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Theological Defenses of Hell: Calvinism

posted by Scot McKnight

GregMacd.jpgThe problems for hell are the issues of justice (hell can’t fit the crime of sin by finite beings) and the issue of joy (the saved can’t be eternally blissful knowing loved ones are suffering in hell). Gregory Macdonald’s book The Evangelical Universalist  next describes how some theologians have responded to these problems, and he examines both Calvinism and free will theism — in the forms of open theism and Molinism. Today we look at Calvinism, and it is always hard to summarize complex arguments and not feel one has short schrifted … so please do speak up if you think this summary of what Parry says misrepresents his descriptions…

Big question: Do you think the Calvinist has the better argument?
I begin with how “Macdonald” (Robin Parry) sketches the Calvinist defense, and it is a set of thinking called “compatibilism,” the view that God’s causal determinism and moral freedom and human responsibility are compatible. Here are his points, and he sketches first a Calvinist universalism in order to show where the Calvinist particularist (one who believes in hell) parts company:
First, God is omnipotent, and therefore could cause all people to accept Christ.
Second, God is omniscient, and therefore would know how to cause all to accept Christ.
Third, God is omnibenevolent, and therefore would want all to accept Christ.
Fourth, God will cause all to accept Christ.
Fifth, all people will freely accept Christ.


What’s the problem here? “Macdonald” argues that #5 is false for Calvinists and they get to this because they think #3 is false (#1 and #2 are true), and here is his arresting way of saying it: “God, according to the Calvinist, does not love all people and want to save them. If he did then he would. Rather, he loves the elect — his chosen people. It is them he loves, was for them he died, and it is they he will save” (19).

Does this summarize accurately the Calvinist view?
[I'm not sure I've heard Calvinists say God doesn't love all. But perhaps he means "savingly love" or that he is tying the two together: "love and want to save." If you follow this entire debate you will see quickly that the big issue in this debate is how one understands God and God's love and God's justice.]
Anyway, Robin Parry goes on to sketch how Calvinists have responded. Essentially, it has to do with humans deserving punishment because of sin [God must be just], that God’s salvation is undeserved [God's love cannot be presumed] and God can save who and as many as God wants, and that arguments for fairness fall apart because no one deserves salvation. Parry counters that there is nothing necessary for God’s glory for any to be punished and that God’s choice to save some calls into question the love of God. So, as he argues, the central problem for Calvinism is not justice but God’s love.
One issue here: sometimes Calvinists will say God does not have to love but God has to be just. But, Parry asks, can the God “who is love” ever not love and still be God?
  Is God perfect if God does not love all?


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Willie B.

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:37 am


MacDonald highlights why I’m not a Calvinist. It is impossible to say that God behaves lovingly towards a person yet at the same time hold that God does not “will” their salvation. How can God “love” a person in any meaningful sense while at the same time “willing” their eternal damnation? hell is the worst possible thing that could happen to a person. After all, to love someone at least means that you wish for that person’s flourishing.
I know some in the Reformed tradition make distinctions about the love of God (the whole common grace thing). But any responses I’ve ever heard to this argument are unsatisfactory. There is something very cold and dark and the heart of calvinism, for a calvinist says that God loves ALL people in SOME ways but only SOME people in ALL ways, and as John Wesley put it, it is the type of “love” that makes the blood run cold.
-Second, a God who loves all people created in his image and works for their salvation seems intuitively more perfect than a God who only loves some people.
And on the note of “greatest possible world” theodicies (because this would be the calvinist’s counter). I believe there are powerful reasons for thinking that by restricting God?s intentions to ?global goods? or into God?s attempt to maximize self-glorification, worship directed at God becomes crippled if not downright impossible. God only brings salvation to those, for whom some mysterious reason, are able to serve as the means by which God is enabled to bring more adulation to himself. In other words, God is not really good to a worshipper or individual for his/her own sake. if the calvinist is right it seems that I must declare that, ?God does not really care for me after all.? Oh, God has shown goodness to me if i’m part of the elect, and I will certainly enjoy fellowship with God by being part of the elect. But God being good to me (i.e. God giving me the gift of salvation, loving me) is only incidental. God does not really care for those who he saves; he only cares about actualizing the world which will in the end bring him the most glory. At best, worship could be restricted to praise of God ?for His world-organizing activity;? worship could not give praise to God because he loves and cares for our welfare. Under such a theological system, we would only be the means to an end (this is my interpretation of an argument by Marilyn McCord Adams).
basically i agree with parry



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Bo

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:57 am


The God Jesus describes to us is supposedly a father exponentially better than any of our earthly fathers. If this is true, I can think of few fathers who would let their children walk off of a cliff, let alone subject themselves to eternal conscious torment in Hell. Of course often people will cite free will, arguing that God loves us so much that he respects our decision to separate ourselves from Him, our life source. I think that argument or line of reasoning is one of the weakest theological arguments dealing with theodicy, however Calvinists can’t even claim this, free will does not allow for what they conceive of as a totally sovereign God. I can’t imagine how people find a God that is totally sovereign, in the sense that every detail of the world (or at least individual persons salvations) is predestined by God, to be worthy of worship in light of the current (and past) state of our world. I hope our God is more than a puppet master, but rather an infinitely wise and intelligent God who can (and will) achieve His purposes without infringing upon our free will and allowing the vast majority of humanity to hopelessly suffer forever.



