The Evangelical Universalist Forum

Does God love those He "reprobates"? (Arm vs Calv vs Kath)

As though I don’t have enough to do right now (including catching up on posts here at the EU forum eventually…! :unamused: :wink: ), I somewhat foolishly entered into a discussion set up by my friend Dr. Victor Reppert at his “Dangerous Idea” blog.

For those who don’t know, the DangIdea title (as I like to fondly abbreviate it) refers to Victor’s book promoting theistic arguments from reason, especially the attempt made by C. S. Lewis. (On which Victor is regarded as one of the world’s leading experts; and of which I have more than a little experience and skill myself. :mrgreen: ) The site’s title doesn’t refer to any other topic, including the one of this discussion. But Victor is a professor who, aside from students, has a wide range of associates and likes to bring up things for discussion.

He is also, soteriologically, an Arminian (more-or-less of the Lewisian kind)–or a 2-and-a-half point Calvinist (maybe 3-1/2), as he sometimes applies the popular joke. So once a year or so, he will start a round of discussion on Calv vs. Arm soteriology (with a nod to universalism thrown in.) Thomas Talbott and I sometimes show up for such discussions; and the remarks from popular Calvinist internet apologist Steve Hays which Gene (Auggy) is currently commenting on, over here on the forum, come from one such lengthy thread at DangIdea a couple of years ago.

Several days ago, Victor posted a brief point-for-discussion here at DangIdea: the key question being, does God love those He ‘reprobates’? (Particularly in the Calvinist sense of that word.)

Steve Hays from Triablogue has been gamely replying, both in the comments and a little more extensively here at Triablogue. Steve, and fellow Triabloguist Paul Manata, have continued the current yearly Calvinist discussion with Victor in subsequent posts, though not specifically in regard to the main post I’m referring to here. This subsequent post, for example, although having some obvious topical relevance, “was not meant to function as a rebuttal to Victor’s question: ‘Does God love the reprobate?’, but, rather, to offer an argument against his public position. That is, if he holds to (traditional/exhaustive) omniscience, an eternal hell, and the purpose of the hell being rehabilitative, then I think he has a means-end rationality problem for God.” [Paul Manata, private correspondence, gladly posted with his permission] (Relatedly, Lewis believed both in a rehabilitative purpose of hell and also in final perdition for some souls. Victor, as a student of Lewis’ theology, has been exploring the question of hell’s rehabilitative purpose for years.)

On the other hand, a frequent Arminian proponent (possibly an annihilationist; I can’t recall, or exactly figure out from his comments so far) by the nom-de-plume “Ilíon” has been the main commenter for one kind of Arminian soteriology. (The kind given by absolutely honest Arminians who know what they’re talking about, as he puts it.)

I’m currently fencing both (neither one has engaged the other at this point); with a healthy smattering of commentary from other proponents of what may be all three sides so far.

The thread is quite interesting to follow (and I don’t mean merely my comments :mrgreen: ), if a little… testy, on the part of some participants. (Not that I blame them; I get a little testy myself toward the end of my reply to Steve here :wink:, with pickups from the previous comment post.)

Steve, along the way, provides links to two articles (one a recent journal post by Paul Helm, an educated and well-read Calvinist, retired professor; and one a late-1940s paper presented by committee to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, with minority report commentary and critique) as two examples of how “Calvinists have come down on this subject (i.e. about whether God loves and seeks the salvation of all men.)” In his own blog post, Steve adds a third example (which I haven’t read through yet, being busy enough just keeping up with my sides of the discussion.)

Since my most recent set of replies to Steve Hays will easily run over Blogger’s new 4096 character comment limiter, I have decided to move them here instead, with an invitation to Steve to continue with posts on Triablogue if he cares to and has the time. (If not either way, that’s certainly okay; and I ask readers here to remember that any lack of reply from either of us should not be taken as admission of defeat or anything like that. Life goes on and other things ought to be done.)

Before I start posting my replies, I strenuously recommend readers to work their way down through the DangIdea thread first (linked to above); with of course particular attention to my exchanges with Steve so far.

I also very much recommend reading the two articles Steve originally provided to Victor for reference, since I was talking about them previously in the thread, and will be discussing them (somewhat) along the way below. (The third article, remember, I haven’t read yet.)

It would certainly be okay to read Steve’s main reply to Victor, at Triablogue, linked to above; but I haven’t yet attempted to reply to that (and may not ever do so, depending on how the flow of conversation develops. I do want to comment on a few things there eventually, but… time, energy, obligations, etc. :wink: )

So, all caught up yet?

I’ll start my replies now; and will post them in topical metaparagraphs (so to speak), with groups of paragraphs per entry.

