5/01/2010

Calvinism and Whosoever Will, Part 2: John 3:16

Continuing a Presbyterian layman’s critique of Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism by David L. Allen and Steve Lemke, I want to look into the verse most often quoted against Calvinism in Baptist circles. That verse is John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him shall not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).


Jerry Vines uses this verse in a crass way against Calvinism on page 14: “The phrase ‘that whosoever believes” responds to five-point Calvinism, which says Christ died only for the elect.” Once again, a Baptist sets up a straw man of Calvinism to be knocked down by his relentless logic.

Calvinists believe that God loves the whole world (everyone) in some sense. We believe that the love God has for the world is the reason that God sent His only Son to die. We believe that Christ’s death was enough to pay the penalty for everyone’s sins such that anyone who does believe on Christ will be saved. That is all that John 3:16 teaches, nothing more.

There was nothing deficient in Christ’s death. The Eternal God-Man suffered infinitely in His soul. His death could pay for everyone’s sins. The offer that “whoever believes will not perish” is a real offer. This offer is evidence of God's love for you. 

If you do not know Christ, there is nothing outside of you keeping you from knowing Him and placing your faith in Him. God’s not forcing you to stay away! You are staying away because, in the final analysis, that is what you want to do. You have no excuse.

But the ‘want to’ is the key. All people want to stay away from Christ. We are all dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). We are God’s enemies by nature and by choice, and we cannot please God (Romans 8:7). We are all together become unprofitable, unable to do anything good (Romans 3:12). None of us can come to Christ unless the Father who sent Him grants it to us (John 6:44). In fact, we cannot even see His kingdom, much less enter it (John 3:3, note that this is the very chapter in which the verse in question resides).

The last time I checked, dead men do not do anything. Mortal enemies do not lay down their arms. Coming to Christ in faith is something good. One has to have the requisite authority and power to grant another one something. And you cannot purposefully walk through a door you cannot see / perceive. God must act to change the heart of a person before that person will want to repent and believe the gospel.

The verse does not say that Christ died for everyone. It says that whoever believes on Christ will not perish.

In and of itself, John 3:16 has nothing to say about Calvinism. It only teaches what Calvinists affirm.

9 comments:

Steve Martin said...

Elsewhere in Scripture it states that Christ died for everyone:

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

". . . God . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all . . ." (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

"For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all" (Romans 11:32).

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Romans 5).


"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not" (Matthew 23:37)!

"in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . ." (2 Corinthians).

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2).

Anonymous said...

Steve,

The verses you cite are the reason I have the utmost respect for your position. I hold my views in a certian degree of humility.

I will address each verse in a comment to follow as soon as I get my real computer hooked up instead of this thumb-destroying iPhone.

Please give me your interpretation of the verses I cite in turn. It will make for a better discussion.

JK

Steve Martin said...

J.K.,

The verses you cited were right on.

They describe a humam who does not want God, but a God who does want them.

But the reason of the Calvinist takes the issue in a direction that is not biblical. (Limited Atonement)

The Bible clearly shows the love of God for ALL his creation.

I just think that there is too much 'reason' in Calvinism, and that 'reason' (when applied to the things of God)can often lead us back into ourselves. Such as Christ's ability to be in more than one place at a time. The reasonable mind says that He can't be in the bread and wine because He is sitting at the right hand of the Father. So then that assurance goes out the window and you'd better get busy proving to yourself (and others)that you REALLY are pasrt of 'the elect'.

I don't see that as something God wants. He commanded that we do the Sacraments for a good reason and I believe it was to give us that assurance that us humans (being tactile, tangible persons) really need, totally apart from anything that we do, say, feel, or think.

Gotta run (church). Thanks, J.K., for a great discussion.

- steve

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Please keep in mind that the debate here and the debate on your site I would call intra-mural debates. We are all in the same school here: the school of God’s grace in Christ. This sort of thing gets ugly way to fast much of the time. People on both sides make this the pivotal point in all of scripture, and I think that the Reformers would agree that justification by faith alone is the doctrine that deserves to be the pivotal point.

Your verses and some general comments follow.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).

The question in this verse is who the “you” are. I think from the context that the “you” would be those who Peter addressed the letter too: believers.

But I’ll readily grant the point that there is some sense in which God does want to see all men repent. He desires this the same way He desires that all men follow His moral law. No man can follow the moral law after Adam’s fall. No man can repent and believe of his own power after Adam’s fall.

