Stress-testing the
mind of Christ

Where a recovering ex-atheist rams the Bible into other worldviews to see what breaks (note: Scripture cannot be broken)


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Is Roger Olson actually a Calvinist double agent?

It almost seems more plausible than thinking that such a theological lightweight could become so popular.

If he is, of course, that’s classified. When I casually raised the question with someone higher up, she told me I didn’t have clearance to even be asking, and immediately broke off contact.

If he and his other Bible-disbelieving cronies aren’t secretly working for us, I’d like to suggest we send the Society of Evangelical Arminians a flower basket and condolences card—because the sustained force of their witless prattle must be driving plenty of card-carrying Arminians into the Calvinist camp.

Here, for example, is the latest: The ‘Chief End of Man’…God’s Glory…Yes and Amen (But…) The facile thinking and flimsy theology Olson promotes here seems so obvious that it’s hard to imagine anyone falling for it. How can Olson himself be so oblivious to the incoherence, the sheer implausibility, of his “solution” to the Calvinist “problem”? How can Olson pontificate like this, speculating wildly based on nothing but his own intuitions, without noticing that he is veering away at right angles to the Bible?

If we want to know about God’s glory, where is the place to go? Our imagination? Or Scripture?

Let me quote some salient parts of Olson’s fantasy to illustrate:

First, INSOFAR as they imply that sin and evil and hell are “designed, foreordained and governed” by God for his glory I demur. These are PERMITTED reluctantly by God and he uses them to glorify himself. How so? Because God’s glory is his love.

Doesn’t that sound wonderful? God’s glory is his love. Just one thing…could I quickly check with God on this? I’d just like to verify this is correct by looking at what God himself says about his glory.

Oh, what’s that? The first time he talks about it is in Exodus, where he prophesies getting glory over Pharaoh by destroying him and his entire army in the Red Sea (Ex 14:14-18)? Is that the kind of love Olson has in mind? No? Olson wouldn’t have personally drowned the Egyptian army? Wow, Olson’s love is greater than God’s! Olson has greater glory than God!

Another obvious counterexample is Psalm 19:1. The heavens declare the love of God, according to Olson. Really? I thought they declared the beauty and power of God. Isn’t that what you see when you look up at the stars? I don’t see love there. I see might.

Okay, so what is God’s glory?

The fact is, God’s glory is not synonymous with his love. This is just obvious if you’ve ever cracked open a Bible. The Old Testament routinely describes God’s glory in terms of strength (and many times even as a physical, overpowering presence; cf Deut 5:24; 1 Kgs 8:11 etc).

For instance, David’s song in 1 Chronicles 16 repeatedly ascribes glory to God because of his “deeds among the peoples”, “his wondrous works” (vv 8-9), his “strength”, “miracles and judgments” (vv 11-12), that he is to be “feared above all gods” since he “made the heavens” etc. Indeed, David directly equates glory with strength in verse 28, demanding that we “tremble before him”. Now, certainly the point of this song is to ascribe glory to God on account of his everlasting chesed, his covenant love and faithfulness. But every instance of that chesed is a demonstration of power—usually at the expense of other nations who are savagely destroyed in barbaric, bronze-age warfare. (Poor dears; how could God be so unloving?)

In other words, God is glorified because of his chesed, and his glory is his power demonstrated against those outside his covenant.

In fact, God’s glory is continually described in terms of strength. Just in the Psalms alone, look at Ps 8:1-2; 19:1; 24:7-10; 29 (all of it); Ps 63:2; 96:3-4; 104:31-32; 145:5-6, 11-13. When we look at the overall way the term is used in Scripture, it’s not really hard to come up with a clear understanding of what it means:

God’s glory is simply his revealed greatness.

In more precise theological terms, we might say his glory is the manifestation of his perfection.

Which attributes does God’s perfection encompass?

Olson seems to think that God is composed of different “parts”, different attributes, which are competing with, or at least must be brought into subordination to, his love. This is baloney. To love good perfectly means to hate sin perfectly. So God is love, and God is hate. God is mercy, and God is wrath. God is faithfulness, and God is jealousy. These are all true. Indeed, they are all fundamentally the same thing.

Speaking of misunderstanding love…

Love does not coerce others into loving oneself.

As usual, Olson sets up a strawman of Calvinism to make lighting the fire a little easier. Is he deliberately dishonest, or just extremely obtuse? It’s not as if these kinds of errors haven’t been pointed out to him in the past many times.

Sin, evil and hell are permitted by God as part of his consequent will, not “designed, foreordained and governed” by God as part of his antecedent will. But they still exist to glorify God–not because God planned them for his self-glory but because their existence is the result of his love for creatures which glorifies him.

