The Cancer in Calvinism

From the outset I want to make it clear that I’m not asserting that Calvinism is heresy, as I consider most Calvinists to be genuine brothers and sisters. This post is rather about a serious error that has subtly crept up in the teachings of many Reformed Theology proponents and teachers. It is not one of the five points of Calvinism itself, but is no less integral to the theology of many Calvinists.

 

The First Warning Signs

Many Calvinists I’ve spoken to over the years have been great to talk to. Some just seem to be evangelicals with a stronger emphasis on predestination than most. For others, something just seemed…off. Very off. I started noticing a troubling tendency with some of the things they said: much stock was put into unconditional election and predestination, so much so as to mitigate the need for faith altogether. I would hear the occasional Calvinist friend talk about being “saved before they were born,” but I also knew that many Reformed preachers taught salvation by grace through faith, so I initially wrote it off as people misunderstanding their tradition’s theology. Little did I know….

 

A Tumorous Trilemma

I’ve come to believe that the real issue has been hiding in plain sight for a long time. In his ponderous polemic, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Puritan theologian John Owen poses the following trilemma to we who believe Christ tasted death for everyone (per Heb 2:9).

To which I may add this dilemma to our Universalists:– God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for,
either all the sins of all men,
or all the sins of some men,
or some sins of all men.
If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God enter into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the Lord should mark iniquities, who should stand?” Ps. cxxx. 3. We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty,” Isa. ii. 20, 21.
If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.
If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins?
You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.”
But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it?
If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not.
If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death?
If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins.
Let them choose which part they will.

(John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Book 1, ch 3; emphasis and spacing mine)

 

A Premalignant Presupposition

Read the bolded portion of the argument carefully. Closer observation reveals a far graver issue. Parsing out what Owen is saying,

But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If [unbelief is] not [a sin], why should [unbelievers] be punished for it? … If [Christ did die for the sin of unbelief], then why [would the sin of unbelief] hinder [the unbelievers from being saved any] more than their other sins for which [Christ died]?

The answer to the trilemma is fairly trivial: While refusal to believe is indeed a sin, the reason it keeps one from salvation is not due to it being a sin, but because unbelief, by definition, precludes belief in Christ, without which no one can be saved (Heb 11:6). As with all sins Christ died for, forgiveness for unbelief is only obtained through subsequent belief in Him.

While Owen’s argument is trifling at best, his sophomoric reasoning isn’t the biggest problem here. While unstated, there is a premise both insidious and heretical that one must hold to make this argument without duplicity or cognitive dissonance: If one is seriously arguing that unbelief would not stop a person from being forgiven any more than any other sin, that is effectively saying that Christ’s death brings about salvation whether or not one believes. Or to put it succinctly,

If Christ died for one’s sins, then faith isn’t necessary for salvation.

Note that he is not arguing that all for whom Christ died must eventually believe and be saved, no, he is saying they would be saved despite not believing! Any Bible-believing Christian should be horrified by such a godless and contra-scriptural idea. That faith is absolutely necessary to be saved is all over the New Testament (in John 3:16, Acts 13:39, Romans 3:22, 5:1, 10:9, Galatians 2:16, 3:22, to give a few references). How in the world can an allegedly Christian theologian be arguing that lack of faith wouldn’t stop someone from receiving forgiveness?

If such a premise were true, it would entail that whether one believes has no bearing on whether he obtains salvation.

And if having faith has no bearing on obtaining salvation, then one can only conclude that salvation is not by faith.

While Owen’s trilemma and the similar arguments derived from it may seem superficially persuasive if one doesn’t spot their weakness, examination of their underlying ideas reveals more than was intended. One who argues that the atonement would save even those who never believe necessarily (except for reason of ignorance or sheer cognitive dissonance) holds a view of redemption that not only lacks scriptural support, but violates one of the central tenets of Christianity in denying salvation by faith altogether.

