An Excellent and Concise Answer to the Calvinist “God is a Failure” Argument

The post can be found at SEA:

Is God a Miserable Failure?

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17 Responses

  1. I’m getting a bad link 404.

  2. Kevin,

    I just tried it and it worked fine. Not sure what the problem is.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  3. 404 error here too

  4. Very weird. I just tried it again and it worked fine. Usually my computer seems to have trouble where others do not, but this time it seems that mine is fine while others are having trouble. Otherwise, I don’t kow how to explain why the link works whenever I use it, but it will not work for either of you. Any ideas? I could re-make the link, but I don’t see how that would help. Has anyone besides me found the link to work without an error?

  5. Link works fine here. If you can’t access the link, just go to evangelicalarminians.org and click the link there. The post is excellent. I think I will print it in all its glory and bring it to some Calvinist friends who used exactly this argument last Monday.

  6. Cameron,

    Thanks. Glad to hear that the link is working for someone other than me. I agree that it is excellent, but more could certainly be said. I could see where a Calvinist might still challenge it, though not successfully.

    As the post states, the issue is what does God intend. I think it can be simply addressed by asserting that God desires all to be saved on a conditional basis rather than unconditionally. Only if God’s intention is to save all unconditionally, and some remain unsaved, could it be said that God failed to accomplish His intentions. But if God desires and intends for all to be saved conditionally, then he has not failed if some refuse to meet the necessary condition, since his intention is not for them to be saved unconditionally.

    Basically the same thing, but stated differently.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. I tried IE, and it works in there, but not firefox for some reason. Go figure. Anyway, excellent article. “If God’s purpose was to save believers, then he is 100% successful.” Right on.

  8. I have sometimes heard this “God is a failure under Arminianism” argument and I want to make a few comments about it. First, the Calvinist is attempting a reductio ad absurdum argument (i.e. take a view to its logical conclusion to show its absurdity). In order to construct a valid “reductio” you have to take what the person really believes and take THAT to its logical conclusion.

    If instead of taking their belief to its logical conclusion, instead you read in your own view, or your own premises, then it is not a properly constructed “reductio”. Calvinists believe that salvation is an issue of God’s Power. So they believe that since God is all powerful, if he wants to then save someone, and has all power to do so, then that person will not be able to resist and that person will be saved. A person who thinks of God’s overpowering people into conversion, then sees another view that does not emphasize power in that way as weak or ineffectual. So the Calvinist reads in their power concept into Arminian beliefs and then is shocked and amazed that God “doesn’t always get his man”! They then conclude that God is a “failure”! But they have read into Arminian beliefs their own beliefs about God’s power and Gods’ way of saving folks. They have created a CARICATURE rather than a reductio.

    Second, what are Arminian premises regarding how a person comes to Christ?

    The Arminian believes that God has provided an atonement for the world (so Jesus died for all as a provision of salvation for all). The Arminian believes that God has made this provision because he loves all sinners and desires for all of them to be saved. The Arminian believes that God has a plan of salvation which includes the provision for all, which is based upon his love for all, but also involves a conditional element.

    The conditional element is that human persons are saved when they choose to respond in faith to the gospel message. No faith = No salvation. The human person must choose to trust the Lord for salvation, the Lord will not trust in that person’s place OR TAKE OVER THAT PERSON AND FORCE THEM TO HAVE FAITH. True the Holy Spirit works powerfully in the person enabling them to make the choice to trust (and true that without this powerful work of the Spirit the person cannot come to faith in Christ, cf. Jn. 6:44). But the faith itself must be exercised by the human person. And this choice does not result from the human will being possessed and taken over and controlled by God so that they are forced to have faith. It is freely chosen and this is key, it is an Arminian premise that God’s plan of salvation involves humans freely choosing to trust Him for salvation.

    So if someone is going to construct a valid reductio of the Arminian position they must operate from the premise that God’s plan of salvation involves humans freely choosing to trust in Him. But if you operate according to the Arminian premise of a freely chosen response of faith, then you cannot argue that God is the failure if some reject Him. Because it is not an issue of God through sheer power forcing people to believe, it is an issue of people freely choosing to believe.

    If someone has a wedding feast (which in scripture [including in Jesus’ parables] is a common figure for the eschatological end when a person is rejoicing in God’s presence for eternity)they must first invite guests to come. And the key is that they are INVITED not forced to come. As they are INVITED they can also choose to reject the invitation for various reasons (a fact duly noted by Jesus as he has people choosing to reject the invitation to the end time feast he is preparing in his own parables).

