Against Calvinism  -     By: Roger E. Olson
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Against Calvinism

Zondervan / 2011 / Paperback

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Product Description

Calvinist theology has been debated and promoted for centuries. But is it a theology that should last? Roger Olson suggests that Calvinism, also commonly known as Reformed theology, holds an unwarranted place in our list of accepted theologies. In Against Calvinism, readers will find scholarly arguments explaining why Calvinist theology is incorrect and how it affects God's reputation.

Olson draws on a variety of sources, including Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, to support his critique of Calvinism and the more historically rich, biblically faithful alternative theologies he proposes. Addressing what many evangelical Christians are concerned about today---so-called 'new Calvinism,' a movement embraced by a generation labeled as 'young, restless, Reformed' ---Against Calvinism is the only book of its kind to offer objections from a non-Calvinist perspective to the current wave of Calvinism among Christian youth. As a companion to Michael Horton's For Calvinism, readers will be able to compare contrasting perspectives and form their own opinions on the merits and weaknesses of Calvinism.

Product Information

Format: Paperback
Number of Pages: 208
Vendor: Zondervan
Publication Date: 2011
Dimensions: 8.50 X 5.50 (inches)
ISBN: 031032467X
ISBN-13: 9780310324676
Availability: In Stock

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Publisher's Description

Calvinist theology has been debated and promoted for centuries. But is it a theology that should last? Roger Olson suggests that Calvinism, also commonly known as Reformed theology, holds an unwarranted place in our list of accepted theologies. In Against Calvinism, readers will find scholarly arguments explaining why Calvinist theology is incorrect and how it affects God’s reputation. Olson draws on a variety of sources, including Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience, to support his critique of Calvinism and the more historically rich, biblically faithful alternative theologies he proposes. Addressing what many evangelical Christians are concerned about today—so-called “new Calvinism,” a movement embraced by a generation labeled as “young, restless, Reformed” —Against Calvinism is the only book of its kind to offer objections from a non-Calvinist perspective to the current wave of Calvinism among Christian youth. As a companion to Michael Horton’s For Calvinism, readers will be able to compare contrasting perspectives and form their own opinions on the merits and weaknesses of Calvinism.

Author Bio

Roger E. Olson (PhD, Rice University) is professor of theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. He is the author of many books, including Questions to All Your Answers: The Journey from Folk Religion to Examined Faith, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology, and How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative.

ChristianBookPreviews.com

I loved Against Calvinism, but the author, Dr. Roger E. Olson, is just too nice. He gives Calvinists too much benefit of the doubt, exercises too much gentlemanly restraint, and suffers fools much too gladly. He carefully delineates the sundry factions and flavors of Calvinism and Reformed theology. He compasses land and sea to not misrepresent their views. He judiciously avoids the use of terms offensive to them. He even counts some of them among his friends.

Yet, he does not let them off the hook. You, too, will love this book if you've been waiting for some learned response to the outrageous claims of Calvinism. Dr. Olson has spent the better part of his life studying the primary sources of Reformed and Calvinist theology, both ancient and contemporary. Though an Arminian, Dr. Olson, as a graduate student, preacher, and professor for over thirty years, has made the study of Calvinism his passion. He has worked with Calvinists, voted to hire them and give them tenure, debated with them, and invited them to lecture to his students. When he says that John Piper merely repackages what Jonathan Edwards preached over two centuries ago, believe him. He knows of what he speaks. Against Calvinism does exactly what the author intended: to demonstrate"why Calvinism is not biblically, theologically, or logically tenable"(p. 101).

Dr. Olson especially aims his arguments toward New Calvinism and the “young, restless Reformed”(p. 16) leaders and preachers: John Piper, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Loraine Boettner, James Boice, and Michael Horton. As Dr. Olson says, "the Calvinist account of God's sovereignty ...makes God the author of sin, evil, and innocent suffering", impugning His character. The Calvinist God is, “at best morally ambiguous and at worst a moral monster hardly distinguishable from the devil”(p. 84).

