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Posts Tagged ‘Unlimited Atonement

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.

The Master Who Bought Them

In 2 Peter 2:1 we find one of the major passages that teach that Jesus Christ died for those who reject Him.  The Calvinist view is that Jesus died only for the elect of God, His sheep, His people.  Calvinist theologians will often point to passages such as John 10:11 where Jesus says that His death is for His sheep.  Calvinists then point to sheep as proof that Jesus died only for those who His.  They point out that, in their view, the Bible doesn’t teach that Jesus died for all men but only all types or kinds of people and thus they come to passages such as John 3:16 and interpret “world” to mean “the elect out of the world” (John Owen) or 1 Timothy 2:4 and believe that the Lord wants to save all types of people from 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  Thus true Calvinist evangelists will never say that Jesus died for a person they are preaching the gospel to since we can’t know for certain if Jesus did die for that person.

Augustine went further in his views on election.  He believed that God would even send a false spirit of assurance to a non-elect person to deceive them.  Why?  Who knows but God?  So a person could possibly think that they are elect, that Jesus died for them, that the Spirit of God dwells in them but in fact they are deceived and are destined for eternal destruction.

I argue further that the Calvinist doctrine of atonement does not lead to assurance.  A person reading this may think themselves elect (including the writer) but in fact a year or so from now, we might turn away from the faith and prove that we were never saved (or elected) to begin with (1 John 2:19 in the Calvinist view).  We could be a Judas (John 6:70-71 and notice that Jesus Himself chose Judas just He did all His disciples according to John 15:16).  Let us hold firmly to 1 John 2:24-25.

In 2 Peter 2:1 however we find a passage that Calvinist theologians and apologists struggle with.  The verse reads in the ESV:

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

The verse is clearly speaking of false disciples, false teachers.  These are not Christians, true disciples of the Lord Jesus.  These are even heretics.  Yet Peter the Apostle says that Jesus bought them.  He uses the Greek word “Agorazo.”  The word means to buy or to buy a thing (Matthew 13:44, 46; 14:15).  Paul the Apostle uses the same Greek word in 1 Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 which both read:

6:20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

The word “Agorazo” is used in Revelation 5:9 and 14:3-4:

5:9  And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.

14:3-4 And they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.  It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb.

In both cases the ESV translates the word “Agorazo” as “redeemed” but the basic meaning is to purchase or buy.  While Galatians 3:13 doesn’t use “Agorazo” we see that it is Christ who redeems us or purchases us for God.  Christ is our redeemer, the very One who would die for our sins and redeem or buy or purchase us for God.  We are redeemed from sin, from Satan, from the world, from the curse.

And so are those in 2 Peter 2:1.  They are not saved but they were purchased.  This view aligns perfectly within Arminianism where we believe that Jesus shed His blood for all men.  The blood of Jesus though only saves those who appropriate His blood through faith (Romans 3:25).  We are now justified before a holy God through faith in the Lord Jesus who died for our sins (Acts 15:11; Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9).  This salvation is accomplished by the work of the Man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:3-6).  Our faith is in Jesus alone to save us from our sins and to forgive us and to reconcile us to God (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).

And this gospel is for all sinners (Matthew 28:19).  Jesus died for all and all can be saved through the work of Christ Jesus (Titus 2:11).  Of course, the Bible doesn’t teach that simply because Jesus died all men are now saved (Hebrews 5:8-9).  People are commanded to repent and believe the gospel (Acts 17:30-31; cf. 2:38-39).  The heart of the Lord is for all (2 Peter 3:9). The Arminian evangelist can cry out that Jesus died for all sinners (John 3:16; 12:32), that whosoever can come and be saved (Romans 10:13; Revelation 22:17).  The Arminian can point to the Old Testament examples of proof that God was preparing the world for the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world (John 1:29).  That just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed, so the Son of Man was lifted up that all the world might look to Him and be healed (John 3:14-18).