Starting somewhat out of order:

Leaving aside any difficulties inherent in claiming that a perfectly righteous entity can ‘respect’ a choice to do unrighteousness; I don’t think God gives us a choice to exist without Him (because I would be denying my affirmation of supernaturalistic theism if I thought that), and I don’t think God gives us a choice to cease existing (because one way or another this comes out to God Himself ceasing to love the person as well as acting on His own side to confirm that fair-togetherness between persons shall never be fulfilled in regard to some person–either of which would technically involve God acting in discontinuity from His own committment to the fulfillment of interpersonal unity at the heart of His own and all other existence i.e., either of which would technically involve denying orthodox trinitarian theism.)

I do think, and have always said, that God gives us the ability to keep rebelling against Him for as indeterminately long as we choose to do so. I do not think (and neither do you nor most other theists) that God gives us a choice to avoid the consequences of that rebellion. And, along that line, I do not think God gives us a choice to avoid God always seeking to lead us to repentance and reconciliation.

Just to specify again what I do and do not think in relation to the general topic (since you brought it up.) {g}

Pretending for sake of argument, though, that I thought God chose to be irresistibly coercive to all sinners (removing even our choice about the matter), I still would at least not be trying to get around or out of affirming God’s own active responsibility in regard to sinners. And I still would not be affirming, on the other hand, what amounts to two ultimately opposed wills of God in regard to at least some sinners. I would not, for example, be claiming that God commands all sinners to repent and be faithful while also choosing to withhold the only possible way for some sinners to obey that command. Nor, on the other hand, would I be claiming that God responsibly chooses salvation in regard to some sinners but has no choice at all one way or another in regard to the non-salvation of other sinners.

If I tried to claim that the unfallen righteous and the penitent righteous were cooperating in real personal responsibility with God, while I was also professing a doctrine of God irresistibly coercing such behavior, then I would certainly be talking in contradictions (and moreso if I tried to claim it was God’s will that His creatures cooperate with personal responsibility and also God’s will that His creatures be irresistibly compelled to follow God’s commands.) But since I am not claiming such a thing (despite what you keep trying to claim whenever we have these discussions) then I don’t have that problem. {g}

If you wish to critique me on the ground that it’s difficult to construct a libertarian unversalism, go for it. At least you’ll be critiquing me on what I’m actually doing. But I wish you would “keep in mind” that, specifically within the bounds of orthodox trinitarian theism and of whatever it can mean for the righteous to respect the unrighteous, I do think God gives us all a choice to do either x or y and respects our choice. I have never once said otherwise. (Neither do I simplify the issue down to merely our choice, though. I robustly keep in mind God’s choices, too, for instance, as well as various characteristics of reality consonant with my belief that orthodox trinitarian theism is true.)

Moving along to a discussion of my substantative objections (which, btw, I much appreciate):

So, God does not choose not to give them the power to follow these commands? If God chooses to give sinners the power to do so, it is His gracious choice, but if they lack the power (which only God can possibly grant) it is not due to any choice of God’s own one way or another?

To say that God, Who is continually acting to keep any sinner in existence (non-elect or otherwise; non-sinner or otherwise for that matter!), makes no choice at all, one way or another about whether to give some sinners the power to follow His commands (among which are the commands to be saved and to be faithful, per Paul Helm’s article), looks very inconsistent.

On the other hand, to deny that God continually acts to keep the sinner in existence (for as long as the sinner exists, leaving aside questions of annihilation), is to logically (if tacitly) assert that something other than God keeps the sinner in existence (‘apart from God’ as it may be)–a principle denial of any supernaturalistic theism being true (including orthodox trinitarianism).

The logical corollary is that God chooses not to grant this power to the non-elect. This is implied in Paul Helm’s agreement with John Gill that (as Gill may be the one to have put it), “The grace of God is bestowed on the elect, and grace is not offered to the non-elect.” (Helm’s complaint is about Gill’s theological objection to the offering of Christ or His grace by a minister, not about this principle: “Gill is perfectly correct to say that grace is not bestowed on the non-elect.”)

When Helm affirms that the grace of God is bestowed on the elect, he is elsewhere very clear about this meaning God actively chooses to bestow His grace on the elect. Admittedly, I am not reading this article with full unquestioning acceptance of an entire set of Calvinist interpretations of doctrine; but I do not see how the parallel phrase can be construed (from contextual logic if nothing else) as meaning anything other than God actively chooses not to bestow His grace on the non-elect.

(“The grace of God is bestowed on the elect” == God responsibly chooses to bestow His grace on the elect: God’s gracious choice. “The grace of God is not offered to the non-elect”, stated in parallel contrast == God makes no choice one way or another about bestowing His grace or not on the non-elect??)

Possibly you are not trying to deny that God chooses not to bestow His grace on the non-elect, and that you actually do affirm instead that God chooses not to bestow His grace on the non-elect. But then, you can no longer apply to the principle that “inability is not the same thing as prevention.” If God chooses not to ever empower a sinner to follow His commands, then He is actively preventing (by His non-gracious choice, so to speak) the sinner from ever having any real possibility of following the commands that He otherwise insists the sinner must follow on pain of punishment by God.

