April 3, 2020

Riffs: 09:03:07: Is Roger Olson Committing Blasphemy?

logo.gif[UPDATE: Justin Taylor calls me out for saying this is at least partially about the “forbidden zone” of critiquing Piper’s theology. But not to worry; Steve Hays is here to show us how to blog.

Read Rick Phillip’s reaction to Roger Olson’s criticism of John Piper. HT to John H for the head’s up.]

I once attended an Alliance for Confessing Evangelicals conference and heard Rick Phillips speak. A good organization at the time, with a remarkably good attitude about how to talk about theology. Phillips seemed like a competent fellow, but that was before he could announce to his team that disagreeing with some Calvinists on how to describe God’s involvement with tragedy is a matter of possibly blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

Yes, the Pharisee’s contention that Jesus was the Prince of demons is roughly the same thing, according to Phillips, as Roger Olson saying the conception of God’s relation to the I-35 tragedy as articulated by some Calvinists is confusing and creates a God who, for purposes of making the point, is “frightening.” That’s BLASPHEMY of the Holy Spirit as in THE unpardonable sin. And, of course, it’s a sin on the theological playing field, where the really big sins happen in the blogosphere.

Phillips says that the Calvinistic God is the true God and Arminians like Oslon are thumping the nose of the true God to say they disagree with the Calvinistic conception and articulation of that God’s relation to tragedy. Olson’s disagreement with Piper amounts to a rejection of the Biblical God, says Phillips. Somehow I think that some of the original minds and voices of ACE might have found a way to say a little less than Phillips does in this blast.

I’ve been saying for years that some of the blogosphere’s “truly reformed” are just itching to say that the rest of us are not Christians unless we agree with them down to the footnotes and punctuation. Olson’s major problem is he actually stands up and says “I disagree with John Piper,” and THAT’S what many of the reformed find frightening. I’ve met the committee that visits you when you say this, and they make their point succinctly: Our idea of God is so correct, so Biblical and so right, that to disagree with what any one of us says about God is to spit in God’s eye. You’ve been warned.

This is increasingly the new team sport in the blogosphere: if you disagree with the right Calvinists, it’s like the old “Mousetrap” game. The cage is going to fall on you and you’re going to be on display as a blasphemer, an apostate and possibly not a Christian at all. Of course, with the emerging, Olson-type Arminians, “post evangelicals” and whoever else is being processed right now in the cage, it’s getting a bit crowded. You’ll get a nice poster, though.

Hear me right here, folks. Roger Olson finds the WAY these Calvinists DESCRIBE GOD to be frightening. He isn’t burning his Bible. He’s commenting on the expressions of theology and applications of theology that come from the Calvinist side. And instead of the cordiality of Whitefield to Wesley, we get a “Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” warning, along with a resolve to fight harder. Those who dissent are to be cornered, read their theological crimes and given the brief opportunity to repent. Then….well, who knows? Stay tuned.

Have some become so convinced of their own correctness that they are now going to defend their articulations with the accusation that those who speak like Olson are the same crowd that crucified Jesus and accused him of being Satan? I hate to break the news, but millions of Christians would articulate their theology of God’s involvement with events more like Olson than Piper. Announcing that all these folks can convert to Phillip’s theology or risk going to hell is over the top.

Ironically, Phillips uses C.S. Lewis’s description of God as “not a tame lion” as part of his shaming of Olson. Of course, Lewis was no Calvinist. Not by a long shot, as all honest Calvinists admit. In fact, considering Lewis’s views on most of the recent Calvinist agenda, including the item under discussion, I’m pretty sure Lewis would sound like neither Phillips nor Olson.

[Readers interested in Lewis’s view of these matters should consult Will Vaus, Mere Theology: A Guide to the Thought of C.S. Lewis, chapter 4.]

Olson wrote a useful book called The Mosaic of Christian Belief. Perhaps we could all stand to read it and be reminded that we can disagree without accusing one another of committing the unpardonable sin.

