The Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism (here on abbreviated a MGAAC) attempts to show that the Arminian tenet of God’s universal salvific will and unlimited atonement logically flow out of Perfect Being Theology (i.e that God is a Maximally Great Being). I first published a blog post in 2017 defending the argument, but no one really even acknowledged that it existed until recently. I actually wanted some Calvinists to interact with it so that I could tell whether or not the argument is really as sound as it appeared to be. After all “The first to plead his case seems right until another comes along and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Recently, someone responded in a post titled “Minimizing The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism”
Fortunately for the argument, it still stands. I’m going to address the objections in the order of the premises they attack.
1: If God Is a Maximally Great Being, then He would love all people.
2: If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people.
3: If God desires to save all people, He would die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people and send Prevenient Grace To All People.
4: God is a Maximally Great Being.
5: Therefore, God loves all people.
6: Therefore, God wants to save all people.
7: Therefore, God died on the cross for all people and sends all people Prevenient Grace.
Objection 1: Premise 1 Needs Intuition For Verification and Intuition Is Not Epistemologically Sound.
One Calvinistic named Jim Boucher wrote “If I do not share this intuition, the argument stops right there. Nothing after this point matters; he has not made any attempt to convince someone who does not agree. He literally just shared his opinion, which does nothing to establish a premise in an argument. There are people who have the opposite intuition – God’s love does not extend to those who have done horrible things. Evan made no effort to convince those who do not share his intuition beyond saying, ‘it’s so obvious.'”1
First, let me say that I’ve always held that intuition is a valid ground of knowledge unless there’s a good reason to suspect that it’s wrong. In other words, in the absence of any defeaters, we’re justified in affirming them. We are justified in believing that our intuitions are true unless some defeater comes along. What’s a defeater? A defeater is either a logical argument or evidence that shows that what you intuit is not in fact the case. For example, we intuitively realize that objective good and evil are features of our world, that our cognitive faculties are functioning correctly, or that the universe was made by an intelligent designer. In the absence of some reason to affirm that our intuitions are wrong, we are not unjustified in saying that they are true. Our intuitions are by no means infallible. We can think of many that have been defeated in the past (e.g the intuition that the sun revolves around the Earth). Rather, what I’m saying is that a person is rational to take his intuition as a priori true unless some a postiori reason warrants that it be discarded.
Boucher hasn’t done anything to undermine this intuition. Rather, he attacks intuition as an epistemological route entirely! He attacks intuition as a basis for knowledge claims in general, rather than offering defeaters. I had an atheist try this same thing in the comment section of a Cerebral Faith blog post. His argument was essentially “Look, plenty of intuitions have been falsified in the past, so we should always be suspicious of our intuitions even if the specific one in question is not falsified.” That kind of reasoning isn’t going to cut it.
I suppose what he’s getting at is this: what happens if two people do have competing intuitions on X? It would seem that an additional argument would need to be made. Both could claim they’re justified in believing their intuition in the absence of a defeater. If I had the intuition that gravity did not exist, and you had an opposite intuition, then based on the law of the excluded middle, we know one of us is wrong. Thus, we need additional arguments to show who has the wrong intuition.
But what kind of additional argument could be given in favor of an MGB loving all of his creatures? I know there’s scripture, but Calvinists have a way of dodging all of those like Neo dodging bullets in The Matrix. That’s actually what motivated me to formulate this argument in the first place. I was like “Alright? You want to restrict all this universal language? I’ll give you a deductive argument that shows the middle part of T.U.L.I.P is false and that this flows logically from Perfect Being Theology”.
It does seem to be the case that there are people out there who would intuit that a holy God would hate them or hate others, especially if they aren’t very lovable people. So what could be the tie-breaker?
I thought about this pretty hard and it seems to me that a deductive argument could be used to support the first premise of The Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism.
1: A Maximally Great Being has all great-making properties to the greatest extent possible.
2: Love is a great-making property.
3: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being has love to the greatest extent possible.
4: Loving all individuals is necessary for love to be at it’s greatest extent possible.
