Friday, May 02, 2008

Meaning, Divine Justice, and Calvinism

One point on which, I think, Calvinists can provide me with some clarification. God would be just if God were to damn everyone. God would be just if God were to save everyone. God is just if, as they think he actually has done, saves some and not others. How could God possibly be unjust? And if the phrase "God is just" will come out true regardless of what God does, we have to ask what it could possibly mean to say that God is just. If I say "The cat is on the mat" there has to be a possible scenario according to which the cat is not on the mat, which is denied by the assertion. What is the Calvinist denying when the Calvinist says that God is just? What could it turn out that God has done that could be identified as unjust, given the fact that God is the creator and we are creatures. It looks to me as if the potter has so much freedom there's no meaningful sense to be made of the claim that God is just. "God is just" becomes a miserable tautology, like "God does what God does."

I don't see that trivializing scriptural claims is no better than denying them, and I think Calvinist exegesis tends to do that with a lot of things.

No doubt there's an answer to this. But I'd love to know what it is.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I once lived in the "Bible Belt of The North" (aka "West Michigan") where they have world records for highest concentrations of golf courses, bars, and Dutch Reformed Churches.

Even though I'm a reformed Jew, I'm glad there is a Christian that can see the kind of inanity that I dealt with all the time with Calvinists. You're "spot on" on most of your critiques.

Oh, and don't get me started on "Presuppositionalist Apologists" and their legions. What are your thoughts on them?

Respectfully,

Emir

Paul Manata said...

Hi Victor,

http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2008/05/providing-clarification-for-reppert.html

A Christian Sceptic said...

Here is a link to the best explanation of God's Justice I've read. It's by George MacDonald. Divine Justice. Peace.

Ilíon said...

anonymous: "Oh, and don't get me started on "Presuppositionalist Apologists" and their legions. What are your thoughts on them?"

My thoughts are, of course, not Mr Reppert's thoughts. But it seems to me that the biggest/most common bitching about "Presuppositionalist Apologists" is precisely because the presuppositionalists are explicitly (i.e. openly, admittedly) doing the very thing the bitchers are implicitly doing ... pre-supposing certain facts about the nature of reality.

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: "One point on which, I think, Calvinists can provide me with some clarification. God would be just if God were to damn everyone. God would be just if God were to save everyone. God is just if, as they think he actually has done, saves some and not others. How could God possibly be unjust? And if the phrase "God is just" will come out true regardless of what God does, we have to ask what it could possibly mean to say that God is just. If I say "The cat is on the mat" there has to be a possible scenario according to which the cat is not on the mat, which is denied by the assertion. What is the Calvinist denying when the Calvinist says that God is just? What could it turn out that God has done that could be identified as unjust, given the fact that God is the creator and we are creatures. It looks to me as if the potter has so much freedom there's no meaningful sense to be made of the claim that God is just. "God is just" becomes a miserable tautology, like "God does what God does.""

Of course, since I'm not a Calvinist, I can't begin to "answer for Calvinism?"

However, I can try to help you see the flaw in your thinking.

Let us pretend, for the sake of argument, that it is logically possible for God to be unjust. [We won't even go into just what 'just/justice' and/or 'unjust/injustice' mean, and certainly we will not go into what these words could possibly mean in reference to God!]

Further, let us pretend, for the sake of argument, that God has done an injustice. Or, at any rate, let us pretend that someone, you perhaps, is asserting that God has done an injustice.


So, how do we evaluate this assertion? By what standard do we evaluate the assertion that God has done an injustice? Where does this standard exist? Who promulgated this standard?


There are only a very few ways in which to resolve such a dilemma. I won't insist that this list is exhaustive, but I can't think of any other options:
1) Assert that there exists no such thing as 'justice' ... and thus that 'injustice' is impossible, because the term is meaningless.
2) Assert that 'justice' exists independently (ontologically prior, let us say) of any mind or of reference to any mind ... that is, that 'justice' *just is* ... even though this assertion is even more absurd that assertion 1).
3) Assert that we are misapplying the term 'God' to the wrong being/entity ... that, in fact, the "Real God" is someone else who is "higher-up the chain of command," and that *he* defines what 'justice' is. Ad nauseam.
4) Assert that one's own self is qualified to stand in accusation *and* judgment upon God ... that is, that the creature is greater than the Creator!

'X') Assert orthodox Biblical (ie. Judeo-Christian) belief:
'X'a) that there *is* such thing as 'justice.'
'X'b) that 'justice' does not exist "on its own," as it were, but only in reference to a mind or minds.
'X'c) that the 'Euthyphro Dilemma' is a false dilemma ... that the truth of the matter is not either-or, but rather both ... that is, God *IS* Justice.

'X'z) Therefore, it really is literally senseless/meaningless to speak of God being unjust, for it is a logical impossibility, a contradiction-in-terms.


Orthodox Biblical belief on this question is *not* what most people, including most Christians, want to see is the truth about the nature of reality. Nevertheless, it is the only belief which both makes sense of all the evidence and "works."