Olson just can’t bear to imagine that sin could serve a constructive purpose. It must be just a terrible by-product of love, rather than being a means to an end. But if God’s glory just is the manifestation of his perfection, and justice and wrath and mercy are all elements of that perfection, how does Olson propose that God manifest justice, wrath and mercy without sinners upon whom to bestow these things? It is blindingly obvious that God is glorified through sin by definition of what glory actually is (as opposed to the definition Olson just made up to suit his own purposes). The only way around this is to redefine glory to reflect nothing except a simplistic notion of love. Olson evidently doesn’t want a holy God. He just wants a loving God. And when he says “love”, he really means a vague, feel-good attitude of benevolence divorced from any insistence on moral virtue.

Wuv, in other words.

Frankly, Olson’s god is just a bigger Olson. A rather pathetic god.

A God who permits creatures to resist him is more glorious than one who meticulously controls every thought and intention and decision and action of every creature.

An assertion wandering aimlessly in search of biblical support, soon to die of exposure.

(For you Edwards experts out there…yes, I know Edwards also said that God “permitted” sin and evil to enter his creation, but he clearly MEANT “efficacious permission.” He clearly meant that the fall and all its consequences were planned by God and rendered certain by God according to a great plan and scheme to glorify himself by displaying his justice through wrath.)

So in Olson’s theology, the fall and its consequences weren’t planned and rendered certain by God? Did the fall catch God unawares? Did he not realize it would happen? Did he have to wait and find out after he created the world? Is Olson coming out as an open theist? That would be more consistent with the position he keeps trying to stake out. There’s just no way to synthesize God’s foreknowledge with a world where sin isn’t rendered certain (“ordained” if you will) by God’s creative action.

How does hell glorify God? Not by being NECESSARY for the display of God’s justice in wrath (Edwards) but by being God’s painful refuge for those who reject him.

Really? Hell glorifies God by showing how loving he is? The place described as a lake of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth is a “refuge”? That’s the best that Olson’s awesomely loving god could arrange for all those people he loves so intensely, but who don’t happen to love him back? How incompetent is this god, anyway?

God is glorious BECAUSE he is perfectly loving as well as perfectly powerful. BUT, since love is his essence, he can restrict his power (but not his love).

Olson continues to just reach in (I shall not say where, but it ain’t the Bible) and pull out these balloons. They float about in the air, not suspended from any argument, nor grounded on any Scripture. But boy, they sure do look pretty.

Meanwhile, the Bible says that God has mercy on whom he will, and hardens whom he will. He doesn’t restrict his power in this matter at all; but he certainly restricts his love to those whom he has entered into covenant with. The whole point of chesed in the Old Testament is not that it is an all-encompassing, universal love, but that it is a covenantal love that excludes those not in God’s chosen family.

Piper tries to rescue God’s love even for the non-elect by saying he gives them “temporal blessings” on their way to hell. That’s absurd, of course. It is the same as saying he give them a little bit heaven to go to hell in. Wesley said that is such as “love” as makes the blood run cold. I agree.

This just illustrates Olson’s inept simple-mindedness. For him, love is all or nothing. Let me hazard a wild guess and say that for Olson, to love someone perfectly is not merely to desire good for them, but the very best. But as Peter Pike has observed, that definition quickly backfires. There a simple math issue here, since there aren’t enough “best” spouses, “best” houses, “best” jobs etc to go around. If Olson’s God loves so perfectly, if his love is so unrestricted, then why does he allow millions of children to die of malnutrition in Africa? Couldn’t the God who made water flow from a rock at Horeb miraculously provide for these children he loves so much? That wouldn’t violate anyone’s free will. That wouldn’t step on anyone’s libertarianly free toes. Indeed, those kids would be vastly more likely to freely love God if God would just give a little from his infinite reserve of power, instead of “restricting” that power and letting them die in agony from parasites and starvation.

Notice how Olson’s very position cuts its own feet off. Yet he is oblivious. Does he think that God loves people in hell? God wants the best for them? Then why doesn’t God forgive them? Hell is hardly the best thing for anyone, by any standards. Are God’s hands tied on this issue? Didn’t he create the mechanism of salvation? Was he forced to require people to exercise faith in order to forensically justify them? Of course not. The whole point of forensic justification is that it’s something God does for us; not something we do. Thus, the fact that sinners don’t want to spend eternity with him is no reason to send them to hell. If he loved them, he would pardon them anyway, and let them live in a godless beach resort. Olson’s entire theology is incoherent. You don’t even have to tug on anything to get it to unravel. It simply starts off as spaghetti.

TL;DR

Olson denies that God is glorified by sin, and instead claims that it’s all about love. But aside from the fact that Olson has simply pulled this definition of glory out of his apparently endless bottom, rather than the Bible, when we look at the world and how God acts in it, “perfect love” means doing far less for people in desperate need than Olson himself would, and ultimately involves forcing them to suffer eternity in hell for no good reason.

1 comment

  1. Bret Roberts

    Dominic,

    I have not ever read anything on your website before. I got here from a Facebook link. I liked the article very much. It is well reasoned and humorous. I like the truth, too. Too many wrong things are justified in the name of “love”. I look forward to reading more of your work.

    Sincerely,
    Bret Roberts

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