I was recently privy to an exchange between Arminian philosopher Jerry Walls and a couple of Calvinists. I’m going to pick out a couple of Walls’ comments because they represent the utter confusion that is part and parcel with Arminian theology.
You’d expect lay Christians to make these sorts of remarks. But it’s telling when you get the same kind of credulous, unreflective statements from people who teach philosophy at the tertiary level.
God’s supposed love for all people
In short, to truly love someone is to desire and promote their true flourishing. The true flourishing of a human being is found in a loving/saving relationship with God that leads to eternal life.
Suppose this definition is true. God desires and acts to promote the true flourishing of all people by doing what exactly? Well, he creates huge numbers of people he knows will never accept his overtures, and will subsequently be condemned to never-ending suffering and ruin. So we need to ask some simple questions at this point:
- Could God have done more to promote the flourishing of all these poor saps who end up in hell? Surely he could have. He could have sent angels to appear to them personally and beg them to accept the gospel, for instance. Yet he does not.
- Could God have simply not created them at all—and thus saved them and himself from the futility and heartache of never achieving the flourishing they all desire? Of course. But then…
- Could we reasonably say that God desires and promotes the true flourishing of anyone he creates knowing that he will send them to hell and that he doesn’t have to create them in the first place and that he won’t do everything in his power to prevent this terrible fate? Hardly.
The Arminian view of God sounds nicer than the Calvinist view—until you take a moment to think about simple questions like this. What on earth does it mean to talk about God desiring and promoting the flourishing of all people, when he manifestly fails to promote the flourishing of so many (everyone who wasn’t an Israelite in the ancient near-east, for example), and he could either do so much more, or could simply have avoided the situation in the first place?
A concrete example
Here’s a simple question: did God desire and promote the flourishing of Judas? Jesus says in Matthew 26:24 that it would have been better for Judas to never have been born. So why did God not do what was better for Judas by simply never creating him? Was Jesus mistaken? Or did God just not care that Judas would have been better off not being born?
Walls tries to weasel around these sorts of issues by promoting a belief in purgatory. Needless to say, that’s certainly not in the Bible, and isn’t even remotely orthodox Arminian doctrine—and in fact, “orthodox” Arminianism seems to lead very quickly into all kinds of errors and heresies, purgatory least among them. Open theism, for instance, is simply the key humanistic principle of Arminianism taken to its logical conclusion. Man must increase so that God may decrease. And although in the past Arminians have been all, “No, no, open theism is antithetical to Arminianism and quite unorthodox”, now they are increasingly friendly towards it. Roger Olson, the Arminian version of Superman, by his own admission thinks open theism is just one legitimate view of God within the broader Arminian tradition.
The nature of love itself
There’s a second part to the problem with Walls’ view, as demonstrated by his description of what love ultimately is:
Love is God’s very nature as a Trinity, not a sovereign choice. He necessarily loves all beings. To love is to desire true flourishing.
Now of course I agree that love is God’s very nature. But notice a couple of implications of Walls’ jejune view:
Love is not chosen
If love is not a sovereign choice—if God loves necessarily—then the entire argument that we have to freely choose to love God in order to genuinely love him is simply bogus. That’s a problem given that this argument is a key pillar in the Arminian theological colonnade; and a key reason that Arminians reject the Calvinist doctrine of irresistible grace. If the very nature of love, as grounded in the nature of God, is necessitated rather than free, then how can we love without being necessitated to do so? But to say that is exactly to say that Calvinism is true and Arminianism is false.
Now you could argue that the necessitated nature of God’s love is an accidental rather than essential property, and that love more generally can be libertarianly free. But even if that argument goes through—and on the face of it, it seems pretty dubious—that doesn’t show that human love must be free. Only that it may be free, if God chooses to create us that way. But given the risks involved in that, such as a sizable proportion of people choosing to reject him to their own eternal ruin, that doesn’t seem like something an all-loving God would do. It would be much safer, and no less loving, to create us so that we loved God as a matter of necessity, and thus never risked “going bad”.
So this exposes a giant, gaping, almost comical contradiction in Walls’ theology.
What does it mean for God to desire his own true flourishing?
The final point I’m going to make is simply that Walls’ definition of love is incoherent with respect to God. He repeatedly says that to love is to desire true flourishing. To desire true flourishing means to desire that the person you love will grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way; to thrive; to fare well and prosper. Yet God, in the Trinity, is infinite and wants for nothing. He cannot grow or develop; he is already infinitely fulfilled, and I don’t even know what it would mean to speak of him prospering or faring well, since that would seem to imply he could be less than infinitely fulfilled. To speak of God “flourishing” is just incoherent babble. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t mean anything.
But if God is the very essence and existence of love, and it is incoherent to speak of God desiring or promoting his own true flourishing, then it is incoherent to speak of love in those terms. By the same token, the great commandment to love Yahweh your God becomes incoherent. Love is defined in God; and when God loves, and when we love God, it does not and cannot have anything to do with desiring or promoting true flourishing. Therefore, love is not fundamentally about desiring or promoting true flourishing.
So Walls’ very definition of love is incoherent nonsense. Which explains why his theology is such garbage: it is built on the idea that God is this kind of love.