Feedback: Arminians Limit the Power of the Atonement

This week’s feedback comes in response to the post If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?  This week’s chosen respondent raises the old accusation that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.

Question: “See this is why I could never be Armenian.  At least us Calvinists beleive that Christ actually did something on the cross.  We say the atonement was of infinite value and powerful beyond limitations, but the extent of the atonement is limited for the elect.  We say Christ actually secured our salvation at the cross.  You Armenians believe that Christ only makes men ‘savable’ whatever that means.  You believe that Christ died for the whole world, but the whole world isn’t saved.  It you who limits the atonement, you limit it’s power…Why do you say the power is a “non issue”, when you clearly limit the power?”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to write in.  The accusation that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement is certainly not a new one.  From my experience, it is one of the most common objections to Arminianism, as far as debates about the extent of the atonement go.  Sometimes, those of us within the Arminian (or at least ‘non-Calvinist’) camp ‘shoot ourselves in the foot’ by not defining our beliefs and our use of terms as well as we should, which serves to feed the conception, or more correctly misconception, that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.

From the outset, I want to make it clear that Calvinists such as yourself are not wrong to charge Arminianism with limiting the atonement in some measure.  In fact, Calvinists are quite right to point out that Arminianism limits the atonement as certainly (but not necessarily in the same way) as does the Calvinist.  I realise that not all Arminians would agree with me on this point.  Notable Arminian Roger Olson, for example, expressly denies that Arminianism limits the atonement in any way.  I have no objection to a Calvinist claiming that Arminianism in some measure limits the atonement.  Indeed, unless we are going to embrace Universalism (the belief that all will be saved), I believe that we must accept at least some measure of limitation.  

What I object to is the assertion that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement. 

I believe that there are two main reasons for the assertion that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement.  The first being an apparent flaw within the Calvinistic view of the atonement whereby they make the atonement and its application the same thing, and the second being a misconception of true Arminian beliefs, and thus a faulty idea of what the logical conclusion of Arminian beliefs are (as stated above, this is sometimes our own fault for not articulating our beliefs and use of terms as well as we should).  For the sake of providing a response to your actual question, my focus will be mainly on correcting the misconception of Arminian beliefs, rather than attempting a full-scale refutation of the Calvinistic view.

First of all, what do Arminians mean when they say that they believe in ‘universal atonement’, ‘unlimited atonement’, or ‘atonement for all’?  Those terms, taken at face-value, may lead many to conclude that Arminians believe in Universalism, the belief that all people will eventually be saved.  This is most certainly not what Arminians mean, however, when they use terms such as above.  What we actually mean, and this is why we should be more careful with our use of terms, is ‘universal provision’, or ‘unlimited provision’.  

Provision and Application

When we use the word provision, we are implicitly making a distinction between the universal provision of the atonement and the individual application of the atonement.  In other words, provision has been made for the whole world through Christ’s death, but the benefits of Christ’s death (specifically salvation) are not received by an individual until such time as they apply the blood.  

We believe that there are good Scriptural precedents for making the distinction between the provision and the application of the atonement.  Five examples shall suffice.  The first three examples are Old Testament types of Christ (later confirmed in the New Testament), the fourth example is how the Apostle Paul describes God as Saviour, and the fifth is how Paul describes a couple of other believers.

The Passover Lamb

The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel.  But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone.  Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the lamb. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the Passover Lamb was for all of Israel speaks of provision; that the Passover Lamb saved only those that applied the blood to their doorpost speaks of application.

The Passover Lamb is confirmed in the New Testament as being a legitimate type of Christ, for the Apostle Paul refers to Christ as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor. 5:7).

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6).  When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,

“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)

The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith. The serpent itself didn’t save anyone. Anyone who refused to look by faith at the serpent would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the bronze serpent, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the bronze serpent, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the serpent.  The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the serpent was for “everyone” and “anyone” speaks of provision; that it healed only those who looked to it in faith speaks of application.

The serpent in the wilderness is confirmed as a legitimate type of Christ by Jesus Christ Himself, when He drew an explicit comparison between the serpent in the wilderness and His own death (Jn. 3:14).

The Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15).  But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them.  The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28).  Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

It is obvious that even if a manslayer did fail in receiving benefit from the provision of the cities of refuge, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the cities. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

That the cities were for any manslayer speaks of provision; that they protected only those who entered and remained within the boundaries speaks of application.

The author to the Hebrews makes reference to the fact that we have fled to Jesus for refuge (6:18).  Even the hyper-Calvinist John Gill explicitly declared 1) that the cities of refuge were each types of Christ, and 2) that Hebrews 6:18 is referring to this fact.

