Talking Past Each Other | Part Two

December 15, 2014

**This article was previously posted by Dr. Braxton Hunter on his website www.braxtonhunter.com and is used by permission.

Dr. Hunter is: former president of the Conference of Southern Baptist Evangelists (COSBE), professor of apologetics at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary in Newburgh, Indiana

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My previous article on this subject titled, Talking Past Each Other, generated quite a bit of heat regarding the Calvinist understanding of human freedom. So much so, in fact, that I wrote a follow-up article explaining that the Calvinism debate has become the Black Magic that Calvinists and non-Calvinists both use to generate attention for otherwise slow and unnoticed blogs. The goal should be evangelism, not winning in house debates all the time. In that article I explained that because Calvinism is not a central issue for me, I only write on it occasionally. After every six or seven podcasts, blog articles or videos I complete I take some space to cover this controversial subject (usually only if I’m asked to do so). However, I also received enough generous comments from those on both sides of the issue to warrant a second installment. I am grateful for those of you who shared that my previous article clarified some of the philosophical language, and I hope this helps as well.

The concept of love (particularly how God loves) is a bit different on Calvinism. On Calvinism God loves the elect. Jesus died and rose again, for the few elect. This means that by definition, God as described by the consistent Calvinist is not omnibenevolent. Of course, a Calvinist could redefine the word “love” as it relates to God and claim that it is “loving” for God to allow those he loves to go to hell when they simply could not choose otherwise. In fact, this is the approach that many Calvinists take.

“D. A. Carson, a prominent Calvinist and scholar, says he is often asked in Calvinist circles, ‘Do you tell the unconverted that God loves them?’  It’s a question, it’s a good question Calvinists have to ask, ’cause it’s not obvious what they should say to that.  His answer: ‘Of course I tell them God loves them.’  Now on the face of it, I like his answer; but listen quickly, here’s what he says: there are three different ways God loves people. First, He loves people by giving them material blessings.  Secondly, He loves them by letting the Gospel go out to them, and thirdly, He loves people with electing love.  Now here’s the point: Carson doesn’t know who are the recipients of electing love; he doesn’t have a clue any more than I do, or you.  Now, can he honestly say with a good conscience, ‘Of course God loves you’, if all he knows is God is giving you material blessings, if all he knows is God lets the Gospel be preached to you even though you can’t possibly respond to it?

Jesus said one time, what is a man profited, if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Let me paraphrase that question: How does the love of God profit a man, even if God gives him the whole world in terms of material blessings, but doesn’t give him the grace he needs to save his eternal soul?  How does the love of God profit him?” [1]

To clarify, what the Calvinist is saying is that there are various senses in which God loves different people. Consider the relationship between the wicked stepmother and the protagonist in the famous story of Cinderella. perhaps the wicked stepmother loved Cinderella in a different sense than she loved her two biological daughters. She made sure there was a roof over Cinderella’s head and food in her stomach, she merely wouldn’t allow her to attend the ball. Calvinism describes God similarly, but the situation is actually worse. It’s not just that Cinderella will not be allowed to attend the magnificent festivities, but she will actually live out her days in the house of the stepmother and then experience everlasting torment while others enjoy an everlasting ball. We must remember, though, that Cinderella’s basic needs were supplied for during most of her life. She was given food, clothes and purpose. Isn’t this more Calvinistic stepmother’s sovereignty glorious and loving? The answer is no. It is not. The fact is, we would not say about this character that she, in any way, loves Cinderella. Worse still, we would have to determine that one of the most despised villains of all literary works is, in fact, more loving than God. If you have the tendency to rebut the point by noting that Cinderella was portrayed as innocent (as far as the story goes) while man is sinful and undeserving, see my article, Talking Past Each Other. Nevertheless, this is the approach that many Calvinists use.

In my debate with a Calvinist professor and pastor in 2013, for instance, my opponent clearly explained:

“If my children as free as they are, run into the street, I will override their freedom and I will not ask them, because I love them in a salvific sense and I choose to set my affections on my children. I help coach their softball team. They’re astounding softball players, by the way, and I love all the girls on their team, but not like my two. They’re mine. They’re mine.”[2]

A more honest explanation of the Calvinist understanding that God has different senses in his love could not be imagined. My debating partner loves his own children in a different sense than he loves the other children on the team. Naturally. The problem is that I have seldom heard a Calvinist analogy to the nature of God that works, and this one is no different.

