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dave murphin • 6 years ago

Could classic Arminianism be summarized as "Universalism with an available opt out clause"?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

You'll have to explain that enigmatic question more clearly before I can even address it.

Martin • 6 years ago

I've grown up and lived in a more-or-less Calvinistic church setting, so that's been my largely-uncritically-accepted default position. I have grown up with great friends who attend the Free Methodist church in our town. I've never given our difference in views a lot of thought before now, only chalking-up some of their views as seeming a bit peculiar.

Reading this first article in the series, I see this is actually really important stuff. I'll admit It's worrisome to think, if Arminian views are correct, that I would need to leave the church I've grown up with. But, I look forward to carefully reading through this series.

I'm not an expert amateur theological debater at all, and compared to a lot of the discussion I'm seeing here my views and perspective are quite elementary. One bit of advice for several...speaking loudly and ungraciously does not increase your persuasiveness :)

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

I strongly recommend you read my book Against Calvinism which irenically but stringently demonstrates that classical, traditional Calvinism cannot be true. Most "more-or-less Calvinistic" churches will not expel someone for being Arminian.

Josh • 6 years ago

I read that book and absolutely loved it. I currently attend a Reformed Church, and while I won't be expelled for being an Arminian, I am not able to be in any sort of leadership position at the church.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

That's understandable. If I were you and felt called to function in a leadership position in my church I would have to go looking for one that fit my theology better.

Clay • 6 years ago

Mr. Olson. I very much enjoyed your article and have grabbed a few nuggets of wisdom I did not have before. My only comment is that many of your responses in the comments section come across as frustrated and annoyed.

If Calvinism is the correct interpretation of scripture, why would it be necessary for us to know how God chooses individuals for salvation? (I am not a calvinist but that question did not appear to be answered in the comments) I look forward to any responses. Thanks again for the article!

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Yes, I get frustrated when asked the same question repeatedly that I have answered repeatedly. And I expect that if people really want an answer about Arminianism they should read my book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and if they really want to know why I dislike Calvinism they should read Against Calvinism. So many of the questions are inane (IMHO) and the people asking them probably know the answers already and often seem only interested in asking the same questions repeatedly. If Calvinism is true, IMHO, then God is arbitrary and arbitrariness is not a good characteristic of any person including God--especially when it is a matter of life and death. It impugns the character of God.

dave murphin • 6 years ago

Doesn't Romans 9 shoot some holes through the Arminian canopy? In particular God hating one twin and loving the other while still in the womb before any conscience decisions can be made by either twin?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Did you even read what I wrote about Romans 9? I suggest you read Brian Abasciano's (Arminian) explanation at www.evangelicalarminians.org. If you don't find it there, join the discussion list of the SEA (Society of Evangelical Arminians) and ask Brian (he's the president) where you can locate it. It's the best Arminian exegesis to date.

Isaiah 48:9 • 6 years ago

RE: "Nonsense. The view that God arbitrarily chooses some to save makes God monstrous."

The scriptures do not teach that God chooses "arbitrarily". He chooses whom he will, according to the good pleasure and counsel of His holy (and perfect) will. God cannot be arbitrary. He always acts according to infinite knowledge, holiness, love, justice, etc.. Eph. 1:4 declares the purpose of election in Christ. It is a holy and blameless relation with Him, for HIS glory. God's choices are not arbitrary at all. They are infinitely personal (i.e. "us"). The view that "God arbitrarily chooses some to save " is yours, not the scriptures. The scriptures teach that God purposely chooses some to save. 2 Thes. 2:13-14

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Your assertion does not answer the question. "According to his will" doesn't say HOW God chooses certain individuals. It leaves arbitrariness lingering over the doctrine of unconditional election. Try again. If God's selection of certain individuals is absolutely unconditional, as traditional Calvinism claims, then HOW does God decide "this one, not that one?" What criteria does he use? Once you say the selection is absolutely unconditional, that it has nothing to do with anything God "sees" in the individuals he selects, arbitrariness is already included in that assertion. There is no logical alternative.

PuritanD71 • 6 years ago

Where is this "prevenient grace" found in Scripture? When did this start? I am not looking for the term itself since we all know it does not exist, but the shear idea that this is given must have some foundation in God's Word.

