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Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Pondering Piper: Should the Neo-Reformed Hope for People's Salvation?

Here is a quote from John Piper that I have often thought about over the years (sometimes in admiration and sometimes in sadness and horror)
I have three sons. Every night after they are asleep I turn on the hall light, open their bedroom door, and walk from bed to bed, laying my hands on them and praying. Often I am moved to tears of joy and longing. I pray that Karsten Luke become a great physician of the soul, that Benjamin John become the beloved son of my right hand in the gospel, and that Abraham Christian give glory to God as he grows strong in his faith.

But I am not ignorant that God may not have chosen my sons for his sons. And-, though I think I would give my life for their salvation, if they should be lost to me, I would not rail against the Almighty. He is God. I am but a man. The potter has absolute rights over the clay. Mine is to bow before his unimpeachable character and believe that the Judge of all the earth has ever and always will do right.
Here is the link for the whole article.

This is just something I was wondering about, so I will just float my "wonderings" out there so those who are better informed will be able to help clarify things for me. Let's start with the question of whether it is right to hope/desire/wish that God will save all people (which, I am well aware, is not what Piper was doing in the above quotation).

I may be completely mistaken (so please tell me if I am) but I would imagine that a Calvinist of the neo-Reformed school (those Roger Olson rather sweetly calls "Piper cubs") should believe that hoping that all would be saved would actually be impious and morally bad. At best, it is a result of our distorted human misperceptions of the world.

Given that God has chosen not to save all then I would imagine that the wish/hope/desire that God had chosen something other than what God has in fact chosen (i.e., the wish/hope/desire that God save all) would be to wish that God had done things "our way" instead of "God's way" and this is a disordered desire.

So wishing that God had chosen to save all (even if you did not believe that he had) would be a sin. (Perhaps itself worthy of eternal punishment.) Right?

Perhaps we also have a dilemma regarding those who are not yet Christians and whose status as "elect" or "non-elect" is unknown to us — and here I am thinking of the kind of desire that John Piper had for his sons. Should we hope that they come to believe the gospel? If God has not elected them (and for all we know, he has not) then desiring that they believe the gospel and participate in salvation in Christ is to wish for something that God does not want. Is that a sinful desire? But if we do not desire it then, in cases where God has actually elected them, we fail to desire something that God desires. So that may also be a sin.

Or do we go with the working assumption that we should desire that they be saved because God may possibly have elected them. In other words, is our epistemic ignorance the key?

I may have the wrong end of the stick here entirely. This is not an accusation against neo-Calvinism because I have never heard any neo-Calvinists suggest this. Clearly Piper passionately longs to see people saved whose status as "elect" is unknown saved. I think that's good but I am not sure how consistent it is.

In short, I wonder whether the "godly" neo-Calvinist desire should be, "I desire that God save my child if he wants to" and not, "I desire that God saves my child." That seems to make sense to me as a recommended way in which neo-Calvinists should try to cultivate their desires (given their other beliefs). Obviously it is not what neo-Calvinists usually do (Thank God).


Randy said...

This very inconsistency along with one another are what caused me to shift from a classical Reformed doctrine of predestination and election. The other major issue I have is in understanding how a classical Calvinist can posit that God is love, that love is his very essence, an essential attribute of God, while at the same time believing that God outright damned (or simply passed them over, which is the same for all intents and purposes) billions and billions of people to an eternal hell before time. What is loving about that? How in any way, by any counts can that God be counted as loving?

My neo-Reformed friends have no cogent answer for this conundrum (or the one you've raised)! Either they say that God loves the non-elect differently or that we have anthropomorphized the notion of love. Neither answer is satisfactory in the end: God has clearly displayed how love is defined in Scripture and further, there is no way to aver that God is loving towards the non-elect by condemning them from before their first heartbeat to experience eternal conscious torment on an unconditional basis.

"Nick" said...

It has always struck me as an inconsistency as well Robin. It would explain some of the passionate condemnation of Rob Bell and others who lean toward a hopeful universalism. Bell is more or less saying he hopes all will be saved, and can see a way for that to happen. The more reformed or neo-reformed who condemn him do so at least partly because they feel it isn't a good thing to even hope for because God "obviously" didn't plan it that way. This is a generalization, of course, but does seem to be a part of the reaction to him.

SteveH said...

