Friday, December 07, 2012

Hoping for the lost

Does Calvinism oblige you to withhold hope in your child’s salvation?

Now imagine that the topic is salvation. Should you hope that Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate? That all depends on whether you have reason to believe Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate. If you have no evidence that Jones is of the elect or the reprobate then you ought to withhold hope that he is ultimately of the elect or reprobate.

The argument as applied to the salvation of Jones depends on the Calvinist view that God is the primary determining cause of human election to salvation or reprobation combined with the belief that human beings ought not will contrary to what God wills. Thus, if God wills to be the primary determining cause of Jones’ reprobation then we ought not will other than what God willed.

This is not a problem for Arminianism because on the Arminian view God’s will is that all be saved and it is the determining cause of the human being to reject God’s salvific offer that is the primary determining cause of one’s reprobation. Thus, on the Arminian view the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in accord with God’s universal salvific divine will. This is very different from the Calvinistic view according to which the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in a way which may be contrary to God’s particular salvific divine will.

Now let’s replace the generic “Jones” with your daughter or son, your spouse or parent. It would follow that insofar as you do not have reason to believe your daughter or son, your spouse or parent is elect, that you ought not hope for their election. This, I would think, is a problem for Calvinism.

I’m impressed by how many bad arguments Rauser can squeeze into four paragraphs. That’s quite an accomplishment, albeit a rather dubious accomplishment.

i) It is wrong to assume a God’s-eye viewpoint unless we actually enjoy a God’s-eye viewpoint. That’s presumptuous. Since we don’t know God’s will in the case of any particular individual, we’re in no position to will contrary to God’s will for that individual. We don’t know enough to oppose God’s will.

If God wills his salvation, and we withhold “hope,” then one could just as well argue that that’s opposing God’s will.

ii) Even from an Arminian standpoint, Christians often pray for things that God won’t grant. They don’t know ahead of time if it’s God’s will to grant their request. By Rauser’s logic, Christians should never pray for something unless they know in advance that God wills it.

iii) Keep in mind, too, that from a decretal perspective, if we did will (wish, hope) contrary to God’s will, that’s only because God willed us to will contrary to his will. If I hope for someone’s salvation, God predestined me to hope for someone’s salvation. So at one level, that can never be inconsistent with God’s (decretive) will.

iv) There’s also an equivocation here. God “willing” something and my “willing” something don’t mean the same thing. In the context of this discussion, God’s will is synonymous with predestination, whereas our will is synonymous with wishing that something was the case. These can’t be set in direct opposition, for they are not the same thing.

iv) Since God is God and man is man, there’s no reason to think God requires us to feel the same way about the lost that he does. We are human. We have a viewpoint suited to our humanity. And God made us that way. He created us to have emotional attachments. And some people are naturally dearer to us than others.

v) Rauser artificially abstracts predestination from providence. But they are coordinated. Our prayers can factor into the outcome. Friendship evangelism can factor into the outcome. The predestined result doesn’t necessarily or even normally occur apart from what we do, or neglect to do, for the lost.

vi) Apropos (v), we have more reason to “hope” for what we work for (e.g. friendship evangelism) and pray for, than if we’re talking about some random unbeliever in the phone book. 

Likewise, we wouldn’t pray for somebody’s salvation in the first place, or practice friendship evangelism, unless we wish for their salvation. And prayer is a way of aligning our will with God’s will. We submit our desires to God, trusting in his superior wisdom to either grant our request or refuse our request.

vii) “Hope” is standardly defined as a wish, feeling, or desire, combined with confidence, anticipation, or expectation of its fulfillment.

But according to Arminianism, God’s universal saving desire doesn’t result in the salvation of anyone in particular. Therefore, it would be irrational to expect that God will save Jones.

Indeed, there are Arminians who think most human beings are hellbound, based on their understanding of Mt 7:13-14. How can you expect or confidently anticipate that Jones will be saved if only a fraction of humanity will be saved?

viii) Rauser oscillates between “wishing” and “hoping,” as if these are synonymous. But at best that’s equivocal, and at worst that’s a bait-n-switch. For “hoping” means more than “wishing.”


  1. "I’m impressed by how many bad arguments Rauser can squeeze into four paragraphs."

    That's a funny insult!

  2. I've noted this before, but Rauser doesn't seem to understand the basic Calvinistic distinctions regarding the Will of God. See this article by R.C. Sproul

    1. God's Will of Decree (also called God's secret or hidden will) whereby He positively ordains all that *has*, *does* or *will ever* come to pass. This is often called the secret or hidden will of God because we don't know it until it comes to pass (or unless he reveals it in advance).

    2. God's Will of Demand or prescriptive, or preceptive will of command which is what God has revealed in Revelation (which is finally and supremely set forth in Scripture) regarding what He requires and expects of us.

    3. God's Will of Desire or dispositional will which describes what (all things being equal) His attitude is regarding a matter and what pleases Him.

    Some Calvinists will say that there is ultimately only one will of God (and in God). But even those who say that usually allow for the above distinctions as we finite creatures attempt to understand and apply God's singular will.

    Btw, as a continuationist, I also believe in God's Will of Direction (or directional will) whereby God sometimes directs us to choose a certain course of action or decision. It's uncommon/infrequent, but it happened in Biblical times and (I believe) happens during post-Biblical times too. I can give examples in both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic lives.

    As Steve has pointed out, Rauser doesn't understand that God's decretive will is something we don't know and (because of that) aren't supposed to base our prayers and expectations on. Rather, we're supposed to base it on God's Will of Demand and Will of Desire (i.e. #2 and #3). I'm writing this primer on God's Wills in case Rauser reads this blog. That way he'll finally represent Calvinism accurately in the future.

  3. "It is wrong to assume a God’s-eye viewpoint unless we actually enjoy a God’s-eye viewpoint."

    yep - calvinist's affirm that "God is God and we are not" while non-calvinists start with a notion of "God is pretty much exactly like us."