Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reply to the Calvinists

In the course of our previous discussion on Calvinism, there are several lines of argument that need attention. I think the Calvinists have taken somewhat divergent lines in defending their position. Bnonn seems inclined to be critical of my claim the conception of goodness that we apply to God needs to be continuous with the concept that we apply to human beings. He seems, much more that Paul, to want to push in the general direction of theological voluntarism. He maintains that while we do, and must come to Christ and to Scripture with a conception of what goodness is, we must be prepared to allow our conception of goodness to be corrected by Scripture. There are two problems with his suggestion.
First, while I admit that Scripture can correct my conception of goodness, accepting reprobation would, on my view, not be a correction, but an out and out reversal, of what goodness seems to me to be. If Hitler was wrong to send people to Auschwitz, could it be OK for God to send people to an everlasting Auschwitz, when he could have chosen eternal bliss for them?
Second, it’s the very influence of Scripture on my character that makes Calvinism a problem. Scripture teaches that I should love my neighbor as myself and undermines the idea, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that there are people outside the pale of being my neighbor. If I think about the people whom I come the closest to loving as I do myself, I don’t find that there are two good options, either an eternal bliss in relation to God, or eternal justified punishment forever and ever separated from God. The more I love someone, the less acceptable the second option is.
Finally, the summum bonum that God pursues in saving and damning is supposed to be his own glory. How in the world does damning someone eternally glorify God. How does taking voices out of the heavenly choir glorify God? Sending people to hell by a decree before the foundation of the world deprives God of glory.
Paul Manata does not think that Calvinism relies on theological voluntarism, and does therefore think that God’s goodness, even on a Calvinistic view, is in some way commensurable with goodness as human beings ordinarily understand it. He claims Sudduth blows the idea that Calvin is a theological voluntarist. He quotes a passage with suggests otherwise, but I wonder how he would interpret the following statement form the Institutes

The will of God is the highest rule of justice, so that what He wills must be considered just…for this very reason, because he wills it. (Institutes, vol ii, chap 3, trans. John Allen. Philadephia: Presbyterian Board of Christian Education, p. 23) quoted in John Beversluis’ C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion p. 230.

Now, as I see it not much turns on whether Calvin was a voluntarist (or, to use Beversluis’ terminology, and Ockhamist) or not. I suspect that a textual case could be made on both sides of the issue. I am more interested in Manata’s suggesting that, for the most part, you can use many of the same defensive responses to the problem of evil if you are a Calvinist. Of course you can’t use the free will defense, but there are other considerations used by people like Plantinga, Alston, Adams, etc, that a Calvinst can still use.

In particular, most responses to the problem of evil make use of some sort of argument from human epistemic limitations. In response to, say, Loftus’ argument that a good God would have given us wings, theists point out that while this looks like an improvement to someone like Loftus, it is fairly easy to see that if we were to consider all the effects of giving us wings, it might not be an improvement.

In many cases, we find that some things that seem to be gratuitously evil turn out to have good sides we couldn’t see. The wicked act of selling Joseph to the slavers resulted, after a long chain of events, in Jacob’s family being able to settle in Egypt and to avoid the ill effects of the famine. So if something appears evil, it may not be because

1) We don’t see all the causes and effects that will result for this so-called evil.
2) We don’t see the long-term consequences of the evil.
3) We don’t see the eternal consequences of the evil.
4) We don’t see the possible bad consequences of eliminating the evil.

Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making? It’s a final result for someone’s soul. We see all the causes and effects, at least so far is this particular life is concerned. The long-term consequences are known, even the eternal consequences are known, and the alternative possibility of God’s saving that person is also known. So my error can’t be traced to any of these four sources. So where did I go wrong if I thought this would be wrong for God to do, but it really isn’t? It must be that my conception of goodness is dead wrong. That’s all that’s left.

11 comments:

Mike Darus said...

Goodness as a controlling feature of God's actions cannot be the same as goodness applied to human actions.
1) God requires humans to prevent harm from happening to another human being if they have the ability and opportunity to intervene.
2) If God were required to prevent harm from happening to a human being if He had the ability and opportunity to intervene, all occurances of harm would be prevented by God.
3) God could not require this action of humans since there would be no opportunities available for humans.

