* I preached on Matthew 5.33-37 at Pella Communities (3/14/2022).
Saturday, March 19, 2022
Friday, March 18, 2022
Friday, February 25, 2022
* I saw this on Facebook from someone's notes for teaching on the Trinity.
There is a Trinitarian shape to God’s saving acts in the New Testament
a. Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3.16-17 cf. Ps 2; Is 42; cf. Acts 10.37-38)
b. The Promise of the Paraclete/Holy Spirit (John 14.26; 15.26; 16.13-15)
c. The Great commission (Matt 28.19-20)
d. Pentecost (Acts 2.33)
e. Gospel Preaching (1 Cor 2.1-5; cf. 2 Cor 1.21f; 2 Thess 2.13-14)
f. God’s salvation (Tit 3.4-6; cf. 1 Peter 1.2)
g. Adoption as God’s children (Gal 4.6; Rom 8.15-17)
h. New life (Rom 8.9-11)
i. Gifts in the church (1 Cor 12.4-7; cf. Eph 4.4-6)
j. Church as holy temple (Eph 2.20-22)
k. Formulas: Grace, love, fellowship (2 Cor 13.13); Grace & Peace (Rev 1.4-5)
Saturday, January 1, 2022
* A sermon I preached at Pella Communities on December 26, 2021. My text was Mark 7.1-13 and interacted a little with Progressive Christianity.
Tuesday, December 14, 2021
ALVIN PLANTINGA’S FELIX CULPA THEODICY AND THE ATONEMENT:
DEFENSE AND FORTIFICATION
Alvin Plantinga has been at the forefront of discussions concerning the problem of evil. His early work, God, Freedom, and Evil made a crucial distinction between a theodicy and a defense when attempting to answer the charge of logical contradiction between (1) the existence of a God with the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence and (2) the existence of evil. In this earlier work, Plantinga sought to provide a defense and tended to downplay the idea of theodicy as a real possibility. With the publication of his essay “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” Plantinga decidedly turns to offer a robust theodicy. With this effort, Plantinga goes beyond merely attempting to rebut the problem of evil and attempts the larger task of “understanding the evil our world displays from a Christian perspective.”
Plantinga begins by acknowledging that God’s desire to actualize a good world is simply his desire to bring about states of affairs which are good (as opposed to bad states of affairs). In this regard, Plantinga lists some of things that are considered “good-making qualities”: creaturely happiness, beauty, justice, creaturely goodness, and the existence of creatures who conform to the divine law to love God above all and their neighbors as themselves. It is here that Plantinga states that this list of good-making qualities omits the two most important qualities. He notes, “First, any world in which God exists is enormously more valuable than any world in which he does not exist.” Since God is necessarily existent he will exist in all possible worlds and so the great-making property of his existence will be in any world which God actualizes. The second most important quality is that of the divine incarnation of the Son of God and the atonement he brings. Plantinga deserves to be heard in full here:
Given the truth of Christian belief, however, there is also a contingent good-making characteristic of our world—one that isn’t present in all worlds—that towers above all the rest of the contingent states of affairs included in our world: the unthinkably great good of divine Incarnation and Atonement. Jesus Christ, the second person of the divine trinity, incomparably good, holy, and sinless, was willing to empty himself, to take on our flesh and become incarnate and to suffer and die so that we human beings can have life and be reconciled to the Father. In order to accomplish this, he was willing to undergo suffering of a depth and intensity we cannot so much as imagine, including even the shattering climax of being abandoned by God the Father himself: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ God the Father, the first being of the whole universe, perfectly good and holy, all-powerful and all-knowing, was willing to permit his Son to undergo this suffering and to undergo enormous suffering himself in order to make it possible for us human beings to be reconciled to him. And this in face of the fact that we have turned our back upon God, have rejected him, are sunk in sin, indeed, are inclined to resent God and our neighbor. Could there be a display of love to rival this? More to the present purpose, could there be a good-making feature of a world to rival this?
Plantinga goes on to add that a world with the incarnation and atonement is greater than “any aggregate of creaturely goods.” Even a world in which there is no creaturely sin will not be greater than a world with the incarnation and atonement. In fact, worlds with the existence of God and incarnation and atonement will be of infinite value.
In virtue of the great-making qualities of the incarnation and atonement, Plantinga argues that for God to actualize a world with these divine actions the world will require the existence of sin in it. In his words:
But of course all the worlds with incarnation and atonement contain evil. For atonement is among other things a matter of creatures’ being saved from the consequences of their sin; therefore if there were no evil, there would be no sin, no consequences of sin to be saved from, and hence no atonement. Therefore a necessary condition of atonement is sin and evil.
