Is Roger Olson a Marcionite? Part 2

A while ago, I asked the question, “Is Roger Olson a Marcionite”? I did so with no malice but the question was genuine in light of Dr. Olson’s pronouncements about the impossibility of Calvinism. Dr. Olson believes that the Calvinist doctrine of double predestination is untrue because it requires, in his estimation a God who is not “good”. Interestingly enough, Dr. Olson has continued his pitch here:

Must a truly good person give everyone under his or her influence an equal opportunity to flourish and succeed, to avoid disaster and failure? No. Such a good person must only give every person under his influence sufficient opportunity to avoid disaster and failure. That the “Arminian God” has done.

But I renew my earlier question. Does not this definition of “good” require the ignorance of the Old Testament?

I received a providential reminder of this today as I was meandering through one of the Bible apps on one of my mobile devices. (Life seems sometimes needlessly complicated, doesn’t it?) At any rate, when I clicked on “Start a Reading Plan” one category of plans took me immediately to 1 Samuel 15. And I was immediately struck how Dr. Olson’s definition of good could not in anyway apply to God in this story, the work of the prophet Samuel or the message of the text!

1 Samuel 15 is the story of God’s command to Saul, through Samuel to “attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.” And Saul nearly accomplished his appointed task. Save for the Amalekite king and a few sheep and cows, all were destroyed – including “children and infants”.

Is Dr. Olson prepared to say that God was not good for His command?

The story continues with God’s displeasure that Saul did not complete his task as ordered. God was so incensed with Saul that He removed him as king of the Israelites and sent Samuel to personally kill Agag, the king of the Amalekites. What’s I find interesting from Dr. Olson’s perspective is that neither the “children and infants” nor King Agag was given a “sufficient opportunity to avoid disaster and failure”.

And Dr. Olson continues his clarification here:

Still, the point is that, according to Romans 1 and classical Arminian theology, God has given everyone sufficient opportunity to be saved. He has not closed the door in anyone’s face without them pulling it closed from their side.

So what is the point of 1 Samuel 15? Did not God “close the door” in the face of the infants? Women?

One of the main problems with the Arminian position is that it presupposes that man can have a comprehensive knowledge of God. But as Calvin rightly quotes from Scripture, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing.” (Proverbs 25:2) By not recognizing that God has revealed His goodness while hiding its appearance in some circumstances is to deny Scripture. Scripture is very consistent that God is good (Psalm 100:5; 136:1) whether we understand it or not (Isaiah 55:8-9). And what is God’s meaning in Job if it’s not that we are not able to understand the totality of God’s goodness:

Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know. (Job 42:3)

At the end of it all, we can only know what God has revealed to us – and that He is eternally good. He has also revealed to us that His decrees are effective and accomplish His will (Isaiah 46:10). And lastly He has revealed that evil exists. To go beyond that and to ascribe some definition of “good” that makes sense of the means and ends of God is sinfulness.

And nobody has put the matter more eloquently that John Calvin, himself:

Therefore, in order to keep the legitimate course in this matter, we must return to the word of God, in which we are furnished with the right rule of understanding. For Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit, in which as nothing useful and necessary to be known has been omitted, so nothing is taught but what it is of importance to know. Every thing, therefore delivered in Scripture on the subject of predestination, we must beware of keeping from the faithful, lest we seem either maliciously to deprive them of the blessing of God, or to accuse and scoff at the Spirit, as having divulged what ought on any account to be suppressed. Let us, I say, allow the Christian to unlock his mind and ears to all the words of God which are addressed to him, provided he do it with this moderation—viz. that whenever the Lord shuts his sacred mouth, he also desists from inquiry. The best rule of sobriety is, not only in learning to follow wherever God leads, but also when he makes an end of teaching, to cease also from wishing to be wise. The danger which they dread is not so great that we ought on account of it to turn away our minds from the oracles of God. There is a celebrated saying of Solomon, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing,” (Prov. 25:2). But since both piety and common sense dictate that this is not to be understood of every thing, we must look for a distinction, lest under the pretence of modesty and sobriety we be satisfied with a brutish ignorance. This is clearly expressed by Moses in a few words, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us, and to our children for ever,” (Deut. 29:29). We see how he exhorts the people to study the doctrine of the law in accordance with a heavenly decree, because God has been pleased to promulgate it, while he at the same time confines them within these boundaries, for the simple reason that it is not lawful for men to pry into the secret things of God. (Institutes III:21:3).

By ignoring the clear admonition of the Old Testament it appears to me that Arminians in general and Dr. Olson in particular are vulnerable to the charge of Marcionism.

If I’ve missed something or worse, if I’ve misstated something, I would love to hear about it.

Blessings,

 

 

 

About Paul Bassett

I'm old enough to remember land-line phones and young enough to have 3 twitter accounts and two blogs. I'm Reformed in my theology, post-millennial in eschatology and therefore optimistic about the future. I'm grateful to be here...and that you are, too!
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2 Responses to Is Roger Olson a Marcionite? Part 2

  1. Mr. True-Concern says:

    Dear Paul, one of the greatest writings I’ve had the privilege of studying, which I felt had that “moderation” Calvin here discussed, was Charnock’s discourse The Holiness of God. Just as you tethered the discussion of God’s sovereignty to his goodness, even if that means mystery for us, so Charnock chained every thought to God’s holiness. Whatever the Almighty causes or allows, he does it from a heart that perfectly abhors evil, while loving and overflowing in what is supremely good; and all our reflections of his being and his ways should maintain perspective from that initial barycentre.

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