Review of ‘Does God Love Everyone?’ by Jerry L. Walls


CASCADE_TemplateJerry L. Walls, Does God Love Everyone? The Heart of What Is Wrong with Calvinism (Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2016). 

The past two decades have witnessed a resurgence of Calvinism among American evangelicals. This resurgence is especially evident within the Southern Baptist Convention, which historically has been and still is divided over the issue. However, it has also made its presence felt in Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God, which do not have historic ties to Calvinism.

By Calvinism, I mean specifically the doctrine of salvation that is commonly explained by means of the acronym, TULIP:

  • T = Total depravity
  • U = Unconditional election
  • L = Limited atonement
  • I = Irresistible grace
  • P = Perseverance of the saints

In the seventeenth century, Jacob Arminius—a Dutch Reformed theologian—set forth a different understanding of salvation that has been called Arminianism after him. It is sometimes explained by means of the acronym, FACTS:

  • F = Freed by grace to believe
  • A = Atonement for all
  • C = Conditional election
  • T = Total depravity
  • S = Security in Christ

In Does God Love Everyone? Jerry L. Walls—an evangelical philosopher—outlines an argument against Calvinism and for Arminianism. Its strength is that it focuses on the central point of the disagreement between them. Walls writes:

The deepest issue that divides Arminians and Calvinists is not the sovereignty of God, predestination, or the authority of the Bible. The deepest difference pertains to how we understand the character of God. Is God good in the sense that he deeply and sincerely loves all people?

According to Walls, the answer of Arminianism is “Yes.” The answer of Calvinism is “No.” As Calvinist author Arthur W. Pink put it in The Sovereignty of God: “When we say that God is sovereign in the exercise of His love, we mean that He loves whom he chooses. God does not love everybody…” Walls argues that Pink’s statement is characteristic of Calvinism, even if it’s stated with a bluntness uncharacteristic of most Calvinists.

To see why this is so, consider the argument Walls makes:

  1. God truly loves all persons.
  2. Not all persons will be saved.
  3. Truly to love someone is to desire their well-being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you properly can.
  4. 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.
  5. God could give all persons “irresistible grace” and thereby determine all persons to freely accept a right relationship with himself and be saved.
  6. Therefore, all persons will be saved.

Clearly, this set of propositions contains a contradiction between 2 and 6. Both Calvinists and Arminians affirm 2, however. They’re not universalists, in other words. Similarly, both affirm 4.

So, how do they resolve the contradiction? Arminians do so by denying 5. They deny, in other words, that grace is irresistible.

Irresistible grace is part and parcel of Calvinism, however. It’s the I in TULIP. That means Calvinists must deny either 1 or 3. That is, they must deny either that “God truly loves all persons” or that “Truly to love someone is to desire their well-being and to promote their true flourishing as much as you properly can.” As noted above, Arthur W. Pink clearly denied 1. (Walls quotes Calvin himself to similar effect.)

Contemporary Calvinists rarely deny 1, however. Instead, they affirm that God truly loves all persons. For example, D. A. Carson affirms that God loves everyone in the sense that He exercises “providential love over all that he has made” and adopts a “salvific stance toward his fallen world.” However, Carson denies that God gives everyone the “particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.” It’s hard to square this “love” for “all persons” with the definition of love in 3. A God who could but chooses not to bestow “particular, effective, selecting love” on everyone does not “truly” love them because He does not seek their eternal “well-being” and “true flourishing.”

Walls suggests one further wrinkle when he discusses John Piper, probably the best known Baptist Calvinist. Walls argues that Piper denies 5, not by ditching “irresistible grace” but by suggesting that God has a “greater value” than salvation. Such as what? Piper writes, “The answer the Reformed give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:21–23) and the humbling of man so he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29).” Because of this “greater value,” it seems that Piper denies God “could give all persons ‘irresistible grace’ [to be saved].” Some evidently must be condemned for God’s glory.

In order to maintain God’s sovereignty in election then, or to promote God’s glory, Calvinism denies that God loves everyone in the truest sense. Like Walls, I find this denial difficult to swallow. A god who can save all but chooses not to is not the God whom the Bible reveals, a God who is love (1 John 4:8).

Walls’ book is a brief outline of a much larger argument. Those looking for a more detailed argument should pick up his Why I Am Not a Calvinist, coauthored with Joseph R. Dingell. But that argument, even in outline form here, is difficult to rebut, as far as I am concerned.

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P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com.

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3 thoughts on “Review of ‘Does God Love Everyone?’ by Jerry L. Walls

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  1. CALVINISTS AND ARMINIANISTS ARE BOTH WRONG…

    I see essentially NO difference between Calvinists and Arminianists in “limiting” the atonement of Christ to certain conditional expectations and doctrines. Examples as follows:
    • Both agree that Christ’s atonement was sufficient in ‘quality’ to universally cover all humanity.
    • Both agree that Christ’s atonement is ultimately limited in ‘quantity’ to a `select of the elect.’
    • Both agree that part of humanity (a few!) will ultimately end up in a God-created heaven of bliss.
    • Both agree that part of humanity (most!) will ultimately end up in a God-created hell of eternal torture.
    • Both agree that “choice” determines the ultimate fate of humanity: The Calvinists = God’s choice; The Arminianists = Human choice.
    • Both agree that their doctrine is right and the other is wrong.
    May I suggest that BOTH doctrines are in error and that with just a couple corrections both could be reconciled with each other and (more importantly) with the Scriptures, as follows:
    1. Ultimately ALL humanity and ALL things shall be reconciled to God (Col 1:19-20).
    2. Inasmuch as all shall be reconciled, the doctrine of traditional hell becomes moot and may be relegated to the garbage heap where it rightfully belongs (1 Cor 15:22).

