Saturday, June 13, 2009

Reppert's put-put gun is all out of ammo

Victor admits all he has left as an argument against Calvinism is his argument from language. Here's the gist of this argument:

"It occurred to me in reading a critique of Walls and Dongell's Why I am not a Calvinist (IVP 2004) that one could argue against Calvinism without appealing to any moral intuitions whatsoever; that indeed what I objected to in Calvinism wasn't just that I found Calvinism morally repugnant. I do, of course. But what I find equally disturbing is the fact that Calvinists use terms in ways which render those terms unrecognizable.


"But the question is whether someone God destines for perdition when he could have destined them otherwise can sensibly, in any recognizable sense, be considered to be loved by God. I think ordinary usage makes it clear that some conduct toward another person is inconsistent with the idea that God loves them.

"Take for example an abusive husband. Ann Coulter once said "Liberals love America like O. J. loved Nicole." At some point abuse becomes so severe that no sensible person can reasonably call it love anymore.

Now, let's think of a human, Smith. Suppose Smith is a great king. Suppose Smith claims that he loves all men. Now, suppose Smith, on repeated incidents, orders the armies of his kingdom to utterly destroy any trace of certain groups. Not only that, Smith tells his armies to go and kill not only the men, but all the women and children too. Yes, the babies. Then, if that weren't enough, he tells his armies to destroy all the livestock and pets and such in those countries. Yes, the puppies and kitties too.

But, recall that Smith says he loves all the people of these countries. He claims his love for all men is his most defining characteristic.

We can furthermore suppose that Smith dislikes the lawlessness in a certain region and so orders the drains of some massive damns to be opened, thus flooding this region, killing all who live there.

Would Victor apply the word "lover of humanity" to this person? Given his political comments over the years, the answer would seem to be no. In fact, if I called this person "love," Victor would claim, "then I don't know what that word means, you've made nonsense of the English language."

Would Reppert call this man, this puppy killer, "good?" I don't think so. Reppert has said things like this:

I remain convinced that the creature can say to the creator "Why hast thou made me thus." As John Stuart Mill puts it:

I will call no being good who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow creatures; and if such a creature can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.

Since Reppert would not call this man good, he cannot call God good. To the extent Reppert hurries to try and justify God's actions in the OT, the noose will grow tighter as he'll have to let the God of Calvinism off the hook too. If he doesn't, he'll look arbitrary.

From my perspective, I see no way out for Victor. Well, he can deny inerrancy . . .

Any enemy of Calvin is a friend of mine!

There’s an Internet troll who goes by the name of Robert. Robert has never met a heretic he didn’t like. Robert’s operating philosophy is that “Any enemy of Calvin is a friend of mine.”

A former secretary at St. Robert’s Church recently shared some information with me. She was employed there until Robert discovered that she was a closet Calvinist.

She shared with me a transcript in which Robert interviews some applicants for church membership. Here are some of the highlights.

“Mr. Romney. Thanks for filling out our application form. Do you have any prior religious experience?”

“I’m a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

“That’s very interesting. What do you think of Calvinism?”

“I oppose it.”

“Well, I think that just about covers it. I look forward to seeing you again this Sunday. Welcome to St. Robert’s Church!”

“Mr. Yassin. It says here that you’re employed by Hamas. May I ask what you do for a living?”

“I’m a suicide bomber.”

“I see. And what do you think of Calvinism?”

“I oppose it.”

“That makes two of us! Welcome to St. Robert’s Church!”

“Mr. Thurston-ody. So nice to see you. Do you have any religious affiliations?”

“Not exactly. I belong to an organization called Heaven’s Gate.”

“Sounds familiar. Isn’t that a suicide cult?”

“Correct. Does that mean you’re rejecting my membership application?”

“Not at all. Why, we have a new member by the name of Mr. Yassin. I think you and he will hit it off quite nicely. Just one more question if you don’t mind.”


“Are you, by any chance, a Calvinist?”


“Well, then, allow me to welcome you into the fellowship of St. Robert’s Church.”

“Mr. Cruise. I was looking over your application form. Do you have any previous religious experience?”

“I’m a Scientologist.”

“You don’t say. By the way, what do you think of Calvinism?”

“I’m agin’ it.”

“That will be all. Look forward to seeing you on Sunday.”

“Mr. Queequeg. So nice to make your acquaintance. I see from your application that you were born on the island of Kokovoko. May I ask your occupation?”

“I’m a headhunter. Is that a problem?”

“I think we can accommodate that. When we hold church picnics we’ll need to include some culturally appropriate dishes, that’s all. Now to the really important question: What do you think of Calvinists?”

“For lunch or dinner?”

“Excellent answer!! You’ll make a fine addition to St. Robert’s Church.”

“Mr. Wells. So nice to meet you. Do you have any religious background?”

“I’m a Moonie.”

“And what do you think of Reformed theology?”

“I oppose it.”

“That should suffice. Welcome to St. Robert’s Church.”

“Mr. Howell. So good to meet you. What’s your religious persuasion?”

“Rastafarian. Is that an obstacle to my membership?”

“No big deal. Here at St. Robert’s Church we go by the motto ‘In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity’. Now to the main issue: What do you think of Calvinism?”

“I reject it!”

“Well, that says it all! Permit me to welcome you to St. Robert’s Church!”

“Mr. Vorilhon. I’ve been reviewing your application. What best describes your faith-commitment at this stage in your pilgrimage?

“I’m a Raëlian.”

“What a coincidence! I must introduce you to Mr. Thurston-ody. You two have much in common. Incidentally, do you have any personal opinion about Reformed theology?”

“I don’t believe it.”

“Well, then, I guess that settles it. Allow me to welcome you to St. Robert’s Church.”

“Mrs. Dixon. Would you describe yourself as a person of faith?”

“I’m a psychic.”

“Astrology? Cartomancy? That sort of thing?”

“Yes. Do you discriminate against people like me?”

“At St. Robert’s Church, we have a sense of proportion. As long as you’re not a Calvinist, I’m sure that we can make allowance for these little idiosyncrasies.”

“Ms Jadis. Please come in. Do sit down. Just one question: are you now or have you ever been a Calvinst?”

“I’m a witch.”

“Well, that’s a relief! I hope to see you this Sunday for your first communion.”

Does God love the reprobate?-2

Continuing my debate with Jason Pratt:

Jason originally said: “They never have a real choice to do good, yet they are commanded to do good by the One who chooses to prevent them from ever having a choice to do good.”

This is the sort of objection that Arminians typically raise against Calvinism. God commanded us to do X even though he never gave us a real choice in the matter. So goes the argument.

In response, I said, “Keep in mind that Jason is a universalist. So it’s not as if he thinks that God gives us all a choice to do either x or y, and respects our choice. It’s difficult to construct a purely libertarian version of universalism.”

This is how Jason begins his reply: “Leaving aside any difficulties inherent in claiming that a perfectly righteous entity can ‘respect’ a choice to do unrighteousness; I don’t think God gives us a choice to exist without Him (because I would be denying my affirmation of supernaturalistic theism if I thought that), and I don’t think God gives us a choice to cease existing…”

Of course, that’s irrelevant to my point. He makes it sound as if I was defending libertarian freedom. Obviously not. My point is that he’s in no position to raise libertarian objections to Calvinism.

Indeed, his irrelevant reply merely confirms my point: Jason is not a libertarian. Therefore, it won’t do for him to fault Calvinism because, according to him, we never had a real choice.

“I do think, and have always said, that God gives us the ability to keep rebelling against Him for as indeterminately long as we choose to do so…And, along that line, I do not think God gives us a choice to avoid God always seeking to lead us to repentance and reconciliation.”

Let’s stop and consider this for a moment. On the one hand, Jason thinks it’s incoherent that some Calvinists believe God desires the salvation of those whom he decreed to damn. He also thinks it’s incoherent to suppose that God commands one thing while he decrees another.

On the other, Jason thinks that God is always seeking to reconcile us to himself while, at the same time, God gives us the ability to resist his overtures for an indefinite period of time. How is that not as incoherent as anything he imputes to Calvinism? Isn’t Jason’s God working at cross-purposes? Jason’s God gives human beings the ability to counteract God’s redemptive overtures. God tries to draw them to himself while, at the same time, giving them the ability to push him away.

Even if, for the sake of argument, you accept his characterization of Calvinism, how does his own position escape the same criticisms?

“I still would at least not be trying to get around or out of affirming God’s own active responsibility in regard to sinners.”

This begs the question of God’s responsibilities in regard to sinners. If God consigns Josef Mengele to spend eternity in hell, then God has acted responsibly in that case.

“And I still would not be affirming, on the other hand, what amounts to two ultimately opposed wills of God in regard to at least some sinners. I would not, for example, be claiming that God commands all sinners to repent and be faithful while also choosing to withhold the only possible way for some sinners to obey that command.”

I already dealt with that objection. Since Jason is choosing to be obtuse, let’s spell this out in more detail:

i) Divine commands to believe the Gospel are a subset of divine commands generally, viz. don’t commit idolatry, don’t commit adultery, don’t commit perjury, don’t murder, don’t steal, &c.

ii) God’s commands are routinely violated.

iii) Therefore, when God issues a command, there’s no presumption that God issues a command with the intent that human beings will obey it.

iv) Therefore, since the command to believe the Gospel is a special case of divine commands in general, there’s no presumption that when God commands men to believe the Gospel, he issues that command with the intention that all men will obey it.

I’d add that if this is a problem for Calvinism, then it’s a problem for every rival position, for we could raise a parallel objection to every rival position. To take a few examples:

i) Arminianism. God issues various commands in full knowledge that his commands will often be disobeyed. Therefore, God cannot intend that men always obey his commands.

ii) Open theism. God issues various commands without knowing in advance to what extent, if any, his commands will be obeyed. Therefore, God cannot intend that men always obey his commands, since he’s in no position to expect that outcome.

iii) Universalism. God issues many commands (e.g. against idolatry, adultery, perjury, murder, theft) which will be disobeyed. If, therefore, there’s no general presumption that when God issues a command, he intends it to be obeyed, then there’s no specific presumption that he intends that outcome in the case of commands to believe the Gospel.

