Some thoughts about conversations/debates between Calvinists and Arminians

Some thoughts about conversations/debates between Calvinists and Arminians October 7, 2011

Now that my book Against Calvinism is published I’m receiving invitations to debate Calvinists.  What I want to say is…everything I have to say on the subject is in the book.  Read it.  What I am doing in the book is NOT trying to shoot down Calvinism; I’m trying to explain as clearly as I can WHY I AM NOT A CALVINIST.  Unfortunately there is already a book of that title.  I happen to think my book is different even though the material overlaps some.  I wouldn’t have written my book if I didn’t think there’s a better way of presenting the case against Calvinism.  So that’s what I did.  But I fear people misunderstand and think I’m trying to attack Calvinists.  Not at all.  I’m simply trying to explain why I’m not a Calvinist.  If that has some other effects, fine.  But I’m not out to shame or blame or marginalize Calvinists.  What I do find, however, are many, many Calvinists who treat me as someone who simply hasn’t studied the Bible enough or hasn’t thought hard enough (or prayerfully enough) about God.  I’m trying to present my “case,” as it were, to refute those perceptions.  Those of us who are not Calvinists have good reasons; it’s not as if we just haven’t thought about it or don’t read or study or believe the Bible or whatever.  And I think there are many non-Calvinists out there who need help explaining why they’re not Calvinists.  I hope my book provides that help.

The other day I was the guest on a 30 minute Christian radio program hosted by a 5 points Calvinist.  He treated me very cordially, but tried vigorously to prove Calvinism true and Arminianism false–in 30 minutes!  It seemed to me that he assumed that somehow I simply was ignoring certain Bible passages and just needed to hear them read to me “one more time,” as it were.  I wasn’t offended, but I was bemused.  Does he think I haven’t studied the Bible?  Does he think there are no other interpretations of, say Romans 9, than his?  I always come away from encounters like that (and I have more of them scheduled) just somewhat bewildered.

The feeling I have during and after them is like a ship passing another one in the night.  We are on such different wave lengths with regard to presuppositions (we both have them even if they don’t think they do), visions of the character of God, hermeneutics.  And maybe underlying all of it is a different approach to Scripture.  I’ve blogged about this before.  Reading Smith’s book brought it back to mind forcefully.

I’m beginning to think even more than before that most 5 points Calvinists I know approach the Bible very differently from most non-Calvinists I know.  (I’m talking only about evangelicals here; I’m not including in “non-Calvinists” liberals or unbelievers.)  For example (I’m musing here because I’m not sure about this): It seems to me that most 5 point Calvinists I know seem bound and determined to believe anything they think the Bible says regardless of how horrific that may be.  In other words, IF they became convinced that somehow they had been overlooking something in Scripture (as they think I do) and, in fact, God and the devil are actually the same being such that God is evil, they would believe it because the Bible says it.  I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil; that goodness and being belong inextricably together or else there is no ground for basic trust.  This is why Wesley said of Romans 9 (paraphrasing here)–whatever it means it cannot mean that!  He means, no matter how much Romans 9 (and other Scripture passages) SEEM to say that God selects some people to save UNCONDITIONALLY, leaving others WHO HE COULD SAVE (because election to salvation is unconditional and saving grace is irresistible) to eternal torment in hell, it cannot mean that.  Why?  Because God is good.  Even Calvinist Paul Helm, a leading evangelical Calvinist thinker, agrees (as I show in my book) that “goodness” attributed to God cannot be totally different from every understanding of goodness (and love) we know of.  When Wesley rightly said of Romans 9 that it cannot mean “that” (what Calvinists believe it means) he wasn’t dismissing Romans 9 as uninspired, not part of God’s Word.  He was saying IF it means that (and fortunately there are other valid interpretations than the Calvinist one) God is not good but a monster worse than the devil because at least the devil is sincere.  (Wesley is talking about God’s universal will for salvation–1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9, etc.).  To those of us who are not Calvinists this seems right.  That’s why we cannot be Calvinists–because IF WE believed what Calvinists believe God would not be good and therefore could not be trusted.  We realize that Calvinists (at least most) do not believe God is a monster, but we are saying if WE believed what they believe we would find it necessary to think of God that way–as indistinguishable from the devil.  I find most (all?) Calvinists simply sweep that aside as unworthy of consideration and fall back on quoting isolated Bible passages that they think prove their view of God and salvation, etc.

Now, I know some Calvinists (and maybe some others) will accuse me of vilifying Calvinism.  But I simply respond that they do the same thing with my Arminianism–they vilify it by saying Arminians “must” say that the cross of Christ did not save anyone but only gave people the opportunity to save themselves.  NO ARMINIAN SAYS OR THINKS THAT!  But Calvinists MEAN that IF they believed what Arminians believe THAT’S WHAT THEY WOULD HAVE TO BELIEVE.  Fine.  I can accept that.  So long as they DON’T say or imply that that is what Arminians DO believe.  I never, never say that Calvinists believe God is evil or a monster, etc.  I go out of my way to make clear to readers and listeners that what I am saying is that Calvinists are confused–just as they think I’m confused.

Another dimension to this problem of Arminian-Calvinist meeting of the minds (which never seems to happen on this subject) is that most Calvinists I talk to THINK the disagreement can be settled by mere exegesis.  Obviously it can’t.  It’s been going on between equally scholarly Christians for hundreds and hundreds of year (going way back before Arminius or Calvin!)  Obviously the disagreement has something to do with differing gestalts–“seeing as.”  That is when Calvinists read Scripture they see God and salvation AS such-and-such whereas when Arminians read Scripture they see God and salvation AS something else.  Not totally something else, but importantly something else.  In other words, the disagreement is perspectival which is why it cannot be settled by exegesis or even philosophy.  Both accounts of God and salvation (etc.) are reasonable ones.  It’s just that one, taken to its logical conclusion (it’s “good and necessary consequences”) lands in one place and the other one lands in a very different place.  And the further you push the good and necessary consequences the further apart the two perspectives get from each other.

For those of you who think no Calvinist would agree with that I’ll go out on a limb (which I rarely do in this particular manner) and name a name.  At a conference of Calvinists to which I was invited to present the historical, classical Arminian view, Paul Helm stated very forthrightly that the difference cannot be settled by exegesis.  His argument is that it has to be settled by looking at the good and necessary consequences of each view.  He claimed that Arminianism necessarily leads to denial of salvation as a gift.  I disagree.  But here (and in my book) I am claiming that Calvinism necessarily leads to God as a monster–barely distinguishable from the devil.  Helm didn’t say that Arminians deny salvation is a gift; he said IF pushed to its logical consequences it ends up there.  That’s what I’m saying about Calvinism.  But Calvinists seem to insist on hearing my argument as saying they actually believe (maybe secretly) that God is a monster.  I have never said that.

I wonder if everyone involved in this debate saw it as I do whether there would be any need for debate.  What are we doing when we get together (in person or on the radio or whatever) and try to explain ourselves to each other and to listeners?  Does anyone honestly think some new information is going to appear?  I doubt it.  Is any argument going to come forth that has never come forth before?  Hardly.  What we are doing, I assume, is trying to get listeners to see God and salvation AS we see them.  We are pointing to the same evidence but we see that evidence AS different things.  What if we all just admitted that?  I do.  I don’t think I have any new facts to point out that no Calvinist has recognized before.  Hopefully we aren’t just trying to outdo the other in quoting Bible verses to impress our listeners!  But this possibility did occur to me as the radio talk show host quoted verses and verses rapid fire as I sat and listened.  Surely he didn’t think one of them was going to suddenly, magically convert me to Calvinism!  Maybe he thought one of them (or more) would would suddenly convert a listener to Calvinism or convince a wavering Calvinist to stay Calvinist.  But my impression was that this whole endeavor was so artificial.  In these encounters we could just shout Bible passages at each other, but that settles nothing.  All of them have been explained for both sides!  I happen to think some Calvinist explanations of some of them are extremely weak, but they Calvinists think the same about some of my explanations of verses.  So we could end up just spending hours and wasting breath shouting Bible verses at each other when that isn’t going to really solve anything or rightly convince anyone of the truth of our positions.

So that brings me back to the question–why did I write the book?  Because I hope to show all interested parties that there are good reasons for not being a Calvinist; that it’s not just a matter of not having thought about the issues or not honoring Scripture or being spiritually blind or whatever.  I don’t expect my book will suddenly convert Calvinists to Arminianism.  What I do hope for is that people on the fence, so to speak, will see that there are good reasons for not going completely over to the other side–that they don’t HAVE to to be theologically and spiritually fulfilled.  And I hope to remind evangelical leaders that Calvinism is NOT the only respectable view and that it in fact has serious problems–that non-Calvinist evangelicals are not dishonoring Scripture or moving toward liberalism, etc., etc. (as I know for a fact many evangelical leaders do think!).

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Phil

    In all our efforts to include Calvinists within the Christian family (a courtesy they don’t always seem to return!), it sometimes occurs to me that Calvinism is not merely a subgroup of Christian orthodoxy, but an entirely different religion–a religion in which God’s love must always take a back seat to the preservation of his reputation. In short, the God I love and worship seems very different in character than the God of the Calvinists–this nightmare God who in his cold-hearted sovereignty is perfectly content to see the great majority of humanity burning in hell for eternity without any real choice in the matter.

  • Krister S

    Great bit of musing, Dr. Olson. My quick response to your closing question is that I DO believe we need people like yourself participating in debates. But the need is not for academic-level debates. Academicians tend to become entrenched, as their presuppositions and opinions are generally thoroughly thought out.

    It is at the popular level, the level of the educated and thoughtful lay person, where I think the need exists. Millions in the western church are being taught that, for example, God predestines the billions to roast in flames for eternity. Catch that, for eternity. And he does it to glorify himself. They are also taught that our God in his “sovereignty” is responsible (in some way shape or form) for all the evil, pain, deprivation and inhuman acts ever perpetrated. For his glory and to show forth his goodness to all.

    Our people who care to think about such things need to hear voices like yours and Wesley’s and Clark Pinnock’s and Scot McKnight’s and Will Willimon’s and (perhaps) dare I say it, even Rob Bell’s??

    Finally, let me say that it’s my stance our God does need his people to defend him or his reputation against the nations. But sometimes he does need the church to speak to itself…to defend him and his reputation.

    I’m with you in the struggle to do just that!

    • Krister S

      last paragraph should read “our God DOESN’T need his people to defend him or his reputation against the nations.”

  • Aaron

    I am excited to read your book, thanks so much for writing it! One thing I have been wrestling with (as a non-calvinist) is that Arminians point to the verse that God desires all to be saved as a way to say that unconditional election can’t be true. And that if Unconditional election is true than God is not truly loving and does not actually want all people to be saved. Ok but the question I have been wrestiling with is what if there is some reason that God could not save save everyone but has not disclosed the reason to us. So that he does genuinely desire to save everyone but for some reason can not and we will not know why this side of heaven. Wouldnt that make God still loving while only saving some?
    – hope this makes sense.

    • rogereolson

      Process of eliminaton makes me think there isn’t and even can’t be such an undisclosed reason. Also, wouldn’t God have told us the reason–or at least hinted at it? I think so. Calvinist Loraine Boettner wrote (I quote this in the book) that God saves all that he can get the consent of his nature to save. That just blows my mind as it implies a division within God. I think the Bible is clear that the reason God doesn’t save everyone is that he can’t and at the same time respect the free will he gave us. But ultimately it’s not about free will–it’s about love. A truly loving relationshp between persons must be chosen and not determined by one of the parties. I discuss this in my book using Dutch Christian philosopher Vincent Brummer.

      • Nicolas

        Thanks for this topic.

        Aaron above quotes the text “God desires all to be saved”.

        For me, this raises another question:

        1) If it’s true that God desires all to be saved, then shouldn’t we pray that God’s desire can be fulfilled?

      • Aaron

        Great – thanks Roger, can’t wait to read it!

  • Tim Reisdorf

    Another reason for your book could be to put a good foot forward for your point of view. Strangers are sometimes seen as enemies. In explaining yourself, your thinking, your living, your motives, people tend to shy away from thinking the worst. In general, people will give you credibility and the benefit of the doubt if you are sincere, good, and thoughtful.

  • Brian MacArevey

    “Surely he didn’t think one of them was going to suddenly, magically convert me to Calvinism!”

    I’m not so sure Roger…perhaps the reason that you are Arminian is because God has not yet irresistably opened your eyes to the truth of the gospel (Calvinism), and maybe he thought that this particular rereading of the verse would be the one through which Giod would effectually call you. 😉

    • Brian MacArevey


    • rogereolson

      That is what he sounded like! 🙂

  • Paul Helm “claimed that Arminianism necessarily leads to denial of salvation as a gift.” I’m sorry, but since when were gifts irresistibly imposed upon the recipients?

    Yet, for your claim, the idea that God can be thought of as a moral monster is not necessarily based on what you think Calvinists are intending to communicate but on what Calvinists actually write about and describe as the attributes of God. I acknowledge my bias, but I think your claim carries the far heavier weight than does that of Helm.

    • Aaron

      Paul Helm “claimed that Arminianism necessarily leads to denial of salvation as a gift.” I’m sorry, but since when were gifts irresistibly imposed upon the recipients?

      Thats a great point – Thanks William!

    • but since when were gifts irresistibly imposed upon the recipients?

      Not in Calvinism as I understand it. God’s grace is irresistible because once our blind eyes are opened to see who Christ really is, we cannot help but embrace him and his grace with joy and thankfulness. It is not that we are forced to, it’s that Christ is so glorious. It is irresistible in the same way (well, much more so actually) that some of us find caramel fudge ice-cream irresistible.. There is no imposition!

      • rogereolson

        Yes, I’ve heard that for years. But I don’t buy it. God’s effectual grace (in classical Calvinism) does not leave the affected person with ability to resist. It’s as if I had a pill that would make someone love me and gave it to them with the result that they become my best friend for life. Who, knowing about the pill, would consider that person truly my friend (or consider me that person’s true friend)? There is simply no analogy to the Calvinist doctrine of effectual grace in human relationships except false love and false friendship. I never said that in Calvinism God coerces someone to love him. I said that in Calvinism God imposes his gift of salvation on the elect. I think that’s a correct description of the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible/effectual grace.

        • Curtis

          What about this verse?
          “Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord GOD: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. 23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. ” Ezekiel 36

          • rogereolson

            What about it?

