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Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?

You may be surprised to know that my “Do ____ _____ and I worship the same God” posts this week have been inspired by Roger Olson, a man I respect very deeply. Although I don’t agree with him on many things, his scholarship, winsome writing style, and clarity about the importance of understanding theology irenically and historically have deeply impacted my thought and general approach to theological issues. Olson is a professor of theology at Truitt Theological Seminary. I have used his textbook Mosaic of Christian Belief in The Theology Program for years. The primary reason why I have appreciated Olson in the past is because he often represents balance and calmness in theological issues. If you are in my profession, these traits are very hard to find.

However, as of late, he does not come across quit as calm and balanced. In fact, I would say that some of what he says on his blog comes across as downright belligerent. I began to notice this years ago when he wrote a response to John Piper about the Minnesota bridge collapse. I did not find the Olson that I have come to know and love. There was hardly an irenic word on the page. It was as if it was the first time that he had come across some people’s view on God’s sovereignty. His comments were defensive and very emotionally charged. As well, lately he has taken up the blog pen (a very dangerous thing to do). He spends much of his time speaking about issues that divide Calvinism and Arminianism. He is an Arminian and seems to have less and less tolerance for Calvinists. In fact, just this week I got a book from a publisher called “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson. Granted, he is an Arminian who does not agree with the tendencies in Calvinism to see God as one who is in charge of all things, even the most atrocious events of evil. This is understandable. While I disagree with Olson on this issue, it is not this disagreement that discourages me. It is Olson’s repeated implication that the God of Calvinism (my God) and the God of Arminianism (his God) might be different.

Here is what Olson had to say in his response to John Piper:

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism. (emphasis mine)

Implication: His God = God of the Bible; My God = the all-determining deity of Calvinism.

Again, he goes on:

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you’ve come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.

Although I have yet to read Against Calvinism, it would not be hard to find this kind of rhetoric (“the God of Calvinism” vs. his God) on his writing on his blog. I suppose the main redemptive thing I am getting from him lately is that he still keeps “my” God in caps! (Instead of “the god of Calvinism).

In fact, after writing my last post about Osteen, another Arminian suggested the same thing on another forum. About me he says:

“Lets see. [Michael] follows a Reformed view of theology has written blogs on being a cessationist. I have the same question when I talk to Calvinist, do we serve the same God? Why would anyone serve such a bitter vengeful and hateful God, who really doesn’t care about us that much. At least that’s been my experience when talking to [Calvinists].”

I have the feeling that this guy has been reading Olson.

Since the implications of Olson’s increasingly polemic stance against Calvinism are clear and, increasingly, influential, I feel comfortable writing this and asking this question: Is the God of Calvinism (my God) different than the God of Arminianism (his God)? Is that responsible rhetoric?

My purpose in this blog post is not to debate whose view of God is the correct view, but to initially recognize with Olson that our views of God are indeed different. Like the post with Osteen, I want to focus on this question. When does your description of God cross the line to where ones description of God is so divorced from truth that it is not longer proper for that God to go by the name Jesus? When is it proper to use rhetoric such as “his God” vs. “my God” in Christian circles?

Let me introduce some categories or “points of reference” that are all necessary when defining someone (in this case God).

#1 An ontological point of reference (What is God?). This describes the essential essence of the object. With regards to God: God is trinity (one God, three persons). God is eternal. God is transcendent. God is immutable (unchanging). God is simple (exists without reference to time, space, or matter). God is a se (aseity – God is the first cause who did not have a cause). etc.

#2 A historical point of reference or point of action (What has God done?). This describes what someone has done in history to establish who they are now. With regards to God: God created the world out of nothing. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the promise land. God sent His Son to die for the sins of man. Christ rose from the grace. etc.

#3 A personal or relational point of reference (Who is God?). This describes personality characteristics. With regards to God: God is sovereign. God loves the world. God is gracious and forgiving. God is offended by sin. God brings about His will. God provides for His people. God comforts us in times of trouble. etc.

With Osteen we found that his description of his God, while the same as my God with respects to his ontos and actions (#1 and #2), were very different than my God with respect to how He relates. Osteen’s God’s primary desire is for people to be rich, safe, and secure. God, in my view, while He cares deeply about our lives, calls on us to take up our cross and suffer in and with His Son. But Osteen seems to get the essence of the Gospel correct. As far as I know, he believes that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, became man, died for the sin of mankind, and rose from the grave on the third day. I dare not dismiss this as it represents significant agreement. Because of this, many are, like myself, hesitant to say that Osteen’s God was a different god, though it is a good question.

With Olson, we have a similar problem. We have some differences in our view of God. Yet, I believe, these differences are much less severe. Though an Arminian, Olson would describe the essence of God the same way that I describe the essence of God (#1). He would also describe the historical actions of God the same as I do (#2). Finally, for the most part, he would describe the personality of his God the same way I do as mine (#3).

So why is Olson using provocative language when he describes “the God of Calvinism”—“my” God—implying that I might have a different God than him? After all, we are much closer in our view of God than either of us are with Osteen (much less liberals who don’t affirm the historic essentials of the faith). What essential characteristic do we have in our views of God that cause Olson to suggest that we may have different Gods?

