Addressing Omnibenevolence Part III: God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty

Having addressed how the Bible speaks of God’s love and the reasons why the doctrine is so difficult, we must being to tackle some of the biblical tensions between God’s love and other realities such as God’s sovereignty, impassibility, and wrath. In the next three posts in this series, I will address these points of tension according to the D.A. Carson and possibly a few other authors. The doctrine of omnibenevolence, when applied to soteriology (as the Caner’s have done in their thesis), encounters serious biblical and theological problems as we shall see. Now, let’s address God’s sovereignty as prescribed by Carson.
God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty

  1. God is utterly sovereign (49).
    1. God is transcendent.
    2. God is omnipotent.
    3. God is omniscient.
  2. God’s sovereignty extends to election (50).

Quote: “We often speak of people who “accept Jesus as their personal Savior”—words not found in Scripture, though not necessarily wrong as a synthetic expression. But Acts may sum up some strategic evangelism by reporting that “all who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48)” (51).

Quote: “Moreover, the Lord’s electing love is immutable. All that the Father has given to the Son will come to him, and the Son will lose none of them, we are told, because he came down from heaven to do the Father’s will—and this is the Father’s will, that he should lose none of those the Father has given him (John 6:37-40). In other words, for the Son to lose any of those the Father has given him, he would have to be either unable or unwilling to obey his Father’s explicit command” (51).

  1. Christians are not fatalists (51).

Quote: “The central line of Christian tradition neither sacrifices the utter sovereignty of God nor reduces the responsibility of his image-bearers. In the realm of philosophical theology, this position is sometimes called compatibilism. It means that God’s unconditional sovereignty and the responsibility of human beings are mutually compatible” (51-52).

  1. Christians must reflect on God’s immutability (54).

Quote: “The doctrine of God’s immutability is of the highest significance for religion. The contrast between being and becoming marks the difference between the Creator and the creature. Every creature is continually becoming. It is changeable, constantly striving, seeks rest and satisfaction, and finds rest in God, in him alone, for only he is pure being and no becoming” (54-55).

  1. God’s sovereignty is under increasing attack, not only from process theologians whose primary resource is to philosophical analysis and synthesis, but also from those who seek to ground their work in the Bible (55).

Quote: God’s sovereign transcendence and his personhood are both maintained in the Bible. They are both parts of the givens. Elevate his personhood to the exclusion of his transcendent sovereignty, and sooner or later you have a finite God, progressively reduced, and certainly not the God of the Bible.

Personal remark: Two years ago, I wrote a paper called “The Gutting of God: Open Theism’s Attack on the Transcendental Essential Properties of God” in which I argued the very point Carson is making about God’s sovereignty. This attack, I remind you, is coming from within the “evangelical camp” and therefore a serious threat to the orthodox understanding of the nature of God. Central to this attack against God’s sovereignty is their emphasis on God’s love (and usage of omnibenevolence). In fact, Open Theists attempt to redefine sovereignty as not pertaining to control but rather a “sovereignty of love.”

Furthermore, concerning compatibilism, I have marked out some time this summer to make the case for compatibilist middle knowledge. I truly believe if those who trumpet “free will” in salvation had a better understanding of the nature of that will, then they will realize that the Bible holds to compatibilism and not libertarian free will which is the controlling belief and integrated motif in freewill theism/Arminianism and Open Theism. One of the main arguments against unconditional election is the idea that a loving God would not chose some for salvation against (or in violation of) their will. This objection quickly fails in light of the biblical defense for compatibilist free will (which Calvinists hold to).

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7 Comments on “Addressing Omnibenevolence Part III: God’s Love and God’s Sovereignty”

  1. Gordan Says:

    Good work, brother. Keep it up.

    I have noted in the works of Open Theists the presupposition that Love and Sovereignty are mutually exclusive. That is, supposedly, if you love someone you will refuse to exercise minute, particular dominion over them. So if we confess that God loves us, implicit in that confession is the idea that God does not control us, at least not in a minute, detailed fashion. That sort of sovereignty is seen as unloving…even hateful.

  2. Timmy Says:

    Thanks Gordon!