Another question to ponder, "If we are given the ability to thwart our enslavement to sin so as to freely choose Jesus, why not just simply choose not to sin?"

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

In my opinion, you clearly haven't read or understand what I wrote about Arminianism. You are simply repeating common Calvinist cavils about it. That's all I see in this.

Findo • 6 years ago

Dr Olson, could you please point me to a good layman's primer on the exegetical foundations for the doctrine of prevenient grace? Thank-you. (I hope this comment gets to you.. they seem to be going missing!)

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

On is about to be published. I hope soon. It is by Brian Shelton and the proposed title (last time I saw a manuscript) was "Grace that Softens the Fall." You can be sure that I will notify everyone here as soon as it is published, so please stay tuned. In the meantime, several articles have been published. Do a literature search.

Tom Harmon • 6 years ago

I think this is an excellent expose, and see clearer the differences between Calvinism and Arminian. I also read a very fine book, "What love is this", by the late Dave Hunt. Just don't agree with the teaching of "losing ones salvation". Thanks again Roger.

Bart Cline • 6 years ago

‘ “prevenient grace” (grace that goes before and prepares) to liberate their wills from bondage to sin and make them free to hear, understand and respond to the gospel call. ’

The question here is that, if prevenient grace frees a person's will so that he may hear, understand, and respond to the gospel, will such a person definitely do so? Or, if God frees that person's will, might he still reject the Saviour? I think you have implied this, if not stated it.

The Calvinist would say that once a man's spiritual eyes are opened by grace, he can do no other than choose the Lord. How could he, when the Lord is the best possible choice, and his eyes are now open to see it?

In this case, the bare fact is, God chose whose eyes to open, and therefore who would be saved. And likewise he chose who would be reprobate, simply by not opening their eyes.

Free will is only free in as far as we are able to discern the object of our will. Unless one is enabled by God to see Christ for the glorious saviour he is, the sinner will always choose sin.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Then tell me why God does not do this efficacious opening of the eyes for everyone. Please.

Bart Cline • 6 years ago

You ask me why God does what he does? I can't answer. I only observe that this is what he does, both according to the Scriptures and according to my own ability to reason. I am sorry if you can't believe in God's election because some of your friends, relatives, or colleagues are not saved. All of us who are Christians have the same difficulties. I am the only one out of five children who knows the Lord. Why did he choose me, and not them? Ouch, what a question. But for sure I am glad he did save me. And maybe he will in future open their eyes as well. They are all staunch atheists. Only God's grace can change them.

He works according to his own good pleasure, and if we cannot trust him that his choice to save one and not another is right and just, then we must ask the same questions everywhere: Why did he allow people to be killed in this or that plane crash, avalanche, armed robbery, or whatever? We know from the Scriptures that he overrules when he wills, therefore he must also decide when not to overrule (if I can put it that way). He is sovereign in all things, or in none. At the very least, if he decided to intervene in one case, then he chose not to in another.

Question: Do you believe that God gives this prevenient grace to some and not to others, or to all?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

This borders on a sneaky attempt to use my blog to preach your own theology. I'll allow it once. The closing question is one often asked of Arminians, but, of course, nobody can answer that. What we do know is that God does not want anyone to perish but all to be saved so, it's wisest, I believe, to believe that God has provided some means for everyone.

the Old Adam • 6 years ago

"No one does good, not even one."
"None is righteous…no one seeks for God."

Romans 3.

Either Christ does it ALL for us…or He has done nothing.

It truly is ALL…or nothing.

So much for Arminianism.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

You obviously know nothing about Arminianism. Go read and study.

Ty • 6 years ago

My understanding was that prevenient grace was a later contribution from Wesley. Does prevenient grace go back to Arminius?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Yes it does. Read Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. And read Arminius's Declaration of Sentiments. The English translations of Arminius often use "preventing grace" to translate the Latin. Wesley sometimes used the old English "preventing grace." But the context in both makes clear it's not grace that prevents anything in our modern English meaning of "prevent." It's the old English meaning of "going before."

