Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sermon Applications 1/27/08

Here was the text for Sunday:

1 John 5:1-4 1 1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world-- our faith.

Here were the applications:
A. First, if you are a believer you have overcome the world. Your faith and trust is in the one who has overcome the world. There is a measure of confidence that we should have. John writes to encourage us. We are like troops behind enemy lines. We are huddled in our trenches, and from our perspective, the battle looks pretty grim. How can I resist sin and temptation? Is there any hope. But Christ is like that great general, our king—the battle has already been one. He has overcome the enemy. The ‘world’—all that stands in opposition to God is passing away, it is coming to an end, we wait for the dawn.

1 John 2:17 7 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.
B. Second, if we are to overcome we must persevere in our faith. We are in the process of overcoming. We have been born of God—we are no longer ‘of the world’ but you are from God (1 John 4:4-5). There is a fundamental difference.

C. Third, the Christian life is lived through faith in Jesus Christ. One of the reasons, we struggle in our Christian walk is not because we are bad “doers” but because we are bad “believers”. The solution for daily overcoming the world and continuing to overcome, is continually placing our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. We continue to grasp these things, we continue to pray and confess our sin. This is not some sort of continual legalism. Think for a moment of Peter, when we walked on water. As long as he had his eyes on Jesus, he was overcoming the water. But when he took his eyes off Jesus and his faith faltered, he began to sink. Thankfully, when we falter in our faith and stumble, Jesus is there to grab us just like he did for Peter.

D. Fourth, it is not that mere activity of faith that overcomes the world, it is the one in who we have faith. We do not overcome the world by having faith in faith. It is not merely the act of ‘believing’ that overcomes the world. Lots of people in our day and age will talk about how their faith changed them. They will describe how faith helped them through a tough time. But as your probe a little you find out that the faith was not direct in Jesus. Many times, our culture lives with a sort of faith in faith. And this ‘faith in faith’—‘just believing’ appears to work for a time, we trick ourselves into thinking it works. But we have really been trapped by the world—duped, blinded. The faith that overcomes the world is faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one who has overcome the world. We must believe Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God if we are to overcome the world. He is the eternal son of God and when we believe in him we become children of God. Just as the eternal Son overcame the world, so the adopted children overcome the world because of what there big brother has done.

E. Fifth, how do I exercise a faith that overcomes?
  1. We have already said, your faith must be directed at Christ.

  2. We need to continue in our faith. We all struggle with doubts from time to time… we all feel along and stranded. Like the man came to Jesus to have his Son healed, we need in our struggles to say “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”

  3. Be honest with God in your prayers. He already knows your struggles. Jesus identifies with us in our struggles. When you face temptations, physical trials or difficulties, whatever they are—be honest with God. Even be “brutally honest”. If something frustrates you, if you are having trouble trusting, if you are angry—do not go to God in prayer pretending these thoughts are not in your heart. Open up to God in prayer and lay these things before Him. Bring them to Him in faith and ask Him to increase your faith.

  4. When something in the world, a sin perhaps, tangles you down—the only way you will overcome it is through faith in Jesus. You cannot put a rule in place to change your heart. The Law will not help you overcome sin.

F. “But I have faith, and I do not feel like I am overcoming sin.” There are times where we think to ourselves, “I trust Jesus”—but just like Peter, we lose focus. We think ‘this world is so overwhelming, but I trust Jesus and I still do not seem to overcome sin’. First, there are some struggles in this life that we will never overcome, this does not mean I should surrender. The soldier in the trench does not give up just because he cannot see an end to the struggle. This is when you and I should turn to the objectivity of the cross. What I mean is the fact that Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose again is clear proof that He has overcome. Think about it, study the Bible, pray about the work of Christ—train your heart to zero in on the clarity of the Cross. You may never feel like you have overcome your struggle—but Christ has overcome.

    You will be able to find the sermon in its entirety here under Pastor's Corner.

    Monday, January 28, 2008

    The Council of Orange vs. ‘Mediate Soteriology’.

    Post 3, in our Review of C. Gordon Olson's Getting the Gospel Right. To find a list of the entire series, see the Table of Contents.

    The Issue:

    In Getting the Gospel Right, pp 3 and 321-22, Olson tells us that a mediate view of grace is found in the Council of Orange. Yet the book is imprecise on defining this mediate view in relationship to his own view. It tells us "Research for this book has confirmed this mediate position as the biblical one" (p.3). We will bring this into question in this series of posts.

    The Argument:

    Mediate to what? After outlining the different stripes of Calvinism and Arminianism, Olson argues that a mediate theology can be found throughout history and has its roots in the council of Orange (529 AD). However, he leaves two things unsaid:

    First, Arminianism is not Pelagianism. Armininism is a middle point between Augustine’s “determinism” (to use Olson’s label) and Pelgaian’s works based salvation. What Olson does not tell you is that many of the so-called “mediate views” that he identifies through history have much more in common doctrinally with Armininism although they may not have origin from the same historical stream.[1] Many of them deny unconditional election and irresistible grace. While Olson highlights their differences from Calvinism, and the views are certainly not Pelagian, the tenants of the ‘mediate view’ differ very little in essence from the basic of tenants of Arminianism. It will be our final contention, in the end there really is no serious hybrid of Arminianism and Calvinism as mediate roots old a much closer view to Armininism. It is a serious misrepresentation of historical positions to hold to Armininism with respect to conditional election, resistible grace, reject the bondage of the will (which some Arminians affirm) and tack on ‘eternal security’ and then maintain this is “middle of the road”. This is essentially what Olson does.

    Second, Olson does not tell you where his soteriology and anthropology would differ from the Council of Orange. If you read Olson, one is left with the impression that his soteriology and anthropology are mediate and differ in no substantial position from that of Orange.

    Olson muddles historical categories. The council of Orange was resolving the debate between Pelagianism and Augustinianism. Pelagianism denies the effects of the fall, original sin, the bondage of the will, predestination and the substitutionary atonement. Augustine affirms original sin, the bondage of the will to sin, comprehensive depravity, the substitutionary nature of Christ’s work and predestination. Semi-Pelagianism takes a middle road. The Council of Orange is Semi-Augustinian in that it resists the tendencies of semi-pelagianism but it does not mandate Augustinianism. It neither affirms nor reject predestination and irresistible grace. Orange is ‘Mediate’ between Semi-Pelagianism and Augustinianism, not ruling out the latter but clearly rejecting the former. Simply put, all who are Augustinians in soteriology can subscribe to Orange but not all who subscribe to Orange are full Augustinians.