    Yeah, Open Theists (and in particular Clark Pinnock) wants to redefine sovereignty not as sovereignty as controlling and powerful. Rather he calls it a sovereignty of love where in he argues that human beings enter in a more dynamic “give and take” relationship. This control belief also dominates his inclusivist position as well, as he adamently attacks the “fewness doctrine” with his “wideness of mercy” impositions. Of course, you will not hear of the biblical sovereignty, justice, wrath, etc. from these guys. It simply does not fit into their philosophically determined paradigm and conceptual framework.

    I have been reading about pluralists of late, and it appears that John Hick, the leading pluralist of our day, makes the argument for “omnibenevolence” for any real theodicy. It looks like the idea of omnibenevolence is a free-for-all grab bag.

  3. 4ever4given Says:

    and let us not forget that in God’s sovereignty when it pertains to salvation… he uses our words, our lives, our voices to proclaim Christ. Not as if he needed anything, but that He chooses to use us for His glory. This goes beyond my comprehension for I can be so weak and more unfaithful than I want to admit… and yet He uses the weak and unfaithful to display His strength, His mercy, His unfailing faithfulness. We are an instrument, a voice to bring eternal salvation to another. To GOD be ALL the glory.
    “He that saved our souls has taught us to weep over the unsaved. Lord let that mind be in us that was in Thee! Give us tears to weep; for Lord, our hearts are hard toward our fellows. We can see thousands perish around us, and our sleep never be disturbed;”- H. Bonar

  4. Allan Says:

    What would you say about a man of God who would make a statement like this…

    …That God predestines, and yet that man is responsible, are two facts that few can see clearly. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one part of the Bible that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find, in another Scripture, that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is only my folly that leads me to imagine that these two truths can ever contradict each other…

    To let you know, this man was a self proclaimed hyper-calvanist before the 1900s

  5. Allan Says:

    Ok, Correction… He did not specifically state he was a hyper-calvinist. He stated He beleives the same as hyper-calvinists and more so…

  6. Timmy Says:

    What do I say? God’s forordaining and man’s responsibility are “compatible” and not contradictory. This is the biblical view of providence. They are not mutually exclusive terms which function antithetically towards one another. Man is responsible but not autonomous. God is supremely sovereign . . . even over man’s decision. No one can thwart the purposes of God.

  7. Allan Says:

    Yes but the Calvinist definition of responsibility has been redefined from it original interpretation. Calvinist state just because man is Responsible does not mean he is Able. (Am I correct on that?) If so continue, if not correct me here.

    And yet the definition for responsible states emphatically that you are only responsible as far as you are able to perform. (Paraphrase) Let me show you:

    Definition of RESPONSIBLE (adj)-
    1. Liable to be required to give account, as of ones actions or of the discharge of a duty or trust.
    2. Involving personal accountability or ABILITY to act without guidance or superior authority
    3. BEING a SOURCE or CAUSE
    4. ABLE to make moral or rational decisions on one’s OWN and THEREFORE answerable for one’s behavior
    5. ABLE to choose for oneself between right and wrong

    Definition of ABILITY (n)
    1. The quality of being able to perform: a quality that permits of facilitative achievement or accomplishments.
    2. POSSESSION of the QUALITIES REQUIRED to do something or get something done.
    (CAPS in definition are my emphasis added)

    As I’m sure you will notice that Ability is a noun and Responsibility is an adjective (thus denoting of itself inherent ability) Responsibility is the action one takes and ability is the quality of that action taken, so by Responsible’s very definition ability is not only apparent but mandated. Its’ very definitions ascribes inherent ability for the action to be taken. So if God has given man the responsibility to choose salvation but the in-ability to do so on his own, you must then state his God given “responsibility” is a farce. Why? As stated over and over Responsibility is contingent on your ability. You can not have responsibility apart from ability.

    I am NOT saying man can come to God on his own at any time, God does have to draw him, thus enabling him and making him therefore responsible to choose. I think we agree here. Our differing comes when we speak of the non-elect being responsible to choose but being unable to make the correct choice due to his depravity/inability. Here you have contradiction with regard to responsibility/ability in our choosing salvation of God. If man is responsible then God must give man the ability (by definition) and that can only happen if God draws all men (not just elect), therefore enabling them to chose and man held responsible for his choice. Otherwise it would appear to ME (seemingly) you affirm God holds man responsible to change what man is incapable of changing. This makes the Just charactor of God questionable at best.


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