What’s Wrong with Calvinism?

What’s Wrong with Calvinism? March 22, 2013

This is a talk I gave recently at City on a Hill Church in Seattle, Washington. (City on a Hill is a mostly Russian evangelical church. It’s leaders are concerned about infiltration of aggressive Calvinism into their and other Russian evangelical churches whose tradition is Arminianism. I want to thank Russell Korets and the other leaders of the church for inviting me to speak and I want to thank the many leaders of other Russian evangelical churches who came to the events.)

What’s Wrong with Calvinism?

A few years ago I came to the conclusion, led by God, I believe, that someone needs to speak out about the problems of Calvinism and defend Arminianism. Many Calvinists, I believe, unfairly misrepresent Arminianism as a form of human-centered, self-salvation. I kept hearing, and still hear, that Arminians, allegedly, do not believe in a God who saves but in a God who only gives us the opportunity to save ourselves. Also, few of the leading Calvinists admit the problems within Calvinism and most of its young adherents seem blissfully unaware of where it leads—to thinking of God as the author of sin and evil and therefore not perfectly loving or good.

So, what exactly is “Calvinism?” It’s a theological belief system named after John Calvin, the Protestant reformer of Switzerland in the sixteenth century. However, it’s doubtful that Calvin himself believed everything that goes under the label “Calvinism.” And Calvinism holds many beliefs that pre-date Calvin. The early church father St. Augustine wrote “On the Predestination of the Saints” back in the early fifth century.

Sometime in the early twentieth century a teacher of theology came up with the acronym “T.U.L.I.P.” to summarize the “five main points” of Calvinism. Calvinism is bigger than that flower, but Holland, famous for its fields of tulips, has been a hotbed of Calvinism. And not all Calvinists agree with all five points. Nevertheless, we can safely say that, for the most part, the “five points of TULIP” summarize the Calvinism of John Piper and the “young, restless, Reformed” movement that is making inroads into churches where Calvinism has never before existed (such as Pentecostalism).

The first point is “total depravity.” What does that mean? Calvinism teaches that human beings are all born so corrupted and depraved by original sin that they, we, are incapable of even exercising a good will toward God. As Scripture says “There is none that does good, no not one” (Romans 3:12) and “There is no one who seeks after God” (Romans 3:11). Total depravity does not mean that every person is as evil as it is possible to be. Rather, it means that every part of us, including our reasoning ability, is so damaged by inherited Adamic corruption, original sin, that we cannot do what is truly good apart from grace.

The second point is “unconditional election.” It means, according to Calvinists, that if a person comes to Christ and is saved it is because he or she was chosen by God to be saved. God selects some people out of the “mass of perdition” that humanity is, to be saved. Others are left to their deserved damnation. This is also known as “double predestination”—that God sovereignly chooses some to save and others to damn—unconditionally. In other words, God’s decision has nothing to do with any good he sees in the elect. There is nothing about a saved person that made him or her chosen by God.

The third point is “limited atonement.” Most Calvinists prefer to call it “particular atonement” because it says that Christ died only for particular people. It does not mean that the value of Christ’s death was limited. Rather, according to five point Calvinism, Christ bore the punishment only for the elect and not for those God decided not to save. This is the point some Calvinists reject, calling themselves “four point Calvinists.” Five point Calvinists say the scheme is a “package deal;” it is simply inconsistent to hold less than all five of the points. Why would Christ suffer the punishment for the sins of those God chose not to save? If he suffered their punishment, the argument goes, then God would be unjust to send them to hell. In that case, the same sins would be punished twice. This is the point I cannot find in Calvin; I believe it was added to Calvinism after Calvin by some of his more extreme followers.

The fourth point is “irresistible grace.” Most Calvinists prefer to call it “effectual grace.” The meaning is that saving grace extended by God to the elect cannot be resisted by them. It is always effectual. Part and parcel of this is the idea that regeneration, being “born again,” happens before conversion. An elect person, predestined by God for salvation, will freely choose to repent and believe because he or she has already, perhaps unconsciously, been regenerated by the Spirit of God. The person is a “new creation in Christ Jesus” first and only then converted. Regeneration precedes faith.

The fifth point is “perseverance of the saints.” It means simply that a truly saved person cannot fall away and be forever lost. That is because he or she is one of God’s elect and God would not elect a person and then allow him or her to fall from grace. This is sometimes called “once saved, always saved” and “eternal security.” Many non-Calvinists believe this doctrine also, but not because they believe the eternally secure person is sovereignty predestined by God. Rather, many Baptists, for example, simply believe God will not allow one of his children to fall forever away from his grace. Calvinists insist that’s inconsistent with free will, so perseverance of the saints belongs logically with the other points of TULIP.

That is a very quick summary of “five-point Calvinism.” It is what is commonly called Calvinism today by adherents of the “young, restless, Reformed” movement and their leaders. Behind the scenes, so to speak, these people carry on some debates among themselves about some of the finer details of the scheme, but they are agreed that these are all necessary beliefs for a holistic, robust, intellectually respectable, evangelical Christian faith.

However, TULIP does not exhaust Calvinism which his more than just a view of salvation. Calvinism also includes a broader and deeper “background” view of God’s sovereignty; it is not only about “predestination” but also about “providence” which has to do, of course, with God’s governance of creation.

Now let’s be clear about something. All Christians believe in God’s sovereignty, providence, and predestination. These are not concepts unique to Calvinism. Calvinism is a particular interpretation of them. There are other interpretations. Arminians, for example, also believe in God’s sovereignty, providence and predestination. But we have a different interpretation of these good biblical concepts than Calvinism’s.

Calvinism’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty in providence includes its doctrine of predestination. According to it, absolutely nothing ever happens or can happen that God did not decree and render certain. Even sin and evil are part of God’s plan; he planned them, ordained them, and governs them. He doesn’t cause them, but he does render them certain. As Sproul says “If there is one maverick molecule in the universe, God is not God.” Calvinist theologian Paul Helm says “Not only is every atom and molecule, every thought and desire, kept in being by God, but every twist and turn of each of these is under the direct control of God.” One can find similar sayings in virtually every Calvinist theologian’s writings.

Calvin himself spilled much ink discussing this very strong, high view of God’s providential sovereignty—even over evil. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion Calvin used the illustration of a merchant who foolishly wanders away from his companions on a trip through a forest. He is set upon by thieves and murdered. Calvin asks how a Christian should regard this event—an all others like it. First, he admits, most Christians will think of it as accidental—not planned but fortuitous—bad luck. Second, however, he says that for the Christian nothing is ever merely accidental. The merchant’s death was not only foreseen by God, he says, but planned and rendered certain by God. Even the reprobate, sinners, he says, are compelled by God’s power to obey his plans.

What does this mean? Few consistent Calvinists hesitate to admit that they believe even the fall of Adam and Eve and all its consequences, all the sin, evil and agony of the world, are decreed and rendered certain by God. Otherwise, they argue, there would be powers and forces in control of God; God would not be omnipotent and sovereign.

I call the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty “divine determinism.” Many Calvinists are uncomfortable with that term, but I cannot think of a better, more correctly descriptive phrase for it. God determines everything—even sin, evil and innocent suffering. It is all part of a divine blueprint and everything on it is willed by God. History and our lives unfold according to the blueprint. And nothing can change it. So, Piper preaches a sermon entitled “Don’t Waste Your Cancer.” If you have cancer, it is from God and has a good purpose. Many people hearing that sermon or reading one of Piper’s books such as The Pleasures of God say “Yes, God is in control and knows what he is doing.” But they fail to consider that this also means that sin and hell are also planned, willed, designed and rendered certain by God—for a good purpose. What good purpose? God’s glory.

The great Puritan preacher and theologian Jonathan Edwards wrote a treatise entitled “The End [Purpose] for Which God Created the World.” Piper considers it one of the greatest Christian essays ever written and simply translates its main points into contemporary English. According to Edwards, Piper and most conservative, classical Calvinists, God created the world as what Calvin called “the theater of God’s glory.” Everything that happens is predetermined and rendered certain by God for his glory. Even sin, evil and hell glorify God. How? By manifesting his justice. Without hell, for example, God’s attribute of justice could not be fully revealed.

Although not all Calvinists are consistent, Calvinism itself is meant to be a consistent system of doctrinal beliefs. It begins with a certain “picture” of God believed to be biblical: God as absolutely glorious, powerful and sovereign. A bedrock Scripture for Calvinism is Isaiah 45:7: “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Many other verses in Isaiah point in this same general direction and are interpreted by Calvinists as meaning that God rules over every detail of history and individual lives such that whatever happens is ordained and rendered certain by him for a purpose. Turning to the New Testament, Romans 9 is the bedrock text for Calvinism. There Paul the Apostle says “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (verse 19)

Of course, not all Christians interpret these and passages like them as Calvinists do. For example, Arminians and other non-Calvinist Christians point to God’s permission. To be sure, nothing can happen that God does not permit, but that is not the same as saying he causes or renders certain everything and certainly not evil, sin or innocent suffering. If those passages are to be interpreted as Calvinists interpret them, how are we to understand God’s grief over unbelief? Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they rejected him and stoned the prophets. He cried “How I would have gathered you but you would not” (Mathew 23:37). Also, according to 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4, God wants all people to be saved and no one to perish. Yet we know that is not what happens. So how can it be that everything is predestined by God, in the Calvinist sense? Arminianism uses the concept of God’s permission to explain these otherwise biblical contradictions.

What is the Arminian alternative to Calvinism? First, let me say that Arminianism and Calvinism do not conflict at every point. We agree about many things. We are all evangelicals and believe in biblical inspiration, the Trinity, the deity and humanity of Jesus, salvation by grace through faith and numerous other basic biblical beliefs. The point of disagreement is God’s sovereignty—is it all-determining or not?

Basic to Arminianism is God’s love. The fundamental conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism is not sovereignty but God’s character. If Calvinism is true, God is the author of sin, evil, innocent suffering and hell. That is to say, if Calvinism is true God is not all-loving and perfectly good. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” “God so loved the world.” Calvinists must explain this as meaning that God loves “all kinds of people,” not everyone. Or that “God loves all people in some ways but only some people [the elect] in all ways.” Arminians believe these interpretations distort the clear message of the Bible about God’s love. If Calvinism is true, John Wesley said, God’s love is “such a love as makes the blood run cold.” It is indistinguishable from hate—for a large portion of humanity created in his own likeness and image.

Let me repeat. The most basic issue is not providence or predestination or the sovereignty of God. The most basic issue is God’s character.

Calvinists commonly argue that God’s love and goodness are somehow “different” than ours. How different can they be and still be meaningful concepts? If God’s love and goodness are compatible with predestining people to hell, then the words mean something other than they say. And if God is not perfectly good, then he is not trustworthy. If he can hate, then he can lie. Why trust Scripture to be a true revelation and guide if God is not good in some way analogous to our best ideas of goodness? If God’s goodness is consistent with predetermining large portions of people to hell, then why might it not be consistent with deceiving us? Our very trust in the Bible as God’s true revelation depends on God being good, trustworthy, one who cannot deceive.

The Calvinist, like the Arminian, approaches Scripture with the assumption that God cannot lie. He or she can trust the Bible to be a true revelation of God if it is inspired by God. The moment the Calvinist says “But God’s goodness is different from ours,” he or she undermines reason to trust the Bible. Of course God’s goodness is different from ours in that it is greater, but that’s not what Calvinists faced with passages such as John 3:16 mean. They mean that God’s goodness, God’s love, is wholly different from our highest and best concepts of them—even as revealed through Jesus Christ.

If strong, five-point Calvinism is true, then God is monstrous and barely distinguishable from the devil. The only difference in character is that the devil wants everyone to go to hell and God only wants some, many, to go to hell.

Another difference between Calvinism and Arminianism lies in Arminians’ view of God’s sovereignty in providence. According to Arminianism, God is now, before the coming of his Kingdom of perfect righteousness, sovereign de jure but not de facto. Jesus and Paul both referred to Satan as the “prince” of this world. According to Calvinism, Satan is God’s instrument; according to Arminianism he is a true enemy of God and presently resisting God’s will. Why God is allowing that is not revealed to us; we are only told that God is being patient. So, according to Arminianism, God limits himself, restrains his power, holds back from controlling everything. Why? For the sake of free will. God wants our freely offered and given love, not love that he has instilled in us without our consent. If Calvinism is true, salvation is a condition, not a relationship. A relationship requires free consent. So, in the interim, between the fall in the garden and the return of Christ in judgment, God is sovereign by right but not exercising that sovereignty over everything. He could but he doesn’t. Thus, sin, evil and innocent suffering, and especially hell, are not God’s antecedent will but God’s consequent will. God’s antecedent will is what he perfectly wanted to happen—including our willing obedience out of love and everlasting fellowship with us. God’s consequent will is what God permits to happen that is contrary to his perfect will. It is consequent to our free choice to rebel against God and push him out of our lives and our world. It is consequent to our free choice to obey Satan and make him “god of this world” rather than obey God.

So, according to Arminianism, God is in charge but not yet in control. God is like the king of an enemy occupied territory and we Christians are like resistance fighters who look forward to the day when our hero, God, will return and take back his full sovereignty over our country. Of course, this is only an analogy. Our God is not banished from this world, but neither is he controlling everything that happens, rendering it certain according to his blueprint. If that were the case, our prayers could make no real difference. If Calvinism is true, God’s will is already being done “on earth” and yet Jesus taught us to pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Calvinism flatly contradicts that prayer.

