Book Review – “Against Calvinism” – Part 3

This book review has expanded beyond what I planned and is serving as something of a launch pad to share my thoughts. However, I am limiting my own input and staying with the book as much as possible. I highly recommend you get a copy of the book for yourself. You can get a copy here – Against Calvinism by Roger Olson.

In the previous two articles reviewing this book, I introduced the subject and my reasons for this review, and I then focused on the T of the TULIP, “Total Depravity”. (Part 1 & Part 2)

In this third article, I want to review what the book says concerning the U and the L.

U – Unconditional Election

In the book, Olson quotes Boettner who gives one of the stronger views of Unconditional Election as it definitively includes what some call double-predestination. This disagreement within Calvinism is similar to the argument concerning the origin of sin. There the question is whether or not God causes sin or permits sin. Here, the question is whether God elects some to damnation or simply does not elect them to salvation, thereby permitting, but not causing, their damnation. To many non-Calvinists, this is a fine line not really worth drawing.

Here is the quote from Boettner,

“The Reformed Faith has held to the existence of an eternal, divine decree which, antecedently to any difference or desert in men themselves, separates the human race into two portions and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting death [hell].”

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 43). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Olson himself defines what some call single predestination or mild/moderate predestination:

Single predestination is belief that God chooses some fallen persons to save while simply “passing over” others and “leaving them” to their deserved damnation. In other words, according to this idea there is no decree of God by which he foreordains anyone to hell. That is, there is no “decree of reprobation” but only one of election to salvation

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Boettner strongly objects to single predestination sickly Calvinism which will ultimately spell the end of the theological system. Olson agrees with that sentiment.

It would seem that Calvin was a proponant of double predestination, referring to it as the “horrible decree”. Here is a quote shared in the book,

“Therefore, those whom God passes over, he condemns; and this he does for no other reason than that he wills to exclude them from the inheritance which he predestines for his own children.” – John Calvin

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Sproul is one who tries to draw a line between the two acts of electing and not electing. He refers to the one act as positive and the other negative. However, what difference is there really?

Piper seems firmly on the side of double-predestination.

Olson gives the Calvinists defense of this position. They say that by choosing any, even just a few, for salvation without any cooperation from them He displays His grace. But how many need be condemned to demonstrate His righteous wrath? To many, this seems a weak defense.

Olson raises a pertinent question,

Was not the cross of Jesus Christ a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice and hatred toward sin?

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 46). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Was not the pouring out of God’s wrath on Jesus sufficient to show His anger toward sin? And with that completed, could He not then elect to save all to demonstrate His grace?

L – Limited Atonement

Olson points out that this is one of the most contested points within Calvinism and the one rejected by most so-called 4 pointers.

He also observes that Calvinism does hold to the penal substitution theory of atonement. That is, that Jesus paid in full the sin debt of those that God wanted to elect to salvation.

Again, however, Calvinists such as Boettner draw a fine line by saying that while the value of Christ’s suffering is sufficient to save all, it is only efficient to save the elect. Thus, the atonement offered by God through Christ is limited.

John Piper states his position on this and leaves no doubt as to his position,

“He [Christ] did not die for all men in the same sense.” – John Piper

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (pp. 47–48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Sproul too holds to this doctrine, calling it purposeful redemption,

“The atonement’s ultimate purpose is found in the ultimate purpose or will of God. This purpose or design does not include the entire human race. If it did, the entire human race would surely be redeemed.”

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

As so often happens in discussion these matters Olson finds, as have I, that they set the terms and definitions and then refuse to acknowledge any alternatives. In answer to Sprouls statement Olson offers this clarification,

There is no logical connection between universal atonement and universal salvation…

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 48). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Just because we believe God has made salvation available to all, it does not logically follow that all must be saved, only that they can be saved.

Piper and others try to soften this position saying that while the cross may not be intended to save all, Christ’s death does benefit all to some degree. It would seem to be little comfort to anyone to even the best of life here on earth if eternal damnation is all that could be expected in the future.

Olson summarizes well the conflict this again brings us to when we think of the love of God,

…according to Piper, God has sincere compassion even for the nonelect so that he desires their salvation, even though he declines to provide for it on the cross. To paraphrase John Wesley, this seems to be such a love and compassion as makes the blood run cold. What love refuses to save those who could be saved because election to salvation is unconditional? What compassion refuses to provide for their salvation when it could be provided for?

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 49). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

John Wesley is correct, this is such a love that makes the blood run cold.

Does it matter if some believe that God does not provide salvation for all? It does. Because it not only impacts the reputation of God, but it also is changing the behavior of more and more in the realm of evangelism. As Olson points out,

Thus, some Calvinists will refuse to say to a crowd of people or to strangers, “Christ died so that you can be saved” or “Christ died for your sins.” That would be presumptuous; there is no way to know that. However, cleverly, Piper and some other Calvinists who believe in limited atonement can say to anyone and everyone, “Christ died for you,” without meaning “Christ died for your sins” or “Because Christ died for you, you can be saved.” Some might consider this a subterfuge, disingenuous.

Olson, R. E. (2011). Against Calvinism (p. 49). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

As has been seen in previous articles, our belief cannot be separated from our behavior. In my circle of friends, there are Calvinists who, like Spurgeon, did not take some of the tenets to the degree that it became divisive or a hindrance to evangelism. But as the pendulum has swung further in an extreme direction those of us who have held to a consistent position find ourselves left behind.

We are not being divisive. We have been separated from, and for highlighting what we believe in contrast to Calvinism we are accused of being the divisive ones.

And some who have moved, though certainly not all, are changing their behavior in light of their changed beliefs.

As with Total Depravity, so it is with Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement. Taking these doctrines as they are taught by prominent leaders within the system causes much concern to those of us who disagree.

I cannot agree with the defense of the Calvinists on the issue of Total Depravity, nor the alternative they suggest as the only other option. Nor can I agree with them that God has Unconditionally elected some to salvation and others to judgment, or that Christ’s sacrifice is limited only to those elected to be saved.

So, I have to rule myself out of being even a 4 or a 3 point Calvinist. In our continued review of Olson’s book, we’ll see if it is feasible to be a 2 or just a 1 point Calvinist.

But here’s a preview, I believe we can be consistent with the Scripture, and follow in a line of believers that stretch back to the first-century church, and not have to hold to the title or teachings of Calvinism.

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