Dr. Olson pulls three petals off the TULIP and tramples them under his incisive and reasoned philosophical feet. Nothing is left of the "U" in the TULIP (which is unconditional election), the "L" (limited atonement), and the "I" (irresistible grace) once Dr. Olson exposes their inconsistencies and outright contradictions. He somewhat ignores “T” and "P" (total depravity and perseverance of the saints) probably for brevity's sake. He relentlessly points out how Calvinists cherry-pick their definitions of words to prove their points. He argues, "that high Calvinism falls into contradictions; it cannot be made intelligible" (p. 25).

No doubt, readers will learn of things they never knew existed, as I did. For example, Dr. Olson reveals that some groups who do not hold to the TULIP at all could be considered Reformed, depending on who is passing out the Reformed labels. Some hold tightly a petal or two and loosely a few others. Some see a difference between God's decretive will and His will of disposition (p. 143). What enthralled me was the discussion on scholasticism, infralapsarianism, and supralapsarianism.

Against Calvinism is aimed at preachers and lay people who are interested in such things anyway, so I'm not quibbling to say it's not an easy read. Yet, if there's anything lacking, it would be more of the common man's view of such a system of theology. Dr. Olson points out the "Piper cubs" love to imbibe such erudition and theologians like him must engage them on the philosophical battlefield using their terms and their proof texts against them. Those terms and arguments are a little lofty for most of us. I'm glad someone of the caliber of Dr. Olson has joined the battle for us. He lays out some simpler arguments that the rest of us can swallow and that, too, is welcome. D. Wayne Wilson, www.ChristianBookPreviews.com

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  1. Calgary, AB
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: male
    2 Stars Out Of 5
    A philosophical polemic against Calvinism
    February 23, 2013
    James
    Calgary, AB
    Age: 18-24
    Gender: male
    Quality: 2
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 2
    I understand that polemics bring with them many difficulties, and as such Olson's book starts with a point by point rebuttal of a view. Still, it was not a well done rebuttal (See Luther's "De Servo Abitrio" for an amazing, though harsh, polemic).

    Reading this book, after reading "For Calvinism", I was hoping for a scripturally based explanation of why Calvinism is wrong; instead it was mostly philosophical polemic against Calvinism based on the assumption of Libertarian free will. All of Olson's arguments concluding that Calvinism diminishes God's love and goodness presuppose a view of Libertarian free will that has been shown both to be untenable scripturally and philosophically ("De Servo Abitrio" and "Freedom of the Will" by Jonathan Edwards); Olson interacts with both of these books but does not give enough consideration to their arguments, writing them off as counter to common-sense and assuming the libertarian view to be right (even if "mysterious" (133)). On the positive side he mostly gives an accurate description of the five points of the TULIP, but sets up and dismantles probably the weakest argument for these points I have ever read. He deals mostly with their philosophical defences and rarely interacts with the strong Biblical foundations upon which they are built. An example of this is when Olson deals with Irresistible (Effectual) Grace. He cites Sproul's argument from "draw" in John 6:44 and focuses on tearing it down but ignores the powerful evidences from John 3 (which he mistakenly assumes earlier in the book supports his view of regeneration by a slippery definition of 'salvation' found throughout the book), John 10, Romans 8:28-39, and elsewhere. He also uses questionable exegesis (giving him the benefit of the doubt; oversights) to support his argument. For example, he cites at least twice Romans 5:8 as teaching that Christ died for all sinners (144,117). This passage reads; "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (NASB). Who is this "us" and "we" referred to? In verse one of this chapter Paul writes; "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (NASB). It is these, those who have been justified (those he wrote Romans to), that he is addressing in v. 8. While those who are now justified were still sinners Jesus Christ came and died for them! (also sees his citation of A.T. Robinson as one of the "best critical exegetes" (132)). As a Calvinist reading this will challenge you, but the lack of evidence from Scripture will leave you more resolved about where you stand. If you are going to read this book read it alongside of "For Calvinism" written by Michael Horton.
  2. Glasgow, UK
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    4 Stars Out Of 5
    Helpful critique of Calvinism
    January 21, 2013
    LawrenceO
    Glasgow, UK
    Age: 55-65
    Gender: male
    Quality: 4
    Value: 5
    Meets Expectations: 5
    This review was written for Against Calvinism -eBook.
    This is the sister volume to Michael Horton's ‘For Calvinism', which I reviewed some time ago. Roger Olson has clearly drawn the short straw in this project: It is always more difficult to write a constructive critique of a view which you believe to be just plain wrong than to write an apologia for you own belief system. It might have been fairer to ask Olson to write something entitled ‘For Arminianism' but, of course, he has already written something very like that.