Truly the love of God is great for lost sinners.  Even here in 2 Peter 2:1 we can hear the Holy Spirit calling to these heretics to repent.  The heart of God is not for their destruction (Ezekiel 18:32) but for their repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10; cf. Romans 2:4).  Truly the love of God is great for John writes in 1 John 4:10:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

But lest we forget John adds in 1 John 4:14:

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.

This is the same world that John denounces in 1 John 2:15-17 but here he says that the Son of God is the Savior of the world.  This is the same world as in John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2.

Let us preach that Jesus is the Savior of the world and this is great news for all men (Luke 2:10-11).

Under the Wrath of God

The Scriptures teach that God is impartial in His judgments (Exodus 32:33; Deuteronomy 10:17; Romans 2:9; 2 Corinthians 10:6; Colossians 3:25; 2 Peter 1:17; 1 John 3:15; Revelation 21:8; 22:15).  God is opposed to the wicked (Isaiah 52:15; Hosea 13:2; 2 Peter 2:14).  God is just in His punishment of sin.  The person sins because they use their free will to rebel against God and against His will so that the sinner is convicted by God’s law of their sins (Romans 7:7).  The law of God shows them they are sinners and have rejected the law of God by living in rebellious sin.  Thus God does not make people sin but rather He allows people to choose to sin by misusing their wills against God and His law.

The act of the cross is an act of mercy where God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-21).  A true loving relationship exists where the disciple of Jesus humbles himself and repents of his sins and turns to Christ alone for forgiveness and reconciliation to God.  This is not a force relationship but one in which God, who first loved us despite our sinning (1 John 4:10), and we in turn freely love Him (Ephesians 1:13).  The beauty of salvation is that God has provided atonement for those who repent of their sins (1 John 2:1-2).  God truly wants to have a relationship with sinful humans (Romans 3:23-24; 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

The Calvinist understanding of the atonement is that the wrath of God is satisfied by the cross.  I would agree.  But Calvinists teach that the atonement was meant to save only the elect.  They believe this brings true glory to the work of Christ.  After all, they reason, the Arminian understanding of the atonement saves no one but only makes men savable.  In Calvinism, they assert, the atonement is not a failure but actually saves when Christ died to save the elect of God on the cross.

Of course, Calvinist evangelists often preach the atonement much as an Arminian would.  How often have I heard Calvinist preachers calling for sinners to repent, to embrace the Lord Jesus, to turn from their sins, to place their faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ.  I have no problem with this whatsoever.  I preach the same thing.  Some Calvinists will even plea with sinners saying that Christ died for them or that God loves them and has shown His love though the cross.  They will preach that men are under the just wrath of God for their sins.  They will preach that all sinners are in danger of the eternal judgment of God.  I agree with this all!

Yet I ask this question: when are the elect under the wrath of God?  If Christ truly died for the elect then the wrath of God cannot be against the elect since the elect were justified when Christ died on the cross.  Some hyper-Calvinists teach this.  They teach the doctrine of eternal justification.  They are consistent in their view though I completely disagree.  Their logic is that since God knew the elect before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), in the eternal decree of God, the elect were already justified in Christ who is the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20).  This view holds that God chose the elect and then He ordained the fall.

The logic of eternal justification makes sense if you hold to the divine determinism of Calvinism.

Let us go back to the issue of God’s wrath.  Are the elect ever under the wrath of God?  Most Calvinists that I know would argue that the sinners they are preaching to and pleading with to come to Christ are indeed under the wrath of God.  Yet if election is true, the Calvinist is preaching the judgement of God to those who are not under His wrath.  After all, the atonement did not fail right?  The atonement accomplished redemption for the elect.  Jesus laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:14).  The Calvinist then pleading with sinners to repent as the means to salvation is wrong.  The sinner is not under the wrath of God.  The sinner is already part of the elect even before time (or at least when Christ died to save the elect) in the mind of God and so the Lord was not angry with the wicked since they are part of His elect that He saved in His Son.  This is logical.  This is not biblical.

