Could Anything Imaginable Cause a Calvinist to Cease in Love and Worship of God?

Yesterday (January 30) one of my favorite Calvinist interlocutors posted this comment here:

“The real difficulty that I have with the Arminian doctrinal position on the question of the origin of evil, as expressed here by Dr. Olson and in his book “Against Calvinism”, is best illustrated by the story Dr. Olson relates in the book of a question posed by one of Dr. Olson’s students at the end of a class Dr. Olson was teaching on Calvinism’s doctrine of God’s sovereignty. The question posed by the student was, “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?” Without a moment’s hesitation Dr. Olson responded that, “No, I would not because I could not. Such a God would be a moral monster.”

I applaud Dr. Olson for his doctrinal consistency which immediately led him to realize that the response he gave was the only logical response for the Arminian. I suspect that many who affirm Arminianism would have to give some thought to the question before they responded – and, rightly so, because Dr. Olson’s reply reveals an error that scripture speaks to in several places.
Scripture teaches that when considering the question of evil and suffering there is an incorrect and a correct way to view God’s morality/justness/fairness/goodness. The incorrect way says that there is a rule or law of morality/justness/fairness/goodness against which both ourselves and God are held accountable. According to this view, when we are confronted with the question of evil and suffering – or, with some incomprehensible circumstance – we seek to address it by appealing to the rule or law. This is what Dr. Olson has done, in my view, in his response to the student, although I am certain he doesn’t see it that way. In so doing, he has placed the rule or law above God and made God subject to it. If it were revealed to Dr. Olson that the God described by Calvinism is truly the way God is – as incomprehensible as that circumstance seemingly would be to Dr. Olson’s mind – then Dr. Olson would be compelled by the rule or law to cease his love and worship of God.
The correct way says that God himself is the rule/law/standard. He alone is the judge of such matters. When we as finite created beings do not understand something, or when we struggle with seemingly incomprehensible earthly circumstances, we appeal directly to our Creator in prayer, humbly acknowledging our limitations in the face of God’s incomprehensible goodness and his sovereignty in all things.
This is the message of the book of Job. This is the message, though some will no doubt disagree with my interpretation of these well trod battleground scriptures between Calvinists and Arminians, of the potter/clay analogy referenced by OT prophets Isaiah (64:8) and Jeremiah (18) and again by Paul in his letter to the Romans (9).
We are not to question God because it is not given to us as created beings to understand God’s ways and purposes. We are simply to love and to trust in him completely – independent of our circumstances, as incomprehensible as they may seem, or of what our minds can conceive that may or may not possibly be revealed to us at some future point about God.
This is the essential consequence of Calvinism’s doctrine of the sovereignty of God for the Christian: No circumstance could possibly exist that would cause the Christian who adheres to this doctrine to cease in his love and worship of God.”

Now, by way of response: I agree that “No circumstance could possibly exist that would cause [this] Christian…to cease in his love and worship of God.” The final sentence in Mr. Steele’s comment implies that I think it is “possible” that it could be revealed to me in a way I could not deny that God truly is as Calvinists believe. I don’t think that is possible, so I don’t even worry about it. The question posed to me by the student was completely and exclusively hypothetical. It wasn’t a question about a possible situation I can imagine ever facing. But Mr. Steele’s comment seems to imply that he believes one cannot even invent a hypothetical situation that could cause one who believes his doctrine (Calvinism) to cease loving and worshiping God. Well, let’s give it a try. I asked Mr. Steele to answer a similar hypothetical question to the one the student asked me: “Suppose it were revealed to you in a way you couldn’t doubt or question that Satan is God? Would you still worship him?” Of course it’s a purely hypothetical question. So was the student’s question to me. That’s why I had no qualms about answering it. It couldn’t happen. So I am still waiting for Mr. Steele’s answer to my question because his polemic against me and Arminianism implies that there is no hypothetical situation that could cause him to cease worshiping God. Really? I doubt it. Although purely hypothetical, a situation in which an unexpected and startling revelation comes demonstrating convincingly that Satan is God (that is, that the God of the Bible is really Satan in disguise) is imaginable. That is, the mind can imagine it–however repulsive that might be. Without for a moment entertaining the possibility that it could ever happen in reality, one can still conceive of such an impossible hypothetical situation. That is how the student’s question struck me. Now, I would very much like to hear from Mr. Steele what he would do if such an unexpected and even really impossible situation come about. Would he still worship “God” (Satan)? I can’t imagine it. 🙂

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  • David (NAS) Rogers

    The question: “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that the true God actually is as Calvinism says and rules as Calvinism affirms, would you still worship him?”

