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March 18, 2011


Trevor Palen

I agree COMPLETELY that Bashir sucked. In fact, I think the whole interview was one of the worst interviews I've ever seen...and much of the blame should be placed on Bashir, especially since he was the director of the process. Bell did, however, do his job side-stepping and completely avoiding answering questions Bashir put forth. That was two people talking at each other for seven minutes and not communicating a thing.

Moving on:

Greg, I'll be the first to say that Calvinism done wrong is among the worst things a person could buy into...and I'll admit that the presuppositionalism of reformed theology has made any sort of conversation difficult to impossible...

That being said, you are consistently uncharitable in how you address their arguments, and you require that they adhere to an understanding of the world that is as foreign to them as their understanding is to you. Simultaneously the issues nearly always revolve around non-referential terms such as "good", "redemption", "salvation", "evil".

A thoughtful person who holds a calvinist interpretation of salvation/providence/et. al is going to admit that there are some major issues that are hard to swallow, and they will be charitable and open to seeing the world through other perspectives while developing a nuanced version of their own perspectives (ideally in the direction of Barth). Thoughtful people may not make-up a large percentage of calvinists out there, because, surprise surprise, most people, regardless of their philosophical/religious/social/theological perspectives are, indeed, not thoughtful.

Calvin was among the greatest theologians to have written. Barth, Arminius, and a great number of other respectable theologians have acknowledged as much. Just because you disagree with him (to however great an extent), doesn't mean that his whole system is non-sensical. Yes, his ideas in the wrong hands are a terrible thing to behold...but so are the ideas of a great many thinkers.

I do want to say that I share your concern for the naïve beliefs held by the bulk of the American church...they are following a path that looks less and less like any narrow path Jesus would have walked.

Greg Horton

Trevor, I'm consistently uncharitable because I mean to be. Try replacing "reformed" or "Calvinist" with flat-earther. Still feeling charitable? And, yes, I mean the analogy. The flat-earth crowd are as stubbornly irrational as the Calvinists. Beza had the courage to take Calvin's theology to its logical conclusion: double predestination. That Calvin had the compassion not to is actually a strike against him. People should recognize when their theology is shit and change it. As for modern Barth fans, I know no one in the Piper camp who had either read or understood Barth. Arminians know more about Reformed theology than the Reformed because they've practiced poking holes in it. Reformed believers at the populist level, and yes, Piper is populist, have no idea what Barth wrote. Be charitable to ideas that deserve it, Trevor. It'll save you much needed energy.

Travis Mamone

Yeah, I thought the Bell-Bashir interview was a crock of shit. Did you hear the God and Culture interview with Bashir? A bigger crock of shit! They basically said all us emergents automatically shut out anyone over 30. Well, I like Brueggeman and Wright, and they're way over 30!


Interesting interview with Bashir on a conservative radio station in Grand Rapids (Rob's hometown) after his ambush of Bell: http://bit.ly/h43NJY

Greg Horton

Kevin, no time (or desire) to listen to the guy for 38 minutes. Highlights?


Apparently, hell hath no fury like an ex-evangelical with a chip on his shoulder and a log in his eye.

Greg Horton

John, you're missing the point. I'm an ex-Christian; I don't believe in hell; I have no chip; all of us have logs, planks, motes, etc. I also don't miss the pithy sayings of my formerly Christian life, especially those based on misunderstood, over-quoted but seldom followed biblical texts. If you had an intelligent rebuttal, I assume you'd have typed it. 

Sent from my iPhone


Let me connect some dots for you then:

Obviously you're an ex-Christian, and an ex-evangelical. The sky is blue, grass is green, John Shelby Spong hate the fundamentalism he was raised in, and Franky Schaeffer hates the religious right he helped create. Non-Christians don't have the psychological need to trash their former belief system at every opportunity. That chip on your shoulder says you're an ex-Christian and pissed off about it in all-caps bold font.

You got it right that Bashir came off as a jerk who oversimplifies complex issues. Not quite as bad as someone who calls everyone he doesn't like a douche-nozzle committing douchbaggery (not to get psychological again, but what's with your douche fixation?) and oversimplifies the entire Augustinian theological tradition as Calvin=shit Barth=good, but pretty bad.

That was the point.

Greg Horton

Hmm, which of us has the chip? Just making sure you knew I wasn't still a liberal Christian. Why Spong and Schaeffer make an appearance is beyond me. I'm not a fan of either. Here's where you're guilty of reading what you think I said. I'm not trashing my former belief system in toto, only parts of it, and particularly people within it who misrepresent, politicize, and exploit for their own benefit, usually money, power or fame. It's easy for you to read a post or two and assume what I'm doing, but that seems to be part of the blog world. Alas. I'm guilty of all sorts of douchebloggery too.

Am I pissed about being an ex-Christian? Nope. Delighted to be one. Still have friends in the faith. You should ask them about my demeanor. You'd be surprised how wonderfully pleasant I am, and how respectful of their views/faith I am. I guess it matters that they're primarily non-Reformed and just working hard to make a difference, not sell books of "be somebody."

I don't call everyone I don't like a douche nozzle. I once called one of the fundies an asshat. It works too. I probably used different words for Ingrid Schlueter. I can't remember.

I wasn't reducing the Augustinian tradition to bullshit, just the Reformed tradition. There are Augustinians in nearly every tradition. The guy wrote for about 50 years. He said all kinds of contradictory bullshit that any tradition can proof text for their own use. Do I think Calvin is shit? Yes. Calvin's god creates humans for the sole purpose of damning them to reveal his glory. What a douche! If Calvin's right about god, you're better off not worhsiping him. He can't be trusted. Perhaps if you'd read more of what actually happens here you'd realize that I have great reasons for despising the Reformed tradition, especially the Reformaniacs, and I'll keep calling them that because it does a disservice to Barth to call them neo-Orthodox. Try a little subtlety or a straightforward "hello, I disagree and here's why" when posting. You'll find there are chips to go around.


I could agree on not being so wild about those who create controversy for fame and money, but that means I'm not so crazy about Piper or Bell. If you believe he didn't mean to create any controversy, as he claims, then let me tell you about a sure-thing investment opportunity on the ground floor of a pyramid scheme. This was a planned controversy from day 1, and the only amusing irony about it is that Piper et al were predestined to play the roles set forth by the sovereign HarperOne.

I had to google Ingrid Schlueter - never heard of her.