In fairness, I don’t believe that Olson is really suggesting this, but possibly provoking thought (as I have been doing in this series of posts). Yet, at the same time, he must see some serious character distinctions in the God of Arminians and the God of Calvinists to make such a provocation.

While Olson’s God and my God are very much alike, his description of God is different with respect to his understanding of divine sovereignty. God, to Olson, is “in charge, but not in control.” That is a bit ambiguous, so let me explain. For Olson, God is in providential control over all things. He is overseeing our lives in general but not intervening so as to violate our freedom. To Olson, God’s plans, hopes, and desires may be thwarted by human freedom. To me, God’s perfect will can and has been thwarted, but his will of decree cannot. Olson believes God is self-limited in that He will not intervene in the free will acts of men. I, on the other hand, believe that if God does not intervene in the current state of our freedom, we are all up creek skubulon. In other words, Olson has much more confidence in man’s ability to make godly choices without His direct intervention. I do not.

Again, I am not trying to solve anything here. While the question of whether Osteen and I have the same God leaves me wondering, I don’t think the same about my view of God and Olson’s view of God. I believe our devotion and love is to the same God. So, I would like to pose this question once again. Does the distinctions in our definitions of God’s sovereignty warrant Olson’s provocation that maybe, just maybe, we worship different Gods? Does the differences in the way Arminians define sovereignty and how Calvinists define sovereignty cross the line in your opinion? Do you think that Olson’s rhetoric is responsible here?

Let me say once again: though this is an important issue I bring up here, I have a great deal of respect for Roger Olson and pray that this does not come across as defensive or divisive. Even if he suggests that our Gods are different, I look forward to taking a class he may offer in glory!

66 Responses to “Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?”

  1. I’ve began noticing the same thing from Olson… but as a card-carrying Calvinist, I like reading him :)

  2. Honestly I really don’t like all the talk of “our God” versus “your God” because maybe in my naivety, think that different people can have all kind of messed up views about the One True God that time and progression will indeed weed out.

    Even the followers of Jesus had differing views of who He was and why He was here.

    I honestly believe that confusion about the experience of the certainty of God arises out of the dissimilar interpretations and relations of that experience by separate individuals and by different races of men. The experiencing of God may be wholly valid, but the discourse about God, being theological, intellectual and philosophical, is divergent and oftentimes confusingly deceptive.

    Sometimes I even wonder do we really have an idea of the “religion” of Jesus in our daily proclamations ABOUT Jesus…?

    The world needs more firsthand religion. Even our “Christianity” is not only a religion about Jesus, but it is so largely one which men experience secondhand. Sometimes, we tend to take our religion wholly as handed down by their accepted religious teachers. What an awakening the world would experience if people could only see Jesus as he really lived on earth and know, firsthand, his life-giving teachings! Descriptive words of things beautiful cannot thrill like the sight thereof, neither can creedal words inspire men’s souls like the experience of knowing the presence of God. But expectant faith will ever keep the hope-door of man’s soul open for the entrance of the eternal spiritual realities of the divine values of the worlds beyond.

  3. I recently heard a pastor say that God gives up some of His sovereignty so that we can have freedom. So, does that mean God can change, that He is not immutable? If He can relinquish some of His sovereignty, what I would have thought was an incommunicable, ontological attribute of His being, does that mean He could possibly throttle back some of His other attributes?

    If one starts questioning God’s sovereignty, even over the will of men and women, then how can we believe that He works out all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? When one causes doubts of God’s sovereignty, you attack my hope in Him.

    P Pr. 21:1 The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes.

  4. Michael Robinson November 4, 2011 at 7:29 am

    Creek skubulon… Teehee!

    I think his rhetoric is unhelpful. While personally I am a convinced Calvinist (for want of a better term), I see no need for Armininians and Calvinists to polarize. Wesley and Whitfield disagreed on this issue, but both preached the gospel clearly and compelling to the salvation of thousands, and regarded each other as brothers.

  5. I’m the Arminian theade the comment on another board.
    I apologize if I offended or sounded trite.
    I guess technically I’m a Arminian but not like most. I believe its not quite as easy to lose your salvation as my fellow Arminians do. I believe it requires a deliberate walking away and denial, not some accidental sin.
    I have a different view of Gods sovereignty based on free will. But the key element that drives me nuts is when I hear someone make comments like ” you have no right to be angry about anything, only God has that right. You are just so much dirt”
    The premise being we are just mere scum of the earth and don’t deserve to be even considered by God.
    This is something I have actually heard from a Calvinist.

    Thanks

  6. Of note, in the preface on pg.13 Olson also writes this:

    ” I consider it [Calvinism] a part of the rich tapestry of classical Christianity. I can and do worship with Calvinists without cringing.

    In case anyone needs more persuasion about this matter, I wish to point out that I have worked and worshiped alongside Calvinists in three Christian universities and several churches (Baptist and Presbyterian) over the past thirty years without difficulty.”

  7. Michael,
    I read both your blog and Roger’s — and I enjoy them both. While the two of you may have theological differences, you both worship the same God.

