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Aaron O'Kelley

Hello Peter,

I would consider myself an agnostic on this question, but it is not my purpose to delve into the specifics of the points you made here (perhaps another time). My only purpose for commenting here is to seek better understanding of your view.

Why do you believe that all infants who die go to Heaven? Is it because they bear no guilt? If so, two questions immediately follow for me:

(1) Why do they die at all if they bear no guilt? Isn't death a judicial penalty for sin?

(2) If they go to Heaven because they bear no guilt, wouldn't it be correct to say that they are not redeemed by Christ (at least in the normal sense of what we mean when we speak of being redeemed)?

I speak as one who has lost three children within the last year to miscarriage, so this is a very personal issue for me. I very much hope that my children are with the Lord, and I would not at all be surprised if they are. But if they are, I believe it is because Christ purchased them, in spite of the fact that they deserved otherwise. If my children are with the Lord, it is because they, like me, have been saved by grace alone, not because they are innocent.

But as far as I can tell, Scripture does not tell me conclusively that God promises to redeem the children of believers (much less of all people) who die in infancy. So I am comfortable resting in the goodness and justice of God, knowing that, on the last day, whatever the outcome, I will bow before him and confess that what he has done is exactly right and good. That is my hope.

Well, I chased a little rabbit trail there for a minute, but I would honestly appreciate your response to my two questions above. Thank you.

peter lumpkins


Thanks. May I express my deepest sorrow for you and your wife's excruciating loss, brother. My daughter lost her first baby to a miscarriage and to share some of the grief she and her husband experienced was testing for us all. One thing I learned from experiencing it with her--something I had not actually known for so many years as a pastor dealing with young mothers who lost babies through miscarriages--was the difficulty in discerning a difference in grief from a baby lost through miscarriage and grief experienced when an infant or child perhaps several years old was snatched away from them through death. The two griefs are strikingly similar.

Your questions are fair. First, the answer is yes, because they bear no guilt so far as active, conscious transgression is concerned. By this I mean actual, intentional rebellion against God's laws. This doesn't mean they have completely sanitized natures. All humans inherit sinful nature in consequence of Adam's fall but not sinful guilt for Adam's fall.

Second, even though they have no sinful guilt for active, intentional collusion with their fallen sinful natures, and therefore God doesn't judge them for actual sin, all infants (and the severely mentally handicapped) nonetheless still must be redeemed from their sinful selves (i.e. natures) since they are unfit for the Kingdom of God. Hence, they not only need but require the redemptive work of Jesus Christ on the cross the same as anyone else. In short, no one--including infants dying in infancy--could have ever been saved but for the love of God in Jesus Christ on the cross.

Oh, and so far as why babies die if they did not sin in Adam, I think can be answered by observing why anything dies or deteriorates. Elephants didn't sin in Adam and yet elephants die. Even oak trees which can live hundreds of years eventually die. Dying is a consequence for all creation because sin entered both the cosmos and the human race.

Paul Owen

That was a great answer Peter. I would also put forward the possibility of a "soft" version of Augustine's imputed guilt position. My understanding of Genesis 3:17-19 is that the earth and Adam's race are "cursed," not in the sense that God holds humankind personally responsible for Adam's act, but in the sense that God holds Adam personally responsible for his children's death and the earth's suffering. Little children are born in a state of death because of Adam's act, and the blame falls on him, though the effect is experienced by them. Illustrations of this can be seen in Exodus 34:7 and the death of David's baby in 2 Samuel 12.

peter lumpkins

Thank you Dr. Owen. I especially found helpful the contours of your Gen. 3 interpretation concerning the earth and Adam's race as being "cursed" but "not in the sense that God holds humankind personally responsible for Adam's act"; rather God holds Adam personally responsible for his children's death and the earth's suffering. In this scenario while we have to "pay" so to speak for the error of our fathers, not so much because we sinned in Adam but as consequence of Adam's sin and our organic relationship with him. Am I reading too much into what you've written or perhaps even missed it entirely, Dr. Owen?

We might view as an analogy an afflicted son or daughter of say an alcoholic or drug addict. While we cannot impose blame upon him or her for the mother's addiction (i.e. sin), neither can we treat the child as if he or she possessed no personal malady, a malady which must be both experienced by the child and addressed by us with similar if not identical remedies as if the child was blameworthy for his or her condition.

That's the first time I've actually expressed this particular analogy so feel free to correct it. Just thinking out loud...

Jerry Chase

This issue is personal for me as well, because, like Aaron O'Kelley, my wife and I lost three children.

Peter, it's obvious to your readers that you have "guns aimed at Calvinists", as if they were "the enemy". I don't consider myself Calvinist, per se; but I do find your antagonism against them as counter-productive, at minimum.

Finally, I believe that the expression of our first parent should be in the plural; for Eve was just as responsible for sin entering the world as Adam was. It may not be "PC", but accuracy in truth should prevail, IMO.

Aaron O'Kelley


Thanks for your kind words and thoughtful answers. Here is a follow up question.

You have basically argued that infants are innocent, but not fit for Heaven. Because they are innocent, they cannot be condemned to Hell, yet they are still in need of the atonement to transform them into people who can inherit the life of the age to come. Have I represented your view fairly here?

If so, that provokes this question: what if there were no atonement? I think we would all agree that God did not have to send his Son to die for anyone. That is why we celebrate the atonement as an act of divine grace. If God had not sent his Son to die and yet had allowed the human race to go on for a while, would God be just to condemn to Hell those who died in infancy in that possible world?

The reason I ask is because I am wondering how we would categorize, apart from the atonement, those who have a sinful nature and yet are not guilty. According to your view, they can't be sent to Hell because they are innocent, but they also can't go to Heaven because they have a sin nature. In that possible world, would God be just to condemn them? If so, your sense that God would be unjust to condemn infants is not absolute, but presupposes the atonement, an event that we all agree God did not have to accomplish. In other words, what is of grace, cannot be a matter merely of justice.

Paul Owen

Yup you nailed it. That's pretty much what I'm saying. I suspect Baptists who reject the idea of Adam's guilt being imputed to the human race would have less of an objection if their Calvinist brethren expressed it more along these lines.

Jim G.

My deepest sympathies for your loss, Aaron. A decade ago, my wife and I had three miscarriages in a 2+ year span, one of which was 5 months along. That was painful beyond words.

I cannot comfort your loss, but I can say this with 100% confidence. Your babies are safe in Jesus' arms. Why? Because the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does not need to be convinced to love them. They have always been his, even in the short period of time when they were yours. They are as much his as you are and as I am.

