Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Is Calvinism despairing?

Some comments I left over at Justin Taylor’s blog:

steve hays
June 6, 2013 at 5:36 pm

Daniel Wilcox

“There is despair, (certainly in the case of Russell and Dawkins), but then there is worse despair…
‘a World with God’ who wills in his hidden will for most humans to be foreordained to eternal damnation (John Calvin, John Piper of ‘two wills’ in God, etc.)…where many in the world have no hope because of TULIP.”

What makes you think that according to Calvinism, God wills for most humans to be damned? That certainly wasn’t the position of B. B. Warfield, to take one prominent example.

“Then there is the Good News of John 3:16 ‘so loved the world’!”

As commentators like Andrew Lincoln point out, “world” has reference, not to the number of people God loves, but the kind of people God loves. Not how many, but how bad.

“No,TULIP denies the Good News of God’s loving to save the whole world!”

Well, if you believe in divine foreknowledge and eternal punishment, then God never intended to save everyone.

“In this theology God only loves to save a limited number of humans and Jesus only died to save those limited number:-(”

Love that makes an actual difference, rather than helpless, ineffectual love.

“No there is NO hope in Calvinism.”

There’s hope for the elect–absolute hope.

“All the rest of us–millions upon millions were foreordained to eternal damnation, according to John Calvin and every Calvinists I have talked with in 50 years.”

If you define freewill as the freedom to choose between alternate possibilities (and that’s how Arminians typically define freewill), then that commits you to the belief that there’s a hypothetical timeline in which someone accepts Jesus and goes to heaven as well as a hypothetical timeline in which the same person rejects Jesus and goes to hell.

So if anyone goes to hell, that’s because God actualized the timeline in which that individual freely rejected Christ rather than the timeline in which that individual freely accepted Christ. Therefore, God foredoomed that individual to hell. He never had a chance of getting to heaven. God preempted that outcome by actualizing the alternative timeline. God decided in advance which of those two choices would stick.

“This is why John Wesley wrote that he would rather be an Atheist than believe in the Calvinistic concept of God. I agree with him completely.”

John Wesley believed that unbaptized babies were damned, whereas B. B. Warfield believed that all dying infants were saved.

“It would appear that Calvinism teaches that Satan and evil happen because of God’s secret will.”

According to Calvinism, bad things happen for a good reason. You think it’s better to say that God allows horrendous evil for no good reason?

steve hays
    June 6, 2013 at 9:20 pm

    Daniel Wilcox

    “Thanks for sharing your perspective, even bringing up B.B. Been there done all that–“

    If you’ve been there and done all that, why would you knowingly make a false statement about the scope of salvation in Calvinism?

    “The bottom line still is that in Calvinism many humans are born to hopelessness, with only despair now and eventually eternal torture because they were foreordained to eternal damnation, etc.”

    That’s hardly confined to Calvinism. If you believe that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation, then those who are born to live and die outside the pale of the Gospel had no hope of salvation.

    BTW, why do you characterize eternal punishment as “torture”?

    “In contrast in some other theologies, there is hope for every single human (like Billy Graham used to emphasize).”

    Why did Graham devote his life to mass evangelism if he thought you could be saved apart from hearing and believing the Gospel?

    “In those theologies our relationship to God is exactly that–relational, based in everlasting love on God’s part…”

    A good definition of unconditional election.

    “BUT in Calvinism, the relationship of God to humans is I/Object, NOT I/Thou–God speaking, I love and will to save every single human I have created.”

    To the contrary, Christ knows his sheep by name. That’s I/thou.

    “I like to speculate like all of us who find philosophy appealing, but I think human speculation is just that. I don’t understand–even after many thousands of pages and way too many tomes in the last 50 year:-)–exactly how concepts like foreknowledge and predestination and libertarian free choice, etc. work.”

    You don’t get to weasel out of your theological commitments that easily. If God foreknows that when he makes someone, that individual will wind up in hell, then he has no intention of saving him. You don’t get to attack Calvinism, then be evasive when your own position is under the microscope.

