Criticism of Roger Olson’s Claim that High Calvinism is Impossible

This is a response and critique of Roger Olson’s claim that High Calvinism is self-refuting and impossible. His article is called, “Why (High) Calvinism Is Impossible (with Special Reference to Romans 9)“. I will prove that Olson’s account fails to substantiate his thesis and is riddled with non sequiturs and faulty reasoning. I will provide clarity when clarity is needed and refutation when refutation is needed. His text will be in bold and quotations, while my response will be in regular text beneath.

“In one of his sermons against Calvinism, Methodist founder John Wesley famously remarked about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 that ‘Whatever it means, it cannot mean that.'”

Olson and Wesley have a bad habit of purposely imposing their preferences onto scripture. They have both habitually rejected scripture’s plain teaching based upon assumptions which they have not and cannot substantiate. One of my favorite quotes by John Calvin sums up their mindset: 

“Mingled vanity and pride appear in this, that when miserable men do seek after God, instead of ascending higher than themselves as they ought to do, they measure him by their own carnal stupidity” (Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1).

Of course, Roger Olson denies this, but he does this nonetheless. He begins with assumptions about what words like “good”, “evil”, or “justice” mean, and then uses these prior assumptions as a lens through which he will view everything else. He is incapable of correction because his thinking is both riddled with invalid logical inferences, and also because his authority is not scripture, but his carnal intuitions.

“I think many people, especially committed Calvinists, believers in so-called ‘double predestination,’ misunderstand Wesley’s comment. I have heard from them that Wesley, and I, simply bring to the Bible philosophical and theological presuppositions that predetermine what it can mean.”

I would indeed argue that this is the case. They begin with assumptions based in their emotions and carnal intuitions, and then they look for alternate reasons for their objections, since they know that objections which stem from emotions are ultimately trivial. In order to lend his emotional theology some credibility, Olson is striving to demonstrate that his objections are logical objections. If this were the case, then his arguments would wield a type of necessity to them. If he can show that it is necessarily true that high Calvinism is impossible based upon logical grounds, then he would have something to work with. I assure the reader that no such argument exists. Olson’s argumentation will devolve into him using Arminian premises to evaluate the validity of Calvinist doctrine. He will insert Arminian assumptions into Calvinist doctrines, and then boast about how incoherent high Calvinism is.

It is true that bringing presuppositions to the text of scripture is not unwarranted as such. For instance, if we know scripture teaches that God sends some people strong delusions so that they believe a lie in order that they be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12), we know that no other part of scripture will or can contradict that. If our assumptions are based in scripture itself, then bringing assumptions to an alternate text of scripture is justified. However, when these assumptions are baseless, that’s when we run into problems. Olson continues his discussion, saying that we need a certain amount of assumptions, or a priori concepts, in order to understand scripture. Let us see what a priori concepts he proposes.

“There’s a partial truth to that criticism, although I remind my (and Wesley’s) Calvinist critics that influential Reformed theologian Charles Hodge, in his influential three volume Systematic Theology, published in the 1870s, upon which many contemporary Calvinist systematic theologies are based, affirmed certain necessary a prioris, common sense principles, with which one must start in interpreting the Bible and theology.”

I haven’t read Hodge’s systematic, but there is a bit of truth to this. Logical inferences are one if these a priori tools we need when understanding scripture. The law of non contradiction is also necessary. Laws of logic and deduction are completely valid, and mirror the rational mind of Christ, who is the Logos. Other a priori principles can be found in analytic statements which require no external verification, e.g. all bachelors are single. We do not need to go out into the world to discover whether or not all bachelors are single, since this is true by definition, prior to external experience.

However, I take issue with calling a priori concepts “common sense”, since this phrase has been used to denote a wide variety of concepts. Until “common sense” is defined, it remains a vacuous phrase. Later on, Olson will relate “common sense” to our “intuitions”, and then he will use “intuition” as an evaluative criterion for determining the theological definitions of words which ought to be defined by scripture instead. He begins by connecting “common sense” to a priori concepts of the mind, but in subsequent paragraphs he will connect “common sense” to non rational intuitions. Basically, “common sense” is what our emotions dictate, and these “common sense” principles, derived from our emotions, will become Olson’s theological authority, not the teaching of scripture.