“Nor, on the other hand, would I be claiming that God responsibly chooses salvation in regard to some sinners but has no choice at all one way or another in regard to the non-salvation of other sinners.”

Of course, that’s irrelevant to my own position. As a Calvinist, I don’t take the position that God has no choice in the matter.

“…while I was also professing a doctrine of God irresistibly coercing such behavior…”

Of course, Calvinism rejects divine “coercion.”

“I do think God gives us all a choice to do either x or y and respects our choice.”

To the contrary, as a universalist, Jason doesn’t think that God takes “no” for an answer. The only choice that God accepts is “yes” to the Gospel.

I said: “Inability is not the same thing as prevention. For example, the state tells you not to drive drunk. And if it catches you, you will be arrested and charged with a crime. Does this mean the state prevented you from driving sober because the state failed to enable you to drive sober? Does Jason equate the failure to enable someone to do x with preventing someone to do x?”

Here is how Jason replies:

“So, God does not choose not to give them the power to follow these commands?”

This is typical of Jason’s evasive behavior. He changes the subject. Was the question at issue what God chooses to do? No.

Jason was the one who originally cast the issue in terms of divine prevention. The fact that God chooses to not empower some sinners to obey his commands is hardly equivalent to “prevention.”

“Prevention” carries the opposite connotation. As I pointed out in my original reply to Jason, “To say God ‘prevents’ them assumes that, left to their own devices, absent divine contravention, they would do other than what God prevented them from doing. Why does Jason think their default setting is to do good, and if they don’t do good, that’s because they were debarred from doing what they would choose to do if only they had been allowed to act on their own initiative?”

As usual, Jason is dodging the issue–even though I was answering him on his own terms. He chose to frame the issue in terms of divine prevention.

“The logical corollary is that God chooses not to grant this power to the non-elect.”

Completely irrelevant to the issue of divine “prevention.”

“Possibly you are not trying to deny that God chooses not to bestow His grace on the non-elect, and that you actually do affirm instead that God chooses not to bestow His grace on the non-elect. But then, you can no longer apply to the principle that ‘inability is not the same thing as prevention’.”

I can for the reason I gave. One of the problems with Jason’s methodology is that he attacks a statement I make without regard to the supporting argument I then offer in support of my opening statement.

“If God chooses not to ever empower a sinner to follow His commands, then He is actively preventing (by His non-gracious choice, so to speak) the sinner from ever having any real possibility of following the commands…”

i) Notice Jason’s Orwellian redefinition of terms. To not empower someone to do X is hardly synonymous with preventing someone from doing X.

Prevention assumes that an agent already has the power to do X, so you must then intervene to hinder that action.

ii) Moreover, suppose we play along with Jason’s Orwellian usage for the sake of argument. Suppose we treat lack of empowerment as synonymous with prevention.

In that case, according to Jason’s own usage, God prevents many human beings from obeying his prohibitions against idolatry, adultery, perjury, theft, murder, &c.

So Jason’s Orwellian usage is self-incriminating with respect to his own position.

“No; I equate failure with failure. I don’t think you are claiming that God attempts but eventually and finally fails to enable some sinners to follow His commands.”

Irrelevant! The question at issue is the meaning of the concept of prevention.

“I also doubt that you are claiming that God (like the state) is a non-omniscient, non-omnipresent, non-omnipotent (and non-omnibenevolent?) entity which can only be expected, of course, to let some sinners slip His mind so that He has no intentions about them one way or another (until, opps, they show up before His judgment seat having driven drunk.”

The fact that the state lacks omniscience and omnipotence is irrelevant to the definition of “prevention.”

“At which point He intends to punish them for something they didn’t and couldn’t have the power to even possibly do otherwise--but which is none of His concern even though He could have given them that power.”

Notice that Jason is now reverting to a libertarian objection to Calvinism. Three problems:

i) Jason is not a libertarian.

ii) Even if he were, he’d need to address the counterarguments of compatibilism.

iii) The lack of ability to do otherwise is only morally germane if God is stopping the agent from doing something other than what the agent would do if left to his own devices. Jason needs to show that the reprobate would believe the Gospel if God didn’t make them disbelieve the Gospel.

I’m still waiting for Jason to explain why the reprobate have a default volition to believe the Gospel which God must override to prevent them from believing the Gospel. Unless God is making them do something contrary to what they would otherwise do, if left to their own initiative, then Jason’s objection has no traction.

“When I simplify the concept of ‘God responsibly chooses not to empower sinners to obey His commands’ to the phrasing “God ‘prevents’ them from doing so”, I am not assuming that absent divine contravention some sinners would do righteousness.”

Jason didn’t “simplify” the concept. Rather, he swapped out one concept and swapped in another, then acting as if we were still talking about the same thing.

“The sinner cannot get that power from anywhere else (I agree with that concept). Inherited sinners did not choose to be in this state, and absent the power of God (actively withheld by God) could never even truly desire (much less choose) otherwise than to exist in this state.”

i) Needless to say, that’s a stock objection to original sin. Frankly, in debating with someone who professes to be a fellow Christian, the onus is not on my to philosophically justify Biblical doctrines.

Of course, debating a universalist is often indistinguishable from debating a militant atheist like Hitchens or Dawkins or Ingersoll. It’s the same infidel arguments, with a thin veneer of pious verbiage. Kind of like the Old Serpent shedding his snakeskin for an angel-of-light costume (comes with contact lenses to conceal the reptilian pupils).

ii) However, if you demand a philosophical justification, here’s one way I’d go about it. A sinner is a concrete instance of a possible person. God has a concept of a sinner. In this case, an agent who is a sinner in relation to Adam, to Adam’s sin. God instantiates his concept. Let say it’s the concept of Judas.

However, there’s more than one thing a possible agent could do. There’s a possible world in which Judas betrays Jesus, and there’s a possible world in which Judas is faithful to Jesus.

God instantiates the possibility in which Judas betrays Jesus. But there’s another possibility which God did not instantiate.

When God instantiates one possibility to the exclusion of another, it’s not as if God is preventing the agent from doing what he would otherwise do, for there’s no one thing in particular which a possible agent would do. A possible Judas has no default setting. Rather, a possible Judas can do whatever it’s logically possible for him to do. Whatever it’s possible for God to conceive of his doing.

The real Judas merely exemplifies one of those abstract possibilities. God hasn’t made Judas do something at variance with what Judas would have done on his own.

ii) Moreover, let’s consider Pratt’s alternative. According to Pratt, God allows the fall. As a result of the fall, many human beings suffer horrendous evils in this life.

Furthermore, a certain percentage of human beings also experience remedial punishment or purgatorial suffering in “hell.” After some indeterminate period of time, they eventually say “uncle.”

But God could have spared human beings all that pain and suffering by preventing the fall. If God was a universalist, the easiest, most direct, pain-free, way to pull that off is to create a world in which the fall never occurred in the first place. In an unfallen world, no one suffers. No one rebels. No one is damned-even temporarily (as Pratt would have it).

“Just to clarify, I deny (B) (and so (D)). Would you mind clarifying whether you deny or affirm B? (Or whether Paul Helm denies or affirms B?--assuming this is not sufficiently obvious from his article, which perhaps it might not be, but which you may know from other articles he affirms or denies more clearly.)”

I side with Helm over against Murray on this issue. I deny that God desires the salvation of the reprobate.

However, I’ll say something in defense of Murray and other like-minded Calvinists. There’s nothing inherently improper about a Christian who espouses an admittedly paradoxical position if he thinks the Bible itself is paradoxical in what it teaches on the subject.

“The first obvious counterrebuttal to your rebuttal attempt is to remember the temporality of temporary results and not to categorically confuse those with an ultimately final and immutable decision by God.”

That distinction does nothing to salvage Jason’s position. Take the prohibition against murder.

A murder is a temporal event. The murderer broke God’s law.

Even if, according to Jason, the murderer eventually repents in hell, this doesn’t change the fact that God’s law was violated. So did the Lord mistakenly intend his law to be obeyed even though it was disobeyed?

And a murderer cannot retroactively obey the prohibition. The murderer cannot go back in time to prevent the murder from occurring. He can’t go back in time and erase that particular timeline. That’s over and done with.

“I wouldn’t mind in the least if you went with that defense for the ‘non-elect’; but then you will have to clarify that you are denying God withholds from the non-elect any power (and thus at least any effective ability at all) to choose one thing or another (and so to be a real child etc.)”

As usual, Jason is trying to change the subject. This is his modus operandi. He will frame an issue in a particular way. When you answer him on his own terms, he then engages in a campaign of misdirection.

Remember his original objection to Calvinism? Calvinism is contradictory because God commands one thing, but decrees another. Jason had specific reference to the command to believe the Gospel.

In response, I pointed out that this command is just one of many divine commands–commands which sinners routinely disobey.

Therefore, God must have some ulterior purpose in giving his commands–a purpose consistent with issuing commands so frequently violated.

In response, Jason wants to shift the issue to a debate over God’s refusal to empower the sinner. But that’s irrelevant to Jason’s specific argument. It’s just a diversionary tactic. And, what’s worse–he’s deflecting attention away from his own argument!

What does God intend when he issues a command? Does he intend his command to be kept? Is that it? Or is it possible for a divine command to serve more than one purpose?

In fact, we have Biblical examples in which God issues a command to repent with the ulterior purpose of hardening the listener. Of rendering the audience impenitent, or even more impenitent. Cf. Isa 6:9-10 (par. Mk 4:12; Jn 12:40; Acts 28:26-27).

We have a similar instance in Ezk 2-3, as well as Exod 4:21 & 7:2-3.

“Relatedly, there is a great difference between intending that commands will be violated, and intentionally setting up a situation where commands might (depending on someone else’s intentions) be violated. I cannot see that anyone in their right minds would consider an employer or a military officer, in setting up and allowing such a situation, to be thereby intending that their commands be violated. Obviously they intend to leave that choice up to the other person.”

i) Jason earlier faulted by analogy with the state on the grounds that the state lacks divine omniscience and omnipotence.

