In the fourth chapter of Roger Olson’s book, Against Calvinism, he tells of a very interesting question put to him by a student, at the end of a class session on Calvin’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty. The student inquired: “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?” (85). Roger writes that he answered “without a moment’s thought,” even though he knew that “it would shock many people,” that he could not worship such a God because he “would be a moral monster.”
I’m one of those people who was initially shocked by Roger’s answer, but I’m wondering if I should be. I will think aloud about my own response, and I hope to hear the thoughts of others with regard to both Roger’s approach and my response to it.
Roger goes on to say that he realizes “Calvinists do not think their view of God’s sovereignty makes him a moral monster, but [he] can only conclude they have not thought it through to its logical conclusion or even taken sufficiently seriously the things they say about God and evil and innocent suffering in the world” (85). It is true that I do not think my view of God’s sovereignty makes him a moral monster, but it is certainly not true that I have not taken seriously what I say about “God and evil and innocent suffering in the world.” I have often done so, and I can scarcely think of a knowledgeable Calvinist I know who has not thought about it too. What Roger knows but cannot comprehend is that, in the face of terrible suffering, we find great comfort in our belief that the world is not out of control by God, and we are grateful that he has not chosen to limit his control in order to give his creatures the power to determine the outcome of a great part of history.
But I cannot say that, if God revealed to me unquestionably that he has, in fact, chosen to create a world in which all of these terrible evils happen and yet not to intervene, because creaturely freedom is so important, that I could not worship him.
Roger cites David Bentley Hart’s judgment that Calvinists “defame the love and goodness of God out of a servile and unhealthy fascination with his ‘dread sovereignty’” (86). What a peculiar perception. Does Hart actually know any Calvinists?, I wonder. I know quite a few myself and I’ve read many of their books, including Calvin’s own Institutes, and I have certainly seen nothing that I would judge to be “unhealthy fascination with [God’s] ‘dread sovereignty.’” Calvinists rejoice in God’s sovereignty and draw great comfort from it, they are not fascinated with it because it is “dreadful.”
I have had frequent occasion to observe that the root of Roger’s own passionate rejection of Calvinism is the fact that he finds the case for compatibilism thoroughly implausible. The “logical conclusion” about which Roger speaks is the conclusion that he believes we would all reach if we understood that compatibilism is illogical. That itself is not a surprising conviction; anyone who is convinced of the logic of his own beliefs and the illogic of other people’s beliefs can understand Roger’s puzzlement. But Roger’s answer to the student’s question strikes me for its extraordinary inability to consider how things would look from inside another person’s perspective. Specifically, in this case, to think how the meticulously sovereign God would look if a compatibilist account were viable, so that this God is indeed good, can not himself be tempted to sin and tempts no one else to sin, so that sinful creatures are solely responsible for the evil of their acts. I know Roger can not understand how such could be the case, but what if it were revealed to him to be true?
To test our own capacity to do this, maybe we need to ask ourselves a question like this: “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that the true God actually is as X theology [here you can put the perspective within a Christian framework that seems most implausible or problematic to you] affirms, would you still worship him?” On theological principle, I think that my answer would have to be “yes.” I am thinking about Paul’s discussion, in Romans 14, of the moral obligation of people whose consciences are faulty. From that passage I conclude that we are always obligated to obey our consciences. They are God’s voice to us. They may be wrong, and they often are, but it would be sinful to disobey what we truly believe to be God’s moral demand upon us or his revelation to us.
I grant that the leap, from believing that God is as I now understand him to be revealed in the Christian Scripture and supremely in the person of Jesus whom those scriptures communicate to us, to believing that the God is as described by theology X may be very difficult to imagine. But the student questioner spoke of a God that was revealed to me in a way I could not question or deny. I know that some of my theology is wrong, I just don’t know which parts of it are. But if I were to become convinced that I have been in error and that God had now graciously revealed himself accurately to me, to suppress that truth, for whatever reason, be that logic or sentiment, would be wrong.
I am left with another question. If we believed other people to be so terribly wrong that they were worshipping not the true God but a moral monster, could/should we worship with them? Coming from that perspective, should an Arminian take communion with Calvinists?
These are questions of great consequence, and I have felt reluctant to address them. But I have concluded that precisely because Roger has raised so important a question and given us his own firm answer, it would be wrong not to ponder that question ourselves with the counsel of other brothers and sisters in Christ.
What do you think about this?