Of course, Calvinists have their answers to all these objections, but I do not find any of them convincing. They sound forced to me. They say, for example, that our prayers for God’s will to be done are God’s “foreordained means to a foreordained end.” In other words, our prayers are also foreordained and rendered certain by God as a means of having his will done on earth as in heaven. But, at the end of the day, that means our prayers never really change anything.

Calvinists also say that not everything is “God’s will” in the same way. For example, they say that God wishes none had to perish in hell. That’s their interpretation of the verses cited earlier that God is not willing that any should perish but that everyone be saved. God wishes hell were not necessary, but it is—for his full glory. God wills what he wishes he did not have to will.

Perhaps the most troubling answer of Calvinists is the two wills of God—not “antecedent” and “consequent” but “prescriptive” and “decretive.” If Calvinism is true, God decrees that people do what he forbids. God decrees things that violate his prescriptions—commands. God commands “Thou shalt not murder,” but decrees “Thou shalt murder.” Calvin explained in Institutes, and most Calvinists agree, that God does not sin in decreeing that someone sin because God’s intention is good whereas the murderer’s intention is evil. God intends the murder he decrees and renders certain for his glory. The murderer, who could not do otherwise than God decrees, is guilty because his intention is hateful. Not only is this hairsplitting; it also raises the question of the origin of the murderer’s evil intention. If every twist and turn of every thought and intention is under the direct control of God, then even the murderer’s intention cannot escape the all-determining sovereignty of Calvinism’s God. This is why Arminius stated that if Calvinism is true, not only is sin not really sin, but God is the only sinner.

Now let’s turn to Arminianism’s alternative view of God’s predestination. Here I return to the TULIP scheme. Arminians agree that fallen humans are totally depraved in the sense Calvinism means—helpless to do anything truly good, pleasing to God, apart from grace. Arminians, however, believe in prevenient grace—that grace of God that heals the deadly wound of sin and frees the fallen sinner from the bondage of the will to sin and gives him or her ability to exercise a good will toward God. We do not know all the means of prevenient grace, but the preaching of the gospel is one. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” The gospel read or heard imparts prevenient grace so that the person is for the first time freed to repent and trust in God. In other words, Arminians do not  believe in “free will” but in “freed will.”

Where is prevenient grace in the Bible? Where is it not in the Bible? It is everywhere assumed, taken for granted, presupposed by Scripture. No one seeks after God and yet many do seek after God. That pattern of “don’t” but “do” is found everywhere in Scripture. It is explained by the concept of prevenient grace. Left to ourselves, apart from a special impartation of grace that convicts and calls, illumines and enables, we would never exercise a good will toward God. But with prevenient grace, we can and some of us do.

Arminians also believe in unconditional election, but we believe it is corporate election—God’s unconditional plan to have a people for himself: Israel and the church. Individual election is conditional. It requires faith which is both a gift of God and a response of the individual. Philippians 2:12-13: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you….” (The text and subject of my sermon tomorrow morning) God provides all the ability, the seed of faith, and we freely accept it and use it to repent and trust in God alone. But once we do repent and trust, we see that it was God who made it possible in every way, so we cannot boast. And God foreknew that we would (or wouldn’t) repent and believe. That’s another dimension of God’s election in Arminian theology. Individual election, predestination, is conditional in that we must accept it. If we do, it turns out that God foreknew that we would (Romans 8:29: “Those whom he foreknew he did predestine….”)

One of Calvinism’s main arguments against Arminianism is that if Arminianism is true, God’s salvation is not all of grace. We earn it. Only if election to salvation is absolutely unconditional and grace irresistible, they argue, can it truly be the case that “by grace we are saved through faith.” Only then is salvation a sheer gift. This is, of course, untrue. Think of this analogy. If someone gives you a check for a thousand dollars that saves you from bankruptcy, and all you have to do is endorse the check and deposit it, did you earn part of the money? Was it any less a gift? Absolutely not. What if someone who received such a check that saved him or her from bankruptcy then boasted of having earned part of the gift? People would think him mad or ungrateful or both! A gift that must be freely received is no less a gift.

Now let’s look at Calvinism’s idea of unconditional election. If God is good and could save everyone because election to salvation is absolutely unconditional, why doesn’t he? How can he be truly good if he could but doesn’t? Again, we are back at the fundamental conflict between Calvinism and Arminianism—God’s character.

Arminianism believes that the atonement of Jesus Christ is unlimited in every way. Christ died for everyone; he took the punishment for the sins of all. Does Scripture teach it? Absolutely. 1 Timothy 2:6 says that Christ gave himself as a ransom for everyone. The Greek is clear: it says “all people.” There is no room to interpret this as meaning “all kinds of people.” John Piper, noting the conflict between this verse and limited atonement, which he espouses, claims that Christ did die for even the non-elect. His death affords them many blessings in this life even if not escape from hell in the next. Christ did not die to save them but only to offer them temporal blessings. This is the same as saying he gives the non-elect a little bit of heaven to go to hell in. Piper’s “explanation” is clearly contrary to the plain sense of this Scripture passage which is why many Calvinists cannot accept limited atonement. And yet they cannot explain why Christ would die for those God planned not to save.

But there are other passages that completely undermine limited atonement: Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11. Both passages warn believers against flaunting their freedom in Christ in front of brothers and sisters of weaker conscience because this might cause one for whom Christ died to be “destroyed.” The Greek word translated “destroyed” always only means utterly destroyed; it cannot mean “damaged.” But if Calvinism is correct, a person for whom Christ died cannot be “destroyed” because he or she is one of the elect.

Calvinists argue that Arminianism falls into inconsistency in this matter of universal atonement. The Arminian belief, so it is said, leads inexorably to universal salvation because if Christ dies for a sinner, his or her sins are already punished; they are put on Christ. So for God to send a person for whom Christ died to hell would be unjust—it would be to punish the same sins twice. That is simply nonsense. A person can refuse to accept another’s vicarious payment of his or her punishment. That’s what hell is—sinners’ refusal to accept Christ’s vicarious sacrifice on their behalf. That’s what makes hell so tragic; it is absolutely unnecessary. A blanket amnesty does not require its acceptance. President Jimmy Carter declared a blanket amnesty for all Vietnam War resisters who had fled to other countries such as Canada. They could come home without fear of punishment. And yet many stayed away.

Finally, Arminianism has its own interpretation of irresistible grace. Prevenient grace comes to a person through the gospel. That’s not a choice. What to do with it is a choice. So saving grace is resistible. Everywhere the Bible represents grace as resistible. Acts 7:51 accuses the Jewish people who crucified Jesus of always “resisting the Holy Spirit.” Of course, the Calvinist will simply say that whoever is said to resist the Holy Spirit or grace is not elect. In other words, the Calvinist simply defines election as including “not resisting the Holy Spirit,” so it’s impossible to come up with an example of resisting grace as they mean it. It’s a matter of definition. In other words, the saying has to be true that “Those who do not resist grace do not resist grace.” Calvinists define “election” and “resisting grace” as mutually exclusive. That makes “irresistible grace” a tautology.

Arminians believe Scripture warns even believers, the elect, against resisting saving grace. What else can Paul mean in Galatians when he tells those who turn from the gospel to works righteousness that they have “fallen from grace.” And what else is Hebrew 6 all about? Clearly these passages are warning against resisting saving grace. Why would they if that is impossible for the elect, for true Christians?

People often think this disagreement between Calvinism and Arminianism can be settled by simply listing Bible passages in two columns—one under “Calvinism” and one under “Arminianism.” Whichever column is longest, that view wins. It doesn’t work that way.

In my opinion, strongly biblical cases can be made for both views. Of course, I happen to think the stronger case is in favor of Arminianism. Otherwise I would be a Calvinist! However, I will concede, at least for the sake of generosity, that very strong cases can be made from Scripture for both views. How then should one settle on one view over the other one?

First, ask yourself which view is most consistent overall with the portrait of God given in Jesus Christ, God’s self-revelation, and in Scripture as a whole?

Second, ask yourself which view is internally consistent? Both have some problems, but which one has the problems you can live with? Which one has problems you cannot live with? I know that I cannot live with Calvinism’s view of God’s goodness, or lack of it. Also, if Calvinism is true, then nothing can be truly evil because God decreed it and rendered it certain for his glory. If everything is predestined by God for his glory then nothing can offend the glory of God. That is a problem inherent in Calvinism that defies logic.

Third, ask yourself why Calvinism was literally unheard of before Augustine in the fifth century? That view of God’s sovereignty is completely absent in the earlier, Greek-speaking church fathers. The earliest church fathers rejected determinism and affirmed free will. How could someone like Irenaeus, late second century church father, have gotten it so wrong when he was trained in the Christian faith by Polycarp who was a disciple of John, the youngest disciple of Jesus?

Let me conclude with a ringing, resounding affirmation of God’s sovereignty! God is sovereign—even over his own sovereignty! Saying we have free will to resist and even thwart the will of God does not diminish the greatness of God’s sovereignty and power because our ability to resist and thwart God’s perfect will is given us by God for the sake of having real relationships with us, not artificial ones. Yes, of course, God could control us. But he doesn’t. Not because we have some power over him but because he wants us to love him and obey him freely and not by compulsion.

And let me conclude with a ringing, resounding affirmation of the gift nature of God’s saving grace! We do not earn any of it. But we can reject it and God will not impose it on us against our wills.

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  • Greetings, Roger. It’s been many, many years since you and I dialogued, back when internet debate was in its early stages and we didn’t have fancy blog technology. I am no longer an Episcopalian. I entered into the Orthodox Church two years ago. As you might expect, I find myself in strong agreement with your analysis of Calvinism. Orthodoxy and Arminianism share much in common.

    I’d like to bring to your attention St Isaac the Syrian. No one in the Eastern tradition has written more profoundly about his love. He would be horrified by 5 point Calvinism, truly horrified. You may find of interest a series of blog pieces I have recently written on St Isaac: http://goo.gl/eDDQt.

    • rogereolson

      Nice to hear from you again. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • Joe Canner

      Interesting that you should mention this. I recently came across an article on soteriology from an Orthodox perspective (which was new to me) and when I read Dr. Olson’s post above, I was struck by the similarities, particularly in the area of the nature of God (loving Father who desires to show mercy vs. strict Judge who is required to punish sin). I’m curious to find out more about Orthodox beliefs regarding things like predestination, irresistable/prevenient grace, etc.

  • chiefkpr

    Thank you so much for your clear, concise, and irenic puncturing of Calvinism and your equally clear, concise and irenic defense of Arminian thought. One of the most perplexing issues of the current debate for me is the consistent refusal by Calvinists to be evenhanded and acknowledge that Arminian thought has a Biblical basis, even if they don’t accept Arminian thought as the best alternative. Kudos to you for your intellectual honesty in approaching the debate!

  • David (NAS) Rogers

    Would it be fair to label the Calvinist view of the atonement as “Excluding Atonement”? I’ve recently looked through some Church history materials marketed to the general public and have found its descriptions of Arminianism, while seemingly semantically, technically, and possibly logically leading accurate, worded toward a more negative nuance of emphasis.

    • David (NAS) Rogers

      Here are some more suggested labels. What do you think?

      Prevenient Depravity
      Preferential Election
      Excluding Atonement
      Imposed Grace
      (I’m still working on re-labeling “Perseverance of the Elect”)

      Pervasive Depravity
      A People Election
      Generous Atonement
      Offered Grace
      Security of those Believing

      • rogereolson

        Too bad those don’t make cute acronyms like “Tulip!”

    • rogereolson

      Yes, that would seem like a fair, if somewhat polemical, label for the Calvinist belief (from an Arminian perspective). I’m not sure what fault five point Calvinists could find with it. In my experience most church history/historical theology books treat Arminianism negatively and often misrepresent it.

  • Marsha Robinson

    Thank you. I have been concerned of late that the only people discussing the tenets of Arminianism are Calvinists trying to disprove it. I think this information needs to be preached and taught everywhere.

  • Dean Chang

    Dr. Olson, thanks for this, I was planning on emailing you to see if you could provide a solid, succinct argument against Calvinism that could come in handy if I ever found myself needing it and I think you delivered!

  • Karin

    Thank you for your informative post.
    I am currently working on broadening my theological education. I do not have time to take accredited courses but I like to listen to free resources on a high level (Bible school/seminary). So far the only free resources I have found were by institutions that adhere to a form of Calvinism like Reformed Theological Seminary. The courses I found there were mostly good, but I had a feeling there was an undercurrent of something I could not really define. Your post makes it clear what that something is (i.e. T.U.L.I.P).
    If anyone knows of any free resources from a different theological background of a similar quality (i.e. evangelical, seminary level) I would appreciate a link.

    • rogereolson

      I’m not sure if they have what you are looking for, but look into Asbury Theological Seminary.

    • Jeremy

      I use iTunes U and I have also had trouble finding good stuff from other seminaries. I’ve mostly listened to RTS stuff which while I disagree with a lot of it, I find there is still much that is useful. I thought the Christian History course and Frame’s History of Philosophy were good.

  • Bob G

    Dr. Olson,
    I’m having difficulty articulating the gratitude I feel for this posting. Your words are gracious, challenging, and true. I have, on many occasions, found encouragement in your blog. But today’s posting is comprehensive, understandable (for a lay person) and somehow even more encouraging to me than usual. I’ve saved this for future study. I hope that you know how much you are appreciated! Thank you.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. I keep trying to articulate my objections to Calvinism in ever more precise and generous ways. I hope I have improved. Thanks for your encouragement.

    • E.G.

