Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Olson's arbitrary God


A. Rose says:
March 11, 2012 at 9:29 pm
Roger,
I agree that the charge of divine arbitrariness is a difficult one to answer for Calvinism. Recently, however, I’ve been wondering whether Arminianism doesn’t leave God open to similar charges. If we rule out universalism, then we’re left with a situation where some people are saved while others aren’t. Even if we reject predestination, it remains the case that some people seem to be given better and/or more opportunities to accept God’s gift of grace. Some grow up in Christian families, or receive powerful spiritual experiences from God, or witness miracles; others live entire lives without ever hearing anything at all of the gospel. How can this difference in experience of grace be accounted for without concluding that God is arbitrary? I see little way out other than expanding the boundaries of traditional soteriology (in the direction of inclusivism or post-mortem reconciliation)
 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/03/further-thoughts-about-catastrophes-and-gods-judgment/comment-page-1/#comment-25778
 
rogereolson says:
March 12, 2012 at 12:53 pm
Of course, those are attractive options for many people. John Wesley believed that God assures opportunity for salvation for every person. For him, God is an equal opportunity savior. Other Arminians (and non-Calvinists who are not Arminians) say that the lack of equal opportunity is evidence of God’s withdrawal because of humanity’s sinfulness. And/or he has decided to leave the matter in the hands of his people which is why missions and evangelism are so important. I think Scripture is clear that if a person dies condemned it is either because he or she rejected the light God provided to him or her and/or because God’s people failed to take the gospel to that person.
 
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/03/further-thoughts-about-catastrophes-and-gods-judgment/comment-page-1/#comment-25801

i) Regarding Olson’s first option, to merely assert Wesley’s opinion gives us no reason to believe his opinion is correct. Where’s the supporting argument?

Rose said, “It remains the case that some people seem to be given better and/or more opportunities to accept God’s gift of grace.”

How is Wesley in a position to deny that? To assert that God is an “equal-opportunity savior,” while that’s a catchy slogan, doesn’t grapple with the counterevidence. For it’s undeniable that “some grow up in Christian families, or receive powerful spiritual experiences from God, or witness miracles; others live entire lives without ever hearing anything at all of the gospel.”

Or some are culturally conditioned to reject the gospel. Their upbringing is prejudicial to the gospel. Even if they happen to hear the gospel, they have to overcome their engrained cultural bias.

Even if there were an equal opportunity to hear the gospel, the hearers are unequal.

ii) Regarding Olson’s second option, to say “the lack of equal opportunity is evidence of God’s withdrawal because of humanity’s sinfulness” concedes the charge of divine arbitrariness. For God’s withdrawal isn’t uniform. “It remains the case that some people seem to be given better and/or more opportunities to accept God’s gift of grace.”

Keep in mind that Arminianism faults Calvinism for the inequity of grace. But if Arminianism is inequitable in a different way, how is that an improvement on what it finds objectionable in Calvinism?

iii) Regarding Olson’s third option, that’s a fascinating statement when you think about it. Olson says it would be monstrous or diabolical for God to determine our eternal fate. Wouldn’t the logical alternative say that’s up to the individual man or woman?

But his actual alternative is to propose that God delegates our eternal fate to the diligence or indolence of our fellow man. Whether I’m saved or damned turns on the historical accident of whether some church sends a missionary to Outer Mongolia between, say, 1720-1750. For better or worse, my everlasting destiny is in the hands of my fellow man. It’s not up to me. I’m at the mercy of my fellow man–which is somehow better than being at the mercy of God.

God left it up to Christians to get their act together (or not). If Christians fail to get a missionary to where I live, then I miss out. It’s just a question of whether I’m lucky enough to be born at the right time and place.

And it won’t do for Arminians to turn the tables on Calvinism and say we have the same problem. To object that some are lucky to be elect while others are unlucky to be reprobate. For Calvinism doesn’t regard the inequity of grace as a problem for Calvinism. Rather, Arminianism regards the inequity of grace as a problem for Calvinism. But if Arminianism is inequitable in a different way, if it’s the luck of the draw “that some people seem to be given better and/or more opportunities to accept God’s gift of grace,” then that’s a problem for Arminianism on its own terms. 

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