Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Calvinism and the God of love

Jerry Walls did a lecture several weeks ago on "Calvinism and the God of Love":

He and I then had an impromptu Facebook debate about his lecture. 

Steve Hays 
Jerry, you quoted the WSC, and noted that it omits to mention the attribute of divine love. Why didn't you quote the WCF, which, among other things, says God is "most loving" (as well as "gracious" and "merciful," "abundant in goodness")? I hope you weren't attempting to deceive your audience by selectively quoting from Reformed documents. So how can we account for your conspicuous oversight? 

There is but one only, living, and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions; immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him; and withal, most just, and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty (WCF 2:1).

I'm struck by Jerry's insinuation that Calvin can't bring himself to affirm God's love. Certainly that's the impression that Jerry fosters through his selection quotations. Jerry makes a big deal about the fact that Calvin doesn't quote 1 Jn 4:8,16 in the Institutes. Keep in mind that there are about 55,000 verses in the Bible, so it's hardly surprising or suspect if even a systematic theology omits many verses. But in addition, consider what Calvin does say, which Jerry conveniently leaves out:

Thus he is moved by pure and freely given love of us to receive us into grace…Therefore, by his love God the Father goes before and anticipates our reconciliation in Christ. Indeed, 'because he first loved us' (1 Jn 4:19), he afterward reconciles us to himself.  
For this reason, Paul says that the love with which God embraced us "before the creation of the world" was established and grounded in Christ [Eph 1:4-5]…God declared his love toward us in giving his only begotten-Son to die [Jn 3:16]…I shall quote a passage of Augustine where the very thing is taught: ''God's love," says he, "is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created"…"God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us" [Rom 5:8]" Institutes 16.2.3-4 [Ford Lewis Battles trans.].

Jerry Walls 
It is not a comprehensive list of all Reformed sources, and I said it is only suggestive. The fact that love did not make the short list is suggestive since the NT explicitly says "God is love," unlike some of the other things that made the list. My claim that it is suggestive of Calvinist priorities is a modest claim, and my case hardly hinges on it.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, you said a consistent Calvinist may only deny #1 or #3 of your six-point argument. But that's not the case. A consistent Calvinist may also deny #5. According to that proposition, "God could (properly) give all persons irresistible grace and thereby determine all persons to be saved."

Problem with that proposition is that "all persons" is indefinite. A world in which everyone has irresistible grace will not have the same set of people as a world in which only some people have irresistible grace. I can spell that out if you need me to. 

In that event, "all persons" is an ambiguous or shifting referent. The Calvinist God cannot determine all the same persons to be saved. 

So you're implicitly comparing and contrasting two different possible worlds with different sets of people in each. It's not a case of God either saving all the same people or God only saving some of the same people. For if God gives everyone in the past irresistible grace, that will produce a different future than if God refrains from giving everyone in the past irresistible grace.

Jerry Walls 
Did you not listen to the whole lecture before criticizing? I discussed at length the Calvinist option to deny #5.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, the shoe is on the other foot. Note that I'm raising a different objection to #5 that you discussed at length. You discussed Piper's position. I'm not using Piper's argument. The difference isn't hard to see.

Jerry Walls 
I also discussed Hart,who says: "In short, if Calvinism is true, it seems perfectly easy for God to create a world in which universalism is true--a world in which everyone accepts God's offer of salvation and goes to heaven." Indeed, many Calvinists think that is the actual world, that all will be saved, that in the long run God will break the resistance of all persons. No reason God could not give postmortem irresistible grace to those who did not receive it in this life.

Steve Hays 
Jerry's you're still not following the argument. I didn't deny that God could save "everybody". But it's not the same "everybody". 

Suppose God gives everyone in the world irresistible grace. That will affect how they behave. For instance, there will be far less promiscuity, fornication, adultery, war, murder. 

Giving everyone irresistible grace begins in the past. That affects who will be conceived. Conception is about who mates with whom. Conception is about timing. A different day or hour, and a different person is conceived. If everyone in the past had irresistible grace, that would impact mating patterns, among other things. 

Moreover, little changes in the past generate big changes in the future. Changing past variables has a snowball effect.

Therefore, it's inaccurate to suggest a comparison in which you have two possible worlds with the same set of people, where God saves only some in one possible world but everyone in the other possible world. That's incompossible.

Jerry Walls 
My only concern is the actual world, and in the actual world, a God who determines all things and has infinite power and creative resources could eventually determine the salvation of all, in something like the way Talbott or Marilyn Adams have argued. Or if not that, he could have determined a different set of people, all to be saved in the course of this life. Those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed.

Steve Hays 
You say your only concern is the actual world, but you're comparing alternate outcomes: one in which everybody is saved in contrast to one in which only some are saved. That's not just about the actual world, but which possible world will become actual.