Now, to the larger conversation in general. The fact that we are even having the discussion about infant damnation means it is sackcloth and ashes time. We've completely lost the vision of the Father of the Son. He has been replaced by the terrible, aloof idol of the pagan philosophers and of our darkened hearts. This idol is the Platonic, Aristotelian, Manichean, nominalist, voluntarist deus absconditus hiding behind the curtain like the Wizard of Oz. He is so untrustworthy and disdainful of human beings that not even the unborn are safe from his violent fury. And what is worse, we have taken a smattering of Bible verses and baptized this idol and put it into the temple of our hearts - an idol for whom we can never do enough, be good enough, or ever know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he gives a gnat's nose about us.

How do I know this is an idol? Because he doesn't look a thing like Jesus. And Jesus said if you have seen me, you have seen the Father. The idol is not the Father. It's time to take a hammer to it as Hezekiah did the idols in his day.

Jim G.

peter lumpkins


A few things. First, I indicated infants are not guilty of active, intentional transgression of God's law. If you would like to take the position that infants are absolutely guilty of personal, intentional transgression of God's law, by all means do so, and let's see how far your logic will take you without also following Augustine to his necessary inference in damning some infants to hell. Nor am I able to tell, if you do take this notion seriously, how you can posit agnosticism on the fate of at least some infants dying in infancy, Aaron.

Second, I argued fundamentally what our BF&M 2000 confesses. Namely, that Adam's posterity "inherit a nature" and an environment inclined toward sin, and therefore as soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation. So if you've got questions concerning my particular view, please show how what I indicated about fallen human nature is substantially different from our confession.

peter lumpkins


Though I haven't picked it up in a while, I just checked the late High Calvinist, Ron Nash, in his book, When a Baby Dies. He begins his case for the salvation of all infants dying in infancy (pp.59-71) with words very similar to mine above. Indeed Nash's first two propositions in making his case are:

1. Infants are incapable of Moral Good or Evil
2. Divine Judgment is administered on the basis of sins committed in the body.

Of the second he explains: "God's condemnation is based on the actual commission of sins." And, after citing 2 Cor. 5:10, he explains:

"Note further that since infants are incapable of being moral agents, since they die before they are able to perform either good or evil acts, deceased infants cannot be judged on the criterion specified in this verse" (pp.60-61)

He concludes,

"The basis of the final judgment will be actual sins committed during our earthly existence, something no deceased infant or mental incapable could do" (p.62)

I couldn't have expressed my own position using my words any better than my adopting Nash's words for my position that he used in his book to express his position--at least insofar as the part about which you questioned...

Aaron O'Kelley

Thanks again, Peter. My only point is that, if we agree that infants, as they are, are not fit for Heaven, we should not recoil in horror from the idea that they don't deserve to be there. In other words, we should not mock statements like the one Jonathan Edwards made.

If infants are in Heaven (and I am certainly open to that idea), then we must marvel at God's grace and say that it very well could have been otherwise. If we don't say that, I don't think we really understand what grace is. If God could not have justly condemned them, then he is obligated to save them.

My purpose is not to debate the BFM or Ronald Nash's view (he was one of my professors in seminary). It is to probe this particular issue.

peter lumpkins


Let's be clear. No one deserves to be there. Nor did my propositions either state or imply infants deserved heaven, deserving surely implying they are somehow qualified to be in heaven because of merited actions. To the contrary, it seems to be because of their absolute inaction (i.e. conscious, intentional transgressing of God's law) that they do not merit burning in hell--at least in the sense of being judged to hell for their actual sin. Nor does such a view negate the necessity of the cross work of Jesus Who made the salvation of any and all possible (including infants).

Yes we marvel at grace. Certainly. But as for Jonathan Edward's statement, contained in it is not one single expression of grace for us to marvel but only the raw justice of a vengeful God. By the way, in my count, I haven't seen even a slither of mockery toward Edwards. I haven't mocked Edwards' view of God taking pleasure in the damnation of infants. Instead I'm outraged at Edwards' view of God taking pleasure in the damnation of infants, and will continue to be. And it's beyond understanding how you can passively defend Edwards expressing such a view of our loving heavenly Father in the face of Jesus Christ.

While I have no desire to debate the 2000BF&M here either, the 2000BF&M is entirely relevant as to what it explicitly confesses concerning anthropology, especially since you took strong issue with my understanding I offered in the first comment. My contention is what I described aligns closely to if not identical with what the 2000BF&M says about our fallen human nature. If I am correct, then if you have reservations with my view, it follows you should have reservations with Southern Baptists' presently adopted confession. On the other hand, if my view on fallen human nature either is not identical to or contradicts with the 2000BF&M, then I'd like to know why.

Jim G.

Hi Aaron,

You wrote,

"If infants are in Heaven (and I am certainly open to that idea), then we must marvel at God's grace and say that it very well could have been otherwise. If we don't say that, I don't think we really understand what grace is. If God could not have justly condemned them, then he is obligated to save them."

It CANNOT be otherwise. Why? Because it would be completely against God's nature, essence, and glory NOT to save. All creation occurs "in Christ," because in him and by him and for him are all things. God the Father and God the Son are neither distant nor apathetic. The motivation for creation was to create a world that was ontologically equal to the Godhead but possessing the capacity to relate with the blessed Trinity intimately. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot be other than what he is (else you and I have nothing to trust). Therefore there is no conceivable way that his love and grace can be anything less than it is.

The grace of God cannot be separated from the being of God. Grace is not a "thing." It is the relational extension of God's very being. And just like the being of God, the grace of God cannot be other than who he is nor can it be abstracted from himself. God's grace flows out of his being, and if his being is unified in orientation with himself (the perichoretic union of intra-Triune love), then his grace cannot be otherwise.

Two final thoughts:

Love and justice are never reconciled in Augustine's warped theology because he started in the wrong place.

Nominalism was a poison from which the reformers drank deeply and it remains with us to this day.

Jim G.

Paul Owen

This is a really interesting topic. I think we have to avoid false dilemmas. Do babies "deserve" to go to heaven? Of course not. Not because they are judged already as "sinners" in the sight of a holy God, but because they are incapable of meriting eternal life for themselves by their own efforts. If they are to enter the kingdom of God, it will have to be by the merits of Jesus, just like any one of us.

