"One day a very fine, eager, passionate theology student followed me from class to my office. . . He sat next to my desk and said (I quote): 'Dr. Olson, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are not a Christian.' "
Dr. Roger Olson (link)
Remember that scene in The Fugitive (starring Harrison Ford) where Richard Kimble phones U.S. Marshall Sam Gerard from the one-armed man's apartment to say he is trying to solve a puzzle and has just found a big piece (photos and tax returns)? That's exactly how I felt when I read Dr. Roger Olson's post Would Someone Please Rein in Some of the "Young Calvinists"?
Dr. Olson is Professor of Christian Theology of Ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University. You can read his entire biography here.
What puzzle piece did I just discover in Dr. Olson's article? I believe he revealed the beginnings of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. Here is what Dr. Olson shared in his post:
It all began…one day in (I think it was) 1985. I had begun teaching theology at evangelical Bethel College and Seminary in suburban St. Paul, Minnesota one year earlier. Very soon after joining that faculty I began to hear from both colleagues and students conflicting opinions about two former Bethel professors: John Piper and Wayne Grudem. Both had left Bethel and gone to teach at other positions before I arrived. (I had met Piper briefly and only in passing when I visited Bethel a couple years before I joined the faculty. He left Bethel to pastor Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis.)
It soon became clear to me that Piper and Grudem had left a “bad taste” in some faculty members’ mouths due to perceived “pontificating” about certain theological and church-related issues. Others, however, were sorry to see them leave and missed them; they felt they had a good influence on the institution and especially the students. I had no opinion—yet. I only knew of Piper through an article he wrote in HIS magazine—the monthly publication of the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I still have it in my files; it is about so-called “Christian Hedonism.” I found nothing especially objectionable about the article itself although I realized that many people would misunderstand the meaning of the apparent oxymoron…
One day a very fine, eager, passionate theology student followed me from class to my office. (I still remember his name after all these years!) He sat next to my desk and said (I quote): “Dr. Olson, I am sorry to tell you this, but you are not a Christian.” Naturally, to say the least, I was taken aback. I asked him why he would say that. His answer was “Because you’re not a Calvinist.” I then asked him where he got the idea that a non-Calvinist could not be a Christian. His response: “From my pastor—John Piper.” Years later (in about 1998) I had occasion to speak directly with Piper about that and he insisted that he never said non-Calvinists could not be Christians. I pointed out to him that many of his “Piper cubs” (what we at Bethel came to call students who followed him) believed such. He admitted that was probably true but claimed they were misunderstanding him. Since then I have read many of Piper’s books and watched/listened to many of his podcasts and have indeed never heard him say that a non-Calvinist cannot be a Christian. However, I believe I do see how a naïve, impressionable, young, “newly minted” Calvinist might (mis)interpret some of what he says that way.
So I feel that there is a sense in which, unlike many others who have written and spoken about the YRRM, I was there “at the beginning.”
This was exciting information because Dee and I have suspected for quite some time that the seeds of the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement (YRRM) were first planted in the hearts and minds of the students at Bethel College, where John Piper and Wayne Grudem taught together. Here is a short bio describing John Piper's education and early career.
Piper taught at Bethel College for six years after finishing his doctorate. Then he was called to pastor Bethlehem Baptist Church where he served until his retirement in 2013.
Wayne Grudem also taught at Bethel College, although his biography fails to mention his early career. (see screen shot below)
However, John Piper confirmed that he and Wayne Grudem were colleagues at Bethel College (see excerpt below):
Lots of people know that Wayne Grudem and I are the deepest of friends. We love to room together at conferences. We love to do things together with our wives. We were both in seminary together for a season. We have co-edited a book together. We taught together at Bethel College.
Wayne Grudem left Bethel around 1981 and taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS) for the next 20 years. In 2001 he began teaching at Phoenix Seminary where he remains. Apparently, one of the factors for the move was finding a better climate for his wife.
It is certainly noteworthy that Bruce Ware (Eternal Subordination of the Son to the Father (ESS) proponent) taught at Bethel Seminary beginning in 1984. According to an article in the Baptist Press:
Ware joined ETS in 1984 during his first year of teaching at Bethel Seminary and in the years since has been on the front lines of upholding biblical truth within evangelicalism.
The article goes on to state that Bruce Ware joined the Southern Seminary faculty in 1998 where he continues to teach. And here is Ware's bio at the Theopedia website:
And then there's Tom Schreiner who taught at Bethel Seminary. Todd Wilhelm wrote a post two years ago tying together Bruce Ware and Tom Schreiner, who have been colleagues at Southern Seminary for quite some time.
It is fascinating that these four men who have embraced the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement – John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and Tom Schreiner – all spent part of their early careers teaching at either Bethel College or Seminary. And I believe each one of them contributed to the tome Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womahood which was first published in 1991 (somehow it became Christianity Today's 'Book of the Year'). Blech!
Getting back to the topic of this post, Roger Olson began the article as follows:
For those of you who do not know, I have been involved in a controversy with the American neo-Calvinists (“Young, Restless, Reformed”)—especially their leaders—for many years. While I respect their passion for the glory of God, I have criticized them on for two errors: 1) A rampant, almost endemic (to the movement) arrogance about Calvinism, and 2) A frequent tendency to misrepresent alternative views. Even some Reformed theologians have addressed the first error; very few have stepped up to ask their followers to be fair to non-Calvinist Christians.
Several years ago Roger Olson wrote a book entitled Against Calvinism, which we highly recommend. Olson is being told by his students and others that…
many eager young, newly minted Calvinists are still going around misrepresenting Arminianism. In most cases, when they are asked where they got their (mis)information they point to another Calvinist. Hardly any that I have talked with or heard about have ever read any true Arminian authors—at least on this subject of divine sovereignty.
Olson goes on to reveal that one reason he started his blog is to correct misinformation and misinterpretation about Arminian theology. Then he explains the crux of his post:
Every once in a while, however, I am contacted by a pastor, youth minister, residence hall director, etc., informing me that they have once again heard some enthusiastic young Calvinist, often returning from a Calvinist-influenced youth conference, bashing Arminianism while misrepresenting it. This pattern is so common that I have come to believe that bashing Arminianism is endemic to the new Calvinism (if not also the “old”). In other words, at least in America if not elsewhere, the new Calvinism is a “coin” with two equally important sides: 1) promoting Calvinism, and 2) bashing Arminianism. Of course, “bashing” is a relative term; must of it is in the eye of the beholder. So let me be specific. Here it means misrepresenting Arminianism in order to turn people away from it. Some who do this what they are doing; others do not know what they are doing.
When those in the Calvinist camp attempt to get the upper hand by misrepresenting and even bashing Arminianism, it says A LOT about their character as well as their movement.
I for one am grateful that Dr. Olson is calling out leaders of the Young, Restless and Reformed Movement and other leading Calvinists and asking them to tell their newly-minted disciples to STOP IT!
Just STOP IT!!!