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A Friendly Response to JD Dalcour on John 3:16

I appreciate the ministry of brother JD Dalcour.  His book on Oneness Pentecostalism is the best book I’ve read on the subject (though I would take exception with some of his Calvinistic views in the book).  Dalcour is a thoughtful, intelligent brother who seeks to make a defense of the faith.

In his recent newsletter he has been writing about “10 Most Misinterpreted Passages.”  In this letter he attacks us Arminians on two verses: John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9.  Pretty standard Calvinist responses to these two verses.

The Arminian approach of both these verses is that John 3:16 and 2 Peter 3:9 affirm unlimited atonement.  This is why Calvinists often write about these two verses.  If the L of TULIP is true, that Jesus died only for the elect, Calvinists must do something with the so called “universal texts” that speak of Jesus dying for all men.

One of the problems is that Calvinists want to affirm that the work of Christ did not fail.  I appreciate this.  Of course, we Arminians do not believe in a failed atonement either.  We hold that while Jesus shed His blood for all sinners, only those who appropriate His blood are truly saved.  That Jesus died does not save anyone (even Calvinists acknowledge this) but rather the only one who is saved by the work of Christ is the one who repents of their sins and places their faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Even if one holds that faith is a gift from God (Philippians 1:29), God doesn’t believe for the person.  By His grace, the person believes and receives eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23).

Dalcour would have us to believe that Romans 5:1 should say that we are justified unto faith and not by faith.  The Scripture is clear that the only ones who are saved are those who believe in the gospel (1 Corinthians 1:21).  Even if one holds that Acts 13:48 is teaching unconditional election, those who believed are the only ones who are saved.  This is the clear teaching of the Bible.

So what about John 3:16?  Dalcour, as others before him have done following it seems in the footsteps of John Owen, makes much about “the ones believing” in the Greek text.  Dalcour builds his case that the Greek is clear: Jesus saves “all the ones believing in Him.” Further, Dalcour points out that the word “world” (Kosmos in the Greek) must be viewed in its context and doesn’t always mean “entire world” as Arminians have often preached.  Dalcour writes:

Due to the presupposition of autosoterism (self-salvation), chiefly promoted by the Arminians, kosmos is assumed here to mean every single person, thus embracing the “traditional” (not exegetical) view of universal atonement.  Although kosmos can have various meanings, as seen above, rarely does it carry an all-inclusive “every single person” meaning.  Further, we know that the “world” in v. 16 is not the same “world” that Jesus does not pray for in John 17:9; nor is it the “world” that John speaks of in 1 John 2:15, which we are not to love.  Also, in first century vernacular, the normal meaning of “world” was the “world” of Jews and Gentiles – as John’s audience would have understood (cf. John 12:17, 19).

Dalcour goes on to state that Jesus was sent by God not save the “world” but “the world of the believing ones.”

Let us take a look at his arguments.

First, Dalcour builds a straw man in that he asserts without any justification that Arminians hold to “autosoterism” or self-salvation.  I have been an Arminian for my entire Christian life.  I have heard many Arminians preach, have listened to Arminians give talks on theology, have read the works of many Arminians and I am yet to hear one Arminian teach this.

Arminius writes:

The object of justification is man, a sinner, acknowledging himself, with sorrow, to be such an one, and a believer, that is, believing in God who justifies the ungodly, and in Christ as having been delivered for our offenses, and raised again for our justification. As a sinner, man needs justification through grace, and, as a believer, he obtains justification through grace.

Faith is the instrumental cause, or act, by which we apprehend Christ proposed to us by God for a propitiation and for righteousness, according to the command and promise of the gospel, in which it is said, “He who believes shall be justified and saved, and he who believeth not shall be damned.”

Christ has not obtained by his merits that we should be justified by the worthiness and merit of faith, and much less that we should be justified by the merit of works: But the merit of Christ is opposed to justification by works; and, in the Scriptures, faith and merit are placed in opposition to each other.

Just these few quotes from the works of Arminius make it clear that Arminius did not hold to a person saving themselves.  All sinners are saved by grace through faith and not by our works of any kind (Romans 4:5-7; Titus 3:5-7).  Salvation is the gracious work of God that He has wrought though His Son (Ephesians 1:7).  This is biblical Arminianism.

Secondly, Dalcour’s reasoning about “world” is not accurate.  He is certainly right that context must determine the usage.  For example, Mark 1:5 says that all Judea and Jerusalem was going to John the Baptist to be baptized by him.  The context is clear that this means “a large number” and not “every single person.”  That said, Dalcour errs in saying that world here in John 3:16 is not a call to all to come and be saved.  He cites John 17:9 as proof.  Notice that is his only text.  He doesn’t turn to Luke 23:34 where Jesus does pray for sinners.  If Jesus refused to pray for sinners, Luke 23:34 would not make sense.

Furthermore, Dalcour points to 1 John 2:15.  If one studies John’s usage of world in just 1 John, one must conclude that 1 John 2:2 is indeed the entire world.  In fact, in 1 John 2:2 John contrasts “the believing ones” with the whole world in the same verse!

Conclusion

This has been a short reply and I would point my readers to the Society of Evangelical Arminians which has many articles on the issue of John 3:16 as it relates to the Greek text. The arguments Dalcour uses are old.  John Owen implied them hundreds of years ago.  Arminians have answered.

In closing, I agree with Dalcour that Jesus only saves those who believe.  I agree 100%.  I am not a complete “universalist” in that I teach that Jesus saves only those who repent and believe the gospel.  I don’t believe that simply because Jesus died on the cross that people are guaranteed eternal life.  I reject this view completely.  I teach that Jesus did die on the cross for all sinners but only those who place their faith in Him are saved.  None, including the Calvinists, are saved apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ.  I reject the doctrine of eternal justification.

