Thursday, May 19, 2016

Christ died for sinners

In 5-point Calvinism, is limited atonement and/or limited election in tension with the universal offer of the gospel? 

i) God doesn't directly offer the gospel to every individual, or directly command every individual to believe the gospel. 

In that respect, the offer of the gospel parallels special revelation. In might be more efficient if God privately revealed himself to every individual, but instead, God resorts to a public revelation. A mass medium. 

One reason, perhaps, is that humans are social creatures, so having Scripture as a common reference point is a unifying principle.

Be that as it may, the offer of the gospel is like a recipe. If you follow the instructions, this will be the result. A recipe doesn't order anyone in particular to use that recipe. 

ii) In nature, there's a principle of redundancy. For instance, a maple tree produces far more seeds (or maple copters) than will every take root and become trees in their own right. But the redundancy is purposeful. If enough maple trees produce enough airborne seeds, that greatly raises the odds that some of them will take root and produce trees in their own right.

Likewise, many animals produce multiple offspring, only a few of which survive to maturity. But in order to at least achieve a replacement rate, it's necessary to produce offspring in excess of the replacement rate, to offset the loss of the offspring that are eaten by predators before they reach sexual maturity and repeat the reproductive cycle. By the same token, multiple sperm raise the odds that one will fertilize the ovum. 

Humans imitate this principle. For instance, absent vaccination, some people will contract a serious communicable disease and some won't. Since we don't know which is which, we resort to mass vaccination to ensure, as best we can, that everyone who would be susceptible is covered. We vaccinate everyone, not because everyone needs it, but to make reasonably certain that we get the ones who do need it. It isn't necessary for everyone, but it's necessary to include more people in order to cover the subset that really need it. 

Likewise, the military might resort to more extensive bombing strikes to raise the odds of hitting the targets. Or resort to bombs with higher yield to achieve the same end. It gives you a margin of error. 

By analogy, the universal offer of the gospel will be heard by elect and reprobate alike. That's the nature of a mass medium of communication. That doesn't mean it's intended for all. Rather, that's a way of reaching the intended subset. Given that humans are social creatures, unless God privately discloses the gospel to the elect, the only alternative is a general message. 

iii) Let's consider a more subtle illustration. Suppose one country invades another country. Some of the natives form an underground resistance movement. They are planning a counterattack to oust the occupation force. But it will take a while for them to get all their ducks in a row. 

When they are ready to launch the counterattack, they have sympathizers in the news media do a public service announcement. This will seem to be a perfectly innocuous message. But will contain some code phrases that members of the resistance movement will recognize. That will be the signal to come out of hiding and strike back.

The enemy will hear the same announcement, but it won't detect the coded message embedded in the announcement. The enemy isn't privy to the code phrases. 

The message has to be broadcast nationwide to reach all the far-flung resistance cells. Everyone will hear the same message, but everyone won't register the ulterior significance of the message. 

iv) Perhaps a 4-point Calvinist would say this is parallel to the relationship between unlimited atonement and limited election. Christ dies for everyone to cover the elect. 

Whether you think that makes sense depends on your view of what the atonement targets. Does it cover sin? Sins? Or sinners? Does the death of Christ make atonement for some abstraction we call sin? Does it make atonement for sins, as distinct from the agents who committed them? Or does it make atonement for elect sinners? For their guilt?

I don't deny that Scripture sometimes speaks of making atonement for "sin" or "sins", but I think that's shorthand for sinners. I doubt Scripture intends to treat sin as an aggregate substance in abstraction from the particular agents who commit particular sins. Sin is personal. 

If Christ died for elect sinners, then it isn't necessary for the scope of the atonement to exceed the elect in order to cover the elect. If, moreover, Christ dies for the damned, then the atonement doesn't entail the salvation of anyone in particular. That greatly weakens the link between atonement and salvation. 


  1. Steve can you answer this briefly please. Does God hate the reprobate (Romans 9:24)/ those people who he hasn't predestined?

    1. "Hate" is simply a Hebraic idiom for not choosing.

    2. So does God bear resentment, in the way you and I would hate someone (e.g. Stalin?), towards the non-elect?

    3. Since the reprobate aren't intrinsically more "hateful" than the elect, while the elect aren't intrinsically more "lovable" than the reprobate, that can't be God's reason for choosing some rather than others.

