A Message for My Fellow Evangelical Arminians (Others Welcome to Listen In)

A Message for My Fellow Evangelical Arminians (Others Welcome to Listen In)

Not many non-Wesleyan evangelical theologians have been so bold as to publicly proclaim themselves “Arminian” in the last thirty to fifty years as Reformed theology has become dominant and even normative among evangelical leaders. In 1992 I picked up the first issue of Modern Reformation, a magazine dedicated to promoting monergism (if not Reformed theology) especially among evangelicals and saw numerous misrepresentations of Arminian theology in its articles. (The entire issue was devoted to blasting Arminianism.) Right then I decided to speak up on behalf of classical Arminian theology. Over the intervening years I’ve written several articles and one book about Arminian theology. That book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (InterVarsity Press) has been well reviewed and has received a mostly sympathetic audience. I believe it has helped turn around erroneous impressions about Arminianism especially among evangelicals.

About two years ago, however, I began to receive negative feedback from certain fellow evangelical Arminians. I was a founding member of a group called The Society of Evangelical Arminians (SEA) and participated in its discussion list. Certain (what I would call) neo-fundamentalist Arminians (they probably call themselves conservative evangelicals) began to heckle and pester me and officials of the SEA because of my presence there. The flashpoints of controversy seemed to be threefold. First, I am an inclusivist and they believed no inclusivist can be authentically evangelical. (My own impression was that they did not truly understand the spectrum of beliefs that can be included under the umbrella concept “inclusivism.” They jumped to wrong conclusions such as that I believe salvation can come through non-Christian world religions and that Jesus is not the only savior of the world.) Second, they thought, sometimes accused, that I am a closet open theist and they were determined to separate open theists from Arminianism. (I am not an open theist closeted or uncloseted.) Third, they accused me of misinterpreting Arminius’ view of God’s sovereignty and especially providence. Recently a few have come here, to my blog, to beat that dead horse some more.

My message to evangelical Arminians is this: Especially in this climate where there are aggressive Calvinists attempting to expel Arminians from true, authentic evangelicalism, that is, to convince evangelicals that Arminians are not biblically serious, committed Protestant Christians who believe in salvation by grace alone through faith alone, we only do our own cause harm when we attack each other. Gentle disagreement is one thing; harsh criticism, misrepresentations, and attempts to undermine each other are something else.

Here is an observation I have made based on my life in American evangelical Christianity. There are some evangelicals, I consider them really neo-fundamentalists, who find it fun or fulfilling to turn against, attack, undermine and “expose” fellow evangelicals. Often they do it by accusing a reputable fellow evangelical of being somehow subversive of the true evangelical faith. They pick up on one or two alleged errors in someone’s writings and go after them with a vengeance—attempting to undermine their reputation either as a scholar or as an evangelical or both. This happens repeatedly among evangelicals and there are some evangelical spokesmen who are noted for it. Others are not noted but follow the lead of their favorite evangelical pit bulls (heresy hunters).

This practice has contributed to the demise of evangelicalism as a movement. It’s serious, nothing to be dismissed as unworthy of attention and even condemnation. When and where it happens we need to speak up and identify it as what it is (divisive spirit) and put a stop to it. Unfortunately, of course, that’s easier said than done. There are many conservative evangelicals who thrive on this sort of thing and love to join in the attack. Too many moderate, “centrist” evangelical leaders are timid of the aggressive neo-fundamentalists and hesitate to confront them.

I observed this when my friend Stanley Grenz was alive. Certain evangelical theologians and their followers loved to accuse him of all kinds of silly things. “Cultural relativism” was a favorite and anyone who knew Stan well knew he was not even in the least inclined toward that. Of course, from his accusers’ high and mighty absolutist chairs of pontifical power and expertise he appeared relativistic because he wasn’t a fundamentalist dogmatist—which many of them were and are (under the guise of being “conservative evangelicals”).

I thought that taking up the cause of classical Arminianism would be applauded by my fellow evangelical Arminians, but, as I should have expected, some, a few, see my reputation as a scholarly defender of classical Arminianism as an opportunity to attack me.

One form this takes is to attempt to drive a wedge between me and Arminius himself. The accusation has been, and continues to be, that Arminius believed in meticulous providence and I don’t. I have said many times that I believe “God is in charge but not in control.” Critical fellow evangelical Arminians have accused me of being completely out of sync with Arminius who, they claim, believed in meticulous providence, and with the broader classical Arminian tradition.

I included a chapter on Arminius’ and Arminianism’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. There I quoted extensively from Arminius and later Arminian theologians to show exactly what Arminius’ and their beliefs were about God’s providence. I have never substantially deviated from that classical Arminian view in my own writings. The accusations revolve around semantics such as what exactly is meant by “plan of God” and divine “control” and so forth and so on.

Instead of giving me the benefit of the doubt, some fellow evangelical Arminians jump on the unusual way of expressing the view that I hold, which is substantially the same as Arminius’ and all the leading Arminian theologians of the classical Arminian tradition, and bend it to mean something I clearly do not mean (if the critics bother to read my explanations).

I think what is going on is an attempt to portray me as an open theist—something I’ve dealt with ever since I first defended open theism as a legitimate evangelical option (not a heresy) in the mid-1990s.