    It is unfortunate that discussions or non-discussions between Calvinists and Arminians have to be rancorous. This does not help. I think both Roger and you go out of your way to be accommodating and I find that refreshing. Many times Roger argues from his perception of some extreme Calvinists and his reasoning that if Calvinists believe what they say they do, then… He usually includes a reasonable disclaimer.

    I find and appreciate the same broadness in your blog posts. However, you both can be a bit overboard on some statements (as can I).

  8. I can understand Patton’s concern, however, I think he is blowing it up a bit.

    First of all, as I read Dr. Olosn’s article, I did not find it to be inflammatory although I do admit its bluntness, which is appropriate if disagreement is to be clearly understood.

    Second, although I cannot speal for Dr. Olson, when he uses the phrase the “God of Calvinism”, I take him to mean the way in which Calvinists understand/teach about God. Dr. Olson does not seem to mean an altogether different God but the erroneous understanding and the imlications that result from Calvinistic teachings about God.

    As Olson says, elsewhere, “” I consider it [Calvinism] a part of the rich tapestry of classical Christianity. I can and do worship with Calvinists without cringing”. However, that being said, I can see how Olson’s remark that “The God of Calvinism scares me,” would put confuse Patton. Maybe Olson should have worded that differently.

    Patton expresses agreement that the Arminian and Calvinistic “views of God are indeed different.”

    My question is, why bring that particular point up in the first place and make so much of it if, indeed, Patton really “believe[s] that [Dr.] Olson is [not] really suggesting” that Arminians and Calvinists worship different Gods?

    Thirdly, I think Dr. Olson’s basic argument that Calvinism’s theology has grave negative implications for the character of God is justified.

    Furthermore, Patton is misrepresenting Dr. Olson’s position, interpreting certain points from Calvinistic presuppositions and not from Olson’s Arminian presuppositions; and, in addition, adding implications that do not logically follow.

    For example, Patton says, “God, to Olson, is ‘in charge, but not in control.’ That is a bit ambiguous, so let me explain. For Olson, God is in providential control over all things. He is overseeing our lives in general but not intervening so as to violate our freedom. To Olson, God’s plans, hopes, and desires may be thwarted by human freedom.”

    From my perspectiive Dr. Olson is (a) not being ambiguous but generalizing; (b) being “in control” and “in charge” are not necessarily the same thing. In a company, one may be in charge over a whole department but that does not mean necessarily that he possesses exhaustive control over everyone’s actions in that department.

    Patton goes on to claim that, for him, “God’s perfect will can and has been thwarted, but his will of decree cannot.” I won’t get into it, but if one would dig deeper into this general, if not ambiguous, objection, he would most likely find Patton speaking double-think.

    Again, Patton accuses Dr. Olson of “ha[ving] much more confidence in man’s ability to make godly choices without His direct intervention. I do not.” Patton shows ignorance of Arminian theology. That is not what Dr. Olson is saying.

    It would benefit Patton to read Dr. Olson’s “Arminian Theology” and Arminius’ “Work”. It would give him a better grasp concerning what he thinks is Arminian theology.

  9. Looking at historical tension between the Calvinist and the Arminian, I think Roger Olson’s book titled, “Against Calvinism”, is moderate compared to the majority of the Calvinists today, and through history, and their treatment of Arminians. Just look at George Whitfield’s letter in response to Wesley’s Message called, “Free Grace” Sermon #128. You would think Wesley had cursed God or something. Being “Against Calvinism” is not against our God, but against the Calvinist concept of the God we both love. Toughen up; we have had to :)

  10. Maybe Olson is getting tired of the in-your-face attitudes of some in the YRR crowd.

    I heard Geisler speak at Harvest in Riverside CA some months ago. His title was “Why I’m Not a Five Point Calvinist.” He used the same terminology, speaking of “their God” throughout. I was very disappointed because it seemed he was trying to be divisive.

    I have deeply appreciated Olson’s calm and thoughtful attempts to understand and respect different positions. I do hope he continues with that admirable attitude.

    I howled at creek skubulon!

  11. Michael, I appreciate you and your ministry. I’m an Arminian and I find most Calvinists intolerant and difficult to respect. You are very different. I think you would respect me, that I’m an Arminian, and that we are both Christians of the one family of God – despite having different ways of understand and articulating how that works out.

    In this post I understand your beef. A group of Calvinists I used to know (which I’ve befriended) used to say that I did not worship the God of the Bible. That’s a hard pill to swallow from someone who is supposed to be united with me in Christ. To his eyes, as an Arminian I was of the same type – worshipping different god, following a different gospel – as Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. Ouch.

    In this case I suggest that you have gotten off on the wrong footing. Consider this paragraph that launches you into your points:

    “My purpose in this blog post is not to debate whose view of God is the correct view, but to initially recognize with Olson that our views of God are indeed different. Like the post with Osteen, I want to focus on this question. When does your description of God cross the line to where ones description of God is so divorced from truth that it is not longer proper for that God to go by the name Jesus? When is it proper to use rhetoric such as “his God” vs. “my God” in Christian circles?”