      God disapproves of sin, but that's a separate issue.

    4. Just to let you know Steve that I am a Calvinist and I have had a similar thought regarding with what you said.

  2. Steve: does hate mean not to choose, or did God not choose because he hated? ISTM that, given the fate of the unchosen, to not choose would constitute an act of hatred on God's part - this is in no way meant as a criticism of God, but merely a request for clarification.

    1. I don't think literal "hatred" has anything to do with it. The "love/hate" dichotomy in Mal 1 &c. isn't a statement about divine psychology, but just a rhetorical antithesis, synonymous with choose/reject.

    2. Again, for the purpose of clarification, where else int he OT is "hate" so used, and why would one interpret as you do?

    3. Perhaps Rachel and Leah in Gen 29:30-31?

    4. One source is cognate usage. Study of ancient Near Eastern suzerain/vassal treaties showed that "love"/"hate" terminology is legal jargon for diplomacy and international relations. We find traces of this in OT usage, where that's the context. Take Deut 21:15-17. That uses the "beloved" wife and the "unloved" wife as technical terminology for a wife the husband acknowledge and another wife the husband spurned. Because his partiality is unfair, the law overrules him when it comes to their heirs.

      Likewise, 1 Kgs 5:1 says "Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David."

      That sounds odd to our ears. That's because "love" is used in a diplomatic context for a military alliance. The king of Tyre and the king of Israel were allies.

      This idiom spills over into Mt 6:24: to "hate" one "master" and "love" the other is to ally yourself with one and be at enmity with the other.

      We could render Mal 1:2-3: I have allied myself with Jacob, but made Esau my enemy.

      It's legal language for entering into a covenant with someone, while being at hostilities with another.

      A rather militaristic metaphor for saying God chose the line of Isaac and Jacob to the exclusion of the line of Ishmael and Esau.

      Scripture often uses antithetical parallelism to make a point. That's a literary device.

    5. In your opinion is there any psychological aspect to this terminology and act? EO theologians say that God only loves, and that any appearance of wrath and hatred is the result of humans perceiving it so to be; eg the dwarves in the barn in /The Last Batlle./

    6. i) I don't think it has psychological dimensions when the terminology reflects legal jargon. That depends on genre or literary structures.

      ii) There's the question of anthropomorphic depictions of God. I don't deny that God has some mental states that are analogous to human emotions. But that needs to be modified and restricted consistent with the difference between God and man. God can't have certain human emotions. And even if he has some emotions that are analogous to their human counterparts, they will be different because God is a very different kind of being.

      Since our primary frame of reference is human emotions (or canine emotions), it's hard to say what divine emotions are like. We can't directly compare them. The only emotions we experience are human emotions. We can observe emotions in some animals. But we can't experience divine emotions, so we can't say in what respect they are like and unlike human emotions.

      iii) Therefore, I think it best to define divine "love" and "hate", not in psychological terms, but behavioral terms. God loves some people by acting in ways that are beneficial to them. God hates some people by acting in ways that are harmful to them.

      iv) We can certainly say God disapproves of sin. In a sense, that's psychological, although we could also say that's a moral judgment.

    7. Thanks for the clarification, but are God's emotions like ours, or do ours reflect something of God's being his creatures? Also, what of the Incarnation? Christ as theanthropos displayed clearly idendifiable human emotions. FInally, since God chose to use emotionally charged words to describe his relationships with the elect and the reprobate, would it not be safe to assume that something of limbic valence can be asociated with God?

      PS: if you think legalese is devoid of emotion, then you haven't been sued enough ;-)

    8. i) In the order of being, some of our emotions reflect God's emotions, in some respect–but in the order of knowing, our emotions are the only basis of comparison.

      So we're back to the same difficult. A horse and a car are analogous insofar as both can be used for transportation. If, however, you tell me that a horse and a car are analogous, and I've never seen a horse, I don't know what they share in common or how they differ.

      ii) Yes, Jesus had human emotions, but the question at issue is the nature of divine emotions. Of course, his human emotions may have been conditioned to some degree by his divinity, but that mystifies the comparison.

      iii) I don't necessarily think "love" and "hate" are emotional charged words when used in ancient Near Eastern political discourse.

