Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The devil's apprentice

rogereolson says:

This is the Calvinist conundrum I talk about all the time and that no Calvinist (to the best of my knowledge) has resolved satisfactorily. Let me put it this way: If God has sovereignty predestined and rendered certain everything that happens without exception FOR HIS GLORY, then doesn’t doctrinal error glorify God? If so, why fiercely opposed it? The key is “fiercely.” I can understand their answer “Well, God has called us to be his instruments in defeating doctrinal error and our defeating it also glorifies God.” (It doesn’t really make sense to me, but I can at least understand it.) But why fiercely? Why do they seem angry as they go about attempting to defeat doctrinal error (e.g., open theism)? And can it glorify God to use misrepresentation and demagoguery to defeat doctrinal error? I know that happens because I’m been a victim of it and I’ve seen it “up close.” (E.g., “Arminians must say that Christ did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves.”)

i) As usual, Olson has blinkers on when it comes to his own position. He constantly inveighs against Calvinism, but never stops to consider obvious–and I do mean obvious–counterexamples to his own objections. For the Arminian God has the wherewithal to greatly reduce doctrinal error without infringing on the libertarian freedom of his creatures. Just take the Arminian/Calvinist controversy. Olson’s God could have inspired St. Paul to compose the The Five Articles of Remonstrance, which would become a part of canonical Scripture. Olson’s God could have inspired Bible writers to rewrite Calvinist prooftexts to make them explicitly Arminian.

More generally, the Angel of the Lord could hold a weekly audience and take questions from the audience. His answers to questions, including follow-up questions, regarding, say, the sacraments, would resolve many theological disputes.

Or God could make everyone a prophet. Make every Christian privy to special revelations. 

None of this would “violate” the libertarian freedom of Christians. Yet it would vastly reduce theological disagreement and doctrinal error. So why doesn’t Olson’s God do more to prevent doctrinal error when it’s within his power to do so consistent with libertarian strictures?

Why does God allow it? The freewill defense won’t work in these cases–even if we grant its key assumptions.

ii) When Olson talks about the Calvinist God doing everything “for his glory,” I don’t know how Olson understands that phrase, so in that respect his question is unanswerable.

iii) He imputes anger to Reformed opponents of doctrinal error. But that may just be Olson projecting. If anything, he seems to be pretty ticked off by Calvinists.

iv) How is it “misrepresentation and demagoguery” to state Arminians must say that Christ did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves?

v) Calvinists can logically oppose predestined doctrinal error because both the error and the opposition to error are means to an end. Error supplies the occasion to oppose error, which can be a worthwhile exercise. Error is not inherently valuable, and opposition to error may not be inherently valuable, but the combination may contribute to a valuable result.

vi) Even at a human level, we often create problems to solve problems. Take chess. Or football. Or hockey. Or poker. Or drama. Or video games. Or recreational math. Or murder mysteries. Or riddles and puzzles. We create conflict to resolve conflict. We create situations which invite competition. Winners and losers. We challenge ourselves.

Suppose Olson came along and said, “Well, if you didn’t have rival football teams, no one would have to lose.”

True, but that misses the point of why people play football (or watch football) in the first place.

So what good can come of combating doctrinal error? I can think of several:

vii) Iron sharpens iron. It forces us to study the Bible more closely and carefully. Notice things in Scripture we were oblivious to before.

viii) It’s one of God’s ways of exposing human folly, and thereby pointing us to our absolute dependence on God’s wisdom.

ix) It’s ironic that Olson thinks Calvinism is Satanic, because I think Olson’s position is Satanic. It reminds me of Satan’s subversive question in Job. Satan thought Job only worshipped God for what he got in return. For the goodies. That if God permitted Satan to afflict Job, then Job would turn his back on God.

9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? 10 Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face” (Job 1:9-11).

Well, isn’t that Olson’s philosophy? He follows God only so long as he thinks God is a source of blessing rather than bane. He follows God in good times, but when bad things happen–if he thought for one moment that it actually came from God’s hand, he’d cease to worship God. A fair-weather Christian. He accepts the weal but not the woe. Only his dualism keeps him from outright apostasy.


  1. "Well, isn’t that Olson’s philosophy? He follows God only so long as he thinks God is a source of blessing rather than bane..."

    I can't speak for Olson, of course, but I can testify to being an Christian who leans toward Arminianism who believes that God can, has, and will send 'evil' on people (evil understood in the Hebraic sense of 'things experienced as bringing harm, suffering, or hardship'). My own decision to follow God relates not to blessing, but to the truthfulness of the prophetic and apostolic testimony.

  2. I second J. Thomas'comment. I follow Olson's blog and I think Steve accusing Olson of being a fair weather Christian is quite unwarranted. Nothing I have ever read by Roger Olson has ever given me the impression that he "follows God in good times, but when bad things happen–if he thought for one moment that it actually came from God’s hand, he’d cease to worship God. A fair-weather Christian."

    That being said, I think this post was pretty much on point. Well,up until the last part, that is.

  3. Steve - very good. Thanks

  4. I am still trying to embrace dead people choosing?

    Eph 2:1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

  5. But remember...they are not THAT dead... :)

  6. I, as an Arminian-leaning Christian, certainly would never argue that humans have a capacity to participate in the receiving of grace 'by nature'. I embrace total depravity whole-heartedly. Whatever capacity for choice that humans may or may not have, I would certainly argue that it comes, not by nature, but by grace. I appreciate the quotation. As Paul said a bit later in the same passage:

    "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV).

