A Conversation between a Calvinist and an Arminian about God’s Sovereignty

A Conversation between a Calvinist and an Arminian about God’s Sovereignty:

Calvinist to Arminian: “You Arminians don’t really believe in God’s sovereignty.”

Arminian: “You Calvinists don’t really believe in God’s love.”

Calvinist: “Oh, but we do. You’re so wrong! The Bible is clear about God being love.”

Arminian: “But you don’t believe God loves all people, so how can you believe, as the Bible says, that God is love?”

Calvinist: “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.”

Arminian: “Uh, you seemed to be in a trance as you said that. Are you sure you didn’t just hear that somewhere and are repeating it like a mantra—without really thinking about what you’re saying?”

Calvinist: “No, that’s what I really believe!”

Arminian: “How does God love those he predestined, foreordained, to hell?”

Calvinist: “He gives them many temporal blessings.”

Arminian: “You mean he gives them a little bit of heaven to go to hell in.”

Calvinist: “Well, I wouldn’t put it that way.”

Arminian: “That’s what it sounds like to me.”

Calvinist: “That’s because you don’t understand God correctly. God is infinite and beyond our comprehension. So God’s love is not the same as our love. It transcends it.”

Arminian: “How is that different from saying God is ‘supercalifragilisticexpialadocious’?”

Calvinist: “Look, you Arminians have a low view of God. That’s your whole problem. You don’t understand the glory of God. Why, you don’t even really believe in the sovereignty of God—as I said.”

Arminian: “No, you’re wrong. We do. But God’s ‘sovereignty’ is different than any of our notions of human sovereignty—even the best and highest of them. God is infinite and transcends our categories.”

Calvinist: “Wait a minute. ‘Sovereignty’ means absolute, total control.”

Arminian: “It might in your vocabulary or even in your dictionary but that doesn’t matter. ‘When we attribute something to God we have to realize it’s totally different in God than in us because of God’s glory.’ At least that’s so if we play the theology game your way. If you can say you believe in God’s love but God’s ‘love’ is different than our highest and best concepts of love and that it’s even compatible with what we know as hate, then surely we can say, without you objecting, that we believe in God’s sovereignty even if our concept of God’s sovereignty is totally different than any concept of sovereignty you think is normal or compatible with human knowledge or experience.”

Calvinist: “Okay, I see. You’re trying to turn the tables on me.”

Arminian: “I’m just trying to get you to put aside double standards and play fair in your rhetoric about Arminianism. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. You can’t appeal to God’s infinity and incomprehensibility to defend your unusual (to say the least) meaning of ‘God is love’ and then turn around and object when others use words about God in ways beyond what you think is normal understanding.”

Calvinist: “Well, we Calvinists are just going by what the Bible says. We have to understand God’s love by what we see clearly revealed in Scripture about God’s actions.”

Arminian: “Well, we Arminians are just going by what the Bible says. We have to understand God’s sovereignty by what we see clearly revealed in Scripture about God’s actions.”

Calvinist: “Now you’re mocking me.”

Arminian: “No, I’m just trying to point out that two can play that game.”

Calvinist: “Well, I don’t even know what you mean. God’s sovereignty in Scripture is clearly absolute control. That’s how God acts in Scripture.”

Arminian: “And what about all those times when God didn’t get his way and regretted things because of what humans did to thwart his plans and will? And what about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem and saying he wanted to…but they would not? Et cetera?”

Calvinist: “Oh, well, that’s easy. Those are anthropomorphisms.”

Arminian: “And so could be all those times in Scripture when God controlled circumstances and people.”

Calvinist: “No, those must be taken literally.”

Arminian: “You are coming to Scripture with a preconceived idea of God and choosing what to take figuratively and what to take literally based on that. Your starting point is a philosophical idea of God drawn from reason and then you use that as a Procrustean bed of hermeneutics.”

Calvinist: “Wait. I think you’re trying to turn the tables on me again. That’s what we Calvinists say you Arminians do—with free will.”

Arminian: “Oh, really?”

  • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick S. Franklin

    Brilliant! (and entertaining!)
    A question. Do you think there might be development in Scripture (through the OT, then into the NT) on this issue? What I mean is that in the ancient near east people generally believed that ‘the gods’ were in control of everything (as their cosmology and their theology were mutually determining). Within that context, it’s not difficult to imagine God accomodating himself in Scripture to speak into that world. Scripture’s cosmology shares features with common ideas in the ANE (e.g., Scripture speaks of the earth having pillars, of there being storehouses for snow, hail, and winds, etc.). It’s not that the OT teaches this cosmology per se, but it assumes much of it as God accomodates his revelation (and in the process, of course, transforms many aspects of that cosmology from within). So, my question is: I wonder if a particular view of sovereignty seeps in from this ANE view of the gods/the cosmos? Scripture (at least in the OT) does not challenge everything about this, but asserts that GOD (not ‘the gods’) is sovereign over all things. Then, with Jesus, we have to ask afresh what we mean by ‘GOD’ and what it means for THIS GOD (the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ) to be sovereign.
    Just thinking out loud . . .

    • Roger Olson

      My study of historical theology has convinced me that the “Calvinist” view of God’s sovereignty (divine determinism) comes from Augustine and Augustine derived it from Greek philosophy. Church fathers before Augustine certainly believed in God’s sovereignty but not in divine determinism. I don’t find divine determinism in the Old Testament, either.

      • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick S. Franklin

        Makes sense in terms of the development of Augustinianism/Calvinism.
        My point was more about the OT though. There’s lots of language that would could take to point toward determinism. God controls everything from the weather to evil spirits to people’s hearts (Pharoah), etc. I know that there are lots of passages pointing toward freewill too. My questions is whether there is some residual ‘determinism’ becasue of the ANE context of the OT. (I place determinism in quotes becuase I don’t mean Greek notions of fate, etc., but the ancient cosmology that saw gods in control of everything. Of course, the Bible disagrees with that, but perhaps only takes an initial step . . . asserting that Yahweh (not ‘the gods’) is sovereign. But some assumptions about sovereignty still remain). So, my point has to do with the question of where the anthropomorphisms about sovereignty come from (ANE culture, I wonder?).

        • Roger Olson

          I think it is extremely difficult, probably impossible, to systematize OT concepts of God. God is described in conflicting ways–especially in the early stages of OT history. God hardened Pharoah’s heart but Pharoah hardened his own heart. Satan inspired David to conduct a census but God inspired him to conduct the census. All efforts I have ever read to provide a coherent system of OT doctrine of God fall short. Either 1) When we get to heaven and sit in God’s Introduction to the Old Testament course we will hear explanations we never thought of that tie it all together coherently, or 2) God permitted the OT writers to include some of their own thoughts about God that are not correct–drawn more from culture than from divine revelation.

          • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick S. Franklin

            I lean toward (2) and agree that there is no systematized concept in the OT. Thanks for the discussion!

          • Scott__F

            While I might disagree with your conclusions, I really admire your willingness to take the OT as it is and not attempt to sledgehammer a theology on it.

          • Jason75

            If I may, I think it comes down to the idea of “God as ultimate causal agent” in Hebrew thought.

            Which is to say that God was always responsible for everything, irrespective of whether or not he actually did anything.

            Thus it was quite correct to say God inspired David to do a census, even though God actually didn’t, and was indeed wroth with David over it.

          • Roger Olson

            Well, that just seems like a stretch to me. But belief in inerrancy makes one have to stretch.

          • Ken Steckert

            Any reason not to apply this reasoning to the NT as well?

          • Roger Olson

            I’m not sure exactly to whom your question is addressed. Disqus (the software) doesn’t show me which comments other people are responding to. But I’ll just ask–don’t you see a difference in terms of clarity of the gospel between the OT and the NT? I really don’t think any Christian puts the OT and the NT on the same level in terms of clarity of the gospel of Jesus Christ and application to our lives as God’s new covenant people. When I was growing up and they still made “gospel tracts” containing a portion of Scripture (to give out to people) it was ALWAYS the Gospel of John. Why? Why not, say, Ecclesiastes or Lamentations or Job?

          • Ken Steckert

            Roger, it was addressed to you. I appreciate your response.

            An example of what I see as cultural influence, and not divine revelation, would be that of women. While in the gospels I find Jesus respect for women equal to that of man, in Paul’s writings I do not see the same consistently. One of the more blatant examples of this would be I Cor 15:34-36 where women are to be quiet in the house church setting, and ask their husbands at home. And in the context it seems to me it is to learn from their husbands more than discuss with their husbands. This seems much more of a cultural influence than a Jesus influence to me.

          • Ken Steckert

            Roger – yes, the question was to you. Thanks for the reply.

