You may be surprised to know that my series of blogs this week was inspired by Roger Olson, a man I respect very deeply. Although I don’t agree with him on many theological issues concerning salvation and theology proper, his scholarship, winsome writing style, and clarity about the importance of understanding theology irenically and historically have deeply impacted my thought and general approach to theological issues. Olson is a professor of theology at Truitt Theological Seminary. I use his textbook Mosaic of Christian Belief in The Theology Program. We had him as a guest on Converse with Scholars just a few months ago to discuss his book on Arminian theology. The primary reason why I appreciate Olson is because he often represents balance and calmness in theological issues. If you are in my profession, these traits are hard to find.

This is why I was surprised to read his response to John Piper about Minnesota bridge collapse. I did not find the Olson that I have come to know and love. Their was hardly an irenic word on the page. It was as if he had never heard of Calvinism’s belief in the sovereignty of God. His comments were defensive and very emotionally charged. Granted, he is an Arminian who does not agree with the tendencies in Calvinism to see God as one who is in charge of all things, even the most atrocious events of evil. This is understandable. While I disagree with Olson on this issue, it is not this disagreement that encouraged me to write the “Do ____ _____ and I have the Same God?” series. It was Olson’s implication that the God of Calvinism (my God) and the God of Arminianism (his God) might be different.

Here is what Olson had to say:

Many conservative Christians wince at the idea that God is limited. But what if God limits himself so that much of what happens in the world is due to human finitude and fallenness? What if God is in charge but not in control? What if God wishes that things could be otherwise and someday will make all things perfect?

That seems more like the God of the Bible than the all-determining deity of Calvinism. (emphasis mine)

Implication: His God = God of the Bible; My God = the all-determining deity of Calvinism.

Again:

The God of Calvinism scares me; I’m not sure how to distinguish him from the devil. If you’ve come under the influence of Calvinism, think about its ramifications for the character of God. God is great but also good. In light of all the evil and innocent suffering in the world, he must have limited himself.

The God of Calvinism scares him? Is the God of Calvinism (my God) different than his God? Is Olson saying that the God of Calvinism is the devil? Ouch!

My purpose in this blog post is not to debate whose view of God is the correct view, but to initially recognize with Olson that our views of God are indeed different. Like the post with Osteen and Pinnock, I want to focus on this question. When does your description of God cross the line to where ones description of God is so divorced from truth that it is not longer proper for that God to go by the name Jesus?

In the last blog, I introduced some categories or “points of reference” that are all necessary when defining someone (in this case God).

#1 An ontological point or reference (What is God?). This describes the essential essence of the object. With regards to God: God is trinity (one God, three persons). God is eternal. God is transcendent. God is immutable (unchanging). God is simple (exists without reference to time, space, or matter). God is a se (aseity – God is the first cause who did not have a cause). etc.

#2 A historical point of reference or point of action (What has God done?). This describes what someone has done in history to establish who they are now. With regards to God: God created the world out of nothing. God brought the Israelites out of Egypt to the promise land. God did sent His Son to die for the sins of man. Christ rose from the grace. etc.

#3 A personal or relational point of reference (Who is God?). This describes personality characteristics. With regards to God: God is sovereign. God loves the world. God is gracious and forgiving. God is offended by sin. God brings about His will. God provides for His people. God comforts us in times of trouble. etc.

With Osteen we found that his description of his God, while the same as my God with respects to his ontos and actions (#1 and #2), were very different than my God with respect to how He relates. Osteen’s God’s primary desire is for people to be rich, safe, and secure (Osteen’s RSS feed 🙂 ). My God, while He cares deeply about our lives, calls on us to take up our cross and suffer with His Son. With Pinnock, we found some important differences in his description of his God’s nature. His God is time-bound, changing, and ignorant of many things that are yet to come to pass. My God is timeless, knows all things (even the future free will actions of people), and unchanging.

Both Osteen and Pinnock seem to get the essence of the Gospel correct. They would both believe that Christ, the second person of the Trinity, became man, died for the sin of mankind, and rose from the grave on the third day. Yet both would deny or at least be agnostic toward the state of those who have not heard the Gospel.

Because of this, many were, like myself, hesitant to say that their God was a different god (which would really be no god at all).

With Olson, we have a similar problem. Yet, I believe, this problem is much less severe. Olson is not an open theist. Yet he is an Arminian. Olson would describe the essence of his God the same way that I describe the essence of my God (#1). He would also describe the historical actions of his God the same as I do with mine (#2). Finally, for the most part, he would describe the personality of his God the same way I do as mine (#3).

So why is Olson using provocative language when he describes “the God of Calvinism,” my God, suggesting that I might have a different God than him? After all, we are much closer in our view of God than either of us are with Osteen and Pinnock. What essential characteristic has caused Olson to suggest that we may have different Gods?

In fairness, I don’t believe that Olson was really suggesting this, but possibly provoking thought (as I have been doing in this series of posts). Yet, at the same time, he must see some serious character distinctions in the God of Arminians and the God of Calvinists to make such a provocation.

While Olson’s God and my God are very much alike, his description of God is different with respect to his understanding of divine sovereignty. God, to Olson, is “in charge, but not in control.” That is a bit ambiguous, so let me change this to the terminology we use in The Theology Program. God is providential overseeing things in general, not meticulous intervening in all things. To Olson, God’s will may be thwarted by human freedom. To me, God’s will cannot be thwarted. Olson believes God is self-limited in that He will not intervene in the free will acts of men. I, on the other hand, believe that if God does not intervene in the current state of our freedom, we are all up creek skubulon.

Without getting into the arguments on both sides, I would like to pose this question once again. Does the distinctions in our definitions of God’s sovereignty warrant Olson’s provocation that maybe, just maybe, we worship different Gods? Does the differences in the way Arminians define sovereignty and how Calvinists define sovereignty cross the line?


C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Find him everywhere: Find him everywhere

    58 replies to "Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?"

    • Enterprise24

      I’ve had similar discussions with a friend of mine who would agree with much of what Olson said. I know she wouldn’t call me a heretic because of my Calvinist understanding of Scripture, but the implication (like Olson) of what she has said is that I do not worship the same god that she does (as an Arminian).