      Indeed. I echo these sentiments. This is the best explanation in terms that a “normal human” can comprehend that I’ve ever read. Thank you!!

  • Oops. The sentence “No one in the Eastern tradition has written more profoundly about his love” should read “No one in the Eastern tradition has written more profoundly about God’s love.”

  • Timothy

    A word popular among some Calvinists is monergism. The place it in opposition to synergism. They affirm the former and reject the latter. Except I did see a recent discussion about sanctification in which the avowed YRR writer affirmed synergism, very reluctantly, in the area of sanctification. This shows to me how monergism is an important concept for the Calvinist and synergism something of a dirty word even if it does have its place. For a Calvinist, monergism is the basic rule of life and synergism only valid in restricted contexts.
    However it seems to me that the doctrine of creation demands synergism as the basic rule of life. If monergism is the basic rule in life, then what we have is not theistic creation but pantheism.

    • rogereolson

      I also have heard some Calvinists say they believe in monergism of initial salvation but synergism of sanctification. But that seems inconsistent with their view of God’s sovereignty and providence in which God exercises meticulous control of all things. Maybe they have been influenced by Lutheranism. For many Lutherans (I think the majority) initial salvation is monergistic but God does not exercise meticulous providence (e.g., in determining every decision every creature makes).

      • Timothy

        One point that I was asking about is whether Calvinism, when it emphasises monergism, loses its grip on the doctrine of creation, that creation implies synergism and that monergism implies pantheism. Is this a fair contention?

        • rogereolson

          Certainly (IMHO) monergism taken to its logical conclusion implies a kind of pantheism. Jonathan Edwards seemed to recognize this and ended up asserting that God creates everything ex nihilo at every moment and that “God is space.” Most contemporary Calvinists I know do not affirm those Edwardsian claims.

  • Hi Roger,

    Thanks for this. I just did a post on Jacobus Arminius, I just finished reading W. Stephen Guntzer’s new translation of Arminius’ Declaration of Sentiments, and the commentary that Guntzer provides.

    Arminius clearly advocates for the primacy of God’s love in his duplex amore Dei, but it isn’t as if it sounds (or even as you are making it sound in your post). Arminius gives priorty to God’s love of justice over and against (or at least in an asymmetric relationship) love of creation (i.e. people), and thus, from the get go, there is a front-loading of Law into Arminius doctrine of God which of course, subsequently, bleeds down into his theo-anthropology and soteriology. How this, in the end, emphasizes the kind of Triune love that God has revealed Himself to be in Christ, is not immediately clear to me, at all! I have said much more here: http://growrag.wordpress.com/2013/03/22/jacobus-arminius-the-theologian-of-law-miscellanies-on-moralism-and-the-priority-of-justice/

    I agree with you in offering critique of classical Calvinism, but then I don’t think your alternative is the best solution either; there is a third way, evangelical Calvinism :-)!

    • rogereolson

      When I say I am “Arminian” I do NOT mean that I am a faithful disciple of Arminius in all things–anymore than a “Calvinist” is a faithful disciple of Calvin in all things. So I do not agree with Arminius about some issues. I am much more inclined toward Wesley’s version of Arminianism. Where they came out on soteriology is similar, but their methods of getting there differed considerably. I find “evangelical Calvinism” somewhat confusing, but I will keep trying to understand it with your help. Recently a leading “evangelical Calvinist” spoke at my seminary and said he is “not a Calvinist.” I assume he meant he is not a TULIP-er.

      • Which leading “evangelical Calvinist” might that be, Roger? Now I’m curious!

        Okay, I had thought you had written before that Arminians need to get back to Arminius instead of the semi-Pelagianism that passes for much of Arminianism today. I can appreciate your reliance on Wesley.

        • rogereolson

          I’d rather not mention a name here (publicly) when what I heard might cause a controversy for the person. I assume it was a denial of being a TULIP Calvinist. If pressed, I’m sure he would acknowledge being an “evangelical Calvinist” since he contributed the volume you edited.

      • I think the only way you will get over the confusion is if you spend some time (like the year you did with Barth) reading and understanding Thomas F. Torrance. Myk Habets and myself are largely inspired by him, and his style of Evangelical Calvinism, and how he coins that language in his book Scottish Theology.

  • gingoro

    While your understanding may be true of Piper and the YRR, I don’t have much exposure to them, your statement:
    “If Calvinism is true, God is the author of sin, evil, innocent suffering and hell.”
    does not seem to me to jibe with the following from the Belgic Confession:
    ” Yet God is not the Author of the sins which are committed nor can He be charged with them. For His power and goodness are so great and beyond understanding that He ordains and executes His work in the most excellent and just manner, even when devils and wicked men act unjustly.” and ” In this we trust, because we know that He holds in check the devil and all our enemies so that they cannot hurt us without His permission and will.”
    I expect that you would agree that the CRC are Calvinists.

    • rogereolson

      I said “if Calvinism is true….” I meant, “regardless of what Calvinists say.”

      • gingoro

        Roger then would it not be fair for Calvinists to say “Regardless of what Arminians say they accept the view of God held by the Open Theists? After all Open Theism is the logical result of Arminianism. It seems to me that both (yours and mine) statements are equally unfair.
        ps I thought quite a bit about whether or not I should raise this point and have waited till not many people will be following this thread any more.

        • rogereolson

          Did I say that “Regardless of what Calvinists say they accept the view of God….?” I try to be more careful and always say something like “In spite of what they say, their belief (e.g., limited atonement) logically leads to….” And I always try to say clearly that Calvinists (for example) do NOT say that God is the author of sin and evil but that it is a good and necessary consequence of what they believe.

          • gingoro

            Yes you did, look in your previous response to me. But I accept your revised wording.
            To quote you “I said “if Calvinism is true….” I meant, “regardless of what Calvinists say.””

        • K Gray

          You have identified the problem.

  • Dr. Olson. Thank you so much for coming to be w/ us at City On A Hill. It was an unforgettable weekend. When you write, you character, sincerity and soft-heartedness cannot always be seen. When you give such a speech in person + answer questions, it comes across even deeper, because it is presented in love, without anger, sincere. Thank you again.

    • rogereolson

      It was good to be with you and others at City On A Hill Church. Thanks for the invitation and wonderful hospitality. I will strive to make my writing as sincere and soft-hearted as you say I am in person. Writing/reading is a distancing medium, so personality and character do not come through as well. I appreciate you good words and encouragement.

  • If I correctly understand this, unconditional election implies that the elect are saved before they possess faith. In that case, unconditional election says that faith is inevitable for the elect but not required for salvation. Does this sound correct?

    • rogereolson

      All Calvinists I know would say that faith is necessary for salvation. But it seems to me they undermine that when they say, as many do, that they were saved the moment Christ died. Calvin himself made clear that, in his opinion (if any of his beliefs can be called that) salvation does not happen until faith is implanted in the person’s heart by the Holy Spirit. John Piper likes to say that Christ’s death (and I’m sure he would also say God’s unconditional election) secures the person’s salvation. That’s carefully worded and fits true Calvinist theology as I understand it.

      • I have been talking about this with friends since posting my comment on your blog. A friend pointed out an article by R.C. Sproul “Regeneration Precedes Faith” at monergism dot com website.

        After more reflection, I suppose the logic derives from T (Calvinist total depravity). The unregenerate cannot possibly believe so regeneration icausing salvation must at least logically precede faith, while Calvinists might say that the logical order is instantaneous. In any case, there is a logical argument that insisting that regeneration precedes faith undermines the belief in salvation through faith by grace.

      • (Please delete the previous edition of this post because of a typo.)

        I have been talking about this with friends since posting my comment on your blog. A friend pointed out an article by R.C. Sproul “Regeneration Precedes Faith” at monergism dot com website.

        After more reflection, I suppose the logic derives from T (Calvinist total depravity). The unregenerate cannot possibly believe so regeneration causing salvation must at least logically precede faith, while Calvinists might say that the logical order is instantaneous. In any case, there is a logical argument that insisting that regeneration precedes faith undermines the belief in salvation through faith by grace.

        • In the spirit of your post recent reflection, I summarize my main objections to Calvinism:

          Problems with T:
          I believe that all humans but Jesus Christ have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. This means that all humans early in life need God’s gift of regenerative salvation through faith. However, the total depravity (T) of Calvinism undermines the doctrine of salvation by faith alone when it implies that regeneration logical precedes the gift of saving faith. Prevenient (pre-regenerative) grace must precede regeneration, but if regeneration precedes faith then logic indicates that regeneration does not save or faith does not save.

          Problems with U:
          Since all Old Testament covenants include conditions and all prophesies of blessings or doom include implicit or explicit conditions, then there is no reason to assume that elect involves no conditions.

          Problems with L:
          I could not remotely suggest that Jesus Christ died for some people and not others.

          This is enough, at least for now.

  • Dan Johnson Sr.

    I love these people, read their books and listen to their sermons. But I am grieved by the perception that I am a lesser Christian, or, in some instances, not a Christian at all. At one of their conferences, a speaker was asked why people reject Calvinism. He replied, “Because of a lack of the knowledge of Scripture, arrogance, and pride.” I think I love Jesus as much as the Calvinist does, though I may not be as smart as he is or have read as many books as he has.

    • rogereolson

      Apparently this is becoming a mantra among some Calvinists (viz., that non-Calvinists lack knowledge of Scripture and are arrogant and proud). I am hearing this a lot. I wonder who its source may be? I grew up with Calvinist relatives (aunts, uncles, cousins) who would never have said such a thing. I can’t imagine my Calvinist colleagues in the evangelical academy saying such a thing. (I have worked closely with them on the editorial board of Christian Scholar’s Review when I was its editor.) But it does seem to be a common feature of much rhetoric among the Young, Restless, Reformed movement.

    • PLTK

      When I hear a statement such as this, I am amazed at the lack of self-reflexivity of the speaker. Can they not hear the arrogance and pride inherent in those words? “I am right and you are wrong and you don’t believe want I do because you are ignorant and proud.”

  • David Hess

    what a great summary of the REAL issues! thanks too for speaking boldly and clearly about the obvious consequences and logical conclusions that must be drawn if one is a Calvinist. Too many simply cry “mystery” and we must agree to disagree on these issues. The issue of God’s character is primary, not secondary. The portrayal of God by Augustinians/Calvinists is horrific when thoughtfully considered. Thanks again for pointing out that NO ONE believed these doctrines until a former Manichaean gnostic, Augustine, imported novel ideas into Christianity. Thankfully many Western Christian traditions have rightly dropped these diabolical notions and the entire Eastern Church never accepted Augustine’s imports. Thanks Roger for being a clarion clear voice for the Apostolic Biblical understanding of these doctrines/issues.

  • David Hess


    Since I lack your personal email, here is a link that summarizes the conclusions reached by Lee in his work Augustine, Manichaeism and the Good on the influence of his years in the sect upon his later theology.


    • rogereolson

      That is an interesting take on Augustine’s theology. I have always thought, though, that he departed from Manichaeism under the influence of neo-Platonism, especially in the area of understanding the nature of evil.

      • Aaron

        Your old Colleague Paul Eddy also wrote a paper called “Can a Leopard Change its spots” In reference to Augustine’s Manichae influence.

        • rogereolson

          He’s not that old! 🙂 Thanks for the reference.

  • Nelson Spear

    Great Article –
    This was my final thought on the many notes that I took:
    Do we resist God or God’s temporal creation? The latter of the two is a decaying and dying temporal thing.

    • rogereolson

      Sin is resisting God but submitting to the fallen temporal creation (“this evil age”).

  • Roger,

    Agreed that I’d rather be an Arminian than a Calvinist. But Arminianism is a four foot jump over a five foot fence. Aminianism teaches that, while God doesn’t predestine every future event, He does perfectly foreknow every future event. How can this be true and free will be true also? Why not take that next jump into Open Theism?

    • rogereolson

      Logic would seem to require it–just as logic seems to require Calvinists to embrace limited atonement. Some don’t. I don’t embrace open theism. And yet I feel the pull of the logic. Certain biblical passages and the weight of Christian tradition hold me back.

    • Robert

      Hello Mike,

      “Agreed that I’d rather be an Arminian than a Calvinist. But Arminianism is a four foot jump over a five foot fence. Arminianism teaches that, while God doesn’t predestine every future event, He does perfectly foreknow every future event. How can this be true and free will be true also? Why not take that next jump into Open Theism?”

      Let’s start with your second question first. There is not need to “take the next jump into Open Theism”. This is so because the Bible properly interpreted presents **both** that we sometimes have and make our own choices (i.e. that we have free will) **and** that God foreknows every future event that in fact takes place. This has been the majority position of professing Christians throughout church history (i.e. it has been affirmed by Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and most Protestants, excluding calvinists and open theists).

      But the more difficult question is your first question. You correctly note that Arminianism does not posit that God predestines every future event and also that God “does perfectly foreknow every future event”. You then ask: “How can this be true and free will be true also?” That is a fair question: how can God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future and free will be true at the same time? A lot of people have wondered about that so it is a fair and reasonable question. Most Christians have just accepted that both are true because the Bible seems to teach the reality of true. Some have proposed various explanations as to how this is true (including Molinists, Ockhamists, Thomists, etc. etc.) Here I will present my own simple explanation: see what you think of it Mike.

      When we speak of God foreknowing a future event we are speaking of the claim that God knows an actual outcome that will take place in the future. We are not talking about God merely knowing what could possibly occur at some future time: but what will in fact occur at that future time. I call future events that **will in fact occur** “actual outcomes”. “Actual” because they will really happen, “outcomes” because they are events that occur as a result of some set of causes.

