world genuine sin and evil can occur.

    “The self limitation of God is not, therefore, that he never interacts with his creation, but that he has given parts of creation the ability to be the first source / cause / originator of their own actions–a.k.a. free will. If this is then true, then it is not possible for God to determine these freely willed decisions, but only possible for God to know them.”

    Again a very good and true point. I would only add that not only does he create this creation with these properties, if this is one of his purposes he will not contradict his own purpose/plan/design (so he will not at some point then completely take away this capacity, this would CONTRADICT his own purpose/design plan).

    “Of course it is important to note that not all decisions need to be free willed, nor that every decision and action be completely free–any mixture of free, unfree, or partially (un)free decisions will still provide the necessary room for a self-willed origination of sin.”

    This is a good observation as some determinists will argue and caricature free will as the ability to do ANYTHNG AT ANY TIME. That is not free will, that would be more like being omnipotent! Determinists will then argue that God is incapable of sin so God must not have free will. But this makes a mistake regarding God’s range of choices. A useful and helpful distinction to make is that while all human persons have the capacity to have and make choices (i.e. the capacity for free will): nevertheless we have different ranges of choices. For example when it comes to spending money, Donald Trump has a different range of choices than I do. :-)

    When it comes to moral choices, different people also have different ranges of choices. There is also a different range of choices for believers in regards to sin (now we can and do sin; but in the eternal state sin will not be within our range of choices). God has free will, but even he has a range of choices that does not include every (e.g. he cannot lie, he cannot deny himself). Our range of choices is influenced by many factors including our present circumstances, our past, other people’s actions, God’s actions, genetics, environment, mental capacities, etc. etc. etc. Even an individual may experience a fluctuating range of choices (Bill could be the star quarterback and was so he could choose to throw all sorts of great passes, but then Bill had his arm broken in a game so he won’t be throwing any touchdown passes anytime soon!).

    “Arminians are challenged on the possibility of a God in time knowing a future free decision, but there are responses that seek to make sense of this (God is also still outside of time, or the future is might/might not rather than will/will not, or the future doesn’t exist, or its mysterious, etc.).”

    I reject “the future is might/might not rather than will/will not” option as that is open theism, and I do not consider open theism to be Arminian. But you are correct there are multiple ways of dealing with the compatibility of divine foreknowledge and libertarian free will.

    “It is also not fair to charge that this makes us authors of our own salvation by a free choice for God. Arminianism can accommodate alternate, Biblical descriptions and even total depravity. If we are not capable of choosing God and seeking him out, then the Arminian can rely on the prior act of God in drawing all people to Himself (prevenient grace). God is actively drawing us to him, with the result that we will be saved unless we actively resist from our own evil intentions (i.e., intentions that only have their source in us and not in God) and so reject the indwelling of the Spirit.”

    Some Calvinists make the mistake of thinking that our choices have no role in the process of salvation. While our choice to trust (i.e. have a faith response to the gospel) is involved in our experience of salvation, it is not what actually saves us (what saves us is God’s actions alone). It is like if someone signs the permission slip to have major surgery done to them. After the surgery that saved their life is done, everyone recognizes that the signature on the permission slip merely put them into the position where the saving actions of the surgeon could be performed. That signature in itself did not save their life, the actions of the surgeon and the surgical team saved them. Likewise, faith puts you in the position where God can save you, though God alone does all of the “surgery” that actually saves you!

    “This approach dovetails with God’s revelation of himself in his inspired word, where we read that children are not guilty of the sins of their fathers (Ezekiel) and where God presents a choice to the Israelites to follow him or not (Deuteronomy). Calvinists must take these words allegorically or metaphorically or mysteriously, but not literally.”

    True, if all is prescripted then we are all mere puppets in God’s show. He picks most puppets to be damned and picks some puppets to be saved. He controls every action of every puppet so that nothing happens on the stage of history that God did not preplan and desire. If this divine puppet show is actually occurring then we are all just pawns in his game. Then you better hope that you got lucky to be one of the chosen ones for salvation in this particular scenario (realizing that if he had chosen another scenario/another world history, he might have damned you in that one instead, so your role depends upon what particular story he picked).

    Robert

    • John Inglis

      Thanks for you thoughtful reply, Robert.
      I add two further points:

      (1) Re “I am not convinced that God could stop every bullet and knife from ending a life.” I suggest that we are not speaking about exactly the same thing, and that we actually do agree.

      A more nuanced approach is to distinguish between things that are contingently possible and those that are inherently impossible. It is inherently impossible for God to lie because it is not his nature to lie. Truthfulness is a timeless attribute of God.

      God’s omnipotence is also a timeless attribute, where omnipotence is at least the power to do all possible things (i.e., does not include lying or the logically impossible). God’s omnipotence does include the power to stop a murder and in fact he has exercised such a power in the past. Indeed, there is no bullet that God could not stop for lack of power. However, whether God stops a bullet is contingent on factors other than his power. As Robert pointed out, having created the universe in such a way that we now live in a sinful age, God will not exercise his will in such a way as to use his power to stop every bullet.

      My point was only about omnipotence simpliciter, whereas Robert is making a point about the exercise of omnipotence being contingent on will, where will is understood to be noncontradictory and contextualised in a created universe.

      (2) I propose that the analogy would be more similar to the way prevenient grace is presented in the Bible, and less open to a Calvinist defeater, if it were changed as follows: The surgical team will wheel the casualty into the operating room and will do the operation unless the casualty jumps off the table and runs out of the hospital. I don’t see that we need to give God permission, or that he waits for it, and it seems that the positive act of signing the form seems open to the challenge that it an act of our will to choose surgery over death.

      Calvinists would argue that we are too dead in sins to want surgery or to be able to choose to sign such a form. Being able to sign the form before surgery takes place would be evidence for them of the kind of free will that is not damaged by sin and the kind that can make a positive contribution to one’s own salvation.

      If I understand prevenient grace correctly, then (to use Robert’s example) it would be as if the surgeon took the casualty’s hand in his and signed the form. Our role is to have the faith to let him do so, to not lack faith and so in sin and fear resist the surgeon’s hand and then run out of the hospital.

      regards,
      J

      • Robert

        I want to talk briefly about the analogy that I brought up which John mistakenly takes to be referring to prevenient grace.

        John wrote:

        “(2) I propose that the analogy would be more similar to the way prevenient grace is presented in the Bible, and less open to a Calvinist defeater, if it were changed as follows: The surgical team will wheel the casualty into the operating room and will do the operation unless the casualty jumps off the table and runs out of the hospital. I don’t see that we need to give God permission, or that he waits for it, and it seems that the positive act of signing the form seems open to the challenge that it an act of our will to choose surgery over death.”

