The Calvinists are coming, the Calvinists are coming!

In a recent post, Roger Olson (whom I always find stimulating to read) offers his thoughts concerning how traditionally Arminian-based-or-leaning congregations and/or denominations should respond to the (unwanted) influx of Calvinism into their ranks via pastors, leaders, or others who have been influenced by reading Piper, Sproul, Driscoll and others associated with the current (agressive) spread of TULIP Calvinism.

Some of these denominiations, he notes, are simply ill-prepared for this unexpected intrusion, either because they have no authoritative creedal documents or faith statements (Anabaptists) or because they lack theological groundedness in and historical consciousness of their own denominiational roots.

In essence, he argues that this kind of ‘evangelistic’ activity is inappropriate and that churches and denominations should take an active stance against it. Why? Well, for a number of reasons, for example: (1) Calvinist beliefs are foreign to and, in many cases, antithetical to the historical and theological roots of these denominations (e.g., imagine a group that started advocating the Roman papacy in Protestant churches!); (2) Those who aggresively promote Calvinism within these groups are casuing division and disunity; (3)  Evangelicalism has, historically, had room for both Calvinists and Arminians; the distinctiveness of Arminian denominations should be protected lest we smother the diversity of the Evangelical movement; and (4) Calvinism is simply wrong, being theologically and ethically problematic, and thus should not be promoted (in accords with reason 1 above).

For Olson’s full statement, see the following link:

I agree with Olson’s comments wholeheartedly AND (please NOTE) with his qualifying statement that we would expect nothing less or other from denominations whose theological and historical roots are Calvinist. (E.G., would the CRC or a major Presbyterian denomination tolerate the rise of a group of aggresive Arminians in their midst?). Note also that we are not talking about those who simply hold to particular beliefs within a denomination that are contrary to its mainstream history and theology, but those who promote such beliefs agressively.

I imagine that there will be questions and pushback to this post, which I’d welcome. It think it’s a great discussion topic.

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9 Responses to The Calvinists are coming, the Calvinists are coming!

  1. Nathan Wiebe says:

    Yep, I was certainly thinking that “Arminianism is simply wrong, being theologically and ethically problematic, and thus should not be promoted”, as I read your post. I am extremely thankful that I learned of the doctrines of grace, and wish I had been properly taught a lot earlier in life.

    • I certainly wouldn’t want Arminians aggressively infiltrating Calvinist churches. That just brings disunity and confusion. I’d be curious as to why you think Arminianism is ethically problematic though. I too am grateful to have learned the doctrines of grace, though I don’t embrace the Calvinist ones per se.

  2. jwheels says:

    If everyone saw the light of open theism, we wouldn’t have these problems! 😉

    Jokes aside, an alarming (and important) distinction I’ve noticed about this “new Calvinism” is how easily its proponents write off people with other viewpoints, often by using the word “heresy” and shuddering in disgust and contempt. I’ve had people do that to my face, for even mentioning that I read a book about Open Theism. The aggressiveness of the movement is what turns me off the most, and makes me agree wholeheartedly with Olson here that it has no place in churches that don’t hold to Calvinism already.

    It’s bad enough when Christians think so little of each other’s Christian beliefs as to try to convert each other. Conquering others (which is what it feels like when Calvinists are arguing with you!) is unacceptable. Of course, they’re just concerned about my immortal soul, so that justifies the harsh and aggressive tone, right?

    • Yes. This doesn’t mean there isn’t a place to have discussion or debate on such topics, even with the goal of convincing others. But when the tone and approach is aggresive, dismissive, divisive, and coercive . . . then I have a problem!

      • jwheels says:

        I think my biggest issue is when the discussion gets shut down, and nothing does that faster than the word “heresy.” If I’m wrong, I’m wrong – I can admit that; but if being wrong on a point of theology is morally anathema, and causes others to not even be able to associate or worship with me (let alone calmly discuss the issue), what good can come of it?

        Is “heresy” a useful word or concept anymore? Surely there are better ways to express disagreement.

        • Well, I think the word ‘heresy’ is still useful (or something else that performs the same function), but it should be used very sparingly. Theology still needs to confront error with truth. An obvious example would be Hitler’s idolatrous claims (I would also see the Aryan clause as ‘heretical). In response, Barth, Bonhoeffer, and others formed the ‘confessing church,’ which is not just another option but the true church as opposed to the heretical one. A much less extreme example would be the claims of some Christian off-shoot cults, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses (modern day Arians).

          Again, we must distinguish the most serious errors and only apply the term ‘heresy’ to those. Roger Olson makes the helpful distinction between (1) Dogma (the central teachings of the historic church, going back to the early creeds, such as the Apostles’, Nicene, and Constantinople creeds); (2) Doctrine: flowing from dogma, but developing in history and within particular contexts (hence doctrines differ between different Christian groups); and (3) Beliefs: held at the personal level. Heresy properly refers to that which contradicts (1). It basically means a view that is sub-Christian. Many charge others with ‘heresy’ at the (2) level, but I’d say that’s inappropriate and makes one a fundamentalist. It should also be kept in mind that ‘heresy’ is not (or at least should not) be hate language, but truth and error language. Many ‘heretics’ in the church’s history had good motives, but they were misdirected (and dangerous).

          I’d recommend Olson’s writings on this topic, as well as Alister McGrath’s little book Heresy.

  3. Ryan – actually, I’m glad you posted the question, as it’s a good thing to clarify (esp. for those who don’t follow the link).

    1. I refer specifically to TULIP Calvinism, especially as it appears in its current popular resurgence (Piper, Driscoll, etc.). Having said that, however well one nuances the TULIP sheme (or prefers to speak of particular redemption rather than limited atonement, for example), I do think that the basic disagreements between Calvinism and Arminianism are irreconcilable (I’m not referring to everything they believe — they have much in common! — but to the basic differences that distinguish them as distinct positions and traditions).

    2. By saying that Calvinism is “simply wrong,” I am aware that this is a judgment call. I don’t intend to say that Calvinists are wrong about everything and certainly don’t intend to say that they are lesser Christians. But a consistent Arminian has to say that Calvinism as a system is wrong, just as a consistent Calvinist has to say that Arminianism as a system is wrong. That’s all.

  4. Ryan Turnbull says:

    Disregard, above, probably should have just followed the link…

  5. Ryan Turnbull says:

    (4) Calvinism is simply wrong, being theologically and ethically problematic, and thus should not be promoted

    Can you elaborate on this a bit? Seems like a pretty strong statement without anything to back it up in this article. Are there any insights we can learn from Calvinism? How are you defining Calvinism? Is it the pop-lay-TULIP-Calvinism or was John Calvin simply out to lunch? Great post, would love to hear more.

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