Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Calvinists and the Well-Meant Offer

EDIT: I would also like to add that this argument I reject, since I think premise (1) is false.

There is much discussion and debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists concerning the offer of the Gospel. Many Calvinists wish to retain the “well-meant offer” of salvation to the lost for pragmatic purposes. What is the well-meant offer? Are Calvinists able to offer this in consistency with their other beliefs? My contention is that they cannot. Consider the following argument:
1.      For any individual X, God controls X’s desire to accept the Gospel.

2.      Some X’s do not and will not ever desire to accept the Gospel (unsaved).

3.      If God controls some X so that X will not accept the Gospel, then God does not desire the salvation of X.

4.      If God controls X and does not desire the salvation of X, then God cannot have a well-meant offer for that individual.

5.      Therefore, God does not desire the salvation of X.

6.      Therefore, God cannot have a well-meant offer for that individual.

(1) is a standard Calvinist claim (specifically five-point Calvinism), so this should not be denied by them. (2) is true for any non-universalist interpretation of biblical passages, and so also should not be denied. (3) seems obviously true, and should only be denied if one thinks that God controls an unsaved X so that he remains that way and yet still desires X to be saved. (4) would be denied by five-point Calvinists, and we will return to it in a moment. (5) is a conclusion (1-3), and so cannot be denied without denying at least one of the other three. (6) is true in the argument only in the case that all of the others are true, and hence (6) may be denied only if one of the premises are. Back to the justification for (4). If Calvinism of the sort under discussion is true, then our offering the Gospel to all is a matter of pragmatism; we don’t know who will respond in what ways, and God has asked us to do this. But we cannot, in good conscience, say things like “God sent his son Jesus Christ to die for you.”

How much worse it is for God! For God knows exactly whether or not any given person would respond. Since only those who have their sins paid for will respond, God cannot say “I sent my Son to die for you,” not out of ignorance or uncertainty, but because such would be a lie! Further, while we can be sincere in offering something that cannot possibly be true in a counterfactual format (such as is the case if I were to say, “If you were to jump into space without a suit, I would go with you”) the same sincerity cannot be applied in cases where one controls or causes the antecedent’s falsehood.
Consider if I were to say, “If I loved you, then I would marry you,” yet I despised the person, while that may possibly be a true counterfactual, it nonetheless does not constitute a sincere offer of the consequent. It’s just telling you that if I wanted to do X, then I would do X, and then Y obtains. Or consider: “if I cared about the homeless, I would feed them.” No one should think this is my sincere offer to feed the homeless. So it is with God. “If you would believe, then you would be saved,” when applied to those for whom it is impossible to believe on account of God’s choice not to allow them should not be constituted to be a sincere offer of the consequent. It seems God does not really intend for them to be saved at all, and it is indeed impossible, metaphysically, for them to be saved. In that sense, it is no more well-meant than any other offer that it is within one's power to achieve but not one's desire to achieve.
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  1. It occurs to me also that some Calvinists may reject (3). That is, they may say God desires the salvation of the non-elect, but that he desires something else, namely, his glory, more. This glory then supercedes these being saved and so they are precluded from doing so, even though God desires them to be saved.

    Two things. 1. To be sure, one may desire something but be unable to complete it because of another desire (even one of a differing type). However, there are some desires that, if desired, would preclude nearly all others. This is just taking the concept of value and applying it to salvation. It's really a simplistic judgment in most cases. Because God created, he valued creating over not creating. Not only that, he valued creating this world over and against any other world he could have created. This holds major implications. But further, if God desired the salvation of all, and he had the power to save all, then he would in fact save all. Assuming God causes the will, then he holds the power to save all. If we say God values a world where he desires to save all but only saves some over a world where he desires all and saves all, what makes it the case that he really desires the salvation of the former group? There are some desires such that, if possible, one would in fact do invariably. Hence, it seems (3) stands.

    2. This creates the problem of "inherent glory." The idea is this: If all things are done to the glory of God, and this glory is paramount, then it follows the number of saved and the number of the damned are the optimal glory-balance. Not only the number, but the people as well. But what is inherent in some believers that is not in others that makes this the case? What inherent glory-making property is in unbelievers for damnation? It is here the Calvinist will likely retreat to saying it is God who makes it the case it works for his glory. But then the Calvinist has God charged with arbitrariness. Most Calvinists will find this unacceptable, and even if they did, it would affirm, not deny, (3).

  2. "Not only the number, but the people as well."

    But why not think there are different configurations of the same type using different tokens that accomplish the same optimal glory-balance?

    For instance, for any possible world W there could be a nearby possible world W' such that:

    - [Saved] and [Damed] in W and W' have the same number of members
    - [Saved] includes agent X in W. [Damned] includes agent X in W' (swaps with Agent Y)
    - Agent X is type identical with Agent Y in whatever respect is necessary to accomplish optimal glory-balance.