 

The Cancer Spreads

If the mutation was confined to just a small band of loonies in a corner, it would be of little concern. Sadly, a great many Christians of the Reformed theological persuasion have fallen for this unscriptural line of reasoning. Owen isn’t some isolated edge-case Calvinist predicting the timing of the second coming on the radio or protesting funerals. To the contrary, he’s widely regarded among Calvinists, and the book his trilemma was written in is considered one of their finest classical defenses of Limited Atonement.

It is to those who share this readiness that Owen’s treatise is now offered, in the belief that it will help us in one of the most urgent tasks facing evangelical Christendom today – the recovery of the gospel. (J.I. Packer, introduction to the 1958 reprint)

The trilemma itself is widely referenced and quoted by many prominent Calvinists:

James Montgomery Boice & Philip Graham Ryken (The Doctrines of Grace: Rediscovering the Evangelical Gospel)
Steve Lawson (Foundations of Grace)
Robert Reymond (Ten Lines of Evidence for the Doctrine of Particular Redemption, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith: 2nd Edition)
Dr. Christopher David Bass (That You May Know: Assurance of Salvation in 1 John)
Jonathan D. Moore (The Extent of the Atonement)
Dr. Manuel Kuhs (British Reformed Journal, Issue 59)
Phillip G. Kayser (Ransom Paid: Does the Bible Limit the Atonement?)
Joseph R. Holder (Romans: Theological Masterpiece [Volume 1])
Sam Storms (For Whom Did Christ Die?)
Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th. M. (How to Handle So-Called Problem Passages on the Extent of the Atonement)
Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Dr. Joel Beeke (Problems with Arminian Universal Redemption)
Dr. Gary D. Long (Definite Atonement)
Dr. Roger Nicole Th.D., Ph.D. (The Case for Definite Atonement)
James White (Was Anyone Saved at the Cross?)
Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., of Third Millennium Ministries
The Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanted) 
Erik Raymond of The Gospel Coalition

And it’s not people just mindlessly parroting Owen without realizing what he’s saying. Many of the authors make the argument in their own words, laden with the same repulsive premise:

The Arminian will answer: “because they refused to believe in Jesus Christ. They are guilty of unbelief.“ But this unbelief, is it a sin or is it not a sin? If unbelief is not a sin, then why should anyone by punished for it? If unbelief is a sin, then Christ was punished for it in His death. If Christ paid for this sin as all others, then why must this sin stop anyone from entering heaven more than any of the other sins (e.g., murder, adultery, homosexuality, etc.). Furthermore, if Christ did not die for the sin of unbelief, then one cannot say that He died for all the sins of all men. The Arminian cannot escape from the horns of this theological dilemma. (Brian Schwertley, Limited Atonement)

Belief in an unlimited atonement, on the other hand, presents many logical and biblical problems. First of all, if the atonement was truly unlimited, then every person would be saved as all of their sins, including the sin of unbelief, would have been paid for by Christ on the cross. (S. Michael Houdmann of GotQuestions.org)

If God propitiated His wrath towards me in a truly substitutionary and penal sacrifice, how can He still be angry at me? Did God in Christ actually redeem, reconcile, and propitiate His anger against us on the cross? Then I cannot and will not ever experience that anger. (Sam Waldron, The Biblical Confirmation of Particular Redemption)

But God is angry at men for their unbelief,

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Rom 1:18)

If, however, Jesus died to make atonement for generic guilt, for human guilt in general, then culpable unbelief is covered by the atonement. So I don’t see how a qualitative paradigm circumvents the force of Owen’s dilemma. If refusing to believe in Jesus is culpable, and Jesus paid the penalty for human guilt, then culpable unbelief is included in the atonement. The category of guilt includes all instances thereof. (Steve Hays)

But you really need to qualify what you mean when you say that “He laid down His life for all of humanity.” Such a statement is unnecessary and may be misunderstood. I could say, “so why aren’t they all saved then?” “If he already paid for their sins then there should be no condemnation.” But unbelief is one of the sins He died for. (John Hendryx, Monergism.com)

No condemnation for people who have no faith? John writes,

“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.” (John 3:18)

Yet a heartbreaking number of Calvinists all but flatly deny that very truth.