    My response to the student’s hypothetical question is that the Scriptures portray God as more worthy of worship than what Calvinism teaches about God. My analysis of Calvinism concludes that the God described by Calvinism is sub-biblical. If God as described by Calvinism is the only divine one, for some strange reason he chose to portray himself in the Scriptures better than what he actually is.

    • rogereolson

      Exactly. And then it would be appropriate to stop worshiping him and only fear him because he is not trustworthy.

      • Maud

        Is that your reservation about Middle Knowledge? That we can’t trust God to have the integrity to respect our libertarian free will in His sovereign actions? I can’t see any other reason why it would collapse into compatibilism. Sorry if this is a digression too far. But please do think about the integrity question.

        • rogereolson

          It is helpful to me for commenters briefly to summarize that to which they are responding and then respond. I am often left trying to guess exactly what part of what I wrote sparked the response. Could you please be specific in that way?

          • Maud

            It stems from encountering Middle Knowledge in your book “Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities”. In a fall post, discussing Middle Knowledge, you kept coming back to God’s character. On Craig’s website, he says Middle Knowledge is based on libertarian free will. That’s why I said, is it a matter of us trusting God’s integrity to act justly with our libertarian free will in mind?

          • rogereolson

            I haven’t read Craig, so I can’t comment about him. But I do not think middle knowledge and power of contrary choice (so-called “libertarian free will”) are compatible. I’ve discussed this several times before on this blog. I don’t see how God can act “justly” if he uses his alleged middle knowledge to manipulate us into sinning. It’s akin to law enforcement officers entrapping people to break the law. I recently read an article about a man who government agents knew had access to illegal drugs but they didn’t have any evidence that he was selling or using them. So they coerced a drug addict into going to him to plead and beg for some drugs with the story that she was suffering terribly from a disease that only marijuana could help. Eventually, after much pleading, the man did obtain some drugs and sold them to the woman at cost. After that he refused, telling her she needed to go to her doctor. (Earlier she told him she didn’t have access to one as they lived in a rural area.) The government agents arrested and prosecuted the man. The jury found him not guilty because he was entrapped by the agents. This is what God would be doing if he used middle knowledge to render certain Adam’s fall and all its consequences which is what most Molinists believe.

  • K Gray

    Once again if-then logic – this time with ‘unimaginable’ hypothetical premises – seems to result in divisions between believers.

    • rogereolson

      Not at all. My whole purpose is to show that we all agree–that there are imaginable circumstances in which we would stop worshiping God.

  • Tim Reisdorf

    The incorrect way says that there is a rule or law of morality/justness/fairness/goodness against which both ourselves and God are held accountable.

    Job railed against God, whom Job though was treating him unfairly. Job learned in the end was that he was ignorant and was unable to adequately evaluate or judge God’s actions. This is not to say that God cannot be held to standards, but it is to say that we are not able to evaluate it justly. Yet, God does offer Himself up for evaluation to external standards – “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps 34).
    God is the only one who is able to evaluate Himself fairly (in an absolute sense). Most of the Biblical references to this contain God’s defenses of His actions, but occasionally (remember after The Flood) God judges his own actions harshly. That would only happen if the standard were external to God.

    “The correct way says that God himself is the rule/law/standard. He alone is the judge of such matters.”

    The second sentence undermines the first. There is no judging God’s actions at all if God Himself is the standard.

  • Elliott Scott

    I think you could put the question to Calvinists in a better way. You’ve said before that when it comes to God’s nature, Arminians start with God’s love while Calvinists start with God’s power. The RC Sproul quote about God not really being God unless he meticulously controls every molecule is a good example.

    This follows with worship as well. For you, as an Arminian, God is no longer God, and therefore worthy of worship, unless He is Love. Or to put it another way, if God is not Love, then he’s not the God of the Bible, and therefore why worship him? Of course Calvinists are going to disagree witht that because for them, God’s primary attribute isn’t love in the first place. It’s his power. He’s still God even if his actions bear no resemblance to anything anyone could recognize as love because God transcends morality/love/whatever.

    But what if God isn’t all powerful in the sense of a meticulous providence? What if he really does allow molecules, humans, and angels to bump along according to their own light? What if God’s will is not always done? Sproul says that such a God is no longer God. But if he’s no longer God, then it follows that he is no longer worthy of worship. Therefore there is an imagineable cause for a Calvinist to cease worship.

