Two prominent theologians took opposite sides and debated the theological system of Calvinism, which is experiencing a resurgence in church culture, on "The Exchange" webshow this past week.
Ed Stetzer, president of Lifeway Research, moderated the discussion between Roger Olson and Michael Horton, who both have recent books released on the topic of Calvinism, but taking opposing views on the system. Stetzer wrote in a Nov. 15, 2010 blog post that he thinks "there IS a resurgence of Calvinism (particularly within evangelicalism)," and that it is among a younger population.
Stetzer briefly explained on his program the theology behind Calvinism using an acronym known as T.U.L.I.P: Total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints.
Horton, a professor at Westminster Seminary - California and author of the book For Calvinism (2011), told Stetzer on the program that the TULIP method, although a good overview, reduces what Calvinism really is.
For Horton, the real emphasis in Calvinism is "God being faithful to His decision in Jesus Christ to save those whom He has chosen in His son and to keep them in the faith."
He explained that even though his faith might wane in different stages of his life or his obedience seems halting, "God is the Savior. He is the one who does all the saving and even the faith through which I am justified is itself a gift of God."
While all three men agreed that Calvinism places a strong emphasis on God's sovereignty, their paths diverge over the problem of evil and God's role in it.
Roger Olson, who took the counterpoint to Horton in both the discussion and his book Against Calvinism (2011), said he has seen a resurgence in Calvinism among university students. He subscribes to Arminian theology, which rejects the idea that men are "elected" by God to have salvation. Instead, people can choose their salvation through their free will.
Olson said that Calvinism, taken to its logical conclusion, seems to say that "even hell and all who suffer there are eternally foreordained by God. God is rendered morally ambiguous at best and a moral monster at worst."
He said that the Calvinist idea that some have been chosen for life and others for death exclude so many people. "When it comes down to only some people being given love and the grace of God, it makes God [seem] not as loving as God really is. But God wants everyone to be saved because He is love," Olson argued.
Horton disagreed, saying in looking at Jesus' ministry he saved some and not others, and he also healed some and not others. He said Calvinism is not God "going through the phone books saying you're in, out. All of us are out of the same lump of clay of condemned humanity."
Horton argued that what Calvinists believe is that God actually saves all of the elect, although no one knows how many there actually are. He said that the Gospel invitation is not "come all ye who are elect; it's whosoever will let Him come. Jesus adds that no one can come unless the spirit draws him.
Stetzer began The Exchange webshow two years ago in response to requests for ministry advice. Past episodes of The Exchange can be found here.