Ilíon said...

Mike Darus: (addressing VR's argument) "Goodness as a controlling feature of God's actions cannot be the same as goodness applied to human actions."

The foundations of Calvinism include the fundamental error of denying the reality of human moral agency (i.e. "free will"). Calvinist falsely believe that if we are indeed free then God is diminished.

To put it bluntly (and, one hopes, thereby induce someone to stop and actually think about the content and meaning of his beliefs), the Calvinists are so concerned to uphold God's honor (as though we even can do that!) as the Sovereign Lord that they essential call him a liar (on top of calling hin unjust); for they effectively deny that we are made in his image.


At the same time, Arminians make serious errors, too (though, I think the error(s) are due to human nature, rather than to the affirmation of human freedom).

For instance, and while I doubt it's intentional (and while I doubt it will be acknowledged), Mr Reppert is effectively denying that God *is* the Sovereign Lord; Mr Reppert is effectively asserting that Man is the moral equal with God, that we and God are on the same moral plane.


Mike Darus: "1) God requires humans to prevent harm from happening to another human being if they have the ability and opportunity to intervene."

It's too bad that the words 'subjective' and 'objective' have the meaning they have.

Morality, all morality, pertains to subjects (aka 'agents' or 'persons'). But, because 'subjective' and 'objective' have quite the senses of meaning they have, it will not do to say "Morality is 'subjective'."

So, in lieu, let us say that "Morality is 'personal'."

Morality consists of the demands which one person may justly (which concept is also tied up into morality) make of another. (Real) Moral obligations are obligatory precisely because one person owes to the other to do the thing demanded.

God ... because he is our Creator, because he sustains our very existence ... has the right (which concept is also tied up into morality) to place moral obligations upon us. We do not have the right, nor the ability, to place moral obligations upon him. What does he owe us? We owe him everything!

Mike Darus said...

"The foundations of Calvinism include the fundamental error of denying the reality of human moral agency (i.e. "free will"). Calvinist falsely believe that if we are indeed free then God is diminished."

Is this the claim of Calvinism or the accusation of Calvinism's critics? The Calvin I read affirms that Adam was truly free and created in God's image. Our lack of freedom and diminished reflection of the image of God is due to the affect of sin on us, not our nature. The idea that God's nature is diminished by man's freedom is usually in the context of discussion of Open Theism where the omniscience of God is lessoned by unpredictable human choices especially in the context of relationships.

Mike Darus said...

"Morality consists of the demands which one person may justly (which concept is also tied up into morality) make of another. (Real) Moral obligations are obligatory precisely because one person owes to the other to do the thing demanded."

This works well in the world of legal contracts (and covenants) but the morality of Jesus has to add a second story. If we are to do unto others as we would have them do unto us, we are no longer fulfilling demands, but we are anticipating needs and desires. This coincides with the challenge that if we know good that we can do and fail to do it, we have missed the mark. The opportunity to do good is way beyond the fulfillment of an obligation. It is when this level of goodness is applied to God, He is accused of failing to do what He asks of us. I am offering a justification for God's failure to act. He must delegate these activities to humans so that we have the opportunity to participate in this level of righteousness.

Aaah, iSpell is working now.

Paul Manata said...

Hi Dr. Reppert,

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/04/reply-to-anti-calvinists.html

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: "Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making?"

You're making the most common human mistake, the same one that the Calvinists make, the same one that the Open Theologists make: you're absolutizing time ... you're turning our subjective experience of time into Time, you're forgetting that time is a component of the creation, not a "container" in which the creation rests/floats.

Once again I ask (and once again I expect no response): "What does it *mean* to speak of everlasting punishment in hell?" (or everlasting bliss in God's presence) Can we really understand eternity? Or is it that "everlasting" is the closest that human language/concepts can come to the reality we're trying to think about?

