Calvinism Appearing in Unexpected (and Innapropriate) Places

Due to the rise of what my friend Scot McKnight calls “neo-Puritanism” (what others have labeled “the new Calvinism” or just “resurgent Calvinism”) TULIP Calvinism is popping up in places it does not belong. Especially young men are reading John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, even Michael Horton, and taking this new found theology “home” with them into the denominations they grew up in or have joined. Often those denominations are historically averse to Calvinism–such as Wesleyan-Holiness, Pentecostal and Anabaptist ones.

Often these denominations did not have the foresight to expect this influx of “young, restless, Reformed” people and so never wrote statements of faith that explicitly excluded TULIP. Their whole, entire ethoses were contrary to TULIP, however, and “five point Calvinism” is completely foreign to their histories and theologies.

I receive e-mail all the time (too many to respond to) from pastors, lay people, and even theologians (college, university and seminary professors) informing me about this infection of Calvinism in their denominations and related institutions. Usually they want some advice about how to handle this.

Now, let’s be clear about what I’m talking about and am NOT talking about. Many denominations are historically-theologically, confessionally Calvinist. Of course I’m not talking about them. They are where Calvinists belong!

Then there are many other denominations that are historically-theologically open to Calvinism; Calvinism has long been accepted as a live option within them. An example would be certain Baptist denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. I see no problem with Calvinists belonging to these denominations and even promoting Calvinism within them–so long as they do it fairly (not misrepresenting other views or implying that Calvinism is the only legitimate Christian theology).

Finally, though, there are denominations that are historically-theologically rooted in theological-spiritual movements antithetical to Calvinism. What I mean is that these denominations’ prototypes (founders, leading spokespersons, etc.) were set against Calvinism and everyone knows that. Some of them have authoritative confessional documents that rule out Calvinism. Some do not. Either they never suspected that Calvinism would come into them or they are non-creedal and non-confessional “Bible only” denominations that eschew written statements of faith.

What are some examples of denominations that historically-theologically (doctrinal statements, prototypes) are against Calvinism such that TULIP Calvinism is not only “new” to them but also contrary to their historical-theological ethos? Well, all Wesleyan denominations, all Restorationist (Christian/Churches of Christ) denominations, all Anabaptist denominations, and all Pentecostal denominations.

Some years ago a well-known president of a leading, independent evangelical seminary, a man who happens to be strongly Reformed, informed me that “There are Reformed Pentecostals, you know.” He clearly meant Calvinist Pentecostals. My response (having grown up Pentecostal and read many books about Pentecostalism and having published some articles about it) was that in Pentecostal circles “Reformed Pentecostal” means NOTHING other than “non-Wesleyan, non-perfectionist.” In other words, “Reformed Pentecostals” (a misnomer but a commonly used one) means Pentecostals who do not believe in a “third definite work of grace”–entire sanctification in this life. This is one of the major divisions among Pentecostals (historically speaking). Some believe in entire sanctification as a definite experience subsequent to conversion and Spirit baptism and some do not. But “Reformed Pentecostal” definitely does not mean “Calvinist Pentecostal.”

Are there Calvinist Pentecostals? I knew a few when I was growing up Pentecostal. One I knew, a youth pastor and evangelist, claimed to be “Calvinist” ONLY because he had come to believe in the doctrine of “the eternal security of the believer”–a doctrine rare among Pentecostals and one that, by itself, does not constitute “Calvinism.” So, in reality, no. I have never known or heard of a TULIP Calvinist Pentecostal pastor or leader. If such exists, it’s an extreme rarity and anomaly.

TULIP Calvinism is absolutely foreign to those denominations and traditions I mentioned above. And yet I am now receiving e-mails from concerned Mennonites, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Independent Christians, etc., notifying me that many young pastors among them have adopted TULIP Calvinism. They are almost pulling their hair out wondering how to stop this trend.

My first advice to them would be: Buy a few hundred copies of Against Calvinism (by yours truly) and pass them out to young pastors! Or require young pastors to read it–or something like it (although I don’t personally know of any relatively light book that does what it does).

My second advice is to rediscover and re-enliven your denomination’s historical-theological roots and ethos and make clear that TULIP Calvinism is foreign, if not anathema, to it.

My third advice is to confront young pastors (and other influencers) about their TULIP Calvinism and make clear they must recognize it as foreign to the denomination’s history and ethos, if not its doctrinal standards, and insist that they hold it as opinion and not promote it as “the” only biblical and God-honoring theology.

This is exactly the advice Calvinist pastors, leaders, theologians would give if the situation were reversed. Imagine an influx of Arminians into, say, a Presbyterian or Reformed denomination! Well, of course, most of those have confessional standards that rule out Arminianism. And yet some of those denominations have not enforced every jot and tittle of their confessional standards. They have permitted limited diversity–sometimes including something like Arminianism. But suppose a whole bunch of aggressive, young, passionate Arminians suddenly flooded into those denominations? I guarantee their leaders would be nervous and follow the suggestions I provided above (about dealing with the opposite problem).

I have said here before, several times, that I value Christian unity and denominational particularity. I think denominations should resist being swayed by fads and trends–especially ones that would move them to become something entirely different than they were historically and theologically.

Frankly, little sets my theological teeth on edge quite so much as “Calvinist Mennonite” or “Calvinist Pentecostal” or “Calvinist Nazarene.” These should be oxymorons–just like “Arminian Reformed” and “Arminian Presbyterian” and “Arminian Lutheran” and “Protestant Catholic” (or “Catholic Protestant!”). Now, as I have made clear here many time (I have to keep repeating myself for newcomers): I do not think Calvinists are less Christian than Arminians or vice versa. But they are wrong theologically. From their perspective, Arminianism is wrong theologically (so I’m not being unfair or insulting). And these are not unimportant matters. It’s natural that churches and church-related institutions take a stand for or against Calvinism or Arminianism–without breaking all fellowship and cooperation. It’s the same (IMHO) as baptism–a church that baptizes both infants and mature believers is confused about baptism. People who take baptism seriously ought to go to a church that baptizes ONLY persons they think are appropriately (biblically, theologically) eligible for baptism according to a theology of what baptism is and is not.

To Calvinists in historically-theologically non-Calvinist denominations I say “Come out from among them and be separate!” Or, at least “Respect the historical-theological ethos of your denomination and don’t use your Calvinism to try to change it into something it never was.” I would say the same to Arminians in historically-theologically Calvinist denominations (if there are any).

  • John Wylie

    Excellent article Dr. Olson. I agree one hundred percent with your conclusions. I wonder should we deal the same way with social issues being interjected that violate the historic position of the denomination?

    • Roger Olson

      You’d have to give me an example, I guess. But my initial response is yes–assuming the denomination in question has a clear stance historically-theologically-ethically. For example, I am somewhat dismayed when observe churches and denominations that historically avoided alcohol consumption suddenly tolerating it without serious consideration. The same for divorce. These changes in ethical norms too often just creep in without anyone really discussing them and building consensus about them.

  • Seeking Disciple

    I agree. If a Calvinist is trying to take Calvinism into denominations and churches that have been historically Arminian, they, for the sake of integrity, need to resign and move on to a Calvinistic church. I know of one Assemblies of God brother who begin to study Calvinism from Wayne Grudem and “converted” to Calvinism. He resigned from the AG’s and now is working with Reformed Baptist churches. I applaud his integrity despite disagreeing with his theology. If an Arminian were to take a Calvinist church and seek to make it into an Arminian church, I too would ask them to leave and move on to an Arminian church. We must be people of integrity and honesty.

  • Rick

    Your 2nd bit of advice is very important. If the theological and historical positions of their churches are not being taught and understood, then a vacuum will develop that will draw in these contrary views.

  • http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/ William Birch

    Another excellent post (as usual). I also agree with your solution to this problem.

    I’ve been reading Robert Bruce Mullin’s Episcopal Vision/American Reality recently, and the historic Episcopal Church has never embraced Calvinism, and never interpreted Article XVII (regarding election and predestination) in a Calvinistic manner. Granted, the Episcopal Church has its own problems, unrelated to this issue. But Mullins highlights the fact that the early Episcopal Church in America feared a Calvinist takeover in the late seventeenth, early eighteenth centuries. We can add that historic Christian tradition to the list.

    My heart goes out for non-Calvinist traditions being infiltrated by Calvinists.

    • frjohnmorris

      There is a very strong and growing Calvinist movement within the American continuing Anglican movement in America.

      • http://classicalarminian.blogspot.com/ William Birch

        Yes, I’m aware of it, and that is why I avoided the “continuing” movement. The continuing Anglican movement is not The Episcopal Church.

