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[size=150]“ON PREDESTINATION, REPROBATION AND THE LOVE OF GOD” by Thomas Talbott[/size] … nation.pdf

Give some thoughts on this exchange between Talbott and Piper.

It would take me a God-awfully long time :mrgreen: to comment on the whole thing; but I’m glad to see a link to this classic exchange! (I’m more familiar with Piper’s first reply than with any of the other portions, because it’s often pointed to by Calvinists when dialoguing with me.)

I was surprised to see this old debate between John Piper and me linked here (or, for that matter, linked anywhere), and I was doubly surprised to hear from Jason Pratt that several theological sites had pointed him to Piper’s first reply while ignoring my rejoinders and other matters. A wonderful thing about the web, I suppose, is the access it provides to old material and how easily one can use it to circumvent those who would try to slant material one way or another.

In any case, I thought some here might have an interest in my present attitude (many years later) towards this old debate. Quite frankly, I don’t like the polemical tone of my initial article. I originally wrote the article (several years before it was published) for a forum at Westmont College, where a friend of mine had asked me to make it as controversial and hard hitting as possible. He wanted me to “stir up the troops,” so to speak. So, not surprisingly, the article reflects a young man’s immaturity and polemical spirit.

I now find such polemics quite distasteful, however, because they are so obviously self-defeating. They not only deflect the reader’s attention away from the substance of an argument; they even foster the very “us verses them” attitude so characteristic of the most rigid fundamentalists in all religions.

The published reactions to my initial article illustrate the point nicely. For the principle objection was that my argument was not biblically informed at all; it was instead philosophically inspired and grounded in logic, a sort of non-biblical invention of my own. Almost none of my respondents seemed even to notice, in other words, that my principal argument was lifted (almost as if it were plagiarized) from the New Testament itself, albeit without the typical chapter and verse citations that some seem to relish. Accordingly, John Piper offered “as an articulate antidote to Talbott’s nonbiblical argumentation the biblically saturated essay by Geerhardus Vos, ‘The Spiritual Doctrine of the Love of God’….” By “biblically saturated” he evidently meant saturated with lots of specific references to specific texts in the Bible.

But why, I continue to wonder to this day, did he (and others) regard the argument I set forth as non-biblical? Consider the following offhand remark that Paul made concerning his friend and fellow worker Epaphroditus: “He was indeed so ill that he nearly died. But God had mercy upon him, and not only on him but on me also, so that I would not have one sorrow after another” (Phil. 2:27). Here Paul acknowledged an important point–and the very point I made in my article–concerning the way in which love ties people’s interests together even as it renders a person more vulnerable to misery and sorrow. Given Paul’s love for his friend, any good that befell his friend would also be a good that befell Paul and any evil that befell his friend would likewise be an evil that befell Paul.

Or consider a more general remark that Jesus made: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me … [and] as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me” (Mt. 25:40 & 45). So here again we encounter the same powerful point about the inclusive nature of love: how the interests of Jesus are so tightly interwoven with those of his loved ones that, if we do something to them, it is as if we have done it to him. More generally, wherever two persons are bound together in love, their purposes and interests, even the conditions of their happiness, are so logically intertwined as to be inseparable. And that is why the letter of I John can declare, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers and sisters are liars” (4:20). For it is simply not possible to love God and, at the same time, to hate those whom God loves. And neither, given Rebecca’s love for Esau, would it have been possible for God to love Rebecca (not to mention Jacob) and, at the same time, literally to hate Esau, Rebecca’s beloved son.

Or consider, finally, Paul’s “unceasing anguish” over the spiritual health of his beloved kin: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish [or pray] that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people” (Rom. 9:2-3). Nor is there anything irrational about such a wish. From the perspective of Paul’s love, his own damnation would be no worse an evil, and no greater threat to his own happiness, than the damnation of his loved ones would be.

So my point is that the polemical nature of my initial article was self-defeating for just this reason: It tended to deflect the reader’s attention away from the fact that my central argument, which I set forth in philosophical terms, was merely the elaboration of an important biblical principle concerning the inclusive nature of love.