I really can't follow your thing on the Reformed tradition and Reformaniacs - either I'm misreading or your categories are all out of whack. Who calls the "Reformaniacs" (like Piper, I assume?) neo-Orthodox? Barth is practically the definition of Neo-Orthodoxy. And Barth, of course, is in the Reformed camp from any reasonable historical and theological point of view, not to be contrasted against it. For that matter, one of Rob Bell's more prominent recent defenders, Richard Mouw, is, confessionally, far more of a Reformed Calvinist than Piper. And lastly, I don't have any particular stake in defending the particulars of Calvin, but seriously, your glib definition of "Calvin's god" sounds like the kind of thing one might hear from a theological luminary like Dave Hunt, but not much at all like anything one could find in the Institutes, with its Christian humanist view of creation.

Greg Horton

I'm fully aware that HarperOne seized on an amazing opportunity, and it was brilliant marketing. I do think Bell is, in the words of a pastor friend, trying to formulate answers in a pastoral context. Did he know controversy was coming? Of course. Was he fully prepared? Probably not. I'm not willing to blame HaperOne for Piper's idiotic tweet. He could have kept his tweet shut, or posted something thoughtful and theological, or hell, he could have waited for the book to come out to read it.

I'm struggling with coming up for a category for the new Reformed folks. (it was the subject of a previous post) Neo-Orthodox obviously belongs to Barth, but I don't these guys are newly Reformed and I think of Barth as quintessentially Neo-Reformed, so I've been trying to figure out what to call the Reformaniacs in the Piper vein. As for Southern Baptists who are newly Reformed, I just call them confused.

As for my view of Calvin's god, it's a simple reduction from his actual principles. Snark about Dave Hunt notwithstanding, it's occasionally possible to reduce ideas to atomistic levels, and Calvin's god creates some for salvation and some for damnation. It really is that simple. You might want to read the Institutes, something I had to do first semester of grad school, if you're not sure about that version of Calvin's god. There is much to like about Calvin's thoroughness, but little (nothing) to like about the character of his god. So why don't you put your theological cards on the table now.

Greg Horton

oops. get rid of "I don't" before "these guys."


I call them predestinarian fundamentalists.

Since you ask, one way I could characterize my "cards" is that I like Calvin's view of humanity and creation more than Barth's, and Barth's view of salvation more than Calvin's. Thanks for the suggestion on reading the Institutes; I've read the 1559 edition through 2-3 times as well as the 1539 and 1543, but once more couldn't hurt.

Greg Horton

If you describe yourself accurately, then I fail to understand you taking offense. If you prefer Barth, then your view is close to Bell. Unless you're being disingenuous. if you've read them that many times, you surely know I wasn't over simplifying...


Not only are you over-simplifying, you're extracting Calvin as if his views on predestination were some kind of oddity, instead of being substantially similar than that of the mature Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, or really an monergistic, non-universalist soteriology.

Who said I was ever offended? I just thought your vitriolic name-calling was hypocritical, given the mean-spirited tone of this and other other recent entries I looked over. Maybe your self-evaluation of what a nice guy you are in person is correct, but on the blog, you make Bashir look like a teddy bear. Maybe you think it comes across in a charming curmudgeonly kind of way, but not so much. You shrugged off the first comment from Trevor, but maybe you should take it more seriously.

Greg Horton

Trevor I know face to face. He can ask for clarification later. You I don't. So far you're obscure John who can't admit Calvin believed god created humans for the express purpose of damning them. That makes you dishonest, uninformed or a troll

Sent from my iPhone


You forgot to call me a douchebag for disagreeing with you.

Greg Horton

And now I know you're a troll. Trevor disagreed. Others disagree. You have barely assented to anything. Anonymity and sniping, combined with your boasts about which Institutes you've read (as if they're not all perverse) mark you as a troll. A Reformed troll. Calling Reformed theology Augustinian marks you as a Piper disciple. Gnite, troll

Sent from my iPhone

Greg Horton

John "the beloved disciple" or John from St. Louis, whoever you are, I meant to address a couple things in my last post but I was watching the Mormons kill the Zags. The idea that Reformed theology is a direct line of descent from Jesus to Aquinas to Augustine to Luther/Calvin to Bucer is hysterical. What you Reformaniacs tell yourselves to give your theology a veneer of authority is awe-inspiring. One of my undergrad profs used to say that comparative religion (or theology in this case) relied on emphasizing what was similar and downplaying what was different. Your post is a perfect example. To compare Calvin to Luther and Aquinas while accusing me of oversimplifying is irony on an incalculable scale. I've often said that conservatives lack any sense of irony (perhaps it has to do with flattening metaphors), and you illustrate that beautifully. If anything, the tradition goes straight from Jesus to the anabaptists. Remember them? Calvin was helping kill them, while he was signing off on burining Servetus. Just like Jesus...um...no. Calvinism has always been evil. Always. It starts with a bloodthirsty god and moves to bloodthirsty, arrogant, self-assured elect. How can it not be evil? Want to know what works me up? Reformed theology. Why? Because it's counter-rational, but assumes for itself a definition of rationality such that god is good for murdering and lying. It's not Christianity I hate, John. It's the perversions of the teachings, and Reformed theology still ranks as the most perverse of the major streams.


You're so far off base on me, you'd have been better off just calling me a douchebag and be done with it. But I can tell you're not the kind of person to be swayed by argument or evidence, so, so be it.

For clarification, 1) I was clearly speaking specifically about the doctrine of predestination; 2) I didn't mention Jesus; 3) I didn't claim descent, just similarity (though there is some element of descent in their shared Augustinianism - why you think situating Reformed theology as Augustinian is somehow uniquely a John Piper thing, I have no idea); and 4) you should have Aquinas coming after Augustine, not before.

The similarities with Calvin's view is obvious to anyone who has read Augustine's Letter to Simplician or the Enchiridion, the Summa Theologica on election and reprobation, Bondage of the Will, and Bucer's Loci Communes. We could add Thomas Bradwardine, John Wycliffe, Gregory of Rimini, and others. The differences in these theologians on other doctrines makes the similarities on election all the more significant. If you think Calvin's view is evil, fine, but if you think his view on election is somehow unique and at odds with the texts I've listed, well, to put it bluntly, you simply don't know what you're talking about.

No doubt that makes me a troll, douchebag, Piper-worshiper, etc. etc. etc. Enjoy your rants, I have some reading to do.


if you remove hell from Christian doctrine then what is the purpose of the cross? That's the question every Christian brought up in substitutionary attonement thinks. What's the point of Jesus if not to die on the cross to take our place and save us from hell?

We simply cannot wrap our heads around the fact that God is not about blood. The cross is simply a symbol for us to accept a slain Christ who can save us from eternal punishment.

The truth is, Christians are so out of whack on this because we need certianity about it. A Sunday School class did a lesson the joy of certain salvation. Christians do not have faith that God is able to do what God says God can do and be okay with whatever means God does it by.

Personally, I see God continually redeeming the world and that Christ's death on the cross is a result of his life and the way he lived his life. The issue of hell for many Christians is their reconcilation of believing in one and need to believe in the other.

