Review: Arminian Theology

9780830828418Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olson has bridged a much-needed gap in the theological community for nearly a decade. This is especially the case for those who are deeply engaged in the age-old discussion between Calvinists and Arminians. As is frequently the case in these sorts of discussions, the two sides of the debate tend to approach the subject matter without a preexisting desire to accurately understand the other’s theological system. This reality has unfortunately brought about a countless number of myths and misunderstandings on both sides of the discussion. It is here that Olson has provided an exploration that promises to find relevancy for readers of all theological persuasions.

The book begins with a brief introduction to set the stage. Olson does well in turning the reader towards the historical narrative of Arminian theology and allows the observation of its rootedness in the history of Christianity to become the foundation of the content that follows. Olson’s purpose is, “to correctly delineate true Arminian theology and to begin to undo the damage that has been done to this theological heritage, both by critics and friends” (43). This attempt to provide clarification to Arminian theology is separated by 10 myths commonplace within the overall conversation among Calvinists and Arminians. Each of these 10 myths are addressed in detail, and an affirmation of Classical Arminianism is established and explained.

The tone of this book is exceptional and set forth properly in the introduction, as Olson explains, “the purpose of this book is not persuasion (except to a fair understanding of Arminian theology) but information” (43). This desire should resonate with all readers. On a personal note, I was admittedly suspicious about reading this book because of some of Olson’s other books I found to be less than helpful on the same topic. This book, however, was a breath of fresh air in many respects. Olson’s explanation and approach to each of the myths is both charitable and appropriate, and while there is considerable overlap throughout the book as each myth is addressed individually, I continually found the content presented therein to be insightful and informative.

The predominant weakness of the book, and one that I would have liked to have seen be a strength rather than a weakness is the lack of clear documentation concerning the various myths presented. That is, while Olson does provide documentation, it would have been helpful had he attempted to further substantiate the various myths (generally prorogated by Calvinist, although he does mention some Arminian blunders as well) with documented support. This doesn’t mean that I think Olson’s list of myths is wrong or incorrect, quite the contrary. Rather, simply that I would have liked to see more documentation to further evaluate his claims. Additional, while I necessarily wouldn’t consider this a weakness of the book, it must be stated that not all readers (myself included) will find Olson’s defense of such myths to be persuasive and/or representative of Arminianism as a whole.

Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities by Roger E. Olson is a unique example of why clarity and understanding matters in a theological debate. Olson rightly identifies an ongoing problem and sought to bring a much-needed resolution. This is an important book that you will want to read regardless if you are an Arminian or a Calvinist, or neither. It is a book that brings much transparency and thoughtfulness to a discussion that sometimes feels like a dead horse, and something that can’t be continually beat if a dialog is going to progress forward. If you value accurately representing the position that you are arguing for or against, then Arminian Theology is a book that will make that desire into a reality. I don’t know why it took me this long to read it. It comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The New Chosen People

PrintWilliam W. Klein is professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary where he also serves as Chair of the Division of Biblical Studies. Klein earned a Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and a M.Div. from Denver Seminary. He has written articles for several dictionaries and encyclopedias and has edited or contributed to a number of major publications, including, An Introduction to Biblical Interpretation (with Craig Blomberg and Robert Hubbard Jr.) and the commentary on Ephesians in the revised Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Most recently, Klein has revised, enlarged, and re-published his classic book on corporate election, The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election (Wipf & Stock, 2015).

The New Chosen People begins with a thorough analysis of the Old Testament and Jewish background relating to the theme of election. Klein guides the reader through the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha, the Pseudepigrapha, the Qumran literature, as well as the rabbinic literature. For Klein, the Old Testament and Jewish sources unequivocally display a corporate nature of election found in the people of Israel. Klein states therein, contrary to the assertions of the Calvinist, “there is no evidence of the view that God chose specific individuals for salvation” (p. 40). This initial 40-page investigation becomes, in many ways, the lenses through which the latter conclusions are established as Klein turns attention to the New Testament.

The New Testament is examined systematically in five major sections: (1) the Synoptic Gospels, (2) the Acts, (3) the Johannine literature, (4) the Pauline literature, and (5) the letters of Hebrews, Peter, James, and Jude—or the catholic epistles. In each section Klein has identified significant election themes, gathered the appropriate passages for each theme in each category, and analyzes each biblical text through the thematic lenses he has prescribed. For example, discussing “God Foreknows People” in the Pauline literature, Klein discussed Romans 11:2 and 8:29. Another example, discussing “God’s Appointment of Individuals” in Hebrews, Klein briefly comments on Hebrews 5:4.