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angusj

posted December 23, 2009 at 5:24 am


I don’t think Parry (or at least the sketch of his position above) has fairly represented the Calvinist position on hell (ie Compatibilism). My understanding of Compatibilism is that the Bible in different places seems to support 2 seemingly incompatible truths – that humankind has free will (ie to choose or reject God) and that it is God who predestines some to be saved (and ). Rather than rejecting certain passages in favor of others, Compatibilists simply choose to accept this intellectual conundrum.
Personal disclosure: Although I come from a Calvinist tradition I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a Calvinist. For a start I’m currently persuaded towards the Annihilationist position.



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John W Frye

posted December 23, 2009 at 7:03 am


I think a working Calvinism would paraphrase the Apostle John’s phrase “for God is love” to “for God is glory.” Everything (which means all things including the apparent “random” movements of nano-particles) has been decreed by God for the maximum degree of glory. God’s glory, therefore, trumps everything and free-will theism poses a great threat to God’s glory. God wrote the program in eternity past and hit “execute” and the program is working exactly as God wills, nothing that happens is ever, ever outside God’s decreed will. God “loves” for his own glory and God hates for his own glory. Hell is as necessary for God’s glory as Jesus’ redemptive work is necessary for God’s glory. Hell and the Cross are allies in Calvinism.



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Ryan

posted December 23, 2009 at 7:54 am


It is quite simple actually. God must allow some to go to Hell because if he didn’t hell wouldn’t be a reality. If he saves all there is no need for hell. Those who go to heaven wouldn’t know what they arer missing out on, they would have nothing to be grateful for. Therefore would not properly delight in Gods saving grace. By allowing some to go to hell God is especially loving to others. Romans 9:22-24



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JoanieD

posted December 23, 2009 at 8:17 am


Scot asked: “Is God perfect if God does not love all?” If God did not love all, he would not be perfect. But he DOES love all and therefore IS perfect.
And yes, he created human beings with free will, but he created them in such a way that, if Christian Universalism is true, their free will will always choose God in the end.
I am still working my way through the book and I am still wanting to learn more about whether people will continue to have “choices” once they have died. That seems to be a big issue for Christian Universalism. It does appear that in the end, all will be in God, but is it all that was ever created or is it all after the ones that refuse God have been annihilated (if we believe in annihalation)? That’s something I am still working on. I know C.S Lewis and N.T Wright could not come up with Christian Universalism and I respect their studies and faith very much, but I am still open to learning.



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Bob Young

posted December 23, 2009 at 8:36 am


You can’t just use the term “hell” here – it’s too loaded. Are you referring to:
1. Gehenna[NT] (the burning, maggot-infested garbage dump outside of town)?
2. Hades[NT]/Sheol[OT] (the grave)?
3. Limne Pur[NT] (the lake of fire)?
Most people equate “hell” with #3, which is a term Jesus never used (it’s found in Revelation 20).
It doesn’t really matter what Calvinists believe about “hell” if what they’re they interpret as “hell” isn’t what Jesus or the apostles meant in the first place.
N.T. Wright’s “Surprised By Hope” is essential reading here…



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dopderbeck

posted December 23, 2009 at 8:52 am


One of the problems, which you allude to in the post, is that “Calvinist” is a contested term. Princeton Seminary celebrated a year of Calvin last year; I’m pretty sure they have a different view of “Calvinist” than, say, John MacArthur. There are “Calvinists” who are more into theologies of “glory” and there are Calvinists who are more into theologies of “cross.”
I see the divide more broadly along the lines of monergism / synergenism and election. If you think that no human merit participates in gaining salvation and that God freely elects those who are saved, then IMHO you are a “Calvinist” in spirit. I tend to think that the reality of “Hell” if “God is Love” is easier to understand within the framework of monergism and election, because the ultimate issue is then taken out of human hands and also is out of the ability of human perception to decipher with certainty “who is in and who is out.” In other words — only God knows for sure who is among the elect, and if “God is Love” we have great reason for a wide hope in God’s mercy that many, if not most, will be saved; and moreover, God’s election is consistent with His character and therefore is ultimately loving and just, whether we can presently see this or not.
The problem of compatibilist free will, BTW, doesn’t go away if you adopt a synergistic understanding of the ordo salutis or an open theist view of the “future,” unless the open theist view slides into an unorthodox view of God’s transcendence over creation. If God is the transcendent, sovereign creator, then all human “free will” can only be “compatibilist.”



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Andy W.

posted December 23, 2009 at 8:59 am


Ryan #5…
If you knew someone that acted like the God you describe here, what would you think of that person? I can think of a few tyrannical leaders throughout history that thought very much the same way about their rule.



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Howard Burgoyne

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:41 am


Hell’s primary occupants will always be “the Devil and his angels” who rebelled in full knowledge of God, God’s grace (which may have incited their rebellion), and God’s glory. We need a cosmic view of Hell as we do of Heaven. Just looking at it from an anthropocentric view won’t do.



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Jim

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:43 am


How does the idea that God does not love some square with Jesus teaching that we should love our enemies and the way he grounds that in the love of God?
If God excludes himself from loving some, then why should we love even our enemies?