Steve Hays 
So you take the Epicurean position that nonexistence is not a deprivation?

Jerry Walls 
It is not a deprivation for those who have never existed at all.

Steve Hays 
If nonexistence is not a deprivation, does that mean a world in which a billion people exist, all of whom are saved, is no better than a world in which only 10 people exist, all of whom are saved?

Given Jerry's Epicurean view of nonexistence, I wonder how, if at all, he'd be able to argue against the antinatalistic position of David Benatar.

Jerry Walls
Those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed.

Steve Hays
i) Once again, Jerry, you seem to have a bad habit of failing to distinguish between an external critique and an internal critique. When you say the Calvinist God could save everyone, that implies that you're attempting to assess Calvinism on its own terms. 

But when you turn around and say "it is not a deprivation for those who have never existed at all," or "those in this world who are not included in that world would have been none the poorer since they would ever have existed," you suddenly shift gears to assessing the issue by your own standards. Yet that's confused. 

If you going to say the Calvinist God could save everyone, the question at issue isn't, in the first instance, whether you think nonexistence is a deprivation, but whether you've made an accurate statement about the implications of Calvinism. 

ii) Apropos (i), let's revert to my illustration. The time-traveler wants to save his contemporaries from disaster, but try as he might, he can't, since changing the past erases the future in which they exist. He can never save just those people. At best, he can takes actions that will replace them. A future without that disaster. A future without those particular people. 

By the same token, the Calvinist God can't save everyone is the sense of saving the very same people. Rather, in order for the Calvinist God to save everyone, he must cancel out the world in which he only saves some people, and substitute a different world with different people. For if God grants everyone irresistible grace, that produces a different alternate future. At the very least, you need to introduce that distinction into your argument. 

iii) That said, let's consider the issue from your own perspective. Your dismissive attitude regarding nonexistence is odd coming from a proud granddad. Are you prepared to look your granddaughters in the eye and say to them, "If the world didn't include you, if you never existed, you'd be none the poorer!" Are you prepared to tell your mother that? 

iv) Likewise, your dismissive attitude is odd for someone who treats divine love as God's most important attribute. Suppose God knows that if he creates this or that possible person, they will enjoy eternal bliss. (And that's a supposition of classical theism.) And no overriding good will be lost if he does so.

Is it not more loving for God to create them so that they will experience eternal bliss that not to create them? If you don't think that's an expression of divine love, why do you think God created heavenbound humans in the first place?

v) One problem with your Epicurean view of nonexistence is your failure to distinguish between the perspective of a nonentity and the perspective of an outside observer. Even though the nonentity has no viewpoint at the time, an outside observer can have a viewpoint regarding what would be beneficial for the nonentity if it were to exist. 

To take a comparison: a patient in a coma may have no viewpoint, no awareness of what's good for him, but an outside observer can act in the patient's best interest. Conversely, a rock exists, but lacks even a potential viewpoint. So existence, per se, is not the salient differential factor.

Surely you appreciate the fact that lost opportunities can be a deprivation. Not just losing what you had, but what you might have had. 

Jerry Walls 
Yes, lost opportunities for actual people is a deprivation, which is why it makes no sense to be indifferent to the hope of heaven as a future possibility on the ground that there were goods you missed out on before you ever existed. But those who never exist at all cannot regret either missing out on future goods or past ones. Actual people could, in a sense, have regrets on their behalf I suppose, like a married couple without children might mourn children who "might have been." But those possible children themselves suffer no loss because merely possible people suffer nothing.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, a comatose patient may have no regrets. He lacks the presence of mind to entertain regrets. A person with senile dementia may have no regrets for the same reason. 

You're confusing subjective awareness of missing out on future goods with the objective fact of missing out on future goods. Those are separate issues. You can't collapse one into the other. 

A lost opportunity is a loss. A counterfactual loss. Not to exist in the first place, if existence resulted in eternal bliss, is total loss. Not just a particular missed opportunity, but missing out on any and all opportunities for future goods. 

Your position is at war with your claim that God was justified in creating people he knew were hellbound for the benefit of people he knew were heavenbound. Your cost/benefit analysis is based on possible persons and hypothetical outcomes.

Jerry Walls 
Not all possible, all feasible, or creatible....which worlds are feasible depends on which free choices we would make if the world was actualized.

Steve Hays
You say it as if that's an established fact. But wasn't the notion of infeasible worlds just a postulate that Plantinga floated to deflect the logical problem of evil? The fact that his postulate is conceivable doesn't make it true or even plausible. It's not entailed by freewill theism. 

Jerry Walls
If Calvinism is true, it seems perfectly easy for God to create a world in which universalism is true."

