September 23, 2020

Some Relevant Quotes for the Olson Discussion

shocked-and-appalled.jpgUPDATE: Keith Schooley takes the big chance of critiquing Piper’s statements on sovereignty.

UPDATE II: It’s a good thing the Calvinistic blogosphere wasn’t around when Wesley wrote Predestination Calmly Considered.

Now, I beseech you to consider calmly, how is God good or loving to this man? Is not this such love as makes your blood run cold? This causes the ears of him that heareth to tingle . And can you believe there is that man on earth or in hell, who can truly tell God, ” Thus hast thou done.” Can you think, that the loving, the merciful God, ever dealt thus with any soul which he hath made. But you must and do believe this, if you believe unconditional election.

In 2006, Roger Olson wrote the following editorial in the Baptist Standard, the denominational newspaper of Texas Baptists. Included is the following quote. Looks like Olson caught his bad attitude from a predictably bad (ahem) source: Wesley. (jn)

Calvinism is belief in divine determinism; God is the all-determining reality who sovereignly plans and controls all events, including the free choices of humans. Arminians ask how free people can be if their decisions are controlled. Arminians wonder how God is good and loving in light of the combination of evil in the world and God’s all-determining sovereignty and power. Even the most die-hard Calvinist hesitates to lay sin and evil at God’s doorstep. After talking about God’s all-determining power, they wince at saying God determined the fall of humanity in the garden or Hitler’s holocaust. A hardy few press on and say God even caused the terrorist acts of Sept. 11.

Those of us who believe in real freedom of will, liberty and power of contrary choice see that as the only escape from making God the author of sin and evil. A God who determines people to sin, even if only by “efficacious permission” (withdrawing the grace necessary not to sin), is the ultimate sinner. A God who could save everyone, because salvation is unconditional, but passes over many—sending them to eternal damnation—is morally ambiguous at best. As John Wesley commented, if this is love, it is such a love as makes the blood run cold.

Meanwhile, here’s the first comment at Steve Hays fisking of Olson.

The god of open theism is a pansy. Likewise, the god of Arminianism.

Is that an applause sign I see flashing? And then back to Rick Phillips, in clarifying what he said regarding Roger Olson.

I have also long believed that the logical implications of self-conscious Arminianism are anti-Christian…

(Phillips says that most Arminians themselves are Christians.) Of course, Job had a few things to say about God that won’t be heard in most churches these days.

Job 9:20 Though I am in the right, my own mouth would condemn me;
though I am blameless, he would prove me perverse.
21 I am blameless; I regard not myself;
I loathe my life.
22 It is all one; therefore I say,
He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.
23 When disaster brings sudden death,
he mocks at the calamity of the innocent.

Then there is BHT fellow Joel Hunter, commenting over at Thinklings in a similar discussion.

Olson is dissenting from the way that some/many Calvinists (like Piper) have applied their theology to a concrete situation and the God that is described thereby. The problem I had with Phillips’ response to Olson was his criminalization of such dissent. To dissent from a particular Reformed gloss on God’s involvement in the bridge collapse and other such tragedies is tantamount, in Phillips’ view, to the unpardonable sin (blasphemy of the Holy Spirit). To dissent from the approved Reformed explanation is to place one’s soul in mortal danger of hell fire. Phillips can hardly be accused of “casually dismissing as blasphemy” Olson’s view!

As far as Olson living up to his own standards, I think charity demands that the dissenter be allowed some rhetorical flourishes to make his point. Olson is the outsider and the minority voice in the theological discussion. He is speaking and acting outside the conventions and norms for acceptable views on Reformed theodicy and metaphysics. Phillips imposes a false dilemma: either you agree with his God-thesis and theodicy or you blaspheme. It seems to me that a united Xian response to these complex matters and tragic events requires that we humor the one who dissents from our bold confessional lines–we may find a third (or 4th or 5th) option to be more faithful to the biblical witness. Phillips seems to be prepared to say catholicity extends only as far as the footprint of our confessional tent…

My main complaint is the vehemence brought to bear against Olson’s questions and claims, which, as you rightly point out, are “within the pale of orthodoxy.” I think there’s something to iMonk’s intuition that the line Olson crossed was not theological, but political-practical. He’s actually bringing Arminian theology into a difficult matter as if it were a legitimate discussion partner! The gall! Outrageous!

