A Letter from a Young Christian Reader of “Against Calvinism”

A Letter from a Young Christian Reader of “Against Calvinism” December 29, 2012

I recently received this e-mail letter. It’s the best recommendation of Against Calvinism I’ve read yet. I hope you, my faithful readers and blog visitors, will pass this good word around so that more people like this young Christian will read Against Calvinism to counter the arguments of their YYRM friends:

“I purchased a copy of Against Calvinism after reading your article from Relevant Magazine’s website a few months back.  I wanted to take a moment to thank you for your time and effort writing this book.  It is very refreshing and encouraging to see someone advocating something other than Calvinism as plausible doctrine.  I have often times felt very overwhelmed with other twenty-somethings when theology comes up because I am one of only a select few students I know that do not cling to Calvinism and the TULIP.  Being raised in a hybrid of Methodist/Baptist home and growing up in the church, theology has always interested me – even before I truly began following Christ with my entire life at 16, rather than just going to church on Sunday and praying before meals etc.  I went to Presbyterian school for thirteen years, so I was introduced to Calvinism at a very young age.

   My school required theology classes as part of core curriculum study in high school, so I gleaned a lot of information from 9-12th grade. Calvinism was always very unsettling to me. I respected my professors that taught it as God-fearing men who truly served the Lord, but no matter how hard I tried I simply could not accept Calvinism and the implications it makes on God’s nature. I also struggled with how, at least from my reasoning, it shirks mans responsibility for his sinfulness to a certain extent.  It was not until I got to college that heard of the “New Calvinist Movement.” I must admit, in my naivety, I never once considered that anyone other than my theology teachers and well versed Presbyterians even accepted Calvinism as a plausible conclusion to be made from scripture.  I soon figured out that I was mistaken.  I also soon figured out that many of the young Calvinist I have met will bring up theology at every opportunity looking for a good debate.
    After being cornered in my dorm room first semester of my freshman year by a close friend wanting to discuss “why reformed theology is the only doctrine that is not heresy,” I began to do extensive research on Calvinism and the Reformed movement as a whole.  I will not lie, I was very overwhelmed and shocked by some of what I found.  What I found even more unsettling was a lack of resources readily available to counter Calvinism.  I knew that I did not advocate the doctrine of Calvinism, but that was after a long, hard, digging study accompanied by a lot of coffee and many sleepless nights.  I also get upset when I think of the many young members of the Reformed movement who have not extensively researched all the doctrine they embrace advocates.  It is very upsetting than many Christians of my generation, in an attempt to run from the “spoon-fed doctrine” they embraced as a child have done the exact same thing at 20 years old.  They adopt a new doctrine because it’s “cool” and a celebrity pastor advocates it, and then slap the label of “being enlightened to the truth” on it.  I have a lot of respect for anyone who has studied at researched why they believe what they believe even if it differs from my theological standpoint, but what I can hardly bear is watching my generation flock to “what is cool” in terms of the doctrine they embrace without any real study beyond the bestseller list at Lifeway.
I thank you for presenting my generation with a counter to the Calvinist movement. I am very grateful that a theologian of this day decided to flesh out an alternative to Calvinism with a scriptural basis. It is very refreshing to hear the voice of a respected and incredibly well-studied theologian on this topic who holds a belief other than Calvinism.  I firmly believe that my Calvinist brothers and sisters are just as passionate for the Lord as I am, but I am also grateful to know I am not alone in my inability to accept all the tenants of Calvinism.
Thank you again for your work on Against Calvinism and for your service to our Lord, Jesus Christ.”

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  • Interestingly, I have just received a parcel from Book Depository with a copy of ‘Against Calvinism’ in it which I ordered for my son to give me on my birthday on January 2nd. Can’t wait to read it. I have Arminian Theology and the Story of the Church and this latest one will give me further ammunition in my debates with monergists on facebook and elsewhere. Having said that, their arguments seem weak at the best of times and very little embarrassment in portraying a God who seems to me to be both cruel and insincere! As an evangelist I can not understand why they go to great lengths to show that God is like this when many Scriptures show his love for and open invitation to all humankind!