      I’m not sure how to answer your question, Michael, but here are some things to think about. Would Adam describe the same God that Abraham knew? Would David’s understanding of who and what God is and how he interacts with history be different than Peter’s understanding of God? I think the answer would be “yes” to those questions, because God, as far as can be ascertained in Scripture, revealed more and more about himself as history progressed. Adam did not have the same understanding of God that Peter had. Yet, Adam, Abraham, and Peter all worshiped and served the same God, even when they didn’t know the same things about him.

      Now, my analogy isn’t perfect with this current discussion, I know. Yet, I think my point is clear: although many people throughout history had different knowledge about God, they worshiped the same God. Perhaps those people would even come to different conclusions about God’s character given their limited knowledge. The theology of Adam would more than likely be different than the theology of Abraham, than the theology of Peter. The only issue, then, is what about contemporaries? Adam, Abraham, and Peter lived thousands of years apart, so its understandable that their theology wouldn’t necessarily be the same. What about those living in the same time period, with equal access to the same amount of information that everyone else has? That’s more tricky, I think. We don’t have the excuse of millennia to separate our theology.

      So what about Olson? Do Olson and I worship different gods? Honestly, I don’t know. Every individuals understanding of God will be different from every other individual’s understanding of God. I suppose the issue is, how inline is our understanding of God to what (ultimately) the Scriptures say, and to a lesser extent, what nature says, what our consciences say, what reason says, what history says, about God. Will those differences between individuals add up to those people worshiping different gods? Possibly. Or possibly not.

      Something else to think about is God’s appeal to the Israelites to know him, to look at the things he has done for them in the past, and to worship him only and not the false gods of their neighbors. God seems to be concerned with Israel in making sure they were worshiping the right god, the one that actually existed, and he appealed to history to make his case. God actually injected himself in history, moved and caused things to happen that would not otherwise have happened. God wanted them to see his works, to know who his is (his character) through his works, and worship him. If for us, you have two people who have seen God work in history, yet come to two different conclusions about who he is (his character), will they in essence be worshiping different gods? The hard answer would be yes, they are, but I don’t know if I’m willing to go that far and tell all non-Calvinists, “You worship a different, false, god.” Seems rather presumptuous and arrogant to say something like that.

      Maybe I’m just being a wuss about this whole subject, I don’t know. If Christ really did die for all my sins personally, then the sin of idolatry will be covered too if it turns out my Calvinist “god” really isn’t God.

      (P.S. – Thank God [whoever he may be] for this edit feature; true life saver)

    • JonJarvis

      I think Olson’s main issue is defending the character of God, something I had never considered before the CWS broadcast. In that I believe he is on to the heart of the issue. Piper would seem to say that God’s primary objective is His own glory. Olsen would most likely disagree and perhaps paint God as a lover enduring much shame (non glory) to win over His beloved. Without trailing down those differences, I think either EXTREME would be a different God than the God of the Bible. The Bible is constantly fighting extremism, and promotes a healthy balance in many things, especially when it comes to “paradoxes” of God’s character. Just look at the Historical positions on the Trinity, either they are all the same person “Modalism” or perhaps different in essence and form “Aryanism.” Is it possible to logically come up to an comprehensible or “digestible” explanation of the Trinity? Not really, we can develop a set of statements that we agree upon about the Trinity. We are finite trying to understand the infinite. The only sure spot of a heretic is one who is extremist.

    • C Michael Patton

      Guys,

      Those are awesome and very balanced responses. Thanks so much. Michael, your illustration is great. Gives me something to think about.

    • Jon Sidnell

      Reading Michael’s comment made me think of what Francis Schaeffer had to say about knowing God. As I’m sure you know, Schaeffer’s basic point is that it’s impossible to know God exhaustively, but it is gloriously possible to know Him truly. In other words, we can know Him. We can experience Him, we can enter into relationship with Him, and yet still entertain misconceptions about who He is.

      So while Pinnock may entertain ideas about God that are false, it doesn’t follow that His experience of God through the gospel is false. He has known God truly, but inadquately. Similarly, with Osteen and Olson. And probably myself (who is dithering between Arminius and Calvin!)

      I would personally put the demarcation point at what your view of Jesus is. If you confess Jesus Christ as Lord and King, being the only incarnate, begotten Son of the Father, who came to reconcile us to God and make us part of His people, and who dwells with us by His Spirit today, then you worship the true and living God. If you fall short on any of this, then you are worshipping false gods. This definitely puts JWs and Mormons outside the pale, but would include Pinnock who (as far as I’m aware) is thoroughly orthodox in his Christology.

      Just my tuppence worth 🙂

    • Lisa R

      To comment on Enterprise’s last paragraph (if I understand correctly), we can make a god of our beliefs and “isms” to the point where that is exalted over the God of the bible.

    • Enterprise24

      Lisa,

      That is so true. I have no doubt that Olson is attempting to faithfully represent the God of the Bible as accurately as possible. I can tell you that for myself, I’m trying to do the same. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending how one looks at this situation), we come to two different conclusions concerning God’s character and how he relates to us, even though both of us have the same Bible and are reading the same passages of God’s intervention in history.

      Do you think that the Ninevehites (from the book of Jonah) had the same theological understanding of God as the Israelite priests did? Jonah told them that the God of Israel would judge them if they don’t repent. I’m sure they were aware of the stories of the Israelite God, how he rescued them from Egypt all those years ago. How their God enabled them to conquer Canaan. I don’t know what other stories they would know. However, I’m not sure if they would have had any kind of understanding of the Law and God’s demands of his people in the Law. The Law also revealed the character of God, his holiness and his demands of purity and holiness from his people.

      They knew some things about God, some things that were true. They were aware, I’m sure, of his actions in history. They were aware, I’m sure, that he demanded to be worshiped alone. Given their response to Jonah’s preaching, they must have been fully convinced that he actually existed, and that he was more than capable of carrying out judgment upon them and their country.

      However, I doubt that the Ninevehites theological understanding of God would have been exactly the same as that of the Israelite priests. True, the priests would have a more accurate knowledge of God because they dealt with God and the Law directly, however what did God demand from the Ninevehites? A contrite and humble heart, true repentance and sorrow over their sins, and a turning toward the God of Israel for salvation. When they did that, he delayed judgment. To use New Testament terminology, the requirements for justification before God were few and simple, very similar to what is required for justification in the present day (knowing God exists, that he will judge the sinner, that we become sorrowful and repent of our sins, that faith in Christ as God is our only way to be saved).