When I read Phillips feigning concern for Olson’s immortal soul, I simply cannot believe it. Does he really think that Olson’s theologizing is tantamount to being an unpardonable sin? But if he *doesn’t* believe that Olson is in the process of damning himself (so to speak 🙂 then why say he is? To shock him into silence? To make an example of him to passersby? Why? Why can’t Olson make his points and raise his questions and we all slouch around our keyboards and say something like, “Roger, it’s good to see the quiet side of the room–you Arminians–trying to apply your theology to these lamentable tragedies. But you’re wrong and here’s why…”. I mean, a little good-natured arrogance and grandstanding can go a long way.

Instead, Olson gets a hatchet to the skull and truly reformed theology scores another notch on its belt. And then the noble science of theology is no longer pursuit of the knowledge of God in Christ, it’s a team sport…


  1. Here’s the sloppy logic that amuses me:

    Calvinists believe we’re elected by God, our future is predetermined by God, salvation is through faith and not works, once saved always saved, etc.

    Then an Arminian speaks up with a critique of Calvinism. And suddenly he’s in danger of losing his salvation.

    Does monergism only work if you’re a monergist?

  2. I think you misunderstand how things have been worded above. Nowhere did any Calvinist use “sloppy logic” to say any Arminian above might “lose his salvation”.

  3. That’s the original Phillips post saying Olson’s soul was in danger.

  4. Folks–we have have been asked by Michael to pray for him this semester with his over the top work load (see his post of August 18, 2007). Just a friendly reminder to all of us who benefit from iMonk’s ministry here and at BHT to intercede before the Father on Michael’s behalf. I would think we would want to include Denise in that as well.

    Not sure where else to post this so we all get it so I’m doing it here. I found it helpful to pray Ephesians 1:15-23 for him this morning. Just a suggestion.

    RCCs–feel free as far as I’m concerned to bring Michael before the Blessed Mother as well.

  5. What I mean is that no Calvinist said he was going to lose his salvation.

    There’s a big difference between “losing” and “never having” which is implied I suppose in the comments.

    It was more than a “critique” of Calvinism, Leslie….Olson basically said Calvinists worship the devil. (If our God is indistinguishable from the devil…that’s a logical conclusion. It is as logical as the “mealy-mouth” Calvinists saying we are worried for his soul instead of “he’s in danger of hell-fire”.)
    Calvinists just came back and said ditto, but in nicer language.

    I’m suprised you are mad at the Calvinists in this, Michael…the “bridge” theology is just the logical application of the two tenents of the London Baptist Confession you posted on last month. He has basically said the God of the LBC is the same as the devil….

  6. jManning:

    That’s outrageous. Olson neither said nor intended any such thing. How slanderous can you get? He said that the Calvinistic view of sovereignty (as expressed by some Calvinists) confuses HIM in regard to the relationship of God and the Devil.

    Olson isn’t the first to point this out and it’s ridiculous to act as if any fifth grader reading the first two chapters of Job didn’t think of the same question.

    Your view of a professor of theology stating a hyperbolic example of where he sees a particular theological premise leading is a universe from claiming Calvinists worship the devil.

    This same conversation happens in seminaries all over America.

    I’m speechless. The forbidden speech zone greets me this morning and you wonder why it’s irritating? Because I believe in the discussion of theology and the toleration of minority views.

  7. ” The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.”
    “The God proclaimed by John Piper is sometimes ‘too big’ in the sense that he doesn’t seem personal enough to come near and dwell with us for our sakes. He’s aloof and self-absorbed. That’s not the loving, self-emptying, often vulnerable, caring and suffering God of the Bible.”
    “Some Calvinists will say he’s not guilty because he has a good intention for the event — to bring good out of it, but the Bible expressly forbids doing evil for the sake of good.”

    If he says the God of Calvinism is indistinguishable from the devil, what is it he is saying Calvinists worship?

    He is not through these quotes saying “I am confused by the Calvinist view”, he is contrasting what he feels is the biblical view, and the Calvinist view.

  8. Do you actually believe that Olson believes Calvinists worship the devil?

  9. No, but his rhetoric which suggests they do, is as strong as the other guy’s rhetoric that his soul is in peril. I was just curious why one was guilty in your view and the other (Olson) got off clean.

  10. Because Olson is engaging in theological repartee’ in the spirit of, as I said, everyone from Jeremiah to Luther to the pyros, and Phillips is saying that Olson’s soul is in danger.

