Getting the Gospel Right – A Balanced View of Calvinism and Arminianism

Getting the Gospel Right A Balanced View of Calvinism and Arminianism

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5 Stars An Important Work in the Area of Soteriology
Dr. Olson has presented an abridged edition of his earlier work, "Beyond Arminianism and Calvinism" for a broader audience; he hits right on target with his presentation. I read this book a few years back and cannot tell you how much the Spirit of God used it to expand and reinforce my conviction on the study of salvation to a third option, one separate from Calvinism and Arminianism.

Dr. Olson gives thorough treatments on the nature of depravity, how we are created in God's image, key word studies on important terms such as 'saved', 'dead', etc., and works through all of this in a very systematic and orderly fashion. It is clear that this book is the result of his life's work, and explains, as he calls it, his theological 'pilgrimage'. A couple other reviewers did an excellent job assessing his overall responses to Calvinism, Arminianism, and Universalism, and his travel through the first two. Olson gives solid historical surveys of each position. These are in depth enough to really give the reader a strong working knowledge of the traditions, as large and broad as they may be.

I would agree with Olson on his assessment of Arminius and Calvin and their 'disciples'. There is some expansion, reworking, and further development by each side that both reformers might not have agreed with. To ultimately conclude they would not agree with these developments goes beyond the evidence, since we will never know on this side of eternity, since their writings are unclear. But Olson does a good job separating the thought of the reformers and those who came after them. An example of this is Calvin's view on the extent of the atonement. Calvin states things that imply both a position on Universal Atonement for Sin and a Particular Atonement for sin only for the Elect. Calvin never clarifies. Some, such as R.T. Kendall (and Olson as well) show the discontinuity between the reformer and his followers (Beza, Perkins, etc.). Others, such as Paul Helm, argue that the developments of later followers of Calvin are true expressions of what the reformer held to. I don't think we can be dogmatic about it; what we do know is that Calvin wasn't clear.

This book has some major strong points. Its organization is wonderful. I also love that from the outset Olson prepares his readers with the difficulty of the read. Part I – Part III progressively becomes more difficult because of greater depth of exegesis, greek/hebrew word studies, etc. Clearly this is an abridged version of his book, but I give him high marks for keeping much of the original content, still giving solid exegesis without overly technical approaches.

Other points of strength: I love how Olson shows his conviction on the eternal security of the believer. I believe his view to be clear and biblical because he correctly understands both the Promise and the One who is Promising. He uses John 5:24 (one of my life verses) to explain how this single text convinced him (a former Arminian) of his security in Christ. I thank God for that. I believe the majority of his word studies are excellent, especially his treatment of the depravity of the believer. He clearly rests within the Semi-Augustinian model, which was the verdict of the Synod of Orange (529, A.D.). I believe his treatment of Election as Corporate/Vocational is excellent. He is very solid in this area and does a superb job of seeing Jesus as the primacy of God's election in eternity. I find his treatment on this issue to be one of the best, without holding to an Arminian view of salvation.

Though I do disagree with Olson on some points he makes in his work, overall I find the work stimulating and solid. Points of disagreement: I would disagree on some minor points such as his take on the 'Sons of God' in Gen. 6 being 'justified/saved' individuals. I would see this term designating fallen angels (Job 1, 2) since 'Sons of God' seems to be more of a NT term when referring to Justification (John 1). However, this is very minor. Another disagreement would be his view of simple foreknowledge. I believe he adequately deals with the term as handled by consistent Calvinists (Foreknowledge = Forelove, Election, etc.) but I think his view is hard to reconcile when it essentially becomes a `self-election to salvation', a view which proceeds from the simple foreknowledge view. This is not to say Olson says you `make yourself saved', clearly not, but this type of election view becomes almost too historical and synonymous with Justification on some points. I think his criticism of Calvinism's understanding of foreknowledge is on target (that Foreknow is synonymous with Election), but I'm also not convinced of his interpretation either.