    “But based on my being saved by God many years ago through the Good News– that God loves and wills to save every single person, my baseline is the love of God, for everyone:-)”

    That’s an assertion, not an argument.

    “But love which isn’t relational (God to objects incapable of responding, born totally depraved, and God only loving some of them), such love which is limited to only some, with the reciprocal result that millions are unloved to eternal torture,etc. isn’t Godly love.”

    That’s like saying a mother can’t love her newborn baby because her baby lacks the cognitive ability to respond in kind. Or saying you can’t love an autistic child. Or saying you can’t love a parent who suffers from senile dementia. Actually, to show love to those who are incapable of responding in kind is a special kind of love.

    “The only real true love (as defined by 1 Corinthians 13) is the opposite of TULIP.”

    You haven’t shown that TULIP is opposed to 1 Cor 13.

    “I take it here that you are referring to Molinism?”

    Wrong. If you define freewill as the ability to choose between alternate possibilities, then that commits you to the scenario I described. If that’s not how you define freewill, then what’s your objection to predestination?

    Once again, you don’t get to attack Calvinism, then weasel out of the implications of your own position.

    “And there’s the despair, that the Calvinistic God only loves/will/foreordains a limited number to be saved.”

    So you don’t care what Jn 3:16 really means. Is that it?

    “That’s the Good News.”

    How is that Good News for the damned?

    “If God doesn’t love some of us, what hope is there? NONE. Which was my original point…”

    So your original point was a logical fallacy.

steve hays
Daniel Wilcox
June 6, 2013 at 11:17 pm
“If you remember I was responding, heartfelt, to the post by Justin Taylor on Atheism and despair (two quotes by Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russell) I’ve read 6 or 7 of the former’s book and part of the latter’s Autobiography and some of his essays). I was simply responding to Taylor that I agree the two Atheists’ comments are tragic. And then I pointed out, however, that even worse than a meaningless universe is one where the God of that creation foreordains humans created in his image to eternal damnation before time began.”

What I remember is that Justin did a post on atheism, not Calvinism. You hijacked his post as a pretext to take a swipe at Calvinism. That’s your prerogative, but you’re not entitled to attack someone else’s position, then claim that you’re not attempting to make a logical argument as an excuse to shield your own position from scrutiny. It’s a two-way street.

“If the latter were true, then it’s obvious that for those foreordained to eternal damnation (all of us NOT covered in ‘limited atonement’)there is no hope. Despair.”

Hell is a place of despair. That’s not confined to Calvinism.

To say that damnation is despairing for the damned hardly entails that Calvinism is hopeless, for that only applies to the reprobate, not the elect. Why do you think anyone should take your fallacious arguments seriously?

“As I recall the Calvinist James Daane…”

Daane was not a Calvinist. Rather, he was rebelling against the Dutch-Reformed tradition.

“I didn’t make a false statement about Calvinism in general. Nearly all of the Calvinist from R.L. Dabney to A.W. Pink to John Piper hold to ‘limited atonement.’”

You originally said that according to Calvinism, God willed for most humans to be damned. You also said “There’s no hope in them, except of course for the limited few.” Limited atonement doesn’t specify the percentage of the reprobate in relation to the elect. You need to work a lot harder at honestly representing a position you disagree with. Or is that asking too much?

“If the atonement is limited as Calvinists claim, then those outside of that atonement (those not Unconditionally Elected) are without hope, have only despair.”

We could say the same thing about limited salvation. Are you a universalist? If so, your objection isn’t confined to Calvinism. If not, your objection applies to any orthodox position on hell.

“They basically all seem to mean the same thing.”

Is darkness synonymous with torture?

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 10:24 am

Daniel Wilcox

“But please don’t misconstrue my motives or my intent!”

Your intent was to sidetrack a discussion about atheism into a debate about atheism–thereby letting atheists off the hook. Why do you hate Calvinism more than you hate atheism? Why do you hate Calvinism more than you love atheists? Instead of witnessing to atheists, you divert this into another debate over Calvinism. What does that say about Arminian priorities?

