[We rejoin an interaction begun here and already in progress.]
Understandably, Olson next says
Olson has a point, or at least the tip of a point. The reason I usually call myself a 4.95-point Calvinist (+/-) is that, while every one of the other four points is expressly taught in Scripture, there is no single verse that expressly says, in so many words "Jesus died to atone fully for the sins of the elect and nobody else." Yet I wouldn't agree with Olson's characterization. There is an overwhelmingly strong Biblical case to be made for particular redemption, and partway-measure alternatives quickly fall apart into bibbly-babbly (but not Bibley) nonsense.
You have God unconditionally choosing some to salvation. You have all men without exception completely unable to respond to God. You have the Holy Spirit invincibly drawing and regenerating the elect, and only them. You have God keeping all of those thus elected and drawn, and only them. But the Son does not make infallible provision for them in His atonement, assuring their salvation? The Son leaves them unable to enjoy any of the benefits of God's other (would-be) saving acts? And if the Son does do all this for the elect, His identical act for non-elect doesn't save them? For that and many other reasons, the case for particular redemption is much, much stronger than Olsen allows.
Typically, Calvinists respond that in these verses “world” refers to all kinds of people and not everyone. However, that would make it possible to interpret all the places where the New Testament reports that the “world” is sinful and fallen as meaning only some people — all kinds — are sinful and fallen."Possible" in the abstract? I suppose so. But (A) Olson does not even try to demonstrate that "world" doesn't have many different nuances in Scripture — for very good reason!; and (B) That bad things can be done is hardly an argument that a good thing should not be done. That is, given that "world" frequently very clearly has different nuances even within a single verse (e.g. Jn. 1:10; 3:17), one is obliged to do the actual hard work of exegesis, rather than blithely asserting the meaningless "world means world" — as if there is some universally-agreed single sense to the word kosmos in the NT, such as "every human ever born."
Here “world” must include nonbelievers because “ours” refers to believers. [Ipse dixit Olson!] This verse makes it impossible to say that Christ’s death benefits everyone, only not in the same way. (Piper says Christ’s death benefits the nonelected by giving them temporal blessings only.) John says clearly and unequivocally that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for the sins of everyone — including those who are not believers.At the outset, for my part I'll agree that "This verse makes it impossible to say that Christ’s death benefits everyone, only not in the same way." Yessir, John says that Christ Himself (emphatic autos) is (present active indicative) the propitiation for all the world.
But not so fast. Unless one dives into tortuous Clintonian flexi-gesis©, isn't this verse a massive problem for Arminians? Does "is" mean "is," here? Is it really out of place to ask whether it is legitimate to insist that "the whole world" necessarily means every last man, woman and child ever born (as the identical phrase cannot mean in 5:19), and at the same time to ignore the "is"?
That is, John does not say that Christ "really would love to be" the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, nor that "if He had His way, He would be" that propitiation, nor that "He possibly is," nor that "He has done His part and breathlessly waits to see who will do theirs to help Him be" the propitiation. The apostle just says that Christ is the propitiation.
So we don't have only one choice, nor even two. We have several exegetical choices to make, and we also have several options. Olson's assumed (not argued!) position is only one option and, to my mind, among the least likely, and least representative of John's actual wording and use.
After this, Olson gamely tries a few more verses, but they fare much the same at his hands: questions begged, exegesis assumed rather than demonstrated, logic ignored. I understand Olson was under space limitations, and so am I. What we've already done well primes the reader to examine the verses in their actual wording, in context, and compared with usage, and ask whether Olson's assertions merit his QED.
Perhaps sensing that his exegetical case has not been strong, Olson signals his departure by asserting that "The greatest problem goes to the heart of the doctrine of God."
Now, for novices, let me just make an observation. Very often (not always!) when you read a statement like this, the author is giving you a signal. He is covertly admitting, "I don't have any actual verses that teach what I'm about to say; I'm going to have to reach into the penumbra of the Bible, and lean pretty hard on the white spaces between the lines of text." What follows is not invariably invalid, but readers should not relax their demand for proof when they see a disclaimer such as this.
Very well, then; how so does pan-textual explicit affirmation of the Biblical doctrine of a saving God encounter a "great" problem at the heart of the doctrine of God?
If you picked "God's love for $500!", you picked right. Olson somberly informs us that Calvinists are unable to affirm that God is love, with any credibility, because if a human being did what God did we wouldn't say he was loving.
ignores the good Admiral's warning tones and immediately falls down a deep and dark shaft, when he says
We would never consider someone who could rescue drowning people, for example, but refuses to do it and rescues only some as loving. We would consider such a person evil, even if the rescued people appreciated what the person did for them.Oh dear me. Do you see what a disastrous assertion this is for Olson, of all people, to make? He says that a God who actually saves some, but leaves others to drown, is not a loving God. Well then, accepting that logic, what would that make a God who saves nobody at all, but stands on the shore watching them all drown, ineffectually waving a life-preserver at them, and assuring them all that He loves them and is waiting right there for them all to make their way to shore so He can "save" them? Because that is Olson's God, whatever Olson and his like might insist or deny. Olson has God's work in Christ only making salvation possible — and even then, as we saw, He can still send them to Hell for sins He told them He'd paid for in full!
Of course, I've done a Prov. 21:22/26:5 with that argument. The truth is that if one lets Scripture speak for itself, the folks in this case aren't drowning. They're drowned. Their bloated corpses are at the bottom of the sea. The well-meaning figure on the shore now looks even sillier.
Leaving that, Olson says that "Another way Calvinists handle the love of God ...is to say that God loves all people in some way but only some people (the elect) in all ways." Really? Only Calvinists do that? Olson thinks that God loves Judas and the Beast, John the Baptist and the False Prophet, Jacob and Esau, in exactly the same way? Does his Bible have Deut. 4:32-39; 7:7-10; Amos 3:2; Mal. 1:2-3 and all the rest?
Would he advise that we all practice those implications, feeling morally obligated to show no distinctions in whom and how we love? Should spouses love all men/women exactly as they love their mates, and vice-versa? Should parents love their children exactly as they love all other children, and vice-versa? In selecting trusted, beloved friends, are we now to ignore Prov. 13:21, 1 Cor. 5:11, 15:33, and any other verse to the contrary, in the name of loving like God loves?
One final note on Bro. Olson. Many who wish to remain Arminian (or -ish) many seethe and quibble about this and that. Perhaps a very few will confess, "Okay, you made one or two good points, maybe; we just need Olson or someone else to make a better case and give a better answer!"
No, you really don't. Let me be as plain as I can. I don't think the weakness of Olson's case is Olson's fault. By that I mean it isn't that Olson holds a really terrific, sound, Biblical position, but just did a really bad job in presenting and defending it. I think Olson probably did about as good a job as can be done with that position. The problem isn't with Olson, primarily. It's with the position. The problem with a bad product isn't that it has bad salesmen; it's that it's a bad product. And so here.
So no, in my opinion, what is needed is not for Arminians to pick a better representative.
What is needed is for them to change their minds on this issue.
Thus far Bro. Olson. Next time, Lord willing, some reflections on the oddness of the Assemblies of God turning to Olson to target Calvinism as a challenge to the Gospel.