Saturday, October 11, 2008

Arminian Theology Defended--Finally!


My theology is specifically Pentecostal, and more broadly Protestant and Arminian. As such, I don’t necessarily fit easily into the more “acceptable” trends in evangelical theology. As I listen to and read some of the leading evangelical theologians, I know Arminianism is often derided as semi-Pelagian or Pelagian. (Never mind the general stance toward Pentecostal theology from the same circles!) I have never believed that good Arminian theology is Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, which is one reason why I have appreciated this book by Roger Olson so much.

As the title suggests, his goal is to debunk the most popular myths about Arminian theology, lay out a basic explanation of what good Arminian theology is and defend why it is part of the evangelical, orthodox stream of Protestantism. This issue is important to me, so I am chewing through the book slowly. And to aid me in my reflection, I am going to try and blog through the highlights of the book. The writing should help solidify and refine my own views on these issues, and hopefully act as discussion points for the topic as a whole.

Among Olson’s starting points is a definition of Arminian theology in reference to Reformation Calvinism:

When Arminianism is used, it will connote that form of Protestant theology that rejects unconditional election (and especially unconditionally reprobation), limited atonement, and irresistible grace because it affirms the character of God as compassionate, having universal love for the whole world and everyone in it, and extending grace-restored free will to accept or resist the grace of God, which leads to either eternal life or spiritual destruction. (pg. 16-17)

Olson will argue later in the book something I have argued over and over with my Calvinist friends: the debate between Arminian theology and Calvinism is primarily about the character and nature of God, and not primarily about free-will and determinism. Contrary to the caricatures, Arminianism does not begin with a philosophical notion of free-will and work to a theology of salvation. It begins with a theology of God’s nature and his interaction with humans, and winds up affirming a libertarian form of free-will.

Olson makes an important distinction at this point that weaves its way throughout the text. There is a difference between “Arminianism of the head” and “Arminianism of the heart” (what I will call evangelical Arminianism). The “of the head” variety is that part of Arminian theology that takes its cues from Enlightenment philosophy, affirms the fundamentally sound rational and moral capacities of each human, and ends up as semi-Pelagian. Evangelical Arminianism denies the basically good or in-tact capacities of the human heart, and affirms the necessity of God’s gracious activity. Instead of a coercive and limited act of God’s grace, however, Arminianism affirms the doctrine of prevenient grace. God acts before the human to enable their dead capacities to respond freely and willingly to God’s grace.

Unlike the unkind caricatures, Arminianism affirms grace, total depravity, and humanity’s utter dependence upon God. It is a little disingenuous to paint Arminian theology as heterodox by saying it denies these basic theological truths.

What I didn’t like about the Introduction.

Olson associates several contemporary theologians with the Arminian point of view, including Stanley Grenz and Clark Pinnock. I am totally sure I do not consider myself an open theist, and therefore I do not associate myself with Pinnock. I have read some of Grenz’s stuff, and am not sure I want to be put in that camp either. I believe Arminianism does not need to degrade to open theism or a form of pluralism that is in accord with the movement of the emergent church.

And this is where I hope to find the rest of the book to be solid ground. I affirm an Arminian theology that holds to the future knowledge (and even proactive activity) of God, and the particularity of Christ. So far, Olson is on that track as well.

2 comments:

kindredspiritinchrist said...

He did a great job on the audio interview at Reclaiming the Mind.

The book is on my wishlist.

I wish could found more audio along those lines. Similar views to my own. Really helped me a lot.

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