      Olson is attempting to faithfully follow Christ, growing in the grace and knowledge of him, hoping he isn’t running the race in vain. I, too, am running the race alone side Olson. As I said before, if it turns out that my theological understanding of God is off from the truth, then I pray that God’s mercy and grace will prevail over my ignorance.

    • Enterprise24

      As a sidebar comment, I think that’s why its safer to have a theological understanding of God that leaves certain doctrines in tension, since, as JonJarvis pointed out, the Bible would seem to teach some things paradoxically. God is good and loves people, yet he will condemn a lot of people to eternal damnation in hell. God is one, yet the Father, Son, and Spirit are all God. God is omniscient, yet he regretted having made man (read the account of Noah and the flood). These things can be confusing, but the Bible teaches them.

      I would agree with JonJarvis that taking an extreme position either way will almost guarantee we’re wrong. Yet, how difficult is it to not come to an extreme conclusion? How does one distinguish between an extreme conclusion and a healthy, well balanced conclusion (concerning God’s character)?

    • Nick N.

      “Does the differences in the way Arminians define sovereignty and how Calvinists define sovereignty cross the line?”

      Nope! 🙂

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      God IS limited. God limits Himself by Himself. Since God is inherently truthful, the Bible says it is IMPOSSIBLE for Him to lie (Tit. 1:2; Heb. 6:18), this means there IS a limit to what God can do. God cannot (by His own admission) fellowship impenitent sinners (I John 1:6-9). There are qualities of God’s nature that limit how each quality can interact with the other. God’s love cannot contradict God’s justice. God’s omniscience cannot contradict God’s omnipotence (“could God make a rock big enough that He could not lift it?”). God’s holiness cannot contradict His mercy.

      If this (the foregoing) were not the case, Christ would not need to die for the sins of mankind (God could have “instantly” forgiven them with no need of sacrifice/atonement/redemption system if this were the case). No “promise” to Abraham needed, no nation of Israel needed (through whom Christ would come), no church of Christ (in which God’s people are found) needed, if this were the case.

      This is why “Pelagianism” cannot be true (as well as “Calvinism”/”Arminianism”). Man could never be saved without God’s grace (hence the “provisions” given by God for each man who has ever been saved that man must accept, cf. Rom. 1:5; 16:26; 3:27). Man could never be saved without accepting God’s standard by faith (Rom. 6:17). Even after man has done (“by faith”, Heb. 11:6) all that He (God) requires (to be saved/to stay faithful), it is no profit of any kind to man (Luke 17:10). Man can never glory in what God has done (in God’s redemptive plan), He (God) is the only one who could receive the glory for Christ’s work on the cross (I Cor. 1:31).

    • Hawke

      Michael,

      Do you have the full response (weblink) from Olson? Is this publicly available (sorry I have not googled this).

      Thanks!

    • Vance

      FWIW, I am with Olsen in his conclusions about God and His nature, but I think the points made above about where Olsen is coming from are very useful. I think we all worship the same God, but those who view God like Olsen (as I do, basically), do not like the PORTRAYAL of God given by the Calvinist model. We just think the Calvinists are getting it wrong about the God we all worship.

      I really do think it is a “defense of God’s nature” that Olsen is engaging in (and Witherington as well in another non-irenic response to Piper). As with any time you defend someone close to you (like a mother defending her children), the tone can heat up a bit.

      The Calvinists are equally “defensive of God” because they equate full sovereignty with absolute determinism (whether hard or compatible), and any lessening of directly determined events means a lessening of sovereignty (which I happen to think is wrong-headed, but that is besides the point for this discussion). So, the Calvinists are equally adamant about their defense of a loved one (God).

    • JohnT3

      Enterprise24

      Amen brother to the additional 15 minutes to edit your response.

      If I can respectfully disagree with you on a matter of right and wrong.

      The scriptures are clear that God’s ways are not our ways and yes some things are to be left in tension because we are finite beings who can not comprehend the mind of God and how he does many things.

      However the scriptures are also clear that there are things that are right and wrong even when it comes to God and what he has accomplished and who he is. The book of Job for example we go through all those chapters where God has praised his beloved servant Job and Satan challanges Job’s belif so God allows Satan to run him through the grismill. Then we come to the end of this journey of a righteous man asking why me where he admits that God was bigger than he thought and some of what he thought was wrong.

      The book of Jude exhorts the readers to hold on to the truth that was taught to them with every ounce of their being. They were to “contend ernestly” that termonolgy implies a warefare like type attitude.
      (sidebar: scripture also is clear that we are not to shoot our wonded or be smug and superior but with love and compassion balance that war mentatliy)

      The 24th chapter of Luke has the Lord walking with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and near the end of their journey the Lord calls them foolish and slow to believe. Their intelectual thought process brought them to a wrong conculsion. The the Lord open the Old Testament and showed them waht they should have been thinking and believing.

      We take the time to discuss our differing viewpoints and talk with each other and can over time still disagree and continue a happy fellowship. But, there are certain issues that after time we can not continue happy fellowship with those we disagree with because they are promoting heresey and evil doctorines (I am not sayong Olson is evil so pull on the emergency brake there).

      But Paul himself said that if somone came with a different gospel that what we have taught you let him be accursed.

      Anyway I have been typing this for a little bit time to step aside and let the volleys begin.

      JohnT3

    • JohnT3

      For Calvanists and Arminians alike I want to challange you to read Calvin. Not a book on the 5 points of Calvinism (As has probably already been stated Calvin didn’t put his doctorine into 5 points it was done by a council) but, read Calvin’s writtings on all these matters and you will find it interresting.

    • Mark Hunsaker

      Michael,

      I’d like to offer a perspective as one on the outside looking in (being Lutheran, not Arminian). I think I understand the emotion from where Olson is coming from with his provocative words is the scary idea that Evil can be attributed to God.

      While I know it is not such a simple matter for those in the Calvinist tradition (and you have taught me that there are variations within that tradition), for those of us on the outside of that tradition, the whole idea of God actually doing evil sounds heretical since the Apostle Paul makes it clear in Romans 5 that sin entered the world through one man, and then in 1 Timothy 2 stated that God in fact wants all people to be saved.

      Salvation originates from God, Damnation originates in man.

      An Arminian might look at the matter and say that the Calvinist view causes Evil to be attributed to God, and then, quite frankly, they might just freak out. Even though I’ve never held the Arminian view, early in my talks with Calvinist friends, I freaked out a few times myself.

