According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Our eschatological ethos is to love. To stand with those who are oppressed. To stand against those who are oppressing. It is that simple. Love is our only calling and Christian Hope. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Sunday, March 9, 2014

What is Human Free Will in Philosophical Theology? (Sin & Salvation: Annihilation, Hell, or Purgatory?)

Free Will in Philosophical Theology

by Thomas Jay Oord
March 4, 2014

[with additional commentary by re slater
edited March 11, 2014]

The majority of great philosophers and theologians have believed in free will. Contemporary discussions of what free will is, and how it might function, however, have not always been clear. In his new book, Free Will in Philosophical Theology, Kevin Timpe takes free will as his central concern to explore theological issues.

Timpe is well suited to write this kind of book. He is a leading force/voice in the contemporary philosophy of free will discussions. He calls his own view of the nature of free will, “source incompatiblism,” and this view is presupposed in this work [an incompatibilist position argues against a deterministic universe composed of a non-free will state of being. - r.e. slater]

Timpe’s goal for the book is to clarify the possible role a particular kind of virtue libertarianism might play in thinking through a range of theological issues that involve free will. He also intends not to affirm anything clearly at odds with the main historical thrust of Christianity [that is, you may expect a classical expression of free will with no open or process theism admitted. However, as a libertarian position it sits as the polar opposite to metaphysical determinism that argues against any kind of free will state or its expression - r.e. slater] .

After an opening chapter and brief discussion on the nature and importance of free will, Timpe looks at the relation between free will and [what he calls] "the good." He argues that an agent’s moral character puts constraints on what actions he or she is capable of freely choosing to perform. When an agent chooses, he/she acts for the sake of some end perceived to be good in some way [a debatable objective but the author here seems to be reinforcing the classical idea of God Himself as the primal source as a moral agent of force, rectitude, and being for "the good." Hence, whatever God is, is that which creaturely freewill will oppose. And man, as formed in God's image, ultimately will choose for "the good" or for "virtue" however deformed or devolved it is from its originating Maker and Presence, as a sinner living in a sinful world. Thus we have the Christian redaction to the Greek idea of "the good" or "virtue" through the lens of all things God. - r.e. slater

And we also have here the beginnings of syllogistic expressions of God in terms of a moral principle or force as versus an evil principle or force as respecting and describing sin. However, as we have cautioned earlier, and stated repeatedly, God is neither a prescribed principle or argument, or metaphysical power or force, but a primal being that who is relational, and who stands in an "I-Thou" relationship to ourselves. That there is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. That the God of Jesus Christ (who is very God Himself Incarnate amongst His creation) is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle, that can be manipulated by human discussion," quoting Emil Brunner. - r.e. slater]

Although recognizing the influence of passions, Timpe argues that passions and emotions do not undermine free will. But they can inhibit the proper expression of freedom. Happily, growth in moral character inclines one to choose the good more often: “An increase in virtue will strengthen the connection between the agent’s passions and the good” (17). [this position reminds one of the Greek position of "virtue." - r.e. slater]

Sin and Salvation

Hamartiology is an important theological issue, especially as it pertains to freedom of the will. Timpe addresses hamartiology in a chapter exploring the primal sin, which is the original – first – sin committed by an agent created by an essentially good God.

The question arises: Why would an agent created as good choose evil? The primal sin, which because it was first was not influenced by previous sins or sinner, is difficult to explain. Timpe argues that voluntarist accounts of the fall are not more problematic that intellectualist accounts. He concludes that there is inexplicability at work in accounting for the primal sin: “It looks then as if a Christian account of primal sin cannot avoid all arbitrariness” (48). [However, this theological position chooses a "creationists" view of the Fall and not an evolutionary position which projects that "sin" as a societal understanding was in a position of nascent development of conscience from beast to man. That is, the conscience of the evolving sentient creature was being formed with greater and greater poignancy between the conscious self and societal members (eusociality) in what was felt to be "sin" and not "sin" as it differed regionally or tribally or by evolving species. The creationist position thus does not account for an evolving conscience but a fully formed one that was at its "height" of development before "devolving" after the Fall. This then is problematic for the evolutionist as conscience is seen in just the opposite state... that of one of evolving instead of being fully formed. As one that is continuing to "evolve" in accordance with evolving eusocial self and societal standards within which "free will" is an expression. - r.e. slater]

Moving from sin to conversion, Timpe takes up the issue of salvation and the divine and creaturely roles therein. His argument in this chapter is that God’s grace is the sole non-instrumental efficient cause of saving faith. But humans control whether they come to saving faith.