This issue, for me, needs to end. There are other issues that Christ said were more important than doctrine on hell and concern that the biggest lie is saying that Jesus is not the only way.

Greg Horton

John, here's what I hear: "blah, blah, blah...Piper rules and you're an idiot." You're Reformed. Just live with it. You believe in supreme irrationality. Just admit it. Your god created people just to burn them forever. Trot out all the names and epistles you want; it doesn't save you from being a douche. There. You asked for me to. Now delivered. You make an issue of chronology on Aquinas. Ha. Good job. You scored a point while looking like a Piper clone. Nicely done. Let me quote a friend: "Why anyone spends their evening pseudonymously picking fights on a blog makes you wonder what kind of life they have." Amen. State your real name. Tell us about yourself, and embrace your TULIP. Or, live in troll-land. I'm pretty sure you're comfortable there. I can see you scouring Arminian and emergent sites, looking for chronological errors, waiting to trot out Augustine's Letter to Simplician...Ha! Get laid much? You're the theological equivalent of MMPORPG.

dr dobson


You started your post by stating, "if you remove hell from Christian doctrine then what is the purpose of the cross? That's the question every Christian brought up in substitutionary attonement thinks. What's the point of Jesus if not to die on the cross to take our place and save us from hell?

We simply cannot wrap our heads around the fact that God is not about blood. The cross is simply a symbol for us to accept a slain Christ who can save us from eternal punishment."

Are you serious? Irrespective of your self-proclaimed authority to speak on behalf of all Christians (as you attempt to do in explaining your own questions), you are way off.

Do you really believe that the cross is "simply a symbol for us to accept a slain Christ who can save us from eternal punishment." Do you recall that "the cross" to which you refer would just be any other "cross" of the era were it not for a key component of the entire logos of Christianity that accompanied said crucifixion?

Why should someone like Greg give a rat's ass about you, me, your beliefs or my beliefs? My beliefs, quite simply, hinge on whether I'm a dick or not. That is the primary "concern" of the Jesus shown to us in the Gospels. Your beliefs, quite clearly, show us that you're first and foremost concerned with what happens to your carcass and supposed soul upon your physical demise. It is disheartening and outrightly-disappointing that you not only believe this, but take the time and effort to write it down for others to see. I can't imagine how you "live out" those beliefs. Further, I can't help but think that the goal of your "Gospels" is furthered by how many times you convince others that they're not worthy of the Christ who had to die just so they could be spared.

You have also, obviously, forgotten that beliefs used to divide and conquer are not in the spririt and nature of Christ; they are in the spirit and nature of self. Again, dare I point out that such is the end of your desire: To spend eternity only with people who agree with your view of your God.

After all, why wouldn't you want to spend eternity just like you live here on earth?

Trevor Palen

Wow...this comment section has taken a turn for the worse. Ummm...

Greg, to answer your rhetorical question from comment #2 "Still feeling charitable?":

In all humility, I pray I will still genuinely feel charitable. And I say this because I do not believe that any sort of substantive difference will be made in this world by dismissing the people who hold ridiculous views while poking holes in said views? It's like shooting fish in a barrel…what is actually accomplished?

Here is what I see: You address the irrational populist (sorry for the redundancy) arguments as if they were the "rational" arguments being made by thoughtful reformed theologians. Your appeal is against arguments of tunnel-visioned people 95% of whom don't care enough to think about their beliefs, and the other 4.98% of whom will not actually take the time to wade through the constant derogation of the reformed position to figure out the reasonable arguments you make against it.

The reason this bothers me is because when you are charitable, you tend to make arguments that contain the subtleties necessary to weed out poorly constructed theologies. You've pushed me to figure out what I believe starting in class and then moving to the blog more than I have probably ever been pushed, but when you start reducing arguments to glib usage of non-referential language because you're annoyed with a promoted worldview, is when what you're arguing becomes useless to anyone trying to refine, question, and refute a particular worldview.

Going back to the second comment...you compare flat-earthers to Calvinists...and you stand by that proudly...

You compare people who hold to a claim that has been falsified to people who hold to a claim that is not falsifiable. That's not irrational on your part, that's just plain lazy. Again, you assume that rationality/reason is an end result of thought, rather than the state of thought itself.

Like I said earlier: There are lots of dumb calvinists, just as there are lots of dumb atheists, buddhists, republicans, women, and white people. People at large are stupid. Picking one group out of the crowd to lambaste is a waste of your time more than anything else...unless of course it's purely for catharsis.


Trevor, Calvinism is falsifiable, I'm afraid. Under the rubric of non-contradiction. You may not like the result of this, but I can't be free and predetermined at the same time. If I'm damned to hell from the beginning, then my choices are irrelevant at best. I can even make a pretty good argument that I ought to live as destructively as possible.

As for only addressing the populists, I wish that was true. Unfortunately, Beza and Calvin both held these distorted views of the character of God, predestination, determinism, etc. Piper has only added modern language. All "thoughtful" Reformed theologians begin with a series of hopeless contradictions, so I feel perfectly free to write them off. Sorry if that troubles you, but I have little patience with "theologians" who begin with contradictions and then attempt to trace their lineage back to Jesus via Augustine. Maybe best not to assume I'm just "lazy," eh?

I don't think the comments have taken a turn for the worse necessarily. John has been annoying, but after goading him for a few days, I'm sort of over it. Besides, it was spring break. I was a little restless.


Wow. Dr. Dobson, I think you misunderstood my post. I was agreeing with Greg not condeming him. Greg's actually the one that started my journey from a substitutionary atonement theory to a Christos Victor theory and beyond.

I was rushing to finish typing my paragraphs, and there should have been more breaks in between, especially after I wrote Greg.

I was stating that in my church context that it is impossible for many of my congregants to wrap their head around the fact that God is not about blood. It's hard for them because they believe that's the sole purpose of Christ.

I am not sure if you got upset after reading all the other comments and got to mine and it just frustrated you but if you finish reading my comment you will read,

"Personally, I see God continually redeeming the world and that Christ's death on the cross is a result of his life and the way he lived his life. The issue of hell for many Christians is their reconcilation of believing in one and need to believe in the other.

This issue, for me, needs to end. There are other issues that Christ said were more important than doctrine on hell and concern that the biggest lie is saying that Jesus is not the only way."

Personally, I don't believe God intended for Christ to die on a cross. I really do believe he went to the cross because of his teachings and proclaiming to be the Son of God.

Dr. Dobson, again, I am not sure what has caused this miscommunication but please know that I'm in agreement with Greg on this issue and not trolling.


I'm posting twice because I really do not understand your response to my comment. I am trying to not be defensive but fear I might.

