Evangelical Calvinism?

Evangelical Calvinism? July 5, 2012

“Evangelical Calvinism?”

I have been reading a new book about Calvinism entitled Evangelical Calvinism: Essays Resourcing the Continuing Reformation of the Church edited by Myk Habets and Bobby Grow and published by Pickwick Publications (an imprint of Wipf and Stock).

I hope my blog followers appreciate the fact that I actually read primary Calvinist material and not just Arminian books and articles about Calvinism. Over the years I have read literally scores of books about Calvinism by Calvinists. And I try to keep up. I have reviewed several recent books about Calvinism by Calvinist authors here.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Calvinists would read books about Arminianism by Arminians instead of only books about Armianism by Calvinists? That seems rare, however. In my experience, most Calvinists get their “information” about Arminius and Arminianism from Charles Hodge or some similarly biased Reformed source.

Whenever I pick up a book about Calvinism or Arminianism, after perusing the table of contents, I turn to the index to see what authorities the author or authors have consulted. In the case of the present book, Evangelical Calvinism, Arminius is mentioned only once as a “worthy” who was excluded from the conservative, orthodox Calvinism. “Arminianism,” however, is mentioned numerous times. For example, on page 196 in the chapter “There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ: Christologically Conditioned Election” Mark Habets relies on Calvinist theologian David Fergusson for his information about Arminianism. (Has he bothered to read Arminius or any standard evangelical Arminian theologian to find out what Arminians really believe?)

According to Fergusson (and by implication Habets), what separates Barth’s viewpoint “from that of synergistic semi-Pelagianism, or Arminianism is his employment of something [Thomas] Torrance also utilizes, the recognition that ‘there is no symmetry between acceptance and rejection, and no sense in which the trust we show is of equal weight to God’s mercy’.” I would ask both Fergusson and Habets to justify from Arminius’ own writings or from any leading classical evangelical Arminian theologian the claim that Arminianism gives “equal weight” to “the trust we show” and “God’s mercy.”

A few Arminian theologians do show up in the book (e.g., John Wesley, William Abraham), but they are rarely, if ever, used as sources or authorities for supporting claims made about Arminianism.

One reason this matters to me is that I believe these authors would discover, if they plumbed deeply enough into classical evangelical Arminianism that their “evangelical Calvinism” shares much in common with the former and may even be closer to it than to what usually goes under the name “Calvinism” in Britain and America today.

Evangelical Calvinism consists of fifteen essays (including the editors’ introduction) on a variety of subjects relevant to Calvinism and Reformed theology from Scripture to original sin to election to the sacraments and infant salvation. One “string” that ties most of the essays together is the name “Torrance.” Clearly most of these authors are disciples of brothers Thomas and James Torrance, two of the leading British interpreters of the theology of Karl Barth.

The editors and authors make clear that there is no uniformity among what they are calling evangelical Calvinism. One thing they share in common is misgivings about so-called classical, orthodox or “federal” Calvinism stemming especially from Beza and channeled through Gomarus, et al. In other words, scholastic Calvinism. So far as I can tell, having read much but not all of the book, none of the authors ascribes to limited or particular atonement.

Before continuing, let me say that I highly recommend the book and am very glad it is published. We need other voices among Calvinists—other than the often loud and shrill and harsh voices of those associated with the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement. (Here I am not speaking so much about the run-of-the-mill young people associated with it as about its theological “gurus.”) So-called evangelical Calvinism, as represented by this book’s editors and authors, is a breath of fresh air that will probably be dismissed as revisionist by the die-hards among the high federal, TULIP Calvinists.

According to this book’s editors and authors, Calvinism comes in several flavors and theirs, evangelical Calvinism, has been handed down primarily by Scottish chefs. As mentioned, the two main ones are the Torrances. Many other names are mentioned, but I won’t go into all of them. Suffice it to say that this flavor of Calvinism has a Barthian taste but is not limited to Barth or the “Barthians.” For example, British turn-of-the-century evangelical theologian Peter Taylor Forsyth is treated by some of the authors as a forerunner of contemporary evangelical Calvinism who was not influenced by Barth (because he wrote before Barth).

I should mention that one theme running throughout evangelical Calvinism is an emphasis on union with Christ as the heart beat of Calvinism. Of course, classical, high, federal Calvinists will claim that as their own heart beat as well. Arminians could say the same (although I like to say that the character of God as unconditionally good is what drives Arminianism).

When I see a book like this I always look for the chapter on salvation. That’s the heart of the dispute, is it not? I mean the dispute between classical Calvinism and classical Arminianism and even among various branches of Reformed theology. So, I read with special interest Habets’ chapter “’There is no God behind the back of Jesus Christ’”—a sentiment with which I heartily agree!

Here is what Habets says about salvation according to evangelical Calvinism:

What then happens in salvation? When confronted with God, humans for the first time become free to decide for God. “The personal encounter of Christ with forgiveness on His lips, singles out a man…and gives him freedom to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’…freedom is only possible face to face with Jesus Christ.” [Quote from T. F. Torrance] If there is a universal atonement, as we shall consider shortly [there is], then surely it is a corollary that all who are confronted with God’s forgiveness, and as a consequence are free, will repent and receive salvation. Torrance disagrees. [So does Habets.] While freedom is possible face to face with Jesus Christ “the mystery is—and this we shall never fathom—that such a man may commit the sin of Adam all over again.” (p. 181)

How is this different from classical, evangelical Arminianism? I don’t see that it is different at all. It is only different from a distorted image of Arminianism.

Am I saying that evangelical Arminianism and evangelical Calvinism are identical? No. But, then, there are varieties of evangelical Arminianism, too. There are so-called “Reformed Arminians” and there are Wesleyan Arminians. There are Arminians who believe in inamissable grace and ones who believe in the real possibility of apostasy. And so on. So “identical” would not be a felicitous word when comparing any two theologies.

I’m not trying to place evangelical Calvinism under the Arminian umbrella anymore than the other way around. I’m not trying to place evangelical Arminianism under the “Calvinist” umbrella. (Although I think a good argument can be made that classical Arminianism is a flavor of Reformed theology broadly defined.)

Apparently, however, evangelical Calvinism and evangelical Arminianism share much common ground. (I’m sure that makes some people in both camps shudder.) Both believe in total depravity in the sense of utter helplessness to do anything spiritually good apart from supernatural grace. Both believe Christ died for all people. Both believe election is conditional IN ITS ACTUALIZATION for the individual who must freely accept the saving grace of God. Both believe even people for whom Christ died can resist grace.

Wherein exactly lie the differences (besides history and ecclesiology)? I suspect the MAIN difference lies in evangelical Calvinists’ distorted ideas about Arminianism. For example, on page 280 Jason Goroncy (Chapter 10 on the atonement) rejects both “monergism” (salvation is “all of God, nothing of humanity”) and “synergism” (I assume he is thinking of Arminianism) (“partly God, partly humanity”). That is not, of course, what Arminian synergism believes. We believe salvation is all of God involving humanity.

Could evangelical Calvinists and evangelical Arminians talk to each other and perhaps find our common ground and forge an alliance to oppose the dominance of high federal Calvinism in contemporary American evangelicalism? (By “dominance” I don’t refer to numbers but to books published, voices loudly heard, etc.) Or will evangelical Calvinists continue to view evangelical Arminians through jaundiced eyes, looking down on us as (biblically and theologically) weaker brothers and sisters?

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  • Bev Mitchell

    “I would ask both Fergusson and Habets to justify from Arminius’ own writings or from any leading classical evangelical Arminian theologian the claim that Arminianism gives “equal weight” to “the trust we show” and “God’s mercy.”

    This must be close to the epicentre of the monergism/synergism tangle. If we are not allowed, expected, able to “do” anything, then the percentages are meaningless. 99.9999999% God and 00.00000001% human is still too much synergism for a monergist (please don’t check the math, I did it all on my own).  🙂

    • rogereolson

      Yes, this is my problem with “evangelical Calvinism” as explained by these authors. One cannot combine monergism and synergism (when it comes to the actual moment and event of personal salvation). They seem to me to waffle on that, wanting to have it both ways.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Can’t resist a second post. Roger, you ask,

    “How is this different from classical, evangelical Arminianism? I don’t see that it is different at all. It is only different from a distorted image of Arminianism.”

    That’s the impression I get reading Torrance (though there is still much to cover). I had some of the same feeling after reading “For Calvinism” and “Against Calvinism” back to back. Although some significant differences were easier to detect, the similarities were jumping up and down shouting (waving their hands in the air?) 

    At that time, I suggested a follow up book in which you and Michael Horton do your best to illustrate the many similarities between the two traditional positions. It might be more effective than anything else, and, at least would get around the problem of Calvinists getting their views of Arminianism from Calvinists and vice versa (the latter probably happens more often than we would like to think).

  • Joel Costa

    Dr. Olson,
    Frist off, I’d like to say that this is by far my most-frequented blog in the whole of the web, so thank you for the great material you are constantly putting out. I grew up in a Pentecostal/Semi-Pelagian environment, converted to Young, Restless, Reformed-brand Calvinism in my late teens and later, due a great part to your work, gradually leaned towards classical Arminianism.

    I find myself reading a lot from the “Torrances” these days, and must say that I too find their material frequently more akin to classical Arminianism. I once read the difference between Arminianism and “Torrance Calvinism” loosely characterized in this way: while Arminians claim that the atoning work of Jesus Christ opened the possibility of reconciliation, Torrance’s standpoint (what they were calling “Trinitarian theology”) is of an actualized, and not potential, reconciliation of the whole of humanity.

    So while there remains the possibility to reject this unconditional reconciliation and union with the trinity through Christ, it is a done deal and not a mere potentiality. I find this curious because the claim includes personal conversion as the “subjective experience” of the “objective fact” of universal reconciliation through the atonement.

    Is this a fair characterization of the difference? and what are your thoughts about Torrance’s “evangelical Barthianism”?

    Thanks again!

