Thursday, April 28, 2011

Paulson is the Cure for Rob Bell.

More good observations from Paulson.

Paulson talked about the apologetic project of modern theology regarding the love of God. The modern emphasis on God's love is an apologetic strategy. It's goal is to make us see God as something attractive so that we will use our free will to accept him. This never works, because of course, God in reality isn't attractive to sinful humans. Read Exodus 20 or Isaiah 6. Fear and terror at God's omnicasuality is the first reaction of sinful human beings to God. The fact that we live under his almighty power and are sinful makes us incapable of accepting God. We see the fatedness of reality around us and it seems unfair to us. It does not accord well with a God who is nothing but a ball of love and therefore we cease to believe in God in order to protect ourselves from his omnipotence.

I personally think that this is the best response to Rob Bell's Love Wins clap-trap. The problem with modern theology is that it works with a God that is pure love. What is meant by love is a God who is affirming and fulfills our needs. It is also means that God is always fair by our standards. But according to human standards, God simply isn't fair. God is identical in a strange sense with what the ancients called fate, as Elert rightly emphasizes. There's no getting around it. When we look at how human goods are distributed in our world, it seems unfair. Why should I have had a better life than a child growing up in Pakistan? Why should I not have suffered horribly like others? Most of all, why should I have been brought up in a Christian family, whereas some Aztec somewhere wasn't able to hear the gospel?

Bell's approach is a continuation of the old Vatican II and Arminian approach. It says: Well, God is of course not unfair and so he will give everyone the opportunity to use their free will and get the same stuff in the end. But this doesn't make a bit of sense. If that's really the case, why not let free will determine our fake from the beginning in the form of Karma? Why not say with Origen (whom Bell I believe actually invokes), that everyone had it equal in the beginning, and then fell into unequal fates determined by free will?

The problem with Bell's approach is that it must ultimately think of God's love as an abstract quality. When the world doesn't reflect that quality (much like saying a desert is wet), then it cannot be something real. Hence, the apologetic argument that it would be real if humans just used their free will. It's not God's fault that humans don't use their free-will. But then, doesn't this bring us back to the law? How indeed can the law be gracious? In the end, if we are really self-determining the way Bell says, then we are God and not God. If we follow him, it's only a matter of time before we do away with God. He ultimately will get in the way of our autonomy and our self-justification with his word of law and gospel.

In fact, the Bible says something very different than Bell, namely, that we are the clay and he is the potter and so God doesn't need to justify himself before us, rather we before him. Our situatedness in creation and God's ability to choose this (his electing will) is simply part of his being God and us being creatures.

God's real love isn't a general love that let's everyone have a fair shot to use their free will. That's just more law and the law isn't love. God's real love is the electing love of Jesus Christ. When we say that God is love (as he most certainly is!) we do not mean it as an abstract quality that can be falsified by seeing its effects or non-effects. Rather, it is a person and an action. God's love is Jesus Christ. God's love is an electing love that chooses to be him and only him. It is also the electing love that sends to me, in my particularity, a preacher to elect me. Freed by his love, I do not need to sit around and ask the question "Why did God send me a preacher and not another?" On the one hand, as a creature, I recognize that that is God's business as God. On the other hand, I listen to God's own commission to preach that same Word to "every living creature." By preaching that Word, I dispel God's terrible power of fate in wrath, hiddenness, and law, and establish his gracious, electing will "pro te." This alone establishes a loving God, and not a lot of clap-trap about free will and an imaginary second chance in Hell.


  1. I have been wanting to preach on election for a while and these posts are just wetting my appetite. I have a question and a comment.
    1. What Scriptures would you use to teach the omnicausality of God? I remember reading some old cph books published pre-seminex when Elert was still in vogue that taught this.
    2. I like the way you/Paulson are presenting election in that it does not undercut the mission of preaching the Word. If election occurs through the Word and we are commanded to go, preach then we better get busy. This is much better then some presentations that were circling in the web in our synod that used election as some kind of theology of glory that undermined mission.

  2. Another thought, I had a seminary prof that linked baptism to election. Baptism was God's objective declaration of His election with faith as the subjective reception of His decree of election. This of course does not mean that all baptized were elect any more then all who hear sermons are elect but you get the picture.

