Saturday, May 22, 2004

Praying in the will of God

The walk of faith is a cord of three interwoven strands: worship, Scripture, and prayer. And yet there’s a great deal of unnecessary confusion afoot over praying in the will of God.

What does it mean to pray in God’s will? How do we pray in God’s will? Is it necessary to pray in God’s will?

On the one hand, you have a lot of people who pray for anything and everything. They never give a second thought to whether their petition is in the will of God. Let’s consider a couple of common examples.

How many times have you been in a church service where you were asked to pray for world peace? But do they really expect universal peace to break out all over the globe? What is this expectation based on? Does God promise that if we pray for peace around the world, then this will happen?

When we pray for world peace, for what are we praying? Are we praying that God will make Sunnis and Shiites, Hindus and Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims and other suchlike, love each other? Is that realistic? Or are we praying that God will convert them all to Christ, in which case they well be brothers in Christ?

For there to be peace on earth, everyone would have to be of a peaceable disposition. Everyone would have to be sinless. Where in the Bible does God predict that everyone will be sinless—whether in this world or the world to come? Is hell a peaceful place?

A more thoughtful prayer would be to sponsor missionaries, and pray that God bless their labors. Peace does not happen in a vacuum. As long as Muslims are Muslims and Hindus are Hindus, you won't have world peace.

A prayer for peace should be a prayer for Christian conversion. And such a prayer ought to be a preparation for action rather than a substitute for action.

It is a perilous thing, spiritual speaking, to constantly pray prayers that have no prospect of success. Unless we have good reason to believe that prayer makes a difference, the practice of ineffectual prayer makes pray a dead, pro forma exercise. We just go through the motions, like wind-up toys. And like a dying tree that's leafy on the outside, but rotten on the inside, such empty gestures threaten to hollow out our own piety. It is a mockery to God and a blight on the soul to pray prayers that are never answered because they're never planted in the Promised Land of Scripture.

To take another example, a lot of folks pray to learn the will of God. They ask God to let them know if this is the right job for them, or the right person to marry.

But that sort of prayer rests of a couple of assumptions. Where does Scripture say that prayer is a means of finding out the will of God? And what form would that take? Are they expecting to hear the voice of God? Are they counting on some unmistakable sign? Are they hoping for some sort of warm feeling or serene impression?

If so, what is this expectation based on? Does the Bible promise anything of the kind?

My point is not that we should never pray about such matters. It is only natural and proper to pray about matters of utmost importance.

Rather, we need to cultivate a clearer sense of what we hope such prayers to accomplish.

Is the underlying assumption of such a prayer that if this job or that engagement is not pleasing to God, then he will intervene to prevent it?

If so, then that is a false assumption. God may intervene, and there is nothing wrong with asking him to do so, but God is under no obligation to do so. If he does, then this is an uncovenanted blessing. But if he chooses not to intervene, that doesn't necessary mean that he approves of our choice. There's nothing wrong with asking, but done go assuming that God is bound to answer on your time and on your terms.

At this point, someone might ask, then why bother at all? Well, it's like planting a flower. Planting a flower is an act of faith. You don't know when or even if it will blossom. But if you never plant it, it will never blossom.

Part of the beauty of the thing lies in not knowing, in the element of surprise. One day you turn a corner and your flower is abloom. And prayer is like that. You don't know when or even if it will be answered, but if the answer should come, it comes unannounced, like a budding flower.

On the other hand, you have a fair number of folks with just the opposite approach. They are extremely scrupulous about never praying outside the will of God. They feel that you should never pray for something unless you know in advance whether it’s the will of God. They imagine that you cannot pray in faith unless you already know that God will answer your prayer.

So they cast about for various ways of finding out or guessing at God’s will. They put out a fleece of some sort or another. They propose a sign for God. This is highly presumptuous because it attempts to compel an answer from God. God cannot be coerced.

Again, though, where does Scripture say that you must always know the will of God to pray to God? Or is this just another thoughtless assumption that some people make?

I do not deny that God may, on rare occasion, intervene in some extraordinary fashion. But the point is that we ought not base our decision-making on any such expectation, for Scripture does not authorize any such expectation.

And there are a couple of obvious dangers when a believer does so. Sooner or later, a false expectation is bound to be disappointed. And when his hopes are dashed, he may suffer a crisis of faith.

In addition, it fosters a false sense of piety when we feel the need to live up to a level of spiritual experience not promised in Scripture. We feign a degree of spiritual intimacy which we do not, in fact, enjoy.

And this, in turn, sets us up for the fall at times in life when the Lord seems to be absent rather than present. If we build our faith on thin air, the Lord will not suspend the laws of spiritual gravity when we "step out in faith." Walk off a cliff, and the only way is staight down. Even the Son of God did not presume to put his Heavenly Father to the test (Mt 4:5-7).

Now, we might say that both sides are half-right and half-wrong.

1. To draw a preliminary and primary distinction, we need to distinguish between the secret things of God and the stated things of God (Deut 29:29).

2. We should pray for things commanded in Scripture and promised in his Word. This is his stated will.

3. We should never pray for things forbidden in Scripture. This is his stated will. For example, there are churchgoers who pray that God will bless an unscriptural divorce. God will do nothing of the kind.

4. It isn’t always essential to know the will of God to be in his will. God, in his providence, can cause you to be in his will without your knowing about it. This is his secret will. Just look at how God, without tipping his hand, guided Abraham's servant to find the right wife for Isaac (Gen 24).

5. One way of learning the will of God is to pray about a matter and see what happens. If your prayer goes unanswered, then it was not in his will.

At the same time, this is not a hard and fast rule, for a certain persistence in prayer can be a virtue. Perhaps the best thing to be said is to pray as long as the door remains open, but if the door shuts, then that's that.

And we should not necessarily wait for an answer before we go through the door. Unless the door says "Do not enter!"—according to the word of God, there is no sin in trying the doorknob. This is question of what is prudent rather than permissible. Whatever is not forbidden is allow, but wisdom and freedom are two different things, and the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Ps 111:10; Jas 1:5).

6. There is nothing unspiritual about making plans and decisions on the basis of sanctified common sense. Holy reason has an honorable place in Christian life (cf. 1 Cor 2:16b; Eph 4:23; Col 3:10).

7. If it were all that important for us to know the will of God in some particular question, then God would be more than capable of making his will unmistakable plain. And I do not deny that, on rare occasion, God might speak directly to a Christian or intervene on some unmistakable way.

But that's the point: whatever God is willing to do, God is able to do. He either speaks clearly, or not at all. So we should not strain our eyes to make out shapes in the clouds.

Conversely, God is able to do many things he is unwilling to do. So we should never set our heart on something that was never promised us.

8. Prayer is not a means of making an unwilling God willing. God is not the sort of person we either can or ought to arm-twist. And faith is not a matter of mustering a can-do feeling.

9. There is no danger of asking God to do something outside his secret will, for he would never do anything outside his own will.

But you can do something outside his stated will, and in so doing, you will do great harm to yourself and others.

Christians sometimes fret over making the wrong decisions. They are haunted by self-doubts and afterthoughts and vain regrets.

But you can never make a mess of your life by not knowing God's secret will. Yet you can make a mess of your life by not knowing his stated will, or by flouting his stated will.

Never torment yourself over what you were never granted to know. Leave that in his almighty hands. You are responsible for what he revealed, not what he concealed. The way to miss out on life is to be looking in the wrong direction.

10. Many believers feel that they must pray in faith. And indeed they must. But faith in what? Praying in faith doesn't mean that you believe you'll get whatever you ask for.

Praying in faith is not the assertion of my will, but the resignation to his will. We put our faith in the faithfulness of God and the goodness of his Word.

It’s funny how so many people get tied up in knots over the subject of prayer. Children don’t have this problem.

Children ask God for something in the same way they ask a parent for something. On the one hand, children are quite uninhibited about what they ask for. When you were a child, did you ever wait until you knew your parents' will before putting in a request? Of course not! You just went ahead an asked for it. You figured that either your parent would give it to you or not. You had something to gain and nothing to lose.

On the other hand, children also know better than to ask for just anything at all. Because they know their parents, they know that some things are off-limits. So it’s a waste of time to ask for forbidden things.

Good children of good parents know that their parents will never withhold anything they need or give them anything that would do them harm.

So when we pray to God, we should pray with the freedom and discretion of a wise child. Be bold, but not presumptuous; be prudent, but not overscrupulous.

There is, in this life, an element of mystery to the life of prayer. Prayer doesn't change the will of God, but God wills the act of prayer as a means of change in the attainment of ends unattainable by other means.

As we learn in Hebrews 11, we live by faith, not by sight. Much was mysterious to those living before the first coming of Christ that is clear us, living on the other side of the cross. But much is mysterious to us, living before the second coming of Christ, that will be made clear at the restoration of all things.

For further reading:

Paul Helm, "Can I know God's will for my life?" Modern Reformation (Jan/Feb 2004), 24-29.

Bruce Waltke, Finding the Will of God (Eerdmans 2002).

Somewhere over the rainbow-3

Talbott goes on to say,
"It is hard to avoid the conclusion that those Christians who would restrict God's love and mercy to a chosen few really have no clear idea of what to do with 1 Jn 4:8,16…If this expresses a truth about the essence of God, then it is logically impossible that the person who is God should fail to love someone" (113).

