Pictured Above: C. Gordon Olson's magnum opus that attempts to forge a "middle path" between the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate. The "middle path" is no short cut. The book spans over 500 pages.
I have previously posted two blogs discussing John Calvin, God’s gift of faith, and Ephesians 2:8-9:
Did Jon Calvin Believe Faith is a Gift given From God?
Everybody Loves Raymond.... But Raymond doesn't like Calvin
In the second link, a mystery man named Ray critiqued my analysis, and I responded accordingly. Well, Ray came back for more, and offered some further comments. My apologies for a longer blog entry. I’m trying to keep them short. I’m fairly convinced very few people read long writings.
Ray’s words will be in black, my words will be in blue (pun intended).
Ray Says: “Well, it sounds like we’ve hit a sensitive nerve. Mr. Swan (or is it Dr. Swan?) had a ready answer for my objections to his article.”
Swan replies: It’s not a sensitive nerve; it is simply a response to your comments. It is not “Dr. Swan,” but that title sure does have a nice “ring” to it.
Ray Says: “He suggests that I’m the worst of readers of Calvin since I believe Calvin contradicts himself on important issues. Notice how I was misquoted by Dr. Swan at this point. Hopefully, he wasn’t angry. Since he’s a new creation in Christ and no doubt abiding in Him, he can’t sin according to 1 Jn 3:6. I guess this was a simple oversight.”
Swan replies: I suggested previously you weren’t reading Calvin “carefully”. I also expressed amazement in your inability to understand Calvin in context. I don’t see where I misquoted you. You suggested first: scholars have a hard time with Calvin because he “appears” to contradict himself. Second: you affirmed agreement with a pastor who held Calvin did contradict himself on his comments on Ephesians 2:8-9.
Ray says: “But Dr. Swan brings up a good point. Did Calvin believe that faith is a gift from God or is it as I believe, a response to the offer of a gift by God? Dr. Swan showed examples in Calvin's writings other than Eph 2:8-9 that show Calvin believes faith to be a gift."
Swan replies: Calvin does not agree with you. He clearly held faith was a supernatural gift given by God to spiritually dead sinners. Sinners do not have the ability, according to Calvin, to muster up enough of their own faith to accept an offer of salvation without God first doing something supernatural to their spiritual inability to believe.
Ray says: "But wait a minute! Did Olson or Geisler claim that Calvin didn't believe faith was a gift or is it their claim that Eph 2:8-9 cannot be used as proof texts? I think Dr. Swan is guilty of going beyond what Olson and Geisler have said. Notice Dr. Swan's comment, "Both Geisler and Olson assert that Calvin did not believe faith was the gift of God, and his commentary on Ephesians 2:8-9 proves this." What kind of error would you call this Dr. Swan? Neither Olson nor Geisler ever claim that Calvin didn't believe faith is a gift of God. Did you really read them?"
Swan replies: Ok, I think I figured out what going on here. It appears you’re quoting me from John Mark’s blog. John Mark seems to have edited my words, I had sent him a huge document, and he extracted some sections from it to post on his blog. He posted this snippet:
“Both Geisler and Olson assert that Calvin did not believe faith was the gift of God, and his commentary on Ephesians 2:8-9 proves this. Geisler says, “But even John Calvin said of this text that "he does not mean that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God.”<26> Olson comments similarly”
Actually what I had originally written was that Olson and Geisler’s position was “similar”:
“I once talked with a pastor who dismissed the Calvinist assertion that faith is a gift of God. An important facet of his argument was that even Calvin did not teach this, and his commentary on Ephesians 2:8-9 proves it. Both Geisler and Olson assert a similar position. Geisler says, “But even John Calvin said of this text that "he does not mean that faith is the gift of God, but that salvation is given to us by God, or, that we obtain it by the gift of God.”<26>"
On both John Mark’s blog (and my own) I clarified my position:
“Thus, Calvinists cannot be said to be “extreme” for holding that faith is the gift of God. It should be obvious that Geisler and Olson are in error if they are intending to assert that modern day Calvinists have gone beyond Calvin in believing faith to be a gift from God. In fairness, neither of these men explicitly asserts this, but the logical deduction is inherent in their comments, and the pastor I spoke with made the deduction. Neither Olson nor Geisler provide any positive statements like the above quotes. The pastor I spoke to seemed quite confident Calvin never believed faith to be a gift from God. When I brought these other Calvin passages to his attention, he had to agree that Calvin did in fact teach this doctrine. He then simply asserted that Calvin contradicted himself with comments on Ephesians 2:8-9, and this contradiction is a clear example of why Christians should never follow a fallible man.”
Ray says: “What they are claiming is that extreme Calvinists have an arsenal of proof texts to show that faith is the gift of God, and that Eph 2:8-9, as one, doesn't hold water. Olson and Geisler both go on to show that the remaining purported proof texts are equally weak. Indeed, their point is that Extreme Calvinism is an egregious example of a system of theology that is quick to read into texts of scripture what they want to hear rather than what it says. Interestingly, you have helped them prove their point with your examples of misquotes, going beyond what writers have said, misunderstanding what they have said, and then trashing them with flawed deduction and your own eisegesis."
Swan replies: What Olson and Geisler do is attempt to prove John Calvin was not a Calvinist. Norman Geisler calls those who (allegedly) go beyond Calvin “extreme Calvinists,” while mediates who interpret him (allegedly) correctly are “moderate Calvinists”:
“An extreme Calvinist is someone who is more Calvinistic than John Calvin (1509 – 1564), the founder of Calvinism. Since it can be argued that John Calvin did not believe in limited atonement…then it would follow that those who do are extreme Calvinists.”
Source: Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (1st edition) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 55.
