Roger Olson Has Done The Unimaginable – Questioning Jonathan Edwards’ Fanboys

Yep, it’s true. Someone in Evangelicalism has taken on Edwards. Well, sort of. Olson has a high regard for him but still has the courage to point out some things in Edwards that require a bit more carefulness.

He posted this a couple of years ago. Here is his main focus.

Need I go on making my case that Edwards’ theology contains massive flaws? The single greatest flaw is the character of God. This inevitably makes God the author of sin and evil (something Edwards reluctantly admitted) and makes sin and evil not really awful at all but necessary for the greater good. It’s not just that God brings good out of them. For Edwards they are necessary for God’s full glorification.

Of course, this is not just an argument against Edwards, or even primarily Edwards. It is his critique of High Calvinism in general. But Edwards is explicit in a way that other High Calvinists are often not.

He does not outright accuse Edwards of panentheism but he comes close. This is the view that God needed to create the world, that it is necessary for his own glory. This is NOT pantheism, which identifies the world with God. Panentheism can lead to some very dangerous concepts of God, one of which is whether or not God has a free will to create or not to create. To say the creation is necessary brings into question God’s aseity, or self-sufficiency.

For me one of Edwards’ great contributions was his assertion of immediate conversion through new birth. In Puritan thought conversion was seen through the eyes of a more gradualistic model, sort of like classes in school. They emphasized perseverance and the reality that no could know definitively that one was truly a child of God. Edwards’ defense of immediate conversion gave a platform for the First Great Awakening and the acceptance of the preaching of George Whitefield. Of course, the great scandal of Edwards was his belief that church members stood in need of conversion.

He quotes Charles Finney who said of Edwards “The man I adore; his errors I deplore.” Finney has his own set of issues, for sure. But his rejection of High Calvinism was not in mind one of them.

BTW, Roger Olson and Ben Witherington give some of the most credible reasons for moving away from High Calvinism. Both of them have paid a price for this conviction. I am particularly concerned that Ben Witherington, as admired as he is, is not given a larger platform among Evangelical laymen across denominational lines. In the world of scholarship he is first chair at all kinds of scholarly gatherings, but he does not seem, to me, to appear at cross denominational gatherings the way our more Calvinistic brethren do. This only goes to prove what has been asserted all along, that Calvinism remains the default position in Evangelical leadership. Arminianism is barely whispered, and if believed the name is still hardly used.