Comments

  1. I’ve like Olson since page 1 of The Story of Christian Theology. He’s ecumenical, and I like that. You’re right, people would do well to read Mosaic.

  2. Things really are much worse than we thought out there in post-evangelical land. It argues to me that Reformed theologians must be more bold and aggressive in our biblical portrayal of the true God. And we must take up this more aggressive stance not merely to win the debate with our postconservative fellows, but for the sake of their souls.

    Nice to know they’ve held back on the boldness and aggression up to now.

    Olson rocks…

  3. Phillips wrote: “It argues to me that Reformed theologians must be more bold and aggressive in our biblical portrayal of the true God. And we must take up this more aggressive stance not merely to win the debate with our postconservative fellows, but for the sake of their souls.”

    His answer then is to turn up the TR rhetoric a few notches? Otherwise non-Reformed Xians souls are in danger? Puh-lease.

  4. Is not calling the true God the devil as succinct a definition of “blasphemy of the Holy Spirit” as you can make?

  5. Per Michael’s review some months ago I am in process of reading Olsen’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I appreciate his spirit in what is obviously for some sensitive subject. A good book too.

    Not knowing much about Olsen I googled his name earlier this evening and discovered this latest dust up before Michael’s post. I gotta say–a lot of self-righteous ink has been spilled over his remarks. Seriously, you might think the guy denied the resurrection. It strikes me as a very fear based reaction. Talk about a blogswarm.

    Well, thanks Michael for an appeal for balance and grace. Thanks for the heads-up on the book too.

  6. Michael,

    I just read Olson’s piece, Phillips reflection, and now yours and I had a couple of thoughts.

    First, I see your point about burning someone at the stake for heresy (digitally speaking). I’m not quite sure how to take Phillips post. Is he actually saying that Olson is unregenerate? Or is he warning him? Or warning us? I must admit that the tone of the post was largely unhelpful.

    On the other hand, as a Calvinist, I’m not sure how to take a comment like Olson’s either. “Your sovereign God sorta sounds like Satan…” Really? Because I believe that if God had truly wanted to keep a bridge from falling, he could have? Because I believe that “not a sparrow (or a bridge, or the walls around the house of the children of a biblical saint for that matter) fall to the ground apart from the Father?” I mean, even if God can’t structurally hold the bridge up (because of self-limitation or whatever), couldn’t he have inspired one of the thousands of Christians in the area to stop traffic and keep people off the bridge at 6:05? You know speak to them in a dream or vision or something? God can still do that, right? I mean, for goodness sake, I live a mile from the bridge. If I had known that the bridge would collapse at 6:10, I could have kept people off of it. Block traffic with my car, get out and wave my hands, cut my body like the prophets of Baal, anything to keep people off the bridge. God can’t even do that?

    I guess my point is that you say,

    “Phillips says that the Calvinistic God is the true God and Arminians like Olson are thumping the nose of the true God to say they disagree with the Calvinistic conception and articulation of that God’s relation to tragedy.”

    But, correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t Olson say that the God of the Bible looks very different from the God of Calvinism? Doesn’t he think that his Arminian God is the true God and that Calvinists like Piper are dragging God’s character through the proverbial gutter? And, to top it off, that if you put a picture of the God that John Piper teaches his little girl to fall asleep praising next to a picture of the Prince of Darkness, Olson would say, “Oh look, twins.” And then (in other writings) go on to talk about how we need to get beyond denominational divisions and make nice as post-conservatives?

    It sorta reminds me of a comment that Doug Wilson made about all these atheists who call people of faith deranged and then want to talk about how “interfaith dialogue” isn’t working. Wilson writes, “Well yeah. Especially that kind of interfaith dialogue where you keep referring to your opponent as ‘you idiot.'” Invitations for a greater ecumenicism fall flat when they are addressed to “Those who worship the All-Determining Deity who looks like Lucifer.”

    Now I’m all for a robust catholicity and I think Calvinists should always remember that people’s hearts are often smarter than their heads (meaning, that even those like Olson who think God is like the lone day-care employee on paint-by-numbers day, you know, “in charge, but not in control,” still actually pray and live as though God has some say in what happens in his world).