        I was not talking about prevenient grace. I was talking about and attempting to provide an analogous situation where someone by making a choice puts them in a place where another person then performs actions that save them. In this example, while the first person’s action of giving permission is involved in the process, it is only the actions of the second person that actually do the saving of the first person.

        John changes it to an analogy of how prevenient grace works when it was not even intended to be talking about prevenient grace.

        My own view of prevenient grace is that it refers to the grace from God that enables a sinner to make the choice to trust in Christ alone for salvation. Apart from this grace, no one could ever become a believer (cf. John 6:44). Specifically this grace in the process of conversion involves the powerful work of the Holy Spirit who reveals things to a person enabling a faith response from that person to the gospel message. The Spirit reveals things such as the sinner’s lost condition and separation from God due their own sin: the identity of Jesus, the need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God, that Jesus is the way of salvation, etc. etc. The Spirit revealing these things to a sinner enables them but does not necessitate a faith response on their part to the gospel.

        My analogy was not talking about or referring to any of that. Instead, in my analogy the person has already been enabled to see that they need the surgery and so they agree to it. So prevenient grace has already happened before they make the choice to give the surgeon permission to operate.

        “Calvinists would argue that we are too dead in sins to want surgery or to be able to choose to sign such a form. Being able to sign the form before surgery takes place would be evidence for them of the kind of free will that is not damaged by sin and the kind that can make a positive contribution to one’s own salvation.”

        I am familiar with the errors that calvinists make regarding the nature of depravity (i.e. the person is so effected b sin that they cannot freely choose to trust in Christ unless they have been regenerated first). In their view the man who has the surgery had to be saved/regenerate before they gave permission for the surgery. I take a different position. While the work of the Spirit enables you to choose to trust (to choose to give the surgeon permission), a person does not have to be saved/regenerate first before they are capable of trusting in Christ for salvation. The person coming to Christ for salvation and so trusting Him alone for it, is not saved before he comes, nor does his coming to Christ save him (instead his faith puts him in the place where Christ does the saving).

        “If I understand prevenient grace correctly, then (to use Robert’s example) it would be as if the surgeon took the casualty’s hand in his and signed the form. Our role is to have the faith to let him do so, to not lack faith and so in sin and fear resist the surgeon’s hand and then run out of the hospital.”

        If we absolutely had to bring in prevenient grace into the analogy of the surgery. Prevenient grace is the work of the Spirit in enabling the person to know they needed the surgery, showing them their need for the surgery, and suggesting they do get the surgery. So Prevenient grace would be operating prior to the person signing the permission slip for the surgery. It is not God holding your hand to enable you to sign; it is God showing you your need for radical surgery before you choose to sign!

        Robert

        • John Inglis

          Thanks for the clarification Robert; it was not clear to me where you had positioned the action of prevenient grace.

          What I was responding to was the matter of the patient being free to choose to sign or not to sign. An important Calvinist claim is that the depravity of humans is such that they are never free to make a choice, except in accordance with their strongest sinful desires of the moment, or in accordance with a desire implanted by God. Furthermore, they claim that the act of choosing is a work.

          Methodism and closely related Wesleyism affirm that God’s prevenient grace does many things prior to the salvation of any individual. One of things it does is enable us, or give us the capacity to, respond to God. Sometimes this new capacity is spoken of generically, without specifying its nature or manner of working. Sometimes this new capacity is specfied as a freeing of the depraved will so that it can choose to accept Christ.

          Evidently, this latter understanding is the one put forward by Robert and the one that makes sense of his illustration. I on the other hand, do not share that same view of the restoration of freedom, but have a more negative one. Not knowing precisely where Robert understood prevenient grace to be working, I inserted my own view of prevenient grace into the model to suggest how it might work and how it might better avoid Calvnist critiques. Unfortunately, I didn’t clarify what I was doing.

          Now that I know Robert’s position, I can agree that his illustration works with his view of prevenient grace.

          However, it seems to me that such a view of prevenient grace (a view very widely held, indeed th “standard” view), puts modern humans in a similar position to Adam vis a vis the choice to follow God, but in a significantly different context. That is, Adam was free to follow God or not, AND he was sinless at the time of that choice. Modern humans are (allegedly) freed by prevenient grace tomake a choice to follow God or not, BUT they are sinful and depraved except for that particular freeing.

          Given the unitary nature of our personhood and will, and the pervasive nature of our depravity, it is not clear to me that our will can freed in the foregoing manner in respect of just one choice (i.e., the choice to follow God or not).

          I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that the rationale is not clear and I don’t find it supported in the Biblical text (and therefore not a necessary view). It seems to me that prevenient grace is not so much a freeing of the will in respect of a singular choice, but rather a drawing of God that will accomplish its ends unless we reject it. That is, the grace is simply resistable rather than irresistable (the latter being, obviously, the Calvinist view).

          I suggest that this way ofiewing prevenient grace strengthens the Arminian view by taking the focus off human free will, and returning the focus to God and his actions.

          Moreover, the text is abundantly clear that God can be, and often is, resisted. The text is not so clear on free will, apart from God indicating that we do (and the Israelites before us did) have a choice to follow him or not. What then, is the nature of that choice? Is it simply one of free will? I’m not so sure.

          I’m closer to how the electronic “Theopedia” asserts Wesleyan belief to be: “Soteriologically speaking Wesleyans hold that the moral choice that man makes is not to receive God the Spirit because the Spirit of God is already there. Instead, Wesleyans argue, the moral choice is to suppress God the Spirit, doing that which is contrary to God’s desire and His witness. In this denial, if done unto death, means to die in ones’ sins. Therefore Wesleyans claim that receiving grace, positively speaking, is passive, and negatively speaking, resisting grace is active and it is not libertine freedom that is upheld in Wesleyan theology but true compatibilism (God is sovereign, man is responsible).”

          That is, our choice is to resist or not resist, rather than to choose to follow or not. It is if a drowning man is fighting the grasp of the rescuer. His choice is to continue fighting or to stop fighting and let his rescuer haul him up. His choice is not whether to grasp the outstretched hand of his rescuer.

          Hence my different take on the operating room analogy.

          John

          • Robert

            John wrote:

            “Now that I know Robert’s position, I can agree that his illustration works with his view of prevenient grace.”

            Ok good we got that straight.

            “However, it seems to me that such a view of prevenient grace (a view very widely held, indeed the “standard” view), puts modern humans in a similar position to Adam vis a vis the choice to follow God, but in a significantly different context.”

            So?

            Depravity refers to the extensiveness of sin, that sin has affected every aspect of our being. It does not mean that the image of God in us has been destroyed or that we no longer have free choice. It also does not mean that a nonbeliever cannot understand spiritual things that the Spirit is revealing to that person. Calvinism takes an **extreme** and mistaken view on depravity where it results in people being incapable of having a faith response unless they are regenerated first.