    The real irritant is that, right or wrong, someone dared to speak up. The rules are that Arminians and non-Calvinists are supposed to quietly allow Calvinists to characterize their positions for them. If they engage in similar dialogs, they are the worst kinds of persons.

    I’m not siding with Olson. I’m standing, as I always have, with the person engaging in discussion against the person who says you aren’t a Christian if you aren’t their version of reformed.

    You’re admitting to taking Olson’s rhetoric and extending it to your version of its logical end when you know he doesn’t believe Calvinists worship Satan. “Olson’s position, if logically extended, could mean….” or “Olson is saying that….” Big difference.

  11. Patrick Kyle says

    One of the real problems with Calvinism is that it arbitrarily promotes the sovereignty of God over every one of His other attributes, Jesus, and even the Scriptures. Why not start with His holiness, or His love, or His hatred of sin, or some other arbitrarily selected attribute? How about starting with His work in Christ? (There is a novel concept.)

    Calvinists end up having to cram the Scriptures into a logically constructed framework to square them with what their reason tells these people must logically be true in light of God’s sovereignty.

    Then someone challenges this construct and is labeled a blasphemer. I find the whole mess sickening. I think that Calvinism gives a distorted picture of God,and don’t even get me started on their view of the two natures of Christ.
    There are other biblically grounded alternatives to Calvinism, that do a lot more justice to the Scriptures, and are ultimately more sane.

  12. even as a fellow Arminian, I wouldn’t be presumptuous to say I spoke on Olson’s behalf, but his comment made perfect sense to me, and was not impugning the christian profession of any Calvinist brother. To me that portrayal of God, so hard and cold, whose “love”, when you think through the doctrinal implications, always comes a poor second to his concern for his sovereignty, sounds more like an enemy. This is not the God I know, love and worship, this is not the God who laid down His life for me in extravagant love and then said ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father”. The god who hung on that cross was willing to lay aside sovereignty and control for my sake. What really confuses me is why Calvinists call their presentation the “doctrines of grace”.

  13. I think it is very important to keep in mind that there is only one God.

    Thus when someone speaks of “the God of Calvinism” they are NOT talking about another God, but rather about a certain VIEW of the ONE God.

    Thus, what Olson is saying is not that Calvinists worship the devil, but that, in his opinion, Calvinists do not see or characterize the ONE GOD they worship properly.

    To claim otherwise is not taking things to their logical conclusions, but rather is taking things to ridiculous extremes.

  14. Wow, this is really sad.

    They call it the doctrines of grace because if man hates God via Romans 8:7, its grace that you no longer hate him today Lynne, and not anything you’ve done.

    Michael, I love how everytime you say something against a Calvinist, people swarm out of the wordwork to bash Calvinism and those who hold it. i.e. Lynne, Kyle and Leslie, and a myriad of others over the last few months.

    Kyle, is it sane to pray for God to save someone when you know He can’t? Because if you want to call Calvinism on its sanity, there’s one for your side to think about.

  15. jmanning,

    You can’t pray for someone to be saved if it’s God’s sovereign choice. Right? You just have to take it. But what about Jesus’ promise that the Father would do whatever his disciples asked? And there’s the problem.

    My problem with all the Piperites, Sproulites, and Macarthurites is that they put their system in front of scripture and the revelation of God’s character in the person of Jesus Christ. According to the early church, Jesus is the fullest and purest revelation of God. If you have seen him you have seen the Father. What is wrong with both Calvinism and Arminianism is that they systematize scripture with the person of Jesus as only a part of that system. WRONG. The person of Jesus Christ is the most perfect systematic theology we will ever find.

    I have to deal with Piperites all day long. I live on a prominent SBC university. They go around spouting the Piperitian language about everything. But when I ask them about WHY they believe these things, they quote a few scriptures out of context or either look like a deer caught in the headlights. When I question their use of certain scriptures and put them in their original context, they still don’t understand. Many just keep blindly following what they have heard or read.

    How does this doctorine demonstrate sola scriptura? Philips judges another person’s being in Christ by his own little system. That’s brilliant. If you disagree with me,well, I guess you’re not a “true” believer. You’re not an apostate, you just never “got saved”(because Calvanists do not believe that a “true” believer can apostasize, they whip the ol’ “never got saved” line out to scare or intimadate people.
    Ad hominem arguements and mere assertions have no place in God’s people.