  • labreuer

    Roger, usually I love your blog posts. This one rubbed me entirely the wrong way. To use 1 Corinthians 12 verbiage, you seem to be encouraging churches of feet to expel hands, or convert them to feet. :-(

    Consider the emotionalism and lack of intellectual rigor that often occurs in Pentecostalism. Consider the rigidity, if not frigidity, of many Calvinists. What if a Calvinist were to join up with a Pentecostal, and if each were to actually obey the Bible and submit, one to another? It seems like the result could be fantastic. The Pentecostal could bring warmness and belief in the Holy Spirit doing more than the ordo salutis (like ushering in the kingdom of heaven), while the Calvinist could ensure that God is being worshipped with mind as well as heart/soul/strength. Add in three more of the right denominations and we could have full-on Power Rangers action! (I only half-kid.)

    But maybe I’m dreaming. I dream of the unity Jesus describes in John 13:34-35 and John 17:20-21. I may have completely misunderstood the message of this blog post, but it seems to work against that kind of unity. :-(

    • Roger Olson

      I thought I said that Calvinist and non-Calvinist churches/denominations can and should cooperate and have fellowship. But imagine trying to preach to or pastorally counsel a mixed assembly of Calvinists and Arminians. Usually what happens is the leaders/pastors simply play down the doctrines that divide so that the whole area of God’s sovereignty and human free will gets avoided–to avoid dissension in the ranks.

      • labreuer

        Roger, I’m trying to support your position using the Bible, and I’m failing. I’m reminded of the Paul/Apollos/Cephas/Jesus spat that the Corinthian church was having. Replace those four with Arminius/Calvin. “If you follow Arminius, go to that church, otherwise if you follow Calvin, go to this church.” Is this not the plain reading of scripture?

        I hear the difficulty of preaching on controversial issues. But this assumes that the congregations are immature children who need “pure spiritual milk” and not raw meat that must be chewed on. Perhaps this is the case but if so, should Calvinists and Arminians differ on any topic that goes under the heading of “pure spiritual milk”?

        Rather, it seems to me that mature Christians ought to be just fine ministering side-by-side (not just the occasional inter-church event) with other mature Christians who hold different views on the non-essentials. Does not Romans 14 teach this?

        I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another.

        I get the sense that “not to go beyond what is written” was penned precisely to avoid the choosing of church by ideology. But perhaps I’m naive and scripture is more complex than I currently observe it to be?

        • Roger Olson

          Of course, it would be ideal, the biblical way, if you would, if all Christians were united. But until everyone agrees with me, that just won’t happen. :) Seriously, the only way I could attend a church that is predominantly Calvinist would be if the leaders offered equal time for the other view(s). How likely is that? These are important issues, not ones where “agree to disagree” will work over the long haul–in a setting (such as a local congregation) where teaching about God’s sovereignty should be frequent and clear.

          • labreuer

            The only way this ‘ideal’ will happen is with the power of God via the Holy Spirit. 2 Tim 3:1-5 is instructive:

            But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.

            The last verse is important: “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power”. One way to avoid the above symptoms is to simply separate out people into groups so that the people within each group think like each other. I cannot believe that this is God’s plan. It is easy for Calvinists to love each other; even the tax collectors and Gentiles can manage this!

            I think it’s dangerous to use ‘ideal’ in the way you are. It denies that the power of God can do the great things described in the NT. For, ideal things are wonderful to think about, but we shouldn’t really expect or work toward them (through sacrifice and suffering). :-(

          • Roger Olson

            I disagree with you. I like Reinhold Niebuhr’s essay (in An Interpretation of Christian Ethics) about “The Relevance of an Impossible Ideal.” Having an impossible (in this case eschatological) ideal does not stymie effort to reach it; it hinders claims to have already reached it (as in some Christian groups that claim THEY have already achieved Christian unity such that all true Christians somehow belong to them).

          • labreuer

            I read the first 3/4 of “The Relevance of an Impossible Ideal” and I think I agree with Niebuhr when it comes to what can be expected of nonchristians. When it comes to Christians, the NT holds higher standards and higher observations, such as the love extant for all the saints in Eph 1:15, Col 1:4, and Phile 5. 1 Thess 4 makes it clear that ever-increasing love is seen and expected, as well as ever-increasing obedience. This stuff is not only expected; there are what I call “existence proofs” of them!

            So, I think it is completely valid to ask, “How reasonable or unreasonable is it to expect Calvinists to be able to attend the same church as Arminians, in a Ephesians 4, Romans 14, and Phil 2-obedient manner?” There is frustration at the unreadiness of congregations to process solid food/meat in 1 Cor 3:2 and Heb 5:12-13. Note that “everyone who lives on milk is unskilled int he word of righteousness, since he is a child.” And with reference to childishness, there is 1 Cor 13:11.

            Merely pointing out that something is an ideal is nigh meaningless; one can always ask why we aren’t closer to it, in a way similar to Jesus’ refrain, “O you of little faith.” Where are our expectations? People are quite good at living up to and living down to them.

    • LexCro

      Labreuer,

      Why would Pentecostalism’s (alleged) emotionalism and lack of intellectual rigor only be cured by an influx of Calvinism? Pentecostalism (and its charismatic offshoots) has a great many scholars/intellectuals in their own camp (not to mention journals and publishing houses that promote the material produced by these persons). Off hand, the work of folks like Roger Stronstad, Amos Yong, Simon Chan, B.J. Oropeza, Estrelda Alexander, and J. P. Moreland (who, if I’m not mistaken, calls himself a Third-Wave Pentecostal) come to mind. Many more from the past and present could easily be included–especially if we pay attention to good theologians who aren’t household names in evangelicalism or who didn’t publish through big-time publishing houses.

      Moreover, the dynamic Roger is describing is not concerned with unity. Instead, Calvinists typically enter in to non-Calvinist denominations and churches by masking their theological bents. Then they introduce Calvinism to denominations and churches (in many instances with tons of fallout). I’ve seen this happen myself (though not in a church I attended). This has nothing to do with John 17 unity. Instead, this about theological hubris and deception.

      • labreuer

        Why would Pentecostalism’s (alleged) emotionalism and lack of intellectual rigor only be cured by an influx of Calvinism?

        The ‘only’ is of your invention and not mine. I very carefully made statistical statements. The Body of Christ is meant, among other things, to reinforce itself and have each member’s strengths be used toward a fantastic goal: the inbreaking of the kingdom of heaven. We each have strengths and we each have [often related] weaknesses. The glory of God is made manifest when we choose to submit, one to another, and let strengths ‘cover’ weaknesses. My statistical claims were merely that people with certain strengths and ideological proclivities will tend to collect around those who are similar. This is the world’s way of acting.

        Instead, Calvinists typically enter in to non-Calvinist denominations and churches by masking their theological bents.

        This is a completely separate issue. Christians are people of light; the ‘masking’ you describe is of Satan. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. While I’m an Arminian through-and-through, I’m not calling Calvinists satanic; I’m calling the masking satanic. But the talk about being ‘polluted’ by Calvinism is only true for spiritual infants. See Eph 4:14. If we’re dealing with spiritual children, then the problem isn’t so much Calvinism as there being so many spiritual children.

  • Simmul Iustus et Peccator

    How odd that the theology of Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, J.I. Packer, Timothy George, Francis Schaeffer, Chuck Colson… is influencing Evangelicalism?

    • Roger Olson

      Are you intentionally being obtuse or…? Surely you know that there have always been non-Calvinist evangelicals who, while finding much good in those theologians, rejected their Calvinism. “Evangelicalism” is not a church and those gentleman you mention are not the only evangelical theologians.

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

        Yes, and leaving John Wesley out of the mix is surely very problematic!

        • frjohnmorris

          The real problem is that you and those involved in this argument are leaving the Fathers of the Church and the 7 Ecumenical Councils out of the argument. Christianity did not begin in the 16th century. You need to go back to the ancient Church before the Roman Schism and before Augustine, who based his theories on an incorrect Latin translation of the Scriptures. Before Augustine, all of the Fathers of the Church affirmed free will. Read St. John Chyrsostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Irenaeus of Lyons and, of course, St. John of Damascus.

          • Roger Olson

            Um, how many times have I made that very point here? You must be new to this blog.

          • frjohnmorris

            I apologize if I offended you. I stumbled on this discussion through Real Clear Religion, I believe and have no idea of what you wrote on other threads. It has been my experience that many Protestants, including theologians, treat church history as if nothing happened between Pentecost and the Reformation. That always offend me since I am an Eastern Orthodox historian.

            Archpriest John W. Morris, Ph.D.