      Here is an example of an actual outcome. Say I am planning to go to a certain bookstore in Santa Barbra California this coming Thursday (3-28-2013). So regarding my going to that bookstore, there are two possibilities, either I will in fact go there (let’s call this A), or I will in fact not go there (let’s call this “not-A”). Note they are opposite possibilities, they both cannot be correct (I cannot both go to the bookstore and not go to the bookstore at the same time). Now neither A nor “not-A” is an actual outcome at this time, because neither event has occurred, both possibilities are in the future (today is Monday [3-25-2013], my going or not going to the bookstore will or will not happen on Thursday [3-28-2013], which is future in regards to where we are today). If I do in fact go to that bookstore this coming Thursday, then THAT is the actual outcome. If I in fact I do not go to that bookstore this coming Thursday, then THAT is the actual outcome. One of these two possibilities will be the actual outcome on Thursday.

      Now when we speak of God foreknowing the future we are talking about Him having knowledge of actual outcomes that will occur in the future before they occur. So he knows, if He has foreknowledge, that I will in fact go to that bookstore or I will in fact not go to that bookstore, this coming Thursday. Now for the sake of illustration say that I will in fact go to that bookstore on Thursday (so the actual outcome that God foreknows, the event that he foreknows will occur is me going to that bookstore on Thursday).
      Now some people are alarmed by this possibility that God foreknows that I will in fact go to that bookstore this coming Thursday. They reckon that if this is true, that I will in fact go to that bookstore, then I must not have free will concerning going to that bookstore! If I had free will they reckon, that means that I could also have freely chosen to not go to that bookstore, so that would then make God’s foreknowledge wrong. He thought I was going to the bookstore, but I instead chose to not go to the bookstore, so I made his foreknowledge false by my free will choice.

      But this reckoning leaves out a very important but seldom noticed reality when it comes to our freely choosing to do things. What is left out is this. The nature of actual outcomes involves our free will existing before the actual outcome occurs.

      Put another way, once you make a choice, that choice becomes the actual outcome, and this actual outcomes occurs after free will exists in time. Up until I make the choice to go into that bookstore, I can still (if I have free will, if my choice is not coerced, forced against my will) choose either to go into the bookstore or choose not to go into the bookstore. That means my free will when it comes to entering that bookstore exists prior to the actual outcome of me going into that bookstore (actual outcome A) or not going into that bookstore (actual outcome “not-A”). Once I make either the choice to not enter the bookstore or to enter the bookstore, then free will with respect to that particular choice is gone.

      We have an old and quaint expression for this: you cannot un-ring the bell. If you are thinking of ringing a bell once you do so, you cannot go back and un-ring the bell, you have made your choice. The actual outcome is that you rang the bell and you cannot take it back.

      Time for us (despite fun and interesting science fiction stories) is irreversible, it goes one way, we don’t get “do overs” when it comes to making our choices. Once we make the choice we have made it: we cannot take it back or reverse that choice.

      While it is true that we don’t get to do it again, the key issue regarding free will is whether or not BEFORE the actual outcome, we could have chosen to do one thing or the other (in this case, could I choose to go into the bookstore or choose not to go into the bookstore?).

      Recall that God’s foreknowledge is of what we will in fact choose to do. But free will if it exists regarding a particular choice exists prior to the actual outcome. Prior to the actual outcome of me going into that bookstore this coming Thursday: I have the freedom to choose to go into the bookstore or choose not to go into that bookstore. And God already knows which one I will in fact choose, and His foreknowledge is based upon what I will in fact choose to do.

      So where is the conflict between God’s foreknowledge and our free will?

      If I will in fact choose to go into that bookstore, what will God have known before, that I will do? He will know that I will in fact go into that bookstore. If instead I choose not to go into that bookstore, what will God have known before, that I will choose not to go into that bookstore. Either way that I choose God foreknew it, He knew what I would choose to do before I did in fact make that choice/he knew the actual outcome before it in fact occurs. Where is the conflict? His foreknowledge does not cause me to do what I do. He foreknows what choice I will in fact make. Whichever way I will in fact choose is what He foreknows that I will choose to do.

      And my choice does not cause his foreknowledge either (instead His foreknowledge of what I will in fact choose to do, corresponds to what I will in fact choose to do, like knowing that 2 + 2 =4 is not what causes it to be true, nor does the fact that 2 + 2 = 4 cause you to know that that is true). In other words God’s foreknowledge does not have a causal relation to that future event (it does not cause the event/the actual outcome to occur) nor does the future event/the actual outcome have a causal relation to God’s foreknowledge. God’s foreknowledge corresponds to what will in fact take place.

      I believe this analysis explains how foreknowledge and free will can mutually exist. What it does not explain is how God knows what He knows? That is beyond our understanding and we don’t need to know that to understand how free will and foreknowledge are compatible. For that matter we don’t even know how God knows the present. He has no brain, no sense organs, no eyes, no ears, no central nervous system, etc. He knows everything but we have no idea how he knows what he knows. But how he knows is not really important, what is important is that he knows. So I have no problem affirming that we have free will and God has exhaustive knowledge of all future actual outcomes. And I am under no obligation to explain how God knows what He knows. Nor am I under any obligation to become an open theist! 🙂

      Mike tell me if this has helped you. I will be looking forward to your response.


      • Andy

        It helps me, thanks. Borrowing Roger’s phrasing, “I am sympathetic” to Open Theism. And I need explanations like this. I like where you retain the mystery: not having to explain how God knows.

  • Steve Rogers

    As a parent I might give my immature, under informed child freedom of choice to make mistakes and thereby facilitate the learning and maturing process. I would do so with the expectation that it works out for good. How utterly irresponsible I would be as a parent, however, if I left to my child, knowing full well their decision making skills are incomplete, the freedom to make a choice that would kill them and destroy them forever. That would be like giving a 5 year old a loaded gun and then declaring they got what they deserved when it went off in their hands and killed them. The law calls this child endangerment. I do not believe a loving and merciful God leaves it in the hands of anyone to “decide” to go to hell. Nor do I believe one who would make such a choice could be considered culpable in that it is an utterly irrational, even insane choice. If God is love, then love must find a way to never fail or be trumped by judgment.

    • rogereolson

      Of course, the people who God allows to decide to go to hell are not children.

      • In the eyes of our heavenly Father, all human beings of whatever age (Christian or Pagan) are his children (see Acts 17:26-28).

        • rogereolson

          But we all know that especially adult children sometimes walk away from even the most loving, caring parents into lives of degradation and self-destruction. There’s nothing parents can do to stop them–short of kidnapping them. Nor can God because he values genuine relationships not forced ones.

  • Steve Baccus

    Bravo, sir! The clearest and soundest explanation of the subject I have read in a long time. Thank you!

  • Bob

    Surly the Calvinism of Kuyper and Dooyeweerd (Calvin college variety) is palatable to you. They stay away from TULIP, determinism and that God is the author of evil.

    • rogereolson

      Yes. I have cousins who graduated from Calvin College and friends there. I happen to know that many “Grand Rapids” type Calvinists are not at all happy with the current wave of neo-Calvinism inspired largely by Baptists.

  • Bob Morrison

    I generally like this treatment, but think there are a couple problems:

    –If a “strongly biblical case” can be made for both Calvinism and Arminianism, then how is it possible to say (a few paragraphs further) that the Calvinist view is “literally unheard of before Augustine in the fifth century”?

    –As more of a sociological observation than a theological quibble, I think Roger seems to conveniently assume that it’s only the young, restless, Reformed bunch (and classic Calvinists) that hold to the view of meticulous providence that he rejects. But I hear this view expressed all the time by people who do not explicitly embrace Calvinism (and scarecely know what it is about). It seems to me that it often functions as a kind of psychological defense against the emotional pain arising from the kind of bad things that can happen to any of us in life. By glibly calling it all “the will of God,” they can attempt to stave off the anxiety, pain, and doubts that might arise from facing the realization that God fully permits radical evil (both natural and moral). As a practical matter, Arminians seem no less immune to this strategy than Calvinists, IMO. And those who know little in particular about either view are far more plentiful than those who are well-versed in the views they hold.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I have blogged about that “folk religious” belief in meticulous providence that often conflicts with people’s other believes about God and about free will. As for your first question–are you assuming that a “strong biblical case” can only be made for doctrines held by people before Augustine?

      • Bob Morrison

        No, Roger, I wasn’t assuming that. I was merely pointing out that if you concede that (in your words) “a strong biblical case” can be made for Calvinist monergism (and Arminianism), then it can hardly also be true to say that the Calvinist view is “literally unheard of” before Augustine–because the strong biblical case would itself be an example of this view that precedes Augustine.

        I’m inclined to think the biblical case for Calvinist monergism is somewhat weaker than you suggest–though it’s puzzling you suggest this given your strong opposition to the Calvinist view. (I side more closely with N.T. Wright’s reading here.)

        Good article, though. Thanks.

  • “If Calvinism is true, John Wesley said, God’s love is “such a love as makes the blood run cold.” It is indistinguishable from hate—for a large portion of humanity created in his own likeness and image.”

    I contend that BOTH Calvinists and Arminianists are wrong on the very same issue; BOTH insist that God has preplanned that most of his divinely-created humanity will ultimately end up in eternal conscious torture–hell. I say “preplanned” (even willed it to be) because it is written, “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your Will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:11 NASB). Actually ‘IF’ the traditional doctrine of a hell of torture is true, then, there is no significant difference between Calvinists and Arminianists. The Calvinists teach that most of God-created humanity will end up in a so-called hell by God’s choice, whereas, the Arminianists teach that most of God-created humanity will end up in a so-called hell by their own choice. But in any case, according to the above scripture and since the Son is said to have created “all things” (this would include a so-called hell?), therefore, if the traditional doctrine of a hell of torture really exists, then God is all in favor and “wills” it to happen.
    May I suggest that the hell doctrine is a pagan myth that found its way into scriptures by way of mistranslation. Note: Whereas the KJV mentions the word “hell” 31 times in the OT, the more scholarly (i.e., based on earlier and better manuscripts) NIV, NAS, and ESV Old Testaments DO NOT mention the word “hell” even once. Hell is slowly disappearing from the Bible texts and will eventually be eliminated from the NT too as the translators finally get the language translations right. But eliminating hell from the Bible will not be easy. Some Calvinist and Arminian Christians will fight like hell to defend hell.

    • rogereolson

      But Ivan, are you quoting Scripture to express what you say both Calvinists and Arminians believe that you disagree with? That’s odd. However, I disagree that hell was “preplanned” by God. It is rather a result of God’s reluctant and consequent will, not God’s antecedent will.

  • Bob Morrison

    Roger, I generally agree with this and like the way you have laid out this argument. There are a couple small problems, I think.

    –I don’t see how you can say that “strongly biblical cases” can be made for both Calvinism and Arminianism, but then a few paragraphs later claim that “Calvinism [strong predestinarian monergism] was literally unheard of before Augustine in the fifth century.” If a strong biblical case can be made for this, then obviously it had indeed been heard of before Augustine! I think it is obvious that one of your claims here (and possibly both to some extent) is overstated.

    –As a sociological observation, rather than a theological disagreement, I think its true that the Calvinist belief in meticulous providence is embraced by all sorts of Christians (Calvinist, Arminian, and those who are unfamiliar with both theological options) as a kind of psychological defense against the anxiety and pain of the realization that God does indeed permit radical evils to occur (both natural and moral). I think the root cause of the problem is generally much deeper than the theological error of extreme monergism.

  • David Hess

    Early Church quote (circa AD200) about Prevenient Grace.

    In the midst of the passages where all the earliest writers affirm free-will, I also found Tertullian affirming the grace that precedes.

    Tertullian wrote, “Only when sinners are assisted by prevenient grace can they begin to yield their hearts to cooperation with subsequent forms of grace” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson, Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979) 3:678-79.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you. I call it “patristic Arminianism!” 🙂

      • David Hess

        Roger – I apologize – the aforementioned quote is actually a quote of Thomas Oden’s in The Transforming Power of Grace. I found it another blog and because of the specific citation, I didn’t check it. I only ran into the actual Oden quote by accident and recognized it immediately At the end of the quote, Oden references Tertullian in On Baptism. I subsequently looked through On Baptism and did a few word searches and could find no quote in that work that even remotely suggests prevenient grace. I apologize for not being more careful.

  • Ben

    Well-said. I do have a question. You write, “Yes, of course, God could control us. But he doesn’t.” If God could control us at any given point, i.e., take over our free wills and make us do his bidding, why doesn’t he do that from time to time in particular cases to prevent heinous evil? If it’s loving to not control us, is it any less loving to control from time to time to secure love if he can? Isn’t a God who can override freewill but doesn’t, who places freewill above any and all evil, not that loving? Isn’t that the very definition of capricious? If he can override it, on what basis does he decide not to in any given circumstance? The “Yes, of course, God could control us. But he doesn’t” seems like a capitulation back to sovereignty being the primary category for how we think about God’s relationship to the world. Just some thoughts.

    • rogereolson

      Read Is God to Blame by Greg Boyd. I think he answers this satisfactorily. The answer has to do with God’s unique understanding of all the particularities of a situation. Also, see the forthcoming (from Mercer University Press) book A Scandalous Providence: The Jesus Story of the Compassion of God by E. Frank Tupper. It’s a complete revision of the earlier book by the same title. It should be published sometime this summer.