            “Given the unitary nature of our personhood and will, and the pervasive nature of our depravity, it is not clear to me that our will can freed in the foregoing manner in respect of just one choice (i.e., the choice to follow God or not).”

            Who said that the work of the Spirit merely enables us to make a single choice?

            The Spirit draws people to Christ. People being drawn in this way will start doing things like choosing to read their bible, choosing to attend a church service, choosing to ask a Christian questions, etc. etc.

            “I’m not saying it’s impossible, just that the rationale is not clear and I don’t find it supported in the Biblical text (and therefore not a necessary view). It seems to me that prevenient grace is not so much a freeing of the will in respect of a singular choice, but rather a drawing of God that will accomplish its ends unless we reject it.”

            Didn’t I just say that the Spirit draws people to Christ (cf. Jn. 12:32).

            “That is, the grace is simply resistable rather than irresistable (the latter being, obviously, the Calvinist view).”

            Again you are not saying anything new here. This is standard non-Calvinist thought, that we can resist the drawing of the Spirit, thus not all who are drawn are saved.

            “I suggest that this way of viewing prevenient grace strengthens the Arminian view by taking the focus off human free will, and returning the focus to God and his actions.”

            No need for taking the focus off human free will. When we present the gospel we are not talking about free will but about Jesus. It is only calvinists who come along and then try to analyze things and then attack free will. I do lots of altar calls you will never hear me use the phrase “free will”. Instead I will be saying things like: “you cannot save yourself, your only hope is to trust God to save you . . .”

            “Moreover, the text is abundantly clear that God can be, and often is, resisted.”

            I have always thought it amusing that calvinists will talk about being incapable of resisting the Spirit when believers still sin and sometimes refuse to do what the Spirit is leading them to do.

            “The text is not so clear on free will, apart from God indicating that we do (and the Israelites before us did) have a choice to follow him or not. What then, is the nature of that choice? Is it simply one of free will? I’m not so sure.”

            The text does not have to spell it out explicitly as the biblical writers operate according to the presupposition that when God offers you some sort of a choice, then the choice is real, the choice is accessible to you. They didn’t know Kant (ought implies can) but if you had asked them: “If God commands does that mean the person can choose to obey the command?” They would look at you strange that that (God giving a command implies the person commanded has the ability to obey the command) even needs to be said.

            “I’m closer to how the electronic “Theopedia” asserts Wesleyan belief to be: “Soteriologically speaking Wesleyans hold that the moral choice that man makes is not to receive God the Spirit because the Spirit of God is already there. Instead, Wesleyans argue, the moral choice is to suppress God the Spirit, doing that which is contrary to God’s desire and His witness. In this denial, if done unto death, means to die in ones’ sins. Therefore Wesleyans claim that receiving grace, positively speaking, is passive, and negatively speaking, resisting grace is active and it is not libertine freedom that is upheld in Wesleyan theology but true compatibilism (God is sovereign, man is responsible).”

            That is a bit of word games to me. If I tell someone, trust in Jesus and you will be saved. When they make that choice to trust in Jesus that is an active, conscious, voluntary and freely made choice of theirs. And if that same person chooses instead to reject Christ that is an active rejection, an active choice. Whenever we make an intentional choice we are acting actively not passively.

            “That is, our choice is to resist or not resist, rather than to choose to follow or not.”

            This wording is just wrong now as it contradicts the actual wording found in the bible. There is no need to insert or use philosophical terms (i.e. passive acceptance or active resistance) when the bible itself provides terms about following Jesus. In the bible it does not speak of “a choice to resist or not to resist”. In the bible people are challenged to FOLLOW CHRIST.

            “It is if a drowning man is fighting the grasp of the rescuer. His choice is to continue fighting or to stop fighting and let his rescuer haul him up. His choice is not whether to grasp the outstretched hand of his rescuer.”

            That is not a good analogy at all for conversion. In conversion the sinner may start out “fighting” or “kicking against the goads” as Jesus put it. But when they get to the point of choosing to follow Jesus, they are much more informed about their decision and much more open. So in that case it **is** like a person who freely chooses to reach out to another person’s outstretched hand. They are reaching out and taking God’s hand becaue they now realize and believe that only God can pull them up out of their lost condition into a personal and saving relationship with Him.

            “Hence my different take on the operating room analogy.”

            Your different take resulted from mashing my analogy and injecting your own ideas into it. As you now understand that analogy was not in regards to the nature of prevenient grace. It was instead making the point that faith is a decision which places you in a position for God to save you.

            Robert

  • James Petticrew

    Dr Olson, if you had the time and inclination I would love to hear your thoughts on this

    http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-made-it-ok-for-god-to-kill-women-children-in-old-testament-68737/

    • rogereolson

      I’m kind of repulsed by its tone, as if the author takes some kind of delight in his belief that God did those things or ordered his people to do them.

      • James Petticrew

        Yeah that’s the impression I got, I wonder as a Pastor Piper comforts people if he actually believes it. What were his pronouncements after 9 11 for ultimately he must believe God carries responsibility in some sense

        • rogereolson

          He published a sermon at his web site that said God did not merely permit the 9/11 acts of terrorism. When he begins to talk about God’s role in such evil things, he avoids words like “cause.” He talks about God “designing” and “governing” them. I tend to think that’s a subterfuge and he should just come out and say God caused them. I’m not sure why he doesn’t except that it might turn off some people leaning his way on God’s sovereignty.

  • John Inglis

    RE Open Theism’s relationship to Arminianism

    I consider myself an Arminian who is currently moderately convinced that (1) a variety of Open Theism is a more biblically and philosophically sound way of understanding God’s relationship to us and the future than other Arminian proposals, and (2) that at least some varieties of Open Theism belong within the family of possible Arminianisms. I was formerly convinced otherwise, and may change my mind again, but that’s where I am now. And by “moderately convinced” I mean that I am primarily convinced of Arminianism and only secondarily convinced that Open Theism is currently the most biblical expression of it.

    Arminius did his work within an historical context, that is, he only addressed the questions and issues that were current in his day and so, obviously, didi not exhaustively investigate the implications of his position. Since then much more work has been done in understanding the Bible and in understanding the nature of the future and the implications that specific views of the future would have on other doctrines, beliefs, or philosophical issues.

    Arminius did not consider whether the future is bivalent (he appears to have assumed it was), nor did he investigate the nature of the future either, nor the nature of time (A series or B series, etc.). Therefore, there is much scope for divergence and discussion among Arminians when they investigate and analyse such matters in relation to Arminian beliefs as expressed in Arminius’ writings and the remonstrance.

    All Arminians, including me, and all open theists believe that God knows the future in the manner that he created it to be known, and that there is no other way of knowing the future than the one that God possesses (i.e., his knowledge is complete).