But I find it curious when people assert that God is not under any "obligation" to save (or at least spare from eternal punishment) those who die in infancy or early childhood. Really? I must confess, I cannot recognize the god of whom they speak. God, in a sense, does not "owe" salvation to anyone; but he is obligated to be faithful to his nature as revealed in the Bible and the life of Jesus. And the God I see revealed there is one who advocates for the helpless, who comes to the aid of those who are beyond earthly hope, whose heart embraces orphans, who compares his people Israel to babies and children whom he has lovingly raised, who holds little children and says that his Father's kingdom belongs to them. Any god who would mete out eternal punishments of body and soul upon a helpless child who has done nothing wrong (and please don't bring up Adam here) is not the God of the Bible, and yes, God has TO BE the God he reveals himself to be. In that sense, he is obligated to act in a way that does not contradict our reasonable moral instincts.


"How do I know this is an idol? Because he doesn't look a thing like Jesus. And Jesus said if you have seen me, you have seen the Father."

Boy is that ever the truth. I am spending more and more time these days trying to pick up the pieces of what this doctrine is doing to teens. The ones from stable families do better with it but the ones from abusive homes or have been molested in their past are absolutely decimated by this view of the determinist/decreetal God over time.

Scott Shaver

Can't believe Southern Baptists are now having to defend their infancy position in print against neo "reformers" while at the same time being accused of "poisoning the well" against Calvinist "brethren".

Was under the impression historically that Baptists had already marked some of these Calvinist wells with hazmat/H2S warnings some time back.

Don't learn from history....enjoy repeating it. That ought to be the motto for the next annual SBC meeting.

peter lumpkins

Dr. Owen what a decided contrast you describe from Edwards' "most just, exceeding just" description which favors God taking the soul of a new-born infant and casting it into eternal torments...

Aaron O'Kelley

Peter, it sounds like what you are saying is that infants deserve neither Hell nor Heaven. They actually deserve, on your view, something akin to limbo. I am not saying that your view is that infants actually go to limbo, or even that you believe there is such a place. It is clear what position you take. But it is important to note that, in holding your position of infant salvation, you are implicitly confessing that God would have been just not to save them, but to leave them in a limbo-like state.

It's important to recognize Edwards' statement in the context of his wider theology. He, like most any Reformed theologian, would say that God would have been perfectly just to damn the whole of humanity to Hell. The purpose of such statements is not to celebrate condemnation; it is to provide a proper understanding of our plight as fallen, guilty human beings, so that we might marvel at the fact that we in Christ do NOT get what we actually deserve. Grace only makes sense as grace when we understand that things really could have been otherwise.

I certainly believe that infants can be saved, but I don't presuppose their salvation based on innocence. If they are saved, it is because the Spirit sovereignly works regeneration in them. John the Baptist leaping in the womb of his mother represents one biblical example where the Spirit of God had been at work on a child even in his prenatal state.

I understand the appeal of the argument that God's character should guarantee that no infant should ever be lost. But I have also heard similar arguments made by universalists to the effect that no human being, period, should ever be lost. We have to recognize that our feelings about what may be just and fitting for a loving God to do in any situation is not necessarily a true guide for our theology. I am speaking in this paragraph particularly to Jim G's point above.

Jim G.

That should have read "ontologically unequal" in my post above. I am going to have a word with my proofreader. :0)

Jim G.

peter lumpkins


In one breath you confess it "clear what position [I] take" but continue to suggest what I've neither mentioned nor remotely implied. If my position necessarily implies "limbo," Aaron, then please show how my position is different from what the BF&M says. I've twice now stated my position is what is in the BF&M, and challenged you to show otherwise. You've completely ignored my challenge but continue nonetheless trying to reformulate what I'm saying.

In addition, I've also asked you several other questions which you've continue to ignore. When you expressed reservations over my statement concerning eternal judgment being based on actual sin--conscious, intentional transgression--I queried whether you embraced a judgment for infants based upon the notion that they committed actual transgression against God. You conveniently ignored the question. So I ask again: upon what basis are infants dying in infancy judged? Are they judged as conscious, intentional transgressors of God's law?

When I showed how part of R. Nash's understanding was very similar to what I'd expressed--interesting since he was a High Calvinist--then you glibly dissed the similarities by suggesting this isn't about Nash's view but about engaging the subject. However, thus far, it's kinda me engaging it and you more re-phrasing my position doing your darnedest to show my view makes humans merit heaven.

As for your continued defense of Edwards', it's becoming rather clear you are not as agnostic on the issue as you first came across. If you were truly agnostic you should be condemning Edwards' certainty on infant damnation as sure as you're questioning the certainty of those of us who claim certainty of universal infant salvation. Instead you defend Edwards' despicable pronouncement and make us out to be lobbying for human merit. So much for your stated agnosticism concerning the fate of infants dying in infancy.

Now we're counselled to consider Edwards' "wider theology" as a barometer for his statement as if his "wider theology" somehow can ease the severity of his notion that babies burn in hell. Hardly. For Edwards all God's actions are for His self-glory, exaltation, and utter good pleasure. Thus, burning babies in hell is no less for his self-glory, exaltation, and utter good pleasure. Not even Edwards' own camp of his day could stomach the logic of his position and thus denied it. But you're here defending it. No, Aaron, you're no agnostic I assure.

Finally, even though not a single person that I've noted here has argued for infant salvation based on infants' raw innocence you nonetheless implicate us in such--"I certainly believe that infants can be saved, but I don't presuppose their salvation based on innocence." Aaron, that's nothing more than plain theological lollygag. You continue to hang on for dear life to your self-professed Augustinianism while attempting to make us out to be Pelagians.

Now one final note: I fully expect the next time you log on to show in some way how what I've presented here as my view on human depravity is not the view presented in the 2000BF&M. If you care not to do so, fine. Then I'm done with the exchange. For when my claims are precisely what I understand we as SBs have formally adopted as a credible, meaningful confession of faith on human anthropology, and my views are considered highly questionable, then either one of two significant and relevant things follow:

a) I'm at odds with the 2000BF&M and we need to consider that;

b) you're at odds with the 2000BF&M and we also need to consider that.

While other things might follow, these are the two most important in this exchange so far as I am concerned.

Aaron O'Kelley

Peter, this conversation started well. I would very much like to return to the way it started, with me asking honest questions and you giving very good, well-thought out, and enlightening answers. I'm complimenting you here.