    Calvinism and Arminianism are essentially a debate between 3. and 4, although for some Arminians they clearly fall within #2 because of a denial of the bondage of the will to sin and the need for grace to free us before we can believe. Of course, this is a simplification, is admittedly somewhat anacrhonistic and is open to the charge of reductionism. But with respect to the issues of grace and soteriology, most historic forms of Arminianism are a far cry from semi-pelagianism. We must then ask, what does the mediate view fall between? Orange and Augustine? Furthermore, the five points of Arminianism with the subsequent Calvinistic response at the Synod of Dort, were not the form that the issues took in this day. It is true that Augustine held to total depravity, unconditional election and irresistible grace, this hardly makes him a Calvinist. Comparing a so-called 'mediate view' between Calvinism and Arminianism is not the same as a 'mediate view' of Pelagianism and Augustinianism.
    The Council of Orange

    There are some brands of Arminianism that could adhere to the essence of Orange’s soteriology and anthropology. Orange has a sort of tempered Augustinianism without ever denouncing full Augustinianism. Other stripes of Armininianism are more clearly semi-pelagian and cannot subscribe to the essence of Orange. Orange may not mention predestination but it is hardly as “mediate” as Olson would lead us to believe and it is hardly more analogous to the substance his view. Orange rejects the notion of free will and man’s independent work in belief that Olson wants to affirm.
    Canon 3. If anyone says that the grace of God can be conferred as a result of human prayer, but that it is not grace itself which makes us pray to God he contradicts the prophet Isaih, or the Apostle…[2]

    Canon 4. If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says…

    Canon 5. If anyone says that not only the increase of faith but also its beginning and the very desire for faith…belongs to us by nature not by the gift of grace…it is proof that he is opposed to the teaching of the Apostles…

    Canon 6. If anyone says that God has mercy upon us when, apart from grace, we believe, will, desire, strive, labor, pray, watch, study, seek, ask or knock, but does not confess that it is by the infusion and inspiration of the Holy Spirit within us that we have the faith, the will, or the strength to do all these things as we ought; or if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contracts the Apostle…

    Canon 7. If anyone affirms that we can form any right opinion or may any right choice which relates to the salvation of eternal life, as is expedient for us, or that we can be saved, that is, assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he is led astray by a heretical spirit…

    Canon 8. If anyone maintains that some are able to come to the grace of baptism by mercy but others through free will, which has been corrupted in all those who have been born after the transgression of the first man, it is proof that he has not place in the true faith. For he denies that the free will of all men has been weakened through the sin of the first man, or at least holds that it has been affected in such a way that some have the ability to seek the mystery of eternal salvation by themselves without the revelation of God…

    Canon 13. Concerning the restoration of the free will. The freedom of will that was destroyed [infirmatum] in the first man can be restored only by the grace of baptism…

    Canon 23. Concerning he will of God and of man. Men do their own will and not the will of God when they do what displeases him; but when they follow their own will and comply with the will of God, however willingly they do so, yet it is his will by which what they will is both prepared and instructed.

    Conclusion… The sin of the first man has so impaired and weakened the free will that no one thereafter can either love God as he ought or believe in God or do good for God’s sake, unless the grace of divine mercy has preceded him. (Creeds of the Churches, John Leith, pp.38-43)
    This is not an attempt to argue that the Council of Orange is full blown Augustinianism, since it says nothing of irresistible grace and predestination. Also, the council of Orange affirms a view of baptism that is essentially rejected by Protestant theology. However, with respect to the bondage of the will to sin and the need of grace to free the will and bring faith, Orange has similarities to Calvinism and some forms of Arminianism.[4] Olson affirms “that fallen man continues to exercise his uncoerced will, not only in the ordinary decisions of life, but also the moral decisions relating to God.”[5] Olson argues that the freedom of the will was not destroyed in Adam and Eve, contrary to the explicit statements of the Council of Orange.[6] Olson concludes man “retained his free will…this [depravity] is not to be understood as inability to respond to God…”[7] Clearly, however, a cursory reading of the Council of Orange shows a rejection of what Olson argues is ‘mediate’ with respect to the will and the absolute necessity of enabling grace in order to believe.

    Semi-Pelagianism vs. Semi-Augustinianism
    What is Semi-Pelagianism? Philip Schaff distinguishes between Semi-Pelagianism and Semi-Augustinianism of the Council of Orange.
    “It [Semi-Pelagianism] rejects the Pelagian doctrine of the moral soundness of man, but also rejects the entire corruption and bondage of the natural man,[8] and substitutes the idea of a diseased or crippled state of the voluntary power. It disowns the Pelagian conception of grace as a mere external auxiliary; but also, quite as decidedly, the Augustinian doctrines of the sovereignty, irresistableness, and limitation of grace; and affirms the necessity and the internal operation of grace with and through human agency, a general atonement through Christ, and a predestination to salvation condition by the foreknowledge of faith.”[9]
    As we will have occasion to show this is precisely where Olson’s position finds itself. It clearly denies Augustinian predestination and irresistible grace. Olson rejects the entire corruption of man that extends to the will and favors a sort of crippling state where man retains free will along with affirming salvation conditioned on the foreknowledge of faith. Olson’s Mediate Soteriology is inconsistent with Orange.

    What is semi-Augustinian? With respect to ‘Semi-Augustinian’ at the Council of Orange, Schaff defines it thus, the position where the “Augustinian doctrine of sin and grace was approved, without the doctrine of absolute or particularistic predestination.”[10] Schaff notes five proposition that makes the Council of Orange stand in opposition to Semi-Pelagianism.[11] This includes the need for prevenient grace and every good work proceeds not from us but God inspires in us faith and love to Him. It is important to note that the Council of Orange does not reject predestination yet it never affirms it. It does not reject irresistible grace but only goes so far as to affirm prevenient grace.

    Which mediate view? Olson states, “Research for this book has confirmed this mediate position as the Biblical one.”[12] So is the Council of Orange right in its view of the bondage of the will and the need for prevenient grace or is Olson’s view with respect to the freedom of the will and the Spirit’s work in conviction (but a rejection of prevenient grace [13]) the correct ‘mediate view’?