The Saviour of All People, Especially of Those Who Believe

Paul writes that God is “the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10).  That God is the Saviour of all people speaks of provision; that God is the Saviour especially of believers speaks of application.

In Christ Before Paul

Paul writes that Andronicus and Junia, his kinsmen and fellow prisoners, “were in Christ before me [Paul]” (Rom. 16:7).  The fact that someone can be “in Christ” before someone else implies that there is a difference between the atonement itself, and the application of that atonement.  

If not, and the atonement and its application are the same thing, then we would have to believe that the elect were actually literally saved at the moment of Christ’s death, a belief which entails the elect being saved, and thus “in Christ”, all at the same time.  This would also entail the elect being born saved, and thus never being “dead in trespasses and sins”, nor “children of wrath” (Cf. Eph. 2:1-3), and therefore, being saved before ever having exercised faith. 

The distinction between the provision and the application of the atonement is therefore deducible from Paul’s description of Andronicus and Junia as being “in Christ” before him.  

As the above examples show, there is indeed a distinction between the atonement and the application of the atonement.  In other words, the atonement is provisional in nature, until such time as it is applied.

Unless the Calvinist is going to affirm that the elect were born saved, then in principle, he must affirm a provisional aspect of the atonement, in some measure at least.

Provision and Intention

Following on from the distinction between the provision of the atonement and an individual’s application of the atonement, it is helpful to recognise the distinction between the provision and intention of the atonement.  As the application of the atonement refers to a human action, namely, an individual’s application of Christ’s blood by looking to Him in faith, the intention of the atonement refers to a Divine action, namely, who God actually intends to save.

When we speak of God’s intentions, two fundamental questions need to be asked:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

At the risk of oversimplification, I believe a very basic answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, Who does God actually intend to save?  It is my position that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). As Richard Baxter said, “it was never the intent of his mind, to pardon and save any that would not by faith and repentance be converted”.

Once again, referring back to the aforementioned Old Testament foreshadows of Christ is helpful.

Just as God intended the blood of the Passover Lamb to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so He intends the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as God intended the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as God intended the cities of refuge to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).  Therefore, to say that Arminians limit the power of the atonement is just plain nonsense.  The fact that Christ’s blood does not save every single person without exception, in spite of the fact that provision has been made for every single person, says nothing about the power of the atonement, for 1) God has never intended to save anyone who would not by faith and repentance believe the Gospel, and 2) the atonement accomplishes exactly what God intended, namely, the salvation of those who believe.  

To say that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement amounts to nothing more than saying that Arminianism limits the power of the atonement to being able to achieve exactly what God has intended it to achieve, which is a redundant criticism.  If the atonement accomplishes exactly what God intended, then its power cannot reasonably be said to have been limited in any meaningful sense of the word.

Best regards,

Arminian

Feedback: “A Christian Can’t Lose Their Salvation Because They’re a ‘New Creation’”

A little bit later than I was expecting, but here is this week’s chosen feedback:

Question: “Regeneration is to be made new.  Paul says in 2 Cor 5:17 that we are a new creation.  How in the world can such a change become undone?  It can’t.  Plain and simple.  Paul also says in Rom 8:1 that there is no condemnation.  If you believe otherwise, you are contradicting the Word of God.  God said that He will never leave us or forsake us.  How in the world can salvation then be lost?  It can’t.  If you believe otherwise, you are calling God a liar and denying His truth.  The truth will set you free.”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to write in.  Without going into too much depth, I just have a few quick points to make.

As I see it, the Arminian position is not that regeneration can be “undone”, per se.  It is more along the lines of believing that just as that which is born physically can die physically, so that which is born spiritually can die spiritually (Cf. John 15:1-6; Romans 1:1-2:11; 6:1-23; 8:12-13; 1 Corinthians 6; Galatians 5:19-21; 6:7-9; Ephesians 5:1-7; Hebrews 5:11-6:8; 10:26-39; James 1:12-15; 4:4; 2 Peter 2:20-22).

Secondly, the way I see it, arguing that a person cannot lose their salvation simply because they are a “new creation” (as 2 Corinthians 5:17 says) is circular reasoning, as being a new creation is specifically conditioned upon being “in Christ” (as 2 Corinthians 5:17 also says). So you have to first assume ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’ (which is the very point in question) in order to prove ‘once a new creation, always a new creation’, which in turn proves ‘once saved, always saved’. In effect, you have to assume that 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches OSAS in order to prove that 2 Corinthians 5:17 teaches OSAS.

