WOW!! HE’S FIGHTING MAD!!!
WOW!! HE’S FIGHTING MAD!!!
I was challenged recently to read what many consider to be the definitive book on true Arminianism: Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, by Roger Olson (InterVarsity Press, 2006). So I bought it on Amazon and just finished it last night. From an historical perspective I thought it was a thorough and well written presentation. The author’s intention was not so much to prove or argue for Arminianism, but rather to define it with a view to dispelling the many misrepresentations around this particular theological scheme.
Olson points out that Arminians share many truths in common with Calvinists, such as a high view of Scripture, belief that man is a sinner in need of redeeming grace, and justification by faith alone in Christ alone. He also clearly outlines the differences between Arminianism and Calvinism. Arminians hold to a synergistic view of salvation (salvation as cooperation of two parties) and Calvinists adhere to a monergistic position (salvation unilaterally dispensed by a single party). Armininism teaches libertarian free will and rejects determinism, whereas Calvinists teach a view of free will that is compatible with determinism. The crux of the matter for Arminianism, says Olson, is that Arminians see the love and goodness of God as His regulating or governing attributes, while Calvinists emphasize the sovereignty of God. While Calvinists believe in irresistable (efficacious) grace that is particular in scope, Arminians teach a universal prevenient grace that can be rejected once offered. Arminians reject the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and define predestination and election in several ways. Predestination is based on God’s foreknowledge of the future choices of sinners; election is corporate–that is, Christ is the elect one and those who believe in Him share in His election; and passages like Romans Nine are seen not as referring to the salvation of individuals, but the selection of nations for service and blessing. So far pretty standard Arminianism.
Like many Arminians Olson tries to distance himself from the “heresy” of Semi-Pelagianism. He goes so far as to say that most modern evangelicals at the popular level who fancy themselves Arminian are in fact Semi-Pelagian. To me that sounds like Olson is saying most evangelicals are heretics, but I doubt he would go that far. Real Arminians, according to Olson, believe as Arminius did–which is to say, they reject Semi-Pelagianism. Of course this means many if not most of the early Arminians (Remonstrants) who carried the torch after the death of Arminius were, by definition, not true Arminians because they held to a more Semi-Pelagian view of sin and total depravity. This is like saying many so-called Calvinists are not real Calvinists because they do not adhere to the letter of the Geneva Reformer. This seems to me to be hair splitting.
The differences between Semi-Pelagians and Arminians are more theoretical than real, more quantitative than qualitative. Semi-Pelagianism came into existence after the British Monk Pelagius did battle with Augustine in the Fifth Century and was condemned for his denial of original sin. Semi-Pelagianism teaches that man is indeed corrupted by sin, but he retains a spark of ability with which to believe the Gospel. Arminius and later Wesley taught that fallen man in the natural state is totally unable to exercise saving faith without the prevenient grace of God. This is grace that goes before salvation and restores the sinner to a place where he is able to believe the gospel. Most Arminians frame the sinner’s acceptance of the gospel as non-resistance or passive submission to the grace of God. Many, after Wesley, teach that prevenient grace is universal in scope, which is to say that there are no totally depraved sinners in the natural state–all humans have the ability to either accept or reject Christ before they are born again.
So what’s the difference in practical terms? Suppose a man is dying of a deadly disease. He is as good as dead, but barely clinging to the last ounce of life in him. He is offered a cure, and he is able to either accept it or reject it of his own free will. This is an illustration of Semi-Pelagianism. Classic Arminianism would say the man has already died and is totally unable to make any choice until he is made able supernaturally. He is free to not resist the cure or to reject it if he so chooses. If he passively submits he will be cured.
Here is where it gets muddy. According to Classic Arminianism the dead sinner is partially regenerated or made sort of alive, but not fully. In fact he is neither dead not alive, but in a kind of transitional state between life and death. While in this state he is fully able to yeild to or resist the prevenient grace of God. Personally I believe this teaching is utterly alien to the Word of God. Moreover it is really not much different at the end of the day from Semi-Pelagianism. One can argue that God in His common grace restrained the power of sin after the fall to allow for a residue of free will necessary for saving faith; or he can pay lip service to total depravity, knowing that the presence of universal prevenient grace means there are in fact no humans on earth in the natural fallen state. The bottom line is that bothSemi-Pelagianism and Classic Arminianism believe that all living humans possess libertarian free will. In my view both positions share too many features in common to be separated into distinct categories.
All in all Olson has done a service by spelling out the tenets of Classic Arminianism. His documentation is excellent. While I disagree with his view of saving faith as mere non-resistance and his strained attempt to distance himself from Semi-Pelagianism, I appreciated his warm irenic spirit. I would that all Calvinists would follow his example in that regard. With Olson I agree that there is no middle ground between Arminianism and Calvinism, and attempts at forming a Calminian hybrid will prove as futile as mixing oil and water. But there are true believers in each camp who share too much in common to make these soteriological systems a test of fellowship.
As quickly as He shocked the world by bringing down the Berlin Wall, God is again doing the impossible by ripping through doctrinal barriers in the body of Christ. His instruments are known as the Young Calvinists. As a pastor I was familiar with the old stalwarts like Augustine, Calvin, Knox, Spurgeon, Edwards, Hodge, Warfield, and Pink; and I had read all of the more recent Calvinists, like Sproul, MacArthur, Horton, and Gerstner. But once I started digging I began seeing the names of guys I had never heard of who were tearing it up in the name of the true and living God of the Bible.
