Minimizing The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism

When two ideas are in conflict, there are always those who will cling to one and minimize the importance of the other. This often leads people to talk past each other; they both affirm the same principles but allow one principle to be the driving point of doctrine. In his maximally great argument for Arminianism, the CerebralFaith blogger Evan Minton used the love of God as the point to drive his doctrine. This article will seek to minimize the maximally great argument for Arminianism.

In theology, Calvinists often use the sovereignty of God as their driving point, while Arminians use the love of God (a less charitable Calvinist might say that they use human autonomy as the driving point). The maximally great argument for Arminianism appeals to perfect being theology to prove that the God of the philosophers is not the God of Calvinism.

I found this approach interesting because Evan plainly stated at the outset that he had no interest in using the Bible to make this case. The maximally great argument for Arminianism was a philosophical exercise. In support of this, he cites another blogger’s post about the problems with philosophy-free theology. Nonetheless, to use abstract philosophy to prove that a biblical doctrine is true is strained at the very least. Either way, I will prelim this discussion by saying that I respect CerebralFaith. His apologetic content is very strong. But his forays into biblical studies need work.

The Maximally Great Argument Against Arminianism is not unique

This argument is a 7 premise syllogism leading to the conclusion that “God died on the cross for all people and sends all people Prevenient Grace.” It hinges on two key premises. 1: If God Is a Maximally Great Being, then He would love all people. 2: If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people. With this, it has probably become obvious why I said that this argument is not unique. Virtually every Arminian blogger interested in this subject has written about this topic. It is literally the central argument for Arminianism. If God is loving, then he desires to save all people, therefore the atonement extends to all people.

Evan himself has made this argument a multitude of times, and his presentation has been comprehensively debunked. Repackaging it as a syllogism does not make it a new argument; it is the same argument that every Arminian has ever made.

The nature of belief

Philosophers have long discussed the nature of belief and what can properly ground a belief. This could include the predictability of a belief (such as in the scientific method), evidence of a belief (such as a crime scene), a basic belief (such as ‘I am not dreaming right now), and even as Evan pointed out, intuitions. The first premise of his argument relies entirely on intuition. There are five big blocks of text defending his first premise, and the only point he made in its defense is as follows: “Anyway, why would God’s maximal greatness entail that (God loves all people)? Because I think it’s intuitively obvious that a God who would love all of His creatures.”

It is good that it is obvious to you. But suppose it is not obvious to me? He continues, “A God who loves all people to the greatest extent possible is a greater being than a God who only loves a selected few and hates all the rest. I think if you were to interview 500 different people on the street and asked them “Is God greater if He loves all people, or would He be greater if He loved only some?” If I do not share this intuition, the argument stops right there. Nothing after this point matters; he has not made any attempt to convince someone who does not agree. He literally just shared his opinion, which does nothing to establish a premise in an argument. There are people who have the opposite intuition – God’s love does not extend to those who have done horrible things. Evan made no effort to convince those who do not share his intuition beyond saying, “it’s so obvious.”

As Deutsch pointed out, “How many times have we heard that a philosophical theory must be rejected because it has ‘counterintuitive consequences’? Too many, it seems to me; theories must be rejected if they have false consequences, but true theories might have consequences that strike us as false without actually being false.” [1] He went on to discuss Gettier cases. If a clock stopped working exactly 12 hours ago, and a man reads on the clock that it is 12:00 PM, does he actually know that it is 12 PM, even if that is the current time? Probably not. He has an intuition, but he does not know it.

Intuitions have their place. They can often point us in the right direction ethically. Sometimes if your audience shares your intuition, you can appeal to it to strengthen your case. But Evan’s audience does not share his intuition and we have no reason to regard it very highly. The first premise of the argument is unsubstantiated.

Intuiting a false god

I have several misgivings about using abstract, armchair philosophy to develop Christian doctrines. Philosophy has its place, but for us to say “I intuit that God would be greater if he was X, therefore he is X” creates a clear path to creating an idol. There is not much that would prevent one from intuiting that if God is loving, he would not judge or condemn, wielding the same sort of argument that Evan made. I intuit that God would not judge; a God who does not judge is greater than a God who judges; if you ask 500 people, they will all agree that a greater God will not judge. God’s word has set the standard. The maximally-great style of argumentation is completely unnecessary and very difficult to establish without training in philosophy.

Premise 1: If God Is A Maximally Great Being, Then He Would Love All People

God’s desires

I would like to address premises two and three of Evan’s argument together. Together, they are that if God loves all people, he would desire to save all people and provide a sacrifice for sin. In defense of this point, he wrote, “Think about it: You wouldn’t want to be separated from the ones you love forever, would you? No!” followed by a few paragraphs of fluff about how difficult it is for people to be separated from those that they love. He is right, nobody wants to be separated from those that they love. But sometimes people have to make sacrifices.