    • rogereolson

      I suspect many Calvinists would say they would still worship God if it were revealed to them that he is not as powerful as they have thought. I am trying to show that there is AT LEAST ONE imagineable circumstance in which a Calvinist would cease loving and worshiping God–if it were revealed to him that God is Satan and Satan is God (strict identity). Of course, even to hear and imagine such a hypothetical situation is difficult, but perhaps not more difficult than for me to hear and imagine God as high Calvinism beliefs him (or as I would have to believe he is if Calvinism is true). So, in matters where someone says “There is no circumstance in which I would stop doing such and such….” I jump right to the worst imaginable circumstance (a horrible “possible world” that one can at least imagine even if its not really possible) and ask what about that? I am looking forward to his reply.

      • Elliott Scott

        My point is that you are engaging on them on their home ground. Because they believe that whatever God does is good, rather than God does what is good, they are always going to say that you are being presumptious or nonsensical to imply that one could even imagine God not being worthy of worship on moral grounds. Moral categories can’t really ever catch the Calvinist God out of place.

        But if the Calvinist’s definition of God as God is that that he must (in order to be God) be the ultimate cause of everything, then what happens if he is not? If God is not God, then can a Calvinist worship him?

        Perhaps I’m being harsh in implying that Calvinists worship God-as-Power while Arminians worship God-as-Love, but I really do think that lies at the bottom of the divide between scholastic Calvinism and everyone else. And that divide is why they aren’t going to give you what you would consider a straight answer to your question.

        • rogereolson

          Mr. Steele has said now that “nothing” could cause him to cease loving and worshiping God. Not even if it were revealed to him that Satan is God. That tends to make me agree with you except that I will take him at his word and think that he would love and worship God even if, for example, it were revealed to him that God is really Vishnu or the Mormon God or the God of process theology.

          • Elliott Scott

            That seems to me to empty the concept of “God” of almost all content. God no longer has a recognizable character, nor do we have any knowlege of how he works in the world? I mean, what’s left to worship- the concept of mystery itself?

  • Dean

    The question itself is nonsensical in my opinion, and it reflects how intellectually dishonest a lot of the neo-Reformed crowd really are. It’s just sophistry and I can’t accept that they really believe it themselves. If you asked them, what if you learned that God caused your child to be raped “for his glory”, no sane person in real life would keep worshiping that God. Sure they’ll tell you “yes” in a hypothetical, but if it happened in real life, they either wouldn’t really believe it or they’d stop worshiping that God altogether. Greg Boyd has made this point several times to people who find this type of “sovereignty” so liberating: what if God revealed to you that his plan for your life, from even before the universe existed, was for you to get hit by a car and then become a vegetable for the next twenty years, and frankly, there was nothing you could do but wait for it to happen, can someone in any way really find that “comforting”?

    The other thing that bothers me to no end is this idea that unless you read the Bible their way, you are “questioning” God, have a “low view” of scripture, don’t “know” the Bible, or are putting your damaged sense of right and wrong above God’s perfect knowledge of justice. Well, I think the best evidence I have that this position can’t possibly be true is that the Bible itself has conflicting views about all sorts of things and the fact that the neo-Reformed believe they can systematically tease out one “doctrinally pure” theology that is the “gospel” can’t possibly true. As NT Wright would say, if Christianity was fundamentally about correct doctrine, then God gave us precisely the wrong kind of text, because the Bible is mostly a bunch of stories and poems that people seem to read in so many different ways. What God should have done if he cared so much about doctrine was to give us that five-page tract that many of us handed out on street corners when we were younger! Wouldn’t that have been WAY better than the Bible??! 🙂

    • rogereolson

      Good points. I agree. I once heard Surgeon General C. Everett Koop wax eloquent about how “God killed my son.” (He’s a Calvinist.) He said that believing God killed his son in a mountain climbing accident is the only thing that gives him comfort because in that case it was not an accident but was part of a plan for the good. Well, he also went into great detail about his son didn’t suffer; his death was instant. I wanted to stand up and shout “What if his death had been long, lingering, horrible, and he was screaming in pain for a month before dying? Then would find comfort in it?” But, of course, I didn’t and had no access to him after the talk to ask my question. So often the illustrations Calvinists use are like that–not the worst cases of suffering and death. But one thing I admire about John Piper is that he does at least say that no matter what happened (e.g., to one of his children) he would think it was from God and the wise and good thing for God to do. I wonder, of course, if he would hold to that if it happened. I once had a long talk with Lewis Smedes. He told me that when his son died he swore he would never tell another person that God took their child. Not long before he died Smedes told me he was an open theist. I know that will shock many people who knew him, but that is where he was theologically when he died. And it all began with the death of his son.