            This may show twice, but I posted a few hours ago and still do not see my post, so here it is …

            In the gospels Jesus appears to me to consider men and women as equals. Paul seems to think differently, one of the more blatant examples being I Cor 15:34-36 where women are to be silent in the house church and ask their husbands at home (and in the context seems to me to learn from them with their cultural bias, as opposed to “discuss” with them). This seems to me more drawn from culture than divine inspiration.

      • plw

        Excellent dialogue. Thanks for it. You say that you do not find divine determinism in the OT, which made me interested in your reading of Amos, particularly 3.6 and 4.6 to the end of the chapter. This has always sounded quite deterministic to me.

      • Marius Lombaard

        greek philosophy, or more precisely gnosticism. i maintain that calvinism/augustinianism is the heresy of gnostic necessity in disguise.

        augustine did a brilliant job turning the tables on the free will debate. instead of defending his gnosticism, he started attacking christians of denying sovereignty and grace in God’s predestination. as far as i know the church mostly rejected his teaching… until Luther came along, and then Calvin. augustinian predestination is a phenomenon unique to protestantism. i find it odd that catholics don’t brand us as gnostics. in many cases they really should.

        protestants who believed in free will had to go on the defence since luther/calvin. this is where arminians qualified their belief in free will by adding that free will is a result of God’s prevenient grace that restores our libertarian freedom. i don’t have any issue attributing it to God’s grace, but in hindsight i do feel cheapened having to qualify it. the early church never even thought (to my knowledge) to qualify free will by adding prevenient grace to it. they were more concerned fighting gnosticism. being made in God’s image (and having free will by extension) was implicit grace and sufficient.

        we really should be turning the tables back to how it was by stopping being so defensive and going back on the offensive. calvinists today don’t even know that their doctrine have roots in gnosticism (saying “gnosticism” packs more punch than calling it greek philosophy), and i am certain many of them would abandon calvinism if they knew they were just another offshoot of gnosticism.

        you can decide whether to leave this youtube link or to remove it, i thought it was a good overview of augustine’s gnosticism (a bit long though, about 54 minutes)

        • Roger Olson

          I don’t have time to watch it, so I can’t be absolutely sure it belongs here.

    • Dr. Olson

      Patrick. Excellent question. My seminary teacher of OT agreed with your observation that there are “common ideas in the ANE.” He thought that the ANE cultures had biblical concepts of God polluted as spiritual teaching was passed down verbally from Adam to Noah then to father to father to father etc. So God was not accomodating Himself to the world. The world was rebelling into polluted varieties of self-righteous religions.
      Dr. L.A.Olson

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Roger,I appreciate the conversation you have relayed. It is instructive, yet discouraging because it leaves off at the place where both seem to have gotten to their end results through similar means (just with different starting places). I hope that’s not true – that there is a more objective way of doing this – that thoughtful and honest people can come to a better consensus.
    I do have a question for you as you have mentioned “God is Love” from 1Jn4 a number of times recently. I take it as a strong association between God and loving behavior, but I don’t remove it from its status of metaphor (figure of speech). Figures of speech are rarely to be pressed to extremes, but meant to convey a great closeness of association – like “God is Light”, in 1Jn1, closely associating God with clearness/transparency/truth/honesty/purity (but not photons or EM waves). I’d like to ask you to expand on your understanding of the 1Jn 4 passage and explain what it means and any dangers of interpreting it more literally that figures of speech are normally allowed. In the above discussion, the Arminian and Calvinist seem to disagree how to understand it; what’s your take?
    Thank you,

    • Roger Olson

      I think I’ve said this several times before, but I’m always happy to repeat it–”The answer is Jesus.” In other words, I interpret “God is love” through the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ’s disposition toward people and suffering for people reveals what “God is love” means. Also, I would argue that “love” in “God is love” may be analogical but cannot be equivocal and that is what happens in Calvinism–”love” when applied to God becomes equivocal.

      • David H Maxfield

        Jesus loved his disciples so he warned them to stand firm in their faith. They would face persecution, but should not deny him. “I’ll tell you whom to fear–fear God who has the power to kill and then cast into hell,” Lk 12:4,5; Mt 10:22-28, TLB.

        Also, those whosoever statements in John 3:16 and 3:36 seem pretty clear that we have our freewill.

        Having said that, rather than the philosophical, intellectual debates you really need to view everything in context with the Bible as a whole.