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: "Now if someone went to hell as a result of divine decree who could have been saved, and I say that isn’t something a good God could permit, which one of these mistakes could I be making? It’s a final result for someone’s soul. We see all the causes and effects, at least so far is this particular life is concerned. The long-term consequences are known, even the eternal consequences are known, and the alternative possibility of God’s saving that person is also known. So my error can’t be traced to any of these four sources. So where did I go wrong if I thought this would be wrong for God to do, but it really isn’t? It must be that my conception of goodness is dead wrong. That’s all that’s left."

Also, but the time we get to this point, it's difficult (for me, at any rate) to tell whether your question is rooted in objecting to Calvinistic predestinaton or in objecting to *anyone* being damned.

Are you objecting to injustice? Or to justice?

Victor Reppert said...

No. If you have someone freely choosing to "reign in hell rather than serve in heaven", and persists in that choice, you have a problem as to how that choice can be reversed, as it must be if the person is to enjoy God's heaven. The Hell of the Great Divorce, the Hell which is a natural consequences of the use of free choice to choose the self over God, in untouched by this line of argument.

GeneMBridges said...

1. So, one of your objections to Calvinism seems to be the old canard that "people are damned due to a decree."

That sounds cute, but it's a category mistake. Decrees only make things certain. The decrees are worked out by Providence. So, your objection is ultimately to certainty, for no construal of the decrees by our representative theologians, even the few Supras, construes the the permission of the fall as brought about by God's direct efficiency, nor the classic Supras state that men are reprobated apart from sin.

2. The classic general objection runs this way:

Calvinism affirms that God decreed the fall. This was certain and effacious. It was not ineffacious (as in Arminianism), bare permission. Since the Fall results in eternal condemnation, men are "damned due to the decree." Since the decree to elect/reprobate keeps them out of salvation, men are still damned due to a decree. The objection to Supralapsarianism falls on similar grounds, only slightly different depending on the Supra position one critiques. (However, if you're going to run to Platinga, you should acknowledge that his theodicy is, itself, Supralapsarian.)

Overall this objection to decrees is facile for a number of reasons:

1. Where's the exegetical argument? You, yourself, say Scripture will correct you, but Scripture says that God has created everything for it's own purpose even the wicked for the day of evil. Scripture says that there are those who have been marked out long beforehand for condemnation, viz in Jude 4. So, if you really believed the Bible, you'd at least try to mount an exegetical argument.

2. The decree to fall is a decree to *permit* the fall. So, we can use the FWD to tell us *how* the fall happened, and it doesn't require LFW.

3. Arminians also have orders of decrees. Since you're no theologian, you may not realize this. How does God decreeing the possibility of evil (to take just one example of a distinction Arminians try to make) get God "off the hook?" If they affirm that He has infallible foreknowledge, then God still creates man knowing this is inevitable.

4. Molinism has God decreeing this and only this universe by picking one from any number of infallibly,immutablly foreseen outcomes.

5. Open Theists might deny the foreknowledge, but then they must concede there is unplanned evil. That's conceding the problem of evil to atheism.

So, how is the Arminian really in a better position than the Calvinist? The FWD implicit in their own decree of the fall is intended to accentuate man's responsibility over God's, but how does that accomplish the purpose? The issue isn't "Is God responsible?" the issue is "Is God to blame?" And if the Bible says God is responsible *in any way* then we as Christians are obligated to accept its word over our intuition - which you,sir, do not appear prepared to do.

As a matter of fact, it's the Amyraldian and Arminian who have the hardest problem with the objection that men are damned due to a decree. Nobody ever takes the time to look at that:

Here's basic Amyraldianism:

Creation
Permission of fall
Atonement for all
Election/reprobation
Application

Because the third decree is construed as a real desire to atone for the sin of everybody, the 4th decree works @ cross purposes. It manifests a contradictory desire.

Infralapsarianism and Supralapsarianism don't have this problem. So the problem that you're trying to address is really *a nonCalvinist* problem, not ours, even on an Arminian order. It's only a pseudoproblem for us. It's really a problem for others, including you. Like many an objector to Calvinism, you are mirror-reading.

