First, for the sake of context, you should note that I have another article (here) that gives a summary of the views I have been speaking of in this series. That article is a summary of my eschatology. That word is just a fancy theological way of saying the “study of the end.” I want to ask you to read that article before you read this article. Otherwise, you might get information overload. That article is not part of this series, but it is related.
Also, you should read the first article in this series (partial preterism) before reading this one. This particular article is the second article in this series, and it expounds upon some key points I made in the article summarizing my eschatology. This article is about the tension between God’s love and God’s judgment.
This is a four-part series on the subjects of partial preterism, God’s sovereignty (determinism/Calvinism/Augustinianism), God’s love (free will/Arminianism/Pelagianism), God’s wrath (justice/judgment/retribution), and God getting what He wants (apokatastasis/universalism/reconciliation).
These subjects have a lot to do with my eschatology. But it should be understood that when we talk about eschatology, we are really talking about the character, power, will, and love of God. This series still won’t be exhaustive, but it will be a little more detailed than my summary article on eschatology. If you have any questions or want a more detailed response, you can contact me, and I’ll be happy to chat.
Why Does Any of This Matter?
Even most fundamentalists would reject the idea that you have to know everything about theology to be saved. I would dare say that most fundamentalists would say that even their brightest scholars don’t know everything there is to know about theology. That said, although we aren’t saved by perfect knowledge, what we believe does matter. One reason it matters is that every major subject within theology is connected to and affected by the other. How we view the beginning affects how we view the earth. How we view the cross affects how we view sanctification. The connections go on and on. But, for this article, I want to suggest that how we view God’s love and sovereignty affects how we view His character, which affects how we view “the end.” Let’s define some terms.
When I speak of God’s love in this article, I’m speaking about how He defines Himself (1 John 4:7-21; 1 Corinthians 13). God is not like love. God does not merely “love a lot” or “love deeply.” God IS love, and love is God. Not just any kind of love, but specifically “agape” love. This is a love that is selfless and present regardless of reciprocation. It is the “hesed” (loving-kindness) of the Hebrew OT. It goes from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 103:17).
When I speak regarding Arminianism/Pelagianism (A/P) compared to Calvinism/Augustinianism (C/A), I’m speaking regarding the degree to which one believes humans have free will regarding salvation and the degree to which they are predetermined as individuals. A/P leans more in the free will direction of the spectrum, whereas C/A leans more towards determinism.
Determinism, in its strictest and most extreme form, means that even the assumption that we have free will is predetermined for us (an illusion). Scripture does use the terms “predestined,” “chosen,” and “elect.” However, those terms do not necessarily mean determinism (more on that in a moment). In determinism, we have no choice whether or not we are saved. Many people who fall into this camp consider themselves to be called “Reformed.” Also, most Presbyterians and Primitive Baptists hold a determinist view (also known as “predestination”). Now, to be fair, there are ways that our determinist friends would answer the assumed coldness of this summation. In the mind of Christians outside of this camp, determinism seems like God made us as an experiment, robots, puppets, and lab rats. However, the determinist would object to such a claim. The heart of determinism comes down to God’s sovereignty. Even if we disagree with determinists, we have to respect and appreciate that.
What is sovereignty? I’m glad you asked! Sovereignty means power and authority. Christians believe God is all-sovereign, meaning that He has power and authority over all. HE GETS WHAT HE WANTS! Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:28-30 say that He has predestined from the foundation of the world that His will is to be accomplished according to His purpose. The good, the bad, and the ugly; they all work towards His plans. That doesn’t necessarily mean that He causes everything to happen. It could simply mean that He works within our free will to accomplish His own. Job 42:2, 2nd Chronicles 20:6, Psalm 115:3, and Jeremiah 32:27 say that NOTHING can thwart the plans of God, NOTHING can withstand Him, and NOTHING is too hard to accomplish what pleases Him. Whatever He pleases, He does (Psalm 135:3). The verses go on and on. As our Lord said of the Father, ALL things are possible for Him (Matthew 19:26). God is all-powerful and ever-present. God is sovereign. He gets what He wants.
“Well, wait a minute,” the A/P says, “if God gets what He wants, how come people go to hell?” Well, hypothetical A/P friend, we will get to that in the next article, but for now, I want to address the assumptions in your question and what those assumptions have to do with God’s love and free will. We will start by asking the question, “what does ‘all’ mean?” Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:3-4, says something very interesting about this. Peter, in 2 Peter 3:9, echoes the same idea as well. God desires all to be saved and know (have a relationship with) Him, and He does NOT desire for anyone to be destroyed but to change. Jesus said that when He is risen up (on the cross), He will draw all mankind to Himself (John 12:32). God promised Abraham that all the people of the earth would be blessed through Him (Genesis 12:3).
