For and Against Calvinism 8

For and Against Calvinism 8 November 9, 2011

In high Calvinism God predestines the elect to salvation and the non-elect to damnation. Some Calvinists do not believe in double predestination; instead they believe in “single” predestination. Roger Olson, however, argues (along with many Calvinists) that single predestination necessarily entails double predestination. Then Olson probes into the doctrine to say it makes a mockery of God’s love and goodness, and offers instead an Arminian approach to election. So, he argues “Yes to election; No to double predestination.”

Calvinism’s commitment to its form of election creates theological and logical problems for Calvinism. Do you think double predestination ultimately shakes confidence in God’s love and goodness?

As you may know, we are this series on Roger Olson’s Against Calvinism and Michael Horton’s For Calvinism. One of the most admirable characteristics of Roger Olson is his candor about what he thinks and what he thinks of others, seen for instance in his recent criticisms of JI Packer’s understanding of Arminianism. When Arminians criticize like this it is seen as arrogance or a lack of charity while when Calvinist theologians go after Arminians it is perceived as commitment to the truth and a willingness to defend the hard doctrines (of grace). Baloney on that one. Olson is simply being a good, sharp-minded theologian and is always open to discussion — and his recent public debates with Michael Horton, who like Olson is charitable and civil even when they disagree firmly and say strong things, are a good sign of this commitment to public civility. I digress.

Olson’s chp on election is admirably clear about what Calvinists believe and at the same time firm in disagreement. Olson is against double predestination for individuals; he is for “conditional election” for individuals. He is firmly against “unconditional individual election’s inevitable correlate — reprobation” (104), and he sees it contrary to God’s love.

Calvin believes in double predestination; so does Boettner, Edwin Palmer (“choosing implies leaving others unchosen”) and Palmer throws up his hands at times when it comes to the logicality of this viewpoint. Sproul believes in double predestination (though he sees one as positive, the other as negative; active vs. passive, etc.). And James Daane argued that it was double or nothing when it comes to predestination of individuals.

Olson: this makes God morally ambiguous or worse, even monstrous.

The standard Calvinist response to criticisms is now called divine command theory, or that whatever God does is good and it is not ours to question it. This was seen recently in both Francis Chan and Mark Galli’s response to those who want to probe into the theodicy question of the morality of eternal punishment. Calvinists have often pushed back this way, and Olson argues this shows they believe their view of God is God as God is, while he wants to argue that their view (not God) is wrong. Another point made is that Calvinists, like Boettner and Piper, often contend doctrines like these ultimately glorify God even if we cannot comprehend how or why. Olson contends such ideas often turn God into being arbitrary.

The issue here is how to square belief in God’s love and double predestination. Pushing back by saying we aren’t to question simply doesn’t do it. This is why some today see God’s love at several levels (Piper, Carson) or say God has two wills.

Olson argues there are strong Calvinists theologians who have completely contested double predestination, including G.C. Berkouwer and James Daane. Then he sketches the powerful responses of John Wesley to Calvinism, where you will hear ideas very similar to what we have heard from Olson in many contexts (mainly, this stuff cannot be squared with a God of love without diminishing God’s love, which is exactly what is often seen in some Calvinists).

The alternative? Election is corporate (those in Christ, who believe in Christ, are elect because Christ is the Elect One). Arminians, too, believe in the priority of grace in prevenient grace, in spite of what its critics often repeat. And with Jack Cottrell, Roger agrees God made a world in which God acts with self-limitation because God values the freedom of those whom God has created.

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