I would disagree a little more fervently with his two-sided coin approach to conversion. I thank him for his handling of the issue, he explains it well, but I just don't see it the way he does. He explains conversion as a two-sided coin of 'faith/repentance'. Though my argument may seem minor, I still must disagree for it is important in my understanding. I think he is very, very close to what I would say, but to avoid confusion, I think his expression should be slightly different. I would see conversion as 'faith alone', and repentance happening before and after faith. Repentance is not for salvation, nor does it essentially affect or bring justification, as Olson seems to say, though possibly unintended.

Repentance clearly opens up the way for someone to be justified, but does not actually affect if they are or not. Justification is received by faith alone. Repentance needs to follow faith by works that are testimonies of the Spirit in the life, but I would hesitate to say 'this is how that should look'. I leave that up to the Spirit of God. This view is somewhat similar to Calvin, but Calvin would essentially say repentance is much clearer after faith. I think it is biblical to say repentance comes before faith because it's a clear realization of sin/falling short before a Holy God (Acts 20:21, Heb. 6:1), but notice I did not say a turning from sin. Faith and turning from sin are not the same, but I believe faith in Christ should lead to a turning from sin; the call of the Gospel is faith in Jesus Christ, a Christ that has paid for all sin. I believe Olson hits this point right on the mark. But to say (or maybe imply in Olson's case) that both are essential instruments to receive justification misses the primacy of 'faith alone' for justification. Maybe Olson would essentially say it as I understand it if we spoke personally, but I believe articulating it as such is important, for Christ's passive and active obedience, imputed to us in faith is what justifies, not a willingness to turn from sin which has already been paid for. This is tragically the `good news' of many today. One can clearly never repent completely of sin in the life as long as the flesh is still a part of the person. It certainly does not get eradicated as some erroneously teach. Repentance needs to follow (though the exact way it looks needs to be left to the Spirit, not defined by us).

Some would say this is splitting hairs, but I see handling the message of the gospel of significant importance and want to be faithful to Christ. So, I am willing to 'split hairs' here with Dr. Olson, though I agree with him in the majority of other areas. Lastly, the book has a few technical weaknesses. The editing had some grammatical problems as there are typos throughout the book and it might be distracting at times. This may have been because Dr. Olson practically self-published this work, but the editing still should have been better.

Overall, considering how much clarity of exegesis is involved in this work, Olson has written a major work in the area of soteriology. It is a must-read for all ministers, seminarians, and serious students of the Lord and His Word. It is a major work in a day where the majority of publications are written with limited perspectives concerning this area, the area which holds the most immediate importance for all Christians and non-Christians alike.

2 Stars Only a "balanced" view if you agree that their's is right…
Unfortunately the authors consistently decide to approach most issues in the book by giving their viewpoint first and then explaining why it is the only correct viewpoint. They do not explain why others believe differently – the authors only explain why others are either mislead or wrong. The book consistently presents only the viewpoints and interpretations that the authors can either use towards their proof or that they can effectively counter, while sometimes omitting mainstream interpretations that are contrary to the authors beliefs.

In short: this book is fine book if you are set in your beliefs and want to be given a biblical underpinning for those beliefs. But if you want to critically evaluate your beliefs and be able to effectively understand those you know who believe otherwise, then get the "Why I am not a Calvinist" and "Why I am not an Arminian" book pair.

5 Stars Correcting Deductive Scholasticism
This is Dr. Olson's 2005 abridged and revised edition of his groundbreaking Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism: An Inductive, Mediate Theology of Salvation (2002). This version is suitable for Pastors, Elders, and laypeople alike who don't necessarily need all the exegetical details of the full version. Although we have been seeing more and more good books coming out on this important subject over recent years, I appreciate Dr. Olson's willingness to do a fresh exegesis on the issues at hand using an INDUCTIVE method. This is part of what puts this book head and shoulders above the rest. He is not afraid to dig deeper into resources that have been ignored by others, or to recognize that some Bible translations are better than others in some areas. Over the course of the book, he also enlightens the reader on how deductive/scholastic theologies have hindered the growth of the Church since the Reformation.

