Book Review: Against Calvinism
Author: Roger E. Olson
Publisher: Zondervan ISBN: 9780310324676
This has been a very helpful read for me. More than helping to shape my own theology, Against Calvinism has helped me articulate and provide resources for me in conversations that involve talking points for and against various perspectives in the Wesleyan-Arminian and Calvin debates.
I have been reading various articles, essays, and books from Roger Olson for quite some time now as a frequent visitor to his blog site and owner of several of his published works. I find his scholarship brilliant and his generosity with his knowledge is beyond compare.
I don’t really have any criticism of the material in the book, but I wish the language in the title wasn’t so strong. The title is a very unqualified, Against Calvinism, but Olson is quick to point out his “no” to Calvinism is directed most specifically to the extreme version being promoted by leaders of the young, restless, Reformed generation. Needless to say, as I’ve had the book in my possession in public, its title has caused a few head turns and conversations. Title aside, I think the content is very solid and I believe fair to the doctrinal view of Calvinism in general… the YRR crowd notwithstanding.
Olson provides a thorough explanation differentiating between Reformed Theology and Calvinism in chapter two and details the tenants of the extreme Calvinism by enumerating the five points of TULIP in chapter three (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints). Also in chapter three, Olson describes some of the more prominent variations of the TULIP system and a few of the more radical reformed views. This was a very interesting and enlightening chapter for me.
The next four chapters (four through seven), Olson meticulously details where he might agree with Calvin’s tenants, but definitively says “NO” to the extreme version of it. Here follow the chapter titles to provide examples of what I describe: Four—Yes to God’s Sovereignty; No to Divine Determinism, Five—Yes to Election; No to Double Predestination, Six—Yes to Atonement; No to Limited Atonement/Particular Redemption, Seven—Yes to Grace; No to Irresistible Grace/Monergism. I have read and studied from Calvin’s Institutes and I’ve never been able to reconcile what some in the YRR and hyper-Calvinism camp promoted, so this was fascinating reading in these four chapters and was helpful to my understanding.
Chapter eight serves as Olson’s wrap-up and conclusion. Here he lays out what he describes as Calvinism’s conundrums, paradoxes, and contradictions. This too was a helpful chapter, but I gleaned even more benefit from the appendices where he includes additional talking points and (Arminian) responses to Calvinist claims. This is very helpful information in sorting through the disagreements between the two camps. While I haven’t read it (I intend to read it at some date in the future) a companion book has been written by Michael Horton titled For Calvinism. I think this book might be necessary reading to help me not have too stilted of a perspective without being fairly informed.
As I said earlier in my review, I admire the scholarship of Roger Olson and appreciate the work he has done in the area of Arminian Theology. I absolutely recommend this title, Against Calvinism, and also highly recommend his books Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and his most recent book The Journey of Modern Theology.
You can check out the introduction to Against Calvinism here