A Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism

, posted by Evan Minton

Does God love all people? Does He desire that all people be saved? Did He die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people? I would answer “Yes” to all of the above. But unfortunately, there are many Christians who would say “No” to all of the above. These Christians call themselves “Calvinists” and adhere to a soteriological system called “Calvinism”.

In this article, I will defend 2 of the central tenets of Arminian theology: (1) That Christ died for all people, and (2) That God sends prevenient grace to all people to enable them to come to Him in repentance.

However, I have already done this from a biblical, exegetical, hermeneutical perspective in several past blog posts such as “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace” and “Does God Love Everyone”, “Is Molinism Biblical?” as well as several others. No, in this chapter, I would like to show that there is a very good philosophical reason to accept Arminianism in addition to the mountains of biblical evidence. For those who scoff at philosophy and disregard anything it has to say about theological subjects, this blog post is not for you. If you’re just simply “A Bible Guy”, then go read the blog posts linked to above. However, I think it’s foolish to disregard philosophy like many Calvinists do, and my friend Jonathan Thompson over at FreeThinking Ministries wrote an excellent article explaining precisely why that position is foolish titled “What Are Some Of The Problems With ‘Philosophy-Free Theology’?”. 

Besides being convinced on the basis of The Bible that Jacob Arminius was correct and John Calvin was wrong, I have a philosophical argument for the central tenets of Arminianism. I can’t really think of a good name for it, but for now, I’ll call it “The Maximally Great Argument For Arminianism”. My arguments won’t rely solely on philosophy, but rather, there will be philosophical arguments mixed in with biblical ones. But I referred to Thompson’s article above because some Christians (mostly Calvinists) object to philosophy weighing in on the topic at all, analogous to young earth creationists’ aversion to science weighing in on theology.

The Premises Of The Argument

The premises of the argument are:

  1. If God Is a Maximally Great Being, then He would love all people.

  2. If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people.

  3. If God desires to save all people, He would die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people and send Prevenient Grace To All People.

  4. God is a Maximally Great Being.

  5. Therefore, God loves all people.

  6. Therefore, God wants to save all people.

  7. Therefore, God died on the cross for all people and sends all people Prevenient Grace. 

This is a logically valid argument. The conclusion follows from the premises by the rule of Hypothetical Syllogism. Therefore, since the logic is valid, all one needs to do to reach the conclusion is to affirm that the 4 premises are true. So, are these premises true or are they false? Well, let’s look at them.

Premise 1: If God Is A Maximally Great Being, Then He Would Love All People

When I say “A Maximally Great Being”, I mean a Being who has all great making properties and has them to the greatest extent possible. A Maximally Great Being is one who has every property that, if a person were to possess that trait, would make him a great person. And since He is great to the maximal extent, He possesses these traits to the highest degree that one can possess them. A Maximally Great Being would possess traits like power, knowledge, moral goodness, and presence, and would possess them to the highest degree possible. That means He would be omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect, and omnipresent. Moreover, He would be necessarily existent, since I think it is intuitively greater for one’s existence to be logically necessary than for one’s existence than to just happen to exist. As I point out in my book Inference To The One True God, in chapter 5, The Ontological Argument demonstrates that if the existence of such a Being is possible, then it follows such a Being actually exists. Buy the book to see an in-depth defense of the argument, or see my article “The Ontological Argument” for a basic defense.

Anyway, I agree with St. Anselm that God must be maximally great in order to be God. If there were a being you could conceive of greater than God, then the former being would actually be God, not the latter. If you can think of a Being greater than God, then that being is God, and whatever being you were previously thinking of is a false god.

Now, why would being Maximally Great entail that God loves all people? (Oh, and by the way Mr. Calvinist, when I say “all people”, I mean the entire human race: every human being who ever has, is currently, or will exist. Not “all kinds” of people.) Anyway, why would God’s maximal greatness entail that? Because I think it’s intuitively obvious that a God who would love all of His creatures is a greater being than one who only loves those who give him worship and service. A God who loves all people to the greatest extent possible is a greater being than a God who only loves a selected few and hates all the rest. I think if you were to interview 500 different people on the street and asked them “Is God greater if He loves all people, or would He be greater if He loved only some?” I doubt very many would come back and say “No, I think a being of limited love is greater than one with unlimited love.”