Now, however, he feels free to use an illustration based on finite agents or agents.

ii) Incidentally, there are situations in which an agent will issue a command with the express intention that the command be violated.

For example, a general may suspect that someone in his unit is leaking classified information to the enemy. The general takes action to smoke out the mole. At his next classified briefing, he includes some disinformation. The disinformation is a trap. If the mole acts on the disinformation, this will expose him. The general concludes his briefing with the pro forma warning about how that the details of the briefing are classified.

Yet the general intends his command to be violated. It’s a set-up to catch the spy.

“God’s overknowledge of the result at any given time, does not abrogate this principle…”

Of course it abrogates the principle. Pratt has to throw in this disclaimer in a last-ditch attempt to salvage his original argument. But it’s unavailing.

“If God has not granted the person this power, then we are no longer talking about God setting up a situation where His commands might be violated, but of setting up a situation where His commands will be violated.”

i) That theoretical distinction is irrelevant to any theist who upholds divine omniscience. God knows that in issuing this or that command, it will be violated. Indeed, he knows exactly when, where, and by how many.

Therefore, his command does not imply divine intent to keep the command in each and every instance.

ii) And, as I said before, this is just as much of a problem for open theism (see above).

iii) Even if the inability of the sinner to comply with the command is an additional objection to Calvinism (and I’ve already dealt with the additional objection), that does nothing to salvage the underlying issue: is Calvinism contradictory if God decrees one thing, but commands another?

Since, on just about any version of Christian theism you please, God does not intend his commands to be kept by everyone every time, Jason cannot single out Calvinism as a unique offender in this regard. If he deploys this objection against Calvinism, it will boomerang on his own position.

“The person does not have the freedom to do otherwise.”

How does Pratt deal with Frankfurt examples?

“But which ‘hardening’ can make no sense as a comparative state in the person’s history if God had never given the person power to do good or evil. God might rescind that power and ability, but it has to be granted first to be rescinded, just as life has to be granted first for God to take it away; and God still claims personal authoritative responsibility for so doing.”

Let’s play along with this framework for the sake of argument. A possible agent can do either good or evil. When God instantiates a possible agent, he instantiates one possible course of action to the exclusion of all the others. In so doing, he rescinds the ability he originally granted.

“Consequently, and even aside from the serious ethical complaints that will arise from the concept that now it is God Who is primarily or even solely personally responsible for iniquity being done and for the doer never to be healed and reconciled to those against whom he has sinned: if God also commands the non-elect to do that which God by God’s choice refuses to empower the person to do; then we have two utterly and finally antithetical wills of God in regard to the non-elect.”

There are two distinct issues here: (i) is Calvinism coherent? (ii) Is Jason’s universalism a coherent alternative?

I’ve dealt with Jason’s libertarian objection to Calvinism. And, of course, Jason is in no position to raise libertarian objections to Calvinism in the first place–for universalism is not libertarian.

I’ve also dealt with Jason’s objection regarding the alleged contradiction between God’s perceptive will and his decretive will.

Finally, I’ve pointed out that if that’s a contradiction for Calvinism, then that objection applies with equal force to his own position.

“The only other option is to deny that God really intends His commands to be followed (sooner or later by inheriting although currently rebellious children, if not immediately by who-or-whatever).”

Jason doesn’t believe that God’s commands will be followed “sooner or later.” At most, Jason believes that a tiny subset of God’s commands will be obeyed sooner or later; to wit: the command to believe the Gospel.

With respect to other commands, subsequent obedience does nothing to erase the prior history of disobedience.

At best, Jason has to take the position that God intends his commands to often be disobeyed in the past or the present, but obeyed sometime in the future. Disobeyed in the here and now, but obeyed at some point in the hereafter. But that’s a tacit admission that in many or most cases, God never intended his command to be obeyed.

“If this is held to be true in regard to all persons, then (to say the least) I foresee grave ethical consequences looming.”

I don’t take the position that God has a singular purpose for his commands. God’s commands always accomplish what he intends, but he doesn’t intend the same command to facilitate the same outcome in every case. His commands are instrumental to more than one outcome.

Therefore, Jason hasn’t shown my own position to be the least bit contradictory.

“Or does Steve deny that God desires to bring at least the elect to follow that prohibition, to repent of it, to accept and participate in God’s atonement of it, to do love and justice in cooperation with God toward the victims of the murderers, and to at last be the kind of persons who would not choose murder?”

Pratt is falling back on selective compliance with God’s commands. But, in that case, God selectively intends his laws to be obeyed–which is sufficient to scuttle Pratt’s argument.

“If you don’t deny this but affirm it instead, and if you see no problem in affirming that this (or even some significant fraction of that paragraph) counts as bringing this prohibition to fruition, then I don’t see why you would turn around and consider me to have a problem in affirming the same thing. The only relevant difference between us on the topic would be the scope: because, between the two of us, it is certainly you who are claiming that God obviously does not desire to bring His prohibition against murder (and, even more importantly, the positive traits of the Spirit against which the choice to murder countervails) to fruition for some people: namely the non-elect. They are, for whatever reason (be that God’s authoritative choice or for some other reason having nothing at all to do with God’s own choice on the matter one way or another), doomed always to be murderers, always to be loving and fondling their sinning.”

Once again, the Pratt is equivocating and prevaricating. The question at issue is not whether some people are doomed to always be murderers. In fact, that isn’t even very meaningful, that I can see. Since the damned are immortal, I doubt they can continue to murder each other–even if they were so inclined.

The point, rather, is that God intends his prohibition against murder to be violated in large number of cases.

“(At least with annihilation the murderers eventually stop violating God’s prohibition,”

Once again, the question at issue is not whether an individual can eventually stop breaking God’s law. Rather, the problem with Jason’s position lies in the fact that individuals can start violating God’s law. How can they do so in the first place if God issues his laws with the intention that human beings obey them?

Clearly, God doesn’t intend that his laws be upheld in each and every case. So, in those instances, God must have an ulterior purpose for the law.

In that event, there is no contradiction between God’s perceptive will and his decretive will. Even violations of his perceptive will subserve the realization of his decretive will. Since God doesn’t issue commands with the sole intent that his commands be obeyed, their disobedience is not at odds with the function which he assigned to his commands. In which case, there is no tension between his perceptive will and his decretive will. For God didn’t intend one thing by his preceptive will, but something contrary by his decretive will.

“Apparently, though, you mean this in the sense that you do in fact deny that the final salvation of sinners from sin results in the victorious fruition of (negatively speaking) the prohibition.”

i) I didn’t limit my example to the offer of the gospel. The command to repent and believe is just one command in a far larger class of commands–commands which are routinely flouted by sinners.

ii) Moreover, it’s not as if compliance with a prohibition is incremental. If you commit murder, then there’s no point at a later date where you prior action ceases to be an infraction of the law. It’s possible for God to forgive you, but he forgives you for something you did; to wit, violating the prohibition.

“Consequently, as I said, I will suppose you mean to deny that any success of God in saving sinners from sin is a victorious fruition of such prohibitions.”

If God saves a murderer, that doesn’t nothing to achieve compliance with the specific terms of the prohibition. The murderer broke God’s law against murder. Saving the murderer doesn’t bring the prohibition to “fruition.” Rather, God saves the murderer despite his infraction.

“I would have hoped you had more hope for at least the elect, than that, in terms of the fulfillment of and fruition of the justice and righteousness of God; but I’m glad I have that hope for the elect and for the fulfillment of God’s justice.”

Justice involves punishment. Either punishing the murderer or punishing the Redeemer.

That does nothing to prevent the prohibition from being violated in the first place. Therefore, God did not intend his prohibition to be obeyed in that instance–or many others. Pratt likes to play these bait-and-switch games.

“To make the point again: if you are trying to point to unjust actions in ‘the real world’ as being injustices for which there is no hope at all of them ever in any real way being rectified, so that the justice of God shall permanently remain unfulfilled thanks to those action; then I suppose that I would agree that this is a dilemma ‘hardly limited to Calvinism’ (although I actually doubt that this is a tenet of Calvinism at all). But it isn’t a dilemma for me, because I don’t consider God to be impotent at atoning for and rectifying those injustices, saving the sinners from sin and fulfilling justice in and with them so that they shall be righteous persons.”

To rectify a violation of the law is hardly interchangeable with intending that the law not be violated in the first place. That’s an ex post facto response which presupposes initial noncompliance.

Jason Pratt is a congenital liar who constantly deflects attention away from the real issue–even when he’s the one who chose to cast the issue in a particular fashion, and you’re merely responding to him on his own terms.

He indicated that Calvinism is contradictory because it results in God commanding one thing while he decrees another, in which case–according to Pratt–Calvinism imputes conflicting intentions to God (“two ultimately irreconcileable wills concerning the non-elect”).

If, however, never intended that his laws be upheld in each and every case, then Jason’s argument is predicated on a false premise.

“If you point to particular unjust historical actions permitted by God, I answer that there is hope of salvation and the eventual righteousness of sinners in God, thus rectification and atonement for those actions.”

That’s irrelevant to the fact that God gives various commands in full knowledge of the fact that sinners will routinely defy his commands. Therefore, God has more than one reason for issuing such commands. Reasons which allow for the frequent violation of such commands.

“If Calvinism is true, God chooses to ensure that those sinners shall never be saved and become righteous, healing the wounds of their injustice.”

In the case of the reprobate, God satisfies the demands of justice by eternal punishment.

“If you answer that this is true about all sin even of the elect…”

Since Scripture defines sin as lawlessness, then my counterargument holds true for all sins of all sinners. If a sinner violates a divine command, then God intended the sinner to violate his command.

“I am not entirely sure what you mean by that, so I don’t know whether I would agree or disagree.”

You’re inferring divine intent from human obligation. That’s a non sequitur. Try again. The fact that God obligates men to obey him doesn’t mean that he intended them to obey him. That’s a fallacious inference.

“There are actually two questions, though: what does God intend (‘want’/’desire’) sinners to do?”

