1 John 5:10-11 states: “Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” [NIV]
THE ARGUMENT PRESENTED: When looked at objectively it is clear John’s statements are strongly implying God’s testimony is a witness of divine truth genuinely meant for every person, but the person who refuses to believe in God’s testimony is essentially calling God a liar because “they have not believed the testimony” of what God has done for him and given to them (i.e. the testimony God gave to them about his Son and eternal found in his Son– vs. 10).
What exactly is the testimony of what God has given to men— even the person who refuses to believe? John is quite clear. “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (vs.11).
Since John specifically includes unbelievers as recipients of God’s testimony, John’s use of the word “us” in this passage cannot be restricted to the elect.
How do we know this?
Because John declares that the one who does not believe in God’s testimony is calling God “a liar.” This is crucial to see.
As mentioned in verse 10, the unbeliever is calling God a liar, in that he or she refuses to believe in God’s testimony, namely, that which “God has given about His Son” (vs.10). If this were not so, we are left with the absurd notion that John is condemning unbelievers for calling God a liar because they refuse to believe God gave His Son to only the elect.
This just wont do. It is clear John is condemning unbelievers for calling God a liar, but not because they refuse to believe God’s testimony is for some select elect. Rather it is because they refuse to believe God gave His Son and the gift of eternal life to them.
John’s argument in 1 John 5:10-11 is essentially a further development of his words in John 3:16-17. God “gave” His one and only Son to the world that He “so loved.” Those that reject the Son given are condemned, But those that receive the given Son receive eternal life found in the Son. To have one is to have the other. Hence “whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
Believing is certainly at issue– but people are never condemned for not believing Christ died for others, but for them! Repeatedly the scriptures teach that people are condemned on the basis of rejecting the Son of God given to them— not for rejecting that the Son of God has been given exclusively to elect Christians. Never once does do the scriptures even suggest such a bizarre, outlandish concept.
We can illustrate it this way: Let’s say I was to hand a $100 dollar bill to both Person A and Person B, and then I were to declare to them both that I had given them each a $100 dollar bill. If Person B says, “No- I don’t believe it” then he would, in essence, be calling me a liar. But if it were true that I had given Person B nothing and had only give Person A a $100 dollar bill I would not be able to rightfully condemn Person B for calling me a liar. For it would be true— I gave him nothing.
John’s point is that God has not given the unbeliever nothing, but something— the very testimony of His Son (birth, death and resurrection) and eternal life. To refuse to believe this is to call God a liar, and to call God a liar is to forfeit the Son, and to forfeit the Son is to forfeit the eternal found in the Son.
For in the following verse John declares in unequivocal terms, “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Who is the person who does not have the Son? Obviously it is the person who has “made God a liar because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given of His Son”(vs. 10) [HSBC].
To summarize then, these verses put into serious jeopardy any Calvinist notion that suggests God limited and restricted the scope of His redemptive intention and redemptive love to only an unconditionally elect few. The unbeliever could never call God a liar if it were true that the testimony (Christ and eternal life found in Christ) was not given or intended for him.
But, as John says, the testimony of the giving of the Son and eternal life is true and when the unbeliever refuses to believe this, it is on that basis the unbeliever is calling God a liar and stands condemned— “because they have not believed the testimony that God has given about His Son”(vs.10). It bears repeating: John is condemning unbelievers for calling God a liar in that they refuse to believe God gave His Son and eternal life for them.
SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS: The implications of this stretch far and wide. John is saying unbelievers can slander God as a liar by refusing to believe God has sincerely and genuinely given His Son and eternal life to them. However it would also imply that any man or woman who tells other men and women that Christ’s redemptive death and work of salvation has been intentionally restricted to a pre-selected few, rather than to all mankind without exception, would also be calling God a liar. Calvinists can split all the hairs they want, but there is no getting around this serious charge.
THE CALVINIST REBUTTAL: The sole response a Calvinist can muster would be to say: “Well…yes in some sense Christ and eternal life may be offered to all through a general proclamation of the gospel. That would be his revealed, moral will. But in God’s secret will of decree only those whom God unconditionally pre-selected were specifically intended by God to be beneficiaries of the Son given because it was only for the sin of the elect that Christ shed his blood. Everyone else is left in their God-ordained sin to call God a liar and be condemned for it.”