So why does God permit sin? He does so to pursue the greater-good of a world with the manifestation of the incarnation and atonement.
Plantinga’s “Felix Culpa” supralapsarian theodicy has drawn criticism from fellow Christian philosophers. Kevin Diller and Marilyn McCord Adams have offered several objections to Plantinga’s new theodicy project. For the purposes of this paper, Diller’s challenges regarding Plantinga’s understanding of the atonement will be examined.
Diller first broadens the category of “locus of value” from Plantinga’s states of affairs which include objects and events to include relational elements. He writes, “It could be that the evaluation of the states of affairs in a world Wderives primarily from the kind of right relationships that are established by God in W.” From this point Diller argues that the traditional understanding of the atonement is a means to accomplishing the relational end of our redemption. Considering this, Diller argues that the Felix Culpa view changes the ends and means of the atonement. Diller offers this challenge:
The fall now becomes the means to the ultimate end of the display of God’s love. In the suffering of the atonement. What makes the world great on the Felix Culpa view is the towering good of the costliness of God’s loving action, not primarily what is accomplished by that action. If right relationship with God is the primary locus of value for the states of affairs that make a world great, then the Felix Culpa view, it seems to me, would have little to commend it.
Diller argues that this objection is not only applicable against Plantinga’s version of the argument, “but to all Felix Culpatheodicies.”
Diller begins by examining two key assumptions laden in Plantinga’s conception of the atonement. Regarding the first, Diller states:
At the heart of Plantinga’s argument is the assumption that the enactment or display of love that we see in the atonement is a great-making state of affairs. But just what is it that is of such great value in a world that contains so triumphant a display of sacrificial love? … would the depths of God’s love for creation have been any less if sin and evil had not entered the world?
Since this has reference to the value of love expressed in the atonement, let us call this the Love Principle. Diller notes that God’s love would be constant across all possible worlds in which he desired to effect redemption and that even in worlds without sin, “the counterfactuals of God’s love are the same.” Diller then considers the possibility that Plantinga’s view of God’s love revolves around the perception of that love by people. The “enactment of God’s love in redemption gives us a view of the nature of that love which we would not otherwise have had. Diller questions, however, whether we could “know what God’s limitations are with respect to communicating to us a knowledge of the depth of his love.” Since, as Diller alleges, the weight of Plantinga’s theodicy hangs on this assumption, there ought to be a good reason to accept it but, in fact, there is not.
Diller’s argumentation regarding the Love Principle is not beyond challenge. First, it might not be the case that God’s love is constant across all possible worlds. Simply stating that it is constant operates with a simplistic notion of God’s love. For those constrained by biblical revelation (and this is precisely Plantinga’s desire) the notion of God’s love is complex and nuanced. New Testament theologian Donald Carson articulates at least five different ways the Bible speaks about the love of God:
1. The peculiar love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father.
2. God’s providential love over all that he has made.
3. God’s salvific stance toward his fallen world.
4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.
5. Finally, God’s love is sometimes said to be directed toward his own people in provisional or conditional way—conditioned, that is, on obedience.
Diller conception of God’s love aligns most readily with Carson’s points two and three above: providential love and salvific stance. Diller, however, completely ignores the biblical reality of electing and selecting love. It this idea of electing love which may be different across possible worlds.
Second, even if one glosses over the first difficulty, there is still the issue of how the love of God is manifested and perceived. Diller rightly brings this up as a potential way Plantinga could construe the relationship between God’s love and atonement but, as was seen above, critically asks, “But how could we know what God’s limitations are with respect to communicating to us a knowledge of the depth of his love?” In a footnote, Diller argues that “Plantinga acknowledges this weakness in his argument and simply proposes ignoring it.” Diller’s argumentation here, however, seems a bit hasty and forced. It is important to note a distinction between (a) the perception of God’s love by humans as opposed to the mere disposition to love by God and (b) the limitations that God may or may not have with respect to communicating that love. Thus, (a) refers to manifestation and perception of God’s love through the atonement and (b) refers to the possibility of alternative manifestations and perceptions of God’s love, presumably, without atonement.