      JonJarvis hit on this in his discussion of the character of God, and I think that is where Christians get a little bristled, hence the value of your series of posts on this topic. It is very healthy for us to take a hard look at what we understand the character or nature of God to be.

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks guys. Some great thoughts.

      I hope that everyone realizes that this series was meant to bring up three different models along the spectrum, all with their challenges.

      Obviously, I know that many of you are Arminian, some may even sympathize with Pinnock to some degree, while I doubt (hope) that none of you share Osteen’s worldview.

      In the end, while I was surprised by the imbalance of Olson’s statments, I know that he does not believe that we worship different Gods.

      I agree with those of you who have said that the ultimate place that we have to begin is Christ. What do you do with Him and do you understand and believe the essence of the Gospel. I do believe that God allows (tolerates?) various degrees of bad doctrine from us all.

      Having said that, I think that our theology proper (doctrine of God) can sometimes get set aside in favor of the points of the Gospel. We need to wrestle with these things, understanding that you theology proper can be wrong to the point that the Gospel offered by this god is not one from the true God. Where that line is I don’t know.

      Olson and Pinnock have the right Gospel, even if their view of God may be different to various degrees. Osteen has the Gospel, but emphasises a fanticiful addition to that Gospel, thus subtracting from the main points.

      I hope this series is not serving to confuse anyone concerning what I am trying to do and the conversation that I am attempting to bring up.

      You all are great!

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      God is inherently good (did you know we get the word “God” from the word “good”?). God cannot be intrinsically, morally evil, it is impossible.

      Rev 16:7 And I heard the altar saying, Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments.

      Whenever God is said to be the cause of evil, it must be understood contextually (“evil”, when God is concerned, is better translated “misery” or “miserableness” or “unpleasantness”). To impenitent sinners, God will make their “world” very “unpleasant” (in hope of their repentance, read Lev. 26/Deut. 28).

      God is not willing for ANYONE (this means “non-elects”) to perish but for ALL to come to repentance/the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4; II Pet. 3:9).

      Most “misery” in life, however, pertains to my own poor judgment/sins (there are consequences for sins on this earth, you know, ask David).

      1Pe 4:15 For let none of you suffer as a murderer, or a thief, or an evil-doer, or as a meddler in other men’s matters:
      1Pe 4:16 but if a man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God in this name.

      This shows that I can suffer for acts which I bring upon myself, many of which God has nothing to do with them (God did not cause any drunk driver to kill a child, save giving the man free will to drink and drive, killing an innocent child).

      This helps me understand the nature and character of God, good, NEVER evil.

    • Vance

      Michael, I think the discussion also emphasizes the spectrum of possible beliefs on such issues, as you say.

      It seems that as we look into such matters, while we could do our own study and analysis (using great teachers along the way of course) and determine where we fall on this spectrum. BUT, what too often ends up happening is that we fall for the “isms”. These are placed at spots along the spectrum on various issues and exert a gravitational force. We find ourselves wanting to fit comfortably within an existing tradition. That is just human nature.

      Unfortunately, each tradition covers a lot of territory and different doctrines on a variety of subjects. Once we have bought into a particular “ism” in one area, we are inclined to “buy the package” and see things through that lens in other areas as well.

      It is part of the human desire to belong, I think. Also the strong inclination toward cohesive and systematic constructs. Lastly, a lot of people are just lazy and it is easier to find out what “our tradition” says and then defend that, even though we have never really approached that particular issue objectively ourselves to determine whether our “ism” got it right on that one.

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      Ultimately, any person having to subscribe to an “ism” has not totally subscribed to the Bible (exceptions being “creationism”/”Theism” [Prov. 3:5-6], which are axiomatic, no matter what one believes on any other Bible doctrine, both of which are not attributed to any man).

      The Bible’s truth cannot lead one to an “ism” (John 17:17-21; I Cor. 1:10) unless he mixes the truth of the Bible with a man-made error (II Thess. 2:10-12).

      No mortal man can make any better creed from that which is revealed in the pages of the Bible.

    • C Michael Patton

      A lover, it is true that God is not the ultimate source of evil, we must keep things in balance. He most certianly does use evil for His own purposes. All revelation needs to be considered. God did sacrafice His own Son by His own plan using evil for His purpose. I doubt you want to make God’s hands too clean with regards to the cross. While people were the instrumental cause behind the cross, God wanted it to be such for His plan. There is a greater good theology that Olson is ignoring.

      God does cause not have anything to work with but a sinful fallen world. Therefore He uses sin to accomplish his goals. While I understand where Olson was coming from, I believe that Piper was also right and we dare not make God a cheerleader in the game of life.

      Exodus 4:11 11 The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?

    • Vance

      Michael, do you think Olsen is ignoring that point, or just doesn’t agree with your view on it?

      As with most of our approaches when dealing with God, some bits will just not fit (as can be said of Calvinism on many grounds). The problem is not with the approach itself, it is with holding to the approach so tightly and dogmatically as to not recognize the important truth about ALL theological constructs (and, yes, I will keep saying this every chance I get 🙂 ):

      All human attempts to explain the ways of God in human language, and all attempts to “pin down” an infinite God with finite minds, will necessarily end up being failed attempts. The best we can hope for is to reach the closest approximation of what is really going on with God that we can with our limited abilities.

      If we keep this in mind at all times as we go ahead and do our best (as we are called to do), we will retain the appropriate humbleness and recognize that what we DO conclude will be simply “through a glass darkly” versions of the truth. This will, in turn, prevent us from being too dogmatic in our fallible human constructs, and more tolerant of other fallible human constructs, knowing that we all really have it wrong on some detail.

      If we all have this “degrees of correctness” attitude, rather than “correct and incorrect”, we can avoid that bane of humanity: hubris.

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, being a big Olson fan, I know that objectively, he at least recognizes the validity of these tensions.

      Yet, at the same time, I will say again. Most who are of this ilk (call it an ism if you like) don’t want to recognize the real tension. I believe that Olson and other (esp Pinnock) are seeking to reach a confused Postmodern world by constructing very modern doctrines. They don’t want to recognize the tension that is real.

      In the end, we have to recognize that a timeless First-cause of all things exist and functions differently than we can possibly imagine. We can’t throw our red-flags up in too many ways and expect them to reconcile everything. There is real tension. This is something that we can all say over and over again. But unless your doctrine starts actually allows for the tension, then your confession of our finitude with regards to these issues becomes rather empty confession.

