This month an article I wrote defending the traditional doctrine of hell was published in Themelios 42.2. In this article I argue that despite being subject to a serious philosophical objection, an Edwardsean doctrine of hell is defensible. In order to defend this version of the doctrine of hell I suggest we start by thinking about Edwards’s doctrine of heaven.
Here’s a bit of the article:
Among recent trends in evangelicalism, one of the most prominent has been the resurgence of interest (especially within the “young, restless, and reformed” segment of the church) in all things Jonathan Edwards. One sees this in the vast quantity of recent books, blogs, and conferences dedicated to Edwards’s life and thought. These works have done much to lift him up as a pastoral, homiletical, and theological example to be emulated. The result is that certain Edwardsean themes and theological views have begun to exert greater influence upon evangelicalism, for instance: the importance of revival, preaching in order to change religious affections, the New Testament use of the Old, and even Trinitarian theology. One can certainly appreciate the positive influence that Edwards the exemplar has had upon the contemporary evangelical church. However, one aspect of Edwards’s theology that we may want to question the value of following his example is his account of the doctrine of hell.
Many Americans are familiar with Edwards’s account of hell through his famous sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” in which he depicts one of the most horrific, ghoulish, and even terrorizing portrayals ever presented. In particular, his depiction of hell in this sermon is cited by many as evidence why we ought to abandon the traditional account. It has been said that Edwards’s doctrine is morally intolerable and that we should abandon it. Those who are interested in defending the traditional account and more specifically Edwards’s account have reasons for mining his works in order to find resources within it to defend not only his account but the traditional doctrine of hell as well. This essay aims to accomplish those two tasks.
On Wednesday March 8th the Analytic Theology Seminar had the pleasure of hosting Ryan Mullins, the Director of Communications and Research Fellow at the Logos Institute for Analytic and Exegetical Theology at the University of St. Andrews. Mullins endured an unbearably long flight across the pond, yet he managed to deliver a stimulating paper that generated much discussion during the second portion of our seminar. In his paper, titled, “Divine Impassibility and the Uninfluenced Love of God,” Mullins made a case for a passible God. He argued that even while granting impassibilists their favored definition of love as benevolence + union, this definition pushes the impassibilist towards a passibilist God. In order to make a case for this thesis he engaged in several moves.
The first move he made was to articulate the doctrine of divine impassibility in a charitable manner. He noted that there are three common themes that make up the core of this doctrine: 1) God cannot suffer, 2) God cannot be moved, nor acted upon, by anything ad extra to the divine nature, and 3) God lacks passions. This last core component of the doctrine draws most of Mullins’s attention. He was primarily concerned with how impassibilists treat “love.” William Shedd, for instance, concludes that God lacks passions, yet God has the emotion of love. Mullins then made his way through various historical examples to explain how impassibilists attempted to attribute love to an impassible God. His survey of how this has been done historically lead him to modify the third core theme of the doctrine to “it is metaphysically impossible for God to have an emotion that is irrational, immoral, or that disrupts His perfect happiness.”
On the fifth week of the AT Seminar Series Sameer Yadav, Assistant Professor of Religious
Studies at Westmont University, delivered a paper titled “Love: Creaturely and Divine.” In his paper Yadav dealt with Schellenberg’s divine hiddenness argument by providing what could be called a “Plantingian Divine Imaging Defense.”
An Overview of “Love: Creaturely and Divine”
Although not new, the problem of Divine Hiddenness (DH) became the subject of extensive philosophical discussion when J.L. Schellenberg published his book, Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason, in 1993. Schellenberg and others who put forth this argument appeal to existence of non-resistant non-believers as evidence for the non-existence of a perfectly loving God. We can summarize the main idea of DH as:
If God is perfectly Loving, then non-resistant non-belief does not exist. But it seems as though non-resistant non-belief does exist. Therefore, a perfectly loving God does not exist.
On 1/18 the Analytic Theology Seminar was treated to a talk by Michael Rea. Rea, who is giving this year’s Gifford Lectures presented the seminar with a version of one of the lectures he will be presenting in that series. Here are some notes from his talk.
Divine Love & Personality
Goal: Examine the nature of divine love with an eye to the problem of divine hiddenness.
The fact that God has a personality give some reasons to doubt the divine hiddenness problem.
Main premise: If a perfectly loving God exists then there is a God who is always open to a personal relationship with everyone.
There is no non-resistant non-belief (God will always do something the remove all obstacles for non-belief/relationship.)
Schellenberg – the minimum God could do is give people evidence that he exists.
