I’ve been reading through Zondervan’s two recent books by Michael Horton (For Calvinism) and Roger Olson (Against Calvinism), apt spokesmen for their respective views on the doctrines of grace. Both authors eschew attempts to find that (illusory) middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism and provide very helpful introductions to the issues at hand.
Olson ardently presses the question of how the God of Calvinism can be the one whom John characterizes as ‘love’ in his first epistle (1 Jn 4:8, 16). Under the doctrine of predestination, the real question for Olson is not so much whether God could be just in unconditionally electing some and reprobating others but whether God could be said to act in love in so doing: if God could just as easily have unconditionally elected more, or indeed all, fallen persons and effectually called them to salvation, how is he love in choosing not to do so? An Arminian account, Olson writes, with its doctrine of conditional election, is better-positioned to uphold God’s ‘reputation’ at this point.
This is certainly a pointed question for Reformed soteriology – and theology proper – but one that might be put to the Arminian view as well. In explicating the Arminian approach to divine sovereignty, Olson writes,
[L]et it be clearly understood that those who appeal to divine self-limitation and passive permission as the explanation for sin and evil in the omnipotent, creator God’s world, do not say that God never manipulates historical circumstances to bring about his will. What God never does is cause evil. God may and no doubt sometimes does bring about some event by placing people in circumstances where he knows what they will freely do because he needs them to do that for his plan to be fulfilled. Such seemed to be the case with Jesus’ crucifixion. Even then, however, it was not that God tempted or manipulated individuals to sin. Rather, he knew what events, such as the triumphal entry, would result in the crucifixion (Against Calvinism, p. 99).
Interestingly, then, Olson’s exposition of Arminianism includes the possibility that God should render something certain to happen without violating the agency of the persons concerned in the matter. If that is so for Arminian theology – that it does not bar God from infallibly securing an event or outcome of particular importance in redemptive history even where human agents are involved – then it too must face the question of why God would not do this more frequently in order to ensure the salvation of more human beings. To do so, after all, would not be a matter of God causing evil or placing anyone in harm’s way.
Perhaps an Arminian could respond that God orchestrating external circumstances to procure a certain result is rather different from the internal efficacy of divine grace in Calvinism, but the point remains that, for Olson at least, God can ensure that something will happen even when human agents are involved. Hence the question: why would God not do more of this, especially when those whose salvation is in the balance would in the end be grateful to God for not heeding their stubbornness and instead working effectually to ensure their salvation. In the Arminian view also, it seems, God does not save as many as he absolutely could have. The only way, then, to eradicate this question altogether is to conclude that God simply cannot ensure that human persons will act in a certain way at a certain time. To the extent that classical Arminianism as well as Calvinism would not draw this conclusion, neither can claim that God saves as many as he absolutely could have and, accordingly, must look to other ways of giving an account of the love of God in relation to the doctrine of predestination.
Any thoughts on this issue?