      • Andy

        This upcoming publication of Tupper’s work is welcome news. In response to your multiple recommendations of Tupper’s “book,” I bought a used copy via the internet – it arrived as a 3-inch thick single-sided manuscript copy (8.5 by 11 inches). I’m looking forward to the book-copy, if for no other reason than it will fit well on my bookcase.

        I’m also working through some books addressing OT violence you recommended. I will input that our college kids are getting bombarded on this subject by their secular peers.


    • Robert

      Hello Ben,

      You asked:
      “If God could control us at any given point, i.e., take over our free wills and make us do his bidding, why doesn’t he do that from time to time in particular cases to prevent heinous evil?”

      Roger appealed to Boyd’s book and an upcoming book. I want to add a point that needs to be made but seems to often be left out of these sorts of discussion. The point is this: we have to seriously consider the factor that God’s own design plan for created beings is.

      What I mean is that if God decides to create some creature (in this case us, human persons) with a specific nature. In our case, that includes being made in the image of God, being rational, having the capacity to think our own thoughts, have and make our own choices, control our own bodies and minds to some extent. If He is a good and competent designer, He is not going to contradict His own design plan. What this means is that if part of God’s design plan for human persons includes our capacity to think about, consider different choices and then make our own choices (what is ordinarily referred to as free will): then he is not going to contradict His own design plan.

      Most of us understand this with other aspects of human nature so we are not too troubled that God does not start intervening and creating human persons with two brains, or four arms or three eyes, etc. etc.. We don’t see any of this happening and we are neither surprised nor troubled by it. So why should we be surprised that we don’t see this happening with our minds and wills as well?

      “If it’s loving to not control us, is it any less loving to control from time to time to secure love if he can?”

      I don’t think it is primarily an issue of love (though it is true that having the capacity for free will makes things like genuine love possible). I think it is primarily an issue of God’s design plan and the fact that he does not contradict Himself or His own purposes. If he purposes for us to have free will, then why is he then going to turn around and contradict his purpose and take over our minds/wills at times?

      “Isn’t a God who can override freewill but doesn’t, who places freewill above any and all evil, not that loving?”

      But you have framed it incorrectly here. It is not that God has a scale of values with free will at one level and preventing and destroying evil at another lower level. Instead, it is a matter of Him not denying Himself. The Bible says that he won’t deny Himself. Or put another way, he will not contradict his own purposes and plans. Why can’t this be true in regards to his design plans for human persons, when that design plan includes our capacity for sometimes having and making our own choices?

      Take salvation as an example. Christians believe that we are justified by our faith in the Lord not by our good works. Would God at some point change the design plan regarding justification and save people based upon their works since they did a lot of good things? Is he not powerful enough to do so? It is not an issue of power but an issue of God not changing or contradicting his own purposes. God not contradicting his own purposes regarding justification is not a sign of weakness but is actually strength of character. It shows that he sticks with his plans and promises. And you can trust a person like that. A person like that is not capricious or whimsical.

      “ Isn’t that the very definition of capricious? If he can override it, on what basis does he decide not to in any given circumstance?”

      Capricious means doing things without rhyme or reason. God is not like that. He is rational in all that He does. He is purposeful in all that He does. The fact that he can do as He pleases in any situation means that He is sovereign. But this sovereignty does not operate in isolation. It operates in line with his character and His own plans and purposes.

      “The “Yes, of course, God could control us. But he doesn’t” seems like a capitulation back to sovereignty being the primary category for how we think about God’s relationship to the world. Just some thoughts.”

      Who says that we have to have a “primary category” of how we think about God’s relationship to the world? Seems to me that we could think of this relationship to the world with multiple categories and there would be no problem.


  • HenrykG

    A 5* essay.
    Many thanks Roger for such a clear restatement of the Classical Arminian position. Also congratulations on your appointment to a Chair.

    • rogereolson

      Thank you.

  • I remember when I first came across J. I. Packer’s introduction to Owen’s *The Death of Death in the Death of Christ* in which he approvingly affirmed Owen’s understanding of limited atonement. He inferred from this that the preacher may not declare to his congregation “Christ died for you.” He is only permitted to declare, “Christ died for sinners.” At that moment I realized I could never be a Calvinist.

    IMHO, the important question is, what kind of preaching does a doctrine authorize and sanction? If a doctrine does not allow me to say, “God loves you and wills your salvation,” then it must be heterodox. It cannot be gospel.

    I honestly do not understand the rise of the new Calvinism within evangelicalism. It simply does not preach as gospel. There always remains the dark side of God, the spectre of double predestination. 5-point Calvinism is profoundly skewed. I do not know how it can be reconciled to orthodox Christianity.

  • John

    Nice little article. I’m wondering though… why not accept the consensus interpretation of the pre-Augustinian church fathers on other issues too, on the same logical basis?

    • rogereolson

      I didn’t affirm any pre-Augustinian consensus. I merely said that I have trouble believing something that seems to have been invented by Augustine. If it’s true and so important, why was it totally unknown before Augustine (i.e., for the first four hundred years of Christianity)?

  • Eric Sidnell

    Dr Olson, many thanks for this succinct explanation as to why you believe that Calvinism portrays a God who is not good (in any meaningful sense of the word).
    A question occurs to me – does the appeal of Calvinism to a different sort of goodness in God (‘Calvinists commonly argue that God’s love and goodness are somehow “different” than ours.’ ) and presumably a goodness that is different to the goodness that we see in the Lord Jesus – does this appeal represent the triumph of Gnosticism over Biblical Christianity?

    You comment above that Augustine was strongly influenced by neo-Platonism. I am not trained in philosophy so what I am about to ask maybe totally nonsensical. But how conceptually does neo-Platonism (with its appeal to ‘ideal forms’) differ from Gnosticism (with its appeal to the hidden reality of God behind all things)? If in fact, as I suspect, neo-Platonism is one of the foundations of Gnosticism, and if neo-Platonism is strongly influential in Augustine’s theology and hence in Calvoinism, then it follows that the appeal within Calvinism to the ‘God behind God’ does in fact show a strong Gnostic influence in Calvinist theology. What do you think?

    • rogereolson

      There is great debate over what should and should not be called “Gnosticism” or “gnostic.” My own view is that Gnosticism was a distinctly Christian heresy that flourished mostly in the second century. There were proto-gnostics before then and gnostic-like people later (and even today). But most scholars (and I agree) insist that “Gnosticism” must include belief in a heavenly redeemer figure who never became truly human (i.e., denial of incarnation). Gnosticism was an intense form of Hellenism and therefore bore certain resemblances to neo-Platonism. But neo-Platonism is not Gnosticism. I think it’s enough to say that Augustine was influenced by neo-Platonism for better or worse. To bring Gnosticism into it muddies the waters and opens up debate that can never be resolved.

      • Eric Sidnell

        Many thanks for your clarification – I had completely missed the denial of the incarnation as a feature of classic Gnosticism.

  • W de Klerk

    Calvinism errs from the start with its interpretation of “elect” and “election”. These terms refer right through the Bible to Gods own people Israel and not the church.

    • rogereolson

      I agree.

  • Truth Unites… and Divides

    Curious, what difference does it make to the damned if you say “God loves you” or “God hates you”?

    • rogereolson

      What has that got to do with theology? Should the fact that it doesn’t make any difference to the damned affect what we believe about God’s character? Or should we believe about God’s character based on objective revelation (viz., Jesus Christ)?

  • Janet Warren

    Thanks Roger – sounds like you’re preaching to the converted! What do you think of using the term ‘free will spectrum’ or free will/determinism polarity rather than Calvinism/Armenianism which is associated with specific theologians and may miss other perspectives (e.g. Wesley, open theism). This would paint the issues on a broader canvas (?more neutral) for discussion although it may miss other issues (e.g. sovereignty)

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think it would draw much attention. One reason I do this is because self-identified Calvinists are publicly attacking “Arminianism.” Most people don’t really know what “divine determinism” is until you say “Calvinism.” Also, Wesley was an Arminian. I also consider open theism a version of Arminianism.

  • Rnold86

    Thanks, this is very helpful. I’ll have to read this again a couple times and absorb it all!

    I personally think that those of Calvinist and Arminian persuasion who love the Bible tend to sound the same when they expound any given Biblical passage – unless they’ve been conned into joining certain theological “teams” and feel duty-bound to sound “Calvinist” and/or “Arminian”. Nonetheless I have to say I would define myself as “Arminian”. Frankly I don’t know if this is an exegetical preference, an emotional decision or a rational position, but that’s where I stand right now.

    And it’s good to see someone publically and ably defining and defending Arminianism. Sometimes you wonder if the Calvinists got all the good theologians! 🙂

  • Anthony

    I am not so sure that you represent the mainstream of Arminianism in your post, Dr. Olson. Arminius believed that evil is a part of God’s plan as persmissive (as you say), but still a part of God’s plan. The problem that Arminius had was that it is contradictory for God to cause a person’s will to do this or that and have any meaningful notion of salvation. For Arminius, if our wills are determinatively caused by God then what can reconciliation mean? I know you agree with that point, but I disagree that Arminianism does not believe that sin and evil are rendered certain. Many Arminians believe that sin and evil are rendered certain by God but not “caused” by Him. They may be wrong to think that (I think they are right), but that is still a part of Arminian theology. In your dialogue with Michael Horton you make the same mistake of saying that “in Arminianism, sin is purposeless”. That may be certain forms of Arminianism but that is definitely not the version that I (an Arminian) hold to and neither did Arminius (he is very clear that sin is a part of God’s plan). It is a part of God’s plan, because God knows that in making free creatures they would fall, since they are finite (it is impossible for God to make another infinite being) and that is why redemptive history was planned befor the foundation of the world. We could get into whether or not Arminius was a Molinist but that is not that relevant to what I am saying. In my reading of Arminius, he considered human will as itself a secondary cause and that God uses that freewill to accomplish His purposes without overriding their freedom (freedom from necessity, I mean). In the end, I am only saying that Arminian Theology does not see sin as purposeless or not a part of God’s plan. I would not paint the brush so broadly.

    • rogereolson

      Well, why don’t you quote Arminius on this, then? Remember, the question is whether sin and evil are intended by God. Are they part of a divinely ordained blueprint–not foreknown but foreordained?

      • Anthony

        See Dec. of Sent. P. 111. Or in Arminius Speaks Essential Writings… Pg. 67, Arminius, “I consider Divine Providence to be that solicitous, continued, and universally present inspection and oversight of God, according to which he exercises a general care over the whole world, but evinces a particular concern for all his [intelligent] creatures without any exception, with the design of preserving and governing them in their own essence, qualities, actions, and passions. This is all done in a manner that is at once worthy of himself and suitable to them, to the praise of his name and the salvation of believers… But I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance.” He goes on, “Beside this I place in subjection to divine providence both the free-will and even the actions of a rational creature, so that nothing can be done without the will of God, not even any of those things done in opposition to it… I very readily grant, that even all actions whatever, concerning evil, that can possibly be devised or invented, may be attributed to Divine Providence employing solely one caution, not to conclude from this concession that God is the cause of sin” Declaration of Sentiments “The Providence of God”. Note, “I declare that it preserves, regulates, governs and directs all things and that nothing in the world happens fortuitously or by chance… not even any of those things done in opposition to it.” This is also argued by scholars such as John Mark Hicks in a paper that he gave at the Wesleyan Center Conference on Arminius and Keith Stanglin in “Jacob Arminius: Theologian Of Grace Pg. 95,104 etc.

        • rogereolson

          Here, as elsewhere, Arminius is talking about the middle function of divine providence–“concurrence.” Nothing at all can happen without God’s permission and even aid (because creatures cannot act independently). But in the context of that quote and elsewhere Arminius makes abundantly clear that he does not believe evil is God’s will. God wills to permit it and God concurs with those who commit it (in a technical sense of “loaning” them the ability to act at all). In Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities I quote Arminius sufficiently to demonstrate that he did not believe sin or evil are part of God’s design.

          • Anthony

            I think you are conflating “design”, “plan”, and “cause”. They do not mean the same thing. Arminius would not say that God “designed” sin or caused it. But he definitely believed that it was a part of God’s plan given His choosing to create creatures that He knew would sin. As soon as one admits that then he admits that sin was a part of God’s plan. However, this is not because he “wanted” sin but because He wanted creatures to “freely” choose Him. When freedom becomes God’s design for a true relationship, the sin is inevitable and unavoidable since its truth is not up to God but up to the creatures. That is why we can confidently say that evil and sin were a part of God’s plan. They were a consequence of another factor that God required for relationships, freewill. The details of all of this was in the mind of God from eternity, including evil. That is how I read Arminius. I think he added more content to God’s providence than I think you are allowing him.

          • rogereolson

            You are quibbling. Anyone who reads my writings knows that’s what I mean although I do not think it is right to say that means sin was part of God’s plan. That’s misleading language so I’d rather avoid it.

  • Anthony

    Another way of saying it is that Arminius believed in meticulous providence as well, not just general (providence not being conflated with causal determinism).

    • rogereolson

      I disagree–unless you import divine permission that is not determinative into “meticulous providence.” Anyway, he was not a divine determinist which is what I mean by “meticulous providence.”

      • Anthony

        I do consider divine permission a part of meticulous providence. So does John Mark Hicks, Keith Stanglin, Thomas Mccall, and other Arminians.

        • rogereolson

          Then we are simply using “meticulous providence” differently. By it I always mean divine determinism.