  • I think violence and the bible is an important topic to pay attention too and i also think it is good to challenge avowed Calvinists to explain how they deal with the issue of the violence or capricious nature of a God who seems, at times, to choose one set of people over another. I believe people who present this image of God are accountable for the practical outworkings of this presentation.
    I have read other theologians explain God’s violence by stating that he is above our human sense of morality. That is, God can do what God wants to do, despite the fact that it might offend human, and therefore finite and fallible rationality and morality. I guess i agree with this on principle but also believe that before anything else God is a good creator. So i suppose it must be a matter of distinction. What principle is considered more important? A sovereign God who is free to do whatever he wants to fulfill some sort of heavenly eschatalogical goal or a good God who will choose to do what is best for humanity, to the point of helping individuals right now?
    I hate to psychologize this debate but i wonder if the “need” to be Scripturally faithful where it goes against the principle of a good, creator God is often based on fear, deep seated anxiety and doubt about God’s love. That is probably unfair and could be applied to anyone not just strict 5 point Calvinists. But i just do not think that God is that capricious.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      “who seems, at times, to choose one set of people over another.”

      One has to be pretty creative with the texts to believe that God does not do this. Indeed, the Scriptures are saturated with this idea.

      You do bring up an interesting question: “What principle is considered more important?” I would say that any principle that does not adequately account for the whole of Scripture is somehow incomplete. To say that God is good, much also make accommodation for God wiping on nearly all of living creation in a flood or nearly destroying a person (Job) in a bet with a heavenly accuser (the Satan) or countless other passages.

      What I’m trying to say is that the principles about God are the children of the text. I think that the reverse method is fraught with the temptation to “cancel out” texts to fit our principles. Indeed, it would be unseemly for the child to kill the mother.

      • rogereolson

        Of course I know that God chooses one set of people over another–but for service, not salvation. I assumed people would know that I was talking about salvation.

  • C. Ehrlich

    I suggest beginning your conversations with this question: can the person you’re talking to concede that there is room for reasonable disagreement on the issue?

    • rogereolson

      Good suggestion. I’ll think I’ll ask that first from now on.

  • bill crawford

    Dr Olson,

    Thanks for posting this, and the reminder that we should not attribute to another a position he or she does not hold, even if we think it is the logical conclusion should we hold that position.

    Question: How do you explain the movement of folks from Calvinism to Arminianism (as seen in the testimony of many commenters here) and from Arminianism to Calvinism? Some might say exegesis, but does this explain what amounts to a shift in paradigm?

    • rogereolson

      You named it–paradigm change. It’s seeing the same evidence you’ve always seen in a new way. I do have hope that by pointing to the two ways of looking at the same evidence (Calvinism and Arminianism) some Calvinists will see the light and switch. But it won’t likely be by seeing new evidence (unless they’re total novices and just haven’t really studied the Bible about all of this yet).

  • Luke

    Wow. This was an incredible post. Thanks for putting words to thoughts I’ve had for 5 years now.

  • Thanks for writing the book! My copy has not arrived yet, but I’m looking forward to it.

    Several years ago I noticed that several younger men I knew were attending a study on Calvinism. That was enough to get me out of bed to go as well. Thankfully, the man running the study was willing to allow me to offer a different viewpoint and to criticize the materials using a biblical and logical approach.

    Many in the group did not change their minds because they were committed Calvinists. Along the way I was amazed that the group knew nothing at all about Jacob Arminius. They about fell over when they learned he had attended Calvin’s school in Geneva. They also found out he went into plague houses with food and water when no one else would go in.

    Long story short, the young men did not become Calvinists, but the men who had been Calvinists longer held their position, as did the leader. Eventually I left the group because I found anger about it growing in me. I left on cordial terms with the members.

    It will be good to have a book by you on this subject. If I can get those considering Calvinism to read it, then I may also get them into Arminian Theology as well. I like keeping people out of this trap (i.e., Calvinism) if I can keep them from it.


  • Dr. Olson,

    I think this is one of your better pieces on this topic. Thanks for being irenic.

    While reading this, a thought came to mind. Since Scripture, in at least one notable instance, explicitly attributes the same act to both God and the devil, could a Calvinist say your “good and necessary consequence” of Calvinism (which seems genuinely objectionable on the surface) is actually represented favorably by Scripture? I am thinking of David’s census. In other words, the Bible doesn’t seem to have so great a problem with God and the devil sometimes appearing indistinguishable (at least from our limited perspective).

    • rogereolson

      Well, there’s the problem, you see. I presuppose that God and the devil simply cannot be the same–morally (as to character). So I have to interpret those passages differently than someone who can simply accept them at what they think is face value without conflict or tension. What really bothers me is that many Calvinists I know are not bothered by this. It tells me that they actually do think (or seem to me to think) that God is the instigator of sin and evil. If that’s the case, I cannot worship him. Character is what makes God worshipful; that he is also all powerful is icing on the cake.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        This begs the question, do your presuppositions come from the text, or do your readings of the texts come from your presuppositions?

        Martin Luther once said “He may be the devil but he’s God’s devil.” Is it conceivable that God created a being that would “prove” people on God’s behalf – like a divinely appointed “Devil’s Advocate”? Would you allow the worhip-worthy character qualities in God to include a “testing” of people? Why else would the Spirit drive Jesus out to the desert to be tested by the devil? There seems to be collaboration on this. The Satan and God work together in the book of Job, Micaiah’s story in 1K22/2C18, Zechariah 3, and Satan requested [from God] permission to “sift like wheat” the disciples in Lk 22. From Jesus’ telling, it appears that permission was granted! In addition, it resolves the aforementioned Kings/Chronicles conflation from THEOparadox’s post.

        None of these passages attributes sin or evil to God in His associations with Satan.

        While this doesn’t account for all the texts relating to the devil (thus I don’t put all my money down on this), it does make sense (to me) of all the OT references and many of the NT references. I don’t think that this makes God into a moral monster.

        • rogereolson

          I have never said that God never uses the devil, but we have to keep them clearly separate as to their character. If God wants some portion of humanity to suffer eternally in the flames of hell for his glory, in my opinion, that puts him in the same character category as the devil.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            If God wants some portion of humanity to suffer eternally in the flames of hell for his glory, in my opinion, that puts him in the same character category as the devil.

            I agree. But what I was implying was that God made Satan for the role that Satan is now playing. Thus, they collaborate. The role of Satan is to deceive, lead astray and destroy in the world. But Satan is no “equal and opposite” and will eventually be removed from the scene.

            God and Satan do not have the same character traits – as God clearly wants all to come to Him and Satan is designed to put up roadblocks to that.

          • rogereolson

            There’s where we disagree. I don’t think Satan was made for that role; it became his role due to his own rebellion.

          • Roger, you’re avoiding the issue. You frequently reason that God does *acts* which look devilish to you. But the Bible, as pointed out, often attributes the same *act* to both God and the devil. However, as Calvinists would point out, this does not mean that the *characters* are the same. God and Joseph’s brother’s both intended the same *act* (for Joseph to go into the pit and be sold for slavery), yet it clearly teaches that God had different *motives* or *character* than the brothers. So, you need to stop arguing that God does an *act( which (to you) looks like something the devil might to and instead argue that God and the devil have the same *character* on Calvinist premises. You clearly can’t get there from citing *acts* which you think a devil might do, for as seen above, that’s insufficient to get you to the conclusion you need: the Calvinist God has the *character* of the devil.

          • rogereolson

            The Arminian view is that in such cases God allows the act Satan instigates and that is especially true with regard to hell. My main point is that IF God wants (decrees) that certain individuals spend eternity in hell “for his glory” (remember he could save them because election to salvation is unconditional and grace is irresistible) he is barely distinguishable from the devil in terms of character.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi THEO,

      My own sense of the SK/C census is that SK simply had no trouble associating this act with God. Lots of people died because God was angry [with the sins of the people of Israel]. And while the impetus seems to be sin in the Israelites, God used David and somehow influenced him to take a census. Thus, God now had “sufficient reason” to punish the Israelites for their sins – using the census as the “flashpoint”.

      C had some trouble with this very close association with God and the acts attributed to Him in the SK account. So he put Satan in God’s place – as a proxy. It is not unlike the oft-conflated “the angel of the LORD” with “the LORD”, but it does give it a very different feel here. Apart from this wording, the rest of the passage is mostly copied from SK word for word. From Roger’s reply, he would also seem somewhat uncomfortable with the SK account.

      How can one be faithful to both accounts? For my attempt, see my reply to Roger’s response.

      • Tim,

        These are very difficult passages to interpret. However, I agree with your basic idea that there is some sort of collaboration between God and Satan. The account regarding Micaiah is especially telling. Here’s a quick outline of my best theory on how it all works:

        1. God is always sovereign and good in his collaborations with Satan.
        2. Satan can only according to God’s permission or restriction
        3. God willingly allows evil by giving Satan permission to act according to Satan’s own desires.
        4. Satan produces evil by perverting the good which God has set forth.
        5. Satan’s activity springs from his own evil motives.
        6. God’s motive in allowing/decreeing Satan’s activity is good.
        7. God allows evil in order to bring about a greater good.
        8. God’s execution of justice rights the evil, but His display of mercy sets forth a greater good.
        9. Thus, whether by justice or mercy, good overcomes evil.

        I think this is basically an Augustinian approach. It all seems Biblical, but I advise testing it against the Scriptures. I always feel cautious about these matters because they are deep beyond all the comprehension of man, and we so easily misstep. May God help us to know Him in all His goodness.


        • rogereolson

          I demonstrate in Against Calvinism that most leading Calvinists (Edwards, Boettner, Sproul, et al.) are divine determinists. The language of “permission” (of sin and evil) was rejected by Calvin; later Calvinists introduced it. But what do they mean by God merely permitting sin and evil? I offer numerous quotes to demonstrate they mean what I call efficacious permission. In other words, it is permission that renders sin and evil certain as factors God actually wants in his creation. These Calvinist theologians all say, in one way or another, that God made the fall and all its consequences certain by withdrawing or withholding the grace they (Satan, Adam, Eve) would have needed not to fall. In other words, sin and evil are intended by God–not merely reluctantly allowed. They are part of the divine plan. They are rendered certain by God.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            My default position is to reject divine determinism. If they are right, then things are the way they are and no amount of my agreeing or disagreeing makes any difference. (“So why bother?” methinks.) If they are incorrect, then things are not divinely determined and I am free to choose and will and want and think for myself. They may understand some or many things of the Bible correctly, but I don’t even bother with their presuppositions.

          • rogereolson

            Right. And if they are correct, then nothing is really evil. This is the best of all possible worlds and everything in it glorifies God. I have an appendix in my book about Calvinists conundrums such as this.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Hi THEO,

          Thanks for your thoughts.

          My own thoughts are not systamatized, and may not logically hold together. And evidence from the OT and NT about the inner-workings concerning the relationship between God and the devil is scant, so I can hardly say that any of my conclusions are solid. But here’s my best guesses about these things in no particular order.

          1. Satan is a created being and will be destroyed.
          2. God created Satan to try people (that is, to test them – to tempt them to see if their faith is sure).
          3. God is not above working with Satan to find out information that would come about by Satan’s testing. (Apart from the wonderful discussion, I see little good coming out of the Book of Job. People died because of a heavenly bet. But we got some great literature.)
          4. I see no good evidence that Satan rejected God and the heavenly dwelling. Is.14 and Ez.28 don’t cut it for me. Neither does Lk.10. Rather, Satan is comfortable among the host of heaven (and God doesn’t seem too disturbed when Satan is around).
          5. Satan is seen to have to have power on the earth – sometimes over the whole earth – because so much of the world falls prey to Satan’s tests and becomes alien to God. In that alienation to God, they are now in the rule and reign of the devil.
          6. I don’t really see Satan having any will of his own. Rather, he was made for a purpose (not unlike a robot is similarly made). When his task is done, so is he. I view all angels like this – they are messengers (mostly). I’d imagine that some angels will always be around, but there would be no need for the angel of death, methinks, when all is made right.

          just some thoughts

          It’s been good to exchange ideas with you.

          May the Lord bless you as well,

  • lck

    Wonderful post! I love my Calvinist friends, but it does get kind of tiresome to have to continually prove to them that I am not “rebelling against the authority of scripture” or being otherwise intellectually dishonest just because I disagree with them. I don’t think I’ll ever change their minds so I try to avoid the subject if it’s just us talking, but if someone who is troubled by these issues joins the conversation, it’s important to stand firm. A belief in unconditional election and compatibilist freedom is not the only option available for someone who wants to follow Jesus and I think it’s important for us all to speak up when people are uncomfortable with the Calvinist portrait of God but think they have no choice. Thanks again for a great post!

  • Bennet Emmanuel

    Great post Dr. Olson. I think to some extent even our experiences in life especially those which seem tragic or traumatic may reframe how we look at these issues. For eg. a Calvinist and a non Calvinist can look at the tragic death of a son may draw great stength by their theological conclusions whether God ordained it or permitted it. Our experiences can also affect exegisis.

    • rogereolson

      Quite right. So you give me opportunity to tell two stories to illustrate your point. Years ago I heard C. Everett Koop preach an hour long sermon on “God killed my son.” (Koop is a Calvinist.) He said that his belief that God orchestrated his son’s mountain climbing death is the only thing that gave him comfort. I got to know Lewis Smedes before he died and he told me his son’s death convinced him that God does NOT orchestrate such tragedies. He said he stood at his son’s freshly dug grave and said to himself “I’ll never tell another parent ‘God took your child’.” Smedes, of course, was Christian Reformed and taught at Calvin College and Seminary before he went to Fuller. But our last e-mail exchange was about open theism and he told me he agreed with open theism.

      • Tim Reisdorf

        Maybe God operates differently with different people. Sometimes their death (or tragedy) is at the hands of God, while for others it is not. Consider the deaths of the boys who mocked Elisha’s baldness. Consider the deaths of the boys killed by God in the final plague in Egypt. But I think most of the deaths (say, in car crashes) are simply accidents.

        Having said that, God is not taken by surprise, nor is God far away when such things happen. It might be best to say God “allowed” some misfortune to happen as a general rule.

        • rogereolson


  • larry

    I was a 5 pointer for most of my life, having been raised to believe Calvinism. I hit forty years of age and allowed myself, finally, to voice all my thoughts of horror at what I believed and the god who fit those beliefs. Through prayer and the willingness to humble myself and realize *I am NOT God, nor are my beliefs God.” I came to accept that I cannot believe God is so capricious and monstrous, but I do believe in and love God, so free will and a God of mercy and love to all it is! What a relief. I say that to say, a lot of Calvinists do think of God as monstrous but they change the definition of monstrous for God, IOW, God can be monstrous and He’s simply not monstrous. But deep down, many, if they chose to think with the part of the brain we think of as our heart, aren’t comfortable with God being like that at all.

    And I’m sorry, God can go against the moral principles he’s set forth in scripture and it’s okay? I don’t buy it.

