Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2006), 250 pages.

THE ARMINIAN MAGAZINE Issue 1 Spring 2007 Volume 25 Review

Olson’s purpose is to clear the good Arminian name of false accusations and charges of heresy. His full-length book is an expansion of the Christianity Today article in 1999, “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m An Arminian.” In 1998 I gave an address, “Arminius: The Scapegoat of Calvinism” which dealt with some of the same vilification.

Olson opens with a thirty-one page introduction he calls “A Primer on Arminianism.” Here he defines the crucial terms. He labors to be fair and not to correct the malignment by making Calvinism a pejorative term in retaliation.

Olson distinguishes between evangelical Arminianism, which he calls Arminianism of the heart, and intellectual Arminianism, which is Arminianism of the head. The more liberal form of intellectual Arminian developed under Philip Limborch after the death of Arminius and some who followed this trend fell into Pelagianism, universalism, and even Arianism, the denial of Christ’s full deity. While liberal Arminianism exalts reason and freedom, true Arminianism glorifies divine revelation and supernatural grace. Olson is an apologist for evangelical form of Arminianism to which Wesley led the Methodism movement.

Olson is correct in his assertion that Arminius affirmed total depravity. He is also correct to assert that the Remonstrance primarily denied the three middle points of the TULIP acrostic: unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace. However, I was disappointed that Olson reported the strongest statement that Arminius made about perseverance was, “I should not readily dare to say that true and saving faith may finally and totally fall away.” These are the opening words in a section which evaluates William Perkins’ belief that true and saving faith cannot fail either totally or finally. According to Carl Bangs, Perkins had raised a new issue with Arminius and he approaches it cautiously. But Arminius proceeded to dismantle that proposition for the next sixteen pages and then concluded,

In the beginning of faith in Christ and conversion to God the believer becomes a living member of Christ; and, if persevering in the faith of Christ, and keeping a conscience void of offense, remains a living member. But if it happens that this member grows slothful, is not careful over itself, gives place to sin, by little and little it becomes half-dead; and so at length, proceeding still further, dies altogether, and ceases to be a member.

Ultimately Arminius held that it is impossible for believers, as long as they remain believers, to decline from salvation, but that a believer who ceases to trust God is no longer a believer.

Olson recognized that prevenient grace is a crucial Arminian doctrine. He acknowledged that Charles Finney denied original sin and thus the need for prevenient grace. Olson said that Finney “vulgarized Arminian theology” and taught a semi-Pelagian view that sufficient power remains in the will to initiate the beginnings of salvation but not enough to bring it to completion. At a popular level this means if you take one step toward God, he’ll come the rest of the way toward you. According to Olson, this is the default theology of more American evangelical Christians. In contrast, “Arminianism is almost totally unknown, let alone believed, in popular evangelical Christianity.” I fully agree.

I am also pleased with each of the ten myths that Olson addresses. The second myth is that a hybrid of Calvinism and Arminianism is possible. In spite of common ground, on issues crucial to both there is no stable middle ground. I have always been irritated by preachers who declared they were neither Calvinist nor Arminian or the “cute” statement that they are “Calminians.” On certain points there is no logical mutual compatibility. Both positions cannot be right when they are in direct contradiction. And Olson asserts “it is impossible to affirm unconditional selection of some to salvation without at the same time affirming unconditional selection of some to reprobation, which, Arminians believe, impugns the character of God.”

Yet for the last fifty years one position has dominated the market. With the publication of Why I Am Not a Calvinist (2004), and now Arminian Theology, InterVarsity Press has given a new voice to an evangelical position which has been, for the most part, suppressed and misrepresented.

Dr. Vic Reasoner

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