However, I have found that some Calvinists are so bent on teaching Calvinism that they are willing to even exegete Scripture based on their own presupposition.  In this case, Dalcour takes his rejection of unlimited atonement and turns John 3:16 not into a promise for all sinners but instead he makes it applicable only to the elect whom God has chosen by His own arbitrary choice.  I would say take John 3:16 and preach it to sinners, calling them to repent and believe the gospel of God’s grace.

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The Arminian Affirmation of the Atonement

The Bible is clear that Jesus died for sinners.  No one denies this.  Both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that Jesus shed His blood for the souls of lost sinners.  Matthew 1:21 is clear that Jesus came to save His people from their sins.  The key question in this debate over the atonement is whether the atonement is for all sinners period.  Many Calvinists insist that the atonement is indeed for all people on some level.  For example, Dr. John MacArthur believes that the atonement provides benefits for all people while only having the power to save the elect.  MacArthur goes on to state, “Jesus Christ made a sufficient sacrifice to cover every sin of every one who believes (John 3:16-18; 1 Timothy 2:5-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2.”

I do not disagree.  MacArthur states the following on 1 John 2:2 and the “whole world”:

This is a generic term, referring not to every single individual, but to mankind in general.  Christ actually paid the penalty only for those who would repent and believe.  A number of Scriptures indicate that Christ died for the world (John 1:29; 3:16; 6:51; 1 Timothy 2:6; Hebrews 2:9).  Most of the world will be eternally condemned to hell to pay for their own sins, so they could not have been paid for by Christ.  The passages that speak of Christ’s dying for the whole world must be understood to refer to mankind in general (as in Titus 2:11).  “World” indicates the sphere, the beings toward whom God seeks reconciliation and has provided propitiation.  God has mitigated his wrath on sinners temporarily, by letting them live and enjoy earthly life (1 Timothy 4:10).  In that sense, Christ has provided a brief, temporary propitiation for the whole world.  But he actually satisfied fully the wrath of God eternally only for the elect who believe.  Christ’s death in itself had unlimited and infinite value because he is Holy God.  Thus his sacrifice was sufficient to pay the penalty for all the sins of all whom God brings to faith.  But the actual satisfaction and atonement was made only for those who believe (John 10:11, 15; 17:9, 20; Acts 20:28; Romans 8:32, 37; Ephesians 5:25).  The pardon for sin is offered to the whole world, but received only by those who believe (1 John 4:9, 14; John 5:24).  There is no other way to be reconciled to God.

A few thoughts here about this.  First, I appreciate Dr. MacArthur much.  He preaches salvation to all.  He never fails to call all to repent and believe the gospel.  In this sense, he follows in the steps of men such as George Whitefield and Charles Spurgeon in calling all sinners to repentance.  He is no hyper-Calvinist in this regard.  There has probably never been a man who has done more for expository preaching than John MacArthur.  Having personally met him, I found him to be gracious and kind.  So by no means do I present my case against him as an enemy.  I come as a brother.

Now the Arminian can read the above words from MacArthur and agree with most of what he wrote.  I agree that Christ died for the elect.  I agree that Christ died for His sheep.  I agree that Christ died for His Church.  I agree that Christ died for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  I agree that Christ died for us (Galatians 1:4).  But I also go one step further and believe that Christ died for all.  I agree that no one is saved apart from being reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  I agree that one has to believe to be saved (John 5:24; Acts 16:30-31).  I agree that repentance is necessary for eternal life (Acts 2:38).  But I also believe that all can be saved and there is no limit on this number.

I agree that the world is opposed to God (1 John 2:15-17).  Ironically, MacArthur never limits “world” in 1 John but here in 1 John 2:2.  The world is indeed sinful, God-hating, rejecting the truth of the gospel.  I agree.  But what we find in the gospel is God calling out to the whole world to repent and be saved.  God, who is the one that the world hates, is calling to His enemies to come and be reconciled through faith (Isaiah 1:18).  This is the message of the gospel (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47).

You’ll notice in MacArthur’s statement above also that he wants to make sure that we understand that he believes the atonement is powerful enough to cover the sins of the world if God wanted it to.  He doesn’t use those words but it seems implied by this reader.  He wants us to see how powerful and vast the work of Christ is.  I would agree.  In the cross, we do find God the Son dying for the world and shedding His precious blood for the lost.  If God wanted to, He could indeed reconciled the world through the powerful blood of Jesus.  I have no doubt.  Instead, God calls to lost sinners through His love that He demonstrated on the cross (John 3:16; Romans 5:8-9).  This is not a forced love.  This is not a forced relationship.  This is a loving relationship where the repenting sinner comes to God through His Son to be saved (Romans 2:4).  This is a genuine relationship that God initiated and not man (Ephesians 2:4-6; 1 John 4:10).  But this message, this good news is for the whole world (Luke 2:10-11; 1 John 4:14).

It is true that the atonement is only effective for those who believe.  Christ died for His enemies and He even prayed for His enemies at the cross (Luke 23:34).  MacArthur even acknowledges that Christ is praying for His enemies at this passage and adds:

Some of the fruit of this prayer can be in the salvation of thousands of people in Jerusalem at Pentecost (Acts 2:41).

Notice he adds in his note that “some of the fruit” and not all.  If it is true that Christ is dying only for the elect, why pray for the world?  Why pray for the sinners who are killing Him?  Many Calvinists point to John 17:9 as proof that Jesus does not pray for the world but only for the elect.  Yet MacArthur acknowledges that Luke 23:34 is for the lost.  He also is clear that God heard His prayer and saved some of those who perhaps killed Jesus at Pentecost in Acts 2:41.