    The issue is, what exactly is the nature of this future that God created? And what is the knowledge that is germaine to the knowing of it? That is, it makes no sense to say that I know the sound of a colour, because colours are not created to be known by way of sound waves and ears. Colors are made to be known by way of light waves and eyes. God’s knowledge of color is not somehow less than exhaustive because he does not know the sound of a colour. A colour has no sound to be known.

    If the future is not created as bivalent (i.e., either true or not true / will or will not), as many but not all Open Theists argue, then an exhaustive knowledge of the future is one that knows it as a non-bivalent future. Indeed, if the knowledge of the future is not bivalent and God only possesses bivalent knowledge of it (events either will or will not occur), then God’s knowledge is not only lacking but also wrong.

    It is issues such as these (and others) that were not considered previously by Arminians and that, when given further and more detailed analysis, give rise to the new proposals of Open Theists.

    All Open Theists would agree that there is nothing that some being does or will ever know that is not also known by God. However, if (1) the future has the nature that it does not exist, and knowledge only counts as knowledge if it is about something that exists, then God does not lack knowledge if he does not know it (and his omnipotence is our guarantee that achieve what he declares), or if (2) the future exists but as a bivalent might/might not instead of will/will not, then God has exhaustive knowledge of all the might / might nots and the exercise of his power determines which may/may nots eventually obtain, or (3) the future consists of both will / will nots and might / might nots and God knows the future in that way, or (4) etc.

    Might point being, that if omiscience consists of exhaustive knowledge of all that God has created, then Open Theism does not fail to fall within the bounds of Traditional Protestant and Arminian orthodoxy. What Open Theists are exploring is a more detailed and advanced understanding of what knowledge is and what the future is.

    I provide this only so that other readers don’t assume that Robert is correct to claim that Open Theism cannot ever fall within the bounds of Arminianism (I concede that one can disagree on whether Open Theism is within the bounds, but then one has to define what one means by Arminianism, whether Arminianism is a bounded or centred set of beliefs, and how Open Theism suffiiciently differs from this this point (using the actual beliefs of Open Theists).

    I don’t, however, intend for this post to be hijacked by a discussion of Open Theism, and IIRC Dr. Olson doesn’t intend for his blog to become one that is about it. What I propose is that commenters on this blog not insist that Open Theism cannot ever be considered as Arminian or make mere drive-by claims to that effect, but rather deal with the actual particular points of discussion qua blog contextualised propositions and not as representative of some assumed broader constellation of beliefs.

    in grace,
    John

    • Robert

      John wrote:

      “RE Open Theism’s relationship to Arminianism
      I consider myself an Arminian who is currently moderately convinced that (1) a variety of Open Theism is a more biblically and philosophically sound way of understanding God’s relationship to us and the future than other Arminian proposals, and (2) that at least some varieties of Open Theism belong within the family of possible Arminianisms.”

      It depends upon who is defining Arminian. The Arminian scholars that I know personally (with the exception of Roger here) all reject open theism and all view it as not Arminian. And as I said before (a point which John ignores) open theists such as William Hasker declare the Arminian view of simple foreknowledge to be false and advocate it be replaced by their open theism views.

      “I was formerly convinced otherwise, and may change my mind again, but that’s where I am now. And by “moderately convinced” I mean that I am primarily convinced of Arminianism and only secondarily convinced that Open Theism is currently the most biblical expression of it.”

      Again, the Arminian scholars that I know personally, e.g. Leroy Forlines and Robert Piricilli, reject Open Theism as unbiblical and false and non-Arminian.

      “Arminius did his work within an historical context, that is, he only addressed the questions and issues that were current in his day and so, obviously, didi not exhaustively investigate the implications of his position. Since then much more work has been done in understanding the Bible and in understanding the nature of the future and the implications that specific views of the future would have on other doctrines, beliefs, or philosophical issues.”

      It is true that Arminius worked in a historical context, but it is also clear that had he been exposed to open theism he would have rejected it as unbiblical and false (he held some Molinistic ideas that are incompatible with open theism’s denial that God knows the future exhaustively).
      “Arminius did not consider whether the future is bivalent (he appears to have assumed it was), nor did he investigate the nature of the future either, nor the nature of time (A series or B series, etc.). Therefore, there is much scope for divergence and discussion among Arminians when they investigate and analyse such matters in relation to Arminian beliefs as expressed in Arminius’ writings and the remonstrance.”

      Arminius held the same ordinary understanding of time (i.e. presentism) as the biblical writers and other Arminians do as well. It is Open Theists who bring in new definitions of terms (future and foreknowledge are redefined away from the ordinary understanding of future and foreknowledge). If you examine early church history to search for the denial of exhaustive divine foreknowledge, the Catholics do not deny it, nor do the Eastern Orthodox, nor do Protestants, you find only Socinians and later Open Theists who deny it. Open Theists swoop in within only the last few years and try to pretend their view has significant numbers within the church when it does not. Fact is, it is an extreme minority position within the church, and that is only the church for the last few years. Go back before the twentieth century and you find no open theists, only the Socinians denying the common understanding of foreknowledge.

      “All Arminians, including me, and all open theists believe that God knows the future in the manner that he created it to be known, and that there is no other way of knowing the future than the one that God possesses (i.e., his knowledge is complete).”

      Again biblical writers take the ordinary understanding of events. We have experienced the past, are experiencing the present, and will later experience the future. The biblical writers and other Christians then take biblical prophecies to be referring to future events that have not happened and do not yet exist (i.e. presentism is the view presupposed by biblical writers). It is analogous to the free will. The libertarian view is the view presupposed by biblical writers, though they do not use the term libertarian free will. Similarly, biblical writers presuppose presentism while not using the term presentism.

      “The issue is, what exactly is the nature of this future that God created? And what is the knowledge that is germaine to the knowing of it? That is, it makes no sense to say that I know the sound of a colour, because colours are not created to be known by way of sound waves and ears. Colors are made to be known by way of light waves and eyes. God’s knowledge of color is not somehow less than exhaustive because he does not know the sound of a colour. A colour has no sound to be known.”

      John brings up what in philosophy is called a “category mistake” (e.g. what sound does the color red make?). But the simple foreknowledge view, the view held by all of the church across all traditions (including Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant) is not a category mistake. It is the ordinary understanding that God knows all future events that will take place. Not that he knows how they might/might not take place, but as they will in fact take place.

      From the numerous biblical examples of prophecies. The writers never write: “in the future this might or might not happen . . .” Instead, they give specific details that WILL IN FACT OCCUR. Open theists arguing for their new and revised understanding of “foreknowledge” argue that the future is not “bivalent” (will or will not occur) but instead might or might not occur. But this is imposing an artificial and philosophical and non-biblical construct on the biblical texts.

