For many years I was a mild Calvinist. By definition there should be no such thing as a mild Calvinist. One is in or one is out. But it teaches some things that are surely hard to swallow, as even Calvinists admit. I found myself in the classic position of having to be a Calvinist because I simply thought the Bible left me no choice. I have a high view of the Bible – inspired, infallible, inerrant. If I am persuaded that the Bible teaches it, I will believe it. Though I was uncomfortable with limited atonement and was not altogether able to see how there could be two wills in God, a revealed will and a will of decree, as well as how a God who passed over those He could save but for His own glory chose not to could in any normal sense of morality be called good, I pressed on. The tension got too much. I began to go back to the Bible and see if High Calvinism was the only viable explanation. It became clear to me that it was not.
Roger Olson and Ben Witherington pointed out much of the way. I became familiar with Olson through his work, The Story of Christian Theology, which I have read several times. I was impressed not only by the book but by Olson’s desire to rejuvenate Evangelicalism, something which the High Calvinists have no real interest in. For them Evangelicalism is a mutation of true Christianity that leads to weakness of the faith. I identify myself, even in my Calvinist days as an Evangelical. Olson also desires to restore the word Arminianism to its classic definition rather than the pejorative it is among the Reformed. At seminary the impression was that Arminians were the enemy within the camp and thus more of a danger than outright nonChristians. Once I got used to using that word without having to clear my throat, I began to open my mind up to the love and goodness of God in a new way in the Bible as well as the dignity and drama of decision. The Christian life began to fall into place.
I found Olson’s book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities solid ground. Recently he authored a series of blogs titled Arminianism FAQ. These posts have been put together in a free ebook available here. Below are the chapter titles. Austin Fischer’s book, Young, Restless and No Longer Reformed, makes a significant contribution, combining personal narrative with intellectual curiosity. I have read this several times. John Piper and Fischer have had some personal interaction. Here and here.
In my journey to Arminianism I have pretty much avoided Greg Boyd. Open Theism makes my palms sweat, and I believe Boyd to be an outlier, as well as Clark Pinnock. I think Piper was right to fence with Boyd on his position.
Here is a conversation between Michael Horton and Roger Olson. It is not a fierce debate but a conversation, indeed. Olson is a better writer than speaker. While he is solid, he is not as quick on his feet as Horton. He knows it and has always expressed his desire for an Arminian version of John Piper to come on the scene. So far, that hasn’t happened.
The largest part of Christianity is Arminian, though by other names. The early church never affirmed St. Augustine’s high predestinarianism, though they certainly affirmed, as I do, that all begins with the moving of grace. Without grace, no one can make a move toward God. Arminianism is neither Pelagian nor semiPelgian. The first teaches that the Fall did not so disable the human condition that we are unable to obey what God commands. The latter denies Prevenient Grace, thus teaching that man takes the first step toward God, though it is God who completes the process of salvation by giving grace to those who thus respond. Arminianism denies that man is able to take that first step apart from grace. I believe that in arguing against Arminianism most believe that it teaches semiPelagianism. No wonder they battle against it with such fervor. But it does not so teach.
I would encourage you to get the free ebook first. So, once again, here are the chapters.
1: What is classical Arminianism?
2: Is Arminianism a sect or denomination?
3: Why identify a theology with a man’s name? Why not just be Christians?
4: Why is there a rising interest in Arminianism? Why have blogs and books about a “man-made theology”?
5: Isn’t there a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism?
6: What’s the difference between Arminianism and Wesleyanism?
7: Does Arminianism include belief in absolute free will? If so, how could God have inspired the authors of Scripture?
8: Doesn’t Arminianism rob God of his sovereignty?
9: Doesn’t Arminianism lead to Open Theism?
10: Can an Arminian resolve the mystery of divine foreknowledge with Molinism?
11: Doesn’t Arminianism imply that the decisive element in salvation is the sinner’s free decision to accept Christ, thereby giving saved persons permission to boast of partially meriting their salvation?
12: Doesn’t Arminianism lead to liberalism in theology? 13: Is the first principle of Arminianism free will?
14: How does Arminianism explain Romans 9?
15: Why are there no Arminian spokespersons, great preachers, or leaders, like John Piper, John McArthur, R. C. Sproul, Matt Chandler, et al.?
16: What makes a person an Arminian?
17: Where is prevenient grace taught in Scripture?
18: Doesn’t classical Arminianism really say the same thing as Calvinism when it comes to the sovereignty
of God?After all, if God foreknew everything that would happen and created this world anyway, wasn’t he foreordaining everything simply by virtue of creating?
19: Can an Arminian explain the few crucial ideas that distinguish Arminianism from Calvinism for non- scholars?
The High Calvinism of the NeoPuritans of today has been around long enough in its present incarnation that its darker sides are becoming clear. At first it was a refreshing relief to sentimental semiPelagianism rife in the Evangelical church. But it comes with a price, and people like Austin Fischer are finding the price is too high to pay and takes us farther away from the heart of the Bible.