God has different intentions for different sinners.

“And are all sinners (not to say all creatures) morally obligated to do what God intends for them to do?”

That’s a vague question. For one thing, God doesn’t declare his intentions in each and every case. Indeed, he often keeps his own counsel.

“So, does God command all sinners to repent and to be faithful?”

Basically yes, although I’m ignoring special cases (i.e. sinners in a coma).

“Does God intend for any sinner to absolutely not ever follow that command? As far as I can tell, Paul Helm (and you) answer no: God does not intend for the non-elect to follow that command. (Otherwise God would provide a way for the non-elect to follow that command.)”

Which command? To believe the Gospel? God does not intend the reprobate to obey that command.

On the other hand, God uses his laws to restrain the reprobate. He intends the reprobate to keep some of his laws some of the time.

“This does quite a bit of violence to the verb ‘command’ though! God intentionally commands an entity to do something that God has no intention of the entity ever even possibly being able to do??”

Now you’re equivocating:

i) A command states an obligation. It imposes an obligation on a subordinate. It says nothing about the specific intention of the superior.

ii) If God issues a command, then God intends to issue a command.

iii) If God issues a command, then God intends the command to accomplish whatever purpose he assigns to it.

iv) If God issues a command, this doesn’t mean that God intends the creature to keep it. He may or may not have that intention. You can’t infer his intention from the command itself. And we know for a fact that his commands are routinely violated. So that outcome says something about his intentions.

“It would make more sense to modify Paul Helm’s claim to ‘God commands some sinners (namely the elect) to repent and be faithful. He does not command the non-elect to do this’.”

i) In makes no particular sense to modify a command so that it only applies to those who obey the command. By this logic, prohibitions against rape should not apply to rapists, since rapists violate the prohibition.

ii) A command merely states an obligation, be it a prescription or proscription. The obligation isn’t contingent on the willingness of the subordinate to comply with the command.

“Obviously, this would quickly and easily answer the question of whether some sinners have a moral obligation to obey God’s commands: the non-elect sinners have no such moral obligation because they never were and never are and never will be commanded by God to do anything moral. They have no moral obligation to even desire to do that which God gives them no command (much less no power) to do.”

So by Jason’s logic, Ted Bundy has no obligation to refrain from kidnapping, raping, murdering coeds since Bundy has no inclination to refrain from such activities.

By Jason’s logic, the more evil you are, the more innocent you are. To be pure evil is to be completely innocent of wrongdoing since you have no desire to do right, and therefore no obligation to do right.

“It looks like the simplest thing would simply be to claim that God does not command the non-elect to be moral, much less even empowers them to be moral, thus also doesn’t expect them to be moral. You would have to dissent strongly from something Paul Helm is teaching, but I don’t see that that would necessarily be a problem.”

It looks like the simplest thing would simply be to claim that Jason Pratt might as well become another Jeffrey Dahmer since, on his sliding scale of values, you have no duty to do what you have no desire to do.

“This would throw a wrench into trying to claim any moral justification for God to punish the non-elect; but possibly this is not an element of your theology (and so not a problem, at least in itself.)”

Since I’ve often blogged on God’s moral justification to punish the reprobate, this is a defamatory comment on Jason’s part. But he invariably rises to my low expectations, so this comes as no surprise.

“Unfortunately, you stopped with the observation that it is fallacious to equate obligation with intent, with no clear explanation what this has to do with responding to me; so I’m having to make some educated guesses.”

To the contrary, he’s making ignorant, defamatory guesses which, however, have the fringe-benefit of exposing the moral nihilism implicit in universalism.

“This would be better as a reply if you were clarifying that God’s commands to all sinners are only His preceptive will and not His decretive will.”

By definition, commands are precepts.

“Or if you were clarifying that God’s commands to some sinners (like the elect) were His decretive will (being, you know, His decrees ) but the same commands to other sinners (like the non-elect) were only His preceptive will: i.e. not actual commands but more like instructions.”

Pratt doesn’t have the slightest inkling what he’s talking about. God’s decree is God’s plan for the world. A plan is not a command, or vice versa.

At most, a command may be instrumental in the realization of the plan, but how it functions in that capacity is a question of what function the planner assigns to it.

“The conceptual difference would be that God gives to all sinners (or maybe only to the non-elect) commands to the effect that “you should repent and be faithful”, not commands to the effect that “you shall repent and be faithful’.”

This is yet another example of Pratt’s intellectual incompetence. A command is not a prediction. Is the Decalogue a set of ten predictions? Do the prohibitions in the Decalogue predict that no one will do what’s forbidden in the Decalogue?

Likewise, when God forbad Adam and Eve to eat from the tree of knowledge, was that a prediction? What is Pratt using for a brain?

“(Considering that Calvinists insist that God shall surely bring about the repentence and faithfulness of the elect, though, I would have to suppose that the decretive command is reserved only for the elect; the non-elect only ever get the preceptive command.)”

A “perceptive command” is redundant while a “decretive command” is nonsensical.

“It would also still retain the problem that God is giving preceptive commands to entities whom He does not empower to obey the commands or maybe even to receive them.”

We have laws against child rape. Yet the law doesn’t empower the child rapist to suppress his urges. So what?

“A problem that exacerbates further because the introduction of the distinction between command types still carries over to the elect, who receive two commands: you should (preceptive) and you shall (decretive).”

This distinction is nonsense. Literal nonsense.

“Of course, the elect, unlike the non-elect (per Calvinism), have been given power by God to fulfill the preceptive commands.”

Well, that’s an overstatement. Calvinism doesn’t subscribe to perfectionism. We don’t think Christians can be sinless in this life.

“Because if moral obligation was functionally consequent on God’s preceptive command…How such a doctrine would not instantly undermine any moral theory (other than than an otherwise arbitrary ‘Might Makes Right’ Divine Command Theory perhaps), is fortunately not my problem.”

It’s not my problem either since I never argued, in response to Pratt or elsewhere, that a command, per se, is what creates a moral obligation. Rather, a command generally reveals a moral obligation.

“On the other hand, if by ‘The moral law has an instrumental function in furthering God's overarching purpose’ you mean to say (in defense against my complaint) that the moral law only has an instrumental function in furthering God’s overarching purpose (which frankly is the only way such a rebuttal might defend against my complaint), then you may be intending to profess an ultimately amoral DCT after all.”

Once again, this is typically inept on Jason’s part, and it doesn’t follow from anything I actually said. Rather, as I already said, God wills the means (including his revealed law) with a view to the end. He doesn’t will the means apart from the end. Therefore, it’s meaningless to ask if God approves of this or that event irrespective of its larger role in the grand scheme of things. God can disapprove of something in and of itself, while approving of its overall contribution to the cause. God’s motives in what he ordains are different from the motives of the sinner.

“I think anyone who claims that God chooses (especially with decretive will!) that some sinners shall never even possibly be able to be righteous, will have to allow that moral righteousness cannot be the key end in view, or even a key end, or even an end in view at all--not of God’s intentions for those sinners.”

The realization of righteousness doesn’t depend on creatures. If God damned every sinner, we would still have righteousness in the person of God, as the exemplar of righteousness.

“It may be replied that God’s self-righteousness is in view.”

That’s not the only thing in view. God justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies the elect.

“Most people don’t consider mere self-righteousness to be righteousness at all.”

What most folks consider to be true is hardly the touchstone of truth. The Bible doesn’t decide what is true or false by conducting public opinion polls.

“And even when those people haven’t figured out that the Greek (and Hebrew) behind the English term ‘righteousness’ means ‘fair-togetherness’, which one might reasonably suspect would be some kind of CLUE!!! )”

Meaning is determined by usage, not etymology. Pratt is such an ignoramus.

“But: let us suppose for sake of argument that God’s self-righteousness does not even have anything to do with committment to fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons (whether the Persons of God’s substantial Trinity or any persons dependent for their existence on the Trintarian God).”

Why would intra-Trinitarian righteousness be in need of fulfillment? Is the Trinity potentially righteous? Must the Trinity mature to gradually fulfill its righteous potential?

“Supposing all of this, for sake of argument: neither would the righteousness of the elect be any end in view for God, of course. It would only be a means to an end (that of God’s own self-righteousness perhaps…”

The justification of the elect reflects the righteousness of God. However, God is the not the beneficiary of this transaction. The elect are.

“Even granting all this: we still have the resulting claim of God choosing to lock some sinners permanently into UN-righteousness…”

True. There's a word for that: punishment. They receive their just deserts.

“Completely apart from their own choice.”

That disjunction is only pertinent on the tendentious assumption that the damned, if left to choose for themselves, would choose to be righteous rather than unrighteousness.

“But how does God, acting to lock others into un-righteousness (even the unrightousness of selfishness), act in consonance with his own righteousness.”

We’d expect a holy God to punish sinners. Moreover, sin can be its own best punishment.

“All He has done is ensure that there will always be rebels against His own grand selfishness.”

Notice how Jason suddenly introduces the pejorative notion of divine “selfishness” into the discussion without having laid any foundation for that invidious category.

“They may be compelled by God to admit He is the greatest of powers and that His own self-righteousness is supreme to their self-righteousness.”

Supreme to whose self-righteousness? The damned have no righteousness. Hence, there is no relation between God’s superlative righteousness and their comparative righteousness.

“But if that is what He wants for glorifying His own selfish righteousness, then why bother to lead (or leash or force) the elect into communion with His own infinitely selfish self-righteousness?”

Pratt is talking to himself. Spinning off on a wild tangent. This has nothing to do with anything I said.

While salvation reveals the glory of God, it does nothing to augment the glory of God. Salvation is for the sake of the elect, and not for the sake of God.

“Or if honest communion and praise of His glorious self-righteousness, not mere hypocritical hopeless lip-service, is what would properly magnify His immensely selfish ego (properly proper only to God, of course, in this scenario), then why not go ahead and bring all persons to truly seek the glory of His awesome selfishness?”

God doesn’t need any creature to magnify God.