      “If the future is not created as bivalent (i.e., either true or not true / will or will not), as many but not all Open Theists argue, then an exhaustive knowledge of the future is one that knows it as a non-bivalent future. Indeed, if the knowledge of the future is not bivalent and God only possesses bivalent knowledge of it (events either will or will not occur), then God’s knowledge is not only lacking but also wrong.”

      Again, the denial that the future is “bivalent” is an Open theist invention which results in denying the simple and matter of fact statements made by biblical writers concerning future events that God knows will in fact take place.

      “It is issues such as these (and others) that were not considered previously by Arminians and that, when given further and more detailed analysis, give rise to the new proposals of Open Theists.”

      Note what John openly states here, pun intended! :-) other Arminians had not considered things in this new way espoused by Open Theists. And note that John seems to think this new way is superior (i.e. “when given further and more detailed analysis). We don’t need this new way because the old way is perfect sufficient and is not false. We are asked to reject the truth and adopt this new false way of viewing the future and foreknowledge.

      “All Open Theists would agree that there is nothing that some being does or will ever know that is not also known by God.”

      That is not really saying much. That statement makes the claim that God’s knowledge will always be at least the same amount as ours. That is not the way the bible presents things. It presents things as God alone knows the future. For example in Isaiah this is one of the properties that distinguishes the true God versus all other false gods (He knows the future entirely, they do not).

      Now watch the sleight of mouth here, :-) First we are told that God knows at least as much as any created being does (again this is far less than biblical writers present God as knowing). Next comes this claim:

      “However, if (1) the future has the nature that it does not exist, and knowledge only counts as knowledge if it is about something that exists, then God does not lack knowledge if he does not know it (and his omnipotence is our guarantee that achieve what he declares),”

      Wait a minute! Let’s pull back the curtain on this magic act! :-)

      Who says, who makes the following proposition true: “knowledge only counts as knowledge if it is about something that exists”???

      Why Open theists of course. This principle is not presented by the bible. In fact the bible says that God knows about things that do not yet exist (e.g. the new heaven and new earth referred to in Revelation, the spiritual bodies that the apostle Paul talks about in 1 Cor. 15). And if God only can know something if it is something that already exists, then how in the world did he originally create the world? Didn’t he know how the creation would be before he created it? So this principle is false and unbiblical.

      “or if (2) the future exists but as a bivalent might/might not instead of will/will not, then God has exhaustive knowledge of all the might / might nots and the exercise of his power determines which may/may nots eventually obtain,”

      “If” ??????

      Where do the biblical writers ever present a prophecy of a future event as it “might or might not happen”. No they give specific details about the future, and these details are not might or might not, but what will in fact occur.

      “or (3) the future consists of both will / will nots and might / might nots and God knows the future in that way, or (4) etc.”

      Why don’t we just multiply things that we can come up with and invent, anything except simply believing the simple foreknowledge view.

      “Might point being, that if omiscience consists of exhaustive knowledge of all that God has created, then Open Theism does not fail to fall within the bounds of Traditional Protestant and Arminian orthodoxy.”

      Open theism falls within the bounds of Traditional Protestant and Arminian orthodoxy only if the terms future and foreknowledge are REDEFINED to fit open theism.

      “What Open Theists are exploring is a more detailed and advanced understanding of what knowledge is and what the future is.”

      It is not a more advanced understanding, it is a false understanding and mistaken understanding concering the nature of the future.

      “I provide this only so that other readers don’t assume that Robert is correct to claim that Open Theism cannot ever fall within the bounds of Arminianism (I concede that one can disagree on whether Open Theism is within the bounds, but then one has to define what one means by Arminianism, whether Arminianism is a bounded or centred set of beliefs, and how Open Theism suffiiciently differs from this this point (using the actual beliefs of Open Theists).”

      And I provide my response so that other readers don’t assume that John is correct regarding Open Theism being viewed as Arminian by other Arminians. There may be some isolated exceptions such as Roger who do so. But again, look at what other Arminian scholars say and you find they strongly and clearly and nearly uniformly differentiate Arminianism from Open Theism.

      Robert

      • rogereolson

        It seems to me this is the kind of discussion that cannot be solved because one side is assuming that “Arminianism” is defined by what most Arminians believe and the other side assumes that “Arminianism” is agreement with Arminius about election and free will but not everything else.

        • Robert

          Hello Roger,

          “It seems to me this is the kind of discussion that cannot be solved because one side is assuming that “Arminianism” is defined by what most Arminians believe and the other side assumes that “Arminianism” is agreement with Arminius about election and free will but not everything else.”

          I see this as a demarcation problem (i.e. what are our criteria in deciding whether or not something is “Arminian”).

          In any type of evaluation we must and will use some sort of criteria by which we evaluate and judge the matter.

          So the question is how do we demarcate Arminianism from other beliefs?

          Roger you appear to note two approaches in your comments with one criteria being: “what most Arminians believe”. That **is** a reasonable criteria. I mean it is common to define something by what most of its adherents believe about it. You then note another criteria, something is Arminian if it is in “agreement with Arminius about election and free will but not everything else.” By this second criteria what will you do with Arminians who affirm corporate election (Arminius as far as I know held to individual election)?

          Seems to me that some of the criteria will include: a conditional view of election (whether corporate or individual, election is viewed as conditional), affirmation of some form of depravity, affirmation of unlimited atonement (including the belief that God desires the salvation of all people), affirmation that God’s prevenient grace is a necessary condition for salvation and yet it can also be resisted. On eternal security I would say that while most Arminians deny this belief some do hold to eternal security, so this doctrine ought not be a criterion for Arminianism. On free will, I would say that all Arminians hold some version of libertarian free will. Perhaps you can think of other important criteria.

          Which leaves me with a question for you Roger: I sincerely believe you are eminently qualified to talk about this subject, so why not write up an article on your blog here discussing this demarcation problem in Arminianism?

          Of course you would do so whenever you like, or whenever it is convenient for you to do so.

          In that article you could explain the problem, discuss the criteria of evaluation that you suggest should be used, and use Open Theism as the test case. I believe that could be a very interesting article and provide for some good discussion on this issue.