So what do I mean when I say God is “in charge but not in control?” And what do I mean when I reject “meticulous providence?” First, as I mean it, “meticulous providence” is divine determinism. Perhaps others don’t mean that by it, but that’s what I mean whenever I use it. When I reject meticulous providence I am rejecting divine determinism—the view that everything that happens, including sin, is part of a divine blueprint, designed by God, and rendered certain by God in every detail. In that doctrine “divine permission” always means “efficacious permission”—that God did not merely allow but planned the fall (for example) and rendered it certain.

What did Arminius believe? Well, read my chapter in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Here’s one quote. Now notice how it can be distorted if only the first phrase is read or quoted. The entire passage MUST be read and understood to get Arminius’ point:

“’Nothing is done without God’s ordination’: If by the word ‘ordination’ is signified ‘that God appoints things of any kind to be done,’ this mode of enunciation is erroneous, and it follows as a consequence from it, that God is the author of sin. But if it signify, that ‘whatever it be that is done, God ordains it to a good end,’ the terms in which it is conceived are in that case correct.” (Declaration of Sentiments, Works I:705)

“Nothing is done without God’s ordination” is a declaration of Arminius’ own sentiments, but here he explains what he means by it and what he does not mean by it. Not everything that happens is appointed by God to be done, but when something is done God can fit it into his overall plan and purpose. An analogy of that kind of “ordaining” is a librarian shelving a book. He or she may not like the book and perhaps did not even want it in the library. But once it is given to him or her (by a head librarian who ordered it), he or she puts it in its right place on the library shelves.

I am firmly convinced that Arminius did not believe in meticulous providence in the sense of divine determinism. But here’s how things can go awry. Someone reads or hears that I do not believe in “meticulous providence” and interprets “meticulous providence” to include that God appoints whatever is done toward a good end and accuses me of being in conflict with Arminius’ own teachings.

When I say God is “in charge but not in control” I mean (and have explained it every time I have written or said it) that history, including every life, is under the sovereign oversight of God such that nothing can happen without God’s permission and even aid (concurrence), but that God does not control everything such that whatever happens is his antecedent will or that he renders everything certain according to a divine blueprint.

To those who distort what I mean I ask: Why not practice a hermeneutic of charity and understand what I mean not by how you understand the words but by how I clearly explain them? Why are you distorting my clearly intended meaning?

I believe some conservative evangelical Arminians have targeted me because of my inclusivism and openness to open theism (and perhaps my denial of biblical inerrancy) and are attempting to drive a wedge between me and classical Arminianism. I won’t let them do it without push back. Oh, I have no doubt they will gather some like-minded fellow travelers to join them in this, but I won’t be quiet. You can count on me to correct their distortions and misrepresentations—of me and of Arminius. It’s one reason I started this blog.

But a cautionary footnote is necessary. Having expressed my substantial agreement with Arminius, I must also say that being Arminian does not require absolute and total agreement with Arminius about everything—anymore than being Calvinist requires absolute and total agreement with Calvin about everything (something Charles Hodge denied). I’m sure there are nuances of doctrinal interpretation and expression in Arminius with which I will demur. For one thing, Arminius expressed himself so extremely cautiously at times that he made it somewhat difficult to know what his position was without very careful attention to details. He bent over backwards, as far as he could without going against Scripture or his own conscience, to please the moderately Reformed Dutch church and civic leaders who wanted peace in the church and the land. I try to do the same without breaking my back. There are times and places in Arminius’ works where I think he bent too far—in the language he used if not in what he clearly meant (when careful attention is paid to the whole of what he wrote).

So, to certain of my Arminian critics I say—please stop your efforts to pit me against Arminius and/or against fellow Arminian theologians. Why are you doing this? Nothing good can come of it—for our Arminian cause. You are troubling the House of Israel. Cease and desist.

  • http://www.words2encourage.co.uk/ Richard Speller

    Well said Roger. I don’t count myself as either an Arminian or a Calvinist but it does stagger me at times to hear of the in fighting that goes on within various Christian groups. Perhaps we all need to pray and then count to 50 before we post responses to blog posts.

  • http://www.edwardfudge.com Edward Fudge

    Well spoken, brother. Those whom you rightly admonish generally prove immune to appeals based on logic, charity or the welfare of God’s gospel and kingdom, except as those things happen to advance their own agendas. However, your warnings can help others wh0, left unwarned, are their natural prey.

  • Eluros Aabye

    Dr. Olson,

    Thanks for another great article. A question for you: what’s at stake in defending “our Arminian cause”?

    From a purely academic perspective, I understand that there is disagreement about what Arminius held and whether or not you fit into the camp of classical Arminianism. From an applied perspective, however, sentences like “Nothing good can come of it—for our Arminian cause” raise red flags. It sounds like partisan politics.

    Early in this article (and many other times on your site), you criticize the Calvinist folks for making their approach normative. It sounds similar, however, to what you’re doing in this article.

    Apologies if this sounded hostile in any way; it’s a good faith question, and I really appreciate your thoughts.

