Boettner’s Misrepresentation of Unlimited Atonement

Kevin Jackson sets the record straight in this excellent post at SEA:

Addressing a Boettner Quote About Limited Atonement

Who Authored the Crime?

Case 1

The situation was grim for Police Chief, Captain Everett Justus. The most powerful and cunning crime boss in all the city, Moriarty Norton, had constantly evaded capture, and had recently stepped up his criminal activities. This would be bad enough normally, but a dispatch with potentially worse news had come into the office. Looked like a shipment of Guffinite, a cerebral phlebotinum of unstoppable power, was being transported through their city and put into secure storage. Justus knew this was a disaster in the making. Norton, formerly a rookie he’d taken under his wing, had turned his considerable genius and talents to a life of crime; and a substance that could control the human mind could make him the most powerful man in the nation if he got his hands on it. Justus knew how his ambitious former protégé thought, and knew he would never pass such an opportunity up. Later that evening, his suspicions were confirmed when surveillance on two of Norton’s wanted associates revealed that they were planning a heist of the Guffinite the very next night! If there was any possible way to get that stuff, Norton was going to get it. The next morning, Captain Justus implemented a daring plan: instead of increasing the guard on the Guffinite shipment, he placed his forces in strategic positions around the city and put them on standby.

As expected, Norton and his men put their plan into action that night. He’d positioned several identical cars around the area and waited for his opportunity. Guards had been posted out in front of the storage building, with one watchman inside. When Norton’s spotter saw him go out the side of the building for a smoke break, they made their move. Stealthily breaking into the rear entrance, they were in and out with the metallic cargo container in a flash. The watchman stepped back in just in time to see the rear entrance door close behind them, and sounded the alarm.

As the getaway car sped off, Norton gave the order, and the other identical cars formed a convoy around his. On the chief’s order, a few squad cars pursued the thieves, but at a junction, Norton gave another order, and the identical cars all split up into different directions, with no way for the officers to tell which one was bringing the stolen cargo back to their hideout!

Norton was delighted at his good fortune. The heist had been too easy of course; but he’d sprung the trap for a clean getaway. As his car neared his hideout, he opened the metal container to get a good look at his prize. Powering up the high-tech equipment used to contain the Guffinite, he opened the chamber to get a good look at it -only to find that he’d been suckered! This wasn’t the Guffinite! It resembled it upon first glance, but his trained eye recognized it as fake. He tore through the container’s insulation and confirmed the presence of what he feared it would also contain: a tracking device. Norton looked up out his window to see squad cars and SWAT vehicles approaching his hideout from every direction. It was over. His old mentor had won.

Several weeks later, at the trial, the defense lawyer for Moriarty Norton, by the name of Petey Foggery, started to cross-examine Chief Justus….

Petey Foggery: “…so now, we come then to the real question: who authored this crime? Will you tell us Captain?”

Everett Justus: “Your client, obviously.”

PF: “But captain, it was in fact you that arranged the situation in which he allegedly stole the item, was it not?”

EJ: “Do you mean by placing only minimal guards on the stolen item?”

PF: “Yes, did you place only minimal safeguards on the item in question, thereby creating a situation in which my client would be able to steal it?”

EJ: “Yes I did.”

PF: “So you now admit that you authored the crime?”

EJ: “I only allowed Mr. Norton opportunity to steal if he wanted to. The opportunity by itself doesn’t constitute the crime. The author of the wicked act is the one who comes up with it, not the one who leaves an opportunity open for him to pull it off.”

PF: “But since you allowed him opportunity, you must have wanted him to steal it, right?”

EJ: “I didn’t want him to commit any crimes at all. I hate evil and love what’s right; but if someone’s gonna choose to follow evil, I’ll make sure it’ll bring em’ down.”

PF: “So you laid a trap! That’s entrapment!”

EJ: “I neither asked him nor induced him to commit this crime, I was just ready when he made his move.”

PF: “Now Chief Justus, since you had the resources at your disposal, you could have prevented my client from stealing in the first place by increasing the guard, right?”

EJ: “Yes, I could have.”

PF: “So your failure to prevent the crime in fact implies that you authored it!”

EJ: “What are you talking about? How does my not putting more guards on the item amount to me planning the heist?”

PF: “By…by…not preventing it, you’re at least partially culpable!!”

EJ: “My job is to enforce the law, not make you incapable of breaking it. I’m not obliged to prevent the crime if I have power to set things right and bring the perpetrator to justice! And I’m well within my rights to set up a sting operation.”

PF: “But your surveillance confirms that you knew he’d steal it. You knew beforehand that he’d try, isn’t that right?”

EJ: “Yes, I knew.”

PF: “And because you knew he’d try and steal it, and arranged things so it was possible for him to do so, then isn’t it fair to say that you’re really the one who authored this crime?”

EJ: “Exactly how would my knowing that he was going to commit the crime imply that I’m the one that planned it for him?”

PF: “Um…you knowing about it causes it to happen, doesn’t it? Because, I mean, if you know something for a fact, then things can’t be different than what you know if your knowledge is in fact, factual… so that would mean your knowledge in effect caused the fact to be….”

EJ: “I don’t know what you’ve been drinking, but no! I came up with a plan to catch a criminal, I left something open for him to steal knowing he’d try to take it so I could catch him in the act. I didn’t tell him to steal it, I didn’t coerce him to steal it, I didn’t make the decision for him to steal it, and I didn’t come up with the idea that he steal it! He did his decision-making, planning, and action all by himself. He is the author of his own crime, and justice demands he be condemned!”