“But, I forget, on this plan God’s decretive will may be entirely arbitrary, based entirely on whatever selfish whim He exhibits (not which He submits to, of course, not even graciously out of love for the object of His... um, of His... I was going to say ‘His concern’, but that probably isn’t the right word; anyway, no Passion for Him!... uh, except for the Passion of the cross, for some mysteriously inscrutable reason... unless we’re being Muslim--I had forgotten about that.)”

This is why it’s a waste of time to debate with Jason Pratt. He’s a smug, frivolous demagogue and smart-ass.

In this paragraph he makes absolutely no effort whatsoever to honestly describe the position of Calvinism. We’re simply treated to a malicious and mendacious caricature.

“But then, on that ground, I am going to be pretty oppositional to the idea that God, authoritatively choosing to bar and to permanently hopelessly confirm various sinners in their unrighteousness, is somehow acting righteously Himself.”

Needless to say, the hopelessness of hell is what makes it punitive. There’s no escape. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.

“Which brings me back to my first comment: while it isn’t unimportant to exhort your readers to ‘keep in mind’ that I’m a universalist (I do so myself on occasion! ), it’s rather more tactically and practically important to exhort your readers to ‘keep in mind’ that I am an orthodox trinitarian theist.”

Of course, that is Jason’s self-serving euphemism, like calling bin Laden a “freedom fighter.”

Same thing with the euphemism of “evangelical universalism” or “orthodox universalism.” Like calling North Korea the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

But if Jason wants me to remind the reader of his true identity, then I’m happy to be more specific.

Jason Pratt is a universalist because he thinks it would be positively Satanic for God to consign anyone to everlasting hell. So that’s what Jason’s universalism boils down to. If God condemns anyone to everlasting hell, then God is diabolical. God is indistinguishable from the devil himself. Jason has actually said that in the past.

What this tells you is that Jason Pratt has no more grasp of the Christian Gospel than Caiaphas, Pilate, or Judas. Like every other universalist, he’s a consigliere for evildoers.

It’s hardly surprising that Pratt is so sympathetic to the plight of the damned. Since he acts like a reprobate himself, in the way he literally demonizes the God of Scripture, we’d expect him to weep over the fate of his own kind, and shake his fist at God Almighty. It’s a dress rehearsal for things to come.

No escape

There are two stock objections to hell: (i) hell is a torture chamber, and (ii) hell is unending. I’ve often dealt with (i). Now let’s touch on (ii).

There is no escape from hell. Is that a bad thing, or a good thing?

There are men and women in this life who always escape justice. They get away with things. Cheat. Pull strings. Game the system. Pass some money under the table. Stay one step ahead of the authorities. No matter what they do they manage to slip off the hook.

One could cite many examples. Consider the Nazi officials who, after the war, eluded capture and fled to South America–where they spent the remainder of their lives sunning themselves on a tropical beach.

Or consider the serial child-rapist who gets lucky when he appears before a liberal, bleeding-heart judge. Despite his rap sheet, despite the incontestable evidence of guilt for the current crime–not to mention the long list of priors–he gets a slap on the wrist. Or maybe he’s sprung on a legal technicality.

Even if there are some murmurs of outrage directed at the judge, it comes to naught. The Governor refuses to speak out. The Attorney General refuses to speak out. The liberal editorial page of the newspaper rallies to the judge’s defense in the name of judicial independence. The judge’s friends rush to microphones to tell everyone what a wonderful person he is. A callous, passive, indifferent electorate refuses to recall the judge.

Or consider Bill and Hillary Clinton. Despite a string of crimes and outrages, they have become wealthy and powerful. In the case of Bill Clinton, he even has a mass following-like a rock star.

Or take the Catholic sex scandal. For decades, predatory priests were abusing underage boys with impunity. Most of them are never prosecuted–in some cases because the statute of limitations ran out. The law is changed, but after the fact. After the damage is done. After it’s too late to prosecute some offenders.

A few offenders may be prosecuted, but by the time the law finally catches up with them they’re already in their 70s or 80s.

Cardinal Law is transferred to Rome, which coincidentally places himself outside the jurisdiction of the American authorities. Keep in mind that the Vatican likes to lecture governments around the world on social justice.

Of course, Law himself is something of a scapegoat. Not that he isn’t guilty. But all the attention directed at this one culprit deflects attention away from other prelates who are equally culpable. He gives them cover.

Some survivors or victims resort to vigilantism. When that happens, the world, which was silent in the face of injustices done to the victim, suddenly finds its voice. But its outrage is reserved for the vigilante, and not the provocateurs.

One of the paradoxes of life in a fallen world is that, while the righteous man must often suffer alone–abandoned by his “friends”–the wicked can often count on a circle of friends, admirers, and sympathizers who hasten to their defense, enable their crimes, and facilitate their escape. The world loves its own.

Then they die and go to hell. That’s where their lucky streak runs out.

In hell there is no statute of limitations. No one evades the authorities. No one is acquitted on legal technicalities. No one cops a plea.

In hell there is no parole. No weekend furloughs. No conjugal visits.

The judge can’t be bribed. The jury can’t nullify the law. The prison guards can’t be bought.

In hell, there is no out. Is that unjust? Of is that justice overdue?

Cardinal Law

Did you know the Vatican maintains an official website for the disgraced Cardinal Law? It makes for inspirational reading. It turns out that he’s a truly wonderful human being:

“He set out as objectives for the pastoral administration of the archdiocese: personal spiritual renewal of the faith, evangelization, social justice and peace, catechesis of the Catholic faith, and vocations. His first pastoral letter emphasized the need to strengthen parish life, at the heart of which is the liturgy.”

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fairly-tale eschatology


“Whatever our picture of hell, the fact is that God could do something to prevent the damned from suffering this fate, and God does not do it, at least on the Calvinist view”


“The picture of hell provided by Lewis's portrayal of Aslan and the Dwarfs is a picture where God presumably has given the Dwarfs freedom, and therefore cannot cancel out the use of that freedom to put themselves in a state of mind where they cannot receive what Aslan gives them. Aslan cannot break into their depraved hearts and convert them, because to do so would, presumably, violate their freedom. This conflicts directly with the doctrine of irresistible grace.”


“Now maybe the blessed aren't aware of the punishments of hell, or are only minimally aware. Whatever the awareness, the question ‘Can't God do something about this?’ still arises, so long as someone is aware that some people are suffering eternally.”

That not my call. Not my responsibility. None of my business.

Assuming, for the sake of argument, that human beings should even have a say in the sentencing phase, it’s the victims who should have a say–not some human third party who is not, himself, the injured party.

“But do I want that punishment to be the last word? No, I now also want them to fully and completely repent. In fact, in order for them to repent, they've really got to look in the mirror and see what dreadful harm they have done and suffer for it.”

There’s a point beyond which compassion is a vice rather than a virtue. It’s decadent and effete. Indeed, there's a point beyond which it's downright evil to empathize with the plight of the wicked.

To have wholesale compassion for victims and assailants alike represents the abdication of moral discrimination. It’s an essentially amoral outlook.

Moreover, there’s a tension between your commitment to libertarian freewill and you incipient universalism. Universalism requires irresistible grace.

Waters reviews Wright's Justification

Guy Waters reviews N.T. Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Calvinism disproved!

Today I ran across an utterly devastating argument against Calvinism. I’m not sure which part of it is more devastating: the text itself, or the cute little stick figures which are used to illustrate the text.

Given my intellectual and emotional investment in Calvinism, it’s painful for me to recant it after all these years–but I believe in following the evidence wherever it leads.

It’s enough to make James White, James Anderson, and Turretin Fan (to name a few) burn their membership cards in The Club of the Truly Reformed.

Here’s a sample:

I just noticed a new post on a blog operated by a reformed apologists that deals with the subject of choices. It discusses different decisions described in the bible and God's freedom and man's freedom involved therein. This article -who wonders- in no way presents any innovative thoughts, but joins in the choir of those who continue serving up century-old calvinistic treadmill arguments warmed up over and over again. A post of whose kind there are presently thousands out on the internet. Many of those bloggers don't even provide any own thoughts at all, but post entire writings by Spurgeon or from whoever they admire most. Since falsehood doesn't simply become truth by time passing by, I was induced to comment on that subject as well, before I'll continue with the posts on the scriptures. The objective of this post is to show how foolish the calvinistic answer to the issue of choice and sovereignty is.

The relationship between God and man and their respective wills as delivered by the gospel, reveals a different picture and demonstrates the utter silliness and narrow-mindedness of Calvinism, as we will see in this post…So let us expose the error of Calvinism's God-versus-man conflict.

God lives in man. This is His temple. If you want to find God, you must seek Him where He lives. In the new temple which is man. What does it mean for God to be in man? Is "something of God" in man or the fullness of God?

So is man free? Absolutely. How free? He has God's freedom! He is free in the fullest sense. Note, God is revealed in man. Man is endowed with the possibilites and potentials stored in God and he is sent to work out these potentials. Man has free access to all programs that are hidden in the Father. No limitations to man's freedom here. Every work performed will prove to originate in the Father. Imagine man chooses to work out potential A. Then, he will find that A was contained in the Father. If he had chosen B, or C instead, then B or C, which are likewise contained as potentials in the Father, would have been realized. The idea however, that all of man's choices were predestined is absolutely foolish. On the other hand, here is absolutely no room for any "libertarian" freedom, an idea which Calvinists so often polemically accuse others to promote. As said above, man is in God and outside of God there is nothing to find, therefore there are no random actions or something without a cause in God that man could perform. Every action of man has its origin in the Father, in God. However, man is absolutely free to transform these potentials into actions, to work them out and bring the potentials hidden in God into reality.

I must confess that until Herr Kröger drew it to my attention, it never dawned on me that I was in possession of these latent, godlike powers. Why, it’s even better than having a genie in a bottle. For a genie can only grant you three wishes, whereas I now realize that I have nothing short of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence at my fingertips! It’s enough to make me positively giddy!

The only problem is where to begin. What’s the first thing I should do with my hitherto unsuspected, but newly-discovered omnipotence? So many choices at my disposal!

