The 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?