    Your tone is refreshing, Roger. Thank you. I often wonder what damage the tone of most of these debates does to those who are searching spiritually and come across them. Of course, the Calvinist don’t have to give a darn what the damage is, the damage was done before the foundation of the world. I think it behooves Arminians to be the example of the voice of a loving God in how they approach the tenor of the dialogue.

    • Patrick Brink

      A few people keep saying that Calvinist believe God is capricious. No- Calvinist believe that God predestined to choose some from the foundations of the earth. He doesn’t keep changing His mind – those He chose he saves and will until all the elect come to Christ. Nothing capricious about Him…..Let’s help each other out and not miss characterize the other side.

      • rogereolson

        While “capricious” may not be the right word, “arbitrary” is. Even Jonathan Edwards admitted that God’s choice of some to save and some to damn is arbitrary. Given unconditional election, it can’t be otherwise.

        • Patrick Brink

          Oh I would agree with you and Edwards that unconditional elections means God chooses arbitrarily in accordance to His will. That is Biblical -Romans 9- now the burden lies on those that say it is evil for God to do so to prove it. Again we need to be careful not to project our ideas of morality on God. God defines what is good and shows us that in His Word

          • rogereolson

            Are you saying that whatever God does is automatically good just because he’s God and that his goodness doesn’t have to bear any relation whatsoever to our highest and best intuitions about goodness? That’s nominalism. And it’s truly scary. A God who isn’t good in some way analogous to our highest and best intuitions of goodness is not to be trusted. He might be the devil. He might be lying to us.

      • Patrick Brink

        Sorry for any confusion, but that is not what I said. You inferred that for God to arbitrarily choose would equate God with being evil. I said I believe that God choosing according to His will is Biblical. I know that God’s character is good. Just because I or you are not privy to God’s complete will in election doesn’t give us the right to project what we feel is right to do. I am positive when we get to heaven we will understand that God was good in electing some, not simply because he did it, but He did it because He is good. Hope that helps.

        • rogereolson

          I know of no sense of “good” that is compatible with choosing some to save, leaving others to eternal suffering, when the saving person COULD save all. After all, election to salvation is unconditional, grace is irresistible, and therefore God COULD save all. Calvinists say God’s choice of certain people to save has nothing at all to do with anything about them. That makes it arbitrary. It is logically the same as saying “God’s choice is arbitrary.” Jonathan Edwards noticed this and embraced it. Why don’t contemporary Calvinists? Because they know that makes God a monster?

          • Patrick Brink

            You keep forgetting that we all deserve hell. That is our wages for sin. If God decides to be mercy to some how can you stand in judgement. It doesn’t change the fact that the others God passed over still deserve Hell. If a rich man decided to pay for a thousand people’s traffic ticket, would he be good? How about if he could pay for 10,000 more but decided to pass over them would he be evil now. According to your standards he would be. Even though he was just in both situations.

          • rogereolson

            You keep turning the topic toward justice as fairness. That’s never been my point. My question to you is–What if a doctor had the cure for everyone with a terminal disease and offered it freely to them but then selected some to cure and others to leave in their diseased condition? Who would consider him loving or good? My point, which you seem to always overlook, is that, according to Calvinism, God COULD save everyone because salvation is unconditional and irresistible. If he’s good and loving, why wouldn’t he? He would, of course. That he doesn’t (in Calvinism) is incompatible with any idea of goodness.

          • Patrick Brink

            Are you comparing sinful man to someone who is innocent. It seems to me you are and it occurred to me you start on the wrong premise and that is why you end up believing the things you do.It all makes sense. If man was innocent and God didn’t save everyone I would question God’s goodness and Love too. But the point is man is absolutely sinful and deserves hell. All along I have been talking about people who are not innocent, who deserve punishment. Also I keep pointing to the biblical fact that someone who is Just is necessarily Good. If someone is just in doing something , that also means he was good in doing it.

  • Craig Wright

    I was a Calvinist because I experienced an insight about myself not being smart or good enough to choose God, so he chose me. This came to me before I read the exact same thing in a book by R.C. Sproul, but the idea of God not choosing people always gnawed at me. It also occurred to me that Rom. 9 is a set up for Paul’s explanation in the following two chapters of why the Jews were not accepting Jesus, as were the many Gentiles. (I also saw this set up situation in Noah’s curse of Canaan, preparing the way for the Israelites to go in and slaughter the Canaanites.)
    In teaching on the issue Rob Bell raised, I came to realize that, as Paul Helm points out that our idea of goodness and love are not different than God’s, so also is our idea of justice not different than God’s. We are made in his image. (This is in reply to how Is. 55: 8-9 is used to imply that God’s thoughts are so different than ours that he would do something that we, as humans, could not imagine as just. It is interesting that that passage is suggesting that God’s mercy is actually different than ours.)

  • Kyle Carney

    The theological foundation is important. There is such a huge push for Calvinism in so many places of Christianity. Debates are critical, especially now, for people to see the issues. Many people feel they have no options because of the overwhelming Calvinist voice in many pulpits within a Christian culture that semi-worships the pastoral/preaching position. I am thankful for you and others who are speaking out to give glory to God through good theology that honors God’s character. All glory to God.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    William W. Birch said: “I’m sorry, but since when were gifts irresistibly imposed upon the recipients?”

    ANSWER: “Romans 5:8-10 (NIV)
    8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
    9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
    10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

    NOTE: According to the above very popular text of scripture, we (all humanity) were ‘reconciled’ and ‘saved’ while still enemies of God (not after we became Calvanists or Arminians). If that is not a scriptural example of an “irresistibly imposed” gift, then I don’t know what is!

    • rogereolson

      But the question is–who are the “us” and “we” in these verses? Apparently Paul is here talking about Christians (even though Christ did for all people). In the context of the whole of Romans “justified by his blood” refers only to those who believe.

      • J.R.

        Yes, but it is also easy to point out that the reconciliation happened before the ones being reconciled realized it. Thus it could be easily implied that all men where reconciled by Christ death on the cross whether they know it yet or not.

        Which brings me to my question. If Christ’s death provides the propitiation for the sins of all men then how does God send people to hell for sins He supposedly forgave them of? I know this was one of the primary questions that drove Spurgeon to being a Limited Atonement Calvinist.

        P.S. I am not a Calvinist nor an Arminian(I believe God does not send men to Hell, but merely allows them to chose that if they reject His Love).

        • rogereolson

          You sound like an Arminian to me! Why do you say you’re not one? Have you read what I have written here or elsewhere about true, historical, classical Arminianism? Arminianism says Christ’s death reconciled the world (all people) to God in the sense of setting aside the penalty for Adam’s sin so that all people are born forgiven of that sin. They become guilty and damnable only when they embrace Adam’s sin as their own and repeat it which all do at the age of accountability. (Don’t ask me when that is; it depends on the person.)

          • J.R.

            Would that not mean that Christ sacrifice was not sufficient then to forgive all sins past present and future? Did Christ only die for Adams sin or all sins? It seems like double talk to say that God only forgives you of innate sins, but not the ones you will actually commit. Would that not mean Christ would need to be re-crucified every time I sin in the present and future in order for me to keep getting “saved”?

            Would it not be a simpler biblical hermeneutic to simply say that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was and is sufficient for all men at all times(no matter if they are 2 years old or 80)? Which would imply that we are all saved, but in God’s love He gives us the free will to choose to reciprocate His love for us or to reject it thus creating our own Hell by denying our selves access to the only Being who gives true life. This may just be an argument in semantics, but is this not what this is about?

          • rogereolson

            Yes, it sounds like semantics. By the way, Calvinists all (to the best of my knowledge) say that Christ’s atoning death (substitutionary) was SUFFICIENT for all but only INTENDED for the elect. In my book (Against Calvinism) I question if that may be a distinction without a difference.

      • Jim Scott

        “In the context of the whole of Romans “justified by his blood” refers only to those who believe.”

        In your opinion, of course.

        • rogereolson

          Well, of course. Everyone’s expression of belief is his or her opinion. But some opinions are better than others. 🙂

  • Tom Montelauro

    Does your view that citing Scripture alone will not prove who is right in the Calvinist vs. Arminian dispute imply that Scripture includes two different, possibly even contradictory, views of God’s sovereignty? If both views can be found in Scripture, is there some hermeneutic principle that can be used to show which is the correct one?

    • rogereolson

      As Christian Smith argues, we must use a Christocentric hermeneutic to avoid making the Bible say whatever we want it to say.

      • peteenns

        I agree, Roger. And, as for the debate the (fundamentalist) Calvinists, want, I am convinced that fear of loss of their meta-narrative drives the contentiousness. At least, that has been my experience.

      • Tom Montelauro

        But what is the source of the Christocentric orientation by which we must interpret the Bible? Doesn’t it have to be something other than the Bible, i.e., tradition? In your review of Smith’s book you seem to be saying that Scripture cannot stand alone without tradition. If this is true, shouldn’t we abandon “sola Scriptura”?

        • rogereolson

          I’ve written on this many times before. To me, sola scriptura only means “prima scriptura”–that Scripture is the norming norm for doctrine whereas tradition is the normed norm for doctrine.

        • Rus Hooper

          The Christocentric orientation is contained within Scripture as well as tradition. Galatians 6:14-16 gives this Christocentric “canon” to us, does it not? “14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
          15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.
          16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule (Gk. canon), even to the Israel of God.” (NIV, 1984)
          This includes kingdom, conversion, evangelical movement and transformation (sanctification as process rather than mere position), and ecumenicity. It even has hints of Truinity when read inter-textually. The lack of ecumenicity among TULIP Calvinists is sad, and it seems that division is preferable to reconciliation. I am alarmed when others are too ready to say to other parts of the body of Christ, “I have no need of you” and justify it with ways of thinking rooted in their “limited atonement.”

    • Tim Reisdorf

      A hermeneutic principle can be useful, but it ought not be used to void out what some passages say. If the Bible says on many occasions that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, why can we not believe it? Maybe Arminianism is true in general, but needs to allow for exceptions.

      • rogereolson

        It is perfectly reasonable to believe that God hardening Pharoah’s heart does NOT mean that God took a good man and turned him bad but that God confirmed a bad man in his badness for a specific purpose in salvation history. Another text says Pharoah hardened his own heart. Perhaps God simply allowed him to do that. In Goebbel’s diary he reports that when he watched newsreel footage of the German blitzkrieg of Poland he prayed “God hearden my heart.”

        • Tim Reisdorf

          While it may be reasonable to read it that way, the plain reading of the text is preferable. The only way that I see that it is not preferable is if it gets in the way of my presuppositions about God. So, if God never hardens hearts (that such would be a boundary that God would not cross) then your understanding is best. If it not out of bounds for God to do something like that, then this rather unique situation found God using people (irresistibly influencing them) for His own purposes.

          I guess what I’m saying is that your understanding of the text is reasonable if you disqualify the plain meaning of the text. Ex.4:21.

          I wouldn’t doubt that God’ granted Goebbel’s prayer.

          • rogereolson

            Nor would I. And I think God must have read something like that Goebbel’s prayer in Pharoah’s heart. Call me liberal if you want to, but I do presuppose that God, having the character he does, cannot instigate sin or be the cause of sin even indirectly in any person’s life.

          • Tim Reisdorf

            I do presuppose that God, having the character he does, cannot instigate sin or be the cause of sin even indirectly in any person’s life.

            I have no intention of calling you liberal, Roger, as you plainly are not liberal.
            If you used instead presupposed “God is not the origin of evil under any circumstance”, I’d be quite happy to agree. God does not answer to me for His actions, I’ve just always found Him to be the enemy of evil and friend of good – in the Bible and out. But God still can (and does?) send out lying spirits to the mouths of the false prophets (1K22) among other curious actions. That’s His prerogative.

          • rogereolson

            I would say only if the lying prophets intend to lie anyway.

  • post*tenebras*lux

    If man can choose, why did Jesus die? Or better yet, why the need for Jesus? Just choose. i.e. I will connnect myself with God. I will not connect myself with God.

    • rogereolson

      I’m sorry. I will try to be nice. In my opinion, that response to what I wrote reveals total misunderstanding. You are reading into what I wrote a theology of Pelagianism not there at all. Have you read anything I have written about Arminianism?

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi lux,

      One cannot simply choose to connect with God (according to orthodox Christianity). Rather, it is that God sent Jesus to die for us – and that made the way for us to respond positively or negatively to God.

      Connecting oneself with God is not like a light switch on the wall that one simply turns on or off. It is a bigger, more complex, and more wonderful story.

  • Eli

    interesting. i went from arminianism to calvinism to universalism. I now see it was a natural progression. I came face to face with reality calvinism was true in the sense of interpretation of election related scriptures, but then like most arminians it did not sit well at all that god was not set on saving all. That gnawing concern opened me up to possibility He would actually save all in the end, though there was certainly election/predestination taking place at present.
    Finally I hold to a view that takes the best of both worlds so to speak. God’s purposes, our choices, his irresistible grace, his love for all.
    Funny thing is, this side of the debate I now believe both arminism and calvinism end up making god to be a monster in the end as vast majority of mankind is not saved, either because god didn’t have the will or mans will was too stubborn.
    Good blog thanks.

    • rogereolson

      How does man’s will being too stubborn make God a monster? I don’t get it.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger says in response to Romans 5:8-10: “But the question is–who are the “us” and “we” in these verses? Apparently Paul is here talking about Christians (even though Christ did for all people). In the context of the whole of Romans “justified by his blood” refers only to those who believe.”

    In my opinion, Paul’s comments here are not limited to “us” or “we” or “Calvinists” or “Armininists” or “Christians” or “those who believe.” He clearly intended his readers to understand that Christ’s atonement applies “love” to even his “enemies” and assures “sinners” (not just saints) of “justification,” reconciliation,” and “salvation.” If the Book of Romans teaches anything, it insists that Christ (the second Adam) has come to redeem everything and everyone that was ruined by the first Adam. Thus did Jesus say, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” It is inconceivable that the first Adam will take down with himself more souls than the second Adam will take up with himself. May it never be!

    • rogereolson

      A careful reading of Romans will reveal that Paul talks about all people being reconciled to God by Jesus, the second Adam, but that redemption is only for those who accept that reconciling grace.

      • Ivan A. Rogers

        “Paul talks about all people being reconciled to God by Jesus, the second Adam, but that redemption is only for those who accept that reconciling grace.”

        There are two huge problems embedded in the above statement: (1) If the vast majority of humanity never had the opportunity to hear of Christ and his reconciling grace, how, then, could they posssibly “accept” it? (2) If the defination of grace is “unmerited favor,” why must it be “accepted” in order to be merited? It seems clear to me that the term “accepted grace” is an oxymoron.