RESPONDING TO THE CALVINIST REBUTTAL: The above explanation by a Calvinist is the typical escape hatch by which all Calvinists seek to evade and circumvent any scripture passage that makes God appear too charitable and intentional in His redemptive love for all people. For many Calvinists any suggestion of God being omni-benevolent in redemption is almost treated as a theological cardinal “sin” that must be denounced in the strongest terms possible.
Be that as it may 1 John 5:10-11 simply won’t bend to their wishes. If nothing else the text is a clear refutation of the Calvinist theology of limited, particular atonement and the constrictive manacles they impose upon God’s saving intention. For centuries Calvinist theology has insisted that the un-elect are outside the redemptive orbit of “the world that God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son,” and therefore the Son’s work on the cross was never truly given to them in any tangible, divinely intended manner.
But if John is saying anything worth noting, he is saying that the Son (and eternal life found in the Son) has been given— tangibly given to all persons— and a denial of this is to call God a liar.
Shocking as it may be Calvinists are at the forefront of slandering the witness of God since they insist that multitudes of people are outside the orbit of God’s redemptive love and saving intentions through the giving of His Son.
SERIOUS QUESTIONS: Two reflective questions bear out why the standard Calvinist response simply does not work:
Question 1: How can it sincerely be said the Son of God, and the eternal life He brings, has been given to those whom He didn’t die for and thus never intended to save through the redemptive giving of His life—which is the testimonial basis upon which John says eternal life has been given? (i.e. “he has not believed in the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son (vs. 10).”
Questions 2: Moreover since John says the testimony of God’s witness to the world is established on the basis that He has given eternal life though the giving of His Son, how can unbelievers slander God as a liar if it’s true (as Calvinists insist) that the Son was in fact not given to them as a redemptive offering for their sins? What exactly are they not believing that is condemning them?
Once again we are left with the absurd notion that God condemns unbelievers for refusing to believe His Son was given solely to the select elect—but not to them. In other words it would mean people do indeed stand condemned for their unbelief, but not for disbelieving the gospel is good news for them—but for disbelieving Calvinism’s special doctrine of unconditional election on behalf of the elect!
And that is ridiculous!
It is this issue that will forever divide Calvinists from Arminians and all non-Calvinists. Calvinism creates a cosmic charade out of grace in which God is seen to feign loving concern towards unbelievers by calling out to them to repent and believe in the Son given. But its all a guise, a ruse– a parody of grace with no substance. The cloistered truth is there is no tangible Christ for them; there is no forgiveness for sins; there is no genuine opportunity for repentance. In sum there is no Son—only the pretense of a Son given.
To this all faithful Christians must say to our misguided Calvinist brothers and sisters, “Cow cookies!” We are called to hold unbelievers to account. The Son has been given and you knowingly reject Him to your peril.
That was helpful, thanks.
Glad to hear. Thank you.
Very good points. The truth is, Calvinism never stands up to application, which is why Calvinist theologians prefer to keep the ‘discussion’ to theological concepts or specific prooftexts. For when applied to real life, or followed to its necessary conclusions, Calvinism will always be exposed for the empty, destructive, life-poisoning philosophy that it is.
How many Calvinist would defend the ‘goodness’ of a father who had multiple sons, but chosen only two to love? In fact, the day is coming when this father is going to set his very own home on fire, and intends to rescue only the two sons that he has determined to love, leaving the others to perish helplessly in the flames. It is not that he could not rescue them all; he surely could, if he so desired. But he does not desire to, even though he has already written the misleading obituaries in which he falsely declares that he wishes none of his sons would have perished. He believes that in allowing most to perish he will demonstrate to the select two how special and loved they are and, ultimately, how powerful and in control of them he is.
Perhaps we later discover that this father’s firstborn son was rebellious, which is what led to the determination to curse all others to the flames because of this first son’s actions. Somehow this father believes that in preserving two arbitrarily chosen sons he will demonstrate that he is not actually a monster, but gracious and kind in not allowing all to perish. In the fire that he deliberately set. And compelled most of his sons to toast in. I challenge any honest person to say they could consider such a father ‘good’ or ‘loving’ in any meaningful sense of the words. Oh, I know, and can recite as well as any properly trained Calvinist all the false justifications and meaningless excuses for why evil done by God is not really evil. But the truth is, evil is evil; and he who conceives, ordains and brings to pass evil is evil. Most of us learned long ago that the ends do not justify the means, and that only those who wish to literally get away with murder generally suggest that they do.
