Category Archives: roger olson

Can God Answer Prayers About the Past?

Roger Olson has recently done a couple of interesting posts about whether or not God can change the past.  He argues that God cannot change the past.  Here are the links:

Can the Past Be Changed (Even By God)? Some Musings about Time

Follow Up to Musings about Whether the Past Can Be Changed

In the second post he suggests that prayers about the past are probably not effective, and don’t have a Biblical precedent:

And I struggle with why the Bible contains no examples of petitionary prayer about the past at all so far as I know—not even prayers about events not yet known as to their nature and outcome but certain to have happened. This is to me a strong indication that such prayer cannot have any effect other than satisfying some psychological need and causing consternation and confusion.

I agree with Olson that God cannot (or does not) change the past.  For example, it does no good to pray that the Holocaust will not have taken place.

Having said that, I do think that prayers about the past can influence what God will have done.  I occasionally pray about the recent past.  For example, I sometimes pray that a loved one who has been traveling will have made it home safe.  I don’t think that God goes back and changes the past because of the prayer, but rather that he will have already done something to have kept them safe because of the prayer.  God knows that I will pray later, and can answer that prayer.  C.S. Lewis argues for something like this in “Miracles”.

When we are praying about the result, say, of a battle or a medical consultation the thought will often cross our minds that (if only we knew it) the event is already decided one way or the other. I believe this to be no good reason for ceasing our prayers. The event certainly has been decided—in a sense it was decided ‘before all worlds’. But one of the things taken into account in deciding it, and therefore one of the things that really cause it to happen, may be this very prayer that we are now offering. Thus, shocking as it may sound, I conclude that we can at noon become part causes of an event occurring at ten a.m. (Some scientists would find this easier than popular thought does.) The imagination will, no doubt, try to play all sorts of tricks on us at this point. It will ask, ‘Then if I stop praying can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes has been the fact that you are asking such questions instead of praying. It will ask, ‘Then if I begin to pray can God go back and alter what has already happened?’ No. The event has already happened and one of its causes is your present prayer. Thus something does really depend on my choice. My free act contributes to the cosmic shape. That contribution is made in eternity or ‘before all worlds’; but my consciousness of contributing reaches me at a particular point in the time-series.

So I agree with Olson that God can’t change the past. But I still think it’s worthwhile to pray about past events, especially events where we don’t know the outcome, and that God hears and can use those prayers.

Side note: Here’s an interesting article about praying for the past by Wesleyan/Nazarene philosopher Kevin Timpe.  Prayers for the Past. He calls them PIPs (past-directed impetratory prayers).  He argues that PIPs make logical sense for those who hold to Simple Foreknowledge, the Eternal-Now theory (Lewis’ view), or to Molinism.  But not for those who hold to Open Theism (because in Open Theism God would at best only have predictive knowledge that someone would pray).

What do you think?  Are prayers about the past ever effective?


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Arminian Audio: Roger Olson at AGTS

Arminian theologian Roger Olson recently did a presentation with a Q&A session at AGTS.  An audio recording of the session is available here:


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Q&A Session about Arminianism and Calvinism by Roger Olson

Roger Olson recently did a Q&A Session about Arminianism and Calvinism.  It took place at City on a Hill Church, Federal Way, WA.  The video is available on Vimeo.  Run time is about 2.5 hours.

Part 1

Part 2

Roger Olson’s blog can be found here.

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Ministry Direct – Interview with Roger Olson

George Wood from Ministry Direct recently did a Q&A session with Roger Olson, about his new book: Against Calvinism.

The interview can be found here.


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Preview of Roger Olson’s New Book: Against Calvinism

Zondervan has a preview out of Roger Olson’s new to be released book: Against Calvinism.  The preview includes the first chapter, plus an introduction by Michael Horton.  Dr Olson also did a blog post about the book, which can be found here.   I’m looking forward to reading it, and posting a review.

Chapter Titles:
1 – Why This Book Now?
2 – Whose Calvinism? Which Reformed Theology?
3 – Mere Calvinism: The TULIP System
4 – Yes to God’s Sovereignty; No to Divine Determinism
5 – Yes to Election; No to Double Predestination
6 – Yes to Atonement; No to Limited Atonement / Particular Redemption
7 – Yes to Grace; No to Irresistible Grace / Monergism
8 – Conclusion: Calvinism’s Conundrums
Appendix 1: Calvinist Attepmts to Rescue God’s Reputation
Appendix 2: Responses to Calvinist Claims

(HT: Dr. Dale Wayman)

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Podcast with Roger Olson

Here’s a podcast that Roger Olson recently did:  Homebrewed Christianity podcast with Roger Olson.  Running time is one hour.  The interview starts at 6:45, and you won’t miss much if you fast forward to that point.

