Roger Olson’s Christ’s Death as a Risk God Takes

Against Calvinism, Zondervan, 2011, Roger Olson

I am glad to have read this volume. It shows how contradictory the compromised Calvinism of Piper, Sproul and Boettner is. Olson does a good job of exposing the problems with modern Calvinism’s traditions like “the free offer’ and “sufficient but not efficient” and “non-arbitrary infralapsarian”. But Olson ignores consistent Calvinists like John Gill and Paul Jewett. Instead of attending to AW Pink or Tom Nettles, he pushes the ideas of “Reformed” people like Berkouwer, James Daane, and Richard Mouw. He spends no time on the Westminster Confession or the London Baptist Confession (first or second).

I have not yet read Mike Horton’s For Calvinism, though I doubt that Horton can fairly present a “mere Calvinism” without the distortions of his sacramental “covenant theology”. I can only hope for the day when Horton writes “Against Lutheranism” and for the day when some big name Calvinist writes “Against Any Idea that Jesus Bore and Propitiated the Sins of Every Sinner”.

We live in a day when not many Calvinists think of Arminianism as the greatest heresy we face. Most Calvinists are far more concerned to warn against eternal security and antinomianism. They worry less about neo-nomianism and the denial of the imputation of Adam’s guilt than they do about “open theism” or the role of men and women in society.

But let me make this “against Roger Olson personally”. Let me quote his conclusions. “If it were revealed to you in a way that you couldn’t question or deny that the true God is actually as Calvinism says, would you still worship him?…I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster.” (P85) Or as he explains on p 159, “Satan wants all damned to hell and God only wants certain number damned to hell.” Olson has cut through all the sophistry of analogy to human judges who reluctantly condemn criminals. If God has already forgiven some who have committed the same sins but does not “try to” forgive the next person who committed the sins, then Olson is just not going to worship that God.

We are talking about different gods, and it is personal. Either there are many or no gods, or there is one God and all other gods are idols we should not worship. We cannot simply excuse each other with the idea that the other person is not as smart and consistent as I am.

Olson rejects any “necessary connection” between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of redemption. (p150).

He wants to insist that if the redemption by Christ makes the redemption of the elect certain, then this must mean that the elect are born already redeemed and there is no need for faith or the legal application (imputation) of the redemption.

Even though most modern Calvinists have been less than clear about the problems of “eternal justification”, this does not change the fact that Olson‘s need for faith Is an “application” which he thinks has no “necessary connection” to what Christ accomplished. Where Piper double talks about Christ dying in some sense (not propitiation, therefore governmental?) for all sinners, Olson simply denies that Christ purchased faith in the gospel for the elect.

To glory in the cross alone, let us read what Olson writes about the idea “that the same sin cannot be punished twice. That’s false. Imagine a person who is fined by a court $1000 and someone else steps into pay the fine. What if the fined person declines to accept that payment and insists on paying the fine herself? Will the court automatically refund the first $1000? Probably not. It’s the risk the first person takes in paying his friend’s fine.” (P149).

That notion of Christ’s death as a risk God takes is a false gospel. This is what we need to talk about. This is more important than Olson’s defense of prevenient grace (what he calls “partial regeneration”). It is even more important than Olson’s false either-or about Romans 9. (Either redemptive history or individuals, think NT Wright, but see Piper’s best book The Justification of God.)

We can debate the philosophy. When Olson generalizes that “what is necessary cannot be gracious” (p75), we can ask him what makes events certain for God to foresee, if God does not make those events certain? Why even watch the tape, if your reputation as the god that Olson can agree to worship depends on your not changing anything to make events certain? But I think we need to focus on the Cross. Unlike other Arminians who know they cannot believe in penal substitution, Olson wants to hold on to that idea, or at least to the “form of words” about that idea.

If Christ’s death for a sinner does not save a sinner (when legally applied to that sinner in time), and if there is no refund to Christ and yet that sinner fails to believe the gospel and dies in his sin, then the gospel of Isaiah 53 is simply not true.

Isaiah 53:10—When His blood makes an offering for sin, He shall see His seed….

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6 Comments on “Roger Olson’s Christ’s Death as a Risk God Takes”

  1. MARK MCCULLEY Says:

    The rectoral doctrine offers misleading talk of sin being punished, since it denies the transfer of our sins to Christ—there was no sin on the Crucified to perish. the “price paid” metaphor refers to the legal transaction itself, not to the later application (either by God’s imputation or effectual calling or the work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration). If there were no specific sinners in view when the “price was paid”, how can there have been punishment?