          • Roger Olson

            No offense taken, but don’t make assumptions about people. I have a strong interest in the early church fathers and Eastern Orthodoxy and have written on subjects dear to your hearts such as deification positively.

          • frjohnmorris

            There is without a doubt a tendency among many Protestant theologians and historians not to recognize the importance of the Fathers, especially the Eastern Fathers. I read you book Against Calvinism, a long time ago and liked it very much. Yesterday, i skimmed the notes from your book and found only one mention of a Greek Fathers, a notation citing St. Athanasius. Calvinism has roots in Augustine, who broke with the consensus of the Fathers by denying free will. One should read the 13 Conference of St. John Cassian as a balance to Augustine with a correct expression of the teachings of the Greek Fathers. It is important to note that every Father before Augustine supported the concept free will. That is one of the great contributions of Wesley, he was the only Protestant leader who took the Eastern Fathers seriously. Both Luther and Calvin were Augustinians. Wesley was not.

          • Roger Olson

            I wrote Against Calvinism for people who would, for the most part, be unimpressed by quotes from church fathers. But you are right about all the church fathers before Augustine believing in free will. Augustine is the culprit when it comes to introducing divine determinism into Christianity.

          • frjohnmorris

            I did not mean to offend you. You are right, i stumbled on this blog. As an Eastern Orthodox Historian, it always bothers me that most Protestant theologians virtually ignore the Fathers of the Church and the Ecumenical Councils. At the very least, it would seem that the phase, “who for us men and our salvation” in the Nicene Consantinopolitan Creed written by the first two Ecumenical Councils, Nicea I, 325 and Constantinople I in 381, would rule out Limited Atonement. I read your book, Against Calvinism, but do not remember much mention of the Greek Fathers. I just skimmed the notes and found only one citation of a Father, a citation of St. Athanasius. There is no doubt that the most ancient Fathers embraced free will. In fact most patristric scholars agree that Augustine was the first to deny free will due to his over reaction to Plagiansm. Eastern Orthodox scholars argue that his doctrine of original sin and total depravity came from his inability to read the Greek original and reliance on a bad translation into Latin of Romans 5:12 which in the Latin reads, “in whom all sinned,” instead of the more correct, ‘because all sinned.”

            Fr. John W. Morris, PhD

    • Matthew Clarke

      Of those men, only JI Packer assertively promoted Calvinism in the way John Piper and John F MacArthur promote it.

  • rvs

    “TULIP Calvinism is absolutely foreign”–I like this comment and would like to put an end stop after “foreign” and call it a day. :)

  • cowboybob

    The Church of England, Anglican, Episcopal, has both Calvinism and Arminianism. This is not surprising, considering the history of England. The Lutherans claim a third way. I notice that Joel Osteen seems to mix some Calvinism in some of his books(e.g. God is in control).

    • Roger Olson

      Strange bedfellows–Osteen and Calvinism! I wonder if it’s really Calvinism or just folk religion (bumper sticker theology)?

      • cowboybob

        Right, I just ordered your book on folk religion. Your name sounded familiar, found your book on Calvinism in my library.
        The Orthodox Church believes that we have free will because we are made in the spiritual image of God and they claim that the early church fathers believed as much.
        Gloomy Calvinists are really a fringe group as far as numbers go. American folk religions have many more followers and a booming business, I might add, for those who have “itching ears”, as St. Paul would say.

        • Roger Olson

          Well, if you taught in an evangelical Christian college, university or seminary you’d known they are not a “fringe group.”

  • Peter Kirk

    There are certainly some Calvinists who have embraced large parts of Pentecostal theology including speaking in tongues, for example in the New Frontiers movement led until recently by Terry Virgo.

    Also I wonder if author Terrance Tiessen would count as a Calvinist Mennonite. He is certainly a Calvinist, but I have also found him described online as a Mennonite (I would give a link if you allowed links). I know from personal contacts that his cultural background is Mennonite, but I suspect that he would not call himself a Mennonite by denomination. He was ordained as a Baptist.

    • Roger Olson

      Terry reads here, so maybe he’ll answer you. Sure, some Calvinists have “discovered” Pentecostalism and incorporated it into their worship. That’s not what I was talking about. I have no problem with that if their denominations have no problem with it (or if they are starting new churches combining Calvinism and neo-Pentecostalism).

    • Matthew Clarke

      I go to a New Frontiers church and get frustrated by the Calvinism influencing the denomination. But it’s a very inarticulate Calvinism that I see there and seems to shy away from the question of limited atonement.

  • David Martinez

    The timing of this blog is perfect for me. I agree with what you say.

    I’m a young man (28) who lives in New York and for the past 6 years I have been going to Cuba to help teach and preach. I go there with a Religious Visa that lets me hold huge events where hundreds of young people gather.

    Last week was my 6th time in Cuba and I was shocked to discover that the Pentecostal church I am close to has been totally devastated because of Calvinism. The church lost over 50 people to a man who was (became?) aggressive with his Calvinism. The ugly part is that there still is at least one young Calvinist who remained in the church and spends a lot of his time debating everyone about Calvinism.

    I had no idea that Calvinism had reached the church over there since nobody has ever mentioned it to me over the past 6 years. Well, the young man started debating me about Calvinism and I kindly engaged him in many HOURS of dialogue.

    The story is long but here’s what I want to get to: Roger, the young man over there showed me tons of material in Spanish by R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper, etc. I was blown away by how Calvinists have produced their material in Spanish. However, I can hardly find anything in Spanish that comes from an Arminian view. This is sad!

    I’m ecstatic that this past May 14th Casa Nazarena Publicaciones published the first complete book of just Arminius’ work in Spanish. It is written by Jose C. Rodriguez and I received it in the mail one day before going to Cuba. I threw it in my suitcase because I wanted to read it in Cuba and compare the translations with the English version (Jose Rodriguez did an impressive job, btw!)

    I ended up giving the book to the Calvinist young man. He even told me that he had never met an Arminian like me, one who understood Calvinism so well and seemed to have a polite but firm answer to everything he brought up.

    I owe you a lot for your books and help, Roger. I’d like to conclude with two statements.

    1- Your blog is correct. I can attest to the fact that Calvinism is showing up in inappropriate places and, as far as Cuba is concerned, it is not producing godly fruit.

    2- The Hispanic community is in desperate need for a Spanish version of books like yours. My Spanish is not perfect but I am willing to help in any way.

    David Martinez

    • Roger Olson

      My books on Arminianism and Calvinism are being translated into Portugese in Brazil,but, so far, I’m not aware of Spanish translations. It seems to require a publisher in a country contacting my publishers here (InterVarsity press and Zondervan) and getting the rights to translate and publish. I don’t have any way of initiating it.

      • thewileyman

        A prominent Neo-Calvinist group is spearheading a “Theological Famine Relief Project” (google it), aggressively translating material that fits their theological brand into foreign languages — which is at least part of why so many Calvinist publications are showing up in Spanish.

        As far as I know, there’s no Arminian movement that’s as organized and capable of/willing to undertake a corresponding/competing project of similar magnitude.

        • Roger Olson

          You are surely right about that. We need such an organized Arminian movement. Unfortunately, evangelical Arminians are beginning to fragment as fundamentalist Arminians go to Arminian discussion groups and accuse non-fundamentalist Arminians of being unworthy of the label. Somehow Calvinists have been able to coalesce in spite of some differences of interpretation over other matters and promote Calvinism in a mass, organized way. Apparently we Arminians just aren’t that organized.

  • mattDavis!

    Thanks for the post Dr. Olson. I’m curious, you say that Calvinist-Mennonite is a theological contradiction, would you say that Calvinism is incompatible with the entire Anabaptist stream of Christian tradition? Through the course of my seminary studies I’ve found myself identifying well with a broadly Anabaptist ecclesiology. In your opinion, do I need to give up my Amyraldian soteriology to be considered a true Anabaptist?

    • Roger Olson

      Historically and theologically Anabaptists have been Arminian in soteriology (although their “Arminianism” is what I call “evangelical synergism” and pre-dates Arminius by almost a century. Go back to the sources of Anabaptist theology–Hubmaier, Menno Simons, Michael Sattler, Dirk Phillips, etc. And more recent Anabaptist theologians (see the exhaustive volume on contemporary Anabaptist theology by Thomas Finger). You will find no hint of TULIP Calvinism. As for Amyraldianism–I guess it would depend on what you mean by that. TULIP without the “L?” I think any denial of libertarian free will based on prevenient or assisting grace is foreign to the whole Anabaptist tradition.

      • Philip Larson

        FWIW, more than a few at the Bob Jones University seminary say that its ecclesiology is Anabaptist, but their soteriology is Reformed (which really means Amyraldian, or sorta).

