Is Calvinism’s God a Moral Monster? A Calvinist Response

Terry Tiessen, author of Providence & Prayer : How Does God Work in the World? and Who Can Be Saved?: Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions, writes this in response to some Arminian arguments that Calvinism tends toward a view of God that is monstrous (and good Arminian theologians who say such a thing also say they know Calvinists don’t affirm such monstrosities). I post this in the interest of fairness to our readers:

In describing the God of Calvinist understanding a “monster,” one has to speak very strongly but no more strongly than did Wesley in his hymn against predestination. Berkouwer aptly spoke of the “scandal of election,” and I too have felt its scandalousness. Yet, I am currently at a point in my own thought where I feel its scandalousness less than I do its wonder and its praiseworthiness.

I think that Jerry Walls is right when he identifies the doctrine of hell as one of the chief tenets of Christian faith that calls forth a theodicy. Like you, he has found resolution in the free will defence. I have been unable to do so because my reading of the biblical narrative continuously impresses upon me the meticulousness of God’s sovereign control in the world. Its history is the one God has chosen should occur, though much of it comes about by the action of free agents who bear responsibility for any evil they do, while obligated to acknowledge God as the source of any good they do.

So, how can I worship and gladly serve a God who chose to create a world in whose history some would not be saved, even though the saving of sinners is something God alone can do and which no one can thwart, if God wills to do it?

1) I acknowledge that God’s judgment is just. Those who suffer eternally in hell are given no more than the just penalty for the sins they have committed “in the body.” That suffering is proportionate to their guilt.

2) I confess that the salvation of anyone from the fate we deserve is purely of God’s grace. He apparently chose to save none of the fallen angels, and his justice is not impugned in his not doing so. But, amazingly, God has chosen to be merciful to a great host of human beings from every tribe, tongue and nation. Grace is, by its very nature, undeserved and therefore its not being given to some is no violation of justice. I am forever grateful that God has shown me grace in making me his child and fellow heir with his eternal Son.

3) In Who Can Be Saved?,  I spelled out my reasons for being hopeful that God has chosen to save most of the human race. Furthermore, I find some comfort in the suggestion of John Frame that even in hell, God exercises common grace, so that even there sinners are preserved from the full terrors of their just deserts.

4) Nevertheless, I find myself puzzled that God did not choose to save the entire race. (I’m convinced, with universalists like Thomas Talbott, that universalism is incoherent apart from monergism in regard to salvation.) His reasons are hidden from us. Paul offers his best shot at a possible reason in Rom 9:22-23. Might it be, he wonders, that God determined that the “riches of his glory” would best be revealed if demonstration of his justice were given in the case of some of the wicked? I do find the contemplation of hell so terrible that the magnitude of God’s gracious mercy in snatching me from that fate is cause for much praise and glorification of God’s Name.

5) Since I am a monergist, I can not have recourse to the free will defense. (I think McGrath is correct, however, that even synergists share the greater good defense at the bottom line, though they differ in their understanding of the greater good. Synergists and monergists both believe that God desires the salvation of everyone but that not everyone is saved because God valued something more highly. Synergists, in appealing to the free will defense, assert that libertarian freedom is the factor God deems more valuable than a salvation of everyone brought about by God’s work alone. Calvinists [like the apostle Paul ☺], on the other hand, believe that God’s glory is best served by the just condemnation of some sinners.) On the other hand, I have been helped considerably by John Feinberg’s “integrity of humans defense” (No One Like Him, 787-95). Feinberg demonstrates that the compatibilist freedom which God has given moral creatures offers more constraints than libertarians (and probably many compatibilists too!) generally realize.

Feinberg asserts that there is “reason to believe it may be harder for God to get us to do right than we think. . . . It might turn out that God would have to constrain many people to do things he needed done in order to organize circumstances to convince a few of us to do the right thing without constraining us. Of course, that would contradict compatibilistic free will for many of us, and would do so more frequently than we might imagine. Moreover, one begins to wonder how wise this God is if he must do all of this just to bring it about that his human creatures do good. Why not at the outset just make a different creature who couldn’t do evil? But of course, that would contradict God’s decision to make humans, not subhumans or superhumans” (790). Feinberg walks us through eight ways in which God might have gotten rid of evil and excellently demonstrates why “none of them would be acceptable” (790-94).

Feinberg then concludes: “This discussion about what God would have to do to remove moral evil shows that God cannot remove it without contradicting his desires to make the kind of creature and world he has made (causing us to doubt the accuracy of ascribing to him attributes such as wisdom) or making a world we wouldn’t want and would consider more evil than our present world” (794).

I agree with Feinberg that “modified rationalism does not demand that God create the best world or even a better world than some other good world. It only requires God to create a good possible world” (795). (Interestingly, when I sat in on Richard Swinburne’s seminar on Providence, back in 1995, he made the same point, from his open theist perspective!)