    • rogereolson

      No, I don’t intend to make Arminianism normative for evangelicals. I am only interested in defending Arminianism against unwarranted attacks. I think a rift among evangelical Calvinists will inevitably lead to aggressive Calvinists saying things like “Those Arminians can’t even agree about what Arminianism is.” I think we do agree about essential elements of classical Arminianism and we need to stick together in a time when many Calvinists are hinting, if not saying, that Arminianism is sub-Christian and not authentically evangelical. (E.g., “You can no more be an ‘evangelical Arminian’ than you can be an ‘evangelical Catholic’” and “Arminians are Christians, but just barely,” etc.).

  • http://afkimel@wordpress.com Fr Alvin Kimel

    As I was reading through this post, I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t Roger just say that it’s unnecessary for him or any other evangelical to agree with Arminius on every jot and tittle?” But then I got to the end of the article where you say precisely this. Since when has Arminius, or any other Protestant theologian, enjoyed infallible authority? This is a point that N. T. Wright keeps having to remind both his supporters and critics: he wants the Bible to be heard and understood on its own terms, not imprisoned in later dogmatic constructions.

    I do not know why you have become a magnet for personal attack, Roger. I have always found your writings to be thoughtful and expressed in a spirit of civility and generosity. Question: would matters be any different if you had identified yourself as a Wesleyan instead of an Arminian?

    • rogereolson

      I can’t call myself a Wesleyan because I don’t embrace “entire sanctification.” I’m actually more Lutheran when it comes to justification and sanctification. I embrace “simul justus et peccator” while also believing that there can be real progress in holiness. But that never decreases our need for daily repentance and the justifying grace of God. Over the last twenty years I’ve become a lightening rod for fundamentalist Baptists including some Arminians. I suspect much of that has to do with my public defense of open theism as a legitimate evangelical option and my denial of strict biblical inerrancy. the “Baptist wars” begun in the late 1970s aren’t completely over. Moderate, even evangelical, Baptists such as I are still targets for charges of “liberalism”–a word that has become almost totally useless because especially Baptist fundamentalists have used it to cover virtually everyone they disagree with about almost anything.

  • Steve

    Roger,
    I am thankful for all your work in dispelling myths regarding Arminianism. You are a fine Christian scholar and gentleman that I have greatly appreciated over the years. I hope you have many more years left of fruitful scholarship ahead. Blessings, Steve

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, Steve.

  • Darrin Snyder Belousek

    Dear Roger,

    I, for one, appreciate and applaud your careful and charitable defense of an Arminian view.

    You wrote: “When I say God is “in charge but not in control” I mean (and have explained it every time I have written or said it) that history, including every life, is under the sovereign oversight of God such that nothing can happen without God’s permission and even aid (concurrence), but that God does not control everything such that whatever happens is his antecedent will or that he renders everything certain according to a divine blueprint.”

    In essence, I agree (as I think most Anabaptists would).

    While I don’t (try to) follow all the ins and outs of the intra-evangelical debates between this “ism” and that “ism,” I have observed the shift toward a new evangelical orthodoxy and have seen the rather uncharitable spirit that you name here, even at times in my own classroom. It disturbs me, too–and for the same reason you identify, that it causes division in the church: any deviation from neo-Calvinism is considered heresy.

    I wish you well, brother.

  • Percival

    The Arabs have a saying, “The dogs bark, but the caravan moves on.”

  • James Petticrew

    Roger as a pastor I know that 99 people could affirm a sermon I preached and 1 could criticise it and i would focus on the one. I totally agree with your perspective about evangelicals attacking evangelicals and its detrimental impact.

    However I would want to say that your work has been, and I use the word in its true sense, a Godsend, to myself and many, many others. You have given me courage in my convictions and a model for how to respond to unfair theological criticism both in terms of content and tone. Keep up the good work you are deeply appreciated by many of us.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks, James.

  • http://ochuk.wordpress.com Adam Omelainchuk

    Professor Olson,

    I have a question about the locution “rendered certain.” Do you mean to say rendered necessary? For that seems to be what determinism (divine or otherwise) entails. The reason I ask is that on a middle knowledge view, God ordains the actual world knowing full well what will happen. God’s knowledge of P implies that P will happen; that is P is certain. Since God created the world knowing that P, does it not follow that P is “rendered certain” on this view? Perhaps you think it is, and this is a problem for middle knowledge. I know elsewhere you have taken issue with Molinism and that’s fair enough. But that is much different than saying P is rendered necessary, and that is why people like me or Bill Craig (whom I studied under) identify with the Wesleyan tradition; we hold to libertarian free will as a requirement of morally responsible action, something that is incompatible with determinism. I’d like to hear your thoughts.

    • rogereolson

      I borrow “rendered certain” from Millard Erickson–a former colleague. Yes, to me, it implies “rendered necessary.”

  • J.E. Edwards

    You’re just a trouble maker, you know. I knew it the moment I started reading this rabble:)

    • rogereolson

      That accusation goes all the way back to high school (for me). But especially in Bible college! After a few weeks one of my professors (if you can call any of them that) said to me “Roger, are you for real?” I never have been able to abide foolishness silently.

