Going on a Worship Strike

I come now to my second installment in replying to Roger Olson’s recent diatribe against Calvinism.

Here is how these things usually go, and I want to suggest another way for them to go. A Calvinist explains the doctrines he holds, at the end of which explanation, his Arminian friend exclaims, “I could never worship a God like that!” The normal Calvinist response is that “you really ought to be willing to worship a God like that,” but the response ought rather to be “you do in fact already worship a God like that.”

However Roger Olson kicks it up to the next level. He in effect vows that he never would worship a God like that. Period.

“I come back to my most basic question of all—to classical, high (i.e., ‘TULIP’ Calvinists): How do you distinguish God from the devil except with degrees of power? And what if it turned out that God is the devil in disguise? Would you still worship him? I would not; I hope you would not. But therein lies the secret to why I have said that IF it were revealed to me in a way I could not doubt that God is as high, classical (i.e., ‘TULIP’ Calvinism) claims I would not worship him. (I lose no sleep over this, by the way.) Because, in that case, there would really be no reason to worship God instead of the devil. In fact, as John Wesley famously said, in that case God would be worse than the devil because at least the devil is sincere!”

Now this is quite festive, being incoherent on numerous levels. But let us parse out what is actually being said. Olson says that if it were revealed to Him that the God of Calvinism were the God of the Bible, he would still refuse to worship and bow down. I will get to the theology of all that in a minute, but let’s call the bluff first.

Something else follows from this. It must also be the case that if it were revealed that the God of Arminianism is just complicit in predestination as the the God of Calvinism (except less sincere!), then Roger Olson has also promised by these words to withhold his worship from Him as well. Now because Arminianism is just Calvinism with an uneasy conscience, this is not hard to prove. You may review my previous argument here, or you may take it easy and just track with the following paragraph.

If God foreknows that in Contingency Universe X Esau will be damned forever, and nevertheless decides to create Contingency Universe X, then it follows necessarily that God foreordained the damnation of Esau thousands of years before conception of Esau. There was nothing that Esau could do to make arrangements to be born into another universe, one that God determined not to create. It also follows necessarily from this that Roger Olson needs to be getting online to start his hunt for a new church. He currently worships at a church that worships a Devil God who creates universes that reprobates have no choice about being born into, and no way of escaping from. I am almost tempted to say I could never worship a God like that, only I catch myself just in time.

That said, let us move on to Olson’s attempt at high theology. He says that he might find out the true nature of the true God, and go on a worship strike anyway.

Now if you have gotten to the ultimate God, then you have gotten, by definition, to the place where there can be no further appeals. There is no standard beyond this ultimate God that can be used to judge this God as being “no different from the devil.” And if you have no standard for the judgment, then you cannot render the judgment. The question at such a moment would have to be “by what standard?” If you employ such a standard (by refusing to worship), then the question should arise — whose standard are you appealing to? If there is a standard beyond the God of Calvinism, then that is the ultimate God, and it makes sense to obey the First Commandment that came from this real God, the Most High God. But who is He?

But if you really have gotten to the ultimate place, and the God of Calvinism is God God, look at what Olson says. “There would really be no reason to worship God instead of the devil.” He is saying that he has gotten to the final day, to the ultimate place, to the great white throne, and he claims that from this vantage he can see no reason for distinguishing the Creator from a creature. He can’t tell the difference between infinite and finite. He can’t make out the distinction between holy and unholy.

He is acknowledging that this is the God who formed him in his mother’s womb, who put breath into his lungs, and gave him the power to think at all in the first place. He is then going to appear before this God and, after he has seen heaven and earth flee away, he will stick to his Arminian guns. He says this, but I am persuaded of better things concerning him. He, like all the rest of us, will be singing about the worth of the Lamb.

Why don’t I believe him? Because he is a better Christian than he is a logician. I am sorry, but when you get to such a place, the only reason that you could not tell God from the devil is that you had become just like the devil.