        • rogereolson

          It seems to me that every loving relationship must involve freely chosen, reciprocal love. A person who has no choice but to love the lover (or even to receive the lover’s gifts) is not being loved in the best way possible.

          • Patrick Brink

            With a statement like that you put man on the same level as God. Is it not loving as a parent to keep my baby against their will (because they lack the maturity and knowledge) from doing certain things. Especially if it is seriously harmful? To me that would be the MOST loving thing to do.

            When we compare ourselves to God we too often think we are on the same level, when in fact we are like little babies in need of His sovereignty.

          • rogereolson

            But would you give your baby a pill that would make him or her love you forever? Would you put your 19 year old teenager in a “Skinner box” to control his or her behavior? It’s one thing to control a child to prevent self-destructive behavior, it’s something else entirely to control adults to make them love you (or not love you).

          • Patrick Brink

            “it’s something else entirely to control adults to make them love you (or not love you).”

            You keep equating Adults as being on equal level with God. The purpose of my Parent/child analogy was to show that we will always be like the child in our relationship with God. It is the Creator-creature distinction that will always be. Another quick note Calvinist do not believe God forces us to keep loving Him. He enables us to see His grace and once able to see that grace it is completely irresistible.

          • rogereolson

            So why doesn’t he enable everyone to see his grace and love him irresistibly?

          • Patrick Brink

            “So why doesn’t he enable everyone to see his grace and love him irresistibly?”

            You would have to ask Him that. The Bible only tells us that God chooses according to His plan and purposes.

          • rogereolson

            So you are willing to believe anything the Bible says–even if it says God is morally monstrous? Well, it doesn’t say that and it can’t say that. If it did, and you believed it, there would be no reason to trust the Bible.

          • Patrick Brink

            You keep putting words in my mouth, and I am not too sure why? Again I believe God is good! That the Bible also says that God elects! I am not God and as humans we don’t know all the details. I am convinced of God’s goodness in election and I am pretty sure it will all make sense when we get to heaven and we no longer see with sinful limitations. Besides who are we to judge the potter.

          • rogereolson

            I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. What I am constantly saying is that IF I WERE A CALVINIST and believed what Calvinists believe I could not believe God is good because there is no meaning of “good” compatible with what Calvinists believe God does to the non-elect (or to innocents who suffer murder, rape, etc., through his meticulous providence that renders such things certain because they are part of his plan even though he uses “secondary causes” which does nothing, in my opinion, to free God of the guilt). We don’t judge the potter; God has revealed his character in Jesus who wept over Jerusalem’s rejection of his messiahship which he would not have done if he, being God, had planned that rejection all along.

  • Timothy

    Can I open up discussion about another aspect of the Calvinism that I have come across, that of its attitude to creation that often borders on gnosticism? I realise that I am being very unfair to many Calvinists here and the same accusation might well be levelled at Arminians.
    The sort of gnosticism to which I refer is the downplaying of the value of creation. It is evident whenever we imply that our eternal future is in heaven rather than a renewed earth, or when the resurrection of Christ is seen as merely confirmation of the efficacy of His death on the cross rather than as the first fruits of what it is all about. Now the Calvinists that I have come across fall into two types. The first type seem typical of the Calvinists Roger seems to critique and the second type are the neo-Calvinists “descended” from Kuyper and Dooyeweerd and the like. The first type are fixated on personal individual salvation, which is obviously important but not self evidently the only thing. The latter focus primarily on the sovereignty of God over creation and seek to establish that sovereignty over all aspects of our thinking and doing. The difficulty with the former is that salvation is always in danger of being reduced to how to get to heaven, with a consequent denigration of creation, visible in the frequent sniffy attitide to social transformation.
    Now I cannot see why this has to be true only of Calvinism. The same weaknesses could also be visible in Arminianism.

    One of my doctoral supervisors, an Anglo-Catholic by convistion, remarked that Calvinism was gnostic. His view was generated by his project on the doctrine of creation. When I claimed that Calvin was not at all gnostic, my opinion coming from the neo-Calvinism of some of my friends and relatives, he immediately remarked that Calvin himself provided great resources for a truly biblical understanding of creation but one which is usually lost by Calvinism as we see it today.
    I hope this is not too off topic but how do Calvinism, in whatever form, and Arminianism match on the issue of creation.

    • rogereolson

      I tend to think this difference (viz., attitudes toward creation) runs right through the Christian world. Some Calvinists and some Arminians seem to have gnostic tendencies, but I’m not sure that has anything to do with their theologies properly understood.

  • Roger,

    “(remember he could save them because election to salvation is unconditional and grace is irresistible)”

    Election to salvation being unconditional and grace irresitable doesn’t logically imply that God could save all people. In fact, many Calvinists have argued that God cannot save all people, for there are constraints that militate against this state of affairs obtaining in a fallen world. But even if we put this aside, what’s the moral objection here? God sends sinners to hell for the sins they commited. Are you saying God has to pardon the guilty?

    The Arminian view is that in such cases God allows the act Satan instigates and that is especially true with regard to hell.

    Well Roger, again, what’s the morally relevant difference here? Supoose I had a maniac tied up in my basement (think the dude from Pulp Fiction with the mask on, or perhaps Sloth from Goonies) and I released him and allowed him to rape a girl. If I did that, I’d be morally responsible. I’d be a repugant individual. But when you allow God to do what would be immoral for a human to do, you let him off the hook with various platitudes such as: Well, God has special perogatives; or, God does so for morally justifiable reasons, even if we don’t know what they are, etc. But at this point, the Calvinist can appeal to similar justificatory moves. So what’s the moral high ground Arminianism is supposed to have?

    “he is barely distinguishable from the devil in terms of character.”

    Yeah, I keep hearing you say that, I just don’t get a good argument for it. It’s like me saying that your God is barely distinguishable from the white trash gays who kept a large sex maniac locked in their basement to do their bidding, only to get worked by Bruce Willis. Also, there’s tons of ways to the distinguish the two: if he could, the devil would put everyone in hell regardless of whether they were good or bad, trusted in Jesus or not. The devil wouldn’t only punish the guilty. The devil wouldn’t save some people from his own wrath. The world wouldn’t exhibit common grace. The devil wouldn’t send his own son to be murdered so that others might live. Etc.

    • rogereolson

      Not a sufficient difference for me.

      • Roger, I’m sorry, I don’t see how that responds to my arguments. And, it’s ambiguous. Are you saying that there’s not a sufficient difference between the character of the Arminian God and the Pulp Fiction homosexuals? Or are you saying the differences I cited between God and satan were not sufficient? But sufficient for what? I clearly pointed out moral character traits that demarcated them from one another. The only argument you have is that since God sends some people to hell he could have saved (though you didn’t give an argument that, necessarily, in a fallen world God must be able to save all), then he’s just like the devil in terms of character. But I pointed out that this is totally disanalagous. First, the devil couldn’t save anyone. Second, God only and justly sends deserving sinners to hell, not so in the case of the devil. God’s act is an act of justice, not so in the devil’s case. I don’t get it, why isn’t this a sufficient difference between character? You’ve cited nothing morally problematic on God’s end. I guess if you could defend this premise: “If God can save X, then God *must* or *ought* to save X, no matter what.” I don’t think you can support that premise, but even if you could, as I’d hope you could see, it gets you straight to universalism, even on Arminianism.”

        • rogereolson

          God’s essence is love. The “love” Calvinists believe God shows to the non-elect is, as Wesley said, “such a love as makes the blood run cold.” Amen to that.

          • John

            This brings up a question that has been on my mind. It came from someone as we talked about whether the pastor was right or wrong in saying “God hates you” (btw, your comment that he may be talking about the non-elect may have merit. Its out of character for him as he takes compatibilism so far that he preaches like an Arminian most of the time, but he is preparing to teach on Ephesians, so you may be correct).

            Anyway, as I explained that I thought our well meaning pastor was maybe out of line for saying that God hates our essence, one response was this: “God is loving true. But also just. So his justice and love are in conflict. So until you accept Jesus, he HAS to hate you to fulfill his just nature.” There are a number of points where I think this assessment of the situation may be a bit off, but I want to focus on one question:

            is God essentially love, and conditionally or secondarily just? Or is He essentially love and essentially just?

            I ask this since it seems to get at the heart of some of the disagreements I see my Calvinists friends having with me. They accept love as an essential part of God’s character, but not as his primary or essential character. I suggest that God was complete prior to the creation of man, so would not it be logical that justice was unnecessary then? No good Calvinist would say that God HAD to make man, but He did it sovereignly and because He wanted to. Well enough. So justice only came to “be” so to speak, when love and truth (holiness?) had to deal with sin. Wrath (i am suggesting) is God’s loving nature attacking sin so to speak…like an antibiotic attacks disease. It must kill it.

            Do you think love is more primary, more essential, to God than justice? if you see this differently, how so? trying to clean up my thinking here…

            thx. John

          • rogereolson

            Simply put–yes. Why would justice be needed within the triune community apart from the world? Justice must be a facet of God’s love. You have stated what I think about that well. Someone else here asked why God HAS to love all people if love cannot be coerced. That question simply overlooks the fact that God IS love. It’s creatures, whose essence is NOT love, who must love freely; to coerce them to love is to violate the very nature of love. That would be imposing love for oneself on them from outside themselves. God is, as Barth put it, he who loves in freedom. But his love for us, though free (because creation is not necessary) is the overflowing of his own inner-trinitarian love. It’s not coerced by something outside himself.

          • Roger, forgive me but I don’t see how saying, “God’s essence is love. The ‘love’ Calvinists believe God shows to the non-elect is, as Wesley said, ‘such a love as makes the blood run cold,'” functions as a response to anything I’ve said. Which proposition was Wesley’s Epithet supposed to show false, and how?

            It strikes me as avoiding the issue and bringing up another one. Fine, we can discuss your new objection. Here’s a few problems off the top of my head:

            1. There is no one attribute that is God’s essence.

            2. Why is this attribute put up as all controlling or essential? Because 1 John says, “God is love? Well, there’s plenty of “God is” statements in scripture. Like this: “God is a righteous judge, a God who displays his wrath every day (Ps. 7:11). Or, “For the LORD is a God of retribution; he will repay in full” (Jer. 51:56).

            3. Above you wrote, “It seems to me that every loving relationship must involve freely chosen, reciprocal love. A person who has no choice but to love the lover (or even to receive the lover’s gifts) is not being loved in the best way possible.” But your response seems to suggest that God must love all people whoever. This conflicts with your claim that God should be able to freely choose who to love.

            4. There’s some kinds of love that are more special that other kinds, like the kind a husband has for his wife. He’s not supposed to love all wives that way. So saying God is love is ambiguous between special love to a few or general love to all.

            5. However, even on your own terms it’s hard to see how your God is love. He creates many millions of people he knew would go to hell if he created. His knowledge is certain and infallible, and it is impossible that any of those he knew would go to hell of he created would end up in heaven. Yet he created anyway, knowing full well that many would end up in hell. This doesn’t appear loving on your own terms.

            6. As a friend suggested to me, it is within God’s power to refrain from creating. Thus it is within God’s power to assure hell would be empty. You want to say that on Calvinism, if God has the power to make sure hell is empty but doesn’t (and note, you’ve still not proved that, necessarily, God could do this on Calvinism), then he’s not loving. But the Arminian god could have done so, but didn’t. He went ahead and created anyway, knowing full well it would infallibly result in many hellions.

            So again, I must say that not only are your responses underwhelming, I can’t see the morally relevant difference between the two (in fact, truth be told, I actually think the Arminian God is the one with the questionable character). Sure, I keep hearing you say that there’s this wide chasm, but you never show it. You offer platitudes and Wesleyan Epithets.

          • rogereolson

            Well, I seriously doubt anything I say would sway you. I already told you that Arminians do NOT believe God foresaw hell and those who would go there and then created them anyway–at least not in the way you are suggesting. Have you read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities? I suggest you read it if you want to understand what you are talking about.

  • Rob

    Yeah, until you’re willing to actually interact directly with someone like James White or Michael Horton you will be considered (as you are now) a slightly amusing but hugely irrelevant person. I know you will delete this, but hopefully some of your people here will read it first and ask “why, if the case is so strong, are you not willing to at least answer and ASK a few questions with one of these men?” – and then they can see that you have been, and will CONTINUE to duck and run from these men. You are an intellectual coward who knows his case can NOT stand up to Biblical examination.

    • rogereolson

      Well, as the near future will demonstrate, you are ignorant about this. And I have interacted with Mike Horton several times over the past 20 years about his Calvinism and my Arminianism. If I can be “slightly amusing” I’m satisfied even if I’m “hugely irrelevant.” By the way, what are your publications?

    • Joel

      Olson and Horton just wrote two opposing companion volumes on Calvinism.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Ouch! The man is not as you described. He puts his reputation (and his livelihood) out there in the marketplace of ideas. Repudiate his ideas if you want, but they come from a life and thought animated by God. Your comments display a desire for truth undeterred by humility, respect, kindness, and love. It would be proper for you to apologize to Roger.

    • Kent

      “Rob says:
      October 10, 2011 at 3:20 pm

      Yeah, until you’re willing to actually interact directly with someone like James White or Michael Horton you will be considered (as you are now) a slightly amusing but hugely irrelevant person. I know you will delete this, but hopefully some of your people here will read it first and ask “why, if the case is so strong, are you not willing to at least answer and ASK a few questions with one of these men?” – and then they can see that you have been, and will CONTINUE to duck and run from these men. You are an intellectual coward who knows his case can NOT stand up to Biblical examination.”

      I have been following the discussions. But this comment really caused my blood pressure to rise. This is a very unfair statement. Roger already explained his side about this issue.

  • Roger, I deeply appreciate the way that you’ve framed the issue.

    Indeed, this issue is not going to be settled by exegesis alone, especially when what passes for exegesis in the discussion is often a matter of asking questions of texts that those texts don’t seek to answer, finding the answers we’ve been told are there, and then wondering why the answers seem so unclear to others. Many contentious theological debates would be better conducted if people admitted that the prooftexts to which debaters resort in fact were not written with the debate in view.

    I believe that at present many evangelicals, discouraged by the nominalism that seems to infect the church, are attracted to Calvinism precisely because it seems so radical to outsiders. I observe many getting on the Calvinist bandwagon largely out of what seems to me to be a desire to find the authentic version of Christianity that seems to have escaped others. So they enthusiastically embrace Calvinism as the truth that identifies the faithful remnant in contrast to the lukewarm, unconverted masses. There’s a consequent fear on the part of some that if they don’t opt for the whole Calvinist “gospel,” they’ve exchanged their birthright for a mess of pottage.