    The important phrase you use is this: “whose view of God is correct…” You allow for different views of God but have set your post rebuke Olson’s terminology “not the God of the bible” You already acknowledged that Olson uses a capital “God” when speaking of Calvinism’s concept of God. I do not believe Olson means to suggest that Calvinists have a different god, but rather that they have a difference “view” of God (to use your terminology). That is – and perhaps it is sloppy of Olson to put it like this – that when he says “there God is not at all what I see when I see the God of the Bible” he intends to denote “Their view of God…” This renders the rest of your post – I believe – good, but moot to the subject.

    In terms of his use of “I’m not sure how to distinguish [the God of Calvinism (Read: view)] with the devil” that this is his view or from his perspective. He’s not saying that Calvinism’s God is the same as the devil, he’s rather saying, when he thinks it through logically, that is an honest – and in more opinion, correct – logical conclusion.

  12. Your question, sir, is “Do I and Roger Olson have a different God, according to him?” Answer = No:

    ” I consider it [Calvinism] a part of the rich tapestry of classical Christianity. I can and do worship with Calvinists without cringing.
    In case anyone needs more persuasion about this matter, I wish to point out that I have worked and worshiped alongside Calvinists in three Christian universities and several churches (Baptist and Presbyterian) over the past thirty years without difficulty.” ~ Against Calvinism (2011), p.13.

  13. “Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh. Is anything too hard for me?” —Jer 32:27 ESV

  14. BTW, CMP, why is there no “Credo House Forum” so that we may discuss these things more deeply. I think you guys have done a wonderful job at setting an example and tone that may facilitate more “non-jerkonian” discussion.

  15. No I don’t think you serve a different God. You may have a different image of the same God but it is the same God. I don’t believe that God ordains everything good and evil to come to pass. You may believe that. Both of us can defend our positions bibically but those are two totally different views of the same God.

  16. I was first exposed to Calvinist teaching two years ago, and it is what ultimately caused me to leave the Christian faith. The idea that from the beginning of time, God pre-selected most of mankind to bear eternal suffering, that God did not love the world so much that He would have sent His only son for everyone, but only for a few…I can’t even tell you what that did to undermine my faith in God and my understanding of Him. And, asking questions about what this means and who God really is or could be let to some pretty harsh “friends” of the Calvinist persuasions convincing me that I’m not a real Christian. So, eventually, I gave up. I know I am speaking to primarily Calvinists here, but I want to express that the God you describe, at least the way He has been described to me, has broken my heart. He is not Someone I could love. This description of God is completely different from who I once thought God was.

  17. Deanna – Calvinism is not the only game in town. You may want to consider reading some of the information on the website of the Society of Evangelical Arminians for another perspective: http://www.evangelicalarminians.org

  18. Ron said, “I recently heard a pastor say that God gives up some of His sovereignty so that we can have freedom. So, does that mean God can change, that He is not immutable? If He can relinquish some of His sovereignty, what I would have thought was an incommunicable, ontological attribute of His being, does that mean He could possibly throttle back some of His other attributes?”

    Although I cannot speak for the pastor, I think what he meant was not that God “gives up” his sovereignty per se, that is, sovereignty as an essential attribute of his being; but that God “gives up” the exercise of his sovereignty in order that man may exercise free will.

    An analogy: An 11-year old boy physically attacks a 26 year-old man and thus prevents him from walking further on his way. Of course the man is much stronger than the boy and can easily repel the boy’s attack. However, he does not and allows the boy to hit him and, thereby, stop him from continuing his journey.

    If you saw that, would you say the man has given up the strength he physically possesses or would you say he has chosen not to exercise that strength?

  19. QUESTION 1: Does the distinctions in our definitions of God’s sovereignty warrant Olson’s provocation that maybe, just maybe, we worship different Gods?

    ANSWER 1: Again, as you also agreed, this is not what Olson means by his comment, at least, that is not what I conclude from other comments he makes elsewhere, so this question is irrelevant.

    If it is asked if Dr. Olson’s “provocative” rhetoric is justified, I would answer, yes.

    QUESTION 2: Does the differences in the way Arminians define sovereignty and how Calvinists define sovereignty cross the line in your opinion?

    ANSWER 2: I’m not sure I correctly understand this question. However, I will answer by saying that Calvinism crosses the line of Biblical revelation in it’s teaching regarding God’s character and action in relation to salvation. Furthermore, in my opinion, such views as Calvinism teaches cannot be reconciled in any way with Arminianism.

    QUESTION 3: Do you think that Olson’s rhetoric is responsible here?

    ANSWER 3: Yes, seeing how far off of Biblical revelation Calvinism goes in their teaching of salvation and the negative implications, which logically follow such views, Dr. Olson’s rhetoric is responsible and even, in my opinion necessary to clearly emphasize the stark differences.

    For example, and one of my own major objection to Calvinism is that if God saves man by decree than Jesus in His work on the Cross is subordinate; that is, the Cross is set aside as the determinative for salvation. As such, the Cross is no longer central; it is set aside and God’s decree is made central and determinative for salvation.

    Although this may be blunt, God could have sacrificed a rabbit for man’s sins since it such is subordinate as merely the means of salvation, not the necessary central and effectual work for salvation.

  20. Truth Unites... and Divides November 7, 2011 at 3:54 pm

    “Do you think that Olson’s rhetoric is responsible here?”