I admit that back when I was a teenager, I was a bit infatuated with Greta Garbo. I think I’ll resurrect her so that we can have a candlelight meal together. Maybe at an open-air café in Venice or Lake Como. I’ll tell you how it goes.

Does God love the reprobate?-1

Recently, Victor Reppert did a post on Calvinism. This generated an impromptu debate between Jason Pratt and myself in the meta. Pratt has since carried our debate over to the EU forum. I plan to respond tomorrow. In preparation, I'll repost what I already said over at Reppert's blog.

At June 09, 2009 5:36 AM , steve said...

A few quick comments in response to Jason:

i) I provided the links for purposes of documentation. This was in response to Reppert's factual inquiry regarding the position of Calvinism on God's intent with respect to the lost.

Since this involves an intramural debate within Calvinism, it doesn't attempt to justify its respective positions for the benefit of those who don't share the same presuppositions.

That's a separate issue. These documents are not an exercise in Reformed apologetics. Their immediate value is expository.

ii) Helm takes the position that God doesn't desire the salvation of the reprobate. With respect to the language of Scripture, Helm has, on various occasions, discussed his theory of divine accommodation, viz. anthropomorphic usage.

So Helm does have an answer to Jason's objection. But that's not the issue he's addressing at the moment.

iii) The other document presents two opposing views. The majority report does think that God entertains an unrealized desire for the salvation of the reprobate.

The minority report denies this by appealing to anthropomorphic usage.

On the face of it, Helm's position, and the position of the minority report, have more internal consistency.

At June 09, 2009 6:12 AM , steve said...

Let’s now touch on some of Jason’s substantive objections:

“The result is a picture of God commanding non-elect persons to do something that God prevents them from ever being able to do.”

It’s not clear what Jason means by God preventing them from ever being able to do so. Inability is not the same thing as prevention.

For example, the state tells you not to drive drunk. And if it catches you, you will be arrested and charged with a crime.

Does this mean the state prevented you from driving sober because the state failed to enable you to drive sober? Does Jason equate the failure to enable someone to do x with preventing someone to do x?

Perhaps Jason has an explanation. My immediate point is that his criticism is quite unclear.

“They never have a real choice to do good, yet they are commanded to do good by the One who chooses to prevent them from ever having a choice to do good.”

i) To say God “prevents” them assumes that, left to their own devices, absent divine contravention, they would do other than what God prevented them from doing. Why does Jason think their default setting is to do good, and if they don’t do good, that’s because they were debarred from doing what they would choose to do if only they had been allowed to act on their own initiative?

ii) Keep in mind that Jason is a universalist. So it’s not as if he thinks that God gives us all a choice to do either x or y, and respects our choice. It’s difficult to construct a purely libertarian version of universalism.

“God thus is presented as flatly acting against His own commands; not disobeying them, exactly, but staunchly refusing to even desire to bring His own commands to fruition.”

An obvious problem with this objection is that we live in a world in which two different things obtain:

a) God issues various commands.

b) His commands are regularly violated.

Presumably, then, there’s a sense in which God intends his commands to be violated. So their violation serves some ulterior purpose beyond the terms of the command itself.

For example, divine law forbids murder, yet men and women commit murder. So God issues a prohibition against murder in the knowledge that his prohibition will be violated. He expects that prohibition to be flouted.

According to Jason, does God desire to bring that prohibition to fruition? Obviously not.

Even if, in Jason’s view of postmortem salvation, the prohibition eventually serves some roundabout purpose of cosmic restoration, the prohibition, in and of itself, did not come to fruition. Someone was murdered. And that cannot be undone–as if it never happened. Even if there are postmortem compensations, that’s not the same thing as bringing the specific prohibition to fruition.

If, therefore, this is supposed to pose a dilemma for Calvinism, then the dilemma is hardly limited to Calvinism. For the point of tension, if there is one, is not, in the first place a theoretical tension, but a factual tension–a tension between what God commands and what actually occurs in the real world.

At June 09, 2009 7:44 AM , steve said...

For now I'm make two or three additional points in response to Jason:

i) Calvinism has a concept of "duty-faith." You have a standing moral obligation to obey the moral law.

To say that sinners have moral obligations is distinct from the question of what God "wants" or "desires" them to do.

It's fallacious to equate obligation with intent. These are separate issues.

ii) The relation between God's preceptive will and his decretive will (conventional terminology) involves a part/whole, means/ends relation. God doesn't will the means irrespective of the end in view. The moral law has an instrumental function in furthering God's overarching purpose.

So when you talk about what God wills or wants, you can't isolate the part from the whole, or the means from the end.

iii) The question of divine accommodation and anthropomorphic usage goes to the issue of how we treat emotive language (e.g. expressing unrequited desires) in reference to God. And that is clearly relevant to this debate. At one end of the spectrum is Mormonism.

Eyewitness control of the gospel tradition

J. D. Walters has asked Jason and me to comment on a post of his:

I don’t have any major disagreements with his post. I’ll just add a few comments of my own:

1.I doubt there would have been much opportunity for legends to proliferate in the NT church. And that’s because the Christian movement started small. In a small, close-knit community, there’s less opportunity for a proliferation of wild, conflicting rumors. The small-group dynamic favors a certain commonality of belief. That’s what holds it together in the first place.

Even if a rumor takes hold, it’s the party-line rumor–not a diversity of rumors. And where you have a small-group with some individuals who are close to the source, it’s easy to squelch a groundless rumor.

As time goes on, if the movement enlarges, there is greater opportunity for diverse views and practices to evolve. And, indeed, that’s what happened as we move into the 2C and beyond.

We see this dynamic at work in religious cults. By definition, cults reflect a high-level of groupthink. Cults can also give rise to rivalries, especially in succession battles, but at that point you have splinter-groups. That is not how it starts out.

To take a couple of examples, some cults, like doomsday cults or suicide cults, can spawn conspiratorial rumors. However, it’s the official rumor. It’s not a case in which conflicting rumors proliferate, and it’s not a case in which a later legendary embellishment eradicates the official story.

Where conflicting rumors can proliferate is during succession battles. Due to age and failing health, the founder may gradually withdraw from leadership. Others move in to fill the void, and presume to speak in his name. His illness is shrouded in secrecy, since access is restricted to a favored few. Rumors may abound regarding his true illness (“Was he poisoned?”), or the way he “really” died.

However, when this occurs, the original movement falls apart. It fissions into two (or more) rival factions which both lay claim to be the true custodians of the Master’s legacy. It is not a case in which a later version of events succeeds in erasing all memory of an earlier version of events.

2.There is also the question of how a legendary account would take hold. Sitting down and writing a legendary account would not, of itself, go anywhere. In most cases, the effort would be stillborn.

It requires a constituency, or patronage, to sponsor a particular version of events. To promote and preserve that version of events. It’s not something that an isolated individual can pull off all by himself. To whom or for whom is he writing? Who are the recipients?

Put another way, it’s not coincidental that “sectarian” literature is associated with sectarian groups or movements. This is in-house literature, with a built-in constituency. They have to keep it alive from one generation to the next.

Once again, we can see this dynamic at work in the case of various cults or schismatic groups. We can also see it at work in Medieval Catholicism. The reason that hagiographical legends proliferate is because there’s an institution which sponsors them.

3.Another thing we observe in the history of religious movements and cults is a tenacity of belief or institutional inertia. This doesn’t mean that alternative views can’t arise. Oftentimes they do. But alternative views rarely eradicate preexisting views. You always have a band of diehard traditionalists who cling to the original version of events–at any cost.

If there comes a point where they are outnumbered and lose the turf war, they don’t capitulate. Rather, they form a breakaway movement and continue to hand down their venerable traditions.

So even if legendary accounts did arise at a later date, this doesn’t mean that would uproot the primitive Jesus traditon.

4.I agree with Walters’ third point, which is his central point. And I’d like to briefly elaborate on that point.

i) Why are critics skeptical of the canonical gospels? One reason is the supernatural element. And they frequently tie this to the dating of the Gospels, under the assumption that a miraculous story must represent a later legendary embellishment. But even if you deny the occurrence of miracles or other supernatural events (e.g. possession and exorcism), it’s quite possible to have contemporaneous reports of miraculous events. Indeed, the potential documentation is vast. To take just one example of many, cf. D. Allison, The Historical Christ and the Theological Jesus (Eerdmans 2009), 66-78.

ii) And, of course, the skeptics operate from the Humean maxim that miracles are inherently implausible. Hence, any reported miracle must overcome a tremendous presumption against its occurrence. But that simply begs the question.

For the most part, critics are skeptical of miracles because they have no experience of miracles. And their skepticism is self-reinforcing inasmuch as they avoid situations in which they might encounter miracles–or encounter others who encounter miracles. So they inhabit a vicious circle.

iii) In addition, it’s striking to see the role of miracles in the canonical Gospels. Miracles obviously serve an apologetic purpose. And a skeptic might discount them for that very reason.

Yet the Gospel writers record a wide variety of reactions to the miracles of Jesus. But if the Gospel writers were fabricating miracles to make the case for Jesus, then you’d expect the reported witnesses to find these demonstrations utterly convincing. Yet, in numerous cases, the miracles of Jesus don’t have that effect. Hence, the gospel writers record miracles, not simply because they perform an apologetic function–since, in many cases, they fail to achieve that aim, even within the narrative, where the narrator has complete control over the reaction of the characters–but because these events really took place.

iv) I’d also note that John presents a paradox for the theory of legendary embellishment. On the one hand, skeptics regard his gospel as the latest of the canonical gospels. And one reason they date is late is because they regard his high Christology as a legendary embellishment.

On the other hand, John has far fewer miracles than Mark–which skeptics regard as the earliest of the canonical gospels. Yet skeptics treat reported miracles as a telltale sign of legendary embellishment.

v) Skeptics also make the arbitrary assumption that the Jesus tradition must have undergone decades of creative oral manipulation before it was eventually committed to writing. I’ve never found this assumption to be the least bit plausible. If someone could write a gospel in AD 90, he could write a gospel in AD 50. It’s not as if Jews and Christians were all illiterate until they suddenly discovered the art of writing after the fall of Jerusalem.