The Bible teaches that sin brings the wrath of God.  Again, the Lord is not partial in His judgments.  The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).  All who sin are under the wrath of God because of His absolute holiness and righteousness.  Scripture is clear that anyone who sins, rebels, or fails to live up to God’s perfect standard is under His condemnation (John 3:19; Romans 1:18; 2:6-11; Hebrews 10:26-31; 1 John 3:8, 15, 20; 2 John 1:9).  God is opposed to the wicked (Psalm 5:5; 7:11).

One need only consider the preaching of the gospel in the book of Acts to see whether the Apostles preached whether people were under the wrath of God.  In each sermon the Apostles preached against the sin of the people.  For example, Acts 3.  Here Peter the Apostle preaches that the Jews killed the holy and righteous one (Acts 3:14) and he called their acts “wickedness” (Acts 3:26).  He called them all to repent (Acts 3:19) and said that all who refuse to listen to the prophet will be destroyed (Acts 3:23) who is Jesus (Hebrews 3:1).  Notice that he was not partial in his judgment of the people.  They had all sinned (Romans 3:23) and all were under the wrath of God.  All needed salvation.  The call was for all to repent.

Again, I ask, if the Calvinist view of the atonement were true, the elect would not be under God’s wrath nor would they be guilty of wickedness since the sins of the elect are placed on Christ.

The answer, of course, is that Calvinism teaches that the atonement is only effectual for the elect and thus while the elect are wicked sinners before Christ saves them, the atonement is only applied to the elect when the elect believe the gospel.  This is based on logic and not Scripture.

Scripture is clear when the atonement is applied to the wicked sinner and that is when the believer repents and believes the gospel.  Before this, the sinner is under the wrath of God but after the sinner repents, the wrath of God is turned aside through the propitiation of Christ.  The atonement is available for all but only affective for those who repent and place their faith in the work of Christ.  The cross saves no one apart from faith (Romans 3:22-27).  Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).  Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is what saves us (Romans 5:1).  Notice in Romans 5:1 that we are not justified unto faith (as in Calvinism) but through faith.  Plus our faith is in Jesus and not a theological construct about Jesus.  We are not saved by faith in faith or by faith in the faith but faith in Jesus (Acts 4:12).  So many think that their system saves when no system saves.  Faith in Jesus and His saving work is what saves us (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Calvinist evangelist is correct to call sinners to repent and turn from their sins.  He is correct to preach that Jesus will save all who come to God through Him.  He is correct to preach that the blood of Jesus will wash away all our sins (Ephesians 1:7; Hebrews 9:14).  The Arminian would do the same.  The key difference lies in our theology.  The Arminian is preaching out of their theology while the Calvinist is preaching counter to their theology.

Grace For All Book Review (Chapter 4)

You can find my earlier reviews of this book beginning here.

Chapter 4 of the book Grace for All is a wonderful chapter.  I appreciated it because Dr. Robert Picirilli dives right into the Scriptures to prove his point, that Christ died for all.  Picirilli is clear that Christ shed His blood for all but this salvation is only applied to those who repent and believe the gospel.  Calvinists (at least in part) acknowledge this to be true despite claiming that Christ’s work on the cross actually saves.  Arminians would agree.  The work of Christ was not a failure in that it pleased the Father and brought glory to Him (Philippians 2:5-11).  Yet none are saved simply because Christ died on the cross.  The resurrection after the cross completes the work of redemption for if Jesus is not raised, we are still dead in our sins (1 Corinthians 15:17).  Jesus shed His blood for our sins (John 19:30) and was raised for our justification (Romans 4:24-25).  One must place their faith in the risen Savior who did shed His blood for our sins.