I think it would be wrong to hope for universal salvation, since (on a neo-Calvinist telling) we know that God has not intended that, and we must trust that God has done what is best.
But for every individual, yes, ignorance is the key. Until I know God has not elected X I am not wrong to hope that he might have. (This feels like it might be wrapped up with the duty-faith issues of the 'modern question' somehow, on reflection.)

Incidentally, I don't know about the other two, but Karsten Luke became a poet of some quality: (see http://www.mnartists.org/work.do?action=list&rid=117798 ) and a thoroughly nice guy!

Paul said...

Here's my 1.5¢, FWIW,

- I agree with the Piper quote

- As a covenant theologian, I do think God works in families, uses them as a means to bring his elect into the church (both local and universal).

- I'm wondering why the scope is limited to "neo-Reformed," as I imagine, say, Turretin wouldn't have a big problem with what I'm saying, or with what Piper said (considering the quote alone.

- I'm not sure hoping or desiring all would be saved would be morally bad per se, this would at least need to be answered on a case-by-case basis.

- But should it be immoral to so hope? Well,

(a) It is irrational to so hope, so we rationally shouldn't. If we believe the Bible positively teaches that some humans will be punished in hell, and that this time in hell will be endless, then it would be irrational to hope that none will be in hell. Similarly, if I received a news report from a very trustworthy source about a dirty bomb going off in NYC, and they reported that some people died, and I believed this, then it would be irrational to hope that all people lived—though it wouldn't be irrational to hope that some particular people, say, my family members visiting NYC, made it out alive. So, this hoping would be internally irrational in a Plantinganian sense. (Now, some may say that we may hope that our reading of the texts are wrong, and so hope all will be saved. This hope isn't irrational with what we believe, but I find it problematic on other grounds, but I will have to leave that alone for now.)

(b) So, if it is immoral to be irrational, then per (a), it would be immoral to hope for UR. But I'm not sure it's always immoral to be irrational. On this matter, we'd need to take things on a case-by-case basis. We'd need to look at bad-making standards, but also motives and goals (existential and teleological reasons). In some cases, such hoping would be immoral. Suppose one of our "neo-Calvinists" hopes for UR. Aside from the irrationality of this hope, which he should drop once the contradiction is pointed out to him, suppose he hopes all will be saved so he can fit in at the academy by telling people he has this hope, because he believes others think only a monster wouldn't at least hope for UR. Or, yes, you could hope or wish that God had done things differently, but this wouldn't be hoping in UR, it'd be wishing that God did things your way. frankly, I find it almost impossible to "hope" for UR given my other beliefs. So it's hard to find someone who had this hope and who wasn't confused about the logical implications of her beliefs, in which case she's not externally irrational or immoral.

- When you move the question to particular people, I don't think we're immoral or irrational to hope for their salvation. Since we know that some (I think most!) humans who have/will ever exist(ed) will be saved, then it's rational and moral to hope they're one of them. The problem comes in when we consider humanity as a whole. I may be told by a trustworthy source that a bag contains some marbles and some pebbles. I reach in and hope that any particular grab yields a marble draw, I wouldn't hope that the whole bag contains marbles.

- IOW, to transfer the hopelessness for the salvation of the human race as a whole to a hopelessness for each human in particularis to commit something like a fallacy of composition.

- (As an aide, above I said I was a covenant theologian (Piper, unfortunately) isn't. So hoping for the salvation of my children has more warrant than mere hope. A probabilistic argument would be made here.)

- Lastly, I find no difference between "I hope God saves my child" and "I hope God saves my child if he wants to," for I believe God saves all and only those he wants to. The set of saved, {S} and the set of those God desires to save {GDS} are identical sets, consisting of identical members.

Peter Gurry said...

Robin, how is "I desire that God save my child if he wants to" different from common prayers like "God, please heal so-and-so from their cancer... if it be your will"?

Randy, classical Calvinists, if they are reading their Bible's, most certainly do have an answer to your conundrum. God has clearly displayed how love is defined in Scripture and the definition does not always include salvation. If "non-saving love" is an oxymoron for you, then Jesus' logic in Matt 5:43-48 about how our enemy-love reflects God's must seem very weak to you. But I've hijacked Robin's blog before on this one so I better just refer you to the discussion there.

I will note, however, that the Reformed do not aver that "God is loving towards the non-elect by condemning them." But that he does not elect them hardly means he has never loved them in any meaningful way. Again, see Matt 5:43-48.

Perhaps you jumped the classic Calvinist ship a bit prematurely? ;)

Andrew said...