I also met some young men in smaller churches holding fast the faithful word. In fact after a few disappointing visits to churches in the community after leaving the pastorate we found a little congregation just out of town where the thirty-one year old preacher thunders forth faithfully. He adheres to the doctrines of grace and is not timid about letting you know it—although he is warm and gracious too. He recently preached a sermon on the nature of God that is one of my all-time favorite messages. He hits it out of the park every week, but that day I came away blessed beyond all expectation.
There are thousands of young preachers like him emerging all around the country. The New Calvinists have made a big enough splash to get the attention of Time magazine, where they were featured in a list of “Ten New Ideas Changing the World Right Now” (March 12, 2009). Some of the prominent leaders of this movement are John Piper, Mark Driscoll, J.C. Mahaney, Joshua Harris, Tim Keller, and Al Mohler. These men are pastors of large churches, with the exception of Mohler, who is the president of Southern Baptist Seminary. As far as I am able to determine they all hold to the five points of Calvinism, but most of them do not subscribe to covenantal theology or practice infant baptism. They are missional in terms of evangelism and bridge-building with non-Calvinistic Christians in terms of fellowship—not ingrown or exclusive, thank God. They tend to gravitate to the cities, where they can reach the most people and have the greatest impact on the culture. They are open to the use of the gifts and reject the cessationist position. They are definitely not your old school cold Calvinists. In fact they seem to be more in the tradition of Charles Spurgeon in their blend of doctrinal purity and evangelical warmth.
These young bucks might not know it but they are an answer to prayer and a cause of much rejoicing among us older warriors. For decades we have adhered to many of the distinctives mentioned above, but the time was not ripe for a new wave of biblical truth to sweep through the church. It’s been a long time coming, and now that it’s happening we are so thankful God has answered our prayers and raised up an army of young men who are willing to fearlessly preach the truth. In the humble opinion of this older preacher, these young Calvinists might be the last great hope left of turning the church of this nation back to the true and living God of the Bible.
Time does not allow me to talk about all of the movers and shakers of the new wave of Calvinism. I suggest you check out their books on Amazon or their videos on Youtube, as I have done. But I can’t finish this post without spending at least a few minutes telling you about an amazing young pastor whose church is tearing it up in my hometown of Seattle, Washington. Just before I took my break from the pastorate a friend who had recently moved from Bellingham to Seattle came up north for lunch and loaned me a book by the pastor of a church he had visited. The book was titled, Confessions of a Reformission Rev., by some guy named Mark Driscoll. My friend told me Driscoll was one of a new wave of Calvinists who were reaching the younger generation with the gospel. I read the book quickly and returned it to its owner, but much of it didn’t sink in because my mind was preoccupied with the impending life transition.
Once I was out of “the ministry” and the web site and fight club were up and running, my friend was seriously plugged into Driscoll’s rapidly-growing congregation, the Mars Hill Church. On his advice I picked up copy of Driscoll’s book, Vintage Church, and decided to give it a serious read. The first thing I noticed when checking out the front and back covers was the photo of the author. “This guy looks like he’s itching for a fight,” I mused. When I read the book what I encountered was some solid biblical ecclesiology presented in a very direct and readable format. I found the last chapter to be very interesting and insightful. There Driscoll explains why he believes it is important to direct maximum effort and attention toward the major urban centers. Shortly after finishing the book I saw a Youtube video of Driscoll ripping on The Shack. I had just finished a video series on the doctrine of God and loaded it onto the Sword Room site, and it was such a timely breath of fresh air to hear him upholding the true and living God of Scripture! His style was so impassioned and bombastic, reminiscent of Luther. I watched more of his videos and read some of his other books, and what an encouragement and confirmation they were. Being an ex-high school and college wrestler with four sons who wrestled—one of whom is a professional mixed martial artist—I appreciate a young preacher with the ability to open a good old-fashioned can of whoop-ass. These days a preacher with a little fight in him is such a rare item.
After that I did some research and found out Driscoll was raised in Riverton Heights, not far from where I grew up in nearby McMicken Heights. He was born when I was a junior at Tyee High School and himself later graduated from nearby Highline High School. Like me he was raised in a more liturgical church, and I have always wondered if he had to sit through catechism classes as I did. He married the daughter of a pastor I met a few times back when I was a Jesus freak. He started the Mars Hill Church in 1996, when he was twenty-five, about the same age when I entered the pastorate. Success didn’t come easy for him, but he weathered many storms, and God has blessed him for it. He is as straight as an arrow in his theology and has a burning zeal to reach the lost. I pray for him and his church often. Seasoned warriors like me are among his most ardent cheerleaders. It is nice to see that he has a close working relationship with John Piper too. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting Mark I will squeeze his hand until it breaks.
My intention is not to single him out but to emphasize what God is doing through a host of courageous young men committed to the God of the Bible and to His Word. Driscoll just happens to be one of the more visible of them. If you are one of these young guys, I say more power to you. Use every ounce of strength, ingenuity, and technology available to you to communicate the truth. If you are a pastor just starting out, or if you are discouraged in a smaller more rural work as I was, I encourage you to read the works of some of the new Calvinist leaders. Watch their videos. Attend their conferences. Get hooked up with them—not as a gimmick or technique to fill your building, but to put yourself in the middle of what God is doing. You will find that exposure to them will encourage you and renew your faith, as it has done for me.