  16. Uh, I just wanted to mention that I have enjoyed some of Piper’s books and agree with many aspects that he presents. I also believe that he IS a Christian.

  17. There is another “belief in Divine Determinism” –Islam: “Al’lah has written your fate on your forehead before the foundation of the world…”

    A contact of mine had some problems with a hyper-Calvinistic church some years ago; he reported the same characteristics you see in Islam: Passivity, fatalism, non-causality, domineering aggressiveness (“God Wills It!”), and absence of personal responsibility (“Not my fault! God Willed It!”)

  18. Michael, I’m with jmanning on this one. I can’t understand how you can defend Olson and bash Phillips at the same time. The quote couldn’t be more clear:

    ”The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil.”

    Wow! I’m as outraged at that statement as you are about Phillips’ statement. How can a person read Job and still make a statement like Olson’s? God allowed (directed, ordained, whatever you want to call it) Satan to kill Job’s family, take his possessions, and inflict him with boils. And in the end, Job says,

    2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
    3’Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
    Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
    4’Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
    5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
    6 therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6).

    And yet this God is the same God who describes Himself in Ex. 34 as “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

    Forget the Bible for a moment; can you study the writings of men such as John Calvin, Charles Spurgeon, John Piper, etc, etc, and actually say you can’t distinguish “their” God from the devil?

    Olson says, “The God proclaimed by John Piper is sometimes ‘too big’ in the sense that he doesn’t seem personal enough to come near and dwell with us for our sakes. He’s aloof and self-absorbed. That’s not the loving, self-emptying, often vulnerable, caring and suffering God of the Bible.”

    He must be reading the writings of a different John Piper than I am.

    Also, have you read Phillips’ own post, where he expressly says he was not intending to question the salvation of Arminians? Please read “Still Very Troubled”, 9/6/07,

    He distinguishes between Arminians and hyper-Arminians (Open Theists), just as I hope you would distinguish between Calvinists and hyper-Calvinists.

  19. Memphis Aggie says

    I think there’s something to Olsen’s concern about the focus of sovereignty’s as central to our view of God. God’s sovereignty is so safe so secure that He need not concern Himself over it. He hides His glory in human flesh for us through His great Mercy (if I was too be pick an aspect of God to focus on it would be Mercy). However, sovereignty, position and power are the consuming concerns of Satan, due to insecurity. Thus superficially, the focus on sovereignty has the appearance insecurity and this reminds one of the devil.

  20. Matthew Cisneros says

    I don’t really have anything to add to either side of this conversation, but it looks like similar discussions are going on in the blogosphere.
    Denny Burk and Gregory Boyd are also discussing Open Theism and Calvinism.

  21. There’s an old joke which, hopefully, I tell as a Calvinist who is able to laugh at himself.

    Question: What did the Calvinist say after falling down a long flight of stairs?
    Answer: I’m glad that’s over with.

    The joke, it seems to me, points to the comic way we as Calvinists can so objectify the decrees of God that we make ourselves mere observers of our own lives. Our doctrines are comical when we do not find them in the midst of living our lives. For one who is alive, a tragic event, whether personal or global, makes us shudder with doubt, confusion and even horror. It’s only at this point where we can begin to find real meaning in God’s sovereignty. For this reason, I’m not offended by Olson’s remarkss. They help me to shudder where I should.

  22. Josh,
    If Jesus is the most perfect systematic theology we have:
    John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.”
    John 6:38 “All that the Father gives me will come to me…”

    That’s not a system, it’s pure Scripture…try the context…it’s pretty clear. I’ll still say I’m a “Calvinist” because it is a helpful category, and I can’t say I’m a “John 6:44 and 38ist”. I understand what you say, that Jesus Christ is our final prism, to make the mixed beams of light seperate categorically in Scripture…so that we don’t fight Scripture with Scripture, but illuminate Scripture with Scripture. So I agree, and that’s a great statment, if you mean we harmonize Scripture, and not dismantle Scripture by Scripture.

  23. If this is correcting and exhorting one another in love, it is such a love as makes the blood run cold.

    I agree with Josh: Though Calvinists likely don’t mean to, the hinge on which their system turns is God’s sovereignty. If you do anything to impugn His sovereignty (or Calvinism in general) they fight you as if His sovereignty might actually be lessened by human comments. Sometimes it’s with scripture, sometimes ad hominem attacks; all’s fair in the righteous defense of God. When I was a Calvinist, I did much the same thing.

