Tag Archives: doctrine

Edwards and an Argument for the Eternity of Hell (Miscellany 279)

Assuming you believe in the eternity of hell, how would you go about arguing for this position? Would you go to Scripture? Would you look back at what some historical theologians have said about the matter? Would you try to make some argument based upon your intuitions about justice and the heinousness of sin before God? The 18th century Puritan theologian, Jonathan Edwards, doesn’t take any of these routes. He makes a move that many people today would find quite shocking….

Jonathan Edwards Preaching or Jonathan Edwards walking like a Zombie? Take your pick.

First let me give you the context. I am currently writing two essays for a book on Edwards’s miscellanies. The book will hopefully come out early in 2019. I will be writing an essay on the Trinity in Misc. 96 and Hell in Misc. 279. In Miscellany 279 Edwards makes an argument for the eternity of hell based on happiness/love/thankfulness. Basically its this:

  1. The happiness of the blessed in heaven is eternal.
  2. Knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of making them vessels of wrath would make them happy at time X.
  3. Without a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced had God not saved them the saints would not know that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of vessels of wrath.
  4. In order for the saints to be happy eternally they need to know God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy at time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  5. Therefore the lively sense of opposite misery needs to occur t time X1, X2, X3,….X∞.
  6. Therefore the damned must eternally exist in hell.

Mind you this is just one of Edwards’s arguments for the eternity of hell. Personally, I think it’s a bad one. If the point of this argument is that the happiness of those in heaven is eternal and this is secured by knowing that God has chosen to make them vessels of mercy instead of wrath then there are certainly other ways in which God could have accomplished giving them a “lively sense” of the opposite misery they would have faced. For example, and this is absurd, God could have a daily showing on a really big screen TV viewable everywhere in the New Creation that shows the moment God judged the reprobate. That scenario is a bit absurd, but it would accomplish the “lively sense” Edwards is after. This absurd scenario would be compatible with annihilationism. Or perhaps if one takes a more Barthian stance on things maybe God could constantly present the saints with a vision of the cross, by seeing Christ crucified they would see the misery they would have faced had not Christ died for them. This again would be compatible with annihilationism.

Please don’t take me to be arguing for annihilationism here – I have elsewhere written defending the traditional doctrine of hell (Themelios). I’m just pointing out – this is a pretty bad argument for the eternity of hell.


A Storm is Brewing…

For those of you who aren’t privileged to be member of ETS, you may have not heard but there is a storm brewing on the horizon about gender and sexuality in relation to the society’s “Doctrinal Basis/Statement of Purpose.”

Below is the abstract to Stan Gundry’s open letter to members of ETS:

In the last business session of the 2015 national Meeting of ETS a set of four resolutions was moved and passed that affirmed human dignity and worth, marriage as a life-long union of one man and one woman, sexual intimacy as reserved for such marriages, and an affirmation of distinct traits of manhood and womanhood as an unchangeable gift that constitutes personal identity. In the aftermath some ETS members expressed dismay that any ETS member would vote against passage of the resolutions. Others, I among them, were shocked that resolutions of this nature would be proposed and passed by a substantial majority. In this open letter to ETS members, I explain the problems with the resolutions and the real issue at stake: Will ETS be true to is Doctrinal Basis and its Statement of Purpose? Hence, my open letter to ETS members, Whence and Whither ETS.

You can read the whole thing here.

With this and the Trinity debate looks like ETS is going to be a lot of fun this year!

The Task of Trinitarian Theology

Many books on the doctrine of the Trinity begin by decrying the state of Trinitarian theology. Many of these authors believe that the ever so important doctrine of the Trinity has been pushed off to the margins, with many Christians living as functional Unitarians, primarily because the doctrine seems so impractical. In an effort to make it “practical” many Social Trinitarians have begun to show how its practical for our social relationships. Some evangelicals have sought to show how its practical for our understanding of gender roles. These may or may not be good “practical” implications (my money is on the fact that they are not good), but I think that there is a better way to show how “practical” this doctrine is. Fred Sanders hints at this in his essay “What Trinitarian Theology is For: Placing the Doctrine of the Trinity in Christian Theology and Life.” (Advancing Trinitarian Theology)

In this short essay he lays our 5 things that this particular doctrine functions within systematic theology (i.e. shows how its practical for doing theology).

  1. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us summarize the biblical story.
  2. The doctrine of the Trinity helps us articulate the content of divine self-revelation by specifying what has been revealed.
  3. The doctrine of the Trinity orders doctrinal discourse.
  4. The doctrine of the trinity identifies God by the gospel.
  5. The doctrine of the Trinity informs and norms soteriology.