Same goes for Romans 8:1, as there now being “no condemnation” is specifically conditioned upon being “in Christ” (as Romans 8:1 also says).  So once again, you have to first assume ‘once in Christ, always in Christ’ in order to prove ‘now no condemnation, always no condemnation’, which in turn proves ‘once saved, always saved’. In effect, you have to assume that Romans 8:1 teaches OSAS in order to prove that Romans 8:1 teaches OSAS.

Lastly, as far as I can see, your reference to God’s promise to “never leave us or forsake us” has little Scriptural basis insofar as actually providing assurance of salvation.  Of the four instances that those words are spoken in Scripture (three times in the Old, once in the New Testament), not once do they have anything to do with assurance of salvation specifically, nor even salvation generally.

Best regards,

Arminian

Feedback: Jeremiah 13:23 Revisited

This week’s feedback is in response to the post Jeremiah 13:23 – Proof of Man’s Inability?, wherein I argued that Jeremiah 13:23 is not universally applicable as proof of mankind’s total depravity, despite it typically being used as a ‘golden bullet’ proof-text by most Calvinists.

This week’s respondent asserts that Jeremiah 13:23 is universally applicable, and that by disagreeing with him, I am denying the Lord.

Question: “You said: “The context of the passage as a whole makes it clear that only Israel and Judah are in view.”  How does it make it clear that ONLY israel is in view?What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?  On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.  Yet to combat “calvinism,” you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…  

But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.”

Answer: Thanks for taking the time to respond, but I can’t help but think that it is you who has failed to grasp the context and scope of Jeremiah 13.  You said:

“How does it make it clear that ONLY israel [sic] is in view?”

Like this:

“Thus says the LORD to me, “Go and buy a linen loincloth and put it around your waist, and do not dip it in water.” So I bought a loincloth according to the word of the LORD, and put it around my waist.  And the word of the LORD came to me a second time, “Take the loincloth that you have bought, which is around your waist, and arise, go to the Euphrates and hide it there in a cleft of the rock.”  So I went and hid it by the Euphrates, as the LORD commanded me.  And after many days the LORD said to me, “Arise, go to the Euphrates, and take from there the loincloth that I commanded you to hide there.”  Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it.  And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing.  Then the word of the LORD came to me: “Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.  This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen.  “You shall speak to them this word: ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, “Every jar shall be filled with wine.”’  And they will say to you, ‘Do we not indeed know that every jar will be filled with wine?’ Then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I will fill with drunkenness all the inhabitants of this land: the kings who sit on David’s throne, the priests, the prophets, and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem.  And I will dash them one against another, fathers and sons together, declares the LORD.  I will not pity or spare or have compassion, that I should not destroy them.’” (Jeremiah 13:1-14, ESV; emphasis added)

As I said in the original post, Israel and Judah hadn’t simply “fallen” into sin.  They were reveling in sin, continuing in steadfast rebellion to God, continuing in a steadfast refusal to hear God’s words, and continuing in steadfast idolatry.  And then comes the question regarding the Ethiopian and the leopard.  What is being illustrated is just how far Israel and Judah had departed from God.  Considering how far they’ve gone, and how unwilling they are to repent and turn back to God, it would be just as easy for an Ethiopian to change his skin colour, or a leopard to change its spots, than it would be for the houses of Israel and Judah to turn from their wickedness and do well.  God (through Jeremiah) was illustrating what continued wilful rebellion and apostasy will do to a man’s heart.

The burden of proof is on you to show where, in the context of the threat in Jeremiah 13, anyone but Israel and Judah are included.

“What about the pagan nations convinces you that they could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good?  When did they do so?”

Where in the original post did I say, or even imply, that pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good”?

It does not follow that since Jeremiah 13 has specific reference to Israel and Judah, that pagan nations have more moral ability to do good.  That’s a massive leap of logic.

What you don’t seem to grasp is that I have no argument with the doctrine of ‘Total Depravity’, per se.  In fact, no informed Arminian has a problem with the doctrine.  See for instance, Do Arminians Believe in Total Depravity? and A Puritan’s (Deluded) Mind

The essence of the original post was not about ‘Total Depravity’, per se, but about whether or not Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.  The question of whether pagan nations “could choose in and of themselves to turn and do good” is totally irrelevant to the issue at hand.

“On human terms, in human wisdom, by human reasoning it is completely impossible for even the best human being on the planet to be saved.  God has to act to change you.  That is your only hope.”

You won’t get any argument from Arminians on this point.  No Arminian denies that salvation is of the Lord, nor that the decisive factor in salvation is the grace of God.