  • Patrice Danielle

    I really appreciated the clear distinctions you made between Calvinism and Arminianism. I am an evangelical who is neither a Calvinist nor an Arminian. I disagree on election and irresistible/prevenient grace. I believe that God allowed sin to enter this world because he is righteous and just. As one who is righteous He gave man(Adam) a choice to obey or disobey Him. I believe He gave man the option to reject Him because He is a sovereign and loving God. And because He is just and righteous He punishes our sin. I don’t believe that the grace of God “heals the deadly wound of sin and frees the fallen sinner from the bondage of the will to sin and gives him or her ability to exercise a good will toward God.” Unless with this (exercise of good will) you mean salvation in particular because it is pleasing to Him that we follow after His will for all to be saved. Then after which, we preach the gospel because He commands us to and then we are too following His will. I believe the Holy Spirit frees us to repent and trust in God, not just hearing or reading the Good News. I believe in “free will” in the sense that we are “free moral agents.” I don’t necessarily see that our will is “freed” to believe, but that we are capable of being saved because of what Christ did on the cross. Yes, believe people are marred by sin, but not to such an extent that we are incapable of believing due to sin.
    Concerning the topic of election, I don’t see election as being synonymous with “to believe.” Every passage I have looked at concerning election, foreknowledge, adoption, chosen, etc. refers to believers (or the Jewish nation in the OT-which I won’t address here). For believers these passages address serving, witnessing, to be holy and unblemished in his sight in love, to the praise of glory of his grace that he has freely bestowed on us in his dearly loved Son, etc.

    • rogereolson

      You wrote “I believe the Holy Spirit frees us to repent and trust in God.” That’s prevenient grace.

  • Dan


    Am I understanding your arguments correctly? You seem to be saying:
    –God is less liable for evil that He permits (but could stop with hardly a word) than for evil that He ordains will occur and the outcome of which he controls entirely.
    –Our freely chosen love for God is more valuable to him than His glory.
    –When God says that he “creates disaster” (Isa 45:7) and “hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom 9:19), we should read those as “permits disaster” and “permits the hardening of whom he wants to permit to harden.”

    If you are saying those things, I have concerns:
    –In what way is there a lessening of liability? A father that could spare his daughter’s life with merely a word (“Stop!”) but who allows that child to race onto the highway not knowing the outcome seems to be as liable as a father that sends his daughter onto the highway. To be fair, the Calvinistic view would add “…sends his daughter onto the highway with full control over her path, the vehicles and whether or not she dies, and also fully able to turn her death or life to her good.”
    –How do you respond to Piper and others who argue that God’s own glory & worship must be His highest priority lest He be an idolater? If our free choices are more important than His glory, are we then somehow more important to Him than Him?
    –Changing the language in those verses to language of permission seems to be as problematic as the Calvinistic understanding of “Christ gave himself as a ransom for all people” to mean that all people experience some benefits of Christ’s death even if not all people are justified by Christ’s death. In fact, it seems more problematic, because Arminians surely concede that those who don’t place their faith in Christ still experience some benefits of Christ’s death (the love of their Christian neighbors, the prevenient grace of God in their hearts, etc).

    Thank you for your clear article. It was good to think through.

    • rogereolson

      I assume you’re new here because I’ve answered those questions many times. Read Against Calvinism. I answer them there.

      • Dan

        I’m totally new here! Thanks for the name of the resource.

        If it’s not too much to ask, could I push you for a reply to the last of my questions? In the article, you say that there is a contradiction between these passages and passages that indicate that God has a desire that remains unfulfilled. You indicate that the Arminian resolution is to refer to God’s permission. Do you mean then to say that these passages do not explicitly teach a permissive view (they seem to teach the opposite), but that the weight of the other passages inclines you to understand them in such a manner? Or is there some way in which the language of these passages has been misunderstood by the Calvinists? I imagine you answer this in your book, but with respect, I have a massive reading pile so I’m pushing for a brief answer here if possible. I can read your book for the answers to the other questions later.

        In any case, grace & peace to you on this resurrection weekend. Thank you for your time!

        • rogereolson

          And I have a massive pile of things to write, so I don’t have time to write a response to every question that I have answered elsewhere. That’s why I wrote Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and Against Calvinism–so that I don’t have to repeat the same answers all the time. I apologize that I don’t have time to go into this right now. Please get my books and see what I say there or look in the archives of this blog. I have addressed your questions many times in the past.

  • BrandonB.

    I came to this article by searching, “Calvinism Monergism implies Pantheism”. I read through the article and agreed on several points on how calvinism portrays the character of God. A few months ago, I was a ”double-predestination” calvinist. I found myself literally one night, telling myself to get over to feeling that I had about God’s character as interpreted in calvinism; I was a consistent calvinist. To be honest, I’m a pelagian now, and I believe in free-will.
    Would it be accurate to say, by looking at the complete and utter deterministic nature of God in calvinism, that puppets being played with? By this I mean, since it’s willed for everything to happen, including everyone of a man’s choices, wouldnt that mean only God’s will would exists, meaning man has no ability, its just God who would be pretending that. It is incoherent to say that a puppet (man) has a will.
    Pointing out the T in TULIP is unnessasry in this view, since T basically means, “we cannot do what is truly good apart from grace”, when in determinism, we cannot do, anything, at all, other than what the puppet master does. This would turn reality, from we do things by our will, apart from puppetry, into us using the words ‘we do’ as slang for, “the puppets God is playing with are.” We commonly use words like ‘his’ to make a contrast, but for deterministic puppetry, it is only ‘will’, in which there is no ‘our will’. There is no real individuality, besides the boundries which are our bodies, and minds, which also, have thoughts, which are God’s thoughts, implanted into puppet’s consciousnesses (For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD Isaiah 55:8). So, wouldnt this seem conclude, that we, in the sense of what everyone has known, before the invention of calvinism, be a complete flip on reality. I recall a calvinist I know saying something like, “your logic is wrong, you have to use the right logic”.
    Another thing, God does not lie. Isnt it strange that lies exist, if the calvinist god is real, he would be the father of lies, because Satan could not have of his own ability, speak, a falsehood. It was the calvinist god who lied, through Satan, via puppetry. This is why I agree with Arminius when stated “if Calvinism is true, not only is sin not really sin, but God is the only sinner.”
    Calvinism: God is the author of his own displeasure, he wanted to make himself feel bad, in order to show his attributes, which exist without showing them.
    To say that God made hell to show his justice is a bad arguement. I could say, why doesnt God show his omnipotence by making a really powerful explosion, but that explosion would not be the maximum of God’s power, since he could simply scale up the power, on and on to infinity. God does not need to show his omnipotence ‘to the greatest extent’, in order to please himself, so I dont believe saying, God made hell to please himself by displaying justice is a good arguement.
    I dont believe I can call the god of calvinism, my God, since the character, who he is, not simply his atrributes, are far from who I believe to be God.
    I believe this single verse refutes much of calvinism: Jer 19:5 “They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind” thus saith the Lord. The calvinist I talked with said, he did not morally command it, but ontically. That statement from the calvinist was quite inconsistent with the context of the verse, which said it wasnt in God’s commands, nor even mind, at all.
    If the calvinist definition of good is contradictory to the actual definition of good. We can conclude that the god of calvinism, is not good. Therefore, the god of calvinism is not God. God is good.
    As for the doctrine of sin nature, which is not the main focus of your article, I believe it’s a hinderance in christianity. I often hear people, especially calvinsts, say, we cannot stop sinning until we die. I believe that has become an excuse to sin, unknowingly to them.
    Thanks again, I’m glad I read your article, it was helpful and it brought some more questions up for me.

    • rogereolson

      Why jump from Calvinism to Pelagianism? It’s the opposite extreme and wholly unsupported by Scripture and Christian tradition. It also flies in the face of experience. I believe it was G. K. Chesterton who said that original sin (total depravity) is the only emprically provable doctrine of the Christian faith.

      • Hello Roger,
        First I would like to say I have your book “Arminian Theology – Myths and Realities.” I have been reading it and do enjoy it. I personally am not a Calvinist, but most would neither call me Arminian.
        To say something on the teachings of original sin, I to do not agree with it. It’s not that I believe anyone can earn their salvation or even that none sin, For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God and there is none good, no not one. But for me, the teachings of OS fall short because it teaches that we sin because we are born sinners. That is the foundation of it and there is where it goes wrong.
        I believe scripture bears out that we sin because, when we knew God we glorified Him not, neither did we give Him thanks, also, because of the fact that the flesh is weak. Man was created to be in complete fellowship with God and His subjection. Being born outside of that fellowship we will without fail fall to our flesh and the temptations of the world. Our main focus becomes the needs and wants of the flesh and because we put those things first and foremost we have placed God second, if anywhere at all.
        We are lost because of our actions, not because we are born that way! For the wages of sin is death. We have worked hard for it and therefore earned every minute of it. That is not to turn around and say we can therefore earn our salvation. It is by grace that God also made a way of escape through His Son when we believe in Him by faith.

        Thanks for your time,
        Dell Russell

        • rogereolson

          Beliefs about “original sin” lie along a spectrum. You are interpreting “original sin” in a strong Augustinian sense which is not necessary (in fact I think it was based on Augustine’s wrong interpretation of Romans 5:12). For me, as for most Baptists and Anabaptists and many other Protestants (especially in the Free Churches) “original sin” simply means Adam’s disobedience and our inheritance of a corrupted nature that makes our actual sinning inevitable.

          • Where in scripture does it say we inherited a corrupted nature?

            Not to be contentious about it, but I just don’t see it. It does speak of the flesh and the lust thereof. It speaks of the lust of the eyes, lust of the flesh and the pride of life, but no sinful nature or corrupted nature.


          • rogereolson

            Scripture says we are saved solely by grace which implies it is impossible for us (anyone) to save themselves. The reasonable correlate to that is that we are born without ability to save ourselves. “Inherited corrupt nature” is simply another term for “born without ability to save ourselves.”

  • BrandonB.

    Another thing, reading, “According to Calvinism, Satan is God’s instrument; according to Arminianism he is a true enemy of God and presently resisting God’s will. {Why God is allowing that is not revealed to us; we are only told that God is being patient.} So, according to Arminianism, God limits himself, restrains his power, holds back from controlling everything. Why? For the sake of free will. God wants our freely offered and given love, not love that he has instilled in us without our consent.”

    I think you answered the question in part. God says he will put an end to evil, on his own time though. Satan is presently resisting God’s will, but so are the many sinners of the world. If God were to eradicate Satan and all the demons, wouldnt he also be obligated as to eradicate all evil, including sinners, but not only the great sinners, kidnappers, murderers, adulterers, but also the common American sinner, who does tell ‘white lies’, and ‘lusts in the heart’ for people, possessions, money. Pretty much the general populace of the world. What God has already done, is given us free-will, and that on it’s own is a gift. Although the world is evil, God is still good. In the Garden, God didnt put Adam there to sin, he put Adam there, and gave the chance for Adam to choose to obey, so all the time that Adam wasnst eating the apple… I mean fruit, he was obeying God. God wanted to give Adam a chance to obey. He is giving everyone a chance to obey, even though there is darkness, we can still make the correct moral decisions he wants us to make.

    • rogereolson

      As you end, that is Pelagianism (without qualifications). Yet Scripture says that no one does good, none seek after God, we have nothing good we have not received, all have sinned, etc., etc. Pelagianism cannot explain that revealed and experienced reality.

      • BrandonB.