      Moreover, I don't think Mal 1:2-3 is equivalent to election and reprobation. It refers to God's historic choice of Israel in contrast to the line of Ishmael. Although that can have eternal consequences, it's using people-groups to move historical events. Not all Jews are elect, not all Edomites are reprobate.

  3. ~ I find the principle of redundancy interesting and see a take away from it.

    We due to sin do not quite get what God is communicating to us. So we need to hear it during personal devotional time, from the pulpit, a friend, radio, a hymn, etc. In theory, once should be enough... but we simply don't get it. And ... and so also we should take up and write - flood the net with holy writing... tolle scribo!

    Ok. That aside, here is one more aside. It is possible also that there is a paradox at work with the salvation offer and I wonder if this paradox makes the principle of redundancy itself redundant.

    The Paradox of Fiction: I react to what is not true as though it were true.

    ~ So I weep upon reading Anna Karenina even though it is fiction. It never happened.

    The Paradox of Fiction w/ a twist: I react to what is true as though it were not true.

    ~ So I am a campus recruiter who tries to recruit students to join my firm. So I go and give a presentation to a bunch of students. Now prior to my presentation I am tipped off that some of the students that I am presenting to are definitely not going to join. Some have already joined other firms. One is in a trial and might be going to prison, etc. Nevertheless I present to all of them with all my might. This means that I react to what is true as though it were not true.

    ~ Like so God offers salvation to the masses even though God knows that Joe, Jane and Shankar will reject salvation.

    Alls I am saying is that there is a paradox here. This paradox may obviate the need to resort to an explanation of redundancy. It makes the redundancy explanation redundant.

    Jesus wept even though He knew that He would raise Lazarus. God calls things that are not as though they were. ~Romans 4:17

    At the risk of sounding redundant... alls I am saying is... even if only two people existed on our planet - and only one of them were elect, then God still might offer salvation to both by way of some kind of a broadcast medium... even if neither person were hard to get to. And for paradoxical reasons God is still in the right and good for doing so.

    In Him,
    ~ Raj

  4. Does God hold people responsible for rejecting what has never really been offered to them? When the reprobate are judged for rejecting Christ (and by extension the offer) could they ask, "Um, Christ didn't die for me. And now you are judging me rejecting sonething that wasn't really there for me take?"

    There must be a reality grounding the uiversal offer. That is why I agree with the likes of Davenant (and the like).

    1. Forgive the typos... my ogre fingers on this blasted phone :-)

    2. Well stated, Austin. Christ's death for the ungodly provides a basis for the condemnation of the reprobate as much as it provides a basis for the justification of the elect. There is no need to settle for an "either / or" scenario with regard to those included in the atonement. Christ simply died for ALL who are in Adam. The EFFECTS of that atonement will certainly differ for the elect and the non-elect, but both MUST be covered by the atonement for their respective "effect" to work.

    3. Austin,

      You need to fine-tune your objection. What, specifically, are they said to be responsible for rejecting? As it stands, your statement assumes what it needs to prove. Your statement takes for granted that they are condemned for rejecting Christ's redemptive death for them. Before I can comment further, you need to substantiate your claim. Where do you think Christ's atonement for them is said to be the basis of their condemnation?

      To take a comparison, Satan tried to thwart the mission of Christ. That merits condemnation, but not because Jesus died for Satan.

      In the OT, Israel's enemies are condemned for attacking the Chosen People. That's not because God did for OT pagans what he did for Israel.

      Put another way, what do you think believing in Christ entails? Consider some possibilities: He's the incarnation of the divine Son. He came to destroy the works of the devil. He performed miracles. He rose from the dead. He's the antitype of David. He will be the eschatological judge. And so on and so forth.

    4. Skovbo,

      How does the atonement provide the basis for condemning the reprobate? Why wouldn't their sin provide the basis of condemnation?

      You seem to be suggesting that unless atonement is made for sin, sin isn't culpable. However did you arrive at that backwards conclusion?

      If, say, I murder someone, is my action inculpable unless atonement was made for my murderous misdeed? Why wouldn't murder be blameworthy in its own right, irrespective of redemption?

      In Scripture, no one can be saved unless they've been redeemed. Yet you turn that into the polar opposite: no one can be damned unless they've been redeemed.

      You seem to treat sin as blameless unless sin is atoned for.