“My original post was about despair for the nonelect! how not only Atheism is based on despair such as Russell’s comments, but that Calvinism FOR THE NON-ELECT–those foreordained to eternal damnation–are without hope. Despair.”

Yes, you tried to artificially restrict your objection to the fate of the reprobate, rather than the fate of the damned. I’m noting your inconsistency.

“And I stand by my original post. I would point out that any worldview or religion which designates some humans without hope at all as despairing.”

Your objection would apply to any position short of universalism. If so, why do you single out Calvinism? And why do you trot out Billy Graham? Do you or don’t you think faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation?

“By the way Steve, I was quoting a former Calvinist in my original post. Dr. Ronnie Rogers.”

Explain how TULIP entails that the vast majority of humans are going to hell.

“Obviously, we have a very different view on that and on what love is about. Love can happen only relationally.”

So you don’t think it’s possible to love a parent with senile dementia. You don’t think it’s possible to love a comatose friend.

“But love which isn’t relational (God to objects incapable of responding, born totally depraved…isn’t Godly love.”

That’s deceptive. The unregenerate can’t love God in return. But if God regenerates a sinner, then the born-again sinner can love God in return.

Notice how the Bible depicts God’s love for Israel:

“4 And as for your birth, on the day you were born your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to cleanse you, nor rubbed with salt, nor wrapped in swaddling cloths. 5 No eye pitied you, to do any of these things to you out of compassion for you, but you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. 6 And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’” (Ezk 16:4-6).

It depicts Israel as a helpless newborn baby, utterly dependent on divine favor. God takes the initiative.

But according to your a priori definition, that’s not “Godly love.”

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 11:47 am

Daniel Wilcox

“If we are to have a discussion, we must first have the facts straight.:-)”

I’m waiting for you to lead by example. So far you’ve failed.

“Dr. Ronnie Rogers, a former Calvinist recently stated“..God desiring the vast majority of His creation to go to hell….” Check SBCToday for more of his view and why he left Calvinism.”

You need to demonstrate how unconditional election, or reprobation, or limited atonement logically entails that only a fraction of humanity is saved. Where is your argument?

This isn’t a question of you doing an anecdotal survey, but the internal logic of a theological system.

“You state I am in error about this, that on the contrary most humans are among the elect according to Calvinists.”

No, that’s not what I said. You still don’t know how to correctly frame the issue. The question at issue is whether TUPLIP logically implies the damnation of the majority of humans. Try again.

“Secondly, please get your facts correct about my witnessing…Sorry, you don’t know my experience with Atheists.”

I’m getting my facts from your behavior on this very thread. You derailed a post about atheism to take a gratuitous swipe at Calvinism. What does that say about your actual concern for the lost?

“No on the contrary, I am opposed to all forms of despair, especially that of Atheism.”

No, you didn’t especially oppose atheism. To the contrary, you immediately deflected attention away from atheism so that you could especially oppose Calvinism.

“I hate Calvinism because it denies the Good News to some humans, because it claims that God creates some humans foreordained to eternal damnation.”

That misrepresents my question. Why did you drop the “more” qualification in my original question? Once again, you need to work much harder at honestly presenting a position you disagree with.

“Why would the God of the universe will for some us to be eternally damned?”

That’s not a question about Calvinism, but eternal punishment. Are you a universalist? Annihilationist?

“It was a terrible shock to me to think God doesn’t love some of us.”

You have a bad habit of repeating your talking-points rather than engaging the counterarguments. I’ve explained how Arminianism is subject to parallel objections. You simply blow past that. Why do you refuse to argue in good faith?

“If Calvinism were the “Gospel” as Spurgeon and other Calvinists have taught…I certainly wouldn’t be a Christian.”

So you hate Calvinism more than you love God.

“But if the Calvinists are right…we have no libertarian free choice to respond to God.”

As I already explained to you, belief in libertarian freedom of choice logically commits you to belief in a possible world where you freely accept Christ as well as another possible world where you freely reject Christ. That’s how one cashes out the freedom to do otherwise. Yet if someone is damned, that means God actualized the possible world where he rejects Christ rather than the possible world where he accepts Christ–thereby dooming the individual in advance. The individual never had a chance. Why isn’t that despairing?

