Biola alumnus participates in Calvinism discussion

Dr. Michael Horton and Dr. Roger Olson discuss their views of Calvinism in a theological conversation.


Tyler Otte

Dr. Michael Horton (Calvinist) and Dr. Roger Olson (Arminian) speak about the issues that divide Calvinists and Arminians at “For and Against Calvinism: A Conversation” on October 15, 2011. | Tyler Otte/THE CHIMES

Sarah Seman, Writer

Dr. Michael Horton (Calvinist) and Dr. Roger Olson (Arminian) speak about the issues that divide Calvinists and Arminians at “For and Against Calvinism: A Conversation” on October 15, 2011. | Tyler Otte/THE CHIMES

Under the blue glow of stage lights on Metzger lawn, Calvinist Dr. Michael Horton and Arminian Dr. Roger Olson, joined together to have a theological conversation about Calvinism.

Moderator Eric Landry, executive producer of the radio talk show White Horse Inn, explained it was not meant to be a debate, but “a conversation like you might have around the fire pits in back.” Each speaker first presented their stand for or against Calvinism. They then sat together and asked each other biblically founded questions before answering tweeted questions from the audience.

Olson says ultimate being is good

Olson, professor of theology at George W. Truett at Baylor University, and author of “Against Calvinism” took the lectern first. The native Texan jested that the night was chilly and said he would try to create some heat, “but hopefully more light than heat.”

Olson stated that there are “certain incorrigible cognitive commitments that color someone’s interpretation of Scripture,” which can put limits on what someone can believe. He suggested an approach to the Bible which believes that God cannot be evil and that ultimate being is good.

“As Augustine and most of the church fathers believed, being and goodness are two sides of the same coin,” Olson said.

The disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians cannot be solved by quoting Scripture, Olson said. Time and history have revealed all sides of the argument and the difference must lie in perspective, said Olson

Horton says man is totally depraved

Alumnus Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary California and host of the radio show “White Horse Inn,” said that the problem of evil is the issue that both views try to answer.

Furthermore, Calvinists do not start with the same basic presupposition that Arminians do that ultimate being is good. Adam, Eve and Jesus were the only people in the history of the world that had free will in respect to God, Horton said.

Total depravity means that mankind is not missing a part, but is entirely broken.

“There is no place in us that can climb rung by rung back up to God,” Horton said.

Biblical discussion questions

The first question during the discussion came from Olson who asked Horton how he reconciles God’s goodness and love with his belief that God foreordained and rendered certain the fall of humanity and all its consequences, including eternal hell?

Horton explained that man’s moral experience is not a good judge of God but must be based solely on the Biblical passages.

“I remember throwing my Bible across the room when I read Romans 9,” Horton said. “I thought, ‘this is going to require a paradigm shift that I am not prepared to make.’”

He stated that he had to accept the words of Scripture and not choose an understanding that just jibed with his moral experience.

“In the Canons of Dordt it explains that God does not cause guilt and sin and damnation of the reprobate, but he does cause the salvation of the elect,” Horton said.

Olson said that if God was truly loving he would not “lock some out from salvation.”

The very meaning of mercy and grace is that it is given, Horton responded.

Arminians believe that hell is man’s choice, not what God determined for them, Olson stated.

“Everyone can be saved,” Olson said. “They choose not to be.”

This turned the discussion to definition of salvation.

“There is a tendency to locate our salvation as our response to the gospel rather than in the gospel itself,” Horton said. “The good news is not repent and believe.”

He explained that Jesus’ work on the cross is the good news and salvation is merely the proper response.

Olson agreed with this, saying that growing up he also heard that the moment Christ died on the cross man was saved.

“But then of course we believe that without the personal appropriation of that we wouldn’t be saved,” Olson said. “Christ’s death on the cross does everything that makes it possible to be saved, all you have to do is accept it and then you are saved by his death.”

Questions from audience

Moderator Landry returned to the stage to ask the questions from the audience.

“One question that’s come several different times and in several ways” Landry said, is “is there a way in which we can just mix Calvinism and Arminian together?”

The two speakers laughed and Horton pointed out that the two don’t disagree about everything but they disagree totally on a few important things.

“There’s not hybrid really of Calvinism and Arminianism,” Olson said. “But they don’t have to divide us.”

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