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AeroBob
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AeroBob

Thanks Doug. Roger has wrote another blog that is dealing with the same issue. The following two paragraphs seem to be the crux of the issue Third, many Calvinists argue that “whatever God does is automatically good just because God does it.” This is, of course, an expression of voluntarism which points to nominalism (whether held consistently or not). The problem here, of course, is that “God is good” is merely a tautology with the word “good” adding nothing to “God.” In other words, the statement is not informative. This response does nothing to rescue God’s character’s reputation as genuinely… Read more »

Keith LaMothe
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Keith LaMothe

@AeroBob: the argument from the character revealed in Jesus Christ is at least attempting to judge by a scriptural standard (much better than judging from an “intuitive” moral standard outside the text), but it actually makes Roger’s challenge harder:

God’s character as revealed in Jesus Christ does not subvert God’s responsibility for everything, but rather reinforces it. In Jesus Christ we see that God wrote the part that suffers the worst evil… for Himself.

bethyada
Member

In which Doug goes all Molinist on us. It is a solution that Calvinist Plantinga goes for. The problem is that some Arminians and some Catholics go for and it doesn’t distinguish the determinism that Arminians object to. So God knows what it entails to create the world and all the choices people make and would make. And God’s decision to make such a world, and all the things that God does to interact with said world, lead to the outcome. Yet this does not require the determinism that many Calvinists hold to. An Arminian approach to such a position… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Roger Olsen wrote: Third, many Calvinists argue that “whatever God does is automatically good just because God does it.” This is, of course, an expression of voluntarism which points to nominalism (whether held consistently or not). The problem here, of course, is that “God is good” is merely a tautology with the word “good” adding nothing to “God.” In other words, the statement is not informative. This is a very standard objection. It is argued that the word “good” becomes a non-informative tautology if it is defined in relation to whatever God does, regardless of what He does. Our view… Read more »

J. Inglis
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J. Inglis

You are not portraying Olsen’s views accurately. Olsen does not see good as something outside of God or added to God, but as defined by and flowing from God’s character, which is constant and consistent. Olsen has, numerous times, explained how we can know what good is; perhaps you have not read enough of his posts. “if he has even thought this carefully about his position.” – cheap ad hominem. He’s a professor with an earned doctorate and has written several books on the topic. The nominalism that concerns Olsen is not addressed in your comment. If whatever God does… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Doug — good stuff. Really good writing from you. But you might be missing some crucial logic here: “… it follows necessarily that God foreordained the damnation of Esau…” Not necessarily. What if God Himself were at the mercy of a force outside Himself (I know — you’ll say He is then not God — true ‘nuf but hear this out)? If this were true, then He can’t help it that folks like Esau choose death with their free will. — but He certainly doesn’t “will” it = wish it. See — these folks sincerely believe there is a sphere… Read more »

Clayton
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Clayton

Great post, Doug. In relation to this topic, a question I’d love to hear you address is: how should we think through the Arminian argument that the God of double-predestination is not loving? I think that this really is the central question in this whole ordeal. Roger and other Arminians think that love is irreconcilably opposed to reprobation. What should our response be? Often this is what I hear: “Well the Bible clearly teaches both that God is loving and that God decides not to save all, so don’t even wonder about how both are true. Just trust that they… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

God has free will. He can’t not have it. He didn’t create it. He has no choice. With His own free will, even He Himself doesn’t yet know for certain everything He will choose. That’s up to how He feels later. His actions aren’t determined by anything but His free will. He doesn’t and didn’t choose His traits or capabilities. They are what they are. It’s how ultimate being just is. He then made rocks and Esau. He made Esau in His image — with that trait of free will. So God can’t know for sure what Esau will choose… Read more »

Eric Stampher
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Eric Stampher

Clayton,

So far, Doug has shown that Arminianism doesn’t escape the same problem.

At best, Arminianism says He made folks beyond His desire to control.
He honors the power of free will He gave them.

We then ask — Is it loving for God to put a murderous toy in front of His children — knowing full well that many of His precious kids will pick it up and cut their bodies and psyches to shreds?

Blannwich
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Blannwich

Clayton, this post for me, as a beginning step, has been indescribably helpful. I really think Piper does a fantastic job of making this clear. Might take a few reads to get it all lined up in the head. Deep philosophy with an assumed reformed perspective.

http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/a-response-to-ji-packer-on-the-so-called-antinomy-between-the-sovereignty-of-god-and-human-responsibility

Matt R
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Matt R

Doug,
How is your “Who says?” argument not begging the question in a debate with someone who does not believe that morality is determined by authority?

Rick Davis
Guest

MattR, If morality is authoritative, then it must have some sort of authority/standard behind it. If there is no standard, then morality is pointless. With no standard or authority, when I ask the question “Why should my morality bend the knee to your morality?”, you end up in a might makes right scenario every time. If morality is socially constructed (a la Thrasymachus), then it can’t be properly used to judge other societies that construct other moralities. Every culture is its own cave, and we can’t, like Socrates, come out into the light of the sun because there is no… Read more »

Matt R
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Matt R

Rick Davis,
Why couldn’t morality be an independent feature of reality. Like math, for instance. If two people disagree about 2+2, one is right and the other is wrong, but it has nothing to do with authority. It seems to me that it is authority-based morality that is ultimately “might makes right.”

