Quotes from “Intro. to Philo.” – Geisler, Feinberg…
“Ethical Voluntarism – The ethical view that traces moral principles to God’s will; something is right because God wills it,” (434).
“Ethical Essentialism – The ethical view that God wills moral rules because they are right, and flow from His essence or character,” (431).
“If God exists, He is not essentially good. One atheistic argument is presented in the form of a dilemma.
(1) Either (a) morality is right because God willed it or else (b) He willed it because it is right.
(2) But if (a), then God is arbitrary about what is right, and He is not essentially good.
(3) And if (b), then God is not ultimate, since He is subject to some standard beyond Himself.
(4) But in either case—if God is not essentially good or not ultimate—God is not what theists claim Him to be.
(5) Therefore, no theistic God exists.
“The theist may answer this dilemma by taking either “horn.” Voluntarists claim that good is based on God’s will but insist that God is sovereign but not arbitrary. Essentialists contend that God’s nature is the ultimate norm in accordance with which His will cooperates. If the latter is so, then God wills what is essentially good without there being some ultimate standard beyond Himself. The ultimate norm for all good flows from the will of God but only in accordance with the nature of God. Thus God is neither arbitrary nor less than ultimate,” (323).
“Good Is What God Wills
“One solution to the problem of defining good or right is to proclaim that something is right if God wills it right, and wrong if He wills it wrong. This would solve the problem of determining content in the meaning of good, as well as the difficulty involved in defining good in terms of something not ultimate. Christians claim God’s sovereign will is ultimate and the Bible spells out the content of that will to us.
“Although this does solve the problems above, it creates a few new ones. First, is something right because God wills it, or does He will it because it is right? If one takes the former (voluntaristic) alternative, then it seems to make God arbitrary. Could God actually will hate, instead of love, to be the right thing to do? Could He change His will and make cruelty right and kindness wrong? But if one takes the latter alternative, then God is acting according to a standard beyond Himself (goodness). This would contradict the Christian definition of God as the Ultimate. Many Christian ethicists (essentialists) have insisted that God can only will in accordance with His unchangingly good nature, which is not beyond Himself. Something is good because ultimately it is in accord with God’s immutably good nature,” (359).
“Justification (of What is Meant by Right) by Appeal to Divine Authority
“Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and other religions often answer the question, “How do I know this is right?” by affirming, “God said so!” This position avoids some obvious difficulties. First, it is a final appeal to the Ultimate beyond which there is no appeal. Also, it avoids the problem of defining the good in terms of something else. God is good, and that settles that. What He says is final.
“…is the authority based simply in God’s will (voluntarism)? If so, how do we know it is a ‘good’ will? Unless the authority for good is based in God’s goodness, that is, His nature (essentialism), then this authority cannot be an authority for what is good. Simply because God is powerful would not make Him an authority for good—might does not make right. It is goodness in God that makes Him an Ultimate Authority on what is good,” (377).
“Voluntarism. William of Ockham (1300?-1349) insisted that all moral principles are traceable to God’s will, and that God could have decided otherwise about what is right and what is wrong. If this is so, then whether or not one should love or hate is subject to change. Love could be right today and wrong tomorrow. Everything is relative to God’s will, which can change. Many Voluntarists take comfort in the fact that they believe God will not change His mind on essential ethical norms.
“The first difficulty with voluntarism is that it makes God arbitrary and not essentially good. Further, it exalts God’s will above His nature and allows it to operate independently of His nature. This is questionable theology at best. Also, voluntarism provides no security that God will not change essential ethical norms. Indeed, it does not even make sense to speak of God not changing ‘essential’ ethical norms, since if they are not based on God’s essence or nature, then they are not essential. Finally, an act is not good simply because a sovereign power wills it; it is good only if this power is a good power. Hence, tracing what is meant by right to God’s will alone is not sufficient; it must be traced to His good will, that is, to His will acting in accordance with His good nature,” (402).