“Yet to combat “calvinism,” [sic] you flatly deny the Lord.  Amazing…”

And yet to combat an Arminian, you flatly ignore the context of Scripture, you flatly ignore the context of my original post, and now you make a wild assertion without the slightest bit of evidence to back it up. Amazing…

“But Hebrews 11:6 would tell you that “without faith it is impossible to please God.””

Yes, but how exactly is this relevant to the context of Jeremiah 13?

“These verses don’t leave much room for behavior that qualifies as “good” in the eyes of God either:

Gen 6:5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that EVERY INCLINATION OF THE THOUGHTS OF HIS HEART WAS ONLY EVIL ALL THE TIME.

Gen 8:21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though EVERY INCLINATION OF HIS HEART IS EVIL FROM CHILDHOOD.””

Again, as an Arminian, I have no issue with the doctrine of Total Depravity, nor do these verses have any relevance to the question of whether Jeremiah 13:23 is a legitimate proof-text for the doctrine.

Thanks again for the reply, but nothing you’ve said has caused me to reconsider the conclusion of my original post – Jeremiah 13:23 is specifically referring to Israel and Judah, and should not be used as a proof-text for Total Depravity.  Also, and I mentioned this in the original post, I find it ironic that Calvinists take a text that is quite obviously speaking of a particular group of people (Israel and Judah) and give it a universal application, given their usual tendency to restrict and limit the meaning of passages that use universal language, such as John 3:16, 1 Tim. 2:4, 1 Tim. 4:10, 1 John 2:2, and Heb. 2:9.

Best regards,

Arminian

Feedback: If Christ Died For All, And All Are Not Saved, Did Christ Die In Vain?

This week’s feedback raises the old accusation that Arminianism pictures God as “weak and helpless”, and having died in vain for those who ultimately perish:

Question: “The problem with Arminianism is that it paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior, trying and yet failing to save everyone.  If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted.  If any of Christ’s blood was wasted, then He died in vain and is a failure as a Savior.  The theology of Arminians make Christ less than God.”

Answer: This is by no means a new criticism.  Personally, I’ve never found this claim to be particularly strong or convincing.  When dealing with issues such as these, I’ve found it helpful to refer to what I see as God’s intentions in the atonement.  These can be expressed in two inter-related questions:

1) Why did Christ shed His blood in the first place?

2) Who does God intend to save?

I believe a very simplified answer to the first question would be that Christ shed His blood as a means of providing the redemption of those whom God has intended to save. This then raises the second question, to which I would reply that even though He desires that all would come to faith and repentance, God has only ever intended to save those who believe (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21, Gal. 3:22, 1 Tim. 4:10). Does Christ’s blood accomplish the salvation of those who believe? If so (and I believe that it does), then the blood is not wasted, insofar as it accomplishes exactly what it set out to achieve: the salvation of those who believe.

A look at three Old Testament foreshadows of Jesus Christ is helpful:

Just as the blood of the Passover Lamb was intended to be effectual only for those who applied it to their doorposts (Ex. 12), so the blood of Christ (our Passover Lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7) was intended to be effectual only for those who apply the blood.

Just as the serpent in the wilderness, lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who looked to it in faith (Num. 21), so Christ (our Serpent in the wilderness, Jn. 3:14), lifted up, was only ever intended to be effectual for those who look to Him in faith.

Just as the cities of refuge were intended to be effectual only for those entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35), so Christ (our City to whom we have fled for refuge, Heb. 6:18) was only ever intended to be effectual for those who enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.

Christ’s blood accomplishes exactly what God intended: it saves those who by faith and repentance believe the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 1:21).

Another point worth making is that it’s not as if part of Christ’s blood saves one person, and another part of the blood saves another person. Christ’s blood, in its entirety, saves every person who repents and believes the Gospel. The same blood that saved the Apostles is exactly the same blood that saves you and me. The same blood that saves one repentant sinner is exactly the same blood that is sufficient to save billions upon billions of repentant sinners, and then some more. This same blood is available to anybody who will turn to Christ. If anyone does not look in faith to Christ and in so doing be saved, it is that they have wasted the opportunity for salvation. It is not as if Christ’s blood was wasted, for if just one person was to be saved, the same amount of blood would have to have been shed as it would for the entire world to be saved.

The claims that Arminianism “paints Jesus as a weak and helpless Savior” and that Arminians “make Christ less than God” are unfounded, as they rest on the claim that “If Christ died for all, but all people aren’t saved, then at least some of Christ’s blood was wasted” which is shown to be an unconvincing accusation against Arminian theology.