Furthermore, Dr. Olson goes on to point out how the MEDIATE position he is advocating is decidedly different from those who say one must be either an Arminian or Calvinist. I hope that this work will help put an end to that kind of deductive reasoning. He goes on to show how even church historians like Philip Schaff have recognized a Semi-Augustinian position going back many centuries [e.g. Volume 3, Chap. 9, 160]. He also rightly points out how Calvin's disciple, Beza, was one of main actors in moving "Calvinism" away from what Calvin taught. French Calvinism remained truer to Calvin over and against what the Dutch and English Calvinists developed after his death. In any case, Dr. Olson shows how biblical Evangelical Protestantism has moved beyond Calvin, who could not shake himself free from all the errors of the Roman Catholic Saint Augustine.

Some might ask why Dr. Olson goes into the history of missions and evangelism in relation to this topic, and therein lies another of this book's strengths! As an actual missionary who served in Pakistan, he has seen firsthand the deadening effects of deductive theologies on evangelism, and the growth of churches. Doctrine does indeed have serious application to evangelism. Beyond just rehashing many of the same old issues, as other books have done, Olson proves this has, and continues to be, a historical result of teaching Calvinism. Too many of today's Theology and Missions majors are still indoctrinated by materials written from a Reformed slant that gloss over the whole truth. Dr. Olson gives the reader just a taste of what the real story is.

As several of the book's endorsers have noted, in spite of its incredible distribution "The reason no one has attempted to refute it is that they cannot." I highly recommend both books not just to Biblicists, but also to everyone who sincerely desires to be a serious student of the Gospel!

5 Stars You can't have enough of these books
We need a thousand more books just like this, laying out these truths. If your familiar with the calvinist line, you know what a convoluted spider web it is. Where "God so loved the world" does not mean the whole world, and where "God wills that all be saved", means that God wills that only a *few selected all* be saved.

In this convoluted world, when a marriage proposal to be the bride of Christ is refused by a lost soul, it's just a sign that God made that proposal simply as a technicality, and with no true sincerity. Else He would have made that proposal too irresistible to refuse.

Remember, the only one who gets around well on a spider web… is the spider!

Having said that, this book will gladly fit in my library, but now that I have it, I realize that what I'm really looking for is a table of scriptures used by the calvin line, and revealing how they are twisted. A kind of a reference book, where the exegetical details are brought out on an as-needed basis. Unfortunately then, I found myself in this writing, wading through pages of flourish, hoping to get to the point.

You may also want to check out Dr. Laurence M. Vance's work. He lays out with pin-point accuracy all of today's manipulative tactics used in this spider web which puts God in an uncanny likeness to an Olympian deity.

Why do men showcase men?

Perhaps because secretly, they want to be seen of men and sit in the chief seats themselves.

5 Stars The Holy Spirit is the Answer
One cannot understand salvation theology without contemplating the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. From Radical Calvinists to Wesleyans to Lutherans to Open Theism Arminians, no one seems to consider what it means for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin, judgement and righteousness. Olson understand the missing scholarship and gets the entire Christian community a real starting point for further thought.

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  • Is the gospel that saves Arminian or Calvinistic?

    There are a few Calvinists out there who having a zeal without knowledge insist that unless a man understands and believes the gospel in the Calvinist way, why he just can’t be saved. Is this true?

    What is the True ‘Gospel’? Here is the Apostles’ definition of it –

    Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the Gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures! [1Cor15:1-4]

    This according to the Apostle is the ‘Gospel’! Anyone who tries to read ‘Calvinism’ or ‘Arminianism’ in the above greatly errs and tries to read into it something that is not there!
    Again, “Sirs what must I do to be saved”? And they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”! [Act 16;30,31]

    The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach; That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. [Rom 10:8-13].