  • John I.

    The Calvinist interlocutor also overlooks the assumptions that underlie the hypothetical question. One assumption is that it is possible for the god of Scripture (Yahweh; the triune) to be distinguished from the Calvinist god. It is also assumed that we have inherent moral intuitions that accurately reflect the god of scripture or at least a true ideal of what a good god is. It is also assumed that we can be mislead into believing that the ideal good god does exist when in fact he does not (and the Calvinist god is the one that does exist).

    The hypothetical works only if (a) one imagines and assumes a disjunction between the two gods, where one god is the good ideal that informs and gives us our moral intuition and the other god does not, but is instead a moral monster that has deceived us into believe untrue good things about itself.

    The disjunction would also work if (b) one assumes that there is a true ideal moral law that exists apart from any god, that informs our native / inherent moral intuition, and can be used to evaluate all beings (whether gods, angels or humans).

    This latter disjunction is also the basis for the Euthyphro dilemma (i.e., the two horns of the “god is evil” or “god is omnipotent” argument from the existence of evil). Indeed, one can view the hypothetical as just another way of phrasing the Euthyphro dilemma.

    However, the solution to the Euthryphro dilemma also provides the grounds for discarding the latter interpretation of the hypothetical. That is, since nothing can exist apart from God, and since God is not morally capricious, moral law must be part of who God is. Moral law is just an aspect of God’s character.

    Hence the hypothetical is premised either on the basis of a naive and incorrect understanding of moral law, or on a disjunction between the God revealed by scripture and our moral intuition and the God revealed by Calvin–or it is entirely nonsensical. If the question is nonsensical, then of course any answer is merely nonsensical and so rhetorical (i.e., giving a “stupid” answer to a “stupid” question to reveal the stupidity of the question). If the question is based on a naive understanding of moral law, then the answer indicates that the poser of the hypothetical has not properly understood the nature of God’s morality. If the question is based on a possible to imagine difference between two gods, then the answer assumes that the questioner has described a god that is not the same as the morally perfect god Yahweh nor the same as any morally perfect god and that therefore either (a) this description is to be rejected as not being true, or (b) there is no such thing as a morally perfect god in existence, even though we can imagine one, and we are unfortunately in a universe where only an evil god exists.

    In this last case, where there is a true moral law that exists outside of a god, and where the only existing god is an evil being, a human would be more morally perfect if he rejected the worship of this immoral god. And thus even more moral than the god, because he/she is more in tune with the true moral law of the universe.

    As one can see, at no time does the answer presume that Yahweh is equivalent to the Calvinist god or that the god one rejects as a moral monster is Yahweh as revealed to Abraham and Isaac.

    Although the Calvinist interlocutor has professed to subscribe to the view that moral law is an aspect of God’s nature, he/she has failed to see that such a view is not assumed by the hypothetical question. Indeed, it is Olson’s answer that assumes that view and it is why his answer undermines and defeats the question. The Calvinist interlocutor also fails to understand the difference between a limitation to the scope of our knowledge and a contradiction that necessarily reveals the falsity of at least one of his propositions.


  • spella

    Dr. Olson,

    Thank you so much for your blog. I have just left a Reformed Church and thank you from the bottom of my heart for your books and blog. I can’t tell you what a relief it was for someone to voice my doubts about reformed theology as eloquently as you.

    I will forever be grateful.

    • rogereolson

      Well, thank you! That’s very gratifying. Although I’m not out to get people to leave Reformed churches. I just want people to understand that Reformed theology has problems–as do all theologies–and make fully informed decisions about whether to be Reformed or not.