    In addition, I don’t mind all that much that Olson put his cards on the table and said that God as described by Piper, Owen, Edwards, Calvin, et al looks an awful lot like Beelzebub. It gives me the chance to indulge my inner 8-year old. “Your God looks like the devil.” “Oh yeah, well your God is a pansy.” “Your God is an all-determining control freak.” “Your God can’t even hold up a bridge.” Then again, I think the part of me that enjoys that game may be the part that Paul tells me to put to death. (And for the record, I don’t think Olson committed the unpardonable sin).

    Bottom line, I know that it wasn’t the point of your post, but I would have appreciated some acknowledgment that it is difficult for some of us to join the Mosaic when the God we worship, the one who works all things, even bridge collapses, according to the counsel of his will, the one in whom we rest when the world falls apart, is slandered as the devil.

  7. Nicholas Anton says

    Note what Peter states regarding questions concerning our faith;
    1Pe 3:15;
    “… be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:
    There should be an open forum between sincere people who have differing views, without the constant fear of being silenced, shunned, ex-communicated, and anathematized.
    While I am not opposed to honest critiquing of views and actions, I am fed up with both the extreme right and left in their creating and burning effigies of their opponents. Many times the difference of opinion are simply polemic and could easily be resolved by clarification. Other times by genuine repentance and correction. But neither readily happen.
    The atrocities committed throughout history by so called sincere orthodox Christians are horrendous. Note Darby and Newton. Not Salem. Note the Inquisition. I could go on and on.
    Why not permit the open critiquing of views without threat of retaliation from either side? Many times a parting of ways may be necessary, but that should not include a parting and fragmenting of persons, bodies, souls and spirits through physical abuse, defamation of character and pure libel.
    Also, frequently the hard line positions taken place those who took them in a position from which they can not retreat and which they can not justify.

  8. I read what Olson said and found it very depressing. It doesn’t have to be “TR’s” that think Olson is driving on the wrong side of the road.

    When Arminian belief is taken to its logical extreme, it results in heresy. When Calvinist belief is taken to its logical extreme, it is hard to digest… but at least it is biblical.

  9. Michael,
    I have no desire to say Piper is right or Olson is right or whatever. But, I want to ask one question. Are you being consistent here? I looked at Olson’s article. He wrote:

    “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.”

    I don’t know how to read this in a way that doesn’t imply Calvinists aren’t worshiping the true God. Olson mentions that Calvinism is “sweeping up impressionable young people” . See above the warning of “coming under the influence of Calvinism”. He is talking about Calvinism like it is a cult. If he isn’t engaging in team sports here then no one is. It is clear us vs. Calvinists who have a God that looks like the devil.

    Again, Piper is not above critique. You can say he is wrong without saying he makes God look like the devil. You can say he is misguided without making Calvinism sound like a subversive movement.

    Your thoughts?

    Brian

  10. Michael,

    Having read Olson’s article I am not at all convinced that he is being consistent wit his own Arminian presuppositions. This is particularly evident in his talking about God choosing to limit himself. I think that the comments about Calvinism are provocative but inconsistent with his actual argument. Were he an open theist then I think this may have made a difference, but as far as I am aware he isn’t.

  11. Patrick Kyle says

    Man,
    I’m sorry- I am just so fed up with these Rabidly Reformed watch bloggers. They bind up loads on the backs of the faithful that they themselves can’t even bare. I wish I had a dollar for everyone I’ve talked to about Christ that has been previously driven away from the church and from Christ by that execrable doctrine. I’d treat my wife and myself to an expensive dinner.(and some good drinks to boot just to take away the pain) A good survey of Historical Theology shows that kind of Calvinism is nothing more than innovation and pharisaical rigidity. They fill up the blogosphere with their pompous pronouncements and decrees. That religion is mean,(meaner than most)and is often used as an excuse by its adherents to be mean and hateful.( Not that others aren’t ,this just seems to breed a particularly virulent strain of a#$*@!&.) A theologian I know says that the Reformed Doctrine is often a person’s last stop before they leave the faith.
    sorry for the rant-I understand if you can’t print it.