    What do you mean by your term of “responsible”?

    What makes Arminian rhetoric “responsible” or “irresponsible”?

    If I understand what you’re getting at, then I’ll be better able to answer your question.

  21. But the Bible doesn’t actually tell us how salvation works in the spiritual realms in any technical detail. Either or could be right. Verses in the Bible support both views (Calvinism and Arminianism). If I had to choose (and I don’t) I’d say Wesleyan but both these views would claim I am copping out (I’d guess).

    What needs to be considered about the Reformation in general, Calvinism and by extension Arminianism (if I am correct in viewing original Arminianism as a response to Calvinism) in particular is: it completely lacks workable Kingdom (ie. post-salvation) theology.

    Luther, Calvin and co. were trying to reform Christianity, true, but Christianity was bound up in the Catholic church, so they were trying to reform the Catholic church. It devolved into bloodshed everywhere. Then they died.

    There just doesn’t seem to be a lot of point to a Calvinist view after salvation has occurred (providing that they are right and salvation is a one-time event). Once we are saved, there is less and less supporting a pre-destined view of life and events. We can grieve the Spirit of God (how, if it was ordained?), we are told not to argue with each other because we will one day judge Angels (a different sort of reasoning than because we must obey without question), women are called to cover themselves because of the Angels (not because of men). We are told some will barely be saved, others will not be saved but think they were (sheep & goats) and that we all must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Now, I am sure there are answers to counter this last point, and all the others. As soon as I say this or that doesn’t work in Calvinism, then I get, “that is Hyper-Calvinism, not good Calvinism” replies.

    I take HUGE issue with Christianity being a religion of pre-destined events (commonly known as fatalism). I used to live in Nepal when it was an official Hindu Kingdom, then Hindu Democracy. If anyone were to ask me why such a beautiful country couldn’t get out of poverty (besides being land-locked) I would have said they are fatalists. Why try to change anything? It was destined to be this way.

    If Calvinists are honest, this is the same road Calvinism leads us to. Everything is destined. If I obey God, that is just because I was destined to (since I can’t do anything right on my own, even if I die to self and follow the Holy Spirit’s leading). So, conversely, if I don’t obey the Spirit, or ignore her, or justify why I can’t possibly follow the Spirit (post-salvation) that is destiny too, and all is as it should be because it was ordained that I would get lazy that day, week, year or lifetime. Yet I, of course, would be entitled to all the riches of the afterlife because I am saved by grace, even if I don’t get around to living like I am saved, because that is also destined (pre-ordained, whatever).

    (I refer to the Holy Spirit as “her” because the Hebrew noun for her is feminine and the Greek in neutral) so she ain’t a he.

  22. I had to laugh at Val’s post because this is always been one of my pet peeves when discussing these matters with Calvinists. They won’t admit that they are fatalists. Instead they try to redefine the meaning of the word to exclude themselves rather then using the ordinary meaning (i.e. fatalism is the belief that all events are predetermined and inevidible).

  23. Olson is also careful to say that, in general, Calvinists are inconsistent in their beliefs. Thus, says Olson, most Calvinists believe in a God of love, etc.

    When Olson writes of the God of “ism”, he refers to the God that would exist if the tenets of 5-point high Calvinism were consistently held and consistently taken to their logical ends. Olson writes that most Calvinists are not high Calvinists, do not consistently hold their beliefs, do not take their beliefs to their logical ends, and so do not believe in the “ism” God.

    Olson does note, however, that there are quite a few high Calvinists writers who did expressly take their beliefs to their logical ends and expressed their belief in the “horrible” God that results from that approach. In his book he provides quotes from some of these writers.

    But to reiterate my point, Olson distinguishes between the actual God worshipped by Calvinists–which he says is the same as his—and the God that results from working out the high Calvinist theology consistently and logically.

    cheers,
    John

  24. Although not necessary for a definition of fatalism, Calvinists claim that fatalism has an element of being controlled by an impersonal force. Calvinists claim that God is not impersonal. Hence, they don’t believe in fatalism.

  25. Michael, the problem with labels is that frequently they are easily redefined to accommodate strawman arguments, graphically illustrated in several of the comments of our Arminian friends on this blog topic. The Biblical record is replete with the truth and fact of God’s unconditional sovereignty. No amount of rhetorical massaging will alter that truth. Jesus Christ’s incarnate life, death, and resurrection which manifestly confirmed Him, the co-equal second Person in the Trinity, as the Author and Finisher of our faith, shouts the Sovereignty of God to all creation. While some may find these doctrines of God’s Sovereignty distasteful, even to the point that the Christian faith has become repugnant to them, nevertheless, these doctrines are explicitly founded in Scripture. Condemning the Calvinist messenger does not diminish the truth of this issue in the slightest. . . and yes, I agree that Olson’s view of God, though different from the Calvinist perspective, does not necessarily translate into the case that he worships another God.

  26. “Although not necessary for a definition of fatalism, Calvinists claim that fatalism has an element of being controlled by an impersonal force. Calvinists claim that God is not impersonal. Hence, they don’t believe in fatalism.”