You make a very important point, using irrefutable logic; men cannot possibly be condemned for not believing in something that does not exist. No ‘unbeliever’ will be found guilty of not believing in grace he was not granted. A man can only be condemned for not believing what is true. Yet, however logically inescapable, it is unlikely to be understood by those who merely chant their memorized scripts and loyally defend ‘the system’. They do not know how to think, how to follow adopted beliefs to their logical conclusions. Such men merely submit to their revered teachers as to what must be believed, and what must be accepted, no matter how illogical or heinous. The unquestioning memorization of proffered facts has replaced concise, logical thinking for most people thanks to government schools. They honestly do not know how to do anything else. Satan has laid his trap very carefully. May God continue to grant wisdom and insight to those who have fought ‘the system’ and retained their desire and ability to think, and may they somehow get through to the confused and misled automatons who do as they are told.
This is one of the most powerful and logical arguments that I’ve ever read refuting Calvinism. Thank you so much for posting! I’ve already passed your article on to others. Keep it up!
I actually wrote 10 years ago and forgot about it. I was going through some of my old writings and found it. Thanks for passing it on.
Great points Truthseeker. Thanks for sharing. I really liked the part where you said, “It is not that he could not rescue them all; he surely could, if he so desired. But he does not desire to, even though he has already written the misleading obituaries in which he falsely declares that he wishes none of his sons would have perished.”
Your father analogy works well.
Nice article. Mind if I save it to my hard drive?
Not at all 🙂
I meant that in the affirmative. Lol
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Pingback: 1 John 5:10-11 The Deat Knell of calvinism - ETERNAL SECURITY (OSAS)
Your title got my attention as a good title should. But I am not sure you have provided as definitive a blow to Calvinism as you think. Let me preface my comments by stating that I agree with most of what you wrote but as a former Calvinists who still counts many Calvinists as brothers useful in ministry, I am more motivated than most to find an irenic approach that builds bridges rather than walls. If Calvinists are on the other side of the internet, it is easier to apply a polemic approach. I’m not sure how many Calvinists you minister with for the gospel.
My first objections is that you do not acknowledge that there are Calvinists who affirm universal atonement (4-pointers). In my opinion, these Calvinists are not consistent but as Spurgeon said, “I would sooner a hundred times over appear to be inconsistent with myself than be inconsistent with the word of God.” Spurgeon at least in this instance acknowledged the apparent inconsistency of his Calvinistic commitments but refused to bend scripture to fit his system. I respect that though I think he misses a better solution. But the point is, even if you prove universal atonement (I think 1 John 2:2 is pretty clear) it is not a death knell for Calvinism because Calvinists do not insist on consistency, nor do all hold to limited atonement. For me, it wasn’t logical inconsistencies which caused me to question Calvinism but rather the lack of biblical consistency. That’s why appreciate much of your writing, you typically examine the texts in questions carefully and provide good analysis which I often find helpful.
My second objection (offered in love) is that you wrongly assume it would be “ridiculous” to imagine that one is condemned for not believing that Christ died for the elect only. The fact is, sinners are condemned for not believing in God and specifically for not believing Christ is who he claims to be or that faith in him saves anyone. I’ve never met the person (Calvinist or not) who believes that Christ died for and saves the elect but they are not one of them. Sure, Calvinist can question whether they are in fact elect but that is a far cry from outright unbelief that faith in Christ saves anyone. But if a person believes that faith in Christ does save some, they would be foolish to not seek that salvation for themselves. If you believe faith in Christ saves the elect, even if you think you may not be elect, you would certainly hope that you are elect and seek to learn the truth. The Calvinist says this as part of the means of grace. I realize it sounds like a convoluted or backwards way of approaching the subject to an Arminian, but it’s not ridiculous, IMO.
11 “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.”
You say the “us” includes non-elect since there are people who do not believe the testimony, therefore the testimony must be directed to them as well. While I agree that the “us” is best understood to include non-elect, it does not necessarily follow. First, a testimony need not be directed to you for you to have an opinion regarding its truthfulness. Many people call OJ Simpson a liar for pleading “not guilty” even though the court never asked their opinion. Second, it is appropriate to condemn anyone who denies a true testimony, whether it relates to them or not. If limited atonement were true and I told a non-elect person, “God gave us (elect ones) eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” If they respond, “Well, I don’t believe that God gives eternal life on the basis of faith in his Son. I believe God gives eternal life based on my good work or my genealogy.” Or another says, “All religions are equally valid, God’s Son is not the only way.” Or another says, “I don’t believe there is a God at all never mind a Son, so the testimony fails from the outset.” In any case, it would not be ridiculous for me to say that that person did not believe God’s testimony and will be condemned for that specific sin. That person was condemned already for their prior sin, but they will also be condemned for not believing the revealed truth and thus making (or calling) God a liar.