Olson is soon going to identify these common sensical principles with Arminian doctrine, over and against Calvinist doctrine. I assure you, “common sense” does not extend thus far. Those who tout “common sense”  are often unbiblical rationalists who succeed in concluding with that which is in dispute (begging the question), and succeed in touting objectivity, all the while being slaves of a particular bias.

“One of them is that God cannot do wrong.”

Let me remind the reader that God is the one who defines right and wrong to begin with. Olson is going to define something as wrong, and then impose this definition upon God without warrant. To give a few examples. God never says that he was wrong for killing all mankind except for 8 people, for hardening hearts, or for sending strong delusions to people so that they would believe a lie in order that they may be condemned. Keep this in mind when Olson discusses what he means by “wrong”. He’s going to fabricate a definition of wrong – a definition found nowhere in scripture – or he will base his definition upon insufficient biblical evidence by distorting the biblical evidence, and then say that the Calvinist God is wrong, and therefore God can’t be the Calvinist God.

“The context of his statement, which is found in the early chapters of Volume 1 of his Systematic Theology, makes clear that he means we must presuppose that God cannot do what is truly morally wrong.”

Of course. God also cannot lie. This is an analytic statement. By definition God can do no wrong since he is the definition of righteousness. He dictates what is or is not wrong. This is why God is justified when he predestines people to sin; God has never forbid himself from predestining sin, and then break the law he set himself under. Olson is going to say that God cannot do wrong – which is true – and then he will define “wrong” in an erroneous way. The issue involves this definition of wrong, and whether or not this definition is valid. We will find that Olson’s definition of wrong is invalid.

“He did not mean, with some nominalists-voluntarists such as medieval theologian Duns Scotus, the ‘subtle doctor,’ that whatever God would do would automatically be right just because God does it.”

God does not operate under any moral principle external to himself. That being said, it is true that if God lied or contradicted himself, then lying and contradiction wouldn’t be right just because God does it. However, if God lied or contradicted himself, then he wouldn’t be God. I agree that if, hypothetically, God lied, that wouldn’t make lying moral, but in this case, this would make us talk about a different God. Examining a hypothetical situation where God lies is as absurd as examining a hypothetical situation where not all bachelors are single. In this case, we would be replacing the definitions of “God” and “bachelors” with alternate definitions. Therefore, posing a hypothetical situation, like God lying, to prove that things are not morally right just because God does them, is insufficient to prove the point, since the example causes us to adopt a different definition of God, a definition that makes God not God.

In summation, everything that God does is indeed morally right just because he does it. He is the standard of righteousness and godliness. One doesn’t have to be a nominalist or voluntarist to affirm this. If Hodge denied this, then Hodge was wrong.

“Rather, he was basing his pre-conditioning claim on Thomas Reid’s “Scottish Common Sense Realism” for which there are certain universal ideas that only insane people would deny—such as the existence of other minds.”

If Hodge based his morality and doctrine of God partially on Thomas Reid’s facile philosophy, then Hodge was incredibly foolish. You can read my post on Thomas Reid where I argue that his philosophy is vague and degenerates into skepticism. Reid’s starting place was not scripture, and so he developed a faulty epistemology from the start. You can read my basic outline of biblical epistemology in my post Light of Men.

Common sense is a sham. Beginning with alien philosophies and then working our way back to scripture through the lens of these alien philosophies is an anti Christian methodology. If indeed this is what Hodge did, and if Olson is not misrepresenting Hodge, this lends no credibility to the idea of “common sense”, and certainly lends no credibility to the idea that “common sense” can refute Calvinism in particular, or the teaching of scripture in general. The preconditions for interpreting scripture are not universal, rationalistic “truths” made up by weak philosophers. We approach God as he has revealed himself; we do not evaluate God according to the standards of our autonomous philosophies. A Christian leans not on their own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). By contrast, Olson suggests that we should not “conceive of [God] in the character in which he is manifested” (i.e. the way in which God has revealed himself), but rather we ought to “imagine [God] to be whatever [our] own rashness has devised” (Calvins Institutes Book 1, Chapter 4, Section 1).