Khalid Mehnzor • 6 years ago

Neither Arminianism or Calvinism tells the story. They are but inadequate human attempts to explain the mind of God, and the "middle ground" peacemakers seek lies outside either philosophy.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Neither one is an attempt to explain the mind of God. They are attempts to interpret God's revelation which he gave us to understand. Calvinism is clearly a misunderstanding of it. Arminianism is the right understanding of it (according to all the church fathers before Augustine!).

C.L.(Chuck)Troupe • 6 years ago

Well, if He gives His revelation for us to understand, then there is no need for Calvin and Arminius to interpret for us. Didn't Apostle Paul tell us that God gave him the revelation so he could give it to us, and whereby when we read we may understand his knowledge in the mystery of Christ? Or does that require interpretation also? I think individual Christians would be so much better off and much better grounded if they would study the Scriptures for themselves and use the writings of both theologians as study aids. Theologians condemn Charles Taze Russell for proclaiming "... to understand the Scriptures you must read my books..." And yet they turn around and do the very same thing. What a shame. I didn't write this for everyone to see ... I just don't see a way to communicate with you directly ... another problem with gurus.


Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Are you arguing that the Bible does not need interpreting or what? I just don't understand your point.

Todd • 6 years ago

Dr. Olson, fine article. How would you respond to the logical next question: if there is prevenient grace for every soul, why do some choose Christ and many do not? Do you find any discomfort in the fact that the determinitive factor is in human beings at all? Perhaps these are things you will address coming up

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

I did address that question. Did you read the whole series? The "determinitive factor" is not in human beings. Faith is the instrumental cause of salvation while grace is its efficient cause. Receiving a gift is not in any way "determinitive" of the gift. It's still as much a gift when freely received as when not.

Todd • 6 years ago

Thank you for responding to this comment. Sorry I had not read the whole series at that point, didn't realize you had already finished the series. I read the question you referred to, and I do not believe you answered my specific question here. Your answer refers to merit. I do not accuse Arminians of saying human beings merit anything (at least I do not think I do). The question is why do Christians choose to receive the gift, and unbelievers do not? In other words, why do some human beings exercise the instrumental cause of salvation, and others do not?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Again (I have said so many times) this is a mystery I am willing to live with because the alternative is, to me, unthinkable.

Todd • 6 years ago

Dr. Olson, I'd love to continue this conversation via email if you're willing. I'm a pastor in Hawaii where there is a lot of misunderstandings about these issues, and I think there is no hope for greater unity unless people like us can have more civil conversations. My email is toddymorikawa@gmail.com
grace and peace

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

This is why I started this blog; I simply don't have time to carry on conversations with hundreds of individuals by e-mail. I try to answer every e-mail I receive but find that I cannot do many of them justice there. So I have posted my answers to almost every conceivable question (or at least commonly asked ones) here. I apologize for not being more hospitable but I have limited time for this and other projects to work on.

Matt D. • 6 years ago

At what percentage is prevenient grace given that makes the choice for salvation override or seem better than the choice of damnation? How can God, and his plan of salvation, make himself look better than the alternatives so the "free will" choice can be made more effectively? If all choices are equal, then how can the choice for damnation be any less logical than the choice for God? If the equation is equal and then someone makes the choice for salvation, were they smarter in their choice or was it a gamble?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Sorry, too many questions. To the last one, the answer is no.

stefanstackhouse • 6 years ago

Maybe the "middle ground" is simply to admit in humility that what we are considering here is ultimately a mystery that is beyond our ability to understand with precision. We look into the mystery from one direction, guided by relevant scriptural passages, and see human free will and the responsibility and necessity of making a choice for faith in Christ. We look into the mystery from another direction, guided by relevant scriptural passages, and see humans helplessly mired in sin and absolutely dependent upon God taking the initiative and implanting within us a faith that we could never find by ourselves. It is also a total mystery why God does this for some, and not for others. Because I trust in God, I also trust that there is an ultimate reality that is true and logically consistent that lies behind that cloud of mystery. Because I bow to God and confess my inferiority and subordination to Him, I accept that He has been content to leave this a mystery and not to reveal all to me.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

That God does this for some and not for others when he could do it for all (because it is not based on anything he sees in anyone) is a mystery with which I cannot live. It makes God monstrous.

ben • 6 years ago

But what about those who don't get "enough" prevenient grace to choose God? Or, if he gives equal grace to everyone, am I better than someone who doesn't choose God? Is this a work? Who is glorified if I choose God? What about people who cannot choose, due to brain damage, disease, etc??? Just so many questions make this equally troubling.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

What does Calvinism say about people with brain damage, disease, etc.? Does God elect them all or condemn all or some to hell? I know of no Calvinist answer to that. You are chasing rabbits. Come back to the main ideas. No, my choosing to accept salvation does not make me "better" than someone who rejects it anymore than my accepting a gift makes me better than someone who rejects the same gift.