If ALL the sins of ALL men were laid upon Christ, then the sin of unbelief was too. That unbelief is a sin is clear from the fact that in 1 John 3:23 we read, “And this is His commandment, That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ.” Refusal to believe in Christ is, therefore, an act of flagrant disobedience, rebellion against the Most High. But if all the sins of all men were laid upon Christ (as it is now asserted), then He also endured the penalty for the Christ-rejector’s unbelief. … For if unbelief is a sin and Christ did not suffer the penalty of it, then all sin was not laid upon Christ. Thus there are only two alternatives: a strictly limited Atonement, availing only for believers; or an unlimited Atonement which effectually secures the salvation of the entire human race. (A.W. Pink, The Atonement)

Again; if Christ died for all; then he made expiation for all their sins. He therefore must have made atonement for the sins of unbelief and final impenitence; which prevent man from applying to himself the redemption provided for him: and thus they will no longer stand in the way of such an application: for on the supposition of satisfaction having been made for them; they must be pardoned. (Francis Turretin, The Extent of the Atonement)

However, if the sins of every individual are actually taken away, then why do any go to hell? After all, aren’t all the sins taken away? “Ah,” but you say, “they are taken away only if that person believes.” The only problem with that is that Jesus’ blood is sufficient to cleanse of all sin, even the sin of unbelief. Therefore, even that sin is covered. Remember, it says that the sins were taken away by the cross of Christ, not made possible to be taken away. (Matt Slick)

If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.” (R.C. Sproul, Biblical Scholasticism)

“If Christ died for all of the sins of all people, that must include the sin of unbelief. If God’s justice is totally satisfied by Christ’s work on the cross, then it would follow that God would be unjust in punishing the unrepentant sinner for his unbelief and impenitence because those sins were already paid for by Christ.” (R.C. Sproul, The Design and Scope of the Atonement)

Paul speaks of our fallen state apart from life in Christ,

“…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” (Eph 2:3)

If, as Sproul argues, it would be unjust for God to punish us solely due to what Christ did, then would it not also be unjust for Him to hold us under His wrath (and thus under the sentence of condemnation) to begin with?

The third statement is what the Arminians would say. Christ died for all the sins of all men. But then why are not all saved? They answer, Because some do not believe. But is this unbelief not one of the sins for which Christ died? If they say yes, then why is it not covered by the blood of Jesus and all unbelievers saved? If they say no (unbelief is not a sin that Christ has died for) then they must say that men can be saved without having all their sins atoned for by Jesus, or they must join us in affirming statement number two: Christ died for all the sins of some men. That is, he died for the unbelief of the elect so that God’s punitive wrath is appeased toward them and his grace is free to draw them irresistibly out of darkness into his marvelous light. (John Piper, For Whom Did Christ Die?)

How do they reconcile these mutually-exclusive ideas? Salvation can’t be obtained both by faith and apart from faith, yet many of these authors claim to believe in salvation by faith while making an argument that effectively denies it. Do they truly not understand the implications of what they’re saying? Are they surreptitiously redefining “salvation by faith” to mean something else (e.g. “You were always saved, you just realize you’re saved by faith”)? I cannot judge, I can only say that such a premise is diametrically opposed to the gospel and destructive. It’s not going to take the next bright young generation of Calvinists long to understand where these arguments must eventually lead and go full-on cultic.

 

Hope for Remission?

Thankfully some Calvinists have shown discernment enough to see past this heresy.

Owen is right to think Christ’s work atones for all sin, unbelief included. But he is mistaken in thinking that if Christ’s work atones for all human sin, including the sin of unbelief, there is no impediment to the salvation of all human sinners. Faith is a condition of the application of the redemption accomplished by Christ. This, as Davenant and Dabney make clear, is a perfectly just arrangement; in which case, even if UA obtains, there is not doctrine of double payment to answer. (Oliver Crisp, Deviant Calvinism: Broadening Reformed Theology, p. 233)

Tony Byrne at Theological Meditations posted a series that quoted several authors refuting such an error. A sample quote from Dabney,

