Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
C. Gordon Olson: Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism
04/15/2007 - James SwanC. Gordon Olson's Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism (New Jersey: Global Gospel Publishers, 2002) hasn't sold as many copies as other books against Calvinism. Since the book appears to be self-published, those in New Jersey have more copies than most other regional locations. The author lived in New Jersey when the book was released, and gave lectures in local churches based on the book. Many local NJ churches sold it in their bookstores. The book is now out-of-print. Copies on Amazon start around $79 and top out at $169. The book is 500+ pages. Quite frankly, it is an awkward read and in need of editing. Currently, it looks as if the material has been scaled down and repackaged in a book entitled: Getting The Gospel Right: A Balanced View Of Salvation Truth.
Olson took many of the anti-reformed arguments of Norman Geisler and Laurence Vance, combining them with his allegedly "inductive" and exegetical Biblical work. Olson also engages in historical examinations. At one point, he credits Dave Hunt's book, What Love Is This? as presenting "devastating chapters" of historical work on Augustine and John Calvin. Olson views Calvinism as a theology not based on clear exegetical Biblical work, but rather upon "abstruse philosophical reasonings." He says,
"There is an intellectual appeal of a difficult and labyrinthian system of theology which seems to be based upon the subtle nuancing of certain Scriptures not obvious to the simple reader and upon abstruse philosophical reasonings. This is a point which Dave Hunt makes repeatedly in his recent refutation of Calvinism, What Love Is This? Calvinism's Misrepresentation of God. This is why Calvinism has attracted some of the most brilliant minds over the centuries and currently tends to be at the forefront of evangelical scholarship. Many of these subtleties are not accessible to the simple reader of Scripture, nor is their gospel the simple gospel accessible to the babes. Those of us who don't have that intellectual brilliance can take comfort in the prayer of the Lord Jesus: 'I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight' (Mt. 11:25-26). It is not mere fideism to give priority to biblical exegesis and leave the abstruse reasonings to the philosophers.It is being responsive to the warnings of Christ and His apostles" (p.520).
These are strong words. Read Dr. White's recent examination of Olson's exegetical work on Romans 3. This is but one example of the untrustworthy nature of Olson's book. Many others can be documented. For example, Olson offers this interpretation of Philippians 1:29. Note how the interpretation is not based on an exegesis of the verse:
"Calvinists also use Philippians 1:29 (For to you it has been granted for Christs sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake...) to prove their point, but it is clear that we are given faith only in the same sense in which we are given suffering, that is, mediately through circumstances. No one would argue that suffering is an immediate and irresistible work of grace. As in the two Acts passages above [Acts 5:31 and 11:18], Paul is referring to the privilege and opportunity given to the Philippian Christians to believe, while alerting them to the fact that suffering for Christ comes with that privilege (p. 222)."
"Mediately through circumstances" is theological jargon from Olson's interpretive paradigm. He means that God uses means in offering the Gospel to a man with the ability to choose. Olson says, "God has a mediate role of carrying out much of His plan in this present world- through His agents" (p.29). What Olson is saying about Philippians 1:29 is simply that God is giving people the opportunity to have faith through the preaching of the Word. In other words, we're really not given a supernatural gift of faith via God's grace; were given situations like preaching in which we can express our faith in Him. Olson's wording is tricky, since he says "we are given faith." He definitely does not mean this- he explicitly states that "repentant faith" is within the means of spiritually dead men (chapters 4, 9, 10).
Olson says, "As in the two Acts passages above [Acts 5:31 and 11:18], Paul is referring to the privilege and opportunity given to the Philippian Christians to believe, while alerting them to the fact that suffering for Christ comes with that privilege." Olson arrives where Dave Hunt does: inserting the word "privilege" into the text of Philippians 1:29. He also adds "opportunity." The striking thing about these two words is that throughout his book, Olson accuses Calvinists of reading their theology into the Bible, rather than doing inductive study, verse by verse. Here is a striking example of just that: neither "privilege" nor "opportunity" are in the text of Philippians 1:29 (think of how many times you actually "choose" to suffer!). Suffering is more than a mediate opportunity to be either accepted or rejected. It is related to our sanctification. As the Biblical text clearly states, belief and suffering are gifts of God, used to conform Christians to the image of Christ.
Remember, Hebrews 12:2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith." You can't read Olson's inductive study of this verse, because I don't think he analyzes Hebrews 12:2 in his 500+ pages. Olson's book demonstrates once again the distinction between monergism and synergism. In monergism, the Biblical text is left to say what it says. With synergism, words and concepts need to be inserted to make the text say what it must say according to one's tradition.