    In the first two chapters, Olson explains the context for his opposition to (certain forms of) Calvinism and outlines the complexity of the Reformed and Calvinist family of Christian traditions. This is essentially a response to the Calvinism of the so called young, restless Reformed thinkers (e.g. John Piper) who have spearheaded the re-emergence of a radical high (or even hyper) Calvinism in the past three decades. Olson insists that they do not have a monopoly on the term ‘Reformed' (his own theological hero, Arminius, was also a Reformed theologian) or even ‘Calvinist' (Olson cites the Dutch theologian Gerrits Berkouwer as an example of a moderate Calvinist who would take issue with this new hyper-Calvinism) and challenges some of their more extreme statements about God's sovereignty. In his own words:

    ‘I believe someone needs finally to stand up and in love firmly say "No!" to egregious statements about God's sovereignty often made by Calvinists. Taken to their logical conclusion, that even hell and all who will suffer there eternally are foreordained by God, God is thereby rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst. I have gone so far as to say that this kind of Calvinism, which attributes everything to God's will and control, makes it difficult (at least for me) to see the difference between God and the devil.' (p. 23)

    In Chapter 3 he defines what is commonly understood as Calvinism today in terms of the five points of Calvinism (or the doctrines of grace). His basic argument is that Calvinism has to be inconsistent in order to avoid making God the author of evil, and he expands on this in subsequent chapters.

    Chapter 4, ‘Yes to God's Sovereignty; No to Divine Determinism', affirms a ‘weak' view of divine sovereignty, namely that nothing happens without God's permission. He goes on to argue that a stronger view of sovereignty would make God the sole cause of all that happens and thus undermine the contingency of creation (p. 72). He traces this latter view from Zwingli through Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, R.C. Sproul, and Lorraine Boettner to Paul Helm and John Piper. As he sees it, this understanding of divine sovereignty is in tension with the goodness of God; taken to its logical conclusion it must lead to fatalism and an implicit belief that God is the ultimate cause of evil.

    In Chapter 5, ‘Yes to Election; No to Double Predestination', Olson affirms the unconditional election of God's people as a whole and the conditional election of individuals. But he rejects the Calvinist notion of reprobation: in his view, that God pardons one sinner and condemns another who has committed the same sin makes God capricious rather than compassionate.

    In Chapter 6, he argues that the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement is a deduction from other points of Calvinism (specifically unconditional election and irresistible grace), which lacks scriptural support. He maintains that it contradicts the love of God by making God partial and, indeed, actively antipathetic towards those he has not chosen. Olsen also devotes some space to refuting the Calvinist argument that the only alternative to limited atonement is universalism.

    In Chapter 7, Olson questions Calvinist claims that any human contribution to salvation (synergism) reduces it from grace to work and again he devotes some space to correcting what he sees as Calvinist misrepresentations of synergism as covert Pelagianism.

    Olson concludes his critique with a chapter summarizing the conundrums of Calvinism and a couple of appendices dealing with some Calvinist responses to his central criticisms and various Calvinist claims.

