I have a recording of two well-known leaders of the new Calvinism who promote themselves as mainstream evangelicals. They are answering questions from an audience.
The recording does not include where or when this took place, but it seems to be at a Christian college sometime in the 1990s.
The two speakers’ names never appear on the recording, but their voices are distinct and easily recognizable to anyone who knows them. I know both of them – one personally and the other through hearing him speak.
Both are all over YouTube, so anyone who wants to compare their voices on the recording with those on their YouTube clips will immediately recognize them.
Remember, these are men who are not usually thought of as fundamentalists and they are widely regarded as mainstream evangelical leaders of the new Calvinism movement.
On the recording, one of the two new Calvinists is asked by an audience member about Clark Pinnock and open theism. He, the evangelical theologian, says he considers Clark’s theology non-Christian and even pagan.
He claims that Pinnock denied biblical inerrancy and God’s omnipotence, which is not true. But his main criticism is about open theism.
He says he would not have Christian fellowship with Pinnock, although he once did. This comment elicits lots of laughter from the audience.
He then turns to the other one and asks what he has to say about Pinnock. The second theologian says, “Well, nothing harsher than that.” Again, much laughter from the audience results.
The first theologian is clearly annoyed and, in a rather harsh tone, demands the second one say something about Pinnock and open theism. The second one is reluctant to declare Pinnock not a Christian.
He reminds the first one that Pinnock did claim to believe in God’s omnipotence. The first one replies that he clearly didn’t believe in it. Then the conversation segues into one about Arminianism.
The first theologian says he accepts “Semi-Pelagians” as Christians – he clearly means Arminians – because at least they claim to believe in God’s sovereignty. Then he says that when Arminians explain what they believe “there’s precious little sovereignty left.”
The second theologian reminds the first one that Pinnock claimed to believe in God’s omnipotence and omniscience. So, why are Arminians Christians but Pinnock isn’t?
The first one falls silent for a moment, but then says they will have to agree to disagree about Pinnock.
Then they discuss open theism and suddenly the second theologian goes ballistic – calling on people to call Christian colleges that harbor open theist professors and protest.
This clearly pleases the first theologian and the audience. The recording ends with the two theologians agreeing that open theism is a serious error that should be removed from Christian colleges and agreeing that Arminians, though Christians, are “all headed there,” that is, into open theism.
This was a very eye-opening conversation to me. For one thing, I seriously doubt these two theologians would have been quite so open about their antipathies if they were not in front of a friendly audience but speaking into an open, diverse space.
They are not generally known for being so harsh. In public, when I have seen and heard them, they seem more irenic.
Around the time that I received that recording, I attended a weekend meeting of Calvinists, Arminians and open theists.
The meeting was hosted by a group of very well-known Calvinists. Most of their names would be familiar to nearly all evangelical leaders and to anyone who has read Christianity Today for very long.
The Calvinists declined to have table fellowship or pray with the open theists and Arminians.
I have been told by “Young, Restless, Reformed” people that I’m not a Christian because I’m not a Calvinist.
I have been told by Calvinist evangelicals that I’m not an evangelical, though I might be a Christian, because I’m not a Calvinist.
I have been told by a Calvinist theologian friend that my Arminianism is evidence of “humanism” in my thinking. I have been told that I’m a Pelagian because I’m an Arminian.
A well-known and highly regarded Calvinist theologian tried to block an article I wrote on Arminian theology from being published (he was on the periodical’s editorial board). On and on and on.
None of this was the case during my formative years in evangelicalism – Youth for Christ, Campus Life, Billy Graham evangelistic crusades, evangelical union services and so on.
It wasn’t the case in my family. The Christian Reformed branch, the Methodist branch and the Pentecostal branch all got along just fine; none felt the need to proselytize the others. No separatism. No hint of exclusivism or superiority.
Sure, the various branches thought their theologies were more correct, but that did not lead to spiritual elitism or theological exclusivism.
So what’s happened in the new Calvinism? It’s infected with fundamentalist elitism, exclusivism and even, at times, separatism. It’s often intolerant of differences about secondary doctrinal matters.
Is that unique to the new Calvinism? Hardly. But that doesn’t free it from criticism.
My main criticism of the new Calvinism is that it harbors a fundamentalist ethos. I have never had a quarrel with classical Calvinists or Reformed Christians, who value their heritage and their theology but do not imply that those not sharing it are lesser Christians.
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 second of a two-part series. Part one 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.”