By way of reply:
i) At most, this would not be a question of what is logically impossible, but ethically or ontologically impossible.
ii) By this "logic," if a man is naturally loving, then he must make love to every woman he meets. Is Talbott a loving or unloving man? If loving, is he a polygamist? Does he maintain a harem?
After all, it's not enough, on Talbott's score, to be merely loving. You must be equally loving.
iii) Isn't marital love an exclusive love? And isn't marital love an exemplum of divine love (Isa 54; Ezk 16; Hosea; Eph 5; Rev 19-22)?.
iv) If essential love means that God must love everyone, then does essential omnipotence mean that God must do everything?
v) Isn't there a logical relationship between loving good and hating evil, or loving evil and hating good? If we love one thing, is it not natural to hate its antithesis?
vi) In the Johannine epistles, love is a closed circle: the Trinity loves itself, the Trinity loves the elect, the elect love each other, the elect love the Trinity. It is not a love that breaks out of the exclusive circle. It is not love of the world. Love of the world is antithetical to Johannine love.
vii) Talbott deliberately omits the oft-repeated faith-condition, as well as the emphatic dualism, in 1 John.
If Talbott is going to stake his claim in the Johannine epistles, then he has chosen hardpan for planting the seeds of universalism.

Talbott also tries to sneak Heb 12:29 into his brief, as though that were a prooftext for universalism: "If God is love and his purifying love, like a consuming fire (see Heb 12:29), destroys all that is false within us…" (118). Now Talbott has done nothing whatsoever to lay the foundation for this equation.

I assume he brings in Heb 12 by this sideways maneuver because it is a powerful passage of judgment, and so he has to do something with it to deflect its force. And he is evidently unable to presents a serious exegetical finding. And so he slips it in under the cover of a common metaphor, with the innuendo that if one writer writes about fire, and another writer writes about fire, then they both mean the same thing, and they both mean just what the universalist means. Of course, this inferential chain breaks down at so many points that it's hardly surprising if Talbott declined to lay out, much less weld together, each little link. But if he has so little confidence in his own argument, why should we have any higher confidence?

In addition, to foist a universalistic spin on the eschatological threats in the Book of Hebrews ill-accords with the author's a fortiori style of argument, in which the postmortem punishment awaiting unbelievers is even more unremitting than their premortem punishment.

Moving on to Mal 1:1, Talbott regards the love/hate language as anthropomorphic. I agree with him. However, it is a vivid way of expressing election and reprobation, which are quite literal.

Talbott tries to dodge this by laying stress on the reconciliation of the two brothers. But that's beside the point. Talbott is reading narrative theology against the grain of the intertextual commentary supplied by Malachi and Paul.

To say that "the remnant is always a pledge on behalf of the whole" (121) suffers from a fatal equivocation. There is a collective remnant distributively represented in every generation. But that is not identical with the entire mass of humanity. As one theologian has said, commenting on Isa 6:9-13,
"He has the promise of a remnant, a remnant which will in turn be eaten away, but of which the holy seed shall be the substance. In other words, the real object here is the remnant and that holy seed. But precisely for the sake of the salvation of that holy seed the preaching of Isaiah must serve for the blinding and hardening of the reprobate shell. If you keep in mind the organic idea, you will understand this very well. There come times in Israel's history when the ungodly segment of the nation gets the power and has the upper hand; times when it becomes well-nigh impossible for the elect kernel to exist within reprobate shell. In such times judgement must come upon Israel: Israel must be eaten away, precisely in order to save it from the domination of the ungodly. However, if this is to happen, if a portion of that reprobate shell is to fall away, then it must first become ripe for judgment. And Isaiah's preaching must serve exactly to accomplish that ripening process. Then the tenth part will be preserved, and the remnant of which the holy seed shall be the substance," H. Hoeksema, Believers & Their Seed (RFPA, 1977), 129-30.

Talbott tries to reduce Rom 9-11 to an ad hominem debate over Jewish exclusivity. But the problem in Rom 9-11 is not the inclusion of the Gentiles, but the exclusion of the Jews. It is the problem of Jewish unbelief. How could God's chosen people reject God's chosen Messiah? Does their rejection of him imply his reject of them? And how does that comport with his promises to Israel? Has God gone back on his word? That's the problem. And Paul's answer is found in double-predestination, which he traces all the way back through the prophets and the patriarchs. There is an inner elect.

Talbott makes the very odd statement that Exod 33:19 "is an idiomatic expression that stresses not the indeterminacy of God's mercy, as some Augustinians have supposed, but rather its intensity and assuredness" (126).

To begin with, what Augustinian every construed it along indeterminist lines? Does Talbott know what he's talking about? The question is not whether it's determinate, but whether it's discriminate rather than indiscriminate. Does God enjoy sovereign discretion over the objects of mercy. Paul says "yes," Talbott says "no."

In the next chapter, Talbott tries to generate the paradox of exclusivism. God cannot love me unless he loves my loved ones, and I cannot love God unless he loves my loves ones, otherwise I'd be torn in two opposing directions.

This calls for several comments:
i) It reeks of emotional blackmail. A sinner is hardly in a position to extort concessions from God, as though he'd be doing God a big favor by allowing God to love and save him. This is just another instance of Talbott's petulant and prideful self-absorption.
ii) There is some truth to what he says, but its logic is reversible. Sometimes it does come down to a choice of opposing loves and ultimate loyalties.
iii) Nothing is more striking, in this regard, than the complete omission of Mt 10:21,34-37 to Talbott's discussion.
If Talbott had his way, Abraham would never have left Ur since, in so doing, he undoubtedly left many kinfolk behind. Ruth should have stayed behind with Orpah rather than left with Naomi.

And while we're on the subject of dominical omissions, on several occasions the author employs the phrase "chosen few" as an invidious characterization of Calvinism. But there are a couple of problems with this tactic.
i) The notion of a chosen few that are saved goes directly back to the words of our Lord (Mt 7:14; 20:16; 22:14). So to whom does the odium belong—Calvin or Christ?
ii) There is no official position within Calvinism on the proportion of the damned in relation to the redeemed. That turns on separate questions, such as eschatology (amil/postmil) and the salvation or not of all who die before the age of discretion.
iii) Even if only a faction of humanity is ultimately to be saved, a fraction of a multiple billions is still a large absolute number.

As to the question of how heaven will be heaven without all of our loves ones, Talbott is indulging in a diabolical game in which it puts the reader to the test and tempts him to defy God.

This may be a natural enough question to ask, but a Christian is under no obligation to answer it. We simply entrust the matter to God's surpassing wisdom and leave it there.

But one can venture a couple of comments. Whatever good we find in others is but a shadow of God's goodness, and in heaven we will see the sun in all its glory.

Many believers have found that the family of God took the place of their natural family. It is not that they rejected their family, but their family rejected them. And the company of the like-minded is the final foundation of love and fellowship.

Talbott anticipates and endeavors to answer an obvious objection to this "paradox." "At this point, however, one might begin to wonder about those who are not our loved ones…If my capacity for love is not yet perfected…and God wants me to experience supreme happiness, then he must continue to teach me the lessons of love until it is perfected" (138-39).

Talbott says more than this, but you get the point. Although this way of putting the matter represents a skillful modulation from one key to another, it is not a natural modification or logical extension of his original premise. To the contrary, it represents a flat contradiction, but conceals the sleight-of-hand like a deft magician.

The original principle was the so-called paradox of exclusivism, according to which heaven would not be heaven for me unless all my loved ones join me there. Now he addresses the question of whether heaven would be heaven if those who are not my loved ones were missing.

Now, on the face of it, it seems pretty obvious that this is a completely different question with a completely different answer. And he has disguised the difference by putting it so blandly. But let's rip of the mask.

It isn't just a question of those I don't love. What about those I positively despise? We can upend his whole paradox and ask if heaven would be heaven if a rape victim finds her rapist in heaven. And one can multiply many other examples of the kind.

At a merely intuitive level, what makes heaven heavenly is the company we keep, not merely who is there, but who is not. That's a traditional difference between heaven and hell, is it not?

Talbott papers over the contradiction by saying that God makes us more loving, and makes our enemies more loving in return, so that, eventually, even our enemies are our loved ones, and vice versa.

And I don't deny that this sometimes happens. In heaven, there will sometimes be the victim and victimizer side by side, owing to the miracle of grace and redemption.

But that has nothing to do with natural affections and the logic of internal relations. That is an extremely unnatural and counterintuitive state of affairs.

One more time, let us contrast the two questions and two answers. The original form of the paradox was predicated on the idea that I have a natural affection for some people, and that would come into conflict with my love of God God unless I was saved along with all my family and friends.

That is utterly different than saying that there are some people are not my loved ones, are people I dislike or intensely despise because they wronged me or my family or my friends, and that God must teach me how to love them.

What we have is not a paradox but a vicious circle. Heaven wouldn't be heaven unless everyone makes it to heaven. Why, because heaven wouldn't be heaven for you and me unless our loved ones were there. But what if my loved ones are not your loved ones? What if having your loved ones in heaven would make heaven a living hell for me? What if what makes heaven heavenly for me is having my loved ones, but not yours? Then God must make me love your loved ones as well. Instead of a preexistent condition generating the so-called paradox, the condition has to be generated to generate the paradox in the first place. Premise and conclusion trade places. But this is sheer sophistry.

His book has four more chapters, but I'll only review the next one because the remaining three involve quarrels between the Arminian, universalist, and Molinist which are of no immediate interest to me, seeing as all three positions are wrong and wrong-headed. They are more than welcome to attack one another's positions.

In his next chapter, Talbott begins by saying a couple of strange things. On the one hand, he regards the Scholastic doctrine of divine simplicity as incoherent. On the other hand, he endorses a doctrine of moral simplicity. And guess which moral attribute comes out on top? Love, or at least his pet definition thereof.

But there are a couple of problems with this. It isn't clear that one can affirm moral simplicity but deny metaphysical simplicity. Ultimately, all God's attributes are mental attributes, for God is a spirit.

In addition, what is the Scriptural warrant for ranking the divine attributes, and then reducing all the moral attributes to one, and then choosing love as the standard of reference. There are several steps in the process of abstraction, none of which Talbott tries to justify, either exegetically or philosophically.