  2. markmcculley Says:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2012/05/a-new-book-on-justification-and-some-questions-about-calvinism-and-heavenly-rewards/

    I don’t even know how to begin to respond because your comment is incoherent, unfocused, rambling and nasty. When you accuse me of holding on only to the “form of words” of penal substitution (but not really believing it it–is what you are implying) I recognize you as a fundamentalist. You think if someone doesn’t draw out the conclusions you do (about a certain doctrine) they don’t believe it at all. Go away. This is not a place for that kind of diatribe. When you are genuinely interested in dialogue and working toward a meeting of minds, come back and display that spirit and ask a pointed question that does not imply that I am an idiot or heretic. So long as you think that, I don’t want you in my living room (my blog). You’re welcome here if/when you can be respectful (as a guest in my house should be) and civil.

    mark mcculley • 2 years ago
    You never claimed to have read Schreiner. You should read the two books. Of course Schreiner doesn’t think that once justified folks lose their justification, but that does not change the fact that his most existential enemy is the idea of “eternal security”. He is keen to deny that any biblical warnings are about “rewards” and wants to praise the “beauty of threats”.

    In Against Calvinism, you do a good job of exposing the problems with modern Calvinism’s traditions like “the free offer’ and “sufficient but not efficient” Now I wait for the day when some current big name Calvinist writes “Against Any Idea that Jesus Bore and Propitiated the Sins of Every Sinner”.

    We live in a day when NOT MANY Calvinists think of Arminianism as a heresy. Most Calvinists are far more concerned to warn against eternal security and antinomianism. They worry less about neo-nomianism and the denial of the imputation of Adam’s guilt than they do about “open theism” or the role of men and women in society.

    You define “Calvinism” on p 159, “Satan wants all damned to hell and God only wants certain number damned to hell.” You have cut through the sophistry of “Calvinists” (with a “shelf doctrine of definite atonement) who make analogies to human judges who reluctantly condemn criminals. If God has already forgiven some who have committed some sins but does not “try to” forgive the next person who committed those sins, you are determined not to worship that God.

    You reject any “necessary connection” between the accomplishment of redemption and the application of redemption. (p 150). You think that if justice demands that all for whom Jesus died be saved from God’s wrath, then this will eliminate any incentive for Christians to obey God.

    I am not sure if you fail to understand John Owen, or have not read John Owen, or are deliberately misrepresenting the logic of atonement for the elect alone. But you insist that if the redemption by Christ makes the redemption of the elect certain, then this must mean that the elect are born already redeemed and there is no need for faith or the legal application (imputation) of the redemption.

    Where John Piper double talks about Christ dying in some sense (not propitiation, therefore governmental?) for all sinners, you simply deny that Christ by His atonement purchased faith in the gospel for the elect.

    You write about the idea “that the same sin cannot be punished twice. That’s false. Imagine a person who is fined by a court $1000 and someone else steps into pay the fine. What if the fined person declines to accept that payment and insists on paying the fine herself? Will the court automatically refund the first $1000? Probably not. It’s the risk the first person takes in paying his friend’s fine.” (P 149).

    • markmcculley Says:

      erstner argues that the issue of merit in heaven for good works done on earth is not a problem for the Protestant at all, for these good works have nothing to do with earning salvation; they all occur after justification. These faith-works are necessary to prove the genuineness of a Christian’s faith, but they have nothing to do with earning heaven. How can imperfect works, tainted with sin, merit heavenly rewards? Gerstner argues that since Christ has removed all the guilt of sin from every believer, his post-justification good works actually do merit heavenly rewards. Gerstner writes: “They are real ‘works of supererogation,’ if you wish…[the believer] goes to heaven without one iota of merit in anything and everything he does. But every post-justification good work he ever does will merit, deserve, and receive its reward in heaven…. Moreover, do you dare impugn the justice of God by saying that He would ‘reward’ what did not deserve reward? (P.S. I confess my own and Augustine’s past error in using the oxymoron: ‘rewards of grace.’)”145

      Gerstner is absolutely correct when he says that good works do not contribute to salvation. But what about his idea that post-justification good works actually do merit and deserve a heavenly reward? Is the classic Protestant view of rewards based upon grace wrong?146 Although Gerstner’s logic is impeccable, his formulation oversimplifies the biblical view of merit and heavenly rewards. Note that even in Gerstner’s own analysis a Christian’s works must have sin removed from them before they merit a reward. Thus, already the correlation between work and merit or pay that one finds in everyday life and what the Bible describes are two different things. One does not pay for a new car with a severely warped engine block and non-functioning transmission and say, “I forgive you for these defects, but you’ve truly earned your pay.” Furthermore, Jesus rules out human merit in the economic contractual sense in Luke 17:10: “So likewise you, when you have done all things which you are commanded say, ‘we are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.’” http://www.graceonlinelibrary.org/doctrine-theology/justification/justification-by-faith-part-v-judgment-according-to-works-by-brian-schwertley/