          Robert

          • rogereolson

            That would be an interesting task to undertake. The problem is that “Arminianism,” like most other philosophical and religious labels, is an essentially contested concept. I don’t know what to do about that except what I always do and that is go back into history, look at what Arminius believed that was distinctive to him compared with his context (Calvinist) and call that Arminianism. One of the reviewers of my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities complained that I was redefining Arminianism by using Arminius as my touchstone for it. He argued that “Arminianism” is what most people mean by the term. But most people who use the term are Calvinists and they define it as semi-Pelagian! (Not all that many people call themselves Arminian and among those who do I find very little understanding of the historical-theological meaning of it.) I’ve always been a stickler for wanting to define a historical-theological concept by its history, going back to its first use and working forward from there to see how the concept changed and why and whether those changes stretch it too far. Because there is no Arminian magisterium to say who is and who is not an Arminian, my policy is to be generous and accept as Arminians all who claim the title unless there is some very good reason to reject that claim which would be that their beliefs about soteriology don’t align with Arminius’. Some of the nineteenth century Methodist theologians who called themselves Arminians openly disagreed with Arminius about God’s temporality. He believed in the Augustinian-Boethian view and they (e.g, Richard Watson) changed to the divine temporality view. But nobody said they weren’t Arminians for that reason. Methodist evangelist and college president Lorenzo Snow was a well-known Arminian who believed in what is now called open theism. Nobody (to the best of my knowledge) said he wasn’t an Arminian because of that. There’s lots of variety and diversity among Arminians. What we share in common is a soteriology surrounded by a basic Protestant orthodoxy. But just because someone holds a somewhat eccentric view of something that doesn’t touch on soteriology doesn’t rule him or her out from the Arminian camp (IMHO).

      • John Inglis

        Robert, I kindly request that you handle Open Theist views with the same sort of respect and dialogue that Roger has done vis a vis Calvinism, and Horton likewise for Arminianism. That is, you should present OT views as OT believers would, acknowledge that there is no one generic OT view, and respond on the basis of generic assertions about OT views.

        Picirilli and others who blanket reject OT views, are rejecting them for much the same (and incorrect) reasons as Calvinists do. Their rejection is based on what I see as being a misunderstanding of OT, a failure to recognize that there are varieties of OT, and a failure to be nuanced in their response. (Much like how most Calvinists undertake their rejection of Arminianism).

        One needs also to distinguish between orthodoxy and tradition. Orthodoxy is much more limited in its scope, and is often centred rather than bounded in nature. For example, the requirement of baptism is orthodox, but the variation between sprinkling and dunking and between adults only or children is a matter of tradition. Of course some have claimed that only dunking of adult believers is orthodox and scripturally correct (and infant baptism by sprinkling is unorthodox). Others claim the reverse. However, under a broad tent view, both are sufficiently orthodox that they should not separate believers. Hence both infant baptising Reformed and adult baptising Baptists can sit under the same tent of evangelicalism.

        So it should be with respect to Open Theists (of all stripes). All Open Theists agree that whatever God claims will happen, will indeed happen (unless, of course, God is making a claim that is understood to be contingent on the basis of other aspects of his revelation, such as in Jonah).

        I disagree with other aspects of your portrayal of OT, and with your understanding of my arguments, but this blog thread is not the place for it.

        In general, and especially for the purposes of this blog (“My Evangelical Arminian Musings”) it seems that one should allow the self understanding of an Open Theist (e.g. me) stand as presented and not make that self understanding the issue of discussion.

        The issue of discussion is Roger’s initial post. Specific propositions related to that post are also fair game. Far off topic should not be. In between is a grey area, and Roger does allow for a fair bit of rambling, exploration, and off-topic-ness. I presented my self-understanding to clarify my perspective and counter a blanket claim, but I’m not going to further debate it and thereby hijack this thread. I’m just going to register a disagreement simpliciter, unless OT, or an aspect of it, is the topic of a post or particularly germaine to it.

        regards,
        John

        • John Inglis

          I meant to write “. . . and not respond on the basis of (or using) generic assertions . . .”

  • Bob Brown

    “If a man is born again, hates sin, and depends upon the Savior
    for life and grace, I care not whether he be an Arminian or a Calvinist.”
    –John Newton

  • Dmitriy

    Dr. Olson, I would like to learn more about Arminian theology. Can you please suggest me some books that I need to read. I tried to read Jacob Arminus works, but I had hard time grasping everything. I understood some things, but not all things he was talking about. I read your book “Against Calvinism”, I really enjoyed it! I especially like your thoughts on God’s providence and wrong understanding of it from Calvinistic perspective. I know you have another book called “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”. But I am not sure does that book covers all Arminian theology or just myths and realities? I would like to read a book that gives me a simple overview of whole Arminian theology in simple language, like your book written. Thank you.

    • rogereolson

      My book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities does provide a simple overview of Arminian theology. But if you’re looking for a relatively easy-to-read, one volume expression (not explanation) of Arminian theology you can’t do better than to read Thomas Oden’s The Transforming Power of Grace.

  • tim e

    on the topic of michael horton – i found his article in december’s issue of ct to be well written and thoughtful. however, he said this, “The gospel is also a scandal because of what it announces: a radical rescue operation amid a radical problem(God’s wrath).” this of course fits in with his soterion approach to the gospel and particulary the cross – Jesus didn’t live and die in order to defeat the works of the devil and his minions, he came to placate the wrath of this father. The Calvinist view of God is not only severely skewed, it affects their veiw of the work of Christ and their theology of his death. Roger, your latest blog mentions the peace perspective of hauerwas and the pacifism and nonviolence stance that jesus took only makes sense when one sees his death and resurrection from a peace perspective as opposed to the penal substitute nonsense foisted upon christians by those opposing the arminian view. (by arminian view i mean the scriptural view. :)

  • Dmitriy

    Thank you Dr. Olson. I will take a look at these books that you mentioned.
    I just did not see any good arminan material that can explain to me the process of regeneration from arminian point of view. My question is when person get’s saved, do they receive faith from God (which is Calvinistic view) or do they have their own faith/will? No one could clearly explain it to me from Arminian point view the whole process of regeneration. If you have time and input I would appreciated it. Thank you.

    • rogereolson

      From the Arminian point of view faith is both “gift and task” (in German “Gabe und Aufgabe”). The ability to trust in Christ for salvation is gift; the response of acceptance of God’s grace unto salvation is task. (But I refuse to get dragged into a debate about the word “task.” Paul says in Philippians 2 to “work out” your salvation. Whatever he meant is what I mean by task. I take it he meant be consciously open to God’s work within you.

  • Robert

    John writes:

    “ (1) As to whether some varieties of so-called Open Theism can be included within the family of Arminianism broadly understood–I would include Molinism as a species of Arminianism–I have posted below (search for “February 10″ and you’ll eventually find it). Note that the issue of knowledge of the future is a general one that applies to reformation orthodoxy in general, and not to Arminianism in particular (i.e., both Calvinism and Arminianism hold to exhaustive foreknowledge). So if one takes Robert’s view of Open Theism (which I do not), then it is more proper to say that that view is unorthodox, rather than claiming it’s particularly un-Arminian.”

    I would say that Open theism is **both** unorthodox and “un-Arminian.”

