Denying the ‘Core and Classical Attribute’ of Omnibenevolence?

About a month ago, James White announced that the debate thesis proposed by the Caner brothers was the following:

Resolved: That God is an Omnibenevolent God to all of humanity through salvation and opportunity.

James White said, “The Caners are insisting upon using a thesis statement that has no meaning. It is not even written in proper English. It could be used and defended by a Unitarian Universalist. They refuse to use a thesis statement I have proposed that is clear and unambiguous.” Tom Ascol also replied thus, “Now, if you can explain exactly what is being asserted here, please let me know.” White and Ascol are no unlearned men, so when I heard that they were unaware of the term of “omnibenevolence” and its usage, I thought I would do some investigation and research on the subject.

Interestingly enough, the term “omnibenevolence” has scarcely been written about in any systematic theology, theological journal, or theological dictionary (only exception thus far is found in Dagg’s Manual of Theology, p.76 under “the goodness of God”). The reason is because its basis is philosophically grounded. A brief description is provided by Wikipedia, although its weak definition and descriptions show just how vague and nondescript this term really is. So where does the Caner’s get the idea of “an omnibenevolent God?” Here you must delve into the Arminian playbook (i.e. Geisler’s Chosen but Free and Hunt’s What Love Is This?). Here is a quote by Norm Geisler from his book Chosen But Free: A Balanced View of Divine Election:

On “Revealing Admissions by PF”

One of the most illuminating claims in PF is that God does not love all men in a salvific (saving) sense (302-303). This is a denial of the core and classical attribute of God’s omnibenevolence. Nor does PF comprehend that it is a category mistake to fail to understand that God having power He does not use is not the same as having love He does not show. For love, like justice, is a moral attribute of God that demands action on its object, whereas power as a nonmoral attribute does not. God can no more fail to act lovingly than He can fail to act justly (259).

Note: PF = The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Norm Geisler’s Chosen But Free by James White.

Geisler argues that since White does not believe that God loves everyone in a salvific sense that this is “a denial of the core and classical attribute of God’s omnibenevolence.” This is a big charge to lay at the feet of White, so we need to consider this thoroughly. First, Geisler must prove that omnibenevolence is “a core and classical attribute of God.” He must show biblically, historically, and theologically that this is the case. Unfortunately, he does not, so his charge us unqualified and unsubstantiated. Second, Geisler argues that saying God does not love all men salvifically is a denial of omnibenevolence. This, too, is erroneous because the orthodox understanding of omnibenevolence refers to the loving nature of God and His providential love over all that he has created. To say that God must love everyone in a salvific sense takes omnibenevolence out of its normative understanding and places it outside the realm of orthodox teaching and enjoins one’s theology to the likes of Open Theism and Universalism. Third, his distinction between moral and nonmoral attributes does not mean that God does not have the right to exercise his right to love whomever he wants salvifically. In just one paragraph alone, one can begin to see the egregious errors being made under the guise of a doctrine vaguely understood and rarely expounded.

Having proposed a thesis such as this puts the Caners in a peculiar predicament. Their premise is not even considered orthodox to begin with (to a large degree). The Caners could quickly find themselves having to separate themselves from Open Theists and Universalists while at the same time denying the thesis they themselves drafted. Furthermore, whatever basis is given for omnibenevolence in current writing is mere synthesis of philosophical assertions. I personally don’t know if I want to make a thesis statement that is unfounded in church history, unwritten by evangelical scholars, defended by heretical teachings, and supported by mere philosophical assertions. But then again, I am not the dean of theology either. I am just a student trying to do my homework. 🙂

Finally, the thesis proposed by the Caner’s looks like it has been crafted to be a slam against Calvinists that we do not believe in John 3:16 and that God loves everyone. However, the charge is superficial, and if it has any substance, it is with hyper-Calvinism and not Calvinism. But then again, any form of true Calvinism in the eyes of Arminians today is hyper-Calvinism. Earlier this week, I wrote a short article called “Addressing Omnibenevolence” in which some specific questions were asked (see comments section). In the future, I hope to address more of this topic as I believe it will be resurfacing in the days to come.

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10 Comments on “Denying the ‘Core and Classical Attribute’ of Omnibenevolence?”

  1. SavedandSure Says:

    Methinks the Caner boys would give almost any
    think to keep the scheduled October debate from becoming a reality, even though it is to be at Falwell stadium with the majority of those in attendance being Falwell students and faculty (the vast majority of whom) believe as do the Falwells and Caners.

    But the debate must be conducted for several reasons, one of which is to expose the locals to the correct interpretation of Scriptures which they have not received from the dean of the Falwell seminary and others on the teaching staff at this educational institution in Virginia.

  2. Nathan White Says:

    I’ve come up with a new thesis that the Caners should consider:

    Ambiguous, philosophical assumptions that are not grounded in the actual text of scripture

    Then again, Geisler might already have claim to that…

    SDG

  3. Timmy Says:

    Come on, Nathan, but it is a “core and classical attribute” – right?

