More Mistakes: A Rejoinder to Randal Rauser

For those who aren’t aware, there has been something of a “debate”, but what I’d prefer to refer to as an “in house discussion” between Randal Rauser (Professor of Historical Theology at Taylor Seminary) and myself.

The discussion so far can be found here:

My initial article was Randal Rauser’s Mistake: A Defense of Calvin’s Doctrine of Election

Rauser’s response: Calvinism and the Arbitrary Camp Director Revisited: A Response to Andrew

Andrew and CalvinBefore I begin, I should point out that I have been on the Kapiti coast for the last week at a TSCF (Tertiary Student Christian Fellowship, a cousin of Inter-Varsity) retreat where I was without internet. Hence it’s only in the last day that I’ve learned that Professor Rauser has kindly taken the time to respond to my initial article. So I apologize for my delayed response.

I would also like to point out that while my intention was to provoke Rauser’s response, it was not to be rude, and I apologize if that’s the impression he has received. I have a great deal of respect for Rauser, particularly given (as I pointed out in my last article) that he is a Professor of Historical Theology with an obvious background in analytic philosophy, while I am a mere undergrad with far more ambition than actual ability. The last thing that I want is for this discussion to devolve into the kind of vitriol that plagues almost all other web based discussions of the philosophy of religion and/or theology. I say this, largely because I fear (from the tone of his response) that he has received the impression of ill intent on my part.

Secondly, I appreciate that Rauser took the time to respond to my article, and I appreciate that he also took the time to counter my personal testimony with that of his own.

Randal Rauser and ArminiusBut now to specifics: How does Rauser respond to my claim that the arbitrariness objection (at least if it is to be an objection) begs the question against Calvin’s doctrine of election? On the face of it, he doesn’t seem to challenge my point that God may not be acting unjustly if we are undeserving of salvation. To the contrary, Rauser seems to admit for the possibility that the tortures may be justly deserved. But if that’s the case, then, as I tried to point out in my first post, there’s no real injustice or immoral state of affairs that obtains if God so desires to instantiate those punishments. Paradoxically though, Rauser refers to my theology as “brutal” and “morally incoherent”. Both of these terms, emotionally provocative as they are, seem to suggest that there is something nasty, horrible, evil (whatever negative adjective your heart desires) about a God that selects some for salvation while selecting others for damnation. But if, as Rauser seems to allow, the tortures are justly deserved, then none of those adjectives can rightly be said to stick. After all, if the tortures are justly deserved, and God decides to carry out those tortures, then God can only be said to be doing what the demands of morality and/or justice require. So wherein does the moral incoherence obtain?

But according to Rauser, I would still be missing the point. After all, he (Rauser) says, the Camp Director Analogy was not intended to show that God, given Calvinism, is “unjust”, but rather that He cannot be seen as “maximally loving”. I see no real reason to deny Rauser the liberty to make this distinction, but its relevance is, at best, unclear.

Thankfully, Rauser does seem to hint at one possible way in which we could interpret this as an objection. He seems to engage in something of a pair-wise comparison between two possible scenarios that are supposed to be relevantly similar to the Arminian and Calvinist conceptions of election respectively.

  • Scenario 1: The director arbitrarily selects some children for beatings and others for loving rehabilitation.
  • Scenario 2: The director selects all children for loving rehabilitation.

According to Rauser, were God to bring about scenario 2, we would state that He is more loving were he to bring about scenario 1. There are three things that I have to say to this:

  1. Even if I were to grant this assumption (which I don’t), the most it establishes is that the God who brings about scenario 1 is less loving than the God who brings about scenario 2. But notice that this is not equivalent to saying that God is “objectively unloving” in the sense that we are able to predicate of God (in that situation) terms like “cruel” and “brutal” et al. To get to the conclusion that God is “objectively unloving” which (given the words he has elected to use to describe my theology) is evidently his goal, Rauser would need to show that anything less than complete love for all creatures is tantamount to cruelty. Given what I have hitherto argued regarding the fact that God’s arbitrary choice may not necessarily be unjust or immoral if Calvinism is true, and given that he (Rauser) seems to allow for this possibility, I don’t see how he can plausibly do that.
  2. Once again, it seems as if Rauser pre-supposes the falsity of Calvinism to infer to its falsity. The only way that I can see Rauser’s conclusion (that were God to bring about scenario 2 He would be more loving than were he to bring about scenario 1) would have a shot at truth, is if we assume that the “L” of the acrostic TULIP is false. If the scope of God’s love extends only to His elect, while the rest are totally depraved to the extent of total opposition to God, (the T of the acrostic TULIP), then for Him (God) to leave the elect to suffer the pestilence of the others, is cruelty on His part. Consider by way of illustrative analogy, a father who allows his small child to suffer continuous beatings from school bullies. For the father to fail to remove the child from that situation is for that father to shirk his responsibilities as a father, and to be downright cruel. Now note, I’m not saying that the God of Arminianism is crueller than the God of Calvinism (though that is an interesting idea), I am merely trying to show that the God of Calvinism is at least as loving as the God of Arminianism (a comparatively small task). To sum up then, to establish that scenario 1 makes God more loving than does scenario 2, Rauser has to smuggle in the assumption that the T of the acrostic TULIP is false. So unfortunately, it’s another case of question begging on Rauser’s part.
  3. The final problem for Rauser consists in the fact that much of what he says entails Universalism. If God brings about scenario 2 AND God loves his children in the way that Rauser loves his daughter, then we are left, not with Classical Arminianism, but with Karl Barth’s Universalism. After all, it should be intuitively obvious that a good father will forcibly pull a child out of harm’s way, particularly if that harm is akin to the fire of hell. Suppose, for instance, that a child is sitting in the way of a stampede of elephants. A good father does not sit idly by, watching from the sidelines and protest that the child must freely get up and run. Rather, a good father sprints into the middle and hauls the child out of the way. This kind of causal sufficiency for salvation in conjunction with God’s salvific love for all humans entails Universal Redemption.

It’s not too late Rauser, you need not think of God as a bad father who stands idly on the sidelines while hell bears down on His children. To sinners like you and I, Calvin’s message of Irresistible Grace and the Perseverance of the Saints ought to be a great comfort. It means that Salvation is a guarantee, and that we needn’t rest on our own failing ability to trust in the Lord. In truth though, returning would be merely speeding up the inevitable. As my Pastor puts it, it’s determined that you will be a Calvinist even if it’s not in this life.

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