Part of your argument as I understand it, is that it would be unjust for God to condemn someone for not believing a fact they were unable to believe. But this text says nothing about their inability to believe the testimony. Obviously as an Arminian you believe that they are able, unless hardened. But I think your assumption is that the condemnation refers to a damnation that was not already in place. But one condemned already can yet be further condemned. This is not a neutral person being condemned for this one thing, but a person already condemned and receiving further condemnation.
But secondly, you seem to think that it is even wrong or incoherent for a person to be condemned for not believing a fact that has no bearing on their personal standing before God. If Christ did not die for them personally, what does it matter whether they believe that Christ died for and saves others? It matters because as his creatures, it is our moral obligation to believe the testimony of our Creator, even if it does not benefit us personally. If you make a true statement and I call you a liar, I have done wrong and deserve condemnation. I hope you understand I am just arguing from the Calvinist perspective to demonstrate the plausibility of the argument, not to argue my own position. I think it is a healthy practice in general to avoid our own blind spots.
I agree with you that limited atonement can logically call into question the sincerity of the universal or general call of the gospel, unless you present the gospel this way: “God has provided an atonement for some and if you are elect then the atonement was for you, so come if you will and then we will find out whether it was in fact for you.” That may be what Calvinists think but its not generally what they say. I never put it that way, but sometimes I would tiptoe around that idea. As I’m sure you are aware, Calvinists argue that the gospel is for everyone because we don’t know who the elect are so it’s basically a shotgun approach from our perspective. If you spray the shot toward everyone you are sure to hit the elect.
I might argue that is a strange way for God to accomplish his purpose of saving the elect. Why not just tell us who the elect are so we can stop wasting our time on the non-elect? Of course now I am questioning God which is always shaky ground to tread. But as a Calvinist, my other answer to that question used to be that God adds to the condemnation of the non-elect by giving them the gospel. Even though they were not morally able to respond, they were physically able and that alone make them more culpable.
Say for example I was absolutely convinced that Calvinism is true such that God knew there was no way I would ever be convinced otherwise. Would it them be wrong and wasteful for God to send an Arminian to explain the truth to me anyway? No, but it would make me more accountable for rejecting the truth. Before I could claim ignorance because Calvinism was all I knew. But now I am more accountable despite the fact I was blinded by my theological commitments.
Your main point seems to be that Calvinists (at least 5-pointers) are making God a liar by denying universal atonement. But you could say the same thing about anything where we are not in line with scripture. We who teach will receive the stricter judgement. While I agree that universal atonement is taught in 1 John 2:2 and other places, I don’t think this testimony in chapter 5 is specifically a statement of universal atonement. So to impose the liar label for this issue seems unfair. Furthermore, a Calvinist who believes in limited atonement is not intentionally calling God a liar. She believes that she is speaking the truth and agreeing with God. She would never dare to call God a liar intentionally. She is committed to believing whatever God says. She is just confused about the nature of the testimony. Certainly that type of “making God a liar” is less culpable and not what John is speaking about. Those who deny the saving power of faith in Christ are denying Christ and God entirely. They are gladly calling him a liar. That is a totally different category and sounds like an unfair comparison. But to be fair to you, any association with making God a liar, even if it is loose or unintentional, should be abhorrent to a Christian. So I appreciate you raising the point as a word of admonishment. I fear Calvinism in general tends to undermine the severity of warnings in the scripture.
As I said, I am approaching this subject with the desire to build more bridges and separate only when necessary. Obviously I should separate from those calling God a liar, but that seems extreme to me. I find (and you might agree) that practically in ministry Calvinists tend to use more Arminian-friendly language when presenting the gospel. They intentional leave out references to election and meticulous determinism when exhorting people to respond to the gospel and exercise their human responsibility to “choose this day whom they will serve.” When talking about sin, they speak of God permitting the sin rather than decreeing it. They might even go so far as to say that God loves you and wants you to repent. It is after all his will of decree, if not his secret will. But when Calvinists use this language they are speaking sincerely and in their minds not contradicting their theological commitments. But whether they are or not, I find these presentations of the gospel to be appropriate and compatible with the ministry of evangelism. Yes, eventually in counseling and discipleship, these issues will inevitably come to a head, but everyone is responsible for coming to their own conclusions about soteriology. I think that is why this subject is a common one in your blogs. You want people to think these things through and that’s a good thing.