  • Steve Rogers

    In defense of Grenz you stated: “I observed this when my friend Stanley Grenz was alive. Certain evangelical theologians and their followers loved to accuse him of all kinds of silly things. “Cultural relativism” was a favorite and anyone who knew Stan well knew he was not even in the least inclined toward that. Of course, from his accusers’ high and mighty absolutist chairs of pontifical power and expertise he appeared relativistic because he wasn’t a fundamentalist dogmatist—which many of them were and are (under the guise of being “conservative evangelicals”).” “Absolutist chairs of pontifical power” have caused more harm to the cause of Christ historically than all doctrinal disputes combined. Opinions can vary in the quest to unravel the mysteries of the divine, but power centers have another agenda–elevating and extending their power and control often in the most uncharitable fashion.

    • rogereolson

      What was amazing to me was how charitable and kind Stan remained through it all–the heresy-hunt, I mean. He was being lied about, slandered, publicly scorned, yet he remained calm and gentle even toward the harshest of his critics. I had opportunity to watch and observe “close up” two of my best friends suffering this at the hands of self-proclaimed evangelical gatekeepers (the other one was Greg Boyd). In both cases I know, without any doubt, that certain evangelical leaders lied about my friends in order to keep people from paying attention to them theologically. This was one of the most disillusioning things I have ever experienced and I’ve experienced some very heavy disillusionments in my life.

  • http://GoodReportMinistries.com Van

    It’s difficult enough to defend the Scriptures as written, without having the impossible task of defending the personal opinions and writings of long-dead theologians like Arminius and Calvin. In my opinion, there are more relevant theological issues re-emerging in the Christian faith community that need to be re-addressed, such as: universalism and the doctrine of hell, i.e., eternal conscious torture. Let the Scriptures and charitable debate settle these more contemporary issues, and let the dead (Arminius and Calvin) bury the dead. After all, neither one of them got it right as to the extent of Christ’s redemption and the myth of the horrible doctrine of hell.

  • http://www.christianityboard.com/ Denver

    Dr. Olson,
    Your blog is a primary reason that pulled back from the brink of monergism to reconsider what the Bible says on the subject. I look forward to reading your book on the subject someday, but I previously had no clue about the distinction of Wesleyan Arminianism vs Classical Arminianism. I agree with the mischaracterization of Arminians by many Calvinists as either Pelagian or Semi-Pelagian. I was able to hold on to the words of Wesley and realize that Arminianism still defends the hill of God’s sovereignty, but it acknowledges the ambiguity of the subject when bad things happen to good people.

    I find myself increasingly coming into conflict with fundamentalists even though I would consider myself quite conservative. I volunteer fairly extensively at a local SBC church where, thankfully, we have a great pastor. However, reading the chatter in the denomination, it seems as though there is so much confusion on the subject with accompanying witch hunts and blog rants.

    With the Calvinist and Reformed-dominated landscape, I find it difficult to find an Arminian intellectual tradition that speaks with one voice. Arminianism does seem rather fractured, and the people group you mentioned here are, in my anecdotal view, a large part of the problem. I am still uncertain as to where to go forward, but I would like to do more to be active in this. Articles like this at least help develop arguments. Please don’t stop!

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for the encouragement. I won’t stop, don’t worry. Tenure and old age give one a great deal more freedom than before. :)

  • http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com Godismyjudge

    Dr. Olson,

    Was I one of the one’s you had in mind when you wrote this? I know we have disagreed over Middle Knowledge in the past.

    God be with you,
    Dan

    • rogereolson

      If the shoe fits, wear it. But no, I didn’t have you or anyone else specifically in mind. I don’t recall their names, but several Arminians have attacked me on the SEA blog and here–claiming that I’m not truly evangelical and/or don’t really believe in the sovereignty of God/ divine providence the way Arminius did and Arminius should. Gentle disagreement is fine; charges like that are unwelcome and destructive to our cause (of pushing back against Calvinist calumnies against Arminians).

      • http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com Godismyjudge

        Dr. Olson,

        Some of the shoe fits, some doesn’t. I have expressed disagreement with your views on middle knowledge and I think there’s sold reason to believe Arminius and the Remonstrants held to middle knowledge. But I consider that a minor point of theology and would not say you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty in general. But my fear, from reading some of your comments on middle knowledge, is that you see those holding to middle knowledge as determinists. So I guess I should ask, do you want unity with me and other Molinists in opposing Calvinism, or do you moreso see us as what needs to be opposed?

        For my part, I have no problem at all with uniting with those who don’t hold to middle knowledge. I really like your work and I expressed my desire for you to be on the SEA Exec committee and I supported you when other topics came up as well. I do think Arminians present a stronger front against Calvinism when united.

        God be with you,
        Dan

        • rogereolson

          As I’ve said before, middle knowledge is not my complaint. It’s what God does with middle knowledge that makes me wonder about some Arminians. IF they say that God uses middle knowledge to render certain, necessary, that people sin and end up in hell, then how is that different from Calvinism? Some Calvinists (e.g., Millard Erickson) appeal to middle knowledge to “explain” how everything that happens, including sin and evil, are part of God’s providential plan, will and governance. If an Arminian says the same, then I have trouble seeing the difference–at the most basic level which is God’s character.