Calvinists often assert that the Arminian view of the atonement is that Christ died to make men savable but He didn’t save anyone on the cross.  The Calvinist view is that God placed the sins of the elect upon Christ so that when Jesus shed His blood, He shed His blood for the sins of the elect.  Yet carried out to its extreme, this would imply that Calvinists hold to eternal justification (as many hyper-Calvinists do).  I ask the question: when is a person justified before God?  Is it when Christ died on the cross?  Is it before time began?  Is it when a person places their saving faith in Christ?  The obvious answer is the that a sinner is only justified before a holy God when the sinner places their faith in Christ alone to save them from the wrath of God to come (Romans 5:1).  We are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) and not by works which we do (Titus 3:5-7).  Yet none are saved until they repent and believe the gospel.  The Calvinist can argue all day that their sins were placed on Christ when He died but the reality of their salvation only comes when they repent and believe the gospel.  This would mean that the Calvinist is not born innocent of sin (this is the hyper-Calvinist view) because they actually sinned in time (Romans 3:23) but their salvation only comes when they (the sinner) repent and believe the gospel.  While the Calvinist can argue their monergistic view of regeneration, they cannot argue that the atonement saved them 2000 years ago but rather it saves them when they actually believe in the gospel (Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21; 15:1-4; Galatians 3:1-5).

Picirilli examines the Arminian position by looking at key words of salvation.  He looks at the words redemption, propitiation, and reconciliation.  By looking at the words used in their biblical context, it is easy to see that Christ died for all people.  Along the way Picirilli points out how Calvinists have interpreted the texts.  For example, Picirilli shows how Calvinists have handled 1 Timothy 2:1-6 where Paul uses “all” three times.  Calvinists take the word “all” here not to mean all in all people but only all types of people (though the Bible doesn’t use the term here that way).  Calvinists go out of their way to build a case against all because the use of the word all would imply that Christ died for all and Calvinism says He died only for the elect.

Picirilli also looks at other key “universal” texts such as 1 Timothy 4:10; Titus 2:11.  I appreciated Picirilli also looking at the book of 1 John and how John uses the word “world” (kosmos in the Greek).  By looking at how John uses the Greek, we see that the word “world” is not merely “a group out of the world” as Calvinists often insist but rather the entire world.  Jesus shed His blood for the entire world but only those who appropriate their faith in Christ will be saved.

One interesting point is that Picirilli quotes from John Calvin on John 3:16:

Both points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life.

In the conclusion, Picirilli dives into the strongest Calvinist argument for limited atonement and that is that the Bible uses word that suggest that the atonement accomplished what God meant for it to accomplish: salvation.  1 John 4:10 says that Christ’s death was for the propitiation of our sins.  2 Corinthians 5:19 says that God has reconciled the world unto Himself through Christ.  Are these meant to suggest universal salvation?  Calvinists point out that Arminians deny universalism but how can they if these Scriptures are true?  The Calvinist answers that Christ shed His blood only for the elect and He has accomplished their redemption by His own blood to the glory of God.  Universalism can be easily rejected, the Calvinist answers, because the Bible is not teaching universalism but instead that Christ died for His elect only that God chose out of the sinful world (Romans 9:22-23).

Picirilli answers this claim by first pointing out that when a doctor makes a diagnosis of a person, that diagnosis does not save the person’s life but we often use language to say that it did.  No one would say that the doctor finding a cancer in a person saved them at that moment.  It takes the work of the doctor to save the person who humbly submits to the doctor’s diagnosis and allows the doctor to cut out the cancer from their body.  At that point, the person is now saved.

Likewise, even Calvinists such as Shedd point out that only those who place their faith in the atonement are saved.  The atonement, by itself, saves no one.  Consider Romans 3:21-26:

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.

Notice that the atonement is not said to save but only those who appropriate the work of Christ are said to be saved.  Salvation is received by grace through faith.  Even Calvinists preach this.  We must humble ourselves before the diagnosis of our sinfulness (Romans 3:19-20) and confess that Jesus alone is able to save us from our sins (John 8:24; 14:6; Romans 10:9-13).  We must not only preach the universal call to salvation (which I rejoice that Calvinists do) but we must preach that all who place their saving faith in Jesus can be saved.  The call is to repent and believe the gospel (Mark 1:15).