  • BedfordDavid

    I grew up Baptist in WV, partly ABC partly SBC. I was shocked when I got to an SBC seminary and learned there were calvinists in SBC life. It just was not part of any church I had belonged to. It also seemed there was a lot more calvinism in the seminary than in the churches, and this created a fair amount of conflict.

    • Roger Olson

      Oh, you can be sure of that! But it is filtering out of the SBC seminaries into the churches–often without the newly minted seminary grads telling the congregations calling them that they are Calvinists–until a year or two into their pastorates. It’s a trend: sneaky Calvinism.

      • BedfordDavid

        I saw plenty of that when I was there, and my biggest concern was what appeared to be people more interested in making calvinists out of Christians than disciples out of their community.

  • Gman80918

    I was at an American Baptist church back in the 90′s. Two dudes came in and started doing a Bible study with some other College aged kids and were teaching them about Calvinism. There was some grumbling amongst the older members of the church and the pastor decided to do a study to explain the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism. The church was Arminian in its belief. One of the gals who was part of that Bible study got up and interrupted our pastor and the service. It was a bad scene and they ended up leaving.

    At the church I now attend, the Statement of Faith is Arminian. We have at least one guy on staff now who is Reformed in his theology and controls what is in the bookstore….lots of Piper, Sproul, McArthur etc.

    I do not have a lot of respect for the movement.

    • Roger Olson

      A very common story these days.

    • labreuer

      the pastor decided to do a study to explain the differences between Calvinism and Arminianism.

      I have a lot of respect for this pastor. Instead of declaring something heresy (at least I hope this wasn’t what you meant by “explain the differences”), he merely explained the one way of thinking vs. the other. If people ejected themselves from the congregation due to this, that seems to be a fulfillment of 1 John 2:19.

  • Evelyn

    “It’s the same (IMHO) as baptism–a church that baptizes both infants and mature believers is confused about baptism.”

    Dare I say I think this is a little unfair? Unless I’m not understanding you right, of course. A church that baptizes infants is unlikely to deny adult converts baptism. But that doesn’t make them confused about baptism.

    I’m not arguing for one or the other, just saying there are other explanations than confusion about baptism. Roman Catholics have a pretty clear theology of baptism.

    • Roger Olson

      I assumed readers would understand what I meant. Do I need to be so explicit? Of course there are no churches that deny baptism to adult converts. But there are churches that “go either way” with baptism and don’t seem to favor either baptizing infants or WAITING for them to reach the age of accountability for baptism. I think churches like that are confused about baptism and need to think it through more clearly.

      • Evelyn

        Fair enough. I don’t know any churches like that. Maybe they just don’t see baptismal doctrine as a hill to die on, rather than being confused. But then, as I’ve never come across any churches like the ones you describe, that is total speculation on my part.

        What I have seen is a large number of individuals who are picking up Calvinism but don’t know that that’s what they’re doing. And they don’t seem to be particularly aware of the alternatives. To me that suggests there is a place for more theological education for lay people, even if it goes at the expense of group bible studies and home group discussions about popular christian books.

        • Roger Olson

          I certainly agree with you there! There are several denominations that now offer parents of infants the choice to either have them baptized or wait and let them choose. Among them are the Church of the Nazarene, the Evangelical Covenant Church of America and the Evangelical Free Church of America. Of course, individual congregations within these denominations often choose one approach and stick with it–either infant baptism or believer baptism only.

      • Matthew Clarke

        You don’t agree with a policy of leaving that to conscience, allowing church members to practice either infant or believer’s baptism?

        • Roger Olson

          I’m a Baptist.What do you want from me? :)

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

        I LOVED this post Dr. Olson… until I read this comment about denominations who you think are “confused” about baptism. Does this mean you think the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) is “confused” about baptism? They historically chose not to split over baptism due to their greater value of unity. I happen to find that admirable. Since I find that a case can be made for both believers baptism AND infant baptism from Scripture, I think this “confused” position is the only “biblical” one.

        I get that you’re Baptist, but I’m still a little disappointed at this comment.

        • Roger Olson

          Sorry about that. I admire the ECA. I just think they fall short in this area. Don’t get me started about how confused most Baptists are! Saying a church or denomination is “confused” about an issue doesn’t mean I think it’s bad or anything. I just think they need to think it through and move one way or the other. What I think is the case is this. The majority of ECA folks (and some of my best friends and relatives were/are ECA) have come to view infant baptism as infant dedication with water. But, then, they normally decline to “re-baptize” a young person, a teenager, for example, who experiences conversion at camp or wherever. That’s my main concern. Water baptism should follow conversion.

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

            Thanks for the reply Dr. Olson. I knew that you were close to many Covenaters, and you’ve spoken and written very positively about Pietist evangelicals like the ECC. That’s why the comment caught me off guard.

            Perhaps there is some confusion about NT “conversion.” It seems that entire households were baptized quite often. We modern Westerners just might be thinking about conversion from a far more individualistic perspective than those who heard the Gospel in the first century.

            I have strong Anabaptist convictions, but the more I place myself in the historical-cultural context of the NT, the less I see Believer’s baptism being the assumed norm—at least to the extent that it has been since the Reformation. That’s not to say I think baptism is salvific or that we shouldn’t conceptualize our baptism apart from a our citizenship in a particularly nation-state. But merely to say that we need ask our twenty-first century questions by reading the Scripture with first century eyes. (Wright)

      • Van

        WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE “AGE OF ACCOUNTABILITY”?
        I have been thinking about this vague “age of accountability” crock we have been sold. It was probably loosely based on the good old Jesuit quote: “Give me a child until he is 7, and I will give you the man.” (Well, that is kind of ironic, because if Catholic clergy had left children unmolested, the world would be a better place.) Anyway, I remember this vague thing in the Pentecostal church about kids under the age of reason or accountability being allowed into heaven, but after that, you had to make a faith profession or you are hell fodder. So…7-year olds: IN. 8-year olds: OUT. Give me a break! Seriously, think about this – if this is of God, he is a monster. We comfort ourselves thinking God doesn’t send babies to hell. Last time I read the gospel, we are all God’s treasured precious babies, and he is not willing that ANY should perish, whether they are 7 or 70! ~ Jack Stradwick

        • Roger Olson

          I could be wrong, but I don’t think Hitler would enjoy heaven much. :)

  • steve rogers

    Illustrating once again that our efforts to figure God out are transient and subject to the mood of the day. Hang in there Roger, it won’t be too long before Reformed denominations will be complaining about creeping Arminianism as yours and others voices are recognized as offering better answers to the questions of the day for a while. Too many strive to take shortcuts to figuring God out and putting him in a theological box. Of course God won’t be boxed nor bound by any man made system of thought. As for preserving denominational boundaries, I think the blurring of the lines is a healthy step toward a more robust body of Christ sans such dividing lines.

    • Roger Olson

      I like the diversity and it tends to get lost in “generic Christianity” in contemporary churches. The result is a shallow rather than thick description of Christian faith. A church can (and should) know what it believes without totalizing (as in fundamentalism).

  • jaiotu

    As a Calvinist… I couldn’t agree more.
    I’ve been a member of a Church that, in it’s doctrinal statement, espoused the belief in the pre-millienial, pre-tribulation rapture of the Church… something I don’t agree with. As such it was a subject I stayed away from… bit my tongue… held my peace.
    I’ve also been at a Church where a newly elected pastor felt that my Calvinism was an issue. Rather then being a source of division, I left on good terms and with no hostility on either side.

  • Van

    I am NOT a Calvinist and could never be one, but I have a theory as to why many non-Calvinists are being influenced by one of Calvinism’s cardinal teachings. Calvinists are only one step away from universalism which is becoming more and more popular among many thinking Christians today. Universalists believe that God has unilaterally designated ALL of humanity to be saved by his grace. Calvinism teaches that God has unilaterally designated SOME of humanity to be saved by his grace. In this respect Calvinists offer a little more grace than Arminians. The “grace message” is the in-thing nowadays. Sadly, however, both the Calvinists and the Arminians fail to come full circle with this grace thing. They both teach that MOST of humanity will end up in a so-called hell of torture. *sigh

    • Roger Olson

      Well, I don’t know many Calvinists or Arminians who would dare to predict what proportion of humanity will end up in hell. And, of course, many Arminians say those who do end up there choose it over an eternity with God.

    • Dante Ting

      Ironically, my Calvinist friends are more prone to accuse Arminians of being closer to universalism.