PF: “No! No! You’re the author! You are! You are! You are!! The author is the one who knows about and allows it, and since you knew about it and didn’t prevent it, that means you’re the author!! That’s right! That’s what ‘author’ means! Isn’t that right your honor? Your honor? Why are you rolling your eyes? Isn’t that right your honor? Isn’t it?!?”

Judge: “Bailiff [points to Foggery], club this man!”

Case 2

After the conviction of Moriarty Norton, Everett Justus was hailed as a national hero. Meanwhile in another city, Chief Preston Tenser looked on with envy. Now Tenser wasn’t nearly as good a detective as Justus. Whereas the latter could put the pieces together and make advanced deductions to predict the behavior of the criminal mind, Tenser really had no clue as to what people would do next unless he made them do it (and was consequently a natural micro-manager).

When the city council was called together, Chief Tenser was secretly briefed that the Guffinite would be shipped through his city next, but due to recent events, the information as to its whereabouts was much more tightly controlled. Chief Tenser was entrusted with the key to the storage and named chief protector of the Guffinite. Tenser decided that he wanted to be a champion of justice like his counterpart was, so he used his key to open the unit where the Guffinite was being securely held and filled a few syringes with it. He turned to his aide, a Lieutenant Byron Stander, then quickly injected him with the Guffinite. Stander stood up and followed Chief Tenser. The chief then went out into town and likewise injected two more people by the names of Dee Creed and Deuce Causington.

Chief Tenser looked over the three people now under his control. “I can’t tell a person to commit a crime…I’ll just have someone else do it!” So Tenser started to play ‘telephone’ with his captives, and said, “Ms. Creed, tell Mr. Causington to tell Lt. Stander to go to the lab and steal the Guffinite.” Ms. Creed obediently turned and told Mr. Causington, “Tell Lt. Stander to go to the lab and steal the Guffinite.” Mr. Causington turned to Lt. Stander and said, “Go to the lab and steal the Guffinite.” Chief Tenser added, “Sander, stealing is against the law, don’t do it.” Lt. Stander stood paralyzed by the contradictory orders. Tenser relayed another message to Stander in the same telephone game fashion: “Ignore Chief Tenser’s warning and steal the Guffinite.” Lt. Stander obeyed the order and went on his way.

Lt. Stander walked into the lab, which Tenser left open for him, and made off with the Guffinite container. As he got into his car and made his way back to his apartment, several police cars turned on their flashers and pulled him over. Captain Tenser stepped out of one of the vehicles and pulled out his gun, flashed his badge, and ordered his aide to step out of the car. Lt. Stander complied, and was handcuffed and brought in as Chief Tenser smiled for the cameras.

Several weeks later, at the trial, the lab confirmed its analysis that traces of Guffinite had been found in not only Lt. Stander’s blood, but also in that of Ms. Creed and Mr. Causington. Stander’s defense lawyer, Rahm Ifikeishun, calls Chief Preston Tenser to the stand….

RI: “…so now, we come then to the real question: who authored this crime? Will you tell us Captain?”

Preston Tenser: “It wasn’t me.”

RI: “You were the only one with access to the Guffinite…did you use it?”

PT: “Yeah, so what?”

RI: “And did my client commit the crime of theft as a result of you using it?”

PT: “Uh huh. He definitely did it -which is why he deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law!”

RI: “So… you in fact detest the crime that was perpetrated?”

PT: “I loathe it with all my being, which is why I say lock that kid away! The crime he committed was utterly despicable!”

RI: “Can it then be rightly said that there was nothing in my client’s power that could have been done to resist this effect?”

PT: “You bet. That stuff’s unstoppable! But he wanted to do it, so he’s still responsible.”

RI: “Did he want to do it because the Guffinite made him want to do it?”

PT: “Of course; but he’s still responsible. Besides, it’s not like I didn’t warn him to try and stop him….”

RI: “You tried to stop him? So…he could have chosen to not commit the crime?”

PT: “Yeah, if I’d wanted him to listen, but because I had complete power over them, I made him ignore it so I could justly punish him for his stubbornness and criminal motives!”

RI: “But…weren’t those motives something you implanted in him?”

PT: “Definitely, which is why I can hold him responsible!”

RI: “So…if you hate this crime so much, yet aren’t the mastermind, then who is?”

PT: “The perpetrator of course. He’s the one that did it.”

RI: “But he didn’t author the crime, he was helplessly following someone else’s plan.”

PT: “Oh yeah, he was following Mr. Causington’s directions.”

RI: “And of course, lab analysis confirms that Mr. Causington and the alleged conspirator Ms. Creed were injected with Guffinite as well. If they were all injected, and therefore were all being controlled, then who masterminded this crime?”

PT: “One or more of them. Not me, obviously.”

RI: “But weren’t you the one that injected them?”

PT: “And is that wrong? Is there some law somewhere that specifically says that I can’t inject people with Guffinite? I’m the chief protector of the Guffinite! Who are you to talk back to me?!?”

RI: “That’s not the point, we were talking about who authored this crime. So did they all do exactly as they were told to do?”

PT: “Sure.”

RI: “And doing exactly what they were told to do resulted in Lt. Stander stealing, right?”