  3. markmcculley Says:

    it seems to me that Crisp overlooks the relevance of love for divine benevolence. Sure, God may not be “obligated” to save anyone, but to suggest that God’s benevolence is consistent with creating a world in which everyone is damned seems a far stretch and a misuse of “benevolence.” God’s benevolence revealed in Jesus is love for people, including sinners, not mere juridical justice.
    Second, it seems to me that Crisp is assuming that inherited sin carries with it damnable guilt such that even infants are worthy of damnation and, if they are not elect, deserve hell. This seems to me an especially unenlightened and severe notion, to say nothing of being inconsistent with Jesus’ embrace of the children (“for of such is the Kingdom of God”).

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/rogereolson/2015/01/review-of-oliver-crisps-deviant-calvinism-broadening-reformed-theology-part-five/

  4. markmcculley Says:

    not only Arminians “anti-Lordship” folks use the “extra rewards” thing, so does Calvin

    3:18: 4. Let us not suppose, then, that the Holy Spirit, by this
    promise, commends the dignity of our works, as if they were deserving of such a reward. For Scripture leaves us nothing of which we may glory in the sight of God. Nay, rather its whole object is to repress,humble, cast down, and completely crush our pride. But in this way\help is given to our weakness, which would immediately give way were it not sustained by this expectation, and soothed by this comfort.
    First, let every man reflect for himself how hard it is not only to
    leave all things, but to leave and abjure one’s self. And yet this is
    the training by which Christ initiates his disciples, that is, all the
    godly. Secondly, he thus keeps them all their lifetime under the
    discipline of the cross, lest they should allow their heart to long
    for or confide in present good. In short, his treatment is usually
    such, that wherever they turn their eyes, as far as this world
    extends, they see nothing before them but despair; and hence Paul says
    “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most
    miserable,” (1 Cor. 15:19). That they may not fail in these great
    straits, the Lord is present reminding them to lift their head higher
    and extend their view farther, that in him they may find a happiness
    which they see not in the world: to this happiness he gives the name of reward, hire, recompense, not as estimating the merit of works, but intimating that it is a compensation for their straits, sufferings, and affronts, &c. Wherefore, there is nothing to prevent us from calling eternal life a recompense after the example of Scripture, because in it the Lord brings his people from labour to quiet, from affliction to a prosperous and desirable condition, from sorrow to joy, from poverty to affluence, from ignominy to glory; in short, exchanges all the evils which they endured for blessings. Thus there will be no impropriety in considering holiness of life as the way, not indeed the way which gives access to the glory of the heavenly kingdom; but a way by which God conducts his elect to the manifestation of that kingdom, since his good pleasure is to glorify those whom he has sanctified (Rom. 8:30). Only let us not imagine that merit and hire are correlative terms, a point on which the Sophists absurdly insist, from not attending to the end to which we have adverted. How preposterous is it when the Lord calls us to one end to look to another? Nothing is clearer than that a reward is promised to good works, in order to support the weakness of our flesh by some degree of comfort; but not to inflate our minds with vain glory. He, therefore, who from merit infers reward, or weighs works and reward in the same balance, errs very widely from the end which God has in view.

    5. Accordingly, when the Scripture speaks of “a crown of
    righteousness which God the righteous Judge shall give” “at that day,” (2 Tim. 4:8), I not only say with Augustine, “To whom could the righteous Judge give the crown if the merciful Father had not given grace, and how could there have been righteousness but for the precedence of grace which justified the ungodly? how could these be paid as things due were not things not due previously given?” ; but I also add, how could he impute righteousness to our works, did not his indulgence hide the unrighteousness that is in them? How could he deem them worthy of reward, did he not with boundless goodness destroy what is unworthy in them? Augustine is wont to give the name of grace to eternal life, because, while it is the recompense of works, it is bestowed by the
    gratuitous gifts of God. But Scripture humbles us more, and at the
    same time elevates us. For besides forbidding us to glory in works,
    because they are the gratuitous gifts of God, it tells us that they
    are always defiled by some degrees of impurity, so that they cannot
    satisfy God when they are tested by the standard of his justice; but
    that lest our activity should be destroyed, they please merely by
    pardon. But though Augustine speaks somewhat differently from us, it is plain from his words that the difference is more apparent than real. After drawing a contrast between two individuals the one with a life holy and perfect almost to a miracle; the other honest indeed, and of pure morals, yet not so perfect as not to leave much room for desiring better, he at length infers, “He who seems inferior in conduct, yet on account of the true faith in God by which he lives
    (Hab. 2:4), and in conformity to which he accuses himself in all his
    faults, praises God in all his good works, takes shame to himself, and ascribes glory to God, from whom he receives both forgiveness for his sins, and the love of well-doing, the moment he is set free from this life is translated into the society of Christ. Why, but just on
    account of his faith? For though it saves no man without works (such faith being reprobate and not working by love), yet by means of it sins are forgiven; for the just lives by faith: without it works which seem good are converted into sins,” Here he not obscurely acknowledges what we so strongly maintains that the righteousness of good works depends on their being approved by God in the way of pardon. [454]