Quotes from “Chosen But Free” – Geisler…
“Appendix Twelve – Extreme Calvinism and Voluntarism
“At the root of extreme Calvinism is a radical form of voluntarism, which affirms that something is right simply because God willed it, rather than God willing it because it is right in accordance with His own unchangeable nature (a view called essentialism). If voluntarism is accurate, then there is no moral problem with irresistible grace on the unwilling, limited atonement, or even double-predestination. If, on the other hand, God’s will is not ultimately arbitrary, then extreme Calvinism collapses.
“An Evaluation of Voluntarism in Extreme Calvinism
“All extreme Calvinists are Voluntarists, either explicitly or implicitly, and no extensive passage in the Bible is used by them more than Romans 9. Since few expositions of this passage are more comprehensive than John Piper’s The Justification of God, we will cite it extensively on this matter. A selection of his quotes will set forth the view.
“ ‘Or to put it more precisely, it is the glory of God and his essential nature mainly to dispense mercy (but also wrath, Ex. 34:7) on whomever he pleases apart from any constraint originating outside his own will. This is the essence of what it means to be God. This is his name. …
“ ‘If we paraphrase and bring out the implicit understanding of righteousness, the argument runs like this: since God’s [i]righteousness consists basically in his acting unswervingly for his own glory, and since his glory consists basically in his sovereign freedom in the bestowal and withholding of mercy, there is no unrighteousness with God (Rom. 9:11ff.). On the contrary, he must pursue his ‘electing purpose’ apart from man’s ‘willing and running,’ for only in his sovereign, free bestowal of mercy on whomever he wills is God acting out of a full allegiance to his name and esteem for his glory. …
“ ‘In a nutshell it goes like this: Paul’s conception of God’s righteousness is that it consists basically in his commitment to act always for his own name’s sake, that is to preserve and display his own glory (cf. chapters 7 and 8). Therefore, since according to Exodus 33:19 [i]God’s glory or name consists basically in his sovereign freedom in the bestowal of mercy (cf. chapter 4), there is no unrighteousness with God when his decision to bless one person and not another is based solely on his own will* rather than on any human distinctive. On the contrary, he must pursue his ‘purpose of election’ in this way in order to remain righteous, for only in his sovereign, free bestowal (and withholding) of mercy on whomever he wills is God acting out of a full allegiance to his name and esteem for his glory. …
“ ‘The thesis that I formulate in chapter 5 in answer to this question is that for Paul the righteousness of God must be his unswerving commitment always to preserve the honor of his name and display his glory. If this is what it means for God to be righteous, and if his glory (or name) consists mainly in his sovereign freedom to have mercy on whom he wills, then the quotation of Exodus 33:19 as an argument for the righteousness of God in unconditional election does in fact make good sense,(1)'
“In brief, according to voluntarists like Piper, something is right simply because God wills it. And He wills whatever He pleases.
“A Critique of Voluntarism In Extreme Calvinism
“There are many serious, even fatal, flaws with voluntarism, both biblical and theological. Consider the following:
“First, neither Piper nor other extreme Calvinists offer any real biblical proof of their position. All the verses they offer are capable of interpretations contrary to voluntarism (see chapters 4 and 5).
“Second, they are inconsistent with their own position on the nature of God. On the one hand, they claim God’s mercy is based in His supreme and sovereign will—He can will anything He wants to will and show mercy on anyone to whom He wants to show mercy. On the other hand, they claim that God’s holiness and justice are unchanging. He cannot be unholy or unjust, even if He wanted to be. By His very nature God must punish sin.
“But they cannot have it both ways. For as a simple unchangeable being, all of His attributes are unchangeable. If He is just (and He is), then He must be unchangeably just at all times and to all persons in all circumstances. And if He is loving (and He is), then He must be unchangeably loving to all persons at all times in all circumstances. To be other than this would be to act contrary to His unchangeable nature, which is impossible.