          • http://www.traditionalbaptistchronicles.com Godismyjudge

            Dr. Olson,

            My apologies but I must have missed your earlier comments that you didn’t object to middle knowledge per say. That could make a huge difference. So would you more or less be OK union with folks like me who hold to libertarian middle knowledge as explained by say William Lane Craig or Kenneth Keathley, but see compatiblist middle knowledge as explained by Bruce Ware or Terrance Tiessen’s former view as part of Calvinism to oppose?

            God be with you,
            Dan

          • rogereolson

            I have trouble with any suggestion that God uses middle knowledge to bring about sin or evil. That’s my main concern always–the character of God. Simply “having” middle knowledge doesn’t affect God’s character; using it to render certain sin or evil because they are what God “wants” to happen (the scare quotes are italics in this case) damages the character of God in exactly the same way Calvinistic divine determinism does.

  • John Metz

    Roger, I hate to sound pessimistic but… The more I look at church history and at the current situation among evangelicals of all stripes, the more I am convinced that what you (and I) complain of — attack, misrepresentation, narrowness, etc. — has far too often been the norm of how Christian deal with one another. these things are not pleasant nor helpful.
    I have appreciated your blog (and some others) because I think you always try to take a higher path, usually successfully. Unhappily, a broad view of the church is not the prevailing view shared today.

  • John C.Gardner

    It would seem necessary to have a more irenic existence between Arminians and Calvinists. We have both in my extended family. Peaceful discussions among Christians seem necessary since there are so many more serious issues which range from ethical to philosophical issues which stem from real disagreements between Christians in general and those who hold to other worldviews. Thank you for another stimulating post.

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  • http://dailyarminian.wordpress.com Brendan Burnett

    Hey Roger Olson. Sorry to hear that you’ve received a lot of flack from SEA! Off the bat I’d say that I certainly have benefited from your book on the subject– It was the first one I read, actually, and I’d say it helped me be an Arminian confidently, because it dispelled the misrepresentations you find out there so often from the Young Restless Reformed “YRR” crowd. In my experience, no one in the YRR crowd has ever been able to provide any substantial reason to reject Arminianism in its historical form.

    But now onto some SEA discussion.

    I’m a lay member of SEA and have done one or two blog posts on the site. Here’s my observation. I think that one of the possible problems with the society is that it is so anxious not to be misrepresented by Calvinists that it will run out of town pretty quickly anything which seems to deviate or allow for deviation from its strictly evangelical Arminian statement of faith. On top of that, the scholarly/ministerial (ordained)/layman membership and postings can also make it a bit hard to control discussion in an intellectually legitimate way.

    I believe that there is some great work which can come out of that society if it would simply engage in better organisation with respect to its members and governmental system. No doubt you’ve heard of the monumental work that Brian J. Abasciano has done and is doing on Rom. 9 branching out from his PhD thesis. That kind of stuff really excites me. If we saw more of that work, perhaps SEA could become a great thing for the Evangelical world at large.

    I suppose that’s all. Keep up the good work, Dr Olson. Or can I all you “Roger”?! :)

    • rogereolson

      If you want to, you can call me “Ray.” (Inside joke for us old guys who remember a TV commercial from long ago :) I respect the intentions and some of the work of the SEA. I dropped my membership because I came to believe it was catering too much to fundamentalists in the ranks. I’m past getting into long, protracted debates with fundamentalists. I felt that they should have been told to quieten down and leave me alone after they’d had their say. They wouldn’t cease and desist and it became a dogfight I didn’t want part of and it was largely centered around me so, what else is there to do but go elsewhere and do something more constructive? Some of them have come here, but here I can delete their comments if they are uncivil or simply repetitive.

      • http://dailyarminian.wordpress.com Brendan Burnett

        No worries “Ray”!! It’s understandable how that state of affairs is unnecessarily strenuous especially on a scholar like yourself who is probably frankly just busy.

  • Francesco C.

    Dear Roger,
    You wrote like this was the pattern:

    1) divine determinism
    2) arminian ‘God is in charge but not in control’
    3) open theism

    …and you believe option 2 is the most biblical one.

    But I don’t understand why your example of librarian work is different from opentheism (except that in arminian view the librarian knows that a book he dislikes is arriving…)

    I think that I believe in a kind of ‘meticulous providence’ that is not divine determinism. I propose you an example and tell me please what you think about it: God is like a blogger that gives freedom to the readers to add comments, but is also in total control because He can deny to publish it on his blog… Just like you at this moment.

    (If you don’t think this is the divine perfect way to have both control and freedom, why don’t you set your blog in another more-divine way, giving freedom to all readers to input comments on which you will act AFTER publication? you are the “god” of this blog :-))

    • rogereolson

      Perhaps our only disagreement (besides whether I’m god or not :) is over the term meticulous providence. I detest it as it always, inevitably implies divine determinism.

      • Francesco C.

        Opentheists say that God allows genteric Evil (all inclusive).
        Arminian say that God foreknows and allows any single evil.
        Calvinists say that God allows and in some way wants any single evil.

        I think Calvinists are right when they affirm that for an all-powerful God, evil-allowed is the same than evil-wanted. And I don’t think that the philosophical approach of many theologians fighting to describe God’s character as similar to Pilatus “washing his hands of that blood”, is really worthy the task.

        Auschwitz and Dachau happened. God could stop that.
        At the end, when Holocaust was going to happen, God knew that (with/without middleknowledge, even with/without special divine foreknowledge…).