      This is, again, why I believe Arminians are very modernistic. They really don’t want the tension of a sovereign God working all things after His will conflicting with human responsibility and the problem of evil.

      Both Pinnock and Olson are trying to make sense out of the problem of evil, but I think they may be sacrificing some important theology proper in the process.

      Believe me though. I do know that there are some Calvinists who do the same thing on the other side.

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      “A lover, it is true that God is not the ultimate source of evil, we must keep things in balance. He most certianly does use evil for His own purposes. All revelation needs to be considered. God did sacrafice His own Son by His own plan using evil for His purpose. I doubt you want to make God’s hands too clean with regards to the cross. While people were the instrumental cause behind the cross, God wanted it to be such for His plan. There is a greater good theology that Olson is ignoring.”

      Act 2:23 him, being delivered up by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye by the hand of lawless men did crucify and slay:

      BTW, “determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God” simply means that the Old Testament prophets/Scriptures affirmed that Christ would die, the Jews were the actual culprits in the murder of Christ (Acts 2:36).

      Obviously, this text is speaking that God had SOME role in allowing Christ to die. However, I need to be careful with how much I allow myself to indict the God of heaven when it comes to sin/”actual” evil.

      You quoted:
      “Exodus 4:11 11 The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?”

      Are you suggesting that mute/deaf/blind is evil? Do any of these unfortunate circumstances make a man a “non-elect”?

    • C Michael Patton

      Being deaf is evil. It is part of the curse.

      The point is not elect or non-elect. It is similar to the bridge incident. If God did make someone mute, deaf, or dumb, it is the same type of evil being utilized as the bridge collaping. God does have a hand in these things, bringing out His will.

      God is not a cheerleader, He is the coach.

    • Vance

      Ah, but I see the Calvinist position as equally “tension-dissolving”. You made me get out my “Why I am not a Calvinist” to review a couple of points and in it they pointed out something that even some Calvinist scholars agreed with.

      The doctrine of compatibilism (soft determinism) IS a tension releasing approach, an attempt to resolve the REAL tension that is given to us in Scripture. This tension is between their view of God’s sovereignty and libertarian free will. Those are the true opposing tensions.

      The Arminians resolve this tension by changing the definition of God’s sovereignty (If God CHOOSES to allow libertarian free will, and allow the world to work naturally without micromanagement, then that is God’s sovereign prerogative and does not diminish his true sovereignty).

      The Calvinists do the opposite and resolve this tension by changing the definition of free will to make their position workable (God allows us free will in the sense that He changes so that we WILL freely choose what he wants us to choose, and similarly for the way the world works).

      So, both are “modern” in that sense, they are seeking to develop a consistent and rational theological construct out of what we got.

      The only ones who really allow the highest degree of tension are those who hold to determinism on the one hand, and libertarian free will on the other. I don’t know of many that do this.

    • tnahas

      Michael,

      Back to comment #15. If you have the Gospel right (at least you express it right) but then you add to it that diminishes the message and then ultimately the effects of the gospel (the wrong gospel and therefore no salvation) then that is when we part.

      We no longer worship the same God since that person will not enjoy God in eternity and then his faith is only a crutch to get him through this life. So based on that parameter I believe Osteen and Pinnock fall in that group since the gospel is not only distorted but actually is false.

      I am not convinced that Olson has stepped that far away. Yet it appears that he maybe taking the same theological journey as Pinnock that leads him away from the faith and present a different God. God forbid!

    • Enterprise24

      JohnT3,

      Yes, I agree with you. I’m not saying that we can disagree on all doctrines, including the gospel. The gospel is the all-important doctrine that separates Christianity from false religions. I suppose the issue then becomes, how wrong can we be on elements of the gospel and still have a gospel that can save somebody? The essence of the gospel is this, from 1 Cor 15:

      “15:1 Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, 15:2 and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. 15:3 For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, 15:4 and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, 15:5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

      It would seem to me that anyone believing this message for what it says could call themselves a Christian. As another commenter said, Scripture does not stand alone, we also need to look at what the Bible says about Jesus’ nature, his manhood and Godhood, because Paul is assuming that the Corinthians are still believing the same Jesus that Paul originally preached to them. So if we can get Jesus right (at least mostly right, according to what the New Testament says about him), then we should be good, as far as justification goes. Growing up in the correct knowledge of him, well, there, I think, we will have some disagreements. Its important to know the truth about Christ and God, for sure. And I agree with you, that we need to continue to discuss these things so we can arrive at the truth. As you so mentioned, the resurrected Jesus had to discuss and talk with those two men so they would understand what was really going on, even though they had the right facts about what had happened.

      My conviction is that one grows spiritually, in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, through both personal Bible study and prayer, and community fellowship with the Body of Christ. The Scriptures do say that we shall be taught by God, yet the Bible also says this:

      “4:11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God – a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.”

      So while I disagree with Olson on his understanding of some aspects of God’s nature, I think his opinion is valuable because he too is a member of God’s family, and it takes the entire Body working together to “attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God….” Sometimes we cannot be one big happy family because of doctrinal differences. Separation may be legitimate sometimes; sometimes that separation is due to pride and arrogance in a person, not wanting to alter a belief when confronted with the truth. Humility and frank honesty can help with healing separation, I think.

      Anyway, I hope I responded adequately to your disagreement with me. ‘Til next time….

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, the key thing to understand is that I (and other compatiblists) do not see free will as the issue, but responsibility. “Free will” is loaded with too many assumption that, whether you are a Calvinist or not, is too problematic in the libertarian sense. Even Arminians recognize this. That is why they have prevenient grace so that free will can be a viable concept.

      The tension is not first with free will/divine sovereignty. The tension is in the fact that people are in some sense determined (divine sovereignty and will, nature/nurture, bondage of the will to sin, etc) and still be responsible.

      Arminians insert their libertarian free will to resolve the conflict. Now, for them, people can be responsible before God.

      Calvinists, on the other hand, can (not saying “do”) hold the tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility without taking away from either. How? They let the tension reside, knowing that when God exists in a dimension that we cannot fathom, but it all somehow works out. As well, we strongly believe that the analogy of being between the human conception of justice and the divine conception of justice are not contradictory, even if it seem to be the case once such a stance is taken.

    • C Michael Patton

      Taffy, I agree. God forbid! Although Olson, in his latest book, says very clearly that he does not agree with the direction of Open Theism.