  • benr

    I have always asked Calvinists if it would be right or wrong for God to create someone instantly in hell purely because it is his ‘absolute right to do so’, every single time the Calvinists response is ‘that would be wrong, God would not do that’. this is where I simply can’t understand what goes through Calvinists minds because they dont seem to realise that that is exactly what the concept of ‘unconditional election and non-election’ teaches, the only difference is the unconditionally non-elect experience 70, 80, 90 or however many years of ‘standard’ life on earth before the eternal misery begins.
    maybe the question you could ask a Calvinist is ‘would you still worship God if it was revealed to you when you get to heaven that throughout the history of earth God had created extra people who were never on earth but were created instantly in hell?’.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, there are many, many hypothetical questions to which I think any serious Calvinist would have to reply that he would not worship God if that were the case.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Yowza!! Satan is the “God” of Calvinism? Hypothetically, of course…:)

    • rogereolson

      That’s a complete distortion of what I wrote. I didn’t even imply that. You’re being illogical. I was not comparing the God of Calvinism and Satan. I was comparing a Calvinist who would stop worshiping God if it were revealed to him that Satan is God with an Arminian (such as myself) would would stop worshiping God if it were revealed to him that God is as Calvinism teaches. There parallelism isn’t between Calvinism’s God and Satan. Read more carefully.

  • Not sure how that would be an valid answer, or if its sarcasm. I mean, if I really need to point this, if Satan is God, no one would need to believe him, as the Bible would be a lie. Mr. Steele had a very valid point.
    That goes to my point that non Calvinists have no way to truly understand Calvinism, as when you get it, you cant deny it.

    • rogereolson

      Excuse me, but you’re making my point exactly. Thank you.

      • Nope, unless you are implying that the calvinist view of God would mean the Bible is a lie, which, for obvious reasons, was not what Mr. Steele asked.
        See, that is not a valid parallel, as the basic values are completely different. Its like asking “If it was revealed to you in a way you couldn’t question or deny that God do not actually exists, would you still worship him?”

        • rogereolson

          Well, that is how I interpreted the student’s question. 🙂

  • Steve Rogers

    Point taken. Isn’t the real question would any of us worship God if we learned he wasn’t who we thought he was? The gods Mr. Steele, you and I worship are the gods of our understanding–the god who exists in our thoughts. We put “faith” in our God because we’ve become convinced he is. Keying off the scriptural clue that “his ways are beyond finding out”, it is certain we all misunderstand the Creator at some level and he is not what we think. Consequently one’s arguments about the nature of God are little more than attempts to convince others to prefer one misunderstanding of God over another. My opinion is that God is neither Arminian nor Calvinist.

    • rogereolson

      The question is whether God is MORE like the God of Calvinism or the God of Arminianism. Nobody is claiming we have complete or prefect understanding of God. Surely you aren’t completely agnostic about what God is like?

      • J.E. Edwards

        That was me trying to be a little tongue-in-cheek, but the avoidance of a serious answer and then simply restating the same question by only changing ‘God’ to ‘Satan’ and spinning it back to Mr. Steele kind of led me there. You don’t need to respond to that, Roger, I know that’s not what you meant. It did come across that way, though. I’ve read the post 3 times. I’m simply weary of all the extremes among brothers in this kind of discussion. Even Wesley and Whitefield came to terms…. eventually.

        • rogereolson

          Oh, but they didn’t come to agreement. I have no problem worshiping with and cooperating with Calvinists. “Some of my best friends are Calvinists.” Sounds trite, but it’s true. If you will recall, this particular thread was launched by a Calvinist criticizing me. I don’t take it personally. But I do have to respond. I know from experience that there are numerous Calvinists out there doing their best to convince especially young Christians that Calvinism has no problems and is the totalizing Christian theological perspective (i.e., all others are sub-biblical and even sub-Christian). I hear this from non-Calvinist students and pastors weekly (often two or three times a week). They are being put upon by Calvinists attempting to proselytize them, not just by telling them Calvinism is true but also by telling them alternative theologies are not only wrong but profoundly pernicious spiritually. They often jump on something I or another non-Calvinist have written and take it out of context and twist it to make it sound like proof that Arminians, especially, are on a slippery slope to apostasy. Do you want us non-Calvinists to just sit aside silently and not respond?

          • J.E. Edwards

            Not at all. I don’t like to hear Calvinistic brothers paint their non-Calvinistic brothers in extremes, either. Nor do we have to agree. I’m not so sure that Mr. Steele was criticizing you as much as it looks like he was trying to think out loud in response to something you had written. You responding isn’t an issue. It’s one thing if someone IS on the slippery slope of apostasy, it’s another thing if that’s someone’s opinion of another. I will say that among Bible college students that this whole Calvinism/Arminianism discussion is more prevalent there. Among the average, every day working believers it isn’t as nearly discussed. I’d say you definitely hear it more than myself. I did attend Bible college in the late 80’s-early 90’s and I don’t think I ever heard it discussed, even in my Bible classes. That includes a class on Romans. I’d like to think we could be friends. If your ever in the Knoxville, TN area I’d be honored to take you to lunch.

