Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Roger Olson Responds to the Dividing Line Review of His Book
11/13/2011 - James WhiteRoger Olson just posted a blog that is clearly a response to my comments about his book (without, of course, naming me: nothing new about that, given, of course, that he "on principle" refuses to read anything I write---evidently he can listen to what I say, just not read what I write). Here is his response.
Now, let's remember what he actually wrote in his book:
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. Of course, I realize Calvinists do not think their view of God’s sovereignty makes him a moral monster, but I can only conclude they have not thought it through to its logical conclusion or even taken sufficiently seriously the things they say about God and evil and innocent suffering in the world. Olson, Roger E. (2011-10-11). Against Calvinism: Rescuing God's Reputation from Radical Reformed Theology (p. 85). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.
Now, unless words do not have meaning, it seems Olson's view is clear, and the question was clear, too. The student asked Olson not "are Calvinists inconsistent in not thinking through their beliefs?" but "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?" The question is clear. And Olson's response was "no."
In his new blog article, Olson seems to be back-pedaling. He writes,
I don’t know if this will help at all, but I will clarify my statement this way: IF it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says AND as he must logically be if all the good and necessary consequences of TULIP are true of him, I would not worship him.
Now, of course, we found Olson's reasoning on his "good and necessary consequences" to be significantly less than well thought out and compelling, but leaving that aside, what does this newly revised statement mean in light of the student's actual question? It is hard to say. Olson simply does not have an accurate view of the position he denies, nor does he allow for the proper definitions we self-consciously use to stand when he engages in his criticisms. He writes,
I have been saying for a long time now that IF I WERE A CALVINIST I would have to believe things most Calvinists do not believe. Most Calvinists insist that God is good and loving and merciful and kind and faithful and reliable and gracious, etc. I think some of the things they believe about God’s sovereignty flatly contradict those characteristics.
I.e., "I am much brighter than you folks. Though I ignore the vast majority of your exegesis and the deeper aspects of your discussions, I have actually thought this through far better than any of you ever have. I have gone deeper than Calvin, than Beza, than Zanchius, than Turretin, than the Westminster divines, than Owen, than Edwards, than Warfield, and so IF I WERE A CALVINIST I really wouldn't be a Calvinist at all, because I would believe 'things most Calvinists do not believe.'" Brilliant! I am glad we got that all clear.
The fact is the answer given to the question as it was asked flowed from the heart of a person unwilling to submit to the final authority of Scripture. Roger Olson has authorities outside of the divine revelation found in Scripture, and he has told God just how far he is willing to go for God to be worthy of his worship, and no farther. If he cannot see how God can decree that Joseph be sold into slavery in Egypt so as to save many people alive, establish the very heart and soul of the Jewish nation, its laws, and its prophetic witness to the coming Messiah, all because he cannot differentiate between a God who sovereignly acts in time with pure motives in the same actions wherein sinful men act upon impure motives, well then, so much for Roger Olson worshipping THAT God! Take that, Sovereign King! That'll teach You!
Olson let his true feelings show (at least I am open and up front about my true feelings: Olson's rejection of Calvinism is based upon shallow thinking and man-centered traditions, and the utter lack of even the beginning of serious interaction with historic Reformed writings, let alone the provision of any serious exegesis at all in his book, proves this) in concluding his blog article:
It seems to me that people who don’t understand what I mean when I say that if I believed what Calvinists believe I could not worship God are missing the point. They need to start over and hear me clearly and consider what I really mean and not what they jumped to the conclusion that I mean. Or maybe for some of them this is all just too deep.
Yes, it is just too deep! That is probably why he will never engage in serious defense of his claims in his book, especially his utterly indefensible statements about the Greek of 1 Timothy 2:4, against anyone who is his equal, or superior, in the field of Greek grammar and exegesis. If you are a Calvinist, you cannot get "that deep" by definition! I think we heard the original statements in the book quite clearly. If Dr. Olson would like to withdraw his statement and restate it, that is fine, but please, he should not accuse the rest of us of "missing the point" when his own words expressed themselves quite plainly.