They discuss Calvinism, Arminianism, Open Theism, Rob Bell, post mortem salvation, homosexuality, fundamentalism, and a bunch of other “hot” topics. :)

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Essay by Roger Olson – Arminianism is God-centered theology

Here is a long but excellent essay by Roger Olson: Arminianism is God-centered theology.  Olson addresses and refutes the complaint often made by Calvinists that Arminian theology is man-centered.

Update: The Society of Evangelical Arminians has a pdf of the essay here.

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Roger Olson’s New Blog

Theologian Roger Olson has started a blog. He has a couple of posts up already. You can check the blog out here: HT: John Guthrie

Olson has authored a number of books, including, The Story of Christian Theology (an overview of the history of Christianity) and Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. I appreciate Dr Olson’s work, because he writes at a level I can understand.

And as a completely irrelevant side note, I think Olson and my father-in-law look alike. See if you agree.


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Roger Olson Challenges Calvinists to Rewrite "The Shack"

The Society of Evangelical Armininians has a post today by Roger Olson, where he issues a challenge to Calvinists: Rewrite “The Shack” from the Calvinist view.

Olson writes:

Since most Calvinists are harshly critical of the novel The Shack (which takes a similar approach to theodicy as Greg Boyd in Is God to Blame?) because of its alleged undermining of God’s glory and sovereignty, why don’t they (or one of them) write a similar novel in which God explains to Mack (or someone like him) why his daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered–and avoid language about God permitting or allowing it (which is really Arminian language)?

Quite a tall order. I would not relish the idea of explaining why God decrees the rape and murder of a little girl. And that is one of the root problems with Calvinism. If God ordains everything and he is good, then why do evil things happen?

I personally nominate Tim Challies to write the book.

If you are unfamiliar with “The Shack”, you have been living in a cave. :) It is a popular and controversial Christian novel. My review is here.


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Essay About Calvinism by Roger Olson

[The following is an essay by Roger Olson, author of the book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Dr. Olson has made this available to the Society of Evangelical Arminians. William Birch has posted some interesting commentary on the background of the essay, which can be found here.]

My Biggest Problem with Calvin/Calvinism

Roger E. Olson
Professor of Theology
George W. Truett Theological Seminary
Baylor University

Above all I want to make clear that I admire and respect my Calvinist friends and colleagues. We disagree strongly about some points of theology, but I hold them in high esteem for their commitment to the authority of God’s Word and their obvious love for Jesus Christ and his church as well as for evangelism.

However, I do not admire or respect John Calvin. I have been told that he should not be held responsible for the burning of the heretic Servetus because, after all, he warned the Spanish doctor and theologian not to come to Geneva and he urged the city council to behead him rather than burn him. And, after all, Calvin was a child of his times and everyone was doing the same. Nevertheless, I still struggle with placing a man complicit in murder on a pedestal.

Furthermore, I find Calvin’s doctrine of God repulsive. It elevates God’s sovereignty over his love, leaving God’s reputation in question. What I mean is that Calvin’s all-determining, predestining deity is at best morally ambiguous and at worst morally repugnant.

Much to the chagrin of some contemporary Calvinists, Calvin clearly taught that God foreordained the fall and rendered it certain. (Institutes of the Christian Religion III:XXIII.8) He also affirmed double predestination (III:XXI.5) and displayed callous disregard for the reprobate who he admitted God compelled to obedience (disobedience). (I:XVIII.2) Calvin distinguished between two modes of God’s will—what later Calvinists have called God’s decretive and preceptive wills. (III:XXIV.17) God decrees that the sinner shall sin while at the same time commanding him not to sin and condemning him for doing what he was determined by God to do. To Calvin this all lies in the secret purposes of God into which we should not peer too deeply, but it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of anyone who regards God as above all love.

John Wesley commented on the Calvinists’ claim that God loves even the reprobate in some way. As one contemporary Calvinist put it, “God loves all people in some ways but only some people in all ways.” Wesley said that this is a love such as makes the blood run cold.

Calvin’s successor in Geneva, Theodore Beza, commented that those who find themselves suffering in the flames of hell for eternity can at least take comfort in the fact that they are there for the greater glory of God. To paraphrase Wesley, that is a glory such as sends chills down the spine. God foreordains some of his own creatures, created in his own image, to eternal hell for his own glory? Calvin may not have put it quite that bluntly, but many Calvinists have and it is a necessary extrapolation of the inner logic of consistent Calvinism. (Institutes III:XXII.11)

I have been heavily criticized by some of my Calvinist friends for saying that my biggest problem with Calvinism (by which I mean consistent divine determinism) is that it makes it difficult for me to tell the difference between God and the devil. (I am not saying Calvinists worship the devil!)

For me nothing about the Christian worldview is more important than regarding God and the devil as absolute competitors in this universe and its tragic history. God is good and desires the good of every creature. As church father Irenaeus said “The glory of God is man fully alive.” The devil is bad and desires harm for every creature. To view the devil as God’s instrument makes a mockery of the entire biblical narrative.

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