      • Roger Olson

        And yet many a Calvinist, when he or she has seen that double predestination makes God monstrous, has jumped over Arminianism to universalism.. This happened frequently in late 18th century and early 19th century Germany, Britain and America. Schleiermacher was raised Reformed and held onto belief that God is all-determining (divine determinism) but rejected reprobation. I would argue that liberal theology is more the child of Calvinism than of Arminianism.

        • John Walker

          Your suggestion at the end of this comment is incredibly intriguing. I’d love to see this detailed in depth.

          • Roger Olson

            By now I’ve forgotten what that was. Remind me (quote the comment back to me) and I’ll flesh it out more.

          • John Walker

            You said, “I would argue that liberal theology is more the child of Calvinism than of Arminianism.” I’d venture that you are correct, but it’d be an interesting write up.

          • Roger Olson

            But it wouldn’t take a whole book! Once a person realizes that God is fully revealed in Jesus and that God IS love (not just loves some people), Arminianism is the only orthodox alternative to universalism. But since the Calvinist has been brainwashed to think Arminianism isn’t worth considering, he or she jumps to universalism.

          • John Walker

            I’ve often thought, “If I become a Calvinist, I’ll become a Universalist.” I’d probably follow Barth on that. Spot on analysis!

        • frjohnmorris

          Calvinism leads to liberalism, because it is based on a vain effort to understand the mystery of salvation with human reason. TULIP is not based on the Bible. It is based completely on fallible human logic and reason.

  • Brent White

    I’m United Methodist and evangelical. I’ve seen the phenomenon you describe in my churches. (Of course the UMC has itself to blame because for years they were theologically adrift from their Wesleyan roots. I sense that the tide is turning, in least in some parts of the denomination.) Anyway, I think what appeals to the young men (aren’t they always men?) about this extreme Calvinist theology is that, like it or not, it is intellectually rigorous. It takes theology seriously. It takes seriously the tough questions we ask of God and faith and offers comprehensive answers, reasons, and explanations, however unsatisfying (to many us, at least) they may be.

    I feel like I’m stepping on my soapbox, but honestly… It’s embarrassing how many of my clergy colleagues act as if theology hardly matters. They are sentimentally Arminian, but they can’t formulate an argument in their favor.

    I don’t blame some Methodists for trying to find a less squishy, more tough-minded approach to understanding God and the world.

  • Dante Ting

    The United Methodist Church thinks that infant baptism is theologically sound, and I take baptism seriously, so do I have to leave the United Methodist Church?

    • Roger Olson

      Only if you believe infant baptism is seriously in error theologically. Do you?

      • Dante Ting

        I do believe that infant baptism is theologically in error, but how serous is “serious”?

        • Roger Olson

          Well, of course, baptists of all kinds (Anabaptists, Baptists, Pentecostals, etc.) are those who, church history-wise, decided it’s a serious error–serious enough to risk division for. But let’s remember it was the magisterial reformers who rejected the baptists so that they had to form their own denominations.

  • joe23521

    Our church has been dealing with this very issue. We are a small non-denominational church, but with historical Arminian leanings.

    A Reformed pastor was hired a few years ago and has since been forcing his theology down our throats. The H word (heresy) has even been thrown around in Sunday School when describing non-reformed views. Some church leaders have since been converted (brainwashed) and the rest are struggling with how to handle the situation.

    As a member, I’ve been losing quite a bit of sleep over this. Actually thought about buying copies of “Against Calvinism” and distributing among the congregation. But I would immediately be labeled a church divider. Also thought about leaving the church, but don’t want to give up.

    • Roger Olson

      It seems to me you would only be responding to the Calvinist intruders (and their converts) who are already being divisive (by labeling other views heresies).

    • labreuer

      Perhaps the description of the Bereans would be of encouragement to you:

      The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.

      This Reformed pastor is preaching things he claims to be from the Word of God. Awesome; we need more of that. But only children merely hear and accept; maturity brings the need to understand how and why, which the Bereans did by “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so”. Perhaps you could challenge your congregation to follow the model set by the Bereans? Remember Romans 14:

      So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

      Food and drink are not the only areas where it’s OK for Christians to disagree. Your Reformed pastor has a decision to make: is unity more important, or is his theology more important?

    • John III

      It is very VERY rare for a Reformed teacher to call Arminians heretics. Almost unheard of. Are you sure he wasn’t talking about Pelagianism? Because that actually is a damnable heresy, and Arminius would have agreed with that assessment.

      • Roger Olson

        I don’t recall who we’re talking about. Apparently I mentioned that some evangelical Calvinist called Arminianism a heresy. I realize that’s rare. But let’s go back to the Synod of Dort. Isn’t that the effect of the Canons of Dort and the treatment the Arminians received at the hands of the Reformed leaders of the Synod (and the prince who supported them)? One very influential contemporary Calvinist has said publicly, in print, that one possible explanation of Arminianism is “demonic deception.” I’d call that calling Arminianism as heresy (and more).

        • PuritanD71

          Dr. Olson – it seems that to be fair the 1610 Remonstrance that the council of Dort was responding to is slightly different than that of the Arminianism practiced today, unless you want to equivocate universal atonement and partial depravity from then to today.

          As far as I know, the idea of prevenient grace comes not from the Remonstrance but from John Wesley which is easily 100 years afterwards.

          Your points here seem to start raising the question of who is being “fair” here in these discussions.

          • Roger Olson

            Prevenient grace (“preventing grace”) is all over in Arminius. The Remonstrance could not say everything but the “Reformed divines” of Dort knew very well that the Arminians believed in the absolute necessity of prevenient grace. Have you read the 1620 exposition of Arminian theology by Episcopius (who was the leading Arminian at the Synod of Dort)? It clearly affirms the necessity of prevenient grace. You’re simply wrong to trace that idea/belief back only to Wesley. I have shown this in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Please read it.

  • Anci

    I used to be under the spell of TULIP Calvinism for a while. When I think back what drew me to it, I remember that it was the passion the these preachers had for the authority of Scriptures and the main doctrines like justification by faith and the penal substitionary atonement. Then I just got sucked deep into the Augustinian metaphysics.

    At least here in Europe you rarely hear good biblical Arminian or even Lutheran preaching. On the other hand the presence of Calvinists is high on the Internet. No wonder why young men like me go attracted to Reformed preachers.

  • Arminian

    Reminds me of the important post “Calvinism on the Sly” at the Society of Evangelical Arminians: http://evangelicalarminians.org/churches-beware-of-calvinism-on-the-sly/. I know you usually don’t post links. That’s fine. The post can be found by a google search.

    • Roger Olson

      I don’t have any problem posting this link! Thanks.

  • M85

    For me calvinism seems to appear in unexpected and inappropriate places in the sense that every time i’m seeking to study a certain theological issue i almost invariably come up against the augustinian tradition (essentially calvinism): it really is amazing how i practically always disagree with Calvin/Augustine and have to fight against them. I’ve seen this time and again now and it is beyond uncanny.

  • JSBrown303

    Why can’t we just drop all these demoninational names and doctrines and just be “Christians” and just follow the Bible?

    • Roger Olson

      I think several groups have formed with that intention. Trouble is, they always have distinctive doctrines that divide them from other Christians. Then, often, they end up claiming they are the “only Christians.”

      • JSBrown303

        Indeed, many groups have done this. However, is it not true that if we just follow the Bible alone that we can be just Christians in the only church described in the Bible? I mean, the Bible only describes one church. Wouldn’t the church that fits that description (in name, Founder, time and place of foundation, organization, doctrine, etc.) be the only true church? Even Jesus Himself said He would only build one church (Matthew 16:18). Also, the apostle Paul said that there was only one church (Ephesians 1:22-23, 4:4; Colossians 1:24)

        • Roger Olson

          I don’t allow links that I don’t have time to follow and read all that’s there. Make your points here and that must suffice.

          • JSBrown303

            My apologies Mr. Olson. I didn’t know that you didn’t allow links. Well, not in general anyways.
            Anyways, it just seemed more expeditious to post the link as the article/blog contained all the points I was looking for. Which was just simply trying to help show which church is described in the Bible.
            Thanks,
            Jeff

  • Ed Dingess

    Seems to me that truth is really what the Church should be in seeking and if that means TULIP, then abandoning the historical position is the right thing to do. It is a fallacious argument to attack men for abandoning error when it is the truth we claim to seek. These men should just leave other believers in error without so much as attempting to help them see the biblical truth for what it is? What an interesting and soundly unbiblical suggestion.