“I take Wesley’s claim about Romans 9 farther and claim that it not only cannot mean ‘double predestination’—that God, from all eternity, foreordained certain individuals to be damned to hell for his glory and rendered it certain that they would be so damned—but that that Calvinist doctrine is logically impossible in the sense of being self-referentially defeating.”

I am familiar with self-reference; I wrote a blog post about it. Here Olson is asserting that Calvinism is not internally coherent even when it is judged according to its own standards. Ironically, Olson is going to smuggle in Arminian (or otherwise, erroneous) premises into this argument, and judge Calvinism according to this alternate paradigm. Once he makes Arminian conclusions, based upon Arminian premises, he will boast about how incoherent Calvinism is, even though the incoherence stems from not evaluating Calvinism on its own terms. I will indicate when he does this.

“By ‘impossible’ I don’t mean, of course, ‘doesn’t exist.’ I mean ‘exists but doesn’t work.’ By ‘doesn’t work’ I mean ‘cannot be believed consistently and coherently.’ Believing it undermines the very basis for believing it.”

Here he’s just explaining what self-contradiction is. The claim, “All sentences are false” undermines the claim it proposes, since if all sentences were false, that sentence would be false as well. Calvinism, says Olson, claims that Calvinism cannot be true.

“In brief, my argument is that belief in the Bible as God’s Word and motivation to engage in its exegesis presupposes belief that God is trustworthy, that God cannot deceive.”

God certainly never lies as Titus 1:2 says, but God can deceive people in the sense that he sends deceptive spirits and sometimes blinds people so that they believe falsehood. God never speaks falsehood, but God causes people to be stupid in many places in scripture.

It’s also a fun fact that God specifically says he deceives people in Ezekiel 14:9. He doesn’t deceive people by lying to them, but by controlling their minds so that they believe falsehood (2 Thessalonians 2:11) and wander in the dark without understanding (Job 12:24-25).

Beware of Olson’s ambiguities. I have defined what I mean when I say God does or does not deceive. Let us see if Olson defines his terms with the same rigor. False teachers often do not define their terms. It makes it easier for them to get away with bad arguments.

“But this assumes that God has a stable, enduring, eternal character that is ‘good’ in a way analogous to our highest and best intuitions of ‘goodness’—whatever their source may be.”

Not true actually. Why ought the definition of God’s “goodness” line up with our wicked intuitions? The idea of a God who sends people to hell forever certainly does not line up with the intuitions of many unbelievers. A God who consumes people with fire doesn’t line up with many people’s intuitions of good either (Leviticus 10), nor does a God who kills almost all of humanity in a flood. According to the intuitions of many people my age (early twenties), a God who doesn’t accept fornicators or homosexuals is a bad God.

Once we place intuitions, feelings, or our autonomous understanding as the criterion for evaluating biblical doctrines, anything goes. People have different intuitions, and often, scripture teaches that which is explicitly contrary to our intuitions. This is the case because we are fallen and corrupted. We are predisposed to false beliefs and rebellious inclinations. By God’s grace, God corrects our false intuitions through the teaching of his word and work of the Holy Spirit.

“Put another way, negatively, if one believes that God’s goodness is nothing like our best intuitions of goodness, that God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words (i.e., ultimately and finally mysterious), then there is no good reason to trust him.”

This sentence makes utterly no sense. Here’s a list of things wrong with it:

1. How do we judge whether or not our “best” intuitions are really the best? We would need an evaluative criterion to establish what a good, better, and best intuition is. Perhaps this criterion would be the teaching of scripture, but if our “best” intuitions are contrary to scriptural teaching, how are our “best” intuitions worth anything? Just because people have rebellious and ridiculous intuitions doesn’t mean that we have no reason to trust God, it means that we have no reason to trust our rebellious intuitions.

2. When he states “our best intuitions”, he assumes that everyone has the same intuitions. This is patently false, and so these conclusions do not follow from the premises, since his conclusion assumes our intuitions are the same.

3. Olson draws a false dichotomy between either believing in our intuitions of God’s goodness or believing “that God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words”. There is at least one more option – God’s goodness is not “anything capable of being put into words”, but his goodness is what he has revealed to us in scripture. His goodness is not anything capable of being said in words, but is what God has actually said in words.

