12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come (Heb 13:12-14).
This is a continuation of my [lightly edited] email exchange with David Baggett. He coauthored Good God with Jerry Walls.
It’s a sequel to this post:
Your brother in Christ,Dave
Nice sign-off. I appreciate the sentiment. However, when you say that, I can’t help comparing it to something else you and Jerry said. Permit me to begin with a hypothetical story.
Suppose I have a best friend in high school. Let’s call him Spencer. We’ve known each other since first grade. He lives two houses down from me.
Over the years, Spencer has been a better friend to me than I’ve been to him. He’s been a better friend to me that I’ve been to myself. He’s been strong for me when I was weak.
One time, Spencer and I were competing for the same scholarship. When he found out, he withdrew from the competition. He didn’t want to win the scholarship if that meant my losing the scholarship.
One time, when we were at a 7/11, an armed robber came into the store and pointed a gun at me. Spencer stepped between me and the gun to shield me.
My family and his family are both into breeding racehorses. That’s the family business. Spencer and I have always tried to keep the family business separate from our friendship.
One time my family was almost broke. We really needed to win the purse to stay in business. Spencer overheard his dad telling someone on the phone to throw the race by threatening our jockey.
If we lost, we would have lost everything. But Spencer tipped me off. When his dad found out, his dad threw Spencer out of the house. Cut him off.
That’s the kind of friend Spencer has been to me.
One day I was talking to a new student at school. Let’s call him Scott. He’d only been there a few weeks. I was trying to help him fit into his new surroundings. We were sitting on the bleachers, watching a football practice. I was pointing out the students to Scott, so that he knew their names.
When I pointed to Spencer, Scott grimaced. I asked him why.
He told me that he couldn’t stand Spencer. He told me Spencer was probably the kind of guy who tore the wings of flies as a little boy. If there were dismembered cats in the neighborhood, Spencer would be the prime suspect.
Needless to say, Scott’s reaction to my best friend made a tremendous first impression. At that moment I said to myself, “Scott and I can’t be real friends. I can still be a friend to him. I can help him out if he gets in a bind. But he can never be a friend to me. Not as long as that’s how he feels that way about Spencer. Given his contempt for my best friend, there’s no rapport between us.”
Now let’s compare that to a real story. My story. God awakened me when I was a teenager. Now I’m 53. God not only saved me when I was a teenager, but he’s kept me all these years. He’s guarded me and guided me. Protected me and provided for me. He’s been more faithful to me that I’ve ever been to him. This is the God I live for. I owe him everything. He’s done far more for me than the idealized friend in my hypothetical story.
Then I read a book by Jerry Walls and David Baggett which says my God could command people to torture little children for the fun of it.
When I read that, it doesn’t hurt my feelings. It doesn’t offend me. But it does alienate me. It instantly dissolves any sense of spiritual rapport between me and Jerry or David. A chasm opens up between us. They can’t talk that way about my God, and still expect to be friends. That’s too compartmentalized. Too horizontal–at the expense of the vertical.
Now, you might respond, “Oh, we’re not talking about God. We’re just talking about your idea of God. Your Calvinist conception of God.”
Except that if I’m right, then my idea of God maps onto the one true God–just as you think your Arminian concept of God maps onto the one true God.
Steve, you have your convictions and I have to respect that. We have deep disagreements but I would hope our agreements trump. I do not deny you are a Christian. I would hope you would not deny that we are.
Thanks. My point is not to stifle your freedom of expression, but to point out that when you make certain statements, these have consequences. This isn’t just theoretical. It isn’t just debating ideas for the sake of ideas.
It’s too facile to put respective theological convictions in airtight containers that have no impact on Christian fellowship. That reduces Christian faith to sociology. I’d be dishonoring God if what you said about God–as I understand him–had no impact on what I thought of you. I’d be acting as if God isn’t the most important person in my life. What you think about God, what I think about God, and what I think about you are intertwined.
