The Relevance of Irresistible Grace

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

|

October 23, 2017

Question

Dear Tim Stratton (fantastic first name! šŸ˜‰ ),

I happened across your argument against irresistible grace, and I was curious if you’d be interested in interacting with me about it.Ā As you know, the argument looks like this:

1. If ā€œirresistible graceā€ is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell, then x will go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to heaven and will suffer eternally in hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible grace is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

I was wondering how that first premise would be further altered if we removed “If irresistible grace is true, then” from it. In other words, it seems to me that your argument doesn’t actually involve irresistible grace at all. The argument seems to me to be essentially unaltered without it:

1. For any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell, then x will go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to heaven and not suffer eternally in hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to heaven and will suffer eternally in hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient.

Take a “free will” position, for example. Under one free will view, God cannot override our free will, and thus He does not have the power to. Omnipotence is therefore gone.

Or, take a different free will view — God will not override our free will. Therefore God chooses not to, which equates to He doesn’t really want to enough to actually make it happen. Omnibenevolence is gone.

Or, take an open theistic free will argument. Of course, omniscience is gone.

Given your definitions of omnibenevolence, omnipotence, and omniscience, all your argument seems to establish as far as I can tell is that they are, taken together, incompatible with the standard Christian concept of hell.

So I don’t see the relevance of irresistible grace to the argument at all. What am I missing? How would an omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God condemn people to hell under your particular free will view, if not due to lack of sufficient desire for them to go to heaven, or lack of sufficient power to get them there, or lack of sufficient knowledge as to how to do it?

Thanks for your help in understanding your argument, and God bless!

Tim


Tim’s ResponseĀ 

It is always a pleasure to interact with a fellow Timothy! šŸ˜‰

Your question deals with a topic that I have been discussing lately in live settings, but I do not think I have published any blog articles on this specific topic yet. Your question provides a great opportunity to clarify a few things. Namely, to properly understand the Omni Argument Against Irresistible Grace, one must grasp the relevance of irresistible grace.

You are correct in that if premise (1) is altered and “If irresistible grace is true, then” is deleted, we are still left with a valid argument (with an altered conclusion). I contend, however, that the revised argument would not be sound. The point of my argument is to show that if all five points of the TULIP doctrine are true, then individuals are saved if and only if God “zaps” or provides an individual with “irresistible grace.” So, if God is powerful enough to “zap” any person x this irresistible grace, and if God knows how to reach out and “zap” any person x with irresistible grace, and if God wants to “zap” any person x this irresistible grace, then any person x will be saved.

If one affirms that at least one person is damned for all eternity and continues to hold to the doctrine of irresistible grace, then he or she is logically left with rejecting at least one (if not more) of God’s omni attributes. Either God is not powerful enough to “zap” irresistible grace to all people, or God does not know how to use His power to reach out and “zap”Ā all people with irresistible grace, or God simply does not want to save all people (even if He could save all people) by “zapping” everyone with His irresistible grace.

This has to do with the nature of HOW God saves individuals. This is why keeping “If irresistible grace is true, then” is vital for the argument to remain sound. Perhaps a longer version of the Omni Argument will clarify:

1. If irresistible grace (the ā€œIā€ of T.U.L.I.P.) is true, then for any person x, if God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell, then x will go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

2. If God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient, then for any person x, God desires to, has the power to, and knows how to cause x to go to Heaven and not suffer eternally in Hell.

3. There is at least one person who will not go to Heaven and suffers eternally in Hell.

4. Therefore, one cannot affirm both (i) that irresistible graceĀ is true and (ii) that God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient (a maximally great being).

5. God is a maximally great being.

6. Therefore, irresistible grace is false.

7. Therefore, divine determinism is false (God does not causally determine all things).

8. God is completely sovereign and does predestine all thingsĀ (Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:5,11).

9. Therefore, predestination and determinism are not to be conflated.

10. The best explanation of the data isĀ Molinism.

Violating God’s Nature

One thing that I have been discussing lately is that each of the models of God’s sovereignty could be said to violate at least one of God’s omni attributes. Calvinists have been known to reject three of God’s great making properties! For example, many Calvinists deny God’s omniscience by rejecting God’s middle knowledge. Others deny God’s omnipotence by claiming that God does not have the power to create creatures with libertarian freedom or the ability to create any other other world besides this exact world. As you noted, it is quite common for a Calvinist to reject God’s perfect love for all people (omnibenevolence).

Although Calvinists implicitly deny the maximal greatness of God, proponents of other views are not automatically off the hook. As you noted, Open Theism violates God’s perfect knowledge (omniscience), and views that affirm human libertarian free will and the human ability to resist God’s grace seem to violate God’s ability to do all things (omnipotence).

But is this really the case?

As a Molinist who affirms God’s perfect love for each and every human being, I contend that God is omnibenevolent (See The Omnibenevolence of God). That is to say, God truly loves all people and this means He truly desires the ultimate flourishing for all people into the infinite future just as the Bible affirms (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9).