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Daniel Wilcox

“No, because God loves everyone, I hate Calvinism which denies God loves to save everyone.”

You’re dissembling. You indicated that if it came down to a logical choice between Calvinism or atheism, you’d opt for atheism.

Also, as I’ve explained to you, the Arminian God doesn’t love to save everyone. Instead of refuting my argument, you simply repeat the same formulaic assertions.

“I hate Calvinism because it actually claims that God foreordains some humans to eternal damnation.”

And I constructed a parallel argument for Arminianism, which you’ve done nothing to rebut. Why do you refuse to argue in good faith?

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Daniel Wilcox

“Also, on a separate post I will give you Billy Graham’s view on the lost who haven’t heard.”

Billy Graham’s opinion is irrelevant. The question is whether it’s logically consistent for you to say God intends to save everyone if faith in Christ is a precondition of salvation.

“No, on the contrary, unconditional election negates God as being relational…”

That’s an assertion, not an argument. Try again.

“No, on the contrary, in Calvinism, everyone is born totally incapable of responding to God. As Calvinists never tire of saying, we humans don’t have libertarian free choice. We are ‘dead’—Calvinists literalize a metaphor. Then they say that God “irresistibly” changes some humans. This isn’t “I/Thou at all.”

To conclude that “this isn’t ‘I/Thou at all” is just another threadbare assertion on your part. You haven’t shown how that conclusion logically follows from what went before. Are you simply unable to distinguish between assertions, logical fallacies, and valid or sound arguments?

The unregenerate are spiritually unresponsive until God regenerates them. How is that not “relational”? How is that not “I/Thou”? You’re failing to reason for your conclusions.

For that matter, why should Martin Buber’s categories dictate the issue? Or Roger Olson’s?

“Furthermore, this leaves out all of us who God foreordained to eternal damnation.”

So what?

“First, I wasn’t weaseling out of any theological commitments.”

That’s exactly what you’ve done, as I’ve demonstrated.

“The Good News is John 3:16.”

Calvinists believe in Jn 3:16 too. Try again.

“That the Good News is Good News for everyone, or it is a despairing news, not good at all.”

What makes you think kosmos means “everyone” in John? Have you bothered to study his usage? For instance, does kosmos mean “everyone” in 1 Jn 5:19?

“#2 That all finite human speculation on God’s inner workings, what was happening before the beginning of the universe, how God reconciles paradoxes (such as predestination and libertarian free choice)—is SPECULATION. We are to love God with all of our mind, but if our speculations lead us to claim God doesn’t will/love for everyone to be saved, then our speculation—no matter how brilliant is wrong!”

Libertarian freedom of choice is a philosophical concept. You’re not entitled to borrow a philosophical concept, then slam the brakes on the philosophical consequences of your philosophical presupposition. You need to be intellectually honest, especially when you presume to attack someone else’s position.

“God loves everyone and isn’t willing for any to perish.”

As Bauckham documents in his classic commentary on 2 Peter, that has reference to the covenant community.

“Yes, John 3:16 is an assertion, not a formal argument.”

Which you haven’t bothered to exegete.

“Of course it is. In TULIP God foreordains some of us to eternal damnation, has Jesus only die for some humans, not for the rest of us, doesn’t give us a choice, etc. etc. Such plans are contrary to everything that love stands for in 1 Cor. 13.”

You didn’t derive that conclusion by valid inference. At a minimum you need to add some minor premises.

“On the contrary, John 3:16 is a complete denial of TULIP.”

You’re not giving me a reason to agree with you. You don’t get to dictate what you’d like it to mean.

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Daniel Wilcox

“Because if we are foreordained to eternal damnation then we are without hope. Despair.”

You keep playing this illogical shell game, as if no one can have hope unless everyone has hope. Well, the damned are hopeless. Does that mean the saints are hopeless too?

“But if God loves us, then there is hope, THAT’S WHAT!”

That would only be true if universalism were true.