    Perhaps the most difficult aspect of writing a critique of any theological tradition is attacking the belief without attacking the believer. Roger Olson has done an admirable job of challenging the implications Calvinism while acknowledging that most Calvinists do not press their beliefs to their logical conclusion. He concludes that ‘evangelical Calvinists are some of the best Christians in the world. I just think they are terribly inconsistent and teach and believe doctrines contrary to scripture, most of Christian tradition, and reason' (p. 179).

    This volume makes a very readable companion to its sister volume by Horton. Nevertheless, just as I remained unconvinced by Horton's very attractive presentation of Calvinism so I reach the end of Olson's text feeling more than a little uncomfortable about the Arminian alternative. Is it perhaps the case that both Calvinism (at least in its modern ‘restless' incarnation) and Arminianism are tainted by the Pelagianism that theologians like Kathryn Tanner and Colin Gunton have perceived to pervade post-Reformation (and certainly post-Enlightenment) Western theology?

    (Perhaps I should add that I received this book free from Zondervan as part of their blogger review programme.)
  3. 2 Stars Out Of 5
    Not a Biblical Critique
    July 2, 2012
    J. Poe
    Quality: 3
    Value: 3
    Meets Expectations: 1
    I have not read "For Calvinism" yet, but this book let me down in a few ways.

    First off, Olsen uses arguments based upon other theologians and does not base his conclusions upon Biblical arguments, but rather quotes from several other authors.

    The part I liked about this is that it gave me several authors I would now like to read for more information; the negative part is that I felt like he just said the same things over and over, setting up the easiest arguments against hyper-Calvinism and attempting to knock them down with emotional responses. He seems to be friendly with the Open Theism crowd, and brings up Universalism a few times, almost as if it's a viable option of belief.

    All in all, it left me wanting more, although it is a simple starting point for someone who knows little about the arguments for and against Calvinism.

    For someone who has read Calvinistic arguments and seen the Biblical foundation those authors have used to make their point, and then turn to this book for an equally Biblical argument, you WILL be disappointed.

    There were some good ideas Olson brought up, such as the choosing of us in Ephesians 1 -- is it the election of the corporate body of Christ, or the election of the individuals who make up the body of Christ?

    It was not what I expected, and in the end I don't think it was worth reading a 200-page book to get just a few interesting points, especially when you consider that all the really interesting things said were quotes from other authors anyway.
  4. 4 Stars Out Of 5
    Excellent Response to "For Calvinism"
    January 13, 2012
    Jamie McDonald
    Quality: 4
    Value: 4
    Meets Expectations: 4
    I have finished reading "For Calvinism" and "Against Calvinism" and was happy to see that Horton & Olson wrote the forward to each other's book. It's refreshing to know that authors with such divergent theological positions can nevertheless appreciate what they have in common as far as the Christian faith is concerned. I read Horton's book first and found it a very good read and representation of 5-point Calvinism that seeks to disassociate itself from the "hyper-Cavlinist" belief in double predestination. However, I would have to say that Roger Olson's arguments against 5-point Calivinism (which he refers to as "extreme Calvinism" as John Calvin himself did not subscribe to all 5 points of TULIP) is a strong, reasonable and convincing rebuttal that deserves careful consideration by anyone looking to honestly understand both sides of the debate. Olson knows his history and is well versed in the writings of Calvin and the other Reformers as well as many contemporary spokespersons for 5-point Calvinist theology. Olson exposes the biblical and logical inconsistencies of holding to the U, L and I positions of TULIP in light of Scripture, quoting extensively from authors like Piper, Boettner and Helm to add further weight to his arguments. Olson upholds the truth of total depravity, the sovereignty of God, the grace of God, the glory of God, and most importantly in this debate, the love of God. He responds to the common myths and misconceptions of the Arminian position and offers a sound and charitable response to Horton's "For Calvinism." Well worth reading.
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