(Unless by “inability is not the same thing as prevention”, you meant to claim that God has no ability to empower and so save some sinners. I very much doubt you meant that; but no one could reasonably deny that “[the sinner’s] inability [to follow God’s commands] is not the same thing as prevention [of the sinner by God from following God’s commands]”. Yet neither does that principle, logically, somehow exclude the sinner’s inability being a consequence of God’s prevention. So I am not entirely sure why you appealed to this principle.)

Are you claiming elsewhere, very strongly as part of the glorious proclamation of the good news of the state, that the state freely and graciously chooses (irresistibly so, even) to give some people the power to (sooner or later, if not immediately) drive sober?–a power that you are claiming can come from nowhere else but the state?

If not, then the illustrative parallel would seem to be more than a little faulty. :slight_smile:

No; I equate failure with failure. I don’t think you are claiming that God attempts but eventually and finally fails to enable some sinners to follow His commands. (That would be some kind of Arminianism instead. {s})

I also doubt that you are claiming that God (like the state) is a non-omniscient, non-omnipresent, non-omnipotent (and non-omnibenevolent?) entity which can only be expected, of course, to let some sinners slip His mind so that He has no intentions about them one way or another (until, opps, they show up before His judgment seat having driven drunk. At which point He intends to punish them for something they didn’t and couldn’t have the power to even possibly do otherwise–but which is none of His concern even though He could have given them that power. But He wasn’t and couldn’t be in any position to know about it, so their lack of having that power is no responsibility of His.)

I reiterate that I doubt you mean to be saying this about God. But then, we’re back to why you thought your analogy was sufficiently apt to the point.

Much as when we say God “desires” something we don’t mean He is in the grip of an emotional reaction regardless of what His will might or might not be on the topic of His “desire”, similarly when I simplify the concept of ‘God responsibly chooses not to empower sinners to obey His commands’ to the phrasing “God ‘prevents’ them from doing so”, I am not assuming that absent divine contravention some sinners would do righteousness. It ought to be obvious that I am denying the absence of divine action on the topic at all!

The technical distinction is certainly worth pointing out, but I do not think that anyone (sinner or otherwise) can even exist (much less operate) apart from the continual action of God.

Even so: if God chooses not to ever empower a sinner to follow His commands, then this may without gross abuse of language be called “barring” the sinner from following His commands. (I am not sure what the distinction is supposed to be between “barring” and “debarring”; I would have thought “debarring” meant removing a bar against something, whereas we’re both talking about and disagreeing over whether God bars sinners from doing something. Be that as it may.)

The sinner cannot get that power from anywhere else (I agree with that concept). Inherited sinners did not choose to be in this state, and absent the power of God (actively withheld by God) could never even truly desire (much less choose) otherwise than to exist in this state. (I agree with those concepts, too.) The “barring” here is God’s choice between the sinner existing in one state (with the power to follow God’s commands) and the sinner existing in another state (without the power to follow God’s commands).

A.) If the sinner was empowered by God to do good (to follow His commands etc.), they would at least have the possibility of choosing to do good.

B.) God chooses not to empower some sinners to do good.

C.) The sinner can get this power from nowhere else, and cannot even truly desire to have this power.

D.) God is barring the sinner from at least having the possibility to do good.

Am I missing a detail that would alter (D) to an opposite conclusion? (God is not barring etc.)

Just to clarify, I deny (B) (and so (D)). Would you mind clarifying whether you deny or affirm B? (Or whether Paul Helm denies or affirms B?–assuming this is not sufficiently obvious from his article, which perhaps it might not be, but which you may know from other articles he affirms or denies more clearly.)

The first obvious counterrebuttal to your rebuttal attempt is to remember the temporality of temporary results and not to categorically confuse those with an ultimately final and immutable decision by God.

Be that as it may; as you say, we live in a world (which I assure you I remember quite well) where two different things obtain:

And usually this sense is defended by appealing to the love of God for the free will of the person to choose one thing or another and so to be a real child and not just a puppet.

I wouldn’t mind in the least if you went with that defense for the “non-elect”; but then you will have to clarify that you are denying God withholds from the non-elect any power (and thus at least any effective ability at all) to choose one thing or another (and so to be a real child etc.) On the contrary, so far as you affirm (as do I) that the derivative person can only have this power to do so from God, you would have to affirm that God gives this power to do good or evil to all men. (Including to the “non-elect”, whatever it means to be “non-elect”. God would not be giving this power along with immunity from natural consequences and from God’s other coherent choices, whatever those may be, in regard to those who choose to abuse His grace, of course.)

Which you might be affirming. I can’t tell yet from your many opportunities so far to be clear on that issue while replying to my critiques of Paul Helm’s article. If, on the other hand, you are affirming instead that God does choose to withhold from the non-elect some power to do what He commands them to do (which commands they cannot do without the power which can only come from God but which He is choosing to withhold from them), then that would be another thing.

