Just a note before I offer my final installment on Professor Olson’s forthcoming volume, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, scheduled to be released in October, 2006 by IVP Academic. On my first post for this book, I mentioned that a possible interview with Dr. Olson was in the works. That now seems a reality! It has been confirmed. Thus, within the next three weeks, expect a posting of that interview >>>
A major strength of the book, from my perspective is the way Olson laid out the message of Arminianism. Rather than offer the reader a chronological look into Arminianism, focusing on the historical development of its vision, Professor Olson centers his exposition of the historic challenge to Calvinistic soteriology by composing ten self-contained chapters, each of which deals with a particular “myth” that is popularly believed with, of course, a corrective “reality.” Each chapter stands on its own and, consequently, can be digested apart from the entire work.
I mentioned the first two myths on my previous posts. In this final post, allow me to offer a few more of the myths Professor Olson believes shrouds the true, historic Arminian vision of salvation.
Dr. Olson goes to great lengths in chapter three–Myth 3–to clear the air about Arminian orthodoxy. So many false charges have been leveled–and continue to be–against both James Arminius and his more developed vision of salvation that one can almost hear the Professor’s frustration as he writes this chapter. One very well known Calvinist recently claimed “Arminianism is not only a departure from historic orthodoxy, but [also] a serious departure from the evangel itself.” The Professor laments:
For centuries both Reformed and Lutheran theolgians identified Arminianism with Arianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, humanism or liberal theology (p.79).
The charge of Arianism goes all the way back to Arminius himself, who not only successfully defended his then critics against the charge, but also was cleared of it by the Church. It simply never stuck. His critics continued to fling the charges anyway. In addition, other charges like Pelagianism and semi-Pelagianism still recur and perhaps constitute the most popular charges today.
Similarly, the charge that Arminian theology is “synergist” and not “monergist” is a standard charge, which, according to Calvinist critics, renders Arminianism a works-based salvation. One Calvinist wrote “An evangelical cannot be an Arminian anymore than an evangelical can be a Roman Catholic” (p.81). For the record, I stand personally assured that this will be a huge surprise to thousands of Assemblies of God, Nazarene, Wesleyan Holiness and conservative Methodist scholars–not to mention many non-Calvinistic Baptists–who are members of the National Association of Evangelicals.
Two other popular myths of Arminianism are the belief that the heart of the Arminian message is the belief in free will (Myth 5, p.97), and that Arminianism is a human-centered theology (Myth 6, p.122), both of which appear to deny the human condition known as total depravity. Olson demonstrates that barely a surface reading of Arminius would clear up such error.
Olson quotes Arminius himself on the natural state of fallen humankind:
In his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good…(p.143)
Again, Arminius’s words pertaining to free will are enlightening. He writes:
Free will is unable to begin or to perfect any true and spiritual good, without Grace. That I may not be said, like Pelagius, to practice delusion with regard to “Grace,” I mean by it that which is the Grace of Christ and which belongs to regeneration…I confess that the mind of a natural and carnal man is obscure and dark, that his affections are corrupt and inordinate, that his will is stubborn and disobedient, and that the man himself is dead in sins. (p.144).
Professor Olson continues to expound on several other myths including the myths that Arminians do not believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone, that Arminians do not hold to predestination and that all Arminians take a governmental theory of the atonement. Each one, Professor Olson deals with at length.
For my part, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities stands as the best introduction to Arminian belief I have ever encountered. It is thorough, thoughtful and challenging. It sets to rest many popular notions that simply are incorrect about Arminianism. I believe it will serve the Church for quite some time as the standard work.
However, do not expect Reformed apologists to take Olson’s work sitting down. He needs answering and I am quite sure they will accomodate him. What remains to be seen is exactly what approach Reformed critics will take since Olson’s arguments are so thoroughly rooted in sober historical analysis, not to mention Olson’s clear distinction between “Arminians of the head” and “Arminians of the heart”. Serious Calvinists may need to regroup to formulate new arguments against Arminianism, for their old arguments have just been delivered a broadside.
With that, I am…
(originally posted 08/01/06)