In reference to (a), Daniel Johnson has drawn attention to the articulation of the glory of God by Jonathan Edwards. Johnson notes that, for Edwards, God’s glory has reference to at least three elements: God’s essential being, God’s excellent deeds, and the epistemic goods that abound to those who know and appreciate God’s excellent deeds. Johnson concludes:
If something like this is right, then there are really two aspects to the divine glory that God seeks (since the sort of “glory” that simply refers to God’s excellence itself cannot increased or decreased by his actions); the excellent deeds that express excellences of God on the one hand, and the epistemic goods (knowledge, appreciation, understanding, acquaintance, and so on) associated with apprehending those excellent deeds on the other.
Utilizing this framework from Johnson and Edwards, the possession of the attribute of love (one of God’s glorious excellences) is not the same as manifesting that love in the supreme act of the crucifixion of the Son of God. Nor is the manifestation of the love the same as the epistemic appropriation and appreciation of that fact by humans. Recognition of these distinctions is enough to show that Diller was on the right track to note that Plantinga’s position on the atonement could include the notion of the perception of God’s love.
But what about (b)—the challenge that there could be more ways to express the love of God than through the atonement? Does Plantinga’s position founder on this objection? It does not appear so. It is crucial to remember Plantinga’s articulation of the love displayed in the incarnation and atonement—see the full quotation on page two above. It is this God (Father and Son) doing these things (suffering and dying) for these people (rebels sunk in sin) whose love is displayed in the atonement. It is in light of these facts that Plantinga asks, “Could there be a display of love to rival this?” For Diller or others to argue that Plantinga has not closed all other options for the display of God’s love in a similarly intense manner strikes one as abstract and out of alignment with the New Testament itself. For example, Romans 5.6-8 reads:
6For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we yet sinners, Christ died for us. (NASB)
Of course, as a Christian, Diller will agree with this sentiment but will still argue that this presupposes the fall. Diller wants to know if there is a manifestation of God’s love that could be known apart from the fall and atonement which would be as great or greater. Unless Plantinga can rule out this possibility his theodicy rests on a faulty foundation.
The defender of the Felix Culpa argument can respond in the following manner. First, the atonement and its display of God’s love with the attendant epistemic goods flowing from it, is such a profound good that it would seem incumbent on the objector to clearly state a great-making, love-displaying state of affairs which could be equal or greater. Should an example of such a state of affairs be offered by the objector it is possible to rebut that suggestion by moving to a kind of skeptical theism argument which posits that if one cannot see the out-ranking goods of the atonement vis-à-vis the proffered alternative this does not entail there are not such out-ranking goods. This leads to a second point: the Felix Culpa defense is offered as a specifically Christian defense with a full view of the contents of the Christian worldview (especially the teaching of the New Testament) as a back story. Paul Helm argues against a speculative mindset that seeks to separate the incarnation and the atonement (a tack that Diller also takes in criticizing Plantinga). His thought applies here as well:
To which I reply that the consistent attitude is not to speculate, but instead take full account of the scriptural account in which the two are tied together. To speculate on different outcomes from those in which incarnation and atonement in fact go together may show ingenuity and imagination, but not Christian consistency.
Thus, Diller’s challenges to the first assumption of Plantinga’s argument are not well established.
Diller, next, turns to another assumption within Plantinga’s argument, namely, “with how value is derived in Plantinga’s calculations.” Diller articulates the heart of his objection in these words:
That is to say, the traditional interpretation of the atonement is that it is the means to accomplish the end of our redemption. In a Felix Culpa theodicy, means and ends are changed. The fall now becomes the means to the ultimate end of the display of God’s love in the suffering of the atonement. What makes the world great on the Felix Culpa view is the towering good of the costliness of God’s loving action, not primarily what is accomplished by that action. If right relationship with God is the primary locus of value for the states of affairs that make a world great, then the Felix Culpa view, it seems to me, would have little to commend it. Relationship with God appears to be undervalued, such that it is worth severing the relationship so that God can act out in love to restore it.
Several claims, some explicit and others implicit, need to be properly delineated. First, has Plantinga dropped out the relational element in his understanding of the atonement and, therefore, confused means and ends? Second, is “right relationship with God” the “primary locus of value?” Third, what kind of “right relationship” is being articulated by Diller and can this notion of “right relationship” have different nuances given humanity’s pre-fall state versus it postlapsarian state? These questions are taken up in order below.
