Some good news: the Milwaukee Hyatt Regency offers free wi-fi in the lobby. Consequently I have some time for blogging.
But what shall I blog about? I just finished an interesting discussion with my friend Robin Parry (acquisitions editor at Wipf and Stock). During the conversation the topic of Calvinism came up and we discussed the problem of Calvinism and the hope for salvation. (Parry has a discussion of the topic in the second edition of his book The Evangelical Universalist (W&S, 2012).) Let me share with you the illustration I gave in the conversation and the reasoning for it.
Imagine that Jones has just been arrested for rape. Should you want Jones to be found innocent or guilty? That all depends on whether you have reason to believe Jones is ultimately innocent or guilty. If you have no evidence that Jones is innocent or guilty then you ought to withhold hope that he will ultimately be found innocent or guilty.
Now imagine that the topic is salvation. Should you hope that Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate? That all depends on whether you have reason to believe Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate. If you have no evidence that Jones is of the elect or the reprobate then you ought to withhold hope that he is ultimately of the elect or reprobate.
The argument as applied to the salvation of Jones depends on the Calvinist view that God is the primary determining cause of human election to salvation or reprobation combined with the belief that human beings ought not will contrary to what God wills. Thus, if God wills to be the primary determining cause of Jones’ reprobation then we ought not will other than what God willed.
This is not a problem for Arminianism because on the Arminian view God’s will is that all be saved and it is the determining cause of the human being to reject God’s salvific offer that is the primary determining cause of one’s reprobation. Thus, on the Arminian view the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in accord with God’s universal salvific divine will. This is very different from the Calvinistic view according to which the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in a way which may be contrary to God’s particular salvific divine will.
Now let’s replace the generic “Jones” with your daughter or son, your spouse or parent. It would follow that insofar as you do not have reason to believe your daughter or son, your spouse or parent is elect, that you ought not hope for their election. This, I would think, is a problem for Calvinism.
There is one manner of escape. You could argue that insofar as there is evidence for the salvation of your daughter or son, your spouse or parent, you have evidence to believe that God wills to save them and thus you ought to hope for their salvation. There are two problems with this response.
The first problem is that this position doesn’t allow for you to hope for the salvation of a loved one when evidence is currently lacking that they are of the elect. Let’s say that your daughter stops going to church, paints her nails black and wears black lipstick, and starts shacking up with a loser who calls himself “Spider”. In that case you ought not hope for your daughter’s election because there is not good evidence that she is of the elect.
The second problem is that there are excellent undermining defeaters to the election of specific individuals given the abundant historical evidence that people who showed evidence of election at time T-1 (or who failed to show evidence of election at time T-1) later showed evidence of reprobation at time T-2 (or failed to show evidence of reprobation at time T-2). This observation serves as a defeater to your specific beliefs about the election/reprobation of any specific individual at T-1 in which case if you are a Calvinist then you ought not wish that your daughter or son, your spouse or parent is elect because it may be contrary to the divine will.