As far as I'm concerned, each attribute characterizes every other attribute. I don't prioritize the divine attributes.

As is his wont, Talbott also parodies the opposing position. He suggests that the traditional view sets the justice and mercy of the Father is a state of tension, which the Son must relieve.

But this is no part of Calvinism. All the members of the Trinity share the same attributes. All were party to the plan of redemption. And different attributes take different objects: mercy takes the elect as its object while justice takes the reprobate as its object.

Talbott also claims, as he did once before, that the purpose of the atonement was not to change the attitude of God towards man, but man's attitude towards God (145). As usual, this distorts the opposing position. A Calvinist does not maintain that the atonement "changes" the attitude of God. Rather, the atonement supplies the judicial grounds for our justification with God. The atonement presupposes the love of God for the elect.

In addition, Talbott simply ignores all the standard exegetical literature in which redemption and propitiation are shown to have an objective aspect. Has he ever read Roger Nicole or Leon Morris on the subject? It reinforces the oft-repeated impression that Talbott is simply winging it to make everything else queue up behind the idol of universalism.

But this is just a warming up exercise. Talbott's target is the principle of retributive justice. In an opening volley, Talbott levels the following charge:
"If an action were so heinous, so dire in its consequences for others, that its perpetrator would deserve to suffer everlastingly in return, then a loving God would never permit it in the first place; his love for the potential victims would require him to protect them from such irreparable harm" (150).

Well, I don't wish to come across as ungenerous, but it seems pretty presumptuous for a universalist to get on his high horse about the problem of evil. His own theodicy tries to justify the existence of evil by the eschatological defeat of evil. But one of the primary problems with his theodicy is not only the way it relates the present to the future, but the present to the past. Why does the present need to be balanced off by the future?

The world we live in looks very much like the sort of world predicted by a Calvinist. It doesn't look very much like the world predicted by universalism. For if God is such a tenderhearted fellow as all that, surely he could and should and would intervene much more often than he does on behalf of the innocent.

Here we can turn universalist reasoning in on itself. There are many occasions when we would intervene if given the opportunity. How can we be so much more merciful than the God of universalism?

From the standpoint of a universalist, why must a little girl suffer at the hands of a child molester so that she can get a celestial lollipop in the world to come? Or share a celestial lollipop with her one-time rapist in the world to come? To repeat his own choice adjectives, would that "make amends, make up for, cancel out, undo the harm, and repair the damage" (157)?

How does this really square with Talbott's stated ideal of fatherhood? Would he stand by if his five-year-old daughter were ravished—as long as she'd be rewarded with a bigger birthday party in heaven?

Adding insult to injury, Talbott faults the retributionist for his adherence to original sin. Now, let's be clear on this. Talbott appeals to Rom 5 and 1 Cor 15 to prove universalism. But, of course, each text is also a locus classicus of original sin. So what is his own position on original sin? Is this consistent or inconsistent with universalism?

Underlying his criticism is the apparent assumption, for which he offers no justification, that an Augustinian begins with an abstract theory of retributive justice, which he deploys to defend the doctrine of hell. Talbott then takes issue with what he regards as the nature of retribution, more by way of assertion than argument, in relation to other Augustinian doctrines.

But the truth is otherwise. An Augustinian derives his theory of retributive justice from the witness of Scripture, especially in relation to the doctrine of hell, as well as OT law (with its 18 capital crimes) and penal substitution. This is not an artificial construct, but one which takes the witness of Scripture as its building materials.

There is, then, no tension between an Augustinian doctrine of retribution, hell, or original sin, for they were all developed in tandem, taking their respective demands into account and making the necessary adjustments.

Retributive justice is not an intuitive theory, although it enjoys some intuitive support. Yet the principle of retribution does not stipulate the preconditions of retribution, but only its conditions. It is simply a principle according to which you should get what you deserve. It doesn't say what makes you deserving. It is neutral on action theory.

Of course, different theological traditions have different conceptions of what is fair, just, and equitable. But that goes beyond retributivism, per se. That is a separate debate, with is own supporting arguments and counterarguments.

Talbott is of the opinion that original sin would constitute a mitigating rather than aggravating offense. But although that enjoys a shallow, commonsense appeal, it is no part of Paul's argument. Paul does not treat original sin as an attenuating or exculpatory circumstance. Quite the contrary, he treats original sin as culpable.

And this goes to the burden of proof. For a Bible-believing Christian, he is justified in believing as he does if his belief is exegetically well-warranted. He needs no extra-canonical reason to justify his article of faith. Sola scriptura is the sufficient condition and necessary criterion.

It may be useful, in the field of apologetics, to have supporting arguments from natural reason. And some articles of faith are susceptible to rational defense. But arguments independent of Scripture are not necessary to verify the doctrine in question, or faith in said doctrine. If the Bible is divine revelation, then revealed truths are self-validating. The word of God is reason enough, for God is supreme reason.

Talbott's objection runs deeper than a theory of retribution, as such. Rather, he's raising all the stock Arminian objections to the Reformed doctrine of spiritual inability. Here the moves and countermoves are well-rehearsed. If he was interested in a serious debate, he could engage the Edwardian distinction between moral and spiritual ability. He could also field a libertarian theory of freewill against Edwardian objections.

But all his contention really boils down to boasting that "my intuitions are better than your intuitions"! This makes it difficult to rebut much of what he says in chap. 9, because he doesn't give the reader much to rebut. Much of what he says does not take the form of reasoned argument, but is nothing more than the venting of his personal feelings and tendentious opinions. There's nothing to disprove because there's nothing to prove.

For the moment, though, let us try to play the game by his own rules. Now Talbott seems to be extremely sure of his ethical reflexes. As a consequence, he is very sure of what he'd do in a given situation, such as how he'd deal with a wayward daughter.

So does his self-assurance undermine his freedom? If he knows in advance what he will do, is the future open or closed to him? Does his certainty rob his actions of moral meaning?

And if this first-order form of certainty is compatible with freedom or responsibility, why, then, should a second-order form of certainty be incompatible with freedom and morality as well? In other words, if his personal certitude is compatible with the above, then if God ensures his future actions, how would such supervenience undermine authentic freedom or moral incumbency? What difference does it make if second party renders the action of the first party to be certain, rather than the self-determination of the primary party? It doesn't differ at the level of the outcome. So wherein, if anywhere, lies the moral differential?

What is more striking, though, is the incongruous mix of moralizing and amorality in his defense of universalism. When he nominates Adolf Eichmamm, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer as his poster-boys for universalism, I rather doubt he'll be making many recruits to the cause. It is never survivors of the death camps who pen starry-eye books on universalism. Rather, it's pampered and protected elites like Talbott and Adams who deny the victims their justice, their outrage, and—yes—their vengeance. How many victims are looking for the love of Adolf Eichmann?

Nothing is more immoral than an incapacity for moral indignation. Nothing is more unjust and cruel than telling the victim that she must forgive her unforgiving assailant. Imagine Adams or Talbott as crisis counselors at a rape clinic or safe-house for battered women.

Talbott's attack also suffers from a simple-minded quality. For instance, he fails to distinguish between sins and crimes. A crime, to be a crime, generally has a victim. It assumes the infliction of harm in one form or another. And that, in turn, determines the nature and scope of the punishment.

In the case of property crimes, some form of financial restitution may be appropriate, as we see in the Mosaic law. This admits a quantitative penalty.

However, certain religious offenses and crimes of aggravated violence do not admit gradations of punishment. A financial loss is measurable in a way that, say, the loss of a child to murder is incommensurable.

Even this has exceptions. Under the Mosaic law, it was a crime to curse the deaf (Lev 19:14). Although no harm is done to the deaf—since he cannot hear the abuse—yet such an act is disrespectful.

But a sin, to be a sin, need not have a victim. Some sins are crimes, and some crimes are sins, but they are not coincident. God can suffer no harm, but God can be wronged.

So there is a difference between criminal guilt and sinful guilt. Like cursing the deaf, it dishonors the offended party.

And there are degrees of dishonor, for social obligations are concentric. I have fewer obligations to a stranger than a neighbor, fewer to a neighbor than a friend, fewer to a friend than a parent, sibling, or child, and fewer to family than to God.

Every child is not my child. Jeffrey Dahmer is not my child. And if he were, I'd disown him.

Degrees of dishonor imply escalating degrees of guilt. Cursing a deaf father is worse than cursing a deaf stranger. Cursing God is worse than cursing man.

Because social obligations are concentric, they are also asymmetrical. Although a father and son share some mutual obligations, they do not share identical obligations. The paternal role is not interchangeable with the filial role. The father owes nothing to the son, but the son owes everything to the father. But Talbott's paternal role-models seem to be drawn from the ranks of Eli and David—men who failed in their paternal duties by being so very weak, permissive and indulgent.

Talbott also overlooks a truism in ethics: one act may be more harmful, but less culpable; while another act may be more culpable, but less harmful. Intent is the deciding factor. This is what distinguishes murder from manslaughter.

Talbott cites 1 Jn 1:9 out of context (163). In this verse, forgiveness is predicated on several conditions:
i) The subject is a Christian
ii) The subject is contrite
iii) Christ has redeemed the Christian (2:2; 4:14).

To turn this into a prooftext for universalism is a willful misreading of the text. Likewise, he says that the imago Dei renders the sinner deserving of divine forgiveness (161). But this is yet another example of brazen Scripture-twisting, for the imago Dei is expressly made a condition of punishment, and not of forgiveness (Gen 9:6).

In attacking retribution, and with it, the doctrine of hell, he says that the sinner must "see clearly the choice of roads, the consequences of their actions, and the true nature of evil" (154).

