Saturday, 28 February 2009

A Message from Arminian Theologian Roger Olson

Prof. Olson writes about theological bullying and blatant misrepresentation of Arminians by present day Calvinists.

Feel free to copy and post this anywhere but only without editing it.
You may and should attach my name to it.

I appreciate and agree with everything Scot McKnight has written in his
blog postings "Who are the NeoReformed?" (See his blog The Jesus
Creed.) He was very judicious about naming names. Namely, naming names
would only inflame the controversy and make things worse. "If the shoe
fits [someone]...."

I would like to add that many contemporary Calvinists who are feeding
the "young, restless and Reformed" the fuel with which they go out and
cause trouble (one of them told me I'm not even saved because I'm an
Arminian!) totally misrepresent Arminianism (to say nothing of other

Here is a quote from one Calvinist pastor's sermon on limited atonement:
"The Arminian limits the nature and value and effectiveness of the
atonement so that he can say that it was accomplished even for those who
die in unbelief and are condemned. In order to say that Christ died for
all men in the same way, the Arminian must limit the atonement to a
powerless opportunity for men to save themselves from their terrible
plight of depravity."

Now, either this well-educated pastor knows little about classical
Arminian theology or he is intentionally mispresenting it. But in the
former case he should have read at least my book Arminian Theology:
Myths and Realities. Because his statement is simply false. It
completely ignores the Arminian emphasis on prevenient grace.

One thing I find appalling but often practiced by the people Scot calls
"NeoReformed" is attributing to others beliefs the others not only do
not hold but explicitly deny. When confronted the NeoReformed say "But
that's the good and necessary consequence of what they do believe."
Then they should say that and also say "But they don't actually believe

So the followers of these highly educated leaders of the NeoReformed
hear them or read them and go out thinking and saying "Arminians believe
people save themselves." That's poppycock and the leaders of the
NeoReformed movement know it.

There's a lot of dishonesty going on in this "Village Green" we call
evangelicalism. And frankly, as I see it, most of it is the result of
NeoReformed people blatantly misrepresenting Arminianism and by that
trying to marginalize Arminians (and Anabapts who basically hold the
same theology). How? By convincing the movers and shakers of the
evangelical movement that Arminianism is dangerously close to heresy.

I cannot read their hearts or minds, so I do not know whether they are
misrepresenting Arminianism intentionally or not. But I am sure they
are educated enough to have checked out their representations of
Arminianism to see if they are correct. Either they haven't done that
or they are intentionally misrepresenting Arminian theology (even if
only by saying only what they think Arminian theology leads to and
neglecting to make clear that is not what Arminians themselves believe).

I've been fighting this battle, to clear the good name of Arminian
theology (by showing how it different from Semi-Pelagianism) for years
now with very limited success. I find that most of the people doing the
misrepresenting of Arminianism and aggressively asserting the sole
theological correctness of Reformed theology (their version of it) have
little or no interest in being educated about real Arminian theology.
Their minds are already made up; don't confuse them with the facts.

Every year I have a group of Calvinist pastors from a local Reformed
church come to my class and speak. One of them started out by saying
"Arminianism is just Pelagianism." After several such unfortunate
encounters I gave them copies of Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
on the condition they read it. To the best of my knowledge they never

I have received e-mails and letters from scores of "young, restless and
Reformed" evangelicals thanking me for clearing up their misconceptions
(which they all say they were taught by leading Reformed evangelicals)
about Arminianism. But I have not heard from a single evangelical
Reformed leader saying that anything I wrote there made any difference
in the way they think or speak or write about Arminian theology.

Without any doubt in my mind, the "Village Green" metaphor for
evangelicalism is not a good one. After all, the Village Green in
England and then New England was simply a place where all the citizens
could come together and talk about the weather or politics or business.
Evangelicalism is a loose coalition of like-minded Christians who
acknowledge their differences. It's motto has always been "In
essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity."
(See the National Association of Evangelicals web site.) The
multi-denominational tent revival is a much better metaphor for

Lately, however, there's been trouble under the revival tent. Some
folks are trying to convince the organizers and sponsors of the revival
and newcomers as well that their particular theology is an essential and
not a non-essential. They are very careful how they choose their words;
they usually strictly avoid the lable "heresy" for other views such as
Arminianism and even open theism. But their rhetoric is the rhetoric of
exclusion: "Arminianism is profoundly mistaken" and "Arminianism is on
the precipice of heresy" and "all Arminians are on their way to open
theism," etc., etc.

It's time for evangelicalism's leaders to stand up and say no--not to
Calvinism but to those evangelical Calvinists who are causing trouble in
the evangelical camp by blatantly misrepresenting other evangelicals'
beliefs and by implying, if not asserting, that their theology is the
only authentic evangelical theology.