    Olson’s mediate view is not Orange’s ‘Mediate View’. The two views are distinct. Olson says, “a balanced view of depravity does not preclude sinners from exercising repentant faith on their own. This may sound shocking to Calvinists…”[14] I would suggest that this sounds equally shocking to the Council of Orange and its ‘mediate view’. And against Olson, we will seek to show that inductive Bible study does not confirm his assertion. All mediate views are not equal just because we categorize them by the same name.

    As we move into the 16th and 17th century, with respect to Calvinism and the developing Arminian views, the issue become more complex and even in many respects focus on different elements. Seeking to postulate a mediate view between these two options is not the same is not the same as finding a mediate view in Augustine’s era. This is simply bad historiography, unless one is going to argue that all Arminians are Pelagians. We will show that in some ways, the substance of Olson’s soteriology is not really mediate at all between Arminians and Calvinism.
    Jaroslav Pelikan, in The Christian Tradition, vol 1, states, that at the Council of Orange “essential Augustinianism was vindicated” (p.327). He continues:
    “In this adjudication of the controversy, the paradox of grace, which had lain at the center of Augustine’s theology, was not resolved; and it seems an oversimplification to assert that “this ‘Augustinianism’ is basically almost as close to Semi-Pelagian synergism as to the particularistic and predestinarian monergism of Augustine.” For here [at Orange], as in Augustine, grace was sovereign, necessary, and mediated—but none of these without the others. In keeping with Augustine, the effort to mitigate the necessity of grace by ascribing some initiative in salvation to the will of men was rejected. On the other hand, the opposite extreme, to which the anti-Pelagian Augustine had sometimes seemed willing to go, asserting the sovereignty of grace by ascribing damnation to the will of God, was also anathematized. In this sense it is true that Orange condemned some of Augustine’s theology, but this was a gentle rebuke compared with the condemnation not only of Pelagius but…’the remnants of the Pelagian heresy’” (328-29, emphasis added).
    [1] GTGR, 320-333.

    [2] Compare this to GTGR 124, where the chart shows that God does not act until repentant faith and chapter 3 which affirms free will.

    [3] Olson affirms that human ability to believe in the gospel is not lost. GTGR, 31-38.

    [4] See Roger Olson's Arminian Theology (Intervarsity, 2006) for a treatment of prevenient grace, the bondage of the will and total depravity in some Arminian schemes.

    [5] GTGR, 34. Also p. 33 “total depravity does not imply inability…” To be clear a Calvinist can in a sense affirm “fallen man continues to exercise his uncoerced will, not only in the ordinary decisions of life, but also the moral decisions relating to God.” However, the moral decisions will only ever result in rejection of God, but nevertheless the free rejection of God. This is because the will as part of the heart is bound in captivity to sin. Will is not coerced to sin but will always do so freely and we might add boldly unless grace is operative in heart—The Council of Orange affirms this same necessity of operative grace, as do some Armininians. Both prevenient grace and irresistible grace affirm the bondage of the will and the priority of grace to free the will. The question is the nature of this grace and how will the will freely respond.

    [6] GTGR, 33.

    [7] GTGR, 40.

    [8] Olson redefines total depravity so that it does not include the bondage of the will to sin.

    [9] Schaff, History of the Christian Church III.858. Emphasis ours.

    [10] Schaff, History, III.866.

    [11] Schaff, History, III.868.

    [12] GTGR, 3.

    [13] Some of the Arminian schemes that require prevenient grace do so because in their system because they affirm the bondage of the will in sin. Thus the will is freed to a neutral point and then decides. However, Olson rejects the bondage of the will to sin (ch.3). He affirms the conviction of the Spirit (ch. 7) but decries prevenient grace because it is not inductive (p.81). All affirm the Spirit uses the outward preaching of the word of God and mediate means, the question is: is conviction an internal operation of the Spirit in our hearts? If our hearts don’t need to be changed it seems that at best this conviction is a force working internally and externally and does nothing to change the sinner internally. This ‘change’ of the sinner is precisely what the Council of Orange says we need first before we believe. The sinner is not precluded from exercising faith on his own (see following footnote and its quote). Conviction is an ‘enhancement’ not a change in the heart of the sinner (p.93). This is not the notion of prevenient grace of some Arminian schemes [we will discuss this later].

    [14] GTGR, 93-94.

    Saturday, January 26, 2008

    What is Hyper-Calvinism?

    Post 2, in our Review of C. Gordon Olson's Getting the Gospel Right. To find a list of the entire series, see the Table of Contents.


    If you are going to write a book on Calvinism, it behooves one to get the terms correct in a manner that fits within the historical usage of the terms. No where is this more evident of Olson’s labeling of five-point Calvinism as ‘Extreme or Hyper-Calvinism’. This thesis is based on three basic misunderstandings: that Calvin and the later Calvinists disagreed with each other. We will rebut this at a future point (for starters see here and here). It is note worthy that Calvin affirmed the essential doctrine of T, U, I and P, from ‘Tulip’ although not according to the formula. Besides his commentaries, Institutes, and sermons, Calvin has works on the Bondage of the Will and the Eternal Predestination, arguing for unconditional election. Against the research of a few, the best Calvinist scholarship agrees that he most likely affirmed the ‘L’.

    Second, that Calvinism and Reformed theology has only Calvin as its forefather. While Calvin gets the most ‘air-time’ in our modern day, numerous other reformers contemporary to Calvin were making the same view. For example, Bucer held to limited atonement and other doctrines of “Calvinism”. For the Reformed, we also have Heinrich Bullinger, Wolfgang Musculus and Peter Martyr Vermigli, to name a few. On the Lutheran side of the reformation, Luther held to the bondage of the will and unconditional election.

    Third, there is a kind of hyper-Calvinism that has been thoroughly and consistently rejected in church history by five point Calvinists. Hyper-Calvinism affirms the five points and denies that in the preaching of the gospel one can call a sinner to repent and believe. This explicit denial makes all the difference. The normative five point Calvinists has always affirmed the necessity of gospel preaching and calling the sinner to repent. The Calvinism of Dordt, the Westminister Confession and all other five-point Calvinism affirms both the five points and the calling sinners to repent in preaching and evangelism. Thus, a five point Calvinist is not by definition a hyper-Calvinism or extreme Calvinism. Calling five-point Calvinism “hyper-Calvinism” is a best historical graphical error of major proportions, at worst an outright dishonesty.