I'll be ready to engage if we can do that.

peter lumpkins

I'd be delighted to do this, Aaron. But it will take on your part,

a) a hesitance to assign my position to Pelagianism (I'm very much aware you've not used the term; however, with you implicating my position as presuming infants as deserving of heaven because they are presumably born in a state of innocence, that's precisely what's implied. I made a clear distinction--and an acceptable distinction even across polemical lines--between actual sin and sin nature, a distinction you continue to overlook when you charge me with implying infants are "innocent."

b) stop suggesting I'm implying the cross-work of Jesus was unnecessary when, in fact, I've positively confessed it several times in the course of this exchange. If you think it's inconsistent, then show it as such. But do not make my position out as reducing Christ's death to a vacuous contribution when I in no uncertain terms do not believe that.

c) I'm afraid you're going to have to show what I've stated here about our fallen human nature is inconsistent with and/or different from the 2000BF&M. If you refuse to do so, then as I suggested earlier, I'm through. There is no use going any further with you in this exchange, Aaron, if you either cannot or will not demonstrate my presumable wavering from our presently adopted confession of faith.

We're both Southern Baptists. Hence, there should be no problem whatsoever in your showing how my views are confessionally deviant if in fact they are deviant from what we say we confess.

Nor do I think I'm being unreasonable or displaying a spirit of dialog different from our beginning just because I require your showing precisely what you're talking about.

That is, if you judge my view leans toward "Catholicism" (i.e. limbo) or Pelagianism (we're born innocent), then if I think my view is consistent with not contrary to the 2000BF&M, then it's not an unfair question for me to inquire from you either how I differ from our confession or why you do not hold the same reservations toward the confession that you express toward my views.

I'm quite sure you feel the tension of the conundrum you face. I would. For you're going to have to demonstrate how my position, framed with the same wording and even structure of the 2000BF&M remains misguided, or concede you also have reservations with the BF&M. But I did not create it, Aaron. Your refusal to answer straight-forward questions has landed you here.

Aaron O'Kelley

Okay, I am happy to clarify on these points.

(a)You are clearly not Pelagian, nor would I have ever suggested so. When I use the term "innocent" in this context, I am referring to your definition in your first response: "they bear no guilt so far as active, conscious transgression is concerned." I apologize if lack of clarity on my part led to confusion here. For future reference, if I attribute a view of infant innocence to you, this is what I mean. I do not at all mean that you deny that infants have a sinful nature.

(b) I have never intentionally suggested that your view of Christ's atonement is that it is unnecessary for the salvation of infants. Again, if poor wording on my part suggested otherwise, I apologize and ask you to perish any thought from your mind as the conversation continues. You made it clear that infants, because of their sinful nature, are not fit for Heaven apart from the atonement.

(c) I have never suggested that your view falls outside the parameters of the BFM. Clearly, it is in line with our confession. But that issue does not concern me here because, while the BFM is certainly an important boundary-setting document, we must also recognize that it was framed by a committee of people with diverse views so as to encompass a range of theological options on a number of issues. In other words, while the BFM does a fair job as a fence, it often does not do so well when it comes to achieving greater precision on controversial theological matters. Take the statement on election, for instance. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike can affirm it, because it lays out broad parameters and does not seek to take a clear stand. That is what it has been designed to do on a number of issues. So that issue is really not my concern here.

And let me add just one more thing about limbo. If you read my quote above where I first raised the issue, you will see that I explicitly said that I know you do not affirm such a doctrine. But I was taking pieces of what you had already affirmed, putting them together, and drawing out a conclusion. I will try to do so again, hopefully with more clarity (and thus communicative success) this time, and hopefully downplaying a bit the concept of limbo. Here it goes:

Would you affirm the following two statements?

1. Although they have a sin nature, those who die in infancy do not deserve to go to Hell because they have not committed actual sins.

2. Nevertheless, because they do have a sin nature, those who die in infancy also do not deserve to go to Heaven. They must be redeemed by the atoning work of Christ in order to inherit eternal life.

If these two statements are true from your perspective, I was merely asking this: what do infants deserve, apart from Christ? Note: I am not asking what you believe will actually happen to them (since the atonement of Christ has actually occurred). I am asking what WOULD have happened to them if God had decided to render justice to them instead of grace.

Perhaps the right answer here is that we shouldn't speculate about hypothetical situations. I understand that point, and I agree that many times we should simply refrain from probing into things we can't understand. But I think this kind of thought experiment on this particular issue helps us because it clarifies for us the nature of grace.

Let me employ an analogy for clarity: when we (believers) are in Heaven, we will be able to say, "I don't deserve to be here. If God had given me what I deserve, I would be separated from his presence forever in Hell." And we will marvel at his grace. In that scenario, we are speaking of hypothetical situations (i.e., that we very well could have ended up in Hell) as a way of clarifying the true nature of the salvation we have experienced.

So, if my three children who were never able to see the light of day on this earth are now with the Lord, can they also make a similar statement? Can they say, "I don't deserve to be here. If God had given me what I deserve, I would have been cast out of his presence forever." And what would it mean to be cast out of the presence of God forever, if it does not mean Hell? Catholics used to suggest Limbo, but both you and I agree the concept is altogether theologically suspect. My sense (and perhaps you would agree?) is that, if they do not deserve to be in God's presence forever, there is only one other option: eternal condemnation. Please note: I am not saying they actually receive such condemnation (for our God is full of mercy!). I am merely pointing out that, if they do, I cannot accuse God of wrong. Infant condemnation may or may not be true, but from my perspective, it is not unimaginable, for the reason I have spelled out above.

All of that is to say this: if you believe infants in Heaven don't deserve to be there, then I think you must also conclude that God very well could have refused to save them, and, had he done so, he would have been well within his rights as a good and just God (and this statement would not be terribly far from what Edwards, who believed that God did save at least some infants, was saying). Perhaps you don't want to affirm that conclusion. That is fine; I won't attribute it to you. But I think, if you resist it, your theology has an inconsistency. That is all I am trying to argue. I hope I have represented you fairly and, if I have failed to do so at any point, please show me where and I will gladly correct myself.

Jim G.

Hi Aaron,

Can you show me exactly where I appeal to feelings? I don't ever recall using such language. I appeal to the character of God, but that hardly makes me a universalist. If you want to discuss a particular thing I've said, I'm willing. But I certainly did not appeal to feelings nor do I want to give the impression that I did so.

Jim G.

Scott Shaver

Herein lies the problem with Aaron who, unlike the brother of Moses, has been holding up the arms of Calvin a bit too long.

"I've never suggested that your (Lumpkins) view falls outside the parameters of the BFM. Clearly it is line with our confession...but, while the BFM is certainly an important boundary-setting document,we must also recognize that it was framed by a range of theological options on a number of issues ..it does not do so well when it comes to achieving greater precision on controversial theological matters."

Since when did the issue of infant damnation (i.e. inherited guilt)start requiring "greather theological precision" as a topic of discussion in Southern Baptist life?

