Taken to theology, then, one gets voluntarism in the doctrine of God. God does not have an eternal nature of character; he is pure power and will. God is whatever God decides to be. The result is that the “good” is whatever God commands and God does not command anything because it is good. It is good only because God commands it.
Voluntarism, in the form of the “deus absconditus” (hidden God), was a metaphysical compliment Luther paid to God. He thought this protected God’s deity. This idea was taken up by certain Reformed theologians and appears throughout post-Reformation history when some Calvinists (and others) claim that “Whatever God does is automatically good and right just because God does it.”This makes God truly monstrous because God, then, has no virtuous character. “Good” becomes whatever God decides and does and, ultimately, becomes meaningless because it has no essential connection with anything we know as “the good.”So far I’ve blamed Luther for injecting nominalism/voluntarism into Protestant theology (while acknowledging that Lutheran theology is not per se nominalist). But just as guilty is Zwingli who adamantly asserted that God can do whatever he wills and there is no reason for what he wills other than he wills it.This is the underlying problem in the “young, restless, Reformed” movement. It isn’t just their Calvinism; it’s their nominalistic voluntarism in their doctrine of God. This God could simply change his mind and decide that salvation is by works and not by grace. His faithfulness becomes a thin thread of moment-by-moment decision to stand by his promises, but nothing internal to God governs him so that faithfulness is what he is.The word “trust” in “trust God,” then takes on two very radically different meanings. To the nominalist/voluntarist it means “hope God decides to keep his promises.” Nothing makes that certain. God has no eternal character that keeps him from breaking his promises. If he decided to, then that would be good because “good” is whatever God decides and does. To the realist “trust” means “confidence that God cannot break his promises” because God is goodness itself and cannot lie or contradict himself or go against his word.To be sure, not all Calvinists are nominalists, but my experience is that many of them suddenly become nominalists/voluntarists when pushed to explain in what sense God is good in light of his decree to NOT save many people he COULD save because salvation is totally his own decision and accomplishment apart from any cooperation by creatures. The answer is usually “Well, whatever God does is good just because God does it.” That’s sheer nominalism/voluntarism and it empties God of any stable, enduring, eternal character such that he could, if he chose to, change his mind and decide not to save anyone. And it empties the word “good” of any meaning. It is simply whatever God does, period.Nominalism is, in my opinion, the ultimate theological error. I won’t call it heresy (although the Catholic Church does and for good reasons).The only way to avoid sheer relativism in a nominalistic cultural atmosphere is with divine command ethics. “Evil is what God says no to.” But the question remains and lingers and inquiring minds want to know “Why?” Why does God say no to, say, lying? Is there something instrinsically wrong, bad, harmful about lying or does God just not like it for whatever reason or none at all?Logos theology says that there is a link, an intrinsic connection between God’s character and right and wrong in the world. And between God’s truth and ours. “All truth is God’s truth.” Reason, healed by grace, reaches upwards to God by the light of revelation and faith, and is capable of grasping, to some extent, the truth, beauty and goodness of God embedded in creation. Sure, because of our finitude and fallenness, we will never, at least in this world, have a full or perfect grasp of them. And our grasp of them will never be autonomous. We need revelation and faith, the “light of the mind” that Augustine talked about, illumination and wisdom from God. But there’s no arbitrariness in truth, beauty and goodness, not even in God himself. They are embedded in him, his eternal nature, and shine forth into his creation. Christian philosophy seeks them out and, by God’s grace, can grasp them at least partially.
i) Roger Olson’s animosity towards Calvinism has become so deranged that his latest description is simply unrecognizable. He’s like a little boy in whose vivid imagination the bedroom furniture assumes ominous, menacing shapes in the dark. The boy cries out to his parents. When they switch on the lights, the “monstrous” furniture instantly reverts to ordinary, inanimate objects.
ii) Is this really how Calvinism defined God?: “God does not have an eternal nature of character; he is pure power and will. God is whatever God decides to be”?
Just recently, Randal Rauser was attacking traditional Reformed theology because it’s too closely aligned with classic Christian theism, viz. divine simplicity, timelessness, impassibility. Well, that’s hardly equivalent to “God is whatever God decides to be.”
Likewise, Reformed theism traditionally ascribes immutability to God. Well, if God is immutable, then, by definition, God has an eternal character. If God is immutable, then, by definition, God can’t go back on his promises.
In addition, Reformed theology ascribes various moral attributes to God. So he’s not “pure power and will.”
iii) The Calvinist God is not the deus absconditus. Rather, Reformed theism is based on revealed theology.
iv) Even if his characterization of Zwingli was correct, the influence of Calvin and the Westminster Confession dwarfs the influence of Zwingli in the development of Reformed theology.
v) Olson is hung up on phrases like “Whatever God does is automatically good and right just because God does it,” “Well, whatever God does is good just because God does it.”
These are shorthand expressions. By definition, whatever God does is good given how God is defined. These shorthand expressions take God’s goodness for granted. Whatever God does is good because God is good. Whatever God does is good because it is done by a good God.
vi) “My experience is that many of them suddenly become nominalists/voluntarists when pushed to explain in what sense God is good in light of his decree to NOT save many people he COULD save because salvation is totally his own decision and accomplishment apart from any cooperation by creatures.”
a) But that begs the question. Olson is judging reprobation by his (selective) Arminian standards. But there’s no onus on a Calvinist to explain God’s goodness in light of reprobation unless you begin with the prior assumption that reprobation is contrary to God’s goodness. So Olson is reasoning in a vicious circle.
b) Moreover, there are Arminians who admit that God could save more lost souls than he does, but God refrains from doing so because his goal is to strike an optimal balance between the saints and the damned.
vii) “The result is that the ‘good’ is whatever God commands and God does not command anything because it is good. It is good only because God commands it.”
a) Olson is paraphrasing the Euthyphro dilemma. Notice that he seems to accept the Euthyphro dilemma. He opts for the horn that says God commands something because it is good. But as many atheists point out, that makes God answerable to an ultimate source and standard of goodness over and above God. That makes goodness independent of God. That subjects God himself to a superior good.
b) But it’s a false dilemma. As a Christian blogger (Andrew Fulford) recently put it: God’s commands are “simply the will of God inscribed in our very nature. God tells us to act the way he made us to act, and when we act the way he designed us to, we flourish, not wither.”
viii) “This makes God truly monstrous because God, then, has no virtuous character. ‘Good’ becomes whatever God decides and does and, ultimately, becomes meaningless because it has no essential connection with anything we know as ‘the good.’”
Notice the illicit slide from what is good to what we perceive is good. But that’s clearly fallacious.
For instance, God’s command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac didn’t seem to be good at the time the command was issued. It’s only in retrospect that we’re in a position to appreciate the wisdom of God’s command. What made God’s command to Abraham a test of faith is that it seemed to contradict God’s promise.
ix) “All truth is God’s truth.”
Like other tautologies, that platitude is both unobjectionable and useless. By definition, whatever is true is true, but that doesn’t tell you what’s true. You can’t use that tautology to distinguish truth from falsehood. It has no discriminatory force.