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Posts Tagged ‘Roger Olson

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).

If I Pastored A Calvinist Church, I Would Resign

Dr. Roger Olsen recently wrote on what he called “stealth Calvinism” where pastors have been taking church positions (mainly in Baptist churches but others as well) but not telling the church that they were Reformed only later to introduce Calvinism through both the pulpit and by leadership.  I have witnessed this myself at two Baptist churches.  Both of them were Southern Baptist and both elected pastors whom did not tell their congregations that they were Reformed Baptists.  They simply affirmed the SBC statement of faith and moved on.  Later, however, they begin to teach classes on theology in which they introduced and indoctrinated the church into Calvinism.  They appointed various pastors (such as youth pastor and music leader) who likewise were trained at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville which is a Calvinist seminary.  The church slowly but surely became a Reformed Baptist church though never leaving the SBC.

Some Calvinists I know don’t have a problem with this.  After all, the SBC embraces both Calvinists and non-Calvinists (though they are truly Arminians but refuse to be labeled Arminians over fear of rejection) and many evangelical denominations such as the Assemblies of God are seeing a rise in Calvinistic pastors and leaders.  One Calvinist brother pointed out that Dr. John MacArthur took over Grace Community Church in 1969 and it was largely a Methodist leaning church with strong Arminian ties.  MacArthur broke those ties and today Grace Community Church is a bastion of Calvinism.

What I don’t appreciate about all this is that it seems to me to be lying.  If I were pastoring a Calvinist church, I would resign because I am not a Calvinist and don’t agree with Calvinism.  It is unfair and lying to try to pretend that I am Reformed in my theology.  I am not even close to being a Calvinist.  Could I preach the gospel in a Calvinist church?  Certainly.  But could I openly try to be a leader in a Calvinist church?  I could not and I would not.  I will not hide who I am nor will I hide my Arminianism.  It is part of me and comes out in my teaching all the time.

Honesty is the best policy.  If you are honest, tell the church you are attending your theological views.  Tell them that you are not in agreement with them on this issue or that.  Don’t hide who you are.  I once had a friend who would not get ordained in a church because he rejected a core doctrine of that church.  He was told to just agree to the doctrinal statement on paper but preach what you like.  He could not do this and feel he was being honest before God.

If the church I was going to pastor was clearly a Calvinistic church or even leaned toward Calvinism, I would inform them that I was an Arminian and go with that.  If they still wanted me to come, that is another issue.  I once had a large Baptist church call me about being their youth pastor (this was when I was younger and was in full-time youth ministry).  I talked to the pastor for a few minutes but informed him that I was not a Baptist, was an Arminian, and could not come to his church and hold to some of his doctrines (particularly the doctrine of eternal security).  He was gracious toward me and we parted ways though I prayed with him before he ended the call, that God would lead the church to the man they needed. (Ironically they selected a charismatic Baptist who didn’t tell them he was charismatic and led the youth group into the charismatic movement).

We need honesty from leaders.  After all, Hebrews 13:7 says that we are to “consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”  Could I ask someone to imitate my faith if in fact I was not being honest about my faith?  Leaders are to be “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:2) and lying is not above reproach.  Not fully revealing who you are is not “above reproach.”  Telling people what they want to hear just so you get a job and then introducing what you truly believe later on is not “above reproach.”

I don’t doubt that some pastors feel they cannot resign.  Where can they go?  I still say that honesty and a pure heart before God is more important than your position.  Where is your faith in God?  Where is your faith that if you are honest before the Lord and honest before people that He may not bless you?  Faithfulness to God is more important that a paycheck that you are lying to collect.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/11/2014 at 12:48 AM

When Calvinism Becomes the Issue

Dr. Roger Olson’s blog article is worth reading.  Dr. Olson writes about how Calvinism is more and more becoming like the old Fundamentalism and drawing lines in the sand over secondary issues.  They are also now making separation an issue.  In other words, the new Calvinists demand that their Calvinist brethren not only embrace Calvinism but deny fellowship to anyone not embracing Calvinism and denouncing those who are non-Calvinists or welcome non-Calvinists into their fellowship.  This is a hard-line in the sand but I too see it coming.