  12. I would encourage you all to read R. Scott Clark’s response to Olsen. Exegetical and Theologically sound. Here:

    http://www.oceansideurc.org/the-heidelblog/2007/9/1/rogers-god.html

    Sorry if the link runs off the page.

  13. So Many Stones says

    Why do people think they are doing Jesus a favor by trying to make the narrow path narrower still? Suddenly it seems that theological astuteness is a criterion for inheriting eternal life, so be careful… you might diligently follow Christ for a lifetime, but if you pull just one theological boner, it could be the end of you. (Jesus said Woe to you…you shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.)

    Theology is not a contest to see who is right and who is condemned. Theology should never go as far as presumption and pride, and if ever humility was important, it is important in seeking an understanding of God. Are we waiting to hear the words, ‘Well done, careful and astute student, you were right?’ Keep waiting.

  14. I have heard Calvinists say that Arminians are not worshipping the true God HUNDREDS of times. I’ve listened to the reformed debate whether Arminians were saved many times as well.

    Olson used hyperbole to state the emotional side of this kind of Calvinism. Like a non-gospel centered reading of Gen 22, it can be frightening. If it frightens Olson in some respect, why can’t he say so. And as for the devil, again hyperbole, with the point that without a clear distinction of secondary causes- which is stated in the WCF- you wind up with a system where God as primary cause and Satan as secondary cause are obscured.

    I remain convinced that Olson’s problem is he does what many Calvinists don’t want Arminians to do: talk for themselves rather than be defined by their opponents.

  15. Another aspect of this I am going to try and get the spine to write about: The reformed refuse to critique their own fave theologians, esp Piper. That ISN’T a good thing. Piper’s theology needs critical interaction and it should not be a high crime to engage in it. Be clear. That is what Olson- hyperbole and all- was doing, and it’s astonishing that it’s just not thinkable by many people.

    Here’s Phillips in short: You either accept the God-explanation of Jonathan Edwards (as stated by Piper) so that you rejoice in the divine causation of any event, or you are an openness theologian on your way to damnation. Yes? So that’s theology these days.

    I don’t agree with Olson. And I don’t like Piper’s rhetorical style, though I basically agree with his theological position. What we’re talking about here is the nature of the discussion and the demeanor/behavior of the participants toward their fellow believers. That darned “catholic” thing again.

  16. Olson’s critique of Piper applies directly to his own doctrine of God. Until that issue is faced his acerbic comments about the Calvinist’s God are just empty rhetoric.

  17. Tom Huguenot says

    It argues to me that Reformed theologians must be more bold and aggressive in our biblical portrayal of the true God. And we must take up this more aggressive stance not merely to win the debate with our postconservative fellows, but for the sake of their souls.

    OK, apparently agressivity is now a fruit of the Spirit. Just like liberals-bashing, anti-intellectualism, ossified orthodoxy (dispentsationalist yesterday, calvinistic today because it’s trendy…)…
    At least,they know what to do for the revision of the ESV.

  18. Nicholas Anton says

    Regarding the epistemology of both the Armenian and Calvinist camps, one should again look at the epistemology of the reformation.

    The cry of the reformers was not “Scriptura, Gracia, Fide, Christi, Gloria Dei”, (The pre reformation church would have agreed with all of the above) but rather “SOLA Scriptura, SOLA Gracia, SOLA Fide, SOLA Christi, SOLA Gloria Dei”.

    It would seem to me that the hyper Calvinists tend to shroud the faith of the believer by the grace of God until the faith factor virtually disappears, while the extreme Armenian tends to place the grace factor under the faith/works of humankind, until Salvation and the maintenance thereof become essentially works.

    Neither extreme are Biblical. Salvation is both by Grace alone and through Faith alone. The words of the song writer, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling”, verbalize this enigma.