It's a problem for the Arminian and Amyraldian alike, for it's a problem for any order of decrees that construes the atonement in general terms then includes a decree to elect - no matter how election is contrued - will fall prey to this problem. The atonement manifests a real desire to save everybody. The decree to elect - or recognize the elect by their faith (Arminianism) is construed as desire *not* to save everybody - for everybody is not saved. The Molinist would say God decreed this universe knowing that very outcome, and the Arminian must say that not everybody will believe the Gospel - for not everyone will hear the Gospel.

The inherent conflict in the Arminian order of decrees is readily admitted by Arminians, even Arminius himself:

ON THE DECREES OF GOD WHICH CONCERN THE SALVATION OF SINFUL MEN,
ACCORDING TO HIS OWN SENSE

The first decree concerning the salvation of sinful men, as that by which God resolves to appoint
his Son Jesus Christ as a saviour, mediator, redeemer, high priest, and one who may expiate sins,
by the merit of his own obedience may recover lost salvation, and dispense it by his efficacy. 2.
The SECOND DECREE is that by which God resolves to receive into favour those who repent and
believe, and to save in Christ, on account of Christ, and through Christ, those who persevere, but
to leave under sin and wrath those who are impenitent and unbelievers, and to condemn them as
aliens from Christ. 3. The THIRD DECREE is that by which God resolves to administer such means
for repentance and faith as are necessary, sufficient, and efficacious. And this administration is
directed according to the wisdom of God, by which he knows what is suitable or becoming to mercy
and severity; it is also according to his righteousness, by which he is prepared to follow and execute
[the directions] of his wisdom. 4. From these follows a FOURTH DECREE, concerning the salvation
of these particular persons, and the damnation of those. This rests or depends on the prescience and foresight of God, by which he foreknew from all eternity what men would, through such
administration, believe by the aid of preventing or preceding grace, and would persevere by the
aid of subsequent or following grace, and who would not believe and persevere. 5. Hence, God is
said to "know those who are his;" and the number both of those who are to be saved, and of those
who are to be damned, is certain and fixed, and the quod and the qui, [the substance and the parties
of whom it is composed,] or, as the phrase of the schools is, both materially and formally. 6. The
second decree [described in § 2] is predestination to salvation, which is the foundation of Christianity,salvation, and of the assurance of salvation; it is also the matter of the gospel, and the substance of the doctrine taught by the apostles. 7. But that predestination by which God is said to have decreed to save particular creatures and persons and to endue them with faith, is neither the foundation of Christianity, of salvation, nor of the assurance of salvation.


So, we're left with universalism - and that is pure unbridled, unvarnished heresy despite your protests, without a scintilla of exegesis given to support it. Good job, Dr. Reppert. Your problem isn't with Calvinism, it's really with any consideration of any sort of decree emanating from God, for decrees, at the very least, get us to some sort of certainty, and that's going to involve God creating with certain damnation in mind, if you believe in any sort of hell at all. That smacks of being a sin problem on your part, nothing more.

Ilíon said...

Ilíon: "Are you objecting to injustice? Or to justice?"

VR: "No. If you have someone freely choosing to "reign in hell rather than serve in heaven", and persists in that choice, you have a problem as to how that choice can be reversed, as it must be if the person is to enjoy God's heaven. ..."

Mr Reppert,
As I was trying to make clear, before I finished reading it, I was a bit confused as to just what you were arguing. Quite a bit, actually.

Perhaps I'm mis-reading, which does happen from time to time. It seems to me that you're intending to present a "proof by contradiction" type argument (i.e. to argue from strictly Calvinist premises, and from a logical contradiction show that there is some critical flaw in Calvinism) ... but that you keep slipping back and forth between Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic internal (to the argument) critiques.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant said...

Victor, my apologies for not responding to your reply sooner. Since you have specifically addressed my own argument, I think it is reasonable and polite that I defend it. However, having just had our first child, I've been somewhat pressed for time until now.

I've had some spare moments free over the past couple of days, though, so if you're still interested, I've written up a response at http://bnonn.thinkingmatters.org.nz/?p=66.

Regards,
Bnonn