        While my change in positions may seem bizzare, there more I looked into it, I found someone who denied the teaching that man’s ability had been corrupted. I came across this with other people, I looked into their objections, and I noticed a lack of historical support for the doctrine of sin nature, especially when looking into what Jews’ beliefs are regarding to nature of man, today they would say, Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hara, and I believe in that basically, as children mature they develop, or it arises, a knowledge of right and wrong internally, this would be the yetzer tov, duet 1:39″… your children, which in that day had no knowledge between good and evil, they shall go in thither, and unto them will I give it, and they shall possess it.” As for Yetzer Hara, which is really more of a self-drive that God has put in us, which is not an evil force, but rather a force which compels us to make friends, eat, build, etc. but when gone to far in this, by man’s free-will, he commits sin. To say for example, man is by nature a sinner, in regards to the law, “thou shalt not steal” would be strange, since I do not see how scripture affirms that men, by nature must steal, and he cannot do otherwise. The rest goes along with the other laws. I must mention though, it is practically impossible for a “man” not to sin at least once in this world, without the help of God, or the fellowship, since the typical man is under attack compelled to sin, by the world in which we are nurtured. I believe the phrase “all have sinned” is only correct if all, does not mean, all, as in english. I read an article http://www.examiner.com/article/in-the-bible-all-doesn-t-always-mean-all
        Basically, in Gen 6 when God said it was the end of “all” flesh, it was not, becuase Noah survived and his family. In Romans it says as in all die in Adam, but not all did die, Enoch and Elijah were taken by God, and neither died. I offered a sad situation as an example to someone to attempt to prove a point, a baby who dies a few seconds after birth has not commited any sins. However I was surprised to hear that the perosn believed the baby did sin, by partaking in sin nature, which is not a commited act, not a sin. He seemed persistent to say that all sinned, and did not seem to negotiate due to his “literal prescision” within the english. In the same way that Adam and Eve sinned, so do people sin, there is no need for there to be a sin nature, man doesnt have to be born a sinner in order to sin. It happens naturally in this world ruled by “the prince of the power of the air”, even though we have had the chance to not sin, in occasions we did. There are probably numerous verses which can be cited in support of sin nature, otherwise the doctrine wouldnt exist. I would simply have a different understanding of the verses, which i have gone through before, some include, Pslams 51:5, in which i believe David was using hyperbolic expression, and in Eph 2:3, which gives prior context on why they were by nature children of wrath, becuase of their sins. I also find support for my view in Gen 4:7, in which God tells Cain, a supposed depraved sinner, he must rule over sin, but God either had given Cain a freed will, or Cain’s will was free to begin with. Also 1cor10:13, there is no temptation which we cannot possibly escape. Experience only tells me that I sinned in the past, but it does not tell me I sinned because it was my nature, but I find scripture passages like Job 1:1, and Luke 1:4, simply stating there existed righteous people. Romans 2:14 in which gentiles by nature, do the things in the law, whereas in Rom1:26 people in a specific sin are going contrary to nature. Otherwise why would God judge man for something that is his nature? This seems similar to the determintic problem, but it simply remolds it to Adam being the causer of the falleness of man, but God would as described in scripture still be the one who forms us in the womb, that way Job31:15, Pslam 139:13, along with the sin nature. As for romans 3 it is best to read in full for what I believe to be a proper understanding.
        9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;
        10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
        11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
        12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
        13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
        14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
        15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:
        16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:
        17 And the way of peace have they not known:
        18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.
        I have reason to belive the first verse lays the platform in who is being refered to, Jews and Gentiles, not in entirety, but generally. Neither one is generally righteous, especially the Jews, who thought since Abraham was their father, they were by default righteous and Gentiles were not. Looking at the rest of the verses one says, none is rightoues, but as with verses I’ve already provided, some have been righteous, in fellowship with God of course, there are God-fearing people in the Bible, and I don’t recall all being swift to shed blood or have a mouth full of cursing. There are other passages which describe all our works being as filthy rags, but I’ve been shown the proper context was for a specific people in a specific time and place, namely Israel at the time. As for christian tradition not supporting my views, that may be true for Augustinians, but for the antenicene church fathers, I’ve read about man’s free moral agency, being fully capable of moral choices, as well as Judaism’s support for my view(although im far from an advocate for today’s rabbinical Judaism). “If a man were created evil, he would not deserve punishment, since he was not evil of himself, being unable to do anything else than what he was made for.” Justin Martyr (First Apology Chap. 43)
        “If anyone is truly religious, he is a man of God; but if he is irreligious, he is a man of the devil, made
        such, not by nature, but by his own choice.” Ignatius (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume One, p. 61)
        More info: ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.vi.xxxviii.html
        It would seem that Augustine, a former manichaen, had retained some of his notions but in a transformed way, as to incorporate that into the church.
        I am a pelagian in the sense that I simply dont believe in original sin which brought man’s total depravity.
        I am not saying grace is not needed to save a man, or that a man can save himself. “You shall know The Truth, and The Truth will make you free”, is something that is core to my beliefs. Without truth being revealed, such as the truth that sin leads to hell, or that Jesus is the Son of God, the way to get to heaven, if I was not told that my continual habitual sin would lead me to hell, I would not be saved. All saving truth, is grace, becuase it is the kindness of God, and his grace is even the time he allows for us to repent. That’s all I can think of currently. I guess it does sound strange to people who hear that, going from Calvinism to Pelagianism, meaning the belief in free-will without sin nature.

        • rogereolson

          Who said anything here (or in any of my writings or talks) about a “sin nature?” You’re inserting that language into this discussion. I have never used it (except to criticize it). There cannot be a “sin nature.” God is the creator of all that has being, that exists, that has substance (natures). Therefore, there cannot be a “sin nature” if by that you mean a germ or virus or whatever that is intrinsically evil and gets into us. Original sin is not a substance or “nature” but a brokenness. It is not like a germ but like a broken bone. Yes, we do inherit it from our parents and ancestors and acquire it from our fellow human beings. All the verses you quote prove it. But the real proof is Christ’s death on the cross for everyone. If it were possible to live sinlessly Christ would not have had to die for all. Pelagianism is implicit denial of the necessity of atonement.

          • BrandonB.

            Sin nature is basically what total depravity is. As the saying goes, Adam’s sin had an effect on all of his descendents, but you’ve said it is not physical. It is a brokenness that is inherited by our predecessors. I do not understand it quite clearly in that aspect. If it is a brokenness we are born with, in which we ‘must’ sin by our will, as the cause, free-will is out the window. If however man is born, and raised in this world, and is drawn away by temptation, and thats the reason why it’s said all men have sinned, that would make sense. It can even be said man is not born wise, but has the fully capable will of choosing not to sin, but out of his lack of wisdom, he ignorantly sins when his fleshly desires are fuffiled.
            James 1: 14 But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. 15 Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
            Christ did die for all, calvinists would reject that saying he died for the elect only. I would say he died for all, but so all “could” be saved, if they were willing to repent. Atonement is the sin offering Christ died as for the forgiveness of sins, but it does not mean the known unrepentant sins a man commits are forgiven simply for belief in a atonement without conditions. I know of people who say they cannot stop sinning becuase it is in their nature, and God forgives them as long as they are sorry, but actually stopping their behaviour is absent. If the atonement means, all sins are forgiven at the cross before they occur and while they occur, this throws out the need for repentance. Christ died for all, but people who die in their unrepentant state of disobedience perish, but this doesnt negate the fact that he died for all. The ability to choose not to sin being present in everyone does not make it so Christ did not die for all, becuase if a person who had not sinned yet, commited sin, and that person comes to the mercy seat in repentance, Christ would forgive him. Christ died for all, but not all have his forgiveness, he died on the cross, but this atones for sins in our present state when we repent, or if we repent.

          • rogereolson

            But Pelagianism (which you have said is your view) says that it is entirely possible for a person to live a full life and die without sinning. In that case Christ would not have needed to die for him or her.

  • BrandonB.

    I would say it is theoretically possible for even a man to live without sinning once, but I don’t see how this takes away from Christ death for all. He would have to do is resist all of the temptations of the world and his flesh. However I know of no such men, nor do I have reason to believe they exist. Hebrews 2:9 “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. ” Christ death is not limited as to only be capable of saving few, but capable of saving all if it were the case that all did turn to Christ. Just like it is a condition that man must repent and believe to be saved, it is also a condition that for your sins to be forgiven, you must have sinned. If a person has no ability to avoid their potential initial sin, what is causing the person to commit that sin? I would say the primary cause is their own will, and an influence would be the temptation from the flesh, or sin nurture, being raised in a corrupt environment. As I believe, a baby who dies moments after coming from the womb, has not committed sin. I have no reason to believe otherwise. We can’t really call that a “full-life” though, but if that child had grown up, it is not likely that he would not choose to sin, therefore Christ death would have been potentially beneficial to him had he become a christian. In the same way, I can say Christ death is potentially beneficial to all people, even the ones who will remain unsaved, becuase they had a chance to repent. Psalm 139:13 says God formed our inward parts and wove us in our mothers’ wombs, and John 1:9 says “For thou hast possessed my reins: thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb”. The real problem is saying its works salvation, that we earn our way to heaven. Possibly the biggest thing I can think of that says “Christ did die for babies too”, is the fact that in the Old Testament Era, before Christ’s death and resurrection, people did not go to heaven, they went to Sheol, either the paradise of Lazarus, or the hellish death row of “the rich man”. If Christ had not died, everyone in the paradise part of Sheol would be still there, and if babies died, they too would be there, in Sheol. What Christ did, was raise all of paradise into heaven, and now all who would go to paradise Sheol, would be in heaven, therefore making Christ’s death essential to babies or the theoretical sinless man, who had no sin, to go to heaven.

    • BrandonB.

      Correction: John 1:9 says That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.
      I believe this means that babies who are born receive “light” from God. Meaning God knows them, he knows them from their mothers womb. I am uncertain as to how God interacts with babies and small children, and it would seem scripture is pretty much focused on grown people who can understand scripture, however I have found a few things which seem to suggest babies may have a relationship with God somehow.
      Matt 21 15-16 “… the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, and said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” This is also in Psalm 8:2.
      Luke18: 15 And they brought unto him also infants, that he would touch them: but when his disciples saw it, they rebuked them.16 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.17 Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.
      1Cor14:20 seems to suggest babies are innocent. “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.”

      • rogereolson

        You are shifting the conversation to the spiritual status of infants. “Original sin” does not necessarily mean they are born guilty. In fact, many, perhaps most, Protestants have never believed that. But neither are they born neutral; they are born with a corrupted human nature that makes willful sinning inevitable as part of the maturation process.

    • rogereolson

      Now I’m losing track of our specific point of disagreement. But, as I recall, you said you are a Pelagian. What exactly Pelagius believed is much debated; he seems to have changed his mind several times. However, “Pelagianism” is a specific belief that all branches of Christianity have rightly condemned as heresy. It is the belief that supernatural grace, grace other than the revealed law of God, is unnecessary for salvation. It is there for those who sin and repent, but no human being depends solely on it for having a right relationship with God until and unless they sin consciously and willfully (presumptuously). It seems to me that the Bible reveals that our human condition is fallen from the first, from the beginning of life. We may not be condemnable, guilty, deserving of hell, until we sin willfully and knowingly, but turning to God with faith and repentance is only possible at any point because of God’s prevenient grace at work in our lives. “What do you have that you have not received?”

      • BrandonB.

        I guess I’ve made some unnecessary points. Our specific point of disagreement would simply be the “total depravity” or lack of it, in man. As for grace not being necessasry for salvation, that is utterly wrong, and I’ll have to find out if Pelagius actually believed that. My pelagianism, I should probably refrain from calling it that, is the denial of a corruption passed down. I believe a man can be without sin, but I do not believe in the reality of a man without sin, and by man, I do not speak of infants. If infants are born with a corrupted nature which makes it inevitable to willfully sin, this corrupt nature is not merely an influence, but a primary cuase for sin. If sinning is a choice, and a choice can be avoided, how is it inevitable? It is my understanding that all sin is done conciously and willfully. Adam and Eve, sinned against God, yet they did not have a corrupted nature. I believe the day Adam sinned, he spiritually died, and he had to work for his bread, but there is no mention of a corruption in his posterity and that of his descendents.
        I like the idea of prevenient grace, man can choose or reject, out of freewill. However, the lack of a corrupted nature does not get rid of the need for God’s grace. Grace is always required; I do not believe that the souls of men can simply walk to heaven without God’s gift to them, that man would require God’s help to get to heaven, this would simply be a form of grace. There is no graceless entrance into heaven. As for Enoch, had he been left on Earth, would have died, but it was God’s will that he be taken up, so it is the same in the case of entering heaven. As I’ve already stated even the theoretical sinless man, which is possible, but not a reality, can go to be with The Lord, however, it must be the case that God was active in his life, and a sinless life would mean obeying God. If a man’s soul does float to heaven, it is becuase first and foremost God allowed and desires it, there is no absense of God’s working. Grace is not only about accepting Jesus, but much more.
        The doctrine of total depravity, or sin nature says that a man cannot possibly avoid sin, and each human will choose to sin at least once in life becuase soley of an inherited corruption. I believe the doctrine falls flat when taking into consideration babies who have died before having a chance to sin, of which I have mentioned serval times. I believe my belief in freewill, without a corruption inherited, is far better at explaining reality. Man does sin, not by a corruption in his will, which is oddly not physical yet inherited from parent to child, but becuase of his desires. I believe the Jewish belief of Yetzer Tov, Yetzer Hara is better then the teaching of inherited corruption. The doctrine of total depravity is an invention. God allowing such a corruption to exist would be unlike him, he has given man freewill, but men choose sin, most more than once. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions.”

        • rogereolson

          I agree with Emil Brunner who said that a person can avoid giving into any particular temptation but not all temptation.

        • M. 85

          What you are saying here seems almost identical to what Charles G. Finney teaches in his systematic theology…. Finney basically says that sin is never necessary or inevitable but all end up eventually sinning by their own choice after the age of accountability (what he calls voluntary total depravity) and therefore need God’s grace in Christ for salvation. Finney denied an augustinian understanding of original sin and tended to have rather extreme (i would say deeply exaggerated) views in regard to personal sanctification.

          • rogereolson

            I have said here and elsewhere that I regard Finney as a semi-Pelagian. However, he was not totally consistent with himself, so one can find statements in his writings that imply Arminianism and others that imply semi-Pelagianism.

          • M. 85

            Dr. Olson, I was referring to “BrandonB’s” comments not to what you wrote in your post.

          • rogereolson

            Sorry for that confusion. It’s difficult for me to tell sometimes (the person for whom a comment is intended).

    • Randall Baker

      Even if a man somehow lived a life without sinning, he would still be guilty of original sin, passed on through his father and requires a Savior. This is why Jesus had to be born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit.

      Romans 5:12

      • rogereolson

        Romans 5:12 doesn’t say that guilt is inherited, only that death is inherited because of Adam’s sin. The idea that we are born guilty of Adam’s sin is based (in my opinion) solely on Augustine’s interpretation of Romans 5:12 which was based on a mistaken Latin translation of the Greek.

        • Randall Baker

          Why do you think the virgin birth was necessary? Or maybe you don’t?

          • rogereolson

            I follow E. J. Carnell’s view that the virgin birth was a sign of Jesus’ divinity.

  • Raul Hipolito

    On the analogy used on “salvation by grace through faith”, where it is like someone giving you a check for a thousand dollars that will save you from bankruptcy……. With the little that I know about Calvinism and Reformed Faith, I think what they are saying is that one would not even take or receive that check unless God gives him the ability or causes him to receive that check (if we are paralleling that check as God’s free gift of salvation). It thus become completely “all of grace”. We have contributed nothing.

    • rogereolson

      Classical Arminianism agrees with that. It’s only an analogy to one thing (as I’ve explained here before)–to the fact that a gift freely received is not thereby “earned.”