6) Finally then, I believe God to be good and to have chosen to create a good world. I accept the wisdom of his having chosen to create a world with compatibilistically free creatures. I acknowledge that “moral evil has come as a concomitant of a world populated with human beings” (Feinberg, 795). I acknowledge that God’s reasons for his choosing this particular world are not ultimately revealed to me but, given the above, I find nothing incoherent in affirming simultaneously that God is good, that he is meticulously sovereign and that he justly punishes some of the human race and some of the angelic creatures without remediation.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Nick

    This is helpful! Where does John Frame talk about common grace in hell?

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    So, there we have it. The Calvinist God is, indeed, a moral monster, and to be a Calvinist, we simply need to trust that God is good because he is good to a few (incidentally, all Calvinists are going to Heaven) even though he appears as a monster to people who are not like us (elect). Calvinism, or the affirmation of a God who is good to YOU and those like you, and “just,” i.e. damning of others, is sycophancy. When I meet a self-professed unelect individual praising this God, I will reconsider the idea that the “elect” are in no position to laude God’s grace and justice.

  • Jim

    “Its history is the one God has chosen should occur, though much of it comes about by the action of free agents who bear responsibility for any evil they do, while obligated to acknowledge God as the source of any good they do.”

    This is a complete contradiction. If God is the source of ANY good that we do, then we are then ONLY able to do evil. And if evil is our nature, and God is our creator, then He is the author of our nature, and the evil that we do. We are then NOT responsible for it.

    God cannot be given ALL of the “credit” without also being given ALL of the “blame.” He is sovereign — absolutely. The potter is responsible for the design of the clay vessel. The vessel can do nothing that was not designed into it.

  • Seth

    Bo Eberle said…
    “…and to be a Calvinist, we simply need to trust that God is good because he is good to a few (incidentally, all Calvinists are going to Heaven) even though he appears as a monster to people who are not like us (elect). Calvinism, or the affirmation of a God who is good to YOU and those like you, and ‘just,’ i.e. damning of others, is sycophancy.”

    I’m reluctant to reply to this because I fear I may be feeding an argument to someone who already bears extreme bitterness against Calvinism and, perhaps more relevantly, Calvinists for reasons I cannot know.
    As a Calvinist, I would assert, as God’s Word does and as I’m sure you do, that all those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their only Savior and repented from their sins will be saved. Whether one is a Calvinist or not has no bearing on this; one who does not understand this does not understand the Gospel, and he can be no Calvinist, because Calvinists affirm the Gospel.
    The charge that Calvinism is sycophancy is very serious but completely misconstrues Calvinism and what Calvinists actually believe (let alone what was written in the post above). Calvinists believe (as the Bible teaches) that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), that the wages for our sin is eternal separation from God, a spiritual death (Romans 6:23). We believe that God in His goodness, holiness, and justice could have damned us to hell, and the fact that there was nothing we could have done could have saved us (nor would be inclined to do it if we had been able to) makes us tremble in our boots. And then, in looking upon the cross and the beautiful, terrible sacrifice of our Savior, the son of God, for wretched creatures like us who deserved the full outpouring of His wrath, we rejoice that He has saved us, and we desire also that He save all men. There is no sycophancy here. He didn’t save us because we had correct doctrine. We were rebels against His authority. He didn’t save us because He needs us. He has all the power that could ever be. He saved us because He is a God of love, mercy, and lovingkindness. When we say, “God has saved us,” the emphasis and the awe is on “God” not “us.”

  • Alan K

    It is certainly telling that in Terry’s posting there is never a mention whatsoever of Jesus Christ. How in the world is election ever to be made sense of if it is always spoken of in the abstract? How in the world is anything about God to be understood if Jesus Christ is ignored or considered secondary in the identity and action of God?

  • Tim

    I would ask a follow-up question. If one accepts the premise that the God of the Calvinists (of the 5-Point, TULIP variety) is a moral monster, then should Calvinists even be considered disciples of Christ? How can a disciple of Christ worship a moral monster?

  • Charlie Clauss

    Early on Terry Tiessen says:

    “I have been unable to do so because my reading of the biblical narrative continuously impresses upon me the meticulousness of God’s sovereign control in the world.”

    How much of his argument stands or falls on the truth of this point? It seems to me that the Biblical narrative shows both a God with meticulous control and a God that waits on human agency. I distrust a philosophical approach that collapses this tension.

    I also wonder about (again) the Soterian foundation of this whole topic (is not Election – Free Will the underling issue?). The question “Who is saved and how are they saved” is fundamentally Soterian. A King Jesus approach asks a question more like “How will Jesus’ kingship work itself out in the Cosmos.”

    And while I am rambling, I wonder about the view of God expressed in Terry Tiessen’s words. It (IMO) seems too flat, and needs a more Trinitarian flavor to flesh it out (pun intentional). That is, this creator God we seek to understand must be understood in light of the person and work of Jesus AND in the continuing presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

    It is the Spirit that I find especially intriguing – for I see in the Spirit’s work a perspective more in keeping with a positive view of human freedom.

