Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When salvation fails to save

I’m going to comment on some statements in this article:

Scripture contradicts limited atonement in John 3:16,17; Romans 14:15; 2 Corinthians 5:18,19; Colossians 1:19,20; 1 Timothy 2:5,6; 1 John 2:2. Everyone knows John 3:16,17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Typically, Calvinists respond that in these verses “world” refers to all kinds of people and not everyone.

i) To begin with, it limits salvation to believers.

ii) Moreover, Calvinists don’t have to say the “world” refers to all kinds of people. For the word kosmos doesn’t mean “everyone.” Rather, as lexicographers point out, it has more than one meaning. And in Johannine usage it often connotes the evil world order. So it has an ethical rather than numerical sense. That which is opposed to God.

iii) In Johannine usage, kosmos can’t mean “everyone,” for John often sets the “world” in diametrical opposition to those who are not of the “world,” viz. Christians.

iv) Olson also disregards Jn 9:39:

Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

So the atonement is intended to save some, but condemn others.

First John 2:2 is another passage we cannot reconcile with limited atonement: “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” This passage completely undermines the Calvinist interpretation of “world” in John 3:16,17 because it explicitly states that Christ died an atoning death not only for believers, but also for everyone. Here “world” must include nonbelievers because “ours” refers to believers.

i) Olson is piggybacking on his mistaken appeal to Jn 3:16-17.

ii) Calvinism doesn’t deny that Christ died for unbelievers. Christ died for elect unbelievers, whom the Spirit regenerates in due time, thereby making them believers.

iii) The contrast in 1 Jn 2:2 is between those who are already believers, the recipients of John’s letter, who belong the church of Ephesus, and those who will come to faith as a result of the apostolic kerygma (cf. Jn 17:20-21). The “other sheep” (Jn 10:16) or the “children of God” (11:52).

Consider the use of the “world” in Jn 17:21. Clearly Jesus didn’t expect everyone to believe that God sent him. That would be a false expectation. So the “world” can’t be a synonym for “everyone.” Rather, it’s being used in a representative sense.

The “world” is a developing motif in the Fourth Gospel (which lays the foundation for 1 John). You need to study how John develops that motif.

This verse makes it impossible to say that Christ’s death benefits everyone, only not in the same way. (Piper says Christ’s death benefits the nonelected by giving them temporal blessings only.)

But John didn’t think Christ’s death benefits everyone the same way. It doesn’t benefit unbelievers in the same way it benefits believers–except for unbelievers who become believers. Indeed, for unbelievers, his death is a source of condemnation. That’s maleficial rather than beneficial.

John says clearly and unequivocally that Christ’s atoning sacrifice was for the sins of everyone — including those who are not believers.

Does the “whole world” mean “everyone”? Is that what the very same phrase means in 1 Jn 5:19? Yet that passages sets “the whole world” in antithetical contrast to those who are “of God.”

What about 2 Corinthians 5:18,19? “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” Calvinists sometimes argue that this passage supports limited atonement. After all, if God was in Christ not counting everyone’s sins against them, then everyone is saved. Therefore, they say, “everyone” must mean only the elect.

i) 2 Cor 5:18-19 doesn’t even use the pronoun “everyone.” Notice how Olson unconsciously substitutes “everyone” for the “world,” as if that’s what Paul said.

ii) Calvinists don’t have to say the “world” refers to the elect in this passage. It’s sufficient to say, in Paul’s own gloss, that the “world” refers to whoever is reconciled to God through his Son. To whoever’s sins won’t be counted against them. And clearly that’s not everyone.

But that’s not true. When Paul says that God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s sins against them, He means if they repent and believe. In other words, the Atonement did reconcile God with the world so He could forgive; it satisfied the demands of justice so reconciliation is possible from God’s side. But it remains for sinners to accept that by faith. Then full reconciliation takes place.

i) 2 Cor 5:18-19 doesn’t distinguish between partial reconciliation and full reconciliation. That is Olson’s Arminian interpolation. Notice how he has to qualify the force of the passage to harmonize it with Arminian soteriology.

ii) Moreover, Calvinists don’t think sinners are reconciled to God apart from faith and repentance either. So his gloss fails to differentiate Arminianism from Calvinism.

iii) Keep in mind that the syntax in 2 Cor 5:19 is ambiguous. 

Colossians 1:19,20 says, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” It is impossible to interpret “all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven” as referring only to the elect. This passage refutes limited atonement.

i) We could just as well say it’s impossible to confine Paul’s cosmic language in Col 1:19-20 to sinful men.

ii) Moreover, the reconciliation in view isn’t said to be contingent on faith and repentance.

So Olson has taken a tiger by the tail. It’s more than he needs, and it threatens to devour his own position.

iii) The passage more likely refers to cosmic pacification through conquest. Compare it to Col 2:15, as well as OT precedents (e.g. Isa 52:6-10).

So does 1 Timothy 2:5,6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” The only way a believer in limited atonement can escape the force of this passage is to interpret the Greek translated “all people” as somehow meaning “all kinds of people,” but that is not an interpretation allowed by the common use of the phrase in Greek literature outside the New Testament (or elsewhere in it).

i) Olson needs to master the difference between meaning and reference. What the pronoun (“all”) may mean, and who it refers to, are two separate questions.

ii) Keep in mind that Paul, as a missionary to Jews and Gentiles like, can use universal terms to denote the reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles at the foot of the cross (cf. Rom 11:12,15; Eph 2:16). Olson is decontextualizing the passage.