    Olson defines “Extreme or HyperCalvinism” in this way:
    “Calvin’s successors extended the implications of Calvin’s views to become the five-points of the Synod of Dort and the Westminster Confession. The acronym TULIP stands for these points. T is for Total Depravity, which means that mankind is so depraved the sinner can do nothing to please God, including repentance or faith. Spiritual death means total inability to respond to God, so God must give faith to the sinner. U is for Unconditional Election or predestination.[1] L is for Limited Atonement, that Christ died only for the elect and not for the “non-elect.” (Some prefer the term, “particular redemption.”) I is for Irresistible Grace, which means that the elect are sovereignly given regeneration to enable them to believe. P is for Perseverance of the saints, which means that the truly elect prove their election by perseverance in faith and obedience to the end.”[2]

    Calvin vs. the Calvinists?

    Calvin’s followers were not more extreme. Even if Calvin did not hold to Limited Atonement, which is a spurious argument, it erroneous to argue that Calvin’s successors “extended the implications” into the five points. The basic structure can be found in Calvin. The successors of Calvin did not take his views to some sort of extreme. Contemporary scholarship on the 17th century is thoroughly debunking and destroying the older Calvin vs. the Calvinist theory which was one time widespread but mostly unsubstantiated.[3] The thesis, particularly by some like Brian Armstrong and R.T. Kendall on soteriology and the atonement [4] or the neo-orthodoxs on the Word of God, is being thoroughly dismantled by serious investigation in primary sources.[5] Olson’s pitting of Calvin (moderate) vs. successors (extreme) is simply wrong.

    It is true that Reformed Orthodoxy did explore the deeper implications of Reformation theology and probe deeper but they never moved beyond the basics of Calvinism. Richard Muller has masterfully demonstrated that it is thoroughly erroneous to pit latter Calvinist’s predestination as mere rationalism against Calvin’s more “biblical” model.[6] Serious scholars of seventh century Protestantism are quickly debunking the ill-informed oft argued ‘Calvin vs. the Calvinist’ theories showing that it has no basis in historical theology and any cursory reading of the primary sources. To perpetuate such theories is misinformed unless one is willing to substantiate them with serious documentation and enter the throws of rigorous scholarship on Reformed Orthodoxy.

    For an introduction between Calvin and His successors see this online article originally published at Modern Reformation.

    What is Hyper-Calvinism?

    In an online article, Phil Johnson defines it this way:

    A hyper-Calvinist is someone who either:
    1. Denies that the gospel call applies to all who hear, OR
    2. Denies that faith is the duty of every sinner, OR
    3. Denies that the gospel makes any "offer" of Christ, salvation, or mercy to the non-elect (or denies that the offer of divine mercy is free and universal), OR
    4. Denies that there is such a thing as "common grace," OR
    5. Denies that God has any sort of love for the non-elect.

    Tom Nettles, a Reformed Baptist and a church historian as answered the same question: Are Calvinists Hyper?

    Some other resources:

    The Free offer is Reformed (i.e. in line with ‘5-point Calvinism’).

    Check out this introduction to 5-Point Calvinists who believe in the Gospel offer:

    The Synod of Dort.

    Dort’s historical context. One needs to understand the Confessions of early Reformed Theology, including the Westminster Confession go beyond just five points. The Synod of Dort focuses on the ‘five points’ out of a polemical need not because it encompasses the whole of Reformed theology. They Synod was responding to five specific believes held by the fledgling Arminian movement. Thus, there are five points not because they are the sum and substance of Reformed theology, as if they stand without other doctrines (such as the Trinity, the authority of Scripture, the deity and humanity of Christ, justification by faith alone, etc.) but because these were the doctrines that were threatened. It was not an attempt to focus on new things but a statement of old things in response to departure from it.

    A Calvinistic Consensus. The Calvinism at the Synod of Dort was representative of the Reformed branches from all over Europe, in fact the Genevan Calvinists, the more direct heirs of John Calvin, got their invitation late. The final pronouncement of Dort did not cover new ground in Reformed theology but reaffirmed what was already held through the various Reformed churches (English, French, Dutch, German and the Swiss). Dort was not a radicalization of Calvinistic Reformed theology or following some abstract system erroneously attributed to Beza. Even more to the point, the doctrine was written at a level that was to be popular and edifying to the un-academic while clearly rejecting the error or the Arminians.

    Calvinism in the words of Dort. We might be surprised at what the Synod of Dort says, particularly about gospel preaching, the call for unbelievers, the bondage of the will and the regeneration of the sinner. Our treatment will not be exhaustive but highlight a few things often missed in Dort’s ‘extreme Calvinism’. It will be clear that Dort does not fall into the historic definition of hyper-Calvinism, unless we redefine hyper-Calvinism as Olson has done.

    Dort on Gospel Preaching.
    FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 2. but in this the love of God was manifested, that He "sent his one and only Son into the world, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (1 John 4:9, John 3:16).

    FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 3. And that men may be brought to believe, God mercifully sends the messengers of these most joyful tiding to whom He will and at what time He pleases; by whose ministry men are called to repentance and faith in Christ crucified. "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom 10:14-15).

    FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 4. The wrath of God abides upon those who believe not this gospel. But such as receive it and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith are by Him delivered from the wrath of God and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.

    Dort affirms the necessity of preaching. Dort is quite clear that if a person will turn to the gospel and confess and repent they will be saved. Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. The person must “receive and embrace” Jesus Christ with a “true and living faith” in order to be delivered from God’s wrath. True hyper-calvinism denies the necessity of preaching the gospel and calling people to be saved.

    Dort on the Atonement and Gospel Proclamation.

    FIRST HEAD: ARTICLE 5. The cause or guilt of this unbelief as well as of all other sins is no wise in God, but in man himself; whereas faith in Jesus Christ and salvation through Him is the free gift of God, as it is written: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph 2:8). Likewise: "For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him" (Phil 1:29)

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 3. The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 4. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

    Note how clearly Dort affirms that all sinners without distinction should be called to repent and believe. The preaching of the gospel is not limited to the elect but is to be promiscuously proclaimed. It is God’s good pleasure to send His gospel into all the world and call every man to repent. Dort vigorously upholds this.