Theology aside--

If I believed it were possible that God did not have the best intentions for my child, I would have an extremely hard time putting my relationship with God as my father in a proper context.

I think 1 Tim. 2:1-4 makes a clear enough statement about the intents of God... and Luke 13:34 about the heart of God.

RonH said...

That's a great point, Andrew.

As a parent, I find the idea of eternal torture to be completely incompatible with God's presenting himself to us as Father. I would do absolutely anything within my power to spare my child such a fate. One hopes that God feels likewise. (And, of course, "anything within my power" is a pretty big category for God...)

A being who chooses to eternally damn may well be a just judge or a "sin-avenger" or a righteous wielder of the sword of wrath. But such a being fits no definition of "Father" that makes the word have any meaning to me.

Paul said...

As a non-universalist, I am perplexed by the above comments. First, aside from the emotive (and I think misleading and false) language about hell as a "torture chamber," I wonder why it's only "eternal hell" that is the domain of discourse. Since hell is a pretty bad place to be, probably the worst place to be, if I look at matters from the universalist's angle, I would go all the way and complain that God couldn't be a loving father if he sent my child to hell at all. I would also appeal to the universalist passages and argue that they all apply before the second coming, and would deny that any human ever spends a second in hell. That's my scripturally unhinged moral intuition. You may argue against it, defending the "right" of God to send people to hell for a time, but then you've taken the place of the traditionalist and I the universalist. I argue that your God is unloving and claim I just can't "see" how that kind of God is loving. When we go the route of moral intuitions, things get messy this way.

RonH said...

In what way is the "torture" language false? For Piper and most of the neo-Reformed folk I know, hell is eternal conscious torment of the worst kind. What's more, it is torment folks are subjected to because God chose not to elect them, which somehow increases his glory. I don't think the term is altogether inappropriate. Although I grant that it is misleading in one sense: torture at least eventually ends if the subject confesses.

Eventual universal reconciliation isn't "scripturally unhinged moral intuition". Moral intuition plays a part, but there really is a scriptural case for it. And in fact I find it fairly difficult to argue from Scripture that hell doesn't exist at all, or that no one ever experiences it for a time. Hell may well have a punitive component. It may be necessary for those who persistently reject God in this life to realize the impossibility of escaping him and to accept the reality of their own sin. I can see God as Father subjecting some to it for a time knowing that in the end they too will be reconciled to him. A parent may put a young child through an extremely painful medical procedure in order to save him. The child may not understand anything other than the pain, but the parent knows the pain is temporary though necessary. This understanding fits, both with Scripture and moral intuition. Eternal torment -- pain without end inflicted with no possibility of redemption -- does not.

Can we please dispense with the notion that universalists pay no attention to scripture and instead just believe whatever makes them feel good?

Repent and Trust in Jesus said...

The thing is you do not know who the elect are, so this would led you to assume that all could be elect, therefore you would preach the gospel of Christ to all and pray for all.

Believing in election would free you to preach and pray for the worst of people, even for people like Saul who was persecuting Christians before God converted him and he became the Apostle Paul.

Many of the great missionaries were Calvinists - Hudson Taylor (to China), William Carey (to India), etc.

Paul said...


The Reformed have never referred to hell as a "torture chamber," many have argued against this. 'Torment' isn't a synonym for 'torture,' the one isn't analytically contained in the other. The phrase "worst kind" would need to be spelled out, as its vague and ambiguous. Many have argued against this claim, and have pointed out that there are "degrees" of punishment, hence, for any damned, hell isn't "the worst" punishment.

Moreover, "scripturally unhinged moral intuition" doesn't imply "there's no Scriptural case for universalism." I am aware of the scriptural case for universalism. A 'scripturally unhinged moral intuition' are those intuitions appealed to by those like Parry and Talbott.

As far as your response, it seems we have a clash of moral intuitions. For my moral intuitions are that a loving God would not allow any of his children spend any time in hell if he could stop it. He could do so by determining some to chose Jesus in a compatibilist free sense. If he's going to do that for some in hell, then he can just do it sooner. Second, he can allow all roads to lead to heaven, thus getting more people in on the first shot. certainly we should "hope" for pluralism, as it would mean more people get into heaven without spending any time in hell. And, there is a "case" that can be made for pluralism, so it's not without Scriptural support whatsoever. Sure, a loving parent may need to subject a child to pain in order to cure them, but God's hands aren't tied like a human being's, he can get around it. If he can, he would. Lastly, the biblical case for UR of which you speak leans heavily in favor of my view. For all are reconciled now, and Jesus work has given life to all now. All are justified now. We don't see this because of the already/not yet principle. But the idea that the already/not yet still applies when the "not yet" becomes "already" is foreign from Scripture. Paul and others could not conceive of the hostility and unreconciled nature of things continuing *after* Jesus returns and is all in all. So my case has scriptural support to, and its more loving. God will save all and none will go to hell for any time!

