Thursday, June 11, 2009

Does God love the reprobate?-1

Recently, Victor Reppert did a post on Calvinism. This generated an impromptu debate between Jason Pratt and myself in the meta. Pratt has since carried our debate over to the EU forum. I plan to respond tomorrow. In preparation, I'll repost what I already said over at Reppert's blog.

At June 09, 2009 5:36 AM , steve said...

A few quick comments in response to Jason:

i) I provided the links for purposes of documentation. This was in response to Reppert's factual inquiry regarding the position of Calvinism on God's intent with respect to the lost.

Since this involves an intramural debate within Calvinism, it doesn't attempt to justify its respective positions for the benefit of those who don't share the same presuppositions.

That's a separate issue. These documents are not an exercise in Reformed apologetics. Their immediate value is expository.

ii) Helm takes the position that God doesn't desire the salvation of the reprobate. With respect to the language of Scripture, Helm has, on various occasions, discussed his theory of divine accommodation, viz. anthropomorphic usage.

So Helm does have an answer to Jason's objection. But that's not the issue he's addressing at the moment.

iii) The other document presents two opposing views. The majority report does think that God entertains an unrealized desire for the salvation of the reprobate.

The minority report denies this by appealing to anthropomorphic usage.

On the face of it, Helm's position, and the position of the minority report, have more internal consistency.

At June 09, 2009 6:12 AM , steve said...

Let’s now touch on some of Jason’s substantive objections:

“The result is a picture of God commanding non-elect persons to do something that God prevents them from ever being able to do.”

It’s not clear what Jason means by God preventing them from ever being able to do so. Inability is not the same thing as prevention.

For example, the state tells you not to drive drunk. And if it catches you, you will be arrested and charged with a crime.

Does this mean the state prevented you from driving sober because the state failed to enable you to drive sober? Does Jason equate the failure to enable someone to do x with preventing someone to do x?

Perhaps Jason has an explanation. My immediate point is that his criticism is quite unclear.

“They never have a real choice to do good, yet they are commanded to do good by the One who chooses to prevent them from ever having a choice to do good.”

i) To say God “prevents” them assumes that, left to their own devices, absent divine contravention, they would do other than what God prevented them from doing. Why does Jason think their default setting is to do good, and if they don’t do good, that’s because they were debarred from doing what they would choose to do if only they had been allowed to act on their own initiative?

ii) Keep in mind that Jason is a universalist. So it’s not as if he thinks that God gives us all a choice to do either x or y, and respects our choice. It’s difficult to construct a purely libertarian version of universalism.

“God thus is presented as flatly acting against His own commands; not disobeying them, exactly, but staunchly refusing to even desire to bring His own commands to fruition.”

An obvious problem with this objection is that we live in a world in which two different things obtain:

a) God issues various commands.

b) His commands are regularly violated.

Presumably, then, there’s a sense in which God intends his commands to be violated. So their violation serves some ulterior purpose beyond the terms of the command itself.

For example, divine law forbids murder, yet men and women commit murder. So God issues a prohibition against murder in the knowledge that his prohibition will be violated. He expects that prohibition to be flouted.

According to Jason, does God desire to bring that prohibition to fruition? Obviously not.

Even if, in Jason’s view of postmortem salvation, the prohibition eventually serves some roundabout purpose of cosmic restoration, the prohibition, in and of itself, did not come to fruition. Someone was murdered. And that cannot be undone–as if it never happened. Even if there are postmortem compensations, that’s not the same thing as bringing the specific prohibition to fruition.

If, therefore, this is supposed to pose a dilemma for Calvinism, then the dilemma is hardly limited to Calvinism. For the point of tension, if there is one, is not, in the first place a theoretical tension, but a factual tension–a tension between what God commands and what actually occurs in the real world.

At June 09, 2009 7:44 AM , steve said...

For now I'm make two or three additional points in response to Jason:

i) Calvinism has a concept of "duty-faith." You have a standing moral obligation to obey the moral law.

To say that sinners have moral obligations is distinct from the question of what God "wants" or "desires" them to do.

It's fallacious to equate obligation with intent. These are separate issues.

ii) The relation between God's preceptive will and his decretive will (conventional terminology) involves a part/whole, means/ends relation. God doesn't will the means irrespective of the end in view. The moral law has an instrumental function in furthering God's overarching purpose.

So when you talk about what God wills or wants, you can't isolate the part from the whole, or the means from the end.

iii) The question of divine accommodation and anthropomorphic usage goes to the issue of how we treat emotive language (e.g. expressing unrequited desires) in reference to God. And that is clearly relevant to this debate. At one end of the spectrum is Mormonism.


  1. The post title made me think about the claims I sometimes hear that God loves all unconditionally. Obviously, God doesn't redemptively love all unconditionally. But is there a way that one could say that God loves all unconditionally? That perhaps He loves man as His handiwork, His creation. Granted, this would be no better than saying God loves trees or clouds...but do you think it's a reasonable enough claim?

  2. "I side with Helm over against Murray on this issue. I deny that God desires the salvation of the reprobate."

    I think you and Dr.Helm are right. I just wanna ask 3 questions about it. It seems I'm always asking you guys questions (waiting for Hay's systematic theology) for that I apologize .

    1. Repenting to God seems like what all men ought to do and God seems to desire the good. What's your take on that?

    2.OT passages (like Ezekiel 18:31) seem to advocate God desires the salvation of the non elect.

    3. Does God love the nonelect in a non-salvific way?