    • rogereolson

      I think you are on to something there, but I’m just not sure all “evangelical Calvinists” believe in universal reconciliation as a done deal (Barthian view). I also think a classical Arminian can believe that and many do. I suspect even Arminius believed it which is probably what brought the wrath of the supralapsarians down on his head more than anything else. However, it’s hard to prove from his writings. What I mean is that a classical Arminian can (and some do) believe that all of humanity was reconciled to God and God to all of humanity by the cross IN THE SENSE that the guilt of original sin was there set aside. However, people still need to actualize that reconciliation by repentance and faith once they reach the age of maturity and sin willfully.

  • Harvey

    Dr. Olson,
    I have benefited a great deal from your books. Thanks you for them and keep them coming. I was raised a Calvinist–but of the moderate kind. I don’t know if there is much hope for federal, high-Calvinists to enter into dialogue with Arminians, but perhaps moderates can.
    If there is a reasonable take on TULIP it would be, I think, as Dr. Henry Stob (Calvin Seminary) wrote:
    To say that man is “totally depraved” is not to say that he is without a moral sense or without increated excellencies, but that he is oriented at the center of his being to ends other than his true end. (27)

    Election to salvation in Christ is best understood not as an eternal divine “selection of some” to the exclusion of others, but as the profession of Christians that they have been saved by the grace of an initiating God. (25)

    Christ’s atonement is limited not in the sense that he died only for some, but that through human perversity it is not effectual in all. (28)

    That “Grace is irresistible” is not a factual statement about the nature of grace, but the profession of each Christian that in his case he could not but succumb to the blandishments of God. (26)

    The doctrine that asserts “the Perseverance of the Saints” does not preclude “apostasy;” it expresses the faith of a Christian that God’s preserving power will not fail him. (82)

    • rogereolson

      Every classical Arminian I know would affirm these statements as true with some quibbling about the statement about irresistible grace. Still, the gap is significantly closed by Stob’s explanations. My question is how representative Stob’s explanations are of high federal Calvinism that is so prevalent among the young, restless, Reformed folks today? These are not what I hear from the likes of Piper, et al.

    • Dennis

      I just came across this website today and was struck by your statements by Dr. Stob. It looked as if they were taken from a book or article and I would like to know they name to try to find it online.

  • David D

    You wrote: So-called evangelical Calvinism will probably be dismissed as revisionist by the die-hards among the high federal, TULIP Calvinists.
    Its already happened. Bobby Grow has been vocal about EC on some Calvinist blogs I frequent, and has consistently been misunderstood and, as you predicted, summarily dismissed. I ran into EC a couple of years back before the book came out through Bobby’s blog. I too have thought that EC had a lot more in common with Arminianism than with TULIP Calvinism. I hope both Myk and Bobby take your advice to heart and dig into Ariminian source writings. Thanks for your review of their book and I continue to appreciate your willingness to delve into what Calvinists themselves, and not only non-Calvinists, are writing about what they believe.

  • Andrew Stravitz

    “Could evangelical Calvinists and evangelical Arminians talk to each other and perhaps find our common ground and forge an alliance to oppose the dominance of high federal Calvinism in contemporary American evangelicalism?”
    Can’t both Reformed and Classical Arminians affirm Chalcedon’s christology (the person of Christ) and the Reformation solas (the work of Christ)? These seem like good axioms for “evangelicalism.” While Calvinists and Arminians will diverge on sola gratia, we only diverge on the inner construction of it, but both affirm it in contrast to the Roman Catholic penitential system.
    I’m not sure the alliance should be against federal Calvinism, though, as much as against semi-pelagianism or pelagianism, wherever they occur (noteworthy, both you and Horton in correction of the SBC statement). Clearly there are many such Calvinists that are indeed prideful, but there are plenty of federal Calvinists I know of who gladly call Arminians brothers and co-laborers. Ironically, many of these Calvinists are YRR types in A29 churches!
    Both Arminians and Calvinists will need some humble pie to clear their jaundice.

    • rogereolson

      To the best of my knowledge and experience, many of the high Calvinists among the YRR movement are still saying that Arminians are not fully evangelical or are “on the precipice of heresy” and “profoundly mistaken.” It’ shard to envision cooperation with people who don’t think you’re really, authentically evangelical.

      • Steve Dal

        I remember you said they ‘hunt in packs’. The Calvinists I know do not want dialogue in the true sense. To be honest I suspect they are afraid of consistent ongoing discussion about some of the ‘difficulties’ associated with their hypotheses.

        • rogereolson

          I agree completely–if we’re talking about the neo-fundamentalist Calvinists who tend to dominate the YRR scene.

          • Andrew Stravitz

            This is so discouraging. Almost all your blogs are concurrently so helpful and so hurtful, Roger. As a “neo-fundamentalist, Calvinistic YRR” type (as far as I can tell from your stereotyping, I must be this), it’s always surprising how often you affirm pigeon-holing statements like Steve Dal’s. On the one hand, you often call for loving association among Calvinists and Arminians, recognizing where we have common ground. On the other hand, you affirm all sorts of all-encompassing assumptions in your blog posts and comment sections. You seem to act just like the Calvinistic talking heads that you so despise. I really don’t want to associate you with uncharitable leaders like John Macarthur, but sometimes you sound so much like them.
            Steve – you don’t know enough Calvinists. I’ve been a part of Calvinistic churches my whole life, and while there are always belligerent, unloving Calvinists to be found (and, yes, they tend to be loud), the vast majority assume common ground in the Gospel with Arminians. It shouldn’t go without saying that if I only listened to belligerent, unloving, stereotyping Arminians (who, go figure, are not to be outdone in decibels), I probably would also say all-encompassing things like “‘they’ hunt in packs; ‘they’ don’t won’t real dialogue; ‘they’ are afraid of talking about the weaknesses of their system.” But I won’t say that, because I have Arminian friends whom I love talking with and fighting with and praying with and praising Christ with. Just because you’ve been offended by Calvinists before, doesn’t mean that all Calvinists are offensive.
            By the way, I’d bet on Classical Arminianism growing in the next 20 or 3o years as the prominent undercurrent of synergism among YRR types creates a fault line in their various associations. My (A29) pastor and I often talk about A29 churches we know of where pastors and leaders are either very uncomfortable with monergism, or are dismissive of the distinctions.

          • rogereolson

            I certainly don’t believe all Calvinists “hunt in packs.” Some neo-fundamentalists, most of who tend to be Calvinistic, have emerged as a network of heresy hunters. I experienced this personally while teaching at a non-Calvinist, non-Arminian, evangelical liberal arts college and seminary. And I have experienced it in my encounters with some conservative evangelicals who network with each other to discover, expose (as “unorthodox”) and destroy the reputations and careers of fellow evangelicals. As I have said numerous times here, I have no problem with Calvinists per se–as fellow evangelicals and as irenic Christians. Who I have a problem with are heresy hunters are seem never satisfied but are intent on getting pats on the back from each other by exposing an evangelical as dangerous. To give a specific example of this. When I was teaching at the aforementioned college and seminary a group of pastors in the controlling denomination organized, started a web site and began pressuring the denomination to fire professors with whose theology they disagreed. I was clearly one of their targets–for no other reason than that I had defended open theism as a legitimate evangelical option (not a view I personally hold). At least some of these pastors (and a couple of theologians among them) labeled me an open theist knowing full well that could get me fired. I believe they also knew I was not an open theist; I had made that abundantly clear to their leaders (one of who told me he would get me fired anyway–just for not siding with him/them against my open theist colleagues). All this brouhaha led to a heresy trial and when it didn’t end the way they hoped they put even more pressure on the denomination and its college and seminary. So, yes, some neo-fundamentalists, many of them Calvinists, “hunt in packs.” I could give other, similar examples.

  • JeremyB

    Here’s one calvinist who read and thoroughly enjoyed your book, “Arminian Theology”. It was very helpful to better understand arminianism as an arminian would define it (as opposed to those who would wrongly and sadly label it semi-pelagianism). I also appreciated the perspectives presented in “Why I Am Not a Calvinist” by Walls & Dongell. Still convinced a convinced calvinist (though would differ on some terms) but I’ve found reading those on the other side of the issue helps me to better appreciate my brothers and sisters in Christ who I disagree with.

    • rogereolson

      If only more evangelical Calvinists (of all flavors) followed your example. May your tribe increase!

  • James Petticrew

    Tom Torrance gave a series of lectures when I was at Nazarene Theological College in Manchester now collated in a book called “The Mediation of Christ” he seemed at ease among Wesleyans and I remember in Q & As he expressed a real appreciation for the tradition. I think he was the PHD supervisor for Dr Tom Noble, now of Nazarene Theological Seminary and they had built a good relationship.

    What a contrast between his attitude and some of the more “headline” Calvinists I encountered elsewhere who simply wanted to destroy Arminian straw men of their own creation

  • Chris

    Does ‘popular’ Arminianism fit into this critique? I.e. the commonly and unconsiously held theological assumptions that can be classed as ‘Arminian’? I see this frequently; only rarely do I find Christians who hold Arminian views and actually recognise what they are. Perhaps this ‘popular’ expression is more in view in this book?

    • rogereolson

      I’m sure you’re right. But would the authors like if I or another Arminian wrote about “popular Calvinism” and meant, say, supralapsarianism? The fact is that what passes as “Arminianism” in most evangelical circles is semi-Pelagianism. That’s my whole project–to demonstrate and convince of the differences. I think it’s a travesty to call semi-Pelagianism even “popular Arminianism.”

  • Rhett

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for this post. It was interesting reading.

    Disclosure: I attended Carey Baptist College so I took a few of Myk Habets’ classes. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with him to chat about his take on salvation. I’ve struggled with that issue myself (I’ve read both your books on the subject), but have generally landed at Classical Arminianism, though with some Reformed leanings.

    You ask how the approach in this book is different from Classical Arminianism. My understanding is that there IS a significant difference between what Myk is suggesting (and so Torrance too) and Classical Arminianism.

    The thing with Arminianism (and perhaps part of my struggle) is that if you have 2 people, and 1 accepts Christ and the other doesn’t, I can’t explain it any other way than that the one who accepted Christ was smarter/more humble/more sincere than the one who didn’t. This is a classic Calvinist jab, but I think there is truth in it.