First, there is the charge that Plantinga has dropped out the relational element from the atonement. The claim seems to be that Plantinga has failed to see the instrumental value of the atonement to bring about relational healing between God and humanity. This is, however, an uncharitable reading of Plantinga. Again, Plantinga’s words are reproduced with two specific areas emphasized to show that Plantinga has included the relational element in his understanding of the atonement.
Jesus Christ, the second person of the divine trinity, incomparably good, holy, and sinless, was willing to empty himself, to take on our flesh and become incarnate and to suffer and die so that we human beings can have life and be reconciled to the Father. In order to accomplish this, he was willing to undergo suffering of a depth and intensity we cannot so much as imagine, including even the shattering climax of being abandoned by God the Father himself: ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?’ God the Father, the first being of the whole universe, perfectly good and holy, all-powerful and all-knowing, was willing to permit his Son to undergo this suffering and to undergo enormous suffering himself in order to make it possible for us human beings to be reconciled to him.
Considering the two purpose clauses highlighted above, it should be clear that Plantinga’s conception of the atonement includes the relational element. When Plantinga uses the word “atonement” in his essay he is including the relational results that flow from the atonement. Thus, Diller has mischaracterized Plantinga’s idea of the atonement.
Second, Diller spoke of “right relationship with God” as being the “primary locus of value for the states of affairs that make a world great.” It is here that Plantinga’s program can be strengthened by more fully integrating his Felix Culpa theodicy into its Reformational background with its stress upon the glory of God as the primary locus of value in the cosmos. The “glory of God” can be somewhat difficult to specify with precision but one way to articulate the idea is to “take God’s self-glorification to be simply a matter of God’s self-display of divine virtue.” Ian Spencer further adds: “The more perfect in quality and quantity of such displays, and the more aspects of God’s character they reflect, the more the character of God is reflected in the world, which is a more-than-plausible interpretation of what it means for God to be glorified.” By moving the locus of value to the larger concept of God’s glory allows the defender of the Felix Culpa argument to stress divine goods as opposed to merely human-centered goods. Of course, the fact of relational restoration will be a good that God is bringing about but it will be situated in the more expansive concept of God’s glory. This allows for other aspects of God’s character to be revealed through the cross-work atonement of the Son of God, namely the manifestation of God’s justice. As Paul Helm notes in his articulation of the Felix Culpa argument:
It is possible to argue that in the work of Christ these elements, the punitive and remedial, come together. For on the one hand the work of Christ is an act of justice. In Christ moral evil is punished. Christ’s atonement, is as Paul argued, the upholding par excellence of the divine righteousness (Rom. 3:26).
This allows the Felix Culpa defense to be seen as a subset of the larger greater-good defense centered in God’s glory. As Daniel Johnson argues:
The astonishingly great goods of incarnation and atonement, however, don’t exhaust the self-expressive actions of God that might explain evil; the Romans passage [9:22-24] mentions the expression of God’s justice and wrath through his punishment of evildoers. This is less comfortable, but it may well be an important part of the explanation of why God allows the specific kinds and amounts of evil that he does.
Again, Diller argument against Plantinga can be met by modifying the Felix Culpa strategy to include the glory of God as the primary locus of value.
Third, the issue of the kind of relationship God may be seeking is not properly considered by Diller. Diller, as seen, has stressed right relationship with God as the primary locus of value but, even granting his thesis, he has not fully considered the different kinds of relationships possible by a pre-fall human and a postlapsarian human. Diller does recognize that the defender of Felix Culpa “could return to Plantinga’s suggestion, following Kuyper and Edwards, that there is a special excellence to the quality of relationship that can be shown by those once lost who are redeemed.” This is, arguably, a defensible notion. There is something distinctive and superior to the relationship with God by those who have been lost and redeemed by divine love. The fall and God’s subsequent activity to redeem fallen humanity through the atonement manifests aspects of God’s character that would not have otherwise been manifested. This allows for a greater epistemic good of knowing God, not merely as a lover of the unfallen, but as a lover of the broken and rebellious. There is a kind of manifestation of God’s love that is deeper than otherwise would have been without the fall.
Diller thinks such a move is “fraught with difficulties” and is open to the following objection:
How could we establish the general principle without suggesting for instance, that the strongest marriages are those that have involved a period of divorce, or that the deepest mother-daughter relationship is enabled once the daughter commits patricide or the like?
Diller’s marriage and family analogies, however, fail due to the massive disconnect between God and the partners in the analogies. God has a unique and divine right to express the full range of his character and attributes in excellent deeds with the goal of having his creatures attain the epistemic goods of knowing and appreciating such deeds and the God behind them. There is no reason to think that humans have such a right. In light of this, Diller’s analogies fail.