    I don’t have an issue with God’s sovereignty, not at all. I still have to remind fellow Arminians that God has more free will than we do, and that our free will is not sovereign; God can and does violate it whenever He wants. (Sometimes by taking away all our other options, and in doing so He has brought many people to Himself.) Scriptures make it clear that God is almighty and in control. But we needn’t do anything with that information other than to recognize it and rejoice; I wouldn’t want anyone else in control.

    Scripture makes it just as clear that God is love, which is just as awesome. It is more than one of God’s attributes; it is God’s nature and the primary motivator behind every act of His sovereignty. Because God loves, we love. We love fellow Christians, our neighbors, and our enemies. We’re drawn to Christ because of His love for us.

    We’re to preach God’s love to the lost; but when I was a Calvinist we were taught to preach God’s sovereignty to the lost. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” type stuff. Not that we shouldn’t bring up hell, but if we weren’t all-focused on sovereignty maybe we were lost.

    Which is what I see in both Michael’s original post and the subsequent discussion. Joel Hunter’s quip about “hatchet to the skull” sounds exactly like the blunt-force arguments that I receive whenever I point out inconsistencies in Calvinism. Such as my “Does monergism only work if you’re a monergist?” jibe.

    When you see a Christian acting without love, John says this is where you question whether they’re saved to begin with; (1Jn 1) not whether they teach something other than sovereignty. We should be able to debate on what shape sovereignty takes, and how it interacts with human free will — and never at the expense of love and maintaining Christian relationships. That’s hard to do when you’re condemning one another.

  24. Leslie, when you talk like that I want to shake hands with you almost. God’s sovereignty is consistent with His other attributes, such as love, mercy, wrath, etc.

    Not all Calvinists are philosophically shackled to a “free radical” sovereignty that shades all other attributes with its color. I would say God has sovereign love, sovereign mercy, etc etc. The attributes aren’t cut and dry as if we could say where the love ends, and the wrath begins. They all flow out of a unified (I and the Father are One – Jesus) epicenter. The main reason sovereignty gets such a big push today, and is used as a weapon is that it is the main thing attacked.

  25. Can anyone tell me WHY we should do systematic theology with a valid reason? Can someone explain to me why I should place a western philosophical system on an Eastern text. There may just be too much jello for the mold. And then, can someone prove to me that a systematic theology can be formed that adequately describes the awesome God that created the cosmos and was revealed most fully in the person of Jesus Christ?

    I don’t think Arminianism or Calvinism adequately describes or explains the God revealed in the holy scriptures, the person of Christ, and the Great Tradition. I prefer to exegesis, read biblical studies, and the great works of our past and present. I also recite the great creeds of the past every Sunday in church. They remind us that the Father is a creator, the Son is a Savior, and the Holy Spirit is our Great God’s presence among us.

    I am commiting my life to a journey of discipleship and study. The whole A versus C mess is for the birds.

  26. Thanks for the link, Michael. I deeply appreciated your original essay. What is it about us that we can’t have a disagreement without going for the jugular? In seminary I was taught that Calvinism/Arminianism was an in-house debate among fellow evangelicals, and not a test of orthodoxy. What happened?

  27. jmanning, may I suggest a small correction to your last comment? I am Reformed in theology, subscribe to the WCF, am the husband of one wife, etc. etc. etc. However, I do not agree that wrath is one of God’s attributes. His attributes are his permanent and unchanging character, those perfections without which he would not be who he is. Wrath is always temporary with God; it is a mood. It is kindled and quenched. Not so with his love, (He *is* love), his mercy (He *is* mercy), his goodness (He *is* good), his sovereignty (He *is* sovereign/ty).

    This is the sort of minor slip that someone disinclined to calvinism would point to as possibly indicative of a much larger problem with our system of doctrine. It is more than enough to raise a question about our assumptions, challenge our formulations about divine things, and fuel dissent. And both the need and propriety of dissent was (and continues to be) the primary issue in my mind with respect to this whole obsession over silencing those questions, challenges and dissent. There is no final answer to incomprehensible things this side of glory. The book of Lamentations alone should forever disabuse us of setting limits on what may or may not be contemplated and asked when dealing with the daily horrors of human life, much less the sheer enormity of evil in the world. My objection is the effacement of practical theology, christology and eschatology from their rightful norm-setting role in theological discussion and debate. We desperately need them to retain any sense of a sane witness before a watching and listening world.