One final point I’d like to make is that the claim that Christ’s blood is wasted if all are not saved can actually be applied (though just as unconvincingly) to the Calvinistic scheme. Most Calvinists that I’ve come into contact with will typically make reference to the ‘sufficiency/efficiency’ distinction, namely, the claim that Christ’s blood is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect.  So in your Calvinist scheme, the blood of Christ is sufficient to save all, and yet it does not save all. This means that the original claim that Christ’s blood was wasted may just as easily be applied to your own Calvinistic worldview.  Now, the way you Calvinists get around the apparent problem is, admittedly, quite easy and persuasive.  That is, by showing that the intention of Christ’s death was to save only the elect (on the Calvinist view), the problem disappears (i.e., the blood accomplishes exactly what was intended).  As the problem is so easily resolved, it would be silly for an Arminian to charge Calvinism with entailing the conclusion that some of Christ’s blood was wasted.

And the fact that the claim is so easily resolved is precisely the reason that I brought it up in the first place, as this is the same type of reasoning that we Arminians use to resolve the apparent problem.  Just as a Calvinist appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as he sees it resolves the problem for his worldview, so we Arminians appealing to the scope/intention of the atonement as we see it resolves the issue for our worldview.1  The fact that the same charge can be brought against Arminianism and Calvinism alike, and that it can be so easily resolved, is indicative of two things: 1) the charge that any of Christ’s blood was wasted is such a weak argument that it should not be used by either Calvinists or Arminians, and 2) Calvinists and Arminians alike should have no problems in principle with the other’s explanation, as both explanations (similar in principle, yet still different) are perfectly consistent with their respective worldviews.

Best regards,

Arminian

Note

1 From my perspective, Calvinists and Arminians alike limit the atonement in some way. In my personal experience, Calvinists have typically claimed that they limit the scope of the atonement, while we Arminians limit the power or efficacy of the atonement.  Now, I don’t presume to speak for all Arminians, but I personally reject that distinction.  My view is that Calvinists and Arminians both limit the scope of the atonement.  The power of the atonement is a non-issue; the real issue is differing views on the scope of the atonement, Calvinism limiting the scope of the provision and intended benefit to only those whom God unconditionally elected before the foundation of the world, and the Arminian limiting the scope of the intended benefit to those who believe.

Feedback: If a Person Can Lose Their Salvation, Is It Unreasonable to Assume That God Would Regenerate That Person in the First Place?

This week’s feedback:

Question: “If God has infallible foreknowledge, isn’t it unreasonable to assume that God would regenerate people whom he knows will not persevere?  The idea that God starts what He does not finish seems contrary to His nature – Phil. 1:6.”

Answer: No. If we were to conclude that it is unreasonable to assume that God would regenerate people because He has infallible foreknowledge of their apostasy, then logical consistency demands that we conclude that it was unreasonable for God to deliver the Israelites when He had infallible foreknowledge that many of them would fall.

Yet the Scriptures are quite clear: God, who most certainly does have infallible foreknowledge, did deliver the Israelites, despite the fact that He foreknew that many who would be delivered and hear the good news would nonetheless fall.

Rom. 11:20-22

“That is true.  They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.  So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off.”

1 Cor. 10:1-6

“For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink.  For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.  Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.”

Hebrews 4:6-11

“Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”  For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.”

Hebrews 12:25

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.  For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

Jude 1:3-21

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.  For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.  Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day–just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.  Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones.  But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”  But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively.  Woe to them! For they walked in the way of Cain and abandoned themselves for the sake of gain to Balaam’s error and perished in Korah’s rebellion.  These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.  It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”  These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage.  But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ.  They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.”  It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”

As all the above passages make clear, the Israelites salvation out of the land of Egypt is analogous to our salvation:

“They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.  So do not become proud, but fear.  For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.  Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off … (Rom. 11:20-22)

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did … (1 Cor. 10:1-6)

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience … (Heb. 4:6-11)

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.  For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven … (Heb. 12:25)

Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe… But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.” (Jude 3-21)

It is therefore not unreasonable to believe that God will regenerate someone, despite the possibility that they will later apostatize – an apostasy which God would infallibly foreknow.

Having shown a Scriptural precedent for God delivering people, only for them to later fall, I’ll now move on to Philippians 1:6.  You say that the idea of God starting what He doesn’t finish seems contrary to His nature, citing Philippians 1:6, which reads,

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

On the subject of eternal security, this is one of the most oft-quoted verses by those who hold to the unconditional eternal security position.  For example, noted Calvinist R.C. Sproul writes,

“Writing to the Philippians, Paul says, “He who has begun a good work in you will perfect it to the end” (Phil. 1:6).  Therein is the promise of God that what He starts in our souls, He intends to finish.  So the old axiom in Reformed theology about the perseverance of the saints is this: If you have it—that is, if you have genuine faith and are in a state of saving grace—you will never lose it.  If you lose it, you never had it.”