    This is exactly the redefining I am talking about. The definition of fatalism doesn’t care whether the force doing the determining is a personal god or impersonal fate, what matters is that the future is inevidible.

  27. Michael T., my apologies for not specifying which Michael (Michael Patton) I was addressing in my previous post. In any case, given your definition of “fatalism”, how do the remarks of Peter in Acts correspond to your perspective, when it reads, “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus.” Specifically, would you define Peter’s comment as an example of “fatalism”?

  28. Interestingly, Olson would side with the Calvinists on their definition of fatalism. He believes to accuse Calvinism of fatalism is misrepresentation of their perspective.

    In his blog article “Arminians and others who misrepresent Calvinism should also be ashamed of themselves” says of fatalism: “Calvinism is not fatalism. Fatalism is belief in an impersonal determinism. It does not include God or any other personal power guiding or governing the course of human affairs.”

    This quote can be found at: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2011/06/arminians-and-others-who-misrepresent-calvinism-should-also-be-ashamed-of-themselves/

  29. So, I guess that means that Olson is more irenic than he is being accused in this present blog. Will Calvinists pick and choose what Olson says when one should take the entire package and appreciate Olson in context of his writing and his lifestyle? Note Olson defends a proper understanding of Calvinism. Do Calvinists write blog posts that talk about how much they appreciate Olson’s attempts to be fair and irenic or do they just write posts when they disagree with him?

    In building a proper understanding of God’s Word, one must also take the Bible as an entire package. The plenary inspiration of God’s Word is essential. Playing with favorite texts is a dangerous way of building a proper understanding of God’s impeccable, glorious, sovereign, loving and just character, no matter one’s hermeneutic.

  30. . . . . .or, it could be the case that when one is confronted with a Scripture passage that doesn’t square with his presuppositions, he attempts to explain it away with an unsupported assertion that the passage is somehow incongruent with Scripture as a whole.

  31. T.D. Webb,

    In regards to this particular quote whether or not it is fatalistic depends on the nature of God’s actions in bringing about Judas’ action. If God in a proper sense “caused” Judas’ actions (in the same sense that my programming a computer causes it behave in a certain manner) then then certainly is fatalism at it’s finest. If on the other hand God simply knew what was going to happen then to assert that this is fatalism is to commit the modal fallacy. This quote in and of itself doesn’t tell us one way or the other (though there are certainly other quotes which may shed light on the matter).

    Regardless if Calvinists admitted they were fatalists this in and of itself would not make Calvinism wrong. It would simply open them up to some lines of attack they’d rather keep closed and then of course there is the whole matter of the rhetoric it would open them up to as well.

  32. For this Christian, the crux of the Acts 1:16 verse is “. . .the Scripture had to be fulfilled . . .”, (emphasis mine) a classic illustration of the principle that God will bring about all that He has spoken through His prophets and explicitly declared in His word: “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” (Numbers 23:19) The attempt to explain away Divine prophecy by merely conceding the existence of God’s foreknowledge ignores the “elephant in the room”, His predetermined will. That said, it is likely all of us can find consensus (even solace for some of us) in the fact that neither Moses, Peter, Paul, nor Jesus Christ ever claimed to be “Calvinists”. ;^)

  33. To pick and choose verses to support exhaustive determinism (omnicausality) is a dangerous way of approaching God’s Holy Word. How is foreknowledge used in the entirety of God’s Holy Word?

    Nowhere is foreknowledge (proginwskw) supported with a determinist interpretation. For example, Dr. Edgar in the CTS Journal 9 (Spring 2003) in his article, “The meaning of PROGINWSKS (“Foreknowledge”) explains how foreknowledge is often given a determinist stance when none is there. He concludes: “What is the meaning of “to foreknow” (proginwskw)? There is no complexity or reason to doubt its meaning on a lexical basis. It clearly means to know beforehand. Neither is there any reason to question its meaning in the New Testament passages in which it and the corresponding noun form occur; that is, on any exegetical basis.”

    One is welcome to read his research at: http://evangelicalarminians.org/files/Edgar.%20Foreknowledge.pdf

  34. No one has contended to this point of the conversation that God’s foreknowledge is “supported” by the predetermined will of God. However, the two terms do appear to be presented compatibly and conjunctively in Scripture. “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brethren.” (Romans 8:29) That said, Numbers 23:19 specifically addresses the “will” of God, rather than the fact of His foreknowledge. Rejecting individual passages of Scripture (sans any valid and specific contextual or interpretive criticism) with the vague claim or implication that a specific passage does not comport to understanding the issue as it is addressed the “entirety of God’s Holy Word” is problematic, unless one is prepared to contend that specific examples of God’s written word necessarily contradict what is declared in the entirety of Scripture. Secondly, it is curious that NO specific Scriptural passages from anywhere in “the entirety of God’s Holy Word” have been offered thus far in this discussion as a basis for not believing Numbers 23:19 or Acts 1:16 on their face.

  35. T.D. Webb,

    I don’t think a single verse you’ve raised so far supports omnicausaility in the slightest.

    Romans 8:29 – This verse states that God’s predestination is based upon his foreknowledge, not his will. Thus He predestines those who he foreknows will accept Him unto sanctification. There is no hint of omnicausality here since there is no implication that God is the causal factor in determining who accepts Him and who rejects Him.