        God is the master planner, not the micro manager. He does not control us, although he does try to influence us.

        Browse my most recent book, “What it means to be a God–Fearing, Jesus-Loving, Spirit–Filled Christian” release date 10/29/2013.

        Does God predestine some? Absolutely. Consider Cyrus the Persian. Does he predestine everyone? Absolutely not!

        See how God changed his mind with Israel, Moses, Ahab, and Hezekiah 2 Kgs 20:1-11 to name a few. How he was grieved that he ever chose Saul as king.

        Later, tearing the kingdom in two, and raising up Jeroboam to be the first king of the 10 tribes of Israel, offering him a dynasty, only to find Jeroboam a horrible king, introducing idol worship. 1 Kgs 14:5-16

        Sometimes his plans work out, and sometimes they don’t as with the King of Tyre and Nebuchadnezzar and his army that laid siege for twelve years. Because they tried hard, but were unsuccessful God rewarded them with plunder from Egypt. Ezk 28:10 29:17-20.

        Interestingly enough, it was two days after completing this book that I found out about what is known as open theism. From what I have read so far, I am in agreement.

  • labreuer

    I love it! There’s something deep to hypocrisy—prohibiting others from doing things that one does oneself. I recently came across a Christian who reviewed John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart; at first he disagreed with the idea that the Christian’s regenerate heart is good. Then, seven years later, he came around. One of the things he concluded is that he had to be careful to not treat folks like Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards as infallible (inerrant). Good grief! This was someone with a very strong and rigid doctrine of inerrancy. He believed that only the Bible is inerrant, and yet was de facto treating the writings of Christians as being inerrant! It was on this basis that he too strongly rejected what Eldredge had to say.

    On the issue of God’s sovereignty, I like how Calvinists distort imago dei, such that in certain ways, our attributes are not analogous to God’s attributes. At least based on all of the Calvinist conceptions of God’s sovereignty I’ve come across, there is no analogous, finite version of human sovereignty. Or perhaps I should talk in terms of freedom: God has libertarian free will, but humans only have compatibilist free will. Compatibilism is not analogous to libertarianism!

    • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

      Labreuer,

      I think it would be accurate to say that Calvinists believe God has compatibilistic freedom, in that He only acts according to His character and highest desire. In the most absolute sense, “He does as He pleases,” just as we do in a more finite way. This is why it is impossible for God to lie, deny Himself, or violate his holiness. He always acts only in ways that are compatible with His moral nature (according to Calvinists).

      Fortunately, He is also immutable. Whereas we can have new desires introduced into us (thankfully!) by way of irresistible grace, He is never liable to having new desires introduced. Thus we can rely wholly on His unfailing love and faithfulness.

      Out of curiosity, what major representatives of Calvinism claim God has libertarian free will? I do not recall seeing this claim made anywhere (I may have just missed it).

      On another note, does the imago dei really require that we possess finite, analogous versions of every attribute or characteristic possessed by God? Wouldn’t the Creator/creature distinction and our fallen condition, together, entail some ways in which God is “wholly other” than we are?

      Grace to you,
      Derek Ashton

      • Roger Olson

        Derek, Your questions are addressed to Labreuer. I assume you know what my answers would be as we’ve discussed all this here before. I have no idea what Labreuer would say, but a classical Arminian should say that God has libertarian free will to decide and act between alternatives that are within his character. Was God’s decision to create the universe such that he could have done otherwise? If not, then the universe is necessary to God and we are at least on the edge of panentheism. Creatio ex nihilo means, to me, anyway, that God did not have to create the world. God could have been God without the world. Was creating the world God’s only option? Jonathan Edwards pushed the logic of his denial of libertarian free will to the limit and admitted that, in some sense, the world is necessary. This is why some Calvinists have backed away from absolute denial of libertarian free will and admitted that at least for God, if not for us, there must be alternative choices. Otherwise, the world becomes part of God.

        • http://theoparadox.blogspot.com THEOparadox

          Dr. Olson,

          Good points here. I have written and re-written a few speculative comments in response, and found myself in philosophical cul-de-sacs every time! [delete, delete] It seems there is a great deal we (humans) don’t understand about choice/freedom, as it occurs with both God and ourselves. Quite a fascinating topic.