Finally, your last paragraph is unwarranted and reactionary, for I never so much as suggested that idea. It seems you want to react rather than interact.

RonH said...

re: my reactionary paragraph: I must've misunderstood your point. A complaint I see frequently levelled at universalists is that they are disregarding scripture (which "clearly" teaches some are damned) in favor of their own moral intuitions -- the old "but your view isn't 'Biblical'" argument. What follows is often some kind of reductio: "since you're just going based on your non-scriptural intutions, then why don't you believe X" (where X is some other viewpoint not in fact being proposed by the universalist in question). My perception was that your initial comment basically fell into this category, given your use of the phrase "scripturally unhinged moral intuition" followed by what sounded like the claim that a universalist would be more consistent to disbelieve in hell at all. It's a very tiresome approach, and quite disrespectful towards those of us who really are trying to get at a consistent reading of scripture on this point. I guess I got you wrong, and I apologize for not reading you more carefully and for shooting from the hip in haste.

I personally feel that the scriptural support for eventual universal reconciliation is much broader and stronger than that for eternal torment with no recourse. I can't simply wish away the passages on hell and judgment, however. I think Robin does a pretty good job of harmonizing the two, while maintaining an emphasis in balance with the Bible's. That this accords with my moral intution is reassuring, but does not determine my position.

I'm also not following your complaint about my use of the word "torture". Are you saying I'm making hell out to sound worse than it is? I'll freely cop to the charge of inflammatory rehetoric (pun intended), because what we're talking about here is eternal, unending torment at God's decree. I can't think of anything worse than that.

Paul said...


No worries. As I said, I am aware of the scriptural case for UR, and I can respect it. I don't agree, I think it's often simplistic, but I can respect and understand that you guys do see something in the Bible that you believe teaches UR. However, I too find that the Bible teaches traditionalism, and so i cannot wish it away.

On torture: That hell is "the worst place you can imagine" doesn't not entail that it is "tortue," unless "torture" just means "worst place you can imagine." The term 'torture' obviously conjures up all manner of unsavory images, being in the end a question begging epithet. It's really not a helpful term to use in discussions with traditionalists, as you can imagine. Since traditionalists believe that hell is the just punishment that crimes against God's law, and fully fitting, this can hardly be torture.

In fact, according to the SEP article on 'torture' and given some universalist interpretation of 'hell,' it seems like the universalist position on hell could be called 'torture', Thus,

"So perhaps the following definition is adequate. Torture is: (a) the intentional infliction of extreme physical suffering on some non-consenting, defenceless person; (b) the intentional, substantial curtailment of the exercise of the person's autonomy (achieved by means of (a)); (c) in general, undertaken for the purpose of breaking the victim's will."

I also have no reason to believe that hell will be "the infliction of extreme physical suffering." There may be some, but we have no reason to believe it consists of typical torturous actions, e.g., searing with a hot iron, electrocution, cutting off the genitals, putting them on the rack, etc.

So, I really have no reason to believe the traditional view of hell is "torture."

RonH said...


Well, the traditionalism I was raised on was precisely a hell of extreme suffering. "Worm dieth not, fire is not quenched" kind of thing. In fact, it was often stated that the worst physical tortures of this life would be nothing compared to the pain of hell. Piper's view is that hell is endless, horrible suffering ("I know of no one who has overstated the terrors of hell. We can scarcely surpass the horrid images Jesus used."). That is the view of all of his neo-Reformed fans that I'm acquainted with. These are folks whose hero is Jonathan "Angry God" Edwards. Given the choice of a year on Herr Mengele's table or eternity in hell, I know what they'd pick. (Uh-oh... did I just break Godwin's Law?) So "torture" is a perfectly apt word to describe what my understanding of "traditionalist" hell is. Once again, perhaps I'm making rash assumptions about your position. Mea culpa. It's difficult to have discussions about controversial matters with folks one doesn't know.