Many Calvinists actually agree with me. There are some Calvinists who believe God hates the non-elect, but not all of them. Some, like John Piper, would say “God loves all people in some sense”.1 Piper believes God loves all people in some sense or another; he would just say He doesn’t love them in the same way that He loves His children. I actually agree with that. While I believe God’s love for Christians and Non-Christians is the same in quantity, it’s not the same in quality. This is because God’s relationships with Christians and non-Christians is different. With Christians, He stands in relation as Heavenly Father (John 1:12), with Non-Christians, he stands in relation as the enemy. But He loves all people equally. This makes sense when you think about it. You may have the same amount of love for your wife as you do your children, but you don’t have romantic love for children. That is reserved for your wife. You love your wife and your kids in different ways because you have differing relations to the two. But that doesn’t mean you don’t love one or the other, or that you don’t love both equally. You just have a special love for your wife that differs from the love you have for your kids. Likewise, God has a special type love for His children (Christians) that He doesn’t have for non-Christians. But again, the difference is in type not amount.

I applaud Calvinists like Piper for trying to hold onto to the omnibenevolence of God and not sacrificing it like some Calvinists do (e.g A.W Pink). However, it’s very hard to reconcile omnibenevolence with Calvinist doctrines like Unconditional Election and Limited Atonement. This leads to the defense of my second premise.

2: If God Loves All People, He Would Desire To Save All People

If God loves all people, then why think He wouldn’t do something to save us all from the sin situation we’re all in. Romans 3:23 and Psalm 14:2-4 make it very clear that the entire human race has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, and Romans 6:23 say that the wages of sin is death. Spiritual death is eternal torment in Hell (see Revelation 14:10-11, Revelation 20:10). If God really loved someone, wouldn’t He have a desire to keep that person from being thrown into the lake of fire to be tormented forever and ever? 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says that the fate of the damned is eternal separation from God. Wouldn’t God desire not to be separated from the ones He loves?

Think about it: You wouldn’t want to be separated from the ones you love forever, would you? No! In fact, we don’t even want to be separated from them for even a small amount of time, much less eternity! That’s why even Christians cry at funerals. If the person knew Christ, we know that we’ll see them again someday, but we mourn because we believe that that will be a while. Non-Christians mourn at funerals even worse, because they believe such separation is forever. They believe their loved one went out of existence and they’ll never see them again. In the old days, people would cry when their loved ones went on long voyages because they knew it would be a while before they saw them again. We don’t want to be separated from the people we love for a small amount of time. Doesn’t it stand to reason that God wouldn’t want to be separated from the people He loves for an infinite amount of time?

Moreover, if you knew that your child or wife was going to be sent to a torture chamber to pay for crimes they committed, wouldn’t you want to do something to stop them? Wouldn’t you try to kill the kidnappers or volunteer to take their place?

Christian Philosopher Jerry Walls defines love as follows: “If God truly loves all persons, then He does all he can properly do to secure their true flourishing.The true flourishing of all persons is only secured in a right relationship with God, in which their nature as free beings is respected and they freely accept his love and are saved.” 2

[Note: Even if one was to assert that love does not necessitate freedom {contra-causal freedom}; at the very least – true flourishing necessitates an eternal relationship with God.]

Love, by definition, desires the good of the one being loved. If you love someone, you desire what’s best for them. This is why parents discipline their children. They know that if they don’t, they’ll grow up not respecting others and behaving correctly in society. The Bible backs this up for it says in Proverbs 13:24; “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.” and in Proverbs 22:15; “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far away.”. Parents look for the best colleges and do their best to try to pay for their kids to go there. They want their kids to get a good education so that they’ll be able to have successful careers. Why? Why do they do this? The answer is obvious: because they love their children. Having folly driven away (Proverbs 22:15) and getting a good education and career are things that are good for a person, and ergo, parents do their best to raise their kids right and get them an education. Love is the motivation for doing this. Love desires the good of the one loved.

If you’re still skeptical of this definition of love, consider 1 Corinthians 13: the most famous passage on love:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

Consider the fact that this passage says “Love is kind”, that love “does not dishonor others” and “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth”. The reason love is all these things is that these things seek the good of the person who is loved. What could be a greater kindness than to die on the cross to atone for one’s sins, and then send them grace to enable and persuade them to accept that sacrifice so that He could be registered as their substitute? If God loves all people, wouldn’t He show them the kindness of providing a way to enter an eternity of bliss via an everlasting relationship with Him? Wouldn’t He avoid dishonoring people by having them enter a domain of eternal shame (see Daniel 12:2). Wouldn’t He protect us from His judgment? I would say yes to all of these questions. If God does not do these things for humans, then the only logical explanation is that He doesn’t love them. But as we’ve seen above, if God doesn’t love all people, then He isn’t Maximally Great. And if He isn’t Maximally Great, then He isn’t the One True God. But God is Maximally Great. Therefore, He loves all people, and because He loves all people, therefore He would desire to spend eternity with all people.

3: If God Desires To Save All People, He Would Die On The Cross To Atone For The Sins Of All People and send Prevenient Grace to All People.