      You bring up some very good points. When the Gospel is added to or subtracted from, we have some serious problems. Maybe Christ is still being preached in essence, but the fullness of what they are saying is ultimately destructive (see Gal.)

      My ponderings have been, can you get the right Gospel with the wrong God! Ouch! I know you can, I just don’t know when we are to recognize it as such.

      In the end, I simply believe that we have to stand up against all false teaching that is clearly such (Pinnock and Osteen). Whether it be in the distortion of God’s nature or His message, both detract from his revelation in favor of some human accomidation.

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      “The point is not elect or non-elect. It is similar to the bridge incident. If God did make someone mute, deaf, or dumb, it is the same type of evil being utilized as the bridge collapsing. God does have a hand in these things, bringing out His will.”

      Every act in the Bible attributed to God, is attributed to God.

      Outside of what is revealed in the Bible, it is rather presumptuous to attribute all apparent evil to the God of Heaven. People misusing their free will are not doing it by God’s will. A man raping/murdering a woman/children: according to your doctrine, God is the coach? God has a hand in that?

      That is a very scary doctrine, indeed.

      Joh 9:1 And as he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth.
      Joh 9:2 And his disciples asked him, saying, Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?
      Joh 9:3 Jesus answered, Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.

      This would suggest that blindness is not inherently evil/pertaining to sin, though Christ could heal the man of his unfortunate condition.

      It is false to suggest that all bad circumstances are ultimately God’s doing

    • C Michael Patton

      Lover, I understand what you are saying, but you have to think of the alternative and how out-of-whack that is both scripturally and practically.

      You said:
      “A man raping/murdering a woman/children: according to your doctrine, God is the coach? God has a hand in that?”

      God certianly is in control of such things. In other words, being the coach, God could have stopped it. Do you think that God’s hands are tied in such circumstances as the open theist does? If God could have stopped it and did not, He has a reason. In this sense, it is in his permissive will, even if it does not fit His perfect will. That is all I am saying. He is in control.

      Do you really think that God is a cheerleader on the sidelines of life? While that may be the common perception of most people in the world, it certianly is not the picture that the Bible presents.

      God is the ultimate cause of all things in that he set everything in motion, set all the rules. Among these rules was that he was going to allow sin. Once this happened, the ball game changed. He could either work through sin, using it for His purpose (e.g. the cross) or He could be the God of the soft deist, sitting, hoping, and cheering people along, all the while not really being able to do anything about it.

      Again, while I understand why people would be tempted to believe such, since evil is so hidious, this creates a rather frightening picture of the world. Others would be writing the playbook and God would be helplessly at their mercy.

    • JohnT3

      Enterprise24,

      I agree that a fellow brother or sister in christ is valuable and we should listen to what they have to say however, if what they have to say is not the truth or worse doctrinal error then what they say no longer carried any merrit.

      There comes a point when after humbly trying to help an erring believer if they refuse to listen to put distance between you and that fellow believer.

      From the onset of the Church till today fellow brothers and sistes have died standing for what they believd. And some of them faced death at the hands of so called other believers.

      If a brother or sister comes up and wants to discuss something that has already been accepted to be error previously then give value to the believer but, not what they have to say.

    • A Lover of Truth/Souls of mankind

      “God certianly is in control of such things. In other words, being the coach, God could have stopped it. Do you think that God’s hands are tied in such circumstances as the open theist does? If God could have stopped it and did not, He has a reason. In this sense, it is in his permissive will, even if it does not fit His perfect will. That is all I am saying. He is in control.”

      SO, God “could” have stopped Adam to sin? Really? If so, then why need a “Saviour” in the first place?

      The Bible plainly teaches that it is the choice of man alone who chooses whom he serves (Deut. 30:15-19; Josh. 24:15).

      “Scripturally out of whack” is the God that has been extrapolated as causing others to sin/be lost. God gives provisions for men to be saved, He does not cause them to sin.

      Sin/moral evil is contrary to the very character of God. God “used” sinful men for His purpose in bringing the Saviour to salvation/executing that plan. God does not cause man to sin, man chooses to sin, God desires he repent and turn to Him.

    • Steve

      I’ve been reading through this and wondering 2 things…

      1) Why was Dr. Olson so stunned by Piper’s comments? I mean, Dr. Olson clearly understands the other position, even if he does not agree with it. What Piper said is standard fare for the Calvinist viewpoint. Did Olson really expect his readers to think he was surprised and caught off guard by this?! It makes me wonder what his intent really was? (And I’m not trying to bash him at all – I gained a lot of respect for him from his CWS broadcast.)

      It’s one thing to write a piece disagreeing with another’s views, but for someone as irenic as Dr. Olson I find it a bit confusing that his tone has taken such an uncharacteristic turn – that’s what causes the confusion for me in this situation.

      2) Surely there are “rocks” thrown in the other direction as well, from the Calvinist side toward the Arminians and I’m in no way excusing them when the do, but I did not see Piper doing this in his article. He did not say anything like “Those other guys worship a God that is so small He cannot even keep a bridge from falling.” That would be uncalled for and a strawman argument. If he had, then Olson’s comments would have been a bit more understandable in the sense that at least it would have been provoked. And he’d have lost respect from me for doing so.

      As Dr. Olson said on the CWS broadcast, he does feel like he is trying to defend and vindicate God’s character. Maybe this is what drove him to respond in this way?

      These guys know each others positions, why are they so shocked when people respond from within their own framework? I’d only expect them to be shocked when they DONT answer from within their framework, as then they’d be inconsistent.

      As for the original question – same God? I’d say yes. I’d argue that neither Dr. Olson, nor Dr. Piper, nor Michael, nor I have it all right. So there’s enough in common to say that it’s the same God that we’re all trying to grasp in our fallible understanding.

      The real question, as has been already brought up, is where to draw the line? And I honestly do not know. Thankfully, I think God can draw that line and will not ask me to do so, and as such I’ll try to treat others with grace even if I choose to disagree with their views strongly. (Basically, I punt. ;^).