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Bo, it’s also worth realizing that Calvnists have a very high view of God’s common grace shown to the non-elect in this life. God showers his blessings on all humanity regardless of their election (cf. Matt 5:43-48) and this is a cause for great praise and admiration. This temporal goodness is impugned by God’s non-election only if he concurrently withholds something he owes them. But he, of course, owes them nothing good. And so his grace (both common and saving) are cause for great admiration and wonder–not to mention thanksgiving.

    The God of Calvinism is stingy only if his temporal blessings are worthless. Calvinists assert, with Jesus (again, see Matt 5:43-48,) that they are anything but.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Peter, in light of eternity, temporal blessings are worthless, if not cruel. How can a lifelong blessing compare to the infinite? It doesn’t.

  • Matt

    Can this be explained, please: “In Who Can Be Saved?, I spelled out my reasons for being hopeful that God has chosen to save most of the human race.”

    That’s not a “usual” Calvinist statement.

  • Jim

    To Bo Eberle,

    “to be a Calvinist, we simply need to trust that God is good because he is good to a few (incidentally, all Calvinists are going to Heaven) even though he appears as a monster to people who are not like us (elect).”

    Well said. Those who would disagree with this are simply avoiding the ugliness of limited grace while still trying to flatter the “moral monster” who has chosen to limit it to an “elect” few… perhaps because they fear he might change his mind about them if they don’t.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    To the Calvinists, assume I am unlect (and if the Cavlinist God is the reality, then i would hope that I am) – what do you tell me about the praiseworthiness and goodness of your God? I am going to hell forever. I try to be a decent person, but I am depraved, and I cannot. In fact, God controls my actions, I only have the illusion of free will, and God will punish me for the acts that God has ordained and enabled through my body and spirit. The illusion of free will, and control of my consciousness, makes me feel disgusted that God would intend such illusions that produce the infinite suffering that I will endure. How do you respond?

  • Luke Allison

    I do begin to think over time that Open Theism is the only rationally coherent alternative to Calvinism.

    Since I’m not sure or thrilled about either…maybe I should just give up my faith and become an agnostic? What do you guys think?

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Becoming an agnostic may be the best thing to ever happen to your faith, Luke! Be honest, and if that leads to agnosticism, go there. (hough if you don’t like open theism, for whatever reason, maybe check out Process Theology, just a suggestion.

  • Luke Allison

    Hey, Dr Mcknight…is this your ideal advice to me?

  • Luke Allison

    Bo,

    I don’t think that’s the advice that any proponents of Open Theism would give me. Just saying.

  • Luke Allison

    Do you say that because you’re so confident that honest searching will lead to God, you’re not even worried?
    Or do you say that because you simply don’t care?

    On that level, what part does Christ play in any aspect of our existence?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Bo, why would a Calvinist assume anyone is non-elect? That’s just silly.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Peter, I would hope you’d have the soteriology of someone like Barth, a “soft universalism.” Then I can get down with y’all.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Luke, you’re right, Open Theologians are a pretty Biblically centered bunch, unlike Process Theologians (in general). It is not that I am assured that any search will lead to God, but rather that, like Jesus on the cross, losing God is as an important of an experience as finding God (which isn’t guaranteed).You may want to check out this brief interview with Peter Rollins on the Drew Marshall Show to find out what I’m referring to

    http://peterrollins.net/?p=1387

  • http://www.darenredekopp.com/ Daren Redekopp

    Calling God a moral monster for these reasons put the fate of humans at the center of your moral system. Is this what you want?

  • Seth

    It’s worth noting as well that a truly moral being is incapable of being a monster. But He may appear to be so to those whose definition of morality is found in themselves and their own sensibilities, not in Him. Remember that the first sin in the garden came from a desire to be God-like, knowing good and evil for ourselves rather than submitting to what God says good and evil are. That’s what started all this to begin with, so we must be dependent on God’s Word to know what God, and therefore true morality, is.
    To take an idea of God that some (such as Calvinists) propose from the Scriptures and to criticize that God because He seems immoral or monstrous to us is risky business. The unbeliever may certainly do this, because His ultimate moral authority is Himself, but we as Christians need to fight this tendency and the corresponding rhetoric.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    @ Daren – Not necessarily. It simply is a matter of if God is at the center of a moral system AT THE EXPENSE of humans, in order to show his holiness, vent his wrath, express judgement, etc Humans needn’t be in the center of the system, but their treatment is indicative of the nature of God. I would resist anyone who said “It’s all about God” or “It’s all about humanity.” It’s all about relation.

  • http://www.charismanglican.com Charismanglican

    No use trying to explain how rational Calvinism is…God has chosen from the beginning of time for me to think it’s claptrap.

  • Aaron

    Jim #2 said: “God cannot be given ALL of the “credit” without also being given ALL of the “blame.” He is sovereign — absolutely. The potter is responsible for the design of the clay vessel. The vessel can do nothing that was not designed into it.”