    • Roger Olson

      Would you say the same about Arminians invading Calvinist churches and turning their people against Calvinism? Whenever that happens, the Calvinist authorities in those churches reprimand them and then, if they don’t cease and desist, disfellowship them. What’s good for the goose…

      • Ed Dingess

        There are a good many God-fearing Arminians across the world and in the body of Christ. I am thankful for the ones who truly know our Lord and fight the fight of faith. I cannot fault a sincere Arminian for remaining where they are, at least for a time, to attempt to spread their understanding of the truth. I think their loyalty to what they believe Scripture teaches must rise above ecclesial dogma. However, I think both the Calvinist and the Arminian that find themselves in such circumstances should use wisdom and guard against creating confusion. I was in that position once and I was able to hold my views without disturbing the body.

  • http://www.arminiano.blogspot.

    Dr. Olson, The problme of calvinism is infiltrating the church Assemblies of God in Brazil. The translation of his two books [ Arminian Theology and Against Calvinism ] into Portuguese is a blessing.

  • TR

    Dr. Olsen,
    As one who leans Calvinistic in my soteriology, I appreciate your insights. I went through a stage several years ago where I thought that because I’d read a couple John Piper books I was now “Reformed.”I was also pretty passionate about showing many of the godly Arminians who had nurtured me in the faith why they were all wrong. The truth is, I realize in hindsight that I’m not confessional enough or rooted enough in a genuinely Reformed stream of the church to be able to legitimately claim the mantle “Reformed.” There’s a whole theological and ecclesial tradition that I respect, but simply don’t have a right to call my own. I think that many younger TULIPists need to realize there’s a lot more to being Reformed/Calvinist than just agreeing with TULIP, and that agreeing with some points of Calvinism does not automatically impel one to go “whole-hog” in rejection of one’s own tradition.

  • Roger Olson

    I guess I would say minor adjustments to a denomination’s doctrinal stance is fine, but to turn away entirely from its historical-theological ethos is something else.

    • James M. Henderson

      What would “entirely” entail? Would switching from a Zwinglian to a Reformed view of a spiritual presence in Communion be an entire change (I see this happening in some Pentecostal groups). What if a group decided that it needed to be more Nicene, for example?

      • Roger Olson

        I don’t think the Zwinglian view or the Reformed view of the Lord’s Supper go to the heart of a denomination’s ethos. Even in the case of Oneness Pentecostal church I would discourage anyone from joining to change its theology. If a person finds himself or herself in one and comes to believe in the Trinity, he or she should either leave that church or study the approved ways of changing the churches theology and follow that path–rather than being subversive (which is what I am objecting to in the case of many Calvinists entering into or working from within traditionally Arminian churches and denominations).

  • Steve

    And here we find an argument for the superiority of denominations over biblical truth. It is here that we find a call to unity which places a sentiment of “live and let live” not far removed from the pluralism modern society. I have much respect for my Arminian brothers who I know to be servants of the Lord….prayerfully serving the call of spreading the gospel. They are good men whom I treasure an opportunity to “sharpen” with in regard to soteriology. However, to relegate what we often debate, knowing we all might gain further revelation in glory, to a mere respect for denominational preference applies deference to a creation of man….denomination…over a desire for wisdom….regardless of which side is correct. So, in guarding our all important denominations….we plead for freedom from the influence of our brothers who hold different views so that we maintain the comfort of our traditions with regard to doctrine. This, “hey I will leave you alone if you leave me alone” is not what the unity of believers should be……out of that springs theologies absent the real gospel and short of the whole counsel of scripture. Out of that passive attitude of allowance springs universalism and passivity to the doctrine of grace. I abhor the idea of free-will with regard to soteriology but am challenged by the arguments posed by my brothers in ministry regarding perseverance of the saints. It prods me to prayer but more importantly to a place of humility where I realize that I am not all-knowing and wise and that many a brother of the Arminian tribe are wholly committed to the spread of the gospel and are equally pursuing a calling to the commission given us by our savior. To hide behind a right to exist “as we always have” without interference or challenge wreaks of one who would rather be comfortable than grapple with the scriptures.
    There are heretics, there are false teachers and then their are brothers who see things differently, By the grace of God we will not stop challenging each other as Paul did Peter for the sake of comfort and retreat in the name of tradition and denomination.
    Steve – Simpsonville, KY

    • Roger Olson

      I’d say you missed the main point of my post. I have never said we shouldn’t be challenged by Christians of other beliefs. I read Calvinists. I have been challenged by them. But when I go to church I don’t want to worship and learn in an atmosphere where people who fundamentally disagree with my church’s beliefs have invaded it or brought foreign belief systems in and are trying to promote them as “the biblical view” such that anyone who sticks to the denomination’s or church’s traditional ethos and beliefs is either unintelligent or unbiblical or both. I invite Calvinists to speak in my classes. I wonder how many Calvinist professors have ever invited an Arminian to speak in their classes? I’ve never heard of it. And I would have no problem with an Arminian church invited an evangelical Calvinist to come and present that view. Clearly, if you read my post, what I am objecting to is people causing strife and dissension within a church by trying to overturn its traditional ethos and beliefs in favor of something new they think is better.

      • Steve

        Dr. Olson………..
        OK…..maybe I did misunderstand. Perhaps I did miss part of the point or maybe even the point. If I am honest….when I have an Arminian brother cover my pulpit for vacation or whatever…..I ask him not to teach salvation through an Arminian viewpoint…..to avoid that. I also ask my independent friends who cover to not teach on baptismal regeneration.
        With regard to your observation that you have never heard of one of us reformed guys inviting an Arminian brother to teach on the subject….well I am sure it has happened somewhere. But your point is well taken. The guys in my tribe tend to be a little uppity and arrogant at times……not sure why we think we can be. The reality is that to be reformed is to be driven to humility, I think. So while I would not insult anyone by claiming that the Arminian view is the product of weaker brothers….I do think Paul’s admonition about being patient with less informed brothers and sisters can be applied here indirectly. Again….not in such a way as to diminish or make light of the Arminian view but as a general rule to bear with one another.
        My apologies if I was too quick to respond.
        Blessings to you and yours.

  • frjohnmorris

    Of course Calvinists are fanatical because they believe that they are specially chosen by God out of the mass of sinful humanity. That inevitably leads to spiritual pride and judging others.

    • Benjamin Johnson

      I am a sinful person in a sinful world. However, my God died on the cross so that I can now be saved if I repent and believe. Somehow I am able to do this even though the person who used to be a part of the church and then left cannot. I can understand and lay hold of the gospel even though the atheist who lives next door and I have shared the gospel with 100 times cannot. Why is it that I can believe and others can’t.

      The calvinist position: because God out of His infinite mercy and grace decided to save me so that He would be glorified. I have no other answer than that except to praise Him and thank Him. I am here on no merit of my own. God could just as easily have chosen the atheist next door instead of me to achieve His glory just as he could have used the stones when Jesus entered Jerusalem but for some mysterious reason He chose me. For that reason I am humbled and grateful.

      How the calvinist perceives the arminian position: We (the calvinists) cannot see any solution to the problem from your position. Why would you believe in God and others not. Why did you pray the prayer, take the leap, etc. while others could not. Because you are smarter, more humble, wiser, more desperate for Him etc. I personally do not know what the Arminian’s position is on this but to me it seems that in some way or another it becomes about the unbeliever having some merit of his own.

      I realize this is not a Biblical argument or anything but since you somewhat misrepresented calvinism I just wanted to set the record straight and also show how we perceive you so you can correct our misconceptions.

      Also for the record I am not a YRR. I am young and Reformed but I grew up Presbyterian and am planning on staying that way my entire life. I agreed with most of the article.

      • Roger Olson

        The problem with your view is that it makes God arbitrary and the author of sin and evil. Your neighbor is an atheist (according to Calvinism) because God withheld the grace he would need not to be an atheist and gave it to you–for his (God’s) glory.

      • http://restoredtograce.wordpress.com Nate

        I appreciate that you said “How the calvinist perceives the arminian position,” because quite frankly, that’s not the Arminian position. The Arminian position is that the ability to accept God’s offer of salvation AND the ability to reject said offer are both dependent on God’s grace.

        Thank you for admitting that you’re unaware of the Arminian position. I only recently “converted” to Arminianism, but I’ll share with you what I’ve learned. Ultimately, it’s not about the human having any merit (as you perceive); rather, it’s simply that humans were given, by God’s precedent grace, the choice to accept or to reject him.