PT: “That’s why we’re here. To condemn Stander for his evil, evil deed….”

RI: “And the one that told them to do it, was in fact you, was it not?”

PT: “Of course. Who else do you think did it?”

RI: “So then you are the mastermind!”

PT: “But see, I’m not responsible, cause I’m only the remote cause that made em’ do it, it’s the proximate causin’ people who actually commit the crime that should be punished.”

RI: “If you came up with it and made them do it, then how are you not the author?!?”

PT: “Well see, being the one that came up with the plan doesn’t make me the author, since he did it because other people made him do it- ”

RI: ” -those other people also being left with no choice but to follow your orders to that end!”

PT: “You just don’t understand true justice, do ya? That’s not an excuse! You commit the crime, you’re guilty! No excuses! You can’t really finger me for it, because I didn’t actually do anything wrong, I wasn’t even near the lab when it was robbed! The fact that they were acting while completely bent to my will doesn’t change a thing. That’s real justice! They did it, not me! I’m not the author! I am justice!”

RI: “Defense rests your honor.”

Questions:

Which of these men (if any) is a hero?
Which one executes justice?
Which is just playing word games?
Which one rightly judges his subordinates who turn villainous?
Which one turns his subordinates villainous so they can be judged?
Which one authored the crime he condemned?
Which of these men held a form of justice that we should strive to imitate?

Get the F.A.C.T.S. on Salvation!

Some like to play with flowers, while others prefer to just get the FACTS on salvation:

An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

I’ve Finally Come to Embrace Open Theism

That’s right, I have converted.  It finally got to me.  My Arminianism finally led to the inevitable Open Theist conclusion.  I just don’t think that God can foreknow future free will choices if they are truly free. Sorry.  But!  I have decided to also hold to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of all future choices and events, even choices which are truly free and contingent.  I know this may “seem” like I am holding to two contradictory premises, but that is just an “apparent” contradiction and not a real one.  The Bible seems to hold that God doesn’t know some future choices if they are truly free and also seems to hold that He has exhaustive foreknowledge of all future choices and events, even truly free ones.  So I just hold these twin truths in tension.  Call it an “antinomy” or “paradox” if you will. 

Really, I think that everyone should follow my lead on this instead of trying to smooth over certain passages that just don’t seem to add up from either side.  Maybe God will reveal to us how such seeming contradictions are not real contradictions someday.  I hope He will.  In the meantime, I will just trust that there is no contradiction and hold to both a severely limited and exhaustive view of foreknowledge.  Now if you resist this, well, maybe you just don’t have the same respect for Scripture that I do.  Maybe you are just trying to put your own limited man centered rationalism above divine revelation.  If anything, it seems to me that my view is far more Biblical than either of the other extreme views.  It is truly a shame that so many refuse to submit to what the Bible has to say on this issue because they just cannot live with tension in their theology.  As for me I will embrace the tension in order to remain perfectly Biblical.

Parallel Passages on Regeneration

Ephesians 2 is one of the primary proof-texts often cited by Calvinists for regeneration preceding faith (apparently because it mentions being spiritually ‘made alive’ without using the word ‘faith’ in the same sentence).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive [suzwopoieÑw] together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up [sunegeiðrw] with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” (Ephesians 2:4-6)

While reading the scriptures, I noticed that his letter to the Ephesians wasn’t the only place Paul expounded upon the theme of our being raised with Christ. Compare the structure and wording in Colossians 2,

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised [sunegeiðrw] with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive [suzwopoieÑw] together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses….” (Colossians 2:11-13) [emphasis mine]

The Colossians passage, clearly expounding upon the same subject as that in Ephesians, includes an additional piece of detail concerning how we’re raised unto life together with Christ.

Provisional Atonement Part 3: The Integrity and Justice of God in the Gospel Offer

In this post we will defend the premise that only a universal provisional atonement view can maintain the integrity of God in the gospel offer and the universal command to repent. The Bible is clear that God commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). But what is the basis for this repentance? Repentance means for us to change our minds and hearts from one direction to another. With regard to spiritual repentance it is a total spiritual reorientation. It is coupled with faith in Scripture because it is essentially the same motion of turning away from sin towards God viewed from two different perspectives. Repentance focuses on the turning from and faith focuses on the turning to, or the end goal of repentance, faith in Christ (Heb. 6:1; Acts 3:19, 26). So when the Bible says that God commands all men everywhere to repent, it is speaking of spiritual repentance which issues in faith towards God in Christ.

The problem for the Calvinist is that spiritual repentance is impossible without atonement. No one can effectively turn from sin and towards Christ in faith outside of the provision of atonement which provides the means for the forgiveness of sins. This is clearly highlighted in Peter’s sermon in Acts 3:12-19. Notice especially the language being used in verses 18, 19 and 26. In verse 18 Peter speaks of Christ suffering death according to prophecy, and in verse 19 he says, “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.” Repentance is directly tied to Christ’s death and the consequent possibility of “returning” to God on the basis of that death. So if God commands all men everywhere to repent, then Christ must have died for all as noted above. But more than that we see in verse 26 that Peter tells these Jews that Christ was raised that everyone of [them] would be turned from their wicked ways (another way of describing repentance). So it looks like this,

18 “But the things which God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled.
19 “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; . . .
26 “For you first, God raised up His Servant and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.” (NASB emphasis mine)

Forgiveness, then, is provided for all through the death and resurrection of Christ, but only those who repent and believe receive that forgiveness. That describes the Arminian position of universal provisional atonement perfectly and makes sense of the gospel offer while preserving the integrity of the message and the one making the offer (ultimately, God). Also, it seems clear that the command to repent can only make sense against the backdrop of the atonement and the universal provision of forgiveness resulting from the shed blood of Christ. Unless Christ’s blood was shed for all then there is no basis for commanding all to repent.