    Of course Classical Arminianism pushes this problem into the background in different ways. We speak of “non-resistance” rather than active choice (like the metaphor you use in Against Calvinism of people being floated to the top of a well). We appeal to prevenient grace. We talk of accepting a gift not technically being a work. They’re all coherent answers and I don’t for a second buy the accusation that Arminianism is in any way semi-Pelagian, but I’m still left with the uneasy feeling that we’re putting a very attractive and elaborate rug over the fact that somehow, at root, I’m saved not because of grace but because I’m a little bit more humble than my unsaved friend.

    Evangelical Calvinism seems to take the “best” parts of high Calvinism (that we’re saved by grace through faith and even the faith is a gift from God), which deals with the above problem. As Myk says in the quote, though, EC’s aren’t universalists. So they have to account for people resisting God, at which point they appeal to mystery. I’m sure people who know more than me will disagree, but it actually reminds me a little of the so-called “Calminian” position, because it affirms two seemingly paradoxical truths. That, to me, is the distinction between Evangelical Calvinism and Arminianism.

    • rogereolson

      I think you’re right. And I am uncomfortable with any attempt to combine monergism and synergism. They just don’t mix. And appeals to mystery make me nervous when they aren’t necessary and I don’t think they are in this case. A person who accepts Christ (from an Arminian perspective) is not smarter or better than a person who hears the gospel in the same way and rejects Christ. He or she is simply a person who chose to accept a free gift. The issue is boasting. Can a person reasonably boast of accepting a free gift (that was rejected by another person)? I have never heard of it and if it happened I know most people would the boasting person crazy and ungrateful.

      • Rhett

        Thanks Roger. I agree with you that the Arminian system leaves no place for boasting. But I disagree that this is the crux of the problem, at least with Ephesians 2 in view. The problem – at least the one that keeps me up at night! – is the definition of a “work”. You’re right, it would be crazy and ungrateful to boast about receiving a gift. But that’s not the question for me… it’s “does non-resistance/acceptance constitute a work?”

        • rogereolson

          But that begs the question of the meaning of “work?” Paul says in Philippians “Work out your own salvation.” But clearly, given his entire teaching about salvation, he doesn’t mean “work to earn your salvation.” So “work” by itself is ambiguous. That’s why I focus the issue on what Paul seems most concerned about–boasting. He doesn’t exclude “work” in the sense of “do something;” he excludes “work” in the sense of merit, earning salvation (or any part of it). Freely accepting a free gift might be considered a “work” in some sense (that I don’t really understand or ever mean) but not in Paul’s sense of “earning, meriting.” For example (I may be just digging a deep hole here, but let me muse…which is what this blog is all about): We say to someone struggling with a problem “work it out.” We normally don’t mean “earn it” or “merit it.” That would be a complete misunderstanding of that speech act. We are encouraging them to figure out their problem and solve it. We don’t mean “earn it.” It’s a totally different meaning of “work.” You seem to attach the word “work” to anything a person does–even simply making a decision. I don’t. But that’s not the point. We’re quibbling over an English word. The point at which we both agree is that whatever we call the free decision of faith, it is not meritorious. The only evangelical alternative, monergism, makes salvation a condition, not a relationship.

          • Rhett

            Thanks Roger, I appreciate your time. That’s a really helpful clarification.

            I do wish the world had more serious, classical Arminians in it. I think you’re right (in your book Arminian Theology) that the majority of Christians are semi-Pelagian. Sometimes I think there are fewer true, classical Arminians than there are high Calvinists! So I appreciate the robustness of your theology here.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Roger questions: “Can a person reasonably boast of accepting a free gift (that was rejected by another person)?”

    If the “free gift” is the LOVE of God resulting in ultimate salvation, it is impossible for anyone to reject it. We have not been given the option to micro-manage God’s love. He loves even his enemies and there is absolutely nothing they (or we) can do about it. God’s love “freely given” cannot be deserved, earned, prayed for, paid for, wanted, accepted or rejected. Free grace means “unmerited favor” i.e., in other words, it was a ‘done deal’ before you ever had a chance to deal with it. That which God has “freely” given cannot be reversed, amended, negotiated, abrogated, changed, taken back or reconsidered. “Freely given” means without pre-conditions or post-conditions. Anything given subject to certain “conditions” cannot be considered to be a “free gift.” That would be an oxymoron.

    • rogereolson

      Not so. A free gift that must be accepted, not rejected, is still a free gift. If you give me a check for $1,000 and all I have to do is endorse it and cash or deposit it, my doing that does not detract in any way from the gratuity of the gift. And we must distinguish between God’s love, which is universal, and the gift of salvation which is offered to all with the sole condition that a person must admit his or her need and not reject the gift out of pride (or whatever sinful motive might hinder its acceptance). Amnesty is a good analogy. President Jimmy Carter offered the gift of amnesty to all Vietnam draft resisters who fled to Canada (and other places). The only condition (so far as I know) for benefiting from the amnesty was returning to the USA. Many did not. Did that make the amnesty less of a gift? I don’t see how.

      • Ivan A. Rogers

        Roger: You just made my case by referring to Jimmy Carter’s “conditional” amnesty to Vietnam draft resisters. In fact, it was NOT an “amnesty” with conditions of any sort. It was a “presidential pardon” based solely on his campaign promise. See below the news report:

        “Just a day after Jimmy Carter’s inaguration, he followed through on a contentious campaign promise, granting a presidential pardon to those who had avoided the draft during the Vietnam war by either not registering or traveling abroad. The pardon meant the government was giving up forever the right to prosecute what the administration said were hundreds of thousands of draft-dodgers.”

        In a spiritual sense, this is precisely what the great President of the Universe has done for fallen humanity, i.e., “given up forever the right to prosecute” those who have disobeyed the law. Even as Carter kept his promise, so, too, has the Savior “who takes away the sin of the world.” Because of the Cross, ALL human sins (past, present and future) have been atoned (pardoned) “once for ALL.” Even for those who persist in trying to run away from their God (see Isaiah 53:6).

        • rogereolson

          You miss my point. Some who were pardoned chose not to return; so some for whom Christ died choose to remain in the “far country” and not come home to the waiting, loving Father. Jimmy Carter didn’t send agents to Canada to capture and force the return of those pardoned draft resisters who were now pardoned. Nor does God force the turning to him of those who refuse the accept his mercy.

          • Ivan A. Rogers

            President Carter’s “pardon” of those who fled to Canada was not conditioned on their return to the United States. It was an “unconditional pardon.” So, too, is the pardon of the Cross. “It is for freedom that we have been made free.”

          • rogereolson

            You’re still missing my point. In order for the “pardon” (really an amnesty) to benefit a person he had to return to the U.S. Otherwise it was of no benefit (except potentially).

  • Hi Roger,

    I (and I know Myk does too) really appreciate your interaction with our book! I look forward to seeing what you think once you hit our last chapter, chapter 15. It is this final chapter that Myk and I offer up our 15 Theses for what we conceive of as the contours that make ‘EC’ substantially different than traditional understandings of Calvinism.

    As far as monergism/synergism; we aren’t really trying to ‘combine’ these two things, per se. Instead, we are trying to highlight a mode of Calvinism that thinks through ‘personalist’, relational, Trinitarian, and Christ-conditioned lenses. And as TF Torrance (by the way, not all of our contributors are necessarily disciples of Torrance, some are actually Calvin scholars, and others more prone to Barth etc.) was seeking to do through his so called ‘epistemological inversion’ and ‘theological science’, we are seeking to offer a way of thought that eschews the usual kind of logical-deductive/deterministic (dualistic) thinking that shapes the traditional thinking associated with ‘classical Calvinism’ (and I would suggest, only to further discussion), Arminianism. In fact, it is this point of methodology (in our prolegomena) that is a must to appreciate; if this move is not grasped or appreciated, then what we are trying to offer will be missed by trying to read what we articulate through logical-causal lenses.

    Anyway, Roger, we really appreciate that you are interacting with our book; and further, we really appreciate your even handed and fair approach.

    I look forward to seeing what you think once you totally finish the volume.


    Bobby Grow

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for weighing in here. I am still reading through the book and intend to review it for the journal you and Myk and I talked about. I admit that I just can’t wrap my mind around any alternative to monergism and synergism. On the single, precise, pointed question of “Is election to individual salvation conditional or unconditional” I don’t see any alternative to “conditional” and “unconditional.” It is (to me, anyway) a fair question with only two possible answers. As you know, if you’ve followed my blog, one of my main theological mentors, a theological I especially admire and attempt to emulate, was Donald Bloesch. But that was one area where I found him confusing. He seemed to want it both ways (monergism and synergism) or one way “here” and the other way “there.” My experience is that Christians want to know and I feel compelled to give them an answer, however, tentative it may be. So far in your book, I detect the same problem–monergism here and synergism there and ultimately no definite answer. If I’m missing it, please point me to it. Thanks!

      • Hi Roger,

        But I think what we, with Evangelical Calvinism are trying to alert folk to is a totally different metaphysic (if we even have a metaphysic) that makes thinking through the grammar of monergistic and synergistic a non-starter. I would see monergism/synergism dialectic as philosophical abstractions that have nothing to day with the ‘way’ God has revealed himself to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ (so we see his humanity as the ‘sphere’ wherein all of humanity is given its ground and reality and mode of being). So the Yes and No are both personal (V. philosophically abstract as monergism/synergism are given their classical conception of grace as a ‘created quality’) responses made in Christ’s humanity by the Holy Spirit for us. So his humanity is understood as the ‘first fruits from the dead’ and it is by virtue of our spiritual union with his kind of recreated humanity that we can say Yes from his Yes (which is what Jason Goroncy’s chapter is about). The main point here, really, is that we are not thinking through substance metaphysics; and so to try and think about what we are communicating through that metaphysic (which classic monergism/synergism flow from) will miss and misconstrue what we are indeed trying to articulate.

        Thanks, Roger.

