Dr. Roger Olson, Arminian theologian and professor par excellence, just recently wrote a post at his blog about the infiltration of Calvinists into traditions of the church that are historically Arminian, or at least, non-Calvinist in orientation (i.e. Pentecostal, Holiness, Renewal, Wesleyan, Methodist, Anabaptist, etc.). He believes that pastors in these kinds of denominations, or people who enter into these denominations with the hopes of subverting the shape of the particular tradition (Arminian) itself ought to abandon either their pastoral position in such denominations, or in the case of a lay person trying to subvert, that they move on to a denomination that is historically Calvinist.
Read Olson’s post here.
This brings up an interesting situation, that Roger Olson did not address in his post; that is, what about Evangelical Calvinism? Olson is well aware of us, Myk and I asked him to review our book, and he did at his blog; so we are on his radar. I realize his focus in the post was on classical Calvinist, neo-Puritans, or the Young, Restless and Reformed crowd, but Evangelical Calvinists ought to be considered in this discussion as well. Personally this is an interesting question for me, because we attend (we are not at the Presbyterian church we visited for awhile any longer) a Calvary Chapel (which doctrinally would be connected to a more Foursquare orientation, which has roots in and from Pentecostalism). I wonder what Roger Olson would say to me, as an Evangelical Calvinist theologian? Calvary Chapels are normally more Arminian in orientation, and actually, they are really less defined either way; but functionally, most of them (although I would say the one we attend is much more like the Baptistic way that I am oriented from), are more Arminian. Would Olson tell me that I ought to leave Calvary Chapel and go back to the Presbyterian church, or maybe find a Baptist church that is more historically normed by a Calvinist orientation?
This for me illustrates the kind of expansive nature of Evangelical Calvinism. We affirm, with Barth and Torrance, and most importantly, Scripture, that Jesus died for all (universal atonement), and that union with Christ is really the form that election takes in and through his vicarious humanity. We emphasize that God is Triune love, and that this love is cruciform in shape. What this also illustrates for me, is that Evangelical Calvinism (as Myk and I have contoured it in the 15 Theses of our book) has reach and latitude to be much more ecumenical among Protestant evangelicals (even among other traditions as well—the Eastern Orthodox) because it actually side-steps and avoids the usual thing that divides classical Calvinists from Arminians; which is illustrated by Olson’s call for Calvinists and Arminians to remain separate. Evangelical Calvinists don’t have to make this call, and Evangelical Calvinists can feel at home in various traditions of the church of Jesus Christ. That is because we see election and reprobation absolutized and realized in Jesus Christ himself. That is because we emphasize that God is Triune love for all, and thus the kind of doctrinal division that Olson is encouraging does not have to happen for us; that is because our doctrine of God starts its order of thinking from, indeed, our doctrine of God instead of thinking from our doctrine of salvation back to our doctrine of God—which has the ominous effect of shaping God, or predicating God by our philosophical questions about causation and who gets to decide what in the salvation appropriation event or process (whatever the case might be).
So you see, theology does matter; it does have real life orthopraxic consequences; and what and how people think about God will impact how they fellowship one with the other. Because we as Evangelical Calvinists start with a different set of questions than does the classical Calvinists and Arminians do; we don’t end up with the same kinds of problems that Olson illustrates. We don’t have to call for separation among brethren and sistren in regard to something that is actually downstream (by way of dogmatic order) from the all determining doctrine of God or theology proper. We are rather ecumencial, because we believe God is rather ecumenical and inclusive.
PS. The above noted, Evangelical Calvinism historically developed in Scottish Theology, and has been developed further by folks like Thomas Torrance (and I would like to add Karl Barth into our tribe). So indeed, we have Reformed rootage, but that said, so do the Arminians (i.e. they aren’t Lutherans for example).