Repentance is useless outside of the genuine provision of forgiveness in Christ. But because of the universal forgiveness provided for in the atonement, repentance becomes a genuine means to attaining life and avoiding eternal death (Acts 11:18; 2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, it really only makes sense to command anyone to repent and believe if the reality of the provision of atonement and forgiveness stands behind that command. For this reason Peter instructs all of those within the sound of his voice that Christ’s death and resurrection was for the purpose of “all” of them turning away from their wickedness towards faith in God, that “times of refreshing might come from the Lord” (Acts 3:18, 19, 26). Here we find a clear Biblical mandate, in accordance with Peter’s expressed language directed to “all” who were listening, for telling anyone that Christ died for him or her so that one might repent and be saved, something that would be impossible if the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement truly represented the Biblical view [1].

But there is much more than this in Scripture to support the necessity of universal provisional atonement in connection with the command to proclaim the gospel offer to all mankind without qualification. It is important to note that the main issue in the New Testament concerning forgiveness and life versus condemnation is that of faith versus unbelief. Forgiveness and salvation result for those who obey the gospel and put faith in Christ while condemnation results for those who refuse and reject the gospel offer. John makes this clear repeatedly in his Gospel, most notably,

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John. 3:16-18, 36, ESV)

It would seem that the primary reason that one is condemned in the New Testament is because he or she rejects the provision of forgiveness offered in Christ. Paul makes it clear that one finds justification and redemption “through faith in His blood” (Rom. 3:25). So it is not just a matter of refusing to believe that Christ is the Son of God. Rather, it goes much deeper in that one is essentially rejecting the all important testimony of God concerning His Son, that one is saved through faith in His blood and that through His blood life abides in His Son as a provision for all (1 John 4:9, 10, 14; 5:10, 11; John 5:26; 6:32, 33, 51, 53-58). The one who rejects Christ is primarily condemned by God for that rejection (John 3:16-18, 36; 5:24, 39, 40; 2 Thess. 2:10-12; Acts 14:36). That person will be judged for all of his sins because he has refused the way of escape and the genuine offer of forgiveness provided by God in Christ. For that reason the unbeliever heaps condemnation on himself in his rejection of Christ. As Dr. Robert Picirilli notes,

Unlimited atonement is the view that best accounts for the blame attached to men for rejection of Christ. The point is that Scripture condemns people not just for their sins but also for not putting faith in Christ and thereby being delivered from their sins. Any sinner – having heard the gospel or not – can justly be condemned for his sins; but if the death of Christ made no provision for the salvation of the non-elect, he cannot be justly charged with unbelieving rejection of Christ.

In other words, the Bible is not saying, “You have sinned and will remain in your sins without hope or atonement and receive your just reprobation in hell”- which would certainly be just. But the Bible says again and again, in effect: “You sinned and on that account deserve hell. Worse still, you have rejected the atonement made for your sins by the death of Christ, the atonement that could in fact be your deliverance. Your reprobation in hell is therefore all the more tragic and deserved.” (Grace, Faith, Free Will, pg. 118)

This point was likewise forcefully made in The Opinion of the Remonstrants, one of the earliest Arminian confessions concerning universal provisional atonement:

Only those are obliged to believe that Christ died for them for whom Christ has died. The reprobates, however, as they are called, for whom Christ has not died, are not obligated to such faith, nor can they be justly condemned on account of the contrary refusal to believe this. In fact, if there should be such reprobates, they would be obliged to believe that Christ has not died for them. (emphasis mine)

This same point is powerfully driven home by the explicit language of the apostle in 1 John 5:10-13 where John says that believers are those who accept the witness (or testimony) of God concerning His Son and unbelievers are those who reject that witness, effectively making God a liar. And what is that witness?

“And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.”

So the testimony that unbelievers reject is the testimony that eternal life has been provided in Christ (which certainly is grounded in the atonement). By rejecting this testimony (that God has provided life for them in Christ), they have “made [God] a liar”. This can only be true if the testimony concerning provision of life in Christ is true for them. They have made God out to be a liar by rejecting this testimony of God’s provision in Christ (this is the same thing being expressed in John 3:16-18, 36). But if Christ did not die for them nor provide eternal life for them then they have not rejected that provision and God is not made out to be a liar since the testimony would not, then, apply to them, but would in fact be a false testimony. They should therefore rather be commended for refusing to believe falsehood and God’s “testimony” concerning His Son would in fact prove to be a “lie” after all, contrary to the plain teaching of 1 John 5:10-13. Picirilli, citing William S. Sailer, puts it well,

In perusing [the argument that one is condemned for their rejection of Christ’s provision of atonement], Sailer comments specifically on 1 John 5:10, 11, which explains the condemnation of the unbeliever as because he has not believed the witness that God has borne concerning His Son: namely, the witness that God gave eternal life in His Son. He then asks: “If Christ died only for the elect and for no one else, why should these non-elect souls believe this witness concerning Christ? If, on the other hand, Christ has indeed died for them and yet they refuse to believe on Him- then their refusal is a heinous thing.” (Picirilli, 118,119)