Jesus did not want to die on the cross (Luke 22:42). He had more than one desire, and more than anything he wanted to do God’s will even though it meant his death and condemnation. A Christian missionary does not want to leave his family, but they do so that they may fulfill God’s will. Soldiers go to war, they leave their family. Fathers and mothers go to work even though they have to leave their children for the day. It’s difficult, but sometimes people have more than one desire.

God has more than one desire as well. This is fleshed out in biblical passages that might seem contradictory at first glance. In passages such as 2nd Peter 3:9, the text says that God is not willing for any to perish. On the other hand, in teaching the doctrine of unconditional election, Paul writes of individuals, “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” (I further defended this position here.) This is to say that God does desire that all people be saved, but he has greater desires that override this, much like the Christian missionary who desires to be with his family but instead preaches the gospel in a far away land.

A worthy lesson is in the distinction that John Calvin made between the secret will and the revealed will of God. [2] Take note that the poor naming of the secret will does not mean that it is not in Scripture. It is. Though that is not required to establish to refute Evan’s argument. To refute this premise, I only need to point out the possibility that God has more than one desire. The fact that it is further solidified in Scripture and in common experience only underlines that point.

Acting on desires
Another facet of Evan’s argument is that if you have a desire, you will act on that desire, and the same is true of God. But again, suppose you have an overriding desire. Even the examples that Evan used highlight this. He writes, “If I wanted something to eat, wouldn’t it make sense to think I would go out to my kitchen and cook something? If I desired a relationship with a woman, don’t you think I would ask her out? Obviously!” What if you are fasting? What if you are nervous to ask the girl out? It is not at all obvious that you, or God, would act on a desire simply because you have one.

Love is kind
The last supporting point that Evan used in defense of these two premises is 1 Corinthians 13, popularly known as the love chapter. He harps on the phrase, “Love is kind,” and goes on to say, “What could be a greater kindness than to die on the cross to atone for one’s sins, and then send them grace to enable and persuade them to accept that sacrifice so that He could be registered as their substitute?” 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 is the foundation for chapter 13. Chapter 13 is about love within the body of Christ. But I understand that it has multiple applications.

Hypothesizing about what kindness should look like does not establish an argument. It was kind of God to give life and to hold back condemnation. A point that I have introduced to the discussion before, to which Evan has never responded, is that God does not owe humanity any kindness or love. He does not owe us a fair chance at salvation. It is completely an act of mercy on sinful creatures that he provided it.

To illustrate this further, imagine that all of the tenants of a building gambled away their rent money. They all deserved to be evicted. If the landlord evicted everybody, nobody would condemn him. He was perfectly within his rights. However, suppose that the landlord had immeasurable wealth and would not suffer any financial ruin if he were to pay for the debts of all of his tenants. Would he be under any ethical obligation to pay for their debts? You will probably say that he does not. It is his money to do with as he pleases. But suppose the landlord is also a very merciful man, and he wants to pay for their debt. If he paid for all of their debts, they would think that there were no consequences for their actions. So instead, he chooses to pay for only some of their debts. That is what is stated by the doctrine of unconditional election. God chooses to pay for the debts of some of his people.

Any blessing, including life itself, is kindness. But saying “the Bible says that God is kind, therefore he did X” is not useful.

2: If God Loves All People, He Would Desire To Save All People
3: If God Desires To Save All People, He Would Die On The Cross To Atone For The Sins Of All People and send Prevenient Grace to All People.

Premise 4: God is a maximally great being

Accepted without objection.

Premises 5-7

5: Therefore, God Loves All People.
This follows from 1 and 4.
6: Therefore, God Wants To Save All People.
This follows from 2 and 5.
7: Therefore, God Died On The Cross For All People and Sends Prevenient Grace For All People.
This follows from 3 and 6.

Summary of the maximally great argument for arminianism

The maximally great argument for Arminianism had two critical points, neither of which I think Evan was able to provide a good defense of. First – If God is maximally great, then he will love all creatures. Second, if God loves all creates, he will have a desire to save them and will therefore act on that desire. If this seems familiar to you, it is because it is the central argument for Arminianism, rehashed in every Arminian commentary, journal entry, blog, and coffee house discussion in human history. That is not to say that it is not worth discussing; it certainly is. But it is a little odd to present this as a novel argument.

The defense of those points were as follows: 1 – I intuit that a maximally great being would love all creatures. 2 – If God has the desire the save all creatures, he will act on that desire. The key points here left something to be desired.

If Evan does wish to respond, I know that he will do so in Christian charity, maturity, without slandering, name-calling, or being overly emotional about the topic. I intuit that a man who acts in charity and maturity is greater than the man who does not. If anything in this post seemed harsh or aggressive, I apologize profusely and I did not intend that.

[1]: Deutsch, Max. “Intuitions, Counter-Examples, and Experimental Philosophy.” Review of Philosophy and Psychology 1, no. 3 (09, 2010): 447-60
[2]: Kennedy, Kevin D. “Hermeneutical Discontinuity between Calvin and Later Calvinism.” Scottish Journal of Theology 64, no. 3 (08, 2011): 299-312



Related posts