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.
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 ) 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 ) 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!!! )
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. )
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! ), 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).
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 ) 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.
I’m not sure if I understand your question. (Sorry, didn’t mean to be ignoring it.)
I don’t see the two concepts as being mutually exclusive. A congregation is a congregation of individual people in the Pauline sense of ‘membership’. (A word he may have invented in regard both to ecclesias and the constitution of the human body.) If Glenn and Tom have a dialogue here, they are individuals reaching out to other individuals, both in terms of each other and in terms of readers. But human limitations prevent them from reaching out to all readers individually in the sense of one-on-one correspondence. (Only Christ can do that kind of witnessing; cf Rom 10.)
Again, if a congregation invites me to preach one Sunday or lecture one Wednesday night (not that this has ever happened yet, but I hope to bring this about someday), I am in fact speaking to all the individual members of that congregation. But also to the congregation as a whole.
The synagogual system for the sermon worked pretty well in balancing both aspects of this union: the guest preacher would expound for a while on the hope of Israel to come, from the lectionary prophet reading for the day (which he would be invited to read–other people would do other things in the service, although he would lead the group in formal prayer previously too), and then sit “in the chair of Moses” for a question and answer session afterward. In theory, anyone could participate in this (maybe excluding the women, although today I would prefer that not to be an issue); in practice it was typically the other religious scholars in the audience who (understandably) would engage in the discussion with the guest–speaking for the sake of the people in regard to the message.
(Readers can get hints of Paul and Jesus doing this sort of thing in the Acts and the Gospels respectively.)
I don’t know if this addresses your question, though. I may still not have understood what you were asking.
No, but (at least as a fellow Christian) the onus is on you to include my explicitly stated affirmation of those doctrines–especially when my affirmation comes in the very next sentence (as emphasized above)–and not to pretend that by ignoring what I said you can paint me as disagreeing with what I explictly agreed about.
Really, Steve. How else should I understand your omission of this? That you were you not competent enough to understand that short single simple sentence? What part of “I agree with those concepts, too” did you not understand? Or did you think my affirmation of the material preceding it was irrelevant to the material preceding it?–after which you made a guess that I must be denying the material preceding my (irrelevant) affirmation of the material?
Maybe it was the latter, considering what comes next. But still, you could have bothered to quote my affirmation of the material which you go on to insist that I must be denying.
This is after omitting my explicit short and entirely clear agreement, of course. (For those who haven’t understood yet: that big emphasized parenthetical sentence above was omitted by Steve, in order to make it seem like I disagreed against what I was affirming.)
And when was the last time a militant atheist like Hitchens or Dawkins or Ingersoll even claimed (much less extensively so) to be grouding his position on his acceptance of and belief in orthodox trinitarian theism in itse details? Admittedly, you didn’t quote me much on that, up to this place I just mentioned–usually selectively quoting around it–but then I suppose I wouldn’t have looked so indistinguishable from them. If you’re going to portray me as having only a thin veneer of piousness, best to report only a thin veneer, hm?
(Relatedly, when was the last time Hitch, Ingersoll in his writings, or the Dawk, ever emphasized the importance of the salvation of sinners from sin by God’s grace?–ever avowed the reality and the importance of the Incarnation?–ever called God’s judgment against himself in order to protect his own opponents?!)
After reading this, your previously established habit of insisting I believe one thing (that God does not allow and respect, as far as He can, our free choice to sin or not to sin); only admitting I believe something else (that “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”) when you think you can critique that, too; and then going back to insisting I believe the other thing instead–at best accusing me of flipflopping back and forth on this position when only one of us is painting me that way–looks overly convenient.
As does your attempt at trying to tell your readers that a weakness of my methodology is not to address your arguments, instantly before you start replying to my extensive addressing of your argument. (Whether I addressed it competently may be debateable. The fact that I did address it, and at length, is not.)
As does your attempt at trying to paint me as though I was trying to claim you were attempting to defend libertarian freedom; by quoting me (selectively) from a couple of paragraphs where I was clarifying what I believed. (In answer to a previous insistence on your part about what I must believe.)