Only through the atoning blood of Christ are we saved. We are called on to trust in Christ but Christ can only save because of the shed blood; to trust in Christ for salvation is to trust in His shed blood (Rom. 3:35). We must therefore believe the testimony concerning the provision of life in Christ and His atoning blood is part of what renders that testimony valid. But one cannot put faith in His atoning work if His blood was not shed for that person. In order for the testimony to be valid, Christ’s blood and the life that results from it must be provided for all. Otherwise, God has provided a false testimony for most of humanity, and then condemns them for rejecting that false testimony. It is at this point that the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement reveals itself as wholly absurd and in opposition to any semblance of integrity or justice in God. The command to repent and believe the gospel becomes a stunningly cruel act of divine mockery and falsehood on the part of a perfectly just God who defines Himself as truth and love. This is compounded further when we consider it in the context of the Calvinist doctrine of total inability as Picirilli again notes,

Calvinists don’t deny that the Bible offers salvation to all and that we are accountable to preach the gospel offer to all. But I think they have failed to be logically consistent here: salvation cannot be truly offered to any for whom Christ did not die. Suppose I said to a paralyzed child, “If you’ll just reach out your hand and take it, I’ll give you this candy.” That sounds to me more like mockery than an “offer”! (The Extent of the Atonement)

This is a good analogy, but I do not think it goes far enough. In Calvinism, not only are the non-elect incapable of responding positively to the gospel due to their depravity and God’s refusal to make a faith response possible, but also condemned for rejecting an atonement that was neither provided for them nor intended for them! So it would be more like offering a paralyzed child a bottle of pills with the promise that they will cure his paralysis on the condition that he would just reach out and take it, all the while knowing that there is nothing in the bottle to cure his disease even if he could reach out and take it!

Thankfully, the Bible does not present us with such a scenario at all, but rather teaches us that Christ’s atoning death was provided for all on the condition of faith in His blood and that God, truly desiring for all to be saved, enables all who hear the gospel to respond positively to that provision and receive forgiveness (1 John 2:2; 1 Tim. 2:4; John 12:32). The offer is genuinely well meant and a live option after all. In view of this wonderful Biblical truth the message of the gospel truly presents good news to all since provision has been made for all and all can truly embrace that provision through faith. Therefore, the integrity, justice, and character of God are preserved and God is magnificently glorified in His love, grace, and mercy for all mankind through the giving of His Son for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2; 4:14; John 3:14-18, 36; 6:32, 33, 51; 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:3-6; 4:10; Heb 2:9; 2 Pet. 3:9; Rev. 22:17; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; Titus 2:11; Rom. 1:14-16; 5:6, 17, 18; Mark 16:15; Matt. 24:14; 28:19; Acts 1:8; 17:30, etc.).

Conclusion: We have seen in this series that there is every reason to accept the plain meaning of the universal language of those passages which speak directly to the scope of the atonement, and no reason to submit such passages to tortured exegesis. We have seen that provisional atonement in Christ stands up to Calvinist objections. We have seen that the Calvinist limited atonement view suffers from numerous theologically and exegetically fatal difficulties. The Arminian view alone can accept, without reservation, the testimony of Scripture with regards to the extent of the atonement and the universal gospel offer. The Arminian can also maintain a penal-satisfaction view of the atonement conditioned on faith union with Christ in whom alone satisfaction has been made for the forgiveness of sins, and through whom alone the benefits of the atonement can be imputed to the believer on the basis of the believer’s subsequent union and identification with Christ and His death [2].

_________________________________________________________________________

[1] I am indebted to New Testament scholar Brian Abasciano who pointed this implication of Peter’s sermon out to me during personal correspondence. Another excellent passage which gives such clear Biblical mandate is 1 Cor. 15:3, “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures…” Paul’s declaration that “Christ died for our sins” was the substance of his initial gospel message to the Corinthians which they received and on which they “have taken [their] stand” (vv 1-2). Therefore, Paul saw nothing inaccurate in telling unbelievers, without reservation, that Christ died for their sins (as “your sins” is naturally included in “our sins”).  For more on that passage, see here.

[2] Again, it was pointed out to me in personal correspondence with Dr. Brian Abasciano that within the context of faith union with Christ joining us to the benefits of the atonement which are found only “in Him” (Eph. 1:3, 7; Col. 1:13, 14, 20-23; 1 Cor. 1:30; see Part 1 for more on this), we can even fully affirm those texts that Calvinists hold up in defense of limited atonement, even according to the particular emphasis they assign to such passages (i.e. passages which state that Christ died for His sheep, the church, his friends, etc.). This is true because there is a sense in which Christ’s atonement was made only for the “elect” (i.e. believers) since one becomes elect through faith union with Christ, the elect One. So satisfaction was really only made for those who will come to be joined to Him, but since anyone can be joined to Him through faith, it is still true that Christ’s death serves as a universal provision for “all”, “every man” and “the world”, etc, in accordance with God’s desire for all to be saved. Since Christ (and the satisfaction that resides in Him through His death) is available for all we can truly say that Christ’s death was specifically for the sins of the church (His body) and yet fully affirm that anyone can benefit from that death and atonement by becoming a part of Christ’s body through faith (which God makes possible for all who hear the gospel, as demonstrated above), at which point the death of Christ, and God’s satisfaction with that death, is imputed to the believer so that God’s wrath towards that individual is fully averted.

