Arminianism is becoming more polarized and radicalized in relation to Calvinism. Calvinism itself hasn't changed that much. It's undergone some refinements. But because Arminianism was always a reactionary movement, it's not surprising that it's become more self-aware of its core values and consistent with those values. Hence, developments like Purgatory, postmortem salvation, and open theism, as well as the amissibility of salvation.
Proponents like Jerry Walls and Roger Olson have become so antagonistic towards Calvinism that they are often incapable of representing the most sophisticated version of Calvinism or considering counterexamples to their own position.
I wouldn't go quite that far. But I think some Calvinists' views of God are similar to some Muslims' views of God. The common element is nominalism/voluntarism--the belief that God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character. The result of that, of course, is the possibility (!) that God could change his mind and decide NOT to keep his promises. Such a God is, IMHO, cannot be trusted but only feared.
i) One of Olson's tactics is his frequent allusion to nameless Calvinists who supposedly espouse what he alleges. No names or quotes.
ii) Olson leaves it unclear whether he's evaluating Calvinism on external or internal grounds. When he says "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character," is that based on Arminian standards or Reformed standards?
iii) He doesn't quote any Reformed creeds or major Reformed theologians who say that "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character." And he doesn't attempt to demonstrate how that's an implication of Calvinism. So this is just a tendentious, defamatory accusation with nothing to back it up.
iv) The claim that Reformed theism is voluntaristic is part of his routine.
Yes, most Calvinists deny, when pushed, that their view of God is voluntarist (i.e., that God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his will). However, whenever I ask how God is loving and just in foreordaining some portion of human beings created in his own image and likeness and allegedly loved (in some sense) by him to eternal hell and consigns them there when he could save them (because salvation is unconditional except for the conditions God himself provides) they always fall back on "God is God and can do with creatures whatever pleases him." That removes God's character from anything knowable as moral and implies nominalism/voluntarism. I don't think most Calvinists understand this, but they have to do it when pressed to explain God's character. They won't say "He doesn't have one," but what they do say amounts to that.
i) Once again, his conveniently anonymous reference to Calvinists who supposedly say this. HIs self-serving summary of what they allegedly say. What Calvinists is he asking? Is he asking Greg Welty? James Anderson? Jeremy Pierce? Paul Helm? Bill Davis? John Frame? Or is it like those "man-on-the-street" interviews?
ii) Notice the question-begging way he frames the issue. It's a loaded question: "how God is loving and just in foreordaining some portion of human beings created in his own image and likeness and allegedly loved (in some sense) by him to eternal hell and consigns them there when he could save them?"
Notice how his question implicitly takes for granted the very issue in dispute: that it's unjust. The question places the onus on the Calvinist to explain how that's just and loving, as if it's obviously unjust or unloving, and it's up to the Calvinist to overcome that crushing presumption.
Olson is shirking his own intellectual duties. He shoulders the burden of proof in showing why he thinks that is unloving or unjust. He's not entitled to posit the prima facie injustice of Calvinism, then demand that a Calvinist disprove his stipulation.
iii) Notice how he bundles two questions in one: Is it loving? Is it unjust? These are distinct questions. How is it indicative of the fact that "God has no eternal, unchanging moral character that governs his actions but that God is absolutely free to do whatever he decides to do unfettered by any moral character" if God redeems some evildoers but punishes others? How is that unjust? And even if it's unloving, so what?
iv) Notice how he conflates unconditional salvation with damnation. Yet damnation is not unconditional. Only the wicked are damned.
That God does this for some and not for others when he could do it for all (because it is not based on anything he sees in anyone) is a mystery with which I cannot live. It makes God monstrous.
What Olson presumes to call "monstrous" is precisely how the NT describes the saving grace of God. According to the NT, God doesn't save individuals based on anything he sees in them.
Of course they wouldn't say that, but what's the alternative to it? Election is unconditional. How can God or anyone select individuals out of a group "unconditionally" but not arbitrarily? No Calvinist has ever explained that to me.
i) So for Olson, "arbitrary" is a synonym for "unconditional." Election is "arbitrary" unless it's based on something he sees in the elect.
Yet humans are wicked. What God sees in us is evil.
ii) And, once again, we're treated to his stock allusion to unnamed Calvinists.