This brings us to a fundamental divide between two different conceptions of sin, and along with that, two different types of religion. Is evil a result of ignorance or ill-will? Eastern religion attributes evil to ignorance. Hence, salvation is a matter, not of redemption, but illumination.

Evangelical religion attributes sin to ill-will, to a spiteful and malicious hatred of the good. Hence, salvation is a matter of redemption and regeneration. Rebirth may bring enlightenment, but enlightenment does not bring rebirth. And rebirth, alone, does not right the scales of justice.

To take the paradigm-case, Lucifer sinned against the light. There was nothing deficient in Lucifer's theology.

This is also a running theme in the Fourth Gospel. The reprobate sin, not in darkness, but in the full light of day. They turn to darkness by turning their back on the light of Christ. This is not what makes them sinners, but exposes the true nature of sin. If they are ignorant, it is not for lack of knowledge, but due to their culpable and invincible ignorance.

The difference between Calvinism and universalism is not a difference of eschatology, like the difference between amil, premil, and postmil. No, it's nothing less than the difference between one religion and another. Universalism may be a Christian heresy, but Christian it is not. Universalism is a soul-brother of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Classical ethics (Plato, Aristotle), in which evil is a result of ignorance, in which evil-doers are misguided do-gooders, in which no one wittingly chooses evil over good. By contrast, the Christian faith views the sinner, not as an innocent child, but as a proud and stubborn rebel. He sins, not from love of sin, but hatred of God. Although this is radically irrational, even to the point of criminal insanity, it is a common place of human experience. Hell merely makes of them more of what they already are. The gates of hell are locked from both the inside and the outside.

Somewhere over the rainbow-2

In another apparent criticism of hell, she confesses to us that,
"My own view resonates with C. S. Lewis's suggestion, in The Problem of Pain, that vice in the soul preserved beyond death eventually brings about a total dismantling of personality to the torment of which this worldly schizophrenia and depression (much less Swinburne's lost souls) are but the faintest approximations" (47). By way of reply:
i) This is not a Scriptural objection.
ii) I'm not in a position to speculate on the mental state of the damned. And if I were to conjecture, it is easy to imagine that the damned are hardened into a state of utter callousness.
iii) Even if what she said is true, how is that an objection to hell? Isn't hell supposed to be unpleasant, and more so than anything on earth? I'd expect the damned to be clinically insane, whether manic-depressive, psychopathic, or what-all.

If this is the best case that a modern philosopher, ordained minister, and student of Scholastic theology can make on behalf of universalism, then its prospects seem pretty dim. But perhaps our next book can do a better job.

Talbott's treatment is quite different than Adams'—more popular, more expository, more confrontational. I can imagine the receptive swept away by his arguments, and the uninitiated left speechless.

It is striking that although Talbott and Adams have both been publishing articles on universalism for a number of years, and wrote both books in the same year, that they never quote each other—not even once. One would think that if the argument were so clear and compelling, there would be some measure of agreement on what form such an argument should take.

Talbott opens his book with an autobiographical section explaining how he arrived at his belief in universalism. I ordinarily avoid ad hominem judgments, but since Talbot includes this material as part of his overcall case, it calls for some comment.

He explains how he grew up in a large, loving, tight-knit Christian home, and attended a fundamentalist church. He will return to his familial experience time and time again. This is, for him, a principal point of reference. He says,
"I knew instinctively that I could never worship a God who is less kind, less merciful, less loving that my own parents…And I could not imagine my parents refusing to will the good for anyone…There were no favorites, period; we were all equal objects of our parents love and equally precious to them. So it is perhaps not surprising that I should have found myself unable to worship a God who, unlike my parents, was quite prepared to play favorites" (8-9).

I'll have more to say about this later on, just as Talbott will have more to say about this later on. But for now I'll confine myself to the following observations:
i) Why should I or anyone else accord canonical status to Talbott's home-life?
ii) Talbott never bothers to compare and contrast his experience with the Biblical model of the family. Hebrew culture was a tribal culture and a shame culture. They had a sense of corporate responsibility. Misbehavior by one member of the clan brought dishonor on the entire clan (cf. Gen 34; Judges 20; 2 Sam 13; 21). Parents could have incorrigible teenagers executed for insubordination (Exod 12:15; Lev 20:9; Deut 17:12; 21:18-21). Moses ordered the faithful Levites to execute their faithless kinsmen (Exod 32).

Talbott, by contrast, operates with a Mafia ethic: my son—right or wrong. He treats it as axiomatic that a grown child can never cross a line of no return. He treats it as self-evident that parental duty is absolute in its unconditional allegiance to any family member.

Talbott never defends his Mafia ethic. He never discusses the Biblical theology of the family. He simply takes his personal experience for granted as the norm in all other matters.
iii) But even if, for the sake of argument, we play along with his Mafia ethic, it is easy to imagine situations that force a choice, for family loyalty is no criterion when one family member abuses another. Suppose a brother rapes a sister? Suppose an older brother is a drug dealer, and tries to recruit his younger brother? The question is how you protect one family member against another? If you are merciful and forgiving to an impenitent victimizer, you are unloving, unjust, and unmerciful to the victim.
iv) One of the occupational hazards of having had a sheltered and caring Christian upbringing is that it can foster a sense of spiritual entitlement and blind you to the breadth and depth of human depravity, beginning with your own. Talbott acts like the spiritual equivalent of a spoiled rich kid who's always had it easy and feels deserving of his lavish standard of living.

And, of course, that's what universalism is all about. In universalism, no one is ever lost.
So a universalist has no sense of what it means to be saved.

As Talbott makes abundantly clear, on more than one occasion, he will only believe in God on his terms, or not at all. Is that supposed to be some sort of threat? "God, if there is a God, I double dare you to be just what I want to you be, otherwise I'll have nothing to do with you!" It's hard to say if this overweening conceit and Titanic self-importance is a cause or consequence of universalism. Spiritual pride and blindness go hand-in-hand. In any event, God can get along very nicely without the likes of Thomas Talbott.

Not surprisingly, Talbott's patron saint is George McDonald, the apostate Scots-Presbyterian minister. This, again, evinces a lack of spiritual discernment. It's an interesting question how we are to correlate McDonald's denial of the doctrines of grace with his morbid fascination in the occult. Beneath the saintly image is a man irresistibly and fatally drawn to the dark side. McDonald lived as a demonolater and died as a madman. If Talbott wishes to nominate McDonald to be the high priest and prophet of universalism, he could scarcely have chosen a better-qualified candidate.

To polish off this section, Talbott takes the side of Bertrand Russell in attributing Christian persecution to belief in hell. And what are we to make of that accusation?
The obvious thing to be said is that persecution respects no creed but its own, whether the creed be religious or irreligious, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Marxist, Maoist, Nazi, or what have you.

The OT had holy war. The OT classified some religious offenses as capital crimes. Does Talbott affirm or deny the inspiration of the OT? One thing is for sure, Jesus and the apostles affirmed its full inspiration.

Talbott says that belief in hell "has had disastrous consequences in the life of the church" (30). But as a matter of church history, churches that deny the doctrine of hell are dead or dying denominations. Like Talbott, they may begin by paying lip-service to a residuum of evangelical piety and quaint liturgy, but ere long they become Christ-denying denominations, draped in musty cobwebs, the haunt of screech owls and other creatures of the night.

In the next chapter, he accuses Augustine and Calvin of indulging in ad hoc interpretations of 1 Tim 2:4 and Ezk 33:11 (49-52). And I'll grant that their reading savors of special pleading. But it's a simple matter to redress these passing lapses.

In 1 Tim 2:4 and like passages, we need to ask ourselves who Paul's opponents were. Paul indicates that his opponents were the Judaizers who limited salvation to Jewish bloodlines (1 Tim 1:4; Tit 1:10,14; 3:9). In that event, Paul's point is that salvation is not a birthright, is not a matter of Jewish pedigree.

As to Ezk 33:11, this was addressed to backslidden Israel. Israel does not stand for the world. Indeed, Israel's calling was to stand apart from the world. Her sin was when she fell in with her pagan neighbors.

In the next chapter, Talbott treats the witness of Paul as the leading evidence of universalism. Talbott has a habit of repeating himself and jumping back and forth between one argument and another, so let us cite one line of argument:

"To all appearances, Paul here [Rom 5:18] identifies one 'all'—that is, all human beings—and makes two distinct but parallel statements about that one 'all'; and to all appearances, the second of these statements implies that all human beings shall receive 'justification and life' and hence shall eventually be reconciled to God" (56-57).

"Every time he uses 'all' in the context of some theological discourse, he seems to have in mind a clear reference class, stated or unstated, and he refers distributively to every member of that class" (58).

"This 'all' (Rom 3:23) may not include dogs and birds and unfallen angels…but it does include all the descendants of Adam" (59).

"In each of these texts, we encounter a contrast between two universal statements, and in each case the first 'all' seems to determine the scope of the second" (59).

"Following Charles Hodge, a number of commentators have sought to avoid the clear universalistic thrust of Rom 5:18…by pointing to at least one exception—namely the man Jesus…But a little reflection will reveal that this entire line of reasoning is spurious because it attributes an unwarranted theological significance to a perfectly familiar way of talking…In most contexts I would have no need to state the…obvious exceptions" (60-61).

"If anything, the second 'all' of 1 Cor 15:22 is less restrictive than the first; for in the following verses Paul immediately expands the second 'all'" (64).

Now, let's go back and see where Talbott goes wrong. He goes wrong in two respects. Actually, we could readily accept his distinctions, but apply them quite differently.

To begin with, he rightly draws attention to the use of parallelism in Paul's argument. So what about parallelism? Does that ring a bell? Any precedent for that mode of argument? This is typically Jewish. It goes back to the dialectical rhetoric of OT ethical discourse. It is pervasive in the Book of Proverbs, but also a regular feature of the Psalter, and scattered throughout the whole of the OT.