[Continuing my comments on the previous quote]

Relatedly, there is a great difference between intending that commands will be violated, and intentionally setting up a situation where commands might (depending on someone else’s intentions) be violated. I cannot see that anyone in their right minds would consider an employer or a military officer, in setting up and allowing such a situation, to be thereby intending that their commands be violated. Obviously they intend to leave that choice up to the other person.

God’s overknowledge of the result at any given time, does not abrogate this principle–that He sees and so knows at (from our temporal perspective) any given time what a person freely does at time X, does not restrict the freedom of the person to act at time X. (Except in the sense in which the person was already going to be ‘restricted’ from doing both X and absolutely not-X, whether God factors into the situation or not.) Again, though, this requires that the person does have the freedom, granted to him by God, to do good or to do evil. If God has not granted the person this power, then we are no longer talking about God setting up a situation where His commands might be violated, but of setting up a situation where His commands will be violated. The person does not have the freedom to do otherwise. And if that freedom comes only from God and God is the one Who authoritatively withholds that freedom, then God by His active choice is still the One Who is authoritatively (sovereignly) responsible for instituting the resulting situation.

Moreover, this is not a case where the person is free to do good or evil but chooses to do evil and God for a time cooperates with the choice of the evildoer in order to bring about some other result, hardening the heart of the evildoer: an event God certainly takes direct authoritative credit for in the scriptures at various times. But which ‘hardening’ can make no sense as a comparative state in the person’s history if God had never given the person power to do good or evil. God might rescind that power and ability, but it has to be granted first to be rescinded, just as life has to be granted first for God to take it away; and God still claims personal authoritative responsibility for so doing.

But if God acts to permanently harden the heart of someone to whom He has given the power to do good or evil, then God shares personal (and indeed authoritative) responsibility for barring that person from ever repenting and doing righteous justice. And, along the same line but moreso, if God chooses never to give that person the power to do good, then God has sole personal (and indeed authoritative) responsibility for barring that person from ever doing righteous justice. (Not because the person would have done it apart from God, but precisely because the person cannot do it apart from God.)

Consequently, and even aside from the serious ethical complaints that will arise from the concept that now it is God Who is primarily or even solely personally responsible for iniquity being done and for the doer never to be healed and reconciled to those against whom he has sinned: if God also commands the non-elect to do that which God by God’s choice refuses to empower the person to do; then we have two utterly and finally antithetical wills of God in regard to the non-elect. If God unconditionally commands obedience and unconditionally denies the power to perform that obedience, then there is no point trying to bring in analogies which amount to God allowing a person to choose disobedience and even to go ‘his own way’ for a while before reining (and reigning) that person in. (Much less to bring in analogies where God would have to be impotently ignorant of responsibility in the evildoer’s condition.)

The only other option is to deny that God really intends His commands to be followed (sooner or later by inheriting although currently rebellious children, if not immediately by who-or-whatever). If this is held to be true in regard to all persons, then (to say the least) I foresee grave ethical consequences looming. (Not least of which would be that the choice of God to bar a person from even being able to do good, somehow takes priority over God’s commands to do good!) A more agreeable variant might be that God does not really command the non-elect to repent and to have faith and to do good, etc.

This last point might be acceptable at first (I will clarify that I don’t and would not accept this); but the Calvinst (or anyone else) who goes this route must be instantly dissenting from the theological attempt of Paul Helm (not even counting both the minority and the majority report in the other article) on grounds of incoherence in his theology.

According to Jason, does God desire to bring that prohibition to fruition? Obviously so!!

Or does Steve deny that God desires to bring at least the elect to follow that prohibition, to repent of it, to accept and participate in God’s atonement of it, to do love and justice in cooperation with God toward the victims of the murderers, and to at last be the kind of persons who would not choose murder?

If you don’t deny this but affirm it instead, and if you see no problem in affirming that this (or even some significant fraction of that paragraph) counts as bringing this prohibition to fruition, then I don’t see why you would turn around and consider me to have a problem in affirming the same thing. The only relevant difference between us on the topic would be the scope: because, between the two of us, it is certainly you who are claiming that God obviously does not desire to bring His prohibition against murder (and, even more importantly, the positive traits of the Spirit against which the choice to murder countervails) to fruition for some people: namely the non-elect. They are, for whatever reason (be that God’s authoritative choice or for some other reason having nothing at all to do with God’s own choice on the matter one way or another), doomed always to be murderers, always to be loving and fondling their sinning.

(At least with annihilation the murderers eventually stop violating God’s prohibition, whether externally or only in their heart, by ceasing to exist at all! I have huge technical and exegetical problems with annihilation, too; but if you’re actually promoting annihilationism and I’ve forgotten that, then I can agree with at least that much theological coherency to it. :slight_smile: )

If you were meaning this in the sense that the Law killeth but it is the Spirit which giveth life, then I would have no problem agreeing.

