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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Review of ‘Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace’ by Stanglin and McCall


JacobArminiusTheologianofGrace Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012). Paperback

The greatest trick Calvinists ever pulled was convincing the world that Jacob Arminius was Pelagius redivivus. The charge—whether in a strong (Pelagian) or weak (semi-Pelagian) form—was false in Arminius’s day and has not become true since then, Calvinist polemics to the contrary notwithstanding. Unfortunately, it has largely succeeded in both tainting Arminius’s good name and obscuring his theological contributions.

In Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace, Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall render a valuable service to readers by outlining the main points of Arminius’s theology under three headings: “God and Creation,” “Providence and Predestination,” and “Sin and Salvation.” Their discussion of each of these topics include valuable insights into the late-16th– and early 17th-century Dutch milieu in which Arminius lived, served as a minister of the gospel, and taught sacred theology.

Readers accustomed to Calvinist polemics against Arminius’s “synergism” and “anthropocentrism” will find themselves surprised by the depth and breadth of his agreement with numerous points of the Reformed tradition. This shouldn’t be surprising however. As a minister in good standing (during his lifetime) of the Dutch Reformed church, Arminius both subscribed to and taught the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism. Only after his death, a decade later, did the Synod of Dordt formally denounce the theology of his Remonstrant followers, effectively foreclosing the range of Reformed theological options that Arminius himself worked to keep open.

Moreover, Arminius was conscious of being the inheritor of a Christian tradition larger than its Reformed component. His deepest desire was fidelity to the teaching of Scripture. However, he was also attentive to the Great Tradition of Christian theology, especially and effectively using it at points to show the novelty (and danger) of the supralapsarianism of his professorial colleague and theological rival, Franciscus Gomarus. Whereas Gomarus turned to Augustine, Calvin, and Beza for inspiration, Arminius appropriated the insights of Irenaeus, Origen, Thomas, and Molina.

Drawing on Scripture, the Great Tradition, and even Reformed resources, Arminius articulated a theology at odds with Calvinism on three crucial points, as Stanglin and McCall note.

First, “Arminius stresses that God’s act of creation is the communication of good only, intended for the creature’s good.” Consequently, “God, as holy love, created humanity for the purpose of eternal communication with him.” Given the doctrine of unconditional election—especially the supralapsarian doctrine of unconditional reprobation, which Gomarus taught—Calvinist theologians could not state things so simply. In Reformed theology, “God does not love all people for the purpose of salvation.”

Second, according to Arminius, “election to salvation and reprobation to condemnation are conditional. God chooses those who are foreknown to be penitent believers, and he condemns those he knows to be impenitent unbelievers.” What distinguishes Arminius and Calvinism, in other words, is not that the latter has a doctrine of election or predestination while the latter does not. Rather, what distinguishes them is the ground of election of predestination. For Calvinists, election is unconditional. For Arminius, it is conditional, based on God’s foreknowledge—middle knowledge, to be precise—of a person’s faith.

Third, “the grace that is necessary for salvation can be refused.” Stanglin and McCall explain: “God’s love is communicated not as an irresistible coercion, but as a tender persuasion that will not finally override the human will.” Faith, the assent of the human will to God’s grace, is not self-willed or meritorious, however. Instead, “grace must still precede the human will to enable any turn toward God,” which is why Arminius cannot fairly be labeled as either Pelagian or semi-Pelagian. “But salvation is received by those who refuse to resist God’s grace. It is offered, even if counterfactually, to all, but is resisted by some.”

The upshot of these theological emphases is a robust defense of God’s goodness that places the blame for sin and damnation squarely on the shoulders of sinners. By contrast, Calvinism—especially supralapsarian Calvinism—grounds both election and reprobation in the unconditioned will of God, effectively making God the author of human sin, which he willed, and therefore the unjust punisher of his own handiwork.

The past two decades have witnessed a renaissance of Calvinism among North American evangelicals. Some results of that renaissance have been salutary, since most of Calvinism—like most of Arminianism—is “mere Christianity.” Other results—especially the recrudescence of supralapsarianism—have not been salutary and need a response. Whether they claim his name or not, the theological heirs of Jacob Arminius would benefit from a fresh engagement with this evangelical theologian. Toward that end, Stanglin and McCall’s book serves as an excellent introduction to and explication of the grace-filled theology of Jacob Arminius.

I highly recommend this book, along with Carl Bangs’s biography, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation, and Roger Olson’s study, Arminian Theology: Myths and Reality. Together, they provide an excellent introduction to the man, his ideas, and the movement that followed him.

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

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