        • rogereolson

          But I don’t believe in a substance metaphysic, either. And I think that difference–between substance metaphysics and relational metaphysics–lay at the root of the whole Calvinist-Arminian debate in the 17th century. Sure, Arminius was not as clear about it as I’d like, but when his faithful followers began to flesh it out (e.g., Wesley, Fletcher, Watson, Pope, Summers, Miley, et al.) it became clearer. Our metaphysic is thoroughly relational which is precisely why we’re (evangelical) synergists. May I mention philosopher Vincent Brummer in this regard? He has done a lot of work on relational metaphysics and comes out thoroughly synergistic. (Not in the “popular,” semi-Pelagian sense but in a personalistic sense.)

  • Jerry Disch

    Brother Olson,
    I enjoy all of your books ( I might have read all of them… not sure). I am a pastor totally unimpressed with all things relating to the error of Calvinistic thinking. In one sense, I tire of Seminaries, Bible colleges and various authors employing the use of the reformers as though they were the original authors of the Christian faith. To me, Luther did something good in bringing the church out of a works salvation imposed by an even worse than Calvinism system. But Luther didn’t go far enough, infant baptism…etc. Calvin, to me seemed like he wasn’t in his right mind. If I remember in reading of the Anabaptist, Calvin was involved in the murder of human beings, either giving permission or through his teachings, because they believed the bible in regards to being baptized as a believer instead of an infant. He was wrong on various issues…. I would like to see scholars just take us back to the original languages, some of the early church fathers (before Augustine ) and skip the reformers. They only added confusion to an already messed up catholic faith. For me personally the reformers have no voice or authority worth considering. Perhaps a glance their way for amusement, but otherwise I need to know what the original intent of author was about and audience they were speaking to when studying the scriptures.

    • rogereolson

      Well, I agree in part, but I wouldn’t be that harsh toward the Reformers. However, I do think that only the Anabaptists (Balthasar Hubmaier, Menno Simons, et al.) got it mostly right in terms of restoring New Testament Christianity. And I think the church fathers, for all their good intentions, forgot salvation by grace alone fairly early and mixed it with salvation by merits. I make no secret of the fact that my main theological heroes of the past were mostly Anabaptists or at least free church Protestants (e.g., Pietists who adopted believer baptism and especially those who melded Anabaptist beliefs and practices with their Pietist ethos).

      • Cal


        I know some of the early Christian writers/apologists definitely tried to tie in the Greek philosophers as proto-types and then they get conflated with near prophets. We see this with the early Justin Martyr who says the philosophers were onto something and then evolves very differently with Origen and Clement of Alexandria who say that the Philosophers were the Greek version of the prophets.

        I think this is where the accommodations began, the Hellenic-Roman world was disgusted with “Jewish barbarity” and some intellectuals wanted an end to the persecution (both physically and academically).

        I so wish that we had more material from the minority views who began to say, “Hold on a minute, what does Scripture say?” before being swept into the adoption by the Empire. The only two I know of in that era were Aerius (not Arius) and Vigilantius who took issue with prayers to the dead, icons, relics and the deepening clergy/laity divide.

        I’m Calvinistic and find my spiritual ancestors in men like the Chelcicky, Peter Waldo, Conrad Grebel and Menno Simons.

  • One more point of clarification on the appeal to “mystery;” we seek to operate from a ‘positive’ way to doing theology (or better, ‘revealed’)—V. a speculative approach—in this case then when we appeal to the inexplicable nature of evil as our response to ‘why’ people still reject the Gospel; we think that we are following Jesus when he makes appeal to the same thing (e.g. John 3:16ff, that people love the darkness rather than the light). We are not comfortable in going any further than this. Yet, this is set against the backdrop of a thorough-going ‘Christ-conditioned’ view of election (as Prof. Olson has made reference to in re. to Myk’s personal chapter on the subject); that is, that Jesus Christ in the incarnation is understood as archetypical humanity, and as such he is our vicarious representative ‘all the way down’. And it is in his resurrected/recreated (picking up on the 1st/2nd Adam motif) that ‘all of humanity’ is actually recreated in his gracious humanity for us. This is why we must (as Evangelical Calvinists) appeal to the inexplicable nature of sin to answer the ‘why’ question in regards to people’s continued rejection of the life they have in Christ (because the conditions seem to be such that all people ought to recognize their ‘election’ in Christ’s humanity for them). As the reader will see as they read our chapter 15, we advocate for a dialectical theological approach; the above issue helps to illustrate how our commitment to this approach informs the way we attempt to handle the apparent untidyness that we have been left with in relation to understanding certain things about salvation.

    I wanted to offer this clarification in order to try and elide the conclusion that we simply run to “mystery” in an “un-Biblical” way; we don’t :-).

    Thanks again, Roger.

    • rogereolson

      This doesn’t seem different from classical Arminianism in which people for whom Christ died’s rejection of Christ is inexplicable, the “mystery of iniquity.” We just can’t explain it; we can only observe it sadly. But the real issue is monergism versus synergism–why a person comes to Christ for personal salvation. I assume you don’t believe people are saved without personal repentance. Yes, by Christ’s atoning death, they are already reconciled with God. But doesn’t that have to be actualized by personal response of some kind once they sin as mature, responsible people? If not, then we have much to talk about regarding the meaning of “evangelical.” If so, then the question is unavoidable–who actually decides that a person will repent and trust in Christ in personal decision? The monergist says God decides it and renders it certain. The synergist says the person confronted with the gospel decides (enabled by the prevenient grace of God). Is there some alternative I haven’t thought of? Or is this, too, to be left in the realm of mystery? But I don’t think Scripture does leave it in the realm of mystery. It doesn’t talk about the “mystery of conversion” in the same way it talks about the “mystery of iniquity.” It everywhere assumes that people decide. And I don’t think we can avoid at least attempting to understand who does the deciding (i.e., who renders it certain).

      • Hi Roger,

        Thank you, for the reply. The difference between classical Arminianism (as I understand it), and this particular point is that, for the Evangelical Calvinist, the atonement is effectual, and actual for all of humanity, literally, in the humanity of Christ for us (for all)—Arminians would not affirm this, right? The Arminian would instead articulate that the atonement remains conditional and contingent upon the individual subject’s (person’s) actualization of it through their individual/subjective ‘Yes’, right? That is not what we are articulating. Instead we are pressing the one for the many theme of scripture, in “actualized” ways; such that the conditions for salvation have already been met (not just objectively, but subjectively ) in the personal work of Jesus’ atoning and vicarious life. The work of salvation, for us, has already been done (actually, again) in and through the an/enhypostatic person and humanity of Jesus Christ (so an actual recreation of humanity). If we try to press this, as you note later down in some of your comments, then yes, our approach would lead to an explicit, dogmatic universalism (if we, methodologically were employing logical-deductive-causal modes of reasoning about this). But we don’t think through a mechanical (Augustinian-Newtonian, as TF Torrance would say) method of reasoning, instead we seek to follow out the theo-logic that is required by the dynamic and personal life of Jesus Christ in the incarnation. To close this comment let me quote what Robert Walker (TFT’s nephew and editor of TF Torrance’s posthumously published New College lectures—Incarnation & Atonement) has to say about Torrance’s approach (in context he is commenting on how Torrance does not affirm universal salvation, but does affirm a universal atonement). This quote comes from our Thesis 12 which is ‘Universalism is not a corollary of universal redemption and is not constitutive for Evangelical Calvinism’ (p. 446). Here is Walker:

        For Torrance, apprehension of the cross involves a conversion of the reason in which we bow our own reason before the reality and mystery of Christ and seek to understand it (as far as we may) out of itself without reducing it to logical schemata of our own making which inevitably break it up into separate elements and distort it. We need to hold together what scripture holds together, refusing to categorise it in ways that distort that wholeness. If we cannot understand how scripture holds together certain things which we find difficult (such as the unconditional love and forgiveness of God for all, the finished work of Christ, the gospel imperative to repent and believe, and the fact that some refuse and are judged by the very gospel that offers them life) then it is not open to us to resolve the tension through a man-made logical schema which emphasises some elements as [sic] the expense of others. We need to be crucified with Christ in our natural reason and through the transforming of our mind begin to penetrate into ‘the interior logic of scripture’ so that we may learn to think as scripture thinks and hold together what it holds together in Christ. Both universalism and limited atonement for Torrance fail to do that. . . .49

        So it is this kind of thinking that informs, for at least me and Myk, the kind of approach that we are taking. If this is not fully appreciated, as far as our methodological commitments, then what we are attempting to articulate will be misunderstood. If the conditions that are operative for us (formally) are not appreciated, then what we are articulating (materially) will be misrepresented and out of context by being placed into a pretext of another set of expectations and conditions.

        Anyway, thank you, Roger, for reading and interacting with our book. And we do appreciate your willingness to write that review once you’re done with the book. I look forward to seeing what you think about our 15 Theses in the last chapter.


        Bobby Grow

        • rogereolson

          Thanks, but I’m still confused about what you and Myk (and other evangelical Calvinists) believe about personal conversion to Christ. Is it in some sense necessary for salvation? How does the view you articulate differ from classical Arminianism in which Christ’s death does fulfill all the conditions of salvation EXCEPT personal acceptance (non-rejection) of what Christ has done? And if that is not a condition for salvation, then how is universalism avoided? As you probably know if you’ve followed my blog at all, I am very uncomfortable with appeals to mystery when people are confronted with a clear question to which there are only two possible answers and especially when Scripture speaks to it (viz., conversion is necessary). I don’t want to get sidetracked right now on the issue of the unevangelized. I will just say I think there are modes of conversion we are not aware of in which God is the evangelist where humans have failed to evangelize. I apologize for pressing you on this point, but I don’t see how it can be escaped insofar as you call your view “evangelical” Calvinism.

          • Roger, so our emphasis does not have an EXCEPT clause in it; relative to conversion. Instead, we have an actualist and/or positive view of salvation; meaning that we see Jesus’ humanity as the humanity that says ‘Yes’ to the Father on our behalf. He does this for ‘ALL’, and thus this is the reason why we must finally appeal to the inexplicable nature of evil and sin (for that is mysterious or a ‘surd’ as TF Torrance would say) to answer the question of ‘why’ “some” people finally reject what is theirs in the recreated humanity of Christ. We leave the “questions of the people,” so to speak for the questions that we think the implications of the Incarnation and Self-revelation of Christ determine and thus answer on his terms.