  19. I confess that I would have preferred Piper’s initial web comments on the bridge collapse to have been more “pastoral” and less “prophetic”. However, I went to Piper’s web site and discovered that in response to 9-11, his comments were exceedingly pastoral.

    Neither one’s life nor one’s theology is adequately defined by one blog post.

    And, all of us – the most sincere of us, regardless of label, are Fallen! It would appear the line is long for those who would sit at the immediate right and left of Jesus! 🙂

    So perhaps we should all give one another some slack. Argue ’till the cows come home (I was reared in a farming community in E. Tennessee)about the issues (and yes, even as wonderful and great a man as John Piper is, there needs to be interaction with his writings and theology) but let’s give one another a break for intent. Perhaps some’s motives are not as skewed as others would suggest.

    Having said that, I do have some background with Roger Olsen and his comments regarding John Piper. I can’t help but believe that his experiences at his former employment in Minneapolis have something to do with his obvious dislike of John Piper.

    -Johnson

  20. Bob Sacamento says

    One Salient Oversight wrote: When Arminian belief is taken to its logical extreme, it results in heresy. When Calvinist belief is taken to its logical extreme, it is hard to digest… but at least it is biblical.

    I am not going to try to prove OSO wrong here. Given that the Calvinist/Amrinian argument has been going on for centuries now, that task looks like a fool’s errand in a humble comment posted on a website. I am just going to show the Arminian flag and be done with it: Arminianism is not heresy. It does not lead to heresy — at least not any more than any other human-constructed theology (Calvinism being one itself) leads to heresy. It is not Pelagianism, neither of the full nor semi variety. Bible-believing Christians can accept it with no danger to their souls, and I for one think they should! As far as I can tell it is the most Biblical account available of how God’s sovreignty and man’s moral responsibility can coexist and interact. Just my two cents.

  21. That’s BLASPHEMY of the Holy Spirit as in THE unpardonable sin.

    In practice, it’s often defined as “Whatever YOU do that I don’t”. (I’m sick of Spiritual One-Upmanship…)

    Phillips says that the Calvinistic God is the true God…

    As in “God’s Will is the boot stamping on all our faces — forever”? Jansen (Jansenist Heresy) & Mohammed (Islam) would agree.

    (A contact of mine — now in Louisville — had experience with a couple churches teaching such a steamroller version of “God’s Will” when he first moved to Kentucky. He reported the same effects you see in Islam since its stagnation 900 years ago — passivity, fatalism, non-causality, worm theology, and unreason. Including getting shoved under the mousetrap when he “Doubted God’s Soverignity”.)

    When all you have is God’s Will Uber Alles (and it’s consorts Non-Causality & Worm Theology), why bother to do anything? Why bother to achieve anything? Why bother, period? (Though you DO have the ultimate excuse machine: “Not My Fault! God Willed It!”) In short, you end up with a Christianity that has adopted the worst features of Islam.

    Come to think of it, ever notice that in general when Christianity goes sour, it starts to resemble Islam?

  22. I’m with Michael on this one. That said, I think the insularity of the internet is a factor here. People can go from one blog to the next and never encounter a serious question of their beliefs. They are removed from the rough and tumble of idea exchange that often helps us to think through and refine our positions, interpretations and even doctrines.

    BTW-If you think you know what Arminianism is and you only know it from your Calvinist professors and favorite Calvinist blogger then you probably don’t. I strongly encourage you to read Olsen’s book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Very readable, and generous in spirit.

  23. Aren’t our attempts to so specificaly define the way in which God must act in this world akin to trying to hold the ocean in a teaspoon?

    Calvinism has always turned me off for that very reason. It seems to suggest a God that is sovreign in all things, but really defines a God who must behave in our clearly outlined decision tree. It makes for good, easily published theology books, but lacks the mystery that we know exists when we try to integrate theology into our actual lives and experiences. It’s a very easy answer to say, “Well I guess those people don’t really know the Living God,” when facing an opposing view….Makes it so much neater and simpler to be able to write off anything anyone has to say.