Rick Davis
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Matt,

Within a Christian framework, there is no such thing as an independent feature of reality. All features of reality depend on God at all times. (Acts 17:28; Colossians 1:17) All aspects of nature reveal truth about God as well, because God created nature. (Romans 1:20)

2+2 always equals 4 because that is logical. Logic is valid because it is part of the eternal character and nature of God. (John 1:1; 1 Cor. 14:33)

prayersofadoration
Member

[A]ll signifiers ultimately speak relative to Him.

Amen! It’s another way of saying “The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of knowledge.” (Prov 1:7) Start anywhere else and you end up in Absurdistan. It’s a design feature.

Jane
Member

How is your “Who says?” argument not begging the question in a debate with someone who does not believe that morality is determined by authority? I believe in this context, “Who says” can also be interpreted as “Why should I believe it?” Even if there is no “who,” you still need a reason why someone’s version of morality is compelling. What if I don’t care about the good of mankind in general and the order of society? “Who says” I should? That’s why there is always a “who says,” even if you construct a theory of morality that doesn’t depend… Read more »

RFB
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RFB

Jane Dunsworth,

“What if I don’t care about the good of mankind in general and the order of society?”

Indeed!

And what if my version of “… the good of mankind…” is me at the top even if getting to and staying at the top requires the genocide of millions? Ask Mr. Stalin if he has any qualms with that brand of good.

Matt R
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Matt R

Jane Dunsworth, There is a point in every moral system where there is no deeper reason why you should care. This is true whether your ultimate end is the promotion of human flourishing or obedience to authoritative commands. I could ask why I should care about what God says just as much as you could ask why you should care about human flourishing. If you say you just should, you are in the same boat as the humanitarian in terms of justifying your beliefs or explaining why anyone should listen to you. If you say that you should care because… Read more »

Jane
Member

I say that we should care because God is good, and God defines good. God is by definition at the back of everything there is.

Leaving that aside, though, all you’ve proven is that my morality is no better than yours. You haven’t proven that anybody at all should care about yours, therefore you haven’t given Hitler, Pizarro, or Kim Jong Un a reason to change.

Matt R
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Matt R

What reason would you give Hitler to change? That God is good? And if he disagreed, what then? My point is that whatever you name as your ultimate good, you cannot justify it by something more fundamental. I cannot persuade anyone to care about other people, but I do not believe that anyone who only “cares” about other people because they have been commanded to really cares at all.

holmegm
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holmegm

Matt R: “but I do not believe that anyone who only “cares” about other people because they have been commanded to really cares at all.” Wow, really? So what would someone who “really” cares look like? What would his reasons be for caring? Just his own personal awesomeness? A desire for approval from society? Selfish genes? Or as Doug might say, an invisible skyhook? Granted, you may have a sort of backhanded point if you mean someone who receives such commands reluctantly, as a defeated but still seething rebel, rather than as someone who wants to be more like his… Read more »

carole
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carole

Thanks Katecho, for doing such a great job of articulating the problem with Olson’s argument. I often hear the objection that God can’t be good and not save all sinners. Which illuminates, once again, we creatures are still trying to eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. When the truth is, we do not know what good is outside of God and of God revealing it to us. We creatures are sinners, not the creators of goodness. So, I agree Clayton, that because God does not choose to save all, shows us that there is goodness in… Read more »

williamb
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Clayton, good post and I think those questions need addressing. Here’s why. In Pastor Wilson’s above post the Arminian replies, “I could never worship a God like that!” Why is it that many Christians respond this way to Calvinism? I think Pastor Wilson touches on it with his comment on Esau. People believe that Calvinism says that Esau and all the other non-elect never had a choice/chance in their salvation. God one day said, “I need some people to do certain things on earth and then suffer eternal separation and torment.” They are never given a chance to accept or… Read more »

Katecho
Member

carole wrote: You are right, when we are trying to follow the commandments with an unchanged heart, we are not really good and we aren’t really trying either. Indeed. Goodness is not something that can be abstracted and attributed to raw actions. The quality of goodness is inescapably personal. “And without faith it is impossible to please Him” — Heb 11:6 “and whatever is not from faith is sin” — Romans 14:23 So even if two people help an old lady across the street, if one of them does it without faith it is impossible to please God with it.… Read more »

Frank Turk
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Doug – I always love your optimism toward people like Olson who, frankly, can’t be bothered to open a Bible to be proven right or wrong.

