26 June 2012

Olson on Limited Atonement: Part One

by Dan Phillips

As I pointed out elsewhere,
The Assemblies of God, that denomination which teaches that born-again Christians who don't speak in tongues can't really serve or live for God, the same that brought us Jimmy Swaggart, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, Paul and Jan Crouch, David (Paul) Yonggi Cho, and other similar luminaries, is clanging the warning-bell against such "challenges to the Gospel" as...

To bring the cannons to bear against the threat of Calvinism, the AOG brought in Roger Olson, favorite theologian of many who do not affirm the Scriptural doctrine of the sovereignty of God in salvation. Roger Olson apparently is, to many Arminians, their "Big Gun," their modern answer to John Owen. Olson has often been cited in the most glowing terms by some Pyro commenters, so I was interested to see what heavyweight evidence and argument I'd find in Roger Olson's article for the Assemblies of God. After all, he was the AOG's pick to dismantle Calvinism as a "challenge to the Gospel."

At the outset of my reading, I sincerely appreciated that Olson appears to be trying to be as fair as he knows how to be in presenting Calvinism. Notably, rather than making (say) the abominable Fred Phelps a representative for Calvinism, Olson cites some of Biblical soteriology's most rightly-dominant figures both past and present, from Beza and Owen to Sproul and Piper.

Olson also airs a couple of the more persuasive arguments for the Calvinist position, such as that "if Christ died for everyone alike, then everyone is saved. After all, so the argument goes, it would be unjust of God to punish the same sins twice — once by laying the punishment on Christ and another time by sending the sinner to hell." The reader wonders if Olson has a counter to that reasoning. (Read on.)

On the other hand, one could have many quibbles, including battling citations and a foolish (or at least myopic) remark attributed to Vernon Grounds. The point Olson seems to want to make is that "many evangelicals, including some Calvinists, find this doctrine repugnant." (That inarguable, qualified observation — emphases original — becomes an unqualified "this doctrine is repulsive" in the next paragraph.)

Well, what of it? Maybe some "evangelicals" and "Calvinists" do find particular and effectual redemption "repugnant," if one defines terms broadly enough. And so? The list of doctrines "many" find "repugnant" must be long enough to include the Trinity, inerrancy, moral absolutes, the moral rightness of the conquest of Canaan, Hell, exclusivity of salvation in Christ, penal substitutionary atonement, exclusion of women from church leadership, male leadership in marriage, and a great many clearly Biblical doctrines.

At that point, one wonders whether Olson will have any non-"So what?" arguments.

And so, charitably, we'll push aside the irrelevancies and focus on the positive case and refutation Olson attempts to build. After mis-defining "propitiation" as "substitutionary, atoning sacrifice," Olson cites a few of the many verses Calvinists adduce and glosses their interpretation, then simply asserts that "these verses do not teach Calvinistic beliefs." Oh. Proof, please?

The proof is in silence, in saying that the verses' targeting of Christ's atonement (i.e. for Christ's sheep, the church, "us") "do not say Christ did not also die for others." Well, true enough. They also do not say that Christ did not also die for wolverines, quahogs, Bob's Big Boy hamburgers and '57 Chevys. And, once again, so?

Olson hurries on to assert that "Universal atonement does not require universal salvation; it only requires the possibility of universal salvation." He does not at this point cite even one verse that teaches such a thing. My mind immediately goes to the list of pilot complaints and maintenance responses, of which my favorites are:

Problem: Left inside main tire almost needs replacement
Solution: Almost replaced left inside main tire 
I mean, how would one re-word Olson's construction in that fashion? Like this?

Problem: Need possible salvation
Solution: Provided possible salvation 
But what would that even mean? Maybe the airplane tires possibly needed replacement, but I didn't possibly need salvation. No natural child of Adam possibly needs salvation. I absolutely needed salvation; I needed actual salvation.

But more to the point, what does the Bible require us to believe? Did Mary's soul rejoice in "God my possible Savior"? Was Jesus named "Jesus" because He would "possibly save His people from their sins"? Did He come into the world "possibly to save sinners"? In Olson's statement, He doesn't save them at all, "possibly" or otherwise. He just makes it possible for them to be saved.  By their acti

Personally, I find that repugnant. And I find it a cause for absolute despair, for myself and for all those I love. If that is the salvation Christ came to achieve, then we are all just as doomed and hopeless as we were before.

But back to his case.