4. After drawing this false dichotomy between establishing God’s goodness through intuitions or through “anything capable of being put into words”, Olson says that this would make God’s goodness mysterious and unknowable. Since this is a false dichotomy, and since “God’s goodness is possibly compatible with anything capable of being put into words” is a baseless non sequitur which spontaneously emanates from Olson’s mind, this charge of mystery is without basis.

5. This sentence has nothing to do with Calvinist doctrine. Remember that Olson claimed that he was going to demonstrate how high Calvinism is self-referentially false. He has yet to evaluate high Calvinism according to its own standards. High Calvinists do not evaluate biblical doctrines according to their intuitions; Arminians, Papists, and mystics do that.

6. There still remains an ambiguity of what Olson means by “high Calvinism”. If “high Calvinism” means supralapsarians, for instance, then why is he quoting Hodge? Perhaps Olson is referring to those that believe in election and reprobation (what Olson calls “double predestination”). However, all Calvinists believe in election and reprobation. The only significant historical group that fails to affirm reprobation as the necessary consequence of election are Amyraldians, who belong in a separate doctrinal category. His qualification of “high” Calvinism is superfluous, and does not convey any meaningful information, but is a rhetorical device used to implicitly discredit Calvinism.

7. I’m going to turn Olson’s contention of “mystery” back on him. If indeed our “best intuitions” establish God’s goodness, and not the teaching of scripture, since people have mutually contradictory intuitions about God’s goodness, God’s goodness within this paradigm is unknowable. We can never know when we have the right intuition, since other people in the world disagree with us. Also, my Calvinistic intuitions contradict Olson’s intuitions. I might as well take Olson’s advice to follow my Calvinistic intuitions in opposition to his Arminian intuitions. Since the Arminian god’s goodness is contrary to my best intuitions about what goodness is, this means that I cannot trust the Arminian god. This absurd reasoning equally applies to Arminian theology.

8. This reasoning boils down to saying that we cannot trust God if we have false intuitions. But we have false understandings and false intuitions all the time. This just means that, like in number 1, we cannot trust all our intuitions, not that we cannot trust God. Our intuitions are not revelations, and so if they are false, we cannot charge God with falsehood, but ourselves. The consequence of Olson’s reasoning is that we cannot possess any false beliefs or intuitions, otherwise God would be deceiving us. If this were the case, then we would not be able to believe in any god at all, Arminian or Calvinist.

“Trust in a person, even God, necessarily requires belief that the person is good and belief that the person is good necessarily requires some content and not that ‘good’ is merely a cipher for something totally beyond comprehension and unlike anything else we call ‘good.'”

Notice once again that Olson is not evaluating “high Calvinism” according to its own standard, but is rambling about incoherent standards that have nothing to do with high Calvinism.

Olson seems to be defining God’s goodness as, “We must have correct intuitions about God or else God is bad and deceptive”. Where he comes up with these standards, the world may never know.

Olson is the one who concluded God’s goodness is unintelligible if we do not have correct intuitions about his goodness. He did this through a false dichotomy between intuitions and “anything capable of being put into words”. No high Calvinist, and literally no one else in the world, says that God’s goodness is anything capable of being put into words. This is absurd. This is the definition of a non sequitur. Calvinists say that God’s goodness is defined by God himself as he reveals himself in scripture, not by a random assortment of words. Therefore, this irrationalism which he attributes to Calvinism really only stems from Olson’s irrelevant absurdities.

God is good by definition, and what he does is good by definition. God is the standard itself. He never contradicts his nature, nor does he abide by external universal moral principles. This is quite understandable.

“Put in technical language, if ‘good’ applied to God is equivocal and not even analogical, then it is useless for describing God.”

He hasn’t established that High Calvinism results in equivocation because he hasn’t represented the beliefs of high Calvinism in this scenario. He baselessly persists in concluding with non sequiturs stemming from premises that don’t represent high Calvinism.

“If ‘God is good’ is qualified with ‘but his goodness is completely different from ours’ (meaning our highest and best ideas of goodness), then it is meaningless.”