I'm aware that there are views of hell that retain the eternality of it while "domesticating" it somewhat by downplaying the macabre images from the New Testament. Lewis' "Great Divorce" comes to mind, and N.T. Wright holds a view that isn't too far off from Lewis. Perhaps you land somewhere along those lines, and in that event I'd agree the word "torture" isn't apt. However, then I'd find myself in the curious position of suggesting that you are the one letting his moral intuitions get the better of him. The few verses we do have that describe hell speak of pain, torment, fire, worms, etc. Even torture, if you want to take the fate of the Unforgiving Servant in Matt. 18 as an allusion to hell (as a great many traditionalists do). Frankly, I think there's less textual support for views like Lewis' and Wright's than there is for universal reconciliation.

Paul said...


You didn't show that their view of hell is "torture," and I provided a def. of torture which their view does not fit. I guess if you just want to *define* torture as "worm dieth, fire is not quenched kind of a thing," then you're free to so stipulate. Of course, others will just demur from your definition and stipulate other definitions. I gave my reasons for why I don't think the Reformed (or neo-Reformed) view of hell should be referred to as a torture chamber. You apparently don't like those reasons. You continue to say "pain" is "torture" and "worst place imaginable" is "torture." I think that's obviously false, but a man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still. So I leave you to referring to the traditional view of hell as a "torture chamber," after all, that's got to have the benefit of dismissing traditionalism that much easier!


RonH said...

Ok, Paul, I can play word games if you want. Merriam-Webster defines "torture" as:

1. a : anguish of body or mind : agony b : something that causes agony or pain
2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure

So I think hell could certainly fit definitions 1a and 1b. Hell also fits 2, since its purpose is in fact inflicting pain to punish. That is what I have in mind when I refer to hell as torture. I have no idea at this point what you think hell is. The Westminster Catechism, generally regarded favoribly by the English-speaking Reformed world, defines it as "everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever". Seems to fit Merriam-Webster's definition fairly well also.

I think you're being pedantic about which word I apply to eternal, unendying, undying, unremediable suffering of a kind that can only be inflicted by God. Piper argues that we don't have language to describe the horrors of hell. With that reasoning, "torture" isn't even strong enough of a word.

Paul said...


I presented a substantive philosophical definition, you appealed to a dictionary def. That's fine, we can go with that. Note the insufficiency of your def.

1. a : anguish of body or mind : agony b : something that causes agony or pain
2 : the infliction of intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding) to punish, coerce, or afford sadistic pleasure

Obviously (1) won't do the trick, as it's too broad, allowing obviously non-tortuous things to be torture, e.g., training hard for a marathon.

As far as (2), there's no reason to believe that Reformed (neo or otherwise) assume hell to involve inflicting "intense pain (as from burning, crushing, or wounding". Most importantly, on the traditionalist view, the motive or goal in (2) isn't involved. For there's no "coercing" that's going on (God's not trying to "get a confession"), and obviously doesn't derive "sadistic pleasure" out of punishing the damned in hell. If we read the last sentence as a disjunction, with at least one of the disjuncts needing to be true, and we rule out coercion and gaining sadistic pleasure, we have "inflicting of intense pain for punishment." Not only is there no reason to believe that "intense physical pain" is going on in hell (and certainly not in the forms given in the def.), it's too subjective. And, there's no evidence our view teaches that punishment is inflicted for the same of inflicting punishment.

So, neither (1) nor (2) will do, either considered separately or jointly. Moreover, not only is the def. to broad, it's also too narrow. For one can "torture" even if one doesn't inflict "intense pain from burning etc. for punishment, coercion, or sadistic pleasure."

Lastly, I of course affirm the Catechism, but there's no reason to assume they mean "fire" literally and are not simply using the language of Scripture, and you also don't know what is meant by "grievous torments", not to mention it's not clear that a "grievous torment" is "torture." Indeed, the catechism sounds like what guys like Habermas and Moreland have claimed:

From Immortality: The Other Side of Death, Gary Habermas and J.P. Moreland, Nelson:1992

"Before proceeding, though, one more preliminary is in order. We do not accept the idea that hell is a place where God actively tortures people forever and ever. There will indeed be everlasting, conscious, mental and physical torment in various degrees according to the lives people have lived here on earth. But the essence of that torment is relational in nature: the banishment from heaven and all it stands for. Mental and physical anguish result from the sorrow and shame of the judgment of being forever relationally excluded from God, heaven, and so forth. It is not due to God himself inflicting torture."