    Your goal of helping people understand that Arminianism is a legitimate option for a biblical, evangelical theology is rightly focused. Thanks for approaching the matter in just that way.

    Now, why can’t we all just get along?

  • freebird

    so i have been reading your blog for sometime and am particularly interested in the debate you raised in this blog. I have a friend i went to seminary with who is now a pastor and i have followed his blog from time to time. three years ago his 14 year old daughter was tragically murdered when out for a walk. he has reflected on this from time to time on his blog. he is reformed but what is rather sickening to me is that another blog reader posted comments about losing his own son to a tornado at the same age of 14. here is his comments…
    “Mike Owens said…
    I heard you on Todd Friel’s radio show (Wretched Radio) 2 years ago. That was three years after our son, Colson, was killed in a tornado at the age of 14.
    Some of the things you said – which Todd related and talked about afterwards, really had a profound effect on me. Thank you for your faithfulness and openness.
    Todd made the comment, “God killed your daughter.” Not merely allowing it – but He killed her.
    In my mind, for the first time, I said, “God killed Colson.” Then it got deep into my soul and my heart.
    As I had agreed with my Christian friends and the Baptist preacher – “God allowed that tornado.”
    But this word, “allowed” seemed to leave room for the idea that God was a little surprised when the tornado brewed up. BUT God sort of went along with it’s due course.
    How sad is the counsel that makes our sovereign and loving God seem to be merely allowing stuff to happen.
    What a beautiful thing it is to know that He planned our children’s lives (and deaths) before creation”.

    are these people for real???calvinism at its best….

    • rogereolson

      I wonder what they would say about God’s role in their children’s deaths if they had been long, agonizing, tortuous, painful deaths that lasted over weeks or months. Did God also torture them?

      • J.R.

        I was under the impression that Paul(who some Calvinist seem to act like he was Christ reincarnated) taught in 1 Corinthians 15 sin of was the cause of death not God.

        • Bryce Lechelt

          v56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
          This would be the only verse in 1 Cor 15 that would teach on sin and its relationship to death. There really isn’t any teaching on that here (not spending time talking about the working relationship of sin and death, he’s only mentioning the fact), and the focus is not on it either. The focus instead is on Christ conquering death, and bringing the resurrection to us.
          However passages that focus on this relationship would be Rom 5,6,7. This’ll be a much more in-depth and lengthy discussion on sin and it’s relationship to death, mostly due to it’s context which develops. 1 Cor 15 does mention it as a fact, so your not wrong, it just doesn’t spend much time on it. Basically a tacked on affirmation to Paul’s teaching on the resurrection.

          In regards of sin leading to death, it’s true, but who cursed man? So God is responsible for Death (justice) coming to wrongdoers. Who is the Judge of the second death? God is the one who brings death upon sinners. Who keeps sinners in Hell? It’s not the devil, he’s there too. It’s God. Some might say that sinners decide to stay in Hell upon their own volition, and thats most likely true as well, however the one actively pouring out wrath (making it Hell) is God.

          And Paul as we all know was the mouth piece of Christ Himself, in his inspired writings.

          • J.R.

            Sin originates with humankind. In the garden(whether you take it literally or as a figurative story the concept is the same) God gave humankind the choice between life and death through the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. By choosing the fruit of the Tree Humankind chose to reject the goodness of God in favor of what they perceived as better(remember in God’s goodness he gave them every tree in the garden except for one; their choice was between God’s plentiful greatness or their own perceived better choice). God declared ahead of time that eating of the Tree would lead to death, so yes one can argue that death originates from God but it can also be said that in order for death to exist it required humankind’s disobedience(sin) first thus placing the blame on their shoulder.

            Sin causes death. It disrupts the shalom of God’s perfect creation. It introduces disease, famine, and pestilence. Humankind is the originator of sin and its consequence death. Chris’s death and Resurrection frees humankind from sin and death and ultimately restores all thing back to God’s perfect shalom upon His return. To say that God killed the man’s daughter(who was murdered) is a cop out excuse and removes the responsibility of sin from humankind’s shoulders. It is a low view of sin.

            P.S. My comment about Paul is do to the heavy influence many Calvinist and Fundamentalist place on his writings over other places in scripture.

  • John

    “we must use a Christocentric hermeneutic to avoid making the Bible say whatever we want it to say”

    I appreciated this sentence. I just finished listening to a sermon by a very well known reformed pastor who said unequivocally (and multiple times) that “God hates you.” Not just your sin nature. Not just your sins. YOU.

    I had a strong internal reaction to this, but that proves nothing. The question is ‘what does the bible say’ to the best of my understanding. The pastor is no dolt so he had verses ready…mostly from Psalms, but some from John and Romans.

    I asked what others listening thought of his statement of “God hates you”. They re-interpreted his words and said “he means that without Jesus we will end up in hell.”. Another said “he means that God is just and if we sin, there will be wrath against that sin to satisfy justice”. To which I said, “while I agree with your statements, that is not what he said. And he says that the bible teaches that God hates us. And that is either true or false”. They tried to be helpful in saying “well, He only hates us BEFORE we are Christians…after we are Christians, He loves us”. To which I inquired “is this the Good News you are telling your friends?”

    Its a very complex question (to me at least) that relates to the nature of man, common grace, questions of what depravity really means from a biblical perspective, etc. But my intuition from a long Christian life told me that something was still not quite right about this.

    And I would appreciate your input on this thought that came to me that follows as a partial response to this statement that God hates us.

    We all could agree that Jesus is the perfect representation of the Father…they are One. And that the bible is written in the way that He intended, God breathed. So God could have inspired the bible to be written in any way. And He could have emphasized anything He wanted to.

    And yet when God Incarnate had his chance to say whatever he wanted to, and the Gospel writers recorded it, I look in vain for this emphasis on “God hates you”. I see “go and sin no more”. I see his anger…against religious people. I see him representing God as like a father who is superior to earthly fathers, not giving stones when bread is requested. I see a God who rejoices more over 1 non Christian saved than 99 already in the fold.

    I am not ‘anti-wrath’, but I simply thought this well meaning and popular pastor overstepped….and needed “a Christocentric hermeneutic to avoid making the Bible say whatever we want it to say”

    I would be interested in your thoughts on this Roger…

    • rogereolson

      “While we were yet sinners….” Yes, a Christocentric hermeneutic rules out statements such as “God hates you.” I wonder what this pastor does with the parable of the prodigal son (which I call the parable of the waiting father)? Is it possible he meant “God hates you if you’re one of the non-elect?” I do think many Calvinists think that. But most say (with J. I. Packer and John Piper) that God loves everyone, just not in the same way. God loves the non-elect which is shown by his showering them with many blessings in this life. I say that’s the same as giving them a little bit of heaven to go to hell in. As Wesley said, what kind of love is it that gives the non-elect blessings only in this life when it would have been better had they never been born?

      • Jeremiah

        But if you believe in exhaustive foreknowledge you have God knowing that someone is certainly going to hell, but He still brings them into existence when it would have been better if they had never been born.

        What kind of love is that?

        Seems to me the same objection applies to Arminianism.

        • rogereolson

          The difference is stark and deep. In Calvinism God intends the non-elect person to go to hell for God’s glory. In Arminianism God reluctantly allows unbelievers to go to hell in order not to coerce them into loving him (which would not be real love). God’s foreknowledge is not causative; it is caused by humans’ free choices. You are relying on Augustine’s notion of foreknowledge as determinative which Arminians reject.

          • Jeremiah

            I’m not relying on on foreknowledge as determinative. I’m not saying it is at all. This has nothing to do with foreknowledge being causative. I’d go with that it is not.

            I am asking, how is it loving for God to create someone knowing full well that there is no chance they are going to be in heaven? He knows for a fact they are going to freely reject him and go to hell and creates them anyway.

            So my question is how does that equal love?

          • rogereolson

            Because it is their free choice. Love wins by allowing those who freely choose to go to hell to do so. That’s the traditional Arminian answer and all the alternatives are worse–especially those that say God freely planned and rendered certain the fall and did not merely allow it.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Even if foreknowledge was based on the individuals choices, God still would have been able to not create the individual. This is based on a non-determative foreknowledge. Call it Middle knowledge.
            If foreknowledge is based on what the individual did, we must use middle knowledge to evade the problem of God not being able to do anything about the man going to Hell.
            The scenario without determinative foreknowledge would posit that God only knows because that’s what actually happened.
            Middle knowledge would posit that God knows because He ran it through his mind first. (in a simplistic sense)
            Determinative would posit that God knows because He created it to be so.

            If Gods foreknowledge is based on things actually happening, then can God react and change the outcome by changing events? If so, then God working inside of time is non-determinitive, and He could work out an outcome that is desirable, He is after all, Omnipotent. This would still leave us with a question of How God can love the sinner and still send him to Hell.
            In a strange way, this question relates to the clock-maker view of God in His creation. Does He act within creation, and I’m sure we’d all agree that He indeed does. However is this acting in creation done in order to secure the desires God has, and does God really secure His desires? I’m left with two answers, God does secure His desires, and what we see in history is what He has to this point desired. Or God does not secure His desires in order to preserve human freedom (assuming that human freedom would be lessened by supernatural involvement). I’m guessing this is what you mean by “God reluctantly allows unbelievers to go to hell.”
            My question now is: does human nature incorporate love, and is love then a completely natural response to beauty or things which exude loveliness? Do humans naturally love lovely things?

          • Jeremiah

            “Because it is their free choice.”

            That still does not answer my question. Perhaps I should have worded it better.

            I understand how allowing someone to freely choose hell and respecting their choice can be said to be loving.

            The question is not about allowing someone to go to hell, but creating someone to go to hell.

            Is that not the assertion here in this quote? (that it is not loving to create someone to go to hell)

            “what kind of love is it that gives the non-elect blessings only in this life when it would have been better had they never been born?”

            So how can the creation of someone bound for hell (not the allowing of them to freely go to hell, but their actual creation) be described as loving?

          • rogereolson

            Like others here, you don’t seem to understand the Arminian view. Please read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. In the Arminian view, God does not look at world history, see individuals going to hell, and then decide to make them anyway. That would describe Molinism better. The Arminian view (as counterintuitive as it may be) is that God decides to create a certain kind of world with certain kinds of people in it, actually creates it and simultaneously knows all that will happen in it. (The use of terms like “decide” in this are somewhat figurative, of course, as God’s “deciding” is not precisely like ours.)

          • Bryce Lechelt

            So as soon as God created He was basically stuck with it? Or could God react to His creation?
            I suppose every action God takes in human history is His alteration of the basic flow of time, and this alteration would only be done in order to move time back into the flow that God wishes to see happen. I say this because God creates, which then He knows the future, so He decides to react at certain times to move it back into His desired direction. This is obviously the case because God can’t possibly act in time until He knows what happens in time, and He can only do that once He creates. Thus every action of God in time is a reaction to human sin, and Christ is the ultimate example of that. But before any of this reactionary action, we have a problem. He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.
            If God’s knowledge came only through creation, then God, when He created, is when He found out the future. Yet this verse says that God knew before the foundation of the world. Is the foundation of the world not a reference to the act of creation?

          • rogereolson

            Arminians interpret the “us” as collective–Israel and the church and as those individuals God foreknew would believe.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            My point is that God couldn’t possibly foreknow anything for sure until He created it, granted simultaneous knowledge with creation. It then seems like Paul has his statement in the wrong order.
            The best God had was an educated guess, because God didn’t know if anyone would be in that collective group until He created. This is still a presumption though because God also wouldn’t know of a need for a foreknown group of people in need of salvation before he creates.
            All Im saying is that, with how I understand what your saying, until the foundation of the world all God can do is speculate. But Im unsure if that’s what you mean.

          • rogereolson

            No, you don’t understand what I’m saying. I’m saying that God foreknows free decisions and actions because creatures make them; his foreknowledge is not causative but caused. But I’m denying middle knowledge which does make God the predeterminer of evil decisions and actions. In classical Arminianism God simply always knows what free creatures will do (simple foreknowledge) and his knowing what they will do is the result of their doing it.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Alright. But with that definition, and without any form of speculation on God’s part, Paul is simply incorrect here. Paul has the order wrong. With your definition it would be that God foreknew after the foundation of the world, and God isn’t guessing or speculating anything before then either.
            I understand the difference between predetermining specific people and a group, but what I hear you saying is that God didn’t do any of that until He created. However I see Paul saying that God did do that before He created. Im missing something.

          • rogereolson

            The Arminian understanding is that predestination IS foreknowledge and vice versa.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            I mean unless God decided to create a world in which He would have the possibility of them falling, and then them falling, and then He decides because of their falling to save those who would choose Him. I see what your saying to work, if God had all of this in mind before He created. But I don’t know if you would consider that middle knowledge.

          • rogereolson

            Are you asking about the order of the divine decrees? If so, are you thinking of them as temporal or non-temporal? Arminius thought of them as non-temporal. In his eternal knowledge God has always known (knows) what free creatures will do, but his knowledge is caused by what they do, in fact, do and not by the other way around.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Well if your view would be that because God decides to create and then actually does, He then has knowledge of those event in eternity past then I would be referring to non-temporal. But if God does not have knowledge until He creates it, then to have a discussion about God’s foreknowledge would be pointless, because in eternity past all God knew was that He wanted to create a universe with free moral creatures who might love Him. He didn’t know what He was getting until He created it.
            Thus discussion on this topic must be non-temporal, because if it were temporal, God wouldn’t know anything about His creation until creating it.
            My assumption is that God then knew everything, and reacted to everything in order to make what we see to be a reality. As I said before everything God does in this universe is a reaction to human will.
            But there still would have been a logical order to this as well. What I think would be the first reaction, in inconsequential. I don’t think there’s a real reason to mention my thought. But I do ask, has God has acted in this world, I assume, in such a way as to welcome home as many as possible. Is it God’s intention that the course of this world went in an order as to gain the salvation of as many as possible?
            I say this because with God’s knowledge of events after He created the world, and then His careful reactions to those events, this would have then resulted in God saving as many as possible right? Or is there a chance that because God acts and then knows the future, that God has not carried out the best plan and could have acted in a way that would have saved more individuals?

          • rogereolson

            It seems you are asking about the difference between classical Arminianism and open theism. The open theist view is simple; there’s no mystery left to God’s foreknowledge. God foreknows genuinely free events only as they unfold temporally. God learns in much the same way we do except his knows part of the future as settled in a way we can’t. In classical Arminianism, God’s knowledge is atemporal and yet contains much that is “put there” by free will agents outside himself. But I still think you and many Calvinist critics of Arminianism are imputing to classical Arminianism belief in middle knowledge which is, I judge, not the case.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Those beginning statements really sounded like middle knowledge. But I don’t mean middle knowledge at all. I was meaning in a non-temporal way, God being outside of time and all, then His decision to create and then follow through with it would grant him perfect knowledge of all that would happen, in a non-temporal realm. If you plunk this idea into time, then God has eternal knowledge of events that will happen in the future, yet still only because He really is going to do it. Hmm this sounds a little muddled, I hope you know what I mean.