5: Therefore, a Maximally Great Being would love all individuals.
Step 3 follows from 1 and 2. Conclusion (5) follows from 3 and 4. Premise 1 is true by definition. The very definition of a Maximally Great Being is to have all great-making properties to their greatest extent (even if we dispute what those great-making properties are). I don’t think Calvinists would want to deny 2. That seems patently unbiblical if anything else (and as for non-Christians, well, this argument isn’t aimed at them anyway). The Bible certainly seems to support the idea that love is a great-making property. Why else would Jesus and Paul preach to us to be loving so emphatically – even to the point of loving our enemies!?
Premise 2 is also intuitively obvious, so it should convince even the non-Christian on that ground at least. But if it doesn’t, the Calvinist should at least affirm it, lest he be asserting the unbiblical notion there’s nothing great about being loving! And even if there are people who would argue that their intuition tells them that God does not love all people, that’s fine. I’m not arguing at this stage of the argument that an MGB must be all loving. Regarding premise 2, we simply need to affirm that love is a great making property (regardless of its depth or extent). And I certainly have never met anyone who thinks that someone who has no love whatsoever for anyone is a great person, at least morally speaking.2 Now, in case one does happen to have an intuition to the contrary, first I would have to ask them “what the heck is wrong with you?” But then, I guess they just won’t be convinced by this argument unless they’re a Christian and believe the Bible. But I don’t think that this premise is going to get a whole lot of pushback.
Given the truth of premises one and two, it follows that a Maximally Great Being has love to the greatest extent possible.
What about premise 4? Well, I think it’s rather obvious that the greatest extent possible would be to love all people to an infinite extent. I take the truth of this premise to be more than just intuitive, I take it to be axiomatic. If someone loves some individuals, but not others, we can imagine a being who has a greater magnitude of love than that. Namely, one who loves all people. A Being who loves all people has a much more widely encompassing degree of love than someone who is just selectively loving.
Moreover, a being who loves all individuals to the deepest extent is greater than
(1) A being who loves some people to the deepest extent,
(2) A being who loves all people to a less-than-deepest extent
(3) is greater than one who loves no one at all to any extent.
Ergo, I still hold that the Omni benevolence of God logically follows from perfect being theology. Ergo, any theology that denies that God is omni-benevolent denies that God is a Maximally Great Being.
From the truth of the premises, the conclusion follows. The conclusion of this argument is actually the first premise of the Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism.
Objection To Premise 3 – The Competing Desires Argument
In response to this premise, Calvinist blogger Jim Boucher appeals to what is known as The Competition Desires Argument. He says this counts against premises 2 and 3, but it really doesn’t. It would really undermine just 3 if it were sound. John Piper is famous for popularizing this argument, though technically it originated with John Calvin in the whole revealed will/secret will nonsense.
Boucher wrote “Jesus did not want to die on the cross (Luke 22:42). He had more than one desire, and more than anything he wanted to do God’s will even though it meant his death and condemnation. A Christian missionary does not want to leave his family, but they do so that they may fulfill God’s will. Soldiers go to war, they leave their family. Fathers and mothers go to work even though they have to leave their children for the day. It’s difficult, but sometimes people have more than one desire.” 3
So he argues that even if one grants premise 2, you can’t infer from that that God would take action to save all people. He said, “To refute this premise, I only need to point out the possibility that God has more than one desire.”4
I would say to refute the premise, you need to do more than “point out the possibility that God has more than one desire.”. Possibilities come cheap. You have to actualize show that God actually has a desire that is more important to Him than the salvation of any human souls and he also has to demonstrate that this desire and His desire for universal salvation are mutually exclusive. Just about anything is possible. Possibilities come cheap and Boucher knows it.