Let us be clear here though.  None were saved by Jesus praying for them in Luke 23:34.  They had to appropriate the work of Christ just as we all do through faith.  That Jesus shed His blood saves no one.  Even Calvinists agree with this while insisting that the sins of the elect were placed on the Son.  All agree that we are saved by faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9).  And even if we allow for Calvinists to believe that faith is a gift given by God to His elect, we must still acknowledge that the wrath of God is against us till we believe.

This would mean two things.  First, those who are in cast into hell are cast into hell because they rejected the sacrifice of the Son of God for their sins.  Do we have passages of Scripture that speak of Christ dying for their sins while they rejected His sacrifice?  Yes e do.  Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1.  In context all these Scriptures speak of those whom Christ died who may not share in eternal life.  Even MacArthur does acknowledge that 2 Peter 2:1 is referring to false teachers who claimed Christ and so Peter mocks them by saying that they refuse to submit to the Lordship of Christ whom they claimed bought them.

What is clear is that people who go to hell go to hell because of their rejection of God and His truth.  The person is to blame and not God who gave His Son for their reconciliation.  Calvinism would place the blame on God.  God chose to reject sinners even before time began and even if you allow for the sinner’s punishability for their sins, they are sinning because God has predetermined that they be sinners in the first place by His own sovereign will (Romans 9:22-23).  If I were a Calvinist, at this point I would preach hard annihilation since the sinner is in hell tormented day and night forever because God willed that they never be saved in the first place.  Annihilation is at least charitable toward sinners who are being tormented for God’s glory in the first place in the Calvinist view.

Secondly, the application of the atonement is through faith.  Even MacArthur doesn’t preach the doctrine of eternal justification.  Consistent Calvinists such as John Gill see the truth that the elect are born sinless.  How else can it be?  If God placed the sins of the elect on Christ and He ensures that the elect will believe by His own sovereign choice from eternity past, who can one argue that God ever sees the sins of the elect?  If Christ died for my sins at the cross and God placed my sins on Him at the cross, when was the wrath of God against my sins appeased?  Gill would answer the cross.  MacArthur would answer the cross but add that I must receive it by faith.  And I would answer: Yes and this is biblical Arminianism!

Romans 3:21-26 in the ESV is beautiful (with my emphasis):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Faith is the design of God to come into a saving relationship with Himself.  This is the sovereign will of God.  This is the sovereign decree of God.  All who repent and believe will be saved.  There is no limit to the sacrifice of the Son of God.  I have heard many Calvinists preaching like Arminians to the lost by preaching that Christ shed His blood so that they might be saved.  They call out to lost sinners to repent and believe the gospel (as if sinners could actually do this by their command).  They call to sinners to turn from their sins and be saved through faith in Christ.  And I agree!  In fact, I believe that every person whom the Calvinist evangelist is preaching to can be saved and there is no limit to the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17).  If God can have mercy on me, He can have mercy on my lost neighbors and co-workers who despise Him at this time (1 Timothy 1:15; 4:10).

As Paul the Apostle wrote above in Romans 3:24, this salvation is a gift to be received by faith.  The sinner does not earn this salvation.  There is nothing we could add to the work of Christ to be saved.  In fact, what a wicked thing to do to add to the cross of Christ by saying that we must also do our part to be saved.  We are justified though faith alone in Christ alone by His grace alone (Romans 5:1; Galatians 2:15-16; 3:13-14).  This is true of us as children of God as well as the lost sinners we are preaching to.  Salvation is the gracious work of God (John 1:12-13; Titus 2:11-14; 3:5-7).  We are saved by the work of Christ alone.

Thankfully both Calvinists and Arminians preach that truth.  Some Calvinists try to assert that we Arminians preach that we can save ourselves or we preach a works-righteousness system but this is not the truth.  Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law. But since God imputes the righteousness of Christ to none except believers, I conclude that, in this sense, it may be well and properly said, to a man who believes, faith is imputed for righteousness through grace, because God hath set forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to be a propitiation, a throne of grace, [or mercy seat] through faith in his blood.”

Adam Clarke wrote:

The doctrine of justification by faith is one of the grandest displays of the mercy of God to mankind. It is so very plain that all may comprehend it; and so free that all may attain it. What more simple than this-Thou art a sinner, in consequence condemned to perdition, and utterly unable to save thy own soul. All are in the same state with thyself, and no man can give a ransom for the soul of his neighbor. God, in his mercy, has provided a Saviour for thee. As thy life was forfeited to death because of thy transgressions, Jesus Christ has redeemed thy life by giving up his own; he died in thy stead, and has made atonement to God for thy transgression; and offers thee the pardon he has thus purchased, on the simple condition that thou believe that his death is a sufficient sacrifice, ransom, and oblation for thy sin; and that thou bring it, as such, by confident faith to the throne of God, and plead it in thy own behalf there. When thou dost so, thy faith in that sacrifice shall be imputed to thee for righteousness; that is, it shall be the means of receiving that salvation which Christ has bought by his blood.

And I end with John Wesley:

But there is an undeniable difference between the Calvinists and Arminians, with regard to the three other questions. Here they divide; the former believe absolute, the latter only conditional, predestination. The Calvinists hold, (1.) God has absolutely decreed, from all eternity, to save such and such persons, and no others; and that Christ died for these, and none else. The Arminians hold, God has decreed, from all eternity, touching all that have the written word, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not, shall be condemned:” And in order to this, “Christ died for all, all that were dead in trespasses and sins;” that is, for every child of Adam, since “in Adam all died.”