    • Curt

      Good brother, I am quite aware that there are many prideful Calvinists, and I am aware that one is lurking in my own heart, if I do not put him to death by the gospel daily. But I don’t think Calvinism inevitably leads to spiritual pride. As our brother Roger Olson acknowledged in the comments above, most of the Calvinists he has met are humble and loving. In fact, Calvinism properly understood should humble us.( Dt 7:6-7). We were chosen not for any good in us and everything in us deserves only God’s wrath and curse.
      Being a Calvinist and having lived long among Calvinists, I do not think I have met one whose pridefulness was traced back to their being chosen. I don’t doubt those people exist but in my experience the arrogance of Calvinists is rooted in intellectual pride, in their believing they have a superior system of understanding the Bible. This is still wicked and is in direct opposition to their theology. If we understand anything rightly it is by grace, not our superior intellect. A prideful Calvinist is a hypocritical Calvinist and truly presents an ugly picture of the gospel. God forgive us and have mercy upon us. Blessings in Jesus, my brother.

  • frjohnmorris

    It really one takes a few verses from the New Testament to discredit Tulip. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” John 12:32 “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” and I Timothy 2:4 which states that God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

    • Roger Olson

      You’d think those verses would serve to defeat TULIP Calvinism, but many TULIP Calvinists come up with ingenious interpretations to make them fit their theology.

      • frjohnmorris

        I have learned that. I have found that a Calvinist will even argue that they understand the Greek text of the New Testament better than the Greek Fathers or a person who graduated from the Greek Orthodox seminary. In John 3:16 the word translated “world” is “kosmos” which means word. But Calvinists argue that it does not mean “world” but means something like the elect. When Our Lord said that when he is lifted up on the cross He will draw all men to Him, they argue that Our Lord did not really mean all men, but men of all sorts and nations. I believe that Calvinism does extreme violence to the Biblical text.

        • Curt

          In John 12:19-20, John communicates to us what he means by the word “world.” He records the Pharisees said the whole world was seeking Jesus when they saw how many people were following him. In the very next verse, John says there were Greeks seeking after Jesus. As he does elsewhere in the Gospel, he has the enemies of Jesus making unintentional prophesies about Jesus (11:49-52). What fulfills the prophesy is the Greeks coming to Jesus. Therefore what he means by world is all the different peoples of the world which would still allow for the Calvinist understanding of John 3:16. I think the peoples of the ancient world were much more people group conscious than we are in the modern west that is so individualistic. Thus I do not think the Calvinist interpretation of John 3:16 does violence to text but is more sensitive to the cultural and literary context. Of course, the emphasis in the verse is on the universal nature of the gospel–that it is for people of every tribe, nation, language and people group, that ethnicity and nationality are not barriers to salvation. I hope this will promote a better understanding of the Calvinist position
          Dr.Olson , I enjoy reading your posts. Blessings to you in Jesus, my brother. I certainly agree with you that Calvinist should not go into churches that have anti-Calvinist creedal statements and try to split those churches. That is a sin against the body of Christ. I am sorry you have had encounters with arrogant and hateful Calvinists. It truly shows that the understanding of grace they have in their heads has not conquered their heart. I hope you have also meet some Calvinists that have had their hearts broken by the gospel and thus who are gentle loving and humble to all.

          • Roger Olson

            I disagree with your exegesis of John 3:16-17, but I’ve explained that in Against Calvinism and elsewhere so I won’t go over it here. As to your last sentence. Yes, I have met many humble and loving Calvinists. I’d say the majority of them I have met and known over the years were and are. But then there are the loud and obnoxious ones who need to be reined in by their brethren.

          • Curt

            Thank you for dialoging with me.

            My comments about John 3:16 were not in response to anything you said, but to our brother in this stream of comments who said Calvinists did “extreme violence to the biblical text”. That hurt a bit. Just wanted to show that even if Calvinists are wrong, there are some legitimate exegetical concerns they bring to the table. The same is true of our brother’s comment about Jesus saying “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to me.” If all men means every individual, the Calvinist asks, why has not every single individual believed in Jesus as Lord and Savor? So the Calvinist says “maybe he means all types of human beings from every social group” which has abundantly come true and continues to come true throughout history. (this also fits my earlier observation that at the beginning of chapter 12, the Greeks are pictured as coming to Jesus.) Perhaps Calvinists are wrong, but I don’t think their exegetical observations are so irrational that they can be charged with doing violence to the text. Just trying to promote mutual understanding and encourage us to be charitable toward one another.
            Glad you have met some Christlike Calvinists. The obnoxious ones you have meet drive me crazy too, but then I remember that same Pharisee is in me and comes out at times. Thank God for his grace and patience with me. .

  • Mark Byron

    You might want to check out your fellow Patheos blogger Adrian Warnock before you say there are no Pentecostal Calvinists. True, most Pentecostal denominations have Arminian/Holiness roots, but some of the newer charismatic churches that would fit broadly in the Pentecostal bucket don’t have a formal stance on the Reformed/Arminian battles.

    • Roger Olson

      Of course, there are always exceptions that prove the rule. I never said a Calvinist might not adopt Pentecostal beliefs and practices. My point was (!) that Calvinism is absolutely foreign to the Pentecostal tradition historically-theologically. It’s new, an invader from outside–just as Arminianism would be, say, in Presbyterianism. And don’t tell me some Presbyterians have adopted Arminianism. That doesn’t disprove my point that it’s foreign to the Presbyterian tradition historically and theologically!

      • frjohnmorris

        Calvin wrote in the Institutes that the age of miracles has passed. It would seem that is a rather serious conflict with Pentecostalism. However, the growth of the Charismatic Movement has changed everything and has spread Pentecostal beliefs among denominations whose theological traditions are not sympathetic with Pentecostalism.

        • Roger Olson

          When I speak of “Pentecostal denominations” I am referring to those classical Pentecostal churches whose roots lie in the Azusa Street revival and similar revival movements of the first decade of the twentieth century and who believe that speaking in tongues is the “initial, physical evidence” of Holy Spirit baptism or infilling (a second blessing experience subsequent to conversion). Sure, there are lots of neo-Pentecostals and charismatics in other traditions but they are not really Pentecostals in the classical, historical-theological sense.

          • frjohnmorris

            The Charismatics have brought beliefs from the classical Pentecostal denominations into many denominations, even the Roman Catholic Church.

          • Roger Olson

            But very few charismatics have adopted THE Pentecostal sine qua non doctrines of subsequence (of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit to conversion) with speaking in tongues as the initial, physical evidence of Spirit Baptism. There’s the watershed between classical Pentecostalism and neo-Pentecostalism.

  • http://www.guardiancommunications.com/ Mark McNeil

    How about, LIT UP Calvinism?

    • Roger Olson

      Is it just TULIP re-arranged?

      • http://www.guardiancommunications.com/ Mark McNeil

        I figured if the acronym was re-arranged, the change in language might make it acceptable to the Pentecostal denominations. :)

        • Paul Freswick

          ULTIP is the only typical “rearrangement” of TULIP and that usually pertains to the Supra verse Infralapsarian debate

  • Kimberly Ervin Alexander

    I find many preachers listening to the new young guns of Calvinism because the like the preaching style or they like the number of people allegedly being converted by these Manly Men. The problem is there is a whole package that comes with the “style”—one that likely oppresses women and one that downplays “authentic Christianity” and the experiential, transformative view of spirituality that is part and parcel of Wesleyan and/or Pentecostal traditions. Of course, Roger and I (and many of those commenting above) will be considered critical and judgmental for having said so. The irony is, as is pointed out in the blog post, it is the Calvinist who espouse exclusivity.

  • James Mckaskle

    TULIP Calvinism? is there another kind?

    • Roger Olson

      I know lots of evangelicals who call themselves “moderately Reformed” and like to pretend they are Calvinists but aren’t–at least not in the full-blown TULIP sense. And then there are the “four pointers.”

    • John III

      TULIP wasn’t used as an acronym until the 20th century. A lot of Reformed folks don’t actually like the acronym. The Reformed tradition is a lot broader than just the doctrines of grace, and it’s a mistake to conflate this entire theological stream of thought with one of the seminal points within that train of thought.

      • Roger Olson

        All true. But words take on new meanings over time. I always emphasize (as in Against Calvinism) that TULIP is not all there is to Reformed theology and that many who call themselves Reformed are just Baptist Calvinists.

        • John III

          True of some “Reformed Baptists” though some are Confessional and covenantal and just don’t think that covenant theology implies infant Baptism.

          • Roger Olson

            Right. But those in the historically Reformed churches (mostly brought here from Europe) disagree. I look at the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC). So far as I’ve been able to tell they all baptize infants and regard Baptist “re-baptism” as wrong (sectarian).