I serve as minister to youth and pastoral care in Richmond, VA. I live out my beliefs (one's that are very moderate beliefs) by giving to the poor, helping addicts find recovery, by talking students off the ledge of suicide. I serve because that is what I believe Christ said to do. He said, "they will know me by your love." I honestly do my best to show that and do my best to accept everyone where they are in life whether they are black, red, yellow, gay, straight, democrat, republican (working on loving tea party members (it's harder than I thought).

I believe in universal salvation and I believe that God is love. I'm a pacifist and argue that Christ preached a nonviolent way of life. My biggest influence on that matter is Yoder and Samuel Wells.

Again, Dr. Dobson, I am not sure if my attempt to be rethorical feel through or what but please understand that whatever picture of me you have created is not correct.

Trevor Palen


I'm not really sure how to respond to that post.

You say: "You may not like the result of this, but I can't be free and predetermined at the same time."

We're talking about Calvinism, right? Free? ... FREE?!

You say three times in your post that all reformed theology starts with contradiction, yet you do not give me any examples. I am interested to see this series of contradictions.

That being said, and before you "have to repeat yourself", let us deal with the real issue here...and it is assuredly not reformed theology. I will refrain from responding any further in favor of hearing your argument for libertarian free-will. Just know that I will certainly bring up all the questions that Libertarianism cannot adequately answer just as you bring up all the questions that cannot be sufficiently answered by Calvipatibalism...though this conversation is probably more fun over a bottle of wine!


I can't say for sure this is exactly how Greg would respond, but the most obvious contradiction inherent in Calvinistic doctrine surrounds goodness. God is so big and powerful and good that he creates a whole universe and places in that universe creatures capable of recognizing his big, powerful goodness. Of course, not wanting there to be any mistake about who is the biggest, most powerful, goodest creature in the universe, god doesn't make them quite right: he pre-destines them to fail. Then, his nature being so good, he enacts a system whereby mortal, finite failure is justly punished by immortal, infinite misery. Of course, to show that he is still good, he offers a free pass to a handful of the creatures for whatever reason, justly leaving the rest to rive in eternal anguish: Praise merciful GOD.

Now there are a couple of places in that story where the Calvinist is faced with either a contradiction or a logical bullet of massive proportions: either this chest-thumping GOD is not good, or 'goodness' means something different than (almost opposite of) what literally every non-sociopathic human thinks it does.

You can call, "Straw Man!" if you want, but I only need the following propositions to make this knockdown fall:
1. God is sovereign.
2. God is good.
3. God created humanity.
4. God knew at the creation that humanity would fall.
5. God chooses to save some of humanity and damn the rest (for the sake of his own glorification).
6. God could have chosen to save all of humanity if he had willed it. (Here's another candidate for inherent contradiction if the one listed above isn't enough for you. How can these three co-exist: God is sovereign, God wills that all should be reconciled to him, some are not reconciled? Sorry Calvin/Beza/Piper, no free-will defense for you.)

As long as all of these are accepted by Calvinistic doctrine, then Calvin's GOD is not good on any reasonable interpretation of the term.

Trevor Palen

Cheek, thank you for your reply.

We've been down this road once before (http://theparish.typepad.com/parish/2009/09/the-language-of-analogy.html), and I left you hanging. But I think now having had time to think through this a little more, I've refined *MY* position on it, and while I imagine that 1.5 years later, I will still have some problems, I think we'll start moving in a good direction. You are of course going to see what is obvious: That I don't hold to a strictly Calvinist doctrine.

Before addressing the 6 points, I want to address the 2nd contradiction: First, you, like Greg, have used this term free-will in the discussion of Calvinism, which quite frankly I find surprising. I haven't read the thoughts of all three you mentioned on free-will, but they are certainly not advocating libertarian free-will. I can forgive Calvin and Beza for using the term given their epoch, Piper...not so much if he has indeed used it. Second, the THEOlogy of calvinism STARTS with what we can "know" about God. Soteriology, Anthropology, Bibliology, etc. are then interpreted in the light of what we "know" about God. The good reformed thinkers of today start with Christology as a means of understanding Theology, and subject all other areas to those two...including bibliology. So to answer your soteriological dilemma, you simply dismiss one of the claims. If you dismiss:

A) God is sovereign, you end with Arminianism
B) God wills that all should be reconciled to him, you end with Calvinism
C) Some are not reconciled to him, you end with Universalism

Reformed thinkers start with who God is, so proposition (A) is paramount. This is why in the reformed camp you have both Calvinism and Universalism make their appearances. This leads perfectly into addressing the 6 points

I followed through with the basis of my following argument the wrong way in our first discussion. Originally, I concluded with: "Christians have realized that non-believers would much rather serve a god which is first and foremost good and gracious than to serve a God who is first and foremost Holy and provident." In the end, I made the same misstep that I think I saw in your argument.

If we take your 6 points, we can start by recognizing that the first 2 make claims about who God is, and the other 4 about what God wills.

So we'll start with addressing the first 2 points. I think it is quite significant how Yahweh answers Moses in the beginning of the Old Testament when Moses asks "who will I tell them that you are?", to which he replies "I AM". God is God. Nothing more, nothing less. God is the ultimate non-referential term, because God, if she exists, is the one that can be circularly-defined. There is no defining God with human terms…He is the ineffable.

Goodness, Sovereignty, Love, Mercy, Evil, Grace, Hate…all non-referential language stands subject to God as God. I am about at the point where I am done calling God good in discussions with non-believers, because no one is willing to admit that we are all starting with (linguistic) presuppositions. Even skeptics start with belief, because belief and doubt are essentially the same. They are because we are finite. Greg said in a conversation at one point "I'm not a systemist, I'm a skeptic" without acknowledging that language is in itself a system, and to appeal to it is to hold to a system. The problem is the non-referential. I cannot define that which is beyond non-referential (God) by that which is surely non-referential (Love, Good, etc.). I can argue for an interpretation, an understanding, but I cannot define it (although the etymology of the word actually comes from the opposite direction, I like to look at the word "define" as de-finite). To say that God is good, is to say that goodness exists apart from God…it assuredly does not.

And now, for a conversation on the only way we can know God (Revelation) between Calvin and Barth!

CALVIN:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

BARTH:  Above all we must recognize that God stoops to reveal Himself.

CALVIN:  No but it’s a stooping revelation.

BARTH:  Yes but it’s a stooping revelation.

CALVIN:  But what we see is God in His condescension.

BARTH:  Amen!  We see God in His condescension.

CALVIN:  But we can’t know God except that He accommodates Himself to us.

BARTH:  Yes but we do know God as the One who accommodates Himself to us.

CALVIN:  In all humility we cannot presume to know God apart from His condescension.

