By Thomas Talbott, Ph.D.
September 3, 2019
But at this point, I fear, Hart may find himself subjected to an ad hominem argument of the following kind: the criticism that he just regards himself as morally superior to his infernalist opponents. It is a criticism that sort of goes with the territory. After publishing a scathing critique of the Reformed doctrine of reprobation several decades ago, one in which I labeled it “a respectable blasphemy” against God, I understandably received many harsh criticisms in return. The only criticism that touched my heart, however, was exceedingly gentle. It happened when the wife of my best friend in the Reformed church that my wife and I were then attending—a dear woman with some serious physical challenges—hesitantly expressed the worry that I might be regarding myself as more loving than others in the church. That was startling indeed, because I knew without question that others in the church were far more loving in their personal lives than I tend to be in my own. None of us, after all, are fully consistent in our moral lives. So in the end I found myself saying, or at least thinking to myself, things like, “Virtually all Calvinists I have known are far better than the theology they have embraced, even as I am far worse than the theology I have embraced.” But Hart’s own attempt to forestall similar criticisms may be better than my own. “Really,” he asks concerning the infernalist orthodoxy, “could we truly believe it apart from either profound personal fear or profound personal cruelty? Which is why, again, I do not believe that most Christians truly believe what they believe they believe” (p. 204). Some may find such a view counterintuitive, but I do not. For over the course of my own life, I have observed more than a few instances where people have sincerely thought they believed certain things about God only to have some tragic event—such as a husband dying “in unbelief” or a teenage daughter committing suicide—prove that they did not truly believe what they previously had sincerely thought they believed.