Thursday, April 16, 2015

Olson on hyper-Calvinism

I will comment on this post:

I know, I know. I will be accused of being “uncharitable” simply for deconstructing Calvinism.

I don't accuse him of being uncharitable. I accuse him of being a hack. 

Knowing full well that many Calvinists who visit my blog will wrongly take offense, I forge ahead anyway. 

I don't take offense at Olson's hatchet jobs. To the contrary, he invariably performs an unwitting service to the cause of Calvinism by illustrating the weakness of Arminian objections. 

There are many folks out there who are confused about Calvinism and have not considered it from every angle. Before they commit to it, they should consider it from every angle.

i) Not coincidentally, those are the folks who are predisposed to leave Calvinism for freewill theism. They never understood Calvinism in the first place.

ii) If you want to understand Calvinism, you need to begin with some good Reformed expositors. For instance:

iii) After that, it's good to read the critics. 

Some years ago, in one particular episode of intra-Calvinist controversy over this issue, the Christian Reformed Church officially affirmed that the gospel message proclaimed to sinners, including the non-elect (!), is a “well meant offer” of God’s grace unto salvation. The denomination affirmed that even from God’s perspective it is a well meant offer to the non-elect. Most Calvinists agree with this; those that do not and therefore avoid indiscriminate evangelism rightly deserve the label “hyper-Calvinist.” The pastor-theologian at the center of that particular controversy was Herman Hoeksema…Hoeksema left the CRC over this issue, believing that the gospel message cannot be a well meant offer to the non-elect and that therefore indiscriminate evangelism should be avoided, and founded his own Reformed denomination.

i) If Olson were an honest critic, he'd engage the clarifications of David Engelsma in Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel and Common Grace Revisited.

ii) Moreover, Olson oversimplifies the issues, and reflects ignorance over the breadth of the historical debate. For a corrective:

iii) On the Dutch-Reformed side, the debate was bound up with the theory of common grace. Hoeksema was reacting to Kuyper's formulation of common grace.

I think Hoeksema was wrong to reject common grace. However, that doesn't mean Kuyper's formulation is above criticism. There's arguably tension between Kuyperian common grace and the Kuyperian principle of antithesis. 

The non-elect have no real chance of being saved. God will not extend to them the “inward call” which is the basis for regeneration.

That's not what an evangelist is "offering." He's in no position to extend to them the inward call. He doesn't have the power to regenerate people. 

And we can easily construct a parallel argument for freewill theism. An Arminian evangelist can't make people accept the message. He can't make people believe the Gospel. He can only tell them what they ought to believe.

The results are out of his hands, whether you think divine agency is the decisive factor (Calvinism) or human freewill is the decisive factor (Arminianism).

The issue at the center of the hyper-Calvinism controversy is this: Is the “outward call”only, by itself, without the inward call, a well-meant offer to the non-elect? The answer should be obvious. And yet…non-hyper-Calvinists do not see the obvious. Only hyper-Calvinists see it.

i) Notice how often he uses adjectives ("obvious") as a substitute for arguments. He can't actually show how his conclusion is true. 

ii) Notice, too, how Olson's objection applies to anything whatsoever. Arminians fail to see the obvious problems with Arminianism. Only non-Arminians see it.

The objection is essentially circular, for you always have this insider/outsider dichotom between adherents and non-adherents, whatever the theological, philosophical, ideological position. In the nature of the case, insiders don't view their position the same way outsiders do. Otherwise, outsiders would become insiders and insiders would become outsiders. So Olson's objection is self-refuting. 

The argument that Calvinist belief in unconditional particular election of individuals to salvation leads inexorably, logically, to hyper-Calvinism (a la Hoeksema) should be transparent to any thinking person.

In that event, nothing should be simpler or easier than for Olson to explicate how he arrives at his conclusion. Give us a stepwise argument. 

Imagine any hypothetical but realistic scenario in which I “offer” a great gift to a group of people or an unknown individual indiscriminately all the while knowing that some of them are ineligible from the outset for the gift. There are only a hundred gifts but I offer it to a thousand people. Even if I somehow know that only a hundred will ask to receive the gift, my indiscriminate offer to the thousand cannot be called a well-meant offer. It was deceptive.

That's equivocal. You don't offer it to everyone. Rather, you offer it to everyone who will take it. That's easy to formulate:

If you repent of your sins and trust in Christ for salvation, God will save you. 

Here's a related treatment:

I suppose now that someone will argue that I have misrepresented hyper-Calvinism. It is an essentially contested concept; there is no “official” definition.

Actually, I think hyper-Calvinism should be retired from the theological lexicon. It's become an umbrella term to cover a number of disparate positions. And it's often defined by critics.


  1. Olson is a hyper-Arminian.

    1. "Hyper" in the sense of "going beyond" normative Arminianism, or "hyper" in the sense of "hyperactive" and "frenetic"? Or both?

    2. I'm kidding of course. Though, some of Olson's statements make me wonder if he's secretly an open theist. He's admitted to at least being attracted to aspects of Open Theism.