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Paul Luedtke

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:43 am


The Calvin I know would not want you comparing his thoughts with those of others, but would refer to a fresh reading of Scripture, which is always his basis for coming to a knowledge of God. At this point in history, Calvin is a “tradition” like those he was endeavoring to reform. His basis of reformation was the scriptures.
Therefore, Calvin would probably posit that since by word and by image some awful place or state is referred to by Jesus and his disciples, then “Hell” must be a reality. He would also caution to remember that the words of Jesus are metaphorical when is comes to “hell.” The very word “gehenna” draws an analogy. The awful place or state is simply not described exhaustively. But the thrust is clear. You don’t want to go there.
And from the lips (or writings) of those speakers, some end up there and some do not. The thrust of their message is to be among those who are not. Beyond that, the scriptures don’t leave much room for discussion. I would hope that Calvin, always erring on a minimum of “interpretation” would say something in that vein.



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Phil

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:45 am


Ryan # 5,
Is not hell for the devil and his hordes? It’s necessity isn’t for human punishment. I am not Calvinist, and it is for this reason. The Love of God, vs. the choice of man. Calvinism IMO removes the choice from man and the love from God, and replaces it with guilt for some and choice with God.
Phil



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John H

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:56 am


Ok, I am probably a heretic but here is my thoughts on heaven and hell.
1. God created humans by love, and for loving.
2. Humans are free to accept or reject this love. (That choice is not a forever decision, repentance is always an option.
3. Those who accept the love of God will live in a state of perfect love forever. This state of love is complete and no circumstances can cause an interruption in this love.
4. Those who have rejected God’s love totally will be left in a condition where there is absolutely no love. Their desire to satisfy themselves will consume them and their inability to do so will cause eternal misery.
5. This misery is justified because they had every opportunity to join in God’s love and they rejected God, God never rejected them. But being an all loving God only imposes on them the natural consequences of their own choices.
That’s probably all wrong, but hopefully there is some truth there.



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Brian

posted December 23, 2009 at 9:59 am


“God, according to the Calvinist, does not love all people and want to save them. If he did then he would. Rather, he loves the elect — his chosen people. It is them he loves, was for them he died, and it is they he will save” (19). I think this does statement does, in broad terms, accurately nail the so-called Calvinist position. Granted, “Calvinist” and all the other terms we could use (including “hell” as pointed out by Bob Young above) mean different things to different people. But I think the quotation is a good summary.
My thought is this: whatever other theological and philosophical gridwork we want to bring to the table, the scriptures (Old and New Testaments) are pretty stuck on the idea of the “elect.” And frankly (IMHO), the “Calvinist position” is really the only one that integrates the concept well. So… while it doesn’t always feel comfortable or seem “fair” to our modern or post-modern sensibilities, I think we have to embrace and wrestle with the fact that some have been chosen, and some have not been chosen… which of course entails that some will end up in “hell” and some will not. And God is still Love and still Just in that. Perhaps everyone will now label me a “Calvinist”, but I guess all that seems the most consistent to me with the entire witness of scripture. Hmmm….



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Eric

posted December 23, 2009 at 10:04 am


Part of dealing with complex issues is to summarize other people’s positions on their own terms. I’ve rarely seen a Calvinist describe the issue in this way. This seems more like an argument Macdonald has constructed in order to argue against Calvinist views on this subject. Most Calvinists would defend Hell on scriptural grounds. Tim Keller (a Calvinist), for example, says the doctrine of hell is important because 1) Jesus taught it, 2) it shows how dependent we are on God for everything, 3) it shows the danger of living life for yourself, and 4) it is the only way to know how much Jesus loves us and what he did for us ( http://www.redeemer.com/news_and_events/articles/the_importance_of_hell.html ). You may disagree with him, but it does show that Keller is concerned with what Scripture says about the doctrine and that he has pastoral reasons for holding to the doctrine. Keller also says that the “God must be just” line of argument probably isn’t the best way to go:
“… it is possible to stress the doctrine of hell in unwise ways. Many, for fear of doctrinal compromise, want to put all the emphasis on God’s active judgment, and none on the self-chosen character of hell. Ironically, as we have seen, this unBiblical imbalance often makes it less of a deterrent to non-believers rather than more of one.”



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Brian

posted December 23, 2009 at 10:04 am


John #14… I really like your thoughts. I think you’re pretty right on!



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ChrisB

posted December 23, 2009 at 10:19 am


I’m not really a Calvinist, but I think I can offer a thought that may clarify their stance.
God created us to know Him.
If we had never fallen, or if God sent every sinner to hell, we would never experience and therefore know God in His mercy.
If we had never fallen, or if God saved all, we would never experience and therefore know God in His justice.
Unless some are saved and some are condemned, we cannot know God as He really is.



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Richard

posted December 23, 2009 at 10:58 am


God must, at all times, operate in love. For the traditional proponents of hell, hell must be an act of love. God is love becomes foundational in understanding the Trinity and God as Creator and Redemmer. You cannot shut off God’s love so that God can be “just” for a moment. Whatever view we hold to we must hold that what God is doing is in love and out of love at the center of his being.
BUT
God’s greatest act of love, according to himself, was laying down his life for his friends. His friends were the very ones that betrayed him and lived as his enemies. Sounds like all of humanity in that we’ve all betrayed and lived as enemies.