    5. If Joe nonelect is called to repent and believe in Christ, I take such a command to at least include Jesus as Savior and Lord. The very offer presupposes such a reality. And if Joe nonelect rejects that command, he will be held accountable for doing so. He is spurning the amazing offer. But if he is rejecting the offer, then surely there is really something there grounding the offer.

      If I tell you to accept my offer of one million dollars, and will hold you accountable for rejecting my offer, you will naturally want to know if I have a million dollars, and whether the deal is legit. Similarly, the nonelects's rejection of Christ surely means they are rejecting Him as Savior. But if as Savior, then musn't he stand in some kind of redemptive relationship to them? In some sense? But if he didn't die for them in any salvific sense, then I cannot see how the judgment would be just.

    6. There are many different ways to disbelieve in Jesus. Take unitarians. They say they believe in Jesus, but they deny the Incarnation. They deny the deity of Christ.

      Take people who deny the Resurrection. Or people who deny that Jesus is the Messiah. Or Jews who said Jesus was in league with the Devil.

      For some reason you're framing the basis of condemnation exclusively in terms of the Gospel offer. Why make that the all-controlling matrix, when Scripture gives so many different grounds for condemnation?

      You're assuming that if limited atonement is true, the reprobate would be condemned for failing to believe that Jesus was their Savior. But why would 5-point Calvinists think that's the only available basis of condemnation? Consider this passage:

      19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed (Jn 3:19-20).

      They aren't condemned for rejecting the offer of the Gospel. The grounds of condemnation are more generic: good hates evil. The public ministry of Christ exposes that preexistent moral and spiritual enmity.

    7. I agree that they will be condemned for many different sins, and I agree that some deny certain key features. So it isn't exclusive (note how I framed it). But if we think about that one aspect, I think there is a real disconnect between the universal offer and limited satisfaction.

      If Jesus didn"t die for the nonelect in any salvific sense, then there is properly nothing there to be accepted. Nothing is substantively there. Just a command to do so.

    8. If Jesus didn't die for anyone and God called upon humanity to repent and believe in Christ for salvation, we would rightly sense a disconnect between "whosoever" and the nature of the offer. I think the same problem exists between "whosoever" and a fraction of humanity.

    9. The nature of the offer is conditional: If you repent and believe in Jesus for salvation, you will be saved. So long as that's true for whoever satisfies the terms of the offer, there's no disconnect. If only the elect are redeemed, and only the elect accept the offer, there's no disconnect.

    10. Why assume the offer of the Gospel is for the reprobate rather than the elect? After all, if you believe in election and reprobation, or double predestination, then in what sense did Christ die to save those whom God predestined to hell? Why do you think God is calling on the reprobate to believe in Christ for salvation when he predestined them to disbelieve in Christ? If you think there's a disconnect, it's deeper than limited atonement. It applies with equal force to limited election.

    11. There is deep mystery here in the interplay between sovereignty and human responsibility. But I believe God calls the reprobate to faith because (a) there is a sense in hich He loves them and desires for them to be saved ( John 3:16), and (b) because it is congruous for God to operate through established means. He does call them. And they won't believe to their own damnation, which is what they were destined to do.

      This is a question of where to place mystery. I don't situate it on the extent of the atonement because the Scriptures don't seem to put the weight there.

      If you like, feel free to have the final.word in this brief exchange. Family is coming into town and I will be running about.

    12. For reasons I've expressed elsewhere, I believe God's love in Jn 3:16 is qualitative rather than quantitative.

  5. "Be that as it may, the offer of the gospel is like a recipe. If you follow the instructions, this will be the result."

    That is all kinds of messed up. The gospel is pretty much the polar opposite of "if you follow the instructions this will be the result."

    Your analogies leave much to be desired. For example, the vaccination analogy says that some people are sinners and others are not. Everybody is administered the Gospel, but it is not effective on the non-sinners, because they do not need the Gospel.

    Why not just stick with actual analogies, like the parable of the sower?

  6. In a related vein the current 'buzz questions' posed by champions of libertarian free will in discussion forums are "As a Calvinist how can you know with certainty that you are one of the elect?' and "How can Reformed Pastors truthfully proclaim from the pulpit that Christ died for them when they don't know if all those in attendance belong to the elect?' Yes, Arminians go to great lengths in their futile attempts at discrediting the doctrines of Grace.