As does your attempt to paint my belief as though it involves God coercing those He saves, when there is practically no distinction between my belief and yours on this topic (where you deny that, in regard to God’s persistence in salvation and God’s irresistible grace, Calvinism involves God coercing salvation. The only relevant distinction between us on that topic is the scope of who God persistently acts to save from sin.)
As does your attempt to distract readers from the salient point of my criticism–God’s responsibility in choosing to ensure that the non-elect shall always be unrighteous, by authoritatively and solely choosing never to give them even the possibility of ever being righteous–by complaining about my use of the word ‘prevention’. As though it must necessarily mean the hinderance of a process that would have occurred without the interference, instead of only can mean that. And as though, when I explain that I never intended this meaning (and therefore my “traction” as you put it was never reliant on this meaning), I am supposed to be the one switching terms around and changing the subject.
As does your attempt at getting around this responsibility by using analogies where the agent involved (the state) has and can have no responsibility (or power either), in order to represent God’s relationship to the non-elect. (And then claiming that my observation of the total difference between God’s relationship to the sinner, and the state’s relationship to the sinner in your analogous illustration attempt, is irrelevant.)
As does your attempt to get around this responsibility by treating the non-elect as though they simply “lack” the power to do good. (They lack it because God chooses for them to lack it. They don’t just simply lack it; and God is not just letting them go along according to their own devices: He institutes the situation of their existence, and institutes their capabilities, and chooses for them which capabilities they shall and shall not have, directly resulting in whatever “devices” they can and cannot go along according to, and continually acts to keep them in whatever existence they happen to be in. If persons have freedom to choose between good and evil, it’s because God gives it to them. If they don’t have that freedom, it’s because He chooses not to give it to them. If God is authoritatively responsible, by His choice, for an unrighteous entity never even having the possibility of being anything other than unrighteous, then God also has final authoritative responsibility for the permanent unrighteousness of that entity.)
Let ‘prevention’ be considered too weak a term, and substitute something else; I can understand and accept the objection if the objection is ‘”prevention” can mean hinderance from doing what the object would have otherwise done without the interference’. Similarly, does God ‘prevent’ a rock from becoming bread? No, I would agree that He doesn’t. Nevertheless, it is by God’s authoritative decree whether the rock is and remains a rock or whether the rock has even the possibility of becoming bread–or even the possibility of becoming a son of Abraham! Correct the term ‘prevention’ if you insist; but keep the authoritative responsibility of God in the status of the sinner.
Not surprisingly, during your extensive attempts at trying to show that my usage of ‘prevention’ is self-incriminating with respect to my own position, you didn’t bother to include the salient point of my criticism: that, per Calvinism (of the sort you’re apparently trying to defend anyway), it is God’s responsibility that these things happen and by His own choice shall never be rectified.
Not surprisingly, you omit this salient point again when trying to portray Arminianism, “open theism” (a type of Arminianism usually), and universalism as having the same critical problem that I’m complaining about in Calvinism. Of course: you can hardly claim that universalism features God choosing to ensuring from the outset that unrighteousness shall permanently exist and never be rectified. (You could have critted at least some Arminians on this, insofar as they teach that sooner or later God shall ensure, though not from the outset, that unrighteousness shall permanently exist and never be rectified. But then, that would show too much of a similarity between those two compared to universalism–annihilationism aside. At least annihilationists teach that God shall ensure that unrighteousness does not permanently exist, even if it is far more arguable about whether an annihilating God shall ensure that the unrighteousness of annihilated sinners is rectified.)
Not surprisingly again, when you write (in defense of an argument of yours from a previous comment) “Therefore, since the command to believe the Gospel is a special case of divine commands in general, there’s no presumption that when God commands men to believe the Gospel, he issues that command with the intention that all men will obey it”–you once again omit the salient point: God chooses (per Calvinism) to ensure that at least some men will never even have the real desire, much less any actual ability, to obey the command (be that command decretive, prescriptive or whatever) to believe the Gospel, repent of their sins, and be faithful.
