The Problem with Particular Redemption, Particular Love

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We all need hope. Without hope we have no ultimate good for which to aim. We all need love. Without love we feel unlovable, worthless, wretched, lonely, desperate, and hopeless. We all need a Savior. Without a Savior we cannot be saved. We all are in need of salvation (Rom. 3:23; John 1:12, 13; 3:3, 5, 8); we are informed in Scripture that God has provided a Savior for all (cf. Luke 1:69; 2:11; John 4:42; 1 Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11; 3:4; 1 John 4:14); and we rightly understand our collective need for the gracious enabling of God in the receiving of this Savior and His salvation (John 15:5; Eph. 2:8). In Arminian theology one finds the exaltation of both the hope and love of God for all. A universal atonement was provided by Christ at Calvary for all. A universal love is a reality in God for all. Though both the atonement and love of God in Christ for all will not save all, the provision for all remains intact, and is the demonstration of the universal character of each in God.

A counter-argument ensues against this biblical teaching. “If God loves all generally then He loves none particularly.” This is a nonsensical claim. That God loves all people in general also indicates that He loves each person in particular. That some people refuse the enabling grace of God, in their willing rejection of Jesus as Savior, merely emphasizes God’s particular love for each person and not the contrary. We are not insisting that God is obligated to love every person ever to be born, or that He is obligated to offer salvation to every person ever to be born, but we simply witness as much in His Word. (cf. Ezek. 18:23; 33:11; John 1:4, 5, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14; 3:16, 17, 36; 12:32; 1 Tim. 2:4, 5, 6; 4:10)

A similar argument also ensues: “If God offers salvation to all people without qualification then He actually saves no one.” A corollary argument is then added: “Thus people end up saving themselves.” Are these arguments valid? First, that God offers salvation to all people without qualification is not an indication that all people without qualification will be saved. (cf. Matt. 7:21, 22, 23; Rev. 20:11-15) Second, that God offers salvation to all people without qualification and yet some people by God’s enabling grace actually do believe in Christ, those people are actually saved by God. So the argument is certainly false in suggesting that God would actually save no one should He offer salvation to all.

Third, how a universal offer to all people without qualification infers that people “end up saving themselves” is not explained, especially given that only God can save the soul. (Mark 2:7; 1 Cor. 1:21; Eph. 2:8, 9; 1 Tim. 2:5; Titus 3:5) Self-salvation is not even a possibility. So to use an impossible analogy for defeating a doctrine is invalid. This does not, however, deter Calvinists from constructing such arguments. James White states:

It has become traditional in evangelical Protestantism to preach the cross as follows: God so loved the world that He gave His Son to die upon the cross for every single individual in all the world. By exercising faith in Christ, you can receive the benefits of Christ’s death on the cross. If you do not believe, Christ’s death, even though offered in your place, will do you no good. You will still suffer for your sins. Christ truly wants to save you, if you will but believe. Is this the message preached by the Apostles? Is this the preaching of the cross of Christ? Calvinists say “no,” and they do so because of the biblical doctrine of [limited, particular] atonement.1

Read this carefully: If we can demonstrate that what the Calvinist denies — that God loves the world (John 3:16); that He gave His Son to die upon the cross for every single individual in all the world (John 1:29; 3:16); that by believing in Christ one can receive the benefits of Christ’s atonement (John 1:12, 13; 3:36; Rom. 3:23, 24, 25, 26); that if one does not believe then he or she will endure God’s wrath (John 3:36); and that Christ wants to save sinners by grace through faith (John 1:12, 13; 12:32; Eph. 2:8; 1 Tim. 1:15) — then even Calvinists would have to concede that, by their theological inferences, they teach false doctrines. James White explicitly confesses above that Calvinists deny the universals as emphatically referenced in Scripture. Why must Calvinists restrict the love and grace of God? Because their error of unconditional election necessitates the restriction. Why must Arminians extend the love and grace of God? Because Scripture explicitly teaches as much.

Here is the problem with Calvinism, particular and unconditional election, particular redemption and particular love: intent. Unless God’s love is universal, not conditioned upon a secret decree to unconditionally love and elect only some unto grace and salvation, no one can ever really know if God loves the individual. I need to know that God loves me personally. I need to know if Jesus died for me personally. If God unconditionally elects to save only some people, and only He can truly know who those people are, then I cannot know — even though I am commanded to know (2 Pet. 1:10), even though I am encouraged to trust in Christ for salvation (John 1:11, 12, 13; 14:1, 6; Acts 16:31), even though I am told that God loves the world (John 3:16) and that God is love (1 John 4:8). Either Scripture is true, or Calvinism is true, but both cannot be true at the same time.

