Beware of Stealth Calvinism!
by Roger E. Olson
Beware of Stealth Calvinism!
Several times here I have expressed concern that some Calvinists are attempting to take over churches by stealth. I frequently hear from church members (mostly Baptists but occasionally also Pentecostals and other evangelicals) that their new pastor turned out to be a five point Calvinist without their knowing that when he was called. They only contact me about this when the new pastor attempts to impose Calvinism on the congregation—for example by insisting that all deacons and elders be Calvinists, etc. Numerous reports of this have arisen from especially Southern Baptist congregations that traditionally allowed leaders to be either Calvinist or non-Calvinist.
Now I am beginning to hear reports of denominations that have traditionally included both Calvinists and non-Calvinists subtly attempting to impose Calvinism by means of new statements of faith or amendments to old statements of faith. Usually this happens under the guise of attempting to rule out open theism. Here is the most recent example: A pastor has reported to me that his district of an evangelical denomination (which I know very well) has amended its statement of faith. Under the guise of attempting to exclude open theists the denomination has asked its member churches to affirm the following:
We believe God’s knowledge is exhaustive; that He fully knows the past, present, and future independent of human decisions and actions. The Father does everything in accordance with His perfect will, though His sovereignty neither eliminates nor minimizes our personal responsibility.
I can’t help but note that “independent” should be “independently.” (What is happening to adverbs in American English? They are disappearing.) However, my main objection is that no Arminian should sign such a statement and any church that adopts it is automatically affirming Calvinism—whether they know it or not. Only a Calvinist (or someone who believes in the Calvinist view of God’s sovereignty) can say that God’s knowledge is independent of human decisions and actions. Even a Molinist cannot say that and mean it.
I suspect many people in that denomination will affirm this statement without any awareness of its Calvinist nature or that it excludes Arminianism. Any church that adopts this statement is adopting Calvinism whether it knows it or not. The only way God’s knowledge can be independent of human decisions and actions is if God foreordains them and renders them certain. (Just to head off objections from Lutherans—Yes, some Lutherans believe in that same view of God’s sovereignty, but among evangelicals especially this is especially associated with Calvinism.)
So what do I think is going on in this case? I don’t know, but it certainly appears to me that whoever wrote that statement knew what they were doing. If not, they shouldn’t be writing statements of faith for a denomination and its churches. (No, I’m not going to name the denomination. I have no desire to get into a wrangle with them over this or anything else. Hopefully, however, they will hear of my objections and change their statement of faith. If they don’t, they are automatically excommunicating all their Arminians—a significant portion of their pastors and members—whether intentionally or not insofar as this statement of faith becomes an instrument of doctrinal accountability. And if it’s not intended as an instrument of doctrinal accountability, why write it and ask churches to affirm it? It will eventually become an instrument of doctrinal accountability even if its initial intention is not such.)
This appears to me to be another case, on a grander scale, of stealth Calvinism. I have been warning fellow Arminians for a long time that the Calvinist attacks on open theism will come around to haunt us. I knew that because all the evangelical books attacking open theism include arguments that, if valid, would also rule out Arminianism (e.g., that the open theist God cannot guarantee such-and-such in history because he allegedly lacks the knowledge necessary for that).
This statement (above in italics) is probably being promoted as a guard against open theism, but it’s much, much more than that. If adopted by my church I would have to give up my membership—not because I’m an open theist (I’m not) but because whether intentionally or not it excludes classical Arminianism. It makes any church that adopts it automatically, de facto, Calvinist.
Arminians—beware! This tactic is continuing among evangelicals. Privileging Calvinism is already the case in many evangelical organizations that have always included both Calvinists and Arminians. That is one thing that caused me to begin raising my voice about Calvinism and Arminianism twenty-plus years ago. (For example, a faculty member at a major non-denominational seminary told me that no Arminian would ever be hired to teach there—not because the seminary’s statement of faith ruled out Arminianism [it doesn’t] but because the theology faculty would block his or her hiring. At that time my own president called himself a “recovering Arminian.” He meant it as humor, but to a real Arminian it sounds like the rhetoric of exclusion.)
Now something more than “privileging Calvinism” is going on. Some Calvinists are attempting to impose Calvinism on Christian organizations that have traditionally been neutral with regard to Calvinism and Arminianism and have included both. They are often doing this under the guise of warding off open theism. Arminians need to band together, in spite of our differences over things like open theism (whether it’s a legitimate evangelical option or not) and push back when this happens.
This article was originally posted HERE.