ONE post in October? Mother of pearl. What has happened to the good ship The Eagle and Child?
So I took a break from reading the fascinating A Brief History of Tea (which I was reading while drinking tea and listening to CBC classical online–very refined, folks), which I bought for all of $2 at Indigo Books today, and came across a new blog post from the theologian Roger E. Olsen.
Apparently somewhere, to someone, Olsen said, “if somehow it were revealed to me that God is as TULIP Calvinism says and as its good and necessary consequences imply, I would not worship that god.” This apparently caused some controversy and his post seeks to explain his position.
I’ve never given a whole lot of thought to Calvinism or Arminianism (which is Olsen’s position). Two of my theology of professors here are Calvinists. I think there are also some Arminians on staff. But I won’t come away from my seminary studies with a detailed knowledge of either theological position. It seems to me that the difference between them comes down to how they understand divine sovereignty and human freedom intersect.
I’ve never been able to align myself fully with either position. This is no doubt largely because I know little of both beyond the notions of freedom and sovereignty (and I can almost list all of the words that make up the TULIP acronym). My non-partisan theology (in this regard) is also partially due to the fact that from what I do know of the two theologies, I agree and disagree with both on various points.
And the truth is, I’ve never seen the need to make a choice between the two.
The idea of prevenient grace–of God always acting first–makes sense to me. On the other hand, I find the notion of double predestination (it’s in Calvinism at least by implication)–that some are elected for salvation and some (again, at least by implication) elected for damnation–problematic at best and horrific at worst. Olsen argues that taken to its necessary conclusions, the Calvinist God would not be good, faithful, etc. Ah, but! A Calvinist might say, You are going by human standards of good, faithful, etc. Well, I say back to the Calvinist, so are you.
Calvinism also seems to go against the grain of Jesus’ mission during his time on earth.
On the other hand, the Arminian position seems to jive more with Jesus’ mission and activity, as well as his commands. And somehow it doesn’t seem all that irrational to think that human freedom can fall within the realm and boundary of God’s sovereignty.
But something Olsen says in his post startled me. As a counter example, he shares an argument John Piper (a Calvinist) gave him against Arminianism. According to Piper, ‘Arminians “must say” that the cross did not save anyone but only gave people an opportunity to save themselves.’ In other words, Arminianism leads to the Pelagianism, that ancient heresy that states that it is within an individual’s capacity to save him or herself.
Maybe it does. I can see how Arminianism might get you to this point. And maybe I really do need to brush up on my knowledge of Calvin and Arminius. Maybe it is important for me to make a choice–and one not based on the overwhelming personalities one sees online coming from one of these camps.
On the other hand, maybe the quest for a neat-and-tidy theology is a futile one. Calvinists and Arminians both bandy about all manner of scripture in support of their position. This suggests at least two possibilities: both sides are reading scripture incorrectly or scripture allows for both. Alternatively, my limited understanding of both is just a caricature.
Is Mystery a legitimate third theological option?