    This is why despite calvinists have to soften their language about what their belief system leads to. Belief in compatiblalist freedom does not help their cause, the sinner can not do what God has decreed him to do. Therefore unconditional election makes no intelligible sense of the word justice, or Love(for the non-elect). And non-calvinists see this system as portraying a God who does indeed show favoritism, giving grace to the lucky people picked for salvation(the elect) and hating those who were not (the reprobate).

    To me Calvinists do not have a viable greater good argument. To say its for all for Gods glory, again does not make sense. His glory is displayed in his character of perfect justice, love, mercy, and holiness. Not for his power.

  • PaulE

    The point on #2 about the angels is very interesting. Hebrews 2:14-18 makes the argument that Jesus took on human flesh because his purpose was to make atonement for Abraham’s descendants, rather than for angels. In other words, there seems to be at least one axis along which Christ’s atonement is limited: it is only for humans. I’m curious how anyone who falls back on the free will theodicy to vindicate God would deal with this.

  • Luke Allison

    Bo: “It is not that I am assured that any search will lead to God, but rather that, like Jesus on the cross, losing God is as an important of an experience as finding God (which isn’t guaranteed).”

    Thanks for clarifying. That makes some sense. In my experience (a perfectly viable means of argument in post-modern thought!) life is one great series of engagements, wrestlings, crying out, celebrations, joy-filled intimacy,doubting our very breath, revelling in what is true, wondering what is true, and so and so forth.

    I am agnostic about some things to be sure. But I can’t afford to be agnostic about Jesus.

    Wrestling is the point, I think. If not, God wouldn’t have named His people “Israel”.

    I will (as a pastor) try to point people to Jesus and let Him take it from there. I won’t try to lead them into agnosticism about Him. I trust you agree with me.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I guess god loves his puppets.

  • http://18thandfairfax.wordpress.com Bo Eberle

    Luke, right, certainly the role of a pastor is unique, and comes with certain responsibilities to ten to the needs of your congregation, but also challenge them, when appropriate. Where that line is, I don’t know, I’m just a humble seminary student ; )

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Could someone define meticulously sovereign for me?

    Left to my own accords it means that we are simply puppets of the master and I take wholehearted objection to this.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    …and I have to ask this. If you are the elect, then what is the purpose of your life? Is it so you can feel? What about those who cannot? Are they categorically not elect? I don’t understand at all.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Sorry for continuing, but this is where I keep ending up with this. The Calvinist approach keeps leading me to a religion where it is all about the elect, not all about god or Jesus. As far as I am concerned (and sorry if this offends but I think it), having a meticulously supreme being that has elected those who say they are elected is selfish and that is all I see about Calvinism. It uses the pretense of the vast unknowing and all powerful Oz, I mean god, to elevate themselves above the rest. It seems wrong to me.

    But, I think there is a hope for some of the components of Calvinism. Stop thinking in terms of absolutes and realize that the way of god is probabilistic, not absolute. The second truth that becomes apparent is that the probabilistic god is actually better at being absolute than the absolute god.

    One more try. Let’s say that I, for instance, believe to the bottom of myself that Jesus is my Lord and follow him. Now, did god meticulously say it would be me? Absolutely not! Is it my own doing? Absolutely not! But, there is absolute certainty that someone much like me (probabilistically human in my make up) subjected to my environment (probabilistically) would have a really good chance of coming to god. Repeat that experiment enough times and it is a certainty that 78.456% will be elected to the saved category.

    Does it mean that it was me? No.

    Why does Calvinism have to be deterministic instead of probabilistic?

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Last one…

    It really comes down to whether we are worried about cat theology or dog theology. It seems to me that Calvinists are cats and are worried about people being subjected to cat theology as opposed to dog theology. For those who do not know, a cat sees us treating him wonderfully and thinks that he must be god. While a dog sees us treating him wonderfully and thinks we must be god.

    Well I am a dog. Sure I think there are cats out there, and maybe we really need both cat and dog theology. But I don’t see the logic in cat theology and don’t see the need for that to be the primary thing to drive our view of god.

  • Joel Haas

    I hate it when this blog generates these useless discussions consisting of “this belief gives me the willies” and “people who hold this belief are f’ed up” and “I used to hold this but I’ve been liberated” and “my mind doesn’t think that [this] is compatible with [this]” (ad nauseum) – all with absolutely no interaction with Scripture or the Christian tradition.

    …and many of you are seminary students and pastors!!! God help us all.

  • http://keithbrenton.com/ Keith Brenton

    “But, amazingly, God has chosen to be merciful to a great host of human beings from every tribe, tongue and nation.”

    Does this mean that He extends grace and mercy to some but not to all? Jesus died for some but not for all?

    If so, how do passages like Romans 6:10and 11:32 and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 fit into that interpretation?

  • P.

    “1) I acknowledge that God’s judgment is just. Those who suffer eternally in hell are given no more than the just penalty for the sins they have committed “in the body.” That suffering is proportionate to their guilt.”