But as I said, I understand that you want to persist in calling the traditional view of hell a "torture chamber." It makes it that much easier to reject it, and you don't have to deal with what we really say. You don't really care about our protests and reasoned argument to the contrary, even though I afforded you the courtesy of acknowledging you think you have a "Biblical case" for UR.

RonH said...

So, Paul, I went back and had a talk with my manager and we're prepared to make you a better offer. Given your assumptions that "fire" isn't necessarily literal, that torment isn't necessarily pain, and that punishment isn't necessarily for the sake of punishment (whatever that means given that the punishment can't be restorative), I will officially concede that there is insufficient warrant for me to describe your view of hell as torture. Of course, by this point I'm having doubts about how traditional your "traditional" view happens to be... But I'll have to leave that to someone with more historical knowledge at their fingertips. (I can't resist noting in passing how much you're allowing your own moral intuitions to play into your interpretation of Scripture, instead of just going with the "plain reading".)

HOWEVER, your view (traditional or not) is decidedly not that of the Baptist churches I grew up in. It's not the view of the neo-Reformed folks I go to church with now. It doesn't sound like Piper's view. It doesn't sound like Jonathan Edwards' view (the "homeboy" -- as they say now -- of many of those aforementioned neo-Reformed folks). These other views, not nearly as meticulously qualified as yours, do IMO lend themselves to being described as torture... and they loom far larger in my life right now than yours does.

Given all this, I propose that in any potential future exchange between us we take as understood that: 1) when I refer to hell as "torture" I am explicitly not including your view in that reference; and 2) I am still free to use the term "torture" when applied to other views I interact with regularly which describe themselves as "traditionalist" but are sufficiently divergent from your own.

If you can agree to these terms, fax back a signed copy... we'll get Robin to notarize it, and he can have his blog back. ;-)

Incidentally, your snarky last paragraph was much more cleverly worded than mine was from earlier. Touche.

Sam said...

The neo reformed view of God seems to be that He is like a fireman who saves some people from a burning building, but chooses to leave others to die even though he could save them, just because he felt like it.

We would all, rightly, soundly condemn such a fireman. Yet we are told these standards of right action don't apply to God. But at the same time we are told that morality is a reflection of God's character.

I've never heard a good explanation for this, from either Piper or one of his many, very ardent, "cubs".

Peter Gurry said...

Sam, if the fire they were burning in was caused by arson and they were the arsonists and if the house they set fire to in which they were now trapped was the castle of the King in whose land they dwelt and from whose table they fed regularly, then your analogy would start to approximate the view of those you criticize.

Your burning building illustration seems to imply that the people inside are innocent, helpless victims. The neo-Reformed, as it turns out, maintain no such rose-colored notions about rebellious humanity.

Paul said...


I never denied that hell isn't painful, they will have bodies and I assume experience at least some amount of physical pain. I have provided analytical accounts of 'torture' and shown how the traditional view doesn't fit that account. And btw, retributivism doesn't punish for the sake of punishment, it does so for the sake of justice, for the sake of fittingness. I know you may not like it, but it doesn't punish *for the sake of* punishing.

As far as "literal" fire. Well, if you want to think that that's the most popular or sophisticated of the "traditional" view, be my guest. It's not the view of Piper, nor virtually all "neo-Reformed." It's not the view of Edwardsian scholars like Paul Helm and Oliver Crisp, either. I also suggest that intimating that the "traditional" view must read the Bible in a wooden-literal fashion is likewise uncharitable. Traditionalism can make use of a variety of hermeneutical principles. On your view, it seems you think traditionalists also ought to think that God has wings and that Jesus will return literally surfing clouds to earth and "every" eye will literally see a 6 ft object descending down to earth. Traditionalists are allowed to notice when the Bible uses stock imagery, hyperbole, poetic embellishment, metaphor, analogy, etc.

It seems to me that you must construct a giant 50 ft straw man in order to criticize traditionalism, and this is unfortunate.

My snark was borne out of frustration with the few instances of snark directed my way without responding in kind. I am aware that universalists may heap all manner of snark or ridicule on an opponent and no one says anything about it. However, when a traditionalist strikes back (like a wife after being beaten for years), everyone says, "Oh, see, I knew traditionalists were mean and nasty people, depraved because of their depraved views on hell and God!" :-) Now, how was that for some snark?

Anyway, yes, sorry, Robin may have his blog back.

Sam said...