There should be no one who is non-resistant and non-believing. But there is non-resistant non-belief. (i.e. I wish I could believe, but I can’t)
Therefore there is no perfectly loving God
Support for the Main Premise
Divine love is an idealized version of some important kind of human love
(Transcendence undercuts our reasons for accepting this claim)
Divine Love is not ideal human love
Focusing on the best kind of human love, whatever that is… specifically whatever kind is most apt to be identified in its ideal form, with divine love.
Eleanore Stump ID’s two desires as being part of love:
Desire for the good of the beloved & desire for union with the beloved
God desires union with human beings
God desires our good
At least one of these desires is essential to the best forms of human loves
Divine Love = whatever kind of love a perfect being would have for a person or group
Ideal love = kind of love 1 person would have for another if she were to have an ideal way the property of loving that particular person
Idealization of simple traits – removal of relevant limitations
Idealization of complex traits – removal of relevant limitations + idealization of competent properties
Limitless desire for the good of the beloved, desire for union with the beloved, or both.
Limitless desire – One who limitlessly desires something desires it in a way that eclipses in priority and strength desires focused on anyone or anything else
Ideal Human Lovers
We have limited capacity to endure interpersonal union
So…. Desire for union with someone can conflict with desire for their good.
We have limited cognitive and causal powers
In the divine case these are not a problem
Divine Love as Ideal Love
If God loves us ideally, God is maximally oriented toward our good or maximally oriented toward union with us or both.
Wessling on Supreme Love
When God has supreme love for a person, He desires her highest good, and his character generates no contradictory desire of equal or greater strength….God therefore does all that is morally permissible and metaphysically possible to fulfill this desire.
Susan Wolf on Moral Saints
Someone maximally devoted to improving the welfare of others to the exclusion of the promotion of her own interests – (sainthood is not rational or desirable for human beings)
Could God be a Moral Saint?
God has unlimited resources
God has unlimited cognitive capacity
God does not need anything
So what is the problem?
The Problem is Divine Personality
Sainthood Implies Self-Annihilation
“The pursuit of Moral sainthood seems to require either the lack or denial of the existence of identifiable, personal self.”
IF God is genuinely personal, and has distinctive personality, it stands to reasons that God has interests, desires, and projects not necessarily oriented around he interest of others.
IF God has personality, then divine interests might conflict with human interests.
If God is devoted to our good just so long as there are not conflicts between divine and human interests, then God is not maximally devoted to our good.
God is Not a Saint
If divine & human goods do conflict, it is no more rational, good, or desirable for God to pursue sainthood than for human beings to pursue it…. In fact, it would be bad for God to pursue sainthood. It would be irrational.
Maximal Devotion to Union?
Could God be limitlessly devoted to pursuing union with each of us?
There is no reason to think we are fitting objects for unlimited desire for union
Even if we are fitting objects, we are not maximally fitting objects for such a desire
A perfect being would not be maximally devoted to pursuing our good or our union
A perfect being would not love human beings in an ideal way
In fact, we have good a priori reason to think that a perfect being would priorities our good or union with us at all.
That God loves human beings at all is an article of faith, not philosophy.
An Unexpected Conclusion?
The Christian tradition never affirmed that union with human beings is the proper object of maximal devotion… or of human goods either.
Is the conclusion unpleasant? A God who prioritizes divine good over human goods doesn’t seem like a God who loves us enough.
Whence the Conflict?
What divine projects might take priority over the promotion of our good? We can speculate, but this is precisely the corner of space of possible goods about which we can most expect to be in the dark.
No Possible Conflict?
It is by no means obvious that the best interest of one person can conflict with another, because love creates a common set of real interests. – Thomas Talbott
If Talbott is right, then lovers quite literally lose themselves in their relationship. So this seems implausible.
How non-ideal can divine love be and still be called love?
There have to be some boundaries on what behavior can plausibly count as loving.
Why think we can identify those boundaries a priori?
We should ask instead what signs of love can be identified in God’s (alleged) ways of relating to various kinds of people, and what narratives can be told about these relationships to support positively valanced analogies.
“God is justified in permitting Divine hiddenness even if it doesn’t promote any human good.”
Love, Obedience and Moral Obligation: Reflections on Scotus
Scotus – Divine Command is not the source of our obligation to Love God above all things. Love of God entails an obligation to obey his commands.
This might not be a actually a divine command theory
Scotus – so widely believed to be DCT & V
Scotus’s views do not comfortably bear these labels
Quinn: V – thesis that morality depends on the will of God
Murphy some moral status M stands in dependence relationship D to some act of the divine will A
If this is true – Scotus is not V – some moral obligations that don’t dpend on God’s will, i.e. the moral obligation to love God.
Scotus & Ockham were more liberal about what they thought it was logically possible to do.
According to Kent he is V, Williams he is not, Under Quinn & Murphy he is not, According to Evans he is not either.
A Mitigation Interpretation
A mitigating interpretation – giving reasons why God legislated what he did, etc.
Thomas William’s unmitigated – God can do whatever is logically possible
Scotus – there are necessary moral truths over which God has no control:
Necessary moral truths – are logically necessary
This affects how we should think of the claim that God can do logically possible for God to do (as opposed to logically possible simpliciter)
Scotus – God must be loved
This is independent of the command to love him
From this obligation to love God, we can derive an obligation to obey God’s commands
3.Scotus on the Natural Law
If its part of natural law: first practical principles known in virtue of their terms or as conclusions that necessarily follow from them. If some precept p is part of the natural law then p is necessary in a very strong sense: God cannot make P false
Loose sense natural law – not entailed by but highly consonant with natural laws
He thinks some of the 10 commandments are part of natural law – the first table belong to the natural law in the strict sense, the second table belongs to the natural law in the loose sense
Augustine – we love our neighbor for God’s sake. Scotus might be seen as continuing the Augustinian intstrumentalization of the great commandments.
Second Table – If that good were not commanded, the ultimate end could still be attained and loved (beatific vision), the attainment of the ultimate end would still be possible.
Second table conformity is at best contingent upon achieving the ultimate end
Second table is contingent in the fact that God could have put forth other commands or none at all
First table commands describe precisely what natural law requires
4.The logical necessity of the practical necessity that God must be loved
Deus est diligendus… is a practical truth preceeding any act of the divine will
Conclusion: Scotus thinks that God’s doing or willing anything in any way contrary to Deus est diligendus “includes a contradiction” and is therefore impossible.
5.Logical Modalities a la Scotus
Real possibility: something is really possible if there is a power to bring it about
Logical Impossibility: defined in Scotus’s terms as a certain way in which terms cannot be combined by the mind because of the relationship of terms in a proposition, namely that they are opposed to one another
Logical Necessity IFF its contrary (or subcontrary) and contradictory are logically impossible.
God must be loved is necessary in this sense.
6.God must be loved
A logically necessary practical necessity
What should be loved the most is the best – so God should be loved the most
If we grasp the meanings of these terms we just “see” that God should be loved the most
There is a normative connection between love and the good
God has not choice but to be the highest God, thus he has no choice to be the object of greatest love
7.Logically Possible for Whom?
Its logically possible to hate God, but God can do anything which does not entail a contradiction, God should be able to hate himself. Why not?
A command to hate or to fail to love God is prima faciaie logically possible
Needs to be qualified: Humans, robots, elepthans can kick a soccer ball but pens and parameciums can’t. So do determine logical possibility we need to consider the PHI-ing in relation to the x.
Hating God is logically possible for humans and angels, but for God it is logically impossible.
The terms God & failing to love God are opposed to eachother.
God’s power means – God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do
8.God must love God
His radical voluntarism is more moderate if understood as “God can do whatever is logically possible for God to do.” Vs. “God can do whatever is logically possible.”
God by nature has intellect and will & is therefore capable of happiness + God has no potentiality, so he is happy. Only by knowing God can a person be happy. So God loves God.
9.God can’t command you to hate God
Also God cannot dispense anyone from their obligation to love God.
Where God to issue a command – never love me
Either it would generate a moral obligation or it wouldn’t
If so, he would have a moral obligation to love him and NOT love him. This would be an command in which one would be determined to fail
This is a jerk move, so God cannot possibily will to obligate some never to live him
OR… FRUSTRATION MOVE
God would be frustrated in his legislative obligation
But God cannot be frustrated: he gets what he wants
So He could not possibly issue a command which could not generate a moral obligation
From Love to Obedience
Loving God, is “to repeat in our wills… God’s will for our willing. But willing what God wills for our willing is obedience. So it is necessarily true not just that God is to be loved, but that God is to be obeyed.”
One of the problem of DCT – is that they can’t show there are obligations to obey the command
What we need then is some other obligation to obey divine commands
We are required to love God, but not simply because it is commanded, but because it is logically necessary.
We have this moral obligation that does not depend on God’s will, because it is logically necessary that we love God.
I would like to invite you to join us at Fuller Seminary for a weekly series of talks on human and divine love as part of the Analytic Theology for Theological Formation project. Our team would be thrilled for you to attend any or all of the events. Feel free to pass along this information to your students or colleagues who may also be interested.
Attached you will find a schedule for the entire series that run January-June as well as a more detailed advertisement for the first 7 events. The first event is tomorrow, January 4, from 3-5pm in the faculty commons at the David Allen Hubbard Library on Fuller’s campus. Dr. Oliver Crisp will open up the series by giving an introduction to analytic theology.
For more information you can visit our website, facebook, or twitter. Feel free to contact me with any questions!
Allison Wiltshire Fuller Theological Seminary
Research Administrator AT project