Determinism and Evangelism

In Greg Dutcher’s book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher writes that Calvinists often hear that Calvinism destroys evangelism.  Yet Dutcher writes that while he disagrees with such a view, the best way to show that Calvinism does not destroy evangelism is to actually do evangelism.  I appreciated that.  Dutcher writes that Calvinists like to point to men such as George Whitefield as proof that true Calvinists can be great soul winners but fail to show through their own lives that they actually do share the gospel with the lost.  Agreed with all that he wrote.  Great words for us all whether we are Arminians or Calvinists.

In another book, John MacArthur writes,

The wonder of the gospel is that it is God’s doing.  W sow the seed by sharing the gospel, then we go to sleep, and the Spirit works through the gospel to give life.  We do not control who is saved, because the Spirit goes wherever He wills (John 3:8).  We do not even know how it happens, any more than a farmer knows how a seed in the ground becomes food.  Our job is not to impart life, only to implant the seed.  Once we have done that, we can rest in the sovereign power of God. (Evangelism, pp.12-13).

I agree here with MacArthur as well.  Our job is not to “save” anyone since we cannot.  Only God can save a sinner who believes (1 Corinthians 1:21).  When a sinner believes the gospel, they are brought from death to life (John 5:24) and from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of the Son (Colossians 1:13-14).  The sinner who believes the gospel does so by the grace of God, through the conviction of the Spirit (John 16:8-11) and after believing, they are sealed with the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:13-14) which testifies to their adoption (Romans 8:15).

Yet I would point out that to be a consistent Calvinist, one must hold that all of salvation is unconditional.  God alone is the first and ultimate cause.  God foreordained all things even before time began (1 Peter 1:1-2).  God predestined His elect by His own sovereign choice (Romans 8:29-30).  God elects based on His own choice and not on anything in the person (Romans 9:11-13).  Consistent Calvinism then would hold that God not only elects the person before time began but He also sent His Son to redeem the elect (John 10:14-15).  God then calls and saves the elect not because of anything in man nor by the means of man but by His own sovereign, irresistible power (John 1:13; Acts 13:48).  While some Calvinists argue that God saves the elect by the means of the Word of God, this would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God nor with the unconditional nature of election.  To truly be unconditional, the choice, call, and saving is all done by God for God’s glory.  If we add that a person must hear the gospel, we are adding a condition.  If we add that a disciple must preach the gospel to the elect for them to hear and be saved, we are adding a condition.  This is not consistent.

I was recently reading Charles Spurgeon who was by no means consistent on this issue.  Spurgeon is hailed for his great preaching but also for his evangelism as well.  I appreciate Spurgeon much.  Yet Spurgeon was preaching on John 6:44 and he was being very Calvinistic in this text as I would expect.  Spurgeon even stated,

Now, if the preaching of Christ himself did not avail to the enabling these men to come to Christ, it cannot be possible that all that was intended by the drawing of the Father was simply preaching. No, brethren, you must note again, he does not say no man can come except the minister draw him, but except the Father draw him. Now there is such a thing as being drawn by the gospel, and drawn by the minister, without being drawn by God. Clearly, it is a divine drawing that is meant, a drawing by the Most High God—the First Person of the most glorious Trinity sending out the Third Person, the Holy Spirit, to induce men to come to Christ.

Spurgeon even took a shot at Arminians in this sermon for holding that sinners are converted by hearing the gospel and believing the truth.  Spurgeon here was consistent with his Calvinism.  Truly, if God has elected the elect before the world began and has saved them in His Son, the elect will be saved and further, are saved even from eternity past (eternal justification in the words of John Gill).  The means is not a condition to salvation.  Evangelism, preaching, discipleship, etc. are not means to salvation.  They cannot be.  That would add a condition and would not be consistent with the sovereignty of God as taught within Calvinism.  The fact is that Spurgeon was correct if Calvinism is true: the sinner is drawn not by the preaching of the gospel or any external means but the internal call of God by which the Spirit of God regenerates the sinner so that they can hear God’s voice and live.  The classic example given by Calvinists is Lazarus in John 11.

Calvinists will insist that external call goes out to all (Revelation 22:17) but the internal call goes out only to the elect.  The internal call is the call of God and is irresistible.  The internal call of God is based on His sovereign choice.  The internal call of God is unconditional.  The external call is the preaching of the gospel but the internal call of God is only to His elect (1 Corinthians 1:23-25).  The Calvinist evangelist then will preach the gospel to all and call all to repent and believe the gospel but he knows that only the elect will do so (1 Peter 1:3).  J.I. Packer writes that this is great comfort for the Reformed evangelist since they know that the work of God is done not by them but by God’s power and grace.  The evangelist merely preaches the gospel and the Lord does the work of saving sinners for His glory.  The duty of the evangelist is not to save anyone (he can’t) but to preach the gospel and God takes the gospel and brings forth fruitfulness in His timing (Matthew 13:3-9).

Yet is all this consistent with divine determinism?  If in fact God has chosen His elect before the foundation of the world and if in fact this election is based on God’s sovereign choice and if in fact this election and salvation are purely monergistic, what role does the evangelist play?  In reality, none.  If one argues that the preaching of the gospel is necessary to the saving of the elect, is this a condition?  How can one argue that election is unconditional while placing certain conditions upon election such as faith, repentance, or hearing the gospel preached by an evangelist?

I agree with much of what I wrote above about the external call.  I reject the internal call because this violates the power of choice in a given relationship and God, in Scripture, treats us as people.  God deals with people as people who can choose because they have been created in His image (Genesis 1:26-27).  The preaching of the cross is to be preached to all and all can be saved (John 16:8).  The prevenient grace of God is the preaching of the gospel and the work of the Spirit as He works through the preaching of the gospel to bring forth salvation among lost sinners (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8).  I agree entirely that God alone saves because He alone can save (Isaiah 45:22).  The “work” of mankind is to humble themselves and believe the gospel (John 6:29; Romans 4:5).  When a sinner humbles themselves before the cross, they will find that the Lord is merciful toward humble sinners and He will save them by His grace (Luke 18:14).  This is the hope of the Bible (1 Timothy 2:4).