As a rabbi and lifelong student of the OT, Paul was steeped and drilled in this method of reasoning. In some cases, the pairings are synonymous, in other cases antonymous. But what we need to keep in mind for the moment is that this is, after all, just a rhetorical device. In balancing one party off against each other, either by way of comparison or contrast, we need to avoid a wooden handling of literary conventions.

Many simple believers make this mistake when they come to Proverbs. Because of the absolute form of the statement or stated antithesis, they are inflexible in their expectation of what is taught.

The other thing we need to be clear on is the nature of a universal quantifier ("every," "all"). Talbott sometimes draws the right distinctions, but then proceeds to slip and slide and swing back and forth between clarity and confusion.

On the one hand, he correctly says that a universal quantifier designates a general reference class. This is very important to fix in our minds. "All" doesn't denote "everyone" or "everything" whatsoever, but all of something in particular, all the members of a given class of individuals.

The mere use of the quantifier does not spell out the concrete range of reference. It tells us "that" all of such-and-such are covered, but not "what" all are covered. That is a blank to be pencilled in by the surrounding context. Taken by itself, the quantifier is simply neutral on the specific scope of the claim.

This is clear from his own caveats. He himself denies that "all" denotes dogs and birds and angels. Notice, though, that the mere use of the word "all" does not discriminate between one class and another. This is supplied by the context, not the quantifier.

But if the quantifier doesn't tell you what is excluded, neither then does it tell you what is included. By itself, the quantifier doesn't favor any particular position, whether Arminian, Augustinian, and universalist.

Many people seem to think that the quantifier has a maximal default setting. The presumption of an unrestricted domain can only be overcome if the text or context supplies specific lines of demarcation. They therefore accuse the Calvinist of tampering with the plain sense of Scripture.

But this is muddle-headed. Taken by itself, the quantifier merely flags a general, unspecified class. You need to plug in other words from the text or context to fill in and delimit the concrete content.

Everyone does this. The Calvinist does it, but so does the Arminian or Lutheran or Roman Catholic or universalist.

But having rightly stated and rightly applied the distinction in some instances, Talbott then goes back on his own words and confuses the issue. On the one hand, he informs us that the first use of the quantifier determines the scope of its second occurrence. The first class is coextensive with the second.

On the other hand, he informs us that, in 1 Cor 15:22, the second "all" is more expansive than the first. And he also admits that, as a matter of idiomatic usage, folks often indulge in generalities that allow for unstated exceptions. Indeed, he himself makes exceptions when he exempts dogs and birds and unfallen angels.

By his own definition, admission, and inconsistent practice, the universal quantifier does not control the scope of the parties in question. Hence, his leading line of evidence dribbles away into nothingness. On this point, the main difference is that the Calvinist is consistent, where the universalist is inconstant, in theological method.

The basic distinction drawn in these Pauline parallels is between the fate of Adamites and the fate of Christians. Whether the second class is conterminous with the first, or else a subset thereof, must be determined by other considerations—and to two other considerations in particular: (i) the doctrine of reprobation and (ii) the doctrine of final judgment.

Now, it may be objected that my own distinctions prove too much. For if the quantifier is that indeterminate, then I cannot prove the universality of sin. This charge is both true and false. It cannot be proven by the quantifier alone. But Paul has many other ways, besides the quantifier, to establish the universality of sin. Just reread Rom 1-3. And the fact that all men are descended from Adam is a presupposition of his argument, deriving from the creation account (Gen 1-2).

But although that breaks the back of his case, Talbott has a few subsidiary arguments. He appeals to "all Israel" in Rom 11:25-26. But one problem with this appeal is that "all Israel" is an idiomatic phrase that Paul has lifted from OT usage. And if you study the Septuagintal occurrences you will see that it can stand for representative units: elders, chieftains, tribes, or some other part/whole relation, rather than every member of the clan (e.g., 1 Chron 9:1; 12:38; 21:5; 2 Chron 1:2; 10:16-17, LXX). The solution to the problem of Jewish unbelief is to be found, not in universalism, but double predestination.

Second, Talbott appeals to passages such as 1 Cor 15:28, Phil 2:10-11 & Col 1:20, which talk about the subjection and confession of God's enemies, as evidence of universal reconciliation. But the problems with this appeal are several:
i) The imagery is taken from OT warfare. But when a people were conquered by the Egyptians or Assyrians or Babylonians, there was no cultural expectation that captives would love their captors, or vice versa. Did the Jews love life under Roman occupation and domination?
All that Talbott has done is to define the triumph of good over evil as universalism draws the lines, then read that back into his prooftexts, in utter disregard for their historical horizon. Because of his own charmed existence he can fantasize about the reaction of subjugated people without respect to their actual experience.
ii) Talbott is very selective in what he chooses to quote. He cites Phil 2:10-11, but ignores Phil 3:18-19: "Many walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction." He cites Col 1:20, but ignores Col 1:23: "If you remain in the faith," and Col 2:15: "He put them to open shame." He cites Isa 45:23 (69), but ignores Isa 45:24: "Everyone who was incensed against the Lord shall come to him and be ashamed."
iii) Indeed, his prooftexts ought to be correlated with the tradition of taunt-songs in Scripture (e.g., Col 2:15; Ps 2:4; Isa 14; Ezk 28), where the defeated forces are demeaned and exposed to public humiliation.
iv) In Isaiah, general statements of final vindication can stand right beside specific statements of final judgment (cf. 66:23-24). Indeed, the two go together. The faithful are vindicated by the subjugation of the faithless—a pervasive theme in the Book of Revelation.

And there is something else that Talbott leaves out of account. Paul's gospel was a cross-centered and Christ-centered Gospel. But when Talbott denies penal substitution, when Talbott denies retributive justice, and when he instead says that God is obliged to save everyone as a parental duty, then what Talbott is really telling us is not that everyone is saved by the cross of Christ, but that no one is saved by the cross of Christ. The cross of Christi is simply and wholly unnecessary.

Finally, Talbott invokes the hardening of Pharaoh, which he glosses as a case of God giving him the courage to sin so that he would perceive his own sinfulness (74-75). But this is devoid of textual warrant. God hardens Pharaoh as a witness to the Egyptians (Exod 7:5; 14:17-18). Pharaoh is just a pawn on God's chessboard.

If chapter 5 represents his best case for universalism, chapter 6 represents his major case against the opposing position. One of the most striking features of this chapter is the thinness of his coverage. He seems to have not the slightest idea of what-all the traditional prooftexts are for the doctrine of hell. No doubt that makes it much easier for him to be a universalist.

Much of what little Talbott does address in chapter 6 is simply beside the point, and fails to establish his own position. Although everlasting punishment would disprove universalism, it isn't necessary to prove everlasting punishment to disprove universalism. On this score, all that is necessary to disprove universalism are passages clearly affirming an eschatological judgment resulting in two final, divergent destinies. The passages don't have to say in detail what happens to both parties. They only have to say that, in the end, everyone will not be saved. Although an Augustinian will affirm and defend the stronger thesis (everlasting torment), this is not the place in which he needs to do so, for the weaker thesis is sufficient to falsify universalism.

Now Talbott's argument falls short on a couple of counts: (i) he fails even to address all the verses that specify the endless duration of torment (e.g., Mk 9:43,48; Rev 14:11), and, what is more, (ii) he fails to address the many verses that lay out two divergent and permanent destinies. These can be found both in the OT and NT.

Talbott begins by faulting Leon Morris for, as he sees it, arbitrarily blunting the scope of Jn 12:32 (82). But there are several reasons why Morris might wish to do so:
i) Morris wrote a whole book on The Biblical Doctrine of Judgment.
ii) In context, Jn 12:32 has reference to the inclusion of the Gentiles. Reference to a people-group does not necessarily cover every single member thereof.
iii) The Fourth Gospel alternates between themes of salvation and judgment. The advent of Christ is a decisive and divisive event, by turns redemptive and damnatory.
iv) There is, indeed, a predestinarian and eschatological dualism running the length of the Fourth Gospel. We find the same thing in yet another Johannine writing—the Apocalypse.

Turning to the parable of the sheep and goats (Mt 25), Talbott says that these stories were intended to awaken the spiritual imagination rather than providing final answers to theological questions (84). But this is, on the face of it, a false dichotomy, and he offers no supporting argument to prove otherwise.

He next says that the parabolic details are not to be taken literally (85). That is true, but irrelevant:
i) Not all parabolic details are picturesque details. There is nothing inherently figurative about time-markers and the nouns they modify (eternal life, eternal punishment). These are not metaphors, like the sheep and the goats. They don't stand for anything.
ii) Not all picturesque details are incidental details. Even a metaphor has a literal referent, and some metaphors are not merely window-dressing, but vehicles of moral and doctrinal significance.
iii) How can a universalist be so very literal about his own prooftexts, but so figurative about opposing prooftexts? Heaven is literal, but hell is figurative; reconciliation is real, but separation is picturesque.

Talbott then tries to limit the didactic content of the parable to the "main point" (85). But every parable is not reducible to a single point." Parables vary in their length and complexity.

Talbot says that "the issue of temporal duration is not at issue here and not relevant to the point of the parable" (90).
i) But the duration of the punishment is highly relevant in a parable on the last judgment, especially at a time when conditional immortality was a live option in some Jewish circles (e.g., Mt 22:23ff.; Acts 23:8).
ii) Mt 25:46 is not the only passage that has a divergent destiny of parallel duration. For this has its OT counterpart in Dan 12:2.