          • rogereolson

            Yes, of course, this whole debate shouldn’t get in the way of Christian friendship and fellowship. It only does when someone says the other side is dishonest or heretical or non-Christian. I do take umbrage at Mr. Steele’s claim that my response to my student’s question reveals that my love for God is of a lesser quality than his. I think he is subtly calling into question my faith. So many of my conversations with Calvinists eventually go there. I question their consistency and they eventually question my Christianity (or status as an evangelical Christian)–for not agreeing with them. It’s happened numerous times.

      • Steve Rogers

        I have learned to be quite mistrusting of all my opinions once I did the math and realized how often I have been wrong. I hope certain things are true about God, but hope is unseen, said Paul. Therefore I must wait for the not yet and accept that in the meantime I do better if I take the posture of a learner and walk humbly before my God whom I believe has been represented to me in the person of Jesus Christ. I don’t know if that is agnostic, but it dampens my impulse to be argumentative about God.

        • rogereolson

          Ah, that’s fine. But wouldn’t you be argumentative if someone gave to you and said “No, you’re totally wrong. God is not like Jesus”? If you ask me, that’s what’s going on here.

          • Andy

            Now that summarizes it all, brilliantly

  • Steven I

    What becomes most tiresome in these discussions (albeit sometimes they become diatribes) is the Calvinist’s appeal to (so called) mystery. “We cannot know the mind of God,” they say, and “Who are we as finite creatures to understand God’s ways?” There are two problems with this position, as I see it. (1) This/these statement(s) are self-referetialy incoherent because Calvinism is itself a system designed to interpret the revelation of God in Scripture.; TULIP is in fact a way of looking at the way God deals with humanity. And (2) it is a cop-out; one cannot appeal to mystery when there are viable alternatives to his/her argument, simply because he/she categorically rejects these alternatives because of (what I see as) an over-commitment to a view that when taken to its logical conclusion(s) it adherents need to jump throw all sorts of hoops to avoid that/those conclusion(s).

  • I have a question for both Arminianists and Calvinists: If the God whose highest nature is “LOVE” can hate transgressors of his laws so much that he would consign them (most of humanity!) to eternal conscious torture, would you still worship him?

    • rogereolson

      Yes, if his “consigning them” is giving them what they desire independently of any causation on his part.

  • Am I the only person’s teeth are set on edge by the terminology, “the correct way”? Perhaps Calvinists are predestined to be oblivious to how arrogant this sounds?

  • Caleb J

    “Scripture teaches that when considering the question of evil and suffering there is an incorrect and a correct way to view God’s morality/justness/fairness/goodness. The incorrect way says that there is a rule or law of morality/justness/fairness/goodness against which both ourselves and God are held accountable. According to this view, when we are confronted with the question of evil and suffering – or, with some incomprehensible circumstance – we seek to address it by appealing to the rule or law.”

    When it comes to God’s goodness, I think Calvinists statements lead to something like” God’s goodness means nothing other than God is God.” That is: God is good, but we can’t use human definitions or notions of goodness, so really we don’t know what “God is Good” means other than “He is God”
    When we say God is sovereign or he is creator we are using human notions of what sovereign or creator means (in control, governing, etc; architect, originator etc. ) and applying them to God. God is not sovereign in the exact same way human kings are, but there is a meaning which is analogical. If biblical words have no correspondence to human definitions than the bible is pretty much meaningless to humans.
    In places like Romans 9 the point seems to be humans can’t look at God and say “what are you doing” in isolated instances. But that does not mean we can’t take descriptions in the bible of God infer what would be an appropriate or what would be skewed portrait of who God is.

    • rogereolson

      A point I make here frequently. One of the first posts I wrote (to this blog) was about this issue–nominalism in Calvinism. It’s often hidden below the surface, but when a Calvinist says God’s “goodness” totally unlike our most basic instincts about goodness, then I worry that nominalism is popping out. That’s especially true when they say that whatever God might do is automatically good “just because God did it.”