  • I have not read Against Calvinism, but as a student at a Southern Baptist university, I can strongly relate to the sentiments expressed here. The theological students at my school seem to be divided into two camps: militant Calvinists and everyone else. It’s a struggle not to be demeaning and overly critical towards my Reformed brothers and sisters when there’s such an in-group/out-group mentality among them. I try to respond with good humor and book recommendations.

  • Shaun Tighe

    Your name and book came up on the Reasons To Believe “Straight Thinking” podcast. Thought you should now. I haven’t read your book yet but I will in the future. Perhaps you’ve already thought of these questions I still wanted to share my thoughts and I appreciate your attention to them. Among those were that If the Calvinism view of election is valid then what purpose is left for the Great Commission? If God has already decided then why should we evangelize? In fact, if Election, Predestination and Irresistible Grace is valid and taken seriously then why should the Scriptures give mankind the charge to repent (change their behavior). They admitted in the podcast this view inevitable creates a category of people who repent and desire to be with God forever but will go to hell which is fair justice, I grant you. However, I think this also creates a fourth category. That is, there will be people who do not repent and deliberately deny Christ but will go to Heaven anyway even though they didn’t want to in their lifetime. I also thought of the Scriptures implying an inclusiveness that Jesus came for everyone. “…good tidings of great joy that shall be for all people.” and “for God so loved the WORLD”,…”not wiling that any should perish.” At last there is His sovereignty that apparently constitutes all events in History to be His responsibility including sin. So if the wickedness of man was Gods will, that is, behaving as He wanted and still sending calamities and His prophets to correct them. Obsurd! It also constitutes character flaws (a lesser-making property bore by a maximally great being) this is logically impossible. See the ontological argument. They spend more time quoting St. Augustine, Calvin and Zwingli than they do the Bible which is unfortunate. It would be presumptuous to assume that these ladder day philosophers’ interpretations is more valid, more informative and more edifying than the interpretations of the first recipients of the Gospels, quite the opposite if any. I think it matters a great deal how the first recipients of the letters would have understood it and yet talk of this fortified doctrine appears centuries later. I am deeply concerned about the state of the church because of the existence Calvinism and your dedication to write books about the subject show great passion for the truth. God Bless!

    • matt

      Ya, this new stuff Calvinism, is so dangerous and so new. You really know nothing of church history. In your view of God, nobody gets saved unless they say it’s ok for God to save them. You are so generous to let God have His way. The truth is you don’t believe in God’s sovereignty but you think you do. There’s a tension between man’s responsibility and God’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, you believe man is more powerful than God. You are lost.

      • rogereolson

        I post this here just in case anyone thinks the accusation that SOME Calvinists are taking things to an extreme, even claiming that non-Calvinists aren’t saved, is a fiction. In fact, the sentiments expressed in “matt’s” comment are quite common among the young, restless, Reformed Christians. I have been told more than once that I am not a Christian for no other reason than that I’m not a Calvinist. Fortunately, to the best of my knowledge, NONE of the leading Calvinist pastors, speakers, authors think this way. Where do these people get this idea? Well, I think it’s from the rhetoric of exclusion used by some of the influential Calvinist speakers, writers and pastors they listen to and read.