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Helen

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:14 am


John Frye (#4): I think a working Calvinism would paraphrase the Apostle John’s phrase “for God is love” to “for God is glory.”
I agree. But I don’t understand why it’s ok to change the word ‘love’ to glory’ when John intentionally used the word ‘love’.



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Jeff Doles

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:18 am


The offering of Jesus Christ was God’s greatest act of love, and also of justice? So I don’t think we need to see people in hell in order to understand divine love and justice. Not when we can see God’s love and justice displayed in Jesus Christ.



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Richard

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:21 am


@20 and 21.
Beautiful points. I agree completely.



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Scott Eaton

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:29 am


As pointed out by John Frye, according to the Calvinist EVERYTHING God does is for His glory. Or put another way everything God does is for HIMSELF. If God loves it is for His glory (Himself). If God hates it is for His glory (Himself). If God saves or God damns it is for His glory and not anything else.
John Piper writes about the “God-centeredness of God.” He says, “many people are God-centered as long as God is man-centered…God’s ultimate commitment is to Himself and not to us…God performs salvation for HIS OWN SAKE. He justifies the people called by His name in order that He may be glorified.” [Piper, "Brothers, We Are Not Professionals", Chapter 2 (titled "Brothers, God Loves His Glory."), pg 6-7]
I think Robin Parry summarizes the Calvinist view rather well (albeit simplisticly). Hell exists because it gives God glory. God saves some because it gives God glory. A Calvinist would say that God loves all people, but He does not love all people the same. Some He loves savingly and others He simply leaves in their sin but loves them through common grace. The love of God is displayed in His election of some and His justice is displayed in the damnation of others. All of this is not primarily for those who are saved or damned, but FOR GOD’S SAKE.
On his blog Ben Witherington III wrote about this. He took Calvinists to task for making God look like an egotistical monster (my words not his).
Agree or disagree with the position, I think this does accurately portray the Calvinists view.



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Karl

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:39 am


While C.S. Lewis had a strong sense of the sovereignty of God, he was no Calvinist. Not feeling compelled to reconcile a Calvinistic understanding of God’s sovereignty with the doctrine of a loving God and humans who have the ability to make choices that matter, left Lewis free to voice this opinion:
The doctrine of hell, although barbarous to many, has the full support of Scripture, especially of our Lord’s own words; and has always been held by Christendom. And it has the support of Reason: . . . If the happiness of a creature lies in voluntary self-surrender to God, it also has the right to voluntarily refuse.
I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully ‘All will be saved’. But my reason retorts, ‘Without their will, or with it’? In fact, God has paid the price, and herein lies the real problem: so much mercy, yet still there is hell.
God can’t condone evil, forgiving the wilfully unrepentant. Lost souls have their wish – to live wholly in the Self, and to make the best of what they find there. And what they finds there is hell. Should God increase our chances to repent? I believe that if a million opportunities were likely to do good, they would be given. But finality has to come some time. Our Lord uses three symbols to describe hell – everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46), destruction (Matthew 10:28), and privation, exclusion, banishment (Matthew 22:13). The image of fire illustrates both torment and destruction (not annihilation – the destruction of one thing issues in the emergence of something else, in both worlds). It may be feasible that hell is hell not from its own point of view, but from that of heaven. And it is also possible that the eternal fixity of the lost soul need not imply endless duration. Our Lord emphasises rather the finality of hell. Does the ultimate loss of a soul mean the defeat of Omnipotence? In a sense, yes. The damned are successful rebels to the end, enslaved within the horrible freedom they have demanded. The doors of hell are locked on the inside.
In the long run, objectors to the doctrine of hell must answer this question: What are you asking God to do? To wipe out their past sins, and at all costs to give them a fresh start, smoothing every difficulty, and offering every miraculous help? But he has done so – in the life and death of his Son. To forgive them? They will not be forgiven. To leave them alone? Alas, that is what he does.



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JoanieD

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:40 am


I think Christianity has traditionally taught that Satan is a liar. Satan would have us believe that God cannot love us because we are too “bad.” Satan throws all our sins and weaknesses at us and tells us we are only worthy of hell (whatever that is) and he hopes for us to despair. It is God who is our Advocate. It is God who loves us so much that he took on human flesh and died for us.
Sometimes it seems like people who espouse a certain “type” of Christianity almost reverse this and make God be the accuser of us. I think Jesus was so angry at the religious leaders of his time because they were making it so difficult for the people to see and know God as a loving Father who would search diligently for each one of us to bring us into his loving embrace. In the story Jesus told about the Prodigal Son, note that the son does not return to his father because he knows he has done wrong, but because he knows he will get better treatment than the way he has been living. But even with that half-hearted return towards his father, his father sees him from a long way off and runs to his son to welcome him back home. God will “pounce” on even the tiniest repentances that we may make as we turn away from our own way of doing things and look toward God’s way.
I absolutely love Jesus’ parables.



