Friday, September 04, 2009

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities

This is a must read for clearing the air on the substance of Arminian theology. It is not Pelagianism; it is not semi-Pelagianism (why do people never say "semi-Augustinianism"?); It does not involve any kind of works-righteousness system. It does not have human free will at its centre but rather a view of God as a God of grace and love. Olsen is very fair to Calvinists, courteous and irenic. He takes his fellow Arminians to task for misrepresenting Calvinism. Any further ongoing public debates between Calvinists and Arminians must take Olsen's account into consideration. For all this praise there are some weaknesses in the book. There is a considerable amount of repetition as each chapter is designed as a stand alone rejoinder to each of the 10 myths covered. (The author concedes this problem in the introduction.) Connected to this arrangement is a certain sameness to the chapters as each one follows an almost identical format. The myth is stated and then refuted by citations from Arminius, Episcopius, Limborch (who proves over and over to be the real problem, rather than Arminius), John Wesley, nineteenth century Methodists (this means Watson, and Pope in Britain and Ralston and Miley in America), and twentieth century Arminians, including the Nazarene theologian H. Orton Wiley and frequently Thomas Oden, who disclaims the label "Arminian" but clearly holds Arminian views as is clear in his "Transforming Power of Grace." Olsen's dependence on Wesley is almost entirely from Oden's "John Wesley's Scriptural Christianity." It would have engendered more confidence on the part of this reader if Olsen had demonstrated a more independent grasp of Wesley's writings. Nonetheless, Oden's work is a safe guide to Wesley so nothing really goes awry. Overall, I am enthusiastic about this work and hope it will be read widely by those on both sides of this theological divide.

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1 comment:

Adam Couchman said...

Thanks for your review on this book Glen. I also appreciated the contribution that this book makes to the ongoing conversation on this aspect of theology. Personally, I was introduced to a term by Olson which I much prefer to free will in this book; that being "freed will".

I personally think the "divide" that you refer to is not as great as has been experienced in the past, or at least it shouldn't be. Dialogue (not just dueling monologues) is important and I think Olson makes a good contribution to this effort.


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