In this, Timpe seeks to avoid Pelagianism (the denial of original sin and belief in the freedom of the will to do good by man apart from God), on one hand, and theological determinism (all facts and events exemplify natural laws, or that all events, including human choices and decisions, have sufficient causes), on the other. That is, God’s grace is necessary but not sufficient for saving faith (sic, theological determinism). Timpe hopes also [hopes to] avoid the problems associated with believing God gives grace needed for salvation to only some (e.g., limited election), while also endorsing the belief that grace is the [sole] cause of creatures coming to faith [this latter position will also fit it quite nicely with Thomas Oord's own preferred theologic interpretation of all things God, man, sin and bible known as relational theology. That God does all things as a God of love - from creation to salvation to completion by the expression of His grace and love as a sole motivator, sufficient primary cause, and end objective. A position of which I would chose as well as a relational theist. - r.e. slater]


Two chapters address eschatological issues. The first explores how an individual’s free will affects the condition of that individual in the afterlife. Christianity has historically believed a necessary condition for an individual spending eternity in hell is that individual not choosing to respond correctly to God. A resident of hell does not choose God and is therefore not the kind of person fit for heaven. Persons freely form moral characters in the present life. Negative character formation makes them no longer psychologically capable of accepting God’s offer for reconciliation in the afterlife.

Such persons cannot move from hell to heaven through free choices, argues Timpe, because the person’s moral character becomes set at death. To justify the claim that moral character is set at death, Timpe argues that “whatever reasons one thinks there may be for why it is that death secures the psychological impossibility question, that it does so is established by the Christian tradition” (77).

As far as the redeemed are concerned, Timpe argues they retain freewill in the afterlife and yet are incapable of sinning. This “free but not capable of sinning” proposal may sound puzzling, and Timpe calls it “the problem of heavenly freedom.” Saints do not freely choose to sin when in heaven, he claims, because any temptation to sin suggests that these saints are not in a state of highest bliss. And any place not of highest bliss is not worthy of the name “heaven.” [I take this as a simplistic expression of classical Christian thought but perhaps not the best expression of the eternal state of heaven vs. the improbable state of humanity. - r.e. slater]

Few people destined for heaven, however, have a fully formed character necessary for resisting sin everlastingly. To resolve this problem, Timpe embraces the necessity of purgatory. He is attracted to a sanctification model of purgatory, rather than a punitive/satisfaction model. The sanctification model offers a developmental process whereby human character can be formed fully allowing saints to be free in heaven but unable to sin.

[If purgatory were an option I myself would express it similarly. But as has been stated in earlier articles re "synchronicity," this mortal life is the first, last, and final expression of God's divine grace upon any mortal soul's state of being. That this life in itself - and as it exists or is - is sufficient for God's grace to work itself out in our own lives - however lost or irrecoverable, dissolute or dense. That its extension into a purgatorial state, or hell itself, is unnecessary for God to fully work out His saving grace in this life. That God does not need more time to save are free willed souls. That the mystery is that He has enough time - and all the time He needs - in this life we live now. Not that these eternal states are beyond His grace, but that death is aptly described as a place of fully dying as free will beings, and no longer living. Thus, purgatory or hell are not completing places of salvation but of annihilation as I would read and understand it despite the hopeful projects of God's saving grace beyond the grave.

