Saturday, October 29, 2011

It had to be you

One day, at the end of a class session on Calvinism’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty, a student asked me a question I had put off considering. He asked: “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?” I knew the only possible answer without a moment’s thought, even though I knew it would shock many people. I said no, that I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster. Roger Olson, Against Calvinism, 85.

Speaking for myself, this reflects an asymmetry between my view of Arminianism and his view of Calvinism. If I thought the Arminian God was the true God, that wouldn’t be my reaction.

Olson doesn’t think the Calvinist God is worshipful. Well, I don’t think the Arminian God is all that worshipful either. But not because I think the Arminian God is Satanic or monstrous. For one thing, he’s not impressive enough to even be diabolical.

If I thought he were the true God, I’d be disappointed. He’d be a letdown. Compared to the Calvinist God, the Arminian God isn’t very godlike.

In some ways he’s more like a benefactor who creates a scholarship fund for qualified recipients. Someone you appreciate having around. Someone who’s helpful. But all too human. A partner.

I’d be diffident about the Arminian God. Yes, he loves everyone–I guess. But that’s like Frank Sinatra singing “It had to be you.”

It must have been, that something lovers call fate
Kept me saying: "I have to wait"
I saw them all, just couldn't fall - 'til we met
It had to be you, it had to be you
I wandered around, and finally found - the somebody who
Could make me be true, and could make me be blue
And even be glad, just to be sad - thinking of you
Some others I've seen, might never be mean
Might never be cross, or try to be boss, but they wouldn't do
For nobody else, gave me a thrill - with all your faults, I love you still
It had to be you, wonderful you, it had to be you

The lyrics sound oh-so personal. Customized. As if Sinatra has one woman in mind. The love of his life.

But in reality, he doesn’t have any particular woman in mind. The song is directed at every woman in the audience, every woman who will buy his record–whether one, few, or many.

I guess it works as long as the female listener suspends belief. As long as she forgets that it didn’t have to be her. That it was never about her. She’s interchangeable with every other customer.

Likewise, there’s that sink-or-swim dynamic to Arminianism. The Arminian God equips everyone. Gives everyone sufficient grace. Universal atonement. But then he sends them packing. Whether they survive or perish is ultimately up to them. They may have everything they need in the backpack, but they are on their own in the wilderness. Some make it out, others fall behind, lose their way, die of exposure.

We’re loyal to those who are loyal to us. It’s hard to work up much affection or devotion for a God who’s that detached.

Olson thinks the worst thing you can say about God is if he’s monstrous or devilish. That's what makes him unworthy of our worship.

Speaking for myself, I think the worst thing you can say about God is if, after all the breathless anticipation, you finally meet him in heaven, only to discover that “God” is a pleasant mediocrity. Like Kirk asking, “What does God need with a spaceship”?

Or, as Piper put it, in response to Rabbi Kushner, “God does not need to be ‘all-powerful’ to keep people from being hurt in the collapse of a bridge. He doesn’t even need to be as powerful as a man. He only needs to show up and use a little bit of his power (say, on the level of Spiderman, or Jason Bourne).”

If the Arminian God is unworthy of our worship, that's because he’s such a dud. The more you see, the less you get. 


  1. I know emotionally at first I was thrilled about being saved. Then, I read the book of Exodus and put the Bible down because I did not have the spiritual ability to understand those things God did to Egypt and her people!

    God was and still is gracious to me! :)

    I do like this that you wrote: "... Compared to the Calvinist God, the Arminian God isn’t very godlike.
    In some ways he’s more like a benefactor who creates a scholarship fund for qualified recipients. Someone you appreciate having around. Someone who’s helpful. But all too human. A partner. ...".

    Unfortunately for me, whatever I sow, I reap!

    Fortunately for me, wretched as I am, I am very thankful to God for the promise found here:

    Rom 7:21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.
    Rom 7:22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being,
    Rom 7:23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
    Rom 7:24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
    Rom 7:25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

    God now is my Trust and so I am blessed.

    I do not now trust much about man!

    And I am confidently diffident about the Arminian God, too.

  2. It's ironic that Olson would talk about "choice" in light of the hyper-Calvinistic God he's implying, which is their caricature of a God that forces his will on his creatures. ;)

  3. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've stopped giving him the benefit of the doubt on whether or not he's a Christian. Roger Olsen is an idolater who has created a God in his mind that is worthy of worship and is too hard-hearted to consider anything different. Only God can remove the calcium deposits on his stony heart and turn it into flesh.
    Pray for Roger Olsen and all hyper anti-Calvinists that they might be awakened to the truth (notice that I did not say "Arminians", for they are believers).