When we believe someone is calling God a liar, it is incumbent upon us to call them out so I respect the fact you wrote this in good conscience. I hope you can respect the fact that I love Calvinists even though I disagree with their theology and I consider them partners in the gospel not enemies of it. The Lord has blessed you with a sound mind and generous heart, I pray that he grants you grace to use your passions for his glory as you serve the least of these in these last days.
Hi Dana, thanks for the remarks. So I am going to push back on some of your points.
1) Spurgeon was not a 4 point Calvinist. He was a 5 point affirmer. He denied that Christ died for all men universally. Some have suggested otherwise and perhaps Spurgeon himself vacillated back and forth at times, but there is no doubt he made statements that affirm the “U” in TULIP. The view of Unlimited Atonement goes by many names, such as particular atonement or definite atonement. These terms all have one thing in common: they downplay scriptures witness on the universality of Christ’s death for sins and outright deny that Christ took upon himself the sins of those who die in a state of unrepentance. Please see this Calvinist site for such evidence: https://www.ligonier.org/blog/charles-spurgeon-calvinism-definite-atonement/
2) If my exegesis is correct on 1 John 5:10-11 then it would be a defeater to 5 point Calvinism. The majority of scholarly Calvinists concede that the internal logic of Calvinism requires all 5 constituent parts to be true in order for the whole to be true. I believe the assessment of such Calvinists on TULIP is correct: Take away 1 doctrine and the rest collapse as a house of cards.
That being said, you are correct in principle. If 4 point Calvinism was a viable alternative, then my post would only be a defeater to 5 pointers.
3) I think the strongest point of the post is that it would indeed be “ridiculous” if God was to condemn people for unbelief—BUT the nature of their unbelief was that they refused to belief that God gave his Son ONLY to the elect. John is not thinking of unreached people who have yet to hear the gospel. His cultural setting was unbelieving Jews who were refusing to believe God sent his Son FOR THEM. In other words my entire argument rests on the premise that the very ones who call God a liar are the same ones FOR WHOM and TO WHOM God sent his Son. Thus God did not only send his Son FOR THE ELECT, but also FOR the un-elect who refuse to believe God’s testimony. (Note: I am assuming the Arminian doctrine of corporate election when I use the word “elect”).
I think you have overlooked this key point. For example you say, “If Christ did not die for them personally, what does it matter… it is our moral obligation to believe the testimony of our Creator, even if it does not benefit us personally.”
Much of what you have said flows out of this premise. But I don’t share that premise in regards to this verse—and I don’t think John did either. My premise is that John is saying IT IS DOES BENEFIT THEM PERSONALLY! God gave his Son TO THEM—the very ones that reject it. Thus they reject God’s testimony FOR THEM to their peril.
Now as it concerns Calvinists, they are my brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. That will never change. But if indeed God DID send his Son to die for the sins of all people, and if God did NOT unconditionally select who he will redemptively love enough to save and who he will hate enough to damn, then to teach otherwise is to call into question the nature of God’s testimony given in his Son. This is exactly what 1 John 5:10-11 warns against. It is to essentially say God’s truth about the giving of his Son, and the extent of that giving—is un-truth.
You do rightly note that no Calvinist who denies universal atonement is “intentionally is calling God a liar.” You say they are speaking the truth and agreeing with God as they see things. I agree. But so did the Jews that John has in mind. Their denial was not coming from a place of actual disagreement with God. They just presumed wrongly. And John says their presumption and subsequent denial of what God did through the giving of his Son TO them and FOR them—is to essential call God a liar.
All the best!!
I was not clear in my last post. I agree Spurgeon was a 5-pointer. The quote I shared was regarding 1 Tim. 2:4 and God’s universal desire for none to perish. Spurgeon affirmed this truth and acknowledged that this was apparently inconsistent with his Calvinistic belief (e.g., unconditional election and limited atonement) but he was unwilling to solve the inconsistency by twisting the text to say the opposite of its clear meaning as some of his fellow Calvinists had done, and thus the text is made to read, “God is willing that some should perish.”