    I draw this out from your comment not because I think you are guilty of some gross sin against the Holy Spirit or even of a minor misunderstanding of reformed theology. I draw it out only to try to demonstrate–hopefully–a charitable way to engage in discussion and correction, one which sets what we’re doing within a John 17 and Philippians 2 context of unity, versus the team sport which glories most of all in humiliating the brother or sister, whilst calling it standing for “truth,” but which is nothing more than propaganda. Blogging is the perfect delivery system for this poison.

  28. God sovereignly chooses us, and when we repent and trust in Jesus as Savior, we come to faith through our free will.

    God controls everything and knows the end from the beginning. Is figuring out who will come to faith that hard for Him?

    Same for double predestination, God knows those who are hard of heart, and He hardens them.

  29. Patrick Kyle says


    Please clarify your question to me. Praying for God to save someone when He can’t? What are you talking about? I am not an open theist. Furthermore, the Reformed have filled the blogosphere with their holier than thou judgments and and pompous pronouncements regarding who is a Christian and who is not. When someone like me stands up and says that they think the Calvinist doctrine is imbalanced and in cases even false, I am accused of ‘bashing’. I don’t like Reformed doctrine. Calling it the ‘doctrines of grace’ is truly ironic.

  30. After talking about God’s all-determining power, they wince at saying God determined the fall of humanity in the garden or Hitler’s holocaust. A hardy few press on and say God even caused the terrorist acts of Sept. 11.
    I make no comment either way on the main line of discussion, but did anyone else find these sentences odd? Is Olson implying that the events in New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 are worse than Hitler’s holocaust or the fall of humanity?

  31. Josh,

    That whole eastern/western thing is overplayed. Even people in the East believe in the law of noncontradiction.

    At some point you have to say Jesus is either A or B. Even in saying Jesus is a person to follow exclusively, you are doing systematics.

  32. Joel,
    I’m sorry if my ontology of God isn’t up to par, but I stand by my comment. If one of God’s attributes is not wrath, He doesn’t have the attribute of mercy either.

    Wrath is something He shows as part of His character. If God is eternal, at some point it was just the Trinity existing. In this context, it is impossible to show mercy since all you are surrounded with is perfection. Wrath is in the same category. If we are going to say God is merciful, He is even when He is not surrounded with any recipients for mercy. The same for wrath. But I think this is nit-picking. Daniel Fuller’s “Unity of the Bible” is where I got this, its not original of course…check it out.

  33. jmanning,

    I don’t think you get what I’m saying. It’s not about the law of noncontradiction.

    I don’t have a problem with interpreting the texts through careful exegesis and thoughtful hermeneutics and then seeking to understand the picture as a whole.

    I do have a problem with seeking to build a system that is so tightly fitted that if one piece slips the whole stack of cards falls. Take limited atonement for example. Reformed commentators come up with some whacky interpretations for simple passages like John 3:16 and the Pastoral Epistles’ claim that God desires to save all people. In these cases, the systematic theology guides the interpretation and severely mars it in order to keep their system from falling. That’s just plain wrong. The texts should be properly interpreted in their own context and THEN fitted together. If they topple your system then modify it or junk it all together. All the propositions stated in early creeds like the Apostle’s creed are valid because they properly interpret scripture.

    If we are going to call ourselves Reformed then we need to keep reforming in light of better exegetical tools and processes, archaeological discoveries, and remembering that Calvanism was formed in historical circumstances that influenced interpretation (ours too but at least we can acknowledge the fact and lay our presuppositions on the table and try to not let them influence us).

    I challenge anyone, go to the pre-Augustine church fathers and see what they say. The closer to the first proclamation the closer to the truth.

  34. Josh,
    Does that mean the “Shepherd of Hermes” is closer to the truth than Martin Luther’s view on justification? Does that mean Polycarp is more accurate than Piper?

    Because even in the first generation of Patristic fathers, grace vanishes from their writings. They become very legalistic. Within a few hundred years, baptism became linked with regeneration and if you every denied your faith, in most of the Christian world you could never be received back into the church, and according to that theology; no church = no salvation. Just beause they are closer to the source doesn’t mean they go just as wrong as those further behind.