Peter said "Sam, if the fire they were burning in was caused by arson and they were the arsonists and if the house they set fire to in which they were now trapped was the castle of the King in whose land they dwelt and from whose table they fed regularly, then your analogy would start to approximate the view of those you criticize.

Your burning building illustration seems to imply that the people inside are innocent, helpless victims. The neo-Reformed, as it turns out, maintain no such rose-colored notions about rebellious humanity. "

Well, let's incorporate your ideas:

A doctor has 100 patients in the hospital, all of whom gave themselves a fatal disease, on purpose. This doctor, even though he has enough medicine to save all of them, saves 2. We would rightly condemn the doctor for not saving them all, even though all really deserve to die, having infected themselves with full knowledge of what they were doing.

The question remains; we are told that our right morality is a reflection of God's character, yet Reformed theology would say that God does what we would condemn others for doing.

I haven't seen a good explanation for this, either from Piper or his oh so zealous "cubs".

Paul said...


The question remains; we are told that our right morality is a reflection of God's character, yet Reformed theology would say that God does what we would condemn others for doing.

Assuming you're not an open theist:

If I knew that my neighbor was going to murder his wife, and I had the ability to stop it, but I did not stop it, I would be immoral.

However, God infallibly believes that countless atrocities will occur if he doesn't intervene, yet he doesn't intervene.

Hence, you have God not doing something humans would be immoral for not doing.

Peter Gurry said...

Sam, has the doctor been personally offended by the fatal disease his patients have given themselves? Is the Doctor also the King whom the patients owe supreme love and allegiance too?

I note that the question behind Paul's logic in Rom 3:21-26 is not "How can God be God if he doesn't forgive some people?" Rather his question is "How can God be God if he forgives anyone?" These are fundamentally different questions. You're not asking the one Paul is. Why?

Until your illustration shows a proper Godward dimension to the problem of sin I'm not buying it. In Scripture, the biggest problem about sin is that it is against God (Gen 39:9; Ps 51:4; Matt 18:24-25; 22:36-37).

So I'm in agreement with Emil Brunner when he writes, "The more we see that sin is sin against God, the more serious it becomes; and the more we see it as sin against God, the more we recognize that our sin is irrevocable, that is, it is guilt. Both 'sin' and 'guilt' express the truly personal relation between God and man" (The Mediator, [1947] p. 444).

Sam said...

Peter and Paul,

Sorry, been down this road with you "Reformed" types before.

Thought you might give me a straight answer. What was I thinking?

My bad.

Robin Parry said...


I am not sure that your last comment was terribly constructive. I appreciate that you may be unconvinced by Peter's and Paul's responses (as am I) but they did attempt to engage your argument and to take the discussion forwards. As such their responses deserve an attempted rebuttal rather than an out of hand dismissal.

Such is my view.


Peter Gurry said...

Bummer, Robin. I thought I had you on that one! ;)

Peter Gurry said...

I must redouble my efforts to convert you back to the light. I think we may just have to meet in person in order for my charm to have its full effects.

Anzaholyman said...

Who died and left Calvinists the Popes and protectors of Christian Orthodoxy, and could someone explain to me why those who disagree with their love of a Tulip should walk on Eggshells around Calvinists. Quite frankly who cares what they think, and why should the assumptions they build their theology on, be given any more or less weight than say an N.T. Wright? The great wind being expelled by Calvinists over Rob Bells book "Love Wins" is last gasp of a dying theology, much like the perversion that was Catholic dogma before Martin Luther.
Let us give them their due they love to argue and reason from their biased presuppositions, all the time claiming the mantle of Orthodoxy. Calvin however has become a rather minor figure in the freethinking theologians of the 20th and 21st centuries. This is much lamented by those holding the Calvinist Party line, and let me tell you its a good thing that unlike their mentor they do not have the power of the state and a box of matches!
What if we start from scratch without any of their assumptions of total depravity and predestination prestidigitation. Wait a minute that is exactly what we are doing, and funny thing I can't see Calvin in my rear view mirror at all! Once Calvin is seen as the minor player he really was, we will stop walking on Calvinist Eggshells...

Barry said...


Just wandered into the debate so sorry if I've missed this already, but doesn't Piper address your straw man here?


Robin Parry said...


Thanks for that link. I don't think Piper's argument solves the problem but it is good to see that he takes it seriously and seeks to address it.

I think that he makes a serious case and it warrants a considered response (one which I do not have the time to do)