The problem is that my Calvinist friend is limited by his humanity. If he could ensure that all girls were loved in the same manner that he loves his own daughters I have no doubt that he would do so. Worse still, his analogy actually does implicate the problem that Calvinism poses for a biblical understanding of God’s love. The Calvinist says he would override the free wills of his daughters to protect them from traffic because he loves them in a salvific sense, but he loves the other girls differently (i.e. not in a salvific sense). I’m not even pressing the analogy to conclude that based on his explanation, he would not rescue the other girls on the team since they are not his daughters and he does not love them in a salvific sense. He would, based on the analogy, allow them to die in traffic as he stands watching. Fortunately, from the little I know of this particular Calvinist, I’m quite confident he would do no such thing. He would rescue the other girls on the team just as he would rescue his own daughters.

Now let’s imagine what the reaction would be if he followed the implication of the analogy and did not save another girl on the team because he didn’t love her in the same salvific sense he loves his own daughters. He stands by watching as the child is the unfortunate victim of a fatal car accident. He is approached by onlookers who run toward him in fascination and horror. They ask why he did not intervene when he was perfectly able to do so.

His answer, according to the analogy, would be, “I loved the girl, just not in a salvific sense.”

“You didn’t love her in a salvific sense,” we can imagine the bewildered crowd asking.

“No,” he might reply, “but don’t worry, I do love all the girls on the team, just not like my two.”

“Well, how do you love the other girls who are not your daughters,” the interrogators demand to know.

The answer would have to be, “I provide them with lemonade and teach them how to play softball, but I do sometimes let them die in traffic accidents.”

Now in case you think I’m overstating the Calvinist case, I’m actually infinitely understating the facts. On Calvinism it isn’t a mere traffic accident, as awful as that would be, but everlasting conscious torment. So consider faithfully this simple question about the analogy from my Calvinist debating partner, which is far more tame than the picture from Calvinism, “Would we ever say about the coach who stood by watching an accident that he loved the girls he could have saved?” Would we say he loved them in any sense at all? Of course not. We would say that he was nice to them for a while before allowing them to experience a grisly demise. No amount of lemonade or pep talks could make up for this. We would say he was a monster, or a coward. Again, if you’re thinking, “Well, sinners are doing what they want, and they don’t want God,” or, “God is gracious to save some, while all sinners deserve to go to hell,” read my article Talking Past Each Other. In the same way Calvin’s view of God who loves some in a salvific sense, wherein he provides eternal life and an escape from death, but blesses others with a few years of rain and crops before damning them choicelessly to everlasting torment is not loving the unelect in a different sense. He is not loving them at all. He is merely nice to them for a while and then reveals himself to be something else entirely. Yet, Calvinists demand the right to import this definition into some sense of the word love. Strange.

If this move is made, then the term love is so far removed from what believers have always thought about God as to require a different word than “love” altogether. Yet, Jesus commands us in Matt. 22:39 to love our neighbors as ourselves and we’re to love our enemies – love everyone! If we did that and Calvinism were true, then our love would be more encompassing than God’s love. This cannot be. So how can the Calvinist overcome the dilemma? He can honestly admit that in no meaningful sense does God love the unelect. To quote from Calvinist Arthur Pink, “God does not love everybody.”[3] Until this point is made clear, Calvinists and Non-Calvinists will continue to talk past one another.

 

[1] Walls, Jerry, Walls, J., in The Great Debate: Predestination vs. Free Will, (http://theapologeticsgroup.com/product/the-great-debate-predestination-vs-free-will/. internet. Accessed on 11, September 2014).

[2] Myra, Joe, Braxton Hunter Vs. Joe Myra – Is Calvinism True, (http://trinityradio.podomatic.com/entry/2013-10-03T08_03_51-07_00). Internet. Accessed on 11 September 2014).

[3] Pink, Arthur W. (2012-06-18). The Sovereignty of God (Arthur Pink Collection) (Kindle Location 373). Prisbrary Publishing. Kindle Edition.