Roger Olson, Evangelical Arminian and Christian Dualist?

Roger Olson recently gave more reasons why he opposes the doctrines of grace as interpreted by the Calvinist tradition.  In doing so, (and I fully agree), he rejects the idea that John Calvin should be put on a pedastal. Sure, he was a man of his time when it came to the execution of heretics, but when it came to Servatus, let us not forget that Calvin recommended that the man be beheaded rather than burned.  That is a historical fact, and Calvinists who try to sugarcoat it are being intellectually dishonest.  Christ said we would know his true followers by their fruit, what the apostle Paul called “the fruits of the spirit” in Galatians 5.  I will leave that up to you all to decide.

I do have some qualms with Olson’s position, however. I recall in the Spring of this year, Carlton Pearson argued that Christians believed in an all-powerful, all-knowing Enemy. He said he even had more faith in the devil than god at one point. Here is the video:

Olson, I fear, falls almost in the same trap.  He says that, and I quote,

For me nothing about the Christian worldview is more important than regarding God and the devil as absolute competitors in this universe and its tragic history. God is good and desires the good of every creature. As church father Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The devil is bad and desires harm for every creature. To view the devil as God’s instrument makes a mockery of the entire biblical narrative.

To be “absolute competitors” implies almost that the Devil, (contrary to what Scripture says), is just as powerful and sovereign and all wise as the One True God is.  I do not believe that they are absolute competitors.  I think that the Enemy tries to deceive us into believing that the Enemy has more power than the devil really does.  Also, it is not that the devil wants to harm every creature; the Enemy works towards the rebellion of HUMANITY opposing god.  To insist otherwise is to suggest that God is somehow not sovereign when over creation (in my view).  I do not know whether the Enemy is a personal being or a process of violence ( I tend to agree with both positions), but ultimately, the biblical witness suggests that the Enemy is far more powerless (in terms of power of persuasion) and really just has the ability to deceive us.  The Enemy cannot take the blame for everything, remaining our scapegoat for every tragedy.  God gives us libertarian free will (and God has never taken that away from us at any point in history) and we freely choose to give into temptation and sin and death dealing powers of oppression and processes.  Our free will gives God the freedom to freely judge us (as both individuals and communities) here on Earth as well when Jesus, the Son of Man comes to judge all of humanity at the Second Coming and Resurrection.

A shout out to Nick Norelli for the heads up on Olson’s post.

0 thoughts on “Roger Olson, Evangelical Arminian and Christian Dualist?

  1. T. C.

    I would be surprised if Olson’s phraseology here was not simply clumsy, rather than evidence of a genuine dualism in his theology. From what little I know of Olson’s theology, he seems to for the most part hold a balanced, biblical view.

    As for Pearson, however, I think he creates a caricature of Pentecostals when he describes them as making Satan sovereign. It is true that in Charismatic/Pentecostal circles an unhealthy and unbiblical emphasis, glorification of the demonic is an ubiquitous temptation. However, there is certainly no official teaching that approaches this claim. And in many years of fellowship with Charismatic/Pentecostals, I have yet to hear any preachers attribute sovereignty, omnipresence, or omniscience to Satan.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      You are right, T.C.; Pearson has created a strawperson to make fun and persecute the Pentecostal circles that he was formerly a part of.

      Reply
  2. Josh

    I think Olson meant nothing more than “Good is good and evil is evil”. Good and evil are real, opposed categories, and our sense that this is the case is not due to a lack of perspective or ignorance.

    Having read some of Olson’s stuff, I think we have similar intuitions on this, so I’ll explain. If we have this conception of God’s sovereignty that is theologically deterministic, the line between “good” and “evil” gets fuzzy. What does it mean for something to be “good” versus “evil”? God causes both, and apparently to bring himself glory. So what does it mean for sin to be wrong if God wants it to happen? The categories we use to make moral judgments apparently aren’t as meaningful as we think they are.

    Preserving the role of Satan as a categorical adversary to God’s purposes in the world, instead of making him some sort of servant (willing or unaware) of God, affirms the moral intuitions that we have and lets us trust that when we say “God is good” we are saying something meaningful.

    I suspect Olson just didn’t communicate his point as well as he wanted.

    Reply
    1. Rod

      Thanks for the heads up, Josh.

      I think I may need to read more on Roger Olson. I have met him in person, and he may have rubbed me the wrong way. It was the “absolute competitors” phrase that caught me off-guard.

      Reply
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