        So, I think the main point is human responsibility as an auto-explicanatory reason that logically anticipates God’s decree. In this sense, classical arminian acceptance of God’s foreknowledge (against opentheism) and human autonomous responsibility&free will (against calvinism) is the unique right answer, and does not end into divine determinism, I suppose.

        (it is also, in my opinion, the only answer we could find in Bible’s pages)

        • Francesco C.

          So, my point/question is related to the fact that I don’t understand in which way your view is useful for the glory of God’s character, it sounds for me as a simple limitation of God (in a way similar but not equal to open-theism).
          And I don’t understand why meticulous providence ends surely into divine determinism.

          • rogereolson

            If you have been reading here for very long and still don’t understand what I’m saying I don’t have very much hope of making myself understood.

  • http://www.examiningcalvinism.com Rchard Coords

    Hello Dr. Olson,

    1) Regarding “in charge” vs. “in control”, I think that your strongest verse is 1st Corinthians 10:13.
    2) Regarding Middle Knowledge, I see it used in Scripture either to (1) shame the unrepentant (Matthew 11:21-24) or (2) thwart evil (Genesis 50:20), but not necessary as a means to cause or decree sin, unless the subject party has already committed to it, in their heart, and God is subsequently using their self-determined thoughts & intentions for another purpose (i.e. Pharaoh, and God creating a testimony for the world). Alternatively, those who say that God uses MK specifically to “render certain” the damnation of certain individuals, needs to explain it in light of Matthew 25:41.
    3) The dividing issue with SEA was over Inerrancy. (See your comment below.) There are many internal squabbles at SEA, which can be healthy, if done in a godly manner (i.e. iron sharpens iron). This has been seen regarding Inclusivism, Divine concurrence, Middle Knowledge and on many other issues and on many other verses, but the matter of Inerrancy was deemed non-negotiable, specifically in relation to your comments on 2nd Samuel 24:1 / 2nd Chronicles 21:1-10. I simply cannot accept the argument that the only extant manuscripts available merely represent erroneous quotes of those texts, which would otherwise have much further reaching implications regarding Scripture as a whole. I think that the texts can be understood “as is,” especially in light of Job 2:3. The concept of “perfect with respect to purpose” was the reason why you were deemed unfit for membership. Certainly it’s SEA’s loss, but nonetheless non-negotiable.

    You wrote: “Apparently, that includes believing everything the Old Testament records actually happened just as it is recorded. Well, that’s a little difficult as anyone who has attempted to reconcile the accounts of the same events given in Samuel and Kings and Kings and Chronicles can testify. Did God inspire David to conduct a census of Israel or was it Satan? Etc., etc., etc. My point is that nobody can discuss the Old Testament (at least) in any serious fashion and avoid possibly falling into conflict with someone else’s idea of Scripture’s ‘trustworthiness.’ My definition is that the Bible is ‘perfect with respect to purpose,’ not that the Bible offers a flawless performance in statistics. Apparently, for the organization I resigned from today (assuming I ever really was a member), biblical ‘trustworthiness’ and ‘inerrancy’ mean the same thing. Why not just say ‘inerrancy,’ then? I wouldn’t have joined in the first place in that case. (I admit that I joined the organization and was even involved in its founding; the disagreement is over whether I remained a member.)”

    • Francesco C.

      I don’t think Matt 25:41 is in a issue for meticulous determinism: many things created for a determined scope, are extended in a following time by God’s will to a broader goal.

      And I don’t agree with holiness/wesleyan interpretation of 1st Corinthians 10:13: the context makes clear in my mind that it is speaking about a temptation that moves us away from Christ (=apostasy), but I do think that sometimes we as Christians don’t have any way to avoid some special sin during our journey on earth, because of our limitations, ignorance, weakness and so on, that are not totally removed or overcome until final redemption of our bodies.

  • http://www.churchcanberra.com Josh

    Seriously love your work Roger.

  • Anthony

    By the way, I am not accusing you of being an open theist, here. I only believe that it is incoherent to say that God “knows” what he is uncertain about. Evil is and was renderred certain in the mind of God. If it wasn’t then God didn’t know what kind of world He was creating. At what point, under this view, would God have know what what going to happen. It doesn’t makes sense. But if it does not make sense, Arminianism is not threatened because that is not a necessary component of Arminianism.

    • rogereolson

      But you did accuse me of not keeping up with Arminius research just because I don’t agree with those who are claiming that Arminius was a Molinist who believed (as many Calvinists do!) that God uses middle knowledge to render human acts, including sin and evil, certain according to a divine blueprint designed by God. That would make God just as responsible for sin and evil as Calvinism (inadvertently) does. So, please know, that before this I had no problem with you (so far as I remember) but now I’m offended because you implied that just because I disagree with your (and others’) view of Arminius I am not keeping up with Arminius research. That’s the kind of thing I was talking about in my post.