Let's see, that would be about the same time the SBC morphed into a sort of mongrel, charismatic, presbyterian sect.

I will agree with Aaron, however, on the complete uselessness of any BFM along with the entire weight of Baptist history if his reasoning reflects the path that what's left of Southern Baptists intend to walk down (denominationally speaking).

Aaron O'Kelley

Hi Jim. That is a fair point to raise, so here is what I would say: a simple appeal to the character of God does not tell us much. I know that you are not a universalist, and that is precisely my point: universalists make similar appeals to the character of God. They reason, "A loving God could never send anyone to Hell." Where do they arrive at that conclusion? By an inward, intuitive sense (or, if you will, feeling) that it just can't be true if God truly is loving.

I think evangelicals, by and large, reason in a similar manner when it comes to the issue of infant salvation. The conclusion itself may not be wrong (as I have said, I am still agnostic on this), but the way we get there matters.

Scott Shaver


You keep waving your "agnosticism" on this issue around as if that position is to be respected for the sake of constructive dialogue.

"The way we get there matters" seems to be your primary concern.

I will then ask you a question beginning with the inherited guilt of infants. Does inherited guilt serve to impute the graceless position of eternal damnation upon the infant before or after he/she makes a volitional choice to transgress God's standard?

I believe an answer to this question will help us better understand your "agnosticism" on the issue.

Jim G.

Hi Aaron,

You are absolutely right in that the way we get there matters.

So let's go with what we know.

God's character IS loving, which means he is by nature FOR us rather than against us. That alone does not guarantee anything at this point, but let's probe further.

We know that the triune God created all things in, by, and for Christ. So that means that God is not removed from his creation. He is intimately connected to it, because the one for, by, and in whom it all exists came into that very creation to reconcile all of it to God in himself.

We also know that the most foundational truth that is revealed to us in Scripture is the love-soaked union between the Father and the Son. Jesus' last words to his disciples in the so-called Upper Room Discourse is permeated with the language of mutual interpenetration of Father and Son as the most fundamental reality of the cosmos. That means that everything we know about "God" must be seen through and, if necessary, re-interpreted through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. As the author of Hebrews tells us, Jesus is the full and final revelation of God to us, because he IS the God who is being revealed.

Having said all that, all that we say about God must be read through the lens of the Father-Son union. What is "just" and what is "righteous" must be seen through the Son of the Father. Justice and righteousness become, using mathematical language, functions of the intra-triune love. Moreover, because they are the eternal characteristics of the triune God, justice and righteousness MUST be defined by who God is within himself, rather than with respect to sin or anything else that is temporal. Seeing things this way reframes the way we speak about God moving in salvation. The language of "obligation" gets replaced by the vocabulary of "loving motivation."

Therefore the language of "deserving heaven" should never even come into our discussion. Nobody "deserves" heaven, but neither do your children "deserve" your love.

Thus the character of God - the triune God who has created all things in the one who has become permanently incarnate - makes infant salvation very plausible. Now, I have a lot more to say about this, but I will await any comments from you before I go to the next point, which is to assume infant damnation exists, and then work backwards to see if the God who would damn an infant (even one unborn) is the same as the Father of Jesus. If the God who would damn an infant proves beyond a shadow of a doubt inconsistent with the character of the God revealed as the Father of Jesus, I think you would be forced to surrender your agnosticism, wouldn't that be the only possible conclusion?

Jim G.

Scott Shaver

The idea of an imputed righteousness of Christ prior to volitional choice is much more compatible with an imputed righteousness of Christ through faith after a volitional decision to sin when you think about the "agnostic" alternative.

What you wind up with (option B) is a glaring absence of proportionate grace coupled with a brand of divine determinism that would allow wiggle room for the idea of consigning infants rather than adults (guilty by volition)to the eternal punishment of separation from God.

All this in order to satisfy the tenets of a theology which has failed repeatedly over hundreds of years to simply consider the nature and character of God as revealed in Christ.

When Baptists are that far gone .... what good is any confession, really?

peter lumpkins


My home internet just exploded. All I have is my cell. I can approve comments but can't do anything else include check for comments in moderation

peter lumpkins


Thanks for the clarifications and though I’m not entirely satisfied with your response concerning the BF&M, I’m perfectly willing to let it alone for now.

You asked if I affirmed two propositions:

1. Although they have a sin nature, those who die in infancy do not deserve to go to Hell because they have not committed actual sins.

2. Nevertheless, because they do have a sin nature, those who die in infancy also do not deserve to go to Heaven. They must be redeemed by the atoning work of Christ in order to inherit eternal life.

The answer to the first is absolutely not—no. I’ve made it as plain as I know how that while judgment in eternity is based upon active, intentional, conscious rebellion against God and His law, even those who’ve not actively committed transgressions (i.e. infants and the severely mentally challenged) still are born with a sinful, fallen nature making them unfit for the Kingdom of God. If I were to offer an analogy, I’d offer one similar to the one I posted yesterday, an example supposing an afflicted son or daughter of say an alcoholic or drug addict. While we cannot impose blame upon him or her for the mother's addiction (i.e. sin), neither can we treat the child as if he or she possessed no personal malady, a malady which must be both experienced by the child and addressed by us with similar if not identical remedies as if the child was blameworthy for his or her condition. Persons with untreated sinful natures cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.

In addition, I’m confused why you’d frame the first proposition as you did. I’ve not mentioned infants not deserving Hell that I recall. I continue to indicate the infants dying in infancy will not be judged for deliberate transgression against God’s law. Nor have I remotely suggested infants dying in infancy won’t go to Hell because they’ve not committed actual sins. To the contrary, infants dying in infancy won’t ultimately go to hell for the same reason believers won’t go to hell—the blood of Jesus Christ.

As for the second proposition, the answer has already been given—of course no human being, including infants, deserve Heaven.

Now concerning your follow-up supposing I answered yes to the two propositions above, I ‘m unsure how to proceed since I did not answer both yes as you apparently anticipated.

Nonetheless, you query what would happen if the atonement would not have taken place. What you’re asking, besides being hypothetical, is also irrelevant to this issue. If the atonement did not take place, no one would or could be saved. Period. Hence, it makes no difference about infants, teens, or old codgers like me. We’re all doomed.

What is telling about this question is, you still appear to assume that, in my view, a) babies deserve heaven; consequently, b) Christ’s atonement is unnecessary for them since infants deserve Heaven and do not deserve Hell. That seems to be driving this point you’re attempting to make. 