    Numbers 23:19 – This verse simply states that God will do what He says He will do. Even the most hardened Open Theist would find nothing objectionable here. The choice is not between omnicausality and a God who is completely absent (i.e. deism).

    Act 1:16 – I have no idea how you read determinism into this verse. Of course the Scripture was fulfilled. God foreknew what was going to happen and then spoke through His prophets concerning the matter. Determinism is not required, only foreknowledge.

    Not a single verse you’ve quoted so far requires that God be omnideterminitive or even partially determinitive for that matter.

  36. Michael T.,

    Acts 1:16 “. . .the Scripture had to be fulfilled . . .”. Are you suggesting that the passage should be changed to read “. . .might possibly be fulfilled. . .”? ;^)

    Specifically, how does the plain reading of Romans 8:29 substantiate your assertion that “predestination is based on foreknowledge”? “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined. . .” does not specifically address the “basis” of predestination (foreordination) being found in God’s foreknowledge or anything else. Rather, you are reading your presupposition into the text.

    In any case, Scripture does identify the basis for predestination, as Paul writes, “Also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” (Ephesians 1:11) Thus, the basis of predestination is found in nothing less than the sovereign will of God.

  37. “it is curious that NO specific Scriptural passages from anywhere in “the entirety of God’s Holy Word” have been offered thus far in this discussion…” And you won’t find me engaging in Machine Gun Hermeneutics http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2008/09/machine-gun-hermeneutic.html as that is not God honoring.

    Just picking certain verses to prove one’s point does nothing because one can easily come up with other verses to show a seemingly opposite view. For example, three times in Jeremiah (19:5, 7:31, 32:35) God says “I did not command, nor did it enter my mind.” I can hang my hat on that and say that positively disproves omnicausality but that then has to be reconciled with the totality of scripture to understand what is going on. So, one can pick favorite verses like Romans 8:29 and ignore those seemingly opposing examples from Jeremiah. So how does one reconcile those things if one does not look at Scriptures as a whole? Scriptures should interpret Scriptures.

    I find it disappointing that Dr. Edgar’s article was ignored. I provided his work , because of the claim regarding predestination/foreknowlege found in Romans 8:29. He effectively disproves the Calvinist understand of predestination in that passage.

    However, what I find most disturbing is the lack of response to Deanna. She is the reason why Arminianism is so important. Arminians attempt to show the impeccable, loving, just and sovereign character of God as understood in the totality of the Bible. Unfortunately, Deanna is collateral damage due to the sacrifice of God’s character on the altar of the Calvinist’s understanding of Sovereignty.

    I’m praying Deanna, that God will show Himself to you as He is understood in the totality of God’s Word. Please do not let Calvinists or Arminians or any other theological bents and/or people damage God’s reputation. He loves you and wants you to live in fellowship with Him.

    Deanna, if you desire correspondence, please write to us as http://www.evangelicalarminians.org. We would love to hear from you. You may also want to review X-Calvinist Corner at http://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/x-calvinist-corner/ where you can read the testimonies of those individuals who left Calvinism and understand their reasons for doing so.

  38. T.D. Webb,

    With regards to Acts 1 this proposed change would only be necessary if one denied the perfect foreknowledge of God. Since all Arminians affirm the perfect foreknowledge of God I see no reason why you would think our assertions would require reading the verse any different then it appears.

    With regards to Romans 8 I am relying on simple grammar and the order in which the articles appear in the passage. If God’s foreknowledge was based on His predestination then one would expect the verse to read “those who he predestined he also foreknew.”

    As for presuppositions I freely admit I have them. The question is do you? The accusation of forcing ones presuppositions on the text is a ad hominem and ultmately moot since there is no such thing as a white coat, wholly objective human being. We can only be aware of our presuppositions and try our best to not let them cloud our judgment in these matters. At the end of the day I could just as easily accuse you of the same thing (especially when the verses you are giving are nowhere near the strongest verses that support your position).

  39. Michael,

    Please forgive me for I don’t want to jump into a conversation that is not mine. :) But for some reason the comment moderator threw this one my way so I had to read and approve it.

    Anyway, “to foreknow” (prognosko) in Greek does not mean that same think as it does in English. We read back into it this idea of prophetic foreknowledge. To foreknow in Greek would have to do with knowing beforehand in the sense of relationship. It would not be wrong to translate this “forelove” or “to know intimately beforehand.” Think “Adam knew Eve”.

  40. Michael T., I would be the first to agree that all of us bring presuppositions to this forum. Presuppositions, in themselves, are not inherently evil. However, all of us should be conscious of the possibility that our presuppositions sometimes attempt to take on the role of defining Scripture rather than the opposite. That said, my intent in posting responses to you was to address the issues, not to personally attack or offend you. I apologize, if you feel that I failed with regard to that attempt.

  41. TD – I believe if you read those verses again you will see that God says “did not will nor did it enter His mind.” Predestination says that God wills all things (omnicausality). So, if God predestines (all things happen according to His will) then how can something happen that did not enter His mind? Surely, you agree with other Calvinists as well as Arminians that God is omniscient.