          • labreuer

            In the spirit of Roger, I’ll respond to this. :-)

            One meme among some Christians is that there is exactly one ‘best’ path in life to walk; any deviation whatosever is bad. I reject this, as it destroys any meaningful concept of ‘freedom’. I doubt one could support this “single path” idea with scripture more robustly than one could support the opposite with scripture. Therefore, the decision for or against it needs to come from which systems are compatible with the idea.

            Now, we’re told that the path is ‘narrow’, that few find it. In a sense this shouldn’t be at all surprising: of all the possible ways to try and attempt a given task, usually very few would actually work. If we restrict the paths we are considering to the ones that will work—the ones that adhere to God’s design of reality (‘Law’)—we actually have more freedom. You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.

            Compatibilist free will is nothing other than humans as deterministic robots with programmed brains. Our desires and character are programs with ‘behavior’ that can be perfectly predicted, if one can know the code perfectly, plus all the possible sense experiences we’ll have that feed into said programs. I see nothing ultimately glorious about such a view of human beings. We can make robots which are much more reliable than humans. If anything, viewing humans as robots makes God out to be a terrible engineer! Perhaps my programming contains too much error, but I simply don’t see God as glorious if he has compatibilist free will, nor if he has libertarian free will but his created beings are not created in his image when it comes to kind of freedom. I currently design and program robots for a living; while they can be engineering marvels, they aren’t if the designer is omniscient.

      • labreuer

        I think it would be accurate to say that Calvinists believe God has compatibilistic freedom, in that He only acts according to His character and highest desire.

        This isn’t a sufficient definition of ‘compatibilism’, unless you can show that God has exactly one ‘highest desire’, and that there is only one way to satisfy this desire. I don’t think this can be found anywhere in scripture. The general statement ‘his glory’ doesn’t suffice.

        The term ‘compatibilistic freedom’ is really an oxymoron: it says that people think they have freedom when all is actually deterministic. Do you really want to say that every action of God’s is determined ahead of time? I think this is an ugly consequence that should result in the rejection of the premise.

        On another note, does the imago dei really require that we possess finite, analogous versions of every attribute or characteristic possessed by God? Wouldn’t the Creator/creature distinction and our fallen condition, together, entail some ways in which God is “wholly other” than we are?

        The fallen natures of Christians are reversed via regeneration and sanctification. I don’t see why the Creator/creature distinction would result in anything other than an infinite/finite difference. Can you think of scripture which indicates that God is ‘wholly other’? To the contrary, I would point out that Jesus was “the exact imprint of his nature” (Heb 1:3), and that we are called to imitate Christ (1 Cor 11:1, Eph 5:1). We are to “be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect”.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Hard to understand having the mindset, but easy to observe the rhetorical strategy. It so strongly resembles brainwashing or cultish techniques there seems no way to break through with just an argument. A somewhat milder version of the strategy can be seen in the arguments of ideologues of various stripes.

    Calvinist says “Sovereignty’ means absolute, total control.”
    Doesn’t being sovereign just mean having the right/authority to act sovereignly. The one with this right still has to decide how to exercise sovereignty. The history of royalty and of sovereign nations shows that this decision (package of decisions really) can take many forms. Saying that sovereignty must mean acting in one way or another is something only sovereigns need bother with. When we do this, we are out of bounds. Reminds me of the god of triangles – s/he has three sides.

    • Roger Olson

      Exactly. There is no “sovereignty” in human experience like the “sovereignty” Calvinists insist we must attribute to God in order “really” to believe in “God’s sovereignty.” In ordinary human language “sovereignty” NEVER means total control of every thought and every intention of ever subject. And yet it has become a Calvinist mantra that non-Calvinists “do not believe in God’s sovereignty.” I have a tape of a talk where R. C. Sproul says that Arminians “say they believe in God’s sovereignty” but he goes on to say “there’s precious little sovereignty left” (after Arminians qualify it). And yet he doesn’t admit there (or anywhere I’m aware of) that his own view of God’s sovereignty (which I call divine determinism) is not at all like sovereignty as we ordinarily mean it. That’s like saying of an absolute monarch who doesn’t control every subject’s every thought and intention and every molecule in the universe that he doesn’t really exercise sovereignty. It’s an idiocyncratic notion of “sovereignty.”

      • http://www.TheologicalGraffiti.com/ T. C. Moore

        Nailed it.

  • Jim Mahoney

    Love it. Now someone just needs to forward that to John Piper so he can sputter on about “free-will presuppositions.”

