Tuesday, January 22

God, Glory, Love, and the Doctrine of Election

EDIT: Here is another great Trinitarian quote that speaks to the issue of the Trinity and ethics.

Last semester when we were talking about the doctrine of the Trinity, our prof. encouraged us to use the Trinitarian nature of God as a starting point for all the theological concepts we deal with. He demonstrated by talking about omnipotence and gracious use of power, and after class I decided to tackle a toughy: hell! "Ok," I thought, "we have a God who is eternally love within God's self...perfect self-giving and other-recieving love. How does God pre-ordaining the damned fit into this picture? Uhh...."

One common argument given to defend double-predestination is, "If it glorifies God, it must be ok!" So, what is God's nature and how is he glorified? As I was pondering and googling, I came across a couple quotes from John Piper and Karl Barth over at Der Evangelische Theologe that illustrate how two theologians explain the relationship between God's love and God's glory:

“God’s ultimate goal therefore is to preserve and display his inifinte and awesome greatness and worth, that is, his glory. God has many other goals in what he does. But none of them is more ultimate than this. They are all subordinate. God’s overwhelming passion is to exalt the value of his glory. To that end, he seeks to display it, to oppose those who belittle it, and to vindicate it from all contempt. It is clearly the uppermost reality in his affections. He loves his glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: he loves himself infinitely.”
“God’s loving is an end in itself. All the purposes that are willed and achieved in Him are contained and explained in this end, and therefore in this loving in itself and as such. For this loving is itself the blessing that it communicates to the loved…Certainly in loving us God wills His own glory and our salvation. But He does not love us because He wills this. He wills it for the sake of His love. God loves in realising these purposes. But God loves because He loves; because this act is His being, His essence and His nature. He loves without and before realising these purposes. He loves to eternity. Even in realising them, He loves because He loves.”

At the risk of oversimplification, it seems like what it comes down to is:

Piper: God loves his glory!
Barth: God's love is his glory!

I guess for Piper if God has some hidden purpose for damning people from the beginning of time, it's ok if it contributes to his glory. Barth, on the other hand, sees God's glory in his perfect love and forgiveness of all people. You can probably guess that I'm more partial to the second reading. I don't know...I feel like Piper's God has to somehow protect his reputation by only electing a select few. Why wouldn't God be just as glorified if he elected everybody? Piper doesn't really define God's glory; it's sort of this terrifying, hidden thing. I think Barth's view of God's glory is rooted in where God's glory is most fully revealed: the cross of Christ. His glory is not his ability to exercise power as he pleases, but humility and perfect, self-giving love.

But what do I know...I'm not a theologian. Thoughts?


nbta said...

Great post!

"Certainly in loving us God wills His own glory and our salvation. But He does not love us because He wills this. He wills it for the sake of His love."

That says it for me!

kim fabricius said...

You got one thing very wrong, Rachel: "But what do I know ... I'm not a theologian."

Nice one!


bethany said...

This issue is one of the main reasons I part ways with Calvinism. I'm with Barth (and you) on this. While humbly acknowledging that we cannot fully know God or God's ways. This is what I tell my athiest/agnostic/pagan friends: "Jesus loves you no matter what you think about it."

Rachel said...

Bethany, I think I'm starting to move in that direction. Oh heck, I have been for a while. :)

kim fabricius said...

Welcome home, girls!

You know the one about Barth's reply to a guy who said he'd lost his faith: "Who said it was yours to lose?"

Rachel said...

Kim, aren't you a pastor in the Reformed church?

Jason Pratt said...

Maybe Kim is a four-point Calvinist. {g} (Universalistic joke: take out limited atonement, and the other positions pretty much entail universalism.)

Meanwhile, speaking from long experience, I consider that to be a fine analysis. One aid (not a correction) worth considering: we're talking about an interpersonal relationship within God's own (singular) self-existence. Moreover, insofar as positive aseity is true (though notably most theologians have been privative aseitists), which is pretty much the same as affirming at least binitarian theism in a Father/Son distinction, God's own self-existence as well as the existence of everything else in reality depends on the Father and the Son acting in an eternal fulfillment of fair-togetherness between the Persons. (The Spirit, notably, is a Person of the Unity Who proceeds in action; He is not self-begetting or self-begotten. There are reasons for that distinction; otherwise the Spirit would only be another 2nd Person, or rather vice-versa.)

Not-incidentally: the koine Greek typically translated as "righteousness" could be better translated as "fair-togetherness". (There's a fun exegetical project; check out some of the interesting results of putting that translation in!)

Now: which theories of punishment involve God fulfilling fair-togetherness, thus acting in ultimate consonance with His own active self-existence; and which theories involve God refusing to act to fulfill fair-togetherness and/or acting to fulfill _non_-fair-togetherness? (And what would fulfilling non-fair-togetherness mean, ethically?)

Closely related point: trinitarian theism (setting aside the filioque dispute) is the only philosophical notion capable of providing a truly objectively ethical grounding. Everything else, including mere monotheism, falls short. Equally relatable point: guess what Christian ethicists have been in the habit of usually teaching over the millennia? (Hint: a position that happens to be consonant with non-fair-togetherness punishment doctrines. Hint 2: Allahu Ahkbar. {wry g})


Rachel said...

"acting in ultimate consonance with His own active self-existence"

Beautiful-that's the key, I think. At least it's where the "huh?" factor of Calvinism crept in.

Your "Allahu Ahkbar" comment made me giggle, because I was talking to a professor yesterday who wasn't sympathetic at all to predestinarian theology and he called Calvinism "trinitarian Islam." My eyes bugged out of my head, but he definitely had a point.

Thanks for the fair-togetherness translation--I think I'll have some fun with that.

The 4-point Calvinism thing actually has occurred to me! I guess I can tell people that I'm a 4-point Calvinist and silently snicker to myself. ;)

Jason Pratt said...

{{My eyes bugged out of my head, but he definitely had a point.}}

The similarities can get pretty scary in hard-core Calv. I could tell you a very sad story about "cigarette-people..."

Gotta run, more comments later. Oh, one more fun note: atonement == at-one-ment. That's how the English translators were (pretty well) trying to translate the word for reconciliation in Greek.


kim fabricius said...

Hi Rachel,

I'm an expat American who is a minister in the United Reformed Church, UK (where I've lived for thirty-five years). We have our significant Barthians (the late Colin Gunton was a minister in the URC). You don't hear too much here about the "horrible decree" (not least, alas, because too many of our ministers don't know our own traditions, Calvinist or otherwise).

By the way, I became a Christian after reading Barth's Romans in the late seventies. I even stuck my son with the name Karl!


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