Monday, October 17, 2011

For and Against Calvinism: A Review of the Evening

Photo Credit: Lane Chaplin,
Saturday night, Biola University hosted a discussion (they were careful to not use the word "debate"--and really, it was more of a discussion than a debate) on the topic "For and Against Calvinism." Presenting the Calvinist position was Dr. Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary (and, of course, the White Horse Inn). Presenting the Arminian position was Dr. Roger Olson of George W. Truett Seminary (the seminary of Baylor University) and author of many books, including his latest Against Calvinism (Dr. Horton wrote a companion book, For Calvnism, hence the title of the event).

Over all, the evening was very enjoyable, and very educational. It was enjoyable because it was obvious that the two men (who have known each other for 20+ years) had a true friendship and respected each other enough to not misrepresent the other. The format of the discussion was also enjoyable: Dr. Olson began by stating his position; Dr. Horton then stated his. The two men then sat down at a table on the stage and quite literally discussed their respective theologies. It gave the impression of listening in to a friendly conversation two men would have over dinner. After the discussion, questions which had been submitted by the audience via Twitter (the hashtag used was #calconvo if you would like to get an idea of some of the questions) were answered by the two men.

The evening was also very educational. Dr. Olson seemed like a very nice man--a man it would be easy to get along with. This was reinforced by his friendly discussion with Dr. Horton, whose own position is very much opposed to Dr. Olson's "on some very important points" (Dr. Olson made that clear near the end of the evening). Dr. Olson also repeatedly pointed out that there is a lot of common ground between Calvinists and Arminians. He even used a lot of the same language Dr. Horton used. For example, Dr. Olson made it clear he believes in the penal substitutionary view of the atonement. He made it clear he believes in election, in God's justice, in His love, etc.

Why is all that educational? Because I was reminded that false teachers who come into the church will do so by claiming to believe the very same truths we confess. The difference between the two conversationalists was not the words they used, but the meaning behind those words. Not only was my appreciation for those who have gone before me and faced these false teachings (the Council of Dordt and the Marrow Controversy came to my mind last night) greatly increased, but I also came away with a great appreciation for those in the church today who are combating heresy. The Federal Visionists came to mind as another group who claim to believe the same things we do, and yet attach very different meaning to them. We as Christians, and especially as elders, must be astute enough to see the wolves beneath the sheeps clothing. I truly believe Dr. Olson to be a kind, educated gentlemen based on his interaction with Dr. Horton last night. However, I also believe his doctrine to be so dangerous that it must be opposed and excluded from the Church.

One final note: It amazed me how little Scripture Dr. Olson used in his presentation or conversation with Dr. Horton. It was very clear last night that Arminianism comes to Scripture with a preconceived notion of who God is and how He must operate (I saw some tweets that echoed this, so I guess I wasn't the only one that noticed). Dr. Horton, on the other hand, began with Scripture, built up his argument with Scripture, and concluded with Scripture. Dr. Olson even jokingly stated, after Dr. Horton finished his opening presentation and sat down with him at the table, "Nice sermon." Indeed, it was a nice sermon, for it presented the truth of the Gospel: That there is nothing we can do to save ourselves, and we must put all our hope in Christ who has done all that was required of us, and after He had done all that was required, took on the penalty of our sins for us. Salvation is all of God and therefore all glory belongs to Him and Him alone. Soli Deo Gloria!


  1. See also:

  2. Thank you for the link, Anonymous. Dr. White's The Potters Freedom remains one of my favorite books defending Calvinism!

  3. Thanks for the review, Seth! Very helpful for those of us who weren't there. Also, your review educated me on hashtags. Something I know must research further! :-)

  4. Thank you for the review, Seth. I recently heard the recording of this event. Olson believes that if the doctrine of unconditional election were true, then he would deny the goodness of God.

    Here is what I would say in response to Olson:
    Everyone deserves eternal damnation. There is no goodness in us at all. God has no obligation to save anyone. If God had decided to elect no one, then He would still be good. There is nothing evil about God punishing people for their sins. They justly deserve it.

  5. Thanks, Anonymous! That God has no obligation to save anyone is evident in that we are saved by grace. If God is obligated to save anyone (or everyone), then salvation is no longer of grace, it is by obligation. Good thoughts!