These gives the Arminian three key points we should ponder.  First, we must pray for all to hear the gospel by praying for God to send out laborers to work His harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).  Secondly, we should pray for all to hear the gospel and be saved by grace through faith (1 Timothy 2:1-6).  Thirdly, we should pray for God to use us in evangelism of the lost (Acts 1:8).  The will of God is not for sinners to perish (Ezekiel 18:32; 2 Peter 3:9) but for sinners to repent (Acts 17:30-31).

The Free Offer of the Gospel With Provision

I was blessed to read a local Free Presbyterian Church site that wrote of the free offer of the gospel.  The site maintained that it is the duty of the Church to preach the gospel and that they were fervent in their evangelism because of the call of God to take the gospel to all.  I was encouraged by this.  They are absolutely correct in avoiding the hyper-Calvinism tendency to avoid preaching the gospel to all because the hyper believes that the gospel is only for the elect and the elect will be saved by the sovereignty of God no matter what and all this protects the glory of God and His grace.

Charles Spurgeon battled this in his day.  Many Calvinists accused Mr. Spurgeon of being an Arminian because of his constant call for all to come and be saved yet Spurgeon maintained his belief in unconditional election.  Spurgeon believed that both were truths in Scripture: that God calls all sinners to repentance but the elect alone will come and be saved.  John 6:37 was Spurgeon’s favorite passage.

My issue as an Arminian with all this is not the call to salvation.  I agree that God calls all to salvation.  John 3:16 is clear that God loves the world and desires the world to be saved.  1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth.  Ezekiel 18:32 says that God does not delight in the death of the wicked.  Acts 2:38-39 says that the promise of salvation is for all who are far off, as many as the Lord our God will call.  This call, as the Free Presbyterian site agrees, is to all.  Revelation 22:17 says that all may come and drink of this water of life.  Matthew 22:9 says that we can invite all to the wedding feast.  Because of the nature of Jesus’ authority (Matthew 28:18) we can go into all nations and make disciples (Matthew 28:19).

In my estimation, the nature of the call goes hand-in-hand with the provision that God has made for our sins.  The Calvinist replies while the call goes out to all, only the elect respond and repent and God has only provided for the elect’s sins.  The rest of humanity is passed over and reprobated to hell by their own sins (though their nature has been predestined by God as well as their sins but the mystery is how God can hold sinners punishable for their sins that they committed by His sovereign will).  The Arminian viewpoint is that both are true: the universal call and the provision therein for the atonement.  I see both as true.

The atonement only makes provision for the one who repents (Romans 3:23-25).  The elect are those who repent.  When a sinner repents, they become part of the elect of God (1 Timothy 4:10).  The elect are those who are in Christ Jesus (“His elect”).  Jesus shed His blood for His sheep (John 10:11), for His Church (Acts 20:28), for our sins (Galatians 1:4), for Paul the Apostle (Galatians 2:20).  Yet He also shed His blood for the world (John 3:16; 1 John 4:14).  Through the blood of Jesus, sinners can come before God and be saved (Hebrews 9:14).  This salvation has come for all people (Titus 2:11) but only those who repent and believe the gospel are saved (2 Thessalonians 2:12).

A key verse here is 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15 which I think holds all these truths together.  The verse reads:

13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.

Three truths are presented here.  First, the sovereignty of God is seen in verse 13 with “God chose you.”  God chooses us in Christ Jesus who is the provision for our sins (John 3:14-15).  Jesus is the suffering servant of Isaiah 53.  He is the one who bore our sins before a holy God (Romans 5:8-9).  This is by the sovereign will of God (Acts 2:23).  The Father sent the Son to die for the sins of the world that whosoever may come and be saved.

