This week I will conclude our summary and discussion of Roger Olson's book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities with myths #8-10.
Myth 8: Arminians Do Not Believe in Predestination.
Reality: Predestination is a biblical concept; classical Arminians interpret it differently than Calvinists without denying it. It is Gods sovereign decree to elect believers in Jesus Christ and includes Gods foreknowledge of those believers faith.
Comment: I loved this chapter because this is such a common myth. The debate between Calvinists and Arminians is too often framed as between predistination and free will. The fact of the matter is that both Calvinists and Arminians believe in both predestination and free will. The question is how to define and relate the two concepts. The Arminian position on predestination is characterized by assigning priority to God's foreknowledge. "Those he foreknew he also predestined." Olson dedicated the second half of the chapter to differentiating Classical Arminianism from Molinist "middle knowledge" and open theism. Although I am not committed to either Molinism or open theism, I do think it unfortunate that Olson has determined to cut such a narrow path for Arminians. Many Open Theist I talk to consider themselves "consistent Arminians" or at least "revisionist Arminians." Maybe they are wrong about that (and I think Olson makes a good case that the Arminian position requires an affirmation of foreknowledge), but the author's political intention to distance Arminianism from controversial territory even within the Evangelical camp is glaring.
Myth 9: Arminian Theology Denies Justification by Grace Alone Through Faith Alone.
Reality: Classical Arminian theology is a Reformation theology; it embraces divine imputation of righteousness by Gods grace through faith alone and preserves the distinction between justification and sanctification.
Comment: This chapter is especially helpful as a corrective to the claim that Arminian theologies are by definition a Catholic compromise. This comes from Calvinists in the form of an accusation (which is Olson's obvious concern), but it is oft repeated by Arminians as a strength. Although it is true that Wesley has a "Catholic spirit" and many Arminians are more comfortable drawing on the Catholic spiritual tradition than their Reformed counterpoints, Arminians are at bottom Protestants. Even if Arminians come to conclusions that make rapprochement with Roman Catholics more likely, the questions they are asking reflect typically Protestant concerns. Hopefully this chapter will remind Arminians to speak in a more nuanced way about their relationship with Roman Catholicism. Beware of easy ecumenism; reconciliation requires work!
Myth 10: All Arminians Believe in the Governmental Theory of the Atonement.
Reality: There is no one Arminian doctrine of Christs atonement; many Arminians accept the penal substitution theory enthusiastically while others prefer the governmental theory.
Comment: As a Wesleyan-Arminians who uses substitionary categories to understand the atonement, I found this chapter especially reassuring. I had worried that my move away from governmental to more substitionary (including but not limited to penal imagery) thinking put me at risk of abandoning my heritage. Olson collects sufficient evidence to the contrary. He does not outright reject the governmental theory, but his "enthusiastic acceptance" of penal substitutionition shows. Nevertheless, this is one of the strongest chapters simply because it (unlike some of the others) acknowledges and even explores the diversity within the Arminian tradition.
MISSING! - Myth 11: Arminian Theology Undermines the Assurance of the Believer
Reality: Not all Arminians deny the eternal security of the believer, and even those who do still teach a Biblical doctrine of assurance based on the internal testimony of the Spirit.
Comment: I am adding this myth because I find it almost ridiculous that a book on Arminian theology written in the American Evangelical context would not address the matter of eternal security. Olson is certainly right to turn his attention to other more foundation matters (eteranl security may be a major point of contention at the popular level, it is not the crux of the matter between Arminians and Calvinists). But it should not be ignored wholesale! In an earlier book co-written with Stanley Grenz, Olson posits a spectrum of theologies with folk theology on one extreme as that which should be avoided. Maybe Olson has identified the argument over eternal security as matter for "folk theologians" and can thus be safely set aside. Perhaps the publishers wanted an even 10 myths, and this one simply had to go. Whatever the reason, it's absence is disappointment.
Conclusion: Rules of Engagement for Evangelical Calvinists and Arminians.
(1) Understanding precedes evaluation.
(2) Avoid straw man arguments.
(3) Admit our own paradoxes and mysteries.
(4) Avoid attribution of beliefs not actually held by opponent; instead, identify perceived logical consequences.
Comment: Olson's conclusion contains the "payoff" of the book. He pleads with evangelicals to approach their polemics with proper charity. Following these four rules is a good place to start in treating each other with intellectual (and Christian) respect. Whatever one thinks of Arminian theology and/or Olson's version of it, any reader should heartily accept these rules of engagement. Olson has followed them in his description of Calvinists; I have tried to follow them in my description of Olson; I trust that we will follow them in the comment board and beyond.
Have you encountered these last three myths?
Are Olson's theses describing the Arminian position accurate? Are they compelling?
Why do you think Olson neglected to discuss eternal security?
What rules of engagementgment for dialogue would you add?