    Dort on the Call to Believe.

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 7. But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

    People perish for their unbelief. Many people are called by the outward preaching of the gospel but do not repent. This is not a problem in the Christ or his sacrifice but rather the guilt of unbelief lies wholly in the sinner. When a person believes, however, they cannot claim their merit before God. While the sinner who remains in unbelief has only himself to blame, the reverse is not true for the sinner who repents.

    Dort on the Sincerity of the Call.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 8. As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 9. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves; some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life; other, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt 13).

    The call of God to the sinner through the preaching of the Word is not insincere or feigned. It is not fake. God declares that when a person hears the gospel they have the responsibility to repent. This is not a false responsibility. The promise is if someone believes they will be saved. When someone hears God’s Word and they refuse to believe the fault lies in the heart of the sinner not in God or the call.

    Dort on the Culpability of Unbelief.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 15. God is under no obligation to confer this grace upon any; for how can He be indebted to one who had no previous gifts to bestow as a foundation for such recompense? Nay, how can He be indebted to one who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood? He, therefore, who becomes the subject of this grace owes eternal gratitude to God, and gives Him thanks forever. Whoever is not made partaker thereof is either altogether regardless of these spiritual gifts and satisfied with his own condition, or is in no apprehension of danger, and vainly boasts the possession of that which he has not. Further, with respect to those who outwardly profess their faith and amend their lives, we are bound, after the example of the apostle, to judge and speak of them in the most favorable manner; for the secret recesses of the heart are unknown to us. And as to others who have not yet been called, it is our duty to pray for them to God, who calls the things that are not as if they were. But we are in no wise to conduct ourselves towards them with haughtiness, as if we had made ourselves to differ.

    Notice that we are to pray for the unbeliever who has not yet been called to believe the gospel. We are also supposed to be humble not prideful that we are saved.

    Dort on the Will and Regeneration.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 16. But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the whole race of mankind deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and it properties, or do violence thereto; but is spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consist. Wherefore, unless the admirable Author of every good work so deal with us, man can have no hope of being able to rise from his fall by his own free will, by which, in a state of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin.

    THIRD AND FOURTH HEAD: ARTICLE 17. As the almighty operation of God whereby He brings forth and supports this our natural life does not exclude but require the use of means by which God, of His infinite mercy and goodness, has chosen to exert His influence, so also the aforementioned supernatural operation of God by which we are regenerated in no wise excludes or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration and food of the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles and the teachers who succeeded them piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to His glory and to the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected not to keep them, by the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the influence of the Word, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical discipline; so even now it should be far from those who give or receive instruction in the Church to presume to tempt God by separating what He of His good pleasure has most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more clearly this favor of God, working in us, usually manifest itself, and the more directly His work is advanced; to whom alone all the glory, both for the means and for their saving fruit and efficacy, is forever due. Amen.

    Total depravity does not mean that our humanity is eradicated or that we do not retain the image of God. Dort even says, “But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will.” It is not that we do not have a will, rather the will acts according to our heart and our heart is sinful. The will is enslaved to sin. Furthermore, Dort is quite clear that the will is not coerced in irresistible grace, “so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor take away their will and it properties, or do violence thereto; but is spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same time sweetly and powerfully bends it, that where carnal rebellion and resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience begins to reign.” This is often misunderstood by non-Calvinists, particularly when they fail to listen to what the opposing view actually holds and maintains. Such argumentation becomes the construction of ‘straw men’ and victory declared when the ‘straw man’ is burned down.

    Dort is clear that God uses means: “does not exclude but require the use of means by which God, of His infinite mercy and goodness, has chosen to exert His influence, so also the aforementioned supernatural operation of God by which we are regenerated in no wise excludes or subverts the use of the gospel.” Notice that God uses mediate means to carry out his will. Most importantly God uses the preaching of the gospel to produce an effect in some of the hearers. In fact, the preacher is supposed to admonition his listeners. In other words, he is to plead with them to repent and believe. Dort is so convinced, and this is so essential to their Calvinism, that they say “the more readily we perform our duty, the more clearly this favor of God, working in us, usually manifest itself, and the more directly His work is advanced.” In short, when we are zealous for the work and spread of the gospel, God is pleased to fulfill his eternal plan.

    FIFTH HEAD: ARTICLE 14. And as it has pleased God, by the preaching of the gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so He preserves, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof, and by the use of the sacraments.

    The preaching of the gospel is absolutely necessary for God’s grace to be at work. God uses the Word and the ordinances to build up and strengthen his people. He uses His Word to convert sinners.

    A Fair Reading of History.

    Taking Dort at its Word. It does not take reading far in the Synod of Dort, to see that the framers use it to encourage holy living and godly life. Even if one disagrees with the overall theology, one cannot help but notice the piety expressed through the document. These were no abstract doctrines but were attached vitally to faith and life of the believer. They were not to lead to pride but humility and prostration before God.

    Dory clearly affirms the necessity of gospel preaching, what we would call evangelism. This is the outward call of the gospel, whereby all are dutiful commanded by God’s Word to repent. This call and command is not unsincere, just like God’s command “Be holy as I am holy” and “Be perfect as your father in heaven” are sincere commands but only come to fruition in the work of Christ on our behalf.

    It is egregiously false to say, as Olson does, "Extreme Calvinism, in effect, denies that faith is the required condition for salvation. If "Christ purchased faith for the elect," then faith cannot be required for salvation. Indeed, they hold that faith is a consequence of regeneration, not a condition [no arguement there]. Thus, there would be no point in telling the unregerate to believe, since they cannot do so. Since by irresistible grace God regenerates the elect, faith becomes an afterthought, a mere extraneous appendage. This is confirmed by the omission of any mention of faith in the five points of Calvinist theology, the TULIP." [7] Dort and other Calvinist documents place a high value on faith as the instrumental cause of salvation not the meritorious cause. Dort does indeed 'mention faith', in fact as we have shown it is more than a mere mention. The actual structure of the five points was in response to the outline of the Armininians--but no one would argue they did not value faith. In fact, the importance of faith for salvation was never a contention between the two parties.

