Recanting Calvinism: The Author’s Response to Roger E. Olson’s Review

Roger E. Olson has done a review of my book and it may be read at the following site. [Patheos] I have responded to Dr. Olson’s review, which may be read at the same site. Though Dr. Olson asserts that I am an Arminian, I am not of that opinion.

My difference with Dr. Olson (or the Classical Arminian) may be summarised under the following headings:

God’s Foreknowledge is God’s Personal and Loving Attachment to Us Before We Existed and is Determined by Our Conversion in Time

I have a different view of foreknowledge.  Arminians understand foreknowledge as God knowing down the track of time who will believe, as though God’s knowledge is merely cognitive or intellectual. I understand foreknowledge as that intimate and personal knowledge that God has with His people, from His timeless perspective – as God is outside of time.

The point of origin of this personal knowledge, in which God personally knows us, is exclusively found in a mutual relationship in Christ. There is no basis for a claimed personal knowledge between God and any man except for that which is due to faith in Jesus Christ. It is only upon our conversion that it can be said that God has a relationship with us that is foreknown by Him.

The expression ‘foreknown’ merely expresses that God’s personal relationship with us in Christ was known by God before there was time. 

Once a person is converted and begins a personal relationship with the Father through His Son, the doctrine of election then is something of great significance and meaning to the new believer. The believer asks, “What will be the final outcome of this new relationship and does it all fit into God’s overarching and sovereign plan?” In the midst of trials and many dangers the new believer can know that what God has begun, in justifying and in regenerating them, He will bring to fruition. Election is about how God will bring to fruition what personal faith has begun, not about why some have faith and why some do not. The new convert is edified and comforted to know that their conversion is the beginning a relationship with God, Who will order and control even the smallest events in their life to the fruition of their love and faith in Christ. Hence, those Scripture passages emphasising our love for God as causing our election (e.g., Rom. 8:281 Cor. 2:91 Cor. 8:3).

There is No Change of Nature ‘In Order to Believe’ or Prior to Justification

I deny any change of nature of the sinner prior to Justification, namely, that there is any permanent work of the Holy Spirit upon a sinner prior to Justification. It was while Abraham was uncircumcised that he believed [Rom. 4:9-12]. In contrast, the Arminian calls ‘prevenient grace’, in which every man is enabled to have free will, the necessary prior work upon men. Olson’s view is similar to Calvinism, though as a “partial” Regeneration, as Calvinists assert a full Regeneration prior to Justification. Unlike the Arminian position, I believe that the sinner is specifically called by means of a momentary enlightenment, due exclusively to the Word of God, in which there is no degree of Regeneration whatsoever prior to Justification. The Classical Arminian position does err in like manner with Calvinism, in that some manner of Regeneration occurs prior to Justification. This must be rejected emphatically, as only Justification alone can give that authority to become a child of God [John 1:12]. Instead of a ‘prevenient grace’ that creates an alteration of some kind in the nature of the sinner, I assert an exclusive means to believe by the power of the Word of God.

In contrast to a vague prevenient grace that “makes alive” a sinner so that his evil nature is overcome, it is while the sinner is dead and enslaved to sin that he is able to believe, simply because of the power of the living Word of God (i.e., Dynamism). Consequently, when men ‘suppress the truth’ or are ‘unbelieving’ they are like the man in James 1:23,24 who experiences enlightenment from the Word of God without any change to their nature. Rom. 6:17,18 says, ‘…though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.’ It was while we were ‘slaves of sin’ that we ‘became obedient from the heart’ and then ‘having been freed from sin’ that we knew that permanent work of the Spirit in Sanctification. So also, Rom. 10:10, ‘for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness….’ A new convert is a person who believed with a sinful heart and afterwards they were permanently infused with the principle of holiness (i.e., Sanctification). As also stated above, it was while Abraham ‘was uncircumcised’ (i.e., unclean and without any permanent work of the Holy Spirit upon him) that he obtained righteousness [Rom. 4:9-12].

We Do Not Have Freewill

I do not believe that men must have free will in order to believe. Faith is not a function of the will, but of the heart. Romans 10:10 says, ‘for with the heart a person believes.’ The heart is the seat of our affections and to love God is to have faith (1 Cor. 8:3Heb. 11:61 John 4:16), even as the trait of humility is also the quintessential posture of faith (Matt. 5:3James 4:6). Within our own human experience there is often conflict between our heart and what we will and yet faith is able to govern the will, though of the hardest opposition. Even by faith we are able to move our hearts to rejoice as we say “Yes” in faith to Paul’s command to rejoice (Phil. 4:4). The Christian often finds his own will is in conflict with God’s will, and yet, it is exclusively by means of faith in the Scriptures that he is enabled to do God’s will. Jesus went to the cross against His own will. Meaning, never at any point was it His will to be on the cross. He overcame His opposing will by the power of His faith. His faith governed His will, to do the will of God for our salvation (Heb. 12:2 ‘fixing our eyes on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set  before Him endured the cross, despising the shame…’). The power of faith is even seen in many false religions. Though many believe in lies, they nevertheless overcome their will by means of faith.

Olson asks, ‘How can a person resist the grace of God if he or she does not have free will?’

A person resists the grace of God, not because they have free will, but because they love darkness. One does not have a free will, who loves darkness! The affection of their heart is bound to sin, while those who believe are those who are moved in love toward God. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin” [John 8:34]. The Scripture simply declares that men suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, not in free will [Rom. 1:18].