Friday Review: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities
(You may skip my personal opinion piece PREFACE if you like and go straight to the review without skipping a beat! Though I believe I make an interesting point or two leading up to the REVIEW.)
PREFACE: Calvinism & The Mystery People
I have noticed over time that there seem to be two main categories of people (among many) in American Christendom. Not to over-simplify too much but one category would be those who are Calvinists and the other category contains those who are not but don’t care a dribble about delving deep into the theology, thinking it’s all a waste of time and just a striving after the wind. Who can know the mind of God in this? The mystery of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will is fine enough for them. For lack of a better name I’ll call them the “Mystery People”!
The majority of US non-Calvinists might be carelessly classified as strictly Arminian but that might not be a very accurate or satisfying description. Some of them would actually be called Semi-Pelagian not knowing what that meant, though some might be fine with it once this category was described to them.
With 20% of the nation claiming NO religious affiliation many Christians are wanting to move to more solid scriptural high ground. Whether it is too much vagueness, too much political correctness, too much seeker sensitivity, too-much post-modern deconstructionism or just plain too much fluff they’d like stronger Biblical teaching that is not just rehashed fundamentalism.
So some have chosen to look again to Jonathan Edwards and revisit the Puritans for safe harbor… they are called by various names, The New Calvinists, Piper-cubs (after Minneapolis Baptist Pastor, Author and Passion Conference speaker, John Piper) and the best of the lot, “The Young, Restless and Reformed”. Not all Calvinists are in this camp. Many quiet and content Calvinists exist but there’s a new breed, the New Calvinists and they evangelize their theology much as one would the gospel.
I came from a church which was wonderfully started in 1979 or so and had not declared its allegiance to any camp (at least not to my foreknowledge) but was nonetheless (after affiliating itself with a larger group to form an non-denominational denomination) transformed into being Reformed with a charismatic emphasis church.
I was never able to fit myself into that camp even though I drenched myself in John Owen’s thoroughly probing and provocative work, “Sin and Temptation”. Jonathan Edwards wasn’t too bad as he allowed for the operation of the Spirit of God in his midst.
My dilemma was compounded by the fact that I don’t make a very good “Mystery Person”. I am too inquisitive and yes, too contentious to settle for a vague premise. And being a pastor doesn’t give you much wiggle room in the non-committal approach to theology!
So in my journey to define what I really am and to understand what a real classical Arminian believes I came across this wonderful book by Roger Olson.
Due to a possible lack of understanding or significant judgemental bias Calvinists have often lumped Arminianism in with Semi-Pelagiansim. There has been more than a few times where Calvinist leaders have called Arminianism heresy. (not to be confused with being an “Armenian”… your born one of those!)
I am not sure how I discovered the book “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”. But when I did it was a breath of fresh air. I was elated. The book was both informative and easily understood. A good introduction to Classical Arminianism. As one review said,
Very well written description of classical Arminianism. Every christian interested in theology and soteriology in particular should read this book. Even if you don’t hold to same views as classical Arminianism you should read this book so that you actually know what being an Arminian means.
Olson divides the book into Myths instead of Chapters: Myth 1, Myth 2, Myth 3 etc. Ten Myths in all. Myth 1 is titled “Arminian Theology is the Opposite of Calvinism/Reformed Theology”. Other interesting titles are Myth 4: “The Heart of Arminianism is Belief in Free Will” and Myth 9 “Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone”.
For a full list of the 10 Myths you should check out this link: 10 Myths. It links you to Amazon so you are ready to purchase the book if you like.
A few other concepts that one might not know are part of Arminian Theology… Total Depravity is a concept integral to Arminianism… Prevenient Grace is integral. A person cannot come to Christ with being drawn first by the Father… and finally God’s Divine Sovereignty is not subject to Man’s Free Will. God is God and can intervene in any way he wishes. Just because an Arminian does not subscribe to the notion of Irresistable Grace he can adhere to a God who as omnipotent and sovereign and able to direct the affairs of man as he desires.
In each Myth section, Olson gives the reader a brief overview into the perspectives of authors, teachers and proponents of Arminianism. You will learn who has written concerning each topic and how they compare with the writings of Arminius himself.
Personally I really benefited from Olson’s defense of Classic Arminianism. It clarified what I believed and gave me confidence in articulating Classic Arminian Theology. It also increased my desire to learn more. While at my former church I was not encouraged to study and compare the two systems of thought. Thank you, Roger Olson for bringing clarity and answers to the issues I struggled with before.
I recommend this book to anyone who has encountered Calvinism and wants to understand the biblical alternative of Classsical Arminianism, to the Calvinist who wants to understand true Arminian Theology and not the caricatures that are communicated in the general public and among Calvinists themselves. It just not Free Will vs Sovereignty.
Roger E. Olson (Ph.D., Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He is the author of The Story of Christian Theology: Twenty Centuries of Tradition & Reform, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity & Diversity (both InterVarsity Press) and The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology (Westminster John Knox).