Apparently, though, you mean this in the sense that you do in fact deny that the final salvation of sinners from sin results in the victorious fruition of (negatively speaking) the prohibition.

(I will suppose you don’t mean that if “postmortem salvation” is true then God’s success in saving sinners from sin does not entail the prohibition against murder coming to fruition yet if “premortem salvation” is true then the exact same result does somehow entail that prohibition coming to fruition. Since that would be simply and merely flipping around on a principle to try to oppose another position where it agreed with you on the topic. Consequently, as I said, I will suppose you mean to deny that any success of God in saving sinners from sin is a victorious fruition of such prohibitions, regardless of which soteriology we’re talking about. I would have hoped you had more hope for at least the elect, than that, in terms of the fulfillment of and fruition of the justice and righteousness of God; but I’m glad I have that hope for the elect and for the fulfillment of God’s justice. {g})

To make the point again: if you are trying to point to unjust actions in “the real world” as being injustices for which there is no hope at all of them ever in any real way being rectified, so that the justice of God shall permanently remain unfulfilled thanks to those action; then I suppose that I would agree that this is a dilemma “hardly limited to Calvinism” (although I actually doubt that this is a tenet of Calvinism at all). But it isn’t a dilemma for me, because I don’t consider God to be impotent at atoning for and rectifying those injustices, saving the sinners from sin and fulfilling justice in and with them so that they shall be righteous persons.

Really, I seriously doubt that you consider God to be impotent at this either. But then, if He isn’t, your appeal to this as some kind of counter-principle for my complaint falls to the ground. Because my criticism was that God (on the view represented by Paul Helm’s article) has two ultimately irreconcileable wills concerning the non-elect: that they should eventually sooner or later (even if not now today, but dangit ideally today, too!) do justice (which God commands them to do as though it’s possible for them to do it); and that they shall not ever even possibly be able to do justice.

If you point to particular unjust historical actions permitted by God, I answer that there is hope of salvation and the eventual righteousness of sinners in God, thus rectification and atonement for those actions. But where is the rectification and atonement for the actions of the Calvinistic non-elect?–where is the hope of their salvation and their eventual righteousness in God? If you answer that their sin can never be rectified, I can hardly disagree–if Calvinism is true, God chooses to ensure that those sinners shall never be saved and become righteous, healing the wounds of their injustice. If you answer that this is true about all sin even of the elect; then may I interest you in the gospel of hope for salvation from sin, in God? (Possibly not… :wink: :slight_smile: But that would not be my fault.)

As an aside, I notice that your appeal to analogies involving non-omni agents failing in various ways to help sinners not be sinners (etc.), as supposed examples of principles against my criticism of Paul Helm’s presentation, involves taking anthropomorphic usage more seriously not less (such that God, for the point to carry illustratively, would have to have the limits of power, knowledge, goodness etc. of such agents.) I will not hazard a guess as to whether these demonstrate how Paul Helm’s own theory of divine accomodation viz. anthropomorphic usage is going to answer my objections concerning Helm’s clear statements regarding two flatly opposed wills of God in regard to the non-elect. But I will observe (and have observed) that they certainly don’t answer my objections. Not in any way consonant with orthodox trinitarian theism (or even merely supernaturalistic theism) anyway. Maybe consonant with Mormonism. :neutral_face:

A concept which (so far as you’ve described in that statement) I certainly agree with.

I am not entirely sure what you mean by that, so I don’t know whether I would agree or disagree. I can’t believe you mean that “sinners have moral obligations” is not even an answer (even if not the answer) to the question of what God “wants” or “desires” them to do. To say that the claim is distinct as such from the question is true (and would be true if the claim is an-or-the answer to the question, too); but that doesn’t seem worth pointing out at the moment. Are you trying to claim the truth of Divine Nature moral theory over-against Divine Command moral theory? I would agree on that, but I don’t quite get how your statement arrives there as stated.

Obviously you think it is important to point out that the claim “sinners have moral obligations” is distinct from the question “what does God want or desire sinners to do?”:

They may be topically distinct issues, but they are not necessarily separate in a topically disassociative fashion; unless you’re trying to say that the moral obligation of creatures (sinners and otherwise) has no connection at all to the intentions of God! (Which I can hardly imagine you’re trying to say.)

There are actually two questions, though: what does God intend (“want”/”desire”) sinners to do? And are all sinners (not to say all creatures) morally obligated to do what God intends for them to do?

So, does God command all sinners to repent and to be faithful? Paul Helm says yes. (Possibly you disagree with him on that, whether as to the scope or the content of the command.)

Does God intend for any sinner to absolutely not ever follow that command? As far as I can tell, Paul Helm (and you) answer no: God does not intend for the non-elect to follow that command. (Otherwise God would provide a way for the non-elect to follow that command.)

This does quite a bit of violence to the verb “command” though! God intentionally commands an entity to do something that God has no intention of the entity ever even possibly being able to do??