  • Eric

    In “The Problem of Pain,” C. S. Lewis makes a pertinent point that if God is good, then that “good” has to at least match up with some semblance to our (humanity’s) understanding of good. That is, if God were in the business of raping babies, then we would recognize that as “not good.” The problem of humanity is not our perception of good and evil (indeed, from that first bite of fruit we have had a thorough knowledge of good and evil, and everything in-between!); but rather the problem of humanity is our inability to do pure-good before God without our Savior interceding for us. It seemed like a pertinent point to this discussion, but read Lewis because I know I’m not expressing it as well as he could.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I have been thinking about theodicy a lot recently. When my son died last year, I remember my cousin speaking at his funeral and saying, “There are plenty of things that happen in this world that are not God’s will.” (Otherwise, of course, we would not be commanded in Scripture to do God’s will.) It gave my wife and I a tremendous amount of comfort knowing that, while God can purpose anything into good, God did not kill my son just to bring about this good. Otherwise you have a god with two wills, in which he overtly causes evil, only to scramble in through the side door and bring about good from it.

  • Beakerj

    The phrase that stands out to me, from that comment to you Roger, is ‘God’s incomprehensible goodness’. Calvinism makes me feel I have completely misunderstood the nature of goodness as set out in the Bible, that there is some kind of second, other, meaning that must need to be revealed supernaturally as it appears so very different from what we see & know, as several commenters above me, & CS Lewis point out. I do feel a consistent Calvinist would have to say that they’d worship God no-matter what he revealed about himself, because he is the omnipotent creator, & so their worship follows that truth, rather than worship due to loving his character. All philosophically sewn up I’m sure, but emotionally so unsatisfying & cold.

  • Dave O’Brien

    Your interlocuter tells us that Job teaches that God is so far above us that what he does is good because he is God, the Might makes Right argument. Job does make that argument. God does whatever he chooses because he can and no one can oppose him. But he ends his complaint with and explicit cry for a moderator, one who could put his hand on God and Job with equality for both, to mediate his case. When I used to teach Poetical books, I cautioned my students to be very careful who you quote from Job, and what context you are quoting from. God passes judgment against the arguments of the friends and Job, as God has revealed himself to him, repents of much of what he has said in his agony and is praised by God for “speaking rightly” about him. It would take at least a monograph to make this point, but it is true. The incarnation is a necessity, if for no other reason.

  • John I.

    While it is true that what God does and says is true simply because he does it and says it, Calvinists are wrong in their simplistic analysis and application of that truth. The Calvinist description of the true God, Yahweh / Adonai / Triune, has a nominalist cast to it which makes it easier for them to overemphasize some passages at the expense of many more others (it is important to distinguish between the Calvinists’ God, and their description of that God).

    The Arminian description, on the other hand, is more realist, based on a wider range of passages of Scripture, and–more importantly–is in sync with the view that sees God’s goodness as flowing from his own character rather than being either a standard that exists outside of God or a capricious and changeable pronouncement of God. What God reveals in Job and elsewhere is not merely “what is right and good just because He (God) says it is” but a revelation of who he actually is, what his essential character and nature is like.


    The necessary distinguishing between the God worshipped by a people and their description of him gives me pause as I reflect on the effect and significance of that distinction in our assessment of other religions. How wrong does a description have to be before we say that a people does not worship the same God as us? For example, Jews clearly at one time worshipped the same God as us, but do they still? given that they reject God’s revelation of himself in Jesus and his revelation of his three person being. How about Moslems, who also claim to worship the God of Abraham and accept Jesus as at least a prophet who gives true revelation, but who have a monadic and unitary description of God who saves according to good deeds as weighed in a balance against one’s bad deeds. Or what about Mormons, who not only claim the God of Abraham as their God but also claim Jesus as a God and as a son of God? Again, like the Jews and Moslems, their God is unitary / oneness and they accept a multiplicity of “gods” (godhoods?) though the “Father / Yahweh” has a preeminance. And what of oneness Pentacostals, who also rejet the trinity and so are very like Mormons in their description of God the Father as a unitary being (except that they reject the addition Mormon books and theological quirks). At what point does the Calvinists’ (i.e., all those TULIP believing reformed christians, but not necessarily all reformed Christians) misshapen description of God and rejection / twisting of the revelation of Jesus as to God’s nature move them into the territory of these other groups?

    How much wrong theology (about the very nature of the God one believes in) does one have to “believe” before one clearly does not “know” the true God? but rather worships a God of their own creation? Before they become one of those who become, at the judgement seat, those of whom Christ says, “you did many things in my name but depart from me for I do no know you”.