    “(3) There is a bit of ships passing in the night as regards the use of the term “actual”. I meant it in the limited sense of equal validity of frames of reference on a time line, that each frame is equally real in that each is immutable–unchangeable. It is in this sense that the future, on an eternalist view of the ontology of time, is just as actual as the present (or past, even).”
    I reject the eternalist view of the ontology of time. Not only do most people that I daily interact with hold the opposing view the presentist view. The biblical writers writing under inspiration also take a presentist view when making comments about past, present and future.

    “Robert points out that the future hasn’t happened yet and is therefore not “actual” like the present. That is a different sense, one that depends on the point of reference of the observer along the timeline. That is, at one point Joe views his going to work as the “future”, at another point he views it as “present”, and at still another as “past”.”

    Again, I hold the presentist view of time. And again this is the view that the vast majority of people that I deal with every day hold to as well. Why buck the crowd if that is what we all believe in our daily interactions virtually without thinking?

    “Whether Robert’s views are true depends on whether one takes an eternalist or presentist view of the ontology (beingness) of time, whether one subscribes to an A-, B- or C-theory of time, whether one believes that time is symmetrical or assymetrical, and whether time is just an artifact of our biological processing of information.”

    Again, there is no evidence the biblical writers (writing under inspiration) take an eternalist view of time.

    John can bring up these alternative philosophical theories but I will take the simple and common sense understanding of time. I see no good reasons to reject this ordinary understanding of time.

    And again, seeing that the biblical writers all presuppose the presentist view, why is there need for another theory?

    Is it to evade the ordinary understanding of foreknowledge? That is not good enough.

    “These things are useful and necessary to explore, but they are secondary to basic Arminianism. Arminians can disagree about them and still remain Arminian”

    True and it appears that the majority of Arminians also hold the simple view of time (i.e. presentism), the simple view of foreknowledge (i.e. “simple foreknowledge), and that most Arminians recognize that biblical writers when speaking of future events do not speak of events that might or might not occur, but events that will in fact occur.

    “Furthermore, though it is possible for an Open Theist to believe in God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future, it could also be that this doctrine–like that of impassibility–is one that falls within the scope of requiring reanalysis to be more Biblical and less captive to the philosophies of the time it was developed.”

    It is true that some theologians appear to have been overly influenced by Greek thinking regarding impassibility. But this is not true regarding the ordinary conception of foreknowledge (i.e. the bible writers and the vast majority of Christians have always held the same understanding of foreknowledge and it has **no** basis in Greek philosophy and thinking). So it is not analogous to bring this up in connection with the concept of foreknowledge (as if believers came up with the ordinary understanding of foreknowledge due to overreliance upon Greek philosophy).

    Regarding Open theists believing in “God’s exhaustive knowledge of the future” that is possible only if the open theist ***redefines** the meaning of the terms future and foreknowledge away from the common understanding among Christians. The resultant understanding promoted by open theists like John is not at all what other Christians mean by “exhaustive knowledge of the future”.

    Robert

    • John Inglis

      Robert, you may view open theism as both unArminian and unorthodox, but that does not make it so. Open theists can be, as I am, inerrantists, exhaustive knowledge believers, evangelical, arminian, and orthodox.

      The key differentiating factor between Arminians and Calvinists is their view on the relationship between God’s will and man’s will. This then works itself out in their understanding of prevenient grace and the nature of “freedom”. Open theists share those same distinctives.

      Arminians, except for Molinists**, have not given much thought to the nature of the future, knowledge and God’s knowledge of the future (**Molinists are a bit odd in that they conceive of man’s will as being an independent origin for action/events, but then have God determining the actions anyway by determining the context of action.)

      Open theists accept all the distinctives of Arminianism, and can accept the truth value of any verse of scripture, but they seek a deeper understanding of the future, knowledge and God’s knowledge of the future. Furthermore, not only do they push Calvinists theology to its logical consequences (and contradictions), they also push Arminian theology to its logical consequences. These logical consequences have no effect on Arminian soteriology or christology. Moreover, the Open Theists are attempting to meet the criticisms of Calvinists that argue that exhaustive simple future knowledge is illogical, contradictory, or meaningless.

      Since Roger’s blog is not about Open Theism, since his brand of evangelicalism is broad enough to accept Open Theists (i.e., he sees it, or at least some varieties of it, as fitting within a conservative orthodox tent), and since I claim to be orthodox, evangelical and Arminian, it is (I respectfully suggest) rather innappropriate to fail to distinguish between the various types of Open Theism, to stereotype Open Theism, and to make blanket claims about its theology and orthodoxy. Moreover, the criticism you make are of like kind to the ones Calvinists make about Arminianism (i.e., Arminians have an unorthodox view of God’s knowledge and of the origin of human action, and therefore are unorthodox).

      I’m not thrusting it forward and making blanket claims about its correctness. I’m discussing and analysing various propositions put forward by Roger and the various commenters; I kindly request that you do the same.

      Since this is a blog about Roger’s evangelical Arminian musings, and not about my evangelical Open Theist musings, it’s not the place to discuss and argue about Open Theism per se. I may come at his musings from a certain perspective–as do all the commenters–but when presenting my thoughts I present specific thoughts and respond to specific thoughts in this blog. Those particular thoughts are appropriate to respond to, but an attack of generic claims on a generic stereotyped version of Open Theism is, I respectfully suggest, is not.

      As this is not a blog about Open Theism, I won’t respond to any of the assertions about it in your post.

      John

  • http://lifeandbuilding.com kyle

    I just attended a kind of on campus, ecumenical gathering hosted by a nearby church in the Acts 29 movement. From what I know their pastors are mostly Calvinists. The speaker spoke from Matt 13 on the parable of the tares and the treasure hidden in the field. He uses “divisive” in the context of the parable of the tares. Here are some things from my notes that I thought you might find interesting:

    “Jesus is the most divisive being who will judge all humanity because He’s the most valuable being. You can tell how valuable something is by how you punish something that messes with it. He punishes people because they deserve to be punished based on how they offend that supreme value. To act as if Jesus isn’t the supreme value deserves supreme punishment. If Jesus is infinitely valuable the punishment should also be infinite.”

    Thoughts?

    • rogereolson

      Where is the love of God?

  • Robert

    Hello Roger,

    “That would be an interesting task to undertake.”

    So do it sometime! Make it so.

    “The problem is that “Arminianism,” like most other philosophical and religious labels, is an essentially contested concept.”

    If it is contested then that means that “Arminian” depends upon whom you are talking to. So a rabid calvinist will claim that “Arminian” is synonymous with say Pelagian. The term then becomes virtually useless.

    “I don’t know what to do about that except what I always do and that is go back into history, look at what Arminius believed that was distinctive to him compared with his context (Calvinist) and call that Arminianism.”

    That approach makes a lot of sense to me, and seems about as objective as you can be.