I agree that the 5-points rely on each other for support which is why I consider 4-point Calvinists to be inconsistent. But some like Spurgeon were comfortable with apparent inconsistency though he did not concede actual inconsistency. Spurgeon might have agreed with John Piper’s “Two-Wills” view that you wrote extensively on. Ironically, I read Piper’s two-wills view as I was moving away from Calvinism, but rather than drawing me back in, it reinforced my conviction that there was something off about God having competing desires and something right about God wiling and enabling both elect and non-elect (corporately speaking) to be saved. By “something” I mean the gospel revealed throughout scripture (e.g., John 3:16).
But as for 1 John 5:10-11, I checked again and I still don’t see a clear universal atonement anywhere in chapter 5. If the “us” in v. 11 includes non-elect then universal atonement is implied. For how would he “give eternal life” to someone without providing an atonement for them? That is why I argued for the Calvinist (for arguments sake) that the “us” might refer to the elect already saved. After all, v. 13 goes on to say that he is writing to believers specifically (elect). The ones making God a liar are those (non-elect) who deny that Jesus is the Christ, was born of the father and gives eternal life to anyone, not the ones who deny that Christ died for them personally. They do not believe Jesus saves anyone. The unbelieving Jews did not believe that Jesus was the Christ and they did not believe that faith in him could save anyone. This is a direct contradiction to God’s testimony that he does give eternal life to his elect through His Son.
It is worth noting also that for the Arminian interpretation to fit, you have to read v. 11 as a provisional atonement, “God has given [everyone the opportunity to obtain] eternal life, and this life is [obtained or available] in his Son.” While the Calvinist can take the text more literally, “God has [already] given us [the elect] eternal life, and this life is [already possessed] in his Son.” Of course Calvinists believe in provisional atonement as well. The elect “have” eternal life provisionally before they believe since it was provided for them specifically. So we should all agree that Christ’s atonement is provisional and should all agree that in a sense that we “have” it before it is applied because it is available and ready to be applied, whether to a select few or to everyone.
If John meant to emphasize the the universal atonement, he probably would have used the word “world” as he often did (e.g., 1 John 2:2). But 5:10 does not say, “God has give [the world] eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” That’s how I think John would have said it if he meant to emphasize universal atonement. He didn’t have to because he already covered that in chapter 2.
As I said, I affirm universal atonement, I just not convinced that is John’s focus in chapter 5. And if it is not the focus then it is not a “death knell” for Calvinism since it is rather easily explained. John is writing to believers (elect) to encourage them (us) that though they are being persecuted by anti-Christs who deny that Jesus is the Christ, those people will be judged for calling God a liar, the God who sent the Son and declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” (Matt. 17:5)
Personally, I have grown to love an appreciate the universal atonement of Christ and agree with you that it is a shame Calvinists miss this blessing and underestimate the broad intent of the atonement. I’m just not prepared to call them liars when they affirm and believe that Christ’s blood is sufficient for all but at the same time God knew from all eternity and did not insist otherwise, that it would be applied to only a definite static unchanging number called the elect who would believe. At the risk provoking further debate, I would argue that regarding the atonement specifically we are not actually that far apart – a hairs’ breadth perhaps?
Grace and peace,
Hi Dana, sorry for the delay. Right—ok, I understand more now about your reading of Spurgeon. I am glad he was at minimum willing to concede God had a desire that all be saved. Whether or not he would be willing to explain how God’s desire is genuine, when he actively works against its fulfillment, is another matter entirely. Historically this has long been a huge debate within Calvinism. Many Calvinists say the desire can’t be genuine, and others said is must be genuine… yet they can’t explain how this is consistent with other tenants of belief they affirm. As you rightly point out, the inconsistency is quite glaring.
As for interpreting 1 John 5:10-11 everything comes down to how you interpret the “us.” I realize you are just playing “devil’s advocate,” but we have good reasons to conclude the “us” should not not be interpreted as necessarily meaning “not others” (i.e. the non-elect). For starters notice how I used the pronoun “we” above. I am specifically talking about you and I, but that does not therefore exclude others from being included. But here are some additional textual reasons:
1) In verse 9 he does not say “us” but simply says “the testimony that He has given about his Son.” He says it again (no “us” there either) in verse 10, but this time it is in the context of those that REJECT God’s testimony about the giving of His Son. We know how John sees that testimony—especially its scope and intent. He wrote about it more fully in John 3:16 and used the word “cosmos” that “God so loved… that he gave his only Son, that whosoever believes will have eternal life.” John repeats that again is this epistle saying, “This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, this life is in His Son” (vs 11).