Secondly, the provision must come by the proclamation of the gospel as we see in verse 14.  Even my Calvinist brethren agree with me here.  The elect are saved by hearing the gospel and repenting of their sins.  This is the truth of Romans 10:14-17.  The command of Jesus is to go and preach the gospel to all (Matthew 28:19; Luke 24:47-49).  The Lord has given us the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish this truth (Acts 1:8).  As we preach the gospel, the Lord is faithful to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  As we preach the gospel, the gospel opens the sinners hearts to the truth of salvation in the Lord Jesus.  The Spirit of God works through the gospel to draw sinners to salvation (John 6:44; 16:8-11).  The conviction of the Spirit prepares the sinner for the gospel and for true repentance.

Lastly, not only do we see provision and proclamation but we see perseverance in verse 15.  After we are saved by the sovereign hand of God working through the gospel, we must stand firm in the gospel.  This is a biblical truth found through the Bible.  God’s warnings to the Israelites was to remain faithful, stand firm in true worship, teach the children the truth of God, don’t abandon Yahweh for false gods, etc.  This is equally true for the New Testament disciple.  Jesus said that if we keep His word (present active sense), we will never see death (John 8:51).  Paul beat himself to make sure he was a slave of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).  Paul also warned the Corinthians to remain in the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).  Paul also warned the disciples in Colossae to remain steadfast (Colossians 1:21-23).  If Israel could be cut off, so can we (Romans 11:20-22).

All these truths: provision, proclamation, and perseverance are the keys of salvation in the Arminian understanding.  The focus is always on Jesus and what He has done for us.  We preach Him (2 Corinthians 4:5).  We call all to repent and believe the gospel.  We preach that Jesus demonstrated His love for lost sinners by dying for them on the cross.  We proclaim this truth to lost sinners.  We preach that God does love sinners because He has demonstrated His love on the cross through His Son.  We don’t mind preaching this truth to sinners and to saints.

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).

The “Many” and the “All” of Romans 5

Dr. Jack Cottrell holds that the doctrine of original sin as taught since Augustine is not biblical.  He holds that people are born in a state of grace and are not guilty of Adam’s sin and thus are not born sinful.  He holds that all sinners will be judged by God but they will be judged for their own sins and not for the sin of Adam.  Even John Wesley acknowledged that none will be found guilty of Adam’s transgression but their own.

Romans 5 is a debated passage over the doctrine of original sin.  I would say that most orthodox scholars hold that Romans 5 teaches the doctrine of original sin or inherited sinfulness.  While Arminians are not as quick to say that all people inherit Adam’s sin, Arminianism does hold that all people inherit Adam’s sinfulness.  Thus Arminianism has held that people are born dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-3) because of Adam’s sin but people are not born guilty of Adam’s sin but merely the results of Adam’s sin.  Calvinists hold that people are born both depraved and inherit Adam’s sin and thus babies are guilty of sin at the moment of conception (they also explain the necessity of the virgin birth as such).

Dr. Cottrell’s analysis of Romans 5 is fascinating.  It is very extensive and would take many posts on this blog for me to work through it.  However, I just want to focus in on one issue here and that is the issue of Paul’s use of “many” and “all” in Romans 5.  For example, in Romans 5:12 we read:

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.

None deny that “all” here means all.  In Romans 5:15 Paul uses the phrase “many died through one man’s trespass” and none doubt that “many” here means all.  The problem is the end of Romans 5:15.  Let me quote the entire verse:

But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Now if the many at the beginning means all (v. 12) then why does the many at the end of verse 15 mean anything less than all?

The Calvinist answer is that if we make the “many” here become all (as in all) then we must hold to universalism or at best we must deny limited atonement (which cannot be done).  The all in Calvinism is “all” but the “many” in their view is only the elect.  Thus Adam’s sin brings condemnation to “all” but Jesus’ work brings salvation only to the elect or the “many.”