      • Anthony

        Molinist-Calvinism(CM) is not the same as Molinist-Arminianism (MA). CM is used by infralapsarians to account for the fall, but believe that subsequent salvation is monergistic whereas AM uses molinism to explain all of providence in dealing with free agents in accomplishing God’s purposes and are synergistic in salvation. CM believes in soteriological determinism even if they are not metaphysical determinists. AM believes in neither metaphysical determinism nor soteriological determinism. This does not make God the author of sin because the truth value of counterfactual freedom is not up to God but up to the creature (read Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil – his whole Freewill Defense is based on a rejection of metaphysical determinism not to mention the very reason that molinism was enunciated in the first place by Molina and Suarez). Furthermore, the necessary condition to be a Calvinist is Soteriological Determinism not Metaphysical Determinism and CM believes in SD but not MD and is therefore consistently Calvinist.

        • rogereolson

          Of course, this raises the question of compatibilism. I have talked to Arminian Molinists who say they believe compatibilist freedom–because they are Molinists. It seems there are more than two options (for those who say they are Molinists). It seems to me the issue comes down to what God does with his middle knowledge (which I don’t believe in because I do not believe in counterfactuals of freedom).

          • Anthony

            yes, you do believe in counterfactuals of freedom. You may not believe that middle knowledge is true, but counterfactuals of freedom, yes. Everybody does. The question is whether or not they can be known prior to creation. I assume that you espouse the truth-maker objection to middle knowledge. If you believe that God is in-Time and that there needs to be “truth-makers” in order for a statement to be true then you are stuck with open theism. Whether you like it or not. The only option you have other than open theism is the Thomist solution of timeless eternity to account for the supposed need for truth-makers. I would encourage you to look further into truth-maker theory and Molinism. The grounding-objection is not at all compelling or plausible as a good objection to Middle Knowledge. Also, if you talk to so-called Arminian molinists who believe in compatiblism, then they are not Arminian Molinists, they are Calvinist Molinists. Actually, they are not Molinists at al, but middle knowledge Calvinists. The entire enterprise of Molinism is founded on the assumption of Libertarian Freewill. You are referring to someone like Terrance Tiessen, who is a”middle knowledge calvinist” but rejects molinism because he accepts compatibilism as the grounding for God’s middle knowledge of human decisions. Again, that is not Molinism, nor Arminianism.

          • rogereolson

            I find it interesting that you know what I believe in better than I do. Your tone is offensive to me. I’m quite familiar with the distinctions you lecture me about. If you ever decide to come down from your mountain top and stop talking to me like I’m your intellectual inferior we may be able to have constructive dialogue.

  • Anthony

    Oh, and I also do not believe that Open Theism is a heresy. So, don’t think that I am a “heresy hunter”. One of the things that I admire most about Arminius was his unwillingness to call opposing viewpoints “heresy” such as the Catholic Church or the Anabaptists.

  • Anthony

    I don’t know if this article was directed at me, but if it was, I am surprised that you are not comfortable with friendly disagreement. Although I disagree with your understanding of Arminius, I have been very appreciative of your work and I thought that I expressed such appreciation in previous posts. Arminius studies is an ongoing and recently resurging disciplinewith a lot of research still to be done and in the process of being done (such as translations on the missing disputations and re-translating of other works that have already been done). One of my ambitions is to help advance the dialogue of Arminius in the future.
    There are good reasons for interpreting Arminius in terms of meticulous providence, secondary causation (with regard to libertarian freewill), and evil as renderred certain in the mind and plan of God. These reasons have to do with the traditions of Aquinas, Boethius, and Molina who held to God as using the freewill of creatures to accomplish His purposes without overriding their causal efficacy (libertarian freedom). I don’t think that Arminius was deviating from that tradition, though I do believe that he clearly deviated from the Reformed tradition on the issue of Soteriological Determininism.
    The push-back from me is that I don’t think that God just “has to deal with” what His hand is dealt. And one does not have to believe that in order to be a true Arminian. I do not believe that we are causally determined but I do believe that divine permission was a permission of what specifically unfolds in history. I believe that there is content to what God permits. It is not as though He permits whether or not something happens and waits for it to happen in order to know what He permitted actually happens or not. I think that it is important because it makes Arminianism sound incoherent. But it is not! I enjoy your blog, your books, and your boldness, but this post sounded like you are not interested in being challenged about what Arminianism is historically.

    Dr. Olson! Can you dismiss my first comment? I can’t seem to be able to delete comments here. I am sorry for the bluster. Here is my edited comment.

    • rogereolson

      It’s even difficult for me to go back and delete posted comments, but I accept the apology. But just know that the tone (and one accusation) in the original comment was exactly what I was talking about in my post.

  • rogereolson

    I don’t know why you thought it was aimed at you! I don’t even know who you are (do I?). I thought I made clear that gentle disagreement is fine; I welcome it. And just because I have an opinion about Arminius hardly means I’m closed-minded. What I do object to is your characterization of my belief about Arminius’ view of God’s providence; you make it sound like I think Arminius was an open theist which I do not. I was clearly objecting to harsh attacks and attempts to undermine fellow Arminians’ reputations and there is one hint of that in your comment here which I do not appreciate. Just because I disagree does not mean I am not keeping up with Arminius research. That’s insulting.

  • Francesco

    Dear Roger, could you please finger to the comments or (better) the sentences where you explain why meticulous providence leads surely to divine determinism?