These are all very helpful points. But I especially like what Sanders has to say about points #2 and #4.

Under his discussion of point two he has a fantastic diagram with options for an answer to the question: What do the sending of the Son and the Holy Spirit signify about the eternal life of God? The diagram lays out 7 options along a maximal and minimal position.

Under point #4 he says something I though was absolutely fascinating:

The doctrine of the Trinity serves to identify God by the gospel, or to specify the identity of the God of Christian faith. It does so primarily by insisting that God is the author of two central interventions into the course of human history, the incarnation of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. These two actions, considered not in isolation but as culminating events, mark God as a particular God. The God who sent a Son and a Holy Spirit, because he always already had a Son and a Holy Spirit to send, must be essentially different form a God who could not and did not self-communicate in this way. (39)

Anyway… Fred Sanders is coming in to our Trinity Seminar tomorrow morning and I really look forward to hearing what he has to say.


Eternal Functional Subordination – A Philosophical Argument

A large amount of work on Eternal Functional Subordination has been carried out in response to Tom McCall’s objection that

Apparently this guy is named Thomas McCall as well!

EFS implies a denial of homoousion. I personally think his argument is pretty solid – nevertheless I will leave you to decide whether you agree with it or not.

Here’s is McCall’s argument in a nutshell:

1)If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has the property being functionally subordinate in all time segments in all possible worlds.

2)If the Son has this property in every possible world, then the Son has this property necessarily. Furthermore, the Son has this property with de re rather than de dicto necessity.

3)If the Son has this property necessarily (de re), then the Son has it essentially.

4)If Hard EFS is true, then the Son has this property essentially while the Father does not.

5)If the Son has this property essentially and the Father does not, then the Son is of a different essence than the Father. Thus the son is heteroousios rather than homoousios.

This argument seems pretty solid to me. Nevertheless, I see at least one possible point of contention. This point of contention lies in premise (3). This is by no means an original thought – Andrew Naselli has pointed this out. The idea is that McCall might be conflating the word essentially with belonging to the essence. This may or may not be the case. What it ultimately boils down to is your answer to the questions – what makes something an essential property? And is an essential property the same thing as the essence of a thing? Whatever you make of those questions will determine whether or not you have problems with premise (3). My money’s on the notion that:

P is an essential property of an object o just in case it is necessary that o has P.

Or to put this in the language of possible worlds:

P is an essential property of an object o just in case o has P in all possible worlds, whereas P is an accidental property of an object o just in case o has P but there is a possible world in which o lacks P.

If we take this to be the definition of “essential” then it sure seems like there isn’t actually a problem with premise (3).

Trinity/Election and the Doctrine of Antecedence

In his new book Reading Barth With Charity, George Hunsinger gives us a rather succinct summary of the Trinity-Election debate within Barth scholarship. I appreciate how (in the particular paragraph in mind) he frames the debate within two doctrines: the doctrine of antecedence & the doctrine of subsequence.

In short, whereas the traditionalists uphold Barth’s doctrine of antecedence, the revisionists want to flip it over into a doctrine of subsequence. For the revisionists, God’s trinitarian being is subsequent to God’s relationship to the world. Election has the logical and ontological priority, apart from which the Trinity is merely potential or at least indeterminate. For the traditionalists, on the other hand, God’s being in relation to the world is grounded in God’s being and for himself. The Trinity is always logically and ontologically antecedent. This, then is the disputed question: Is God’s eternal trinitarian being – for the later Barth – subsequent or antecedent to election? (10)

The Benefits of Believing in Predestination

Yesterday in our mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination we took a look at how Calvin responded to some objections to his doctrine of predestination. Today, as we conclude this mini-series, we will see how he not only took a defensive stance when it came to this doctrine but how he also argued vigorously in favor of it.

The Benefits  of Believing in Predestination

It is apparent that Calvin believes that predestination is not unjust. However he does not limit himself to arguing defensively for the doctrine, he also makes a positive argument for it. Calvin believes that one way that Satan assaults believers is to make them question their election (3.24.4). This doctrine has the positive effect of reassuring the believer that she is elect. In revealing this doctrine through scripture, God assures us of our election. By looking at Christ, the one in whom we find certainty of our election (3.24.5), our fears are soothed, our restlessness is calmed, and our fatigued senses are tranquilized, in our election we find rest (3.24.4). Calvin also argues for this doctrine by showing that because we can be sure of our election in Christ, we can be sure that God hears our prayers (3.24.5). Finally this doctrine also spurs us on towards obedience. In election His justice humbles us and teaches us to look up to his mercy, when see his justice and mercy we are aroused and stimulated to live a holy life (224).