Talbott glosses the adjective to mean that "both the fire and the punishment are eternal in the sense that they have their causal source in the eternal God himself" (88). By way of reply,
i) Talbott offers no argument from Greek syntax or semantics to demonstrate that the adjective refers to the subject of the action (God) rather than the object of the action (the damned). When Isa 1:18 says that God will wash Israel whiter than snow, are we to infer that the color white is a divine attribute?
ii) Let's plug his convoluted redefinition back into the passage and paraphrase it accordingly: "these will go away into a form of punishment that has its causal source in the eternal God."

What sort of sense does that make? Is that how any of the Greek Fathers construed the passage?

Moreover, it doesn't sound like much of a threat. If duration has nothing to do with the punishment, then surely human tormentors have devised methods of torture that are at least a severe, if not more so. Yet Christ says that we have more to fear from God than man (Mt 10:28).

In fact, Talbott doesn't appear to have much confidence in his own rendering, for he offers a fallback definition: "both in the sense that its causal source lies in the eternal God himself and in the sense that its corrective effects last forever."

Okay, let's plug this roundabout redefinition back into the passage and paraphrase it accordingly: "these will go away into a form of punishment whose corrective effects last forever."

It's amazing how much meaning Talbott can extract from one temporal adjective. But he can only unpack that much meaning because he overstuffed the word in the first place. This has nothing to do with the dictionary definition of the word.

Talbott justifies his rendering by his gloss on Jude 7. But this is merely to prop up one misinterpretation with another. The point in Jude is that temporal punishment is a type and token of eschatological punishment, and in Biblical typology the antitype intensifies the type. Talbott further disregards the corroborative evidence of Jude 13.

Talbott says that "eternal" is a qualitative rather than quantitative term, based on Jn 17:3.
By way of reply:
i) This commits an elementary semantic fallacy by investing one word with the cumulative content of all the surrounding words. Yes, there's more to the Johannine doctrine of eternal life than sheer duration, but that is derived from his whole teaching, and not from isolated word-studies.
ii) To say that there's more to it than mere duration is not to say that there's less to it.
iii) In any event, it is illicit to map Johannine usage back onto non-Johannine usage.
iv) To describe annihilation as "everlasting" is nonsensical. A time-marker is a property of an existent, not a nonentity. Even an effect is only an effect of something. It must inhere in something—take an object.
v) If the NT writers intended to teach the annihilation of the wicked, they would just say that the damned are "destroyed," and leave it at that.

On the next page, Talbot says that the Christian hope of immortality turns, not on the meaning of "eternal," but on the doctrine of the Resurrection (Jn 6:40). But unless the glorified body is eternal, it is not immortal.

Talbott cites William Barclay as saying that "in all of Greek secular literature, kolasis is never used of anything but remedial punishment" (91).

But that doesn't automatically mean that "kolasis" is a technical term for remedial punishment. And even if it did, isn't NT and LXX usage more pertinent at this point? When, for example, Jeremiah talks about the punitive measures which his enemies to plotting to take against him (Jer 18:20, LXX), are we to view this as remedial therapy? That is assuredly not how Jeremiah understood it! His creative lexicography is also at odds with 1 Jn 4:18, where punishment (kolasis) is productive of fear rather than love.

Moving onto 2 Thes 1:9, Talbott takes issue with the traditional rendering of the preposition (apo=away from). "As Leon Morris points out, 'This is certainly the meaning…in Isa 2:10.' But in these texts, the verb 'to hide' or 'to conceal' determines the correct translation…In the context of 2 Thes 1:9, however, we find no relevant verb…no relevant subject of the action, and no other grammatical device that entitles us to translate 'apo' as 'away from'" (93).

But this misses the point. 2 Thes 1:9 is a paraphrase of the threefold refrain in Isa 2:10,19,21 (LXX). As such, it triggers the same associations and carries over the same implicit imagery. That's in the very nature of a literary allusion.

He also glosses "just penalty" in terms of penance and purgatory. But he can only justify his interpretation with the following disclaimer:
"It is not that every biblical writer saw clearly the deeper meaning in the symbols of divine judgment, or even that Paul saw this clearly all of the time…And though the author of this letter, particularly if it were someone other than Paul, may not have had the idea of purification explicitly in mind at the time of writing, that is irrelevant" (98).

Is it now? This last-ditch disclaimer is a backhanded admission that Talbott has given up trying to do serious exegesis. By waiving aside original intent, Talbott is making the verse say something that the author didn't mean it to say. And he would only resort to this desperate and duplicitous expedient if the verse were irreconcilable with his own position.

Everyone understands that fire is a flexible metaphor that can either signify cleansing or destruction. Which is operative is a question of context. It is illicit to say that because a given metaphor is flexible, we can choose or substitute any import we please in studied defiance of the setting or original intent.

In 2 Thes 1:9, the image of punitive fire goes back to Isa 66:15. That this does not imply annihilation is clear from 66:24: "their worm will not die, nor their fire be quenched."

Commenting on the unpardonable sin (Mt 12:31-32), Talbott once again tries to turn this into a prooftext for penance and Purgatory. But, of course, the key to the passage lies not in the abstract meaning of the verb, but in its negation and in the extension of that negation to the afterlife. It does not open up the possibility that the debt will be paid off at a future date. To the contrary, it expressly forecloses that option.

In chapter 7, Talbott begins by scattering a number of verses to prove the universality of divine love: 2 Tim 2:4; Mt 5:43-48; 18:14; Rom 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Acts 10:34; 2 Pet 3:9.

One is struck, first of all, by the random quality of the evidence. Is this really the best he can cobble together? Apparently so.

I've already dealt with 2 Tim 2:4. For the rest:

i) Mt 5:43-48. Two points:
a) Not everything that holds true in the church age holds true in the world to come. In this life, the wheat and the tares share a common field and are so ingrown that one cannot dig up the tares without uprooting the wheat. But there will be an end-time harvest and winnowing process (Mt 13:24-30,36-43).
b) By that same token, God sends his sun and rain on the wheat and tares alike, but for the benefit of the wheat, and not the weeds.
ii) Mt 18:14. Talbott glosses this to mean that "God is unwilling that a single child (and hence that a single human being who ever was a child) should perish." But this subverts and perverts the proper force of the passage. In dominical usage, "children" do not stand for anyone and everyone. Children are set over against child-abusers, who are the objects of divine judgment (18:6). And children symbolize believers, not unbelievers.
iii) Rom 2:11. God is a just judge. No one will get worse than he deserves. But some get better. Equal treatment presupposes equal claims. No one has a claim on divine mercy. Mercy, unlike justice, is inherently inequitable. The standard of judgment is quite different from the character of salvation, just as law and grace differ in kind.
iv) Acts 10:34. The passage is concerned with the inclusion of the Gentiles in the Gospel. But that represents a change in the status quo. It presupposes the prior exclusion of most Gentiles. So Talbott's appeal either proves too much or too little.
2 Pet 2:9. Two points:
a) Talbott misses the OT background. As one commentator—not a Calvinist— observes,
"God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay…The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. Here it is for the sake of the repentance of 2 Peter's Christian readers," R. Bauckham, Word Biblical Commentary: Jude, 2 Peter (Word 1983), 312-313.
b) Let us also not overlook the fact that Peter has a doctrine of reprobation, in tandem with his doctrine of election (1 Pet 2:8-9).

Somewhere over the rainbow-1

Universalism has always had a small, but popular following in liberal churches, and it has enjoyed a more prominent, albeit unofficial, standing in the Greek and Russian Orthodox tradition.

In general, its appeal is overtly and ultimately sentimental. Recently, though, two trained philosophers have come to the defense of universalism. In examining their case we are reviewing the most rigorous case that can be made for universalism. The two books are Horrendous Evils & the Love of God (Cornell 2000) by Marilyn McCord Adams and The Inescapable Love of God (Upublish.com, 1999) by Thomas Talbott.

Although a number of Bible scholars have tried to make an exegetical case for conditional immortality, I know of no philosophical theologian who has tried to make a stringent case for conditional immortality. From an apologetic standpoint, this puts universalism in a class apart from annihilationism. So let us examine the argument for universalism, beginning with Adams.

Some of her criticisms of opposing positions are right on the mark. She says that,
"At a minimum, God's goodness to human individuals would require that God guarantee each a life that was a great good to him/her on the whole by balancing off serious evils" (31).

And it seems to me that this is a perfectly just criticism of all soteric schemes that are universal in intent, but not in effect.

She takes issue with glib appeals to divine passibility. She agrees with Paul Fiddes that even if God were literally empathetic, this would not entail divine suffering, for we only suffer if we suffer against our will, under some form of outward constraint (170).

Likewise, she agrees with Richard Creel that two subjects can have the same sensations without the same emotions, for one subject may be able to place his unpleasant sensations in a larger and disarming context (171). In addition, God cannot suffer loss in the same way that a creature can (172). As such, there remain significant respects in which God lacks the vulnerability that is a prerequisite of true suffering.

She is also critical of a libertarian version of postmortem evangelism:
"Walls meets his Wesleyan worries, that not everyone has a fair antemortem chance, with the proposal that God will extend the 'deadline' for such individuals, to guarantee each the opportunity to make a 'settled response' under 'the most favorable circumstances.' Yet, where created agency is twisted by horrors (as above), this fresh start would require massive miraculous repairs, drastic alterations of a sort Walls otherwise thinks we have a right against God not to produce" (48).

Along the same lines, she takes aim at Hick's soul-building theodicy: "the sacrifice of participation in horrors is pedagogically inept as a first lesson because it can damage the person so much as to make much further antemortem progress from self-centeredness to other-or God-centeredness virtually impossible" (53).