Consistent Calvinists (known as hyper-Calvinists) hold that God saves only the elect and He does so in His own timing and power.  He does not need man nor does He even use man.  God alone saves His elect.  Everything that happens happens because God wills it so including the damnation of the non-elect or reprobate.  Calvin acknowledged this calling it the “horrible decree.”  I’m not sure why Calvin would label it as such since everything happens to the glory of God including the damnation of the reprobate.  In the consistent Calvinist church, how does one become a Christian?  By God’s sovereign decree and timing.  In fact, some consistent Calvinists believe that assurance of salvation is impossible in this life.  One cannot know they are elected until the final judgment.  Some have even taught that many will think they were elect but will find at the final judgment that they were not.  This reminds me of the Islamic view of eternal life in which Allah sometimes even casts faithful Muslims into hell simply because Allah wills it so.  While the consistent Calvinist would view Yahweh as loving and good, they would agree that Yahweh may or man not allow some into heaven even if they thought they were elect simply because He did not will it so.

Yet the Calvinist must admit that the consistent Calvinist is correct.  If God is sovereign as Calvinism teaches then everything that happens happens because of the will of God.  As R.C. Sproul is famous for saying, “If there is one rebellious molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign!”  In Calvinism, sovereignty means “complete control, divine determinism of all things.”  How can one say the uphold such a view of God yet say that He allows sinners to willfully reject (with free choice) the salvation offered to them?  Remember, compatibilism holds that free choice is not allowed.  Let me repeat the definition of compatibilism:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature,for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

So a sinner hears the gospel and notice that according to compatibilism, that person cannot choose freely to receive or reject the gospel.  Notice carefully that a person is not free to choose otherwise.  In other words, the Reformed evangelist comes along preaching the gospel to a crowd.  The Reformed evangelist preaches, “Repent and believe the gospel” but he knows that only those who have the internal call of God will respond while the others are dead in their sins and cannot even hear him spiritually speaking (1 Corinthians 2:14).  Yet even before the evangelist ever came and even before time began, God had already chosen His elect.  The evangelist comes and the people have no choice in this matter.  They will believe because God wills it so.  It has nothing to do with the evangelist or the sinner.  Go back and read Spurgeon at the top.  God draws the sinner not by external means but by His grace alone (John 6:44).  God needs no minister in the words of Spurgeon.  This, my friends, is consistent Calvinism.  It is not practiced much but it is consistent.

Conclusion

Some Calvinists will read this post and say that I got it all wrong.  I may have.  I am not a Calvinist and have never been so.  However, I read Spurgeon and most of the above came from a book I have on John Calvin written by a Calvinist.  I rejoice that consistent Calvinism is not rampant.  I believe that as more and more Calvinists read into Calvin and think deeply on the implications of Calvinism, they will reject the system.  Calvinism is not practical.  Calvinism is not congruent.  Especially for those who love sinners and want to see them saved.  Most Reformed evangelists I know preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent and they reason with sinners to come to faith.  Yet they are not consistent with their evangelism and their theology that they believe backs up their preaching.  From Jeremiah’s Cry to many other Reformed evangelism groups, they are not consistent in their application of Calvinism toward preaching to the lost.

My prayer is that we would soon see a turning of the tide away from Calvinism.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I love to listen to many of them preach and teach the Word of God.  I have been blessed to have even evangelized with many Calvinists brothers and sisters in the open air.  I do not view Calvinists as enemies of the gospel.  Let me repeat that: I do not believe Calvinists are enemies of the gospel.  I disagree with Calvinism but love Calvinists.  I listen to many Calvinist podcasts and enjoy their labors for the Lord.  I rejoice that nearly every Calvinist I know is not consistent.

In the end, I will freely admit that I am not a brilliant man and could be wrong.  I pray that God would show me where I am wrong.  I would humble myself before His throne and admit my failures in my own theology as He reveals it to me.  I also confess that theology always has some mystery to it.  I cannot understand fully how God is able to take free choices of men and women and still has His own outcome.  I don’t understand the nature of petitionary prayer to the sovereignty of God.  Yet I am okay with mystery.  The gospel is not a mystery (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).  The gospel is clear (Acts 13:38-39).  Yet other aspects of theology are a mystery and I suppose we may never fully grasp them even in eternity in God’s holy presence.

In my next post I won’t to jump into John 6:37.  Does John 6:37 affirm divine determinism or is there another way to read John 6:37 in the context of both John and Scripture that affirms the universal call of the gospel?  We shall see.

May God be glorified in His Church!

Determinism And False Doctrine

Arminians are often said to be teaching false doctrines.  While my Calvinist brethren are willing to admit that Arminians are saved, they say that we are saved by not being consistent in our theology.  Our inconsistency allows us to believe the gospel and be saved.  However, Arminians, in the words of Dr. James White, are “sub-Christian.”  Our “gospel” is flawed from the beginning because of our lack of biblical understanding from the entirety of Scripture.  When we see the Bible from the bigger view, the Calvinist view, we see that Calvinism is proclaimed from Genesis to Revelation.  This is a common view.