If you are not trying to avoid this point, it is difficult to see why you keep writing around it when trying to defend against my critiques, considering that this is what I am and always have been critiquing. You could have been including it every time. Instead, you seem to leave it out, not indeed at every opportunity, but when it looks problematic to include it (such as when ostensibly comparing Calvinism with Arm and Kath positions, to show that if Calvinism has a problem with violation of God’s commands the other two have the same ‘problem’. Uh, no, the other two do not have that doctrine; even the Arms don’t believe God chooses to always withhold the possibility of doing any good, including repenting and being saved from sin, from sinners.)
Some of this I could overlook as incaution perhaps; or maybe that you started writing something, got distracted for a substantial period of time, and then forgot to check on what you were even writing about when you got back. (Not that this would be flattering, but it does sometimes happen.)
But when I get to you omitting a simple, short, clear sentence; the omission of which (and only the omission of which) ostensibly allows you to paint me as meaning the absolute opposite of what I had previously written; so that you can compare me not only with rabid atheists but with Satan himself… a comparison that, not coincidentally, could only have a remote chance of working by selectively omitting things I’ve actually written…
At that point, I have to conclude that you are simply unable, for one or another of reasons, to have any real discussion on the topic.
Which is too bad; because before that point (maybe by accident) you do bring up some topics and even at least one critique, actually worth discussing.
I’ll address such a critique in the next post, for the sake of anyone who bothered to try reading your comments (God bless them, whether I agree with those people or not) and may want to know I would answer the critique. Because it is a pretty important one.
Otherwise, you win: I’ll stop trying to talk with you.
(You can take that final sentence utterly out of context and write whatever you want to imagine about it, too, to make yourself feel awesome and competent and maybe faithful. I can’t stop you. I can, however, promise and trust that God won’t ever stop trying to reason with you. )
(Note: Please remember that I basically gave up on Steve–even though I don’t believe God will --at about the time when he selectively omitted a short obvious sentence in order to make me look like I totally denied something that I was agreeing with him about, so that he could compare me with rabid atheists and Satan. I didn’t read any farther than that, but if anyone did, and if you aren’t Steve, and you want to ask my reply on something later, you’re welcome to do so.)
The most important actual critique brought up by Steve before he convinced me to stop trying to reason with him, was this:
The answer to this (which isn’t at all a bad question) requires setting up some context (again), so bear with me as I go back a minute:
Apparently, Steve does, too; at least, Helm and the minority report both think this is incoherent when taken in a certain sense, and Steve seems to be going with their conclusions on that. (Otherwise he wouldn’t have been introducing distinctions between the preceptive and decretive will as solving the problem. The minority report authors sort of do this, when retorting against the majority committee authors’ attempts to teach that Jesus really does desire the salvation of souls whom he nevertheless condemns–a notion they condemn as eliding into Arminianism. Paul Helm, in his article, treats the issue without reference to such a distinction.)
It would be strange enough for God to even merely desire (without even intention on acting to fulfill that desire) the salvation from sin of entities whom He Himself chooses to ensure can never even have the possibility of being saved from sin. But that might be possible if God is not essentially love; thus God’s choice to utterly not love the non-elect (except perhaps in an incidental and accidental fashion as a side-effect), and thus to refuse to even try to save them from sin, would not be incoherent with some merely emotive desire (assuming God could even have a merely emotive desire, which I deny–and which Calvinists typically deny, too) to save them from sin–perhaps thanks to unessential love.
If this is being proposed, however (and I’ve seen Calvs and Arms alike attempt this route, in their own distinct ways–denying that God is essentially love, I mean), then we’ve immediately moved back to a more fundamental theological topic: whether God is a substantial unity of Persons acting to fulfill love to one another as the ground of even God’s own independent self-existence. In that case (which is trinitarian theism), and only in that case, God is essentially love.
And I have pointed out before (and did so again, in a colorful fashion, toward the end of my recent set of replies), that if trintiarian theism isn’t true, then really I can have no objection to the concept that God (in whatever way the term ‘desire’ could apply) desires the salvation of those whom He acts to ensure shall never even possibly be saved. My claim of incoherency follows as a corollary from accepting ortho-trin to be true.