How does the C/A reconcile their beliefs regarding determinism with these passages? Well, there are two ways of understanding the word “all,” depending on the context. All can mean “all of a certain type or kind,” or it can literally mean “every single one of.” So, in other words, it can mean collectively or individually. Again, it depends on the context. And anytime something depends on the context, we will have different interpretations regarding the author’s meaning. The person who subscribes to free will sees these passages as referring to all mankind. Whereas the person who believes in determinism believes these passages refer to all of a particular category. The category of which the C/A believes this is talking about is the elect, predestined, and chosen (Romans 8:33, Ephesians 1:5, 1 Peter 2:9). The elect, predestined, and chosen are individuals that God predestined to be saved as individuals before the world began (they would sight places like Revelation 13:8). The A/P believes that the elect, predestined, and chosen are predetermined categories that God chose before the foundation of the world and that anyone who chooses can enter in. “Whosoever” freely chooses God is part of the chosen (Romans 12:2, Revelation 22:17). Some A/P will say that God might have known who would choose Him before the world began, but He did not do so at the expense of their free will.
Ezekiel 33:11 says that God does not delight in the death of the crooked but that they turn from those ways and find life. Luke 15:4-7 says that God seeks the lost, not the chosen, but those who are lost. In other words, as Jesus said, the sick are the ones in need of the physician, and He came to bring that healing to all the lost (Mark 1:29-39). He came to take away the sins of the world (John 3:16, John 1:29). For those who believe in free will, the saved are the elect, the predestined, and the chosen. But anyone can become part of those categories because God desires all individuals to have a relationship with Him. He is our Father. Not just the Father of Christians, but to all people (Acts 17:27-29). Ephesians 3:14-4:6 is immersed in the principle that God is the Father of every individual and every heritage.
That makes sense because, as Dr. David Artman puts it in His book “Grace Saves All,” God is a loving parent. He IS love! When we see Him defining love through Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, He is defining Himself. When we are told if we don’t love our neighbor and even our enemies that, we don’t know God, do we think that John, Matthew, Jesus, and the Father expected us to believe that there is a higher standard for us than there is for God (1 John 4:8, Matthew 5:43-45)? The A/P would say absolutely not! God loves all and wants all individuals to be saved.
So, Here’s the Deal…
The A/P say that God loves all individuals and wants all individuals to be saved. He is all-loving. However, because of their free will, some will ultimately reject that. It would be unloving and unjust of God to force people into eternal heaven who did not choose Him, or to allow sinfulness into His holy presence. So, unfortunately, God’s will is thwarted. He doesn’t get what He wants! He is not all-powerful.
The C/A say that God is all-powerful and ever-present. God is sovereign! He does not want to save everyone (He might not even love everyone), but He predestined individuals to be saved. All those who are saved are who He wants to be saved. All those who go to hell are those he wants to suffer forever for doing what he made them do. God is not all-loving. He does not want to save all.
So, Which is it Then?
Does God love all, but He just simply is not present enough, holy enough, powerful enough, and smart enough to create the world in a way that He gets what He wants? And if He wouldn’t get what He wants and He loves everyone, is He satisfied to torment them forever for His selfish desire to love and be loved? Now, keep in mind, I don’t believe this to be the case, and if He is God, I guess He can do whatever He wants, whether I like it or not. But here’s the problem. How is that agape? It’s not, and you don’t have to take my word for it! Just look at Jesus and His sermon on the mount, and you’ll see this doesn’t describe the Father. Love cannot exist without free will, but God knew that before the foundation of the world. He knew that some who He loves would hate Him.
On the other hand, does God always get what He wants, but it’s just simply that He doesn’t love everyone and doesn’t want them to be saved. In fact, the agape (selfless?) God is perfectly happy to be “glorified” by His sovereign ability to torment people forever who are predetermined by Him to reject Him? That sounds more like a psychopath! Is that the God Jesus shows us? Is that the Father of all mankind? Is that the God of the sermon on the mount? Or, instead, is it the inspiration of Hitler and those like him? Now, keep in mind, I don’t believe this to be the case, and if He is God, I guess He can do whatever He wants, whether I like it or not. But He can’t contradict Himself! How is this agape? It’s not! Don’t take my word for it; ask Jesus. And don’t leave the context at home when you do! He is the exact image of the Father!
I sincerely have the utmost respect for my Christian brothers and sisters who believe in God’s love and man’s free will. I believe that too! I have the most sincere respect for Christian brothers and sisters who believe that God gets what He wants. They believe in God’s sovereignty! I do too! But can you see the disconnect here? God either wants to save all but can’t, or He can save all but He won’t… or….what are the other options? Are there other options that honor Christ, Scripture, the Father, the Spirit, free will, and sovereignty? That’s what we will talk about next time. See you then! – Jesse