    In Calvinist logic, isn’t God the one making people sin? Doesn’t he create people for the sole purpose of burning them in hell? Now, I realize that I could be misinterpreting Calvinist thoughts on this. (For the record, I don’t think God purposely creates people just to condemn them. I’m hopelessly Arminian!)

  • Luke Allison

    “and many of you are seminary students and pastors!!! God help us all”

    So are seminaries supposed to be cranking out people who supply chapter and verse arguments for everything? Is that the point of the Scriptures?

    You make two extremely dangerous assumptions here:
    1. That because we’re not all doing proof-texting means we haven’t studied the Scriptures or wrestled with the issues

    2. That what the Church and world truly need is more pastors and leaders who subscribe to a particular thread of theological understanding.

    I have wrestled and studied, rest assured. My wrestling and studying has led me to the conclusion that ‘isms are truly not helpful or even useful for the most part. We all have ditches we drive in, and we all have systems that we subscribe to, yes.
    But I think a healthy Christian leader has to at least attempt to see beyond the lens of his theological spectrum in an effort to get along with others of a different stripe.

    I don’t actually think that quoting Scripture is helpful in the instance of the Calvinist/Arminian/Open Theist argument, because any systematic theology class will show you that all these viewpoints are built firmly on Scripture! So the question isn’t “Which one of these viewpoints is ‘Biblical’?” The question is “Which theological grid of Scripture best gels with my life and personal tastes?”

    To claim otherwise is implying that any one particular theological grid is God’s particular theological grid. If this is so, then only one group of Christians is the “true Church”.

    Ironically enough, the MORE I study Scripture, and the MORE I wrestle with these issues, the less conservative I become in my viewpoints on Scripture.

  • Dan

    Joel @34, you said it. ad nauseum indeed. Lots of emotional responses and too little interaction with Scripture. We seem to get plenty of that here on some subjects. And then we get even more emotional responses from those who disagree with your initial response.

    I am surprised we don’t have someone saying by this time how they are going to go into the corner and weep over the state of the church. Sniff …

  • Luke Allison

    “I am surprised we don’t have someone saying by this time how they are going to go into the corner and weep over the state of the church. Sniff”

    Isn’t that what Joel just said?
    Ahem…and I quote: “And many of you are seminary students and pastors!!! God help us all!!”

    Did you read my comment? Why don’t you interact with that?

  • Luke Allison

    Also, didn’t Tiessen stay far away from Scriptural proof-texts in the post that Dr. McKnight linked to?

  • http://thefortchurch.com Baker

    I think this is a reason why Epistemologically speaking I am really leaning toward contextualism rather than foundationalism to help me understand and justify truth claims.

    I am tired of the polarization of Christians over superfluous questions like “Is Calvinism’s God a Moral Monster?”

    It is clear how complex the issue is to most people. It is so complex that truth can clearly be seen from both sides… because we are missing the most important aspect in an attempt to justify our reasoning… cultural context.

    What is not being taken into account is the very peculiar social political context that the Gospel finds itself in from time immemorial and how that effects foundational justification for a particular theology. Foundational epistemology does not fit our wildly democratic culture today.

    I think it would be wiser to discuss how do we bridge the culture gaps, what are the culture gaps from 3000 years ago and what they are now. So we can ask the better question “Why was Calvin’s God (and mine) not considered a moral monster in Calvin’s
    day?”

  • http://www.providenceseminary.ca/seminary/faculty/terry_tiessen/ Terry Tiessen

    Nick @ 1,

    In The Doctrine of God, p. 413, Frame writes: “There may be some ways, however, in which God is good even to the lost. Perhaps he is as good to them as he can possibly be, given their hatred of him and the demands of his justice. And if there are degrees of punishment in hell (as suggested by Luke 12:47-48), then, even in hell, God may exercise his benevolence by mitigating punishments.”

  • http://www.providenceseminary.ca/seminary/faculty/terry_tiessen/ Terry Tiessen

    Matt @ 10,

    Hopefuless that most of the human race may be graciously saved, when the (re)new(ed) earth and heaven are established is less uncommon than you think.

    B. B. Warfield wrote an essay (“Are They Few That Be Saved?) in which he argued from his postmillennial eschatology that the final number of the saved will be greater than of the lost. Conditions in the millennium will be ideal and postmillennialists anticipated a great spiritual turning to God under Christ’s rule, during that time. Jonathan Edwards thought that period might be starting, when he witnessed the great work of the Spirit in the Great Awakening. I am a premillennialist, but all of the points made by Hodge and Warfield work equally well in that framework.

    Additionally, it is remarkably common for Reformed theologians to assume that “all who die in infancy are saved” (C. Hodge, Systematic Theology 3:26). If one assumes that human life begins with conception, the number of humans unborn probably exceeds considerably the number who are born.

    I would add God’s saving work among the unevangelized, though I am cautious about how many that will entail.

