Category Archives: Unconditional Election

Why God Doesn’t Save Everyone

I inter­mit­tently fol­low a blog called Parch­ment and Pen, but haven’t ever com­mented on any of the posts until today. The author of the post, Sam Storms, con­sid­ers why God doesn’t just save every­body, weighs the Calvin­ist and Armin­ian answers, and finds the Armin­ian posi­tion want­ing. He quotes John Piper, who says,

Both [Calvin­ists and Armini­ans] can say that God wills for all to be saved. But then when queried why all are not saved both Calvin­ist and Armin­ian answer that God is com­mit­ted to some­thing even more valu­able than sav­ing all… What does God will more than sav­ing all? The answer given by Armini­ans is that human self-​​determination and the pos­si­ble result­ing love rela­tion­ship with God are more valu­able than sav­ing all peo­ple by sov­er­eign, effi­ca­cious grace. The answer given by Calvin­ists is that the greater value is the man­i­fes­ta­tion of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy…

And he’s more or less cor­rect in his sum­mary of the two posi­tions. With­out speak­ing for any­body else, my posi­tion (which, on this issue, is more con­gru­ent with the Armin­ian one) is that it is a con­tra­dic­tion in terms to talk about forced love, even if you call it “sov­er­eign, effi­ca­cious grace”. And God wants our love. This can be expressed in philo­soph­i­cally tech­ni­cal lan­guage, but I don’t think it needs to be.

But Mr. Storms raises some great points. He made me iden­tify a bit of irony in my posi­tion: If love can­not be forced, then how can I demand of God that He must love every­body in a sav­ing fash­ion? Put another way, if true love is freely given, then the dis­tri­b­u­tion of God’s love must not be made under any coer­cion. And surely God doesn’t owe sin­ners any­thing — they deserve hell for their actions, fair and square.

How is the non-​​Calvinist to respond to that? Well for starters I agree that it is God’s pre­rog­a­tive to save whomever He wills, and I grant that jus­tice alone doesn’t demand that God save every­body (or any­body at all, for that matter).

But the Bible clearly teaches that God is max­i­mally lov­ing. And it is less lov­ing to save less people.

This is not a char­ac­ter trait foisted upon Him, but one that He sov­er­eignly and con­tin­u­ously chooses to exhibit, just like His jus­tice. It is the char­ac­ter of God to love every­body, and that’s why He desires every­body to be saved.

So what about the Calvin­ist argu­ment, then? Doesn’t God want to exhibit sav­ing grace as well as damn­ing wrath, such that He needs to do some elect­ing and some repro­bat­ing? This is the pre­sump­tion to which I felt com­pelled to respond.

First of all, I don’t think wrath is an attribute of God. Jus­tice is. Wrath is the result of when a just per­son wit­nesses injus­tice. But jus­tice doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily result in wrath. It only demands that wrongs get righted. If you ain’t got no wrongs, ain’t no wrongs need to be righted.

In that way, jus­tice can exist in a vacuum.

This directly con­trasts love, which must be actively present within the rela­tion­ship of two or more peo­ple in order to have any existence.

Love can­not exist in a vacuum.

But aside from the con­tention that God is not by nature wrath­ful, I have this com­plaint against the Calvin­ist answer to why God doesn’t save everybody:

To say that the dis­play of wrath requires repro­ba­tion is false.

It pre­sumes that wrath is not dis­played in elec­tion. But God’s wrath is equally dis­played in elec­tion! The dif­fer­ence is that in elec­tion God’s wrath is poured out on Jesus instead of the elect, whereas in repro­ba­tion His wrath is poured out on the sin­ners who deserve it. That’s what it means for the atone­ment to serve as a “pro­pi­ti­a­tion” for our sins. God’s wrath isn’t diluted in any fash­ion what­so­ever. Jesus’ death sat­is­fied it all. Entirely.

If you hold the Calvin­ist posi­tion on this issue after read­ing this post, that’s entirely up to you, but I hope you’re con­vinced that it shouldn’t be on the basis of this idea that God has to repro­bate peo­ple in order to dis­play his wrath.

Girardeau’s Calvinism Reviewed: Introduction

While work­ing Powell’s City of Books over dur­ing one of my days on vaca­tion, I acquired a hand­some vol­ume of “Calvin­ism and Evan­gel­i­cal Armini­an­ism” by John Lafayette Girardeau, a remark­able man of French Huguenot and Scot­tish Pres­by­ter­ian descent, who pas­tored slaves and slave own­ers and taught at the orig­i­nal Colum­bia sem­i­nary in the South, and voiced the sole “nay” in the vote to seg­re­gate the South­ern Pres­by­ter­ian Church in 1874.

Some­one named James M. Bul­man, in the intro­duc­tion, cites “one of the Hodges” as admir­ing this book as “the most con­vinc­ing argu­ment for Calvin­ism to be seen any­where”. Mr. Bul­man agrees, cit­ing “lit­er­ary crafts­man­ship befit­ting French extrac­tion; and some­thing of the gen­uinely ora­tor­i­cal, pul­sat­ing with warmth of reli­gious devo­tion”, as well as the unique abil­ity to fully com­mu­ni­cate the strength of a the­o­log­i­cal sys­tem afforded by defend­ing one par­tic­u­lar, fully-​​orbed view (in this case Girardeau’s par­tic­u­lar brand of fed­er­al­ist sub­lap­sar­ian Calvin­ism) against its strongest con­tender (Wes­leyan, or “Evan­gel­i­cal” Arminianism).

Hav­ing once held to all five of the points upheld at the Synod of Dort, and still hold­ing to a unique respect for, and par­tial agree­ment with, the Reformed tra­di­tion, I have decided to attempt a char­i­ta­ble review and exact­ing cri­tique of Girardeau’s treat­ment of the objec­tions to Uncon­di­tional Elec­tion from God’s good­ness and from man’s moral respon­si­bil­ity. These treat­ments only make up a frac­tion of the book, but they are for­mi­da­ble in their own right and are the sec­tions I am most inter­ested in.