Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Arminian theodicy

Arminians make heavy weather of the fact that, according to Calvinism, God predestined who would go to heaven and who would go to hell.

Yet traditional Arminianism subscribes to conditional election. And this isn’t just a thing of the past. That doctrine is reaffirmed by the Society of Evangelical Arminians:

“We believe that God’s saving grace is resistible, that election unto salvation is conditional on faith in Christ, and that persevering in faith is necessary for final salvation.”

So, on this view, God foreknew who would accept the Gospel and be saved as well as who would reject the Gospel and be damned. Yet he went right ahead created hellbound sinners despite that fact.

Question: from an Arminian perspective, why didn’t God simply create the faithful? He knew who the faithful would be. Moreover, Arminians attribute libertarian freedom to God. So it’s not as if God had to create this particular world, rather than some other one–or none at all.

The freewill defense is useless at this point. For God never had to create the damned.

From an Arminian perspective, why would a loving God willingly and knowingly create hellbound sinners? Wouldn’t we expect a loving God, as Arminians define it, to only create heavenbound sinners? How is it loving, as Arminians define it, to create men and women whom you know are doomed to spend eternity in hell–even though it lay within your power to refrain from precipitating that outcome?

Keep in mind that there’s no antecedent quota on how many human beings must exist. Likewise, there’s no antecedent limit on how long or short human history must be.

Even if the subset of the heavenbound is far smaller than the totality of the saints and the damned, which is better from an Arminian standpoint–a more populous world in which some are saved while others are damned, or a less populous world in which everyone is saved?

Perhaps an Arminian would content that a world in which more people are saved, even if some people are damned, is preferable to a world in which fewer people are saved–even though everyone, albeit fewer overall, are saved.

But in that case, the salvation of some comes at the expense of the damned. The damned exist to facilitate the salvation of some who wouldn’t be saved (or even exist) apart from the existence of the damned. Yet that sounds eerily supralapsarian.

Does Arminian theology subscribe to a utilitarian soteriology? Does the salvation of the saints justify the fate of the damned, as a means to an end? How, by Arminian lights, could God be so ruthless and cruel?


  1. You might try reading C.S Lewis' Mere Christianity, book II, chapter 3 The Shocking Alternative. It offers one of the best Christian responses to your inquiry and you can read it free here:

    Your objections to God's plan of redemptin and His love for His creation is well addressed by the apologist.

  2. You might try not directing me to something I've already read–more than once. I have a hard copy in my private library.

    You might also try to deal with my argument head-on. If you can't do that, then you're signaling your defeat.

  3. For some reason, I just can't imagine "Mere Christianity" dealing with this topic in any depth that would give an answer to this post.

  4. Atheists have fielded this issue for generations A. M., and the reply has been essentially that it doesn't seem the amount of free will given to humanity by a god is worth the level of suffering and death it brings about. It's not just atheists, of course, who have made this argument, Dostoevsky did a good job of articulating it--os free worth the horrible death of even one child? Dostoevsky also recognized that the "answer" was not to downplay the horror of evil but to propose that divine love can overcome even that. I do happen to be a Calvinist and I would say that all Christians are stuck with the realization that there is a mystery of lawlessness that can only be overcome by the greater mystery of Christ. At the risk of rambling further I don't think the freedom of the will provides an adequate theodicy even for the creation of Adam and Eve. On the other hand, I think the incarnation, the cross, and the resurrection are the theodicy, so far as we can ever grasp it.

  5. A.M. Mallett said:

    You might try reading C.S Lewis' Mere Christianity, book II, chapter 3 The Shocking Alternative. It offers one of the best Christian responses to your inquiry...

    It's been a while since I've read Mere Christianity.

    In any case, per your suggestion, I re-read the relevant chapter.

    Only the first half of the chapter deals with free will and the problem of evil.

    But I don't see how the first half or in fact any part of the chapter addresses the objection Steve raised. Which part of the chapter do you think addresses what Steve brought up? And why do you think so?

  6. Dear Steve,

    The short answer is God permits sin and suffering for the greater good.

    The freewill defense is useless at this point.

    The freewill defense and the greater good defense are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps freewill (and specifically freewill in choices between good and evil) is an essential element of the greater good.

    For God never had to create the damned.

    I agree but...(and I am just speculating here) perhaps God could not have created a world in which all freely believed. At least it doesn't seem to be as simple as subtracting or not creating those who wouldn't believe. That alters the world itself and the circumstances those remaining end up in. Although there may be worlds in God's natural knowledge in which all end up saved, perhaps there are none like that in God's middle knowledge, due to the way we would use our freedom.

    God be with you,