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Willie B.

posted December 23, 2009 at 11:55 am


Is anybody else completely horrified by the self glorifying, self loving, God that John Frye (#4) and Scott Eaton talk about? God himself is not capable of altruistic love? In fact, God is not capable of the greatest kind of love according to Jesus- to lay down you life for another-because on this model it is ultimately not “the other” that Jesus lays his life down for, it is primarily for God’s own glory.
This type of theology is what I was responding to in the 2nd half of my first post. I don’t like it. scares me.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted December 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm


I’ve been debating this issue with Calvinists for years to no avail. They always tell me that I either don’t take sin seriously enough or that I “place too much value” on individual human life. (Not sure how this squares with their position on abortion…)
Besides the Scriptural problems, TULIP is disturbing because we end up with hopeless people – people who are beyond the reach of God’s love, people who cannot be redeemed, people who are incapable of repentance. I fail to see how such a position does not naturally lead to despair (if not for ourselves, for those who cannot be redeemed).
This notion is really upsetting to me, and when I first encountered neo-Calvinism while struggling through a faith crisis of my own, I almost left the Christian faith for good I was so disgusted by a God who would create people for no other purpose but to suffer eternally in hell. Quite frankly, this God seems sadistic to me. I figured that if the Calvinists were right, it wouldn’t matter if I left the faith anyway – it was out of my control; I’d be damned or saved and there was nothing I could do about it.
Thankfully, I bumped into Boyd and Pinnock about this time, and though I’m not into “Open Theism,” I have a much more optimistic view of God’s love for the world.
Calvinism forces us to reinterpret a lot of passages in ways that don’t make sense. Chief among them John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever would believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life” becomes “For God so hated the world, that He beat up His only begotten son, that whosoever was chosen ahead of time by Him would not perish but have everlasting life.”
It’s a stretch.
(P.S. My name links to a post entitled “Why Calvinism Makes Me Cry”)



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Jjoe

posted December 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm


To me the obvious answer is that we live in hell, with sickness, misery, poverty, war, hate, knowing that the more we love someone the more it will hurt when they die and leave us, all of us separated from God, desperately studying a book for hope.
Could God design a better hell, a more effective way of illustrating why we need to move toward Him?
Perhaps that is why God made us mortal, so that we wouldn’t be trapped here eternally. Perhaps death is the mechanism by which all are saved by leaving this vale of tears.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted December 23, 2009 at 12:10 pm


One more thing – I think Calvinism turns the good news into bad news – at least for most people. When I bring this up, Calvinists tell me I should be grateful for my own salvation and trust God’s “higher ways” when it comes to everyone else. I’d like to think this is simply a terrible lack of empathy on their part (which is sometimes the case), but most of the time I think they sincerely believe that this is what Scripture teaches and have intellectualized it to a point that it doesn’t bother them anymore.



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beckyr

posted December 23, 2009 at 12:14 pm


If the calvinist God is the real God, I will not follow him. I treat my own kids better than that God.



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Wonders for Oyarsa

posted December 23, 2009 at 12:22 pm


I think this is more or less correct of many internet Calvnists I run into – folks who I assume are reformed baptists, and essentially neo-funamentalists. I would applaud a good many Calvnists for having a more nuanced perspective. The way I understand it, in more traditional Calvinism, there is a distinction between God’s will in the eternal decree and God’s will in human experience. In our experience, God longs for the salvation of all, and wills that none should perish. The call is for every one of us. However, from the eternal perspective, nothing is ever done outside his decree, so that all act acording to their essential nature. An analogy would be of, say, Tolkien writing The Lord of the Rings. As a writer, Tolkien wills Gollumn’s destruction, in that these are the words he writes. But as a reader, and in his heart, Tolkien longs for his Salvation and is heartbroken when in the end Gollumn finally chooses the evil. Yet even Gollumn’s tragic evil is woven for the ultimate good of the story as a whole – his twisted nature was outside redemption for himself, but not for Frodo. So the world, and all that is in it, will be for the glory of God – and by that we mean something akin to the sheer magnificance of a fully realized artistic vision. The darkness only serves to accentuate the light, and those destined for destruction (worked out by their own will) show forth the glory even more brightly – just as the goodness of Frodo and Sam shine forth all the brighter against the cruelty of the Orcs and the bleak landscape of Mordor.
So, when we are looking at the perspective of God as father, yes he longs and works for the salvation of all. If we look at the perspective of God as author, he elects some for glory and some for destruction. Both are said to be true from their own angle.
At least, that’s the more mature Calvinist perspective I’ve been exposed to, which, again, I would distinguish from the neo-fundamentalist view. Now, I would still disagree with even the more mature Calvinist view on the grounds that they still seem to subordinate the fatherhood to the authorhood. I believe that God is father to us in a deeper and more fundamental sense then even his relationship as author of the story of history. But I will readily aknowledge that this position does not have quite the abhorance of the diabolical and twisted view of glory of the neo-fundamentalist. THAT position is, in my view, a far more serious heresy than any of the Christological heresies of the early Church. Basically, for all practical purposes, it concedes the point to Marcion that the God depicted in the OT scriptures is cruel, base, and wicked, and then proceeds to fall down and worship him on the basis of sheer overwhelming power of self-agrandized will. Yes, I did call it Devil worship – anytime you worship something that, in your heart of hearts, you belive to be evil (but powerful), that’s what you’re doing. And we become like that which we worship.



