“Against Calvinism” by Roger E. Olson

Roger E. Olson, Against Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011). $16.99, 208 pages.

In 2009, just in time for the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s birth, Time magazine declared “the New Calvinism” as one of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right now.” Christianity Today scooped Time on this story with a 2006 article by Collin Hansen entitled, “Young, Restless, Reformed,” which Hansen later turned into a book (and Time referred to). The rise in popularity of this centuries-old theological system with young people seems surprising at first, but given the dearth of in-depth biblical and theological teaching in evangelical churches, it’s not totally unexpected. Christians long for an intellectually rigorous expression of the faith, and the New Calvinism aims to please.

Roger E. Olson is none too pleased with Calvinism’s renaissance, however. In Against Calvinism, he argues that although Calvinists do not intend to slander God’s good reputation, they inadvertently do so through the “good and necessary consequences” of their doctrines. Which doctrines? Olson focuses on four: “meticulous providence,” “unconditional election,” “limited atonement,” and “irresistible grace.” He argues that “meticulous providence” is nothing more than “divine determinism,” which robs humans of moral responsibility for their actions and makes God the author of sin. He argues that “unconditional election” amounts to “double predestination” and “arbitrary choice,” for God’s sovereignty is all-determining, and his choice to save some but damn the rest apart from their faith is capricious. Olson argues that Calvin himself did not limit the efficacy of the atonement to the elect and that the logic of Calvinist soteriology rather than biblical teaching is what necessitates limited atonement. Finally, he argues that “irresistible grace” like “unconditional election” is dispensed arbitrarily. If God could give grace to all, why wouldn’t he?

That question seems to be the nub of Olson’s brief against Calvinism: If God could save all, why wouldn’t he save all? The inability of Calvinism to answer that question, or rather, its assertion that God could save all but doesn’t is what constitutes a slander on God’s reputation for Olson.

Against Calvinism makes its case by extensively quoting mainstream, representative Calvinists (e.g., Calvin himself, Jonathan Edwards, Loraine Boettner, R. C. Sproul, and John Piper). He points out flaws in their interpretation of Scripture. He identifies conundrums in Calvinist theology that can be resolved only through rejection of its distinctive doctrines. And he exposes the verbal gymnastics that Calvinists use to downplay or soften the logical implications of those doctrines.

As an alternative to Calvinism, Olson invites his readers to investigate Arminianism, an alternative that makes better sense of Scripture, the tradition of Christian doctrine, reason, and experience. Interested readers can pursue further study on this alternative in Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I interviewed Olson regarding Arminian Theology in the video below. I hope to interview him regarding Against Calvinism in the near future.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Interview with Roger Olson regarding Calvinism …, posted with vodpod

P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.”

3 thoughts on ““Against Calvinism” by Roger E. Olson

  1. Looking forward to that interview — I’ll let my Sovreign Grace friends know! Meanwhile, I’ll reread my Berkhoff systematics.

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