    6. In a sense similar to the above passages our opponents quote the following: “Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of
    unrighteousness; that when ye fail, they may receive you into
    everlasting habitations,” (Luke 16:9). “Charge them that are rich in
    this world, that they be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain
    riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to
    enjoy: that they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to
    distribute, willing to communicate; laying up in store for themselves
    a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life,” (1 Tim. 6:17-19). For the good works which we enjoy in eternal blessedness are compared to riches. I answer, that we shall never attain to the true knowledge of these passages unless we attend to the scope of the Spirit in uttering them. If it is true, as Christ says, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Mt. 6:21), then, as the children of the world are intent on providing those things which form the delight of the present life, so it is the duty of believers, after they have learned that this life will shortly pass away like a dream, to take care that those things which they would truly enjoy be transmitted thither where their entire life is to be spent. We must, therefore, do like those who begin to remove to any place where they mean to fix their abode. As they send forward their effects, and grudge not to want them for a season, because they think the more they have in their future residence, the happier they are; so, if we think that heaven is our country, we should send our wealth thither rather than retain it here, where on our sudden departure it will be lost to us. But how shall we transmit it? By contributing to the necessities of the poor, the Lord imputing to himself whatever is given to them. Hence that excellent promise, “He that has pity on the poor lendeth to the Lord,” (Prov. 19:17; Mt. 25:40); and again, “He which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully,” (2 Cor. 9:6).
    What we give to our brethren in the exercise of charity is a deposit
    with the Lord, who, as a faithful depositary, will ultimately restore
    it with abundant interest. Are our duties, then, of such value with
    God that they are as a kind of treasure placed in his hand? Who can hesitate to say so when Scripture so often and so plainly attests it? But if any one would leap from the mere kindness of God to the merit of works, [455] his error will receive no support from these passages. For all you can properly infer from them is the inclination on the part of God to treat us with indulgence. For, in order to animate us in well-doing, he allows no act of obedience, however unworthy of his eye, to pass unrewarded.

    7. But they insist more strongly on the words of the apostle
    when, in consoling the Thessalonians under their tribulations, he
    tells them that these were sent, “that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer; seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled, rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,” (2 Thess. 1:6-7). The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews says, “God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have showed towards his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister,” (Heb. 6:10). To the former passage I answer, that the worthiness
    spoken of is not that of merit, but as God the Father would have those whom he has chosen for sons to be conformed to Christ the first born, and as it behaved him first to suffer, and then to enter into his glory, so we also, through much tribulation, enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, while we suffer tribulation for the name of Christ, we in a manner receive the marks with which God is wont to stamp the sheep of his flock (Gal. 6:17). Hence we are counted worthy of the
    kingdom of God, because we bear in our body the marks of our Lord and Master, these being the insignia of the children of God. In this sense are we to understand the passages: “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body,” (2 Cor. 4:10). “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being
    made conformable unto his death,” (Phil. 3:10). The reason which is subjoined is intended not to prove any merit, but to confirm our hope of the kingdom of God; as if he had said, As it is befitting the just judgment of God to take vengeance on your enemies for the tribulation which they have brought upon you, so it is also befitting to give you release and rest from these tribulations. The other passage, which speaks as if it were becoming the justice of God not to overlook the services of his people, and almost insinuates that it were unjust to forget them, is to be thus explained: God, to arouse us from sloth, assures us that every labour which we undertake for the glory of his name shall not be in vain. Let us always remember that this promise, like all other promises, will be of no avail unless it is preceded by the free covenant of mercy, on which the whole certainty of our salvation depends. Trusting to it, however, we ought to feel secure that however unworthy our services, the liberality of God will not allow them to pass unrewarded.


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