    Now here is the key: when people choose to reject the gracious invitation given by God, is it not a matter of God failing or God’s power being insufficient, as it is a matter of the person choosing to reject an invitation. There is no hint in scripture that people are forced to attend the end time feast prepared by God (the Calvinist power premise), instead, the uniform portrayal is of a gracious invitation that is both freely received and freely rejected by human persons (the Arminian premise of freely choosing and freely rejecting God’s grace).

    Having been involved in weddings as a pastor, I can tell you that people graciously send out their invitations to the wedding and reception: and not everyone comes to either the wedding or the reception (and nobody frets about “failure” on the part of those making the invitation to explain why those who choose not to come did not come).

    Put another way, it is built into the Arminian view that God does not fail as he achieves his goals (he makes a provision of salvation sufficient for all to be saved, he works in the hearts of individual people enabling them to choose to trust Him). God accomplishes **His** plan of salvation perfectly. Again, in the Arminian view it is not one of God’s goals when it comes to salvation, to overpower people and force them to trust Him. Quite the contrary, he provides what is necessary for a person to come to Him for salvation conditioned upon their freely choosing to trust Him. In other words, under Arminian premises God is completely successful in setting up the plan of salvation and carrying it out and saving those who choose to trust Him.

    Robert

  9. Ok. Uhm. Haven’t read the article yet but do you have a topic that deals with Calvinists saying that “Christ Death on the cross did not actually save anyone in Arminianism” and “In Arminianism, salvation depends upon the choice of Puny Humans”?

    Its a different topic but I think this article is related to that AND I want to know how to answer “them”. ^_^ thanks!

  10. Hey everyone –

    I have a piece on Calvinism I just wrote!

    http://preachfaith.blogspot.com/

  11. For those of you who cannot figure out how to open the article, when you click on the link above and get the error message, there is a “home page” link at the bottom of the message. Click on it and you will go to the website. Scroll down to the article and open it.

    It is an interesting article.

    What it seems to me to be the beef is one’s “choice”.

    Why is that an issue?

    Without God giving you revelation, either directly or indirectly through the Gospel message, you wouldn’t be able to choose the Gospel.

    Is this the big issue here, one’s choice to choose the Gospel or reject it?

    This paragraph in the article seems to be the meat of his point, is it not?

    “….So I suppose how you define success is relevant here. I’m not impressed with the success rate of a God who throws his almighty, all powerful Godness at a hapless human being making him believe! In such cases, of course 100% will believe, but this is nothing to be impressed about. If God were to decide to wipe out 100% of the human race, he’d be successful, but such power goes without saying. I’m much more impressed with a God who loves 100% of his creatures so much that he sent his son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life….”.

    I agree that if a Calvinist argues as he says they do and is shown here in this paragraph, it is a weak argument.

    But, I would ask, is that really their beef with the Arminian position?

  12. You’re absolutely right that the key question is, “What’s the intent of the atonement?”

    Which is why the Calvinist argument was phrased more specifically than some of these comments. It’s not, “The Arminian God is a failure.” It’s, “If Christ’s intention in the atonement was to save every sinner, and he failed to do so, then he fails frequently, significantly.”

    Not only that–the article starts with a challenge based on the extent of the atonement, and part of its response is based on the nature of God’s drawing grace.

    The article gestures in the right direction, but it gets rather mixed up. It would be better to focus the argument this way:

    Jesus’ intention in the atonement was not to save every sinner. It was to purchase every sinner, creating a way for every sinner to be saved, such that every believer will be saved. (And we could throw in the Arminian argument that “The atonement was universal so that the free offer of the gospel would be legitimate,” though it’s not necessary to this argument.) So, Jesus’ purpose in the atonement is completely accomplished, if every believer is saved and everyone else is not.

    (Note: The nice thing about this response is that it aims the argument in a good exegetical direction. What was the nature of Christ’s work in the atonement? What did he do on the cross? What does “propitiatory sacrifice” mean? Does Scripture teach that the atonement made a way for salvation, or that it saved those for whom it was made? Were the benefits of Christ’s death broader than the atonement? Did he do more than just atone? What does Scripture actually say about these questions?)

    But there’s a problem with that response:

    Because even if you’re that specific about the atonement, you still have the idea that “When Jesus came, he was trying to save every individual.” If you still want to say that, then you haven’t answered the argument.