            We aren’t denying questions about whether “conversion is necessary,” to the contrary. Instead we are grounding that question in the mediatorial/priestly humanity of Christ, and saying that he has said Yes first, that we might say Yes through his already realized Yes for us. The question to my mind is who gets to set what “are only two possible answers” in regards to framing this question? In other words, it seems to me that God’s Self-revelation should be allowed to determine the questions that he wants to answer; instead of us requiring that he answer a certain set of questions that we have determined must be answered in the way we want them to be answered.

            Thanks for the dialogue, Roger.

          • rogereolson

            I would call our “saying Yes through his already realized Yes for us” conversion. I have another question for you and Myk. (I see Myk has joined us in this discussion but I haven’t read his comment yet.) What do you think of Neal Punt’s version of Calvinism (as described in Unconditional Good News and other books he has written)? It seems very similar to your evangelical Calvinism, but I don’t think he ever mentions Torrance and he comes out of the Dutch Calvinist tradition. I think his inspiration is G. C. Berkouwer rather than the Torrances. Were they saying much the same thing, though? Perhaps both influenced by Barth?

          • Roger,

            I haven’t read Punt, so I can’t really comment on his approach. What we have called ‘Evangelical Calvinism’ (a la TF Torrance in his book “Scottish Theology”) is really seeking to identify a particular mood within the Calvinist tradition (and one that has been present since Calvinism’s beginning). So Punt may well work within and from this mood, as does Douglas Kelly, as Myk notes below. I will have to look into Punt, further, though.

          • rogereolson

            I think (I may be wrong) Punt’s main inspiration is G. C. Berkouwer.

          • Thanks, Roger, I’ll look into Punt and the influence that someone like G. C. Berkouwer may have had on him. I think Berkouwer is still more trad Calvinist than what we are identifying as Evangelical Calvinism. 🙂

          • rogereolson

            Right. I wouldn’t put him in that category without a lot more investigation. But when I read his book on election I was shocked at his rejection of double predestination and limited atonement. It seemed to me he came about as close to universal salvation as one can get and still not cross that line. Of course, his book on Barth (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth) is a classic and there he criticized Barth for crossing that line. But he sticks pretty close to Barth otherwise.

      • “Yes, by Christ’s atoning death, they are already reconciled with God. But doesn’t that have to be actualized by personal response of some kind…” Is this not also an example of both monergism and synergism?

        I believe that part of the confusion is in the many concepts that are wrapped up in the term “salvation.” It seems the evangelical Calvinists are monergistic regarding God’s saving act of atonement and reconciliation. Yet perhaps they allow for synergism in the actualization of that reality, a process of sanctification and transformation.

        Conversion, rather than a single act of decision and repentance is growth in relationship with God, ongoing and continual repentance, confession, belief and trust. So we were/are saved (monergistic) and we are being saved (synergistic). We are continually responding to the truth of the gospel.

        • rogereolson

          I’m okay with that definition of conversion, but the process has to have a beginning, right? We also call that beginning, first repentance and trust in Christ, conversion. Bobby Grow has responded to my inquiry in another comment. See what he says about my suggestion that God has monergistically “saved” everyone (in the sense of setting aside the guilt of original sin and reconciling the world to himself) but that it needs to be actualized for the individual. If I understood his response, he rejects that idea. So I’m still confused.

          • I would agree with Bobby Grow’s description that salvation is a work already completed in Christ, not contingent or conditional upon an individual’s response. Rejection of this truth does not undo what Christ has done.

            Referring to the amnesty analogy above, Christ came to the “far country” and brought all of pardoned humanity home to the Father. We can live in the light of this truth or continue to live in the delusion of alienation.

            All of life is this process of comprehending the truth as the Spirit enlightens our vision and reveals to us what is real.

            Thank you for the discussion. I appreciate your thoughtful engagement.

  • Indeed this subject must be seen in the light of Augustine’s own doctrine and definition of De natura et gratia (prevenient grace). On this subject, see btw, a 2010 book: Streams of Mercy, Prevenient Grace in the Theology of John and Charles Wesley, by J. Gregory Crofford, Ph.D. (himself a Nazarene theolog). But the book touches also upon the writings and teachings of the great Scottish/English Quaker: Robert Barclay. A must read for Wesleyans, and also Anglicans! 🙂

    • rogereolson

      Thanks a lot for adding another book to my growing list of ones I MUST read. 🙂 I have been asked numerous times to recommend a good book on prevenient grace. Now I’ll have to check this one out.

  • Paul

    Hi Dr. Olson,

    I’m an appreciative reader of your work. Your writings on Arminian Theology (and as a side note, on theology in general, such as the one with Grenz and the story of theology book) has clarified my views on Arminianism and its diversity. Your recent book as part of a pair with Mike Horton is a further gem. Your critique on the recent statement by some baptists were illuminating (and as I thought, you would disagree with) as well as helpful and confirming.

    I do have a question. I’ve tried to follow this “evangelical calvinist” movement, and their focus on “one decree” (the heart of their critique, as I see it, against federal calvinists). I thought that what their views mean is that all are actually saved, and ones who do not choose God are the ones that mysterious live outside that salvation.

    My question is that this understanding doesn’t cohere with my understanding with what you wrote here: “Apparently, however, evangelical Calvinism and evangelical Arminianism share much common ground. (I’m sure that makes some people in both camps shudder.) Both believe in total depravity in the sense of utter helplessness to do anything spiritually good apart from supernatural grace. Both believe Christ died for all people. Both believe election is conditional IN ITS ACTUALIZATION for the individual who must freely accept the saving grace of God. Both believe even people for whom Christ died can resist grace.”

    As I understood this movement (John McLoed Campbell is a precursor), election is _not_ conditional in its actualization for the individual who must freely accept the saving grace of God. Election is solely in Christ, and as such it is already actualized. When the people “resist,” it’s not so much grace that they’re resisting, but their own very nature, and therefore the very idea of “resistance” becomes incoherent in the sense that Arminianism doesn’t believe. (the notion of resisting, I thought, are closer between arminians and scholastic calvinisms, because they’re closer in their construal of human will than the dynamic notion of Torrance)

    So I’m writing in hope to further understand how you understand the similarity between Evangelical Arminianism and this movement. As I said, you have clarified many things about arminianism for me and I have been able to use these clarifications in my own studies and ministry. I’m hoping to further clarify it in either my understanding of arminianism or evangelical calvinism. I think I probably missed something…and of course, only if you have the time…

    • rogereolson

      I’m still working on this. I’ve long been aware of the Barthian understanding of election and I think it leads inexorably to universalism. I’m assuming these “evangelical Calvinists” do not follow Barth there. But how not? The only way to avoid universalism is to say that, though all are elect in Christ, people have to not reject Christ. But what does “not reject Christ” mean? I can only envision it as meaning “accept Christ.” (“Accept one’s own nature” might be another way of saying that, but I don’t see how it can stand alone.) So, I’m still struggling to understand “evangelical Calvinism.” Maybe it’s hopeless because my mind is wired to want some kind of logical closure to pressing issues such as individual conversion. How does an individual come to be saved? Well, yes, in one sense, all are already saved because of the atonement. But, unless you adopt universalism, which I don’t, you have to answer How does the single individual come to be saved in the fuller, more complete sense of actually having a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ marked by repentance and trust (conversion)? I don’t see how evangelical Calvinism answers that. I’m sure there is an answer, but I’m still trying to find it. And without belief in individual decision resulting in conversion, I don’t consider anything truly evangelical.

      • Paul

        Thanks for your answer Dr. Olson. This is exactly the issue I’m struggling with as well. It seems that in rejecting certain “philosophical categories” (it seems that they would say this, but I myself don’t know exactly how that can happen…seeing how the history of theology and philosophy intertwined), they’re trying to start on a completely different plane. But I don’t see how that works out, eventually, given that our very procedure of logical thinking is in some ways tied to those “philosophical categories.” Until they can give a coherent account of logic on the basis of their “Christian metaphysics” (or “personalist” metaphysics, I think they’d say), I don’t really see how they can be coherent. I’m glad to hear that this is a struggle you also have or see…it confirms some things for me.

        Just to lay my cards on the table: I’m leaning more towards the classical calvinism, but am more and more appreciative to the great commonality we share (largely due to reading your work, and some by Arminius, the Wesleys, and Fred Sanders). I pray and hope for the understandings of those in my circle (or the lessening of misunderstanding), and for the fruitful ministry of your tribe!

  • The more I consider it, the more I don’t think there can be any real working together against the hyper-Calvinists. Walk side by side, sure. Work together, no. Because on one hand you have the Calvinists who hold to monergistic regeneration, on the other hand you have Arminians who ultimately don’t, and there is no middle ground there. John 6:45 stands as a wall dividing the camps that I doubt can be over come.

    However, I think you are on to something, and where I think you should go next is to show the taxonomy in the modern movement. Show how Classic Calvinists are much more nearly related to Arminians than they are to the hyper-Calvinists (you call them high, federal TULIPers). Speaking for myself, all the hypers I’ve met have made zero progress in sanctification, and show zero interest in it, that is not true of the Arminians I meet. Just a thought.

    • rogereolson

      Just to clarify terms. I use “hyper-Calvinist” only for Calvinists who reject evangelism. That’s why I use “high federal Calvinist” for the TULIP types. I’m still trying to figure out if the “evangelical Calvinists” are monergists with regard to individual conversion and regeneration.

  • Timothy

    A number of references have been made to Tom Torrance. There are quite a few other Torrances, brothers, sons and nephews. Are their views similar to Tom’s? I do know that Douglas Campbell cites James Torrance as demolishing ‘federal Calvinism’. Is federal Calvinism what the YRR adhere to? Does it differ from Evangelical Calvinism? Is there a coherent nonfederal Calvinism (I know you rather reject the idea of a coherent Calvinism but what about a roughly coherent version)?

