You may be surprised to know that my “Do ____ _____ and I worship the same God” posts this week have been inspired by Roger Olson, a man I respect very deeply. Although I don’t agree with him on many things, 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 have used his textbook Mosaic of Christian Belief in The Theology Program for years. The primary reason why I have appreciated Olson in the past is because he often represents balance and calmness in theological issues. If you are in my profession, these traits are very hard to find.

However, as of late, he does not come across quit as calm and balanced. In fact, I would say that some of what he says on his blog comes across as downright belligerent. I began to notice this years ago when he wrote a response to John Piper about the Minnesota bridge collapse. I did not find the Olson that I have come to know and love. There was hardly an irenic word on the page. It was as if it was the first time that he had come across some people’s view on God’s sovereignty. His comments were defensive and very emotionally charged. As well, lately he has taken up the blog pen (a very dangerous thing to do). He spends much of his time speaking about issues that divide Calvinism and Arminianism. He is an Arminian and seems to have less and less tolerance for Calvinists. In fact, just this week I got a book from a publisher called “Against Calvinism” by Roger Olson. 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 discourages me. It is Olson’s repeated 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 in his response to John Piper:

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, he goes on:

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.

Although I have yet to read Against Calvinism, it would not be hard to find this kind of rhetoric (“the God of Calvinism” vs. his God) on his writing on his blog. I suppose the main redemptive thing I am getting from him lately is that he still keeps “my” God in caps! (Instead of “the god of Calvinism).

In fact, after writing my last post about Osteen, another Arminian suggested the same thing on another forum. About me he says:

“Lets see. [Michael] follows a Reformed view of theology has written blogs on being a cessationist. I have the same question when I talk to Calvinist, do we serve the same God? Why would anyone serve such a bitter vengeful and hateful God, who really doesn’t care about us that much. At least that’s been my experience when talking to [Calvinists].”

I have the feeling that this guy has been reading Olson.

Since the implications of Olson’s increasingly polemic stance against Calvinism are clear and, increasingly, influential, I feel comfortable writing this and asking this question: Is the God of Calvinism (my God) different than the God of Arminianism (his God)? Is that responsible rhetoric?

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, 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? When is it proper to use rhetoric such as “his God” vs. “my God” in Christian circles?

Let me introduce some categories or “points of reference” that are all necessary when defining someone (in this case God).

#1 An ontological point of 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 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. God, in my view, while He cares deeply about our lives, calls on us to take up our cross and suffer in and with His Son. But Osteen seems to get the essence of the Gospel correct. As far as I know, he believes 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. I dare not dismiss this as it represents significant agreement. Because of this, many are, like myself, hesitant to say that Osteen’s God was a different god, though it is a good question.

With Olson, we have a similar problem. We have some differences in our view of God. Yet, I believe, these differences are much less severe. Though an Arminian, Olson would describe the essence of God the same way that I describe the essence of God (#1). He would also describe the historical actions of God the same as I do (#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—implying 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 (much less liberals who don’t affirm the historic essentials of the faith). What essential characteristic do we have in our views of God that cause Olson to suggest that we may have different Gods?

In fairness, I don’t believe that Olson is 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 explain. For Olson, God is in providential control over all things. He is overseeing our lives in general but not intervening so as to violate our freedom. To Olson, God’s plans, hopes, and desires may be thwarted by human freedom. To me, God’s perfect will can and has been thwarted, but his will of decree cannot. 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. In other words, Olson has much more confidence in man’s ability to make godly choices without His direct intervention. I do not.

Again, I am not trying to solve anything here. While the question of whether Osteen and I have the same God leaves me wondering, I don’t think the same about my view of God and Olson’s view of God. I believe our devotion and love is to the same God. So, 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 in your opinion? Do you think that Olson’s rhetoric is responsible here?

Let me say once again: though this is an important issue I bring up here, I have a great deal of respect for Roger Olson and pray that this does not come across as defensive or divisive. Even if he suggests that our Gods are different, I look forward to taking a class he may offer in glory!

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon 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. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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

    • drwayman

      T.D. – I’m not sure where you got the quote “security lies in the continual free will of the believer” as that is not something an Arminian would say. You may have to correct me on that because I haven’t ever seen that in my readings. It may be something that someone believes or said about Arminianism. If they did, they are mistaken.

      Arminianism is not about free will, a common misconception of Arminianism. Arminianism centers around the character of God. It is a thoroughly God-centered theology just like Calvinism. A common misnomer of Arminianism is that Arminianism is man-centered which is patently untrue.

      One finds no hint anywhere in Arminius of any concern for human autonomy for its own sake. Arminius’s only reason for affirming libertarian free will is to disconnect sin from God and make the sinner solely responsible for it. His one overriding concern is for God’s glory in all things.

      Hence, I would think that an Arminian could agree with your last statement, “The ultimate “security of the believer” from a Calvinist [Arminian] view rests in the eternal sovereign will of God.”

      I wonder, have you read anything by Arminius? His writings are readily available on the internet. I received a majority of his works on my kindle for 99 cents.