    I suppose that was the point of the article when it said, “I’m much more impressed…” The article’s answer to the argument isn’t, “Your argument is wrong.” The answer is, “So what? A God who fails to save most is better than a God who declines to save most.”

    If that’s how you want to answer, fine. But at that point, the “sad thing about Calvinists” paragraph strikes me as rather sad grandstanding. And rather meaningless grandstanding, since the author is claiming that he showed that the logic was flawed, when his critique was really a “so what?” answer.

    Of course, personally, I think both the “miserable failure” argument and the “so what?” answer are both rather terrible. (As bad as “that makes us robots” or “don’t you believe God is really sovereign?”) Because the main issue is whether the Bible teaches that (1) God tries and fails to save many (because they reject the free offer), or (2) declines to save many (all of whom are set in their hearts against him).

    Non-exegetical approaches stink, in other words.

  13. Jugulum,

    I understand your point, but I think the author started out speaking of the atonement due to the fact that the atonement is the means by which God saves. Also, when he starts talking about God throwing on the faith switch, I think he is trying to make the point that God’s intentions were to save conditionally, which the Calvinist argument seems to assume is not even a possibility (see my comment above about the argument being framed in the context of whether God desires all to be save conditionally or unconditionally).

    The last part does seem to be a bit of a “so what” argument, but I think the point is that there is nothing wrong with believing that God can and does save conditionally and is therefore not a failure if He decides to save in such a manner (i.e. the opposing argument is not persuasive because it assumes what needs to be proved, that God’s desiring all to be saved on a conditional basis would render Him a failure if not all were saved). So it could have been stated better, but I still think it addresses the argument well enough.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  14. Non-exegetical approaches stink, in other words.

    Exegesis is certainly the best approach, but no one does exegesis in a vacuum, starting from an unbiased clean slate. We all bring presuppositions to texts and try to draw out intended meaning by reasoning about what the text is saying. Many of the questions you asked above that you tried to frame as “exegetical” were questions about how we reason on the basis of what we are reading by asking and answering certain questions.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  15. Jugulum wrote:

    “You’re absolutely right that the key question is, “What’s the intent of the atonement?””

    That question is already off base as it is stated because it **assumes** that God had only one intention in regards to the atonement.
    What if God had multiple intentions in the atonement?

    Even Calvinist Bruce Ware recognizes this.

    I will give three examples of intentions involved in the atonement. First, as God says explicitly that he desires the salvation of all, he decided upon a plan of salvation in which the atonement would be provided for the whole World (which is a much larger group of human persons than just those who eventually end up as believers). So there was an intention in regard to the provision of atonement for the whole world.
    Second, God’s own plan of salvation is that he will **only** save those who choose to trust Him alone for their salvation. So that means the atonement is set up in such a way that while it may be provided for the whole world it will only be applied to those who trust Him. So there was an intention in regard to the application of atonement.

    Jesus (cf. John 3:14-15; Numbers 21:4-9) pointed to the snake on the pole incident in the history of Israel as a model of his own “being lifted up”/atonement. If we look at that story carefully we see the same intentions involved: while the snake on the pole is provided for all of the Israelites they were only saved when they actually believed by looking up at the snake on the pole in faith.

    Third, the apostle Paul says in Romans that God did the atonement in the way that it was done in order that “He might be just and justifier” (Rom. 3:26). So another intention of the atonement was that it would meet with God’s own character and satisfy him. It was also done in the way that it was done in order to enable God to justify whomever He wants.

    So to ask the question: “what is the intent of the atonement?” as if there was only one, is to miss a lot of important truth in regard to the atonement.

    “Which is why the Calvinist argument was phrased more specifically than some of these comments. It’s not, “The Arminian God is a failure.” It’s, “If Christ’s intention in the atonement was to save every sinner, and he failed to do so, then he fails frequently, significantly.””

    Again, this assumes a single intention: “was to save every sinner”. This way of framing the question also commits the **conflation error** made by many, many Calvinists including John Owen. The conflation error occurs when you speak of the atonement without recognizing that it has both a provisional element and an applicational element.

    The provisional element speaks of the atonement being **for the whole world** (Jn. 3:16, 1 Jn. 2:2). God intended to provide the atonement for the whole world. This is sometimes referred to even by Calvinists such as D.A. Carson as “the atonement is sufficient for all”. Jesus dying on the cross as a provision for all was completely successful.