    Five Point Calvinism is not “Hyper-Calvinism.” Clearly the Synod of Dort, and we could show the Westminster Confession of Faith and other historic Reformed confessions, was not ‘Hyper-Calvinism’. Spurgeon was a five point Calvinist, clearly affirming all the points including limited atonement, and he vehemently attacked hyper-Calvinism and passionately called sinners to repent. Men like Andrew Fuller and William Carey were five point Calvinists and they never rejected it yet they preached the gospel. Fuller wrote The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptance which argues for the necessity of gospel preaching, evangelism and calling sinners to repent. The activity of these men and countless other Calvinists along with their works, and even the clear expressions of the necessity of preaching go a long way to rebut the straw men construct by Olson. We will address these arguments in detail later but he argues that Calvinism does not lead to missions work (ch. 25). He also says (ch. 26) Calvinism negates the need for prayer, persuasive preaching and apologetics. Bluntly, Calvinism does not reject the use of means. According to Olson it leads to legalism and self-righteous pride. Ironically, simply reading Dort, not to mention voluminous other works by Calvinists, shows us they cut down pride and legalism, they raise to all heights the necessity of prayer, preaching and the need for the outward call of the gospel. The preacher is, according to Dort, to admonish diligently not lethargically, he is to proclaim the gospel promiscuously to the entire world.


    Olson’s erroneous historiography. It is both sloppy and ultimately dishonest for Olson to call five point Calvinism “hyper-Calvinism”. The mislabeling, while we hope unintentional, is unworthy of one who would seek to instruct us on Calvinism and why we should reject it. Clearly five point Calvinist affirms the preaching of the gospel the call of sinners to repent. This is not inconsistent with five-point Calvinism in the least, as many subsequent Calvinists have argued. We shall have occasion to expand on why this is not inconsistent. Suffice it to say that five-point Calvinism is neither ‘hyper-Calvinism’ nor is it a more extreme form of what Calvin held.

    Five Point Calvinists thrash ‘Hyper Calvinists.’ There is such a thing a hyper-Calvinist but it is not one who affirms the ‘five points’. A hyper-Calvinist is not one who is passionate about Calvinism. A hyper-Calvinist is not one who holds to Dort or other Reformed Confesions (Baptist, Presbyterianian or Congregational). The hyper-Calvinist goes beyond. The hyper-Calvinism is one who denies the necessity of preaching the gospel and calling the unsaved to repent. This is not historic Calvinism as found in the Reformers, the numerous confessions and catechisms, and countless works. Often times men like Andrew Fuller and Charles Spurgeon [both 5-point Calvinists], or in today R.C. Sproul, D. James Kennedy, James White or John MacArthur will openly and sometimes vehemently reject a true ‘hyper-Calvinism’ that denies preaching and the sincere call to the unregenerate to repent while at the same time these men affirm the ‘five points of Calvinism.’ This call in preaching is sincere because the Calvinist knows that God uses the preaching of the Word in conjunction with the internal operation of the Spirit to bring conviction and regeneration. Calvinists have been zealous missionaries and evangelists and they openly rebut true hyper-Calvinism. We will deal with the issue of Calvinist missionaries as misrepresented by Olson when we deal with chapter twenty-five of GTGR.

    A Call for Honest Representation. If one is going to critique a position faithfully, one must understand its tenants, understand how an adherent articulates them and must in his critique faithfully represent the opinions of the opposing view. Olson has not been faithful to his Calvinistic brothers in the Lord in representing their position; it is a false witness against them. This is a grave error. Again, we cannot stress the necessity of accuracy enough here: five point Calvinism is neither historical hyper-Calvinism nor is it in historical investigation an extreme form of Calvin’s theology. It may look extreme to one who repudiates unconditional election, but the five points of Calvinism are nevertheless a summation (but not exhaustive treatment) of normative Calvinism.

    [1] ‘Predestination’ is inaccurate. The Arminian believes in predestination the question is the basis of the predestination.

    [2] GTGR, 2-3.

    [3] See for example: Pau Helm, Calvin and the Calvinists. Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1982 [reprinted 2001]; Richard Muller Post Reformational Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520-1725 Volumes 1-4 (Grand Rapids, Mich. Baker, 2003); Idem, Christ and the Decree: Christology and Predestination in Reformed Theology from Calvin to Perkins (Durham, NC: Labyrinth Press, 1986; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988); idem, “Calvin and the Calvinists: Assessing Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy, Part 1” in Calvin Theological Journal, 30, no. 2 (November 1995), 345-375; idem, “Calvin and the Calvinists: Assessing Continuities and Discontinuities Between the Reformation and Orthodoxy, Part 2” in Calvin Theological Journal, 31, no. 1 (April 1996), 125-160;

    [4] Brian Armstrong Calvinism and the Amyraut Heresy: Protestant Scholasticism and Humanism in the Seventeenth Century France (Madison: The University of Wisconsin, 1969) and. R.T. Kendall Calvin and English Calvinism to 1649 (Oxford: The University Press, 1979).

    [6] Muller, Christ and the Decree.

    [7] GTGR, 214, emphasis original.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    C. Gordon Olson's Mediate Soteriology

    Post 1. C. Gordon Olson’s Mediate Soteriology To find a list of the entire series, see the Table of Contents.

    Gordon Olson’s Getting the Gospel Right.

    “The decline of churches in Europe, the battleground of the Reformation, raises real questions about the soundness of the form of Christianity which developed from the Reformation. It was the radical Reformation which sought to break free from the overhanging legacy of medieval scholasticism and thus took the lead in world evangelicalism.”[1] So begins the preface of a book that claims to be a balanced view of salvation and purports to take a middle road.

    The book claims to show through inductive Bible study show that Calvinism (and Arminianism) are not Biblical options. In fact, “it is astonishing that this mediate position [the one taken in the book] resolves supposed contradictions and paradoxes, which have plagued our theologies over the ages.”[2] A well known Christian, Tim LaHaye, writes in the introduction states, “What I find interesting is that in spite of its incredible distribution, no scholar to date has attempted to refute it or anything in it. As another who was impressed by the book said, ‘The reason no one has attempted to refute it is that they cannot.’ I would agree.” Quite the bold assertions. Ironically, anyone remotely familiar with Calvinism on even an introductory level would realize that voluminous numbers of theological texts and exegetical expositions have spent countless pages refuting the same arguments and textual misappropriations written in this book long before this book was published. Today, we will deal primarily with Olson’s introduction.

    A Review of Olson’s Methods.