          • rogereolson

            I’m not sure. One evangelical philosopher I know works on this idea of simple foreknowledge in a temporal mode: Stephen Davis. He concludes that God has a “crystal ball.” We don’t. Somehow, in a way mysterious to us, God simply knows what will happen without foreordaining it. Davis is not working with middle knowledge there (I’m thinking of a chapter in a book about God and logic) or with predestination (although he is a Calvinist himself). He is simply exploring how it may be that God foreknows what free creatures will do without rendering it certain. As a philosopher he seems to think it’s logica (God being God) even if there’s mystery involved. I tend to agree.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            I think we’ve moved into an area of thought I’ve never thought about before. It’ll be interesting to look into the different ideas of how exactly God might know something.
            Im most curious about atemporal. I’ve never heard that term before, is it the same as non-temporal?
            I’m curious as to God’s rendering something certain. If God knows something to happen, could it happen in any different way? I mean with the idea of simple foreknowledge, if God knows what is going to happen, because I chose it, why doesn’t that still mean that my choices are rendered as fate, and I am unable to chose any different. If the choice is known beforehand because I chose it. then that is simple foreknowledge. What would be claimed by Calvinists is that people freely chose, and God ordains. So in their own minds, the only difference between these two positions would be Gods ordination. I wonder why in your view these two can’t co-exist?
            I read Horton on this issue, and he takes it analogically rather than univocal. I however have not read any objections to an analogical understanding, and the first testimony always sound right…
            Do you believe that true freedom is:
            the ability to do good and only good,
            the ability to do whatever you wish to do, or the ability to do whatever there is to do?
            Sorry I’m not trying to grill you, but now I have a whole bunch of questions.

          • rogereolson

            I admit that I don’t understand foreknowledge which is why I am attracted to open theism–it clear up all the confusion but also all the mystery. But I’m not an open theist because of how I read the Bible. As to your last question–I’ve dealt with that here before. True freedom is ability to do good and only good which is why God is most free. But free will as power of contrary choice is God’s gift to us (an ambiguous one, to be sure) as a tool to use to get to true freedom (by his grace). Arminians have never claimed that free will is true freedom. That’s a Calvinist canard. We claim that God gives us free will as power of contrary choice so that we can choose to gain true freedom or lose it.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Im guessing why God doesn’t start with true freedom is because He’s looking for His creation to love Him?
            But why is that necessary? In my own experience and reading, I’ve found that creatures freely chose to show love to one another, but the beginnings of love is a reaction to the being themselves being lovely. Our love for others is what compels us to show love to them. However, we don’t decide to just show love to people we don’t love. This might seem like a contradiction until we ground love in God, and then we can freely love the ‘unlovely’ because we see their loveliness from God’s point of view. (this is not fleshed out enough, but it is true)
            Its a completely natural reaction.
            Relationship is innate and normal, there’s nothing about it which is guided by choice in it’s existence. I figure this is because God created us for relationship (part of that image of God), that’s why it is innate in us. Human beings naturally love, lovely things, whether it be art or people, waterfalls and birds, or God Himself.
            Granted, humans may not see eye to eye on all lovely things. my friend doesn’t love my mom the way I do… Terrorists who blow things up, don’t know the people they’re blowing up like those who love them.
            A great example of this whole reality is terrorists who are going to kill people. Statistically, the more time they spend interacting with those people, the less likely they are to kill them.
            Our love for other humans isn’t guided by choice as much as it is guided by interaction and time with them. Experiencing people as they are is what brings us to enjoy and cherish them.
            Someones wife doesn’t start as their wife. Their first meeting might be completely nothing, but over time the love and enjoyment of each other builds. But what first started all of it, was not a choice to love, but the experience of who the other was. In essence you can’t love what you don’t know.

            The question then is, why do so many people love God and hate God? Is there something about God that is changing from person to person? Or is there something about people that is changing person to person?
            Why is it that when the gospel is preached, (the very first information about God that people often hear, the very first knowing) when they first learn of His character and beauty, grace and loveliness, they generally respond in love and repentance or hate and hardening? Surely the exact same God has been presented to these people. The simple answer is that the people who repent and Love God see God as lovely, while those who do not repent, but instead hate and harden themselves, see God as less than desirable, probably loathsome.
            I am however guessing you completely disagree about people and the innateness of relationship and love being apart of the image of God in them. If that is the case I am curious about why you would believe that love to be love must at the very beginning be grounded in a choice rather than in the person themselves. Im saying this: do people chose to experience love? Yes they chose to show love, but do they chose to experience it? Do they chose to feel love for another being? Or is that experience they have a simple choice. And my emphasis is heavy on the very beginning of any friendship or relationship with any being, wether God or man.

          • rogereolson

            I don’t know the answer to all those questions, but I do know that there is nothing good about rendering it certain that someone hate you so that you can punish them with eternal suffering.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            A different question of sorts is, if God made us to love, and we naturally do love, then why don’t we love God? Of course it’s because of original sin. Yet in Arminian theology, there is prevenient grace, so things are balanced out again. Thus if people can see God as lovely, and there is nothing in the way of seeing God as who He really is, (God is fair right? and there’s even natural revelation for those who have no gospel) then why do so many still not love God? I guess one question I’d just love to know the answer to in Arminian theology, is what do people base their choices on? If it’s not based on who they are, their nature and the culminate of their experiences from their choices up to that time, then what is it based on?
            As far as I know, the only way to have a free choice over and over again, is to not be affected by nature, and especially not by previous choices made. For nature and learning influence choice. So what I’m saying is that in my mind we really have on free choice, and then from then on were influenced from past experiences and choices. If were bad, wouldn’t we just keep getting worse?

            If life is only about freely loving God, then what is Hell? Is it only a place that is away from God, no fire and torment and such? I’ve read C S Lewis’ book ‘The Great Divorce’, would Hell be a place more like the one described in his book? Do people in Hell still have free will and can still repent and love God if they chose to? Of course that question pretty much came out of that book.
            I must apologize Dr Olson. My posts are too long. Again.

          • rogereolson

            Again, I don’t have rational answers to all your questions, but I am willing to live with the mysteries of free will if the only alternative is (as it seems) belief that God chooses certain people to love him (because he instills that love in them apart from any free choice on their part) and chooses certain other people to hate him with the result that they suffer eternally because God chose that for them and rendered it certain. I don’t know much about the details of hell. As Niebuhr said “We should not want to know too much about the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Then there’s that curious verse hidden away in John 3 that talks about God’s love.

      To me, it begs the question, “If God’s hates us so much, why even bother sending Jesus?” No one is righteous, not even one. But God, who loves the unlovely, loves us still. What a surprising and remarkable God!

  • Linda

    If the doctrine of unlimited atonement is true, then it has Christ dying for people the Father knew would not be saved and has Christ paying the penalty for the sins of people who would also have to pay the penalty for the same sin. In effect, it makes God unjust.

    • rogereolson

      Hardly so. Read my book. Even Calvinists say Christ’s death was sufficient to remit the sins of everyone–even the non-elect. Then they throw in that it was only INTENDED for the sins of the elect. Where’s the difference there (that solves your attempted conundrum)?

      • Linda

        How can two different people paying for the same sins be right?

        If Jesus really did pay for a persons sins and they end up in Hell and they have to pay also for their sins that does not seem right, why would God require to be paid twice?

        If God is overpaid, and He knows He is overpaid and does not correct the overpayment then it would be stealing.

        The problem is God does not steal.

        • rogereolson

          You’re not addressing my challenge–that ALL Calvinists (so far as I know) AGREE with Arminians that the substitutionary atonement was SUFFICIENT to save everyone. How is that different from what Arminians believe? And how does it not provoke the same issue you raise? Are you arguing (against most, if not all, Calvinists) that Christ’s atoning death was NOT sufficient to save everyone? If not, what’s your point?

          • Bryce Lechelt

            The reason why Christ’s death would be sufficient is because He is God and is capable of paying for the sins of the entire human race, He would be able to satisfy the wrath of God in total. The point about intention is that Christ did not pay for the sins of the entire race, but only the elect, only bearing those sins even though He would be able to bear the sins of everyone else as well. As far as I’m understanding this, are you proposing that in Arminian theology, Christ also did not pay for the sins of the entire human race, but only the elect (those who choose Him)?

            As far as I know, the main difference between unlimited and limited atonement is who Christ made atonement for. That in a real sense Christ did make atonement for everyone in Unlimited Atonement, and in Limited Atonement, Christ made atonement only for the elect. Given the difference between the ability (sufficiency) and action (intention) of Christ, the conundrum would be properly answered in Limited Atonement. The emphasis on Christ’s sufficiency to pay the all sins is more of a polemic against those who would respond that Christ was thus unable to pay for all sins because He did not pay for them.

          • rogereolson

            No. “Ability” and “sufficiency” are not the same thing.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            So in your view, what’s the difference between sufficiency and intention?

          • rogereolson

            I would think the difference is pretty clear in the words themselves! They don’t mean the same thing at all.

          • Jeremiah

            Professor Olson,

            Not every misinterpretation is properly called eisegesis. Whether you agree with Bryce or not, I am hard pressed to see where Bryce is reading anything into the text given that he only tried to explain the half text you quoted with the surrounding verses.

            You’ll note that you seemed to have misread him. He never argued that απολλυται should be translated as “wound their conscience” (as you attributed to him), rather he argued that Paul elaborates and explains απολλυται as τυπτοντες αυτων την συνειδησιν. That phrase is the exact wording that Paul uses in verse 12, and not some constructed definition that Bryce came up with and imported into the text.

            Whether you agree with his reading or not, that is hardly eisegesis.

            So how about the questions posed to you? I’ll rephrase them because I would like genuinely like to know as Greek and Biblical studies student.

            Do you take the words απολλυται and απολλυτε in the text to mean “damned” or “to have lost their salvation?”

            If so, could you explain why you hold that view based on the surrounding contexts of 1 Cor 8 and Rom 14 and/or the Greek behind the word?

            And if that is the case does that mean that Paul is teaching that you somehow can destroy another’s salvation, since in at least Roms 14, Paul is commanding that “you” not destroy them? (Paul seems to be explicitly placing the blame for the weaker brother’s destruction on the listener and only the listener, and not on the weaker brother.)

            If not, why not? (Based on the texts of Rom 14 and 1 Cor 8)

          • rogereolson

            I disagree that Paul is saying the stronger Christian is the sole cause of the weaker person’s destruction. Now, is your little happy face because you really want to know or because you think “I gotcha!”? I have already said I think those passages can be interpreted either way.

          • Jeremiah

            I did not mean to have an emoticon at the end of my post.

            That was the result of typing the 8 of 1 Cor 8 too close to a ) I guess.

            Just noting I was not trying to be snarky.

          • rogereolson

            Okay, thanks. I did take it the wrong way. I don’t see how one can accidently type a smiley face, but I’ll accept your explanation. Now, let’s move on to subjects to which there might be answers. Whether the weaker person who could be destroyed by the stronger person’s flaunting of his or her freedom might be an already saved Christian is beyond knowing; it could be interpreted either way.

        • Bryce Lechelt

          The way I understand it is that:
          Christs death was sufficient to pay for the sins of the whole world, because of it’s infinite worth, for He Himself is God and would be able to take on Gods complete wrath. I see the word usage this way because of Christ’s nature in being God and having the ability to completely satisfy Gods wrath. As an example for examples sake, if I plan on renting a bus for a Youth group trip, I might point to a bas and ask if that bus would be sufficient for 30 people plus luggage. Christ being a bus would be capable of taking all the passengers who ever existed. It’s a rather crude example.

          The way I see intention is how God decided to pour out His wrath on His Son. The atonement had an intention, and completed its intention. However one wishes to view the atonements intention is up to that person I guess.

          • rogereolson

            I don’t think your analogy works. How does calling Christ’s sacrifice on the cross “sufficient” (for the sins of the whole world–meaning everyone) compare with calling an empty bus “sufficient” to carry 30 people? What is the point of calling Christ’s sacrifice “sufficient” (for the sins of the whole world) IF he did not suffer a penalty sufficient to remit the sins of the whole world? Wherein lay the “sufficiency?” Either his death on the cross was sufficient for God to remit the whole world’s sins or it was not sufficient to remit the whole world’s sins. Why do Calvinists insist on saying Christ’s death on the cross was “sufficient” if all they mean is his death was like an empty bus that could carry 30 people but never will? The analogy breaks down. Calvinists should simply quit saying Christ’s death was sufficient (to remit the sins of the whole world) and admit they don’t think it was sufficient. But they won’t, of course, because that sounds like demeaning the cross. Which, of course, is exactly what they are doing whether they intend to or not.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Perhaps a better way of looking at this is to say that Christ’s death was sufficient to pay for the sins of every single person, and the sins of an infinite more number of universes filled with people as well. That is their point about Christ’s sufficiency, that it is infinite.

            The point about calling the sacrifice sufficient is to point out the infinite value of Christ, not to say that the death was only worth a certain number of people, as if to limit it’s ability.
            I the reason why the analogy breaks down is because it’s being viewed in the wrong light. If we view the analogy as if to say this is what the atonement was worth, (not the death itself) and this is what it accomplished, then yes the analogy breaks down. However if viewed properly, this is the value of God dying, thus God is free to save as many as He desires. God could have saved more, could have saved less because Christ would still be able to bear that complete wrath of extra people, because Christ is infinitely sufficient to bear wrath.
            If we choose to view Christ’s death in light of who He is, sufficiency is a word properly used. If we attach accomplishment instead of ability to the sufficiency of Christ then your completely right, Christ should not be spoken of as being sufficient, because He didn’t pay for certain people.

          • rogereolson

            How didn’t he pay for certain people if his death was “sufficient” as a sacrifice for their sins? That’s what “sufficient” means to anyone who hears that Christ’s death was “sufficient.” To say that Christ’s death was a sufficient sacrifice for everyone but then go on to say “he didn’t pay for certain people” is a contradiction in terms.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            It’s because there’s a difference between Christ dying and God pouring out His wrath on the son. These are two actions, one by the Son, the other by the Father. The Son was infinitely able to withstand Gods wrath, thus being a sufficient sacrifice, God the Father was then free to pour out as much wrath as He desired to pour out onto the Son. There was no limit as to the wrath God could pour out onto the Son because the Son was infinitely able to bear that wrath, in any amount.