Many Scriptures clearly indicate that Jesus’ atoning sacrifice was meant for everyone; that His substitutionary punishment was for all people. But there are two seldom discussed New Testament passages that absolutely undercut limited atonement: Romans 14:15 and 1 Corinthians 8:11.

From far being “seldom discussed,” these are stock Arminian prooftexts.

 In these verses, Paul sternly warns Christians against causing people to be destroyed for whom Christ died. The Greek translation of the words “destroy” and “destroyed” in these verses cannot mean merely harmed or injured. Clearly Paul is warning people that it is possible to cause people for whom Christ died to go to hell (by causing them to stumble and fall by showing off one’s own liberty to eat meat sacrificed to idols). If TULIP Calvinism is correct, this warning is useless because this cannot happen. According to Calvinism, the elect, for whom Christ died, cannot be lost.

i) Well, Arminians like I. H. Marshall probably think the “destruction” has reference to annihilation rather than going to hell.

ii) Olson overlooks the hyperbolic or metaphorical force of words like “destroy.” What they mean is context-dependent.

iii) Christ “dying for” the lost is ambiguous. Calvinists and Arminians don’t mean the same thing by that phrase. So it’s not a case of expanding or contracting the same thing.

When Reformed theology says Christ died for the elect, they mean Christ died to redeem them. Make satisfaction for sin. By contrast, it’s not uncommon for Arminians to deny penal substitution (e.g. Grotius, Grider, Joel Green, Randal Rauser). So Arminians don’t think Christ died for everyone (or anyone) in that sense.

iv) On Olson’s interpretation, the “strong brethren” are stronger than Christ. What Christ saves, they can destroy.

v) What’s more, on his interpretation, God has given some Christians the power to make other Christians lose their salvation. God has given the “strong brethren” the ability to overpower the “weak brethren” and thereby damn them.

It’s remarkable that Olson thinks some men have the power to damn other men. That God has given them the wherewithal to determine the eternal fate of their fellow men. To doom them to hell.

What does it say about the character of Olson’s God, if he’d delegate that ability to mere men? And what does it say about the love of God that he’d ultimately place the eternal destiny of some sinners in the hands of other sinners? Is it just bad luck if a weak brother finds himself at the mercy of a strong brother?

If God is love (1 John 4:7) but intended Christ’s atoning death to be the propitiation for only certain people so only they have any chance of being saved, then “love” has no intelligible meaning when referring to God. All Christians agree that God is love. But believers in limited atonement must interpret God’s love as somehow compatible with God unconditionally selecting some people to eternal torment in hell when He could save them (because election to salvation and thus salvation itself is unconditional).

Even on libertarian assumptions, there are possible worlds in which everyone freely chooses to be saved, and indeed, in which no one sins in the first place. So why must anyone go to hell?

 There is no analogy in human existence to this kind of behavior that is regarded as loving. We would never consider someone who could rescue drowning people, for example, but refuses to do it and rescues only some as loving. We would consider such a person evil, even if the rescued people appreciated what the person did for them.

To the contrary, it’s easy to consider situations in which that’s the loving thing to do. Suppose one of the drowning swimmers is a serial rapist, serial killer, or pedophile. In that event, it would be unloving to his prospective victims to save him.

Or suppose you knew that by rescuing a swimmer, next week he’d accidentally kill the parents of five underage children in a DIU incident? By rescuing him, you condemn the others to death or tragedy.

Or suppose you knew that by rescuing a swimmer, his future grandson would become an arsonist?

Or does Jesus Christ in His love for all people reveal the heart of God? Calvinism ends up having to posit a hidden God very much unlike Jesus Christ.

Jesus is the judge as well as the savior.

Another response is that this simply means God gives the nonelect a little bit of heaven to take with them on their journey to hell. What kind of love is this — that gives temporal blessings and happiness to people chosen by God for eternal suffering in hell?

According to Arminianism, God regenerates and sanctifies some believers knowing full well that they will later lose their salvation and go to hell. So Olson’s God gives these born-again apostates a little bit of heaven to take with them on the road to hell. What kind of love is this — that gives temporal blessings and happiness to people doomed to eternal suffering in hell?

Some Calvinists say that God must manifest all His attributes and one attribute is justice that makes hell necessary. Again, however, that won’t work because the Cross was a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice.

If that was a sufficient manifestation of God’s justice, then why does Olson’s God damn anyone at all? Even if he can’t save them against their will, that doesn’t mean he must consign them to eternal punishment.

Limited atonement makes indiscriminate evangelism impossible. A believer in limited atonement can never say to any random stranger or group: “God loves you and Christ died for your sins and mine; you can be saved.” And yet this is the very lifeblood of evangelism — telling the good news to all and inviting all to come to Jesus Christ with repentance and faith. Many Calvinists are evangelistic and missions minded, but in their evangelism and missions they cannot tell everyone within the sound of their voices that God loves them, Jesus died for them, and He wants them to be saved. They can proclaim the gospel (as they interpret it), but they cannot solicit faith by promising salvation through Christ to everyone they meet or to whom they preach.

Yes, it’s terrible. Calvinists can’t proclaim the gospel. They can only mutter things like “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (Jn 10:28). Isn’t that pathetic?

By contrast, the Arminian evangelist can tell the lost that “I will give them temporary eternal life, and many of them will perish anyway because the world, the flesh, and the devil will snatch them from my weak grasp.” Now that’s the gospel!

Limited atonement is the Achilles’ heel of TULIP Calvinism; without it the other points of TULIP fall. If God is truly love, then Christ died for everyone that all may be saved.

But the Olson's God didn’t intend the death of Christ to save everyone.

1 comment:

  1. Has anyone ever seen or met Roger Olsen? I'm starting to think he's 12 years old.