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peter lumpkins


This is outstanding even if "technical" in some ways. Albeit risking oversimplification, please offer us a "one-liner" in grasping both notions of nominalism and voluntarism.



I apologize for some formatting issues on the post. I'll fit it asap.

Jim G.

Hi Peter,

This will be an oversimplification, of course, but...

Voluntarism is the belief that God is essentially will. It became popular in the 14th century with John Duns Scotus, though it was around long before him.

Nominalism is harder to put a finger on. It is a metaphysical approach that denies the reality of universals (abstract ideas that have their own independent existence apart from being instantiated in something). It became popular with William of Ockham and is the fountain from which both the modern ideal and the Protestant Reformers (esp. Luther and Zwingli) drank deeply.

Hope that helps a little.

Jim G.

Ken Hamrick


I'd like to add a few lines about nominalism. Platonic realism posits the objective existence of universals. This was found by realistic theologians to fit well with the already existent ideas of Biblical realism (the substantial, immaterial union of the race in Adam, first taught by Tertullian). In theological anthropology, the concept of the universal found its expression in the idea of an objective, immaterial, substantial union of the race in Adam, such that the race is propagated in its entire nature (both spiritual and physical). Nominalism denied that universals exist, and therefore concluded that there is no such thing as a racial union (or a union of any species), except for the union perceived by the observing mind. In other words, the mind observes that similarities exist between members of a species, and creates a mental category called species. This was the explicit denial that any real union of species exists. It was only the realists that held that specific union (or, union of species) was real, and hence they are called realists. To the nominalists the specific union was a union in name only (or, nominal), and hence they are called nominalists. While the realists located the union of man with Adam as within Adam himself (natural/Augustinian headship), the nominalists located that union within the mind of God (which eventually became federal/covenant headship).

The Protestant Reformers inconsistently held to both, being very much nominalists in general, but kept a realistic mode of thinking when it came to original sin. Adam's sin was imputed to us because it was our sin. As nominalism's influence grew, realism was discarded, and it was then taught that Adam's sin was ours merely because it was imputed. This brings up the second characteristic of nominalism: justice swallowed up in sovereignty. In this, the Calvinists from Turettin's day onward have a great difference between them and Augustine.

Jim, your article here is very interesting and brings up some questions that I'm sure you'll address in the coming installments, such as how Augustine's view did not allow justice and mercy to be reconciled in the salvation of sinners, so I'll wait.

Jim G.

Thanks Ken. Good summary of nominalism. In my understanding of Augustine, the elect receive mercy while the non-elect sinners receive justice. I think he split apart these divine attributes more than Scripture does.

On a complete other note, I had a close relative back in W Va die and I need to go away for the funeral. I'll be out of pocket starting likely Monday until Wednesday or Thursday. If I can, I'll send Peter part 3 and maybe he can post it. I will likely not be able to interact until I return later in the week.

Jim G.

Ken Hamrick

I'm sorry to hear that, Jim. Our prayers are with you and your family.

peter lumpkins


Amen to Ken's note. We wish you and your family the Lord's grace and much needed healing power at this difficult time while we look forward to your return. Do not feel pressured, however, that we meet a specific timeline. Our interest in this topic precludes walking away from such a timely theme.

Grace, brother...


Jim, Very sorry to hear the sad news. God Bless you and your family.

"To achieve tranquility through contemplation of the Supreme Good was the goal he set in his earliest writing, De pulchro et apto. This perspective continued to be at work in his insistence that God, as the Supreme Good, is the guarantor of the soul's tranquil enjoyment."

This concept sounds familiar:

"God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him" John Piper, Christian Hedonism



I appreciate the historical work you've done here and enjoyed reading it.

If you don't mind, I'd like to push you further with some of your assertions.

1. It's certainly no small thing to charge a hero of the faith with eisegesis in saying, "While Augustine's defenders will state he arrived at his position via Scripture, I think it will become clearer that he arrived philosophically first then read Scripture to fit his already-formulated ideas." Please help us see how Augustine's doctrine of God's omnipotence is not substantiated by Scripture.

2. As you well know, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then. What if Fortunatus and the Manichees were on to something in their grace-driven understanding of Romans 9? What exactly is this grace-driven Manichaean understanding of Romans 9 that apparently won Augustine? How did they misunderstand the text?