          • rogereolson

            That is not what “sufficient sacrifice” means.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            I guess we need a definition of terms.

            New American Oxford Dictionary states that the meaning of sufficient is:
            adjective & determiner
            -enough; adequate: [ as adj. ] : a small income that was sufficient for her needs | [ as determiner ] : they had sufficient resources to survive.

            In the Canon of Dort the word sufficient is used as determiner. We know this by the previous words “more than”

            Article 3
            The Infinite Value of Christ’s Death
            -This death of God’s Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

            Some synonyms that could be used would be: enough, plenty of, ample; adequate, satisfactory.
            Taken from the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus.

            Thus when the writers of Dort say the sacrifice of Christ is “more than sufficient”, they’re speaking of it’s capacity to pay for an infinite amount of sin. They are not speaking on the Fathers application.
            Much earlier you asked “Even Calvinists say Christ’s death was sufficient to remit the sins of everyone–even the non-elect. Then they throw in that it was only INTENDED for the sins of the elect. Where’s the difference there (that solves your attempted conundrum)?”
            The difference lies in the writers meaning when they used the word sufficient in the canons of Dort.

          • rogereolson

            You’re not helping me at all. The wording of Article 3 of the Canons of Dort makes my entire case. If Christ’s sacrificial death was “an entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins…of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world,” then the Calvinist canard that Arminians, who believe in universal atonement (exactly what that statement of Dort says) no more have a problem with explaining why they are not universalists than do Calvinists. The old canard, stemming at least from John Owen, is that belief in universal atonement–that Christ’s death was sufficient payment for the sins of the whole world–requires universal salvation because the same sin cannot be paid for twice (or punished twice). Taken strictly at face value, Dort says that Christ actually suffered a punishment equivalent to that deserved by all people. That’s what Arminians believe and call “universal atonement.” To go on and say “But the Father only applies it to the elect” helps not at all. Arminians believe the Father applies it only to those who believe. In both cases, however, the VALUE of the satisfaction/penal substitution is equal to that deserved by everyone. It seems to me that Calvinists DO believe in universal atonement in the same way Arminians do and their criticism of Arminian belief turns back on them.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Why do you connect sufficiency, with application?
            Why not allow Christ’s death to be Christ’s action and the Fathers wrath to be the Fathers own action?
            with that question, why would the writers say “more than sufficient”?
            By your meaning they would have mean that Christ paid for more sin than there was sin… because that’s the subject spoken of in all three articles, in fact the whole Canon is focused on sin, they by the context would not be referencing anything other than sin. Are you proposing that they meant Christ made more atonement for the sins of all men+ more sins that don’t exist? I know you don’t mean that, or believe that, I’m just saying that it is the conclusion of the meaning of those words and your interpretation of this article. Of sufficiency being regarded as not potential but as actioned atonement. the 3rd and 4th article are purely focused on Christ’s potential to pay for sin. If they were referencing actual payment they wouldn’t make a statement saying that Christ made more payment for sins than actually existed.

            “only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins;” This is said to make reference to the inability of bulls and goats and even other humans to pay for sin.

            In a sentence, these two articles (3+4) are referencing Christ’s death as qualitative, not quantitative, or qualitative and quantitative.

          • rogereolson

            Frankly, I don’t even understand what you’re saying here. Let’s start with what I said. I said Calvinists say that Christ’s sacrifice was “sufficient” to pay for all sins of everyone but only intended to pay for the sins of the elect. I further argued that if Christ’s sacrifice (penal substitution) was “sufficient” to pay for all sins of everyone, that is to say he suffered the exact equivalent of the punishment deserved by everyone. Otherwise it wouldn’t be “sufficient.” I don’t know any other meaning of “sufficient” when applied to a penal substitution. Calvinists argue that Arminian universal atonement leads inexorably to universalism because a person cannot be punished twice for the same sin. My argument is that IF Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice is said to be “sufficient” for the sins of the whole world–qualitatively or quantitatively–the Calvinist has exactly the same problem as he says the Arminian has–to escape universalism. Here’s an analogy. A rich man pays an amount to the court “sufficient” for the remission of the fines of everyone in jail but only intends it for some. Whether you say he selected certain people to receive the benefit of the payment or he told the court to release all those who accept his payment as their own (and keep those who reject it)–you have the same problem. By keeping some, isn’t the court punishing some twice for the same crime(s)? The word “sufficient” is clear. If Christ’s penal substitutionary sacrifice is said to be “sufficient” for the remission of all the sins of the world (i.e., everyone’s sins and all of them), then that is the same as to say (whatever fancy wording attempts to qualify it!) that he died for all and everyone’s punishment has been suffered. Calvinists need to bite the bullet and admit that they do not really believe Christ’s penal substitution was “sufficient” for the sins of everyone UNLESS they are willing to stop arguing that Arminian universal atonement leads necessarily to universalism in a way theirs doesn’t.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            I guess to illustrate the difference between Christs death and the Fathers application would be helpful. For it is important in our discussion in understanding the necessity of Christ being infinitely able to take of the wrath of the Father.
            The Son dies, but how does Christ make atonement? Well Christ offers Himself as the scapegoat. The Son only experiences as much wrath as the Father places on the son. The son in His death may have only experienced the wrath of the Father for one individual, or for many, or for every single person. The point of Dort (3+4) is that the Son could have experienced any three of these, and more. However it was the Fathers decision in placing the wrath on the Son for as many as the Father had chosen to save. The Son does not place the wrath on Himself, that is the Fathers job and decision. The Son’s job is to endure all the wrath that the Father decides to place upon His Son.

            Unless the atonement is seen as a cooperative effort between the Father and Son, we deny scriptures teaching on this very topic.
            Jn 17:2 “since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.”
            What is clearly seen in this verse is the subordination of the Son to the Fathers decision.
            In Eph 1:3-6 this subordination of Christ to the Fathers plan is clear as day.
            “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. “

          • rogereolson

            See my response to your earlier comment.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            I have to arrive at the conclusion that your not letting the writers speak for themselves.

            The reason is that saying saying a million dollars is sufficient to pay for a speeding ticket, does not mean that the ticket was paid for.
            Saying that Christ indeed because of who He was, was able to pay for the sins of the whole world, but didn’t bear the wrath of the Father for the sins of the whole world does not mean Christ bore the wrath of the father for the whole world.
            I understand if you do not enjoy the writers using the term sufficient, but to say they’re wrong because your definition doesn’t meet their wording is just abusing them.

            Your analogy about the rich man would work if something was changed. He stepped in and offered to pay the amount for anyone that someone else had decided to set free. His sufficiency to pay the debts is absolute, but he’s not the one choosing who to pay for. Thus it is important that the rich man be solvent, able to pay, for as many as the one deciding who to free chooses.
            The problem with your analogy is that it’s not Jesus deciding who is to be paid for (He’s just offering to pay) it’s the Father.

            Every time I’ve seen the intention of the atonement mentioned in scripture it has always been the Father deciding, and the son paying.
            You can see Jn 17:2 and Eph 1 cited in my last statement.
            The point is that the son offers Himself up to the Father, and it is the Father not the Son who pours wrath on the Son, the Son has no choice in how much wrath He takes on.
            When the Son bore the wrath, its the Fathers wrath right? Not the Son’s wrath, Christ isn’t appeasing Himself, He’s appeasing the Father. Because of this, Christ had to be able to pay for everything and more. In your view Jn 17:2 says that the Father gave to the son everyone(which means Christ took on the wrath of the Father for everyone), that’s what creates the double payment dilemma. However in our view this verse doesn’t say everyone but the elect (because the father poured wrath on the Son for only the ones God had elected to salvation). That’s why this view is internally consistent, not having a double payment dilemma. This is because the Son was able to pay for the world, but did not receive the wrath for the whole world. This is as I’m sure you know clearly brought out in Article 8 of Dort.

          • rogereolson

            Well, we could go on disagreeing forever about the meaning of the word “sufficient,” but to me it necessarily implies (as a “good and necessary consequence”) that Christ’s atonement was of the quality needed to remit everyone’s sins. I think you are simply unwilling to accept the normal meaning of “sufficient” in Calvinists’ language about the atonement. They should drop the word if they don’t want to be misunderstood. Of course, they won’t drop it because that would imply some deficiency in the value of Christ’s atonement. I think they are caught between a rock and a hard place and just don’t know how to get out. As for limited atonement, how do you (or any TULIP Calvinist) handle 1 Cor. 8 and Romans 14 where Paul clearly says (twice) that it is possible to cause the destruction of a person for whom Christ died? Is that an empty threat or….? (For any who don’t understand my point–TULIP Calvinism says that a person for whom Christ died cannot be destroyed spiritually because all their sins are covered by Christ’s penal substitution. If Christ died for them, they are elect. If they are elect, they cannot be destroyed. Paul says otherwise in these two passages.)

          • Bryce Lechelt

            So in your view, in those passages Paul is saying that you can destroy the salvation of someone else (not you)?

          • rogereolson

            Are you responding to yourself? That’s what my blog reader is showing (viz., “Bryce Lechelt in reply to Bryce Lechelt”).

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Actually cancel that, I’ll not go back because anyone reading would be lost.

            I was just surprised that you’d suggest such a reading. I’m sure you don’t truly think that I can destroy your salvation Dr. Olson. I’m also sure I can’t. Although I must say, if you did believe the texts read that way, you’d be very consistent an Arminian. Not like the Arminians today who accept perseverance of the saints, even though that wouldn’t be classical Arminianism.
            And if you were to take that reading, you’d see Paul really contradict himself, while writing Romans only a few minutes beforehand, maybe an hour.

            For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 8:38-39

          • rogereolson

            The verses in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 that I cited as contradicting limited atonement have nothing necessarily to do with the security of the believer. One can imagine the “weaker brothers” as persons on the cusp of becoming Christian but turned away by the stronger Christian’s apparent hypocrisy and thus destroyed–even though Christ died for them. Either way, with or without eternal security, the verses completely contradict limited atonement. Paul’s warning to the strong makes no sense if Christ died only for the elect.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Perhaps so, but your point still leads us to believe that we have power over others belief.
            Besides there’s never an occasion where Paul speaks of non Christians as brothers.

            But as I read what your saying, I hear that Paul is teaching that we can destroy non-christians. Is that what Paul is teaching?

          • rogereolson

            Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 can be interpreted either way–that not-yet-Christians seeking Christ can be so offended and turned off by Christians flaunting their freedom (by eating meat sacrificed to idols) that they turn away and are thus destroyed by not coming to Christ OR that already Christians can be caused to stumble by the strong Christians flaunting their freedom and thereby caused to fall away and be destroyed. So, you keep pushing me on this, when are you going to explain how YOU as a Calvinist explain these passages? I haven’t yet seen how you explain them in light of your belief in limited atonement. I’m not going to respond to any more of your comments to me until you respond to my question to you.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Well if we look at the context it’s easy to see that Paul is not giving room for an interpretation of non christians at all. This is of course dealing with Romans 14.
            Vs 13
            “Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”
            The word “brother” “us” and “one another” are all referencing the same people. Paul is speaking to the hearers, who would be considered Christians by Paul. Paul is not writing a letter to be read in a market place or anywhere people in the crowd would be considered as not Christian, but instead to be read in the church.
            All of verse 14 is an interjection by Paul, letting us know that indeed nothing is actually unclean, but if someone thinks it is, then his conscience acts accordingly. Then vs 15, “For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.”
            The natural reading of the text would posit that “brother” has not changed it’s meaning, between the two usages there is no indication of a change of meaning, thus naturally we assume there is no change.

            Verse 15 clearly connects “grieving” and “destroy” in this verse with the same meaning.
            We also see in verse 20 that “destroy” and “stumble” have the same meaning.

            In verse 14 and 23 clearly laid out is Paul’s thrust in this passage:
            Something is wrong for me to do if I believe it is wrong to do.
            Verse 23 adds into the thought to finalize it:
            If I do not believe it is right, I sin.

            This whole passage is speaking on the belief of a weaker christian in regards to preconceived sinful practices. Paul’s thrust is that if the weaker christian believes that it is wrong to eat idol meat, we cannot eat idol meat, for fear of causing them to stumble.

            Looking at commentaries:
            The New Laymen’s Bible Commentary.
            Mathew Poole’s Commentary.
            Mathew Henry’s Commentary.
            Commentary On The Old And New Testaments By Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset And David Brown.
            Non of these commentaries say anything regarding the word brother but assume the reader knows it’s meaning. They thought the word had a simple enough interpretation as to need no explanation.
            Calvin himself makes mention of the word only to show that the one judging and the judged are of “an equality ought to be preserved.” We also see this equality in verse 12. Yet Clavin also thought the readers would instinctively know what “brother” meant.
            The Expositors Bible Commentary does not explain the term either, but the title for the section is “Brethren must avoid offending one another”. If you read the article it is clear that the passage is spoken of as a struggle within the church only.
            Finally none of these commentaries speak of anyone losing their salvation, or of non-christians being grieved.
            Because I can’t find any difference in opinion, I’d like to see the arguments proposed by commentators who say that “brother” would/could mean “non Christian.” I’m always up for learning something new, or being challenged with differing opinions. But as it stands until I see different arguments, I must say that there is clearly only one interpretation of this passage and the meaning of brethren or brothers.

          • rogereolson

            You still aren’t answering my question–How do you, as a Calvinist who believes in limited atonement, interpret those passages in Romans 14 and 1 Cor. 8 where Paul warns the “strong” that they might cause someone for whom Christ died to be “destroyed?”

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Ill make a few remarks on 1 Cor 8 as well, however it is practically a parallel passage.

            In verse 7 the weak person is described as “defiled”, and in Verse 11 as “destroyed”, yet both instances is the same action. Thus the two words have the same essential meaning with destruction being more emphatic.

            Verse 12 shows us that sinning against our brothers is the action which caused their destruction/defilement.
            Not only that but verse 12 has a completely settling parallel. The action of “destroying” is described as “wounding their conscience”.

            Verse 13 brings in the word “stumble” to have the same essential meaning as “destroy” and “defile”.

            Here again I take “brother” to be within the church only. As Paul means every time he uses the word in the NT.

            It is overly clear from the text that Paul is not referencing the brothers salvation but instead his conscience.

            In both scriptures, any argument against Limited Atonement would have to prove this: that “brother” does mean “non-Christian”.

            Yet not only does the context prove this to be false in Rom 14, but here as well.

            For we see in verses 6,7:
            “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.”
            The weaker brother is described as the “some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol.”
            This means the weaker brothers were formerly associated with idols, formerly meaning not anymore. The weaker brothers are not associated with idols, which is a clear sign of their conversion into Christianity.
            Thus the brothers indeed are Christians.