Taking another swipe at a libertarian theodicy, she says that
"a parent or teacher can be 'good to' a three-year-old in awarding it the dignity of self-determination with respect to issues slightly beyond its cognitive and emotional grasp. But benevolent pedagogy allows this to take place only within a controlled framework in which neither choice courts disaster" (47).

Often, though, her criticisms glean some good in the position she chooses to critique. She says, for example, that "God could feel torn with anger and grief at the way we treat each other…God might also feel exasperated at our individual and collective inability to discern the benevolence at divine intentions" (173).

To which I'd say that a God, if "God" is the right designation for such a being, who feels inwardly torn and exasperated with the work of his own hands, is a God who would richly deserve our inability to discern his benevolent intentions, and if any exasperation is due, it is the creature who would be entitled to be exasperated with such a inept and ineffectual Creator. One might as well worship Zeus or Wotan or nothing at all—which amounts to much the same thing.

Likewise, she tells us that Christ suffered in both natures (174), leaning, it would seem, on the flimsy reed of Moltmann's exegesis of Mk 15:43 (176), which entirely overlooks the fact that Christ is quoting a question, not asking a question—not to mention the relation of that question to the steady progression of Ps 22 from despondency to triumph.

But after dispatching or tweaking some of the alternatives, what are her positive arguments for universalism?

To begin with what ought to be the most important issue, and the only issue that really counts, what Biblical support does she find for her position, and how does she square that with evidence to the contrary? Her solution is to distinguish between two different plotlines in Scripture, and favor one over the other. There is, on the one hand, apocalyptic eschatology:
"Apocalyptic theology offers us two one-dimensional collective characters; the righteous and the wicked. Likewise, its plot recognizes two opposite conditions—one all good…and the other all bad—and two ages. Its plot line moves from one age to the other via the intervention of a heavenly rescuer who effects a simple reversal…the wicked [will be consigned' to torture chambers either eternally or until they wither away…evil is not defeated, but balanced off in a retributive ordering: the sufferings of the righteous are canceled (without being seen to have contributed to any good) by heavenly joys, while the crimes of the wicked are balanced off by their torment in hell…The two collective actors swap positions, but do not change character. The wicked are not redeemed, nor does suffering come to an end. Sharing as it does all the aesthetic defects of a grade B Western, apocalyptic theology pays the price of limited plot resolution" (137-38).

Before turning to her alternative, this description calls for a number of comments:

i) She treats the witness of Scripture as though she were a film critic. But even at that level, she might as well complain that a movie about WWII shares all the defects of a grade B Western and pays the price of limited plot resolution.

To favor universalism over apocalypticism on aesthetic grounds sidesteps the question of truth entirely, and plays into the deep-seated suspicion that universalism is nothing more than make-believe and wishful thinking. The course of the future is not a novel in which we get to write the ending to our own artistic satisfaction.

ii) It is a travesty of Scripture to insinuate that the redeemed are heaven-bound because they are virtuous while the damned are hell-bound because they are vicious. This leaves out of account the status of the redeemed as sinners saved by grace.

iii) Scripture does not depict hell as a torture chamber. That is reading Scripture through the lens of Dante. It conjures up all sorts of invidious images and connotations that are not a necessary part of the Biblical witness. If Adams can't make her case without tilting the scales, then she has no case to make.

iv) The sufferings of the righteous contribute to the good by manifesting the mercy and justice of God as he delivers the righteous and judges the wicked.

v) To say that evil is not defeated follows from a very idiosyncratic definition of "defeat." Although the Nazis were not redeemed, they were surely defeated. Of course, if you choose to define success and failure according to universalism, then you can say this about the apocalyptic vision, but that begs the question by assuming what it needs to prove. To merely contrast the one with the other does not justify a comparative judgment, for it has to take one as the standard of reference, which is viciously circular.

She then sets the apocalyptic denouement over against the Passion account:
"This plot does not rest content with a simple reversal of fates. The human enemies of God are not left one-dimensional: for the worst they do in the passion narrative to their role as instruments of the devil, is turned by God into a fresh opportunity for them to step out of this role, through repentance, a change of heart…those who consented to the death of Jesus and repent afterwards have the opportunity to enter into the covenant blessings with the consolation of recognizing the worst thing they ever did as making a positive contribution to God's plan to spread his glory to the ends of the earth" (139).

But to oppose this "storyline" to the apocalyptic outlook is another straw man argument:

i) The redeemed are redeemed from the ranks of the wicked. That's what makes them the redeemed. So there's room for members of one side to cross over to the other side. This can happen in both directions.

ii) The timeframe of the Passion is obviously different from the timeframe of the general judgment or the death of any particular sinner. So there is no apparent tension between these two storylines, for these events occur at different points in the story.

iii) It is true that the apocalyptic scenario has a predestinarian element, but so do the Gospels and the Book of Acts.

iv) The plan of God both opens and closes the door on the range of opportunities. But, of course, it's not as though universalism offers any freedom of opportunity. Everyone ends up in the same place, so universalism can hardly fault apocalypticism on libertarian grounds.

v) Assuming, for the sake of argument, that these present contradictory endings, why choose one ending over another? Why choose either ending? Whether some are saved, everyone, or no one, is question that can only be settled by revelation, or not at all.

Adams can only play one Scripture off against another on one of four assumptions:
a) Scripture is uninspired.
b) Scripture is intermittently inspired
c) Scripture is fully inspired by a fallible God.
d) Scripture is inspired, but in the form of open-textured and formally discordant metaphors that do not point in any uniform direction.

Under none of these assumptions, whether individually or in some combination thereof, is Scripture a reliable source of information about the afterlife.

Elsewhere she says that "In the crucifixion, God identified with all human beings" (166), but no exegetical argument is offered for this sweeping claim. She goes on to say that by becoming a curse for us, God enables "human perpetrators of horrors to accept and forgive themselves" (107).

But whatever the subjective value, if any, of this result, Scripture nowhere attributes to the atonement either this intent or effect. Rather, the consequence of the atonement lies with divine forgiveness and divine acceptance of the redeemed.

She also mentions, as if supportive of her thesis, "the power of horrendous evil to make participants with (like Judas, according to Mt 26:24 & Mk 14:21) never to have been born" (42). Yet this is hard to reconcile with universalism, or even annihilationism.

In another gesture towards the witness of Scripture, Adams extracts a divine code of honor and then deploys that in defense of universalism:
"The code of honor allows even universalists to accommodate the biblical threat that Judgement Day will put us to shame. For whatever else it means, Judgment symbolizes God's making plain and public the truth about Who God is, who we are, and the evaluative truth about what we have been and done" (127).

But this is open to several crippling objections:
i) Her version of the honor code is a highly abstract and generic construct. It cannot be used to negate the specifics of Scripture regarding the afterlife.
ii) Judgment Day is a symbol, but more than a symbol. It is a symbolic event. So it cannot be manipulated like a merely conventional emblem.
iii) To say that "whatever else it means," this particular aspect is consistent with universalism is, even if true, a transparent fallacy, for the universalist can only accommodate the biblical threat if his own eschatology is consistent with everything meant by Judgment Day. There is more to judgment than a guilty verdict. There is the sentencing phase and meting out of a just punishment. It's about truth and consequences, not truth without consequences.
iv) She fails to distinguish between a pedagogical reward and a meritorious reward. A parent will often reward a child as an incentive. This is not a meritorious reward. This is just a way of training a child to form good habits. He is encouraged to do the right thing. Heavenly rewards serve the same function. It says nothing about our intrinsic value to God or his gratitude to us (127-28).

She admits that the OT teaches limited atonement:
"More often than not, the Hebrew Bible understands this solution to be exclusive. The explicit purpose of the holiness code is to separate Israel out from the other nations" (97).

Yes, and you could say this same thing about the NT holiness code. And if you have a contrast between Israel and the world in the OT, you have a parallel contrast between the Church and the world in Pauline and Johannine theology. So this doesn't seem to be very encouraging to universalism.

But in speaking on the scope of redemption, she says that,
"My criterion is universalist in insisting that God be good to each created person" (157).

The problem with her criterion is twofold:
i) This is a not a criterion for judging universalism, but a criterion by which universalism judges the alternatives. And this leaves unaccounted for the criterion by which she judges universalism to be true in the first place.
ii) Her insistence that God be good to every rational creature is inconsistent with her position that God sustains no moral obligations to any rational creature (204).

Given her disdain for the authority of Scripture, it is not surprising that Adams has ready recourse to extra-canonical sources. She makes free use of the apocrypha. And her general method is to conduct a running discussion with various philosophers and theologians, past and present.

Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with being in dialogue with a philosophical or theological tradition. But sound theology does not enjoy the creative freedom of a literary tradition. This is not an internal debate in which we compare and contrast one man's ideas with another's, and stake out a mediating position.

No, the basis of theology is historical revelation—which comes to closure in the NT. This will, indeed, draw us into a hermeneutical and ecclesiastical tradition, but Scripture is both the source and standard of reference. It forms an external check on tradition. And the hermeneutical circle is not a vicious circle, for a high doctrine of Scripture goes hand-in-hand with a high doctrine of providence.

We're not debating the independent merit of free-floating ideas, as if we were free to choose from a repertoire of abstract options. What is at issue is the relation between revelation and reality. If our beliefs don't square with revelation, they don't square with reality. And what's the point in having beliefs about the world that don't correspond to the world? If I don't bring food with me on a trip to the moon, believing that the moon is made of green cheese, then I'll starve to death.

Let us remember what we're talking about. We're talking about nothing less than the future fate of the entirety of humanity. And that is neither an intuitive question nor an empirical one. It is not a truth of reason or a sense datum. It will be an observable event, but not at present. So armchair speculation is impotent to adjudicate this issue.