I’ve taken a moment to point this out (yet again–I’ve certainly done it before, including in my previous set of replies), in order to provide the context for answering this good criticism from Steve, which I’ll reprint again:
Because in both cases God is acting in love to the object. Being essentially love, He loves the object and in so loving the object creates and allows it to be a real person. (Self-sacrificially creates it, even.) Being essentially love, He cannot approve of a choice of sin by the person. Being essentially love, He acts toward the healing and restoration and chastisement and discipline of the person: loving the sinner yet hating the sin. Being essentially love, He does not choose to cease loving the person (including to the point of the person’s cessation of existence). Being essentially love, being righteousness in His own interpersonal union of self-existence, God does not act to fulfill unrighteousness toward the person–does not act to fulfill non-fair-togetherness, even if the person, sinning, insists on acting to fulfill non-fair-togetherness (thus rebelling against the very ground of his own existence–if trinitarian theism is true.) God will respect the person’s own choices insofar as righteousness can respect an unrighteous person: in love. But being love, God will keep persisting–including in chastisement and discipline, toward accomplishing re-tribution, re-mediation, re-probation in and with the sinner.
I do not see that this can be any startling doctrine to a Calvinist. It might be startling to an Armininan, that God can be trusted to persist to completion in acting to save those He intends to save from sin. But why would a Calvinist disagree with this?!
The disagreement (metaphysically speaking) is either about God being essentially true love (which shouldn’t be a disagreement among trinitarian theists), or about God refusing to truly love the non-elect. But if God is essentially love, then He must act in love to objects (at least to personal objects) even when acting in wrath to objects, or else cease to essentially exist; and since we, dependent on God for our existence, are still here to even discuss the question, we can be sure that He does and shall act in love to all sinners. He is not righteous by some automatic or static necessity, but eternally righteous in active choice as the Trintarian Deity upon Whom all reality depends for existence.
Which, incidentally, is why I have seen a few Calvinists go the distance and try to claim that the non-elect are not really persons, only simulacra. God’s love is essentially the action of coherently fulfilling fair-togetherness between persons; if God keeps a non-personal object in existence and creates it only for the purpose of putting it through any number of what would be hopeless torments for the object if the object was personal, or even annihilates it out of existence altogether after creating it, then there is no conflict with the essential love of God.
(But then, so much for taking seriously any language to the effect that the ‘non-elect’ are being punished, or are ‘sinners’, etc.)
Nope. “Jason’s God” (i.e. the trinitarian God, God self-begetting and God self-begotten and God proceeding in distinct persons of substantial unity) would be “working at cross-purposes” if He chose to keep persons in existence as impenitent rebels without acting toward saving them from rebellion; and “Jason’s God” would be acting at cross-purposes to treat them as non-persons (whether annihilating them from existence or simply ‘forcing’ them to ‘be good’–temporal and thus temporary exceptions otherwise notwithstanding.)
But then, as I keep reminding readers, including Steve, in constant (even monotonous) repetition: Jason believes God is Trinitarian. Not merely monotheistic (much less less than that.)
I will also take some minutes to consider a peculiar dissonance, which I often find Calvinists making (not all the time perhaps but often); which Steve has made before (as Gene points out in his own commentary to the discussion between Steve and I a few years ago on DangIdea) and which I happened to notice him making again (before he convinced me to give up reasoning with him, etc.; see complaint a few comments above. )
Which was, insofar as I have understood from listening to Calvinists (including Steve): The non-elect never have a real choice to do good, yet they are commanded (at least preceptively if not decretively) to do good by the One who also chooses, by His own sole sovereign authoritative choice, to ensure that they shall never even possibly have a choice themselves to do good.
Or, as Steve himself agreed is true shortly afterward here, “The fact is that God could do something to prevent the damned from suffering this fate, and God does not do it, at least on the Calvinist view.” (Actually written by Victor Reppert, but bluntly agreed to be true by Steve.)