  24. Have to love all these little reformation popes that are running around.

  25. I’ve always been disturbed by the whole idea of “SOLA SCRIPTURA!”

    In my experience, it becomes all too easy to turn Christ into nothing more than a Party Line of proof texts. Verses quoted like spells from a grimoire, passages turned into thought-stoppers. Never question The Party Line of Young Earth Creationism and Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist.

    Christ as nothing more than “The Party Line, Comrades”.

    I got that treatment in a splinter church back in the Seventies, and the scars are still there. I cannot even say the word “Scripture” out loud. Why praise the very weapon used to beat you into the dust?

    Aren’t our attempts to so specificaly define the way in which God must act in this world akin to trying to hold the ocean in a teaspoon? — Terri

    St Thomas Aquinas, most brilliant mind of his century, said near the end of his life that his Summa Theologica, a set of books exploring the existence & nature of God (and reconciling Christian teachings with Aristotalean logic) was “a thing of straw”. He claimed to have experienced a vision of God, and that all his life’s work had barely scratched the surface of that Reality.

    When you condense that Reality that the most brilliant mind of his time could barely comprehend to a Party Line of Proof Texts, you’re going to lose something in the condensation.

    Re Calvinist/Arminian: Has anyone ever thought to balance God’s Will with free will, with God offering a partnership with his creatures to work and just BE together?

  26. I find it interesting that when the tower of Siloam fell, Jesus offered no explanation of why it fell, just a warning to repent. I’m sure he could have given a wonderful three-point sermon on why tragedy strikes, but he did not. Yet theologians (and bloggers) spend their life trying to do just that. The “God or Satan” question – I don’t consider that blasphemy. Who has not wondered that very thing at times, especially if your spiritual education came about through fundamental churches.

  27. I detect a number of heretofore undisclosed Arminians in Michael’s audience. I find it interesting that the iMonk attracts such a diverse audience given his declared affinity for Calvinism. Yes, it’s off topic but where else am I going to say it.

    Anyway, I attribute that to the iMonk’s catholicity of spirit. We should all be deeply appreciative.

    BTW–are you praying for Michael? Reminder that he asked us to do so a few weeks ago given his schedule for the fall semester. Intercession is neither Calvinist nor Arminian (and no cheap shots that it makes no sense for a Calvinist to pray).

  28. Thanks Caplight.

    For the record, I am a Reformation Christian, but I am not a Calvinist.

  29. Yes, caplight, I am praying for iMonk. I’m an ‘old’ reader/poster here who has tried to stay out of the combox lately for personal reasons. (Two months- enough time to ‘recover’ from blogoholism?)
    Can a person who is moving toward the Roman Catholic Church (in RCIA classes for over a year now) affirm exactly what iMonk has said here before? Beleieve that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and God himself, who died to save us all from death and sin?
    Ya’ll are way too theologically learned for me, and I know that my theological bent will always be too ‘Protestant’ for ultra-trad Catholics. (It doesn’t matter to me how this argument is framed. We are saved by God’s grace, and nothing else. Whether sacrametalism helps us or not is an open question. It helps me but I can’t speak for you.)
    But iMonk asks if we can share in affirming the Nicene creed. How is this Calvinist-Arminian argument taking us toward this most basic agreement?

  30. I’m embarrassed by the misspellings in my post previous.
    It’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’, the first day of school in Virginia. Too giddy to spell, apparently.

  31. “For the record, I am a Reformation Christian, but I am not a Calvinist.”

    Michael
    For those of us who would like to unpack that a bit, which of the sidebar “Categories” above would you direct us to, if any?

    Thanks.

  32. I’m right, and you’re wrong. QED.

    Isn’t that what most of the debate comes down to? The Scripture references to “back it up” are nothing but an ornate distraction from the truth–we beat each other over the heads with our own opinions, our own understanding. But who cares, because mine is right, and you’re misinterpreting. Yuck.

  33. Bob,

    The logical extreme of Arminianism is Pelagianism… it’s what Finney preached.