  • Darrin Rodgers

    Roger, as an Arminian, I am grateful for your scholarship! As the director of the Assemblies of God archives (www.iFPHC.org), I would like to point out, however, that Calvinist Pentecostals have always existed in the movement. Joseph Smale, the pastor who set the theological stage for the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles, was a British Calvinist – and a Spurgeon College graduate nonetheless. He initially embraced Azusa, but grew uncomfortable with the emerging movement and was mostly written out of the history books. See the 2009 AG Heritage for an article on Smale: http://ifphc.org/pdf//Heritage/2009.pdf The Apostolic Church of Pentecost of Canada, one of the earliest classical Pentecostal denominations in Canada, was Oneness and Calvinist. Read my review of a recent history of the ACOP here: http://ifphc.wordpress.com/2010/05/05/apostolic-church-of-pentecost-of-canada/ The ACOP, in recent decades, has embraced the doctrine of the Trinity (which it called the “tri-unity of the godhead”), although this has been largely unnoticed by outside observers. The Grace and Glory Movement, an unorganized group of churches that drew their name from the Pentecostal periodical Grace and Glory, was another early classical Pentecostal Calvinist group. Interestingly, an AG founder, J. Roswell Flower, was a founding editor of Grace and Glory’s magazine, initially titled The Pentecost. See more info here: https://ifphc.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=publicationsGuide.thePentecost Large segments of the Assemblies of God in southern Africa have been Calvinist since the earliest days. This may be due in part to the influence of WFP Burton, a prominent British Pentecostal missionary who was Calvinist and who wrote extensively in support of eternal security doctrine. The AG USA, as early as 1918, adopted its stance against “extreme eternal security teaching.” This seemed to be in opposition to the idea that, once saved, it didn’t matter how one lived. While “extreme eternal security teaching” was condemned, some AG leaders embraced what they termed “eternal security” — including AG Ward (the father of Revivaltime radio host CM Ward). This may be because Ward was Canadian and was sensitive to the ACOP arguments. Calvinism is a (small) minority voice within Pentecostal history, but it has been present since the movement’s beginnings.

    • Roger Olson

      Darrin, I bow to your greater knowledge of the margins of Pentecostalism. But before posting what I did I communicated with someone whose name you would know well (I don’t want to post his name here in order not to drag him into a discussion he might not want to be part of) whose father was an AG leader and is a church historian with wide and deep knowledge of Pentecostalism. He agreed with me that Calvinism has historically not been part of the Pentecostal movement. We can talk more about this. My response is basically that there are always exceptions when one is talking about a movement as large as Pentecostalism. But, in general, Calvinism is a foreign element now.

      • Darrin Rodgers

        Thanks for your kind response, Roger! I agree that Calvinism would have been a “foreign element” to the vast majority of American Pentecostals until recent years. This would particularly be the case if looking exclusively at the major denominations. However, it is interesting to note that early issues of the AG’s Pentecostal Evangel published a number of warnings against the Grace and Glory group — the Calvinist Pentecostals. This shows that Calvinism was not unheard of within Pentecostalism, rather, it was viewed by the majority as a doctrinally problematic minority within the movement. And it wasn’t just a few individuals, there were entire Pentecostal networks or denominations that had distinctive Calvinistic doctrines. The Apostolic Church of Pentecost of Canada, which was historically Calvinistic, has long been the second largest Pentecostal denomination in Canada. Most Pentecostals today are probably unaware of these Calvinist streams within Pentecostalism. The prominent Grace and Glory leaders have died and the group has become less visible. I have friends who left Grace and Glory and have joined the AG or Reformed Baptist churches. The ACOP has mainstreamed, has joined the PCCNA, has declared itself Trinitarian, and doesn’t seem as strongly Calvinistic as in the past. I just hesitate to use absolute statements regarding the non-existence of Calvinism within the Pentecostal tradition. The Pentecostal movement is so diverse as to make it difficult to make such generalizations. It’s easier, perhaps to make such generalizations about churches (which have boundary markers), whereas the borders of movements are rather porous. I’d be more comfortable with your statements about Calvinism if they were applied to, for instance, the AG, rather than Pentecostals in general.

        • Roger Olson

          Okay, I accept that. You’re right that Pentecostalism’s boundaries are porous and virtually invisible. It’s what I call a centered set category. I would just continue to maintain that classical Pentecostal denominations are virtually all Arminian in orientation and ought to resist such fundamental change as Calvinists within them and coming into them want to bring about.

          • Darrin Rodgers

            I agree that the major classical Pentecostal denominations are virtually all Arminian in orientation and ought to resist the changes that Calvinists wish to bring about. Again, I am grateful for your scholarship!

  • Benjamin

    Roger, here’s my personal experience: My wife and I were part of a Baptist church with a clear affirmation of free will in its statement of faith. The church wanted to plant a new church across town, and the church planting pastor actively pursued us to be charter members. We were given a short, generically evangelical statement of faith to sign, and off we went. After several years of hard work in the church plant (signing that same statement of faith each year), we felt the call to be foreign missionaries. With the support of both churches, we left the U.S.

    Fast forward five years and a new statement of faith appeared on the church plant’s web site—extraordinarily detailed and pure TULIP. Then I had the temerity to criticize John MacArthur (big mistake). The next time we were home for furlough we were called in for a regular inquisition before all the church plant elders, complete with a list of accusations. Needless to say, because we would not affirm Calvinism as the only correct interpretation of scripture, they are no longer going to support us as missionaries.

    The really striking thing about the inquisition was that when I re-affirmed the free will position of the mother church, they seemed to be genuinely dumbfounded that I could have developed such outlandish ideas. They genuinely did not believe that they were the ones who had moved. At one point I asked the pastor about the website’s new statement of faith. He responded that although it had only been posted recently, it had been the official statement of faith since day one (news to us). The two statements of faith were equivalent, he said, because they don’t contradict each other. Really. He seemed to have no sense of how deceptive that was. Calvinism on the sly indeed.

  • EscondidoSurfer

    I believe the tulip/reformed crowd are drawn to it because it is an airtight system that addresses and confronts the individual interpretation problem of Protestantism. Reformed theology takes the place of tradition and papal authority of the Catholic Church which they miss. That Open Theism could be considered biblically defensible is the straw that broke the camel’s back.

    • Roger Olson

      I disagree. The straw that broke the camel’s back was that one of their own–Clark Pinnock–first switched to Arminianism and then open theism. They were angry at him. I have evidence for this claim, but I won’t go into that here. As I pointed out, Don Bloesch was writing what later came to be called “open theism” as early as 1971 and nobody made a peep about it.

  • William

    This approach reflects wisdom and integrity.

  • Paul Freswick

    As one who holds to the Doctrines of Grace I can really appreciate the tone and call for consistency in this article. There are some historically Calvinist churches (the CRC to be more specific) that have not called out the Arminian thinkers among them and it has caused much turmoil.

    • Roger Olson

      Would you care to name a classical Arminian minister of the CRC? I have never met or heard of one.

      • Paul Freswick

        Point taken. It would probably be more fair to say CRC allows Arminian thinking than to say there are classical Arminian thinkers. I would base this off of friends I know in the CRC who have Arminian leanings which are not at all discouraged by their churches. The increasing plurality of views in the CRC is more clearly seen in other ares such as Creation or Sexuality.

  • PuritanD71

    Huh, never knew that there was a distinction between Calvinists and TULIP Calvinists. I think your article would be better suited to drop TULIP. It would be similar to making a distinction between Arminianism and Wesly-Arminianism.

    Though I am sure there might be some who desire to make that distinction and may rightly so when doing a study purely on Arminianism. However, it seems that there was a desire to make an albatross around Calvinism calling it TULIP Calvinism.

    One thing that raised a flag was the suggestion that Calvinist never represent Arminianism fairly. I cite your claim that it is okay if Calvinists are present in “mixed” denominations only if they “fairly represent” the other side. What about the other side in those denominations?

    With the struggles that denominations like the Nazarene church has with inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture, one may not be surprised by the attraction the “other side” may offer. It would be great if you could dig a bit deeper as to why Calvinism is showing up in these historically Arminian denominations. Is it possible that the controversies within like I just mentioned above would start pushing people the other way?

    • Roger Olson

      It is the inerrantists who are troubling the Church of the Nazarene which has never affirmed inerrancy. Inerrantism is not part of its history or ethos.

  • Roger Olson

    I read Duty’s book many years ago. Watch for a forthcoming book by a young Arminian pastor entitled Young. Restless. No Longer Reformed (by Austin Fischer). He’s certainly worthy of the kind of attention you talk about. But you have to understand there’s a LOT of money behind the aggressive Calvinists.

  • JeffCamp

    As a Calvinist, I can respect this article as a call for denominations to be theologically “pure”. Of course, I would argue that it is important for denominations to right. Overall, I think it is important for denominations to be clear on their stance on things like Calvinism.so that we can have a clear-cut dialogue.


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