Nor would we attach any force to the argument, that if Christ made penal satisfaction for the sins of all, justice would forbid any to be punished. To urge this argument surrenders virtually the very ground on which the first Socinian objection was refuted, and is incompatible with the facts that God chastises justified believers, and holds elect unbelievers subject to wrath till they believe. Christ’s satisfaction is not a pecuniary equivalent, but only such a one as enables the Father, consistently with His attributes, to pardon, if in His mercy He sees fit. The whole avails of the satisfaction to a given man is suspended on His belief. There would be no injustice to the man, if he remaining an unbeliever, his guilt were punished twice over, first in his Savior, and then in Him. See A. A. Hodge on Atonement, page 369. (R.L. Dabney)

If then, even in their unbelief, there is no debt against them, no penalty to be paid, surely they can be described as saved, and saved at Calvary. That being the case, the gospel is reduced to a cipher, a form of informing the saved of their blessed condition. (Neil Chambers)

Those for whom it was specially rendered are not justified from eternity; they are not born in a justified state; they are by nature, or birth, the children of wrath even as others. To be the children of wrath is to be justly exposed to divine wrath. They remain in this state of exposure until they believe, and should they die (unless in infancy) before they believe they would inevitably perish notwithstanding the satisfaction made for their sins. (Charles Hodge)

I would recommend any God-fearing Calvinist give his posts on the subject a read. Sadly, the Reformed believers who have seen past Owen’s smokescreen have gone largely unheeded by their peers, who have let a heretical idea in through the proverbial back door. Some may not like hearing it from a guy with more Arminian leanings, but please hear me out. We’ll always have disagreements (as all major denominations and movements do), and probably never resolve them all this side of eternity. There are things in the Bible that are less essential to the Christian faith which are often less clearly explicated, and on which some disagreement is natural. Salvation by faith is not one of those things we can disagree on. No matter what our positions on secondary issues, we must not adopt forceful or clever-sounding rhetoric that compromises the gospel. God sent His Son into the world so that whoever believes in Him shall not perish. It is no longer Christianity if that message is lost. Sine Fide is not an option.

 

 

Loraine Boettner Defending the Negative Inference Fallacy

“Furthermore, when it is said that Christ gave His life for His Church, or for His people, we find it impossible to believe that He gave Himself as much for reprobates as for those whom He intended to save. Mankind is divided into two classes and what is distinctly affirmed of one is impliedly denied of the other. (Loraine Boettner – The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, pp. 68-69, emphasis mine)

Kind of like when Hebrews 10:30 says, “The Lord will judge his people?

Tackling Calvinist Errors on Omniscience & Aseity (Plus a Deductive Proof)

In our last post on Calvinists who talk past the debate, we handily disposed of the fallacious arguments of a Calvinist objector insists on misrepresenting the issue. He tries to salvage his rapidly-crumbling narrative with yet more proof that he is simply talking past what is being discussed without understanding it.

Still Missing the Point

I’ve been pretty clear since the beginning of our dialogue that God doesn’t derive His attributes from creation. Quoting previous posts:
[Me]: No one is arguing that God’s nature has changed or acquired new attributes, but as I argued, the “relational, optional specifics encompassed by those attributes” do change. When God chose to create the world, He chose to involve people as objects of certain of His attributes, and said attributes come to involve people. 
God is both omniscient and faithful regardless of whether the world exists or not, but the specifics thereof – who He knows about and who He is faithful to, depends upon our existence.
I pointed out that the objector was drawing conclusions about my beliefs that were the polar opposite of what I wrote. He proves my analysis correct yet again in replying,
But very few people think we ground God’s characteristics via his actions. 
I think this is simply a denial of aseity because it is him admitting that characteristics of God are not innate to him but something he takes on.
If some of God’s characteristics are contingent upon the world, then wouldn’t that imply on his view the world is necessary for God to have certain qualities?   
His persistence in the exact same error indicates that he’s either being hasty and not reading, or just outright disingenuous.