Elsewhere he wrote “It is logically possible for God to want everybody to be saved, but have a greater desire that his justice and his wrath are put on display for the sake of his glorification.” 5– I’ve heard from many other Calvinists. This argument is that the damned must be damned in order for God to be glorified. God may want everyone in Heaven, but His glory is far too important to sacrifice for the sake of universal salvation, so He must damn a good many people for maximum glorification. I have always been unnerved by this kind of thinking. The Calvinist usually asks “How could God’s justice and wrath be displayed if no one ends up in Hell? How could anyone know God was just unless there was an opportunity to mete out justice?” So, they argue, even though God wants everyone saved, He doesn’t irresistibly drag everyone to Heaven because some have to be sacrificed so people know just how just and wrathful He is.
This idea is plagued with issues. First is that it paints God as a glory hog who must eternally torment (or annihilate) people to be fully glorified. “Sorry, I’d like to save you, but I have to causally determine you to sin and then punish you so that people can see how great I am!”
Another problem with this explanation is that it seems to remove freedom from God. In order for God to be 100% glorified, He has to create the damned, He’s not free to save everyone if He wants to. Worse yet, God doesn’t have the freedom to refrain from creating! He has to create the material universe or else He’s not as glorified as He could be. This contradicts the traditional view that creation is a FREE act of God, and in fact logically entails that God was lacking in glory prior to the damnation of the non-elect. How could He be a Maximally Great Being if He was lacking in glory? And doesn’t The Bible imply that God does not need anything? “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25). Paul said that God doesn’t — unlike the pagan gods his audience worshiped – live in temples made by human hands and isn’t served by human hands “as if he needed anything”. The phrase “as if he needed anything” implies that God doesn’t need anything from us humans. He’s complete in and of Himself. There’s nothing we can give to God to improve Him in any way. Instead, God gives US everything we need, and improves US.
Moreover, If God must damn people in order to fully be glorified, doesn’t this entail that He does need something from us? Namely, to be damned so He can show off His wrathfulness? This explanation, which I’ve heard far too often from the Calvinist crowd, seems to diminish God by making Him needy of the damned.
Moreover, even if we conceded that God needed to display His wrath to be fully glorified, why wasn’t the cross of Christ enough to fulfill that desire? Is it not true that God’s wrath was on display at the cross?
Now, if Boucher is not saying the damn must be damned for God to be fully glorified, but is merely saying that God merely desires both, and chooses one over the other, then that takes a lot of the force out of the argument. The Bible teaches that love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), and that God is the very essence of love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16). If God loves all people (because He is love because He is a Maximally Great Being), wouldn’t He care more about peoples’ eternal well being than to show off how wrathful He can be in the face of evil? To damn people simply for the sake of glory seems self-seeking. If love is not self-seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), and God is love (1 John 4:8), then how can God act in a self-seeking manner?
The apologist Tim Stratton points out another problem with the competing desires argument. Namely that it entails that God desires sin. If all people being saved would detract from God’s glory, and God desires all to be saved, then it follows that God desires something which would detract from His glory. Stratton writes “Why would God even have a desire for something which would detract from or negate His glory? Anything that does not bring glory to God is evil. It seems the Calvinist inadvertently contends that God has a desire (albeit a lesser one) to sin!”6 Since God is a Maximally Great Being and a Maximally Great Being is morally perfect, we must reject the competing desires argument.
Given the problems with the competing desires argument, we must conclude that if God does desire all saved, he would do something to get them saved, such as dying on the cross for them and sending them grace. There is simply no reason to think that making salvation available to every individual would cancel out some desire (or need) of God’s. If Boucher wants to maintain this rebuttal as a defeater to premise 3 of MGAAC.
Regarding My Use Of 1 Corinthians 13
Boucher writes “The last supporting point that Evan used in defense of these two premises is 1 Corinthians 13, popularly known as the love chapter. He harps on the phrase, ‘Love is kind,’ and goes on to say, ‘What could be a greater kindness than to die on the cross to atone for one’s sins, and then send them grace to enable and persuade them to accept that sacrifice so that He could be registered as their substitute?’ 1 Corinthians 12:27-31 is the foundation for chapter 13. Chapter 13 is about love within the body of Christ. But I understand that it has multiple applications.
