Monday, August 9, 2010

Can You Distinguish God From the Devil?: Roger Olson and the Problem with Calvinism

Roger E. Olson, a Christian theologian, has recently entered the blog world.  Olson describes himself as "theologian of the evangelical Baptist persuasion."  But he also is a proud Arminian.  So on my maiden voyage to his blog I read his post on "The Problem with Calvinism is . . ."  As difficult as this was to read here's part of what he wrote
"Second, I am not a Calvinist because (hold on!) IF I WERE A CALVINIST I would have trouble distinguishing between God and the devil. Some Calvinists have misinterpreted this saying. They think I’m accusing them of worshiping the devil. Nothing could be farther from the truth. All I am saying is, if I were a Calvinist, being of the bent of mind that I am (striving for logical consistency as much as possible), I would have trouble clearly distinguishing between God and the devil in my own mind.
To my Calvinist acquaintances who take umbrage at this, all I can say is–please just consider it my own intellectual failure if you wish. I am not aiming this saying at you. I am admitting my own failure (from your point of view, I’m sure). But it does hold me back from joining the ranks of the “young, restless, Reformed” (not all of who are young, by the way).
The point is–God’s character. IF God elects people to salvation unconditionally and IF God IS love (1 John) why doesn’t he save everybody? IF I could be a universalist, I could be a Calvinist. I don’t care about free will for its own sake or for any humanist reasons. Hell is the sticky issue. The Calvinist God could save everyone because his election to salvation is unconditional and his grace is irresistible. Apparently, he purposefully chooses to “pass over” some (which is in effect the same as foreordaining them to hell). Why? For his glory? Some Calvinists say hell is necessary for the full manifestation of God’s attribute of justice. I ask what that says about the cross-was it not a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice?
The devil wants everyone to go to hell. The God of Calvinism wants many to go to hell. Is that enough of a difference of character? Not to me. The God of Jesus Christ is absolutely, unconditionally good. The God of Calvinism, from my perspective, is not absolutely, uncondtionally good and, in fact, has a dark side that includes willing that people perish eternally (contrary to 2 Peter 3:9 and 1 Timothy 2:4)."
Ouch!  No matter how you paint this, as a Calvinist, it hurts to read it.  Everything I've read by Olson reflects a gentle and kind nature yet he is always honest and forthright in his arguments.  I think it over simplifies the matter to reduce it to who wants who, or how many, to go to hell but I'm sure this is just one argument among many.  Must the wills of Satan and God always differ?   Did Satan want Jesus to die?  Did God want Jesus to die?  Does their agreement, at whatever level, mean they are indistinguishable?  (Samson's desire to marry a Philistine was objected to by his parents but Scripture says that "his father and mother did not know that it was of the Lord, for He was seeking an occasion against the Philistines."  Judges 14:4  Also, Eli's sons would not listen to him because "the Lord desired to put them to death."  1 Sam. 2:25 NASB)  If I believe that God wills some to perish then I do so because I believe it is the teaching of Scripture.  It's then left for me to wrap my sentiments around the truth of that teaching.  Having said that, I recently read in Terrance Tiessen's book this quote which I think is applicable
"If we portray God's judgment in ways that run counter to everything we expect in proper human jurisprudence, we will have to provide good explanation for doing so.  God's ways are often beyond our comprehension, but God's justice is the standard of human justice, and I fail to see why we would attribute to him something we would never accept from a human judge."  (Who Can Be Saved? p. 142)
Suitable caution should be used here because our very notions of justice and jurisprudence are tainted with sin and our own human short-sightedness but I understand what Tiessen is driving at.  On the other hand, I'm not sure Olson's question alleviates the problem.  On an Arminian account God created a world in which he clearly knew some would reject him because of free will or whatever you please and that those who did reject him would end up in hell; but, he created anyway subsequently making it a reality that some will be eternally lost.  Doesn't the creative act imply God was, at least to some degree, willing for some to perish?  Olson says he has a forthcoming book from Zondervan on this very issue.  I look forward to reading it as I'm sure this will be fleshed out in more detail.  At any rate, Olson's blog is a welcome addition since the number of Arminian blogs compared to Calvinist ones is not great.  I've added him to my blog roll.  I will continue to read and be challenged to think harder about my own Calvinism.  For that I'm grateful. 

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