    Charles Hodge concludes this three-volume systematic theology with this hopeful judgment: “We have reason to believe as urged in the first volume of this work, and as often urged elsewhere, that the number of the finally lost in comparison with the whole number of the saved will be very inconsiderable” (3:879-80).

    Loraine Boettner includes in his “summary of the Reformed doctrine of election” the optimistic statement that “much the larger portion of the human race has been elected to life.” (Reformed Doctrine, p. 149).

    So, Matt, there is a great deal of hopefulness concerning the extensiveness of God’s saving grace within the Reformed tradition.

  • Aaron

    Terry quoted frame as saying that perhaps “God is good even to the lost. Perhaps he is as good to them as he can possibly be, given their hatred of him and the demands of his justice.” – but that makes no sense out of total depravity and unconditional election. We are all in the same rebellious boat. So if God is only as good as he can be to those going to hell then there must be something praiseworthy or electable or lovable about the elect, which goes against unconditional election.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Baker #41, I think I would like to interact with your post, but I don’t understand what you are saying.

    While I believe that the character question of god is relevant to every society and every situation, most especially today as far as the living are concerned, I don’t understand if you are trying to say it is or is not valid, or if it is valid in history.

    In particular, your sentence “Foundational epistemology does not fit our wildly democratic culture today.” is difficult for me to interpret in light of the socialogical context of the rest of your post. Are you saying that though it is unpopular it is right?

  • http://www.gurrydesign.com/ Peter G.

    Aaron, I think your logic is a bit confused. We all start in the same boat. We don’t all stay there.

  • Jim

    “So if God is only as good as he can be to those going to hell then there must be something praiseworthy or electable or lovable about the elect, which goes against unconditional election.”

    Whoops! “Unconditional election” is really “salvation for those that deserve it.” Shhh. Don’t tell the Calvinists.

  • Jim

    “Aaron, I think your logic is a bit confused. We all start in the same boat. We don’t all stay there.”

    I think Aaron’s logic is spot on. Your claim that “We don’t all stay there,” Peter G., assumes that God can and does have the power to elect ANYONE out of that boat, and so is not only “being as good as He can possibly be” to the non-elect. They are not beyond His redemptive powers as Frame seems to imply.

  • http://thefortchurch.com Baker

    DRT #45

    You said…
    “While I believe that the character question of god is relevant to every society and every situation, most especially today as far as the living are concerned, I don’t understand if you are trying to say it is or is not valid, or if it is valid in history.”

    I agree DRT and I believe the character question of God is relavent for today. I asked the question at the end of my comment “Why was Calvin’s God (and mine) not considered a moral monster in Calvin’s day?” I asked this question because it put’s Calvin’s culture into play with our culture. I am concerned that we are not taking careful consideration of how much different our culture is from that of Calvin. For instance how do I explain the concept of Lordship to my son “in our day and in our way” when Feudalism has been rplaced with democracy in our culture. Do I say Jackson the problem today is that we have so much rugged individualism and choice in a democracy. What are the differences between Calvin’s day and our day? If we see our current context clearly and Calvin’s context in which he was ministering does this not explain a great deal of why Calvinism was congruent with the spirit of the age then and not now (in many ways) when everyone is their own king and the president is our servant.

    You also said… “In particular, your sentence “Foundational epistemology does not fit our wildly democratic culture today.” is difficult for me to interpret in light of the socialogical context of the rest of your post. Are you saying that though it is unpopular it is right?”

    Our democratic “everyman his own ruler and every king his servant” attitude does not in my opinion rally around foundational reasoning as much as it does relational reasoning one seeks control and the other in my opinion seeks understanding through communication and context. Contextual reasoning seems to lend itself well to a descriptive attitude toward discipleship while foundational reasoning seems to lend itself to organizational, systematic and prescriptive discipleship (and religion).

    I hope this clears up what i was trying to say. :) I sit up at night talking to myself and God about these things and I don’t share them a lot with others so I am afraid I lack eloquence.

  • Tom F.

    I’d like to respond more specifically to Tiessen’s 6 points.

    1.) I wonder about the intelligibility or meaningfulness of guilt in a Calvinist system of meticulous providence. Why is it that I incur guilt if I kill someone but the bullet I fire to actually kill them does not? The bullet obviously could not have done anything except what it did, but, within a meticulous providence, neither could I. So why is it that God doesn’t get mad at the bullet as well?

    2.) This is such an overworked Calvinist point that I’m actually angry. It’s really bait and switch. Here’s how it goes: Non-Calvinist objects to election because they say it impugns God’s character, usually God’s love, or mercy, or graciousness, or his “quick-to-forgiveness”. Calvinist impatiently reminds Non-Calvinist that God is not unjust for not deciding to save all. Non-Calvinist attempts to point out to the Calvinist that justice is not the issue, but that its really about the other attributes of God that seem to be threatened. The Calvinist doesn’t respond to this, but the next time the topic comes up, this exact exchange happens again. Seriously. Go look at old blogs where we have talked about this. Go look at other blogs around the web. Calvinists: STOP DOING THIS! Next time you are tempted to do so…STOP! JUST STOP IT!