    Sysmetics examined and nothing found:
    Calvin, Culver, Berkhof, Reymond, Grudem, Frame, Lewis/Demarest, Hodge, Erickson, Shedd, Boyce, and Dabney

    Dictionaries/Encyclopedias examined and nothing found:
    EDT, EDBT, Unger’s Dictionary, Wycliffe’s Dictionary, DTIB, NDT, Holman Dictionary

    Journals examined and nothing found:
    JETS, BSac, EvQ, PRSt, RelS

    Oh well, maybe you are right. 🙂

  4. Gene Says:

    Omnibenevolence means different things to different people. If Dagg can use it, what does this tell you? He was a high Calvinist. The Drs. Ascol and White are right to think this is too vague.

    Read Elmer Towns on Calvinism. This is part and parcel of his own theology and reflective of Caner’s theology. You are very correct, this is a conflation of common grace and special grace. They are making a category error. On his website, when Towns talks about the ability of man to believe the gospel, he does not locate this ability in universal prevenient grace. He very specifically locates it in common grace!

    In true Arminianism, you have a doctrine of universal prevenient grace (UPG). UPG is a benefit of the cross. It is a form of special grace and it underwrites men’s ability to believe. It’s unclear how this works. Some say it is with a person from the time he hears the gospel until some indeterminate time later (like so much Arminianism it gets vague on such things), some say if he does not resist it he will believe and be saved; others say that it is universal for all men, some say it is only for those who hear the gospel. Regardless of the permutation, this is special grace. This special grace is a manifestation of God’s omnibenevolence.

    In Caner/Geisler/Towns/Hunt, there is no UPG. UPG is blended into common grace, which is a perversion of the Arminian scheme. On this, classic evangelical Arminianism is closer to the truth than this scheme. God’s omnibenevolence is thus a matter of design. It is common grace. In Towns own words the ability to believe is NOT lost, it is there by way of common grace. Thus it is by way of design. If it is common grace, it is not special grace. Thus, this is functionally Pelagian.

    So, what we have, as I have been pointing out now for months, is a soteriological system that is anti-Trinitarian to the core. The Father must depend on man to believe to elect him. Election is out of the chain of grace. There is not UPG applied by the Holy Spirit to all men, they can believe by design. The Spirit depends on men to believe before He can regenerate them. Only the cross is in view, and it only makes men “savable.” Alternatively, it atones for all sins except unbelief. Either way, only the cross of the Son is in view. Thus, this is functional Unitarianism. Because of the absence of UPG, it is also functional Pelagianism.

  5. Mike Ratliff Says:

    Omnibenevolence = The Big Tent. All are loved equally by God. All are given an equal chance to be saved. The saved are saved by making the right decision because they are smarter than those who don’t. Only a non-threatening gospel is preached because they don’t want anyone leaving the Big Tent because they were offended by anything.

    Unfortunately, this analogy is full of holes and in no way matches what the Bible says. However, it is humanistic and loved by the natural man in us all. Afterall, aren’t we all Pelagians outside of the grace of God?


  6. You won’t find the exact language in Thomas Oden but you will find something similar.

    “We have already sought to show that God’s goodness interpenetrates the eternal power of God, . . . God’s mercy accompanies the omnipresence of God (Ps. 51, 141). God’s compassion pervades the judgement of God (Ps. 103). But such connections seem hollow and unconvincing apart from an actual history of God’s merciful and compassionate activity. Nowe we must clearly indicate how the moral characteristics of God shape, qualify, and interface the divine ominpresence, omniscience, and will.”

  7. Timmy Says:

    Over the past couple of weeks, I have come up with some excerpts and quotes that I think will be profitable to discuss. I will be starting a series on omnibenevolence on my blog (the link is on my name on the sidebar). I would appreciate anyone’s interest in discussing it. If omnibenevolence is going to stand as the thesis of the debate in October, then it would be a good exercise to kick around this vague concept. As I have said, I don’t disagree with omnibenevolence per say as much as I disagree with how it is being applied and where it is being applied (soteriology). Maybe my thoughts can be better organized in the days to come. Thanks for your comments!


  8. […] Denying the ‘Core and Classical Attribute’ of Omnibenevolence?    05.26.06 […]


  9. […] Addressing ‘Omnibenevolence’ 05.24.06 Denying the ‘Core and Classical Attribute’ of Omnibenevolence? 05.26.06 Addressing Omnibenevolence Series 05.31.06 Part One: Why the Love of God Is a Difficult Doctrine 06.01.06 Part Two: How the Bible Speaks of the Love of God 06.02.06 Part Three: God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty 06.03.06 […]

  10. J W MAJORS Says:

    Prevenient Grace exists in everyone in that all have the power to savingly trust Christ,even though they never receive the gospel message of Christ and his work. GOD give the power to believe without the information to believe. This is because GOD does not control the distribution of the gospel. The Church does. This is like having to power to drive a car when the information on how to drive or the car itself will never exist for the power to be executed. This is only more evidence that truth and logic,by itself,will never change the mind of an Arminian anymore than than instruction about breathing will raise a corpse from a coffin.


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