The best and ultimate flourishing a person could ever experience is a true love relationship with God into the infinite future (that is what we were created for and is the objective purpose of the human existence). This is exactly what salvation is — when a human being freely enters into an eternal true love relationship with their Creator who loved them first (1 John 4:19), the human is eternally saved. Salvation equals a true love relationship with God!

True love (and thus, salvation) requires libertarian freedom to be possessed on the part of both parties in the relationship. If the “free” in free will really means free, then one can freely choose to use the ability God has given him or her to be able to love God, or freely choose to use their ability to love in a backwards manner and choose to do evil instead of loving God. After all “LOVE backwards is EVOL!”

Now, God could violate one’s freedom and force people into His presence against their will, but then He has violated the best one could possibly experience — a true love relationship with God. An additional question is raised: How is it glorifying to God if He forces someone to utter His praises? It seems to me that God is only glorified by persons if persons freely choose to worship Him.

Proper DefinitionsĀ 

All of this is avoided if one holds to the common definition of omnipotence: God can do all things that are logically possible. TheĀ Bible is clear that God cannot do all things (Hebrews 6:18),Ā yet this does not seem to negate God’s being all-powerful. With both the biblical data and logic in mind, this definition of omnipotence makes perfect sense.

This is one of several reasons why I think Molinism is the inference to the best explanation of all the data and the best interpretation of all scripture from cover to cover. On Molinism, none of God’s omni attributes are violated. God is omnibenevolent and desires all people to be saved because He truly loves all people. God is omniscient and knows how to make it possible for ALL people to be saved through the atoning work of JesusĀ and revelation (Romans 1:20). God is omnipotent and can do all things that are possible. Since it is logically impossible for God to force someone to freely love Him, the fact that some individuals freely choose to reject God’s love and damn themselves does not violate God’s perfect power, His perfect knowledge, or His perfect love. In fact, if God forced an individual into a relationship with Him, it would not be perfect love. The best God could get is something akin to Stockholm Syndrome! But Stockholm Syndrome is psychological trauma based on a criminal act and anything but perfect love.

You asked, “How would an omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent God condemn people to hell under your particular free will view [Molinism], if not due to lack of sufficient desire for them to go to heaven, or lack of sufficient power to get them there, or lack of sufficient knowledge as to how to do it?”

The first thing to make clear is that heaven is better to be first thought of as a relational status — a true love relationship with God — as opposed to a “place.”

On Molinism God does not send or “condemn anyone to Hell.” No, people “send themselves” (so to speak). Moreover, there is no lack of any of these omni attributes as long as one understands “sufficient power” only refers to what is logically possible. God cannot create a married bachelor, He cannot draw one-dimensional triangles with four corners, He cannot sin, and God cannot force a person to freely love Him. Since salvation is a true love relationship with God, and true love requires libertarian freedom on the part of both parties in the love relationship, it logically follows that it is logically impossible for God to force a person into a saving relationship. Consider the following syllogism:

1- Salvation is an eternal true love relationship between a human and God.

2- If a human is to enter into an eternal true love relationship with God, the human must do so of their own libertarian free will.

3- Therefore, it is logically impossible for God to violate human libertarian free will if a true love relationship — salvation — is to be attained.

The problem at face value melts away once one properly defines terms. God is omnipotent and can do allĀ things logically possible. This would include things that are scientifically impossible — like creating universes from nothing and raising a man from the dead (miracles); however, this does not include things which are logically impossible like creating objects that are not contingent upon God or forcing people to freely love Him and be saved.

You offered a view that approximates to Molinism when you stated,

“. . .Ā take a different free will view — God will not override our free will. Therefore God chooses not to, which equates to He doesn’t really want to enough to actually make it happen. Omnibenevolence is gone.”

You are correct in that God will not “override our free will.” You are incorrect, however, that this entails God’s “omnibenevolence is gone.” In fact, as the argument above demonstrates, it is precisely because God is omnibenevolent and desires a true love relationship with each and every human being that He will not violate human freedom.

Conclusion

Although I think Open Theism is false, I believe it can handle this argument better than an irresistible grace view. The Open Theist can argue that God knows all things logically knowable, but the TULIP proponent has major problems if they claim that God loves all people who are logically lovable. I think it is much better to deny both Open Theism and Calvinistic determinism and instead affirm a view like Molinism: God is completely sovereign and predestines ALL things while humans are genuinely responsible for some things that could logically be otherwise. After properly defining terms, none of God’s omni attributes are violated on Molinism.

The TULIP advocate cannot make the same claims.

Stay reasonable (Isaiah 1:18),

Tim Stratton

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About the Author

Tim

Stratton

(The FreeThinking Theist)

Tim pursued his undergraduate studies at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (B.A. 1997) and after working in full-time ministry for several years went on to attain his graduate degree from Biola University (M.A. 2014). Tim was recently accepted at North West University to pursue his Ph.D. in systematic theology with a focus on metaphysics.

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