I think your conclusion makes this clear: “My sense (and perhaps you would agree?) is that, if they do not deserve to be in God's presence forever, there is only one other option: eternal condemnation.” Once again you speak as if infants deserve something, either Heaven or Hell. Aaron, you’re completely missing the point. If the atonement IS true, and Jesus died on the cross for our sin—He took what we deserved--then you’re completely skewing the issue. You continue to assume my position makes the cross of Christ unnecessary for infants dying in infancy, when the cross of Christ remains necessary to make salvation possible for any and all persons including infants dying in infancy. Thus, to speak about any person deserving heaven and not deserving Hell is absurd.

And, no I don’t think Edwards’ framework remains the least bit understandable in light of what you’ve just proposed. Edwards comes out of a theological trajectory which so elevates God’s WILL and GOOD PLEASURE that no matter what Deity does, it’s good, and right, and holy, and just. Furthermore, Edwards—and you I suppose—embrace a theological framework which very much lends itself contrary to a corporate body being affected positively by the atonement of Christ. Personally, I find it strange that any strong Calvinist would ever embrace anything but the salvation of some infants and the damnation of others. Such a proposition fits perfects well within the theological notion of personal, individual election, particular atonement, and imputed Adamic guilt. On the other hand, it must be hammered into place outside those structural notions. Consequently, Edwards’ position, while deplorable, ugly, and exceedingly hard to swallow, remains nonetheless consistent with his hard-line Calvinism.  

Aaron O'Kelley

Peter, thanks for the interaction. I can see we are not getting very far because our minds are not meeting.

Jim G., you make a very intriguing argument, and I am interested to hear more. Yes, you are correct that if infant damnation clearly (with an emphasis on "clearly") contradicts the character of God revealed as triune love (understood in clearly biblical categories), that would eliminate my agnosticism. So, I am eager to hear your argument.

But you have to be careful that any argument that you make for the salvation of infants, based on God's character, does not entail automatic salvation of others as well where Scripture does not warrant it (e.g., the salvation of those who never hear the gospel, as inclusivists would argue, or the salvation of all people, as universalists would argue). So by all means, continue.

peter lumpkins


Now that I've taken the time to answer your questions, please consider a couple of mine:

1) Upon what basis are infants dying in infancy judged?

2) In your view, is it just, right, and good that infants dying in infancy would be condemned solely upon the basis of imputed Adamic guilt?

Aaron O'Kelley


I think my answers will make more sense if I take the questions in reverse order:

"2) In your view, is it just, right, and good that infants dying in infancy would be condemned solely upon the basis of imputed Adamic guilt?"

This may surprise you, but I do not adhere to the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, so my answer would be no. I have been persuaded by Henri Blocher's argument in his book "Original Sin: Illuminating the Riddle" that Romans 5 does not teach the imputation of Adam's sin. However, that does not mean that I deny Adam's federal headship or that I affirm infants are without guilt. Blocher goes on to argue, persuasively in my view, that from the very moment of conception, we are alienated from God, and this alienation carries guilt with it. Adam's sin is ultimately responsible for this state that we are in, yes (as I think all parties would agree), but the means by which we enter into our existence guilty before God is not, in my view, the imputed sin of Adam to us.

So that leads me back to the first question:

"1) Upon what basis are infants dying in infancy judged?"

I suppose I would have to say that, since I don't take a clear position on this issue, I really don't know. Does God graciously choose to judge infants only on the basis of conscious, willful sin (as Nash, Piper, MacArthur, and others have argued), or does he judge them on the basis of what they are as human beings who exist in a state of sin and are thus guilty before him? If the latter, does he graciously regenerate at least some (or possibly all) whom he knows will die in infancy in ways beyond our understanding and so redeem them in Christ from the condemnation that they justly deserve? These are questions that I don't know how to answer because I don't see the Bible answering them clearly.

peter lumpkins

Thanks Aaron. I appreciate much your time given to answer.

First, you claim you do not hold to imputed Adamic sin to his posterity. Presumably you equate “imputed Adamic sin” with “imputed Adamic guilt” since that is what I originally asked, and you responded “This may surprise you, but I do not adhere to the imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, so my answer would be no.”

Second, you claim you “do not affirm infants are without guilt.”

Thus, a) since you do not hold to imputed Adamic guilt; and b) infants are not without guilt; then c) this leads to the obvious questions:

a) from whence comes the guilt you apparently attribute in infants from the moment of conception?

b) is the guilt the kind of guilt for which the infant from the moment of conception is blameworthy? If so, then does God find them blameworthy for the supposed guilt? If not, then, what kind of real guilt exists for which no blame may be assigned?

Third, you claim in your answer to the second question that Piper, Nash,  MacArthur and others believe that God graciously chooses to judge infants only on the basis of conscious, willful sin, a perpetual assertion I’ve continued to make in this exchange. Now I’m really confused, Aaron. Not only would you not remain open to my assertion, you continued to critically pound my proposition that infants dying in infancy are judged not on the basis of their inherited Adamic nature, but on the basis of conscious, intentional rebellion against God and His law, and did so as if it left us open to a charge of universalism on one hand or “limbo” on the other. You continued to suggest I implied either infants were somehow “innocent” on the one hand or “deserved” heaven and “did not deserve” hell on the other.

Now, however, you claim precisely what I’ve argued is similarly argued by at least three well-know Reformed persons.Even more frustrating, you seem to be much more open to the proposition as propounded by Piper, et al and even framed it in the most positive light—“God graciously chooses to judge infants only on the basis of conscious, willful sin”—claiming you really “don’t take a position.” Well, if you really don’t take a position, you’ve made a stellar effort in defending Edwards’ deplorable certainty that it is most just for God to send new-born infants to hell! If you were truly agnostic, you would remain just as skeptical of Edwards’ certainty that some babies burn in hell as you would those like me who argue no babies burn in hell. Yet all we’ve heard thus far is a defense of Edwards’ God-is-just-in-the-damnation-of-infants view and universal infant salvation as I’ve argued resembling “limbo” or implying infants “deserve” heaven and “do not deserve” hell.

Contrary to the position of Piper, et al (including Lumpkins, by the way, in so far as the proposition that the basis of judgment on infants dying in infancy is concerned), you wonder if God judges infants dying in infancy “on the basis of what they are as human beings who exist in a state of sin and are thus guilty before him.” Pertaining to this proposition in your second answer, I’m again confused given your first answer. There you claimed you do not hold to imputed Adamic guilt but that doesn’t mean infants are not without guilt. Now the contrary proposal to Piper, et al—a possible position about which you cannot decide—suggests infants dying in infancy exist in a state of sin and are thus guilty. Is “state of sin” equivalent to your former “infants are not without guilt”? If so, what is the difference between “state of sin” and “imputed sinful guilt”?

