Paul Helm inadvertently gives away Calvinism. {g}


This is from an article on Divine Impassibility, which is a pretty good article overall. Paul Helm is an arch-Calvinist theologian.

The relevant point here is that a Calvinist must sooner or later come down to saying that God was never, ever loving except in some technically accidental way (perhaps!) to the non-elect–otherwise we would expect God to persist in saving the non-elect from sin in order to fulfill His love to them and so be glorified by having His love return from them fulfilled. Of course, the constancy of Calvinistic non-love to the non-elect would fit divine impassibility in some senses; but because Paul Helm is committed to a notion where God may act without love toward an object, he thus explains God’s love as being a function of the situation or condition of the creaturely recipient. The correct exposition would be that the mode of God’s love (and justice and wisdom etc.) depends on human circumstances, God’s purposes in sovereign relation to those circumstances, as a function of the situation or condition of the recipient. Otherwise we have the absurdity of God’s justice and wisdom being expressed or not according to human circumstances.

God’s wrath, everyone agrees, is such an expression, which is why He can set aside doing wrath or never do wrath at all to some objects. But then, God is not essentially wrath; nor is God omnimalevolent (to put it another way). His wrath must be an expression of His essential attributes, and not only a selection of them either: God’s wrath cannot be limited to being an expression of His justice and His wisdom being fulfilled in relation to the object but not His love being fulfilled in relation to the object.

To try to teach otherwise – which one way or another the Calvinist (like Paul Helm) must do – is to deny divine impassibility as Paul Helm himself (I agree) rightly understands it.

(His article is otherwise quite good and worth reading on the topic.)


Excellent comments Jason. Right on the money. I’d fundamentally agree with Helm on impassability too. (This is where most open theists, for example, miss agreeing to an important sense in which God is unchanging; there’s more knee-jerk reacting to impassibility going on instead of thoughtfully appropriating what’s really being valued about God in saying he’s impassible).

Paul Gavrilyuk’s The Suffering of the Impassible God: The Dialectics of Patristic Thought (2004) treats this too. Gavrilyuk shows that most of the early fathers did not have the stronger definition of impassibility in mind (i.e., that of a “cosmic stuffed shirt” as Dallas Willard describes the erroneous notion of the prevailing Patristic understanding of God’s being “apathos”). He says there’s no one definition of impassibility in the fathers but that they mainly only intended to say God couldn’t be forced to suffer, i.e., God’s not emotionally at the mercy of what happens in the world the way we are. Their fundamental point was to differentiate God from the sort of silliness we see in the Greek pantheon of gods who feuded, lost their temper, got jealous, etc. God’s not like that. He’s in control of his feelings and responses which always mediate the unchanging goodness and love that God is to the world.

But we can say all this without Helm’s Calvinism. The question is what really God is essentially that’s mediated in various changing responses we see in God as he relates to a changing world. And here most Calvinists I know want to avoid defining that unchanging character of God in terms of “love” since that lands them in precisely the problem you point out. Instead they opt for “glory” as the controlling metaphor. God acts unchangingly in ways that bring glory to him. And since there’s glory to be had in being worshiped as, say, a righteous judge, that aspect has to make its maximal/infinite contribution in the election and eternal damnation of some. That’s not loving. But that’s OK because “love” is only one of the various modes of relating to the world that brings glory to God. Judgment is another mode of relating that needs to be maximally revealed so that God’s glory is properly displayed.



Just recently I was commenting on a Calv apologist’s appeal to “holiness” along this line, here in the comments to this thread at DangIdea.


Wow. Looks like Dom went with the “I can’t come up with a good comeback, so I’ll try the Ad Hominem” approach…


My perception was identical to Mel’s!


I know Dom was replying to Jason, but I just have to comment on this:

Let’s compare Dom’s view of God to Jesus’ views on God. According to Jesus (in Matt 5 and Luke 6)

  1. We must love our enemies as ourselves, reject eye-for-an-eye retaliation, and bless those who curse us,

  2. because doing so will make us like God, which means that God loves his own enemies as himself, rejects eye-for-an-eye retaliation, and blesses those who curse him

  3. which in turn reflect the fact that, according to Jesus, God is “chrestos to poneros”. Why is that relevant? Because “chrestos” meant a healer of/benevolant towards others, while “poneros” always referred to evil persons – so God is a healer of (or at least benevolant towards) evil persons

Aside from these points, it’s interesting that the apostle John thought that “God is love”, which is gramatically similar to his statement that “God is light”. He clarified the latter by saying, “in him there is no darkness”. He went on to say that whoever lacks love will require “kolasis” on the day of jugement. Why? Because such a person “does not know God because God is love”…

(So Calvinists, Arminians, and Universalists who fail to love their enemies are in danger of kolasis…)

Moreover, Paul tells us what love entails in Corinthians 13 (the whole chapter) and Romans 13:8-10.