Although this doctrine can be difficult to accept, Calvin is right in emphasizing that it is Scriptural and that God’s justice is inscrutable. He is also right in saying that this doctrine has tremendous benefits. Regardless of whether or not you agree with his version of predestination, because of the reasons mentioned in this post and the last few posts we must not be quick to dismiss this difficult and controversial doctrine.

(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)

Four Reasons Why Calvinism is Just Plain Wrong

Yesterday in our mini-series on the Calvinist version of predestination we tackled the question – “According to John Calvin what is predestination?” Today we take a look at the question…

Is Predestination Unjust?

In Book Three chapter 23 Calvin responds to four objections regarding the injustice of the doctrine of predestination. Let us look at these four objections and his responses. By doing this we will see a common thread between each of these responses.

Calvinism twists the character of God.

The first objection to the doctrine of predestination, specifically reprobation, is that it twists the character of God. This objection is articulated in two ways the first which is found in 3.23.2 says that a God that “is offended by his creatures who have not provoked him without any previous offense… resembles more the caprice of a tyrant than the sentence of a judge” (232) The second articulation of this offense is found in 3.23.4, which says that by creating humans that are predestined condemnation God is unjust in “cruelly mocking his creatures.” (234) Both of these objections make the case that reprobation is cruel and unjust because the reprobate did not choose their fate. Calvin responds to this objection by saying that “the will of God is the supreme rule of righteousness so that everything which he wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of willing it” (232). To say that there is some law above God to which He must comply is impious. By leveling this objection against predestination, the objector is setting up a standard for justice above God. Calvin responds by saying that God is not lawless, rather God is a law to himself, thus he is not bound to give an account for why this is just. This type of response resembles Ockham’s voluntarism which says that God does not will something because it is good or just but that something is good or just because God wills it.

Calvinism violates the principle of alternate possibilities.

The second objection is that it is unjust for God to “blame individuals for things the necessity of which he has imposed by his own predestination” (236). This seems like an appeal to something like the principle of alternate possibilities. These people believe that humans should be judged solely according to the actions of their free will. However Calvin believes that this diminishes the omnipotence of God over all (238). He counters their argument by saying that the cause of their perdition is in God’s predestination but is also in themselves. Why God predestined it cannot be known, however what can be know is that it was just because it displays his glory (240). Thus Calvin’s response to this objection is that it in fact is “consistent with equity, an equity, indeed unknown to us, but most certain” (241).

Calvinism bears false witness against God.

The third objection says that the doctrine implies false things about God. The doctrine falsely implies, against the witness of scripture, that is God “an acceptor of persons” (241) because He does not do justice equally. If it is true, as Calvin argues that merit is not involved in election, then there must be some other cause for which humans are predestined. Calvin’s objectors argue that if God does not elect based off of merit he must elect based upon some other characteristic of the person, for instance wealth, power, rank, beauty, etc. If God were to do this He would be “an acceptor of persons,” this however is unscriptural. So according to Calvin’s opponents, predestination makes God an acceptor of persons, scripture says that God is not an acceptor of persons, thus predestination must be false. Calvin says that this is not so. God inflicts “due punishment on those whom he reprobates, and bestows unmerited favor on those whom he calls” (243). Election is unmerited, so God is not an “acceptor of persons.” In predestining humans, God would be just in punishing all, and he is merciful in choosing to show favor to some. To choose to show grace to some is not unjust, it is merciful.

Calvinism discourages holy living.

The final objection is that the doctrine of predestination encourages license and discourages zeal for holiness. Calvin says that this is not so because the mysterious doctrine humbles us and causes us to be in awe of God’s mercy and justice (244). Because we are humbled at God’s justice and mercy we are stimulated to aspire to the end for which we are elected, namely holiness in life (244). Thus the doctrine does not encourage license and sloth, rather it encourages a zeal for God’s holiness.


Having seen how he responds to these four objections it is clear that Calvin believes that the doctrine is not unjust. It is not unjust because God wills it. God’s will is the rule of righteousness, so whatever he wills is just. To say that predestination, a doctrine clearly taught in scripture, is unjust is to say that there is a rule of righteousness above God. To say that humans know that rule of righteousness which is above God better than God himself knows it is impious. Although according to human standards it might seem unjust, Calvin clearly believes that it is not. For “divine justice is too high to be scanned by human measure or comprehended by the feebleness of human intellect” (235). Thus predestination is not unjust because God willed it, any objection to its justice is an act of pride ignoring the mystery and inscrutableness of God’s will.

(Note: All quotes come from the anthology, The Protestant Reformation edited by Hans Hildebrand.)