    How much does one’s life of love outweigh one’s conscious beliefs? That is, if one is known as a disciple of Jesus by his love for Jesus and others, does one actions indicate where one’s heart really is? Rather than one’s beliefs being the indicator? Does that mean that one can really be like the Calormene Emeth in Narnia, who was recognized by Aslan as a worshipper of him (Aslan) even though Emeth had been using the word “Tash” for God–Tash being the word used by those who worshipped the evil being who bore the name Tash.

    If it is true that one can be a worshipper of the true God even if one has a very mistaken and misshapen description of him, then the scope of whom we will meet in the resurrection is potentially greatly expanded.

    Moreover, how does this bear on the debate over the proper name of God in Moslem countries? Is it proper to use Allah, but argue that the Moslems worship him wrongly. Or is it so different a description of God that Allah is the name of a different God. (third view is that Allah is a generic name for God, but that has little traction either here or there).

    Perhaps we should view the turnings of Calvinists to non-TULIP faith as real conversions to the true Jesus. Perhaps not.

    • rogereolson

      Excellent and important questions well stated. Thank you.

  • Jack Hanley

    Your question to the Calvinist,

    “Suppose it were revealed to you in a way you couldn’t doubt or question that Satan is God? Would you still worship him?”

    I think we can all agree this is not a possible scenario, therefore this is a ridiculous question. This is a question I would not even entertain, because of it’s absurdity. However the question as to whether Calvinism or Arminianism is false is a very legitimate question. If you were to ask me, being non-Arminian. If it were demonstrated to me beyond doubt, that Arminianism is correct would I still worship God? I would, without hesitation answer yes. I would have to humbly admit my error, and adjust my theological thinking. This is because I understand the extent of my sinfulness, and the real possibility of my own error. You, however seem to be beyond this.

    I believe there are many Godly intelligent people on all sides of this theological divide. Even though I know where I stand on these issues, this fact causes me to continue to struggle, humbly and prayerfully seeking my own error. I guess since you are so certain of your Arminian stance there is no need in you doing this yourself.

  • Jack Hanley

    If I am reading the comment from John I. above correctly he is making my point above. John I. says,

    @ At what point does the Calvinists’ (i.e., all those TULIP believing reformed christians, but not necessarily all reformed Christians) misshapen description of God and rejection / twisting of the revelation of Jesus as to God’s nature move them into the territory of these other groups?

    My point is, how is he so sure that the Calvinist are the ones is error, and therefore should be placed in the cult camps? Does it even occur to him that he may be in error himself? Does he not understand that Calvinists can make the same statements about those that believe as he himself does? He also says,

    @The Arminian description, on the other hand, is more realist, based on a wider range of passages of Scripture, and–more importantly–is in sync with the view that sees God’s goodness as flowing from his own character rather than being either a standard that exists outside of God or a capricious and changeable pronouncement of God.

    Does he not understand that Calvinists can, (and have) said the same things about Arminians? In my view the Calvinist view is based on a wider range of scripture, therefore one of us, if not both of us are wrong. He goes on to say,

    How much wrong theology (about the very nature of the God one believes in) does one have to “believe” before one clearly does not “know” the true God? but rather worships a God of their own creation? Before they become one of those who become, at the judgement seat, those of whom Christ says, “you did many things in my name but depart from me for I do no know you”

    Again, does he not get that Calvinist can make the same points about his beliefs? And what if it is he who worships a God of his own creation? Finally, does he have no fear at all that it may be himself who stands before the judgement seat and is told, “you did many things in my name but depart from me for I do no know you”?

    My hope is that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ in search of the truth, hopefully guided by the same Spirit. Therefore, I think we should struggle with each other in humility. I also believe we should point out where we believe others are in error, however I believe we should, more importantly be in search of the possibility of our own error, because believe it or not it is possible.

  • Graham Reimer

    Hi Roger, I am currently reading your Against Calvinism, and just have a quick question. I’m quite confident that this particular blog post is not the correct one to post this question in but I couldn’t find a more appropriate venue. My question is this: You state the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: Scripture, tradition, reason, experience. I really love this framework, and especially the order you place it in. My question is, does this framework in any way violate the idea of sola scriptura? Or is that a concept that you don’t ascribe to? It is my understanding that SS is somewhat misnamed, as it more so means the primacy, rather than the absoluteness, of Scripture. That is, we are correct to refer to authority figures and reason and experience, but that Scripture is the ultimate bar for measuring up doctrine. Thanks for your time and your excellent work!

    • rogereolson

      To me sola scriptural means prima scriptural. Tradition gets a vote but never a veto and its vote only counts when scripture is not clear.