    Grace wasn’t “rediscovered” until Athanasius started working on the person of Christ in his theology against Arius. And then Augustine got his hands in it too.

    Yes, *some* Reformed commentators come up with wacky interpretations, anyone can come up with a wacky view. But what makes the most sense out of most of the data? There’s a reason why a good number of Bible scholars hold Reformed views, and it’s not dementia.

  35. Respectfully, jmanning, but no. The Scriptures do not speak of “categories” of which “mercy” and “wrath” are in some second or third tier arrangement of ying and yang. What Fuller thinks has no claim on me. Rather, I subscribe to the Westminster confession as a faithful exposition of the Scriptures (and which itself is contingent and fallible), and it, along with the other historic reformed confessions, know nothing of this equipoise between divine mercy and wrath. God’s steadfast love and mercy endure forever. Not his wrath. His wrath is temporary, derivative, and always in response to some concrete event or activity. Furthermore, it is his intolerance of sin and evil that is experienced by us as his wrath; it is not a divine attribute in any positive sense. I think what you have articulated is an example of putting the Scriptures beneath systematic thinking. Your account of divine mercy and wrath owes more to Plato’s Theory of Opposites than to the Scriptures. See Phaedo 102a10 ff. This scholasticism is a difficulty faced by every human attempt to systematize all that the Bible teaches–it is certainly not unique to us reformed types. It must always be chastened by the Scriptures, not the other way around.

  36. Well Joel,
    If you are following the WCF, then you believe God ordained people to eternal damnation from all eternity (III.iii.). How do you account that God could decide to confine people to wrath for all eternity, if wrath is just a reaction to sin? There is no sin for Him to react to in a foreseen sense according to the WCF (III.ii.). If God has planned a hell, and a heaven, based not on anything foreseen…are you saying God, being infinte mercy and not wrath, planned and purposed wrath without forseeing sin? And if wrath is “quenched”, why is hell’s fire not?

    I am not arguing a “correct” view, I am merely questioning yours. I don’t know the answers.

    I think your view of God’s attributes and the WCF don’t agree, and I don’t think the WCF makes sense here (III.ii-iii.) Then again, Romans 9 doesn’t make sense. And when God declares Himself in Exodus 34:6-8, He declares mercy and wrath, and Moses worshipped. I can’t understand election, and I can’t understand God’s character, but I know it is revealed to contain both mercy and wrath. Logically I can punch holes in the WCF and your argument, but I don’t claim to *know* a better explanation than to quote those verses to you. I will stand by my comments above, and let you have the WCF here, you can wrestle with it 🙂

  37. Michael: The rules are that Arminians and non-Calvinists are supposed to quietly allow Calvinists to characterize their positions for them.

    I will not argue for a moment against the fact this seems to be an unwritten rule in TR-dom. However, mischaracteriztion of the other side’s perspective is the sport of choice on both sides of this debate. Case in point — less than an hour later in the comments we see this:

    Josh: You can’t pray for someone to be saved if it’s God’s sovereign choice. Right?

    This is closely related to illogical conclusion #249. I am sure that there are those who embrace Calvinism who also hold a fatalistic view of God’s sovereignty, and see no point in prayer or evangelism. But to imply that belief in God’s sovereignty in matters of salvation means that one must be fatalistic is wrong.

    Besides, if you’re going to tell others what they believe, you have to do it in motivational poster form. 😉

  38. Brendt,

    That is a logical conclusion. I have seen all the arguements and all a lot of begging the question.

    What irks me the most is how Calvanists load the term “sovereign” up with all sorts of sytematic theology connotation. That is, they take the term describing God as king out of context and redefine the term to mean “total control.” If someone objects to the determinism, they say “oh, you don’t believe that God is sovereign?” Then they call you a heretic or say that you were “never saved.”

    I am not defending Arminanism or anything. It just really pisses me off when people read their own definitions into biblical concepts or perform outright eisegesis. When someone like Olson challenges these things, they recieve an ad hominem attack.

    I love scholarship because it keeps people honest. Olson’s words might have been somewhat inflammatory but the response of doubting his salvation or anyone else that disagreed was pretty pathetic.

  39. I’m a brand new visitor to this blog and just read this immediate discussion, so I may be coming in on the middle and am uninformed and out of place, but . . .