    3.) This isn’t as problematic for me. I do wonder precisely why God exercises common grace on those in Hell. Is it because he loves them? Then why not save them? Is it because showing them that grace increases God’s glory? Than wouldn’t showing them the full measure of grace increase God’s glory further?

    4/5.) “God’s glory is best served by the just condemnation of sinners.” Honestly, this is just theological brute force dressed up, since Calvinists fiercely deny that we have any access to the factors that God uses to decide which actions will bring him more or less glory. Might as well say “God decided it was best to condemn sinners.” I fail to see what is added by talk of God’s glory, other than simply dressing things up.

    6.) Why do you get to have your cake and eat it too! Evil comes about as “concomitant” result? Do you mean that it would have “always” followed the creation of human beings? If so, than God directly caused evil. Do you mean that it would have only “sometimes” followed the creation of human beings? Well, then we would need causes outside of God to be operating, right? And there goes meticulous providence. No dice.

    I have read some other stuff Tiessen has written, and I liked him and his writing even as I disagreed. But he just totally lost me with point 2. Just really, really lost me.

  • Luke Allison

    Baker:

    I like where you’re going with the contextual stuff. Sort of “de-fangs” the supposed historical weight that many of these systems carry.

    We should always ask this question: Just because something carries some historical precedent, does that automatically give it value?

  • Joel Haas

    Luke Allison #37

    Although my initial comment was not directly addressed to your contributions, but with your response I see that it could have been!

    I’m not advocating any of the things that you accuse me of. I am simply lamenting that people find pleasure, or feel endlessly compelled to engage in, these kind of debates in a blog forum – that convince no one of anything other than what they already believe. I am also not saying that I loved the original post.

    I wasn’t talking about ‘proof-texting’ or about everybody jumping into self-enclosed theological camps, and I wasn’t accusing you of not being aware of the issues involved. I was talking about the unhelpful nature of this dialogue. How many blog discussions between Calvinist and non-Calvinist camps have you seen lead to greater mutual understanding and appreciation (see below)?

    “I think a healthy Christian leader has to at least attempt to see beyond the lens of his theological spectrum in an effort to get along with others of a different stripe.”

    If that is what you generally see going on here then I must need intellectual contact lenses. Is the goal of the participants in this discussion about Calvinist principles really to ‘make an effort to get along with others of a different stripe?’

    “I don’t actually think that quoting Scripture is helpful in the instance of the Calvinist/Arminian/Open Theist argument, because any systematic theology class will show you that all these viewpoints are built firmly on Scripture! So the question isn’t “Which one of these viewpoints is ‘Biblical’?” The question is “Which theological grid of Scripture best gels with my life and personal tastes?”
    To claim otherwise is implying that any one particular theological grid is God’s particular theological grid. If this is so, then only one group of Christians is the “true Church”.
    Ironically enough, the MORE I study Scripture, and the MORE I wrestle with these issues, the less conservative I become in my viewpoints on Scripture.”

    Whatever your last sentence means, if the direction you ARE [explicitly!] moving in is one that, in the end, chooses what to believe about Father, Son, Holy Spirit, from the many options available, based on what “gels” with my life and what suits your “personal tastes” – simply because ‘if we’re honest, that’s what we tend to do anyways’ – then I simply restate my last sentence: “God help us all.”

  • Luke Allison

    Joel Haas: “Whatever your last sentence means, if the direction you ARE [explicitly!] moving in is one that, in the end, chooses what to believe about Father, Son, Holy Spirit, from the many options available, based on what “gels” with my life and what suits your “personal tastes” – simply because ‘if we’re honest, that’s what we tend to do anyways’ – then I simply restate my last sentence: “God help us all.”

    Well, hopefully He won’t have to help ALL of us. Only the people who reside in my sphere of influence.

    I agree that these conversation truly have little merit. Go the Gospel Coalition and look at the comments there. It’s the same thing, only progressive types are the target.

    I sometimes feel like Jesus Creed is the go-to stop for injured former fundamentalists or damaged former-Calvinists. So I’m in agreement there.

    Joel, where do you personally lean as a Christian? What ditch do you drive in? Your comments sound sort of haughty IF you are saying that we need to stop having these types of conversations and simply “get back to the Bible”. That’s what it sounds like. I don’t know if that’s what you mean or not.

    Rest assured, I am a Bible person. I don’t like “inerrancy” as a category for the Scriptures so much as “infallible”, “authoritative”, and “inspired”, but I’m definitely not a bed-wetting liberal in my perspective on God’s Word.

    But I will always assert that these types of discussions (what Dr. Paul Eddy calls “Evangelical Issues”) have moved beyond the realm of Scripture into Theology, something that we all inevitably have to do at some point!