The only thing left for God to do is for Him to directly intervene, but He does not have to intervene if He does not want to. If He does step in, it is all of grace.
If God intervenes, He will be successful. How could the God who created a person, who knows their very thoughts before they think them, who knows their hearts and emotions better than they know them themselves, fail to convince someone He wants to convince? If He moves in a person’s heart, He will convince them and create them anew.

". . . God . . . desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all . . ." (1 Timothy 2:3-6).

Again, God does desire in some sense that all men be saved. Verse 6 is in my opinion the second strongest verse in the Bible for your position (The strongest is 1 John 2). But if either of those verses is literal, then God punishes some sins twice: once when Christ suffered for the sins of the person who rejects Him, and once when the person who rejects Christ is punished for them in Hell for eternity.

There is a strong and real sense in which Christ’s death could have covered the sins of all men. The Infinite God-Man suffered in His soul, and that suffering knows no limit. The ransom could very well have paid for all, but it does not. I think that is what the verse refers to.


JK

Anonymous said...

Continued:

"For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all" (Romans 11:32).

I once heard a very wise Presbyterian minister observe: If all we had were Romans 8, we would all be Calvinists. If all we had were Romans 9, we would all be hyper / high – Calvinists. If all we had were Romans 10, we would all be basically Arminian. If all we had were Romans 11, we would all be Universalist. But alas, Romans has all 16 chapters, so we will just have to get by as best as we can!

Please be careful of Romans 11:32 in context. If your interpretation and application is correct, then I think Hell will be empty and the Universalists will be proved right in the end.


"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men" (Romans 5).

This would also lead to universalism, unless the passage is seen in light of verse 17 as well as 18. Verse 17 says that “those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness” will find life in Christ. The justification and life could be for all men, but they will not.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not" (Matthew 23:37)!

God wants all men to be saved in some sense. Agreed!


"in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them . . ." (2 Corinthians).

The “world” probably refers to believers the world over. Else, once again, we have universalism.

"He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2).

If Christ’s death was the propitiation for the sins of the whole world, then why all of these hurricanes, famines, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and tsunamis?
If God is not mad at us anymore, then why do we have all of this evidence of His wrath against the sins of mankind? Why would there even be a Hell for men since God’s entire wrath toward men would be satisfied by Christ’s suffering.

Again, the verse proves too much. If the “world” is everybody, then everyone is safe from God’s wrath. It doesn’t say anything here about God merely offering Christ’s death as propitiation; it says that Christ’s death is the propitiation.

Christ’s sacrifice is offered and made available to everyone in the whole world, not just John and his current readers. It is a real offer based on a sacrifice that could have paid all the penalty for all of the sins. The sacrifice requires not addition or supplement.

You grant that God must intervene in the lives of men for any of us to be saved. Praise God for His love that motivates His intervention and action! Paul provided the fitting close to any discussion of this topic: “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God ! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways ! For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR ? Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN ? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36, NASB).


JK

Steve Martin said...

Ok, J.K..

I wish you (I truly do) all the best and hope you are able to somehow find assurance of your salvation.

As a believer in Calvinism, it will be very tough for you and I do not believe that is what God wants for you.

I have never met a Calvinist that isn't self-focused and pre-occupied with their religious performance.

Not to say that they don't exist, I have just never met any.

Lutherans on the other hand, trust in the exernal Word and Sacraments and have assurance in what God has done...for them.

Thanks, my friend.

I'm sure we'll keep in touch.

- Steve

Anonymous said...

Steve,

Thanks for your comments and your willingness to discuss. I learned several things, including some more verses to keep in mind.

I am also sure we will keep in touch.

It has not been my intention to be argumentative for the sake of argumentation. I learn through argument, and I have learned much from you.

Thanks again,

JK

Steve Martin said...

Hey J.K.!

Sorry for my absense, my friend.

I appreciate your kind words!

I was talking to my friend Pastor Bror (Erickson) and I told him I was going to send you a link to a post he wrote on Limited Atonement.

So here it is :

http://utah-lutheran.blogspot.com/2010/05/putting-limited-atonement-to-rest.html

Bror is a lot smarter than I and maybe he can explain our view in a way that makes more sense to you.

Anywho...for what it's worth.

- Steve

J. K. Jones said...

Steve,

Thanks for the link.


Could I enlist your help over here: http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=8907#comment-43791

There are many atheists who have problems with the atonement in general, and I would love to see how you would handle their objections on their own terf.

Let’s not lose sight of the evangelism thing in the heat of the discussion. :-)

I will continue the series of psots, keeping in mind the things you have said. My intent is to work / argue out these issues in my own mind.

JK

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