BARTH:  In all humility we cannot presume that God is any other than the One who condescends.

CALVIN:  No but when He condescends He clothes Himself in a character foreign to Himself.

BARTH:  … And how do you know that it’s foreign to Himself?

To wrap up, I'll address the last 4 points:

3. God created humanity
- Yes
4. God knew at the creation that humanity would fall.
- Debated amongst theologians, I would probably say yes.
5. God chooses to save some of humanity and damn the rest (for the sake of his own glorification)
- I think soteriology is the most useless of all fields of studying. Biblically speaking, we have no resolution outside of interpretation…It just doesn't matter, and has no effect on who God is and how He calls us to operate in the world. But if God is glorified by the damning of people, so be it! Who am I to question Him by whom I draw breath?
6. God could have chosen to save all of humanity if he had willed it.
- And that's what all this hubbub is about. Rob Bell, who has been situated in the evangelical community which historically holds either Arminian or Calvinist soteriology but not Universalist, is claiming it's not unreasonable.

Me personally, I don't know, I'm still deciding between Calvinism and Universalism…probably won't ever come to a final conclusion, and furthermore, I don't really care to…it just doesn't matter.

Greg Horton

Trevor, You're off on the wrong foot. We can't "Know" anything about god. Literally, nothing. It's all speculation. Unless you have access of which I'm unaware. Second, I gave you an example, but you didn't follow through on my meaning. Calvinism is death to ethics. If we aren't free, then you don't get to categorize my behavior. Only a moral creature with the will and freedom to do good can be judged as good. If I'm only doing what I'm predetermined to do, then I'm a two-dimensional character in god's little play.

Goodness matters. I will second what Cheek said, but add that it also goes against what God allegedly tells us what goodness in in what is allegedly his revelation. It's no good to call it good and then excuse god for not acting goodly.

If you can sign off on #5 with a so be it, you are a long way from a moral creature. Only the truly perverse creates creatures only to damn them. That's a pretty safe axiom, and it goes back to goodness. God would damn any man who created things only to torture them for all eternity, but he gives himself a pass. This is why I don't take Calvinism seriously.

There is no getting around #6. The whole system is goofy. No way do I take them seriously. We haven't even addressed their circular reasoning and closed system. It's systematized insanity.

Trevor Palen


I don't need to know anything about God to say that God is God. I spent the better part of my reply to Cheek saying we can't "know" anything about God. Literally, nothing. Without expounding, I mentioned that God's (self) revelation is the only way we can "know" anything about God.

Calvinism is not death to ethics but I'll entertain your assumption that Calvinism is hard determinism for a moment, even though it's an unwarranted (and uncharitable) assumption.

If Calvinism is death to ethics via loss of decision then behavior can still be categorized, even if they are subcategories…In English, you just conveniently place a modifier in front of the primary category: Good predetermined actions. Bad predetermined actions.

"Only a moral creature with the will and freedom to do good can be judged as good."

hog wash. First, what you mean to say is "only a moral creature with the will and freedom to do not good can be judged as good"…otherwise it's pretty easy to say that God created a set moral creatures with the will and freedom to do good (the elect) and another set of moral creatures with the will and freedom to do not good (the reprobate). The former will be justified for choosing good, the latter will be damned for choosing not good. Second, God, if she exists, can judge however the hell she pleases...especially when she gets to determine the definition for good.

Now let's leave the silly assumption that Calvinism need be hard-determinism:

Your first undisclosed assumption, which you make no attempt to justify, is that agency requires free-will.

Whether or not I'm free, I still am the agent by which a temporal action temporally takes place. "Man can do what he wills…". You claim that "Only a moral creature with the will and freedom to do good can be judged as good". In separating freedom [to act] and will (this I don't think you did on accident) you have opened the door for compatibalism "…but he cannot will what he wills"

You insist that unrestricted choices be made from an unrestricted will. To that, I call bullshit, and, once again, I ask you to make a case for libertarian free-will over against a determined will.

Your second undisclosed assumption, which you make no attempt to justify, is that you assume an ontology of "good" that is strictly resultant. It's time to consider that the ontology of non-referential terms (such as good, evil) can be functional rather than resultant. All goodness need not be understood as the result of an action but can rather be the frame of reference from which actions are made. As well, the results do not need to be interpreted as good for the frame of reference to be good. Furthermore, the two ontologies are not mutually exclusive. I can act from good and do that which is good as well as I can act from good and do that which is not good.

Moving on:

"If you can sign off on #5 with a so be it, you are a long way from a moral creature." I guess then I should take that to mean that you, Greg Horton, are a moral creature while I, Trevor Palen, am not, and that what makes a moral creature a moral creature is precisely what s/he believes.

Only the truly loving creates creatures only to bless them. That's a pretty safe axiom, and it goes back to judgement. God would damn any man who created things only to torture them for all eternity, but he gives them a pass. This is why I take Calvinism seriously.

dr dobson


I stopped reading your posts when you admitted that you "do not hold to a strictly Calvinist doctrine," which in the course of this ongoing debate that you insist on having with Greg is no different than stating, "I'm only noise now; pay no attention to me." Therefore, I took your advice literally.

Trevor Palen

Dr. Dobson,

With all due respect, why would you post that? Do you know something I don't about Greg and Cheek being done discussing?

You've made two posts in this set of comments, the first was a fairly uncharitable response based on your misinterpretation of Joe's post, and the second is to tell me that you are no longer listening to me in a discussion you were not involved with to start. I appreciate you letting me know.


Could you maybe explain the logic you are employing? Specifically, I'm not familiar with your use 'non-referential term'. Do you just mean that words like 'good' are predicates and not names? I'm not sure how that serves your argument. Further, if that is the case, are you saying that 'God' is a predicate? If so, what exactly would be its range?

For my part, I assume that when someone uses the term 'God' she means to reference a particular entity even if she cannot iterate all of that entities properties. Are you denying that that is what most people mean by 'God'? If so, what are the logical implications of that? That 'God' does not name a member of the set of all things? That 'God' names a constituent (non-empty) set of the set of all things? That 'God' names a member of the set of all things but that said member is not in the range of any predicate in the object language? That 'God' is not a name in the object language?

All of these would be bizarre claims, and any one of them would likely make all discussion of God futile.


Trevor, seconding Cheek again, i'll leave the discussion of "know" behind, as I don't want to argue about the prerequisites for assuring that special revelation is reliable. It's all foundations in the sky from my perspective, which makes any discussion between theists an exercise in competing nonsensical claims, so please remember I'm just doing this because you feel compelled to defend a theological method, if not a theological position.