However, I want to stretch out the deterministic view of Calvinism by saying that God determined for me to be an Arminian and He determines all “false” teachers the same.  All world religions and all false teachers within Christianity are the products of God’s will and decree even if you use the language of permission.  No true Calvinist will hold to libertarian free will or contra-will (that a person can decide freely between choice A or B without any previous determination from God).  Compatibilism is defined by Monergism.com as:

Compatibilism (also known as soft determinism), is the belief that God’s predetermination and meticulous providence is “compatible” with voluntary choice. In light of Scripture, human choices are believed to be exercised voluntarily but the desires and circumstances that bring about these choices about occur through divine determinism (see Acts 2:23 & 4:27-28). It should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism – be clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has a free will. Our choices are only our choices because they are voluntary, not coerced. We do not make choices contrary to our desires or natures. Compatibilism is directly contrary to libertarian free will. Therefore voluntary choice is not the freedom to choose otherwise, that is, without any influence, prior prejudice, inclination, or disposition. Voluntary does mean, however, the ability to choose what we want or desire most. The former view is known as contrary choice, the latter free agency. (Note: compatibilism denies that the will is free to choose otherwise, that is, free from the bondage of the corruption nature, for the unregenerate, and denies that the will is free from God’s eternal decree.)

Notice that Monergism.com is clear that free will is not part of Calvinism in their estimation.  They are clear that neither soft nor hard determinism believes man has free will.

So the Calvinist view is that man can only please God if God wills it so.  Philippians 2:12-13 is often cited.  When a disciple does that which honors or pleases the Lord, they are doing so because God gave them the necessary grace to do so.  If the person sins, they are only doing what God did not give them the grace to resist.  They are not choosing not to sin because they have no true contra-free will but they are doing only what is in accordance to the will of God (Ephesians 1:11 is cited).

Thus if a person does not hold to Calvinism, it is not because of free will or contra-choice.  The person cannot take a biblical look at both Arminianism and Calvinism and freely choose to believe whichever they desire.  Remember there is no such thing in free will in either soft or hard determinism.  The person chooses only what God has first determined that person to choose.  Take the case of Adam and Eve.  Where they free to choose to eat or not eat of the forbidden fruit?  The contra-free will believe that Adam had a genuine choice.  The compatabilist does not.  Calvinist John Frame is clear:

Neither before nor after the fall did Adam have freedom in the libertarian sense.

In other words, Adam could not freely choose.  Adam fell because it was first the will of God for him to do so.  God determined Adam’s choice for him and for all humans after him.  That doesn’t mean that we are not responsible for our actions.  All Calvinists believe we are.  They hold in human responsibility and by that they mean “human punishability” or that humans can be punished for their sins despite God choosing for that sin to be done.  An example would be Adam’s sin or the sin of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20) or the sin of the Jews and Romans in murdering Jesus (Acts 2:23).  Some point to Romans 9:16-18 with Pharaoh.

So when a person is not a Calvinist, they are only doing what the predetermined plan of God was.  The Calvinist could argue that the non-Calvinist needs the Calvinist to show them the way into the gospel of grace by the predetermined plan of God but the Calvinist must admit that the non-Calvinist is only doing what God determined for them to do.  This is the nature even of soft determinism.

There are biblical problems with such a view.  For example, in Jeremiah 7 God says that the children of Israel have done wicked deeds.  The LORD says that He will keep the people in the land if they do His will (v. 7) but they have acted in wickedness toward Him and His house (vv. 8-11).  Because have rejected Him as Lord, Yahweh will cast them from the land of Israel (v. 15).  Yahweh commands His saints to not pray for them, these rebellious people (v. 16).  God pleads with His rebellious house (v. 23) but they refused to repent (vv. 24-26) and hardened their hearts.  In verse 31, Yahweh makes a statement that is very much against the compatibilist view when He says:

And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.

Notice Yahweh says that the children did what He did not command nor did it come into His mind.  God cannot do nor think of evil (James 1:12-15).  He is too pure for evil to dwell with Him nor near Him (Habakkuk 1:13).  God is completely holy (1 John 1:5).  All of this is held true even by soft determinists.  Yet compatibilism requires that God determined the sins of those in Jeremiah 7.  Remember they have no ability to choose freely other than that which is determined by God who creates our nature.  Yet God says these Israelites did what He did not command nor came to His mind.  How can this be if God has determined all since the foundation of the world?  I can understand that the children of Israel did not do what He command but how can God say that they did that which did not even enter into His mind if in fact God knows and plans all from the beginning?

There truly is a mystery here and one that I admit no answer to.  The Arminian dilemma is how free will can be involved with God’s sovereignty.  I have no true answer here.  I only admit that it is so.  The compatibilist cannot.  They only say that people are punishable for their sins that were predetermined (though not caused by God but not permitted either without His either giving or denying grace to do or reject the said sins).

In my next post, I will take a look at the issue of evangelism and divine determinism.

Why Do Calvinists Despise Unlimited Limited Atonement?

I have a friend who posted from A.W. Pink, Pink’s infamous (from my viewpoint) talk on John 3:16 in which (like John Owen before him) Pink insists that John 3:16 does not teach that Jesus died for the world but rather the world here must be mean the elect that God has chosen out of the world.  If John 3:16 means that Jesus died for all men then all would be saved (this is their reasoning) and since all are not saved then it follows that Jesus did not die for all men and thus John 3:16 is not saying that Jesus died for the whole world but rather that He died only for the elect that God has chosen out of the sinful world.

And Calvinists rejoice in this view!

But why?  Why do Calvinists rejoice that John 3:16 doesn’t teach that Jesus shed His blood for all people?  What hope can they give lost sinners that they can be saved?  What comfort does it bring Calvinists to read John 3:16 and say to themselves, “This is not referring to all but only to the elect.”  Do they ever wonder then if Jesus perhaps did not die for them?  Remember that both Augustine and Calvin taught that God sometimes gives sinners a false assurance that they are saved but in reality He will condemn them to eternal hell because He simply did not choose them.

However, one could argue that Calvinists despise unlimited limited atonement for several reasons.  Some are obviously better than others. Let me offer just a few.