Steve Hays
Jerry, even if (ex hypothesi) some possible worlds are infeasible, yet given the infinite number of possible worlds, it seems antecedently improbable in the extreme that there's not a single feasible world in which everyone freely goes to heaven. So why doesn't your own position suffer from the same objection you raise to Calvinism?

Edwin Woodruff Tait 
Steve Hays, help me out with what you're saying about conception. It sounds as if you are saying that there are some people whom, once conceived, God cannot save. You surely aren't suggesting that whether one accepts or rejects God's grace is determined by genetics, are you? Or do you hold to a libertarian view of freedom--i.e., a kind of Molinist Calvinism in which some people would choose to accept grace in all possible worlds and others would reject it in all possible worlds? (This seems, as far as I understand it, to be Plantinga's position, but Jerry can correct me if I'm wrong.)

Steve Hays 
No, I'm saying that in a world where God granted everyone irresistible grace, many people won't be conceived in the first place–who'd otherwise be conceived in a world where God withholds universal irresistible grace. 

A world in which everyone has irresistible grace has an alternate history. As a result of irresistible grace, people have different motivations. Do different things. That changes who mates with whom. That changes the timing of events. It produces different family trees.

The situation is analogous to time-travel stories. At present, the human race has been decimated by some catastrophe. It might be a natural disaster or man-made disaster. In order to save the human race from this catastrophe, the protagonist travels back in time to change some past variable in order to advert the catastrophe. He changes the past to change the future.

He succeeds, but there are unintended consequences. By altering the past, his action radically alters the future. His action erases the future from which he came. His action erases millions or billions of people at present by erasing the timeline in which they exist(ed). 

In one scenario, he keeps returning to the past in a vain quest to fine-tune the scope of his action, but preempting the future catastrophe always has the drastic side-effect of eliminating millions or billions of human lives. The dilemma is that he can't save the same people in the present by changing the past. Rather, he saves the human race by replacing the human race in the devastated timeline by a different human race in some alternate timeline.

That illustrates the equivocation in proposition #5 of Jerry's argument. There's an implicit bait-n-switch in Jerry's scenario about God saving "everybody".

Edwin Woodruff Tait 
This is actually very close to my own thinking on the problem of evil. The question, of course, is what it would mean for there to be people who 'already' exist from God's point of view prior to any decision by God to give or withhold some particular kind of grace or other help. I don't think a traditional Calvinist model--or for that matter a Thomist model--can make sense of that.

Steve Hays
It would be a divine ideas model in which possible persons already exist in God's mind in the way fictional characters and alternate plot endings exist in the mind of a novelist. God can imagine infinitely many world histories. They exist as concepts in God's infinite, timeless mind.

If there's only one actual world, God chooses one of those possible world histories to instantiate. Or if there's something like a multiverse, then God chooses to instantiate many different timelines. Some would have some of the same people doing different things. Some would have an entirely different cast of characters.

Steve Hays 
Another issue: in the lecture you (Jerry Walls) appeal to "fundamental moral intuitions". You said reprobation is nothing like justice".

Let's bracket reprobation for the moment and consider a different example. Suppose you were speaking in an Orthodox synagogue. Suppose Holocaust survivors were in attendance. You say God can't be good unless he loves everybody. 

How do you think that would go over with an audience member like Simon Wiesenthal? Would Holocaust survivors share your "fundamental moral intuition" that God can't be good unless he loves Himmler or the Gestapo? Or would they say your position is nothing like justice?

Edwin Woodruff Tait 
Actually, let's not bracket reprobation, or any other relevant consideration.
Do you, Steve Hays, believe that the Jews who died in the Holocaust, who did not believe in Jesus, went to heaven or hell?
If you believe the latter, then how the hell, quite literally, are you in a position to make any argument predicated on what would be offensive to Orthodox Jews?

Steve Hays 
Would you direct the same question to Messianic Jews like Michael Brown, Steve Schlissel, and Charles Lee Feinberg?

It's possible for Orthodox Jews to be offended by more than one thing. Do I really need to point that out?

The fact that many Orthodox Jews might be offended by Christian exclusivism hardly negates the question of whether they'd be offended at the Arminian stipulation that to be truly good, God must love the Gestapo. 

And, yes, I'm entitled to raise the question since Jerry was appealing to "fundamental moral intuitions".

Steve Hays 
Jerry, You said if Jesus died for everybody, why does anyone need to be punished. Does that mean you're now a universalist?

Jerry Walls 
If you know anything about me, you know I am not a universalist, but I would be happy if it turns out that I am wrong.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, I was pursuing the logic of your statement. You said You said if Jesus died for everybody, why does anyone need to be punished. Since you believe in universal atonement, do you still believe in eschatological punishment? The question follows from the thrust of your own statement.

