Thursday, December 13, 2018

Can a Calvinist honestly say “God loves you” to everyone and anyone?

I'll comment on a recent post by Arminian theologian Roger Olson:

Recently a leading American Calvinist pastor-theologian has asked and answered this all-important question on his blog: Can a Calvinist (and he means himself and those who agree with him) honestly say “God loves you” to everyone and anyone?

i) Why is Olson coy about identifying the individual in question? 

ii) Can a traditional freewill theist honestly say “God loves you” to everyone and anyone? If God makes a world containing many people who will suffer "eternal torment" (Olson's phrase), and if God knows full well that that's the end-result of his action, how is that loving to the damned? God wasn't forced to make them. No one put a gun to his head.  

Many freewill theists believe the vast majority of the human race is damned. That's why they allege that according to Calvinism, God only saves a "chosen few". So how is that the action of a loving God, if he could spare them that horrible fate by not making them in the first place? 

iii) Suppose, as a Calvinist, that I can't honestly say God loved Pablo Escobar. Is that a damaging admission? 

There is no analogy in human experience to determining a fellow human being to torment (let alone eternal torment) as punishment for doing what the fellow human being could not have avoided doing. Especially when what the fellow human being did was inwardly determined by the person doing the punishing.

That's a confused statement:

i) Of course there's no analogy in human experience for exacting eternal punishment on a human being, since humans lack that prerogative. 

ii) Isn't it redundant to say "determining" the individual to hell for doing what they could not avoid doing? Doesn't Olson think "determination" and the inability to avoid doing something are equivalent?

iii) Why does Olson think it has to be "inwardly" determined? In Calvinism, why can't that be "outwardly" (i.e. providentially) determined?

iv) But to get to the nub of his objection: "punishment for doing what the fellow human being could not have avoided doing."  

What's the general principle? Is Olson's position that you shouldn't be punished for doing something unless you could avoid doing it? 

Let's explore that principle. Does Olson mean an agent should be able to avoid doing something from start to finish? Or at the inception? Does he mean the decision to do something? Or the implementation? Some actions are momentary but other actions involve a process. Does he mean an agent should be able to exit the process at any step along the way?

Given the arrow of time, in a cause/effect world, many actions have a point of no return. Even if the agent could avoid an outcome prior to the point of no return, there's a turning-point beyond which it's too late to change your mind. Suppose you can choose whether or not to pull the trigger, but once you pull the trigger, there's no going back. 

For many human agents, the accidental necessity of the past is a source of regret. With the benefit of hindsight, they wish they made a different choice. But many actions have irreversible consequences. They wish they could step into the time machine and choose a different course of action. 

If Olson thinks agents can be blameworthy for actions that precipitate an inevitable chain reaction, why does he think that's consistent with moral responsibility? Where does he draw the line–and why?

Again, I have to remind Calvinists and everyone of the inextricable connection between the Calvinist doctrines of providence and predestination. According to classical, historical, consistent Calvinism (from Calvin to Edwards to Hodge to Piper), God has determined everything that happens to happen exactly as it does happen without any exceptions. And that includes the fall of Adam and all of his posterity.

No, he doesn't have to remind me of the inextricable connection between Reformed predestination and providence, although it would be more accurate to say God predetermined that outcome. 


  1. Having experienced Arminian love, I'd prefer divine hatred.

  2. I know there are Calvinists who will say that God does not love the reprobate; I think I've seen that opinion stated here on Triablogue. I think there are others, like Guillaume Bignon, who disagree. Is there a solid exegetical case to be made either way? I was raised in the middle of that debate, and it has greatly impaired my ability to read Scripture on its own terms, without lots of unwanted and unintentional eisigesis going on in the back of my head.

    1. It could well be the case that God doesn't love the reprobate. The argument is that if God loved the reprobate, they wouldn't be reprobates. God could save them.

      However, that's more complicated that it seems at first blush. A world in which everyone is saved will have a different world history than a world in which some people are damned. So it's not the same set of people.

      If God can only create one possible world, then God has to choose. On that scenario, God might like to save the reprobate, but his choices are limited if he can only create one world history.

      However, it may be that God has created a multiverse. Many some people who are reprobate in our world have elect counterparts in a parallel universe. That's conjecture, but it can't be ruled out.

  3. Sorry, my deleted post above had typos...

    I think your first roman numeral "ii" gets at one of the primary difficulties of the Arminian objection to Calvinism. In the end, if an Arminian affirms God's absolute, infallible foreknowledge of everything that will happen before it happens (which Isaiah 46:9-10 demands), then he does not escape the very problem he himself sees in Calvinism. In other words, if God has infallible foreknowledge (and he does), then the future is just as (pre)determined as it is in the predestinarian scheme. Therefore, in order to TRULY escape the "horrors" of Calvinism, one must embrace some form of open theism, which is damning heresy.

    So, I have two concluding remarks:

    1) We cannot do theology proper based on our feelings. Scripture is the final and supreme authority. I rarely see exegesis of Scripture in Olson's work—only the philosophical whining of a man who, it appears to me, wants more than anything to be morally and intellectually autonomous. He will even be so bold as to claim, in published writing, that even if it could be proven from Scripture that the God of the Bible is the God of Calvinism, he would not worship him because, in his opinion, that God is not worthy of worship. This is not theology, but rather idolatry.

    2) Personally, I would rather have a God who controls history and gives it purpose and meaning than a God who created it and can only watch it spiral out of control. The former gives me comfort; the latter terrifies me.