Geisler says also,
“At first blush, it may seem absurd to ask whether John Calvin was a Calvinist. But he was not the first in the history of thought to have his views be distorted by his disciples. In fact, many of the great thinkers were misunderstood by their followers.”
Source: Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free (1st edition) (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 155.
The example of Calvin’s comment of Ephesians 2:8-9 is used by both Geisler and Olson. I find it extremely curious that neither Geisler nor Olson point out that Calvin explicitly noted Faith was a gift from God, but rather attempt to perpetuate a disharmony between Calvin and modern-day Calvinists by citing his comments selectively. Secondarily, I think they blew it on interpreting Calvin’s comment in context.
Ray says: "Let's look closer at Dr. Swan's review of my comments to his blog. Even though it's obvious that Calvin believes faith is a gift, he clearly does not believe that Eph 2:8-9 show that it's a gift."
Swan replies: As has been pointed out before, Calvin says that the error is restricting the word “gift” to faith alone.
Ray Says: “Amazingly, given the grammar, Calvin, Olson, Geisler and Ray to the contrary, Dr. Swan believes that Eph 2:8-9 does teach that faith is a gift. Let's look at his quote. He says, “Thus, grace, salvation, and faith are all the “gift of God.” It isn’t simply faith. It is the entire phrase. It is spurious logic to suggest that grace and salvation are gifts, but faith isn’t.”
Swan replies: A rendering of the grammar shows that the entirety of the phrase, “For by grace you have been saved through faith” is what the word “that”(touto) refers to. “touto” is a neuter singular demonstrative pronoun, and a proper exegesis would suggest that one looks for a singular neuter noun before it, but there aren’t any in the first part of the phrase in question. “Grace” is feminine singular; “Have been saved” is a masculine participle; and of course, as we all know, “faith” is feminine singular. In Ephesians 2:8-9, the neuter pronoun serves to wrap up the phrase into a single unity.
Ray Says: “Dr. Swan also says, " Note Calvin’s point: many people “restrict the word gift to faith alone.” But Calvin says that the entirety of salvation is the gift of God: that is, grace, salvation, and faith.." This is amazing. Calvin absolutely does not say that faith is included in the entirety of salvation. You are the only who says that. (Is this not eisegesis?) In fact Calvin goes out of his way to point out that to find faith as a gift in Eph 2:8-9 is an error. If what Dr. Swan says is true then I believe I can rest my case on Calvin being hard to pin down since he clearly contradicts himself. In fact, it's so confusing that even Dr. Swan got it wrong, and even suggests that Calvin is confused since he says one thing (Eph 2:8-9 is not teaching faith to be a gift) and believing another (Swan: "Calvin's point is…." and "Thus, grace, salvation, and faith are all the “gift of God.” It isn’t simply faith. It is the entire phrase. It is spurious logic to suggest that grace and salvation are gifts, but faith isn’t."”
Swan replies: Your comments clearly show your unfamiliarity with the historical/theological context in which Calvin wrote, thus you fall victim to anachronism. Those who restricted the word “gift” to “faith” alone were not extreme Calvinists like James Swan, RC Sproul or James White. They were Roman Catholics. Therefore, your interpretation of Calvin will never make sense, and you will always see a “contradiction”. Answer this question: why would a Roman Catholic want to restrict the word “gift” to “faith” alone? If you can answer this, you will grip Calvin in context.
Ray says: "I think Dr. Swan has been reading too much Calvin, White, and Sproul and not enough Olson and Geisler.”
Swan replies: In a situation like this, in which the question is “what did John Calvin believe?” It’s best to simply read Calvin, and reference multiple authors afterwards.
Ray says: "But let's look at the what Eph 2:8-9 really says . Reading the passage without straining, I would say that the grammar is saying that “salvation” is the gift, not grace, not faith, and its unlikely the whole phrase."
Swan replies: Your heroes say differently. Gordon Olson notes that touto “refers to the whole concept of salvation by grace” (Beyond Calvinism and Arminianism, 221). Norman Geisler says, “…(touto)…refers to the whole process of ‘salvation by grace through faith” (Chosen But Free, 183). I stated a similar position above. Paul is referring to salvation as a whole. Grace most definitely is a gift- it cannot be earned. If it could, it would not be grace. Faith is also a gift, as Philippians 1:29 so plainly teaches, as well as other passages. The entirety of salvation is a gift.
Ray says: "Grace is the means from God’s side (instrumental dative –te chariti), and faith is the meritless mechanism (dia + genitive) by which man appropriates the gift of salvation. (Though meritless we are held accountable for the choice.)"
Swan replies: Interesting choice of words: faith is the “Merit-less mechanism by which man appropriates the gift of salvation.” My Bible states that Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith. He begins it, and He is its goal. This is why it is “merit-less.” This is why it “appropriates the gift of salvation. It is not something that I authored. It has been created by Christ.
Ray says: “That faith is meritless and the means by which anyone can appropriate the gift is well illustrated by John 3:14-15 and the Israelite being immediately healed by simply looking at the brazen serpent. Would anyone consider this “look” a gift? I would say that the healing is the gift? The gift is offered, and the Israelite can either accept it or reject it. The provision of the brazen serpent and all of God’s power to effect the outcome could also be considered the gift, but God does require a volitional response, and that is provided by simply looking.”
Swan replies: John 3:14-15 describes that the crucifixion of Christ would result in the salvation of those who believe. It doesn’t delve into who is able to believe. Earlier, Christ tells Nicodemus that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Look at the passage. No one chooses to be born. You didn’t choose your parents. Christ says, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Ray says: "Bottom line: Olson and Geisler are solid in their exegesis. You Dr. Swan, however,………well the above discussion says it all."
Swan replies: Dr Geisler and Mr. Olson are lacking in historical exegesis. Had they taken the time to read Calvin in context, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.