Yesterday's Review of Roger Olson's Book
11/04/2011 - James White
Reformed, Reforming: Who is "Truly Reformed"? Part I
11/03/2011 - James WhiteA couple of days ago someone in Twitter dropped me a link to a Southern California Reformed radio program. I am not sure why I followed the link, but I did. I encountered a video that contained the audio portion of a radio program where in some reformed pastors were responding to comments made by Dr. John MacArthur. As I looked through the comments box on the video I found a number of very interesting statements. This prompted me to ask the basic question of the pastors as to whether they felt that Baptists are their brothers in Christ and co-laborers in the gospel. The responses I have received grieve my heart, but they likewise give an opportunity for me to address the issue of what “Reformed” really means. I know that my views on this are not shared by many. In fact, there seem to still be many in the “Reformed” camp who would support the actions of their forefathers who, for many generations, used the sword, the prison, and the practice of the “third baptism” (death by drowning) to persecute Baptists. Likewise, this is not the first time I have encountered men who refuse to move past the sixteenth century and recognize that the term “Anabaptist” had a specific historical meaning that is utterly irrelevant in addressing someone such as myself who holds strongly to covenantal theology.
I think I have a very strong case when I argue that first and foremost someone who is “Reformed” is someone who believes that God has spoken with clarity and certainty in the Christian Scriptures. This may not have been the primary focus of everything the Reformers originally said, but that is because they lived in a day when the full inspiration and authority of the Bible was pretty much a given. We do not live in such a day today. We live in a day of rampant unbelief in the clarity, perspicuity, and authority of divine revelation in Scripture. This is true even amongst many who call themselves Christians.
Just today on the Dividing Line I commented on Roger Olson's new book, Against Calvinism. In the book, Olson makes it very clear that even if he were to be convinced that God has revealed that He does exist, and act, as Calvinists say He does, he would not worship such a God. Such an attitude is the very essence of humanistic religion. And such an attitude is the antithesis of the heart and mind of a Reformed man. To someone who is Reformed, God's revelation is absolutely normative and authoritative. We do not rely upon ourselves to determine the nature and attributes of the God we worship. We look to God to reveal Himself in His word, and His Spirit drives us to our knees in the presence of His truth. I am convinced that part of the work of regeneration in the heart of God's elect involves the intimate, lifelong love for, and submission to, the holy Scriptures. I further believe that true Reformed theology becomes a mockery and a travesty when it is decoupled from the highest view of Scripture. There is no reason to believe in the divine truths of the Christian faith if the Bible is not truly God's word. Those denominations and churches that once made a Reformed confession that have abandoned a full belief in the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture have as a result turned into the very negation of the faith they once proclaimed.
So what does it mean to be Reformed? Yes, there are certain non-negotiable aspects of any meaningful definition of “the Reformed faith.” But before we get to those, I think it is vitally important that we recognize the spiritual aspect of this question. There is an attitude of the heart, and attitude of the mind, that is central to being Reformed. A person who is Reformed has seen the glory of God in His holiness, His power, His transcendence, and the freedom of His grace. A Reformed person has not merely been taught these truths, he or she has experienced these truths. A Reformed person has been changed by recognizing God for who He is. The inevitable result of that is that we see ourselves as we truly are, creatures of the sovereign and omnipotent Creator. It is hard to express in words how humbling it is to recognize that we are clay in the Potter's hands. I can speak from experience that the contemplation of the holy and all-powerful Yahweh as my maker and creator and sustainer utterly and completely changed my life. I could not possibly continue to hold to a man centered theology once I had come to understand the transcendent holiness of my creator, His utter detestation of sin, and the depth of my nature as sinner. No matter what it has cost me to be an open and avowed Calvinist in a culture where man centeredness even in matters of religion leads to popularity, I could not do otherwise. You are changed, forever, when you see God as He truly is.
This heart centered, Spirit-born conviction must be present for a person to be truly Reformed. This cannot be passed down from one generation to another by external means. It is the sovereign and free work of the Spirit of God within His elect people. As such, it cannot be forced upon someone by external means. True Christianity is not genetic. It is spiritual, it is all of grace, it is grounded in God's freedom. When you combine reformed theology with a heart that has never truly been humbled by this kind of vision of the Almighty God, and a true and deep felt conviction of one's own unworthiness of the grace of God, and even more, how fully we deserve the wrath and detestation of that holy God, you end up with an ugly mutation, something that is as unnatural as the claim of faith that has no works to prove its existence.
continued in Part II