Hello Tom:

I appreciate your mention here of the bind in which those who abhor the ideas of Universalism try to place us in by asserting that our Philosophy has trumped the Bible. Some go so far as to disparage our belief in Universalism as “the wisdom of man” while their own beliefs are, of course, heaven sent; direct from God Himself! Really??? I do admire your gracious attitude here – though find myself often falling into the sort of polemics you mention.

But seems to me that if Philosophy is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, these detractors who place the bible and philosophy in tension this way should be more respectful of philosophy – not less. The body of texts (bible) we all read and share convey important concepts – concepts which are so familiar that we should feel comfortable utilizing them without constant need to defensively quote texts for the skeptic whose intent seemingly is to debunk our ideas anyway.

Sigh; except that if I want the skeptic and detractor to accept seriously my scriptural grounding, looks like I must extent the same to him. Grrrrr – doesn’t come easy for me!!

You mention one example of a biblical truth so obvious (one would think) that it very naturally lends itself to a healthy biblical philosophy; how truly our love and happiness really are fundamentally wrapped up in the well-being of others. If one arrives at this truth via “philosophy” (which as you well note is deeply scriptural) does that make it any less valid?? I would think that varied detractors (of Universalism) should be ecstatic to discover that truth has been detected by means which seem, to them at least, outside the “proper” channels. If all truth is God’s, why not rejoice when it is unearthed? (If the fruit of the Spirit is love-joy-peace… etc why not celebrate those things; instead of asking for the proper texts to ensure correct origins??)

For me, there are other good examples of this access to truth via “philosophy” which, while not necessarily “biblical” is, nonetheless very much present in the bible. And, not to be forgotten, is accessible also by what some call “common sense”. (I often wonder why we seem afraid to insist God lives in the realm of logic and common sense?)

  1. The things which God is allowed to do, in the name of “love” can defy sanity. All too often these things are shrouded behind the heavy mist of “mystery”. But if love is what draws we sinners, (eg Romans; it is the kindness of God which brings repentance) then this assumes we can see behind the mystery to a significant degree. For me, it is axiomatic that a “love” which kills, or tortures, when it is unrequited, renders that love irrational and meaningless. Is that conviction of mine biblical? (I think it is) or is it philosophical?

  2. If God really does burn recalcitrant persons forever as punishment, it defies reason and compassion to deny that this provides, for others, motivations to serve God from fear. Sure you can scare me into compliance; but if love is the desired result, this is no way to achieve that. I merely ask any historian of human doings to offer me an example of force and torture evoking willing adoration and worship. It just don’t work that way. To assume God achieves His victories that way then seems to me very very skewed… Is that philosophy? or is it part of the biblical record??

Furthermore, why do we (do we?) insist that the only truth accessible to human kind is that articulated in the bible?? (eg no directly articulated truth in the bible condemning slavery…) My atheist friends are often far far more willing to accept these certain “philosophical” truths than are my straight-in-the-way Christian friends.

Thanks for reminding us of this dynamic Tom.


I can appreciate your feelings on such polemics. I tend to think you are probably correct. It seems far more beneficial in a dicussion to refrain from offensive language which only creates walls of resentment. Once those wall of resentment give rise, reason seems to be surpressed. We don’t tend to see clearly when we become upset.

Your words “Blasphemy in a very exact sense” right out of the gate simply upsets anyone who holds the doctrine dearly. And even if they are wrong and hold to a false doctrine, it is no help to them to upset them. Rather we should try to be kind and respectful in hopes we might actually communicate truth to each other.

Thanks again for the encouragment,


On the other hand, No matter how nice or how rude you speak you are dubbed a heretic in their book.

It seems to me that there are two major points of contention between Dr. Talbott and Dr. Piper. I’ll try as best to articulate my understanding and why I believe Thomas holds the edge on his interpretation of Romans 9.

Both have a ace in their hand which makes it hard for us readers to simply disregard the others position.

Piper’s ace seems to me to be that Paul raises the issue that ‘not all Isreal is Isreal’. Piper appears to be pressing the point that this does not fit into Talbott’s interpretation. For under Talbott’s view All isreal is Isreal and all Isreal will be saved.

Talbott’s ace seems to me to be that Paul takes the very ones who are vessels of wrath and states they have not fallen beyond recovery. Talbott is pressing that Piper’s view does not allow the reprobate (the one’s harded, non-elect) to be objects of mercy, while Paul most certainly allows it.