Despite its frequent use, I don’t believe that this verse was ever intended to convey an idea like the one that you’ve raised.

The confidence that Paul expresses to the Philippians can hardly be applied to every person who has, for at least one moment in their life, had faith in Christ.  Paul makes frequent reference to the basis of his confidence.  He had confidence because of the Philippians’ “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (1:5), because of their steadfast work with him “in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (1:7), because of their complete obedience (2:12), because they were the only ones to partner with him “in giving and receiving” from “the beginning of the gospel” (4:14-16), and because he had received abundantly more than a full payment of their ever-increasing spiritual fruit (4:17-18).  Paul had every reason to be confident of the Philippians’ final salvation.  If a believer bore nothing but good fruit from the day of their conversion up to the present in the way that the Philippians did, then there would be no choice but to have confidence of their final salvation.

The branch that stops abiding in Christ can’t take any comfort from this (see John 15:1-6), nor can the branch that stops abiding in the root of the olive tree (see Rom. 11:17-22).

Note also that Paul only has confidence, strong confidence, yes, but not absolute certainty. This is made clear by the fact that Paul was worried about the possibility that his labor for the Philippians was in vain. In fact, he was so determined to make sure that his labor was not in vain that he was willing to give himself as a sacrifice to ensure that it wasn’t (2:14-17).  Such a concern would be unwarranted if Paul had absolute certainty that the Philippians would be saved no matter what.  There is a reason that Paul was constantly exhorting the Philippians to walk worthy of the gospel, to stand firm, to strive for the faith of the gospel, to work out their own salvation, to hold fast to the word of life, and to hold true to what they’ve attained.

Best regards,

Arminian

Feedback: If Christ Died For Those Who Ultimately Perish, Do Unbelievers Receive Any Benefit From the Atonement?

This week’s feedback:

Question: ‘If Christ died for those who ultimately perish, as Arminians believe, do unbelievers receive any benefit from His death?’

Answer: Quite simply, no.  But such does not militate against the Arminian view of the atonement at all, for the fact that those who ultimately perish do not receive any benefit is not because their (potential) salvation was not provided for by Christ’s death, but is because of their own rejection of said provision.  When we look to three Old Testament foreshadows of Christ, this truth is plainly seen:

The Passover Lamb

The blood of the Passover lamb (Ex. 12:6, 21) was provided for all of Israel (Ex. 12:3), without a hint of it being only for an ‘elect’ group within Israel.  But the fact that the blood of the Passover lamb was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The blood became effectual only after it was applied to the door posts (Ex. 12:7, 22); the blood itself didn’t save anyone.  Any Israelite who failed to apply the lamb’s blood to their doorpost would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the death of the Passover lamb, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the lamb. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Serpent in the Wilderness

Because the people of Israel became impatient and complained against God and Moses (Num. 21:4-5), God sent fiery serpents among the people, and the serpents bit the people, so that many people died (Num. 21:6).  When the people acknowledged their sin, they asked Moses to pray to God for them (Num. 21:7). God answered Moses’ prayer, saying,

“‘Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’  So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.” (Num. 21:8-9)

The bronze serpent was a provision for “everyone” and “anyone”. But the fact that the bronze serpent was provided for all Israel didn’t automatically guarantee that all Israel would benefit from it.  The bronze serpent became effectual only after someone looked at it by faith. The serpent itself didn’t save anyone. Anyone who refused to look by faith at the serpent would thus have failed to receive any benefit from the bronze serpent, in spite of the fact that they could have, as they were provided for.

It is obvious that even if an Israelite did fail in receiving a benefit from the bronze serpent, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the serpent.  The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

The Cities of Refuge

The cities of refuge were a provision for the manslayer (Num. 35:9-15). Furthermore, it was a provision for any manslayer – the people of Israel, and for the stranger, and for the sojourner (Num. 35:15).  But the fact that the cities of refuge were provided for any manslayer did not automatically guarantee that any manslayer would benefit from them.  The city of refuge was only effective as long as the manslayer entered, and stayed within, the boundaries (Num. 35:26-28).  Any manslayer who refused to either enter in (in the first place), or remain in, the cities of refuge would thus fail to receive any benefit from said cities, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

It is obvious that even if a manslayer did fail in receiving benefit from the provision of the cities of refuge, it wouldn’t follow that such a person fell outside the scope of the provision of the cities. The failure to receive benefit is rooted in the rejection of the provision, and not in the provision itself.

