Sunday, May 19, 2013

The only love that counts

From his Facebook wall:

Jerry Walls

There is no nightmare like that of dreaming you are not elect…

Sure about that, Jerry? What about dreaming that you could lose your salvation tomorrow? Even if you’re a born-again Christian, there’s no guarantee, or even probability, that you won’t wind up in hell. Present assurance carries no presumption of future salvation. As Ben Witherington is wont to say, you are not eternally secure, until you are securely in eternity.

…and God has never loved you in the only sense that matters.

And what sense would that be, Jerry? Oh, you mean God’s love for the damned? The love that couldn’t save you from hell? The love that made no difference in the end? 

Ask Cowper...

Well, since Cowper has been with the Lord for 213 years now, I expect he’d have pretty nice things to say about unconditional election.

Keep in mind that Cowper suffered from mental illness. Does Jerry think that Arminian theology inoculates you from the possibility of mental illness?

Thankfully for him, Cowper’s salvation did not depend on his willpower, but God’s willpower. Did not depend on his spirit, but God’s spirit. That’s the only love that counts.


  1. Why do you think cowper was elect? Even if he suffered depression it does not mean he was incapable of rational thought regarding the condition of his soul. He can be trusted to know the state of his soul and we should trust his self appraisal. He though himself to be outside of grace he probably was. He seemed to have tasted of the spirit but then rejected that and seemed to think he committed the unpardonable sin...take his experience at face value...maybe he did commit it and was lost. Why do calvimists assume he was elect? btw i too am calvinist.

    1. I think Cowper swayed back and forth (almost day to day) on whether he was elect or not just as consistent Arminians can sway back and forth regarding whether they will persevere or not. Calvinists like Cowper have the advantage of being able to hang on to the promises of God, whereas consistent Arminians can only ultimately look to and trust their own will to properly "work the machine of gracious salvation."

      Even if he suffered depression it does not mean he was incapable of rational thought regarding the condition of his soul.

      Part of mental illness can include the impairment of rational thought. That's true of illness and injury in general. Imagine a Christian getting into a car accident and suffering brain damage. Or of an elderly Christian suffering from dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Will they necessarily lose their salvation because of mental impairment?

      If I were a consistent Arminian, I'd make sure to wear a helmet wherever I went and then before I'd gotten too old, make sure to go on mission trips to hostile natives in the hopes of dying as a martyr. Lest I die in old age with dementia or Alzheimer's disease where I might end up apostatizing. *G*

    2. i) Given his mental condition, I think he was a poor judge concerning the state of his soul.

      ii) But, in any event, that misframes the issue. Like adoption and justification, we have no immediate, introspective knowledge of our election. Election, like adoption and justification, is something God does for us, not in us.

      Like adoption and justification, election is something we infer from other things.

      iii) Apropos (ii), from what I’ve read, although Cowper lost his assurance, he never lost his faith. He never lost his faith in God, in Christ, in Scripture.

      iv) Moreover, his faith wasn’t just a dry, theoretical faith. To the contrary, it’s precisely because it meant so much to him that his imagined sense of being God’s outcast was so shattering. Christ meant everything to him.

      v) Why should I take at face value his claim that he committed the unpardonable sin? Among other things, that’s an exegetical question. His personal experience can’t tutor him on what Jesus means by the unpardonable sin.

      For more on Cowper:

    3. To the contrary, it’s precisely because it meant so much to him that his imagined sense of being God’s outcast was so shattering. Christ meant everything to him.

      Steve made a great point there. Gary Habermas says the same thing on this video:

      Common Myths about Doubt and Doubting

  2. If he were elect wouldnt he have the witness of the spirit crying abba to confirm he is a son, like the verse says? He died feeling cut off. John bunyan had a similar soul struggle where he felt himself is strange he got over it while cowper died in that consition. One can believe christianity is true, and that calvinism is true, and believe he is not elect. Is there a more miserable condition.

    1. "Assurance" and "Security" are two different things. "Security" is an objective ontological and theological reality that's true or false regardless of feeling. "Assurance" is about a subjective psychological feeling and so can wax and wane due to the shifting sands of experience and the work of the Holy Spirit.

      Losing the sense of God's presence is not inconsistent with genuine Christian experience. God often withholds his presence (as we perceive it) for various reasons:
      to test us;
      to strengthen our faith, trust and hold on Him;
      to teach/remind us of our utter dependence on Him;
      to appreciate Him, His presence and his benefits more (and not to take it for granted);
      to remind us of our natural sinfulness apart from Him;
      to discipline us when we sin;
      to teach us spiritual warfare;
      to guide us in the direction we should or shouldn't go (when we lose His peace) etc.

      The Westminster Confession of Faith chapter 18 section 4 says,

      IV. True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God's withdrawing the light of His countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light:[15] yet are they never so utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the mean time, they are supported from utter despair.

      False converts can have a subjective sense of assurance of being saved even though they're not actually saved. Just as genuine converts can have doubts of currently being in a gracious and saved state (as Arminians) or doubt they're elect (as Calvinists) even though they are actually saved. The WCF states assurance "does not ...belong to the essence of faith" because it can waver in the Christian's life.

    2. In context, I think Paul's point in the Romans and Galatians verses you allude to is not that Christians have a separate, tacit witness of the Spirit, but that when we view God as our father, in contrast to a slave master, that this is the result of the Spirit's renewal.

      At the same time, Paul often encourages Christians in his letters. So he doesn't think being a Christian ipso facto makes you spiritually confident. Rather, you have to remind yourself of what your objective status implies.

  3. By the way steve this is rolaids321 whoemailed you before, just fyi.

  4. Genius, Grief, and Grace by Gaius Davies might be helpful on the topic since it contains a chapter on Cowper. However, I haven't read it so I can't vouch for it.

  5. BTW, while we're on the topic of mental illness, Richard Winter's books may likewise be worth consulting.

  6. Sure about that, Jerry? What about dreaming that you could lose your salvation tomorrow?

    A freaking-men! I can personally attest to this myself.

    By contrast, though I try to examine myself often, I've never had a nightmare about my assurance now that I'm a Calvinist. I suppose others may still have nightmares, but I don't buy the idea that there's no nightmare like dreaming you're not elect. Arminians are just as susceptible, psychologically speaking, as any Calvinist to feelings of insecurity.