A Fatal Flaw in Calvinism

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 29:29)

A Necessary Implication of Determinism

One of the primary tenets of mainstream Calvinism is the concept of exhaustive determinism (which I’ll refer to as ‘determinism’ here) — all that is and occurs in the universe is exactly as God has exhaustively decreed it to be. In such a worldview, man doesn’t have a will that’s truly free, but does everything exactly as it was predetermined for him. Consequently, there’s no real contingency upon man concerning what God does. God has (in this determinist worldview) unconditionally decreed that His will be done, and His will is in no way conditioned upon anything men say or do. To this, Jack Cottrell makes the point,

No matter how “free will” is redefined and the efficacy of the decree is qualified, Calvinism is still a theology of determinism as long as it declares that nothing God does can be conditioned by man or can be a reaction to something in the world. (Cottrell, J.W.; The Grace of God, the will of man: a case for Arminianism; pp. 102)

Turretin would seem to agree,

“It is absurd for the Creator to depend upon the creature… But this must be the case if the decrees of God are suspended on any condition in man. There is no middle knowledge (scientia media) having for its object future conditional things Therefore there is no conditional decree.” (Turretin, F.; The Decrees of God)

So would Edwards,

“To suppose that God’s decrees are conditional, in the sense of the Arminians, or that they depend, as they suppose, on a foresight of something that shall come to pass in time, is to suppose that something that first begins to be in time is the cause of something that has been from all eternity, which is absurd….” (Edwards, J.; Concerning the Divine Decrees)

Besides demonstrating Turretin’s mild abuse of the term ‘depend’ (which we’ll touch on later), and Edwards’ failure to factor in temporally transcendent perception of contingencies, their writings make it clear that in the determinist view, the choices that God makes about what He will do in the world are completely and totally independent of man’s choices and actions. Unless Calvinists incorporate some form of libertarian agency into their theology (which very few do), then the idea that God does anything based upon any human contingency is absurd. If this philosophy is biblically consistent, we should never expect to see scripture tell us that God thinks or does anything because of something man does.

Much is hidden concerning God’s will

Doubtless it is that many of the thoughts and motivations of God are hidden from mortal men.

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Romans 11:33)

It’s from within the refuge of what God hasn’t revealed concerning His will that Calvinists defend their deterministic philosophy. To the Determinist, everything in the world — to include every thought, intent, and motivation of man — all invariably spring from the secret decree of God. They tend to stress this idea to such an extent, that they often wind up making claims that God fervently commands people to do one thing, while having secretly and immutably decreed that they do the exact opposite. Calvin takes the idea to its logical conclusion.

“Again they object: were they not previously predestined by God’s ordinance to that corruption which is now claimed as the cause of condemnation? When, therefore, they perish in their corruption, they but pay the penalties of that misery in which Adam fell by the predestination of God, and dragged his posterity headlong after him. Is he not, then, unjust who so cruelly deludes his creatures? Of course, I admit that in this miserable condition wherein men are now bound, all of Adam’s children have fallen by God’s will. And this is what I said to begin with, that we must always at last return to the sole decision of God’s will, the cause of which is hidden in him.” (Calvin, J.; Institutes of the Christian Religion)

Yet some is revealed…

Despite the mystery behind the will of God, He Himself sometimes provides us with some insight as to why He does things. No one who believes the scriptures could deny that God performs mighty works because of His great love and eternal purpose.

“But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 7:8)

But are factors within Himself the only reasons behind God’s actions? As the determinist philosophers quoted above have affirmed, these can be the only reasons for His actions if their worldview is to be believed. Is it that simple though? Is there more to the story? What if God Himself revealed that He did something because of what a person did?

The Flaw in the Theory

One of the most compelling stories in scripture is that of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac. The aging patriarch, left without an heir from his wife, Sarah, was graciously given a son by God in his old age. Then one day, the unthinkable happened, as God commanded him to give back his precious child as a burnt offering. As Abraham bound his son upon the altar, his heart was doubtless heavier than it had ever been, yet his trust in God didn’t waver, and he was fully prepared to put that complete faith into action by obeying the dreaded command.

Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!” “Here I am,” he replied. “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” … The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Genesis 22:10-12, 15-18)

So Abraham believed God, and valued Him above all else -even his own son. He walked by faith, and was the father of all who believe. And God blessed him beyond measure due to the fact that he obeyed. The Determinist may do a double-take at that last sentence, but for confirmation need only read closely the reason God gives Abraham for blessing him; the words in this context leave no doubt as to their meaning. Twice, God proclaims that He’s blessing Abraham and his descendants, because Abraham obeyed Him. But wasn’t God’s conferral of this great blessing, according to the implications of determinism, supposed to be strictly due to His good pleasure, not any participation by or contingency upon man?

Herein we begin to see surfacing a major problem for the Determinist. For his philosophy to remain intact, nothing God does can be based upon anything man does. Yet the Bible here clearly states that God blessed Abraham because he was obedient to His voice. Abraham offering his son didn’t compel God to do anything, yet God freely chose to bless Abraham based upon his obedience. This is important to note, since if even part of the reason behind God’s reaction / response / reciprocation towards men is their own actions, then this establishes some form of contingency. This is especially devastating to the determinist philosophy, since in God’s own words, it’s addressing the ‘why’ behind His actions, not merely the ‘how.’

