According to a recent article in The New York Times, I am the leading opponent of Calvinism – or the new Calvinism – in America today.
I don’t know where the writer, Mark Oppenheimer, got that idea. Certainly not from me. Someone else must have said that to him. If it’s true, it’s only because there are very few people with a public platform speaking out against it.
It was never my intention to be “the” or even “a” leading opponent of Calvinism. In fact, when I sit back and look at my involvement in the evangelical controversy over God’s sovereignty, I believe it has been mainly anti-fundamentalist rather than anti-Calvinist.
The Calvinism I oppose is fundamentalist Calvinism. I would never have spoken out publicly against Calvinism if that combination were not such a visible and vocal phenomenon in American evangelical life.
So why did I write the book “Against Calvinism”? That’s easy. Because of the rise and influence of aggressive, fundamentalist Calvinism in contemporary evangelicalism. Otherwise, I would not have written it.
Recently, I posted a link on my blog to an article on Peter Lumpkins’ blog by a non-fundamentalist, evangelical Calvinist blasting the new Calvinism – at least part of the Young, Restless, Reformed movement.
The author’s critique related to over-emphasizing TULIP and taking a certain attitude toward it – as the whole of what it means to be Reformed and as equivalent to the gospel itself such that anyone who does not accept TULIP is somehow denying the gospel.
If all Calvinists were like him, I would never have written “Against Calvinism.” So what is the “fundamentalism” in much contemporary American Calvinism that makes it so objectionable?
What I’m describing here is a “fundamentalist ethos.” It comes in varieties and degrees. Some of its common features and family resemblances include a tendency:
- To elevate most secondary doctrines – non-essential to being an orthodox Christian – to essential status.
- To avoid Christian fellowship and cooperation with people who claim to be Christian but are not “like minded.”
- To be highly suspicious of the spirituality of anyone who thinks differently about secondary and tertiary doctrines, however slight the disagreement may be.
- To elevate to sacrosanct status a whole system of theology and consider any deviation from it as (at best) on a slippery slope toward apostasy.
- To focus obsessively on one or more beliefs or practices that, in the larger scheme of orthodox Protestantism, is relatively minor (for example, modern Bible translations that include inclusive language about human beings, pre-tribulation rapture, young earth creationism and so on).
- To be harshest (using the “rhetoric of exclusion”) toward those closest theologically but flawed doctrinally at one or a few points.
By way of explanation, in my taxonomy the “new Calvinism” is larger than the “Young, Restless, Reformed movement.” The latter grew out of the former.
The former, the “new Calvinism,” began to appear within evangelicalism in the 1990s as certain leading evangelical Calvinists began to network with each other to promote “five-point Calvinism” as the correct evangelical theology to the exclusion of all others.
The “Young, Restless, Reformed movement” grew out of this as some of these evangelical Calvinist leaders began to promote five-point Calvinism at large youth conferences, at evangelical colleges and seminaries and so on.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Against Calvinism” and “The Story of Christian Theology.” A version of this article first appeared on his blog. It is used with permission.
Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series. Part two is available here.
Roger Olson is the Foy Valentine professor of Christian theology and ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is the author of numerous books, including “Counterfeit Christianity” and “The Story of Christian Theology.”