Ignorance About Omniscience

He finally clears up his ‘explanation’ objection.
It is clear that J.C. doesn’t understand what explanations are. For example, the Leibnizian cosmological argument is an argument about explanations. It asks the question about the necessary foundations of reality.  … So, we are asking the same metaphysical question about God’s being(mainly his attribute of omniscience). … It isn’t grounded or explained by God. The reason for which God knows certain things are thus grounded not in himself but in the world.
To sum up the heretofore poorly-explained objection, the objector makes the error of conflating the attribute of omniscience with the specifics of God’s knowledge. As I’ve already pointed out to him,
[Me:] God is eternally faithful whether we exist or not. God has chosen to create man and made covenants with him. God’s faithfulness has not changed, who God is faithful to has changed. God knows all that is whether He creates the world or not. God has chosen to create a world with free agents. God’s omniscience has not changed, who God knows about has changed. That is an important distinction, and the point of confusion that our dear objector is stuck on and talking past in his objections to what no one is arguing.
Looks like he’s still just as confused and lost in noobie-land as ever.
While my question still stands, is God temporally not omniscience?  
He seems to be asking, “Is God temporally not omniscient?” If the same God is both transcendent and immanent (not just one or the other), then God in His immanence (within time) would know all that He does from His also-transcendent (from outside of time) perspective. Given that, our objector’s question seems to be a category mistake.

The Calvinist Argument Backfires!

I also made a counter-argument showing that God’s innate attributes, such as His faithfulness, are not created by people, but that some optional aspects of those attributes (such as who He is faithful to) do involve creation. The objector replies with a counter-example of his own:
The point is the same argument that he produced about Faithfulness and Omniscience can equally be made about God’s goodness.  … So, either he has missed the argument I provided, or his argument about God’s attributes has zero relevance.
Yes, I absolutely agree that the same point I made about faithfulness and omniscience can also be made for God’s goodness. In fact, I’ll make it right here:
  • God is good (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to be good to, but that would not detract from His being good
  • God did create the world and has chosen to show His goodness to members of creation
  • Said showing of goodness is an optional aspect of God’s goodness contingent upon Him creating
Just like,
  • God is omniscient (immutable attribute)
  • If God did not create the world, there would be no human persons to know about, but that would not detract from His omniscience
  • God did create the world and knows everything about His creation
  • Said knowledge of His creation is an optional aspect of God’s omniscience contingent upon Him creating
Talk about an epic backfire. That the argument could easily fit God’s goodness is fairly obvious, which shows again that our beloved cage-stage objector is simply talking past the point he fails to grasp.

Shooting Down Miscellaneous Errors

Freewill theists wish to agree with that sentiment but are inconsistent when it comes to grounding God’s knowledge of future contingents in the random and arbitrary choice of human agents.
That’s right folks, your choices are just metaphysical dice-rolls. Fallacy sighting confirmed: The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #3: We Choose by ‘Chance?’
I’ve presented a model where God is ‘Self-Contained’ no explanation extends beyond God himself.
When combined with the idea of God predetermining everything, the idea that all of God’s knowledge comes only from Himself makes for an unworkable mess for several reasons:
  1. That there is spiritual darkness in the world is evident. Yet as I’ve pointed out when addressing the authorship of sin, John writes, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5) Likewise, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does- comes not from the Father but from the world.” (1 John 2:15-16) So if spiritual darkness, sin, etc. exist, but there is no such darkness in God or that comes from God, then from whence does it originate? The determinist ultimately has to concede that all such evil originates within God, contrary to the teaching of the apostles.
  2. It contradicts the contingent statements God Himself makes, [e.g. “…through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:18), and numerous other places].
  3. It paradoxically contradicts God’s aseity (independence from creation), and likely His power to freely choose altogether (see the argument below).

Deductive Proof

The question of necessitarianism becomes relevant. What kind of freedom does God possess?   
If every proposition that God knows is innate to Him and an immutable part of His being, then choices such as whether to create the world wouldn’t be choices at all. God would literally have no choice other than to carry them out. I can simplify the problem with a brief syllogism:

P1 To be truly omniscient requires that one’s beliefs match reality.