We should not be surprised when Calvinists deliberate whether a pastor, missionary, or other believers should inform a group of people that God loves them all (as Scripture teaches: John 3:16), that Christ died for them all (as Scripture teaches: John 1:20; 4:42; 1 John 2:2), and that the Spirit of God is graciously active in all to bringing them to faith in Christ (as Scripture teaches: John 16:8, 9, 10, 11). John MacArthur, for example, confesses that the revealed truth of the universal love of God for each and every single individual is “hard to reconcile with the doctrine of [unconditional] election.” (link) He adds:

Biblically, we cannot escape the conclusion that God’s benevolent, merciful love is unlimited in extent. He loves the whole world of humanity. This love extends to all people in all times. It is what Titus 3:4 refers to as “the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind.” [cf. Titus 2:11] God’s singular [i.e., particular, discriminatory, favoritistic] love for the [unconditionally] elect quite simply does not rule out a universal love of sincere compassion — and a sincere desire on God’s part to see every sinner turn to Christ. (link) (emphases added)

A love that is unwilling to save a soul in need is not love. According to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election, God is not willing to save the so-called non-elect, and therefore cannot be confessed to be possessing a “sincere compassion” and a “sincere desire on God’s part to see every sinner turn to Christ.” According to inevitable implications inherent within Calvinism, no one can be certain that God loves him, that Christ died for him, or that he will be saved — no one. Calvin unwittingly confesses as much: you, believer, could be deceiving yourself into thinking that God has unconditionally chosen you for salvation, that Christ died in your stead, and that God has, from eternity past, set His electing love upon you.2 St Augustine is the inventor of this novel heresy. (link) Calvinists such as Wayne Grudem (and others) continue this grave theological error.3

Regardless, the point should be obvious, that if God only loves some people, in an “electing” sense concerning salvation, then no one can know with certainty whether he or she is one of such persons. This harms not only the Gospel, not only the integrity and character of God in the revealed Word of God, but also evangelism. Calvinists claim that they preach to all because no one can know whom God has unconditionally elected unto salvation. But that is part of the problem: God, allegedly, can and does regenerate some people apart from evangelistic efforts, apart from personal faith in Christ (link), according to some arbitrary, unconditional, electoral decree. After all, regeneration gives birth to faith, so claim Calvinists and, thus, one is saved and regenerated by grace not through faith, as the apostle Paul teaches (Eph. 2:5, 8), but to faith. Calvinism creates its own problems, and the more this message is spread, the better off Calvinist converts will be.

Only the biblical doctrine of the universal love, grace, and proffered salvation of God can guarantee an individual that he or she is, in actuality, among the “all” and “the world” targeted by God in Christ through the Spirit for that love, grace, and salvation. As noted in a previous post, each and every individual belongs to the category of “all,” “everybody,” and “the world.” Let us consider two implied counter-arguments from Calvinists against this biblical teaching: (1) The biblical truth of the universal love of God, and the universal atonement procured by Christ, does not grant warrant to Universalism, given that the atonement is only effective through faith (Rom. 3:25); (2) This biblical fact renders the “double payment” argument against Arminian soteriology entirely moot: the atonement must be applied by grace through faith. If one does not receive the application of said payment then she shall pay for her own sins forever.

In other words, the payment of Christ’s atoning death on the Cross of Calvary possesses an attached condition to its efficacy, faith. (Rom. 3:25) If payment is not, by grace, freely received by the individual then payment cannot be applied even though payment is offered. But a provision and an offer is not synonymous with the application of the benefits of the provision and the offer. The only conceivable manner in which the notion of double jeopardy can be used against Arminian soteriology is if one confesses that Christ paid the debt for someone, the application of that debt is assigned to that person, yet the person will still pay for his or her own sins in hell. That is a double payment.

People need hope, love, and grace. We believe that Arminian theology offers these to every single individual in the world through the work of the Holy Spirit, the Message of the Gospel, and God’s plan of salvation by grace through faith in Christ Jesus. We believe that God is capable of genuinely and savingly loving every single person ever to be born, to love believers in Christ, and to love His One and Only Begotten Son — all at the same time. After all, Jesus Himself teaches that His Father loves those in Him (Christ) “even as” He loves Himself, the Son of the Father. (John 17:23) There is no mentioned distinction made between the Father’s love for Jesus, His love for believers, or His love for the world. As such, we see no biblical reason why we should not insist that the Father also loves the world (John 3:16), each and every individual ever to be born, even in a genuine saving sense, and even if all will not be saved. God is the Savior (Lover, Grace-Giver) of all, especially of those who believe (1 Tim. 4:10). This is what the Bible teaches.

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1 James White, The Potter’s Freedom: A Defense of the Reformation and a Rebuttal of Normal Geisler’s Chosen But Free (Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 229-30.

2 “Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them. Hence, it is not strange, that by the Apostle a taste of heavenly gifts, and by Christ himself a temporary faith is ascribed to them. Not that they truly perceive the power of spiritual grace and the sure light of faith; but the Lord, the better to convict them, and leave them without excuse,instills into their minds such a sense of goodness as can be felt without the Spirit of adoption. [Thus rendering God quite a deceptive being.] . . .

[T]here is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith . . . Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them. Nor do I even deny that God illumines their mind to this extent . . . there is nothing inconsistent in this with the fact of his enlightening some with a present sense of grace, which afterwards proves evanescent.” John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.2.11, 478-79. (emphases added)

3 Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 319-30; Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith, ed. Jeff Purswell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1999), 143.