That it is a most fearful act to reject or disallow God's grace in its fullest achievement in our own lives by our own refusals or dismissals, anger or remorse, disbeliefs or pretensions. And that it's consequences are dire and fixed after death. A state which then lapses into the progressively evolving stages of annihilation till at last what once was created for everlasting fellowship with the eternal God of the universe becomes fully abandoned to self, to others, to creation, and to his/her own God, in four successively completing stages of self annihilation, or spiritual death, by the mortal free will of a being in rejection of God's saving grace.

Hence, hell is not seen as an everlasting state, but as a progressing state towards self annihilation however long that may mean (though I believe time to be both inconsequential and meaningless at this point), in its continuing commitment to rejecting God's grace not only in this life, but in the life to come. Until, at the last, all has died, even very existence itself, in the extinguishing moments of final seal. That our acts in this life are important and do count. And that our crimes here in this life can, and will, predispose us towards death's continuing state of ruin and abandonment from God by our own dark desires and sinful works. That sin does have a judgment to come - and not only for its egresses, harms, and offensives upon others. But that its greatest judgment is its continuing sealing effects upon our hardening our hearts to God's movement in our lives by its rejection of His grace time-and-again. Which very acts then abandon our very selves to sin's ruinous immortalizing death. And that despite our hardening hearts God doth still reach out to us in our final stages of death until He can do so no longer. This is the fullest meaning to human free will - that of its final refusal to its Maker. That it is a will that can reject even its Maker, its primal source of free will, while remaining freed to do so to its own loss, harm, and ruinous end.

However, the grace of God, His power and rule, can come into any situation by rendering any lost heart or dissolute soul unto Himself - even to the point to which we think not by merest request to do so however slight its mumblings or disbelieving hope. That salvation can-and-will-come by this merest hope or prayer - as it ever surrounded us by its presence when we saw it not. That it is a great mercy for any sinful man, woman, or being. And that it comes with the promise and requirement of God's initiating cause of grace unto our souls for its source and presence and inspiration. At the last, it is God's grace that is the primary cause and sole efficient source for man's free will embrace of all things good and inspiring. That God's reach into this singular life that He has given to us does so gravely when knowing of its awful consequences should we so chose against life itself for a death indescribable beyond the meaning and purpose of this life we presently live. That to live life is to live God, His grace, presence, being, and soul, in its goodness and love towards one another. - r.e. slater]

God's Freedom

Timpe closes the book by using his virtue libertarian model to examine the question of God’s own freedom. Despite differences between God and other agents, the considerations for free agents generally apply to God. Timpe addresses those who argue that libertarian accounts of God’s freedom run into conceptual problems if God’s nature is essentially good. As he sees it, a God without moral freedom would not be the greatest conceivable being.

God’s use of freedom differs from creatures in some ways, however. While moral freedom is necessary for creatures to form moral characters, moral freedom is not necessarily for God. God’s moral nature is eternally set, and God is not free to be immoral. God always does what is best despite being free.

In the final section of his chapter on divine freedom, Timpe addresses William Rowe’s work on God’s freedom and choice to create a world. Frankly, this section was the least understandable in what was otherwise a highly readable book. Rowe says that given every possible world, God could have created a better one. Timpe replies that “God could have a reason for picking one from among a set of worlds, even if He could have -- by necessity -- picked a better” (117). Timpe seems to be arguing that God’s perfect nature prevents God from choosing to actualize other possible worlds, and yet God could have chosen otherwise.


The two major areas in which I found Timpe’s proposals unsatisfying pertained to eschatology and divine freedom. I am inclined toward afterlife scenarios in which the damned may eventually be redeemed. This inclination makes me unsatisfied with Timpe’s claim that sinners are psychologically “set” for eternity never to choose God’s gracious offer of redemption. [or, re "annihilation" one who is fully abandoned towards existentless fulfilment as determined by willful choice or moral character in this life. See the topic of "Synchronicity: Purgatory - Yeah or Nay?" in Relevancy22 - r.e. slater]

As far as the state of the saints in the afterlife, I’m attracted to views that allow for growth in grace in heaven (not purgatory). I’m inclined toward proposals that lead to saints developing holy habits inclining them toward righteousness but always allowing for the possibility that even saints may use their freedom wrongly.