P2 Per Calvinism*, God innately and immutably believes that creation comes into existence (becomes a reality).

C Therefore, per Calvinism, God innately and immutably requires that creation comes into existence to be truly omniscient.

* That is to say, High Calvinism that holds that the specifics of God’s knowledge are an innate part of His being (many of which debate us from that standpoint). This argument would not apply to Calvinists who don’t hold that premise.

If our sovereign God is intrinsically independent of creation, then He certainly has no innate need to create us to be truly omniscient.

 

Brian Abasciano’s Article on 1 John 5:1 is Now Available!

Dr. Brian Abscaiano’s article critiquing the Calvinist claims on the use of 1 John 5:1 to support regeneration preceding faith is now available online.  While it was initially posted online, it was later  removed because the Journal it was published in did not grant permission for public posting.  However, after a year those rights revert back to the author.  Sadly this was not known initially, or it could have been posted publicly many years ago.  Well, better late than never!  This is a must read article on this important passage that Calvinists have wrongly used as a prooftext for their ordo salutis for many years.  The article is now available at the SEA site: “Brian J Abasciano, “Does Regeneration Precede Faith?  The Use of 1 John 5:1 as a Proof Text”

 

Great Quotes: J.C. Thibodaux on Faith and Boasting

Whether you freely believe in Christ or not makes a difference only in what you obtain, not what you deserve. But since what you obtain is only what you’ve freely received from God, the One who makes you differ from those with no hope is God, for without His grace and mercy, you’d be no better off than demons who believe. Therefore no flesh can legitimately boast in His sight. (emphasis mine)

Be sure to check out the full post here

Related:

Brian Abasciano: Addressing the Calvinist Challenge, ‘Why Did You Believe and Your Neighbor Did Not?’

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #1: If We Have Libertarian Freedom, What Makes Us Choose One Way Or The Other?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #2: Arminianism Entails Salvation by “Inherent Ability”

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #10: Wait, Now Faith is a “Work”?

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics- Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

 

You Don’t Have the Right

I wouldn’t have expressed some things quite the same way, but there is a lot of corrective truth in this powerful little song,

http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/blog/?p=16124

HT: Richard Coords

Do Arminians Really Pray Like Calvinists?

It is often said by Calvinists that when Arminians pray, they pray like Calvinists. Typically this is expressed in such a way as to imply that while Arminians may deny the theological claims of Calvinism, they affirm Calvinism in the way that they pray. The Calvinist assumes that when Arminians pray for God to work or to save the lost we are praying for God to work irresistibly. But why should that be the case? Prayer is relational and if it is true that we are asking God to work in people’s lives, even bringing them to salvation against the backdrop of relational assumptions, then we have no reason to expect God to act irresistibly in response to such prayers. Why should it be assumed that if someone asks God to save a loved one that the person praying is expecting God to do so in an irresistible manner? This isn’t what such things would imply in our normal experiences, so why should we think that way with regards to prayer? Dr. Brian Abasciano makes this point well,

 …respectfully, I strongly disagree that as Arminians we should not pray for God to save people or that it is inconsistent with Arminian theology to do so.

It is all a matter of what is meant by such prayer. We use such language in everyday life all the time of resistible action. What corroboration is there for such language naturally implying a request for irresistible action? The evidence of actual language usage counters the automatic assumption of irresistible action. If I ask my son to take a visitor in our home to the bathroom, that does not mean to overpower them and force them into the bathroom. It means something like, “show them where the bathroom is and lead them there as long as they *willingly follow you*. Similarly, if I say to my son, “Please bring your mother here,” I certainly don’t mean, “get your mother here at all costs; overpower her and drag her here if necessary.” I simply mean something like, “let your mother know I want her to come here.” Or if I ask my friend to pick up my wife from the doctor’s office, that does not mean “force her into the car and drive her back to my home.” Such examples could be multiplied. One more. If a morally upright store owner tells his salesman to sell an item to a customer, he does not mean to do whatever is necessary to make the sale, including drugging the person and coercing them to buy the item, or overpowering them, taking their checkbook, and writing the check out himself, or kidnapping their family and holding them hostage in exchange for buying the item, or anything of the kind. “Sell them this item” or “make the sale”, simply means, “do all you can do that is not coercive or in violation of their free will to persuade them to buy the item.”