Although Plantinga’s Felix Culpa theodicy faces several challenges, by examining Kevin Diller’s objections centered around the atonement it has been shown that at least these objections can be answered or mitigated. In particular, by modifying Plantinga’s program to more fully align with its historical roots in Reformed theology’s emphasis on the glory of God, the Felix Culpa theodicy can be strengthened.
Adams, Marilyn McCord. “Plantinga on ‘Felix Culpa’: An Analysis and Critique.” Faith and
Philosophy 25.2 (2008) 123-140.
Carson, D. A. The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2000.
Diller, Kevin. “Are Sin and Evil Necessary for a Really Good World? Questions for Alvin
Plantinga’s Felix Culpa Theodicy,” Faith and Philosophy 25.1 (2008), 87-101. Reprinted in Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings—2nd ed.: 390-409. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017.
Frame, John. The Doctrine of God. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed,
Helm, Paul. The Providence of God. Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1994.
Helm, Paul. “Reply to Critics.” In Explaining Evil: Four Views, ed. W. Paul Franks: 77-82. New
York: Bloomsbury, 2019.
Johnson, Daniel M. “Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory.” In Calvinism
and the Problem of Evil. Eds. David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson: 19-55. Eugene, Ore: Pickwick Publications, 2016.
Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1977.
Plantinga, Alvin. “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” in Christian Faith and the Problem
of Evil, ed. Peter Van Inwagen: 1-25. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004. Reprinted in Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings—2nd ed.: 363-389. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017.
Schreiner, Thomas. “A Biblical Theology of the Glory of God.” In For the Fame of God’s Name:
Essays in Honor of John Piper. Eds. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor: 215-234. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010.
Spencer, Ian. “A Mea Culpa for the Felix Culpa.” Midwest Philosophy and Theology
Conference Proceedings, vol. 1, [N.P] (2008) 11-26. Online: https://bluetigercommons.lincolnu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1027&context=philosophy_and_theology
 Alvin Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” in Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil, ed. Peter Van Inwagen (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2004), 1-25; reprinted in Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings—2nd ed. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 363-389.
 Kevin Diller, “Are Sin and Evil Necessary for a Really Good World? Questions for Alvin Plantinga’s Felix Culpa Theodicy,” Faith and Philosophy 25.1 (2008), 87-101; reprinted in Michael Peterson, ed. The Problem of Evil: Selected Readings—2nd ed. (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2017), 390-409—citations will be from the Peterson anthology; Marilyn McCord Adams, “Plantinga on ‘Felix Culpa’: An Analysis and Critique” Faith and Philosophy 25.2 (2008), 123-140.
 Space constraints will not allow an examination of Diller’s other objections centered around (1) the incarnation as sufficient to demonstrate God’s love without evil and suffering and (2) agent centered restrictions.
 Even if one wants to dispute the idea of individual election, the concept of historical election (or corporate election) is still variable across possible worlds. There is a possible world in which God did not choose (elect) Israel to be his people since he did not choose Abraham and make a covenantal oath to him. See Deuteronomy 7.7-8 in which the choosing of Israel is spoken of as God “setting his love on you.” For discussion of the relationship between historical and eternal election see John Frame, The Doctrine of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed, 2002), 317-330.
 Diller, 407. Diller quotes the following from Plantinga to justify his comment: “It is hard to imagine what God could do that is in fact comparable to incarnation and atonement: but perhaps this is just a limitation of our imagination. But since this is so hard to imagine, I propose that we ignore those possible worlds, if there are any, in which God does not arrange for incarnation and atonement, but does something else of comparable excellence.” Quoted from Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” 371.
 Daniel M. Johnson, “Calvinism and the Problem of Evil: A Map of the Territory” in Calvinism and the Problem of Evil, eds. David E. Alexander and Daniel M. Johnson (Eugene, Ore: Pickwick Publications, 2016), 45.
 Plantinga is already pulling from the Reformed theological tradition by situating his view as a form of “supralapsarianism” and appealing to such Reformed luminaries as Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper—see Plantinga, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” 379.
 Ian Spencer, “A Mea Culpa for the Felix Culpa” Midwest Philosophy and Theology Conference Proceedings, vol. 1 (2008), 15. For a biblical analysis of the concept of God’s glory see Thomas Schreiner, “A Biblical Theology of the Glory of God” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, eds. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 215-234.