This is happening in some cases because some Calvinists confuse Calvinism with the gospel.  They quit Charles Spurgeon’s infamous statement that he preached the same gospel as Paul and that is Calvinism.  Calvinists believe that “the doctrines of grace” honor Christ as Lord above all other systems and in fact, all other systems are man-made, man-centered approaches to the gospel.  Only Calvinism, says some Calvinists, is the pure gospel that exalts the sovereignty of God, denies man’s part in his salvation, and makes Christ’s death on the cross effective.

Even sadder is the fact that Calvinists spend their time reading, quoting, commending, and applauding only Calvinists.  On all the new social media sites one can find Calvinists doing this on a daily basis.  Calvinists read Calvinists.  Calvinists fellowship with Calvinists.  Calvinists listen to other Calvinists preach.  Calvinists only study under Calvinist theologians.  This creates a Calvinist church that doesn’t tolerate any other views because Calvinism has all the answers.

My advice to both Arminians and Calvinists has been to read other theologians works.  And don’t just read them with an eye for error.  Obviously Scripture calls us to discernment (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).  I am not advocating blindly reading any theology book.  But I do advocate stretching yourself and reading those whom you might not fully agree.  I can safely read John MacArthur or John Piper though I know going in that I will not fully agree with all they write.  I can still learn from them.  And yet while I (and many other Arminians) take this approach toward Calvinists, I don’t feel the other side is doing this toward us.  Some might reply that there are a plethora of Calvinists books available but few Arminians (a point I do concede).  But there are Arminian works out there if you look for them.  Just this week I am reading a great new book from Dr. Vic Reasoner on inerrancy (I will post on this later).

My point in all this is that I fear Calvinism is becoming the issue.  Rather than the gospel being the issue.  The five points of Calvinism are becoming the standard for orthodoxy.  I fear a time when orthodoxy will be judged by Calvin and not by Scripture.  Further, I fear a church where only Calvinists are saved.  Anyone else, no matter what they believe, are deemed heretics.  I fear that day.  I pray it does not come.  I know some of my Calvinist brothers and sisters will say that I am being foolish here and paranoid but I do see the rise of Calvinism being a hinderance to the gospel and to fellowship and not a help.  Perhaps I am wrong but I fear I may be right.

May we all meditate on John 17:20-23; Ephesians 4:1-6.  May we remember that Jesus saves sinners (Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15) and not isms.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/06/2014 at 10:38 AM

Roger Olson’s Reply to the NYT Article on Calvinism

Calvinism has made it to the New York Times.  The NYT published an article written by Mark Oppenheimer on evangelicals and Calvinism.  His article focused on the rise of Calvinism in the evangelical church.  He quotes from a few Calvinist theologians and then quotes from Roger Olson whom he calls “Calvinism’s main critic” though Olson denies he is such.  You can read the Oppenheimer piece here.

Here is Roger Olson’s reply.

One section of note from Olson is this:

People need to remember that I have been told by leaders and members of the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement that I am not a Christian (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I’m not an evangelical (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology is humanistic (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology is “man-centered” (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I obviously do not take the Bible seriously (because I’m not a Calvinist), that my theology leads to liberalism (because I’m not a Calvinist), that I’m a Pelagian or at least semi-Pelagian (because I’m not a Calvinist), etc., etc., etc.

I agree for I have been told the same thing.  I remember debating on a Calvinist blog with a brother who had written some harsh things about Arminianism and made false statements about Arminianism.  He and I begin to exchange comments with one another on his blog.  When I felt that I had finally shown him his errors, he wrote me, “You hold to man-centered theology and I worry that you are not saved because of your works-righteounsess views.”  What?  Simply because I rejected Calvinism and rejected his views, I was viewed as man-centered in my theology and in danger of hell because I had rejected God’s true salvation in Calvinism.