    • Roger Olson

      I wish someone would. :)

  • Lonnie

    I’ve long said Calvinists force God into the mold of human tyrants. For me Donald Trump is a good picture of how Calvinists present God. It isn’t in God’s nature to bully or manipulate. Manipulative control freaks all fall into Satan’s mold.

  • rvs

    Thanks for this highly enjoyable banter.

  • Lothars Sohn

    Hey Roger, thanks for this entertaining dialog!

    I’ve got several questions.

    1)
    I’ve learned with surprise that there are Calvinist like Horton who
    believe that God doesn’t predetermine everything, that he does leave
    us choices (such as when to brush her teeth) but that he’s completely
    sovereign about his grace.

    Do you think this is a coherent position?

    2)
    For me, God’s love is something far greater, far more beautiful than
    everything a human being can feel, give and accomplish.

    I find it utterly repugnant when Calvinists say that God’s love is
    actually far pettier than human’s love, and in fact even something
    really ugly.

    A judge who manipulates a great number of people to commit crimes and
    put most of them to death for their misdeeds would be call a
    psychopath, even if he saves a small number.

    But since God is far greater that our human categories, he is loving,
    just and righteous if he does that very thing.

    Would it be an exagerration to say that such utterances are
    profoundly blasphemous?

    3) A young reformed pastor told me that my refusal to accept the fact
    that God ordered the genocides of Amalekites he predetermined to act
    badly was due to my sinful pride, to my refusal to accept that God’s
    glory is much more important than human needs and concerns.

    Can we really say he’s worshipping the same God as you and I?

    Many thanks for your answers!

    Lothars Sohn – Lothar’s son

    • Roger Olson

      You asked three questions. I wrestle with the second and third and have no definite answers. All I can say is I recognize and accept Calvinists as fellow Christians even if they don’t me. As for the first–I am not sure I consider a person who does NOT believe in exhaustive divine determinism a true Calvinist. That view of providence/sovereignty is part and parcel of historic Calvinism. I have talked with Mike about this and I have to admit I don’t understand his view. It is something like that God’s agency and human agency are not competitive; they are not on the same “level,” so to speak, so that we can and should affirm BOTH (as I understand his view) that God is the all-determining reality behind and within all human decisions and actions AND that in matters other than salvation humans have genuine free choice. However, my question always is about the fall–of Adam. Did God not only foresee it but also foreordain and render it certain? Most Calvinists I know say yes, God not only foresaw it but foreordained it and rendered it certain. Then they start qualifying that in ways that undermine that claim (IMHO). I suspect Mike is a compatibilist of some kind–not only about salvation but about every human decision and action. But I admit I haven’t read all that he has written on the subject.

    • Drew

      I feel like the answer to the first question would be similar to the response to particular redemption. As Roger stated, temporal blessings amount to “a little bit of heaven to go to hell in”. If God only died effectually for the elect, temporal blessings then seem worthless. Likewise, if salvation is strictly monergistic as Calvinists claim, then even if we had libertarian free will for the “little actions”, I conclude that it is worthless freedom and it does not matter.

  • steve rogers

    Humorously done. Point taken. The cynic in me asks why don’t both sides admit that they are ill-equipped to define with authority both the sovereignty and love of GOD and it is folly to try? We are all on the journey of discovery together and waste time and energy as well as a lot of good will when we get sidetracked in such endless controversies. My more thoughtful side is drawn to your pointing to Jesus as the best picture of what God is like.

    • Nelson Banuchi

      The cynic in me wonders to which side of Jesus drawn are you referencing?

  • J.E. Edwards

    Niiiiiice. I’m sure you’re getting ready for classes to start. This is quite a conversation you’ve had, or is it one you anticipate having with some incoming freshman??:)

    • Roger Olson

      It’s purely imaginary but nevertheless completely possible.

  • Van

    Armenians believe that at least half of humanity will end up in eternal conscious torture according to their own free will. Calvinists believe that at least half of humanity will end up in eternal conscious torture according to God’s will. In either case, God ends up the big loser. (sigh)

    • Jay

      Not all Arminians, and some “others” believe in eternal conscious torment. In fact it seems the Bible is more clear on a delineation between life and death not life in heaven vs life in eternal conscious torment. But I understand your frustration none the less.

  • Van

    “For you [Father] granted [the Son] authority over ALL people that he might give eternal life to ALL those you have given him” (John 17:2 (NIV).