For more on this issue, cf. A. Millard, Reading and Writing in the Time of Jesus (NYU 2000).

iv) Skeptics make the further assumption that if an author believes in what he says, and if he is writing to persuade others, then his writing lacks historical value. But this is yet another artificial and completely implausible assumption. Indeed, it’s self-refuting. Imagine if we applied that principle to the skeptical literature itself?

On a positive note:

v) The conventional solution to the Synoptic Problem supplies an external check on Matthew and Luke. As one scholar notes, “When we make a close scrutiny of Matthew and Luke at work on the text of Mark, we discover them to be careful scribes who do not exaggerate the claims of Jesus in the way they present them…Since at the point where we can check them–namely, in their work on Mark, Matthew and Luke–they prove trustworthy, we are encouraged about their use of other sources at their disposal,” P. Barnett, Is the New Testament Reliable? (IVP 2003), 94.

iv) What about Mark, as an underlying source? Various scholars have done a fine job of documenting the historical character of his gospel. For example:

P. Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ (Eerdmans 2009), chapter 5.

R. Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans 2006).

M. Casey, Aramaic sources of Mark’s Gospel (Cambridge 1998).

v) What about John? Here I’d say two things:

a) Once again, various scholars have done a good job of documenting the historical character of his gospel. To take one example:

P. Barnett, Finding the Historical Christ (Eerdmans 2009), chapter 7.

b) In addition, I’m struck by the number of editorial asides we find in the Gospel of John. As one scholar explains, in a useful tabulation of their occurrences, “Note that this literary device enables John to distinguish between his narrative proper and his own clarifying comments while still helping his readers along as he sees fit…By these asides, the evangelist is able to remove ignorance on part of his readers with regard to terminology or topography, to alleviate the possible perception of inconsistency in his presentation of events, and to highlight important theological motifs such as people’s misunderstanding or Jesus’ supernatural foreknowledge of events,” A. Köstenberger, Encountering John (Baker 2003), 250-52.

What’s striking about this literary device is what it presupposes. It presupposes a conscious and conscientious distinction between what was originally said and done, and John’s own narrative. A distinction between the historical event and the subsequent record of the event. A distinction between the time of the event and the time of writing.

But if, as the liberals would have it, John is inventing various speeches and incidents, then there would be no need to draw this awkward distinction–between his words and the words of Jesus; between the voice of Jesus and the voice of the narrator. What we would expect, rather, is a seamless narrative in which authorial interpretation was fully integrated into the narration of events.

5.Finally, let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that all we had at our disposal were tendentious accounts. Even if we had no external check on our sources, could we detect the bias?

For example, I sometimes ask myself what if the NYT was my only source of information about the war on terror. Could I detect the bias?

There are ways in which that can be done. To take two examples:

i) Tendentious accounts are typically hagiographic. Everything is black and white: heroes and villains. Nothing in-between.

But the Gospels record a spectrum of individuals whose reactions to Jesus range along a spectrum. This is even true in how they present the disciples.

ii) Likewise, tendentious accounts lack psychological realism. They impute implausible motives to their characters. No one ever has mixed motives. It’s pure good versus pure evil. No complexity. No hesitation. No vacillation. One side always lies while the other side always seeks to expose their lies. A conspiratorial, Manichean outlook on life.

By contrast, the canonical Gospels depict people acting in ways real people act in a fallen world. And this includes the good guys as well as the bad guys–not to mention the bystanders.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Saints & relics

“Even when it comes to issues such as the veneration of saints and their relics, which actually do have a very long history (perhaps approaching that “1,500 years”), there are so many qualifications that have to be made about the variety and complex modes of development of the beliefs as to render apologetic use of general statements about them worthless. How did the very simple pious veneration of the early martyrs as examples of holiness to follow turn into the vast complex of ideas that saints in heaven can see us and hear us and can intercede for us with God, that their intercession with God is superior to that which we can have through Christ, that they had an excess of merit that can be transferred to our accounts to help us in our own salvation, that the pope alone controls the dispensation of graces from these saints, and that we can do such things as bury statues of them in our back yards to help us sell our houses?”

The Fire

HT: Tim Challies.

What Does the Bible Teach on Immigration?

Justin Taylor interviews Prof. James K. Hoffmeier on what the Bible might teach us about immigration.

Some Discussions That Might Be Of Interest

Some of you may be interested in some discussions in which I've participated at another web site. Here's a thread about the sinlessness of Mary, here's one about the assumption of Mary, and there are two about the canon of scripture here and here. I don't have fifty posts yet at that forum, so I can't include links within the main body of my text. They allow me to include links in my sig, however. That's why my posts contain so many incomplete URLs and references to the links in my sig. But I think the discussions are otherwise easy to follow. You'll see some of the common Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox arguments on issues like whether Mary sinned in Luke 2:48-50, the historical evidence for an assumption of Mary, whether the canon was settled by a Pope or council in the fourth century, and whether men like Polycarp and Irenaeus should be considered Roman Catholic. Some non-Catholics and non-Orthodox have participated as well.

An Eastern Orthodox participant wrote, regarding the lack of historical evidence for an assumption of Mary:

"Is your hypothosis that all these churches somehow independently and without strife 'invented' this event and then quitely inserted it into the liturgical life of the church without anyone noticing? You seem to only want to use the ECFs when is suits you. If the ECFs are only good enough for disproving something, then you're not being honest. There is not proof of anything, regardless of how many people talked about it. Prove that Christ is Risen. You might have some circumstantial evidence, and some very biased eyewitness, but no real proof. Anyway - seems like you completely missed the point. We worship in spirit and in truth - you can keep your history."

In another thread, somebody else, a member of a non-denominational church, wrote the following in response to my citation of Biblical examples of Mary's sins:

"why is it, that we are NOT to be accusing our bretheren, yet you feel it's ok to try and find the sins of Mary? I don't think Mary was sinless either. but trying to make an itemized list of her sins? NOT cool. You should be ashamed of yourself."

A Methodist in the same thread wrote:

"Luke 2 48-50 you see Mary sinning? and complaining? She was a Mother who was worried where her son was, Jesus was still very young and if all you got is a worried Mother, then your argument of her being a sinner is a pretty weak one. I think what we see here becuase if you go on a couple lines more where Jesus goes on with them to Nazarath and is obediant and ' Mary silently treasure's all these in her heart' is Mary is now recognizing the time is coming where he will go from a child still dependant upon her and Joseph to the Messiah he was born to be. His maturing process has begun. But I'm sorry a mother worried about the safety and welfare of her son who went missing is not sinning."

There are some common objections you'll come across when discussing these issues in all four threads. Anybody who hasn't had experience addressing such objections might want to read the discussions.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Of god and Men

Recently Reppert pointed out that he wouldn't make a good Calvinist. I suspect that if he reads the Old Testament he'd find that he wouldn't have made a good Israelite either. I can just image Reppert plugging his ears shouting "lalalalalalala" while running out of temple after the priest read that part about singing and cheering the destruction of enemies, as well as happiness resulting from smashing little ones against the rocks.

Though Reppert showed he couldn't hit Calvinism with his pea shooter--due to his odd belief that Calvinists think we will tour hell and gaze at the hellions as one would gaze at animals on a zoo tour, perhaps even taking pictures--he did show that he doesn't like much of the OT. In fact, God doesn't seem very "wuving" in the OT. Indeed, if that word has any faint meaning at all (I speak as a Reppertian now), then what God did and said to do in the Old Testament makes a mockery of that word. Thus, Reppert's argument from "language" commits him to presuppositional tension, or, more consistently, a denial of inerrancy.

But he still has to put on airs. He has yet to come clean and deny inerrancy, omniscience, and hell. Those beliefs just cause him so much trouble for his made-over god, though. It's doggone hard to do PR for the God of traditional Christianity. However, give God a make-over, and it will be possible to get a few people to give in and admit that god's not that bad of a guy after all; what, after you remove all things that offend us humans. Sartre couldn't bear the thought of an omniscient God. So to make God more palatable to Sartre, apologize up and down about those "fundies" who claimed God was omniscient. Then perhaps Sartre will throw god a nod. And that will make god happy. And god just wants to be happy. He's okay, I'm okay, we're all okay.

As an example of the trouble Reppert gets into by not coming clean and showing people where you have to go to really beat Calvinism, let's look at some of his beliefs on hell along with some conjunctions.

Hell, for Reppert, is embarrassing. However, when putting on airs, you have to make do with what you've got. So, hell is rehabilitative for Reppert. It has that good purpose. God still desires those "poor unfortunate souls" to come to him. He engages in an action to a specific end. His action of putting people in hell is a means to an end: their rehabilitation. He hopes the fires of hell will set them aright and that they will just admit that god's way is better, then we'll have at-one-ment. Both parties will be . . . happy. Unfortunately, some may never come. But it's their own choice. Hell is locked from the inside, you see. God is willing, at any moment, to receive the residents of hell into his loving arms. They only need to answer, "You", to the question, "Who's yer daddy." Then we can have a hugfest. It all brings a tear to the eye and warms the cockles of the heart; heck, perhaps even the subcockles.

Now, Reppert also puts on airs about traditional omniscience. So, we have a God who knows the future libertarian free actions of his creatures. This means he knows those sinners who will never repent in hell.

Now, let's briefly look at means-end rationality. This applies to actions. One does an action that he thinks, or has reason to believe, will achieve a certain end. Saving money for retirement is means-end rational. Doing leg squats and injecting steroids into your quads so that you can do a standing broad jump to the moon, is not. You know it will never happen. It's an end you can't achieve. One can't do a means-end rational action when he believes, let alone knows, his actions will not meet that end.

So, putting this all together, Reppert gives us a god who is means-end irrational. His belief in a hell that is rehabilitative, together with omniscience and plausible assumptions about means-end rationality, produces a god who is means-end irrational. He's engaged in an action that he knows his means won't achieve his ends. But hey, at least he's nice. So was Lenny from Of Mice and Men. "Tell meh about hell, George. Tell meh about how I's get to tend dem sinners so we all kin live off da fatta the lan. Tell meh, George. I wanna pet 'em and hug 'em and wuv 'em."

