VICTOR REPPERT SAID:
All genuine love seeks a good end for the beloved. My claim is it's not love if there is no good end for the beloved involved.
Here's D. A. Carson on John 3: 16 (HT: Paul Manata).
"…God so loved the world that he gave his Son (John 3:16). I know that some try to take kosmos ("world") here to refer to the elect. But that really will not do. All the evidence of the usage of the word in John's Gospel is against the suggestion. True, world in John does not so much refer to bigness as to badness. In John's vocabulary, world is primarily the moral order in willful and culpable rebellion against God. In John 3:16 God's love in sending the Lord Jesus is to be admired not because it is extended to so big a thing as the world, but to so bad a thing; not to so many people, as to such wicked people. Nevertheless elsewhere John can speak of "the whole world" (1 John 2:2), thus bringing bigness and badness together. More importantly, in Johannine theology the disciples themselves once belonged to the world but were drawn out of it (e.g., John 15:19). On this axis, God's love for the world cannot be collapsed into his love for the elect. The same lesson is learned from many passages and themes in Scripture. However much God stands in judgment over the world, he also presents himself as the God who invites and commands all human beings to repent. He orders his people to carry the Gospel to the farthest corner of the world, proclaiming it to men and women everywhere. To rebels the sovereign Lord calls out, As surely as I live ... I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel? - Ezek. 33:11
Now, is Carson wrong about this? He's a Calvinist, so so far we haven't gotten out of Calvinism yet. But I question whether it makes sense to say that a reprobated person is loved by God, not because that is sloppy agape, but because I don't think the idea of love makes sense if it is not directed toward a good end for that person.
Several issues to sort out:
1.Reppert seems to be insinuating that if I (or other Calvinists) were to differ with something Carson said, that would be special pleading. However, I’ve said for years on end that I don’t treat Reformed commentators as authority-figures. When I quote them, that’s not an appeal to authority. I quote them for their exegetical arguments. I go with the best argument. I’ve also said for years that I don’t limit myself to Reformed commentators.
Therefore, even if I were to disagree with Carson, that would scarcely be special pleading on my part.
2.Reppert himself is only in partial agreement with Carson. Reppert agrees with some of what Carson has to say about God’s love for the kosmos.
However, Reppert also takes the position that “it's not love if there is no good end for the beloved involved…the idea of love makes sense if it is not directed toward a good end for that person.”
That, however, is not the position which Carson is defending in the excerpt which Reppert quoted. Therefore, it’s illicit for Reppert to quote Carson in support of that position.
And, as a matter of fact, Carson, in The Gagging of God, defends the traditional doctrine of hell. Therefore, from Carson’s perspective, God’s love for the “world” is consonant with a bad end for the lost.
So this presents a dilemma for Reppert. If he says it’s special pleading for me to disagree with Carson, then it’s special pleading for him to disagree with Carson. If he can be in partial agreement with Carson, so can I.
3.Let’s also remember what I was responding to. Reppert cited Jn 3:16 as a prooftext for his own position. He cited that in opposition to Calvinism. That’s what I was responding to.
In reply, I quoted a non-Calvinist (Lincoln) on Jn 3:16, and asked Reppert if that interpretation was incompatible with Calvinism.
And, from what I can tell, Carson agrees with Lincoln on the meaning of Jn 3:16.
Reppert didn’t cite 1 Jn 2:2. We can always discuss that passage, but he didn’t include that as a prooftext for his position, over against Calvinism.
Carson’s interpretation of Jn 3:16 makes the same basic point as Lincoln. So that corroborates my argument, not Reppert’s.
4.Before we proceed any further, let’s say a little more about kosmos in Johannine usage. Why does John use that word? What does he mean by that word? What does it stand for?
To answer that question, the modern reader needs to take a few steps back from the text and ask himself the sort of question which Reppert never bothers to ask. We need to ask a question about the identity of the speaker. Who was John? What was his viewpoint?