    In a coming series of posts, I intend to offer introduction to Calvinism as something that inductively arises from the Bible. We will respond to the arguments in Olson's book and show its systematic mishandling of the Biblical texts, its misunderstanding of the Calvinistic system of doctrine and its abuse of church history. We will have occasions to address ludicrous assertions like: “Thus, there would be [for the Calvinist] no point in telling the unregenerate to believe, since they cannot do so…faith becomes an afterthought, a mere extraneous appendage. This is confirmed by the omission of any mention of faith in the five points of Calvinistic theology, the TULIP.”[3] We will address this in due turn, but a simple reading of the Synod of Dort should refute this. Yet again we are told, “This [unconditional election and irresistible grace] leaves the sincerity of the general call to salvation in a totally incoherent position.”[4] We are told that the Reformers because of their theology did nothing to enhance modern missions and that the second generation of the Reformers “rationalized away Christian responsibility.”[5] We will address these issues.

    Olson misrepresents Calvinist Doctrine. While Olson affirms, “The Spirit’s conviction of the sinner through the human instrumentality of ministry of the word of God best explains the Scripture data,”[6] he denies the Arminian scheme of prevenient grace as non-textual.[7] Yet this is essentially a notion of the use of the instrumentality of the Word is found in Reformed and Arminian soteriologies in discussions of irresistible or prevenient grace, respectively. We never hear, for example, that the Reformed hold equal strong to the efficacy of the preach word. In fact, every good “extreme-Calvinist (as Olson mislabels the 5 point Calvinist) affirms the instrumentality of the preached Word.[8]

    Calvinists Affirm the Holy Spirit. We are told that Calvinists focus on the objective realm of the decrees and struggle in the subjective realm “how can one be included in the elect, and how can one know if one is among the elect?”[9] One would think that even a cursory reading of Calvin, John Owen, Jonathan Edwards or countless other Calvinists (not to mention the Creeds and Catechisms) on the role of the Holy Spirit should belay this fear. Was not Calvin himself called the theologian of the Holy Spirit?[10] We are told that in the Bible there is no notion whatsoever of God’s decree and that God ordains all things in the sense of God’s activity determining the outcome by decree before it happens. There is not an “exhaustively efficacious implementation of God’s eternal plan, but quite the opposite [the Gr. term boule] brings out men’s ability to frustrate God’s plan for themselves.” [11]

    Is the view truly ‘Mediate’? While Olson generally holds an Arminian view of foreknowledge, with statements like this, he takes neither a mediate view between Arminianism and Calvinism nor is his view the ‘semi-Augustiniansim of the council of Orange as Olson advocates.[12] Ironically, Olson’s emphasis on conviction as means by which people come to faith as ‘heavy human involvement’ prior to the Spirit’s work runs against Canons 6 and 7 of the Council of Oragnge, not to mention the historical Arminian view of depravity and prevenient grace.[13] Mediate? Hardly. When we are told things like “preaching their Calvinism along with the necessity of exercising repentant faith will prove counterproductive” and that one cannot preach Calvinism to sinners[14], we have to seriously question: does the author really understand Calvinism? Our contention will be that the author does not listen to or grasp how from the text of Scripture itself Calvinism handles itself and the alleged problems--even the trumped up "problems". Our author often makes the Calvinist hold statements and beliefs that his “extreme Calvinists” have often rejected without inconsistency to their ‘system’.

    The next major problem in the book is the so called “inductive method.” Using an inductive method is certainly good and right--one can find, contrary to Olson's arguments, Calvinist who have used just such methods. But as we will have occasion to show, the author’s methods of so called "induction," often become obtuse and major on minutia. He builds theology based on word definitions then lifting the definition into the context that amounts to little more than theological hucksterism. It is like smoke and mirrors, so overwhelming the reader with definition then using the hazy image to say, “see the text does not say what some think it says, most assuredly the Calvinist is long.” While syntax and grammar is mentioned, it more often is used to obscure the text then expound meaning. The book overloads and bombards the reader with its in ‘inductive approach’ that is a mere light show. We will have occasion to show that the arguments are rather audaciously deductive and the so-called inductivism has one intent: to convince us that Calvinism can not in any way be true. Such bold claims by this reviewer will need to be sustained since the author overwhelms us with a plethora of texts, not surprisingly there are some texts that are strangely absent from his treatment, which we will in turn address in this series of post. We simply ask patience of the reader as we will substatiate the claims in due time.

    Errors in historiography. In the introduction, Olson would have us fall prey to the basic “Calvin versus the Calvinists” with respect the issues of determinism and predestination. We are told. “It is widely recognized that Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodor Beza, developed a more extreme form of Calvin’s doctrine by adding the notion of limited atonement.”[15] Again later we are told that “Beza reverted Calvinism to a more scholastic mode with his doctrine of limited atonement…” or that Beza and others “developed Calvinism into a more scholastic type of rigid predestinarianism.”[16] This position that the second generation of Reformers departed from basic tenants to Calvinism has be eviscerated by the serious scholarship of contemporary Calvin and Reformation scholars, as we will have occasion to show. Olson’s assertions simply have no basis in fact, in fact represent a misapprehension of basic history of the reformation. While this view was not uncommon in the past by those unfavorable to Reformed theology, it has been show by serious historical documentation in the original sources that it cannot be maintained. It is easy to black ball the history of a view that one finds offensive, yet such revisionist history is not worthy of Christians who always attempt to speak the truth in love.

    Errors in definition. Olson continues with this fallacy by separating the definition of a “moderate Calvinist” and an “extreme or hyper-Calvinist.” We are told that the moderate Calvinist is the one who follows the essence of Calvin’s theology.[17] However, Calvin is labeled as a four-point Calvinist. When we discuss Olson’s treatment of the atonement, we will show that Olson misuses Calvin on the atonement. In light of the best modern research and a treatment of the original sources it is difficult, if not impossible, to seriously sustain the Calvin was an Amyraldian (i.e. 4-points). While we will turn our attention to this matter in more detail when we review Olson’s treatement of the atonement, finding a few points where Calvin speaks of Christ’s work for the world does not mean he upheld universal atonement. As Murray writes, after examining specifically Calvin’s treatment of 1 John 2:2 and 1 Timothy 2:4-6, “since Calvin is explicit at these points on the distinction between individuals distributively considered and individuals without distinction of race or class, we are not only justified but required to reckon with that distinction in numerous other passages where, in connection with the vicarious sacrifice of Christ, he uses universal terms. We must bear in mind that Calvin’s jealousy for the proclamation of the gospel of reconciliation to all without exception is not in the least incompatible with his exclusion of the reprobate from the scope of expiation wrought by Christ.” [18] More grievously however, is the mislabeling of a five point Calvinist as a “hyper-Calvinist”. Certainly there is such a thing as a five point Calvinist, and the five points arose at the Synod of Dort in response to Remonstrant Arminianism, however, this is not ‘hyper-Calvinism.’

