It has become a bit routine:
- Email arrives from someone assuming I am (or everybody at SharperIron is) a Calvinist.
- Email poses question believed to be incriminating of Calvinists or unanswerable by them.
- Response from me offers biblical answer that is not especially calvinistic.
- Questioner ignores most of the particulars, broadly condemns “Calvinism.”
- Discussion becomes repetitive, overly heated or both, ends.
A recent example appears below, with details removed to avoid identifying the sender. I’m including the exchange because, this time around, a reality hit home to me that hadn’t before: apparently, many fundamentalists think that anti-Calvinism is a complete doctrine of salvation.
But anti-Calvinism is, at best, a thoughtful rejection of one particular doctrine of salvation. More commonly, it’s nothing more than a feeling of hostility toward doctrines only partially understood. As a result, many anti-Calvinists have no coherent doctrine of salvation at all. They have rejected lasagna from the menu but have walked away without ordering any alternative.
If the emails I get are any indication, most anti-Calvinists are completely unaware that they have an empty hole where their soteriology ought to be.
So this essay is a plea for more Arminians. Love it or hate it, authentic Arminianism offers a thoughtful, self-consistent set of Bible-based answers to all the same questions Calvinism wrestles with. And the cause of the gospel would be far better served if more anti-Calvinists would embrace some kind of coherent soteriology. Classical Arminianism is not the work of slouches and is far better than the semi-Pelagian, Finneyist confusion that came along later—and way, way better than the self-contradictory, quasi-Pelagian mush many anti-Calvinists settle for nowadays!
How do you theologize away “…was not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance?”. And, just so I know, are you a Calvinist who opines that, in John 3:16, that when God so loved the world, it was the world of the elect……..and whosoever actually means “whosoever of the elect”? Just wondering, because my 3rd grade sunday school students read it and believe it means all inclusive.
Hi, [name removed].
Since all do not actually come to repentance, and God works all things according to the counsel of His will (Eph.1), that verse requires an explanation regardless of whether one identifies more closely with a Calvinist, Arminian or quasi-Pelagian approach—or none of the above.
In short, “not willing that any should perish” has to be “theologized away” by everybody in one way or another. The question is how to harmonize it with what is revealed elsewhere. A sort of short answer, from my point of view, is that unless we say those burning in Hell for eternity are there against God’s will, we have to understand “not willing” in 2 Pet. 3:9 to be either (a) describing God as conflicted on this point or (b) having a narrower meaning based on the context. As for (a) the idea would be that He wants them there perishing in some sense but doesn’t want them there in another. It is part of His plan to reveal His righteousness through “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:22), yet He is grieved that this part of the plan brings suffering to His creatures (“endured with much longsuffering” - also Rom.9:22).
But the other possibility is that (b) the verse should to be read in context as an explanation for why He delays His coming (see 2Pet.3:4ff), that is, He delays because He is not willing to end His plan early and leave those who would have believed stranded without their day of opportunity. In short, Peter is saying “God has a schedule, and His coming is right on time. There are still those He plans to save.”
I can see merits in both (a) and (b), though I’m still not entirely confident I correctly understand Romans 9. But other passages do indicate He does not take pleasure “in the death of one who dies” (Ezek 18.32). So a scenario where He is “willing” and yet “not willing” at the same time doesn’t seem out of the question to me. All the same, as far as 2 Pet. 3 goes, (b) handles the context better.
Hope that helps. I’m not speaking for others at SharperIron. There would be a variety of answers to that question from folks on the team, not to mention those who would join in discussion.
See your quote below.
In short, “not willing that any should perish” has to be “theologized away” by everybody in one way or another. The question is how to harmonize it with what is revealed elsewhere. A sort of short answer, from my point of view, is that unless we say those burning in Hell for eternity are there against God’s will, we have to understand “not willing” in 2 Pet. 3:9 to be either (a) describing God as conflicted on this point or (b) having a narrower meaning based on the context. As for (a) the idea would be that He wants them there perishing in some sense but doesn’t want them there in another.
No point in arguing with you, however, I will point out, that it appears that you do not believe people can refuse salvation, and go to hell for their unbelief…..and this is what God desired all along. To put the thought process simply: God created a man, desiring that the man would go to hell, thus not granting him “elect” status, which you oh-so-conveniently purport to possess…..lucky you, that you aren’t part of Gods big ant-squashing rumpus room, right?
Eph2, Romans 3 are clear that people do not want to believe. This is why God must graciously bring conviction to them first. No one comes except the Father draws him. It’s not about luck. It’s called grace. There are ultimately only two possibilities: either I am chosen on the basis of some quality I possess or I am chosen graciously apart from any merit of my own (what you are calling “lucky” here). So which do you choose to believe? If you decide for “merit,” you have rejected the gospel. (This is not a “Calvinist” idea. Even Arminians affirm that human beings do not, on their own, possess any inclination to believe the gospel. An act of Grace by God is required.)*
So in your view, is God’s will eternally flouted by the existence of sinners in Hell? Is He standing helplessly by as His will is defeated by millions who reject His offer of salvation? If so, as the old saying goes, your God is too small.
Do you believe that it is God’s desire that some people go to hell?
Tell you what, I’ll answer that after you answer my questions. :)
Its been the basic question all along. Does God desire that certain people go to hell? (His will).
I shouldn’t answer your questions if you won’t answer mine. But I’ll let Scripture answer them…
He “works all things according to the counsel of His own will.” Eph.1.11
Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do all My pleasure,’ (Isaiah 46:10)
But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3)
Whatever the Lord pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places. (Psalm 135:6)
Almost as if you are afraid to answer yes, so instead you dance.
In order for Calvinism to be true, God must desire (will) that some boys and girls die and go to hell someday.
Quoting Scripture is dancing? I’m happy to be dancing in that case. When you have something to say about the verses I’ve quoted and the questions I’ve raised, I’d be happy to discuss the matter further.
There is nothing to discuss, because you are wrong. In typical fashion, a calvinist must engage in long drawn-out searching in order to understand salvation.
Yes, you danced. I asked a question about what you believe. Instead of giving a simple response, you attempted to deflect “blame” for your position of predamnation to the Bible.
Your hateful self-important heresy rears its ugly head up every few decades, and gains momentum….only to once again be slapped down with: “For God so loved the WORLD…that WHOSOEVER..”, “..not our sins only..” Whosoever shall call upon the name of the LORD shall be saved.
Sir, a child hearing the Gospel, can understand these verses, and understand that God wants to save everyone.
Im glad that you are wrong, and that everyone can be saved. You believing the world is flat, does not make it so.
A plea for seriousness
The exchange above is shortened slightly, but even in the full length version the anti-Calvinist offers no explanation for how it is that people can spend eternity in Hell contrary to God’s will, how a God who “wants to save everyone” fails to do so, how a God who wants all to be saved could ever return (thus ending the opportunity of salvation for many), or even why there should be any eternal Hell at all.
To all anti-Calvinists everywhere: I respect your right to reject Calvinism—more than you know! But if you’re going to be anti something, please be for something else. Develop a studious, serious, thoughtful and—yes, systematic—set of answers to the issues of God’s sovereign plan; the phenomenon of human choice; the reality of Hell in God’s plan; the nature of depravity, election and grace; and the extent and application of the atonement. For my part, I’d be thrilled if more of you picked up a copy of Roger E. Olson’s Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities and became full-blown Arminians.
*The references to sovereign grace as luck and divine wrath as ant squishing, etc. disoriented me for a bit here, I guess. My counter-argument is pretty much a calvinistic one, since the belief-enabling grace in Arminianism is not granted individually but rather preveniently to all who hear the gospel.