Here is another confusion that I will have to clarify. When Olson says “our goodness”, he defines it to mean “our intuitions of what goodness is”. However, Calvinists who know the difference between equivocal, analogical, and univocal, do not use the phrase “our goodness” in this intuitional sense. In both cases, God’s goodness and our goodness are biblically defined. In neither case does “goodness” have anything to do with unjustified, unbiblical intuitions. And once again, everyone in the world has different “best intuitions” of goodness. There is no single, intuitional perspective that applies to all humanity. Olson fails to factor in the variety of different views of goodness, making the sentence “God is good” meaningless according to his intuitional paradigm.

Those who believe in analogy say that human goodness (as scripture defines it) and God’s goodness (as scripture defines it), are quantitatively and qualitatively different. They do not believe this difference is a result of us having an intuition of goodness contrary to God’s goodness. However, those that believe analogy do believe that our knowledge and God’s knowledge do not coincide at any single point, but this conclusion has nothing to do with Olson’s dichotomy. Those who submit to analogy are wrong because there must be a point of similarity between the two concepts being compared for them to be analogous. This point of similarity between the two words is a univocal meaning. If Olson wants to critique analogy, I support his efforts, but Olson is not critiquing analogy as it has been formulated by Reformed theologians or Aquinas, but is critiquing a formulation of analogy that no Reformed theologian has ever believed.

I agree that a definition which is wholly separate from ours is irrational and problematic, but (1) this is not unique to Calvinism since not all Calvinists believe in analogy, and (2) those who believe in analogy claim that this qualitative difference between our understanding and God’s understand is taught in scripture, not by our “best intuitions”.

Olson confesses that not all Calvinists believe in analogy in what follows, so let’s examine his comments for those of us who do not.

“Not all Calvinists say that God’s goodness is completely different from ours. Paul Helm, for example, in The Providence of God, argues that ‘goodness’ attributed to God cannot be totally other than goodness attributed to human beings (even as an impossible ideal).”

This is called “univocal”. God’s knowledge of the definitions of these words are the same as ours. The difference between our knowledge and God’s knowledge is only quantitatively different and not qualitatively different. This is what I believe.

“Unfortunately for him, I believe, he does not follow that insight through consistently but undermines it by attempting to combine assertion of God’s essential goodness with belief in double predestination.”

This is a classic petitio principii. Olson baselessly assumes that God’s goodness excludes the possibility of double predestination, and then uses this assumption to judge the validity of Calvinism. He asserts that which is in dispute. Here is a syllogism to clarify the argument:

Premise 1: If God predestines people to Hell as Calvinism says, then God is not good.

Premise 2: God predestines people to Hell.

Conclusion: Therefore, God in Calvinism is not good.

The conclusion contradicts the proposition which everyone accepts, namely, that God is good. Hence, this is how Calvinism is self-refuting, since it says that God is good and not good.

The petitio principii is found in premise 1. All Calvinists reject premise 1. Premise 1 cannot ever be established by scripture since scripture does not teach it. Premise 1 is an Arminian assumption based upon irrational emotions. Olson is asserting that which Calvinists dispute, all the while pretending Calvinists accept this premise. We do not.

Olson spends so much time talking about intuition, equivocation, and the rest, building up to this point, but all he had to say was, “A God who predestines people to Hell is not good, and therefore cannot be God.” This is the only reason why Romans 9 cannot mean that: Roger Olson’s unbiblical assumptions assert that the God of Calvinism cannot be good. Calvinism has not been shown to be self-referentially incoherent, since Olson has not evaluated Calvinism according to its own standards, but according to his standards.

“I argue that belief in double predestination is simply logically incompatible with the claim that God is good—unless “good” is emptied of all meaning so that it is a useless cipher for something we don’t know.”

Here is another false dichotomy: “good” must either mean that God cannot predestine people to Hell or “good” must be meaningless. Once again, this is merely asserting that which is in dispute. Olson has not proven anything; he has only asserted things that Calvinists disagree with while not giving a single Biblical argument. We reject this false dichotomy. God is good and God predestines people to Hell. God is the standard of goodness; he is not constrained by any moral standards external to himself, so if God tells us that he is both good and predestines some people to Hell, as Romans 9 teaches, this is certainly not meaningless. Arminians find this unpalatable, but it cannot be called meaningless. Olson assumes a definition of goodness, based upon the vain fantasies of his own design, and imposes these random standards on God.