  • Roger said:
    “Inherited corrupt nature” is simply another term for “born without ability to save ourselves.”

    Hello Roger,
    I agree that we do not have a sinful nature. It’s not that we are born broken, but rather, we are born incomplete! Like a computer is not able to fully function without having a certain program installed in it before being able to fulfill the desired functions. Or a ship set on the seas without a captain.
    God created man to be in complete fellowship with Him. We are born estranged from that complete fellowship and left to our own spirit to guide us. Our spirit is out of proportion to our flesh, world and Satan. Our flesh becomes our focus and therefore we live by sight and not the better understanding of our spirits.

    Going all the way back to the beginning we see that God said they have become as one of us, knowing good and evil. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit their eyes were opened and they both knew good and evil. After being put out of the garden we read of the cures placed on man and the earth, but there is no mention of them having a corrupted, inherited “nature” or otherwise.

    To say we do not believe in original sin does not imply we do not need the grace of God to save us. Just the term “salvation” implies we need to be saved. We acknowledge our need, because we acknowledge we have sinned against God. For the law is weak through the flesh (Rm. 8).

    A believer has no reason to sin once filled with the Holy Spirit. If we walk in the Spirit and not after the flesh we will walk in holiness. The question is, will we always walk in the Spirit?

    • rogereolson

      Both Scripture and experience demonstrate that our human condition is much worse than that (incomplete). We are “children of wrath,” rebels against God. Read Psalm 14.

      • Hello Roger,
        I read it, but it says nothing about us being born sinners. It does speak of the fool, but I don’t think that is what you were getting at. Perhaps verse 3 is your aim, but it only mentions of man “gone aside”, and “become filthy” and “none that doeth good”.
        None do good, because they have gone aside and become filthy. If anything this only further backs up what I said. They weren’t that way to begin with, but became that way at some age along the way.

        Ephesians 2:3 is the verse you somewhat reference in that we are children of wrath. As you read that verse in context you will see that we are children of wrath because we have turned to the desires of the flesh and mind. The natural results of that would be the wrath of God, therefore we were the children of wrath.

        I’m not saying none have lived a sinless life (except Christ), but we are not born sinners, we become sinners because we sin.

        • rogereolson

          The old question “Are we sinners because we sin or do we sin because we’re sinners?” has only one biblical answer that is also perfectly consonant with experience: “Both.”

          • I suppose we’ll just have to part on that as we will never agree on this. This is not an issue for me to break fellowship over, but only one I can debate and still call you brother.

          • Randall Baker


            For some reason you deleted my other posts. How do you interpret Psalm 51:5?

            Do you think Romans 3:23, is exclusionary of the unborn and young children?

          • rogereolson

            I have already said several times that I do not think infants are born guilty of Adam’s or their parents’ sins. But that has nothing to do with them being born “bent,” so to speak, toward sin so that actual sinning in inevitable if they mature. It’s part of the maturation process. Christ’s death was for them as well in that IF it were not for Christ’s death they (we all) would be guilty of universal sin (corporate guilt). As the ancient Anabaptist put it, Adam’s sin is not imputed to infants for Christ’s sake (because of Christ. I’m done with this thread for now. Moving on….

  • Randall Baker

    I always found it interesting that a unregenerate Calvinist could not resist the Holy Spirit in regeneration, but the regenerated Calvinist can both grieve and quench the Holy Spirit.

    Also, no sinful nature? Not born broken?

    Ps 51:5 and Romans 3:23

    • Hello Randall,
      Was there something you had in mind about Ps 51:5 and Romans 3:23?

  • Roger,
    I didn’t know how else to get this to you, but just wandering what your view is on Romans 7? In your view is this a regenerate man or an unregenerate man and why?
    Almost all Calvinist see it as regenerate and the non-Calvinist have differences of opinions.

    Perhaps you might start a new page and address it there, as I don’t like hijacking a blog or thread with another topic and bogging it down.


    • rogereolson

      I believe Romans 7 is Paul’s confession of his (and our) Christian experience before our glorification. In that I disagree with Arminius and Wesley. (Arminius wrote an entire essay on Romans 7 in which he argued that it is about Paul’s pre-Christian experience.)

      • Thanks Roger for the reply.

        What do you make of Romans 7:1-6? As we see here Paul gives us an analogy and from what I know of analogies they are given to simplify or explain something spoken about.

        Just bear with me, as I do hope I’m not wasting your time, and this is actually going somewhere.

        • rogereolson

          I don’t like to answer a question that’s part of a larger agenda (“going somewhere”). Tell me your agenda, where this is going, then I’ll see if I can respond helpfully.

          • Sorry to have sounded like I might would be trying to put you in a corner. I understand many folks have different views of this set of verses, Romans 7:1-6. I just didn’t want to assume you thought one way and not another. I did go back and read up on your biography and see you do attend a Baptist Church. That somewhat gives me an idea, but not 100% sure even with that as to how you might take it. But with that and knowing you do see Romans 7 as a regenerate Christian I think I would be safe to say you might would follow along the lines of most Baptist. I am Baptist as well, so I do know of most views of Baptist.
            Reading commentaries and different writings on this chapter some think Paul used this analogy to simplify, but failed to do so. Others just think it was a bad analogy and made it try to say something different than his case he laid out. And still others, it seems, just couldn’t make heads or tails of it.
            You and I would probably agree that he didn’t stop in the middle of his discussion of salvation just to bring up the subject of marriage and divorce. No, he brought up a subject that would be a picture of what he has been talking about for some time.
            As you would agree, we are the Church and bride of Christ.
            Looking at the analogy we see the woman has a first husband. Then later we see she has a second husband, Jesus Christ. The question is, Who or what is or was the first husband? Many believe the first husband is the law and that the law died and now we are free to marry Christ. They see that because the law has died that is why we are no longer under the law and it makes it legal for us to be wed to Christ. I disagree completely.
            First we must take into consideration all things said leading up to this analogy and ask how this analogy fits into what is being said. We see how Paul contrasts one thing to another. We see that he contrasts spirit to flesh, sin to righteousness, life to death, Jew to Gentile, law to faith and Christ to Adam, and probably a few others that escapes me at the moment. It is this contrast of Adam and Christ and law and faith that we should focus on here.
            He is not saying we once were married to the law, but we do understand that as long as we are in the flesh law does rule over us and binds us to certain things, such as a man and wife are married until death do them part. So, if the first husband in the analogy is not the law, then who or what is? Adam. Adam is the head of the human race, he was the first man and all of mankind flows from him. It was Adam that brought sin into the world and all men are bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Adam is the first husband.
            Christ is the second husband. Before we were in Christ we were in Adam. We see this in Romans chapter 5. Adam was the source of our sin and Christ is the cure for that.
            Paul is showing us how it is legal for us to be joined to Christ and us not be committing adultery or for Him not to be in an adulterous marriage. A death occurred and broke that binding through the flesh. It’s not that the law died, but rather, we died! Our flesh was put to death on the cross with Christ and now our spirit is free to join with Christ.
            Jesus came and overcame the lusts and temptations of the flesh and was crucified. We believed and are baptized into His death, thereby breaking that bond we had with Adam and the flesh through Christ as we are baptized into His body.

            So now to my point,
            The analogy Paul gives us is not one bit confusing or out of step with anything he says. In fact it lines up perfectly with everything he says right down to the very details. In chapter 5 we see our problem is through Adam and the cure is through Christ.
            Romans 7:2 and 3 is about chapter 5. The first husband is Adam and or the flesh, the woman is our spirit and Christ is the second husband.
            Romans 7:4 is about chapter 6.
            Romans 7:5 is about chapter 7.
            Romans 7:6 is about chapter 8.

            7:4 is a one verse description of chapter 6.
            7:5 is a description of the man in chapter 7.
            7:6 is a description of chapter 8.

            Something important to see here also is the tenses of the verses in 7:4-6.
            7:4 is present tense.
            7:5 is past tense.
            7:6 is present tense again.
            This is how we should see chapters 6, 7 and 8. Even though it seems that Paul switches from past tense to present tense in chapter 7 after verse 13 we should not make the mistake in thinking he is speaking of a regenerate man. Paul uses the historical present tense usage after setting the stage of the lost man condition in 7:7-7:13. In other words he uses the flash back method of writing then coming full circle at the end of the chapter.
            I’m sure there are some things that come to mind that you would still disagree with me here, things such as 7:22 and 7:25a, but taken in context those questions are easily answered as well.
            If this were the only place Paul gives a series of verses to say what is laid out in order to everything he says in Romans it should be enough to show us Romans 7 is indeed a lost man, BUT he doesn’t just give us one set of verses like that he gives us several different sets and they all point to chapter 7 being a lost man. It’s like he says something and then stops and sums it up in a series of verses before moving on.

            I would like to thank you for your time, patience and consideration.
            In Christ,

  • Just thought I would add a couple of more of those passages I spoke of. This is a series of verses in Romans 6 that sums up what Paul says starting in chapter 1 going through chapter 8.
    He starts off by asking the question of whether or nor we should sin because we are not under the law, but under grace. Then right after that we see him reiterate all he has said thus far in short and to the point statements.
    Most see Romans 7 as a continuation of the progression of the believer. They see it as going from sinner (chapters 1:18-3:20), to saint (chapters 3:21-ch6), to struggling saint (ch 7), to overcoming saint (ch8). They are thinking of it as in chronological order. If that is the case, then why does he keep bringing up the past of the lost man? I think the answer is clear.

    Romans 6:15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.
    This the question that kicks off his reiteration of all he has said.

    16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
    This is a one verse summation of what Paul is getting at in chapters 1:18-3:20.

    17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.
    This is about chapters 3:21 through the end of chapter 4. The doctrine that was delivered to us is the doctrine of faith. Before faith came along we were working our way to eternal life, but were really servant of sin on our way to hell. Chapters 3:21 through chapter 4is all about the faith that brought people to obedience to God.

    18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.
    This is about chapter 5. We are made free from sin because we are justified by faith through Christ. Being made free from sin we are now servants of righteousness.

    19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.
    This is about chapter 6. This is the answer to the original question he asks throughout chapter 6. We are not to sin, but we are to yield ourselves to righteousness unto holiness.

    20 For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
    21 What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.
    This is about chapter 7. I would say this is a very good description of that man.

    22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
    23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    This is about chapter 8.

    If chapter 7 is a struggling saint then why does Paul continually bring up the past in these verses? Paul is only contrasting the saint saved by grace and walking in the Spirit (6 and 8) to a man working his way to eternal life and failing (7). How many people do we see and know that believe they can be good and their good will outweigh their bad and in the end God will grant them life? whole denominations are based on “good works” and keeping of the law? they say it’s faith plus works all the while knowing they are not measuring up.

    There are a number of other sections in Romans, but I would like to draw your attention to Ephesians chapter 2. Here in this chapter Paul does the same thing as in Romans AND is laid out in the same order as Romans.
    I’ll not write out the verses, but you can see them in your Bible.
    Ephesians 2:1-3 is the lost state of man. This can be compared to Romans 1:18-3:20.
    Ephesians 2:4-10 is the gospel message. This can be compared to Romans 3:21 through chapter 6.
    Ephesians 2:11 and 12 causes us to remember our lost state. Just as Romans 7 looks back to compare the lost man to the saved man Paul does it here again. This can be compared to Romans 7.
    Ephesians 2:13-22 moves us forward in the promises of God that we once were alienated from. this can be compared to Romans 8.

    Now in both of these we see the present tense, past tense and back to present tense in the verses for chapters 6, 7 and 8. this is exactly what Paul is doing in Romans 6-8. Chapter 7 is in the past tense therefore we should understand Paul is contrasting the saved to the lost.

    One more note: I said something about Romans 7:22 and 25a. 7:22 is a man that delights after the law in the inward man. I have personally spoken to Jews that told me they are satisfied with the law. They told me, You have your Jesus and we have the law. They delight in the law! They are satisfied with it. Also we see in Romans chapter 2 how Paul rakes the Jews and saying they rest in the law. They were very comfortable with the law. We also know that Paul was satisfied with the law before he was saved, along with every other Jew. Delighting in the law is not a sign of salvation, if it were Paul was surely wasting his time trying to convert them from law to faith and furthermore would be working against the gospel.

    7:25a is a thanking God through Jesus Christ our Lord. Here Paul stops long enough to thank God he is no longer the man in Chapter 7 before continuing with the conclusion of his past lost description.
    Now I know many will say, What about Paul describing himself as blameless of breaking the law in Philippians 3:6? He doesn’t say he never sinned, he says, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” To be blameless and never sinning is not the same. We must remember that even the High priest had to make a sacrifice for themselves before they could make sacrifice for others. I hardly think Paul counted himself above the High priest. No, when Paul sinned he had went through the proper rituals set forth to take care of his sin, therefore he would be blameless when it came to the law.

    Again I thank you for your time and consideration.
    In Christ,
    Dell Russell

  • Brian Schallow

    I have been reading a lot of articles on Calvinism on the Web, and yours is by FAR the best one yet. I appreciate your help in clarifying Calvinism. One of my favorite preachers is John Macarthur and he is a strong Calvinist. But when he preaches he sometimes sounds like an Arminian. I really don’t understand how someone so smart can believe in TULIP.

  • John Thomas

    Wow. After reading this it convinced me even more that Reformed Theology is more biblical than Arminianism. The Arminian view of God is a giant Teddy Bear in the sky.

    • Roger Olson

      Such a caricature! You should be ashamed of yourself for that.