I haven’t said anything about your Christian bona fides or Jerry’s. I was discussing a different issue. If, however, you’re actually asking how I’d respond to that question, I’d say the following:
i) Do I think Arminians can be genuine Christians? Sure. Conversely, some Calvinists are nominal Christians. Some Arminians are heavenbound while some Calvinists are hellbound.
ii) There are different types or levels of disagreement. At one level, there’s the purely exegetical debate. For instance, I. H. Marshall interprets John, Romans, and Ephesians differently than Tom Schreiner, Greg Beale, or Vern Poythress. That’s simply a disagreement over what the Bible teaches. That, of it, shouldn’t distance us from one another. At that level it’s not fundamentally different from film criticism, where we offer competing interpretations of a particular film.
iii) However, you, Jerry, and some other Arminians (e.g. Roger Olson) have upped the ante. If you say (and this is a stock example which you and Jerry use throughout your book) that the Calvinist God could command people to torture little children for fun, then that’s not like debating the best interpretation of ancient texts.
And your position generates something of a dilemma. For you think a Calvinist should cut you more slack than your own position allows for.
We don’t worship God directly. Rather, mental worship is mediated through our concept of God. Our worshipful attitude is directed at what we believe God to be like.
If you say the Calvinist God could command people to torture little children for fun, and if it turns out that the Calvinist God is real, then were you and Jerry worshiping the one true God?
Notice that I’m not judging your Christian profession from a Calvinist perspective. Rather, I’m judging your Christian profession on your own terms, given how you yourself chose to frame the issue.
Haven’t you burned your bridges? Is the Calvinist God still a viable fallback option for you, given what you’ve said about him?
iii) Finally, one of my basic beefs with freewill theism is how often the freewill theist’s conception of God reduces to a purely theoretical (and ultimately fictitious) intellectual construct. Their starting-point is philosophical anthropology. Specifically: human libertarian freedom. That’s their axiomatic postulate.
They then retroengineer their model of God and providence from that starting-point. They constantly tweak their model of God, adding an attribute here, subtracting an attribute there. Their concept of God is a concept they’ve created through various ad hoc adjustments to make it consistent with philosophical anthropology. Make it all balance out.
Their idea of God is hardly an object of faith or worship. The whole exercise has an air of unreality. A made-up idea of God–like a boy who builds a castle out of LEGO bricks.
I think freewill theists of that variety lack genuine piety or reverence.
Your position is an instance of Ockhamism, in my estimation.
You and Jerry simply redefined Ockhamism in ad hoc fashion. There’s nothing Occamist about saying God doesnt love every sinner. You can try to attack reprobation/limited atonement on other grounds (exegetical, philosophical), but don’t take a historic theological position with an established meaning, unilaterally redefine it, then use it as a term of abuse. That’s simply unethical.
I meant to say I do not think the God you worship is different from the God I worship.
Sorry to be a pest, but isn’t that ambiguous?
Are you saying Arminians and Calvinists subjectively worship the same God or objectively worship the same God?
For instance, are you saying Calvinists subjectively worship the God of Reformed theism, even though the real God is the God of Arminian theism, and the Arminian God accepts their confused worship as if they were intentionally worshiping the Arminian God?
Since you don’t think the God of Reformed theism actually exists, he can’t be objectively worshiped. There is nothing real that directly corresponds to that idea of God. And when a Calvinist worships God, the mental or psychological object of his worship is his Calvinist concept of God, in distinction to the extramental reality. So how does your position sort out?
I think a function of our being Christians is that, though we can’t both be right about every aspect of soteriology, we worship the same God. Else we wouldn’t both be Christians. None of us has it all figured out, but we needn’t to in order to be reconciled to God. What we agree on is enough for that purpose.
And if you came to the conclusion that the God of Reformed theism was real, what would your reaction be?
I would be sad. :) If God reveals this, I would have no choice to submit to the truth.
I appreciate your charitable spirit, but ultimately I don't want Arminians to treat me more charitably than they treat my God. We should be in solidarity with our God, out of sheer, immeasurable gratitude.
If, say, someone mistreated my mother, I’d rather share her mistreatment than be treated better than my mother. Indeed, it would be unconscionable for me to accept better treatment for myself, but worse treatment for her. If she is mistreated, I’d rather be mistreated with her, than be well-treated.
And it’s far more important to treat God as he deserves. I can’t divvy things up the way you do. That’s too abstract. Christian faith is ultimately about devotion to God. I can’t bifurcate how Arminians regard my God from how they regard me. I don’t wish to. I’d be slapping God in the face to accept that dichotomy. If anything, they should obviously think far less of me than they do of my God.