    In fact you will not find even a single instance where some Evangelist preached ‘The Five Points of Calvinism’ or ‘Arminianism’ while addressing the lost in the whole of the New Testament! (Search and see).

    Now God saved me in 1986 while I was under an Arminian tent. It was not until many years later that God opened my eyes to Reformed Truths. But whenever I share my testimony, there are times I run into some pharisaical Calvinist who gets mad and says, “no way, you just couldn’t have been saved while you were an Arminian!”

    But as sure as Jehovah is on the Throne I know I was! I was saved not because I was an Arminian but in spite of it! You see, I was not some moral brother who was saved from his churchianity and self-righteousness. I was saved straight from under Lucifer’s Altar! I know the enmity that arose between me and the demons I had dabbled with! I immediately experienced the ‘Enmity’ prophesied in Genesis 3:15, not to mention my deliverance from my Heroin Addiction, Alcoholism, and Heavy Metal music! But above all this, there arose an unexplainable and unquenchable love for Jesus and Christians whom I had hated with my guts before my conversion! [See 1Jn 3:14].

    So is Calvinism ‘the Gospel’? Calvinism ‘explains’ and ‘defines’ the gospel as the truth is in Jesus! And I would question the salvation of any man who does not by and by understand, comprehend and receive this Truth and contend for it; no matter how well read he may be in the scriptures!

    That is what it means to ‘grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. [2Pet 3:18]. And ‘the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day [Prov 4:18]. For the Spirit leadeth all the Elect into this Truth of the Sovereignty of God and the utter helplessness of man to save himself or keep himself saved! “And when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth.” To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this Word, it is because there is no light in them, and they do not have the ‘root of the matter’! God’s Elect will sooner or later cry out with Jonah, “Salvation is of the Lord!” [Jonah 2:9].

    So without laboring the point, can a man be saved in an Arminian tent? It is God who saves, and He does so by regenerating and converting His elect wherever He chooses by the power of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of His Word! And that Word is not the ‘Five point of Calvinism’ or ‘Arminianism’ but the simple truth that Jesus Christ died for sinners, was buried and rose again! If a man has been taught of the Father (as all God’s Elect are [Jn 6:45]) this truth will mean something to him and he will believe it in his heart confess it with his mouth and be saved! Period! Those who deny this greatly err not knowing the Scriptures neither the power of God! Sheep may sit under false teaching for some time, but before long they will go out searching for the Shepherd’s voice, for they know not the voice of strangers! Anyone who claims to be the Lord’s sheep and lives and dies an Arminian even after being exposed to the truths of Sovereign Grace never was one!

    When I speak of the Lord’s sheep still trapped in Arminian Churches, I have in mind Christ’s Lambs and babes in Christ. In no way do I mean the ‘theologians’, ‘reverends’, deacons or ‘Elders’ who have studied and rejected the writings of the ‘Puritans’ and ‘Reformers’. Believe me, these have their reward.

    The Lord has made the gates of Heaven as narrow as you can make it, even a ‘needles eye’. Let us not labour to make it any narrower and turn the Reformed Faith into a Cult, saying, “unless you are saved under Reformed preaching, you just cannot be saved.”

    Incidentally, a man does not believe the gospel and get saved, but believes the Gospel because he is saved. We ought to beware of putting the proverbial ‘cart before the horse’. “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling. [2Tim 1:9]. God first saves us by Regeneration and then calls us through the Gospel.

    We must not confuse Regeneration with Conversion, for they are not the same!

    As a final thought consider this, if the Lord does not have his sheep in Arminian and other false Churches why would He take the pains to say, “Come out of her, My people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” [Rev18:4].

    • … a man does not believe the gospel and get saved, but believes the Gospel because he is saved.

      I didn't know this. Interesting point.

      Thanks for commenting, Mike!

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