Similarly, when we ask God to save someone, we do not mean, “Take over their will and irresistibly cause them to believe and so be saved.” We mean something like, “Take action to lead them resistibly and willingly to believe in Jesus,” which would include any number of actions God might take. Olson mentions God bringing circumstances into their lives that will increase their awareness of their need of God and of his love and power to save them. Yes, that. But there are so many more things God might do that would work toward leading people toward faith in Christ. Be that as it may, I would argue that in a context in which there is the assumption of the honoring of free will, then such language implies a request for resistible action rather than irresistible action. If an Arminian prays for someone’s salvation, then it should be assumed that the prayer is for resitible action for the person’s salvation.

In my opinion, to discourage praying in such a way is needless, ignores this normal use of language, and limits our proper expression to God in prayer. It also fails to rightly grasp the critical issue of the meaning behind words and assumes a Calvinistic meaning for language that is completely compatible with an Arminian understanding. Indeed, it is biblical language–as Paul says in Rom 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (NASB)–and I think it would be very unwise to concede this language to Calvinists, just as it is unwise to let them own the terminology “doctrines of grace” (the *biblical* doctrines of grace = Arminianism).

So the important thing is what the person means by their prayer for God to save. I disagree that asking God to save someone is an incorrect or misleading way to express a request that God work resistibly for someone’s salvation. Indeed, I would argue that it is a perfectly natural and biblical way to pray for this. God, please save the lost! (From: Arminians Can be Consistent and Pray for God to Save the Lost; note that Abasciano’s comments were in response to some posts written by Arminian Roger Olson)

Old time Methodist theologian and philosopher, Daniel Whedon, argued in a similar manner long ago, pointing out that certain things are presupposed when either a Calvinist or an Arminian makes requests of God,

Calvinists often claim that the prayers even of Arminians presuppose that God may at any time consistently with his administrative system convert any man they are praying for, or even the world, at any moment. But in this matter Calvinists truly contradict themselves. They pray, as the result often shows, that God would do contrary to his own sovereign election. Their prayer, though itself decreed, is often against God’s decrees. They pray that God would act contrary to the strongest motive; which they say God has no moral power to do. That is, they commit these contradictions unless all prayer is considered as offered under the proviso that what is asked for be consistent with the Divine Will, and is in fact asked for so far only as allowable by the fundamental laws of God’s administration. Not my will, but thine be done, tacitly or expressly limits and underlies every true prayer.

And such a proviso as fully explains the prayer of the Arminian as of the Calvinist. When an Arminian prays that God would awaken the public mind to repentance, or convert an individual, or spread the Gospel through the world, and turn all men’s hearts to righteousness, he thereby expresses his earnest desire that such things be accomplished in accordance with fundamental laws. Just as when he prays that a temporal blessing may be bestowed, as health restored, or life preserved, he usually expects no unequivocal miracle, but trusts that it may be done in such way as Infinite Wisdom may devise in accordance with the constitution of things; and that on the condition of his prayer it may be ordered otherwise than if such prayer were not offered. We know not how far the prayer of the saints is a condition to the goings forth or putting forth of God, nor how fully he requires the co-operation of his Church, in order to render possible such displays of his truth as will convince the unbelieving, and such impressions by his Spirit as the free wills of men in process of time will, it is foreseen, accept and obey. Certainly man’s Will and not God’s remissness has prevented the complete good of the world. (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, ed. John D. Wagner, 119)

As Whedon points out, unless a Calvinist brings certain presuppositions to his prayers with him, he may indeed be praying contrary to the will of God. Since the identity of the elect is hidden, the Calvinist cannot know if the subject of his prayer is one that God desires to save or one that God has decreed to forever leave in his or her hopeless state. They might pray for countless hours for the salvation of someone who God has decreed from eternity to reprobate and has no desire to save. Indeed, they might be praying for God to save someone who, as the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 would have us believe, has likewise been hated by God from the womb and been made an irrevocable vessel of wrath doomed for destruction. This is a difficulty that seems out of line with passages like Rom. 10:1 or 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Furthermore, 1 Timothy makes it clear that we should offer prayers for all people because God desires all to be saved and because Christ died for all. So the Arminian has Biblical warrant for praying for the lost and knows that in doing so he is always praying in line with the will of God.