Roger E. Olson


jason said...

Doesn't the misrepresentation run both ways? Arminians tell me all the time that Calvinism teaches that humans are puppets on a string. When I tell them this is not true, the response is, 'Well that is the logical end of what you believe'. Calvinists have undoubtedly misrepresented much of Arminianism and some good Arminians. But, this is a two way street with as many Arminians misrepresenting Calvinism.

Personally, I'm tired of Arminians telling me that I have misrepresented them when I have attempted to listen to them and have acknowledged mistakes when I misstated their position. However, it never has gone the other way. No Arminian (expect perhaps you, Jim) has listened to my position and attempted to understand it without gross caricatures. Most of the time, I simply don't talk with Arminians about what I believe because they simply don't want to understand or present my views correctly.

Jim Swindle said...

I believe much of the current Calvinist upsurge is a reaction to the excessive Arminianism of most current American evangelicalism. People who are serious about the Lord are sick of seeing churches depending on gimmicks instead of on the Lord. They see churches competing with or cooperating with Disney on entertainment, and their stomachs turn. Calvinism offers a clear alternative: The secret of the harvest is being a faithful farmer, not a showman.
Compared to typical Evangelical churches around me, John Wesley's writings sound Calvinist.

Disclosure: I'm about a 4.5-point Calvinist.

Onesimus said...

Surely those who are accused of “excessive Arminiansism” in the previous comment are NOT Arminian in belief.
Rejecting Calvinism does NOT by default make someone an Arminian.

From my observations, Arminianism is a belief system that adheres to clearly defined doctrines just as Calvinism adheres to its clearly defined doctrines.
Arminianism does NOT lead to “depending on gimmicks instead of the Lord”, Arminianism does NOT lead to churches “competing with or cooperating with Disney on entertainment”.

Abandoning the revelation God has given in scripture and following man made religion will lead to all manner of aberrant and abhorrent doctrines and practices. Relying on out of context scripture and proof texts will ALSO lead to all manner of aberrant and abhorrent doctrines and practices.

Disclosure: I’m a 0 point Calvinist. I am also not an Arminian. I trust in the scriptures. I trust in the Holy Spirit’s willingness and ability to give revelation from the scriptures and I do not rely on human theological systems. However, after Calvinists recently “accused” me of being an Arminian, I decided to check out some Arminian websites and found that I am in agreement with most of what I’ve read.

Jim Swindle said...

Thanks, Onesimus, for thinking about and commenting on my comment. I agree that the excesses I pointed out are not biblically sound. At least in my own denomination, few but the Calvinists seem to be holding the line against becoming wedded to the culture. I'd agree with you in being uncomfortable being labeled Calvinist or Arminian. Like you, I long to be biblical. I have not seen how the Bible is compatible with some of the points of Arminianism. Still, I don't dare to compare myself with such Arminian saints as John Wesley.

Onesimus said...

G'Day Jim,
Not only are those excesses that you mentioned not biblically sound, they are also in NO WAY related to Arminianism.

After being accused of being an Arminian because of my opposition to Calvinist doctrines, I decided to see what I was being accused of following.

I have therefore taken time to see what Arminians actually believe. While I found a great deal of common ground, I do not give credit to any man or his theology.

Not only did I find that common ground, I also found that Arminain beliefs have been grossly distorted by the Calvinists I've come across.
If only they could have taken the time to check things out for themselves instead of parroting the views of their Calvinist teachers they might find more common ground themselves.

Whenever human theology is given prime place in a Christian's life there will always be some aspects of doctrine that will not be compatible with scripture. Unfortunately that incompatibility is usually not recognised because the chosen theology becomes the filter through which scripture is interpreted.
If only we could turn to the scriptures without that indoctrination and see what the Lord is REALLY saying in His word -there would be no theological camps distracting us from the truth.

Anonymous said...

I like the comment, "If only we could turn to the scriptures without that indoctrination and see what the Lord is REALLY saying in His word". Yet if we do that, we may in fact find ourselves agreeing with Open Theism! I am reading Walter Brueggemann's An Unsettling God; Brueggemann is disinterested in questions of Calvinism, Arminianism and Open Theism; yet in studying the Old Testament the God he reveals sounds eerily like John Sanders and Clark Pinnock understanding of God. And of course Olson' post (above) applies here just as much as to Arminianism!

I appreciate his post and all of the comments; they are fair-minded and reflective.

Danny said...

Dr. Olson should spend more time correcting those who call themselves Arminians but who are in fact Pelagians. Less time pointing out Calvinism's caricature of Armininians. John Piper isn't listening, was a long time ago, let it go.