In conclusion, the NT authors viewed God as a pansy-ass nancy-boy.

I discuss these points with more detail here:

So I also found this amusing:

Then I suppose that Jesus is also a wolf waiting for something “nasty… on the final day”!


Wow. Dom’s rad. Pansy ass Nacy-boy God? Whew.



Hm. I’ve been too busy catching up at work from being sick, to check back in yesterday on that thread (though my email showed two replies so far.) I can hardly wait to get back to it now… :wink: :laughing:

It’s too bad, because Dom can be one of the better debators when he doesn’t let his temper get the better of him. I was hoping for something more sober from him.

I’m rather tempted to call his ad hom meltdown a win on my side, since he had to resort to that rather than to a logical reply. But I don’t like wins of that sort. :frowning: (In fact, I don’t much like thinking in terms of ‘win’ at all, in topics of this sort, except in maybe only a humorous fashion.)


Has Dom ever apologized to you for his rude remarks? Did he apologize this last time?

Why do you bother? I asked Gregory/Robin the same thing when he was wasting time with (the rather unpleasant) Steve Hays.


Not that I ever recall; but I haven’t yet checked back in on this thread, either.

Well, in Steve’s case it was largely for the exercise of it. (I have a thread around here dialoguing with him for a while, too, though I’m too lazy to look it up at the moment. :wink: )

I was honestly hoping for better from Dom, though, which is why I bothered with him in the first place. To be fair, he probably thought I was ad homming him first. (People who are prone to respond with ad homs to logic, tend to think, or feel rather, that any challenge of their positions amounts to a personal attack. Then, too, there’s the us-vs-them mentality that Calvinism seems specially apt at breeding and encouraging, though thankfully there are numerous exceptions.)

I doubt I’ll press much further, now that he’s resorted to the conversation nuke: there’s no point replying with logic, which he’s already rejected in principle (except for the benefit of the audience, maybe), and replying with ad homs is even more useless. Certainly I have many other things to be doing.


I’d say it’s Dominic’s view of Love that’s twisted, not ours… (He accused universalists of having a faulty view of God’s love)


Good point. John Frames realizes the Calvinist’s dilemma. In his books, The Doctrine of God and Apologetics to the Glory of God he admits that the problem of evil is unanswerable from his theology. But instead of taking the final steps and becoming a universalist, he simply states that God allows evil for a “greater good” purpose we cannot fathom. But he admits there can be no greater good in allowing evil for those eternally damned. Thus ultimately God is not loving.

Employing an a fortiori argument (from lesser to greater) Jesus said in MAtt 7 that God , the heavenly Father, is much MORE loving than an earthly father. Acording to calvinists like Frame he is less loving than an earthly father.

Who should we believe, God or Calvin?




(For British readers: that was a joke based on an American comic-book villain played in the early 80s by British thespian Terrance Stamp. Though the line itself from that movie was actually given as a rebuke to his attitude by another American comic-book villain, played by American thespian Gene Hackman. Each of their scenes together in that movie were pure gold. :laughing: Bonus points for any British reader who knows the movie without looking it up on imdb. Bonus points may be redeemed for credit on returned items at the EU forum’s gift shop. Email Michael for details.)

I will point out in fairness that Calvinists don’t really see this as being a technical problem. And as long as they aren’t working with a coherent trinitarian theism, they’re right, it isn’t! :wink:

See here and in the subsequent comment for some satire of mine on this point. Considering that I had bent over backwards to work fairly with the opponent in question, only to be given very short shrift in return, I decided I had earned some pointed indulgement. To be fair, I could have made the point less, um, pointedly. (And already had, I think, several times.)


I say Jason old horse, dashed decent of you to explain - what.


There, that’s better. :mrgreen: