Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Arminianism and Voluntary Love

Arminians typically criticize Calvinism because the latter makes a mockery of love. As Roger Olson puts it in his Against Calvinism, "it must be factually possible for both [parties] to a possible loving relationship to be able to say 'no' to the other (167). Of course, Olson immediately contradicts himself by taking away the right of God to say "no" to the other, but never mind that. It is striking that the Bible undermines these naive and sentimental Arminian intuitions. For example, the Old and New testaments command that we love God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and loving “thy neighbour as thyself” (Leviticus 19:18). More elaborately, we read in Matthew22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

I assume these passages relay a general command for all people. Since it is a command from God, then we ought to love God and our neighbor. If we ought to love God, how or why should it be possible for us to say "no"? Indeed, if we ought not murder, do we have a choice to say "no?" Is it optional?

I believe William Hasker uses the analogy of a king giving a woman a love potion to change her heart so that she will love the king, and claims this is analogous to Calvinism. He finds this ugly; I find it beautiful—but that's because I understand how the woman treated the man. He didn't run to the women throwing off their tops and begging to be with him. No, he ran to the hefty, wart-faced prostitute who spit on him every time he passed by and chose to turn her into a beautiful princess and bring about a change in her heart to desire the good and kindly king. But I'm digressing.

Here's the point. How is it an advantage for Arminianism for the king to say to the woman: I command you to love me. In fact, you are morally obligated to love me. (Since not all men can love God apart from grace, I take it that this falsifies ought-implies-can. Prevenient grace doesn't help. God didn't have to pass out prevenient grace to all, yet I presume that all men would still be obligated to love God and neighbor. Prevenient grace does say that all men can love God, but this is accidental. In fact, for Arminians to affirm ought implies can means that they must hold that there would have been no obligations on fallen man if God had not graciously chosen to hand out grace. Ought implies can is supposed to be a necessary truth, and thus true apart from the accidental and non-obligatory fact of prevenient grace.)

This is rather unlike the sappy chick-flick examples of God's love for us and our libertarian free reciprocal love in return that most naive Arminians paint for us. In fact, I can imagine an atheist looking at the above verses and claiming that this God is a moral monster, not unlike Julia Robert's husband in Sleeping With the Enemy.

Of course, God is not like that. He's not like that at all. But let's not pretend he's anything like the Arminian version of a Nicholas Sparks protagonist either. In any event, that God commands all men to love him puts the lie to Arminian claims about the permissibility for us to say "no." God's not giving us a Rossian prima facie duty here.


  1. Thaddeus Williams' book _Love, Freedom, and Evil:Does Authentic Love Require Free Will?_ is quite good on this topic.

  2. I don't think Arminians are committed to saying "ought implies can" is a necessary truth, but let's say your right and that it is. Why must "ought implies can" be spearate from PG? If one holds that God's love bound Him to provide prevenient grace after the fall, then PG and "ought implies can" could always be together.

    God be with you,

  3. dan, they *could* always be together, but do they *have* to be? If not, then OIC has a problem. If so, how's it really P*G*?? God HAS TO give grace to each human? That's rather odd.