Calvinism is assuredly the death knell of any meaningful ethical system in which humans have innocence or complicity, and you seem to help me make my point by attempting to use the modifier. If you call predetermined actions good or bad, then you are simply applying superfluous language; the action is what I must do, as I'm predetermined to do it. At that point, we can say that's god's willing of it is good or evil, but not the person who carries it out.

Next, I said what I meant to say. Good requires some ability to choose good, else I'm only involved in an act in which I have no ability to make a choice. I'm only doing what I must do. You seem to be missing my emphasis here. As to this statement: "Second, God, if she exists, can judge however the hell she pleases...especially when she gets to determine the definition for good." If that is the case, then it's pointless to talk about good within the specific frame of reference of Jesus. This is what the Calvinists fail to understand. It's pointless to tell me that charity, honesty, and respect for life are good, and that murder, theft, and lying are bad if god is free to ignore them. If god is good, her rules are an expression of who she is, and thus good, or they are arbitrary rules that she is free to ignore, making her completely untrustworthy. For example, if the definition of evil is to kill an innocent, then god is not free to drown 10,000 babies who have committed no act of evil or good, else god cannot be trusted. I find it odd that I'm arguing for an ontologically consistent definition of good, and you seem to be arguing, with the Calvinists, that good is whatever god says it is. It's not, and it's circular reasoning to assert that, even in theism.

I've never made a case for unrestricted free will, so please stop insisting that I have. I've said that a choice is only a choice if it wasn't predetermined. To be a choice, the possibility of choosing otherwise must exist. That's not possible in Calvinism, making the "silly" claim of hard determinism rather apparently not very silly.

I don't justify my second undisclosed assumption because it seems, in the real world, to need very little justification. I'm going to judge the result of an action as good or bad irrespective of your frame of reference. If you drown my child because god told you to, thus being a faithful disciple, I will still insist that you be tried for murder. Sorry. This is where theism turns bizarre. The only way we can judge interpersonal issues like this is to look at the results. Granted, we have different categories of complicity, but still, we're pretty comfortable saying you ought not do x. Moving the conversation to god, I again expect that if he has told us something is good, he is then not free to ignore it himself, irrespective of his frame of reference. Appeals to god's sovereignty, self-determination, better perspective, etc., aside; if he says it, he's obligated to follow it. This seems the only way to make sense of what good and evil actually mean in this world. The only reason theists feel obligated to do this contortionists theodicies is because of literal readings of biblical texts, one of the principal foibles of Calvinism. (please note that they don't read literally the texts about human freedom)

On #5, I mean that if you can say god is free to do what god wants to do, praise god, and not recognize that you should say, "shame on you, god," from time to time (based on the stories read literally), then I find it impossible to believe you can read Jesus' words with a straight face. He's clearly a liar or manipulator within the framework of Calvinism, because he doesn't come to reveal a way of living to us that is, as he insists, the way of holiness, which is to say god-like. Rather he comes to give us some rules until he decides to start tearing shit up all over again.

Finally, what exactly are you arguing? Which part of Calvinism do you really think is crucial to a theist framework? From where I sit, you can reject every word Calvin and Beza ever wrote and arrive at a far more reasonable theism. I have no idea what dog you even have in this fight, and your answers aren't helping a great deal.

dr dobson


You stated, "Only the truly loving creates creatures only to bless them. That's a pretty safe axiom, and it goes back to judgement. God would damn any man who created things only to torture them for all eternity, but he gives them a pass. This is why I take Calvinism seriously." This was what you said in closing your last substantive post. It is the exact opposite of what you posited in the opening of the post I commented on. If you "take Calvinism" so seriously, then why aren't you honest enough about Calvinism to actually be a Calvinist? I think that's all Greg and Cheek are trying to say. Until you own up to the inconsistencies of your own logic (as it were), I'll continue to throw the bullshit flag where and when appropriate. Again, that's all I see Greg and Cheek doing. You, on the other hand, continue to commit treason against your arguments in attempting to defend them.

You are correct in that I have not directly been engaged in what I suppose you view as your private discussion with Greg and Cheek.

I guess I'll just hang out in the wings here and continue to read your hilarious attempts at defending your position(s). It is good comedy, at the very least.

As to Joe, I don't believe I "misrepresented" his post in any way, shape or form with my comment (unless you count actual quoting as "misrepresentation", which I suppose you might). All I did was try to point out that his first statement was very disjointed and made no sense as to the position I thought he was taking. I missed the intention of his rhetoric, which is easy to do via this forum. He has been gracious enough to reach out to me offline, as well as above, in further explaining what he said in his first post.

Again, all we have are words in this present forum. I can only vomit in my mouth for so long when you fail to choose yours carefully and offer them concisely and correctly.

Trevor Palen

Dr. Dobson,

I understand you're a regular. I understand your opinion is respected. I myself respect your thoughts, especially when offered respectfully. I do not intend that I have a "private discussion" with others. I, however, fail to see the forum ethic employed when in your first post you lambaste someone before asking for clarification in what was clearly not the most articulate post and in your second, snipe at me from a distance. I can't imagine Cheek actually thinks I make any sense, and he probably thinks I'm insane…but he's charitable to me in his approach. Maybe you'll consider doing the same?


Rather than go round and round, I'll get to the core of what I'm (foolishly) trying to "get you to realize", and what I'm genuinely trying to say. So I'll answer your last paragraph.

You have essentially pointed out all the most difficult questions for Calvinism to answer. The conclusions you draw are not the only conclusions that can be drawn, but given your presuppositions, those conclusions make sense, and dictate that Calvinism is non-sensical.

My first post was me calling for you to be more charitable. You won't step outside of your interpretation of language for one moment to see that Calvinism does indeed have merits.

Is it the best system? No.
Is it the worst system? No.

I'm not asking you to repent and believe. I'm asking you to compare and contrast and determine the merits and downfalls of viewpoints rather than reduce everything to the hard questions that cannot be adequately answered without digging down to the necessary presuppositions.

I apologize for again wasting your time in arguments that you probably tired of engaging in during your Masters education. But damn, whatever happened to "don't be a dick"…did I wrongly assume that being charitable is an inherent part of that ethic?

Trevor Palen


When I say non-referential term I mean anything that cannot be mutually, objectively referenced and defined.

When I say "table", we both reference an objective image in our mind, and we mutually agree upon the definition thereof. When I say "love", there is no objective image to reference in our mind, and there is not a mutual agreed upon definition. This, I feel, is where conversation breaks down. Translation is like this to. I can translate "the yellow bird" to Spanish by saying "el pájaro amarillo" or to German "der glebe vogel". Fluency in a language comes when one stops translating "amarillo" or "glebe" to "yellow", and when one starts associating it with the color itself. And that's just translation of referential terms…again, we're back to that phenomena/concept discussion we were having a couple entries ago (which I read your reply by the way, and am still reflecting on your thoughts).