    • rogereolson

      If you can read my responses to some of the other comments here (including Bobby Grow’s) you’ll see that I am struggling with this. I have long been aware of a type (or types) of Calvinism that are not of the TULIP variety that, yes, tends to dominate the YRR movement. And I use some of the “other” Calvinists to oppose federal, TULIP Calvinism in Against Calvinism (e.g., G. C. Berkouwer and James Daane). But, at the end of the day, I’m left dissatisfied with any form of monergism and I wonder about the monergism latent in these non-TULIP, “evangelical Calvinists.” The “single decree” is light years superior to the “double decree,” but it still leaves me with some questions.

  • John C. Gardner

    I read some works by Thomas Torrance years ago. It seems to me that he was rooted in the church fathers who generally prior to Augustine) did not hold to a rigid predestination position. Further, his work was totally Trinitarian and also seemed to be rooted in the Old Testament(interpreted from a high Christological perspective).

  • Molly

    Hi Roger,

    As a Calvinist, obviously I like to read books by Calvinist about Calvinism, and I read quite often about what Arminianism is by Calvinist authors. And I do agree with you when you say that Calvinist tend to argue against the tenants of Arminianism without actually going all the way back to the original people who coined the term! If I wanted to get a better understanding of classical Arminianism by a non-biased, non-Calvinistic source, what would you recommend? Thanks!

    • rogereolson

      I don’t see how you could do better than to read Arminius himself. Start with his Letter to Hippolytus a Collibus and then go to his Declaration of Sentiments. But I don’t think my numerous, lengthy quotes from Arminius and Wesley and leading 19th century Arminians in Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities are biased. I don’t know of any “unbiased sources” if that means sources that don’t lean one way or the other. If Calvinists want Arminians to read about Calvinism from Calvinists, then why shouldn’t Calvinists read about Arminianism from Arminians? 🙂

  • Myk Habets

    Hi Roger, et al. I am really glad that a dialogue has opened up on this issue – that is exactly why we wrote the book (or one of the main reasons).

    People should know that Bobby and I asked Roger if he would interact with the book because we are committed to evangelical ecumenism and welcome the dialogue that goes both ways.

    Personally, I have read the works of Arminius (a long time ago and in need of a refresher for sure) and other Arminian theologians but, as I have had opportunity to share with Roger before, Classical or Evangelical Arminians don’t write much contemporary systematic theology – so without sounding too choleric – it’s your own fault in many ways for being misunderstood, if indeed you are being so; precisely because it is left to semi-Pelagian popularisers of Arminianism to define and defend the movement. I think why you are so popular Roger, is that you are one of the very few Arminian theologians who knows your history and can dialogue with Reformed theologians and interact to a draw. So if I may say so, could we have more evangelical Arminians writing systematic theology please? And how about one or two contemporary systematic theologies being written from this tradition? That would go a long way towards furthering your cause, in my humble opinion. Reformed theology is in part so vibrant because it has a long history of its thinkers producing very good systematic theologies (not to mention creeds, catechisms, etc). At the moment I am reading through vol 1 of Douglas Kelly’s new Systematic Theology (Mentor Press) and it is outstanding – and what I might call an Evangelical Calvinist (EC) text (not sure what he might think of me saying that!). I would ask Arminian readers that are interested to look at this work (and its 2 successive volumes when they come out) and see how a seasoned Reformed and EC scholar who loves Christ and his church might work through many of these issues. In this volume Kelly shows, drawing largely from the work of the Torrances and various patristic and Eastern Orthodox writers, what an EC epistemology based on God’s self-revelation may look like, before it proceeds to unpack a doctrine of the triunity of God.

    In more direct answer to some of the posts here on monergism vs synergism – I have often been impressed with the theology of John Wesley (and yes, I have read a lot of his works and I am even supervising a PhD student in Wesley’s theology and not trying to convert him to a Calvinist!). In particular I see in his soteriology a ‘synergism’ which has very little to do with what I read and hear from most Arminians (the semi-Pelagian popularisers) and I put this down to Wesley’s intense interest in and studying of the Fathers. Like the EO, Wesley’s ‘cooperation’ of God and humanity is not semi-Pelagian but ‘different’. So even within classic or Evangelical Wesleyanism one finds an alternative to monergism vs synergism. I thought Roger, your own work is more in this line and that is why you were not semi-Pelagian. But where are the PhDs by Methodists on that aspect of Wesley’s work that can resources the church today? And why are Wesleyan’s so preoccupied with perfectionism (which also gives the impression that they are semi-Pelagian)?

    I would encourage you to read my second essay on infant salvation and the severely mentally disabled – for I believe that becomes a classic test case of one’s soteriology. I would welcome your response to that essay Roger (and others). According to an Arminian – on what basis can an infant be saved when they cannot respond to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? I believe this is a good study to see what we actually each believe in soteriology. There I try to show how the faith of Christ and the faith of the individual work together in a coordinated but asymmetrical fashion. A way that avoids universalism, semi-Pelagianism, sacramentalism, or sentimentalism. How does an Evangelical Arminian answer such a question?

    I would also add, finally, that we tried hard to get a balance in the book between method, dogmatic theology, and applied theology – as any theological tradition worth its salt must be comprehensive and issue out of and into worship.

    Thanks y’all for the stimulating dialogue. I also hope you might buy our book and read through the various essays at length. They are not meant to be an attack on federal Calvinism, nor are they meant to define themselves against Arminianism, rather, it is an attempt to sketch a common Reformed approach to theology.

    • rogereolson

      Myk, thanks for weighing in here. I confess the weakness you point to–Arminians have not been very good at producing respectable systematic theologies. However, I think a couple of comments might shed some light on why. First, in my experience of about thirty-five years in American evangelicalism (since seminary), the evangelical publishing world has until recently been very biased toward Reformed theology. Arminians retreated into their own enclaves due to being treated by the movers and shakers of the evangelical academy as unworthies. You will find many Arminian volumes of theology, including systematic theologies, published by Arminian publishers not very well known to others–Beacon Hill Press (Nazarene) and Randall House (Free Will Baptist). Only in recent years and probably only because of Thomas Oden have major evangelical publishers opened up to publishing explicitly Arminian books. Oden is surely an exception to your rule of thumb about Arminians’ weakness in publishing systematic theologies, right? Second, if I may be so bold, Arminians tend to be more satisfied with the theologies we already have (than Reformed theologians are about Reformed theologies). We don’t feel the need to write new systematic theologies when the ones that already exist express what we believe quite well. Bluntly put, we’re just not as divisive among ourselves as Reformed seem to be. Years ago I sought for and found the standard 20th century evangelical Arminian systematic theology–H. Orton Wiley’s Systematic Theology. I read it and agreed with all of it (with the possible exception of his Wesleyan belief in entire sanctification) and put it on my shelf and thought “There. It’s been done. On to something else.” Then I encountered and read one volume Arminian systematic theologies by leading Nazarene and Free Will Baptist theologians and thought they were nice updatings of what Wiley had written. Oden added the depth dimension of ancient Christian theology. That was valuable. But I have never felt the need to correct or add to the already existing Arminian systems of theology. I recommend people look at them. However, now that Grand Rapids type evangelical publishers are opening up to explicitly Arminian authors, I would agree that it’s time for a new Arminian systematic theology. I hope someone will write it.

      • Rhett

        “However, now that Grand Rapids type evangelical publishers are opening up to explicitly Arminian authors, I would agree that it’s time for a new Arminian systematic theology. I hope someone will write it.”

        Maybe you should give Ben Witherington a call. 😉

        • rogereolson

          Ben is a New Testament scholar; I doubt he’s interested in writing a systematic theology. I hope someone like Ken Collins will do it.

  • John Inglis

    In reading the post and all the comments, and thinking about the issues raised, it seems to me that physical death is an important issue. It seems to me that the death of our physical bodies interrupts an (inevitable?) process wherein the drawing of us by the father through the finished work of his son and the ongoing work of the Spirit results in our recognition and acceptance of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Death is an evil that interrupts our restoration. I have seen people who appeared to be on the way to salvation, and perhaps imminent conversion, who are taken before that event occurs (or that process culminates)–just as Jesus warned about happening. In addition, there are those who seemed hardened in this life and bound for hell whether they die sooner or later, but then come to Christ before death–making it seem that no one (if they lived long enough) would end up beyond salvation.

    It also seems to me that because we are born damaged, we are born rejecting the salvation bought for us by Christ, and that it is only when we lay aside this rejection that acceptance is not only possible, but inevitable. Once one repents of one’s evil (prevenient grace is in that, of course), of one’s spiritual death, then the only thing left on the table is spiritual life. A life that is so beautiful and wondrous that we not only cannot now (post repentance) stop being enveloped by it but we are now also simultaneously embracing it.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Thank you Roger, Bobby and Myk for this excellent discussion. You are all getting somewhere, don’t give up! Don’t let those who would misunderstand turn you aside or discourage you. We need a theology that pulls together both “sides” more than we need more theologies from either side. You can do it. Below is my, admittedly homely version. It comes from a Wesleyan upbringing and a growing appreciation of Tom Torrance’s writing. Hope it is a helpful layman’s version.

    “It is finished!”  Christ meant what he said. All humanity is now saved, but we are also broken – saved and broken all at once. Just like Humpty Dumpty, we need to be put back together, to be made whole, to be made truly human. This is the work of the Holy Spirit which we can resist or allow to begin (and continue).  The Holy Spirit always stands ready, even calling to us (prevenient grace). Our salvation is ready for us to turn toward, but this requires our denial of our self-centeredness. Our Saviour cannot be accommodated anywhere else but in the centre of our being. As long as we occupy that space, he won’t occupy it. But he is willing and very able to do so, because “It is finished!”

    • rogereolson

      Agreed. If I were to be a Calvinist “evangelical Calvinism” (as described by Bobby and Myk) would be mine. I may already be very close to it. One thing that stops me is the idea that we are already “forgiven” because of Christ’s death. If that were so, why would Jesus warn that those who refuse to forgive others will not be forgiven? I agree that Christ’s atonement brought about universal forgiveness for original sin, but not that it brought about individual forgiveness of those who, reaching the age of accountability, sin willfully and unrepentantly. Forgiveness then becomes possible but not automatic. Conversion is needed. I’m that kind of evangelical (revivalistic).

      • Bev Mitchell

        Yes, already saved, not already forgiven. I think this is how Torrance expressed it. He tells the story of a student who asked him, Dr. T, when were you saved. His reply “At Calvary”. Seems to me that both EAs and ECs could agree on this.