      Steve

    • Vance

      Michael, you said:

      “God is the ultimate cause of all things in that he set everything in motion, set all the rules. Among these rules was that he was going to allow sin. Once this happened, the ball game changed. He could either work through sin, using it for His purpose (e.g. the cross) . . . ”

      I agree with this entirely, but that is very different from what I understand Calvinism to be. The view you set out above is one in which not every single event is directly caused by God, and allows for things to happen with a certain degree of freedom, within the bounds and structures God created and allows. Thus, the leaf that is floating down a river is not controlled directly by God, but obeys the laws God established. God allows the leaf to move on its own. Escalate this to a tsunami and the logic is the same. Make it a collapsed bridge and the logic is the same. God KNEW what would happen, and ordained the forces of nature and human action that caused it to happen, and did not STOP it from happening, but did not directly ordain that particular event at that particular time for a particular cause. He can and does work with whatever does happen (since He knew it would happen) for His overall plan, but absent this, the world will work exactly as it is naturally designed to act, which involves a degree of randomness and freedom.

      After all, what are miracles but God stepping in and making things happen in a way that they would not otherwise. If God (as Scripture makes clear) purposefully chooses to step in at particular places and times to do something different than would happen absent that intervention, this makes no sense if EVERYTHING is so directly caused.

      Is that what a Calvinist would say as well? Again, maybe I have Calvinism wrong if they allow that God gives that kind of freedom to His creation.

    • Enterprise24

      JohnT3,

      Yes, I agree with you as well on this point. John’s second epistle is adamant that one does not entertain false teachers, because anyone who does that “…shares in his evil deeds” (2 John 11).

      As far as believers and heresy (at whatever level heresy is defined), discussion and persuasion should be done, but if they continue in their wayward beliefs, fellowship can only go so far, since they are not in agreement with each other.

      Seems like at different times throughout the history of the Church, different doctrines will come up that are different in packaging, yet are the same in essence. Different groups come around believing things that, at least in their primitive form, the N.T. authors had to deal with. Those false-doctrines (e.g., diminishing Christ’s deity, or his humanity, denying the bodily resurrection, myth-ifying O.T. and N.T. accounts and stories, et al.) should be ignored and debunked, since they’ve all ready been dealt with in the past.

    • C Michael Patton

      Vance, you said:

      Is that what a Calvinist would say as well? Again, maybe I have Calvinism wrong if they allow that God gives that kind of freedom to His creation.

      Yes, as a Calvinist, you can believe in miticulous sovereignty or providental sovereignty. Miticulous sovereignty says that God is in direct immediate control of ever single molicule. John Frame is the only respected calvinist scholar that I know who hold to this strongly. Most calvinist believe in providential oversite. All things that happen happen because they are part of God’s permissive will which is bringing all things about in a way that works together for His ultimate purpose. This is what I hold to.

      Lover,

      Honestly, I am not sure where you are coming from. Are you a deist or a Pelagian? Do you really think that God is not in control. No one ever said that God is the cause of evil. I have expressed this many times. Melancthon and Beza did, but there are not any respected Calvinists that I know who would say that God is the direct cause of evil.

      Could God have stopped Adam? Of course!! Do you really think Adam had the power to hold back the hand of God if God would have wanted him not to sin? If so, I think that your God is somewhat less in control than Pinnock’s God. Even his God could have stopped Adam.

    • Lisa R

      John T3/Enterprise,

      Yes, we do have mandate to contend for the faith and refute false teaching BUT we also have a mandate for unity (Eph 4:1-3). Where is that line?

      As I read through the thread as well as the previous 2 on whose God is it anyway, I couldn’t help but realize that the folks here being scrutinized are shephards, in a sense. But there are many sheep. Generally, the sheep don’t tend to think through the tough theological points as you bright foks here do. They have responded to the gospel message and want to commit Christ, living a life that wants to please Him.

      As someone who has been part of and overcame some pretty distorted teaching, trust me when I say that when I am confronted with the same error that I once aligned myself with, my impulse is to come out with guns blazing. But then I am reminded that is for the sheep that has unfortunately wandered off the doctrinally correct path, Christ died and as best I can tell (we never know a person’s heart) they are His. And I am then reminded of the guidance in Col 4:6 to let my speech always be seasoned with grace…so that I will know how to respond to each person.

      I was talking to a sister in Christ today at work, who unfortunately listens to some folks that are clearly outside of the bounds of orthodoxy. But instead of seeing an adherrant to distorted teaching, what I saw was a sister that just wanted to love Jesus. As we were talking, and I could feel by body tense up, I also knew that if I jumped on the “you can’t believe them because this is what they are teaching” platform, I would probably lose future opportunities to present and guide towards clear teaching of scripture.

      What’ my point (and I have one I think)? Is that in our effort to refute distorted teaching we DO have to consider the believer and look for ways to lovingly correct. Yes, there are some who defend to the death and go down with a false ship. And I believe that Titus 3:9-11 gives clear instruction on how to handle such people. But for the most part, many just don’t know and that’s where I think love supercedes correction because out of the former would possibly come the latter.

      And let’s be mindful as we consider the shepherds in question, that as we are dissecting their theological positions, that we not take the sheep down in the process.

    • Saint and Sinner

      I am frequently seeing a common straw-man of Calvinism in these comments.

      It is not the position of the Calvinist that God *directly* causes evil, but rather, He ordains that evil occur through the secondary means of evil creatures for His own purpose.

      In His prescriptive will, He hates evil, but nevertheless, in His providential will, He ordains (and yes, wants) that it come to pass.

      I think I’ll throw a few Scripture verses into the mix:

      2 Samuel 17:14
      “Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.”

      [So much for libertarian free-will.]

      Psalm 105:25
      “He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants.”

      Proverbs 16:4
      “The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil.”

      [Does it get more explicit than this?]

      Lamentations 3:37-39
      “Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both good and ill go forth? Why should any living mortal, or any man, offer complaint in view of his sins?”

      [Is there a better proof of compatibilism or semi-compatibilism than the above?]

      Amos 3:6
      “If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it?”

      Habakkuk 2:12-13
      “Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and founds a town with violence! Is it not indeed from the LORD of hosts that peoples toil for fire, and nations grow weary for nothing?”

    • Saint and Sinner

      CMP,

      I really do enjoy your blog, and I apologize if I have been too…polemical…in the past.

      Thanks,
      S&S

    • Stan

      Simply put, maybe just maybe God intervenes in life when he wants to and in order to meet out His will for us. I do believe we have free will to choose Him or not though if He calls on you strong enough it is likely you will follow. I find the free will vs predestination argument very interesting indeed.

      In the end, it just seems like the Calvinistic viewpoint seems to be a little stronger based on Scriptures but like many others on this board and blog I don’t discount Olson’s views on God because he may just be right.