Hypothesizing about what kindness should look like does not establish an argument. It was kind of God to give life and to hold back condemnation. A point that I have introduced to the discussion before, to which Evan has never responded, is that God does not owe humanity any kindness or love. He does not owe us a fair chance at salvation. It is completely an act of mercy on sinful creatures that he provided it.”7
I agree that God’s kindness can be manifested in many different ways. I also agree that God does not owe humanity kindness or love. The argument isn’t what God does or does not owe anyone. The argument is that T.U.L.I.P is inconsistent with the loving nature of God as a Maximally Great Being. I agree that it was within God’s rights to leave us all to die in the flames of Gehenna for the sins we’ve committed to him. But because God so loved the world, He gave his one and only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16) because God is love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16).
Moreover, I noticed that Mr. Boucher conveniently glossed over the other love attributes that 1 Corinthians 13 lists and which I argued that God would do for the lost given the truth of premise 2 (i.e “If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people”).
Here’s what Boucher didn’t quote me saying.
“Consider the fact that this passage says “Love is kind”, that love “does not dishonor others” and “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. The reason love is all these things is that these things seek the good of the person who is loved. What could be a greater kindness than to die on the cross to atone for one’s sins, and then send them grace to enable and persuade them to accept that sacrifice so that He could be registered as their substitute? If God loves all people, wouldn’t He show them the kindness of providing a way to enter an eternity of bliss via an everlasting relationship with Him? Wouldn’t He avoid dishonoring people by having them enter a domain of eternal shame (see Daniel 12:2). Wouldn’t He protect us from His judgment? I would say yes to all of these questions. If God does not do these things for humans, then the only logical explanation is that He doesn’t love them. But as we’ve seen above, if God doesn’t love all people, then He isn’t Maximally Great. And if He isn’t Maximally Great, then He isn’t the One True God. But God is Maximally Great. Therefore, He loves all people, and because He loves all people, therefore He would desire to spend eternity with all people.”8
If Jim Boucher actually read my article closely, he would have noticed that I didn’t “harp on the phrase ‘love is kind'” as he put it. I emphasized many of the aspects the inspired word of God says that perfect love exhibits. Kindness is one of them, and giving sinners salvation is definitely a kindness of the highest order! But there is also the aspect of not dishonoring others, not being self-seeking, protecting the one loved. He didn’t take notice of any of these. And so, I continue to maintain in the absence of an adequate refutation that if God seeks to dishonor someone (see Daniel 12:2), seeks His glory over someone’s salvation, and doesn’t protect them from the fires of Hell, He does not love them. This is why the consistent Calvinist must join the ranks of A.W Pink and affirm that God hates the non-elect.
I appreciate the critical analysis of this argument. Maybe I’ll dismiss it as unsound some day, but that day is not today. The three crucial premises still stand.
1: “Minimizing The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism” – Published April 18, 2020, – Jim Boucher. –> https://thereforegodexists.com/minimizing-arminianism/?fbclid=IwAR2XGQi1NsuJewAM5-o9OkQvT85S7MUd8yUoMMNcbk_4FBtUAfPl1dFVCSI
2: A person could be great in other ways. For example, Adolf Hitler was great in power and authority. A scientist or philosopher could be great in knowledge. These would be great people in non-moral areas, but they wouldn’t be great morally. You need to be loving to be great in a moral sense. That’s why God’s two greatest commandments is to love Him with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
3: “Minimizing The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism” – Published April 18, 2020, – Jim Boucher. –> https://thereforegodexists.com/minimizing-arminianism/?fbclid=IwAR2XGQi1NsuJewAM5-o9OkQvT85S7MUd8yUoMMNcbk_4FBtUAfPl1dFVCSI
5: “A Brief Critique of Prevenient Grace & Response To CerebralFaith” — Published March 22, 2016 — Jim Boucher –> https://thereforegodexists.com/brief-critique-prevenient-grace-response-cerebralfaith/
6: “The Petals Drop: Piper’s Problems” — Tim Stratton (The FreeThinking Theist) | May 3, 2015 –> https://freethinkingministries.com/the-petals-drop-problems-with-the-competing-desires-objection-2/