          • rogereolson

            Okay, so you finally answered. In my humble opinion, that’s twisted exegesis that amounts to eisegesis (to rescue your belief in limited atonement from verses that clearly and unequivocally assume its opposite). The Greek word is best translated “destroyed,” not “have his conscience wounded.” Why would Paul be so stringent with his warnings if that’s all it meant? And in Greek generally the word does not mean any such thing–it can only mean destroyed as in destroyed.

          • Bryce Lechelt

            Even if you disagree with my interpretation, that is fine. However claiming that I made an exegetical error resulting in eisegesis, is simply false. Now I’ll repeat, you disagree with my interpretation, sure, but all I did was speak about the physical text, I didn’t import any other text into my interpretation, I also did not write out my exegesis on an overriding theology.

            I simply spoke about how the text and its context interacts with itself. This can never be eisegesis unless I make assumptions about the meanings of words in the text. But I also avoided this by refusing to assume “brother” meant “Christian.”
            (by the way that argument would have a lot of textual proof behind it too if a word study is done on “brother”)

            Now I might have made a mistake, but the mistake would not be classified as eisegesis. Although, these days people throw around that term like it means “mistake” or “critical error”, so I understand if that’s all you meant by it. And your completely allowed to disagree.

            My only problem is hearing any end to your story. I provided a burden of proof, the least you could do would be counteract and show my own errors of interpretation.

            for example when I claim that 1 Cor 8:11 says “destroy” and in the next verse the action (eating food offered to idols) is referred to as “wounding his conscience.” I didn’t reinterpret the word destroy. Perhaps you could show me with the text how Paul is not actually comparing these as the same action.
            I also claimed that vs 12 is a summing up by Paul of verses 7-11.
            Your accusation would be correct if I tried to prove something was said by the text that the text did not say. But to prove this you’ll have to show that to me in argumentation and evidence.
            A last and probably most necessary correction if I’m wrong is my claim that verses 6-7 prove that the weaker brothers were Christian. It’s the crux of my argument, and if taken down, unless I assume “brothers” means “Christian” I have no place to be definite in my interpretation, and must concede to you that “brother” could mean both Christian and non Christian.
            However maybe an antagonistic question I have for you is, how do you know what is being destroyed? I would say the text supports an interpretation that it is the mans conscience which is destroyed. If you wish for a defence I will give one. As I understand your claim, it is the man’s salvation being destroyed. Yet I could be wrong because you haven’t said. I’ll just ask the question again. In 1 Cor 8:11, what is being destroyed and how do we know that is what Paul is referring to?

    • Tim Reisdorf

      I’m confused. Are you attaching some sort of numerical value to the punishment for sins? the idea that a certain sin could be atoned by Jesus by a certain amount amount of “paying the penalty”? While I can understand that in our data-driven society, I think it is an incorrect approach.

      I think a better approach is rather to deal with groups. On the one hand, we have all the people of the world – all of whom are in need of redemption. On the other hand, we have one Savior, who by His one death provides complete redemption. No need to sort out messy amounts of sin and corresponding redemption – just a “one for one” situation.

      • Bryce Lechelt

        Dealing with a one for one approach, we still have a vast problem.
        First of all, I’m going to assume your not universalist, though your comment could have been taken that way.
        Christ in His death provided atonement. He took the wrath of God upon Himself and satisfied it. God was satisfied, and His wrath is no more. This is the problem, it’s not arithmatic, it’s the satisfaction of God. If God is satisfied, then He no longer has wrath, it has been dispensed, or eternally quenched, His wrath is simply no more.
        According to Eph 5:6 and Col 3:6, God’s wrath is still coming. If it was true that Christ satisfied the wrath of God for everyone, then Gods wrath would not abide on anyone. In fact this all by itself would be universal salvation. The answer lies in the application of the atonement. In the end the atonement is only applied to the elect (whether you believe that God chooses the elect or they enter into election by their own choice) because the elect are the only ones mediated by Christ to God, just as Israel instead of all the nations were in the Old Testament. It is Christ’s work in the Holies of Holies not made by hands which secures our redemption. We see this clearly mentioned in 1 Tim 2:5 and better explained in Heb 9:11-15. However, I’ve spoken too long and am far more interested in hearing a longer explanation of what you were meaning by your comment.

  • Great post! Thanks so much I preordered the book and it downloaded on my Kindle today. I’ve gotten tired of Calvinists throwing verses at me to convert me for so many years!

  • Bev Mitchell

    I can’t believe this. Roger, you have often mentioned the low level of discourse (can we call it that?) that sometimes comes from your opponents, but this is the first time I have seen it so clearly in evidence. On principle I don’t read the various authors where one might encounter such behavior. Surely such behavior covers incredible insecurity – we would conclude this if someone ‘defended’ her position in this manner on any other subject. BTW, do you have any data on what percentage of people (who have confronted you) with this attitude/approach are males/females? I can guess. As for believing that God does evil just to satisfy our view of what it is to be sovereign – well, this should be a big clue that it’s our definition of ‘sovereign’ that needs some serious repair work. It used to be that such ideas were anathematized – can we still do that?

    • rogereolson

      By far the majority of those who have confronted me about Calvinism and my Arminianism (implying if not outrightly saying I’m sub-Christian because I’m Arminian) have been men. I have observed that the most aggressive among the “young, restless, Reformed” are males. I suspect it’s partly driven by testosterone. Those who think that’s ad hominem should read Social Structure and Testosterone by Theodore D. Kemper–an expert in the field of socioendocrinology (lots of statistics based on double blind studies).

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    John writes: “I asked what others listening thought of his statement of “God hates you”. They re-interpreted his words and said “he means that without Jesus we will end up in hell.”

    Pardon me, but his re-interpreted words are no better than his original words, i.e., “God hates you.” If the traditional hell of eternal conscious torture is real (which it isn’t), surely God would not consign or even permit anyone to go to that awful place unless he hated their guts, would he?

    • rogereolson

      Only if they insist. 🙂

  • Megan

    I found this post insightful and, the least attacking I’ve seen in regards to this matter. As a “Calvinist” (though I prefer to call myself a Christian) I don’t necessarily agree with your description of all Calvinists. Though I align mostly (emphasis on mostly, thus making me a “weak” Calvinist) with those doctrines I do not believe it’s a condition of ones salvation and therefore not necessary for hours over debate for “conversion.” Ultimately our purpose here is to bring people to Christ and encourage one another to live to His glory, not sit and argue over an infinite eternal God, with our finite understanding. I think the mark of a maturing Christian (Calvanist or Arminian) starts at a humble acceptance that we don’t know it all and that’s ok, for the hidden things belong to God. I guess I just say this so that you know that not all Calvanists are stubborn and feel the need to “convert” various theological camps to our side. I just want to encourage others to spend more time loving and serving the Lord and others with all that we have.

    • John Inglis

      If the two greatest commandments that Jesus gave us are two love God and to love others, it seems to me that our purpose here is to love, not to glorify. Further, if God is self-sufficient in his glory, then why does he need to give us the purpose of glorifying him? However, love is completely different because it is a giving of self to the other. Hence God can want to love and be loved without it being a deficiency in his character, rather, it would be seen as a perfection–in contrast to Satan, who is incapable of love or being in a love relationship.


  • I’ll be curious to see how Dr. Horton responds on this issue.

    The idea of permission seems undeniable in Scripture (Tim Reisdorf listed several good examples above). The fine points of how it works are a mystery. Both Calvinists and Arminians have erred by going too far in trying to explain exactly what it does or doesn’t mean. But somehow there is a compatibilism we haven’t yet identified between God’s sovereign decrees, His foreknowledge, and the creaturely initiation of evil – and we might never identify it.

    These are high thoughts for clay-mation figures walking around on a half-baked ball of dirt. Welcome to “Job’s World.” And ours, by God’s grace.

    • Well, that didn’t work. Hopefully a moderator can make sense out of the confusion.

      • rogereolson


        • Sorry, Dr. O, the comment was supposed to go where you responded to my response to Tim Reisdorf about the collaboration of God and the devil. It looks like you figured that out.

    • rogereolson

      Well, my objection (in my book) is to those Calvinists who think they have it figured out by saying that God’s permission of sin and evil is effectual permission that renders sin and evil certain. Appeals to mystery are rare among these Calvinists except when they really can’t explain something. I don’t fault them for that; we all appeal to mystery. But on this particular subject most or all of them have pushed beyond mystery to claiming to know how God rendered the fall certain–by withdrawing the necessary grace not to fall.

  • It seemed to me that he assumed that somehow I simply was ignoring certain Bible passages and just needed to hear them read to me “one more time,” as it were.

    To be fair, some Armninians often seem to have a similar idea in quoting John 3:16 etc. as if reformed types had never heard it before.. But your point is good, it’s a bad assumption for any of us to make!

    I, on the other hand, presuppose that God cannot be evil;

    What do you base this presupposition on, though if not God’s own revelation of himself?

    The whole problem, as I see it, with ‘debating’ things like election, is that the issue is always dealt with in scripture as a means of encouraging perseverance – it’s pastoral, not doctrinal. When we pull it out of that context and make it an issue of doctrinal debate, we really miss the point.

    • rogereolson

      I thought I explained why I presuppose that God cannot be evil. It seems self-evident IF one will have basic trust in the meaningfulness of life itself. If God is evil, he is not worthy to be trusted. Why believe his revelation if he is evil?

  • Another thought…
    There is a real danger in making one acceptance of a particular doctrine / interpretation a test case for submission to biblical authority (e.g. Genesis, Romans 9, 1 Timothy 2, Revelation). Such submission is really shown holistically by a life lived.
    In fact, I suggest, as a humorous demonstration that we should make Proverbs 23:20b the test case.. do you frequent all-you-can-eat BBQ joints? Not submitting to the bible’s authority! 😛

  • I’m beginning to think even more than before that most 5 points Calvinists I know approach the Bible very differently from most non-Calvinists I know.

    I (a Calvinist) agree with this. We approach it as absolutely authoritative and find no place for a “what I’m willing to believe” standard for it to measure up to. It comes down to authority. Does the inspired Word of God have the final say or my fallen will/intellect.

    I’m still looking forward to the day when an Arminian will offer up an exegesis of Romans 9 that doesn’t base its argumentation on an unwillingness to believe what it says. This is what biblical exegesis looks like.

    Roger I appreciate the civility and tone you’ve taken in this post. I only ask that if anyone chooses to contact me (that’s not an invitation, I have plenty else to do!) that they do so with the same civil tone.

    • rogereolson

      Well, we’ll just have to disagree about this. I think Calvinists also approach the Bible with presuppositions, too. Does ANYONE approach the Bible with any other thought than that God must be good? If not, why even read it and believe it?

  • Kyle Carney

    Just to have a few biblical citations for why God cannot be evil, please refer to James 1:13, 1:17 and 1 John 1:5. I’d say that is enough to clarify that God cannot be even a little bit evil in any way. It’s not that God isn’t free, it’s that God has bound his actions to his perfect, good character. If anybody abandons God’s goodness, then I would agree with Dr. Olson that this person has abandoned the idea of a God who can be trusted.

    Just so Calvinists reading this blog understand something a little better about Arminians, you all should know that the big issue is not preserving human free will as Dr. Olson’s book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities explains. The big issue is God’s justice and goodness. This drives the system of Arminian thought.

    I personally believe God controls a whole lot of things while regulating each individuals small little world in which they have multiple responses to continual drawing of the Holy Spirit and the conviction brought by him through the gospel. All of us believe God is sovereign and providentially governs the universe. The issue is how to explain evil. We Arminians believe God created the world good and intended it to be so. Although he knew the creation would turn against him, he sovereignly chose to create anyways and provide atonement and graciously pursue reconciliation with the alienated human creation. I appeal to mystery here, that it is God’s sovereign perogative to create or not create (this is a vastly different place at which I appeal to mystery from the place at which Calvinists appeal to mystery). Most Arminians try to resolve the mystery by suggesting that preservation of human freedom is God’s intent in order to allow for real love and worship. I agree with this suggestion, but I just want to add that I don’t think it is necessary to resolve the mystery although it may be good to. The reason why we are not Calvinists is because God reveals himself as good, and Calvinists appeal to mystery by saying God sure doesn’t seem good although we know he says he is. We don’t consider Calvinists to be heretics because Calvinists usually rightly avoid deducing that God is evil (most appeal to mystery here). If you deny the goodness of God, I would be willing to call you a heretic.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for that! I would go even further and say that if someone doesn’t believe in God’s goodness they don’t believe in GOD at all! God and goodness are necessarily (logically) inseparable and God’s goodness must not be so different from our best and highest intuitions about goodness that they bear no resemblance. Therein lies the issue separating Calvinism from Arminianism. At the end of the day, after they have said all they say about God’s sovereignty, the Calvinists’ God cannot be truly good. They don’t seem to recognize that, however, which is why I don’t impute heresy or atheism or any such thing to them.

      • Kyle Carney

        I agree wholeheartedly. I can even go so far as to say that the single-predestination view (infra-lapsarian) represents a good God, but I would say that it still falls short of the great goodness and benevolent mercy of God found in the scriptures (Desiring that none should perish…, sending his only Son to the world…, this is love…he sent his Son to be a propitiation…, while we were yet sinners…, etc.). In other words, God would be good and just if only Adam and Eve had free will, sinned, and he only chose certain people arbitrarily out of that group to be saved (because he would have no obligation to us as offspring of our sinful parents).

        However, I believe the scriptures bear witness to a desire to save everyone in the world (1 John 1:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world). Therefore, I do not think the double-predestination view can be true based on my belief that God is good, Romans 9 can (and I believe should be) be interpreted differently than the Calvinist idea, and I do not think the single-predestination view synthesizes the rest of scripture properly either although I am more comfortable with it. Thus, I have come to embrace the classical (I think I can even say reformed in wide sense) Arminian position because it seems to synthesize scripture best, and I believe individual scripture passages better.

        The issues that helped me to decide my position thus far were: 1. God’s character 2. God’s love and how to communicate it 3. regeneration 4. discovery of how to better articulate prevenient grace, which I take a lot from John 16 (as well as helped a lot by your first book on Arminian theology) and 4. God’s desire to save all people. I will talk about these in more detail at my own blog that I am just getting into the habit of writing. It’s much easier to comment 🙂 The site is

  • Dr. Olson,

    I find you very articulate and able to reason in a way that is plain-speaking. I appreciate your beinging all the issues down to the common man’s level. I haven’t had the chance to read your book yet but will do so after the holidays.

    I’m glad to read your blogs.