I will note in passing, in Steve’s favor, that his agreement about ‘prevention’ here is consonant enough with his complaints about my use of the term elsewhere. Either way (and in fact more obviously here, having agreed to its use in this case), it depends on a notion of the sinners going their own way without interference from God, which is blatantly false to the theology of supernaturalistic theism (and even blatantly false to other precepts of Calvinism per se)–a notion I immediately and constantly denied ever meaning myself, once Steve brought up the topic. But I have briefly mentioned this previously in another comment, and it isn’t why I am bringing up Steve’s agreement with Victor’s way of describing Calvinism now.
Steve goes on to say “That not my call. Not my responsibility. None of my business.” But then Steve allows that, if human beings should have any say in the sentencing phase, “it’s the victims who should have a say–not some human third party who is not, himself, the injured party.”
I entirely agree–it is one of the points on which Jesus’ own claims of divinity is argued: He forgives people as though He was the one Who is the injured party. (“Who is this who is even forgiving sins?!” “No one can forgive sins but God only!” as the religious experts grumbled, and rightly so in an ironic way!)
But I also note that God is not always the only ‘injured party’ in a case of transgression. And I note that what Steve is talking about, is precisely what we’re told in scripture: that when we are victimized, while we may ask for and expect punishment of the sinner, we are strenuously exhorted to forgive and show mercy, too: or else God will not forgive and show mercy to us for our transgression.
Mercy and forgiveness of sinners, both of which involve seeking and hoping for the salvation of the sinner from sin, is our business. And not only our business–it is our business, as inheriting children and ambassadors, because it is first our Father’s business, so long as there are sinners.
I know Steve could say (because he did say next):
Yes, and that point is when we stop seeking the salvation of the sinner from sin, one way or another. ‘Let them be sinners–whatever, it doesn’t matter.’ Or ‘there is no such thing as sin’. (Either of which I know Steve doesn’t accept; I’m not trying to say that. I don’t accept those positions either.)
It is also downright evil, however, to act toward fulfilling non-fair-togetherness, including with sinners. It is, by tautology, un-righteousness: to act against the very principle action upon which all reality is grounded. If God did such a thing, He would cease to exist (and all reality with Him.) If we do such a thing, we do not cease to exist, but only through the grace of God. But the grace of God must be acting toward our reconciliation and righteousness, even if for a time we are allowed to go our own way (in the sense of being sinners, heresists, not in the sense of existing independently of God in some fashion as though nominal deism was true.)
Even more importantly, Steve’s reply to Victor, if accepted as a principle rebuttal, would instantly argue against the salvation of anyone by God. For all sinners stand before God equally guilty as sinners and deserving (as sinners) of death. I do not hear Steve complaining, though, when it comes to saving him, that God’s gracious choice to do so is “a vice rather than a virtue; decadent and effete.” I do not hear him complaining that in the Incarnation and especially in the Crucifixion God is “downright evil to emphathize with the plight of the wicked” --when the wicked one, the assailant of the victim, is him.
That point beyond which God does not go, when still graciously saving Steve’s naturally impenitent hide, is the same point beyond which God does not go when saving anyone else’s naturally impenitent hide, either. God’s wholesale compassion on Steve, the assailant of the victim, is as a sinner; He has no compassion for Steve’s sins. (Or mine either; usually I put me in this place, but I’m not the one trying to pass off the idea of God’s gracious choice to save sinners deserving of death, as being decadent and effete and downright evil.) Consequently, there is no “abdication of moral discrimination” in God’s wholesale gracious compassion (and disciplining, and chastisment!) of Steve.
Just the same thing is claimed, however, by Arminians and Universalists–for everyone. Universalists (unlike Arminians, but like Calvinists) insist that God can be trusted to persist at it; and probably all universalists (myself included) think God is competent enough to eventually succeed. Just as God is competent to succeed in saving the ‘elect’ of Calvinism from sin–without “abdication of moral discrimination”, without being “decadent and effete”, without His salvation being “a vice instead of a virtue”, and without it being “down right evil” for God to show compassion on such sinners–in saving them from sin.
(Many of universalists, myself included, also think God has revealed His eventual success in scriptural texts; but that’s another very much larger discussion.)
