Thinking Out Loud

May 22, 2011

Roger Olson: “I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”

Roger Olsen: It began when a “Piper cub” (Bethel students who were passionate fans of John Piper) came to my office and said “Professor Olson, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”  I said “Oh,why is that?”  “Because you’re not a Calvinist,” he replied.

In his blog, Olson, who you may remember from Finding God in the Shack, explains how he came to write Against Calvinism, and how he recruited Michael Horton to write Against Arminianism, which was retitled, For Calvinism.  If you’re still a bit hazy on the difference between the two theological approaches, pause for a moment and click here before continuing.


This book is finished but not yet published.  It will be published by Zondervan in October (if not before).  The impetus for this book goes back a long way.  It began when a “Piper cub” (Bethel students who were passionate fans of John Piper) came to my office and said “Professor Olson, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”  I said “Oh,why is that?”  “Because you’re not a Calvinist,” he replied. 

I still remember that student’s name many years later.  I asked him “Where did you get the idea that only Calvinists are Christians?”  He said “from my pastor, John Piper.”  Years later I recounted that story to Piper who laughed and claimed he never said that.  But I encountered other people who gained that impression from listening to him speak. 

I didn’t feel the time was right to write the book until about two years ago and I approached my editor at Zondervan about it.  She was enthusiastic about the idea, but the publisher wanted to publish a book entitled Against Arminianism simultaneously with mine.  They asked me for recommendations for an author.  I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified than my friend Michael Horton who agreed to write it with the revised title For Calvinism. It was my idea to have him write the Foreword to my book and for me to write the Foreword to his–to make clear that Calvinists and Arminians can profoundly disagree with each other without hating each other. 

What brought me to the realization that the time was right to write Against Calvinism was the tidal wave of passionate but often unreflective Calvinism among especially young evangelical men.  I met and talked with so many of them and often discovered they had never thought about some of the problems with Calvinism.  Often, when I pointed those out to them, they gradually gave up their Calvinism.  I became convinced that “high federal Calvinism” (5 point Calvinism) including especially “double predestination” was so full of flaws that anyone who saw them and took them seriously would have to amend his or her Calvinism.  (I make clear in the book’s Introduction that I am not against every and all Calvinism but only against that particular kind of Calvinism.) 

I had one very providential moment while doing my research.  I needed to find an American Reformed evangelical theologian who had come to reject high federal Calvinism while remaining Reformed.  I had read Berkouwer, but he was Dutch and didn’t quite fit the bill.  I was browsing in a used theology bookstore and saw The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit by the late Fuller theology professor James Daane.  I knew of him from some essays and knew that he, like Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga, has revised Reformed theology.  I bought the book for about $5 and it became an invaluable asset for writing my book.  I quote Daane extensively in Against Calvinism.  Daane blasted what he called “decretal theology” (represented by, for example, Lorraine Boettner–the R. C. Sproul of an earlier generation) for de-historicizing and therefore de-personalizing God and God’s relationship with the world.  Many of his criticisms parallel and echo Berkouwer’s (who was his teacher) and T. F. Torrance’s and, of course, Barth’s.  If I had not found that book in that obscure used bookstore, my book would have been much poorer.  I really do believe God led me to it.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but it is out of print.  Read Against Calvinism to get its essence.

HT: Derek at Covenant of Love


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1 Comment »

  1. Looking forward to reading them Paul. Thanks :)

    Comment by Derek — June 2, 2011 @ 12:44 am


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