“If I were to come to think John 3:16 didn’t mean ‘everyone’ it would be a denial of the Good News. And so as I said, I would realize that I had been given a false gospel. So I would have to seek elsewhere for truth.”

So you interpretation of Jn 3:16 is based on wishful thinking rather than exegesis.

“Then John 3:16 isn’t for us who weren’t included.”

Actually, Jn 3:16 is only for believers. Unbelievers are excluded.

“That is the whole point of the Good News. Though the whole world lies in the power of the evil one, God in Christ overcame the evil one and has chosen us as ministers of reconciliation…”

i) You’re disregarding the construction. The “we” stands in opposition to the “whole world.” John isn’t saying Christians lie in the power of the evil one. Rather, he’s contrasting the situation of believers with the situation of unbelievers.

ii) It’s methodologically fallacious for you to use Paul to interpret Johannine usage.

iii) Moreover, unless you’re a universalist, you must also qualify the force of 2 Cor 5:18-20.

“Love can happen only relationally.”

I once had a discussion with a woman who justified abortion because she said a mother can’t have a relationship with her unborn baby. According to your definition, she was right.

“And, contrary to TULIP, that is what God’s love is like–our love for our children is a weak version of God’s infinite love for humankind–every last human who was born or who will ever be born.”

Would you knowingly conceive a child you knew was hellbound?

“And that is the Good News–as Billy Graham and other Good News evangelists so wisely and lovingly proclaimed.”

You’re dodging the issue I raised. Is evangelism necessary for salvation? If so, then God never intended to save the unreached.

steve hays
June 7, 2013 at 5:30 pm

Daniel Wilcox

“HUH? My wife and I had 3 children and we had relationship with each one of them when they were yet unborn. I don’t know of any mother who has ever become pregnant who hasn’t.”

You’re not paying attention to your own argument. You defined “relational” in terms of responsiveness. Well, an unborn baby lacks the cognitive development to be intellectually responsive to what people say. The baby doesn’t even know language.

“Also, what is askew is this: What father would ever help give birth to a child that he had foreordained to damnation?”

What father would conceive a child whom he foreknew was going to spend eternity in hell? Yet that’s what the Arminian God does.

“Dear Steve! I am not here primarily to debate, but to declare the Good News of God’s love for everyone, including all Atheists and all Calvinists and all Muslims, etc.”

No, you’re primarily here to attack Calvinism. And as a teacher, you should understand that when you attack someone’s position, you assume a burden of proof. You need to rationally defend your claims.

Did you think you could just get off a few free rounds and leave?

“So why am I not defending Arminianism, besides the fact that I am here primarily to oppose all forms of despair?”

You made a token comment about atheism, then devoted the rest of your time to bashing Calvinism.

“I don’t understand where your view of Arminianism is coming from…I never heard such a statement from anyone I know who thinks God loves everyone—about ‘belief in possible world’ differences…Furthermore I don’t see how “belief in libertarian freedom of choice logically commits you to belief in a possible world…”

What do you think the freedom to do otherwise amounts to? If you say someone is free to either accept Jesus or reject Jesus, what do you think the “either” and the “or” correspond to? Aren’t you saying it is possible for that person to accept Christ and it is also possible for that person to reject Christ? If so, those represent two alternate possibilities.

There’s a possible world in which a person accepts Jesus and another possible world in which that same person rejects Jesus.

Hence, if someone goes to hell, that’s because God chose to create the world in which that possibility occurred. In so doing, God preempts the alternative outcome from actually occurring.

This follows from a standard Arminian definition of libertarian freewill. As Jerry Walls puts it, “the agent has the power to choose A and the power to choose not-A.”


  1. "That certainly wasn’t the position of B. B. Warfield, to take one prominent example."

    Wasn't Shedd's position either.

  2. For someone who wants to be so much about love, he sure has a lot of hate goin' on.

  3. His inability to represent Reformed Theology is pretty embarassing. He mentions Spurgeon, Piper, and A.W. Pink, but doesn't quote from them.

  4. Steve - I love these back and forths of yours. So encouraging, and so helpful. Thank you.