3. You quoted Augustine, "The will of the Omnipotent is always undefeated," and then postulated that this is problematic. Shouldn't libertarians agree with Augustine's statement also? Even from a libertarian viewpoint, God's will is not defeated because He wills that humans have the ability to choose otherwise. Isn't this the classic libertarian explanation that God is still sovereign even though He limits His sovereignty to allow libertarian freedom? Surely, you wouldn't say that the will of the Omnipotent is defeated, would you?

4. At this point, it seems to me that you are unintentionally poisoning the well concerning Augustine. You simply assert that Augustine borrowed conceptually from Manichaeism and Neo-Platonism, which pushes us to conclude that whatever Augustine believed, it must be wrong since the Manichees and Neo-Platonists were generally wrong. What exactly did he borrow? How is this not supported by Scripture?

5. It's certainly clear that you disagree with Augustine's formulation of the interaction between God's will and the human will. Would you define your understanding of God's omnipotence? Would you define your understanding of man's freedom? How do understand these two to interact?

Sorry, your article raised a lot of questions in my mind. Thanks!

Jim G.

Hi Ben,

I fear my replies will be too short to do your questions justice. As I stated in the thread above, my time is limited this week due to family circumstances, but here goes:

1. I'll make a separate post on Augustine's hermeneutical practice. I'll try to answer some of your objections there, but my circumstances may dictate the answer will be a couple weeks in coming. I hope that will be okay with you. Just know that if Augustine is correct in his hermeneutical method, it means that all who came before him were either ignorant or incorrect -- he deviated from the tradition that severely. I would certainly not be the first critic of his way of reading Scripture, from his lifetime until now.

2. This question requires a long answer I do not have the time to give today. The main track for an answer here is that the Manichees' teachings arose a couple of hundred years after the establishment of the church. They went against the received tradition on grace and taught something that no one had taught before them. The existing church rejected their interpretation. They also held personal evil as inevitable, which Augustine utilized in his the formation of his doctrine of grace. Again, he is deviating from the received tradition here. For us, that does not seem like such a big deal. But in the 4th-5th century (given apostolic succession), deviation is a really big no-no. More on this in my next post.

3. Of course you do realize the devil in is the details in this discussion. It is all in how the aspects (as we think we understand them) of God's will is divided. Although I have not run across a deep discussion of aspects of divine will in Augustine, I would think based on what I have read of him that he did not hold to a multi-valent division of aspects that libertarians do. Risking oversimplification, I read Augustine to say that the will of God is such that his omnipotence would guarantee that all that occurred would be his will, even if we cannot see how it all works out.

4. More will become clear in the next post on how he borrowed a couple of key ideas. I am not employing, as you fear, guilt by association. The areas where Augustine borrowed are the key areas where Christians (of all stripes) ought to disagree with Manichees and Neo-platonists.

5. To put it simply, I take the weaker view of omnipotence, that is, that God can do all things that do not contradict his own nature and integrity. I believe that God created this world in such a way that there are real contingencies in it, and room for real created freedom in both humans and angels. Where the exact line is drawn between God's power and human freedom remains a mystery to me. I will confess I do not know. I just know where it cannot be. It cannot be drawn so that neither God's power nor true created freedom are fully compromised. The world in which we live contains both the sovereignty of God and true created freedom. I believe the position at which Augustine settled compromised true created human freedom and thus departed from the received tradition.

Please give me until the end of the week to respond to any clarifications. I have 300+ miles to drive tonight and funeral and family tomorrow and Wednesday.

Jim G.

Jim G.

Hi Lydia,

Such is the sheer brilliance of Augustine. Love him or not, he anticipated so much that came after him. We all live in his shadow, one way or the other.

Jim G.



Thanks for taking the time to reply. I know my questions required long answers, but I appreciate what you've replied thus far. I suppose I'll get more answers as well travel along this series. Just know that I'll do my best to point us back to Scripture as our ultimate judge and not the tradition of the church fathers pre-Augustine.

I pray mercy over your trip! Blessings!

Jim G.

As will mine :0)

Thanks for the kind words.

Jim G.

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