Jerry L. Walls

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.

The World Wide (Religious) Web for Thursday, May 12, 2011


What is the gospel? Dallas Willard’s answer: “How to get into heaven before you die.”

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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A Leap of Truth explores the relationship between Christian theology and evolutionary theory.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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Allen C. Guelzo asks, “Whither the Evangelical Colleges?” Hunter Baker replies with a thither.

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“Presbyterian Church to ordain gays as ministers.” The Rev. Dr. Janet Edwards, a Presbyterian minister, considers this a “moral awakening.”Mark Chaves, a sociologist of religion at Duke University, comments: “They’re making this change amid a larger cultural change. General public opinion on gay rights is trending pretty dramatically in the liberal direction.” On a (cor)related (but not necessarily caused) note, mainline church attendance is tanking. Perhaps this illustrates the truth of W. R. Inge’s comment that those who marry the spirit of the age will find themselves a widower in the next.

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“Catholic Church should reverse opposition to in vitro fertilization.” What’s interesting about this story is that the author, Sean Savage, and his wife, Carolyn, used IVF. Due to a lab mistake, she was implanted with the wrong embryo. Incredibly, she not only gave birth to the child but also gave the boy back to his biological parents. Sean and Carolyn tell their story in Inconceivable: A Medical Mistake, the Baby We Couldn’t Keep, and Our Choice to Deliver the Ultimate Gift.

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Robert H. Gundry on “The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized.”

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Just what we need: Yet another English translation of the Bible. And does anyone else find it odd that a graduate school—my alma mater—prefers a translation “written at the seventh or eighth grade reading level”?

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“Scientology in Illinois’ public schools?” Only in Springfield would L. Ron Hubbard and Bart Simpson make common cause.

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“Adolescents, Identity and Spirituality.” Something for parents to keep in mind:

While adolescents may question or review their spirituality, it remains a critical aspect of adolescent stability. While research on spirituality and adolescence is limited, studies of religiosity have found a positive correlation with an adolescent sense of well-being, positive life attitudes, altruism, resiliency, school success, health and positive identity, as well as a negative correlation with alcohol and drug use, delinquency, depression, excessive risk-taking and early sexual activity.

In short, as adolescents develop, they will need to confront their own spirituality and incorporate it into their sense of identity. Continuing the dialog while respecting that process and acknowledging the quest may be difficult. Yet it really remains the only option.

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Is Buddhist pacifism a Western myth?

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Over at Patheos.com, J. E. Dyer pens these words in “Social Conservatism and the Quality of Mercy”:

The moral horizon of our society has been narrowing for some time to a closed equation featuring selfish vindication and death, and it is this process that only God and His concept of mercy can reverse. If Christians are “salt and light” in the earth, as Jesus said we would be, then we cannot do better, in the project of propagating God’s mercy, than to start by absorbing its meaning ourselves.

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“Black Preacher: Why I forgave George Wallace”: Because George Wallace needed forgiveness? According to the Rev. Kelvin Croom, “If a lot of us would forgive people, we could find healing. We could find peace.” Another path to peace would be if a lot of us would repent of our sins against others.

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A little bit of philosophical theology in closing: How do we reconcile the social ought with the personal good? Thaddeus J. Kozinski answers:

The phenomenological dialectic of right and good could be resolved if we could understand what is at the heart of human moral experience; but to understand this heart, we require more than what, unaided, human moral experience and purely philosophical speculation on this experience can provide. My argument for this conclusion is thus: What the duty aspect of moral experience suggests is the reality of justice, which is inherently relational and thus irreducible to any interpretation of morality as mere personal fulfillment. What the happiness aspect of moral experience suggests is the reality of desirefor-the-good, which is inherently personal and thus irreducible to an interpretation of morality as mere social or divine obligation. So, any explanation of the moral ought must include both others-related justice and self-related desire, and this is precisely what is provided by a theological ethics of creation and gift: If we are creatures, then we are inherently relational, with any actions related, above all, to our creator; and if creation is a gift, then we are supposed to enjoy creation as a good. And if God Himself, in essence, is a relation of three persons eternally bestowing upon each other and enjoying each other’s perfect divine goodness—God giving and receiving Himself—and if humans are made in the image and likeness of this Trinitarian gift-friendship, then we have the definitive—though still inexhaustibly mysterious—archetype in which the paradoxical human experience of simultaneous goodness and oughtness can ultimately be resolved.

You might also want to check out Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality by David Baggett and Jerry L. Walls.