Anyone interested in Steve’s defense for (among other things) why he didn’t bother to include a statement from me affirming a set of doctrines that I had mentioned, so that he could paint me as disaffirming those doctrines, can read it here.
In essence, it amounts to Steve just being sure that I must have been introducing them in order to deploy them as being themselves an objection to Calvinism, thus being sure that I must have been introducing them in order to disaffirm them–consequently, my affirmation is to be considered a “throwaway disclaimer”. (An affirmation of doctrine is to be considered a throwaway disclaimer??)
Or, as Steve puts it: “How else should I (or anyone else) understand your interjection of original sin at this juncture of your attack on Calvinism? That you were not competent enough to understand your own strategy?”
Well, someone isn’t understanding my own strategy, obviously.
In a hurry here, but trying to follow what’s going on (this is dense stuff!)- what did you mean by this statement (the part between the ***s: "(Relatedly, when was the last time Hitch, Ingersoll in his writings, or the Dawk, ever emphasized the importance of the salvation of sinners from sin by God’s grace?–ever avowed the reality and the importance of the Incarnation?–ever called God’s judgment against himself in order to protect his own opponents?
I hope all is well today,
In case someone wants to check contexts to see if my critique required denying those doctrines of original sin, here is what I wrote from that comment (skipping over a digression on the meaning of barring, debarring, etc.)
How can it not be obvious that it is the “barring” that I am rejecting–not the doctrines which I said I accept? Even if Steve goes back to complaining that by “barring” I must mean (which I do not and never have meant) that the sinner would go do righteousness instead apart from God’s interference in keeping him from doing righteousness; the salient point of disagreement is about God’s choice to ensure (call it whatever one wants–the point is that God is the one making the sole, authoritative and responsible choice in the matter) that the sinner shall never even have the possibility of doing righteousness. The point of disagreement is not about where the sinner gets that power from (which I have constantly affirmed is from God); and the point of disagreement is not about the inheritance of this state (which I affirmed here and have argued extensively for elsewhere). I am not even disagreeing that if God does withhold this power then the person could never even truly desire (much less choose) something otherwise than to exist in this state.
Why is it so important that I be found to be disagreeing with those points?–so important that even direct evidence that I agree on those points must be ignored, written around or outright dismissed as a fabrication on my part? I have never denied those things; I have always affirmed them when the question has come up as to what I believe about them: including here. It is not even a question of me flipflopping on them.
I occasionally (including in Steve’s defense recently at DangIdea, as well as Calvin’s here on the forum) make a point of noting that if I insist on being unfair to an opponent (or am otherwise impenitently unfair), then I am the one who God is going to punish-- by which I mean, into the eons of the eons if necessary where the fire is not quenched and the worm dies not.
Unrighteousness (i.e. non-fair-togetherness) is still unrighteousness, even if I am the one doing it to an opponent. God holds me as accountable for “every careless word” as He does anyone else.
This is a main reason why I go out of my way to agree with my opponents wherever I can find places to do so (such as in the doctrine of original sin, which Steve insists I must be disaffirming instead of affirming). Well, it’s the main negative reason; which is a real reason, but not the best of reasons. The best of reasons would be that I agree with God about fair-togetherness and am trying to cooperate in being fair to my opponents thereby. I think I can say I manage to do it for those reasons, too, sometimes ; but there are times I have to remind myself of the punishment instead.
I’ll give Steve this, that his persistence in reading through the material for answering is admirable. And, as I noted, he does in fact come up with some good critiques every once in a while. Even the places where he’s wildly flailing in left field, aren’t bad as topics worth discussion.
I wish Paul Manata was doing that side of the conversation, though. He’s better about taking people seriously in what they are saying, even when being critical about the implications (insofar as he can see to do so). Heck, I can point to places where Steve has done good critical assessments (pro or con) on a position!
Not that anyone outside Triablogue would know this if I wasn’t occasionally checking so that people outside Triablogue would know these things are up; but interested readers can follow Steve’s series of replies further
here (part 4; which also includes responses to Auggy from the link I provide at the top of this thread)