        • rogereolson

          And yet, Calvin would not have agreed. For Calvin “salvation” is union with Christ and it only happens at regeneration. At least that is how I read The Institutes. But, of course, as with so many other theological terms and concepts, everything depends on how one is defining “saved.” It seems to me a high Calvinist (or even a Barthian) could say he or she was “saved” the moment (an eternal one, of course) God decreed to save the elect.

      • I think the difference is the asymmetry that we would place between so called “election” and “reprobation.” Since we press a ‘positive theology’ we emphasize life, the eternal life of Christ as the lens and ground through which we conceive of humanity (his vicarious humanity). So it’s not that we don’t see a need for personal response & faith in order to appropriate the salvation that is the person’s in and through Christ’s Spirit Anointed humanity; instead, it is that we are emphasizing that ‘true humanity’ can only be defined in relation to Christ’s humanity as the ‘original image of God’ (cf. Col. 1:15)—which flows naturally from our ontological theory of the atonement, or, in fact, leads to. And so when we think and speak of humanity we only want to do that in what we have called in the book ‘Christ conditioned’ ways. The fact that some (and even many and most) reject their humanity (and salvation) in Christ, again, from our perspective can only be understood as a ‘surd’ or through the inexplicable nature of sin’s persistence in the ‘Now’. So we hold, as one of our Theses’ asserts, that all of humanity (in redemptive history terms), are ‘carnally’ united to Christ, but not all are united ‘spiritually’ (ultimately). But, again, when we speak of humanity and salvation, in particular, we stress the idea that both carnal and spiritual union between God and humanity has occurred in the vicarious humanity of Christ; and it is through a Spirit created “unioning” with ‘this’ (Jesus’) humanity that the elect say ‘Yes’. So the choice for salvation has already been made for all of humanity, in Christ (from God’s perspective, this is how we understand ‘Pre-destination’ and ‘election’ in Christ); the fact that some reject this, again, is a surd (or absurd) relative to what God has done in Christ (‘for us’).

        So we have an asymmetrical or dialectical approach; we can say ‘Yes’ and ‘No’, but hopefully not in a way that folk would think results in a ‘surd’ 😉 .

        PS. I am encouraged that if Roger was a Calvinist he would be an ‘Evangelical Calvinist’ 🙂 .


  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger, Bobby and Myk,
    I am currently reading  “The Righteous Mind” by Jonathan Haidt, and there it was! Haidt is the moral philosopher who invented the rider (reason) elephant (intuition) metaphor to illustrate his case that reason is the “press secretary” for intuition. But, he also has an important thing or two to say about systematization vs. empathy. While not denying the importance if either, he does say a lack of balance, particularly in empathy, can lead to big trouble. (Aside: could this partly explain the problem both Roger and Bobby have with certain members of the opposition?)

    Haidt makes a startling claim, viz: “The two leading ethical theories in Western philosophy were founded by men (Bentham and Kant) who were as high as could be on systematizing, and were rather low on empathizing.” And later he concludes “Bentham told us to use arithmetic to figure out the right course of action, but Kant told us to use logic. Both men accomplished miracles of systemization, boiling all of morality down to a single sentence, a single formula.”

    Knowing a little about your respective battles with extreme systematists from your own words written in your blogs (Bobby and Roger), one cannot help drawing some obvious links. I don’t know enough about the history of moral philosophy to identify an effective and empathetic  eighteenth century voice to counter Bentham and Kant. But, in evangelical theology, Calvin, and Beza vs. Arminius (and later Wesley) come easily to mind.

    The question, of course, is not who is right but how can systematization and empathy combine to give us the theology we need. The extremist barbarians are at the gate (semi-Pelegianism/Pelagianism by default perhaps and extreme YRR Calvin-Edwards followers, apparently by design) and it is time for the balanced folk to present a common front. You gentlemen are closer than anyone has been for ages.  Many must be cheering you on.

    BTW, I heartily recommend Haidt’s book. 🙂

    • rogereolson

      Personally, in ethics, I lean toward virtue ethics which I found in 19th century philosophy and theology in Coleridge.

  • Bev Mitchell


    Interesting, as  far as I could follow it. This is probably due to my lack of training in reformation theology speak.  🙂

    But the question, at least to me,  is not whether Roger identifies as a Calvinist of any stripe, or if you identify as an Arminian of any persuasion. 

    Roger and Bobby,

    Remember, you both have identified barbarians at the gate and have faithfully sounded the alarm. The only way to defend against extremism in any group is for the centre to be united and strong. The only centre I see in the broad reformation evangelical universe is somewhere in the vicinity of what you, Myk and Roger are talking about. If you gentlemen cannot form a united front, who at the moment can?

    If the barbarians are not much of a threat then agreement at the centre is not particularly important. If the threat is as great as you both say, then agreement borders on the essential. I realize that theological debate over diminishing details is very entertaining, really lots of fun, but it might it not be an unaffordable luxury at this point in the history of the evangelical movement? Or do I overstate the case?

    Again, a joint volume emphasizing unity would probably be a best seller.  🙂

    I find it interesting that neither of you chose to comment on the work of Haidt that offers a robust hypothesis to help explain the psychological origins of Calvinism and Arminianism. To use Haidt’s elephant/rider (intuition/reason) metaphor, the systematic elephant vs the empathetic elephant, and the need for balance between the two, sort of scream out for attention in the context of this 500 year-long saga. Maybe someone has already done this. If so, it would be great to have a reference. In any case, attention to the underlying psychology of the disagreements would very likely be beneficial. In this fallen world, it would be reasonable to expect human psychology to play a significant role in theological thinking. “He who has an ear” also has an elephant.

    • rogereolson

      I agree. At least in some cases I suspect psychology is a very big factor in why some people embrace extreme Calvinism (divine determinism). But I’m no social psychologist, so I await their verdict(s). I think Myk and Bobby and I are mostly together vis-a-vis extreme Calvinism. But as usual, I find a certain hesitancy on the part of even very moderate Calvinist/Reformed folks to embrace Arminians. We are the kids with cooties, I fear. The ones you feel sorry for and think are really nice but think have cooties so you just can’t be around them. That Arminianism is intellectually and theologically not respectable is so deeply ingrained in the Reformed psyche that I don’t know that any self-respecting Reformed person can publicly complement it/us. Now, if I called myself “moderately Reformed” (like many evangelical Arminians do), I suspect things would be different.

      • Roger,

        Just for the record I don’t think you have cooties 🙂 (remember we requested you, one of the most respected Arminian scholars/theologians out there to interact with our book–and you graciously have, so thank you again!).

        I grew up as the son of a Conservative Baptist pastor, and had a theological out-look or mood that was very similar in orientation to yours; I think, anyway. I have not become a high post Reformed orthodox Calvinist, but an ‘Evangelical’ one. I work within the ‘spirit’ of Reformed theology (as Barth describes and defines this somewhat in his ‘The Theology of the Reformed Confessions’), and not the letter. So, as a ‘Reformed’ guy, I don’t look down at you, Roger (or any other Arminians)—we just disagree on some important points of dogmatic departure. I just appreciate that you have not dismissed us and Evangelical Calvinism, but that you have instead freely chosen to engage us.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Augustine said it’s all about God; Pelagius said it’s all about me; but in the Scriptures God seems to be saying, it’s all about us.

    • Bev,

      I think the Scripture’s are saying it is all about God in us in Christ, and so the result is that it is all about God with us included in his life by grace—or for Karl Barth, that God chosen to not be God w/o us.

  • Marlowe C. Embree, Ph.D.

    Thanks for this great discussion. I’ve been a Christian (thoroughgoing evangelical) for 44 years (since age 13) but for most of that time have wrestled deeply with the Calvinist-Arminian divide. I still haven’t decided which label best applies to me or whether it is meaningful/necessary to decide. (Optimistically, I would like to believe that those on both sides of the fence could meet respectfully at the foot of the cross.) I admire the Calvinist insight that God has the initiative in salvation and that we as humans contribute nothing that is even remotely “meritorious” to our salvation, and that God’s saving program in the life of a believer cannot fail. But Arminians seem to be more straightforward in their interpretation of verses indicating that God desries the salvation of all, takes pleasure in the death of none, and so forth (the “whosoevers” of the Bible). I can’t square this circle, even though I have a three-digit IQ, and seek instead to take a humble, gradualist, inductive approach to the Word of God.

    Incidentally, my academic credentials are in social psychology, so I’m very aware of Haidt’s work (and have used his Moral Foundations Inventory in my own ongoing research). Despite Haidt’s regrettable atheism, there is considerable merit in his work (though I don’t necessarily think that moral reasoning is “modularized” in Haidt’s sense).

    Again, thanks for this very useful irenic dialogue.

  • Mr No-Cred

    I am a first time chicken-blogger (anoni-mouse) with no credentials whatsoever (I can’t even fish very well), but I still appreciate how you are going about your dialog in this area. A question I have about the Arminian vs Calvinism conversation is: Do you think it is important to choose one or the other view? I have heard you say folks should not presume to be “biblicists” (i.e. an in-between/composite Arminian-Calvinist) unless they do not intend to interpret the bible, so I will agree that we must interpret and apply the bible to find its relevance. However it does seem that the imposition of Arminianism or Calvinism both fail the sniff-test of man-made systems of interpretation (by this I mean that both seem to be impositions of theology upon the bible, or interpretive filters), rather than letting the bible interpret itself. Of course this is an overly simplistic assessment of both views that does not recognize the credible aspects of both, which are substantial– I don’t want to go on too long here, but as a Christian who does not want to find myself claiming to be “of Apollos” or “of Paul”, I certainly don’t wish to be of “Arminus ” or “Calvin” either. How is choosing sides here not like an imposition of a creed? I’m sure you have some good thoughts to share on this and I look forward to reading them. Respectfully yours, Chicken-Man (aka Mr. No-Cred)

    • rogereolson

      I would just say that most thinking Christians are already either Calvinists or Arminians in some form. It’s good to know what you are.