    What does Dort really say? The Synod of Dort affirms the necessity of the preaching and the proclamation of the gospel and calling of all men to repent as they hear this gospel message.

    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.
    SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel[when it is preached] do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.
    Dort is not Hyper-Calvinism. The historical definition of ‘hyper-Calvinist’ have not been those who hold to the five points, as for example, articulated at Dort. But rather those who have held to the five points of Calvinism and reject the necessity of the preaching of the gospel. Numerous five point Calvinist have ardently rejected hyper-Calvinism. This mislabeling of historical terms confuses the issues. However, it is not surprising since Olson clearly sees it as fallacious to hold to five point Calvinism (and moderate Calvinism, e.g. any kind of determinism) and preach the gospel and call people through the Word to repent.[19] For Olson, then, it seems that all five point Calvinism would fall under what has been historical known as hyper-Calvinism. However, five-point Calvinism, understood on its own terms has always historical rejected and resisted the views of the few that were truly ‘hyper-Calvinists.’ It is wrong to make such a gross historical mislabeling of the five-point Calvinist position. While Olson may not agree with the position of Calvinism, he has the responsibility to label things correctly and avoid such a pejorative mislabeling that is historically inaccurate. Olson may find five point Calvinism as more ‘extreme’ then the ‘four-point variety’ but to fail to distinguish five point Calvinism from hyper-Calvinism inexcusable for someone who is trying to handle the facts honestly and convince us that he understands the nature of Calvinism of every stripe.

    Olson’s Positive Affirmations.

    In the rest of the introduction, Olson is correct to remind us ultimately what Bible says and teaches is that which is authoritative. One can wholeheartedly concur with his sober reminder that our doctrines must be derived from the Bible. He affirms the necessity to consider the context of the passage, the meaning of words, and grammar and syntax. [20] While we agree with the method outlined, we will show that of occasion he ignores context, obscures word meanings and twists syntax. His affirmation of the analogy of Scripture along with the total inerrancy and sufficiency of Scripture is refreshing in a context when even evangelicals are hesitant to affirm the doctrines in attempts to gain academic respectability. We wholeheartedly concur that “we must always interpret our experience by the Bible!”[21]


    We are more than willing to ‘bear with Olson’ [p.8] as he rehearses mounds of evidence, linguistic, grammatical, syntactical, exegetical and historical yet this means a thorough handling of the arguments also requires some of the same tedious labors. However, reviewing the book will take substantial effort in our series of posts.

    At the end of the day our argument will be that Olson does not get Calvinism right, he fails to understand it on its own terms and pays little or no attention to how it handles the text. More importantly, he does not handle the Word of God accurately. Calvinism arises from nowhere but serious inductive Bible study. He obscures the fact of countless five point Calvinists including Jonathan Edwards, Andrew Fuller and William Carey who were passionate evangelists, gospel preachers and missionaries. We will also demonstrate consistent mishandlings and misapplications of the text. The book is so eager to wield a brazen sword against Calvinism that it cannot see the truth in the text’s right in front of us. The presupposition is that Calvinism is untrue and Calvinists cannot consistently evangelize. This presupposition colors the treatment of Olson. The book does indeed hold “a few texts [and a few concepts] so near the eyes that they hide the rest of the Bible.”[22] In the end, Olson does not get the gospel right with respect to the sovereignty and glory of God as he exalts the glory and free will of man over the priority of God’s activity in redemption.

    [1] C. Gordon Olson, Getting the Gospel Right: A Balanced View of Salvation Truth, [GTGR] ix. As with many things, Olson leaves out key facts, for example, here he fails to mention that some quarters of the radical Reformation either sought to overthrow civil authority and erect a new kingdom based on their eschatology, as in the disaster at Munster. Olson paints pejoritives with such with such sweeping brushstrokes when he says "break free from the overhanging legacy of medieval scholasticism," it is difficult to know where to begin. For example, statements like "and thus took the lead in world evangelicalism" fails to acknowledge the role of say Calvin and others in planting Protestant churches in France, or Particular Baptists like Andrew Fuller and William Carey.

    [2] GTGR, 8. This is sweeping to suggest that for 500+ years Christians have been unaware of the difficulties of their theologies (whether Calvinist or Arminian) and only now will the record be set straight. Regardless of one's view of soteriology, both Calvinist and Arminian theologians and Biblical scholars have worked hard to resolve the "contradictions and paradoxes" in order to be faithful to Scripture.

    [3] GTGR, 214. Emphasis original.

    [4] GTGR, 317. Emphasis original.

    [5] GTGR, 341.

    [6] GTGR, 94.

    [7] GTGR, 83.

    [8] For starters see: Westminster Shorter Catechism (WSC) 88-90. Synod of Dort: Fifth Head, Article 14; Heidelberg Catechism Q. 65; Q.84; Second Helvetic Confession, chapter 1 is clear that internal illumination (e.g. irresistible grace) does not eliminate the need for preaching; chapter 14; also chapter 6 ‘means not despised’.

    [9] GTGR, 84.

    [10] B.B. Warfield, The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Vol V.: Calvin and Calvinism, p. 21.

    [11] GTGR, 20. Emphasis original. He is refering to Luke 7:30.

    [12] GTGR, 321-22.

    [13] GTGR, 83-94; 124.

    [14] GTGR, 358.

    [15] GTGR, 2.

    [16] GTGR, 332.

    [17] GTGR, 2.

    [18] John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray vol 4: Studies in Theology (Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth, 1982) 313.

    [19] GTGR, 349-51; 357-59.

    [20] GTGR, 6

    [21] GTGR, 7.

    [22] A phrase that Olson refers to a number of times, including GTGR, 37.
    "The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...