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Joey

posted December 23, 2009 at 1:29 pm


ChrisB, I agree that we are to know God’s mercy and justice but I’m convinced that they are way more closely related than we give them credit for. As I mentioned yesterday, Paul tells us that God’s perfect act of justice was dieing on the cross – an act of mercy. I think that we should try to understand God’s justice through this. It is the only way to make sense of Micah 6:8, which would otherwise just seem like a contradiction (do justice and love mercy?).
If we can’t start recognizing that God’s justice is perfectly demonstrated through acts of mercy I think we’re going to miss the girth of Jesus’ teachings and misshape our faith accordingly. Love your enemies, forgive 7×70, turn the other cheek, etc.



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Thom1st

posted December 23, 2009 at 1:55 pm


I’ve heard a lot of Calvinists either 1. say that God doesn’t love everyone (they appeal to Ps. 5:5), or 2. that God’s love for the elect is different than his love for the damned (the damned do not receive a ‘saving’ love). The second is the view espoused by DA Carson in his book ‘The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God.’
These two positions may not represent all Calvinists, but I do think it is at least logically consistent within their position to deny that God loves everyone, or at least that he loves everyone in the same way. This, among other things, is why I am not a Calvinist.
Thanks for the posts on this topic. I am enjoying them.



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Richard

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:04 pm


@15 Brian
But election in the Scritpures is not about us being elected for ourselves and our salvation. Election in the Scriptures is about being elected for the sake of others, a first fruit of sorts. We are elected to mission.



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Aaron

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:47 pm


#15 & #13
Election is clearly understood from an arminian point of view in that God elects those who he knows ahead of time will respond to him in Faith. “for those God forknew he also predestined…”



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Aaron

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:48 pm


oops I meant #15 &#34



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Andy W.

posted December 23, 2009 at 2:58 pm


Joey #32 I agree entirely. The Eastern Orthodox have really helped me understand this.
This is taken from an article by Dr. Kalomiros a Greek Orthodox theologian.
“Perhaps the beginning of the mistaken interpretation of the word justice in the Holy Scriptures was its translation by the Greek word DIKAIWSUNH. Not that it is a mistaken translation, but because this word, being a word of the pagan, humanistic, Greek civilization, was charged with human notions which could easily lead to misunderstandings.
First of all, the word DIKAIWSUNH brings to mind an equal distribution. This is why it is represented by a balance. The good are rewarded and the bad are punished by human society in a fair way. This is human justice, the one which takes place in court.
Is this the meaning of God’s justice, however?
The word DIKAIWSUNH, “justice”, is a translation of the Hebraic word tsedaka. This word means “the divine energy which accomplishes man’s salvation”. It is parallel and almost synonymous to the other Hebraic word, hesed which means “mercy”, “compassion”, “love”, and to the word, emeth which means “fidelity”, “truth”. This, as you see, gives a completely other dimension to what we usually conceive as justice. This is how the (EO)Church understood God’s justice. This is what the Fathers of the Church taught of it. “How can you call God just”, writes Saint Isaac the Syrian, “when you read the passage on the wage given to the workers? ‘Friend, I do thee no wrong; I will give unto this last even as unto thee who worked for me from the first hour. Is thine eye evil, because I am good?’” “How can a man call God just”, continues Saint Isaac, “when he comes across the passage on the prodigal son, who wasted his wealth in riotous living, and yet only for the contrition which he showed, the father ran and fell upon his neck, and gave him authority over all his wealth? None other but His very Son said these things concerning Him lest we doubt it, and thus He bare witness concerning Him. Where, then, is God’s justice, for whilst we were sinners, Christ died for us!” 6
So we see that God is not just, with the human meaning of this word, but we see that His justice means His goodness and love, which are given in an unjust manner, that is, God always gives without taking anything in return, and He gives to persons like us who are not worthy of receiving.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:13 pm


Regarding the nature of God’s love and whether love should be re-defined as “self-glorification” – I think it’s important to consider the implications of such a theory when so much of Scripture’s instructions about how we are to love one another appeals to the nature of God for support.
John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”
In this passage, God’s love is defined as sacrificial, not self-serving.
Also, when Jesus instructs us to love our enemies, He appeals to the nature of God for support (“be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”; “be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful”)
If we simply have misunderstood the word “love” and it really means “self-glorification,” what are the implications for how we ought to behave toward one another?



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Bill Crawford

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:14 pm


Hi my name’s Bill and I’m a Calvinist.
By that I mean a Westminster Confession, Heidelberg Catechism kind of Calvinist (not a Piper, MacArthur, Drsicoll, Edwards, kind).
#30 Beckyr says she would not treat her kids the way (this) God treats people.
However, as soon as God’s sovereignty is introduced, you don’t have to look at hell as a problem for God’s love – look at Darfur, the south side of Chicago (no offense Scot) or H1N1. None of us would treat our kids these ways either. Any suffering becomes a problem if we seek to extrapolate from “God is love” to the phenomena of creation, including hell. If we can say there’s a “bigger purpose” in these here-and-now sufferings that reconcile them with God’s love (even though we don’t know what that might be) it does not seem as much a stretch to do the same with hell).
As for me, I’ll put my hand to my mouth (which I need to do more often) and say with Job – “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”