The other major area I found unsatisfying may have more to do with my lack of clarity about Timpe’s last chapter (especially his work on Rowe). That is, Timpe’s view of free will seems centered primarily on the “choosing” aspect of libertarianism, or what he calls the “source” of incompatibilism.

I’m inclined to agree on the importance of this choosing aspect, but I also equally emphasize the choices of libertarianism, that is the various options whereby the chooser chooses but could have done otherwise. And this makes me wonder if the God Timpe envisions ever faces genuine options to do otherwise than the one option God’s perfect nature requires. Here our divergent notions of God’s relation to time and omniscience (I’m an open theist) seem to make a difference in how we think about God’s relation to the future and the options (or, apparently in Timpe’s case, option) a necessarily loving God encounters. [here Thomas speaks to both open and process theism of which I would be in great agreement. - r.e. slater]


Although I have different metaphysical commitments than Timpe with regard to God’s relation to time and although by disposition I am less inclined to defend some beliefs in the classic tradition (e.g., purgatory), I often agreed with his proposals. A virtue libertarian with theological motivations like mine and not Timpe’s may have written a little different book. But this book is a strong foray into tackling problems presented free will theists, and it does an admirable job of offering plausible solutions. In sum, this is a strong book on free will in philosophical theology.

* * * * * * * * * *

Conversations with the Damned

Austin Fischer
February 24, 2014

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be responding, directly and indirectly, to some questions and thoughts surrounding the book. In the next couple of posts, I’ll address the (insinuated criticism) that I rejected Calvinism because I didn’t really understand it. I think I rejected Calvinism because I did understand it and I think more young evangelicals would reject it if they did too. I’ll trace this out more in later posts, but here’s a good starting point.

Conversations with the Damned
The decree is dreadful, I confess.” –Calvin, Institutes 3.3.7, 955

My journey out of Calvinism started when I heard whimpering in the basement.

I loved the theological home Calvinism had given me. Smooth, clean lines. Lots of history and detailed architecture. Everything has a place. It put me in my place and God in his place—at the center of the universe. I pictured myself at the great eschatological banquet, enjoying the party and gorging on the food!

But there it was again. A noise coming from the basement.

It was where we Calvinist kept the damned. Following many esteemed teachers, I had told myself they were there because they deserved it and God ordained it for his glory (more on this in later posts). Many people can leave it there, but I’ve always been curious, so even as a good Calvinist, I would peek inside and talk with them.

What I found down there was one hell of a problem, and while it didn’t instantly make me walk away from Calvinism (I’d say Calvinism was my home for around 5 years), it certainly made me lose my appetite for it. I went to Calvin for help and discovered I wasn’t crazy—he himself said God’s ordination of the reprobate to hell was “dreadful.”

To this day, I completely understand why people opt for Calvinism. I just don’t understand how it doesn’t make them a bit nauseous, at least from time to time.

It’s Dreadful

So following Calvin and my own time as a Calvinist, I’d suggest this: if you nuance and euphemism-to-death the doctrine of reprobation to the point that you don’t stand back from it and with Calvin say, “It’s dreadful, it’s terrible”, then you don’t understand it, you don’t get it, you haven’t been honest about it.

In my opinion (and speaking from my own journey and feedback I’ve received on the book), many of the young evangelicals who have signed off on Calvinism have not read the fine print of the reprobate, they haven’t conversed with the damned—they’re too busy enjoying the glory party. They have not faced what awaits them in the basement of their Calvinist home. Their teachers have not been upfront with them. They have not reached the place where they step back and say, “It’s terrible.”

I don’t like telling people what they can and can’t believe, but I’d suggest that if you want to be a faithful, honest, consistent Calvinist, you need to have a thorough conversation with the damned. You need to reach the place where you look at reprobation and say, “It’s terrible.” Before you rejoice in God’s electing mercy towards you, stand before the damned and lose your appetite, if only for a second.

If you can’t do that, then I stand with Calvin:

You really don’t understand Calvinism.

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