I use to have a man e-mail me from time to time though he has not written me now in about two years who would simply put short lines like, “You are going to hell.  You teach false doctrines and you are not honoring the one true God has He has revealed Himself through John Calvin and the precious doctrines of grace.”  I would always write back, “I love you brother.  Please pray for me.”  He would never reply but then a few months later, I would get another e-mail, “Hell will be hot for sinners like you who pervert the way of God.”  I would reply, “May God’s grace and peace be upon you.”  He would not reply.

Let me end this by being clear: Calvinism is not the gospel.  Neither is Arminianism.  No theology will ever save you.  Only Jesus Christ, the living Savior, the strong Son of God – He alone is the one who saves us.  We are not saved by holding firmly to a set of beliefs but to the Person of Jesus.  Theology must be Christ honoring, Christ exalting, and Christ filled.  If not, leave it.  If you love Calvin or Edwards or Piper more than Jesus, you must repent!  If you love Arminius or Wesley or Olson more than Jesus, you must repent!  Salvation is in Jesus alone (Acts 4:12) and not in a man.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/05/2014 at 12:14 AM

Dr. Roger Olson to Speak on Calvinism at AGTS

I wanted to let you know that Dr. Roger Olson will be speaking at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary via live stream on November 11.  The subject will be, “Why Calvinism is Not a Transcript for the Gospel.”  Looks like an interesting talk.

You can out more here.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

11/05/2013 at 7:55 PM

Five Favorite Living Arminians and Calvinists (2013)

Had an e-mail this week ask me to name my five favorite Arminians and Calvinists and why.  So here is a brief top five along with short reasons why.

Top Five Arminians

1.  Dr. Vic Reasoner.  I enjoy his commentaries on Romans and Revelation as well as his other works.  He is an expository preacher, President of the Southern Methodist College, and a very skilled writer.

2.  Dr. Robert Picirilli.  His book, Grace, Faith, Free Willis simply a good book.  I have read it nearly three times.  He also advocates expository preaching.  I do differ with him over the KJV as he believes that the KJV is the best English translation though he is not KJV only.

3.  Dr. Roger Olson.  While I don’t agree with Dr. Olson on all issues (see inerrancy), I do enjoy his books especially his book, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities.  

4.  Dr. Jack Cottrell.  While Dr. Cottrell is part of the Restoration Movement, he does consider himself an Arminian.  His books, especially his commentary on Romans and his trilogy on the doctrine of God, are classics.  Dr. Cottrell will make you think and he always takes theological issues and wrestles with the Scriptures for the final say.

5.  Dr. Michael Brown.  One of the best Christian apologists and a good debater.  He and his friend Dr. James White often aim at each other yet Dr. Brown remains a godly man through it all.  I met Dr. Brown back in the 1990’s and he was a man with a fire for Jesus.  His preaching is a call to holiness.  His book, Go and Sin No More! is a great read.

Top Five Calvinists

1.  Dr. John MacArthur.  I truly enjoy Johnny Mac.  I had the honor of meeting him and found him to be a godly, warm man.  His writings are full of Scripture and I love his passion for expository preaching.  His book, The Gospel According to Jesus, is a must read for all disciples.

2.  Matt Chandler.  I enjoy Matt’s preaching style.  He is not a deep expositor like MacArthur above but he does teach the Word faithfully and calls people to radically follow Jesus.  His book, The Explicit Gospelis a must read.

3.  Paul Washer.  This brother burns with a passion for Jesus.  Paul describes himself as a “Spurgeonite” when asked what he believes.  I love his zeal for the lost, his hunger for holiness, and his preaching of repentance.

4.  Dr. Gary DeMar.  DeMar use to have a 2 hour podcast that I would download and listen to in my truck.  I first downloaded it to disagree with him but more and more he opened my eyes to many things.  While I don’t always agree with Gary, he is an excellent thinker and writer.  His book, Last Days Madness, is a good read.

5.  Dr. Richard Mayhue.  Some may not know who this is.  Dr. Mayhue is one of John MacArthur’s right hand men.  He is a good Bible teacher, a deep thinker, and signed a book for me once.  His book, The Healing Promise, is a good read.

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