There is a contradiction or logical incompatibility within Calvinism only when we first assume that reprobation makes God evil. Once we reject this unspoken, Arminian, unbiblical premise, the logical incompatibility disappears.

“But if God is not good in some way analogous to our highest and best intuitions, insights, into “goodness,” then there is no reason to trust the Bible.”

See my previous comments. The gist is, (1) not everyone has the same intuitions, (2) if the Bible contradicts our intuitions it does not mean that scripture is unreliable but that our intuitions are unreliable, (3) and our presuppositions must change in accordance with biblical teaching. Ya know, the “lean not on your own understanding” stuff?

There still remains a hidden ambiguity in this argument involving analogy. Those who believe in analogy argue that God’s knowledge is not only quantitatively different from our own, but also qualitatively different. Olson is attempting to show the incoherence of this perspective, but fails. Analogy Calvinists do not base their knowledge of theological doctrine on their intuitions, but upon the teaching of scripture as they understand it. Analogy Calvinists do not say that the Bible inserts false ideas into our heads, but that the knowledge we derive from scripture is indeed analogous to God’s knowledge, and has nothing to do with irrational intuitions or vague “common sense” notions.

However, analogy is not common to all Calvinists, so this criticism, even if it were valid, does not prove that Calvinism self-destructs, since some Calvinists believe our knowledge and God’s knowledge is univocal. Olson tried to discredit univocal Calvinists by saying that we are inconsistent for believing that God can be good and simultaneously predestine people to Hell. However, as I have already demonstrated, for Olson to say that God cannot be good and predestine people to Hell, is to already assume that Calvinism is false to begin with. We deny that reprobation is contrary to God’s goodness, and so there is no internal inconsistency.

“And if there is no reason to trust the Bible (because God, being not good in any sense meaningful to us, might be deceiving us), then there is no clear motive for intense biblical exegesis.”

I have already demonstrated this conclusion does not follow. God is truth and only speaks truth by definition. To say that God might lie because we cannot trust our intuitions is to talk about a different god. We derive the proper definitions of these words through scripture, not through autonomous reasoning. If God’s nature is contrary to our baseless intuitions, this just means that we cannot trust our intuitions, not that we cannot trust God.

“Every devout, evangelical Christian believer I have ever met or heard of approaches Bible reading and study (including exegesis) with the assumption that the Bible is true (even if not strictly inerrant)”


“—that it does not misidentify God and God’s will for us.”

In this article, Olson succeeded in identifying our emotions with revelation from God. Apparently we cannot trust God unless God lines up with our preferences. However, our initial intuitions of goodness are irrelevant. All true Christians allow scripture to change their fallen minds to be renewed in the knowledge after the image of the Creator, while lost souls will persist in evaluating God according to the artificial standards of their imagination.

“But built into that assumption is that God, the Bible’s author (by inspiration of the human authors) is good (which is why he is trustworthy and cannot deceive). But belief that God “designs, foreordains, and governs” hell for the reprobate who are unconditionally chosen by God for hell for his glory without regard to any truly free choices they make undermines belief in God’s goodness.”

Why? How? Prove it. Olson never does. He assumes a definition of goodness we reject, baselessly imposes this definition on us, and then objects that Calvinists are contradicting themselves, when we’re really only contradicting Olson’s unscriptural definitions. Petitio Principii.

“So does belief that God “passes over” some he could easily save (because election to salvation is unconditional and saving grace is irresistible), damning them to hell, for his glory.”

And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17-18)

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Romans 9:22-23)

It’s all there; Olson just refuses to see it because it contradicts his sensibilities.

“There is no conceivable analogous human behavior that we would call ‘good.'”

Yes there is. All goodness is defined by God, and so the point of similarity all good actions share is whether or not God says it’s good.

“The very concept of “good” rules out such behavior.”

Not God’s conception of good as revealed in scripture.

(To say nothing of Jesus’ own goodness and the New Testament’s commands for us to love our enemies and do good to them.)

