(The first chapter of The Evangelical Universalist continues…)
The traditional doctrines of hell are grounded in a variety of views of human free will. After discussing the general problems with the traditional doctrine of hell, MacDonald moves on to discuss these various views. There are essentially two understandings of free will: libertarianism and compatibilism (well, there’s also the Arminian position, which MacDonald doesn’t cover, other than in a brief footnote), which he defines as follows:
…the libertarian maintains that for a person to act freely the following two conditions must be met:
- the action is one the person wants to perform;
- the person could choose to perform or not to perform the action (i.e., the agent is not causally determined to perform the action).
The compatibilist will accept 1 and deny 2. (The Evangelical Universalist, p. 18)
If I understand the author correctly, from a compatibilist point of view, Johnny Public wants to do X, but it is inevitable that he will do so; he will not do Y instead. And by “causally determined”, I assume MacDonald means that Johnny Public’s circumstances and environment and everything leading up to that moment essentially prohibit him from performing the opposite action. I don’t quite understand it, but then I don’t quite understand Calvinism, which is a compatibilist position, either.
First, the Calvinist/compatibilist view of freedom. Logically, argues MacDonald, the this position results in Calvinist Universalism or simply away from Calvinism. His argument, which in turn relies on the compatibilists own arguments, looks like this:
1. God, being omnipotent, could cause all people to freely accept Christ.
2. God, being omniscient, would know how to cause all people to freely accept Christ.
3. God, being omnibenevolent, would want to cause all people to freely accept Christ.
4. [Therefore] God will cause all people to freely accept Christ.
5. [Therefore] All people will freely accept Christ. (p. 19)
From a purely logical point of view, it’s a compelling argument. In fact, says MacDonald, a Calvinist would deny conclusion 5 by denying premise 3. Calvinism, according to MacDonald (don’t ask me about Calvinism), asserts that God loves only the elect and it is them he will save. But this raises questions about God’s love: the Bible teaches that it is in God’s nature to love his creatures; that Christ died for all people; and that God desires to save all. How can we then argue that God only wants to save some? Furthermore,
[i]n light of the biblical emphasis on the supreme value of love, it seems plausible to think that a being that loves all is greater than a being who loves some but not others. (p. 20)
Once again, if we’re concerned about a Biblical basis for things, the Calvinist position that God does not want everyone to be saved is difficult to defend, Biblically and logically.
The thrust of MacDonald’s argument against the Calvinist defense of hell is that it presents a God who could save everyone, but does not do so in order to “demonstrate the glory of his justice” (p. 22). MacDonald argues that God could demonstrate this even while saving everyone. His position is best summarized with the following:
…it is unclear why the “grace not works” aspect of salvation requires any to be damned. Surely we could all be recipients of such grace without it becoming less gracious. We could also all realize that we are saved by grace apart from works without anyone being eternally damned. (p. 20)
(Next: the libertarian view of freedom)