    I’m sorry that I hit a nerve about dishonoring God. Evidently, you don’t agree with me that shooting Bible verses at each other is ineffective and does not bring honor to God.

    Nevertheless, you seem to have a short memory, did you not say above, “While some may find these doctrines of God’s Sovereignty distasteful, even to the point that the Christian faith has become repugnant to them, nevertheless, these doctrines are explicitly founded in Scripture.”? Is that not a comment about non-Calvinists?

    You do know that Arminians wholly believe in God’s sovereignty. However, we frame His Sovereignty around His character. Arminians believe that if one has a proper understanding of God’s characters as found in the Bible as a whole, His sovereignty will be easily and correctly seen.

    I do not own any of the websites that I have referenced. I am not an officer on any of these sites. However, I am a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. I am pointing people to the sites that I have referenced so that people know where to find the information. That way, they can read the context and make up their own mind about things. Citing one’s references is good for discussion; otherwise, one is just making simple assertions.

    I did point Deanna to two websites so that she see alternate explanations for God’s behavior as reflected in the Bible and so that she could contact SEA if she had questions or needed support. I believe that behavior to be very God honoring as no one else has taken the time to respond to her.

    If you feel that I have hijacked this thread (which evidently the moderator doesn’t) I would be pleased to stop posting and continue with you at my private email: dale@drwayman.com However, I have a pretty vicious spam blocker, so you will need to let me know ahead of time so that I can insure that your messages will reach me :-)

    BTW – Have you taken the time to read Dr. Edgar’s article? He explicitly confronts the passage to which you are referencing in Romans 8:29

  42. It appears that I have responded to a post that is no longer there. If the post that I have responded to it not there, please do not publish my post.

    Thank you.

  43. Drwayman, I requested that the moderator delete my last post responding to your remarks. My comments went over the line, betraying the irenic spirit with which we are requested to employ in our posts. For that, I apologize to you and to any others that I may have offended. While I do think it is bad form to refer folks reading this blog to other websites, I should have refrained from the harsh accusation I made to you. In any case, may our gracious Lord bless you and yours in your Christian journey.

    In His Grace and Peace,
    T. D. Webb

  44. TD – I appreciate the apology. That can happen when one is passionate. In this instance we are both passionate about our love for God. I can go over the line at times too. My apologies as well. I appreciate the moderation found in this forum.

    You believe it is bad form to refer to other websites. Let me share with you a bit of my reasoning. I do not own any of the websites that I have referenced. I am not an officer on any of these sites. However, I am a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians. I am pointing people to the sites that I have referenced so that people know where to find the information. That way, they can read the context and make up their own mind about things. Citing one’s references is good for discussion; otherwise, one is just making simple assertions.

    I did point Deanna to two websites so that she see alternate explanations for God’s behavior as reflected in the Bible and so that she could contact SEA if she had questions or needed support. I believe that behavior to be very God honoring as no one else has taken the time to respond to her.

    BTW – Have you taken the time to read Dr. Edgar’s article? He explicitly confronts the passage to which you are referencing in Romans 8:29

  45. I hate that modern Christianity, on the blogs anyway has come down to choosing between Calvinism and Armianism to prove our Christianity one way or the other. This is not so in the churches i have attended. In fact, the first thing I ever heard of it was here. Really disturbs me about this site and others on the opposite side, because it seems to me either way, we have gotten away in our defense of from the real gospel message and made it more abouteing hung up one way on this type of theology. Anyone else out there that sees the same trend?

  46. Thank you, drwayman.

  47. Thank you for posting this…I have always felt that there is something really wrong with the modern Calvinistic view. It just seems to wrongly interpret the scriptures as a whole. I’m gonna take a look at Olson’s book.

  48. Frequently, our friends who are critics of “Calvinism” prefer to use a very broad paintbrush in their attempts to discredit those who adhere to its precepts. Perhaps, the best illustration of this is the case when these folks are unable to refute specific Scripture proof texts, for example, contextual passages declaring “the eternal security of the believer”, they frequently fall back on the vague generality that “the Bible as a whole” doesn’t support the Calvinist position on the issue. Their case would be much more persuasive, if they could document their “scriptures as a whole” assertion with some specific contextual Scriptural evidence, or specifically demonstrate how the view with which they disagree contradicts other Biblical passages.

  49. T.D. – Thank you for stating that, it gives me an opportunity to clear up a misconception of Arminianism. One can be an Arminian and believe in “the eternal security of the believer.” Arminius did not land either way on that issue. He found biblical support for “eternal security of the believer” as well as “making a shipwreck of one’s faith.”

  50. drwayman, the distinction is that the foundation of an Arminian’s concept of “the security of the believer” is that the ultimate “security lies in the continual free will of the believer, himself. The ultimate “security of the believer” from a Calvinist view rests in the eternal sovereign will of God. John 8:39; John 10:27-29; Romans 8:37-39

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  1. Around the Web – 11/04/11 | Think Theology - November 4, 2011

    […] Michael Patton asks whether he and Roger Olson worship the same God (Patton is a Calvinist and Olson is an Arminian). It’s a good read. […]

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