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Jason

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:23 pm


I think he gives “Calvinism” a pretty fair shake though Calvin himself emphasizes that his doctrine of election is to be rooted in the Love of God (see Calvin’s doctrine of election in: Institutes, III.xxi-xxv). While it might not seem loving to us, Calvin wants to say that God’s election is solely based upon Grace and not works (even the work of us making a “decision for Christ” see book III.xxi). He then looks at the fact that God elects some over others (e.g. Jacob/Esau)and thus concludes “[God] does not indiscriminately adopt all into the hope of salvation but gives to some what he denies to others” (Institutes III.xxi p. 921 of T&T Clark edition). I consider myself Reformed so I have a great appreciation for Calvin’s desire to make our salvation totally dependent on God’s Grace, however, I think Barth’s rethinking of Calvin’s election scheme is a more accurate picture of God’s loving self-revelation in Christ (Barth states that Christ is both the elect and condemned). All that is to say, if you are Reformed, in my opinion I think you must at least lean towards Universal salvation in Christ (not universalism) and our total dependence on Grace for salvation (Read Barth’s: “The Humanity of God”). This has scriptural warrant in texts such as 2 Corinthians 5:11-21. But that’s just my take on Reformed theology.



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Rachel H. Evans

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:36 pm


Boyd has a great piece on Romans 9, in which he addresses the Jacob/Esau thing: http://www.gregboyd.org/essays/essays-predestination-free-will/how-do-you-respond-to-romans-9/



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Bob Young

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:40 pm


How did “the wages of sin is death” turn into “the wages of sin is hell”? Perhaps because the clause right after it in Romans “the gift of God is ‘eternal life’” has been interpreted by some as “the gift of God is life in heaven when you die”.
But is “life in heaven when you die” what John and Paul really meant by the phrase “eternal life”? It has been argued that they really meant “life of the ages” – the “good life” that never gets old; the abundant life; the life full of joy; the life of true shalom.
The Hebrew concept of justice, as another respondent pointed out earlier, is not about punishment so much as it is about restoration, about setting things right. God shows his love of justice by making things whole again, by healing, saving, rescuing, delivering. This is far different than some evil overlord who feels compelled to burn his enemies forever and ever; rather, God desires restoration and healing – true justice that leads to true shalom… the life of the ages.
The wages of sin is not hell… it is death. It is separation from God, from true life, and it produces decay, atrophy, uselessness. God desires to fill us with real life, to heal, to restore, to renew, and chooses to use us to create this shalom (we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for what?).
So like I said earlier, it doesn’t matter to me what Calvinists think about this because their whole theory is based on a flawed understanding of what the writers of scripture meant in the first place.



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Wonders for Oyarsa

posted December 23, 2009 at 3:50 pm


#39
Job said a great deal more than this – his aquiesence was not the only thing that he “spoke of me rightly” in. Job never called evil good, and Calvinists need to take care not to either. I do notice that Calvinists often seem to me to learn precisely the wrong lesson from the book of Job – basically affirming the approach of Job’s friends in justifying the suffering, rather than joining Job in his cry to God for justice. Yes, Job is silenced, but then he is the one who has spoken rightly while the justification of God given by the friends is dismissed as folly. Submission to the will of God, but submission won through intense engagment and holding onto the impossible paradox of the power and justice of God and the evil of the world, only to find himself and God justified against Satan and his “comforters”.
The problem of Hell being for a greater good is that, at least as traditionally understood, it is final (though death seemed awfully final before the resurrection). But then you are certainly right that this is a problem either way. Anyway, I think you’re right – the question is “shall God do evil that good abound?” Not even the least Calvinist of us can dismiss this entirely (the cross) and not even the most Calvinist of us should be comfortable with an unqualified “yes”.



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Dana Ames

posted December 23, 2009 at 4:20 pm


Wonders @31, well said.
————
A few ideas. Sorry for the length. So much of this discussion is about the “big questions” that have loomed large for me in the last 15 years or so: What kind of god is God? And what exactly is God up to, with humanity and everything else?
One, a friend of mine recently wrote that God is the source of humility. Think about it. Joey @32 gets close to this with his reference to Paul saying that God’s perfect act of justice/faithfulness was the act of sublime mercy- undertaken as proof of forgiveness and in order to free us from death.
Two, N.T. Wright is pretty convincing WRT election meaning election for the sake of others, as Richard @34- not only for mission, but also to ultimately bring God’s wise rule to creation. Any other sort of “election” seems to me to fall short of self-giving love and humility.
Three, if God is “beholden” to anything- his glory, his will, “perfect justice” or anything else, such “beholdenness” sets up something that is “above” God, and therefore, in relationship to it God would be “acting from necessity”. It took me a while to grasp this, but once I did I understood why I can’t go along with the ideas about God’s glory promulgated by Piper, for example. The best thinkers of the early church were convinced that proper interpretation of scripture did not support any such thing- that God does not in any way act from necessity. Even Grace is not something that is somehow “separate from” God.
Fourth, a quote from St Isaac of Syria:
“As the grain of sand cannot be compared with a great amount of gold ? the same way God?s need for justice cannot be compared with his mercy. Because man?s sin, in comparison to the providence and the mercy of God, are like a handful of sand that falls in the sea and the Creator?s mercy cannot be defeated by the wickedness of the creatures.” Elsewhere he says that we really cannot talk about God’s “justice” at all, and gets quite heated up about it.
Fifth, I flirted with annihilationism briefly, but the view that has been handed down in my church makes the most sense to me: God has graciously given life, and he doesn’t take it back or destroy it; he does, in love, what enhances it and brings it to fullness. Annihilationism isn’t really all that merciful -unless God actually has created a “place” such as “hell” where he intends that people suffer eternally. Kalomiros can sound harsh, but Andy’s quote @37 gets to the heart of things. The dik- words seem to me to be about [the way things are to be done, in faithfulness] and not so much about a bare standard of morality.
Sixth, some have asked, what then becomes of evangelism, since Christian Universalism denies the gospel. Well, as we have discussed here at JC in the past, it does depend on what “the Gospel” is. What exactly is the good news?
It’s evident that from ancient times there are things about life that are missing or broken, things are out of joint between God and man, among human beings and between humans and the rest of creation, and there is real evil. At our very depths, humans haven’t been able to trust God and are afraid to walk with him. But God did something about this. He identified with humanity in every way, except that he didn’t participate in its out-of-jointedness- in fact, he even entered into death. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah/king and is the true ruler of everything because of his Resurrection from the dead, and Jesus is the fullest revelation of what God is really like: worthy of trust and worship, doing all things necessary for human beings to truly be able to walk with him and be restored to what we were meant to be.
Why not drop your agendas and change the way you think about things, and trust that Jesus’ way of looking at things and doing things is the right way- because the Kingdom of God is at hand, right here, within your grasp, and indeed is to be found first of all inside you, where its effects begin and from where the life of the age to come is lived out, in living communion with him.
“There is a new world, and it has already begun, and it works by healing and forgiveness and new starts and fresh energy…and it comes about as people worship the God in whose image they are made, as they follow the Lord who bore their sins and rose from the dead, as they are indwelt by his Spirit and thereby given new life.” (Wright, “Surprised by Hope”, 232.)
Want to get on board?
Dana