Adams puts a lot of stock in the effusions of Julian of Norwich. This is noteworthy on a couple of grounds:

i) Why does she think that a mystic is more reliable than the canonical prophets and apostles?

ii) Julian's mystical theology represents a paradigm-shift from a paternal to a maternal model of God. This is a natural move for a universalist to make. And it's not coincidental that Adam and Julian are both women.

Generally, women favor mercy over justice, and people over principles—whereas men generally reverse the priorities.

Universalism naturally goes hand-in-hand with a different doctrine of God. We're no longer talking about Christianity, but a different religion altogether—albeit a Christian heresy.

But, other issues aside, why believe that God is feminine rather than masculine? What is the rational basis for this belief? What's the evidence? What would count as evidence? What's our source of information? These are not unreasonable questions to ask a philosopher such as Adams.

I would add in passing that Christianity as a central place for the feminine. The relation, though, is not Madonna and child, but husband and wife. Yahweh assumes the role of husband in relation to Israel, and Christ in relation to the Church.

In attacking retributive justice, Adams says that,
"As critics of retributivism commonly point out, retribution is a matter of proportion, whereas the notion of proportionate return demanded by the lex talionis already breaks down in ordinary cases where numbers are large. For example, suppose I knock one tooth out of the mouth of each of thirty-two people each of whom has a full set of teeth and then the authorities knock out all thirty-two of my teeth by way of punishment. Is my having no teeth not much worse than their each having thirty-one teeth? Or suppose I interrupt television transmission of the superbowl game, thereby causing twenty million fans one hour of fury and frustration each; surely, my suffering twenty million hours of fury and frustration is much worse" (40).

This is an interesting criticism, but it suffers from several flaws:
i) It raises the question of the editorial viewpoint and implied reader. Is Adams writing as a believer to unbelievers? As a believer to fellow believers? Or as an unbeliever to fellow unbelievers?

I ask because a Bible-believing Christian does not require an independent argument for everything he believes. As long as something is taught in Scripture, that is sufficient argument for believing it. The veracity of the teacher verifies the teaching.

Now, some Scriptural teachings may be capable of independent justification. And doing so may be worthwhile as an apologetic exercise.

But if Scripture teaches the doctrine of hell, and if the principle of retributive justice figures in the Scriptural rationale for hell, then it is highly improper for a professing Christian to attack either the doctrine itself or a supporting argument—or to demand additional warrant on the part of the church. This is only an open question of Scripture leaves it an open question. Otherwise, there's nothing to debate. Case closed.

ii) Adams is operating with a very wooden, numerical concept of retribution. Morality is a qualitative rather than quantitative category. It only takes a rapist a few moments to rob a little girl of her innocence and scar her for life.

Yes, there is a spatiotemporal disproportion between guilt and retribution. But that is not the relevant point of comparison.

iii) Indeed, the disproportion works the other way. Once you do something, you can't undo it. If you did wrong, what you did will always be wrong. Guilt has no built-in shelf-life. Guilt is eternal. So this is really an argument for hell, rather than against it.

Continuing her criticism,
"Matching the prima facie ruin of the victim's life with the prima facie ruin of the perpetrator's would not make the world a better place, much less defeat the disastrous harm to the victim…To return horror for horror does not erase but doubles the individual's participation in horrors—first as victim, then as the one whose injury occasions another's prima facie ruin" (41).

"Retributive justice is powerless to either compensate [the victim] or to make the total state of affairs morally better" (61).

By way of comment:

i) As above, this still suffers from an overly literal construction on an eye-for-an-eye. The point is not that the victim should necessarily reenact every detail of the crime against the victimizer. The Mosaic code never held that if you rape my child, then I get to rape your child. The principle of retribution is not necessarily imitative. Sometimes direct compensation is a suitable form of restitution (e.g., theft/repayment), but that depends on the nature of the crime, not the nature of retribution. Justice determines the crime, crime doesn't determine justice.

ii) Adams' objection reflects the characteristic arrogance of universalism. One, who is not the victim, presumes to speak on behalf of the victim. As a practical matter, many victims to take moral and emotional satisfaction in seeing the victimizer suitably punished. Who is Adams to say they have no right to feel that way or see that justice is done?

iii) Retribution is not necessarily compensatory. Compensation can take other forms, such as eternal beatitude.

iv) Justice is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. Justice is good in and of itself. It is not merely instrumental to a higher good.

Proceeding with her assault,
"As for Divine goodness to created persons, some grim hell advocates simply conceded that Divine Goodness finds its primary expression in the world as a whole, so that Divine government may sacrifice the well-being of individual created persons as much as that of particular swallows and ants for the benefit of the common good" (41).

Although briefly stated, this is the core objection of universalism to particularism. And her summary is another caricature of the opposing position:

i) Even if we don't regard teleological ethics as an all-sufficient value-system, it hardly follows that part/whole or means/ends relations have no role in the moral value and valuation of a given state of affairs. Adams is a goal-oriented agent. She wrote this book as a means of winning readers over to universalism.

Although the end doesn't justify any means whatsoever, moral deliberation is a purposeful activity. A moral agent has a reason for what he does, and whether he has a good reason for what he does figures in the moral value and valuation of the act. Misuse or abuse presupposes a right and natural use.

ii) To speak of sacrificing the few for the many ignores a number of moral distinctions. To begin with, it disregards the fundamental distinction between guilt and innocence, which is the basis of justice and just deserts. Is it wrong of Patton to sacrifice 500 Nazis to save 50 GIs? Is it wrong of Bonhoeffer to sacrifice the Führer to save a whole nation?

iii) Adams overlooks a possible tradeoff between the common good and the greater good. What if it's a choice between a lesser good for the many and a greater good for the few?

For example, in Scripture, polygamy sometimes serves the common good (i.e., Levirate marriage), but monogamy is a greater good. Exclusive goods may be more valuable than inclusive goods. Second-order goods may be higher goods than first-order goods. To be a redeemed creature may be better than to be sinless or impeccable.

However, Adams may also object to an Augustinian theodicy on other grounds. She says, for example, that "where entrenched horrors are figured into the bargain, however, it is far from obvious that a perfectly good God would accept them as the price of a very good world with as favorable a balance of moral good over moral evil as God could weakly actualize" (30).

Yet the question at issue is not what is "obvious." The reason the problem of evil is called the "problem" of evil is because the relation between God and evil is not obvious. That is the inspiration for a theodicy, whether Leibnizian, libertarian, soul-making, supralapsarian, reincarnational, or universalist. Certainly her own theodicy is a very complicated piece of business.

Many things are true which are inevident. Either their truth can only be known by revelation, or teased into a more comprehensible form by rational reflection and analysis.

She goes on to say of the Leibnizian version that,
"Such government would thereby show itself to be at best indifferent, at worst cruel. Rather, I contend that God could be said to value human personhood in general, and to love individual persons in particular, only if God were good to each and every human person God created" (31). By way of reply,
i) No consequentialist theodicy, be it Leibnizian, supralapsarian or otherwise, implies the indifference of divine government. To the contrary, the teleology of a consequentialist theodicy implies very carefully planning and execution on God's part.
ii) Even if it were cruel, Adams has said that God is not morally obligated to human beings. She compares the metaphysical and moral distance between God and man to the distance between man and maggots (94-95).
iii) Since cruelty exists in the world, and figures very prominently in the problem of evil, it follows that—absent atheism—no theodicy can avoid positioning God in some sort of relation to the cruelties of life on earth.
iv) In addition, some cruelties counterbalance others. The cruelties of the wicked are balanced out by the cruelties of hell.
v) Doesn't her embrace of the evolutionary process commit her to a governance of the world that is indifferent at best and cruel at worst? Is evolution especially kind to individual men, women, and children?
vi) The charge of cruelty overlooks elementary distinctions of innocence and guilt. Evildoers deserve harsh treatment.
vii) It is precisely because men and women are personal agents that they are morally accountable for their deeds.
viii) It is precisely because God is a moral agent that he is capable of exercising individual, moral, and rational discretion. He is not bound by mechanical uniformity in his governance of the world.
ix) It is illogical to say that God cannot be good to anyone unless he is good to everyone. This demands a supporting argument.

In yet another objection, she says that,
"We cannot bear full responsibility for something to the extent that—through no fault of our own—'we know not what we do.'…we cannot be fully responsible for those dimensions of horrendous evil that are inevitably inadequately conceivable by us. Insofar as culpability is directly proportional to responsibility, we cannot be fully to blame either…This would be true in spades for Adam and Eve who—prior to the fall—would have no experience at all of evil or suffering.

Suppose a parent introduces a three-year-old into a room which contains gas that is not harmful to breathe but will explode if ignited and also contains a stove with brightly colored knobs which if turned will light the burners and ignite the gas. Suppose further that the parent warns the child not to turn the knobs and then leaves the room. If the child turns the knobs and ignites the gas, blowing up the room, surely the child is at most marginally to blame, even though it knew enough to obey the parent, while the parent is both primarily responsible and highly culpable" (38-39).

Yet this line of argument is liable to two major objections:
i) She faults the freewill defense for being too indeterministic, but the Augustinian theodicy for being too deterministic. But is there a coherent compromise position?
ii) She fails to see how her story of the gas stove undercuts her Arminian ethic. The mother didn't know that this would happen. And the mother had no prior personal experience of the consequences. Yet her reckless disregard is, by her own admission, morally censurable.

The mother's comparative ignorance does precious little to mitigate her guilt. Indeed, there's such a thing as culpable ignorance. There are some things you either ought to know, or if they cannot be known, demand that appropriate precautions be taken.

Of course, if she knew more she'd be even more culpable, but distinguishing between degrees of guilt doesn't distinguish between one theodicy and another, for everyone, including the Calvinist, admits cases of aggravated guilt as well as diminished responsibility. And even extenuating circumstances are not the same as exculpatory circumstances.