Monday, March 27, 2017

Gregory Boyd on Calvinism

Boyd covers a lot of ground in 10 minutes. These aren't necessarily verbatim quotes, but paraphrasing the gist of what he said.

1. "The majority were predestined to hell."

Calvinism has no official position on what percentage of humanity is hellbound. For instance, Warfield thought the majority will be saved.

2. "The Calvinist God is duplicitous"

It isn't clear to me how much of this is from John Wesley and how much is Boyd's. 

Consider the analogy of a novelist, director, or video gamer who creates a villain. It isn't duplicitous for him to create evil characters, because he also creates good guys to defeat the bad guys. There are countless novels, movies, and TV dramas on that theme. Does that makes the novelist or director guilty of duplicity? 

3. "God says he loves everybody but then damns the majority to go to tell."

Boyd is imputing a freewill theist assumption ("God loves everyone") to Calvinism, then positing a contradiction. But that's due to confusing his own position with the opposing position. 

4. "God tells us to love everybody, but he doesn't. Makes God hypocritical. Doesn't practice what he's preaching."

i) There's nothing intrinsically hypocritical about commanding something contrary to what you yourself do. If I drink beer, but don't allow my 5-year-old to drink beer, is that hypocritical? 

ii) God commands Christians to love our enemies, and God loves his enemies. Calvinists can and do affirm Rom 5:6-10). Although God doesn't love all his enemies, he loves some of his enemies.

I'd add that it isn't possible for Christians to be equally loving to everyone. You can't be equally loving to school children and and a schoolyard sniper or suicide bomber. 

iii) That said, there are two fundamental asymmetries to take into account. To begin with, Christians are supposed to show mercy to others because we were shown mercy (Cf. Mt 18:21-35). But it hardly follows that God is supposed to show mercy to others because he was shown mercy. So the rationale for why Christians are commanded to love sinners has no parallel in the case of God.

iv) In addition, God is the eschatological judge. So he has a different role to play. "Vengeance is mine, I will replay" (Rom 12:19). That stands in contrast to Christian duties.

5. "God commands us to resist sin but predestines sinners to sin."

In Calvinism, God doesn't only predestine sinners to sin. God also predestines some sinners some of the time to successfully resist sin. 

6. "God says he hates evil but predestines evil"

That's simple-minded. God can hate evil in its own right, but predestine evil as a means of achieving particular goods that can't be realized apart from evil. 

7. "He predestines the evil we're supposed to fight".

Once again, that's like a novelist who scripts an evil scenario, then scripts the heroes to defeat it. There's nothing inconsistent about that.

8. "Freewill is true because God gives choices"

i) What does Boyd mean by libertarian freedom? Does he mean are choices are uncaused? If so, then our choices are just a roll of the dice. Each time you roll the dice you may get a different random outcome. You don't even get to take your chances; rather, chance takes you.

ii) Determinism is consistent with choice. Determinism is consistent with deliberation.

iii) Deuteronomy is conditional. It describes consequences for alternate courses of action. That's perfectly consonant with determinism (or predeterminism). If you do A, B will happen–but if you C, D will happen. 

9. "Humans can thwart God's will–Lk 7:30"

That fails to distinguish different senses of God's "will". In context, Lk 7:30 is referring to obligations. They disdained John the Baptist's prophetic call to repentance. But shirking our duties doesn't imply that we can thwart God's will in the sense of God's plan for the world. In context, this has reference to a prophetic message. 

10. "In the Bible God wants everyone to be saved–2 Pet 3:9"

As Richard Bauckham documents in his commentary, Peter is using stock language drawn from the OT regarding God's patience for the Jews. That stood in contrast to the larger world of the ancient Near East. By analogy, Peter is referring to God's patience for Christians.

11. "God loves everyone–1 Jn 2:2"

If Boyd thinks cosmos is a synonym for "everybody." But is that consistent with Johannine usage? 

i) If so, then 1 Jn 2:15 ("Do not love the world or the things in the world") forbids Christians from loving everyone?

ii) What about "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil" (Jn 7:7). 

If you think cosmos is synonymous with everybody, then that includes Christians, in which case, according to Jn 7:7, Christians hate Jesus. 

iii) What about "even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you" (Jn 14:17).

But if cosmos means everyone, then no one believes in Jesus. No one receives the Spirit. Yet that contradicts the second sentence. 

iv) "Jesus answered him, 'I have spoken openly to the world'" (Jn 18:20). 

Did Jesus speak to every human being during his 2-3 year public ministry?

v) "I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world" (Jn 17:9).

But if cosmos means everybody, then Jesus is praying for everyone and not praying for everyone, which is contradictory. 

vi) What about 1 Jn 5:19 ("We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one"), where the first clause, which refers to Christians, stands in contrast to the second clause, where the "whole world," lies in the power of the Devil? But that can't be synonymous with everyone, since Christians are excluded from that comparison.

12. "We break God's heart"

That reflects Boyd's open theist hermeneutic, where he refuses to make allowance for anthropopathic expressions.

13. "God loves everybody"

What's so great about universal ineffectual love? What's the practical difference between that and God not loving everyone? According to Boyd, the damned would be damned whether or not God loved them. 

14. "We're not puppets"

That simply begs the question against determinism, using a simplistic, tendentious metaphor.

15. "God desires a real relationship"

To take a comparison, do pet dogs choose to love their owners? Do they have a "real relationship" with their owners? 

16. "Go doesn't force you to choose him"

That's either incompetent or demagogical. If God causes the human response, there's no force. Force implies resistance. 

17. "Tragedies aren't God's will"

How is it supposed to be better to say tragedies happen for no good reason?

18. "God didn't predestine natural humanitarian disasters"

But the open theist God could prevent those humanitarian catastrophes. Just give people advance warning. 

19. "God didn't predestine the Holocaust, kidnapped children, suicide bombers"

But the open theist God could step in to prevent or stop those evils. 

20. "For God's glory"

In Calvinism, God doesn't do anything for his own glory in the sense of amassing glory for himself. God has nothing to gain. It's all for the benefit of the elect.

21. "God doesn't cause evil"

According to a standard philosophical definition of causation, the open theist God does cause evil. Divine nonintervention ensures the evil outcome. Inaction can cause something just as surely as action.


  1. Whenever I read something like this, I always ask myself "How do people like Boyd deal with passages like Isaiah 10?"

  2. Wow - I've read other things by Boyd and appreciated his contributions, but this one is odd to me.

    Steve - darn it all, I can't think and analyze like you can. Its like music: the untrained listener knows when the singer is doing something wrong, but he's not trained to know that the singer sang was flat. I can hear in Boyd's presentation something wrong and really shortsided, but I can't explain it like you can. Arrrgggg...