It would make more sense to modify Paul Helm’s claim to “God commands some sinners (namely the elect) to repent and be faithful. He does not command the non-elect to do this.”

Obviously, this would quickly and easily answer the question of whether some sinners have a moral obligation to obey God’s commands: the non-elect sinners have no such moral obligation because they never were and never are and never will be commanded by God to do anything moral. They have no moral obligation to even desire to do that which God gives them no command (much less no power) to do. (Not that God’s commands are per se the ground of ethics, but they are presumably in communion with and illustrative of His Divine nature.)

This distinction would quickly and easily answer the question of whether other sinners have a moral obligation to obey God’s commands: the elect sinners (and unfallen righteous spirits) do, because they were actually commanded by God to do moral things and are empowered by God to be able to do the moral things.

You wouldn’t need to complain that obligation of one agent is not (per se) the intent of another agent, in this case. (A version of the externalistic fallacy, I suppose.) It would be totally beside the point. Nor would you thus introduce problematic causitry issues; such as whether any agents (including any sinners) commanded by God to do moral things do not have a moral obligation to do as God commands, or whether any entities commanded by God to do moral things despite never being given the power by God to do moral things still have a moral obligation to do what God commands.

It looks like the simplest thing would simply be to claim that God does not command the non-elect to be moral, much less even empowers them to be moral, thus also doesn’t expect them to be moral. You would have to dissent strongly from something Paul Helm is teaching, but I don’t see that that would necessarily be a problem.

This would throw a wrench into trying to claim any moral justification for God to punish the non-elect; but possibly this is not an element of your theology (and so not a problem, at least in itself.)

Unfortunately, you stopped with the observation that it is fallacious to equate obligation with intent, with no clear explanation what this has to do with responding to me; so I’m having to make some educated guesses. :slight_smile:

Fortunately, you do appear to proceed by appealing (though not terribly clearly) to the distinction between preceptive and decretive wills; which (as shall be soon demonstrated) could be applied as a more complex way of having the non-elect being commanded by God and also not-commanded by God. On to that next, then…

This would be better as a reply if you were clarifying that God’s commands to all sinners are only His preceptive will and not His decretive will. Or if you were clarifying that God’s commands to some sinners (like the elect) were His decretive will (being, you know, His decrees :mrgreen: ) but the same commands to other sinners (like the non-elect) were only His preceptive will: i.e. not actual commands but more like instructions (“more like guidelines than actual rules” perhaps, as Barbossa smirks in Pirates of the Carribean :wink: ) for sake of operative knowledge or something of that sort. Which God gives the non-elect no power to operate on, or maybe even to receive as precepts. But at least there would not be two opposite decretive wills in effect in regard to the non-elect. Maybe.

The conceptual difference would be that God gives to all sinners (or maybe only to the non-elect) commands to the effect that “you should repent and be faithful”, not commands to the effect that “you shall repent and be faithful”. (Considering that Calvinists insist that God shall surely bring about the repentence and faithfulness of the elect, though, I would have to suppose that the decretive command is reserved only for the elect; the non-elect only ever get the preceptive command.)

Those however are two subtly but quite different ‘commands’. They are not the same category, and so Paul Helm would be guilty of category conflation without distinction when claiming in his article (as though the distinction didn’t exist or didn’t matter) that God commands all sinners to repent and be faithful.

It would also still retain the problem that God is giving preceptive commands to entities whom He does not empower to obey the commands or maybe even to receive them. A problem that exacerbates further because the introduction of the distinction between command types still carries over to the elect, who receive two commands: you should (preceptive) and you shall (decretive). It is God Who accomplishes the decretive command; but why would the elect have a moral obligation to cooperate in following (and so accomplishing, with God’s necessary help of course) the preceptive command? The non-elect apparently have no moral obligation to follow preceptive commands, despite having received them.

Of course, the elect, unlike the non-elect (per Calvinism), have been given power by God to fulfill the preceptive commands.

The fuller picture then becomes (not that any of this was applied by Helm in his article): God gives both preceptive and decretive commands concerning repentence and faithfullness to the elect; and also, intending that the preceptive as well as the decretive commands shall be kept, He empowers the elect to fulfill the preceptive commands in cooperation with Him (thus God fulfills the decretive commands on the same topic in regard to the elect.) God gives only preceptive commands to repent and be faithful to the non-elect without any intention on His part at all that the non-elect will keep the commands and so chooses to never empower them to keep the commands. These commands are more along the lines of “you should repent and be faithful”–although without the moral obligation normally implied by preceptive “shoulds” since the non-elect can have no moral obligation to do what God has not empowered them to even be able to do. (That would be like holding a rock morally responsible despite its total inability to do anything moral.)

