||To Kill a Tulip: A Review of Against Calvinism by Roger Olson
Title: Against Calvinism
Author: Roger E. Olson
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Zondervan - 2011
First off, I am not at all unbiased in the infamous Calvinism v. Arminianism debates. In fact, I've been more than a little complicit in making them contentious at times. In the past, I have spent many a night, up late, "debating" with both Calvinists and Arminians about the particulars of divine providence, human responsibility, divine foreknowledge, and the ontological status of the future—both in person and online. Therefore, I won't pretend that I come to Olson's book as a neutral third-party. However, the reality is, none of us do! We all come to Olson's book, all books, perhaps especially the Scriptures, with our preconceived notions firmly in hand, as much as we'd like to deny it.
Secondly, I am neither a Classical Arminian nor a Calvinist—nor any sort of "moderate" or "nuanced" Calvinist (whether such a thing actually exists is debatable). I'm more than happy to locate myself within the broad and historic Free Will tradition of Jesus Christ's Church that includes Christians from nearly every stripe (many Roman Catholics, many Greek Orthodox, Wesleyans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Anabaptists, many Baptists, and all who call themselves "Arminians"). And, by the way, this tradition predates both Calvin and Arminius. But, specifically, I will even further identify myself with the label "Open theist." Some will not gladly accept such a label, and as a result, I know many who I'd call "closet Open theists." As Olson himself has argued, a particularly militant and vocal coalition [wink] of Calvinists have succeeded in convincing a dishearteningly large group of gullible evangelicals in the US that Open theism is "controversial." They haven't proven that Open theism is heretical—far from it! Instead, their arguments have been blatant caricatures. They haven't been required to show Open theism's actual error. They have only needed to claim the view contains error loud enough to convince enough people not to investigating the view for themselves.
[Sidenote: In a course I took this semester on conflict in Christian organizations, one of the authors we read had a term for leaders who lead by creating a false enemy and produce group cohesiveness by vilifying the Other. He called them Demagogues. …So…there's that.]
Third, what drew me to Olson's book most wasn't his deliberate attempt to refute Calvinism. I've read lots of books and articles that refute Calvinism. Heck, I've written some! No, what drew me to Olson's book was his deliberate attempt to finally lay to rest a retort I hear constantly from Calvinists. I call it the "You-Just-Don't-Understand-Calvinism" retort. Calvinists are notorious for claiming to be victims of caricature. Even while they are also notorious for caricaturing other views. I can't tell you how many times, after backing a Calvinist into a philosophical corner, their response is: "You just don't understand Calvinism." Apparently, Calvinists are convinced their views are incredibly complex and esoteric. (In case you were wondering—they aren't.) But Olson leaves no room for this defense. He demonstrates on nearly every page that he has gone directly to the sources, read them, studied them, understood their arguments (often better than most Calvinists do), and nevertheless comes to many of the same conclusions we Free Will theists have held for centuries:
1) Calvinism is theological determinism
2) Calvinism relies solely upon carefully-crafted proof-texting
3) Calvinism renders God morally ambiguous
4) Calvinism does not reflect the character of Christ