Ah, but for Calvinists to become like the God their theory projects, they would be despicable people, moral monsters--going around rescuing some people and leaving others whom they could rescue in their horrible situations--arbitrarily. Thank God few Calvinists are like the God they claim to believe in.
Notice how Olson acts as though it's self-evidently true that Calvinists would be "despicable people, moral monsters--going around rescuing some people and leaving others whom they could rescue in their horrible situations--arbitrarily."
But doesn't that depend on the kind of people in need of rescuing? Is there a standing obligation to rescue someone no matter how evil he is? There's a fundamental difference between rescuing someone in spite of his evil and acting as if there's a moral obligation to rescue him if you can.
Olson bandies the phrase "moral monsters." Does he think we are duty-bound to rescue moral monsters? What's wrong with letting a moral monster die? If a moral monster finds himself in a "horrible situation," isn't that poetic justice? How does Olson become so morally twisted that he lacks that elementary moral discrimination?
No, it is not an explanation. It is simply an appeal to "God's will." It doesn't say anything about HOW God selects individuals for election to salvation. Strangely, Calvinists think this answer answers the question; it doesn't even begin to. As for God being just in condemning some to hell while arbitrarily selecting others for salvation--that's a very strange kind of justice that makes God monstrous. In fact, it isn't justice at all.
Once more, Olson contents himself with these dictatorial assertions, as if that's indisputable. How is it "unjust" or "monstrous" to condemn some evildoers to hell? How is it unjust to redeem other evildoers through the atonement of Christ? Where is his argument?
i) Let's consider the charge of "arbitrariness" from another angle. Unconditional election isn't "arbitrary" in the sense of God flipping a coin. Olson seems to operate with a mental picture of election and reprobation where you have a line of captives in single file. There's a guard who directs some people to the right and others to the left. Some people go free while others go to the firing squad. The choice is random.
But in Calvinism, both elect and reprobate are sinners. If election were conditional (based on what God sees in us), no one would be saved, for we are evil absent God's justification and sanctification.
ii) To say election is unconditional doesn't mean God has no reason for whom he elects or reprobates. If God reprobated Abraham, that would change world history. If God elected Pilate, that would change world history. If God reprobated Paul, that would change world history.
One reason God elects some people and reprobates others is because God has a particular plan for the world. It's like a novel with a plot and characters. The characters drive the plot. If you had different characters, that would change the plot. If the novelist wants the story to go one way, he creates characters who move events in that direction.
Abraham has a role to play in God's story: a role that requires Abraham to be saved. Paul has a role to play: a role that requires Paul to be saved.
Pilate has a role to play: a role that requires Pilate to be unsaved. If Pilate had been a God-fearer, he would have acquitted Jesus. But then, the plan of salvation would come to a screeching halt. The crucifixion had to be authorized by a Roman official. So Pilate's reprobation serves a purpose.
God doesn't reprobate Pilate because of something he sees in Pilate. Rather, Pilate is a reprobate character. God created a villain to play the part of a villain. Reprobation is a character trait, just as saving Paul or saving Abraham is part of the package. They have a mission in God's plan which requires them to be saved.
It's analogous to the organic theory of inspiration, where God providentially creates individuals with just the right personality, aptitude, education, and experience to become apostles, prophets, and/or Bible writers. God isn't picking some people for salvation and others for damnation at random.
Moreover, it's not as if humans preexist in a neutral state (like Schrödinger's cat) before God either elects or reprobates them. Rather, God conceives of them with a particular destiny in mind.
God is not a casting director, talent scout, or army recruiter who's on the lookout for what's needed. Rather, God creates the means as well as the ends.
This is a debate even among Calvinists--whether sanctification includes an element of synergism. Some Calvinists who are adamant about monergism in justification-regeneration allow an element of cooperation between the human will and God's grace in sanctification. Other Calvinists see that as a betrayal of the sovereignty of grace. As an Arminian I don't have that problem because, for me, it's synergism from beginning of salvation to its end. God provides all the ability (Philippians 2:13) but we decide to use it (2:12).
That's confused. "Cooperation" doesn't mean the same thing in Calvinism and freewill theism. In freewill theism, cooperation introduces an element of contingency or uncertainty into the outcome. It's a free variable that's not under God's control.
In Calvinism, by contrast, how much we cooperate with God is up to God. He controls the degree of cooperation. Sanctification can be deterministic without being monergistic.