Finally! The post many have been anticipating. Today I begin a series of four posts of a formal interview with Professor Roger Olson concerning his newest book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. New Testament scholar Scot McKnight is presently doing a review series definitely worth your time. I also reviewed Olson's Arminian Theology elsewhere >>>
I chose to break up the interview into bite-sized chunks offering, I believe, more opportunity for interaction.
I must express my gratitude to Dr. Olson for allowing me this interview and giving permission to post it on SBC Tomorrow. He is a gentlemen, an able scholar and an obviously dedicated believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I very much count it an honor for the conversation we experienced. Welcome, Dr. Olson:
Dr. Olson, the first line in your new book, Arminian Theology: Myths & Realities states: “I have always been an Arminian.” Give our readers a little background to that statement, if you please.
I grew up Pentecostal, and as far as I know, all Pentecostals are Arminian. Whether they call themselves that or not, that’s their Theology. And, I don’t think I heard the term Arminian till I got to college. But then I recognized as I learned what Arminian Theology was that I had been that all along. My parents were that, and all of my aunts and uncles, everyone I knew in the Pentecostal Churches was Arminian so that’s what I mean there that I have never really been a Calvinist, although, I had uncles and aunts there were Calvinist.
They were members of the Christian Reform Church, on my mother’s side. So, I had acquaintance with both growing up, but our family was always Arminian in that we did not believe any of the 5 points, TULIP, except possibly the "T". Although we called "total depravity" the "sinfulness of man".
When was the first time it actually dawned upon you that Arminianism was not the only Biblical vision of salvation?
Probably in seminary, I mean I had hints of that before when I was in college and majored in Theology. We certainly touched on Calvinism, and I had relatives that were Calvinist. As far as really knowing what that was—historically, biblically and theologically—that came in seminary, when I began to read Calvinist Theologians.And I think I had one or two professors...in fact I know I had a professor who was a Calvinist.
But I think my first real encounter with Calvinism was in seminary when James Montgomery Boice came and taught one semester. He was on a sabbatical leave from his church and he came to North American Baptist Seminary. He was, of course, the Pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He succeeded a very well known pastor--a Calvinist dispensationalist--who pastored Tenth Presbyterian for many years, Donald Grey Barnhouse.
And then James Montgomery Boice came. He wrote many books over the years and he just died two or three years ago. So that was my first real immersion into Calvinism where I was forced to take it very seriously and wrestle with it and that was during seminary.
In the briefest way possible, how would you define Arminianism?
Well like Calvinism, there is no simple definition of Arminianism, so one of the things I do in the book is try to paint a portrait of Arminian Theology that includes the varieties. And so there are varieties of Arminianism, but to me, Arminianism is simply a protestant version of the ancient ecumenical theology of the early church fathers, before Augustine.
As far as I can tell, all the Greek Church Fathers believed in what we call Arminianism now, although Arminianism has a definite protestant flavor to it, so what is it? Arminianism is the belief in the universal love of God and God’s will that all be saved. That God is not willing for any to perish and that He does much to bring people to repentance and does not select some to whom He does not offer the same chance.
So, it’s a rejection--if you want to put it that way--of limited atonement, unconditional election and irresistible grace. If you take those three points as in "TULIP"—the three points of classical Calvinism—Arminianism rejects the unconditional election doctrine, the limited atonement doctrine and the irresistible grace doctrine.
But I’d rather put it in positive terms, and say it’s a positive belief in universal election, that everyone is elected to be saved-- if they will choose to be--and it’s universal atonement. That is, Christ died for everyone. And it’s resistible because God allows us to resist His grace.
What, in your view Dr Olson, is the chief distinction between Arminianism and Historic Calvinism?
In the book I go a little deeper and I argue from an Arminian perspective, the main difference is our vision of the nature and character of God. Arminians view God as essentially loving, that God wants everyone to be saved, that God does not choose anyone to eternal damnation, or to pass them over without giving them a chance.
So for us--that is, for Arminians--what is at stake is the character of God. We believe that God is unconditionally good toward all, and from our perspective anyway, though Calvinism has good intentions in that regard, Calvinism ultimately undermines that vision of the character of God by believing that He could save everyone but chooses not to for His glory.
End of the first part of the interview.