1.  It’s Not Biblical.

This would be the standard answer from your more intelligent Calvinists.  They honestly believe that the Bible teaches that Jesus shed His blood only for the elect and unlimited passages such as John 1:29 or John 3:16-18; Romans 5:18; 2 Corinthians 5:14, 19; 1 Timothy 2:6; Titus 2:11; Hebrews 2:9; 1 John 2:2.  They believe that if this doctrine were true, Jesus shed His blood in vain since most people are not saved.

Calvinists often will reply as well that when Jesus died on the cross, He truly saved people on the cross.  They believe that all the Old Testament saints were now saved through Christ’s work as well as the New Testament saints yet to come.  The doctrine of definite atonement (or particular redemption or limited atonement) is said to have been completed on the cross.  However, nearly all Calvinists believe that the atonement must be appropriated by faith.  In other words, while they teach that the elect were justified in Christ at the cross, the elect only become the elect through faith.  Ask any normal Calvinist when they were saved and they will reply the same as the Arminian, “At this point in time when I repented of my sins and placed my faith in Christ.”  Yet this is a denial of the Calvinist doctrine if in fact the elect are not eternally justified in the mind of God.  If Christ shed His blood for the elect and Calvinism teaches that the elect are saved in Christ at the cross then the elect are never born with sin.  They are eternally justified before God because of Christ.  The elect were saved at the cross and thus none need to repent in time.  This is the logic of Calvinism if you carry it out.

The Arminian answer is simple: Christ shed His blood for all people and all can come and be saved.  However, only those who repent of their sins and place their saving faith in Christ Jesus are saved and thus the elect (1 Timothy 4:10).  The Bible even mentions that some are lost despite Jesus shedding His blood for them (Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11; 2 Peter 2:1-2).  Calvinists often say that all whom the Lord loves (or chosen) will be saved yet Jesus loved the rich young ruler in Mark 10:21 yet he was not saved.  Salvation is by faith (Romans 5:1) and not unto faith.

2.  Comfort in God’s Choosing.

Some Calvinists find comfort that the Bible teaches that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and they consider themselves His elect.  Calvin wrote about false assurance that God gives to the non-elect so the non-elect actually believe they are elect but in reality are not:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.

For more on this subject view this blogpost.

Calvin taught that God does not give us reasons why He allows people to believe they are the elect when they are not.  In the end, as always with the Calvinist doctrine of election, the choice is purely arbitrary.  While I don’t believe that the Calvinist view of election is the same as in Islam, both views end with a sovereign God choosing merely based on His own choice whom He will save and in both Calvinism and Islam, God does allow people to falsely believe they are the elect.  I have been told many times that I am not part of the elect because of my rejection of Calvinism (since Calvinism is seen as the gospel among some Calvinists).  I have been told that I have a false assurance and that I am lost.

For some Calvinists, the doctrine of election brings comfort to them since they believe that God looked throughout time and chose them.  From my vantage point, it seems God has favored Europeans and Westerners for most of the history of the Church.  Thankfully, God must now be finally choosing to save non-whites as He is saving people all across Africa and Asia.  Yet perhaps He is not and just giving these poor sinners a false assurance of their election.

The Arminian answer is simple: you can have assurance that you are part of the elect through faith in Christ (John 6:37) and in perseverance in faith (2 Peter 1:10-11).  The Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).  The Word of God also bears witness to our adoption (1 John 5:13).  We can know that we are saved because of the work of Christ (Hebrews 9:14) and not our works.  If you are trusting in Christ alone to save you from the wrath to come, you are part of the elect of God!  You can have the assurance that Jesus shed His blood for you because of the doctrine of unlimited limited atonement.  The reason that we are seeing so many souls come to faith in Christ in Africa and Asia is because of the gospel (Romans 10:14-17) and the lack of faith in Europe and the West is because of the rejection of the true gospel.  Where the gospel is preached, God is faithful to save (Romans 10:13; cf. Acts 2:38-39).

Conclusion

I want to close by writing about how we should now preach.  Calvinist evangelists preach just like Arminians do when calling sinners to repentance.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist truly preach Calvinism to the lost.  I have found that Calvinism is often taught after one repents and not before.  When Calvinism is preached, it can lead to despair (see the case of Joseph Hawley, the uncle of Jonathan Edwards).

In reality, the Bible is clear that God wills the salvation of all (1 Timothy 2:4).  His will is for people to repent (2 Peter 3:9).  The Bible says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked but that they should turn and live (Ezekiel 18:32).  Jesus shed His blood for all sinners but only those who place their faith in His saving work are the elect of God.  All others go to hell because of their own sins and their own unwillingness to repent of their sins.

Romans 3:23-25 is clear:

23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.

We receive salvation by grace through faith.  Let us preach this truth to all creation (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:47; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

Does Receiving a Gift Mean You Earned the Gift?

Calvinist theologians like to say that Arminians “earn” our salvation because we teach that a person must, by the act of the freed will, receive salvation through Christ alone.  They say that such teaching denies the sovereignty of God and makes man the deciding factor in salvation.  In Calvinism, they say, God alone saves the sinner for His glory and honor.  In Calvinism, God chooses the sinner for Himself (even before time began) and sent His Son to redeem that sinner.  The rest are hardened and condemned to hell for the glory of God.

Now the question I want to address is simply this: does receiving a gift mean that you earned the gift?  If I offer you a million dollars and the only thing I ask you to do is to receive the million dollars, does that mean that since you reached out your hand and took the million dollars you have earned the million dollars?  The same holds true for salvation.  Simply because the sinner is enabled by the grace of God and the Spirit of God to receive salvation, does this mean that the sinner earned their salvation?

