In a for and against series of books, Dr. Michael Horton and Dr. Roger Olson both came out with a book on Calvinism. I read Dr. Michael Horton’s book first and I wasn’t surprised to find that it was a solid defense of Calvinism. I wish I could say that Roger Olson’s critique of Calvinism was as solid as Horton’s defense, but I’d be lying if I did.
On Page 23, Dr. Olson writes:
“I believe someone finally needs to stand up and in love firmly say “No!” to egregious statements about God’s sovereignty often made by Calvinists…God is thereby rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst. I have gone so far as to say that this kind of Calvinism…makes it difficult(at least for me) to see the difference between God and the devil.”
As if no one has ever came at Calvinism before. There are non-Calvinists from all denominations and walks of life that critique and/or are hostile towards Calvinism. Olson was definitely not the first to step up nor will he be the last. Olson’s confusion on the identity of the Calvinist God is an old argument, at least as old as John Wesley, who made the same objection. Olson reasons that because Calvinists “attribute everything to his will and control” then it would be hard to tell the difference.
Calvinists of old have already addressed this issue, but it deserves to be said again. Some theologies hold too high of a view of the devil. We are not in some gnostic manichaeism, where God and the Devil are in a conflict dueling it out in some type of dualistic battle. In reality, the Devil is nothing but a pawn in God’s chess game.
You will often see those with a high view of the Devil attribute things to him that the Bible never does. I’ve seen social media posts blaming the devil for pretty much anything. While I don’t think Dr. Olson would blame the devil if he dropped his hot pocket, I think his objection is cut from the same fabric of this type of thinking.
On Page 24, Dr. Olson states:
“I have no interest in man-centered theology; I am intensely interested in worshiping a God who is truly good and above reproach of the Holocaust and all other evils too numerous to mention.”
This ladies and gentleman, is what we call an appeal to emotion. While Olson says he has no interest in man-centered theology, he is obvious that his standards of “good” and “above reproach” are entirely based on a humanistic understanding of these terms. How does the Arminian escape the evil of the Holocaust? Is the God who valued free will more than the Jewish people (and others) more worthy of worship?
The rest of the book consisted of Dr. Olson talking about some key figures of Reformed theology (Calvin, Beza, Edwards) and going through why he disagrees with the five points of Calvinism. To avoid making this post very long, since this is a book review and not a robust theological debate: Dr. Olson on page 140 states:
“Steele and Thomas claim support for limited atonement in biblical passages…however, even a cursory glance at these passages reveal they do not limit the atonement but only say it is for and applied to God’s people.”
Newsflash Dr. Olson, that is limiting the atonement in one way or another. Unless the assumption is that every single person is “God’s people”, when you say it is applied for God’s people (with the implication that those who are not God’s people are excluded) you’re limiting it to those who God has elected. The debate is to be had on the conditions (or lack thereof) on which God elects people.
Dr. Olson’s book was filled with emotional rhetoric and he didn’t really bring any new objections to Calvinism.