        • Thank you Roger,

          I have huge issues with how Calvinists exalt TULIP. I often debate Calvinists on twitter and other forums and sometimes I point out the rhetoric that their leaders say and write. What annoys me is that almost always their response to me is something to the affect of “Both sides do this”. The Calvinists I know do not take seriously the concerns I bring up about some of the unfair (and frankly annoying!) misrepresentations their famous leaders portray of Arminians and/or the unhealthy emphasis they put on TULIP. I am angered when Calvinists ignore this and respond with “We’ll let’s not get caught up on what individuals on both sides are doing. Let’s get back to Scripture”. Yesterday I debated 3 Calvinists on twitter and when I pointed out OBVIOUS efforts by their leaders to marginalized Arminius/Arminians they all accused me of being sensitive and said that Arminians do the same thing to them. But think about this: The Together for The Gospel conference is advertised as something for ALL of God’s people. Consequently, they invite Presbyterian speakers, Baptist speakers, Reformed, etc. However, ALL of them are Calvinists! If this is “together for the gospel” where are the Arminian speakers? I guess Arminians don’t believe the gospel. I walked up to C J Mahaney and told him about this. I even told him it would be awesome to at least public ally welcome Arminians in the audience (I was there!). He said he would but he didn’t. In his defense I’m sure he forgot. However, my point is that the shunning, ridiculing, misrepresenting, and rejecting of Arminians seams much more systematic and intentional than Calvinists want to admit!

          David Martinez

          • rogereolson

            Of course, I agree. I’ve experienced it first hand. I have never head any Arminian tell a Calvinist “You’re not a Christian because you’re a Calvinist” or even “You’re not an evangelical because you’re a Calvinist” or even “You’re on the precipice of heresy because you’re a Calvinist.” Those things are said to and about Arminians by Calvinists all the time. Sproul has said that Arminians can be Christians “just barely.” I haven’t heard that from Arminians–at least not from any Arminian spokesmen among evangelicals.

          • Thank you for the response, Roger.

            Btw, I was actually in the audience when R.C. Sproul made that offensive comment you mentioned. I couldn’t believe he said that. What bothered me even more was the crowd’s giggle and approval. Afterward I walked up to R.C. and first asked him if he was simply joking. He told me that he wasn’t joking, to which I responded “Well I’m an Arminian and I respectfully disagree with you”. He responded “Young man, you really have to get out of that” (referring to Arminianism) and we had an uninterrupted disagreement for about 10 minutes. When he told me “you guys deny the sovereignty of God” I knew I wasn’t going to get anywhere with him and backed off. It ended with him telling me to read his book “Chosen by God” (of course I informed him that I had and disagreed with it).

            I’m in my 20s so I was a little nervous about confronting Sproul since I’m no scholar but his statement bothered me incredibly and I would not sleep that night had I not told him. Since then I’ve confronted many of the same situations so I have had to stop frequenting Calvinistic events that I once thought would welcome me. I used to be okay with Calvinists not acknowledging an Arminian like myself but after noticing all the intentional unfairness toward us I don’t tolerate it anymore.

            I will not be satisfied until famous Calvinist leaders acknowlege and take seriously the unfairness they put Arminians through. By the way, thank you so much for your work, Roger. You are my theological hero and a shot of confidence in the arm of any Arminian.

            David Martinez

          • rogereolson

            Thanks, David. I sent Sproul a complimentary copy of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I never heard back, so I don’t know if he read it or not. I suspect he’s too old and too invested in blasting Arminianism to change his tune. I have had more success with some younger Calvinist theologians who are at least coming around to acknowledging that Arminians can be evangelical Christians.

  • That’s refreshing!

  • Derek

    I’m a Calvinist (although that label gets annoying), so I like to think of myself as more of a monergist.

    I do admit that in my days as an Arminian, I wasn’t exactly well-versed in Arminian theology, however, I came to a point where I was honestly trying to weigh both sides, and eventually just came down on the side of monergism because the totality of the Biblical text kept pushing me in that direction, it seemed.

    Although, I certainly do have issues with that militant Calvinism that sees Arminianism as heresy and if they break fellowship over this issue, well, clearly they are on the wrong track. Likewise, I also have issues with Arminians that behave in a smiliar fashion (although that is much more rare in my experience). At the end of the day the matter comes down to whether or not you are truly born-again, if you are, then you are family, whether you wear the Arminian or Calvinist label.

  • Fascinating read! I’m still working through my skeptical thoughts but I would reject Reformed Theology for a number of reasons.