How then could Determinists account for this? If the Bible plainly states that God blessed Abraham because he obeyed, how can this be true if God does nothing based upon human action? Below I list some possible objections.

Objection 1 – The ‘means’ argument

Some Calvinists may argue that God has ordained things such as obedience as a means to men receiving His blessing, but this does not account for God doing a thing because of something man does. For starters, means describe only ‘how,’ not ‘why.’ Taking an example of our own, let’s demonstrate this fact.

Assume for sake of argument that:
* God has unconditionally decreed that some guy named Tim is going to die
* God decides that he will die in a massive train wreck
* Tim is caught in the train wreck and dies
Why did God cause Tim to die?

‘Because he was caught in a train wreck’ is not an answer. The train wreck was the means employed; it explains how the decision was carried out, but does not even begin to explain why it was made.

Concerning this case, Abraham’s obedience wasn’t a ‘means’ to God blessing him at all, by this line of reasoning. In the determinist view, God unconditionally decided to bless him, ordaining that he obey didn’t affect that decision or its fulfillment, and is therefore not a means to it.

Objection 2 – The ‘necessary step’ argument

Some may argue that God decrees a necessary step before His decision is fulfilled. Therefore when someone takes the necessary step that God decreed, the results comes about because that step was taken.

This argument sounds good at first, but is actually quite fallacious. One action occurring before another does not imply that the former action causes the latter. This notion is better known as the Post Hoc fallacy. Likewise in this example, God deciding that a first action must precede a second doesn’t indicate that He decided to perform the second one because of the first. Going back to our example:

Assume for sake of argument that:
* God has unconditionally decreed that some guy named Tim is going to die in a massive train wreck
* God also decrees that Tim will read a newspaper before the train crashes
* Tim reads the newspaper
* The train crashes
* Tim dies
Why did God cause Tim to die?

By the above argument, since reading the newspaper was a ‘necessary step’ in this sequence, we’d have to conclude that God caused him to die because he read a newspaper! God decreeing that Abraham obey before he was blessed, therefore, doesn’t account for his obedience being the reason God blessed him, since necessary steps only clarify sequence, they don’t explain the reasons behind them.

Objection 3 – The ‘unconditional conditional decree’

Most Calvinists probably wouldn’t even touch this one – and with good reason. But I’ll cover it anyway. What if God somehow made a ‘conditional decree’ — a decree really only conditioned upon the criteria He fulfills? What if He decreed, ‘if Abraham obeys Me, then I will bless him’? Then, when Abraham obeyed Him (as God unconditionally predetermined he do), it would be proper to say that God fulfilled His desire and blessed him because he obeyed, right?

This also causes a massive logical problem, since an unconditional decision to produce a result automatically short-circuits any associated conditions. If God blessed Abraham because he obeyed, would we then say that God caused Abraham to obey in order to cause Himself to bless him? Besides being somewhat convoluted and contrived, this is logically impossible. In the determinist paradigm, God’s decision to fulfill His desire to bless Abraham was made unconditionally, with no regard to factors such as obedience. Rather, his obeying God’s command would be merely a necessary accompaniment to that unconditional decision to bless him. This would be equivalent to saying,

“God unconditionally decided to bless Abraham on the condition of his obedience.”

But if Abraham’s obedience were guaranteed by God’s unconditional decision to bless him, then it cannot be truly said that God blessed him because of his obedience. At best, his acquiescence would have been just a necessary step in the process (see above). Unless God somehow uses the means or steps He decrees to influence His own decisions, this objection can’t adequately explain for the Determinist why God blessed Abraham because of his obedience. It must also be noted that such a phenomenon would still be man affecting God’s actions, he would just be doing so by God’s decree.

Objection 4 – Multiple causes

A Calvinist may object that there were more causes in play than just Abraham obeying, to which I would agree. Abraham obeying would have meant nothing if God had not desired to do him good and use him to bless all nations of the earth. The fact of more than one cause, however, is irrelevant to the issue of God blessing Abraham on the basis of his obedience, since a set of causes behind an event doesn’t negate any of its individual components, and hence doesn’t change the fact that God blessed Abraham because he offered up Isaac.

For exhaustive determinism to hold true, what God does can in no way and to no extent be based upon what man does. So if Abraham’s obedience was even one of a much larger set of causes, then the determinist philosophy is falsified.

Objection 5 – The secret will of God

At this juncture, the Calvinist would likely state, contrary to the wording in the text, that God in fact, did this because it was His secret desire to, not because of anything Abraham did, and probably back the claim by referencing passages such as we’ve quoted here, about the secret things of God that are beyond our understanding. But does this really account for what the passage is saying? I would think not, for this reason: Whatever counsels are within God that remain hidden from us, the words He speaks, which have been transmitted to us in the Holy scriptures, are absolutely true, and truth cannot contradict itself. As the scripture cited at the beginning indicates, many things are hidden in God, yet we cannot ignore or dismiss the things He has given to us by revelation. So truth that is hidden does not contradict truth that is revealed. God having hidden counsels and plans in no way contradicts His own statements. If He says He has done something because of our obedience, lack thereof, or some other contingency, then He very well means it.

