Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson

Olson, Roger E. Against Calvinism. Zondervan, 2011. ISBN 978-0-310-32467-6

Against Calvinism is a companion book to Michael Horton's For Calvinism. Roger E. Olson is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is a respected Evangelical theologian and has published numerous books. Some of these books are: Arminian Theology: Myths and Reality, The Mosaic of Christian Belief, and The Story of Christian Theology.

Michael Horton says in the forewood to the book: "Roger Olson, book Against Calvinism represents a contemporary presentation and defense of evangelical Arminianism that not only merits but requires careful and sympathetic reading by non-Arminians as well" (9). One can tell from reading this book that he is well acquainted with Calvinist authors of today and in the past. He does not set up straw-men but deals honestly and faithfully with the views held by Calvinist authors. He also accepts them as their brothers and sisters in Christ. He just does not agree with their theology. His dispute is not with all Reformed thinkers, but only those that espouse what he calls 'high Calvinism" or Tulip theology. His book is organized around the Tulip theology. He acknowledges that not all Reformed theologians accept the "Tulip schema." It is interesting that on the cover of the book there is a picture that shows a wilted tulip.

Against Calvinism is divided into eight chapters and contains 207 pages. In chapter two he shows that the Reformed faith contains great diversity. For example, the World Communion of Reformed Churches is made up of Presbyterians, Dutch Reformed and even Remonstrants, "the oldest Arminian church in the world." He notes that missing from the list are any Baptist churches who make up a large part of the "young, restless, Reformed leaders" of today. In chapter three he states that Calvinism and Reformed theology or not necessarily synonymous. The Reformed faith is made up of more leaders than John Calvin. In addition Jacob Arminius and his followers were part of the Reformed faith. He notes that many Calvinists identify themselves by the Tulip acronym. So in this book he debates the Tulip theology. In chapter two he defines Tulip theology: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance. Like Jacob Arminius his biggest problem is with the three middle points: U,L,I. It does not match up with a God of love. Olson notes: "I am going to unpack my claim that high Calvinism, the Calvinism that affirms most or all of the TULIP, directly contradicts that God is love" (61).

Each of the chapters that debate the Tulip theology argues against high Calvinism and argues for an alternative view. In chapter four, he says "yes to God's sovereignty and no to divine determinism" (70). Olson argues in this chapter that unconditional election is divine determinism. He believes that the "Calvinist account of God's sovereignty . . . inevitably makes God the author of sin, evil, and innocent suffering" (84). Olson also states that "two other problems arise out of high Calvinism's account of God's sovereignty. Not only is God's reputation as good impugned, but also God's freedom in relation to creation and human responsibility for evil are cast into doubt" (92). He reasons this way because God "needs the world to be as it is, including sin, evil, innocent suffering, redemption, and reprobation (hell), in order to manifest His attributes and therefore glorify Himself" (93). The last part of the chapter provides alternatives to divine determinism. God limits his sovereignty to allow for real human choice. God did not create puppets.

In chapter five, Olson says "yes to election; no to double predestination." In this chapter he refutes unconditional election. He argues that unconditional election is double predestination. He does not think single predestination is consistent since only those who are elect will be saved. The only way it would work is universalism and the high Calvinists do not believe in it nor does Olson. How can a God of love predestine people to hell before they were born? In the last part of the chapter he provides Reform theologians who witness against double predestination. Two of these authors are G. C. Berouwer and James Daane, Oson notes, "In his book Divine Election, Berkouwer expresses great discomfort with any form of divine determinism and especially any fore-ordination of individuals to eternal damnation" (122). Daane thinks election is a call to service. He thinks election to salvation is not about individuals, but "about the people of God."

In chapter six, Olson says "yes to atonement; no to limited atonement/particular redemption. He says that many scholars doubt that John Calvin believed in limited atonement. However, many Calvinists do not believe in it. He thinks that limited atonement cannot be supported by scripture of "the Great Tradition of Christian belief." He also thinks that it "contradicts the love of God." He even asserts that many of the writers of the Westminster Confession did not believe in it.

In chapter seven, Olson says "yes to grace; no to irresistible grace/monergism." He disputes the Calvinist claim that Arminianism is a works-righteousness. He asserts that Classical Arminianism affirms that salvation is all of grace. Human response to grace is not a work. He states that monergism "injures God's reputation." One problem he sees with monergism is that human relationships require "mutuality." Monergists sees that salvation is completely caused by God. Human response and choice do not even enter the picture. He thinks that for salvation to be regarded "not as a mere causal condition but also, and even more, as a personal relationship...the idea that it can be founded on both grace and human will is compelling" (168).

Olson shows he is fully familiar with the leading Calvinist authors of the past and our day. He use their own words to present their key ideas. He presents effective argument against these ideas. He also shows that Arminianism does not believe in a works-righteousness. He shows how it is difficult to square tulip theology with a God of love. He also shows how the idea of a relationship with God is difficult to understand without mutuality.


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