If the non-elect still were being proposed to have moral obligation thanks to the preceptive will of God being given to them (despite them being unable to operate on the operational knowledge or maybe even to receive it, thanks to God’s choice not to ever empower them to even be able to do so), then there would be ultimately no point to distinguishing between preceptive and decretive will for purposes of replying to my criticism. That, or we would be descending straight into Ockhamism!–where God may sovereignly decree that which runs utterly opposite in principle (not merely in temporary effect) to His preceptive will. (As well, God would be preceptivelly willing something with a functional moral obligation that runs principly counter, not merely in temporary effect, to His decretive will which shall be accomplished instead.)

Because if moral obligation was functionally consequent on God’s preceptive command, it would either be thus willed by God or else dependent upon some other standard higher than God’s own moral nature. The latter would be tantamount to denying supernaturalistic theism (or anyway we would have to go back higher to the real ‘God’ and start over discussing the matter there–having been worshiping a mere demiurge meanwhile, though ignorantly so, like a pagan religion.) The former would give us the spectacle of God preceptively willing the fulfillment of a moral obligation which He decretively chooses to bar fulfillment of.

How such a doctrine would not instantly undermine any moral theory (other than than an otherwise arbitrary “Might Makes Right” Divine Command Theory perhaps), is fortunately not my problem.

On the other hand, if by “The moral law has an instrumental function in furthering God’s overarching purpose” you mean to say (in defense against my complaint) that the moral law only has an instrumental function in furthering God’s overarching purpose (which frankly is the only way such a rebuttal might defend against my complaint), then you may be intending to profess an ultimately amoral DCT after all.

But let us be clear: is moral righteousness (not mere obeyance of preceptive law without a righteous heart) the key end in view, concerning God’s intentions?

I think anyone who claims that God chooses (especially with decretive will!) that some sinners shall never even possibly be able to be righteous, will have to allow that moral righteousness cannot be the key end in view, or even a key end, or even an end in view at all–not of God’s intentions for those sinners.

It may be replied that God’s self-righteousness is in view. Most people don’t consider mere self-righteousness to be righteousness at all (even when those people aren’t trinitarian theists, who of all people ought to understand that the righteousness of God is eternally committed fulfillment of fair-togetherness between Persons; and even when those people haven’t figured out that the Greek (and Hebrew) behind the English term ‘righteousness’ means ‘fair-togetherness’, which one might reasonably suspect would be some kind of CLUE!!! :wink: )

But: let us suppose for sake of argument that God’s self-righteousness does not even have anything to do with committment to fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons (whether the Persons of God’s substantial Trinity or any persons dependent for their existence on the Trintarian God)–the way a mere monotheist would say (like a Muslim). And let us suppose, for sake of argument, that God’s self-righteousness, unlike any other self-righteousness known to man (except just like man’s self-righteousness, except God Almighty is the self-righteousness one being talked about here–again, like a Muslim would say, for example) happens to really actually be real righteousness and (somehow) not Satanic evil.

Supposing all of this, for sake of argument: neither would the righteousness of the elect be any end in view for God, of course. It would only be a means to an end (that of God’s own self-righteousness perhaps–which on this plan, remember, has nothing intriniscally to do with fair-togetherness between persons. As a Muslim theologian would be required to eventually admit.) But at least it could be said, perhaps, that in seeking the righteousness of those whom God chooses to save from sin (a righteousness which, unlike God’s on this plan, does apparently have something seriously to do with fair-togetherness between persons: the fair-togetherness between man-and-man and between man-and-God and, heck, maybe even between God-and-man, who knows? But still, such fair-togetherness between persons is not God’s own righteousness on this plan…); in God’s seeking of their (not actually Godly) righteousness, God is at least acting toward the fulfillment of some lesser and still (I suppose!?) proper righteousness. Of some kind.

By which I mean that at the very least, on this plan, The Supremely Self-Righteous God is at least still seeking to act toward some kind of righteousness in men which is consonantly connected in some way to His own righteousness, such that the lesser righteousness of men (having to do with fair-togetherness between persons) in some way reflects positively (or something) back on the self-righteousness of God (which, on this plan, has nothing at all intrinsically to do with fair-togetherness.)

Even granting all this: we still have the resulting claim of God choosing to lock some sinners permanently into UN-righteousness, completely apart from their own choice (just as God does not wait for us to repent and be righteous before committing Himself to infallibly save us into righteousness–even our lesser righteousness on this plan which is not the perfect self-righteousness of God but which has something to do with fair-togetherness between persons instead.) Thus God, and God alone, utterly and permanently acts to fulfill UN-righteousness (say, the unrighteousness of self-righteous people who in their self-righteousness do not seek fair-togetherness between persons, just like the supreme self-righteousness of God on this plan–except of course they are not God, only God gets to be that self-righteous on this plan) in these people.

And on this plan, God does this in order that His own supreme self-righteousness shall be glorified; or He does this at least in consonance with His own supreme self-righteousness.