Rather astonishingly, Olson then throws himself on the bull's horns and states "It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice." Yes sir, yes ma'am, you read that right. Read it again. "It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice." That, my friend, is a direct quotation, not a parody nor a paraphrase. Here it is in full context:
It is possible for the same sins to be punished twice and that is what makes hell so absolutely tragic — it is totally unnecessary. God punishes those with hell who reject His Son’s substitution. An analogy will help make this clear. After the Vietnam War, President Jimmy Carter gave a blanket amnesty to all draft dodgers who fled to Canada and elsewhere. By presidential decree they were free to come home. Some did and some did not. Their crime was no longer punishable; but some refused to take advantage of the amnesty and punished themselves by staying away from home and family. Believers in universal atonement believe God allows sinners who refuse the benefit of Christ’s cross to suffer the punishment of hell in spite of the fact it is totally unnecessary. [emphases added]
I quoted that at length because, if I hadn't, many would assume that I'd pulled an MSNBC and edited the quotation to make Olson look silly. But that is really what he says. In fact, I make out two arguments, both absolutely absurd, insulting to God, and harmful to Scripture:
  1. God pours out the full measure of His wrath for sins on Jesus (1 Cor. 15:3), Jesus says "It is finished" (Jn. 19:31), God declares that He has accepted the sacrifice (Rom. 4:25) — and then He punishes people for those same sins — forever. If the Arminian wants to call the Biblical God affirmed in Calvinism "unloving" (because He actually saves some, though not all), I will call Olson's god unjust (because He assures sinners that He's taken care of all their sins, then punishes them forever for them). 
  2. God is, in any way, like Jimmy Carter? Ouch. But that aside: the analogy breaks down. People in Hell are punishing themselves? That man-centered absurdity is not what I read (Matt. 25:41; Jn. 3:36; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Thess. 1:8-9). They're either not suffering for sin at all, or God is inflicting punishment for sins that are already paid for, on Olson's model. To make the analogy work, you'd have to have President Carter issuing an amnesty for draft dodging, then heading off to Canada to arrest and imprison for the already-pardoned crime of draft-dodging those who refuse to accept the pardon. Carter has wiped the books of the crime, then imprisons them for that same crime.
Olson tells us, Believers in universal atonement believe God allows sinners who refuse the benefit of Christ’s cross to suffer the punishment of hell in spite of the fact it is totally unnecessary." So they are suffering "punishment." For what, exactly? For sins for which Christ already satisfied God's justice? Then God is unjust. (I speak as a fool.) For what sin? For rejecting Christ? But since that is disobedience to a direct command (1 John 3:23), isn't that a sin, by any sane definition? And did Christ make full satisfaction for sin, or did He not?

Ah, me. Does it get any better?
Olson denies the Calvinist criticism that the Arminian construct only gives "people an opportunity to save themselves," calling that assertion " totally fallacious reasoning."

But then he immediately confirms that very reasoning.

That's right. Again, let us quote Olson in full, to be fair:

Arminians (those who follow Jacob Arminius in rejecting unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace) believe Christ’s death on the Cross saves all who receive it by faith. Christ’s death secures their salvation — just as much as it secures the salvation of the elect in Calvinism. It guarantees that anyone who comes to Christ in faith will be saved by His death. This does not imply they save themselves. It simply means they accept the work of Christ on their behalf.
So in other words, Christ dies equally for Bob and for John. Christ does not do one more thing for Bob than He does for John. But Bob goes to Heaven after he dies, and John goes to Hell. Why? Clearly, not because of anything Christ did, because Christ did exactly the same for both. So who supplied the missing ingredient that meant Heaven for Bob? Who? Anyone? Bueller? That's right: Bob supplied the all-important ingredient that determined his future in Heaven. The missing ingredient that meant salvation for Bob was supplied — not by God the Father, not by God the Son, not by God the Holy Spirit, but — by Bob himself.

So who gets credit for Bob's salvation according to Olson's statement? I am sure every Arminian would say "Jesus does." I am sure that every Arminian would deny that they are teaching that the sinner deserves partial credit for their salvation. But ours is not a psychological interest, but a Biblical and logical interest, and we must follow out the logic of the system, whatever its advocates affirm or deny.

And according to that system, Jesus gets some credit, of course. He did a big thing. It was important, what Jesus did. But He didn't "pay it all." John goes to Hell in spite of what Jesus did, and Bob goes to Heaven, instead — because of what Bob added to what Jesus did. Jesus really couldn't have done it without Bob's help.

According to Olson's logic.

Anyone see a problem there? Olson and the AOG don't, evidently. But do you?

I plan to examine the rest of the article in my next post, whereupon I will open comments.

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