But what of the Calvinist? If they interpret 1 Timothy 2:1-6 to mean “some among all kinds” or “some among all classes”, then in what way should they pray? Should they say: “God I pray for some among all men to be saved?” Or should they pray: “God, I pray that you will save all of the elect from among the various classes of men in the world?” Such prayers, driven by the Calvinist approach to such passages, illustrate again that the Calvinist shouldn’t pray for the salvation of any specific person because he cannot know that it is actually God’s will to save that person.

Furthermore, if Calvinism is true, it is hard to understand why one should even bother to engage in intercessory prayer at all. In Calvinism, God has already pre-determined from eternity which persons will be saved and which persons will be damned. That eternal decree is unchangeable, and that decree was not made in response to the prayers of yet uncreated people, who will in fact be created for one destiny or the other in such a way that nothing could possibly work to change that destiny. The person the Calvinist prays for is either elect or reprobate, and nothing can change that. No amount of praying can bring salvation to the reprobate, and no lack of prayer can prevent the elect from being finally saved. It would seem that the Calvinist prayer cannot possibly accomplish anything since eternal destinies cannot possibly change in any way.

Some Calvinists reply that such prayer may yet serve as the ordained means by which God saves the elect, but also maintain that God is in no way influenced by our prayers. It is, therefore, hard to understand how prayer can be a means to salvation, if those prayers can have no possible impact on God or His predetermination to save some and reprobate others. If prayer really plays no part in whether God will save or not, then how can it be a “means” towards accomplishing salvation? As one commenter responding to a post written to help understand and defend prayer in Calvinism well said,

While God knowing everything is consistent with prayer, God planning everything in the Calvinistic sense of unconditionally decreeing it is not. Calvinism cannot account for the Bible’s portrayal of prayer as a cause of God’s answers to prayer because it holds that God unconditionally decides all that he wants to happen and then irresistibly causes it to come to pass, including the prayer that supposedly causes him to respond to it with action that grants the request. It would be like saying that with putting a sock puppet on your hand and having the puppet ask you to do something, that the request made by the sock puppet is a cause of you doing what you had the sock puppet ask you to do. (link)

This observation is important because it highlights how Calvinism, if consistently held, can serve to undermine one’s motivation for prayer (and this eventual lack of motivation to pray is something we often see reported by former Calvinists). If all things are decreed by God from eternity, then whether we pray or not, it is likewise decreed and can have no impact on whether anyone is ultimately saved or lost. A Calvinist can still pray because he thinks it his duty as a Christian or because he thinks it has certain personal spiritual benefits, but petitionary prayer still seems essentially useless since it can have no impact on anything since God has already decreed whatsoever will come to pass from eternity (including any such ineffective petitionary prayers that might be prayed).

So it seems to me that if Arminian prayer has difficulty, Calvinist prayer has far more difficulty. And while Arminians can pray for the lost knowing that such prayers are in line with God’s desire to save everyone and Christ’s provision of atonement for everyone, Calvinists cannot. While Arminians can make sense of why Paul’s heartfelt desire was for his fellow Jews to be saved (and in the context of Romans 9-11, Paul is speaking of the same Jews that Calvinists insist were reprobated and “hated” by God from eternity), Calvinists struggle to make sense of Paul’s anguish.

But if Arminianism is true and God desires all to be saved, why should prayer move God to act anymore than He would already be moved to act? The answer seems to be that as a relational God who so strongly values genuine inter-relational interactions, He wants us to be a part of the process (we are co-laborers with Him, 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) . He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.