The reason I make a fuss and a claim that "Greg is being uncharitable" is because I genuinely feel he has not parsed the language and concepts out of which reformed theology flows, or, since he probably has parsed the language, that he's ignoring the effect of the linguistic presuppositions from which he stands and interprets reformed perspectives. Everything is systematized, because we operate in language, and langauage is a system. A term cannot be defined by itself, neither can it be defined by a synonym. It has to be defined by objectivity otherwise it's circular reasoning. Yet not everything is objective. It's hypocrisy to deem one circular system as insane but uphold another, equally circular system. If the goal of skepticism is to somehow get past circular "reasoning", it's time to quit talking and thinking.

--"Are you denying that that is what most people mean by 'God'?"

If I remember correctly, either Kierkegaard or Tillich assert that "God" is not an entity. Not that I necessarily agree with the claim, I haven't looked into it enough, but I think that's a pretty good barometer to point us in the direction of realizing that the term 'God' is the least "mutually, objectively referenced and defined term" used in English (and equivalents in other languages). So what I'm denying, is that God has any meaning.

I'm not trying to define God. God defines God. Greg's right, we can't "Know" anything about God.

Enter Jesus Christ and the whole ball game changes. Unless of course he's simply another man amongst men, in which case, he and his message are of no more value than the drivel that I am spewing now. In that case, all is vanity. All of it.


That makes some sense, but I think it's a strange way to think about 'God' as most people use it. Theologians sometimes treat G-d as a concept or G-d. That's the type of thing that can be subjected to definition, but bringing in the concept of reference really confuses the discussion. When the theologians say 'God' they probably do mean (some of the time) to reference G-d, but in common usage 'God' is a proper name. Since Kripke, virtually everyone agrees that common names do not reference bundles of attributes as in the old Fregean/Russellean models. When I say 'Trevor' I don't reference some definite description in my head, I just reference you, whatever you happen to be like, and even if I'm wrong about what you're like (say you turn out to be a 59-year-old woman in a pink and yellow muumuu typing from her outpost on the moon) I still reference you. In this since, saying a proper name is just like pointing and saying "that guy." Further, if you asked most people to describe G-d, you'd get the same attributes listed over and over again. We do have a shared concept, so I don't buy the claim that either 'God' or G-d are the problem for discussing these ideas. The problem is that the Calvinist theologians want to radically change how myriad other terms are used.

As for your claim that our shared concept of table is more stable than our shared concept of love, I'm going to have to just disagree. We do have relatively stable functional definitions of concepts like love; they are just not of the type that we can easily give necessary and sufficient conditions. That's not a problem, though (how many people, or dictionaries, do you think could give adequate necessary and sufficient conditions for 'table'?). Show 100 people the same 5 minute clips of 5 different couples interacting, and ask them to say which couples love one another. I bet you get statistically insignificant variance. Even so, your point is fair enough: you can't define all the terms in a language non-circularly. This problem is overcome by the fact that you can make use of some basic terms. Now, do you run a risk in such practice of making non-basic terms basic and confusing the debate? Absolutely, but this is where your comparison of Calvinist theology and and language comes apart. Sure, both are systems, but the former is a closed system. With language, the basic terms are always on the table, and if you can offer a decent analysis of a concept we took as basic, then nobody is really worried by that. We just take up with the new basic terms your analysis suggests. With Calvinism, this is not the case. The system is closed, and all the terms are inter-defined in a way that radically conflicts with what every non-sociopathic human believes them to mean. If that is hyperbole, it doesn't miss the mark by much. Even strict Calvinists do not think 'love' or 'good' mean what there doctrine makes them mean. They just don't.

Greg Horton

Thank you again, Mr. Cheek, and with that response, I am out of this conversation, because there simply is no better way to put it. And, for the record, Cheek, I don't think it's hyperbole. I think you're right; most of them would actually be horrified by what they're supposed to believe, except for the occasional autodidactic, theology loon I encounter here and in Sovereign Grace bookstores. They're actually quite proud of it. It seems the more offensive and difficult the concept is to embrace, the more proud they are to embrace it and stand on the faith once delivered...yada, yada, yada.


Just a quick note on the notation I am using:

'God' means the word.
G-d means the concept.
G-d just means g-d, whatever she/he/it happens to be or not be.*

This is fairly standard notation in academic philosophy, but it's probably fair to assume that not everyone here has spent a lot of time reading academic philosophy journals.

*I prefer 'g-d' to 'God' because I think, in line with the Jewish tradition, that it makes since to acknowledge that our language and knowledge on this subject is incomplete even as we try to midrash the hell out of it. (Forgive the indulgence. I'm not prone to making verbs from nouns, but I couldn't resist that one for some reason.)


I'm really not sold on the claim that ideas deserve charity. I don't understand what would motivate that. They are concepts, not entities with feelings, needs, etc.

If it's camouflaging a question of conduct toward people, I offer the following observations:

* Although this thread doesn't belong in a theological journal because of tone issues, it doesn't claim to be in a formal academic style.

* The Golden Rule is (or ought to be) central for interpersonal relationships, but fails as a guide to political conduct. "Don't be a dick" (which is the Silver Rule attributed to Hillel) is not achievable in full generality. "Don't be a dick toward people with less power than you" is less snappy and less memorable, but I think more accurate as a principle. Note that Jesus is described in the gospels as behaving like an asshole to the Scribes and Pharisees, and don't get me started on the moneychangers.

(Note: I'm not comparing Greg to Jesus. Greg is far too white, and I don't just mean skin tone. Note also that I am also white in every sense, so this is not a veiled personal jab at Greg. Thank you, internet medium, for making clear communication hard.)

* I think there is a reasonable concern that one wouldn't want to talk to lay-Calvinists in person using the tone of the original post, but 1) I'm pretty sure that not many lay-Calvinists actually read this blog, and 2) Greg probably doesn't actually talk to people like this in person, at least not without enough alcohol that it's welcome.

* People have many rights; having their ideas exempt from criticism is not one of them. White churchians who have no idea what actual oppression is tend to be peculiarly thin-skinned about this, moreso than baseline U.S. residents in my experience. Everyone suffers some kind of criticism - I am an atheist, therefore I am permanently ineligible for public office in almost every jurisdiction in the country of my birth (in a de facto sense, not de jure, some Southern states excepted). I know what it's like to be written off as a crazy person just because of how I understand the world. It's not fun. I think it is possible (maybe not over the web, but at least in person) to write off a subset of someone's ideas while still valuing them as a person. Someone who claims to believe that all his actions are foreordained will still (probably) act like a decent person if I need him to, which is why this distinction is so important.