  • Robert F

    Why is it that some people accept the free gift of salvation, and some do not? If you are unable to answer that question, then it is a mystery. And this mystery is not different in quality from the mystery that the Evangelical Calvinists invoke when affirming that some people reject a salvation already given in Christ. For that matter, the mystery is no different in quality when a Calvinist asserts that election is completely by God’s predestining will and according to his secret counsels.

    • rogereolson

      I have never denied mysteries in the Bible or theology. I have always said (as long as I can remember) that we choose theology that contains the mysteries we can live with. I, for one, cannot live with the mystery that God elects some to salvation irresistibly and damns others when he could save them because election to salvation (and therefore salvation itself) is unconditional and irresistible. That’s mystifies God’s goodness beyond any comprehension; it makes God monstrous.

    • @Robert F.,

      The difference, at least for the Evangelical Calvinist, is that we do claim to know why people accept Jesus; it’s because of the Holy Spirit at work in them (Jn 16). But we also claim to not know why, other than appealing to the inexplicable nature of sin, people reject the Gospel; this is not really to appeal to mystery, instead, it is to look at the ontology (or non-ontology) of sin, and realize that it, by definition, an irrationality that defies explanation. That is not mysterious, definitionally, it is just mysterious because it cannot be explained (because, again, it makes no sense … sin and evil that is).

      • rogereolson

        But that just raises questions. Does the Holy Spirit work in everyone? Or just people who accept Jesus? (In other words, is grace resistible or irresistible?) We agree that why people reject the grace of God is a mystery. But I don’t know if we agree that God truly (without qualifications) wants all to be saved and provides for that possibility. (How God provides for that possibility is another question I’m not asking right now.)

        • Radu

          Hi Roger. Just had the following table presented to us at Carey Bible College (I’m a correspondence student so it was a Word attachment):

          Calvinism Features Evangelical Calvinism (EC) Revision
          Double Predestination Disagree: Predestination refers to God’s choice to elect humanity in Jesus
          Total Depravity Agree: Humanity is totally depraved and incapable of saving themselves
          Unconditional Election Revise: Jesus is the elect; and we are elect only in him
          Limited Atonement Disagree: Jesus’ life and death atones for all humanity, but the result of his living and dying is different for each
          Irresistible Grace Revise: Grace is resistable, but the freedom to resist is found only in Jesus, only face to face with him
          Persevering Saints Revise: The believer must continually cooperate with the grace of God. Salvation is in the present tense.

          I haven’t read EC so I don’t know how to comment in depth but to me it seems that if the summary table is accurate then there isn’t much difference between classic Arminianism and EC? If the atonement is no longer limited and grace can be resisted (albeit based more specifically on Jesus’ work as opposed to a more generic prevenient grace) then is EC truly Calvinism?

          Your thoughts/comments would be appreciated. Thank you.

          • rogereolson

            Yes. A while back when I reviewed Evangelical Calvinism edited by Habets and Grow I asked how different it is from classical Arminianism. Arminius, for example, began his system of the decrees with Jesus Christ (election is primarily of him and we in him).

  • This has been a most stimulating discussion! Sorry to have come across it late in the game, but it was your recent article in CT, Roger, that led me to this. In that article you ask: ‘How . . . can one affirm the universality of electing grace and deny free will with regard to being elected, while also affirming free will to reject the truth of one’s election?’

    I work in India and have gained much from Newbigin, who was of course influenced TF Torrance. With that in mind, I wonder if the Arminian — Reformed debate willl remain somewhat stuck as long as the categories are governed by the actual/potential, monergism/synergism dichotomies? Do these already take for granted a certain view of freedom? Just some thoughts and question by way of continuing the conversation.

    ‘universality of electing grace’ = there may be confusion as to what is meant here. Does the Arminian hear this as something like: on the basis of this, is everyone everywhere ready or disposed to believe? Or is God’s electing grace worked out in time?

    Is it a case of denying/affirming free will, or (again) a matter of timing? God’s electing grace, once made concrete for the elected person, restores freedom to believe/trust.

    I take it that the ‘evangelical Calvinist’ recognizes the problem (lose – lose?) with the monergism — synergism dichotomy: ‘all of God means none of me’ vs. ‘any notion of cooperation diminishes God’s sovereignty’. There must be a better way. The analogy with Jesus — entirely submitted to God’s will as the Lamb but entirely free as the New Adam — may be helpful. In the Garden, did Adam’s liberty with regards to the forbidden fruit diminish God’s sovereignty? True freedom is freedom to live in a covenantal relationship. Paradoxical, but this is God’s design.

    So back to your concern: when we affirm the universality of God’s electing grace we affirm that every single person in the world is elect in (because of, for, etc.) Christ and that that election is made concrete in God’s time. We wander and rebel until God makes us free not to do so. But once freed our freedom is perfected: we are made free to give up imperfect notions of freedom (the kind that say, ‘at this point I become sovereign/self-determining’), and thereby to enter into the kind of relationship where our awareness that we could opt for human notions of freedom becomes in itself a means God uses to keep us in relationship with him (to paraphrase Newbigin).

    How does this deal with the concerns of the scholastic Calvinist? There need be no worry that our restored freedom sets any limits on God’s authority and sovereignty, since (a) Adam and Eve’s freedom didn’t do so and (b) the restored freedom is the kind that magnifies God’s sovereignty rather than diminish it because he remains in charge, using the freedom he gives to keep us in fellowship.

    To the extent that the scholastic Calvinist operates with language about actualities and potentialities he/she accepts another dichotomy that forces a (17th century) logic that presents us with a lose-lose situation, Biblically speaking:

    Arminian view: Christ’s death made salvation ‘possible’ for everyone. False if by ‘possible’ we mean election is based on foreknowledge (i.e. grace is logically prior to election). But if by ‘possible’ we mean no one is beyond God’s reach and grace, and that the timing of it all is in God’s hands, then the limitations that come with thinking about election being based on a later moment (the moment a persons says ‘yes’ to God) are overcome.

    Scholastic Calvinist view: Christ’s death made salvation ‘actual’ for some. False if by this we have in mind a group of people who had already been selected for damnation and that Christ’s death wasn’t meant for them (i.e. that election is logically prior to grace). But if by ‘actual’ we mean that God’s electing grace is particular, that in Christ he makes sinners of his choosing free, then the temporal question is again addressed. We don’t have to think that grace is limited by a prior decision ‘behind Jesus’ back’).

    So: grace and election are one and the same act, and freedom is perfected by God’s electing grace in Christ.

    Does the universality of grace mean that all will finally be saved? Probably the best answer to that comes in the form of another question: Did Adam and Eve’s state of grace in the Garden make their obedience certain?

    On chosing the ‘mystery we’re prepared to live with’:

    The Arminian mystery is that some are more able than others to believe, and that the ground of belief is nevertheless in God. I grew up with this one.
    The Scholastic Calvinist mystery is that some are predestined or foreordained (these seem to mean slightly different things, of course) to damnation. I tried this on for size for a period of time, persuaded that a safeguarding of the efficacy of Christ’s death required it.
    The Evangelical Calvinist mystery is that God’s grace is finally rejected by some. But this one makes the most sense to me know, because it safeguards the truth that God is ‘strong to save’ and is most continuous with the kind of freedom enjoyed by Adam and Eve in their state of innocence.

    Sorry for the long post. I do welcome your correction and insights, with thanks for your work.


    • rogereolson

      Thanks. If you go back into this blog’s archives, you’ll find some discussion between me and Bobby Grow (and other evangelical Calvinists) about these points. My preference is for Arminianism and sometimes I don’t see much difference between evangelical Calvinism and classical Arminianism. Where we stand together over against high, federal Calvinism (double predestination) is the character of God which is what the whole debate is really about. I may have some qualms about evangelical Calvinism’s logic, but I am very glad for it insofar as it protects the character of God and allows creaturely freedom to reject God’s mercy.

      • I’m inclined to look for common ground too. But I wonder if an important difference might have to do with our views of prevenient grace. In the classical Arminianism that you favor, is it the case that prevenient grace involves a ‘universal enabling’ (Millard Erickson’s term) that means, effectively, that everyone is at any time ready to receive the Gospel? Or would it be more fair to say that it means that God sees to it that everyone is enabled, but in his own time and way? It’s unclear in Wesley’s ‘all humans receive it’ (prevenient grace) whether he’s thinking of the temporal question I have in mind. Thanks.

        • rogereolson

          You’re right. There is no Arminian consensus about prevenient grace’s intensiveness or extensiveness. Some Arminians believe God is an equal opportunity Savior; others believe prevenient grace is tied to the gospel message (which is why evangelism is so important). I don’t feel any need to push Arminians to reach consensus about this. By the way, I know Millard Erickson well (we have been colleagues at two institutions). He’s a Calvinist, not at all sympathetic to Arminianism (although he tolerates Arminians and considers us evangelicals).

          • Very helpful. Thank you, Roger. I can’t help but think ch 10 of the 2nd Helvetic might serve to get us beyond some of the caricatures at least. Thanks for prompting me to read more of classical Arminianism.

  • Jack Hanley

    You say,

    @” I would ask both Fergusson and Habets to justify from Arminius’ own writings or from any leading classical evangelical Arminian theologian the claim that Arminianism gives “equal weight” to “the trust we show” and “God’s mercy.”

    I would think you consider yourself a leading classical Arminian theologian, I have on numerous occasions pointed out your comments to Horton, that if God is love He would not effectually draw some and leave others out, therefore it must be ultimately up to us if God is love.

    So then it would seem to me you would be correct in that you do not give equal weight to our trust and God’s mercy, rather you are saying the onus is completely on us and our ability to trust, if it is truly, ultimately up to us.

    I would now ask, does this justify the claim that there is at least one classical leading Arminian, who goes beyond giving equal weight to our trust and God’s mercy, and puts the onus ultimately on us?

    Now I am sure you have found it frustrating to converse with me on different occasions, however I am truly not attempting to be frustrating, rather I am looking for consistency. I believe the above question is legitimate, if it is not, could you please explain why?

    • rogereolson

      The problem is that nothing I say ever makes any difference to you; you just keep coming back with the same accusations (even when they are couched in the form of questions).