This is a continuation of my look at a few different non-reformed writers who disagree that Philippians 1:29 teaches faith is God’s gift. Specifically, I’m directing my scrutiny towards those writers who have written full works against Calvinism.
A lesser-known work that I’ve written about previously is C. Gordon Olson’s Beyond Arminianism And Calvinism (New Jersey: Global gospel Publishers, 2002). This book probably hasn’t sold as many copies as other books against Calvinism. Probably the folks in New Jersey have more copies than most other regional locations, since the book appears to be self-published. The book is out-of-print, though it looks as if the material has been scaled down and repackaged in a book entitled: Getting The Gospel Right: A Balanced View Of Salvation Truth.
Olson taught the content of this book a year or two back at a local church in my area. I wasn’t able to attend due to the fact that I was teaching a class at the same time. I attempted to get the tapes of the classes, but rather ended up getting into an e-mail brawl about predestination with audio/video guy in charge of the tapes. Later I went to hear Olson speak at an evening church service, and I found him to be a very nice man. Out of all the books directed toward the downfall of Reformed theology, Olson's is the most intricate.
Gordon Olson’s book is 500+ pages. He offers this interpretation of Philippians 1:29-
“Calvinists also use Philippians 1:29 (‘For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…’) to prove their point, but it is clear that we are given faith only in the same sense in which we are given suffering, that is, mediately through circumstances. No one would argue that suffering is an immediate and irresistible work of grace. As in the two Acts passages above [Acts 5:31 and 11:18], Paul is referring to the privilege and opportunity given to the Philppian Christians to believe, while alerting them to the fact that suffering for Christ comes with that privilege.”
Source: C. Gordon Olson’s Beyond Arminianism And Calvinism (New Jersey: Global gospel Publishers, 2002), 222.
This interpretation is much meatier than Vance and Hunt’s, though it’s point is not much different. Let’s work slowly through this paragraph:
“Calvinists also use Philippians 1:29 (‘For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake…’) to prove their point, but it is clear that we are given faith only in the same sense in which we are given suffering, that is, mediately through circumstances.”
“Mediately through circumstances” is theological jargon from Olson’s interpretive paradigm. He means that God uses means. Olson says, “God has a mediate role of carrying out much of His plan in this present world- through His agents” (p.29). What Olson is saying about Philippians 1:29 is simply that God is giving people the opportunity to have faith through the preaching of the word. In other words, we’re really not given a supernatural gift of faith via God’s grace; we’re given situations like preaching in which we can express our faith in Him. Olson’s wording is tricky, since he says “we are given faith”. He definitely does not mean this- he explicitly states that "repentant faith" is within the means of spiritually dead man.
He then qualifies it with “in the same sense in which we are given suffering.” He goes on to explain:
“No one would argue that suffering is an immediate and irresistible work of grace.”
Olson does what all “theologians of glory” do: they invent philosophical paradigms by which to analyze scripture. “Mediate” and “immediate” are terms which remind me of the unstable bulwark of medieval scholastic theology that Luther rallied against. But to be fair, let’s play in Olson’s ballgame for a minute. Reformed theologians (by and large) do not deny God’s use of “means” in salvation. The Preached Word does enter the heart and give spiritual birth. So faith, in a sense, is indeed arrived at "mediately." On the other hand, Reformed writers by and large note that regeneration and faith in a man's heart are the immediate work of the Spirit. Suffering is also a mediate work, as it is related to our sanctification. Both belief and suffering are gifts of God- as Christ is the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2).
“As in the two Acts passages above [Acts 5:31 and 11:18], Paul is referring to the privilege and opportunity given to the Philippian Christians to believe, while alerting them to the fact that suffering for Christ comes with that privilege.”
Olson arrives where Dave Hunt does: inserting the word “privilege” into the text of Philippians 1:29. He also adds "opportunity." The striking thing about these two words is that throughout his book, Olson accuses Calvinists of reading their theology into the Bible, rather than doing inductive study, verse by verse. Here is a striking example of just that: neither "privilege" nor "opportunity" are in the text of Phillipians 1:29. Where then do these ideas come from? Olson notes they come from two passages in Acts. Leaving his interpretation of Acts aside, how is this doing inductive study? It isn't. Further, why is God giving the Philippians a privilege and opportunity to believe? What does this mean? Olson doesn't say. Does it mean God is giving them the preached word? Does it mean God the Spirit is now working to produce continuing faith in one's heart? Thus, the interpretation ultimately doesn't even make sense, nor is it the result of a close inductive look.