    If Christ has been granted “authority” over ALL people, who, then, is able to exercise their so-called ‘free will’ in an attempt to countermand God’s own will? Notice also, Jesus claimed that the Father has commissioned the Son to “give eternal life to ALL those you have given him.”

    • Roger Olson

      Of course, both classical Arminians and Calvinists will ask “But who are “all those [God has] given him?” All human beings who ever lived and will live or the people of God–people who have exercised faith with repentance? In John 14-17 Jesus explicitly says he is talking about his followers, not everyone.

      • Van

        Van quoted a scripture: “For you [Father] granted [the Son] authority over ALL people that he might give eternal life to ALL those you have given him” (John 17:2 (NIV). Roger replied: “But who are “all those [God has] given him?” All human beings who ever lived and will live or the people of God–people who have exercised faith with repentance?”

        1. It’s inconceivable that the Father would grant the Son “authority”
        over only some of humanity and exclude most. Notice that the text
        clearly says, “…authority over ALL people…” Also, it should be
        noted that in the Greek it reads “…over ALL flesh (sarx).” Surely
        “all flesh” would include all flesh since Adam and forward. According to the messianic psalm, the Messiah was to be given ultimate rule over ALL humanity: “I will
        declare the decree: the LORD hath
        said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.
        Ask of me, and I shall give
        thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of
        the earth for thy possession” (Psalm 2:7-8 (KJV).

        2. Concerning John 14-17, it’s true that on that particular occasion Jesus was speaking to his disciples, but it does not follow that his promises and blessings to them was meant to exclude the rest of humanity. That would be analogous to insisting that when God told Moses to “Honor your father and mother,” he was only talking to Moses and the people of Israel to the exclusion of all the heathen gentiles (that would include us).

        • Roger Olson

          Throughout John 14-17 Jesus is contrasting his disciples with “the world” by which I take it he means those who reject him and his kingdom. 14:23-24 makes this pretty clear–a dualism between those who accept him and those who do not. The Father will not dwell with those who reject him and his word, he says.

  • Dmitriy Belous

    I read couple of your books, it would be helpful if you could provide your “Ordo Salutis”, from Arminian point of view. I read couple reformed people trying to do that, but I found those inaccurate. So, it would be helpful to see the order of salvation from Classical Arminian view provided by actual Arminian. Thanks.

    • Roger Olson

      Watch for it. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Nelson Banuchi

      Must one believe in an “ordo salutis”, especially of the Reformed and or Calvinist brand, to be saved?

      • Roger Olson

        I would answer–no.

  • EnochThomas

    Roger, have you ever debated this topic formally or via email with a Calvinist? I am wondering because I think it would be much more beneficial than a post such as this. At least with someone like James White I can go directly to his debates and see and hear the interaction directly from each side as they give their position and dialogue through cross-examination. Just wondering.

    • Roger Olson

      I have held public dialogues with Michael Horton who I consider a very respectful conversation partner who never uses ridicule when discussing theological differences.

      • EnochThomas

        Thanks, I will look for that video or audio.

  • Nelson Banuchi

    Roger, this is the exact problem when discussing the issue with Calvinists. You hit the nail on the head. From my perspective:
    (a) The Calvinist appeal to “mystery” can also be taken up by the Arminian and, therefore, the debate becomes moot; how can either explain what neither can comprehend?
    (b) If notions of God’s love is so transcendent, then so is notions of divine sovereignty and, therefore again, any debate is meaningless for then we are discussing issues that cannot be coherently applied to human existence.
    The Calvinist make God so high to reach that even their theologican assertions are proved irrelevant before the “mystery” of God (and, we’ll ignore the fact that “mystery” is used in the Bible predominantly, at least in the NT, to mean that which was once hidden but is now revealed via divine revelation).

  • Richard Coords

    This is simply brilliant. The Calvinist graciously reserves for themselves a “nuanced” view of God’s LOVE, while stubbornly and irrationally refusing to allow Arminians to have a similarly nuanced view of God’s SOVEREIGNTY. As they say, “Busted!” You weren’t “turning the tables.” You were simply helping the Calvinist to see through the fog of their own clouded, hypocritical judgment, which they chose to remain indignant of, rather than giving you due consideration of an otherwise very reasonable and persuasive argument.

  • William Oosterman

    Utter nonsense.

    • Roger Olson

      How insightful! How profound! How reflective and challenging! Thank you for weighing in so weightily and such depth!


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