Friday, November 18, 2011

A Review of Against Calvinism by Roger Olson

Many of the writers, theologians, and pastors I follow most are Calvinists. Though I don't agree with their views of human freedom, the nature of God's sovereignty, how election works, the intent of the atonement, the location of faith in relation to regeneration, and probably a host of other things, I've learned much about Christ from men like Matt Chandler, John Piper, Michael Horton, and many others. We don't have to agree about how salvation works to agree that the message of Christ needs to be spread deep and wide, and I can tell these men love Christ deeply. All that to say, in reviewing Roger Olson's newest book AGAINST CALVINISM, I can affirm the intent of most Calvinists to paint a picture of God that is genuinely loving toward humanity, but, with Roger Olson, I agree that Calvinism, when consistently applied and followed to its logical conclusions, does more harm to the reputation of God than good. Since this is merely a review of AGAINST CALVINISM, I won't have the space to go into all the reasons why, but I'll be more than happy to interact in the comments.

Roger Olson is a Classical Arminian, and though I share more beliefs concerning soteriology with Olson than Horton, I don't agree enough with Arminianism enough to call myself an Arminian. However, one of the first things that I loved about this book was that it wasn't written as a defense of Classical Arminianism, but instead merely as a critique of the most controversial and biblically questionable points of Calvinism.

Some of the high points of the book:
• Olson points out that Reformed theology and Calvinism are not synonymous. In fact, it's possible to be Reformed and not hold to the five points of Calvinism. Olson describes those who are Reformed but not Calvinist as "revisionist Reformed."

• While most Calvinists adhere to a singular election where God merely passes over the non-elect, Olson shows how singular predestination actually entails double predestination.

• Olson makes a clear distinction between what Calvinism logically leads to and what Calvinists actually teach.

• Calvinism's divine determinism and compatibalist version of human freedom logically lead to God being the author of evil. After all, if Adam followed his strongest desire to eat of the tree, who gave him the desire if he was created good?

• Olson quotes quite a few Reformed theologians throughout history that have also objected on the points he is objecting to. The book is clearly well researched from all sides of the debate.

• Olson points out that Calvinism's teaching about unconditional election doesn't work because if God's choice has nothing to do with the people he chooses to save but upon his good pleasure, it's hard to get away from the decision being merely arbitrary. After all, God created everyone. He had a reason for saving the ones he saves and rejecting the ones he doesn't, but if it had nothing to do with anything within the creatures themselves, saying it was based on his good pleasure doesn't solve the problem. What gives God pleasure to save some and reject others if they're all equal in his mind since he bases his choice on nothing in them? Nothing sets them apart. So, logically, we're left with a choice that was made at random in the Calvinist system.

• Olson's criticism of the atonement providing common grace to the non-elect, though not for salvation. This view of the atonement reveals God's grace to the non-elect as useless where grace really counts. Olson refers to this as God giving the non-elect a little bit of heaven to get them to hell.

That's just a sampling of the things I resonated with in the book. Olson clearly strives to critique Calvinism not to start a fight, but to defend God against what he believes to be a false representation. Michael Horton's foreword at the beginning also reveals the graciousness Calvinists and non-Calvinists can extend toward one another as they both wrestle with the nature of what God has revealed about himself in Scripture.

There wasn't much about the book I disagreed with, though I have many thoughts on the subject that could have been touched on or developed more. I don't see how Romans 9, for example, could be just about corporate election and not individual election when Paul states at the beginning of the chapter that he's distraught over his people not being saved.

As with most books I've read critiquing five point Calvinism, it probably won't convince everyone who reads it to abandon Calvinism. But it will help those wrestling with why they don't agree with Calvinism. As another defense against Calvinism, I'd also recommend reading SALVATION AND SOVEREIGNTY by Kenneth Keathley. Both books, as well as Horton's FOR CALVINISM should be read with a highlighter and pen in hand.

Above all, in the midst of disagreement between Calvinists and non-Calvinists, it's important to be at peace with everyone, as Paul said.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan.

What are your thoughts on the divine sovereignty/human freedom debate?

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