The title of this blog is ‘Reformedish’, and while I’ve traveled deeper into the Reformed tradition since its inception, I’ve tried to remain something of a “friendly Calvinist”, as my buddy Morgan put it. I know that the Christian tradition is broad and extends widely beyond the Reformed world. What’s more, there are a great number of non-Reformed theologians–Wesleyans like Fred Sanders, Thomas Oden, and my own prof Donald Thorsen–whose work I profit from greatly and would commend to anyone. In other words, I try not to be “unreasonably Calvinist” about things. I don’t think I’ve written a post in the two years I’ve been blogging picking on, or even arguing with Arminians. I’ve even been the guy pleading with my Reformed compatriots to extend grace, be humble, and so forth.
I say all that to caveat my comments on Roger Olson’s recent foray out from scholarship (some of which I honestly have found very helpful, insightful, and even-handed) into conspiracy-theory: “Beware of Stealth Calvinism!” (Subtle title, I know.) In the post he outlines a scenario in which Calvinists are sneakily trying to take over and convert innocent Arminian churches under the guise of combating Open theism (the view that God does not have an exhaustive foreknowledge of the future). What apparently is happening is that Calvinist pastors are drafting belief statements that are putatively designed to rule out an open theist view of foreknowledge (or lack thereof), and in the process are sneaking in statements that actually rule out Arminianism as well:
Under the guise of attempting to exclude open theists the denomination has asked its member churches to affirm the following:
We believe God’s knowledge is exhaustive; that He fully knows the past, present, and future independent of human decisions and actions. The Father does everything in accordance with His perfect will, though His sovereignty neither eliminates nor minimizes our personal responsibility.
…my main objection is that no Arminian should sign such a statement and any church that adopts it is automatically affirming Calvinism—whether they know it or not. Only a Calvinist (or someone who believes in the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty) can say that God’s knowledge is independent of human decisions and actions. Even a Molinist cannot say that and mean it.
Now this, Olson takes it, can only be an act of incompetence, or is evidence of a nefarious intent to convert unsuspecting Arminians to Calvinism. He continues:
This appears to me to be another case, on a grander scale, of stealth Calvinism.
…This statement (above in italics) is probably being promoted as a guard against open theism, but it’s much, much more than that. If adopted by my church I would have to give up my membership—not because I’m an open theist (I’m not) but because whether intentionally or not it excludes classical Arminianism. It makes any church that adopts it automatically, de facto, Calvinist.
Arminians—beware! This tactic is continuing among evangelicals. Privileging Calvinism is already the case in many evangelical organizations that have always included both Calvinists and Arminians.
Olson’s a competent theologian, so I won’t argue with his contention that he’d have to give up his membership at the church should they adopt the statement. I suspect some theologians might dispute his judgment and say that an Arminian could affirm it, but I’ll let that alone for more qualified hands than my own.
What I want to point out in the middle of this is the bald-faced cynicism of the post. Here we don’t simply have a theological correction, dispute, or caution about inadvertent theological drift. No, here we have a warning about Calvinist tactics in general, about their alleged strategic maneuvering to crowd out and stamp out divergent thought by “stealthily” taking advantage of people’s ignorance.
I know I’m a lot younger, but if we’re dealing in anecdotes, I suppose part of the reason I find the whole thing silly is that three out of the four Christian colleges nearby me, including my own seminary, are explicitly non-Reformed, and the fourth is definitely blended. Fuller has, maybe a few Reformed theologians, certainly not of the militant sort. They’re not cranking out Calvinists ready to take over churches there. But maybe that’s just a Southern California thing.
In any case, like I said, I’ve been the guy who’s written the “Hey Reformed guys, stop being jerks so people will pay attention” post. I’ll be honest, I don’t regret writing it for a moment. I stand by it and would continue to issue a plea for helpful humility in conversation with our brothers and sisters in “other rooms of the house” as Lewis put it. What I will say is that posts like these give the lie to the idea that Calvinists are the only ones running around making accusations, imputing false motives and so forth, about their fellow believers. I don’t doubt there’s some churches here and there where something like this has happened. I mean, just about everything has happened in church before. But Olson is here taking about some widespread conspiracy to take over churches by subterfuge and deceit. Honestly, it’d be silly if it weren’t so shameful–especially for a scholar of his stature. At best it’s uncharitable, and at worst it’s cheap slander.