    I believe in libertarian free(d) will and don’t have any problem with metculous providence, standing on what I understood of arminian doctrine of concurrence (man freely inputs the comment in blog-universe, God as an administrator determines if publishing it or not).

    Sorry if I soubd rough or rude in my words, I have always lived in Italy.

    • rogereolson

      Most simply: I use “meticulous providence” as a synonym for “divine determinism.” Apparently not everyone does.

      • Francesco C.

        Ok, but in this case which is the name you give to a theological position that is intermediate between “God-is-in-charge-not-in-control” and “divine determinism”?

        I (and, it seems, major part of arminians, if you wrote this post about this disagreement) believe that God controls=authorizes every single act and event in the universe, but we submit our free decisions and desires to His authorization.

        I think that, because of the numbers of christians that adopt this view, and its logical coherence, this theological and spiritual view exists and is worthy of a name. I thought it was “arminian concurrence”, but you put this equivalence in doubt…

        Thank you for your kindness, Dr. Olson.

        • rogereolson

          No, I have affirmed the doctrine of concurrence here. And I have explained here numerous times that I say “God is in charge but not in control” because most people hear “in control” and think it means “controlling” in the sense of micromanaging, causing–omnicausality. We are quibbling over words here. I believe I agree completely with the classical Arminian doctrine of God’s providence although I have my doubts still about the role Arminius himself gave to God’s middle knowledge (Molinism).

  • Francesco

    @Anthony&dr. Roger,
    I agree with dr. Roger that in the intermediate ground between God-is-in-charge and God-is-in-control, more than just two molinisms exist. I tend to identify myself in that position, but generally reject molinism because I don’t believe in any way in determinism or in compatibilism. God is able to foresee my choices even if the outcomes are not deterministically calculable. I believe in libertarian freedom, usage of middleknowledge by God, micromanaging and omnicasuality. I suppose this is the true meaning of concurrence according to Arminius, even if I am not sure. I would not use molinism as summary of this theological position, but maybe I read almost always about CM and don’t know enough about AM. Famous apologete Craig is considered AM or CM?
    Anyway, I am curious to read now about this the new post of dr. Roger about sovereignity.

    • Anthony

      Francesco, William Lane Craig is an Arminian Molinist. See his arguments against determinism in FOUR VIEWS ON DIVINE PROVIDENCE. It is one of the best arguments against determinism that I have seen. Alvin Plantinga is also an Arminian -Molinist, because he is not a compatibilist (Even though he taught at Calvin College once upon a time).

      • rogereolson

        Do you have evidence that Plantinga calls himself an Arminian or even approves of being called an Arminian? As for Craig, well, anyone can call himself or herself an Arminian. There’s no law against it.

  • Dr. Olson

    Dr. Olson

    I was raised a Lutheran and became a pastor at a 1000 member church. I left when I discovered infant baptism doesn’t save. I married a Church of Christ gal and pastored a small church for two months when I discovered that adult baptism doesn’t save either. I entered Trinity College and Seminary and earned my PhD in theology in 2005. I authored “Eternal Security: Once Saved; Always Saved.” All this to say that I really am Dr. Olson and not trying to jab at your good name :^)

    I recently discovered your exemplary book on Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I also know that you were close to Stanley Grenz. I read his excellent systematic theology entitled “Theology for the Community of God. All this to ask:
    Question: Will you be writing an Arminian based systematic theology?
    I do hope that you will ! Assuming you’ll do this, I hope that your work will have an extensive preliminary on historical theology somewhat like Alister McGrath put together but with more of a focus on the comparisons and impacts of various views of God’s attributes. You did something of this in your book on Arminian theology as you compared the Calvinistic focus on God’s sovereignty to the Arminian focus on God’s love. Part of me thinks that all errant theologies (and heresies) are an out of balance view of one or more of God’s attributes. I am sure your handling of this topic would be over the top!
    May the Lord bless you.
    Dr. Olson

    • Roger Olson

      Good book idea, Dr. Olson! Maybe you should write it or we should write together and then people can refer to it s “Olson and Olson.” :) Seriously, it is a much-needed book. I’ll keep it in mind.

      • Dr. Olson

        Seriously. I have it already written – hundreds of pages. Most of it was written to vent my years of vanity and pride – not knowing of Abraham’s waterless pattern for all of us in the New Testament. So just as I was congratulating myself in a finished systematic theology, I lost the feeling of God’s pleasure with what I had done. So I set it aside trying to figure out why I no longer felt God’s blessing on it. With the reading of your Book on Arminian Theology, I now see and realize the tremendous shortcomings in my section on Calvinism. Thanks to your excellent work, I have the gentle prodding to move on again.

        But I’m also troubled. The way that I write is so technical – I don’t even like to read it. You’ll get the idea if you look at my book on Eternal Security. By contrast, you have the “knack” to write technically and in a way that somehow seems to grip.

        Thanks for the offer. If the mixing of Arminianism and Calvinism results in Calminians, then how would the mix of Olson and Olson work out? I think my contributions would mar your “knack.”
        So I once again urge you to construct your own Systematic Theology. I do hope that you’ll do more than “keep it in mind.” You seem to be quite a prolific writer. Do a quick 2-3 page outline and see where it leads you !
        Dr. Lloyd A. Olson


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