    This seems possible, but perhaps we wouldn't be pleased with an outcome that renders us as mere tokens in a randomly chosen possible world. Exploring that intuition for a minute: if there are multiple possible worlds with the same optimal balance, and only the tokens differ...then the fact that I'm saved is no bragging matter. God would be just as pleased with a nearby possible world where I am not saved but some other type-identical agent is saved instead.

  3. Thank you David for your comments! Your reasoning is the exact same that I use to contend against the idea of a "best possible world;" that is, it seems inherently possible that whatever it is that makes a good world could be identical in value but differing in property. You're right that such a conception is possible.

    But the reason I mentioned the specific people is to highlight that the position generally (though not necessarily) includes the idea that this world is the optimal world for God's glory and is the way things should be.

    In any case, however, I think even appealing to closest worlds where there is a different set (even by virtue of having one different person) doesn't escape the dilemma: the world is such that it has people with glory-making property such that their being saved produces glory because of that property, or else God infuses them with that property. I don't think we need to claim some proposition like, "If X were not saved, then God would have less glory" in order to justify the dilemma.

  4. Hey Randy – I always enjoy your posts even though I’ve never commented on here before. Would you mind giving me your working definition of “glory”? What counts as glory?

  5. Hey Larry thanks for the question! It's a great one; one that I don't quite have a sleek answer for just yet. The "long" answer (that will likely be in need of much refinement) is that glory just is God's greatness and holiness. His power and being the ground of all objective moral values make his glory something inherent to his own being and dependent on no creature. I get this, in part, from biblical passages describing God's glory; it seems to be an actual representation of God, so that I am not sure how much sense it makes anyway to say something like "you have taken God's glory" and whatnot. I am open to correction, since I have not done nearly enough study on that issue. Great question!

  6. It's also worth noting five-point Calvinists tend not to use "glory" in the way I defined. It's usually something along the lines of, "what pleases God," although most Calvinists do not explicitly say this.

  7. I guess this is where I wrestle with Calvinism because it would seem to include "horror" as part of glory. We're told God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked - so is the glory of this just the sheer awe of His power?

  8. I am not a Calvinist, so I am not sure how they would respond. I would say that "horror" in the way the term is now would not be a part of his glory. We are told that there is such a thing as a fear of the Lord, even terror, but I think that is because of the might of his power and awesome holiness; not because we think he's going to bust out a chainsaw and be a divine torturer of us. ;) Does that help at all?

  9. “I think that is because of the might of his power and awesome holiness; not because we think he's going to bust out a chainsaw and be a divine torturer of us.”

    Absolutely – you and I are on same page here.

    I’m assuming glory-making is a property that is degreed in some way like goodness or whatever (some things bring more glory, some less, etc). You said earlier that glory is something inherent to His own being. Is the cross the ultimate representation of His glory or maybe the Resurrection? Jesus endured incredible horror so it encompasses “horror” from that perspective.

    I guess it would be much easier to have dialogue with Calvinists they would give a clear definition of glory. If your version of glory looks like a gladiator standing over a dead body, you’re going to have a much different reading of Scripture than someone who sees the ultimate glory as the crucifixion.

    Just musing…not claiming any answers at all

  10. I actually think an implication of my view of glory is that God never has any more or less of it--I'll have to see if that is borne out biblically. In the sense in which some Calvinists use it, I think it means something more along the lines of "praise" or "honor." As such, no humans would possess glory as a property, but only God. It would be worth exploring this, or to know if there are any biblical passages that directly teach or strongly imply the level of God's glory can fluctuate based on something outside of himself.

  11. Thanks for the reply, Randy. I am still relatively new to philosophy, so it's good to see my doubts about best possible worlds weren't entirely off base. (Also, I agree that either way your argument still works.)

  12. Keep going man! I've seen your site and it seems you're doing quite well. Do you have much interest in doing philosophy as apologetics?

  13. Yes, I was originally attracted to philosophy by the likes of Francis Schaeffer and William Lane Craig.

    For the last couple of years I've been studying in my free time, catching a few iTunesU courses here and there, or just working through books. It's daunting being an amateur in a field where most others have at least a decade of university experience.

    I've debated applying for a master's degree program in philosophy of religion. For now, I guess the blogosphere is my academic community! :-)

  14. That's great man. Biola is a wonderful program for master's in phil. of religion. Tim McGrew at Western Michigan is absolutely awesome, and he'll take any young philosopher under his wing that he can. I believe Robert and Marilyn Adams are still at U of North Carolina, and if they are, that is automatically good. :) Southern Evangelical Seminary is a great school, but if you ask me they're a little too obsessed with Thomas Aquinas. It was one of the major reasons I did not go there. However, if you're a Thomist, you must go there. :)

    In any case, I am technically an amateur myself. I have no philosophy degree. My undergrad was at a Bible college studying church ministries, and my MA is in Religion. I am taking some courses this year that hopefully will prepare me for a PhD in Theology, with a major concentration in philosophy of religion. I'll have enough doctoral hours in philosophy to teach either subject at any school (at least in theory).


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