    “One of the reviewers of my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities complained that I was redefining Arminianism by using Arminius as my touchstone for it.”

    That’s funny! :-)

    “He argued that “Arminianism” is what most people mean by the term. But most people who use the term are Calvinists and they define it as semi-Pelagian! (Not all that many people call themselves Arminian and among those who do I find very little understanding of the historical-theological meaning of it.)”

    You just proved my point, so it means whatever some group or individual says that it means. So for example John who holds unorthodox views on foreknowledge and is an open theist, can claim to be “Arminian.”

    “I’ve always been a stickler for wanting to define a historical-theological concept by its history, going back to its first use and working forward from there to see how the concept changed and why and whether those changes stretch it too far.”

    Again, I believe that is the way to go. And if that were done with say Open theism, Open theism would be rejected as non-Arminian because all early Arminians affirmed the orthodox understanding of foreknowledge.

    “Because there is no Arminian magisterium to say who is and who is not an Arminian,”

    There isn’t?

    I thought you were the Magisterium Roger! :-)

    “my policy is to be generous and accept as Arminians all who claim the title unless there is some very good reason to reject that claim which would be that their beliefs about soteriology don’t align with Arminius’.”

    So your criteria of demarcation is a person’s soteriology.

    “Some of the nineteenth century Methodist theologians who called themselves Arminians openly disagreed with Arminius about God’s temporality. He believed in the Augustinian-Boethian view and they (e.g, Richard Watson) changed to the divine temporality view. But nobody said they weren’t Arminians for that reason.”

    I don’t think that is a significant difference.

    “Methodist evangelist and college president Lorenzo Snow was a well-known Arminian who believed in what is now called open theism. Nobody (to the best of my knowledge) said he wasn’t an Arminian because of that.”

    But were others aware of his “open theism” and if they were, what was their response to it?

    “There’s lots of variety and diversity among Arminians.”

    As there is with most groups.

    “What we share in common is a soteriology surrounded by a basic Protestant orthodoxy.”

    OK. And isn’t it true that Open theism does not fall within “Protestant orthodoxy”?

    “But just because someone holds a somewhat eccentric view of something that doesn’t touch on soteriology doesn’t rule him or her out from the Arminian camp (IMHO).”

    By that criteria an open theist would then be an Arminian since he holds the same soteriology. So by that criteria alone, open theist would be in. But I am not convinced that if say Arminius were with us today that he would not also make the orthodox view of foreknowledge a criteria as well. And if he did so, then open theism would be out, it would be non-Arminian.

    Robert

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think we can be sure of what Arminius would say if he were around today. What if he said “Anyone who disagrees with my view of God’s eternity, that God exists in an eternal now in which all times, past, present and future, are simultaneous to him, is not a true Arminian? I think our disagreement comes down to whether open theism is a serious enough deviation from Arminian “orthodoxy” to expel or keep out open theists who agree with classical Arminianism on every other issue and especially soteriology. Frankly, try as I might, I can’t conceive why it even matters. I have tried to get inside the thinking of people, especially Arminians, who get all worked up about it and I just can’t see it as that important. So long as God is omnipotent and “omniresourceful” nothing the future brings can defeat his purposes or keep him from keeping his promises. That’s what we rely on, not that he knows it all as actual already.

  • G

    In reply to your last post Feb. 16 3:13pm:
    You make my point for me. You say if you were a Calvinist you would have to take it to its logical conclusion and this is why you are not a Calvinist. Well most Calvinists don’t take it to that conclusion. This means to be a Calvinist is not to take it to , according to you, its “logical” conclusion. They come to a different conclusion, which makes your view of “logical” subjective. You have two options: Either you say that you cannot be a Calvinist because it is heretical. That God is a moral monster (its logical conclusion, which you assert!) would clearly make it heretical. Or you admit that yours is a subjective opinion that could very well be wrong as many earnest and godly brothers and sisters and church leaders have held this view with a completely different conclusion than God as a moral monster. What also concerns me is that it comes across as if you are playing the victim of a Calvinist witch-hunt, which is out to get all Arminians. It has a ring of “party spirit” about it.

    • rogereolson

      No, you are simply wrong. Logic is not subjective.

      • G.

        So why don’t you say that Calvinism is heresy? It must be so if you take it to its “logical” conclusion that makes God a moral monster. And as you say logic is not subjective. Other than that, you are forced to say that Calvinists are not real Calvinists or else they would be heretics. What allows Calvinism to remain under the umbrella of evangelicalism if its logical conclusion must be that God is not good? Is John Piper a heretic?

        • rogereolson

          Fortunately, at least, not all the time. :) The Second Council of Orange (529), which Mike Horton loves to quote and appeal to as somehow normative (even though it was only a synod and not an ecumenical council) clearly stated that anyone who says God determines anyone to evil is anathema. So, yes, in some contexts John would be a heretic. The category is problematic for me as a Baptist. We are all heretics to some catholic Christians (including some Protestants).

          • Bob Kundrat

            Isn’t that answer a bit disingenuous Dr. Olson? Afterall, the thrust of this blog post seemed to be that we should be able to agree to disagree yet I, nor I doubt you, would think that we could apply that statement to a true Pelagian or semi-Pelagian yet you on one one write in the blog that you express a desire to Michael Horton to agree to disagree yet here and throughout these comment you appear to take the sie that the Calivinist understanding is one of God as a moral monster and therefore heresy.

            Which is it Dr. Olson?

          • rogereolson

            And Mike thinks Arminianism is “man-centered theology.” And yet he also thinks we (Calvinists and Arminians) are both Christians and should at least be friendly and civil to one another. So go ask him your question.

    • John Inglis

      Also, Roger and other Arminians believe that Calvinists are being inconsistent in their theology. That is, they believe that God is a God of love, that he is indeed love and love incarnate, and also hold to other orthodox doctrines. These beliefs are inconsistent with the logical outcomes of a belief in TULIP / irresistable grace. Holding to inconsistent beliefs, and holding to a set of beliefs (TULIP) while at the same time rejecting the logical outcome of such beliefs, is possible (obviously, as that is what we believe Calvinists do). Of course, just because it is possible to live life and love God while holding inconsistent beliefs, does not mean that one should do so.

      Some more thoroughgoing Calvinists do accept (some or all of) the logical outcomes of their beliefs–such as John Piper, and such as hyper-Calvinists.

      • rogereolson

        Even John Piper argues that God loves the reprobate he has determined for hell. And he argues that, in spite of the fact that hell brings him glory, God is sad that it has to be. Talk about the height (or depth) of inconsistency! I’m not even sure he can believe both at the same time. The way I picture it is that one moment he says God foreordains evil and hell for his glory and the next moment, horrified by that, he says God loves even those he determines for hell. I don’t see how he can believe both at the same time. The cognitive dissonance would just be too much.


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