* In one of Richard Hughes' histories of the Church of Christ (I think it was Reviving the Ancient Faith), he tells the story of a church that supported an orphanage, while simultaneously claiming that they shouldn't support any institution of "the world" (by which they meant institutions other than the corporate church). Someone who wanted the church to be involved in charitable causes was arguing against this notion, and brought up the example of the orphanage. Rather than prompting the church to revise its principle, it sparked a debate about whether they could continue to support the children in the orphanage and still be faithful to God's commands. Examples like this are why I don't look at philosophical consistency as an inherent good. It may be a fast ticket to theological or academic respectability, but the consequences to vulnerable people can be ruinous. Some fundamentalists' most glorious virtue is hypocrisy. I tend to include serious Calvinists in this category.

* It was Tillich who asserted that God is not a being. He thought that claim was blasphemy, since God is ostensibly the ground of being itself rather than one being among many; even the greatest of beings was too small a title. That was persuasive to me for a number of years, not so much because of what it meant (I didn't understand it then, and now I'm fairly sure no meaning exists), but because I needed something large to pay attention to. Though after studying transfinite cardinals in grad school, I lost the ability to reason using the connotations of words rather than their meanings, and also saw things grander and more majestic than the most sweeping theologies. I left Tillich behind then.

* Cheek, shame on you for verberizing nouns. ;)

Greg Horton

Leighton, I'm typically more than polite in face to face conversations, but I feel no compunction to be kind with words toward people who can write this sort of sociopathic nonsense:



That seems more narcissistic than sociopathic to me, but yeah, definitely deserves to be piled upon. Short of pillaging, I can't think of a less helpful response to disaster.

Trevor Palen


First and Foremost, I would love to grab a beer with you sometime if you're in the OKC area. I've enjoyed your perspective on issues quite a bit and would love to hear about your journey in life.

To the points you made, I would agree with them for the most part. I would offer a couple of thoughts.

1. Calvinism is not meant to be taken seriously without the necessary presuppositions in place. That's all I'm really saying. My "dog" in the fight is that I am in the process of exiting Calvinism and I look back and see how much it has changed my perspective on life for the better. Because of what Calvinism has taught me, I am more charitable, I love people more, I appreciate life, and a host of other things. Is it the best system? No. And I imagine it was responsible for a variety of missteps in life, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have its merits.

2. I would like to know what terms you consider basic. I have some ideas, but I'm wondering how far out these terms stretch. I guess it would start with "to be" and then "I, you, he/she/it, we, you-all, they". From there, I feel it would be hard to create a taxonomy of basic and non-basic terms. Which leads to my next point:

3. Words are meaningless apart from both their syntax and their cultural context. Just because a culture agrees upon a given definition for that which is non-referential, doesn't mean it's the best or most comprehensive. I can demonstrate table, I can not demonstrate love itself, I can only demonstrate the symptoms of love. While we may not envision the same exact table when we say the word, I can always give an example of table. I have to demonstrate intangible love, with tangible symptoms. I cannot go up to my mom, give her a hug, and say "this is love", as I have indeed only demonstrated what a hug is. So they're demonstrative for love, but they aren't particularly normative for love.

The example you gave works in so far as Americans are likely to understand some American social ramifications of love. Port the same video of American couples over to Kazakhstan and I'm not so sure your variance is different. Port it over to other languages with 3 "equivalents" of love, and which do you even use?

Maybe I'm requiring more out of the example than I ought, but while there may be an overall agreement upon what looks most like love, it does not assure that the overall agreement is correct. Again, love is dispositional, temporal, among other things which are not particularly quantifiable. The two best examples to me of how disparate definitions of the same, non-referentail word can be are 1.) Translation, as mentioned above. Another great example, using love, is when a 15 year old girl tells her parents who have been married for 25 years "I love my boyfriend".

Now to be fair, I do think that good is more objectively defined than is love.

Having said all that, systems need to be understood in their linguistic and social context, not outside of them. Calvinism doesn't work today (there, I said it), primarily because it's 500 years old and is trying to exist in a culture that cannot understand the language.

Trevor Palen


You bring clarity as always. Thanks for your post.

Also, I wikipediaed Transfinite Cardinals, but alas, I haven't had math since High School, so I quickly gave up. But you did pique my interest when you said "I lost the ability to reason using the connotations of words rather than their meanings". I'll probably be thinking about that for the next couple months.


Hey Trevor,
Regarding #1, I'll grant you that premise, pointing out only that those presuppositions do great damage to the language that expresses them. I'm not a historian, so I can't comment with any great wisdom on your notion that Calvinist doctrine made more sense in its time and place. All I can say on that is that it seems implausible to me that it gets much better.

#2. I'll throw a few common candidates out there, but there's a vast literature in philosophy of language devoted to just this question, so any defense of them offered here would be vastly insufficient. As such, I won't offer any. Basic properties like existence, extension, substance, quantity, size are all candidates. Those all come right out of Locke's Essay, and though some arguments can be made against some of them, I don't think most of them are that interesting. Plus, keep in mind, that just because one can analyze a concept, does not mean that it cannot legitimately be taken as basic.

#3 You don't go far enough in accepting Wittgenstein here. It's not just that words are meaningless apart from their use, that's their only meaning. Meaning just is use. So you want to say that some people use 'love' this way, and some people that, but what's the objective meaning? There is no objective meaning other than the way we use words within language games. This dissolves the translation objection you raise because you're just dealing with different words that aim a similar concepts. Further, regarding my thought experiment, the fact that in Japan people would associate different signs with their word for love is no problem at all. Either the words are not analogues in the different language games or they are. If, as I suspect. the terms are analogous, then a primer on Japanese cultural signs of affection will allow an outside observer to pick the game up and give the right answers.

My short answer to your complaint that what I point to as love are just expressions of love but not love itself is just to deny your claim and say that no, love just is a set of similar patterns of behavior. For a particular act to qualify as a loving act, it has to fit into the right kind of pattern; likewise to be loving, a person must consistently exhibit the right kind of pattern in his behavior. That said, I'm a physicalist, which I'm guessing you're not. As such, that answer won't satisfy you, but it's the best I can do without giving a robust defense of physicalism which seems too much to try and accomplish here.

(I enjoy the conversation, too, and I'm usually game for a drink. The easiest way to get hold of me is probably Facebook. If you're friends with Greg on there, then you should be able to find me. I think my wife and I are the only Cheeks on his friend list.)


But God demonstrated His own love to us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.

Greg Horton

Jake, wtf? How 'bout the verse from Isaiah: ...the ear rings and nose jewels...? Seriously, proof-texting? What's amazing is you chose a verse that seems to indicate Jesus dies of his own volition, which fits quite nicely with Christus Victor. Hope that was your intent. Try to say something substantive next time, or just keep surfing.

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