I’m reminded of a post by Todd Pruitt a while back writing on the ‘mean Calvinist’ trope:
But I don’t buy the hype. I suppose we could trade anecdotes. For example I could write posts about the fact that the meanest and most self-righteous people I have ever encountered are Arminians. But what would that accomplish? Honestly, some of these posts sound a bit like, “I thank you Lord that I am not like this mean Calvinist.” What is more, until prominent Arminian theologians stop publicly comparing “the god of Calvinism” with Satan, then the reports of mean Calvinists are going to ring a bit hollow.
(By the way, Olson’s one who keeps going on about the God of Calvinism as “the devil”, or a “moral monster.” For an alternative approach to arguing with Calvinists, see this essay by Fred Sanders.)
Where am I going with all of this? Well, I guess what I’m saying is, if you want Calvinists or Reformed types to cool it, be charitable, and so forth, maybe don’t give credence to, or traffic in this sort of thing. Calling for a unified line of attack on the other side usually doesn’t do much for the two linking arms for the sake of the gospel.
In other words, I’ll do my part, but throw me a bone here?
Soli Deo Gloria
The worst part of Olson’s article, and articles like it, is their obfuscation.
Olson wrote “A pastor has reported to me that his district of an evangelical denomination”
If you’re going to ascribe a vast conspiracy to this situation, then have the courage to name names. Don’t just say ” I heard of a church” or “There’s a pastor who”, but have the guts to actually name the church or the pastor. Invite a rep from the denom. or the pastor to comment directly about it. Unless people are willing to go on the record with details about their accusations, it’s just gossip.
It’s easy to throw stones when you don’t have to look the look the recipient in the eye.
The only other thing I’ve read from Olson is an essay on Barth and universalism, and it was one of the best Barth essays I’ve ever read, so seeing this from him is kind of lame. He obviously has chops, but this is just childish.
Oh ya, he’s very competent when he’s doing historical stuff. But really.
I’ve mentioned to Olson who dishonest it is when So. Baptists call themselves “non-denominational”.
Almost all so-called non-denominationals have started out, back when, as Baptists. Their “free-will”, decision theology is identical…but in their quest to fill auditorium buildings, they refuse to associate themselves with a denomination.
It’s patently dishonest.
— Sent from Mailbox
I’ll go one step further than Olson in his “conspiracy” talk – how about this…there is definitely something strange and sinister happening this past 10 years with this rise in Calvinism. And no, I am not an Arminian either…I think both theologies are wrong. No, not only wrong, but highly dangerous. They have given rise to the anti-Christ “Christian Right” and anything that gives rise to a Fourth Reich like that cannot be good!!!
I suppose Derek’s next attempt at conciliation between theological differences will be something on the line of “I’m friendly toward churches who hold the substitutionary atonement position but I don’t think pastors should sign a statement that it was vicarious.”
I suppose I don’t know who Nicholas is talking to about Derek in the third person, since he’s the only one guaranteed to read this comment as it is his blog.
Derek Rishmawy acting as arbitrator at the Nicene Council: “Brother Alexander, personally I agree with you. But for the sake of unity, let’s end this controversy by omitting this word ὁμοούσιος. I think I can get Arius to sign on if we do.”
Really? This is your takeaway here? Me telling Olson to not make up conspiracy theories for the sake of Christian unity, and saying that doctrinal processes should be up front amounts to selling out orthodoxy?
Derek Rishmawy acting as arbitrator at the Nicene Council (part 2): “Brother Alexander, you know I am on your side. But I don’t think we should be jerks about it. Let’s use ὁμοιούσιος instead of ὁμοούσιος. After all, we’re just modifying the document by one letter. What difference could that make?”
Okay, I’m calling it: you’re a troll, bro. If you want to have a real conversation feel free to comment. If you’re just gonna keep up with this business, you’re gonna get deleted. Have fun not engaging and just trolling away in trollville.
I appreciate the points of your article but I can tell you that I’m going through a stealth Calvinism issue right now at my own church. It has been handled almost step by step as Olson’s article said it would. And we are now facing all the challenges associated with it. I was very surprised by how quickly it happened, and beforehand would never have believed it and shared your articles seemingly sarcastic tone. I just want to let you know that it happens.