  2. Ivan:

    We’re never going to agree on this despite the comments you post on my blog.

    That said, a few Scriptures you failed to mention:

    “When the crowd heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).

    Or take Hebrews 11:8: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”

    Or take Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.”

    Or take Revelation 21:8: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”

    All of these passages–and hundreds others like them throughout the Bible–outline “certain conditional expectations and doctrines” that must be believed/practiced in order to be saved. If, then, all are saved, it is because all have at one point or another met those conditions, which boil down to repentance and faith. What distinguishes universalism from Calvinism and Arminianism is not that the latter two impose “limiting” conditions. What distinguishes them is that universalism teaches that all people will eventually meet those conditions.

    I don’t disagree with your description of Calvinism and Arminianism in bullet points 1-4. I vehemently disagree with 5, however. Or rather, I should say, even universalists don’t disagree with 5. Surely, after all, you’re not suggesting that God hasn’t chosen to save all. And just as surely, you’re not denying that humans must respond to God with repentance and faith? Show me where in the Bible that God says all will be saved apart from repentance and faith. You believe, I take it, that all will at some point come to faith in God, but that’s a very different proposition than saying “choice” is irrelevant.

    Similarly, you can’t expect me to take you seriously if you think bullet point 6 doesn’t apply equally to universalists. After all, you believe that your doctrine is right and the others wrong, correct?

    George Paul

    1. ALL CREATED SOULS SHALL FINALLY BELIEVE AND WORSHIP CHRIST…

      George: Thank you for sending me scriptures that teach the utmost importance of faith in Christ. I, too, believe in everyone of them, but I think you have misunderstood what I (a believer in the ultimate salvation of all humanity) actually do believe to be true, as follows:

      Ultimately all souls will believe and accept Christ whether in this life or the next. It’s a theological mistake to assume that sinners (including us) are restricted to accepting and worshiping Christ only during a relatively short lifespan on earth. We are spiritual beings (not just flesh and blood). God is Spirit, too. When the untold billions of souls that lived and died without ever hearing about Jesus, and those who may have heard but were unconvinced, are finally brought into the presence of the risen and glorified Savior they will be overwhelmed with his reality, love and grace (like doubting Thomas) and will happily bow in humble adoration, as follows:

      “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:9-11 (NASB).

      We know that this post-mortem submission and worship of Christ will be freely and happily offered because our preachers have always taught (even insisted) that God will never force anyone to worship him against their own free will, right?

      PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING POST-MORTEM SALVATION SCRIPTURES…

      Popular Myth: “One’s fate is sealed after death.” If this is true, how do we deal with the following scriptures that indicate otherwise?

      “Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him” (2 Samuel 14:14).

      “The LORD killeth, and maketh alive: he bringeth down to the grave (sheol), and bringeth up” (1 Samuel 2: 6).

      “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god with me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal: neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39).

      “I will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol); I will redeem them from death. O Death, I will be your plagues! O Grave (Sheol), I will be your destruction!” (Hosea 13:14).

      “For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men” (Lam 3:31-33).

      If Hell is a place of no escape, why did the early church teach Jesus went to (Hades/Grave), preached to them and led captivity captive? (Eph. 4:7-9; Psalm 68:18; and 1 Peter 3:18-20).

      If Hell lasts forever, why do the psalmists confidently speak again and again about being rescued from it (Sheol/Grave)? (Psalms 16:10 & Psalm 30:2-3; Psalm 49:15; 86:13; 116:3-8; 139:8).

      If Hell is real, how can Solomon teach that the spirit of man will return to the God who gave it? (Eccl 12:7).

      If the grave settles the matter forever, why did the early Christians offer up prayers for the dead? Why were they baptized for the dead? (1 Corinthians 15:29).

      SEE ALSO THE FOLLOWING:
      Psa 68:18 w/ Eph 4:7-9
      Phil 2:9-11 (living and dead) w/ Rev 5:13 (“every created thing” – NAS)
      Jn 17:2 (“Christ given all people”…”eternal life to all”)
      Psa 66:4 (“All the earth”)
      Isa 25:7 (“destroys the shroud that enfolds all peoples”)
      1 Tim 4:9-10 (“Savior of all men”… “especially”)

      I WAS ASKED…
      “Will there be any suffering/punishment or painful purifying of souls after death?” My Answer: If Christ took our Adamic sins (past, present and future) to death with himself at the Cross — “while we were dead in [our] sins” — why, then, should any of us need to suffer for our sins and be purified upon our decease? That would constitute ‘double jeopardy’; especially if Christ has already voluntarily suffered for our sins.

      In my opinion no punishment or purifying will be necessary. Our encounter with the glorified Christ (after death) will be revelatory, glorifying, sanctifying and benevolent; causing all humanity to instantly and reverently fall in love and worship Him with one voice, as follows:
      (Rev 5:13 (NASB): “And EVERY CREATED THING which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and ALL things in them, I heard saying, “To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.”

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