    The applicational element speaks of the atonement being applied to, or only actually saving those individuals who trust the Lord. And again in this God is completely successful as everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved/will have the atonement applied to them individually (and they will be saved by this atonement not by their own efforts to save themselves).

    But many Calvinists intentionally frame the atonement question as a singular issue with the result being statements like: “If Christ’s intention in the atonement was to save every sinner, and he failed to do so, then he fails frequently, significantly.””

    God intended the atonement for the whole world in the sense that the provisional element was intended for all since God desires the salvation of all. God intended the atonement for those who trust Him alone for their salvation so only they have the atonement applied to them (the applicational element).

    Calvinists like Owen who conflate the two elements then end up asking questions where they end up failing to distinguish these elements and so asking “set up” questions that make it sound like God in some way “fails”. But God “fails” in neither the provisional element nor the applicational element (because to use the other well known phrase, not only is it “sufficient for all” [the provisional element] it is also “efficient only for those who believe”[the applicational element]. Anyone can be saved by the atonement of Christ but only those who trust the Lord will be saved by the atonement. The atonement then has the potential to save anyone, but will in fact save only those who believe. And Calvinists who make the conflation error often play the provisional and applicational elements against each other (e.g. so if Jesus died for all, then won’t all be saved?; didn’t the atonement actually save anyone?; in your view God only makes it possible for people to be saved he does not actually and effectually save anyone, blah, blah blah).

    This needs to also be openly discussed as Calvinists often claim that the Arminian beliefs about the atonement lead to Universalism. But this is an intentional misrepresentation to discredit the non-Calvinist view. Yes the atonement is for the whole world (provisional element) but No it will not save the whole world because it is not applied to every individual irrespective of their response to God (applicational element).

    And the argument that the non-Calvinist view makes God into a “failure” in some way is also an intentional misrepresentation to discredit the non-Calvinist view. God “fails” in neither element: he does in fact provide an atonement capable of saving all and yet simultaneously it will in fact only save those who trust (again the dynamics are just like the dynamics in the snake on the pole story in Numbers).

    “The article gestures in the right direction, but it gets rather mixed up. It would be better to focus the argument this way:

    Jesus’ intention in the atonement was not to save every sinner. It was to purchase every sinner, creating a way for every sinner to be saved, such that every believer will be saved.”

    That is closer but you are still not explicitly making mention of both elements of the atonement.

    “(And we could throw in the Arminian argument that “The atonement was universal so that the free offer of the gospel would be legitimate,” though it’s not necessary to this argument.)”

    The free offer of the gospel is legitimate because God gave His Son for the whole world (cf. Jn. 3:16 and 1 Jn. 2:2, provisional element) and so all who believe or trust will be saved (applicational element). In Calvinism however, the offer is not sincere as God does not desire the salvation of all but only the preselected elect so the atonement was not given for the whole world (it was given only for the elect). In the non-Calvinistic view anyone who chooses to trust the Lord can be saved. In the Calvinistic view only those preselected can and will choose to trust in the Lord. In one the atonement really is provided for all, in the other the atonement is only provided for some and God had no intention of providing it for the “reprobates”.

    “So, Jesus’ purpose in the atonement is completely accomplished, if every believer is saved and everyone else is not.”

    But this statement is also true if the provision was really for the whole world (it really was accomplished, a provision of atonement for the whole world) and yet the application is only for “every believer” (with the provision not being applied to “everyone else is not”).

    Again, Arminians reject universalism and the Arminian view does not lead to universalism (in Universalism both the provision and application are to all people, in Arminianism the provision is for all and the application is only for some, those who trust the Lord). God’s plan was to make provision for all as he sincerely desires the salvation of all while at the same time making salvation through faith alone.

    “What was the nature of Christ’s work in the atonement?”

    He provided an atonement for the whole world just as it was intended by God. He provided an atonement by which God could be “just and justifier”, etc. etc.

    “What did he do on the cross?”

    Accomplished all of the goals of the atonement with respect to the provisional elements and also made the applicational element possible.

    “What does “propitiatory sacrifice” mean?”

    Again God had to do the atonement in such a way to satisfy his own character foremost (i.e. “that he might be JUST”).

    “Does Scripture teach that the atonement made a way for salvation, or that it saved those for whom it was made?”

    Both.

    This question conflates the two elements. It provided a way of salvation for all (provisional element and was completely successful). It will save all who actually choose to believe (applicational element, God can and will and does save all who trust Him).