    I think Josh presented the trump card here: systematic theology lives or dies by its hermeneutic. None of us can escape our own theological paradigms and rationalities, but we all are accountable for what we do with Scripture. Either we submit to it, as to a message from beyond our finite scope, or we assume mastery over it as if it were a tool in our hands. The Ark of the covenant is an apt symbol: we either approach it for worship or we take it into our own hands, push it on the Philistines, and lose it because God withdrew from us for attempting to “use” His Presence.

    The question for both sides and all kibitzers is Josh’s question: have you been true to Scripture AS IT IS PRESENTED

  40. Josh,

    I’m totally with you on most of this. The attacks on Olson were largely ludicrous. Questioning someone’s salvation is (IMHO) something that should (at most) be private. And unequivocably stating the non-salvation of others is nothing short of blasphemy — it is setting oneself up to be “like God”, and we all know how well that worked out for Lucifer. And I will freely admit that this latter thing is something that largely comes out of the reformed (clears throat) Camp.

    I have two points of disagreement though.

    1) Maybe it’s the fallacy of the written word and internet, but you seem to be over-generalizing. Not ALL of us Calvinists are [insert favorite pejorative noun here].
    2) If you think it logical that one cannot ask God to do something that He’s already “made up His mind” about, you haven’t read Psalms lately.

  41. The question “How do I know I’m saved?” is quite different from the question “How do I know I’m elect?”. They look the same since we (Calvinists) reason, if I know that I’m saved than I must also know that I’m elect. This, it seems to me, is something like a category mistake. We experience salvation. We can’t experience election.

    In the physical world we’re told that the color red is actually a range of frequencies. Yet the question “How do I know this apple is red?” is not the same as “How do I know that this apple reflects light within a given frequency range?”.

  42. Here is an interesting page from Miroslav Volf’s book “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a World Stripped of Grace”. I thought that this was relevant to Piper’s article/Olsen’s critique and the underlying views of God.

    There is a balance that is needed concerning God’s love and plan for people, and God’s show of his own greatness. Unfortunately, I think most Calvinists have a all too zealous “either/or” mentality. Here’s Volf’s quote:

    “Consider, first, what Luther calls human love, but which is better described as distorted love. It’s elicited by the object of love; it’s basically passive in the sense that it depends on the object of love, Its only activity, says Luther, consists in “receiving something”. A person sees beauty – or goodness or truth – and wants to have it. As a consequence, people who love in this way seek their “own good” in those they love: they don’t bestow any good on them. A man may shower a woman with gifts, but he may be doing it so that he can ingratiate himself to her, enjoy her, keep her, or even worse, so that he can display her as a trophy. When we love in this way, we are receivers, not givers.

    Contrast this kind of possessive love with divine love. First, divine love never had to come into being at all; it wasn’t elicited by its object. It simply is. It doesn’t depend on the truth, beauty, or goodness of the beloved. Second, as Luther stated, because God’s love isn’t caused by its object, it can love those who are not lovable…Luther concluded, “Rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good”.

    Such divine love is supremely manifested on the cross on which Jesus Christ took the sin of the world upon himself. “This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person”. Unlike merely human love, divine love gives and doesn’t receive.

    Some theologians claim that all God’s desires culminate in a single desire: to assert and to maintain God’s own glory. On its own, the idea of a glory-seeking God seems to say that God, far from being only a giver, is the ultimate receiver. As the great twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth disapprovingly put it, such a God would be “in holy self-seeking…preoccupied with Himself”. In creating and redeeming, such a God would give, but only in order to get glory; the whole creation would be a means to this end. In Luther’s terms, here we would have a God demonstrating human rather than divine love.

    But we don’t have to give up on the idea that God seeks God’s own glory. We just need to say that God’s glory, which is God’s very being, is God’s love, the creative love that wants to confer good upon the beloved. Now the problem of a self-seeking God has disappeared, and the divinity of God’s love is vindicated. In seeking God’s own glory, God merely insists on being toward human beings the God who gives. This is exactly how Luther thought about God. So should we.

    Yet have I now come full circle, inadvertently embracing God the Santa Claus, who gives without demanding anything? No, and the difference is this: Unlike gifts received from Santa Claus, whose gifts are the end of the story, God’s gifts oblige us to something further. To what do God’s gifts oblige us? What is the nature of the obligation? Let’s examine the second question first.” pages 38-39

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