Jesus Christ

And so it is with Christ, our Passover Lamb (1 Cor. 5:7), our Serpent in the Wilderness (John 3:14), our City to whom we have fled for refuge (Heb. 6:18). Christ was provided for the whole world (Isa. 53:6, cf. Acts 8:30-35; Jn. 1:7-9; Jn. 3:16-17; Jn. 4:42; Jn. 6:33, 51; Jn. 12:32, 47; Rom. 3:23-24; Rom. 5:6, 15; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; Heb. 2:9; Heb. 10:10; 1 Jn. 2:2; 1 Jn. 4:14, etc.).  

But the fact that Christ was provided for all does not automatically guarantee that all will be saved. The blood of Christ our Passover Lamb becomes effectual only after it is applied; our Serpent in the wilderness becomes effectual only after we look to Him in faith; our City of Refuge becomes effectual only after we enter into union with, and remain in union with, Him.  Christ’s death itself doesn’t save anyone. And anyone who refuses to apply the blood of Christ, anyone who refuses to look to Him in faith, anyone who refuses to enter into union with Him or remain in union with Him will receive no benefit from His death, in spite of the fact that they could have, as provision was made for them.

The refusal to accept a provision, and thus, any benefit that would have otherwise been obtained, does not militate against the quality of, or the scope of, the provision itself.  So we see that even though those for whom Christ died may yet ultimately perish, and thus, receive no benefit from His death, there is no reason to believe that because such is reality, the atonement must be for the elect and the elect alone.

Feedback: Why Don’t You Man Up?

This week’s feedback comes from reader H.P.  It is a good reminder that empty rhetoric does not amount to a reasoned argument.  H.P.’s comments are reproduced in their entirety, followed by my response.

Round 1

H.P.: “Why don’t you be a man and use a REAL document that expresses the full understanding of Calvinism like the Canons of Dort instead of arbitrarily quoting sources out of context.  Are you trying to be the next Dave Hunt on anti-Calvinism?  I would love to take up a debate with you and your ideology of Arminian demises.  Contact me [contact details removed]”

It’s interesting to note that you don’t explain how you define a “REAL” document, other than that it must express a “full understanding of Calvinism”. 

This raises the question, do Calvin’s Institutes not express a full understanding of Calvinism?  Highly doubtful, considering that it “was Calvin who wrought out this system of theological thought with such logical clearness and emphasis that it has ever since borne his name.” (Boettner, pp. 3-4) 

What about Boettner’s Reformed Doctrine of Predestination – does that fail to express a full understanding of Calvinism?  Highly doubtful, considering that among the endorsements for this classic work, we find the following:

“This is one of the most thorough and complete, as well as one of the most interesting and convincing statements of the doctrine of Predestination that has appeared in any language.  In addition Dr. Boettner provides in this book a scholarly and comprehensive statement of the Reformed or Calvinistic faith.  For more than thirty years The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination has been regarded as the authoritative work in this field.”

“Not only a clear and cogent presentation of the Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, but of all the great distinctive doctrines of the Reformed Faith.”

“A book that will live for years as one of the most scholarly, helpful and interesting discussions of a difficult subject.”

“The mantle of Dr. Warfield, Calvinism’s most distinguished expositor and defender of the last generation, seems to have fallen on Dr. Boettner’s shoulders.”

“Whoever really wants to know what Calvinism teaches cannot do better than to read this book from cover to cover.”

What about A.W. Pink’s Sovereignty of God – does that fail in expressing a full understanding of Calvinism?  Granted, the book is not specifically about the TULIP (but then again, Calvinism is more than TULIP), but it is considered to be one of the classic texts on the Calvinistic view of providence, predestination, and the ‘Doctrines of Grace’ in general.  The review on R.C. Sproul’s Ligonier Ministries website gives this endorsement:

“This book … fiercely defends the sovereignty of God, and all the cognate doctrines such as the Doctrines of Grace. It is THE book to give to those just after conversion, and a prime book to give to anyone who defends the free will of man… It is an important stone to guide the steps of those who are not yet convinced of God’s absolute sovereignty over all persons and events.”

What about Edwin H. Palmer’s Five Points of Calvinism – does that fail in expressing a full understanding of Calvinism?  Highly doubtful, considering that it was this book that made leading Calvinist exponent James White a “full ‘five pointer’”.  Monergism Books gives this endorsement:

“Using the classic TULIP acronym (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints), this primer on the five points of Calvinism is perfect for students and laypeople alike. Using the Scriptures from which they are drawn, Edwin H. Palmer analyzes each point and explains them in accessible language. Helpful discussion questions follow each chapter, making this book ideal for classes or study groups.”