A key is found in the prologue of John. The prologue is programmatic for various Johannine themes and catchphrases.
In the prologue, we have a comparison and contrast between 1:10 & 1:11. As (non-Calvinist) Craig Keener explains:
“The prologue compares the responses of the world and of Jesus’ own, Israel, in 1:10-11. The world created through Jesus (1:3) did not know him (1:10), and even became hostile to him (15:18-19); in light of the rest of the Gospel, this world included the initially ignorant Gentiles (cf. 4:42) but remained an object of Christ’s loving mission (3:16-17; 4:42; 6:33,51),” The Gospel of John, 1:395.
“Jewish views of Gentiles varied widely, from more positive Diaspora to less positive sectarian Palestinian ideas. Given Israel’s sufferings at the hands of foreign empires, it seems natural that Jewish texts often reflect mistrust of Gentiles, viewing them as oppressors of God’s people and violators of God’s laws,” ibid. 396.
So John is writing from a Jewish outlook. From that narrow perspective, he uses kosmos in v10 as a general term to cover the Gentiles. And this, in turn, stands in contrast to the chosen people in v11.
This also explains the negative nuance of kosmos in Johannine usage. The gentiles were pagans. Idolaters. Lawbreakers. Enemies of the chosen people.
At the same time, the new covenant will extend to the Gentiles. It’s not a covenant with the Jewish people, per se.
5.That, in turn, helps to explain 1 Jn 2:2. Unlike Jn 3:16, 1 Jn 2:2 also says something about the scope of God’s love. God’s love extends to the gentiles.
Remember that this is a Jewish writer living under Roman subjugation. Up till now, the default position in Judaism viewed the gentiles as doomed. Accursed.
A striking example is found in Jesus’ statement to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:22). The Samaritans don’t know the true God, for salvation comes from the Jews.
Now, when you consider the fact that the Samaritans had more in common with the Jews than pagans did, you can only imagine what this would mean for the fate of Gentiles.
However, John is now speaking from the standpoint of the new covenant. The “bigness” of God’s love lies in the fact that salvation is even available to the gentiles–if they turn to Jesus.
6.However, 1 Jn 2:2 has an antithetical parallel in 1 Jn 5:19. In both cases, the same phrase is used: “the whole world.” Bigness and badness.
But in 5:19, the “whole world” stands in contrast to Christian identity. Here the phrase is exclusive of Christians, not inclusive of everyone.
In Johannine usage, the scope of God’s love is not about every individual, but about two subsets of humanity: Jews and gentiles. God’s redemptive loves extends to the gentile class.
That’s the point. For John, writing as a Jew, God’s exclusive love for the Jews, under the old covenant, supplied the frame of reference.
Now, however, we have a reversal of fortunes. In general, the chosen people reject their messiah while the gospel is brought to the gentiles.
7.One other point: in 1 Jn 2:2, John uses the language of penal substitution. This is at odds with the non-forensic soteriology of C. S. Lewis, whose views Victor Reppert usually espouses. It’s also takes retributive punishment as the underlying framework, in contrast to Reppert’s remedial alternative.
8.As for Ezk 33:11, in its historical setting this is directed at Jewish sinners. They were exiled to Babylon because they were covenant-breakers. To “repent,” in this context, takes the Mosaic covenant as the frame of reference.
It’s not an invitation to OT pagans. Pagans lack the necessary frame of reference. OT pagans were ignorant of the true God. They had no standard in relation to which they could repent.
For example, that’s why God must send a Jewish prophet to Nineveh.
The OT does contain the seminal theme of gentile salvation. That goes back to the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 12:3). And that theme is revisited in Isaiah and some of the Psalms. But at the time of writing, that lies over the horizon.
Moreover, the theme of gentile salvation doesn’t obviate the theme of gentile judgment, or Jewish judgment–for that matter. Salvation doesn’t take the place of punishment. Some are judged while others are delivered from judgment.