timothy
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timothy

1 Samuel 16:7

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

JohnM
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JohnM

katecho, “if one of them does it without faith it is impossible to please God with it. It misses the mark, falls short, and is therefore sin.” The one without faith misses the mark in his life, in his being, and remains lost, yes – but his helping the little old lady across the street is one of his sins? Between helping the lady, not helping her, and shoving her in front of the bus, there is no difference? If the lady has faith, and knows her helper does not, should she thank him? If she does, is she thanking… Read more »

Matt R
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Matt R

katecho, Contrary to your assertion, it is precisely the “proper personal motivation” that I am concerned about. Which is a better motivation for helping an old lady across the street – a simple desire to help another person or to avoid damnation? (Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to avoid damnation, but is that really the highest form of goodness?) In other words, is it better to help her for her sake or for your own? This is what I don’t get about authority-based morality. If someone believes that it is better to help someone than to harm… Read more »

Katecho
Member

JohnM asks: but his helping the little old lady across the street is one of his sins? We need to realize that goodness is ultimately understood in terms of God’s pleasure, and not in reference to our pleasure. Sentimentalism is right out. If a son asks for bread, of course it is better if his pagan father actually gives him bread instead of a stone, but it is still not motivated by faith. This is an acknowledgement that we are not always as wicked and evil as we are capable of being, but even our best acts still fall short.… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Matt R wrote: Which is a better motivation for helping an old lady across the street – a simple desire to help another person or to avoid damnation? (Not that there is anything wrong with wanting to avoid damnation, but is that really the highest form of goodness?) In other words, is it better to help her for her sake or for your own? Notice how Matt R carefully supplies the selfish motive to us, and the selfless motive to the unbeliever. This is what Scripture refers to as suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Matt R reinforces his unbelief by… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Matt R wrote: This is what I don’t get about authority-based morality. If someone believes that it is better to help someone than to harm them, not because of any promised reward or threatened punishment, but just because it is, you demand to know “Who says?” as if it is inconceivable that anyone might want to do something good without being commanded to do so by someone in authority. Even if it doesn’t motivate you, is it that hard to comprehend someone seeking to promote the well-being of others as an ultimate end, without any further “reason”? It’s not at… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

katecho, “an acknowledgement that we are not always as wicked and evil as we are capable of being” and a reference to our “best acts” does acknowledge that there is a qualitative difference between helping, not helping, and harming, even when the actors are non-believers. Now what falls short, what is displeasing to God and therefore rejected apart from faith, is the individual. That’s not to say the individual’s every action was sinful. “All have sinned” is not the same as saying “all is sin”. Of course the faith referenced in Hebrews 11:6, the faith required for the person to… Read more »

holmegm
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holmegm

Matt R didn’t directly answer my earlier question: “So what would someone who “really” cares look like? What would his reasons be for caring? Just his own personal awesomeness? A desire for approval from society? Selfish genes?” But in effect he did answer it. The answer apparently is: nothing. Someone who “really” cares would be someone who has no reason for doing so. On the other hand, according to Matt R, someone who does have a reason to care – namely, that the Creator and Lord of the universe has declared that we should care, has made us and the… Read more »

Matt R
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Matt R

katecho wrote What’s harder for me to comprehend is why anyone would think that their admittedly reasonless preferences should be substituted for argument. I anticipated this sort of reply and responded to it above. See my answer to Objection #2. I believe what I said there is sufficient, but I will illustrate it using your own words. You say, “goodness is defined in terms of God’s pleasure.” Now I’m sure you wouldn’t try to impose your own “reasonless preferences” on others, so I assume you have a reason for defining goodness in this way. Would you care to explain it?… Read more »

Matt R
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Matt R

holmegm, I believe my answer to Objection #2 and illustrated in response to katecho shows that your position is just as liable to your criticism as mine. I might as well ask why anyone should care what the Creator of the universe says. If it were valid, it would prove too much. Even as you summarize the options, my position seems clearly to have the advantage. So much so that I would think I was misunderstanding you if you weren’t so clear. I don’t really know how to proceed given such a fundamental disagreement but perhaps it would help me… Read more »