    1. Reformed theology I would suggest corrupts the nature of God.
    2. Reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse by connecting God to it. If God pulls every string and causes each plane to crash, a child to be molested or a woman to be raped then God is not worthy to be worshipped. This is what drives my skepticism.
    3. Following something just because its a fad or popular is a horrific way to form a personal theology system. In this case people get involved because they are influenced by friends, etc…
    4. Total Depravity corrupts sin. If everyone is the worse sinner available then all sin is equal. Executing 27 people in an elementary school in Connecticut is no worse than stealing a stick of gum from 7-11. This kind of theology corrupts a person’s moral compass. Over at The Gospel Coalition blog one of the women from Matt Chandler’s church wrote a horrific piece about hating sin and claiming she was no different than Adam Lanza and was just as capable of committing that crime. My response….if you’re capable of mass murder and thinking and planning it…follow Romans 13 and turn yourself in to the local police department.
    5. Many people in Reformed Theology I would suggest are not worshipping God…they are worshipping “The Messenger.” Individuals such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Matt Chandler become Gods to these individuals and many Reformed People are bowing down and worshipping them. Can many people in Reformed Theology have a faith system apart from someone like Matt Chandler? I’m personally skeptical.
    6. Reformed Theology is a business. I call it the “Reformed Industrial Complex” for a reason. People have jumped on board to make money at conferences, publishing books, etc… Evangelicals have fads. The current fad is Neo-Calvinism, however I’m still disgusted about the “Left Behind” fad and “The Purpose Driven Life” fad.
    7. I think some people in Reformed Theology want it both ways. I’ve heard some talk about praying for lost ones however if predestination is true then there’s really no hope or purpose in praying for lost ones. God has already predestined that fact. And by the way…how does a Reformed person know with a 110% that they are saved anyway?
    8. I think Reformed Theology is a knee jerk reaction to changes in post modern society. For example I think the strong gender roles in complementarism is due to the changing family structure in society or feminism. Due to how Mark Driscoll acts about gender roles and how threatened some people feel to the culture…I truly wonder how long would someone like Mark Driscoll’s faith last if Nero were in charge and Christians were being executed left and right. I’d give him 5 minutes maximum.
    9. As the author said people are being spoon fed. Many people are being told “what to think” not “how to think”. This is dangerous and frightening, however this happens in many different parts of our culture.
    10. If the world is going to be impacted and people like me won over, then what will work is grace and love. That is notably absent from Reformed Theology. I would suggest its like this because to show love and grace is hard. It takes patience, perseverance, prayer, time, and a gentle nature. In other words it takes work. Its easier to be condescending and arrogant to other Christians and those outside the faith.

    Roger…I won’t post it for fear of it being deleted. But if you want to read some harsh words about Calvinism, read what Francis Schaeffer’s son Frank Schaeffer said about it. Wow!

    • rogereolson

      Let me just say this borders on incivility. I do not agree with much of it. I post it here to illustrate that there are people on both sides of the Calvinist/non-Calvinist divide who seem ill-informed and jarringly angular about the issues. It seems to me that the Reformed theology being described and rejected here is largely a straw man. We need to move beyond that discourse to real engagements with each others’ real beliefs.

  • Kathy

    My heart is sad tonight knowing that thousands of impressionable college students are on their way to Passion, where nearly every speaker will indoctrinate them into Neo-Calvinism.

  • Jon

    I am not a “young restless” Calvinist. Rather, I read the old authors and stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before me.

    Contrary to what many are claiming here, I consider the majority of Arminians to be true Christians. So do the vast majority of Calvinists. The people who I sincerely question are the ones like Roger Olson who devote heir entire lives to fighting the doctrines of grace. While most Arminians don’t understand the true implications o their worldview, Roger does, and he explicitly states them (remember him calling the God of Calvinism the “Devil?” Roger’s obsession with man’s absolute freedom has compelled him to embrace a worldview that is liberal in every sense. How is it that a “Christian’s” beliefs can be identical to a complete pagan’s right down the line, point for point?