      I also wonder, are you confusing pelagianism and semi-pelagianism with reformation Arminianism?

      P.S. Have you read Dr. Edgar’s article yet?

    • T. D. Webb

      drwayman, the fifth point of The Five Points of the Remonstrants says, “That those who are incorporated into Christ by true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, as a result have full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Spirit; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling. . .” The caveat of Arminianism is “if only they are. . .” Curiously, the passage of John 10:28: “Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” is supplied as Scriptural support for this point in spite of the fact that the John 10 passage in no way conditions the eternal security of the believer with an “if only”. Arminian theology permits man’s choice the possibility of trumping God’s sovereign will.

    • drwayman

      T.D. – Thank you for giving me a reference. True, the remonstrants took P (to use the Calvinist’s TULIP acronym) and made it not what Arminius intended. They made a decision on P where Arminius did not believe that one was needed. Hence, I stand by my previous statement that a reformation Arminian (some call Classical Arminian) can be in either camp on the P. I agree with the majority of the remonstrants on their Five Points. However, I think that they erred in this regard.

      There is a terrific resource that explains this a bit. I am only offering this link as a reference (point #7 specifically addresses your concern):

      I wonder, have you read anything by Arminius? His writings are readily available on the internet. I received a majority of his works on my kindle for 99 cents.

      I also wonder, are you confusing pelagianism and semi-pelagianism with reformation Arminianism?

      P.S. Have you read Dr. Edgar’s article yet?

    • T. D. Webb

      drwayman, Firstly, yes, I have read some of Arminius’ writings. Secondly, the internet sight you referenced makes the following assertion: “The official statement of faith of the Society of Evangelical Arminians only affirms that ‘persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation,’ without commenting further on the possibility of making shipwreck of one’s faith.” In my opinion, this statement betrays the essence and meaning of the Preservation of the Saints doctrine when it says, “persevering in faith is necessary for one’s salvation”, implying that man’s perseverance rests on his continuing to exercise his faith, through his own will, or perhaps through some synergistic action between himself and God. Conversely, the Scriptures declare that the believer’s very faith in Christ is, itself, a gift from God. (Acts 13:48; Ephesians 2:8; Philippians 1:29)

      That said, I am reminded that I do have a life beyond that of blogs and message boards. ;^) Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

    • drwayman

      T.D. – I can understand how one might think that the statement betrays the essence of P as found in Calvinism. I disagree. Essentially because P is not an exclusive Calvinist or Arminian doctrine but rather falls into both camps.

      Nevertheless, I am inclined to take Arminius’ perspective in that one can fall on either side of this issue and legitimately claim the title of Christian and maintain Arminian soteriology.

      BTW – Have you been confusing pelagianism and semi-pelagianism with reformation Arminianism?

      Thank you for the Thanksgiving wishes. I have much for which to be thankful and grateful as I hope that you do as well.

      P.S. Have you read Dr. Edgar’s article yet?

    • T. D. Webb

      I wholeheartedly agree that holding a Calvinist or Arminian view on the “Perseverance of the Saints” doctrine, or any of the other 4 Points of Calvinism for that matter, is not a legitimate basis for questioning one’s salvation in Christ. While the tenets popularly known as “Calvinism” are important, in my opinion they are not essential doctrines of salvation; i.e., one can be a Christian and not adhere to them.

      Yes, I do understand the distinctions between pelagianism, semi-pelagianism, and Arminianism. Methinks we should agree that we disagree and then move on.

    • drwayman

      TD – Thanks for your kindness and understanding. I agree with you. I pray thee well.

    • CES

      Do Calvinists and Arminians worship a different God?

      Personally, I certainly see reasons to think that they do.

      John Wesley expressed the opinion of many men and women when he famously wrote these words speaking of Calvinistic teachings:

      “…[this doctrine] destroys all [God the Father’s] attributes at once: It overturns both his justice, mercy, and truth; yea, it represents the most holy God as worse than the devil, as both more false, more cruel, and more unjust….”

      Now, someone might say, “well sure, to a non-Calvinist, the Calvinistic teachings may very well seem to represent God as more false, more cruel and more unjust than the devil, but those differences are hardly SO GREAT to cause us to say that they describe a ‘different God’. Actually, the differences are really pretty minor.”

      But I cannot agree. It seems to me that if the characteristics of the devil and Almighty God are different enough so that we would never, never say they are they same person, then “how much more” we would say that someone whose character is (or even merely appears to us to be) “more false, more cruel and more unjust” than the devil’s is a “different person”. To me, it’s very obvious. The differences — whether real or merely perceived — are huge, not minor.

      While not touching upon the actual controversy that Whitfield and Wesley were writing about — that’s a different debate — and simply addressing the question of whether the two points of view diverge so far as to make two different faiths, with two different “gods” — I’m more or less convinced they do.

