Against Calvinism / For Calvinism

Derek Ouellette —  May 16, 2011

In a recent blog post Arminian theologian Roger Olson briefly shares how he came about writing the many books he wrote. Of particular interest to me is his forth coming book, Against Calvinism and its compliment (written by Calvinist, Michael Horton) titled For Calvinism.

“Against Calvinism: This book is finished but not yet published.  It will be published by Zondervan in October (if not before).  The impetus for this book goes back a long way.  It began when a “Piper cub” (Bethel students who were passionate fans of John Piper) came to my office and said “Professor Olson, I’m sorry to tell you, but you’re not a Christian.”  I said “Oh,why is that?”  “Because you’re not a Calvinist,” he replied.  I still remember that student’s name many years later.  I asked him “Where did you get the idea that only Calvinists are Christians?”  He said “from my pastor, John Piper.”  Years later I recounted that story to Piper who laughed and claimed he never said that.  But I encountered other people who gained that impression from listening to him speak.  I didn’t feel the time was right to write the book until about two years ago and I approached my editor at Zondervan about it.  She was enthusiastic about the idea, but the publisher wanted to publish a book entitled Against Arminianism simultaneously with mine.  They asked me for recommendations for an author.  I couldn’t think of anyone more qualified than my friend Michael Horton who agreed to write it with the revised title For Calvinism. It was my idea to have him write the Foreword to my book and for me to write the Foreword to his–to make clear that Calvinists and Arminians can profoundly disagree with each other without hating each other.  What brought me to the realization that the time was right to write Against Calvinism was the tidal wave of passionate but often unreflective Calvinism among especially young evangelical men.  I met and talked with so many of them and often discovered they had never thought about some of the problems with Calvinism.  Often, when I pointed those out to them, they gradually gave up their Calvinism.  I became convinced that “high federal Calvinism” (5 point Calvinism) including especially “double predestination” was so full of flaws that anyone who saw them and took them seriously would have to amend his or her Calvinism.  (I make clear in the book’s Introduction that I am not against every and all Calvinism but only against that particular kind of Calvinism.)  I had one very providential moment while doing my research.  I needed to find an American Reformed evangelical theologian who had come to reject high federal Calvinism while remaining Reformed.  I had read Berkouwer, but he was Dutch and didn’t quite fit the bill.  I was browsing in a used theology bookstore and saw The Freedom of God: A Study of Election and Pulpit by the late Fuller theology professor James Daane.  I knew of him from some essays and knew that he, like Nicholas Wolterstorf and Alvin Plantinga, has revised Reformed theology.  I bought the book for about $5 and it became an invaluable asset for writing my book.  I quote Daane extensively in Against Calvinism.  Daane blasted what he called “decretal theology” (represented by, for example, Lorraine Boettner–the R. C. Sproul of an earlier generation) for de-historicizing and therefore de-personalizing God and God’s relationship with the world.  Many of his criticisms parallel and echo Berkouwer’s (who was his teacher) and T. F. Torrance’s and, of course, Barth’s.  If I had not found that book in that obscure used bookstore, my book would have been much poorer.  I really do believe God led me to it.  I can’t recommend it highly enough, but it is out of print.  Read Against Calvinism to get its essence.”

If you’re interested in this subject I would also recommend the book I’ve recently had the pleasure of perusing: Ten Myths About Calvinism, written by a Calvinist (Kenneth Stewart). Four myths are spouted by Calvinists themselves and the other six by non-Calvinists. Of particular interest in this book is the stance it takes (so I hear) against the “neo-Reformed” movement’s aggressive promotion of Calvinism.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • Kyle Pitts

    Sounds like a good couple of books to have.

  • Ken Stewart

    Thanks for mentioning _Ten Myths About Calvinism_ and doing so in a positive light. But I wanted to point out that the book was not written to deal specifically with “neo-Reformed” movement, if by that term such things as Gospel Coalition, Desiring God etc. I am a Presbyterian, and the book was conceived of as a caution against the tendency I see in my own conservative Protestant movement to take the Reformed tradition and to make it shrill, abrasive and procrustean. I point out that there have been six waves of Calvinism since Napoleon and that too many of them have interpreted their own success as evidence that they alone are authentic. If this is true of the neo-Reformed, it has already been true of earlier movements. I am not a participant in the neo-Reformed trend, but I have friends who are. The book is pacific and seeks more harmony and less denunciation; lower barriers and more of a red carpet for the curious. Do begin with the somewhat biographical justification for the book.

    • Derek Ouellette

      Hello Ken, thanks for the clarification. I was going off of Roger Olson’s CT review which you’ve no doubt read:

      “Much to my surprise, I discovered the author, a dedicated convert to Calvinism, chastising many who proudly call themselves Reformed. Even when writing about non-Calvinists’ misconceptions, he seems intent on calling the new Calvinists and their leaders to a course correction.”

      I didn’t mean to imply that Ten Myths deals specifically with the neo-Reformed movement, only that the stance taken against the tendencies of that movement (based on Olson’ review) are of particular interest to me. But then I haven’t read your book yet and look forward to doing so.


  • Ken Stewart

    I appreciate the follow-up. Roger, like a number of bloggers who have had altercations with the neo-Reformed find the book to be a kind of jawbone that they can swing at people who have made life difficult for them. I have told him that I didn’t write the book to target these people, but persons much closer to me in my Presbyterian stream. However, what the two groups have in common is their zeal for occupying ‘high ground’ and to be edgy and contentious when the Reformed position requires neither. And that is why I have appealed for a broadening of the Reformed stance. No, every Christian will not wish to be included in the movement, but honey is more attractive than vinegar.

  • Mike

    Innocent question if I may? Isn’t lack of unity is what makes the Cristian world, and in fact the hole world hurting more. Isn’t the global crises is direct effect of egoism and separation between people?