  3. Gregory- To answer your first question, take a look at Isaiah 45:5-7

    I am the Lord, and there is no other,
    besides me there is no God;
    I equip you, though you do not know me,
    6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun
    and from the west, that there is none besides me;
    I am the Lord, and there is no other.
    7 I form light and create darkness,
    I make well-being and create calamity,
    I am the Lord, who does all these things.

    Deuteronomy 32:39:

    “‘See now that I, even I, am he,
    and there is no god beside me;
    I kill and I make alive;
    I wound and I heal;
    and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

    Also, 1 Samuel 2:6

    6 The Lord kills and brings to life;
    he brings down to Sheol and raises up.
    7 The Lord makes poor and makes rich;
    he brings low and he exalts.
    8 He raises up the poor from the dust;
    he lifts the needy from the ash heap
    to make them sit with princes
    and inherit a seat of honor.
    For the pillars of the earth are the Lord's,
    and on them he has set the world.

  4. Regarding your second comment, obviously everyone who hears the Word is not saved. But the person who is baptized or hear the Word should be believe themselves to be elect and not worry about speculating about what God might do in secret. God has made his will clear and manifest to them.

  5. Yes I see your point. I think Luther in Table talk said something like it doesn't matter if I am predestined or not I have baptism, the Sacrament and the Word. God cannot Damn me. Which is another way of saying that we can look to these objective means of grace for the assurance of election.

  6. Gregory,

    Also see FC SD XI, which says what our good Doctor here and Dr. Paulson say:

    34] However, that many are called and few chosen is not owing to the fact that the call of God, which is made through the Word, had the meaning as though God said: Outwardly, through the Word, I indeed call to My kingdom all of you to whom I give My Word; however, in My heart I do not mean this with respect to all, but only with respect to a few; for it is My will that the greatest part of those whom I call through the Word shall not be enlightened nor converted, but be and remain damned, although through the Word, in the call, I declare Myself to them otherwise. Hoc enim esset Deo contradictorias voluntates affingere, that is: 35] For this would be to assign contradictory wills to God. That is, in this way it would be taught that God, who surely is Eternal Truth, would be contrary to Himself [or say one thing, but revolve another in His heart], while, on the contrary, God [rebukes and] punishes also in men this wickedness [this wantonness, this dishonesty] when a person declares himself to one purpose, and thinks and means another in the heart, Ps. 5:9; 12:2f. 36] Thereby also the necessary consolatory foundation is rendered altogether uncertain and void, as we are daily reminded and admonished that only from God's Word, through which He treats with us and calls us, we are to learn and conclude what His will towards us is, and that we should believe and not doubt what it affirms to us and promises.

    37] For this reason also Christ causes the promise of the Gospel not only to be offered in general, but He seals it through the Sacraments which He attaches as seals of the promise, and thereby confirms it [the certainty of the promise of the Gospel] to every believer in particular.

    38] On this account, as the Augsburg Confession in Art. 11 says, we also retain private absolution, and teach that it is God's command that we believe such absolution, and should regard it as sure that, when we believe the word of absolution, we are as truly reconciled to God as though we had heard a voice from heaven, as the Apology explains this article. This consolation would be entirely taken from us if we were not to infer the will of God towards us from the call which is made through the Word and through the Sacraments.

    39] There would also be overthrown and taken from us the foundation that the Holy Ghost wishes certainly to be present with the Word preached, heard, considered, and to be efficacious and operate through it. Therefore the meaning is not at all the one referred to above, namely, that the elect are to be such [among the elect are to be numbered such] as even despise the Word of God, thrust it from them, blaspheme and persecute it, Matt. 22:6; Acts 13:46; or, when they hear it, harden their hearts, Heb. 4:2. 7; resist the Holy Ghost, Acts 7:51; without repentance persevere in sins, Luke 14:18; do not truly believe in Christ, Mark 16:16; only make [godliness] an outward show, Matt. 7:22; 22:12; or seek other ways to righteousness and salvation outside of Christ, Rom. 9:31. 40] Moreover, even as God has ordained in His [eternal] counsel that the Holy Ghost should call, enlighten, and convert the elect through the Word, and that He will justify and save all those who by true faith receive Christ, so He also determined in His counsel that He will harden, reprobate, and condemn those who are called through the Word, if they reject the Word and resist the Holy Ghost, who wishes to be efficacious and to work in them through the Word and persevere therein. And in this manner many are called, but few are chosen.