What about another source that I have quoted from, R.C. Sproul’s What is Reformed Theology?  Given that this resource is touted as offering “a comprehensive introduction to Reformed theology,” I dare say that this qualifies as a “REAL” document on the subject.

Another book that I’ve quoted from is Boice and Ryken’s The Doctrines of Grace.  I fail to see how anyone could libel this classic text as not being a “REAL” document on the subject of Calvinism, especially when a leading proponent of Reformed Theology, namely Dr. R.C. Sproul, writes the following: 

“In this book Drs. Boice and Ryken not only provide a lucid and compelling exposition of the doctrines of grace but also provide a historical framework for their development.” (From the Foreword) 

Another reviewer writes that the book is

“an in-depth examination of each of the five doctrines of grace. Eschewing the traditional TULIP acronym, Boice chooses instead to speak of Radical Depravity, Unconditional Election, Particular Redemption, Efficacious Grace and Persevering Grace. Each of the points receives a full examination … This book provides a beautiful and captivating introduction to Calvinism.”

It’s funny also that you haven’t so much as attempted to substantiate your claims of me “arbitrarily quoting sources out of context”.  It has been well said that ‘what can be asserted without proof can be dismissed without proof’.

I fail to see the purpose of the Dave Hunt question.

Perhaps I’m not the one who needs to man up.

Round 2

H.P. wrote back, now claiming that the aforementioned sources (from Calvin, Boettner, Sproul, Palmer, Pink, et al.) don’t qualify as “REAL” documents or express a full understanding of Calvinism:

H.P.: “No, not at all and here’s why: these sources that you list are documents that do not give an adequate definition of what Calvinists mean by the terminologies they have have. You have only arbitrarily quoted a few sources to show that Calvinism does not make sense, without acknowledging that these are variant expressions of their understanding of T.U.L.I.P. If you are going to attack a view, at least use a source that actually does into the polemical depths like the Canons of Dort prior to making a complete fool out of yourself.

If you would like, I would love to debate you.”

On the contrary, these works do indeed provide adequate definitions of what Calvinists mean by their use of theological terms. If you want to deny that these works are “REAL,” then that’s your choice, but bear in mind that it lacks any credibility. By denying that Calvin, Boettner, Shedd, Pink, Palmer, Sproul, et. al represent “REAL” Calvinism, you’re the one who is making a fool out of yourself.

Round 3

H.P. now comes back for one last bite at the cherry:

H.P.: “I can say your sources are misquoted because I have read several of the books and there are other quotes to prove my position. I accept Calvin, Boettner, Pink, and Palmer, but these are variant expressions of the same key doctrines. Besides they are not as ‘in depth’ as the Canons, which I think you should read.

I have grown tired of the same meaningless rantings that anti-Calvinists such as yourself keep posting as if we have no alternative response. The Canons of Dort have done enough justice by exposing Armnianism for what it was: an error. I may not agree with everything, but you could take down the stereotypical arguments that you keep using over and over again. It’s kind of trite and lame.”

You said:

“I can say your sources are misquoted because I have read several of the books and there are other quotes to prove my position.”

Mere assertion. I could just as well write ‘I can say that my sources are quoted correctly because I have read several of the books and there are other quotes to prove my position.’ Mind you, if I were to reply thus, the discussion would not progress one bit. Without corroborating evidence, your statement is meaningless.

By the way, where are these supposed quotes that prove your position?  One would think that if you actually did have quotes that both prove your position and refute my position, then you would be a man and produce the alleged evidence rather than a whole lot of hot air.

“Besides they are not as ‘in depth’ as the Canons, which I think you should read.”

What’s to say that I haven’t read the Canons of Dordt? The fact that I haven’t yet quoted from them? That’s nothing more than an argument from silence, which is no argument at all.  (For the record, I have indeed read the Canons of Dordt)

“I have grown tired of the same meaningless rantings that anti-Calvinists such as yourself keep posting as if we have no alternative response.”

Such as? If you’re going to accuse me of “meaningless rantings,” why don’t you be a man (to use your words) and provide more than a mere assertion of such.

“The Canons of Dort have done enough justice by exposing Armnianism for what it was: an error.”

Debatable, but once again, you have done nothing more than simply assert your position, rather than provide a reason for it.

“I may not agree with everything, but you could take down the stereotypical arguments that you keep using over and over again. It’s kind of trite and lame.”

Actually, what is lame is that you keep accusing me of “meaningless rantings,” “stereotypical arguments,” and “arbitrarily quoting sources out of context,” but don’t (or is that can’t?) even substantiate your views.

Best regards,

Arminian