Objection 6 – God’s stated reasons are anthropomorphisms, merely indicating what He outwardly appears to do

Calvinists sometimes claim that God is speaking to people in ‘human terms,’ and hence might say some things that seem to make more sense to the ‘mind of the natural man’ (which they often equate with Arminianism). So because God is speaking words designed to appeal to the Arminian viewpoint (who, unlike Calvinists, haven’t been given the mind of Christ enough to see past the facade that God is erecting), it’s safe to exclude the idea from our understanding of God altogether, isn’t it?

Four words: “God’s word is truth.” Can this defense for determinism then hold up when compared to scripture? Is it still truth, just in ‘human terms,’ for God to say that He blessed Abraham because he obeyed, when He actually means His deciding to bless him wasn’t at all dependent upon his obedience? That wouldn’t merely be phrasing things in terms that people can relate to, it would be downright deceptive. Even Christ’s parables, which hid their meaning from many a hearer, weren’t designed to mislead people into believing falsehood. When scripture applies anthropomorphisms, idioms, or other literary devices, it’s not for vain exercise or duplicity, but to convey truth of God’s word, for all of God’s word is truth (Psalms 12:6, 33:4, John 17:17). The objection above really amounts to saying that God’s word employs literary devices to obfuscate the truth of who He is, rather than reveal it. But the hole in the determinist case rips even wider yet upon further examination….

It only gets worse

Those who accept the idea of free will generally have no trouble with the idea of God influencing our wills, since a degree of influence doesn’t amount to exhaustive compulsion, and hence we have no trouble declaring, “We love Him because He first loved us.” But it doesn’t work the other way around for the Determinist – as Turretin indicates, it would violate God’s ‘independence’ in their view. God’s independence implies that He has need of nothing outside Himself (as Arminians and Calvinists affirm). The determinist conceit, however, is that His independence entails that He’s not affected or influenced at all by anything outside Himself -not even willingly. They insist that if God were to let Himself be influenced, affected, or base any of His decisions upon anything man does, even in the slightest, it would violate (their version of) His independence. If we applied this concept consistently, such a view would require not only reinterpreting God’s words to Abraham, but His words in a great many other places in scripture as well:

They made me jealous by what is no god and angered me with their worthless idols. I will make them envious by those who are not a people; I will make them angry by a nation that has no understanding. (Deuteronomy 32:31)

They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger…. (Judges 2:12)

“Because you did not obey the Lord or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the Lord has done this to you today.” (1 Samuel 28:18)

After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord. (2 Samuel 11:27)

“Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.'” (2 Samuel 12:10)

“Have you noticed how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself, I will not bring this disaster in his day, but I will bring it on his house in the days of his son.” (1 Kings 21:29)

“Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made,my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.'” (2 Kings 22:17)

In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and provoked the Lord, the God of his fathers, to anger. (2 Chronicles 28:25)

They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols. (Psalm 78:58)

Listen to the cry of my people from a land far away: “Is the Lord not in Zion? Is her King no longer there?” “Why have they provoked me to anger with their images, with their worthless foreign idols?” (Jeremiah 8:19)

“Did Hezekiah king of Judah or anyone else in Judah put him to death? Did not Hezekiah fear the Lord and seek his favor? And did not the Lord relent, so that he did not bring the disaster he pronounced against them? We are about to bring a terrible disaster on ourselves!” (Jeremiah 26:19)

“Because of all your detestable idols, I will do to you what I have never done before and will never do again.” (Ezekiel 5:9)

But Ephraim has bitterly provoked him to anger; his Lord will leave upon him the guilt of his bloodshed and will repay him for his contempt. (Hosea 12:14)

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

“Hear and pay attention, do not be arrogant, for the Lord has spoken.  Give glory to the Lord your God before he brings the darkness…But if you do not listen, I will weep in secret because of your pride, my eyes will weep bitterly, overflowing with tears, because the LORD’s flock will be taken captive.” (Jer. 13:15-17)

“In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.” (John 16:26-27)

“…and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22)

“Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” (Revelation 2:20)

“Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole world to test those who live on the earth. … So, because you are lukewarm-neither hot nor cold-I am about to spit you out of my mouth.” (Revelation 3:10, 16)

Far more than just in Abraham’s story, all throughout the Bible, we’re told numerous times of God doing things because of something man does. Using objection 6’s “God’s only telling us what He appears to be doing” interpretive method, or some other such contrivance, we would have to recast major portions of scripture into superficial smokescreens, declaring God’s revelations of Himself to be pretenses, and repeatedly insisting that the reasons God gives for His actions aren’t really His reasons at all, just to salvage determinist philosophy.

Conclusion

I’ve heard more than one appeal by proponents of determinism to the ‘beauty’ of their system. Like a priceless pearl, it’s smooth and elegant, being a de facto ‘theory of everything,’ and seemingly provides easy and consistent answers to tough questions. Beauty does not amount to truth, however, and it’s quite easy to be deceived by it if it’s not examined closely. The problem of God authoring sin by itself creates numerous and irreconcilable problems for exhaustive determinism. Its corollary, that God does nothing based upon what men do, is hopelessly and utterly confuted by the testimony of God Himself, Who has clearly and repeatedly stated otherwise. This deterministic philosophy may appear impeccable and invaluable upon first glance, but when examined through the lens of scripture, there’s an irreparable fracture in it -a flaw, that with furthered study, grows ever deeper and more pronounced.