“Third, virtually all strong Calvinists hold to the classical view of God’s attributes. Some of them, like John Gerstner and R.C. Sproul, give specific allegiance to Thomas Aquinas, and the rest follow Augustine, who held the same position, namely, that God is simple, necessary, and unchangeable in His essence. All God’s attributes are part of this unchangeable nature. Further, God can will nothing contrary to His immutable nature. But if this is the case, then voluntarism is wrong, since it makes God’s will supreme over everything else, even over whatever ‘nature’ He has.
“R.C. Sproul does not appear to see the inconsistency in his own view. He says on the one hand, ‘Is not God necessarily good? God can do nothing but god.’(2) Yet elsewhere he insists that “God may owe people justice, but never mercy.’(3) If this means that God is not obligated by His own nature to love sinners—all sinners—then God’s attribute of mercy is not necessary. But God is a simple and necessary Being, as even Sproul admits. Thus, while it follows that while there is nothing in fallen human beings that merit God’s love, nonetheless, there is something in God’s unchangeable love that necessitates that He loves them.
“Fourth, there are serious theological problems with voluntarism. Essential to voluntarism is the premise that God has nothing either outside Him or inside Him that places any limits on His will. Whatever He will is ipso facto right. If this were so, then God could will that love is wrong and hate is right, or that injustice is right and justice is wrong. But this is absurd and contradictory, for something cannot even be in-just (not just) unless there is an ultimate standard of justice (such as the nature of God) by which we know what is not just.
“Finally, the voluntarism of extreme Calvinism is a classic example of the fallacy known as theologism. It takes a single theological principle and uses it as the ultimate determiner of all truth. Often the principle is: Whatever gives most glory to God is true. And since they believe that making God’s will supreme over everything else brings more glory to Him, then it would follow that voluntarism is true.
“However, one can challenge both premises. Not that it is wrong to do everything for the glory of God, but that ‘glory’ is an ambiguous term that needs definition. When properly defined it refers to the manifestation and radiation of God’s eternal and unchangeable essence, not His arbitrary will. Further, the second premise is likewise flawed, for making God’s will supreme, even over His nature, does not bring the most glory to God. In fact, it contradicts His unchangeable nature. And nothing that contradicts God’s nature can be glorifying to Him.
“A Defense of Christian Essentialism
“Either voluntarism is true, or else some form of essentialism is true. The former claims something is right because God willed it. The latter contends that God wills it because it is right. Saints Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas defended this latter view, as did C.S. Lewis in modern times.
“There are two basic forms of essentialism: either God is bound to will things in accordance to some standard outside Himself (as in Plato’s Good) or else by the standard inside Himself (namely, His own nature). The latter is held by Christian essentialists. Three basic lines of argument in favor of this view are:(4) philosophical, biblical, and practical. First, the philosophical view will be discussed.
“Philosophical Arguments for Divine Essentialism
“Christian theist Thomas Aquinas offered three basic arguments for God’s unchangeable nature in his famous Summa Theologica (ST1.2.3.).
“The argument from God’s pure actuality
“The first argument is based on the fact that a God of pure Actuality (‘I AM-ness’) has no potentiality. For everything that changes has potentiality, and there can be no potentiality in God (He is pure Actuality, Ex. 3:14). Whatever changes has to have the potential to change. But as pure Actuality God has no potential; therefore, He cannot change.
“The argument from God’s perfection
“The second argument for God’s unchangeability stands on His absolute perfection. Briefly put, whatever changes acquires something new. But God cannot acquire anything new, since He is absolutely perfect; He could not be better. Therefore, God cannot change. God is by His very nature an absolutely perfect Being. If there were any perfection that He lacked, then He would not be God. To change one must gain something new, but to gain a new perfection is to have lacked it to begin with. If God could change, He would not be God; rather, He would be a being lacking in some perfection, not the absolutely perfect God He is. Hence, He cannot change.
“The argument from God’s simplicity
The third argument for God’s immutability follows from His simplicity. Everything that changes is composed of what changes and what does not change. But there can be no composition in God (He is an absolutely simple being). Again, then—God cannot change.