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Helen

posted December 23, 2009 at 4:57 pm


Like I said the other day, I see Evangelical Universalism as very close to Calvinism, the only difference being that the elect=everyone.
This solves the problem of people being predestined to hell which is what really troubles me about Calvinism. And all attempts by Calvinists to justify it with reference to God’s glory, or humans ‘deserving it’ only makes it worse because where is love in that picture? As many others have said on this thread, how can we think of a God who seems to be less loving towards the non-elect than we are towards those we love who are not Christians, or less loving than Jesus exhorted us to be? How can that make any sense to us?
Rachel mentioned something about Calvinists maybe having low empathy; based on my experience, I do think personality type has a lot to do with the particular Christian beliefs each Christian holds to. My experience with Calvinists has given me plenty of evidence they love (their) doctrine and they certainly say they love God; I’ve encountered less evidence that they love people in the way that I always thought the Bible called Christians to love people. (I know I’m generalizing and perhaps there are some very loving Calvinists reading this – I have no idea – I’m just sharing my own experience, which is that the most loving Christians I know either shrug when doctrine issues come up or know they are anything but believers in doctrine that says many (most?) people are predestined to hell and nothing else ever was or will be possible for them)



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Gregory MacDonald

posted December 23, 2009 at 5:18 pm


Wow! I am pleased that there has been so much helpful discussion here. Thanks to everyone – Calvinists and … others.
Just a couple of brief little contributions. Please do not see me as rejecting the Reformed tradition as a whole. To be honest, I find it a strand of the Christian tradition that is very rich theologically (I might even go so far as to say that I find it to be my favourite). I love a lot about it and incline towards a strong view of divine sovereignty myself. What I reject is … well, wot Scott said. In my view Classical Calvinism cannot avoid diminishing God’s love (and thereby ending up with a less glorious God). To my mind all the attempts by Calvinists to deny this just fall flat.
But perhaps the solution is universalist Calvinism. It would require some rethinking but I think that it is do-able.
Bill (comment 39). You make a good point but the stretch from Darfur to Hell is bigger than you suggest. All Christians have the problem of evil to wrestle with but according to universalism at least the story ends well for everyone. There may be crucifixion but there is also resurrection. That does not solve the problem of evil but it does limit sin and suffering. Traditional Hell extends them to eternity. That is a problem of a quite different order!
Robin



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dopderbeck

posted December 23, 2009 at 6:18 pm


Robin (#46) — is Barth not a “Calvinist” in your book? I appreciate Bernard Ramm’s treatment of Barth and Universalism in “After Fundamentalism: the Future of Evangelical Theology.” Ramm covered almost everything in 1983 that we’re wrestling with here today. A great book for recovering fundamentalists who want to remain “evangelical.”



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Thom1st

posted December 23, 2009 at 6:53 pm


Is it possible to take a Calvinistic view of soteriology and not also take their view of God’s prior determination of everything else?
This is where I see the acceptance of Calvinism a problem – sure, you can say that the elect = everyone. But Calvinism is grounded in a larger philosophical paradigm that doesn’t just explain the identity of the elect, but also explains human suffering, the Fall, and everything else. We cannot just have libertarian free will concerning everything else, but compatibilism for our soteriology. This seems inconsistent. For my part, I’m a Wesleyan/Arminian, so I find Calvinism problematic on all accounts.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted December 24, 2009 at 10:32 am


Good series. And interesting book. I side with respect against the best take on Calvinism. I certainly would prefer that in the end all come around by God’s grace and are saved. But I will likely remain agnostic in part on that issue, still holding to God’s punishment to be eternal in the sense of outcome though not duration.



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