Jerry Walls, “Does God Love Everyone? Clarifying Calvinism”

, posted by Kevin Jackson

[From Dr. Walls’ Facebook page, and posted with his consent]

Several days ago, we had a rather energetic discussion on this page in response to classic Calvinist theologian Arthur Pink’s forthright claim that God does not love everyone. Most Calvinists are not so forthright, I observed. By way of seeking further clarity, let me lay bare the logic of Pink’s view and why it is perfectly understandable why he made that claim. Consider the following argument.

1. God truly loves all persons.
2. Truly to love someone is to desire their well being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you properly can.
3. The well being and true flourishing of all persons is to be found in a right relationship with God, a saving relationship in which we love and obey him.
4. God could determine all persons freely to accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.
5. Therefore, all will be saved.

Now I think it is clear that the conclusion of this argument follows from the premises. The argument is not formally valid in stating every premise, but the essential premises are there. (If anyone wants to see the formally valid version, I have spelled it out in my essay “Why No Classical Theist, Let Alone Orthodox Christian Should EVER Be a Compatibilist” that was published last summer in Philosophia Christi). Consequently, anyone who denies universalism and rejects the conclusion, must deny one or more of the premises. So it is not so surprising in light of this argument why Pink said what he did. He simply denied premise one.

Now when I said most Calvinists are not so forthright, I meant that they usually affirm premise one. So they must deny one of the others. One popular strategy is to deny, or fudge, on premise two. One of my favorite examples here is DA Carson, who says he is often asked by young Calvinist pastors whether he tells the unconverted that God loves them. His answer: “OF COURSE I tell the unconverted that God loves them.” Now how does he do this since for all he knows the unconverted he is speaking to are not elect? Well, he distinguishes between the love God gives to all persons and his “selecting” love which is only for the elect. He loves all in the sense that he gives them temporal blessings (“the rain falls on the just and the unjust”), and invites them to believe the gospel (“whosoever will may come”) even if they are not elect and CANNOT come. So, in short, all the unconverted are loved at least in the sense that rain falls on their gardens, so Carson can say, OF COURSE I tell the unconverted God loves them. Now the question is how honest this really is. Is it truly loving to someone to water their garden for 75 or so years before dispatching them to eternal misery for choices they were determined to make? If Carson were clear what he means when he assures the unconverted that God loves ALL of them, would anyone buy it? So in short, Calvinists like Carson affirm premise 1, but subtly deny premise 2. And I would argue that anyone who denies 2 will end up denying 1 also.

The other move Calvinists can make is to deny premise 4. They can admit that SO FAR AS THE NATURE OF FREEDOM IS CONCERNED God could save all persons, since freedom and determinism are compatible on their view. But perhaps God can’t save everyone for other reasons. Like what? Well, a classic answer given by Calvin, Aquinas, and Piper is that God would not be fully glorified if some were not damned. So, ironically, God needs evil and sin fully to glorify himself, fully to be God. God is more glorified in determining some people “freely” to sin and blaspheme, and then punishing them forever, than he would be by determining them “freely” to worship and obey him. This doesn’t sound so good when you think about it, and more importantly does not sound like the God of love who seeks out the 100th lost sheep and rejoices when a sinner repents. So perhaps it makes sense why Pink and others just deny premise 1 rather than resort to denying 2 or 4.