V.Reppert: "I don't see that trivializing scriptural claims is no [sic] better than denying them, and I think Calvinist exegesis tends to do that with a lot of things."

Of course, trivializing is no better than denying. But this observation cuts both ways, does it not?

Victor Reppert said...

So, if four-point Calvinism were true but limited atonement were denied, that would mean that God was unjust?

Ilíon said...

V.Reppert: "So, if four-point Calvinism were true but limited atonement were denied, that would mean that God was unjust?"

I thought Calvinism had five points? There are two significant versions? Or that was a typo?

And, of course, I'm not a Calvinist (*) ... so, of course, I can't "answer for" or "speak for" Calvinism ... I can but apply reason to what I know and understand about it (same as with atheism).

Also, it's completely unclear to whom you intend the question. I *assume* it's to me, since I had written a somewhat lengthy post addressed to you, and in which I'd said I think you're making an error in your attempts to wrestle with the particular issues you've raised in the OP.


(*) I believe that Calvinsim's foundational committments contain at least one error, and so naturally the developed theology will contain an error or errors. In contrast, the Pelagianism that generally passes for Arminianism in modern America (that being the only society I know) does not seem to me to be necessitated by the foundational committments of Arminianism. That many (or most?) modern-day "Aminians" are more accurately called Pelagians, seems to me due to the human propensity for error, rather than to the internal logic of Arminianism.

---------------
"Limited Atonement" is a name applied one of the five points of Calvinism, the Arminian denial (or contrast) of which is called "General Atonement." If one asserts that "Limited Atonement" is incorrect or false (as I do), then one is denying that Calvinism-as-a-whole is true.

Here is a comparison of the contrasting Five Points of Calviniam and Arminianism -- Pastor, What is the Difference? IV - COMPARING CALVINISM AND ARMINIANISM (This particular page of the site, at least, seems to me to be mostly balanced, at least not blatantly partisan, as others on the site are.)


AND, as best as I can understand your question (I'm having a difficult time deciding I do understand just what you're asking), it seems to me that you've making the mistake that is common to Calvinists *and* Arminians -- and which I think lies at the root of the centuries-long dispute between Calvinism and the rest of Chistendom. I think that rather than trying -- as best and as admittedly incompletely as we "time-drenched" human beings are capable -- to see the issues from an erernal or "timeless" vantage-point, you (and the Calvinists) are imputing an ontological priority to time, which it does not possess. One might try to illustrate the error by saying that you are turning 'time' into 'Time.'

In effect, you are incorrectly seeing God as an effect of his own created Cosmos -- which seems to me to lead to Calvinism ... or to Open Theology (or to other errors, of course).

--------------
But let's get Calvinism out of your question (since that isn't helping at all): V.Reppert: "So, if ... limited atonement were denied, that would mean that God was unjust?"

And, then, we see that neither the denial nor the affirmation of "Limited Atonement" is quite the issue, but rather whether "Limited Atonement" is true or false, regardless of whether we deny or affirm it ... and also, importantly, the issue is whether it even is logically possible for God to be unjust.

In my prior post, I gave a short argument ('inductive,' is it not?) as to why it is logically impossible for God to be unjust. You may notice that while I used this argument to *affirm* Judeo-Christian belief about God, it does not *start* from Judeo-Christian belief about God (I *hate* circularity!)


V.Reppert: "So, if ... limited atonement were denied, that would mean that God was unjust?"

My point immediatly above is that the question even now is incorrectly phrased. But, even phrased this way, what does it have to do with anything I've said? I *do* deny that "Limited Atonement" is the correct understanding of God's Grace ... and that denial does not call God's Justice into question.


I think a better phrasing of the question might be: "So, if ... limited atonement were [not the truth about God's Grace], that would mean that God was unjust?" Or, removing the negations: "So, God is just *only if* limited atonement is the truth about his Grace?"

(Notice, we can evaluate the question without reference to the question I'd asked previously, or the argument I'd presented, as to whether it even is logically possible for God to be unjust).


Or, replacing the term 'limited atonement' with what it means:"So, God is just *only if* [salvation is extended *only to* those human beings whom God has "pre-selected" for salvation without any regard whatsoever to whether any of these Elect desire to be saved ... or to whether any of the non-Elect desire to be not damned] is the truth about his Grace?"

And, clearly, I emphatically deny the question.

The question itself shows itself to be absurd! Some of the non-Elect assumed in that question may will to not be in rebellion against God: too bad, their non-salvation has nothing to do with whether they do or do not want to be in rebellion! Some of the Elect assumed in that question may will to be in rebellion against God: too bad, their salvation has nothing to do with whether they do or do not want to be in non-rebellion!

The assumption behind the question is that God forces himself upon some of us who do not want to love him (he's a Cosmic Rapist!), and utterly spurns others of us who yearn to love him (he's a Passive-Aggressive Cold Fish!)

So, if the "Limited Atonement" doctrine is true (and is asserted by the Bible), then we have this situation: 1) God *asserts* that he loves all us human beings; God *asserts* that he will force this love on some who do not will/want/wish to receive it; God *asserts* that he will deny this love to some who do will/want/wish to receive it.