You also wonder if God will regenerate some or all infants dying in infancy if they are in a state of sin. But doesn’t this presuppose this state of sin is fully and eternally blameworthy and sufficient reason to damn to hell infants dying in infancy? You further suppose that if these infants (some or all) are regenerated, they are infants whom God knows will die in infancy. This brings up many conundrums for the Augustinian-Calvinist paradigm I’m afraid. And, though this might take us on a little chase, it nonetheless remains relevant from my stand point.

If God regenerates those infants who He knows will die in infancy, isn’t this ipso facto proposing that God saves these infants on the basis of foreknowledge, a foreknowledge that they will die in infancy? But if God saves infants based upon a foreknowledge that they will die in infancy, how is it that God does not elect, call, and save others based upon foreknowledge, a frequent charge hurled against “Arminians”?

But we are not through. If God saves infants whom He knows will die in infancy, is that not saving them based upon a condition they uniquely possess? Simply put, if God saves infants whom He knows will die in infancy, then where does that leave unconditional election? That it’s not anything in the creature, including his circumstances, her goodness, his badness, his wealth, her family—nothing whatsoever causes God to elect a person to salvation. That’s unconditional election. However, if God saves infants whom He knows will die in infancy, surely there’s at least one instance where unconditional election is not applicable—infants dying in infancy.  

There’s more.

If meticulous sovereignty is correct as Baptist Calvinists almost ubiquitously maintain, then it follows that God does not just know that infants die in infancy and conceived children grow up into adulthood with severe mental handicaps so that, in essence, they function in many ways as infants. Rather it follows that God planned for all those infants to die in infancy and mentally handicapped infants to grow up into adulthood.

Now for hard-line Augustinian-Calvinists who maintain as did Edwards that some infants dying in infancy are elect, and therefore, whether regenerated between birth and death or immediately after death, elect infants dying in infancy are graciously saved by the covenant-keeping God there’s little theological problem so far as their “system” is concerned for all other infants dying in infancy (including the severely mentally incapable who are not elect) are reprobate and get what they rightly deserve in Hell. It's a deplorable position but it makes sense given the premises

However, this gets really tricky for hard-line Augustinian-Calvinists who maintain all infants dying in infancy are elect. We hear that a lot and mind you, I’m with Calvinists who at least conclude all infants dying in infancy (including the mentally incapable) are graciously safe with our Father. We may disagree on how they come to their conclusion but we remain thrilled they’ve concluded rightly so far as we are concerned.

Even so, what hard-line Augustinian Calvinists are asking us to accept is too much for my theological stomach. If God planned for infant salvation in this way, then that means He planned for every baby dying in infancy to die in infancy. Not only so, God planned all the people who are today mentally incapacitated to be that way. Necessarily implied in this is, on the one hand no non-elect person dies infancy and no mentally incapacitated person living into adulthood is non-elect. How this makes any sense whatsoever remains more than a mystery. And try telling grieving parents who just lost their infant son to 'Cheer up! God planned this death so your baby could be saved! He planned it so all babies die who are elect.

Scott Shaver

How strange. Aaron feels compelled to warn some of us about the danger of suggesting "automatic" salvation in our theological musings...he has rambled with hundreds of words in defense of Calvinistic tenets of belief....Yet I've still failed to ascertain from all his verbiage whether or not he really knows what theological construct in particular informs his advice.

Most folks would have a hard time taking specific detailed advice from someone who appears not to know what he or she is doing themselves.

Paul Owen

What I find utterly astounding about the notion that God would send infants to Hell, is that it portrays God as looking for a reason to damn people, rather than looking for a reason to save people! The notion that God would say to a little child, "Well, I could have saved you, but I'm afraid I am now bound in the service of justice to punish you for the sin of Adam in the Garden. On the basis of this technicality (your unknowing participation in his guilt) I am going to bar you from my love and fellowship forever." How utterly ridiculous this is, and how insulting it is to the true and living gracious Father of our Lord. I must confess, I cannot recognize the face of this god who delights in the eternal death of little children.

Aaron O'Kelley

Peter, you have some more stimulating thoughts there. However, I can also see a number of places where our minds continue to miss one another, and rather than try again to clarify, I will leave off here and keep thinking these things over.


"How this makes any sense whatsoever remains more than a mystery. And try telling grieving parents who just lost their infant son to 'Cheer up! God planned this death so your baby could be saved! He planned it so all babies die who are elect"

It is not that far off, believe me. I know a young couple in a YRR church here whose baby was born dead. What did the YRR staff pastor tell them the next day at the hospital?

This was not God's plan for you. Perhaps He wants you to adopt.

peter lumpkins


I accept your pulling away from the exchange but not without noting this is now the second time in this single exchange you've dismissed my contribution by pleading to some unidentifiable factor why you feel it best not to respond--namely, our minds are not meeting. What that actually means is anybody's guess since you failed to show how we were missing one another.

I haven't a single reservation if someone desires to bow out of a conversation because of no time or no energy and perhaps even no desire to continue. I've felt the very same way before, sometimes wishing I'd never got into the conversation to begin with. This is bound to happen sooner or later.

Even so, I find it interesting you decide to pull out when some rather straight-forward questions were aimed at your own propositions concerning this issue.

So, a good evening to you brother. Perhaps we'll have opportunity to exchange later...

Jim G.

Hi Peter and Aaron,

In many ways, this reply is to both of you at once.

To Peter:

I think it is imprecise to speak of the Augustinian-Calvin paradigm. I think calling it a synthesis is okay, but Augustine and later (post-Reformed scholastic) Calvinists operate on two completely different paradigms. More below.

To Aaron:
I fully get why you are agnostic. I did not get it until your reply to Peter last night. I should have seen it, but sometimes I am blind as a bat. It hit me when you said you do not deny Adam's federal headship. You hold to federalism. That is the very reason you are agnostic. And, I'm afraid I won't be very successful in delivering on my promise from yesterday. I can dialog with you and I think we can come to a brotherly mutual understanding, but I don't think I can convince you that God's essential nature will **clearly** reveal he will not damn infants, at least not as long as you remain federalist. I honestly don't know how to make my assertions clear to someone who embraces consistent federalism.

I had not run across Blocher's view of original sin. After reading all I can about it without actually reading him (I don't own the book), it seems to me to be a federalized interpretation of the Eastern Orthodox view of orig. sin, or something mighty close to it.