      Thanks, Stan

    • JoanieD

      I found Olson’s post about Piper’s opinion of the bridge collapsing interesting. Olson obviously feels passionately about what he believes and I think, like some of you have said above, that he was “defending” the nature of God as he knows Him. And like Jon Sidnell in #4 said about God, “We can experience Him, we can enter into relationship with Him, and yet still entertain misconceptions about who He is.” I think Olson saw it as a gross misconception of God if people got the idea that God WANTED the bridge to collapse. God allowed the bridge to collapse, but like Olson, I don’t believe God WANTED that to happen. Lots of things happen that God would not want to happen. No, he would not want children to be murdered. Yes, children ARE murdered. It is the evil within man doing the murdering and God is AGAINST that evil.

      Though some may see Olson’s post as non-irenic and quite polemic, I am reminded of Jesus using a whip to clear out the temple when there were dealings going on there that he disapproved of. I am guessing that some folks saw that and said, “See what I mean? That guy surely can’t be from God. Look how he acts violently!” And yet he was acting out of passionate love for God.

      Someday, maybe there will be a blog post saying “What does it REALLY mean to love God with all your mind and heart? What would that LOOK like? Do you know anyone who you think is doing this?”

      Also, in regard to some of the scripture quoted by some of you above….I saw a post on the internet from Ben Witherington (sp?) where he said that in the Old Testament, God revealed more and more of himself as he went along, so the earlier writings may be less “accurate” about God’s nature than the later writings. Interesting, don’t you think?

      Joanie D.

    • stevemoore

      Joanie,

      If Olson feels the need to be polemic then fine, but he needs to be fair. He was not. (Calling Piper’s God the devil is very wrong imo and in no way fair. It steps beyond being polemic and just plain out of bounds). Again, it was an unprovoked shot across the bow.

      As for the OT being less accurate – that’s the wrong term and implies the wrong connotation. What was revealed about God was less in the OT, but always accurate. We then move throughout the OT, into the NT and more is revealed all along the way right up to the end. It didn’t correct anything from the OT, but it revealed more. That’s a subtle but essential distinction.

      We still don’t know everything about God now, even at the end of the NT. We know more than we did at the beginning of the OT and one day in heaven and beyond we’ll know even more. But, what He’s revealed to us is accurate, just not complete.

      I think your idea for a future blog post is a great one – I’d love to read and chew on that subject.

      -steve

    • Sean

      If you all think that comment was bad, you should read some of the things John Wesley said. (I won’t post them here, but they should be easy enough to find.)

      Part of the reasoning–even the major part–behind Arminian theology is dealing with the problem of evil. The dissent from Calvinism is based mostly on this, not on the desire to assert human independence and power.

      The problem of evil, after all, is the greatest problem in Christian theology. Although I’m an Arminian, I don’t believe that Arminianism has a final solution to this problem. It resolves a few issues and keeps the problem from getting much larger–we feel that Calvinism exacerbates the problem–but in the end, it still faces the same challenge all theistic systems do. (Open theism attempts to resolve the problem further but at a much higher theological cost.)

    • Lisa R

      Steve,

      Right. I think Enterprise’s comment #1 does a nice job of laying out the understanding of God in the context of progressive revelation. And I agree that Joanie’s suggestion would make for an interesting post.

    • stevemoore

      Sean,

      I would agree with your sentiments.

      But, I dont like unfair, rude, strawmen arguments regardless of which side makes them. If Piper or someone on that side had made a comment towards the Arminian camp I’d hold them to it too. It would be just as wrong. So just because others have said worse things (and both sides have) it doesn’t mean that these comments are somehow a-ok. ;^)

      It’s one thing for a regular joe to make a mistake when trying to characterize the other guy, honestly I expect better when it’s coming from professionals. They know better, which means when they turn polemic and worse they do so intentionally, not for lack of understanding.

      -steve

    • Sean

      Steve,

      Oh I agree. It’s a little disappointing. I just like to remind people of how bad theological dialogues used to be. Wesley said basically the same thing except much more harshly. Luther also had some real zingers.

      So, on the bright side, think of it as making progress that it’s viewed as unacceptable today.

    • stevemoore

      Sean,

      Ok, ok… if you look at it that way, we’re getting better but arent there yet. ;^)

      And yes, I’d say the same thing about Luther even if I do agree with some of his points.

      -steve

    • Nick N.

      Ben Witherington was just showing that the perception of God progresses throughout Scripture. Some things that were attributed originally to God were later attributed to Satan because the understanding of God grew. It is false to believe that everything stated in Scripture is a true statement while it is correct to believe that everything stated in Scripture is truly stated. In other words, it was truly stated that Job said ‘the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away’ but that was not a true statement made by Job. That was BW3’s point.

    • Lincoln Bovee'

      Michael,

      Could you provide a more detailed response of what is generally accepted from a Reformed position on why God, though eternally good, allows evil to exist or happen?

      I can live with the tension that exists with this issue as I do understand that the problem of evil will ultimately be resolved in eternity. I also understand that God has not revealed everything to us, hense some of the tension.

      I’m just struggling with this a bit as I have recently changed my position from that of an Arminian (20+ years) to Reformed and am trying to find a little more clarity than just “it is to fulfil His purpose”. It just seems a little to vague and there must be more in the bible to address this.

      Thanks much for all that you are doing. I must credit that it was your irenic approach in the Soteriology TTP course that helped me better understand the doctrine of Election.

    • C Michael Patton

      Lincoln,

      Thanks for the response my friend. I wrote a brief primer on the problem of evil here.

      Very simply, both Calvinism and Arminianism can and often do hold to a greater good theology with regards to the problem of evil. The idea from both is that God is working with sin. He uses evil to bring out good such as with the situation with Joseph and his brothers. The same can be said with regards to Job. Yet it is important to note that Job did not know, as Joseph did, the purpose of his sufferings (at least that we know of). God simply told him that He is God and Job is not. Ultimately we rest knowing that God is doing something in all things even if He does not tell us what that is.

      Olson and Witherington, as Arminians, will see God’s control of these issues slightly differently than most Calvinist, but it only amounts to a nuanced difference in my opinion. Since neither are Open Theists, they would say that God could stop any evil events from occuring. Their reasoning for His reluctance is that they believe that He does not want to violate anyones freedom. The Calvinist would, as well, believe that God could stop these events, but allows them because they fit into His plan somehow (e.g. Joseph).

      In other words, Arminians would say that God works around the events while Calvinists would say that God works through the events. A slight difference, but a difference just the same.

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