“An absolutely simple being has no composition. But whatever changes must be composed of what does change and what does not change. For if everything about a being changed, then it would not be the same being but an entirely new being. In fact, it would not be change but annihilation of the one and recreation of another entirely new. Now, if when change occurs in a being something remains the same and something does not, then the being must be composed of these two elements. But an absolutely simple being, such as God is, has no composition. Therefore, it follows that God cannot change.
“Biblical Arguments for Divine Essentialism
“There are numerous Scriptures that declare that God is unchangeable in His nature. First, the Old Testament passages will be discussed.
“Old Testament evidence for God’s immutability
“The psalmist declared: ‘In the beginning you [Lord] laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment. Like clothing you will change them and they will be discarded. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’ (Ps. 102:25-27). 1 Samuel 15:29 affirms that ‘He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.’ The prophet added, ‘For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed’ (Mal. 3:6 KJV).
“New Testament evidence for God’s immutability
“The New Testament is equally strong about God’s unchangeable nature. Hebrews 1:10-12 cites the psalmist with approval, repeating, ‘You [Lord] will roll them up like a robe; like a garment they will be changed. But you remain the same, and your years will never end’ (v. 12). A few chapters later the author of Hebrews asserts, ‘God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie…’ (Heb. 6:18). The apostle Paul adds in Titus 1:2, “God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time…’ James 1:17 points out that ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’ (KJV).
“Now, if God is unchangeable in His nature, then His will is subject to His unchangeable nature. Thus, whatever God wills must be good in accordance with His nature. In fact, since God is simple His will is identical to His unchangeable nature. He cannot lie. He cannot be unloving, nor unjust. In short, divine essentialism must be correct in contrast to extreme Calvinism.
“Practical Arguments for God’s Moral Immutability
“In addition to the philosophical and biblical arguments for God’s nature being unchangeable, there are many practical arguments.
“The argument from moral repugnance
“Divine essentialists insist that it is morally repugnant to assume, as voluntarists do, that God could change His will on whether love is essentially good and could will instead that hate be a universal moral obligation. Likewise, it is difficult to conceive how a morally perfect Being could will that rape, cruelty, and genocide be morally good. Since it is morally repugnant for creatures made in God’s image to imagine such a change in God’s will, how much more must it be for the God in whose image we are made?
“The argument from the need for moral stability
“According to this argument, if all moral principles were based on God’s changing will, then there would be no moral security. For example, how could one commit himself/herself to a life of love, mercy, or justice only to find out that God could change at any moment the fact of whether these were the right things to do? Indeed, how could we serve God as supreme if He could will that our ultimate good was not to love Him but hate Him?
“The argument from God’s trustworthiness
“The Bible presents God as eminently trustworthy. When He makes an unconditional promise He never fails to keep it (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; Heb. 6:16-18). Indeed, the gifts and callings of God are without change of mind on His part (Rom. 11:29). God is not a man that He should repent (1 Sam. 15:29 KJV). He can always be counted on to keep His Word (Isa. 55:11). But this ultimate trustworthiness of God would not be possible if He could change His will at any time about anything. The only thing that makes God morally bound to keep His Word is His unchangeable nature. Otherwise, He could decide at any moment to send all believers to hell. He could reward the wicked for murder and cruelty. Such a God would not be eminently trustworthy, as is the God of the Bible, who is unchangeable good.
“What is ironic here is that the very Calvinists who depend on an essentially unchanging God to support their beliefs in unconditional election and eternal security, depend on an a non-essentialistic (i.e., voluntaristic) view of God to ground their view in limited atonement. Thus, extreme Calvinism has at its heart an incoherent view of God.
“Extreme Calvinism stands or falls with voluntarism. It is at the root of both its biblical interpretation and theological expressions. But, as we have seen, Calvinistic voluntarism is biblically unfounded, theologically inconsistent, philosophically insufficient, and morally repugnant. Thus, extreme Calvinism is subject to the same criticisms."
Extreme Calvinism is also discussed in my thread "Predestination and Free Will"