One of the most attractive features of this book is the organization that Kline has provided. By identifying the major categories in each section, Klein helps the reader grasp the larger picture at hand before he narrows in on each specific passage. On the other hand, I think many will also find this categorical organization frustrating because the comments on a specific passage could be scattered across a number of categories and subpoints. For example, Romans 8:28-30 includes major comments on page 135, 137, 160, 180, and 181. In other words, some readers would probably appreciate if Klein’s comments on a passage were more centrally located in a single place, while others will find Klein categorical organization helpful. I tend to prefer the latter, despite some difficulties therein.

In regards to the content of Klein’s work, I was admittedly unpersuaded by the exegesis and interpretation provided at various points in the book. I found his comments to be somewhat insufficient at points, and I was often left wanting more than I was provided. But, I also think that this could be an issue with the organization—despite my preference mentioned above. In other words, if I look over the entirety of Klein’s work I am able to better see the picture that he is trying to paint, but because there are additional comments found under different categories, the exegetical detail appears to be lacking. Either way, it is safe to say that this revised and expanded edition of The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election by William W. Klein has provided readers with an excellent treatment of election from a classical Arminian perspective. Thus, it should come highly recommended regardless of one’s theological persuasion, at least it does from this self-proclaimed Calvinist.

 

I received a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Review: The Chosen People

9780830840830The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism by A. Chadwick Thornhill (PhD, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is an exploration assigned the task of carefully guiding the reader through the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period, specifically to examine how it discusses the concept of election in relation to the people of God. Thornhill seeks to answer two foundational questions: (1) How did Jews during the Second Temple period understand the nature of their election? And (2) how does one’s understanding of Jewish idea(s) of election influence how one might understand the key Pauline texts that address election? (p. 20-21).

For Thornhill, the early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period (namely the Dead Sea Scrolls, Apocryphal, and Pseudepigraphal works) predominantly display an understanding of the concept of election that is firmly positioned both corporately and conditionally. Still, when the concept of election explicitly relates to the individual, Thornhill argues that the literature of the Second Temple period predictably emphasizes the character or role of the individual, rather than the salvation. Although Thornhill rightly acknowledges the artificial nature of distinguishing between “individual” and “collective” from the text itself (p. 28).

Thornhill does an outstanding job systematically walking the reader through the literature of the Second Temple period in relation to the concepts of election. The reader will certainly learn a lot as the framework is being built to discuss Paul. Nevertheless, as someone who is not well-read in Second Temple literature, I often found myself wondering if any literature of the period actually disagreed with the central premise of the book. Of course, this may be the very point that Thornhill is seeking to bring to light. Still, the reader does not encounter much by the way of interaction with Jewish texts that seemingly oppose the argued concepts of election, nor is much attention given to opposing interpretive positions of the literature.

Following the construction of the framework of the Second Temple period, Thornhill directs his attention towards a number of important Pauline “election” passages. If the reader is familiar with the soteriological debate that stands in the foreground of these passages, then Thornhill’s exegetical conclusions will be nothing new—how he gets there may be a different story. For example, Thornhill argues for a corporate election view “in Christ” of Ephesians 1-2 based largely on the verbal forms in vv. 1:3-12 (p. 180), as well as a corporate election view of Romans 9. Thornhill functions extremely well within the framework of first-century Jewish thought as he exegetes the Pauline passages, and argues quite persuasively for his intended position.

To be honest, I was a bit surprised not to find any references or interaction with The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 by John Piper (Baker Academic, second edition, 1993). This was one of the main disappointments for me. The judicious exegesis of Romans 9:1-23 presented by Piper in The Justification of God is in many ways definitive in the theological community Thornhill is arguing against. Thomas Schreiner is well-represented and engaged, and to Thornhill’s credit, but not a word is given about the important work by Piper. Nevertheless, Thornhill’s work is very well-documented and his interaction is admirable.

The Chosen People has offered the scholarly community a unique and important contribution to the conversation within Pauline studies. Thornhill has effectively probed through the forest of an old theological debate with fresh and exciting lenses. Even someone, like myself, who disagrees with the many of the conclusions that Thornhill advocates will find great benefit in this book. It has helped me re-engage a seemingly stagnant discussion with a renewed perspective and desire to invest more time in the understanding of early Jewish literature of the Second Temple period for New Testament studies. Those interested in a similar fate will embrace this book with open arms. The Chosen People comes highly recommended!

 

I received a review copy of these books in exchange for and honest review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.