The Arminian answer is that Christ’s sacrifice was provided for all sinners (John 3:16) but only those who place their faith in Christ will be saved.  The only way to escape judgment for your sins is to place your faith in Christ Jesus alone.  Thus the “all” of Adam’s transgression comes to all and the work of Christ has been given for all.  The “many” and the “all” are used interchangeably by Paul the Apostle here in Romans 5.

Dr. Cottrell believes that the only universalism that one can derive from Romans 5:12-21 is that Christ’s saving work on the cross cancels out the work of Adam.  Thus he holds that people are not born in a state of depravity or born sinful but rather that Paul’s point is that Romans 5 is teaching that Jesus cancels out the fall of Adam.  While death is still here with us from Adam, this too, writes Cottrell, will soon be vanquished by the power of the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:26; Revelation 20:13-14).

He goes on to write that we now can view sin in four stages.

  1. Original Sin.  The only thing we receive from Adam’s sin now is death.  We are born in a flesh that will die.  The sin of Adam has been canceled out by the work of Christ.
  2. Original Grace.  All infants and young children are here as well as those who mentally never develop (handicapped).  While here people are in a state of salvation through the universal work of Christ until they reach an age of accountability that only God knows.
  3. Personal Sin.  This is the state people are in after reaching the age of accountability and lose the original grace into which they were born.  Those in this stage are lost because they sinned against a holy God and violated His just laws in the same way that Adam and Eve did.  Those who die here are condemned for their own sins.
  4. Personal Grace.  This is a term only for believers.  Those in Christ Jesus through faith are in a state of personal grace and are redeemed from both sin and death (John 5:24-25; 11:25-26).  Both sin and death have no power over the believer (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).  However, this applies only to those who believe and is not based merely on past belief.  This is present active relationship with Christ (1 Peter 1:5).

Let me add here in closing that Dr. Cottrell would not label his view as Pelagian.  He would actually label it “pre-Augustinian.”  He holds that his view was held by most of the early Church Fathers before Augustine and his debates with Pelagius.  It was only after Pelagius that the Roman Catholic Church adopted the original sin view and the Western Church began to teach that people are born universally condemned for Adam’s sin.  The problem with the original sin view is that many believe that they can’t turn from their sins (since they are born sinful and this is the best they can hope to do) and thus they continue in their sins despite the preaching of the gospel to them.  Many Christians likewise hold that even if saved by the work of Christ from sin, they still must live a life of sin.  I heard a radio preacher just yesterday describing himself as a “miserable sinner” and he went on to say that this was the best he could do and hope for in this life.

I rejoice that the atonement of Christ is a great work from God!  While I have yet to receive a satisfactory answer from those who hold to Cottrell’s view about why children sin, I do agree that the work of Christ is for all.  Christ shed His blood so that all can be saved.  I also agree that each person will be judged for their sins and not the sin of Adam.

Wesley preached:

Satan has stamped his own image on our heart in self-will also. “I will,” said he, before he was cast out of heaven, “I will sit upon the sides of the north;” I will do my own will and pleasure, independently on that of my Creator. The same does every man born into the world say, and that in a thousand instances; nay, and avow it too, without ever blushing upon the account, without either fear or shame. Ask the man, “Why did you do this?” He answers, “Because I had a mind to it.” What is this but, “Because it was my will;” that is, in effect, because the devil and I agreed; because Satan and I govern our actions by one and the same principle. The will of God, mean time, is not in his thoughts, is not considered in the least degree.

We sin because we want to sin!  We sin because we are children of the devil (John 8:44).  Jesus called people “evil” (Luke 11:13) and He said that out of the heart comes evil (Matthew 15:19).  However, Jesus did say that some people are good and others evil (Matthew 12:35).

In reality, we need Christ.  That is the bottom line.  All sinners need Christ.  All saints need Christ.  We need to exalt the Lord Jesus to every nation and to every sinner.  Jesus is our only hope!

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