Katecho
Member

JohnM wrote: Now what falls short, what is displeasing to God and therefore rejected apart from faith, is the individual. That’s not to say the individual’s every action was sinful. “All have sinned” is not the same as saying “all is sin”. I wasn’t expecting such hasty dodging of straightforward texts. My point is not to say that every act of an unbeliever is as wicked as it could be. Some acts of unbelievers are much better than others. We might be very tempted to call them “good” in some abstract and relativistic sense, but only if we ignored or… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Matt R wrote: I anticipated this sort of reply and responded to it above. See my answer to Objection #2. … Indeed, by your logic, you must go on giving reasons for reasons in this fashion forever or else admit that your entire system is ultimately founded on a “reasonless preference” after all. Matt R recognizes the problem of infinite regression that haunts rationalism. That’s fine. But he seems to think that the solution is to abandon reasons entirely. In this case, we ask how does Matt R know that helping is better than harming? Matt R says he doesn’t… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Matt R wrote: I might as well ask why anyone should care what the Creator of the universe says. I don’t recall that Matt R has identified his worldview apart from asserting his own preferences and his unbelief in God. In any case Matt R seems to be employing shoulds and should-nots as if he believes in them. He recognizes that he can’t defend his “shoulds” with any other authority than his own subjective opinions and preferences. He thinks that the way out is to deny that moral “shoulds” need to be backed by any authority. In doing so, he… Read more »

timothy
Guest
timothy

Katecho,

When the atheist C.S. Lewis considered this in himself (it really bugged him that he, a materialist, thought in terms of ‘shoulds’ and ‘it just is’ or ‘its what people do’ where not adequate answers for him) , it eventually drove him to his knees and repentance. He writes of his struggle with it in Mere Christianity.

We have witnessed you twice illustrate this regression to the moral void–once with EtR and now with Matt R.

Thank you again.

Katecho
Member

Matt R wrote: Which strikes you as more sincere, a child who is grieved to discover that he has hurt someone and spontaneously apologizes without being prompted or a child who only apologizes when told to do so by his parents? Would you say the former had no reason to apologize? It depends, is the child chubby and cute with little angel wings? I’m not sure how Matt R can get any more sentimental. He’s dripping with romantic primitivism. Again, Matt R is assuming that moral relationship exists, contextless, apart from a personal Creator. He is also assuming that it… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Matt R is also assuming that Christians believe that the child should only obey because of an external command from authority, rather than from the heart. This is a false dichotomy. Moral obligations exist outside of a child’s preferences. There are objective moral duties. However, nothing says that external obligations must remain external. God explicitly says that He writes His Law on our heart. God internalizes it. By doing so it doesn’t render God’s Law subject to our preferences. The principles are the same as before, but now they are inside of us, and flow out. This is not possible… Read more »

holmegm
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holmegm

Which strikes you as more sincere, a child who is grieved to discover that he has hurt someone and spontaneously apologizes without being prompted or a child who only apologizes when told to do so by his parents? What does “spontaneous” mean, in this context? Random? Or “welling up out of his own personal goodness”? Or “an emergent side effect of his selfish genes”? Or what? I’ve never seen a brand new child do anything “spontaneously” but cry, sleep, and fill his diaper. Would you say the former had no reason to apologize? No, I wouldn’t say that. You would.… Read more »

JohnM
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JohnM

katecho , you said: “I wasn’t expecting such hasty dodging of straightforward texts.”. Too old to pretend, I can only half bemused / half exasperated attribute to tunnel vision or hidebound doctrinal tradition such a dismissal of a straightforward point about what the text does and does not say. In any case I stand by my statement. Of course when we start to talk to each other like this it’s starting to become a dumb conversation, so this will be my last post on this one, and I won’t play proof-text volleyball. Anyway…. You keep saying things like “Some acts… Read more »

Matt R
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Matt R

katecho wrote, If we use reason to work back to a presupposition, we are free to stop there. Note that he claims this privilege for himself and yet denies it to me. This is what I have been saying all along, but whenever I reach a stopping point, he says that I literally have no reason, or have abandoned reasons entirely, checked myself out of the debate, and retreated. My request for an infinite list of reasons was intended as a reductio of this type of criticism. Your caricatures of what I have said do not merit a response. Where,… Read more »

Matt R
Guest
Matt R

holmegm,

The reasons you give for caring about other people are wanting “to be more like your Father” and “that the Creator and Lord of the universe has declared that we should care, has made us and the world that way.” What are your reasons for wanting to be more like God or caring about his declarations or the way he made the world?

…[insert reasons here]…

Okay. And what are your reasons for that?

Matt R
Guest
Matt R

katecho wrote, Matt R is also assuming that Christians believe that the child should only obey because of an external command from authority, rather than from the heart. This is a false dichotomy. Similarly, holmegm wrote, Granted, you may have a sort of backhanded point if you mean someone who receives such commands reluctantly, as a defeated but still seething rebel, rather than as someone who wants to be more like his Father. There are (at least) 3 responses to a command. (1) Begrudgingly complying with a command because forced to do so while inwardly despising the commander, (2) happily… Read more »