Jesus is the king who will damn souls to Hell forever on the Day of Judgement. Jesus’ enemies will be a footstool for his feet. Jesus is the God of the Old Testament who consumed men with fire and sent plagues among the people of Israel. Jesus does not love his enemies. While he was on Earth, he submitted to the will of the Father, and did not return reviling for reviling during his trial, but do not forget that Jesus is king, judge (Revelation 19:15), and warrior (Exodus 15:3, Joshua 5:14-15).

My point is, of course, that there exists a contradiction between two Calvinist beliefs: 1) that the Bible is inherently and unconditionally trustworthy, and 2) that God, its author, is not good in any sense meaningful to us.

Since we reject the second claim, there is no contradiction. Olson arrived at the second claim through premises which Calvinists deny, as I have pointed out repeatedly.

“Belief “1″ assumes that God is good in a sense meaningful to us”

As defined by scripture and not intuition, God’s goodness is completely intelligible to us.

“—comparable with our highest and best intuitions of goodness.”

Intuitions are never and cannot ever be standards used to evaluate the validity of Christian doctrine. (See also Emotions Are Irrelevant).

“Belief “2″ (necessarily implied by double predestination) empties belief “1″ of foundation.”

See my previous comments. Double predestination does not necessitate that God is not good. Only by already rejecting Calvinism do we arrive at this conclusion.

“Therefore, any exegesis of the Bible that ends up portraying God as not good,”

Which he hasn’t shown Calvinism to do; he merely asserts this and begs the question…

“which high Calvinism (belief in double predestination) inexorably does,”

Only if we use an unbiblical and non Calvinist definition of the word “good”…

“cannot be believed because it self-referentially turns back against the very reason for believing the Bible.”

Smuggling in unwarranted premises and definitions which are alien to Calvinist theology does not prove that Calvinism is self-referentially false. Since Olson has not evaluated Calvinism on its own terms, but according to his baseless emotions, we have not yet examined Calvinism self-referentially.

“In order to be consistent one must choose between belief in the Bible as God’s Word and belief in double predestination.”

Only if we first assume that our emotions and carnal intuitions are divine revelation.

“This is why I say with John Wesley about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 ‘Whatever it means it cannot mean that.'”

Well, there you have it. Never once did Olson evaluate Calvinism on its own terms, yet he claims that Calvinism is self refuting. This is Olson’s reasoning in a nut shell:

  1. My intuitions say “X” is not true
  2. Calvinism says “X” is true
  3. Therefore Calvinism cannot be true

Olson’s opinions, intuitions, and emotions say that Calvinism cannot be true, but he has nowhere demonstrated that these are correct and scriptural. If scripture contradicts Olson’s intuitions, which it does, then who cares what he thinks?

All Arminian arguments against Calvinism can be summed up in the following three phrases:

Petitio Principii.

Argumentum ad Misericordiam.

Argumentum ad Passiones.


5 thoughts on “Criticism of Roger Olson’s Claim that High Calvinism is Impossible

  1. They are liars, Blake. Deceiving and being deceived.

    I say this b/c I take 4 or 5 point Arminians to be unbelievers, particularly those of Olson’s SEA (Society of Evangelical Arminians) variety.

    See: “Five Points” by Godwill Chan, wherein he says:

    Are Arminians Christians? Sproul answers, “Yes, barely. They are Christians by what we call a felicitous inconsistency.” Another theologian thinks that Arminians are saved by “blessed inconsistency.”

    But what is to prevent the equally possible, and perhaps more Biblical, conclusion, that Arminians are lost by cursed inconsistency?

    Did not the Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, curse everyone, even an angel, who teaches a false gospel? (See Galatians 1:8, 9.)

    Arminianism has a false gospel; it is not Christianity; and if a member of an Arminian church makes it to Heaven, he does so despite his church’s teaching, not because of it.

    There may be some Christians in Arminian churches, just as there may be some Christians in Roman Catholic churches, but they are Christians despite their churches’ teachings.

    – See more at:

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  2. I read his stuff before. In simple terms he is commits the fallacy of being ambiguous; does not defend his presuppositions, and lastly creates straw-mans and attacks them over and over. And, this is just a few, as you have already pointed out and know.


  3. Pingback: Leighton Flowers Takes Advantage of Reformed Teachers’ Confusion on Compatibilism | Deal of Theology

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