    Again to say that if it was for all people then all people would then be saved is to conflate the provisional and applicational elements.

    Logically speaking you first have to make salvation possible (that is the provisional element, since it is for all, all could possibly be saved), before it can become actual (that is the applicational element, since it is only applied to those who trust the Lord, to believers). If it were not first possible, then it could not in fact become actual. Calvinists conflate the different elements and so think that people were actually saved at the cross when they were not. The cross makes salvation possible, but it does not become actual until the atonement that occurred on the cross is applied to a particular individual.

    “Were the benefits of Christ’s death broader than the atonement?”

    Yes, it is also a testimony to the angels of God’s character and grace.

    “Because even if you’re that specific about the atonement, you still have the idea that “When Jesus came, he was trying to save every individual.” If you still want to say that, then you haven’t answered the argument.”

    Answered what argument? Answered the questions that make the conflation error and assume only one element of the atonement?

    “I suppose that was the point of the article when it said, “I’m much more impressed…” The article’s answer to the argument isn’t, “Your argument is wrong.” The answer is, “So what? A God who fails to save most is better than a God who declines to save most.””

    Actually in Calvinism God does not merely “decline” to save people. With the reprobates he **intentionally chose for them to be damned**. He intentionally **made them into** the persons they are and to do the actions they do which he exhaustively predecides they will do. He did not merely “decline” to save them. He is much more active than that, he actively and intentionally damns them. Reprobation is a gruesome and unbiblical doctrine invented by calvinists.
    In Calvinism God selects beforehand who will be saved and who will be damned in eternity (the so-called decrees) he then brings about his already made decisions in history (the so-called secret and sovereign will of God that ensures that everything predecided gets actualized in time).

    “Of course, personally, I think both the “miserable failure” argument and the “so what?” answer are both rather terrible. (As bad as “that makes us robots” or “don’t you believe God is really sovereign?”) Because the main issue is whether the Bible teaches that (1) God tries and fails to save many (because they reject the free offer), or (2) declines to save many (all of whom are set in their hearts against him).”

    Jugulum rejects the “miserable failure” argument as terrible and yet at the end he engages in this very argument with his false dilemma: it is either (1) God tries and FAILS to save many, or (2) God DECLINES to save many. Regarding the line “all of whom are set in their hearts against him”, that is misleading in Calvinism. You see in Calvinism God “ordains whatsoever comes to pass” which means he preplans and brings about every event. That means God in Calvinism brings about that all people would be “set in their hearts against him”. God makes every individual into the person he is and makes them do every action that they do. So it does not mitigate things to try to claim these are not innocent people because they are sinners (because God made them into precisely the sinners that they are, they always and only do what he wants them to do, it is all part of his supposed secret sovereign plan which is always accomplished).

    And yes it could be likened to being robots or puppets because in the deterministic form of Calvinism we do not have free will, we only choose to do what God already chose for us to do in eternity and then ensures that we do in history by directly and completely and continuously controlling all events.
    And again this claim that God merely “declines” to save many people is misleading. With the reprobates God does not merely decline to save them, No, God does not want to save them and has no intention of saving them, He wants them all damned from the womb and he will get exactly what he wants with every single one of them.

    And Jugulum engages in the God is a failure argument because he thinks that if God wants all to be saved and yet many are not, then God “failed.” But what he leaves out is God’s plan of salvation which involves his desire for all to be saved, but also involves him setting it up so that he will only save those who freely choose to trust Him. If they freely choose not to trust Him, it is not as if God failed, because it is HIS PLAN that salvation be through faith and a faith that is freely chosen.

    You invite many people to your wedding feast, but not all come. Some freely choose not to come. Did you “fail” with those who don’t end up coming? Was your offer to them gracious? And if they start making excuses and rejecting your gracious offer, and they do so freely, then who “failed”? Anyone who knows their bible will know that Jesus used this very illustration when discussing the Kingdom of God.

    Robert

  16. Robert, I agree with your position on the issue of God “failing”.
    His plan does not fail. It does what he designed it to do.

    I do have a question:

    If the Mt. 22 parable of the wedding applies to rejection of the Gospel of salvation, why did Jesus end it with the statement that “few are chosen”? “Chosen” is the same Greek word that occurs in Calvinist “election” supported scriptures ie Ro. 9.

  17. Bill,

    I think this post will answer your question. It addresses the marriage feast and the identity of the “chosen”.

    God Bless,
    Ben

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