Or, a more nefarious conclusion might be, Reppert's conception of god would make god an insane being. Some definitions of insanity say that insainity is doing the same thing over and over again yet expecting different results. The up-shot is that if this god is not insane then he does expects different results. The downside that remains is that if this god is omniscient, then he's means end irrational.

Living in a perfect world

We live in the age of eugenics. Eugenic abortion. Eugenic infanticide. Eugenic “mercy-killing.” The eugenic outlook on life is becoming more mainstream, and therefore more radical-–since the movement is incremental. It warns against “alarmist” language while it quietly, but diligently, phases in its radical and homicidal policies.

The eugenic worldview helps us to put the problem of evil in perspective. For the eugenic worldview is pursuing an ideal. It’s ideal of a perfect world. Its version of the best possible world.

From a eugenic perspective, the perfect world resembles one of those new teen dramas you see trailers for every year. Every year we see trailers for a new teen drama, which is interchangeable with the last teen drama.

The perfect world is usually set in Orange County or the Florida Gold Coast. It’s a world where every high school student has perfect teeth and a Mercedes convertible.

Mind you, even this perfect world has its ups and downs–as the TV trailers preview the many trials and tribulations of being young, rich, and beautiful. It’s enough to make you cry.

This is the utopian vision of someone like Peter Singer. For example, Singer thinks it’s for the best if we abort all the hemophiliacs. A hemophiliac has a lower quality of life than a normal, healthy baby. His life is fraught with peril.

Singer justifies this position on the grounds that people are replaceable. You’d be replacing the hemophiliac with a normal, healthy baby.

I suppose he’d extend his reasoning to babies who are congenitally blind or deaf.

Now, from a biblical perspective, some of these genetic defects are, indeed, natural evils. It is, however, better to be born blind or deaf than never to be born at all. Sensory impairment scarcely negates the value of being alive.

In addition, these natural evils supply the occasion for certain virtues to manifest themselves. If your brother is blind or deaf, then he requires more attention. You don’t take him for granted to the same degree. Because he’s vulnerable, he’s more dependent on his parents, friends, and siblings to look out for his interests. And that, in turn, supplies an opportunity for a more loving and caring and close-knit family or circle of friends.

Of course, that’s also more time-consuming and “burdensome.” It puts a crimp in our lifestyle. Infringes on our freedom.

Eugenics is, in large part, about eliminating inconvenient people. People who make too many demands on us–thereby transgressing our sacrosanct autonomy.

So this goes to the question of what is important in life. What’s the source of personal fulfillment? Is it a matter of investing your life in other people–or retaining a certain level of detachment, so that you can pull the plug at any time?

Do people get in the way of what you want in life, or do people contribute to the value of life?

Finally, the Christian worldview is also concerned with the healing of broken bodies. But Christianity can have the best of both worlds.

In a fallen world, redeemed by grace, God can cultivate certain virtues which are only possible in such a world. A world with natural and moral evils.

Those virtues can then carry over into the world to come, where birth defects are eliminated without eliminating the individual.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Excerpt From The Freedom of the Will by Edwards

Since there have been some recent comments asking about Edward's view on "freedom", I figured I might as well post where he defines it. It also has the bonus of being the same section (section 5 of part 1) where he defines "moral agency."

This version has been taken from

Section V.

Concerning the notion of Liberty, and of moral Agency.

The plain and obvious meaning of the words Freedom and Liberty, in common speech, is The power, opportunity, or advantage, that any one has, to do as he pleases. Or in other words, his being free from hindrance or impediment in the way of doing, or conducting in any respect, as he wills. — And the contrary to Liberty, whatever name we call that by, is a person’s being hindered or unable to conduct as he will, or being necessitated to do otherwise.

If this which I have mentioned be the meaning of the word Liberty, in the ordinary use of language; as I trust that none that has ever learned to talk, and is unprejudiced, will deny; then it will follow, that in propriety of speech, neither Liberty, nor its contrary, can properly be ascribed to any being or thing, but that which has such a faculty, power or property, as is called will. For that which is possessed of no will, cannot have any power or opportunity of doing according to its will, nor be necessitated to act contrary to its will, nor be restrained from acting agreeably to it. And therefore to talk of Liberty, or the contrary, as belonging to the very Will itself, is not to speak good sense; if we judge of sense, and nonsense, by the original and proper signification of words.— For the Will itself is not an Agent that has a will: the power of choosing, itself, has not a power of choosing. That which has the power of volition is the man, or the soul, and not the power of volition itself. And he that has the Liberty of doing according to his will, is the Agent who is possessed of the Will; and not the Will which he is possessed of. We say with propriety, that a bird let loose has power and liberty to fly; but not that the bird’s power of flying has a power and Liberty of flying. To be free is the property of an Agent, who is possessed of powers and faculties, as much as to be cunning, valiant, bountiful, or zealous. But these qualities are the properties of persons; and not the properties of properties.

There are two things contrary to what is called Liberty in common speech. One is constraint; otherwise called force, compulsion, and coaction; which is a person’s being necessitated to do a thing contrary to his will. The other is restraint; which is, his being hindered, and not having power to do according to his will. But that which has no will, cannot be the subject of these things.— I need say the less on this bead, Mr. Locke having set the same thing forth, with so great clearness, in his Essay on the Human Understanding.

But one thing more I would observe concerning what is vulgarly called Liberty; namely, that power and opportunity for one to do and conduct as he will, or according to his choice, is all that is meant by it; without taking into the meaning of the word, any thing of the cause of that choice; or at all considering how the person came to have such a volition; whether it was caused by some external motive, or internal habitual bias; whether it was determined by some internal antecedent volition, or whether it happened without a cause; whether it was necessarily connected with something foregoing, or not connected. Let the person come by his choice any how, yet, if he is able, and there is nothing in the way to hinder his pursuing and executing his will, the man is perfectly free, according to, the primary and common notion of freedom.

What has been said may be sufficient to show what is meant by Liberty, according to the common notions of mankind, and in the usual and primary acceptation of the word: but the word, as used by Arminians, Pelagians, and others, who oppose the Calvinists, has an entirely different signification.— These several things belong to their notion of Liberty. 1. That it consists in a self-determining power in the Will, or a certain sovereignty the Will has over itself, and its own acts, whereby it determines its own volitions; so as not to be dependent, in its determinations, on any cause without itself, nor determined by any thing prior to its own acts. 2. Indifference belongs to Liberty in their notion of it, or that the mind, previous to the act of volition, be in equilibrio. 3. Contingence is another thing that belongs and is essential to it; not in the common acceptation of the word, as that has been already explained, but as opposed to all necessity, or any fixed and certain connexion with some previous ground or reason of its existence. They suppose the essence of Liberty so much to consist in these things, that unless the will of man be free in this sense, he has no real freedom, how much soever, he may be at Liberty to act according to his will.

A moral agent is a being that is capable of those actions that have a moral quality, and which can properly be denominated good or evil in a moral sense, virtuous or vicious, commendable or faulty. To moral Agency belongs a moral faculty, or sense of moral good and evil, or of such a thing as desert or worthiness, of praise or blame, reward or punishments; and a capacity which an Agent has of being influenced in his actions by moral inducements or motives, exhibited to the view of understanding and reason, to engage to a conduct agreeable to the moral faculty.

The sun is very excellent and beneficial in its action and influence on the earth, in warming and causing it to bring forth its fruit; but it is not a moral agent: its action, though good, is not virtuous or meritorious. Fire that breaks out in a city, and consumes great part of it, is very mischievous in its operation; but is not a moral Agent: what it does is not faulty or sinful, or deserving of any punishment. The brute creatures are not moral Agents: the actions of some of them are very profitable and pleasant; others are very hurtful: yet seeing they have no moral faculty, or sense of desert, and do not act from choice guided by understanding, or with a capacity of reasoning and reflecting, but only from instinct, and are not capable of being influenced by moral inducements, their actions are not properly sinful or virtuous, nor are they properly the subjects of any such moral treatment for what they do, as moral Agents are for their faults or good deeds.

Here it may be noted, that there is a circumstantial difference between the moral Agency of a ruler and a subject. I call it circumstantial, because it lies only in the difference of moral inducements, by which they are capable of being influenced, arising from the difference of circumstance. A ruler, acting in that capacity only, is not capable of being influenced by a moral law, and its sanctions of threatenings and promises, rewards and punishments, as the subject is; though both may be influenced by a knowledge of moral good and evil. And therefore the moral Agency of the Supreme Being, who acts only in the capacity of a ruler towards his creatures, and never as a subject, differs in that respect from the moral Agency of created intelligent beings. God’s actions, and particularly those which he exerts as a moral governor, have moral qualifications, and are morally good in the highest degree. They are most perfectly holy and righteous; and we must conceive of Him as influenced, in the highest degree, by that which, above all others, is properly a moral inducement; viz. the moral good which He sees in such and such things: and therefore He is, in the most proper sense, a moral Agent, the source of all moral ability and Agency, the fountain and rule of all virtue and moral good; though by reason of his being supreme over all, it is not possible He should be under the influence of law or command, promises or threatenings, rewards or punishments, counsels or warnings. The essential qualities of a moral Agent are in God, in the greatest possible perfection; such as understanding to perceive the difference between moral good and evil; a capacity of discerning that moral worthiness and demerit, by which some things are praiseworthy, others deserving of blame and punishment; and also a capacity of choice, and choice guided by understanding, and a power of acting according to his choice or pleasure, and being capable of doing those things which are in the highest sense praiseworthy. And herein does very much consist that image of God wherein he made man, (which we read of, Gen. 1:26, 27, and chap. 9:6.) by which God distinguished man from the beasts, viz. in those faculties and principles of nature, whereby He is capable of moral Agency. Herein very much consists the natural image of God; whereas the spiritual and moral image, wherein man was made at first, consisted in that moral excellency with which he was endowed.