    Perhaps this is why I've never been comfortable with the phrases 'free will' or 'libertarian free will.' I've preferred 'libertarian grace' or, even better, Arminius' 'concurrent will of God'.

  7. J Thomas,

    hope to not to go to far afield, let me put a Scriptural question before you and, if you are freely willing, would you answer that question?

    Here's the question and it is the latter part of the verse I am curious about with regard to your position in life with God:

    Rom 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?

  8. "natamllc," I'd be happy to respond, but I'm not sure I understand the question.

    Romans 2:1-4, from my reading, is a passage about hypocritical judgment. In that context, Paul appears to be arguing that when a person responds to the graciousness of God's forgiveness by passing judgment on others who do the same things that said person has been forgiven for, that shows contempt for God's kindness. Rather, for Paul, (and this appears to be his argument in 2:4) God's graciousness and kindness were intended to lead a person to repentance, as opposed to leading a person to a sort of elitism in which they pass condemnation on others.

    Now, why did you want me to comment on that passage?

  9. J Thomas,

    If we are "dead" then made alive in Christ by the sanctification work of the Holy Spirit (conjoined to Him by the Father) who is leading the repentance and how is it that dead men can will to repent if they are dead?

    I am making this assumption, that you hold to LFgrace, being an Arminian-leaning Christian, not compatibility in exercising your will, when repenting by His gracious Will that should follow being made alive in Christ by His Divine Election and Choice?

    If I am wrong, I would be glad to know it!

  10. I'm not sure this conversation is particularly appropriate to the context of Romans 2:1-4, but I suppose your comments do highlight a clear point of difference between our interpretations of Scripture.

    I suppose my response to your query would have to be that I don't see Scripture arguing that 'the kindness of God' which Paul insists has been 'intended to lead us to repentance' inevitably leads us to repentance.

    In fact, it seems to me that Paul has argued in Romans 2:1-4 that those he is confronting have emphatically not fulfilled the intention for which God showed them kindness--that is, they have, in fact, become hypocritical judges. It seems to me that Paul was critiquing them for that behavior in that it fell short of God's intention in forgiveness.

    To the issue of people being 'dead': I think I actually agree with the general Calvinist insistence that dead people are incapable of comprehending or choosing to follow the Truth--that is, Jesus. I, too, would insist that any capacity for choice must originate with the prior activity of God in His grace. I guess I would just insist that God's gracious intervention does not make repentance an inevitability, but only a possibility--not because of some limitation in God, but because that is what God, in His Sovereignty, has decreed.

  11. I suppose that reply indicates synergism not monergism on your part, then?

  12. Ah, "natamllc," as I've reflected on this further, I think I see what you're getting at a bit clearer.

    Are you suggesting that Paul has only delineated two 'categories' of people in Romans 2:4--i.e., those who 'were dead' and those who 'are alive'?

    If universalized and dogmatized, one might argue that Paul's failure to discuss any intermediary stage between these two realities implies that there is no intermediary stage (technically, an argument from silence, but certainly possible to make). Is that you're suggestion?

    Obviously, my comments indicate that I believe there to be some sort of a place between those two realities in which God's grace enables some capacity for choice that is not part of fallen human nature. Why would I presume such?

    Well, first I'll make my own argument from silence. Since Paul was writing, presumably, to the Church, his audience was made up of those who had in fact followed Jesus. Any discussion of an intermediary stage would have been unnecessary and hardly to be expected in this context. But, arguments from silence are weak, so that is more conjecture than exegesis.

    My position has come from an attempt to balance the biblical insistance on the fallenness of humanity and the incapability of humans to honor God, recognize Him, or follow Him with the biblical insistences that we find, for example, in Ezekiel and 2 Peter:

    ". . . .Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!" (Ezekiel 18:31b-32 NIV).

    "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9 NIV).

    I'm just wrestling to understand the full counsel of God given my miniscule human intellect.

  13. I suppose from a Calvinistic perspective, my position would be categorized as 'synergistic'. I guess, to some degree I have to live with that. However, I do believe that I have rejected, in fact, the heart and sould of synergism.

    Monergism usually argues that sanctification and regeneration precedes saving faith in that they are the origin of saving faith, and I do disagree with that assumption--not essentially, but in the matter of degree.

    However, synergism argues that regeneration and sanctification proceed from saving faith. I actually reject that, more forcefully.

    For me God's gracious intervention in sanctification and regeneration must preceed any act of saving faith, but God has not decreed those activities to produce saving faith inevitably. Understood in this way, sancfication and regeneration both precede and flow out of saving faith.

    But, if all one requires for the label 'synergism' is any human involvement that is not fully determined by God, then I guess I'll have to accept it, begrudgingly.

  14. J Thomas,

    I suppose I am not at that level?

    For me, what is important is how God's Righteousness is owned by me?

    For the Apostle, of course, he was faced with Jews in Rome who were being converted and holding to the practices of the Mosaic Law.

    He held to it as well as is explained by Luke very well in Acts when Paul had to prove he still practiced Moses all the while being saved by Grace through Faith and that not of himself.

    Anyway, it has been a good experience for me to have these exchanges with you and embrace your ideas and ask questions and getting answers afterwards. Like Steve said in the body of this thread, errors made and objected too hone in and sharpen our senses so we can go deeper to gain a more liberating experience in Grace and Truth in this life before we die to go to be fully enveloped in Grace and Truth on the other side, which if the very reason Jesus came, to save His people from their sins.

  15. I've enjoyed it, as well, "natamllc." You really made me look back into Paul with your observation that he didn't discuss any sort of intermediary stage between dead-in-sin and alive-in-Christ.

    Blessings on you.