But how does God, acting to lock others into un-righteousness (even the unrightousness of selfishness), act in consonance with his own righteousness (even, on this plan, the supreme selfishness of his own righteousness)? All He has done is ensure that there will always be rebels against His own grand selfishness. They may be compelled by God to admit He is the greatest of powers and that His own self-righteousness is supreme to their self-righteousness. But if that is what He wants for glorifying His own selfish righteousness, then why bother to lead (or leash or force) the elect into communion with His own infinitely selfish self-righteousness?

Or if honest communion and praise of His glorious self-righteousness, not mere hypocritical hopeless lip-service, is what would properly magnify His immensely selfish ego (properly proper only to God, of course, in this scenario), then why not go ahead and bring all persons to truly seek the glory of His awesome selfishness?

One or the other result might make sense. But both results…??

But, I forget, on this plan God’s decretive will may be entirely arbitrary, based entirely on whatever selfish whim He exhibits (not which He submits to, of course, not even graciously out of love for the object of His… um, of His… I was going to say ‘His concern’, but that probably isn’t the right word; anyway, no Passion for Him!.. uh, except for the Passion of the cross, for some mysteriously inscrutable reason… unless we’re being Muslim–I had forgotten about that.)

So, in that case… the… eh…

… …

Okay, I have to agree: I really have no ground to argue against the truth of these other things. If God is really like this.

I, however, believe trinitarian theism is true. (Not being Muslim or the Christian analog thereof, or whatever.) Consequently, I believe, as a logical corollary, that even God’s own intrinsic self-existence is based on and in an active interPersonal relationship of fair-togetherness between Persons: God self-begetting loves God self-begotten and God proceeding, as do the other Persons toward each other in the substantial Unity of YHWH ELHM ADNY.

Admittedly, there are other trinitarian Christians who, somehow, totally disagree that God’s existence as the Trinity (and for that matter the existence of all not-God creation as the creation of the Trinity) has anything to do at all with God eternally acting to fulfill the unity of fair-togetherness between Persons. It would not be surprising for them (not to say mere monotheistic believers, like for example Muslims) to come up with a scheme where God behaves as I imagined above.

But, since I do believe trinitarian theism is true, I am going to try not to propose things which contravene the truth of trinitarian theism. (Such as, that an eternally active unity of fair-togetherness between Persons has nothing intrinsically to do, in some or even any action of that Unity of Deity, with fulfilling the unity of fair-togetherness between Persons.) At least until such time as someone convinces me that trinitarian theism per se is false.

(Which, from long experience as a trinitarian theologian and apologist and metaphysician and scriptural exegete, I don’t foresee happening anytime soon. :slight_smile: )

But then, on that ground, I am going to be pretty oppositional to the idea that God, authoritatively choosing to bar and to permanently hopelessly confirm various sinners in their unrighteousness, is somehow acting righteously Himself.

Or, as someone once wrote, “When you talk about what God wills or wants, you can’t isolate the part from the whole, or the means from the end.”

Yep, pretty much I agree with that. But obviously a lot of people don’t.

Which brings me back to my first comment: while it isn’t unimportant to exhort your readers to “keep in mind” that I’m a universalist (I do so myself on occasion! :smiley: ), it’s rather more tactically and practically important to exhort your readers to “keep in mind” that I am an orthodox trinitarian theist. Because in dispute with a non-universalist I cannot imagine ever complaining that their position is insufficiently universalistic (although of course I will point out such distinctions when they arise). But in a dispute with a fellow trinitarian theist, I am going to complain about a position being insufficiently orthodox in its theology, when I detect it to be so.

(thus ending my current series of replies. Steve’s turn.)

Back on June 13th, Steve posted up his reply here on Triablogue. (I’m unsure if there were future replies; as far as I can tell there haven’t been, but then I wasn’t notified that this reply had been posted either.)

I appreciate the reply, and will have a new reply by Sunday at the latest (I hope).

The church doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to dialogue about these matters- at least it seems that way to me.

I’m not sure if the purpose of the church per se is to dialogue about these matters with other congregations who believe differently.

Nevertheless, Arm and Calv theologians (with us trailing behind as a tiny percentage :laughing: ) do in fact bring up these matters on a routine basis, often with analytical reference to (if not exactly dialogue with) oppositional theologians.

I think it makes a difference, though, or should make a difference, not only in how we approach mission work, but in how we approach dialogue with those who believe differently than we do (whether within Christianity or outside it–which again is closely connected to mission work.)

In hindsight, and on reflection, this probably is one of the purposes (i.e. one of the missions) of the Church, insofar as it acts toward ecumenism, the healing of schism, and Christ’s command that we love one another as a witness to the world.

As a practical matter, though, ecumenism is difficult because we each (naturally) already believe we’re right about what we believe and are (naturally) not all that comfortable with having to consider that we may be wrong! Consequently, ecumenism tends to be a private affair (even if published publicly), and not something that a church congregation as a whole is asked to participate in.

Why concern oneself with congregations? Deal with individuals, like we are right now!

I am serious, Jason, why think congregationally?