    In summary, anyone who makes indeterminism the locus of their worldview is someone whose faith is questionable. But I don’t think the majority of Arminians fall under this characterization.

    • rogereolson

      As usual you entirely distort what I have written and said. I have never called the God of Calvinism the devil. I said Calvinism makes it difficult for me to distinguish between God and the devil. I have no obsession with “man’s absolute freedom” as anyone who comes here regularly or reads my writings knows. I have always insisted that my concern is not with humans’ freedom but with the character of God. I do not make indeterminism the “locus” of my worldview. I would appreciate it if you would be more charitable and at least give me the benefit of the doubt and tone down your attacks. I won’t post any more messages from you that engage in such misrepresentations of what I believe.

  • Paul N

    Good stuff, thanks!!

    Fact is, if you are for someone and passionate about them but then bring their character into question, there is a problem, no matter how much you say you love them. Can a man say that his wife is loving and faithful but yet tell the world that she is a whore? if you say she is a whore, you have just undermined her being loving and faithful. How do you think she will feel about it?

    So the calvinist will say that God is merciful just to give the reprobate life and then damn them because it is His good pleasure, they simply have not chance in the world. This does not even make sense, who on earth would want that type of Mercy? from a God who is said to be love, mind you. This is not what we see from Christ, we see the Savior having compassion and wanting all to be saved. Christ told men that He came to save but the onus was on them to believe. If our doctrine does not line up with God revealed in the flesh, we need to take a step back. Let us stop talking about “I read the bible and that is what I saw”. If that is not how Christ walked, It is obvious that we have seen and understood wrongly.

    I am not sure if this series on here, but I would like to post it. If it is a problem, please dismiss my comment. This is one of the best refutations of calvinism I have listened to. I can only hope and pray that those of the calvinist persuasion would really stop this.


    Be blessed in all things!

    • rogereolson

      Jerry Walls is one of the most thoughtful and articulate evangelical critics of Calvinism.

  • Paul N

    …would really stop teaching this

  • Hi, Doc. Olson,

    I just finished “Against Calvinism” today! I recently changed jobs and found myself with a 35 min. comute back-and-forth from work to which I get the opportunity to happily engage in some audio books such as yours. A wonderfully refreshing read.

    I have to say, I have been amazed at the onslaught of Calvinism, especially via Piper and his young restless reformed since I sat in your theology classes at Bethel (1995-1997). Back then, I thought it was a dying theological movement that few of my fellow students took seriously. In Seminary, at NABS in Sioux Falls, I attended Passion ’99 and was floored to see Piper as one of the speakers. To this day, it seems odd to me to have such an extreme theological speaker there without balancing him out with the likes of someone like Dr. Greg Boyd (the 2 being so polar opposite and yet similar addictive personalities).

    Even at the University of Sioux Falls, among the student led “Prayer Group”, the largest Christian group on campus, Piper’s influence is felt. Two years ago, I volunteered on campus and was trying to connect with students there. I found out that Bethlehem had a college representative that traveled down from time-to-time to mentors the student leaders of the group. As a result, the students were firmly entrenched in the young restless reformed movement. It was quite impactful, drawing a couple hundred students, which is a lot for that campus.

    In talking with them, one of the arguments that I often used, and noticed you use in the book, is how “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). To this they often say, “Well, the Bible says God is a lot of different things: God is just, God is Holy, God is good…” and so on. I struggled to explain the qualitative difference between expressing attributes of God versus His very being equaling “Love”.

    Anyways, I want to say thank you! To me, without the freewill relationship with Christ, any theology reduces Christianity to a mere religion on par with numerous others requiring arbitrary duty to gain access to a future utopian state. To be honest, I do not look forward to “heaven” per sei, though I know that is the locale, but to experience Jesus to the full. Christianity is all about Christ and his perfect, holy and sovereign love. Thanks again,

    Drinking Coffee, Serving Christ,
    -Hal Swift