Jerry Walls 
The atonement makes the forgiveness of sins and the gift of salvation available for all persons, conditional on repentance, faith, and ultimately our cooperation in sanctification. Some, of course, may freely refuse the gift and refuse to meet the conditions.

Steve Hays 
Didn't you imply that universal atonement renders eschatological punishment unnecessary?

Jerry Walls 
According to the Calvinist view that if Christ died for you, all your sins, past, present and future, are thereby cancelled. On THAT view, if Christ died for all, then all would be saved. But on the conditional view, his dying for all does not entail that. But you already know this.

Steve Hays 
Jerry, there's an elementary distinction between salvation and punishment. Even if according to freewill theism, God can't save everyone, how does it follow that God must punish the lost? Again, you're the one who raised this point of tension, not me. Punting to Calvinism doesn't resolve the tension in relation to your own position.

Jerry Walls 
Their punishment consists in the misery and unhappiness that is inherent in remaining separated from the only source of happiness that exists. So long as they choose to remain separated from God, they remain unhappy.

Steve Hays 
Let's briefly comment on some of Jerry's prooftexts. 

He cited a verse from Jn 17. But Jn 17 repeatedly refers to those whom the Father chose, and gave to Son, before the world began. And that is set in contrast to those whom the Father never chose. 

Jerry cited the following verses to show that God is "working toward the salvation of all"

Ezk 18:23,32; 33:11

But those passages are to, for, and about Israel and not humanity in general. So Jerry is citing them out of context. 

2 Pet 3:9

But as Richard Bauckham notes, in his landmark commentary:

God's patience with his own people, delaying the final judgment to give them the opportunity of repentance, provides at least a partial answer to the problem of eschatological delay. The author remains close to his Jewish source, for in Jewish thought it was usually for the sake of the repentance of his own people that God delayed judgment. R. Bauckham, Jude, 2 Peter, 312-13.

In context, it's not referring to humans in general, but God's people (Jews, Christians) in particular. Members of the new covenant community, as the counterpart to members of the old covenant community. 

As, moreover, Jerry's fellow freewill theist, Gregory Boyd points out:

Why would God strive to the point of frustration to get people to do what he was certain they would never do before they were even born; namely, believe in him? Doesn't God's sincere effort to get all people to believe in him imply that it is not a foregone conclusion to God that certain people would not believe in him when he created them? Indeed, doesn't the fact that the Lord delays his return imply that neither the date of his return nor the identities of who will and will not believe are settled in God's mind ahead of time?…If this isn't what 2 Pet 3:9 explicitly teaches, what does it teach? If it is difficult for the classical view to explain why God strives with people he is certain will not be saved, it is evil more difficult to explain why God would create these people in the first place…why a God who loves all epode and who wants no one to perish would give freedom to people he is certain are going to use it to damn themselves to hell. G. Boyd," "The Open-Theist View, Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 29.

1 Tim 2:4-6; Tit 2:11

i) Why does Jerry think those are Arminian prooftexts rather than universalist prooftexts? 

ii) In addition, consider what these scholars say:

The purpose of the reference to "all people," which continues the them of universality in this passage, is sometimes misconstrued. The reference is made mainly with the Pauline mission to the Gentiles in mind (v7). But the reason behind Paul's justification of this universal mission is almost certainly the false teaching, with its Torah-centered approach to life that included either an exclusivist bent or a downplaying of the Gentile mission…Paul's focus is on building a people of God who incorporate all people regardless of ethnic, social, or economic backgrounds… P. Towner, The Letters to Timothy and Titus, 177-178. 
It may be that they [false teachers] were consumed with genealogies because they restricted salvation along certain ethnic lines (1 Tim 1:4)…When Paul says that God desires all to be saved (1 Tim 2:4) and that Christ was the random for all (1 Tim 2:6), he may be responding to some who excluded Gentiles from salvation for genealogical reasons…Paul counters Jewish teachers (Tit 10:10,14-15; 3:9) who construct genealogies to exclude some from salvation. T. Schreiner, Paul: Apostle of God's Glory in Christ, 184-85. 
These problems disappear if we accept the other possible translation, "to be precise, namely, I mean." "All" is thus limited here to believers, I. H. Marshall, Pastoral Epistles, 556.

Steve Hays 
A final point: you quote Matthew Hart saying the reprobate are instrumentally useful.

But you yourself think the damned are instrumentally useful. 

Among feasible worlds, God must accept some hellbound sinners for the benefit of heavenbound sinners. The damned shouldn't cheat others out of the opportunity to go to heaven.

1 comment:

  1. At times I really can't believe that many have really made their time, their lives, their ministry basically be about attacking calvinism.