I think they are both right, however pipers point I believe is compatible for Talbott. In other words Talbott can easily agree (and probably does) that Isreal is not made up of physical descendents of Abraham. Indeed that seems to be Pauls point that not all Isreal is Isreal. For to be in Isreal is to be of faith in Christ Jesus. But Talbott’s view is not affected by this at all. As far as I have read Talbott, the only way to be saved is via faith in Christ Jesus. And so Talbott, I would imagine, agrees that one is an Isrealite by faith and not by observance of the law nor genetic inheritance. But this can be true and it also be true that individuals can be hardened as objects of wrath to be prepared as objects of Mercy - there is no contradiction.

Now on the other hand Talbott’s point seems completely incompatible for Piper. Namely that reprobates can be objects of mercy. For if the reprobate (later) becomes a object of mercy then he was never a object of wrath from before time began. God from before time, elected that person into a union with Christ Jesus and so he was never a reprobate.

So it seems that Talbott’s view escapes the collapse of categories where Piper’s is trapped.

For these reasons I believe Talbott got it right.

Any thoughts?


My only (and slight) disagreement, is that the vessels of wrath can still be vessels of wrath in ontological relation to God (i.e. “beforehand”) while also being vessels of mercy. (You had written, “For if the reprobate (later) becomes a object of mercy then he was •never• a object of wrath from before time began.”)

I am in the process of a three-way discussion of Rom 9-11 between Steve Hays and an Arminian poster named Robert, here at Victor Reppert’s weblog; where one of the things I have briefly mentioned (now that actual exegesis on the chapters has sort-of begun), is the importance of checking St. Paul’s use of pottery-answering-back-to-potter references from the OT: he certainly has at least two of the three Isaianic refs in mind (based on his usage of other portions of those two refs nearby), and almost certainly Jeremiah 18:1-10ff, too–where the point is that the potter reforms the lump if the pottery he is forming is spoiled, creating a new piece of pottery from the same lump. Which can be hard on the lump! (As anyone may know from watching a potter ‘destroy’ his lump prior to reforming it.) Nor is the personal choice of the analogous lump taken out of the account; the warning from God to the nation of Judah in Jeremiah 18 is, ‘Reform now, or by God I’ll be reforming you and you aren’t going to like it!’ :mrgreen:

May I add that it’s relatively rare for Calv or Arm theologians to check those OT refs when commenting on this portion of Romans? :wink: (Except perhaps to briefly quote one of the prophets, usually Isaiah, on the pottery having no right to answer back to the potter. But the Isaianic refs are just as complexly hopeful as the Jeremiah ref; maybe even moreso.)

And this highlights very well the weakness of Calvinist theology…It often paints them into corners they don’t want to be in, although sometimes they think it works in their favor. (Mind you, the Arms & Opens; or is that open arms? :laughing: have their problems too).
I think more conservative theologians are recognizing this, which is why we’re seeing more amalgamations of the two systems taught in churches. Now if we could just get them to see UR…

I was not making a case on what or how reprobation might work but merley making the point that in Calvinist theology reprobates are never objects of mercy. Therfore if at any time the very one they call a reprobate becomes a object of mercy then that person was NEVER an object of wrath according to their view of romans 9; For object of wrath will end up in hell forever.

man the Calmenian theology is the messiest of them all. At least I have a respect, even for the hard ones like James White or Steve Hays. Give them credit that their consistent. But the Calmenian wants the best of both worlds because they simply don’t know where to go.


Ahh! but what about the Armilvinists? :wink:

So does that make the believers here Uniarmilvinists or Unicalmenians?

Frankly, the best chance of getting people to see UR is to have both Calv and Arm taught in amalgamation in churches. :laughing:

Agreed, Aug and Jason…

Jeff: Those amalgamations sound suspiciously like C.S. Lewis Sci Fi Characters :laughing:



Ahh! the old wave/particle duality :wink:

I’d heard about this article but never read it.

I love Talbott’s books and have a great respect for Piper.
I believe his site and his cannon of sermons
a great resource.

What a humdinger. Great to see two heavy weight slugging
it out like this. Talbott clearly wins on points.