The Calvinist answer would be “yes” since we are saying that God does not force the person to believe.  God enables the person to believe through His grace but God does not force (or drag as R.C. Sproul twists John 6:44 to mean).  Each person believes by the act of their own will that has been freed by the grace of God.  Sinners, apart from grace, are incapable of turning to Christ.  Romans 1:18 says that wicked sinners suppress the truth in their unrighteousness.  Romans 3:11 says that there are none who seeks after God.  John 4:23 says that the Father is actually the One who is seeking.  We are not.  We are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3).  Instead, we need the grace of God, the enabling grace of God, to believe the gospel and be saved but no where does the Bible teach that God believes for us.  The act of faith is our act.  Certainly I would agree that all of salvation is a work of grace (Romans 4:5; 11:6) and I would agree that even faith can be viewed as a gift from God but this does not mean that God believes for us.  He enables us to believe but we believe (John 1:12-13).  As the gospel is preached, sinners hear the gospel (Romans 10:17) and can be saved through faith (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

In Romans 4 faith is opposed to works in regard to salvation.  Faith then is not a work. Faith is the trusting of Christ to save us.  Faith looks not to ourselves to save us but to Christ to save us.  Faith then is not meritorious for salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  Good works flow from true saving faith (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-26).  Through faith in Christ, God imputes righteousness unto us (Romans 4:23-25).  Romans 5:1 then tells us that we are justified through faith.  Notice that we are not justified unto faith but justified through faith.  Romans 6:23 reminds us that the wages of sin is death (always) but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  This gift is received by faith.

The Arminian viewpoint then is that we are justified through faith apart from works.  This belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is our own belief that the Spirit of God enables us to believe.  By the prevenient grace of God (the word prevenient simply means “beforehand”), we are freed to believe the gospel and be saved (John 20:31; 1 John 5:13).

What I Would Like To Hear from Calvinists in Evangelism

I recently watched a video of what evangelism would be like for Mormons if in fact they told their hearers just what Mormons believe about Jesus Christ, the plurality of gods, exaltation to godhood, etc.

Yet this got me thinking about my Calvinist friends who go out evangelizing.  Granted, we both share a passion for the lost.  I rejoice in that.  I praise God for my Calvinist brethren who are out on the streets preaching the gospel to the lost.  I rejoice in Calvinist ministries that are devoted to world missions or to church planting or to preaching to the lost.  That blesses me.

However, what if Calvinist were honest about their theology in their preaching.  I am not saying that Calvinists lie when they share the gospel.  They don’t.  They preach what I preach and other Arminians before me.  They preach the truth that Jesus shed His blood that we might be saved by grace through faith.  Yet they will avoid certain sayings such as “Jesus shed His blood for you” because they just don’t know that.  They won’t tell a person that God loves them because its possible God does not love them and in fact it is possible (and highly likely) that God created them for the very purpose of destroying them in hell for His glory (Romans 9:22-23 according to Calvin).  I have never heard a Calvinist evangelist preach to sinners passing by that they cannot hear him unless they are the elect (John 10:27-29).  I have never heard a Calvinist evangelist preach limited atonement publicly before (the teaching that Christ died only for the elect).  I have never heard a Calvinist exhorting sinners that they are totally unable to come to Christ and repent of their sins apart from God regenerating them first.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist preaching “have faith now that you have been born again” yet Calvinism teaches that regeneration precedes faith.

In fact, Calvinists preach like Arminians.  They call sinners to repent (though Calvinism teaches that one can never be free from sin).  They call sinners to faith in Christ (a gift from God given only to His elect though they don’t tell sinners that).  They call sinners to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ while leaving out that it is likely Jesus did not die for them.  They preach that sinners will go to hell for their own sins though they fail to tell them that God predestined them before time began even before they had a chance to even do anything evil and it was God’s own sovereign choice to condemn them to hell.  They fail to preach that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass including all sins so that sinners are doing what God wills for them to do by their sinning.

Don’t get me wrong, I have labored with Calvinists for souls before.  Again, I rejoice that Calvinists are often wonderfully inconsistent in their evangelism.  They will even use Arminian phrases.  For example, I heard one Calvinist street preaching and telling the crowd that Jesus loved them by shedding His blood for them.  That is not Calvinism!  That is Arminianism!  If I preach that Jesus shed His blood for sinners, I am preaching my own theology (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)!  When I exhort sinners to repent of their sins, I am preaching my theology because I believe the Holy Spirit works through the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior but He allows the sinner to respond out of their freed will (Acts 2:37-38, 41; 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 5:18-6:2).  When I preach that Christ is sufficient for sinners to be saved, I am preaching the unlimited atonement of Christ that Scripture clearly teaches (1 Timothy 2:3-6; 4:10; Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 2:1-2).  When I preach the universal love of God for the world by the cross (John 3:16-18; Romans 5:8-9; 1 John 4:9-10, 14), I am preaching my own theology.  When I tell sinners that God will judge them for their own sins, I am preaching the truths of my own theology (Ezekiel 18:4, 31; Romans 2:6; 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; Hebrews 9:27-28; Revelation 20:15; 21:7-8).

I don’t want to discourage Calvinists from preaching the gospel.  I do want them to preach their theology to the lost.  I want to hear the doctrine of unconditional election preached to the lost.  I want to hear divine determinism preached to the lost.  I want to hear limited atonement preached to the lost.  One Calvinist blogger wrote that Jesus did preach Calvinism in John 6 to the lost.  I have yet to hear a Calvinist evangelist end his preaching to the lost by saying, “Only those who repent are truly the elect of God” (a point I would agree with).  They simply end by pleading with the lost to come to faith in Christ and be saved when in fact they should be preaching, “Those of you who are regenerated, come to faith in Christ as proof of your divine election.”

Thank God that Arminianism preaches well.

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