    Arminianism that is not taken to its logical extreme is not heresy.

  34. Bob Sacamento says

    One Salient Oversight wrote: The logical extreme of Arminianism is Pelagianism… it’s what Finney preached.
    I’m not going to argue. I’ll just show the flag again and match one assertion with another: Arminianism taken to its logical “extreme” is … Arminianism. It is just not Pelagianism. Yes, Finney preached Pelagianism. That makes Finney a non-Arminian by definition. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, which another commenter mentioned earlier, is an excellent book that details, among many other things, how Finney strayed from the Arminian path.

    Arminianism that is not taken to its logical extreme is not heresy.
    Thanks for that, at least. I can cheefully say the same thing about Calvinism! 🙂

  35. I’m with Sally on the Tower of Siloam comparison. That counter-example of how to preach about tragedies has been in my mind lately.

    I read Piper’s initial post, Olson’s response, and Phillips’ critique. I do think that Olson went farther than he should have, if he were simply responding to Piper’s comments on that one post. (As several have said, he’s got some history with Piper, and he may be responding to more than just that post.)

    I also think that he wasn’t careful in how he worded the alternatives: we Arminians can object to the idea that God *directly* caused the bridge collapse (“Let’s smash this bridge on…3, 2, 1, *now!*”) without saying that God isn’t able to stop it. I don’t think Olson said God *couldn’t* stop it, but that God will, in general, not be using miracles (direct, divine intervention, contrary to normal physical laws) to prevent every disaster waiting to happen. Olson was a bit too wishy-washy in how he worded this (especially about God’s response to prayer), but I don’t think he means what some Calvinists have accused him of (believing in a powerless God).

    I just finished Olson’s _Arminian Theology_ and was impressed. As for the question of open theology, Olson wrote in that book (in 2006) that he wasn’t an open theist, but he had some sympathy for how they tried to reconcile God’s foreknowledge with libertarian free will. I don’t know if he’s come to agree with open theism in the past year or not.

    One other thing I’ve noticed in this discussion is that people too often write of “the Calvinist God” or “the Arminian God,” which would better be written as the “Calvinist understanding of God,” etc. We need to keep the focus on the fact that we’re debating the best way to *understand* God. Olson’s argument is not with God but with how Calvinists think about God. He’s not saying God *is* indistinuishable from the devil, but that Calvinists (wrongly, we believe) understand Him in a way that seems similar to us.
    The accusations of blasphemy and whatnot flying around stem from this mistake.

    I find it similar to how certain apologists that don’t need to be named will conflate their interpretation of the Gospel with the Gospel itself. And so if anyone says “you’re wrong in your explanation of X,” they loftily respond that they’ll “never be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” etc., etc. And accuse the other side of denying the Gospel itself.

  36. “Ironically, Phillips uses C.S. Lewis’s description of God as “not a tame lion” as part of his shaming of Olson.”

    Gak! I guess Phillips never read The Last Battle, since the ‘not a tame lion’ argument was exactly what the Ape used to say all sorts of horrible things in Aslan’s name while trying to pass off a donkey in a lion skin as the Real Thing.

    “Re Calvinist/Arminian: Has anyone ever thought to balance God’s Will with free will, with God offering a partnership with his creatures to work and just BE together?” – Ken

    Yes – Judaism. It’s part of the idea called ‘tikkun olam’.

  37. Did any one cite Greg Boyd’s response to Piper. It was quite good I thought.

    http://gregboyd.blogspot.com/2007/08/why-35w-bridge-collapsed.html

  38. “Re Calvinist/Arminian: Has anyone ever thought to balance God’s Will with free will, with God offering a partnership with his creatures to work and just BE together?” – Ken

    Yes – Judaism. It’s part of the idea called ‘tikkun olam’.

    Then we Christians have got to get back to our Jewish roots on that one.

  39. Yep. I don’t know how we lost the idea. It would have been pretty much the basic assumption for nearly all of Jesus’ original audience.