I think that the truth of this premise is so obvious as to be self-evident. Surely if God wanted to save anyone, He would make arrangements to do precisely that. The Bible tells us that God became a man (John 1:1-3, 14, Philippians 2:4-8), and the human version of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15) was crushed by the Father (Isaiah 53:10). He died on the cross for our sins, paid our fine in full (1 John 2:2, 1 Peter 3:18, Romans 5:8) all one has to do to be saved is to call upon Him, fall at His mercy, and ask for forgiveness (Romans 10:9, c.f Isaiah 55:7, 1 John 1:9).

It is not disputed among Christians that Jesus (a.k.a God incarnate) died for sinners. The debate is over how many sinners. Well, we’ve seen that God is a Maximally Great Being (MGB) and as an MGB, He loves all people. Because He loves all people, He, therefore, wants all people saved. Isn’t it just common sense to think that if God wants all people saved, He would do everything required for all people to be saved? If I wanted something to eat, wouldn’t it make sense to think I would go out to my kitchen and cook something? If I desired a relationship with a woman, don’t you think I would ask her out? Obviously! Since premises 1 and 2 are true, it seems to me that 3 is true as well. It’s illogical to think God loves someone but takes no steps whatsoever towards their salvation.

Dying on the cross, shedding His blood, this was necessary to procure our salvation. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. Jesus had to die on the cross or else no one could possibly be forgiven!

Moreover, given the truth of premise 2, we can infer the truth of premise 3 on the basis of John 15:13, where Jesus says “Greater love has no man than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15:13 says the greatest demonstration of love is to sacrifice your life so that others can live. If an MGB loves all people and loves them maximally, then John 15:13 says an MGB would be willing to die to so that we can live. Premise 3 is true.

God’s love for all people would not only prompt Him to die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people, but it also means that God would send grace to all people. Why? Because if God doesn’t send people grace, then they would be unable to repent. As Jesus said in John 6:44; “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” (c.f John 6:65). If no one can come to Jesus unless they’re drawn, then God will draw all people. He would draw all people because unless they come to Jesus, they won’t obtain salvation (see John 3:18, John 3:36). Since God wants them to obtain salvation, because He loves them, it follows that He, therefore, will draw them.

This drawing must be a resistible drawing. Why? Because if the grace given to men were irresistible, then universalism would result. Everyone would be saved! But we know based on many biblical passages and common experience that not all will be saved. Some will be “thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelations 14). The Bible says that some will be lost to a place of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41), “unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12), where there will be “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:12, Matthew 25:30). Matthew 7:14 says that the gate that leads to life is narrow and few will find it. Even a casual reading of The Bible will reveal that universalism is false. If universalism is false, and yet God is drawing all men unto Himself, then the drawing must be resistible, not irresistible.

4: God Is A Maximally Great Being 

In chapter 5 of my book, Inference To The One True God, I defend a syllogism for the existence of a Maximally Great Being (An Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, Omnibenevolent, Morally Perfect, Necessarily Existing Being). This argument is called The Ontological Argument. I showed that The Ontological Argument is logically sound and all the premises are true, so a Maximally Great Being does exist in the actual world. In Appendix A, I showed the biblical evidence that The God of The Bible matched The God of The Ontological Argument to a T. There is no difference between the 2 that would distinguish them, and I inferred that they are therefore one in the same.

Any Christian should tread lightly in denying that The Christian God is a Maximally Great Being (i.e denying that this premise is false). For such a denial would be an affirmation that the Triune God of Christianity is a false god. My Calvinist friends would be wise to agree with this premise, lest they be heretics. For The Ontological Argument is sound, A Maximally Great Being does exist. If you deny this premise, you deny that the Being the OA proves exists is the biblical God. Now, you might argue “But a Maximally Great Being doesn’t need to be all loving”, but that would be a denial of premise 1, not premise 4. And you are free to disagree with premise 1 if you wish, but do give your arguments for why a being is greater if he loves a select few than if he loves all.

5: Therefore, God Loves All People. 

This follows from 1 and 4.

6: Therefore, God Wants To Save All People.

This follows from 2 and 5.

7: Therefore, God Died On The Cross For All People and Sends Prevenient Grace For All People.

This follows from 3 and 6.

Given the truth of the 4 premises, the conclusions logically and necessarily follow. In past articles, I have pointed to a slew of passages outright stating that Jesus died for all of humanity and that God sends grace to all humanity (e.g John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4-6). However, I have gone another route. I have demonstrated using logic and (some) scripture that the Arminian doctrines of unlimited atonement and prevenient grace can be proven deductively, without appealing to the passages that outright state them.

——————————————————–
Footnotes 

1: John Piper, “Does God Desire All To Be Saved?”, Crossway

2:  Dr Jerry Walls, ‘Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian, Should Ever Be a Compatibilist’ (2011) 13(1) Philosophia Christi 95.

 

Original Blog Source: http://cerebralfaith.blogspot.com/2017/09/a-maximally-great-argument-for.html