      I’m well aware that both Wesley and Whitfield denied this — (“at whose feet I may be found” – Wesley, “my dearest brother” – Whitfield, etc., etc.) — but I was not persuaded by either of them! It doesn’t make sense to me that a Christian (Wesley) could say to another man that his religious beliefs appear to make God “worse than the devil” and then still call him a brother. Or that a Christian (Whitfield) could say to a man “Till you do this, I must doubt whether or not you know yourself… you yourself by your principles, positively deny the 9th, 10th and 17th [articles of our church].” and still fellowship with him as a brother in a common faith. But perhaps I’ve misunderstood the thing, or maybe I am misinformed.


    • Brad

      I am not sure this “my” God vs. “your” God is very helpful. I agree we need to be irenic toward others who disagree but I am not sure this path promotes this virtue. It further divides the body. I am certain we will never resolve the Arminian/Calvinism tension. Both theological systems have questions they cannot answer. Rather than each side claiming they know the “true” God, we should humbly admit that our thimble of intelligence understands the ocean of God’s character and nature differently. We can disagree, this is good. We cannot (and should not) divide Christ’s body. If someone confesses a belief and trust in the historic doctrines of Christianity as preserved in the early creeds, then we welcome them as brethren. I would rather we pray for unity, than criticize each other. If someone denies the core Christian doctrines (atonement, the resurrection, etc.) we call that heretical. But nothing more.

    • CES

      I doubt that Calvinists and Arminians are members of the same body. Maybe I’m wrong, but I can’t see it. Let’s “prove all things”… and let’s test whether Calvinists and Arminians do really share a common faith.

      To begin with, I doubt Calvinists and Arminians hold to the same historic creeds. If the creed contains the words “Christ died for our sins”, the term “our” is ambiguous. And two people could say the same words, but mean entirely different things.

      If the ambiguity is removed “Christ died for the sins of us, all mankind”, or alternatively, “Christ died for the sins of us, his people”… then the fact of two different, and irreconciliable creeds comes into focus. (BTW, The Nicene Creed has “for us men and for our salvation” which suggests to me an Arminian view.)

      Also, I note it’s routine to consider the Protestant and Catholic faiths to be essentially different, though they confess some of the same creeds, to take only one example.

      If our intelligence and knowledge of God is so exceedingly slight, then at some point we give up the right to say we in fact *know him*. My own knowledge of God at least, is sufficient for me to recognize a mischaracterization of Him when one is presented to me, e.g. a “false Christ”, or a “different Jesus”, or an “strange God”.

      Of course, there is a time to welcome a brother with whom we disagree in a spirit of forebearance and fellowship; but there is another time when it’s best to share with someone whom we don’t consider a brother or sister in Christ the true gospel message, and perhaps something of our own personal testimony.

      As far as Calvinists and Arminians, I think taken to their logical conclusions they are two incompatible systems, each with a God whose personal character and attributes are incompatible with the other (e.g. “two different Gods”) and with two different gospels. To share our respective “gospels” with one another in love, along with perhaps our testimonies,…

    • CES

      (cont.) … seems to me to be the best course of action.

      I’ll practice what I preach. Here goes: I have good news for everyone who reads this post… God showed his love for all mankind by sending his own son to die for our sins. God is Love itself, and he does not desire anyone to perish. Although Jesus Christ was rejected by his people, God raised him from the dead according to the Scriptures, and made him Lord over all. The Savior will come again in power for those who are His and await his return. Repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ and be baptized, and your sins will be forgiven and you will enjoy fellowship with God and eternal life — as I myself do today.


    • Skarlet

      I would say that born-again Calvinists and born-again Arminians do, in fact, worship the same God, and are indwelt with the same Holy Spirit.

      One of the two groups is wrong. Of course, I would say that it’s the Calvinist group that is wrong, but we are ALL agree that one of the groups is mistaken about what the God is the Bible is like. But here’s the thing – you can have a relationship with someone, even if you don’t understand their character.

      For instance, those of you who are married can probably relate to the occational feeling that your spouse doesn’t understand you – or your motives/internal working, etc – as much as you thought (and wished!) that they did. But EVEN SO, they have a relationship with you.

      With God, it’s the same way. We, Arminians and Calvinists have an ongoing relationship with the Lord of the Universe, even while misunderstanding aspects of His character.

    • Jeremy

      This is almost starting to feel like a “Superman vs Shazam” bit of back and forth, just not in comic geekdom but theology geekdom. If an Arminian and Calvinist were fighting side by side in the Middle East and one got shot, lay dying, I highly suspect (and hope) that they would have no problem with the other praying to either’s God. Good grief. Olson’s books have been great, but he comes across as rather petulant on his blog which was really disappointing to discover. Petulant as in not posting comments or editing while those who posted – many speaking kindly – beg for any offense committed as long as he publishes their comment or answers their seriously stated questions. (And no, I don’t count the folks who were trolls or haters…just others wanting a discussion that seemed to hit a nerve.) Not a reason to toss the theological view, but a reason to pass looking at Olson as a go-to. Piper and Olson seem like Bizarro versions of each other at this point.

    • […] (comment made by Chris Echols, 2011-11-05 at 6:39 am in response to the blog post “Do Roger Olson and I Worship the Same God?”) […]

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