Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

Blogging Through Grace For All – Chapter One

Chapter 1 of the book Grace For All is written by Roger Olson.  Dr. Olson’s focus is on the issue of whether Arminianism is man-centered theology.  This is a key question as Calvinists often accuse Arminians of being “man-centered” and “Pelagian” in our theology.  I find this ironic since I have read much of great Arminian scholars such as Arminius, John Wesley, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, Daniel Steele, Roger Olson, Vic Reasoner, Jack Cottrell, etc. and none of them have a man-centered approach.

Arminius wrote:

Our sacred Theology, therefore, is chiefly occupied in ascribing to the One True God, to whom alone they really belong, those attributes of which we have already spoken, his nature, actions, and will. For it is not sufficient to know, that there is some kind of a NATURE, simple, infinite, wise, good, just, omnipotent, happy in itself, the Maker and Governor of all things, that is worthy to receive adoration, whose will it is to be worshipped, and that is able to make its worshippers happy.

Far from having a man-centered theology, Arminius was clearly at home with the Reformers in embracing a theology that first and foremost focused on God.  It is the nature of God, His character that is the main debate among Arminians and Calvinists in my estimation.

Dr. Olson focuses first on various Calvinist theologians view of Arminianism and how it is nothing more than “man-centered theology.”  It seems Calvinists (or some at least) hold that Arminianism is barely orthodox.  Dr. Olson points out that Calvinists often attack Arminianism as man-centered in three ways:

1.  It’s focus on human goodness and ability in the realm of redemption.
2.  It limits God by suggesting that God’s will can be thwarted by human decisions and actions.
3.  It places too much emphasis on human fulfillment and happiness to the neglect of God’s purpose and glory.

Dr. Olson uses these three questions to jump into the rest of the chapter.  He does a good job of using the works of Arminius here to show what Arminius believed about what Calvinists have later said about his theology.  Ironically, even John Piper says that after reading Arminius, he enjoyed him and found him to be a deep, serious thinker with a focus on the glory of God.  I couldn’t agree more.  Having read Arminius on and off for most of the past 10 years, I have found Arminius to be nothing like what Calvinists often describe of Arminianism.  Arminius is clearly God-centered and his focus is on the glory of the King!

With regard to the three questions.  First, Olson points out that Arminianism has always held to total inability when it comes to sinners.  We need the divine aid of God to be saved (John 6:44).  The concept of prevenient grace both in Arminius (though he doesn’t use those words) and later John Wesley clearly shows a view of man that is anything other than sinful.  Man, because of sin, cannot obtain the perfect righteousness God requires (Matthew 5:48).  We need the aid of the Lord which He has graciously given to us in His Son (2 Corinthians 5:21).  Like Paul the Apostle, we find nothing in us but everything in Jesus (Philippians 3:8-9).

Secondly, Olson points out that Arminius held to the sovereignty of God.  The mystery in Arminianism is just this: how does a sovereign God get His will done while still allowing for free-will decisions by sinful humans.  The mystery in Calvinism is this: how is God not guilty of sin when He is the one who renders all things certain and nothing comes to pass without Him first ordaining it.  I will continue to uphold the mystery in Arminianism as the biblical mystery rather than trying to explain (as in Calvinism) how God can punish people who are only doing what God has ordained for them to do (according to their nature but their nature is determined first and foremost by God).  Arminius never wavered on the issue of God’s sovereignty.  He merely didn’t see divine determinism in the biblical understanding of God’s sovereignty.  To be sovereign does not mean that God must not only control but cause all things as in Calvinism.  Arminius was clear that God is sovereign over His creation and can do as He like but there is one thing God will never do and that is sin (James 1:13).  Because God cannot sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin, Calvinism runs into trouble by taking their definition of sovereignty and applies it even to sin.  In this way, God ordains sin and renders it certain yet the Calvinist has to wrestle with why God is not sinning.

And lastly, Olson rightly points out that Calvinism does not back away from the issue of happiness either.  John Piper preaches on this issue often with his Christian Hedonism.  A reading of Arminius shows that this was not a focus for him.  Arminius lived and preached during a time of great plagues.  Many died from the plagues and Arminius often risked his life to minister to the dying.  Arminius knew that heaven was the joy for the child of God.  This world is fleeting but heaven is eternal (John 11:25).  We focus on what is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

Olson concludes this chapter by making the focus not about man-centered versus God-centered.  The key issue, writes Olson, is the character of God.  In Calvinism, writes Olson, he finds little difference between God and Satan (Olson is not suggesting Calvinists worship Satan nor a false god).  The God of Calvinism wants a few to be saved and to damn most.  How is this different than Satan? writes Olson.  The character of God is best seen in His Son who is the “exact imprint of his nature” (Hebrews 1:3).  In Jesus we find a God who is loving, kind, praying both for His friends and His enemies, who has come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10).  Jesus came to show the Father (John 14:9) and He perfectly revealed Him to us in His life, death, and resurrection from the dead (Colossians 1:15-20).  Christ died for sinners (Romans 5:8) and this love was given for the entire world (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 1 John 4:10, 14).

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