Guest • 6 years ago

What about all the people that lived before Christ then, when God, according to Acts 14:16, "let all nations go their own way"? The principle of election, as you well know, runs through the whole OT period in a highly selective way. Not in the conservative Calvinist sense of individual election, but surely election and surely uconditional. It's base is Gods free grace, his promises and his plan for history. Now, if that is so very many people were not part of God's saving work for a very long time. But you mean that in NT times every individual gets prevenient grace and can choose salvation? And God was, according to the logic you have presented, arbitrary in the OT period but not any longer?

I have great respect for classical Arminianism and in no way want to call that position heretical or anything like that, even though I myself am lutheran in my beliefs. But do you see at least a small problem with the Arminian position in light of the OT witness about God's elective love? Surely it did not include everybody, far from it. And in the NT the gospel goes out into all the world and God elects a people from all nations. In that sense God's saving purpose has widened in a glorious way, but God still elects according to his purpose.

Well, just a thought that it would be interesting to hear your response to.

Blessings from Sweden!


Roger Olson • 6 years ago

Every Christian know, Lutheran, Calvinist or Arminian, believes that God saved people before Christ on the same basis as after Christ--because of his supreme sacrifice and their faith in him (either as promise or event). From an Arminian perspective, prevenient grace was operative in the pre-Christ (i.e., pre-incarnation) history as much as afterwards. The "gospel" then was God's promise of a Savior.

Guest • 6 years ago

Yes, but it was not the basis of or the means of salvation - by grace through faith - that I was asking you about, it was the very availability of salvation to people outside of Israel. God passed over peoples and nations, and did not act in a saving way in relation to them, for a very long time, letting them go their own ways, didn't he? They did not hear about Israels God and was not offered any prevenient grace, the did not hear about God's promise on a coming savior. God was singularily, with few exeptions, dealing with his elect people. For a very long time.

My question to you: Was God arbitrary in his dealings with people - his elect people and all the other nations - in OT times? It seems to me that the logic you have presented would require that, i.e. if not everyone gets the opportunity to respond to God's salvation. Surely most people did not get that opportunity in OT times. Do you understand what I'm after or am I too unclear?

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

It's a familiar question and has been asked numerous times--of both Calvinists and Arminians (and all orthodox Christians). Wesley believed that prevenient grace is and always has been universal. Karl Rahner posits a "supernatural existential." I am personally agnostic about the extent of prevenient grace. If God chose to depend on Israel and Christians to evangelize the nations, that's his business. But if he did, that would not make him arbitrary or unloving.

Guest • 6 years ago

Ok, so you agree that the great majority of people BC did not get the opportunity to respond to God's saving promise. He passed people over and let them walk in their own ways. In in this God was not arbitrary, it was his choosing.

But you think that God is arbitrary when he passes people by in NT times. If I have understood you correctly, that position does not seem very logical. And it certainly does not solve the problem with sovereign and unconditional election that you propose to solve by your Arminianism. When God elects a people unto salvation in NT times, and passes by others, he acts in a manner that seems to be wholly consisten with his dealings withe people according to the OT witness.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

What we have here is a failure to communicate....

stefanstackhouse • 6 years ago

I have faith that God is not a monster, and that all will eventually be revealed that will show that God is both good and just, and that human free will and responsibility and God's sovereignty can be logically reconciled. I've just got to be content with how this is not being totally clear yet.

Roger Olson • 6 years ago

But they are already reconciled and Arminianism shows how they are.

joe23521 • 6 years ago

Exactly. I have never had problems reconciling God's sovereignty with human free will. Unless, of course, sovereignty is defined as meticulous predestination.