To both of you:

Augustine and I share a commitment to metaphysical realism. We interpret how it works out differently, but we are both realists. All ancient people were realists, even though they probably did not realize they were. A realist believes in the independent existence of universals (properties that can be shared among different things). For the Christian realist, it means that God is an essential being that remains constant, and that certain aspects of humanity can be present apart from their instantized existence (all human beings "in" Adam, for example, is real, even though it cannot be fully explained). This view of metaphysical reality remained unchallenged until the middle ages.

John Roscelin sowed the seeds of a new metaphysical orientation in his nominalism. It became all the rage by the 14th century. Nominalism denies the real existence of universals. Theologically speaking, a consistent nominalism denies the very nature of God, and denies the possibility that all humans are organically connected. Instead of a singular race, it is a collection of individuals with the same point of origin. To grossly oversimplify, a realist sees a forest, while a nominalist sees a lot of trees.

The nominalist revolution was disastrous for medieval theology. It created a "God" that was voluntarist (will-driven) and untrustworthy. It spawned three distinct answers: a cultural answer (the Renaissance), a practical answer (science), and a theological answer (God helps those who help themselves, against which both Luther and Zwingli revolted). The problem is, the reformers who tried to correct the Catholic theological answer were themselves at least "buzzed" (Calvin) if not fully drunk (Luther) with the intoxicating wine of the "via moderna" (nominalism).

Though Calvin himself was a blend of realism and nominalism (which is why it is imprecise to say the "Augustinan-Calvinist paradigm"), later scholastic Calvinists became more and more nominalistic. They invented the concept of federalism to explain how Adam (and Christ) relates to all other human beings. In nominalism, any sort of real participation in Adam is impossible because that which participates by assumed definition cannot exist. Adam (and Christ) cannot be really constitutive; they can only be representatives, for the nominalism which underlies federalism denies any possibility of "organic" union. The union is in "name only," hence nominalism. Thus Augustine and modern Calvinists do not hold to equal paradigms. They arrive at a similar place, but the mode of travel is completely different.

Let me say that federal Calvinists are never fully consistent nominalists. The Bible is a realist book (as nominalism was unknown in the ancient world), and some realism always seeps in, especially when we speak of divine and human natures. But the fundamental philosophical-theological axiom for a nominalist-federalist Christian is separation, especially in the three crucial unions (which I believe is why federal thinkers tend to lean toward social trinitarianism, a la Grudem and Ware; a Nestorian tint to the natures in Christ, a la Gill; and an ordo salutis that sees union with Christ as a benefit, a la most post-Calvin Calvinists). Alternatively, realists see unity as the fundamental axiom.

Back to Aaron:

Given that one of us is from Mars and one from Venus (that's a joke), I don't know that I can make an argument about infant salvation that assumes only what a federalist will allow. It's like forcing a fish to breathe air or a human to breathe water. I'm pretty sure I can make a realist argument for infant salvation (though I don't know if a blog is the right place - it would be long and complicated), but I imagine we would not agree on the rules of engagement. I'd be happy to sketch it, but I doubt you'd buy it while remaining federalist.

Sorry for such a long post.

Jim G.

peter lumpkins


Thank you brother. You always challenge us and challenge us well. I must note that you'll probably not get too many takers on your comment, however. I dabbled in philosophy including metaphysics way back in undergraduate school, and though some of your content I recall, I do so only faintly. Perhaps Dr. Owen could engage your contribution.

Thank you also for the corrective on "Augustinian-Calvinist paradigm." It was surely unfortunate I used "paradigm" for that set off for you perhaps I was using it in a philosophical sense when my real purpose was to communicate a historio-theological cohesion pertaining to certain doctrines; namely, infant damnation, hard-line predestination, particular election, imputed guilt, and, throwing in post-Calvin Calvinism, particular atonement. I assure you, I had neither nominalism nor realsim in the forefront of my mind when I used the careless phrase--"Augustinian-Calvinist paradigm."

I will know better next time to choose my words more precisely! Thank you again for your just and understandable corrective note.

Lord bless brother...

Paul Owen

The history of nominalism vs. realism is by no means within my realm of competence. Interesting ideas though!

Jim G.

Hi Peter,

It's not a big deal that there are 2 paradigms, except when you get to "character of God" issues that deal with things like infant damnation. Realist Calvinists, from which you have quoted a good deal, see a character in God that shapes his actions. More nominalist Calvinists by definition are agnostic about such a character. Nominalism, from which federalism arises, denies any real, knowable character in God. Now, not all federalists are full-blown nominalists - I would say that very few are. But, federalists are usually quite comfortable in explaining all things by divine fiat. It is usually couched in language involving words such as "obligation" or "deserve." What federalists really want to say is that God does what he does because he wills it to be so, and his will answers to no higher authority. Thus when pressed, a federalist will say that "God is not obligated to save anyone" or "No one deserves salvation" or the like.

Notice what the "obligation" language entails: the will of God is supreme. That is called voluntarism, and it arose out of the nominalistic revolution of the 14th century. Voluntarism can be squared with God's sense of fairness (a realist concept - it is never a straight mixture) by saying no one deserves salvation. Thus actions by divine fiat are "justified" in the mind of the fairly-consistent-federalist, and God's will is done. The problem is, there is nothing deeper in God than his "ad extra" will. So when we try to convince a person who believes God might damn some infants, we are fighting symptoms on the surface that arise from a far deeper infection - nominalism.

I am by no means an expert on this. I'm just learning about it but I see the multiple ways it is applied in real life. I am kinda mad that I was not taught it in seminary - either at the masters or doctorate level. It is probably the biggest event in the last 1000 years religiously, politically, and socially, but we don't know about it. I wish I had encountered it meaningfully during my SB education, rather than finding out about its significance later.

And, Paul, you are absolutely right about not recognizing the nominalist God. The Catholic Church had the same issues in the late 1300s into the 1400s. Their insufficient answer (God helps those who help themselves) triggered Luther's reformation.

Jim G.


It was not until about 10 years ago, I started hearing "Federalism" bandied about with ease. Thanks for making the connection with the Trinity. It explains a lot for me.

Jim, Your comments always challenge me to think deeper and study more. Off to read up on Nominalism.....

peter lumpkins


Your second response was most helpful. I am aware of Voluntarism and its extended significance on the WILL of GOD. Frankly, I've never tried to get a grip on all the differences between and contributions of nominalism, essentialism, voluntarism, and realism. How we continue to discover just what we've no clue concerning!

Lord bless...

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