    Joel, do you honestly believe that one side of the Arminian/Calvinism debate is right and the other is wrong? Isn’t a large part of their disagreement based on what they find most beautiful in the idea of God? Clearly, some people aren’t willing to accept the Calvinist idea of God (which is based on some texts of Scripture), and the Calvinists aren’t willing to accept the Arminian’s conception of God (which is based on texts). And neither are willing to accept the Open Theists’ conception of God.

    Now, personally, I feel like the OT’s have gone a little too far in that direction in their quest for a God who matches up with their perceptions of reality and beauty.

    I sense that I may be missing you on some level. Blog posts are hardly the place for meaningful conversation.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Joel and Luke,

    FYI, I feel debating issues is the best way to understand them and that is why I come here. As a secondary purpose, I come here to act as the one that can help some others reach a deeper understanding. And lastly, I come here to try and convince others.

    FWIW, I have come to understand those who have ideas different from mine much better and am grateful to everyone who has different ideas. Typically, I require someone who thinks a bit like me to interpret for those who are not like me. That translation is often difficult.

    So Joel, I earnestly disagree with you about the worth of these conversations. I would rather lay it on the line here than with my neighbor.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    … oh, and bed wetting liberal is a new one for me. Awesome!

  • http://thefortchurch.com Able Baker

    Luke you said… “…Sort of “de-fangs” the supposed historical weight that many of these systems carry…Just because something carries some historical precedent, does that automatically give it value?”

    Why do you think we try to take things as subjective as culture and bring them into our theological paradigms? Can we not eat the meat and throw out the bones? Do we have to willfully suspend our disbelief that the culture that wrestles with the immutable God is as immutable as he is?

    If we see culture as relative and Gods desire to speak to man in His own cultural vernacular than we can better understand Calvin, Arminius, Origen, ETC… and see where they were wrong and why (blind spots). Perhaps these discovered blindspots will help us see our own in our context.

  • Luke Allison

    DRT:

    Ha ha! Yeah, I’ve always appreciated that one. Although, I’m sure plenty of people think I am precisely a bed-wetting liberal!

    I should clarify: What I think is worthless in conversations such as this is when people come off with a very wounded, offended response to something like Calvinism. Rather than interacting with the argument, the norm is more like: “Well explain THIS, you son of a….!”

    I don’t see any value in having a bunch of angry ex-Calvinists flinging their issues at a person who has been kind enough to start a peaceful conversation in the spirit of growth.

    Does that make sense? I love talking about stuff probably more than most people. So I’ll never pull the whole: “While you people are debating, people are dying out there!” response.

    Having come from the YRR camp, I recognize the joy and value of having a tribe who agrees with us on everything. I just don’t see it as very intellectually stimulating. I feel like my discipleship was put on hold during my neo-Puritan years, only to reemerge in a daze, wondering how the world could be so different and beautiful from the way I remembered it!

    At this point, I don’t really care about getting high-fives any longer.

    So…yeah….big gulps, eh?

  • http://www.providenceseminary.ca/seminary/faculty/terry_tiessen/ Terry Tiessen

    Aaron @ 44,

    You didn’t have much context for Frame’s statement so it is easy to misconstrue it, perhaps.

    Frame is not talking about God’s goodness in choosing some but not others. Frame does believe that God shows special favour to those whom he has chosen to salvation but it has nothing to do any intrinsic merit on their part. So his commitment to unconditional election is not compromised by anything in that quote.

    In the sentence you quoted, he is talking about God’s goodness to the evil at the time that they are justly being punished for their willful rebellion against God. In the first sentence I quoted, therefore, Frame is making the point that God no less good than their sin deserves, i.e., no injustice is done, which would falsify his moral or judicial goodness. In the second sentence, however, Frame goes on to posit that, even to those being justly punished in hell, God may be gracious in mitigating the punishment they deserve.

  • Wade

    The angel issue surprised me in this blog.

    I don’t see the connection – because the angels chose to leave and follow Lucifer. That was the angels moment of choice – every angel got to choose whom they would follow- it was a one time choice – and they were all in heaven – in the company of God. The fallen angels do not get a savior- but they did have a choice.

    John 3:16 – no angels here.

  • http://www.donbryant.wordpress.com don bryant

    Determinism will never lose its attractiveness to some. Its neat, simple, and offers ultimate explanations seemingly. Its point of integration in the supposed glory of a sovereign God makes it all the more attractive to those “some” who are Christians. It continues to fly in the face of life as it is actually lived and turns the world into illusion – all in the cause of a supposed higher view of God. But it is a view of ultimate things stripped of any ultimate good. We live in a determinate world with an un-determinate God who himself does not do what he commands us to do. This ends up in very strange places.

  • newenglandsun

    I don’t why the question is ever asked. The answer is “yes”. Calvinism is outside of the historic Christian faith so we call it heresy. Like we do Arianism, Socinianism, Pelagianism, Universalism, etc.

  • newenglandsun

    I should note that Arminianism is also equally heretical.


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