2) In verse 11 John then uses the word “us” and this is entirely natural and appropriate since he is specifically writing to believers reading his epistle (as in my usage of “we” mentioned above). In other words, he is not writing an evangelist tract he expects to be handed out on street corners. However that does not mean John would have thought his usage of “us” necessarily excluded there being “others” simply in light of the fact that he used that pronoun. To assume John is bifurcating between the elect and non-elect has to be imported from the outside.
3) In John 3:17 we see a condition as to who can benefit from God’s giving of His Son for a world he “so loved”: “but whoever does not believe is condemned…” We find a similar condition in this text: “The one who does not believe God has made Him a liar…”
4) You suggest a possible reading can be that John assumes that the ones making God a liar are doing so because they contradict God’s testimony. And what is that testimony? You say, “God’s testimony is that he does give eternal life to his elect…”
All that can be said at this point is that it may be possible, but it is hardly probable. As I said in the post, it would require the most unlikely, fantastic assumption. It would mean John is saying unbelievers are condemned for their unbelief, BUT the nature of their unbelief is not what a multitude of scriptures would have us conclude.
For example, when they stand before God, imagine this scenario playing out. God says to them: “To be clear, I never gave my Son to you. I only gave my Son to my elect, and you ain’t one of them. But you didn’t believe the testimony that I gave my Son only to the elect. Therefore you are condemned for unbelief.”
The unbeliever then turns to God and asks, “But God, IF I had believed that your Son was given ONLY for the elect, but never for me, would that mean I could have been saved as a… believer?”
It is exactly this kind of absurdity that we ought to avoid, yet the Calvinist must embrace it time and again. But the witness of scripture is clear. People are not condemned because they refuse to believe the Son was given FOR OTHERS. They are condemned because they refuse to believe that the Son was given FOR THEM.
Hope your Christmas and New Years was great.
Thanks Matt. You make a good argument for the challenging implications of the Calvinist reading. As a former Calvinist I can recall times I had to tip toe around the implications of particular redemption. My response at that time to your scenario of the non-elect conversing with God at the judgment would have been something like this: The non-elect are condemned for not believing that Jesus is the Christ and that generally speaking salvation is for all those who believe. Eternal life is in a sense available to all as the gospel is preached to all. The elect don’t want to be saved and deserve hell, so even if Christ died for them, they would never believe so what would be the point? The fact that God does not give them grace to remedy their depraved condition is a function of God’s previous choice to elect them to hell as vessels of wrath, which God is free to do without charge of injustice or sin. But I would not love it as I said it. With a lump in my throat I would admit it sounds harsh but who am I to question God?
I might also acquiesce: The non-elect could indeed have life in the Son if they believed because if they believed, it would mean that they were given effectual grace and God would not have given effectual grace unless they were in fact elect and not non-elect after all! It is a truly circular reasoning but as a Calvinist I was content with the mystery of a “seemingly” circular argument.
To be honest one of the things that kept me from taking Arminians seriously was that in my view they too appealed to a mysterious circular reasoning in the nature of election by foreknowledge: God foreknows who will believe and elects those individuals before they believe. Yet everyone is subsequently given prevenient enabling grace and libertarian freedom so that they can believe. Therefore anyone can be saved. But how can this be if God already elected only some? Here’s the circular reasoning: If we believe, then we were elected. If we don’t believe then we were not elected. So in either system, if we believe it proves we were elect but does not make us elect. But in another sense, if we are elect, then we will certainly believe. That sounded like determinism in different wrapping paper.
While I still see problems with election by foreknowledge, I now admit it does not have quite the same degree of circularity I once attributed to it. For one, I now see a distinction between certainty and necessity. It was certain I would believe but not necessary. I was free. Secondly, I understand God’s foreknowledge as preceding our choice but not determining it. In fact, I think that God’s knowledge in general precedes even His own choices. He knows what He will choose before He chooses but His knowledge is not the same as the choice itself. Whether that is just a logical order or a time order I don’t know. But God’s knowledge of what choice He will make does not take away His freedom to make that choice any more than His knowledge of my choice to receive God’s grace takes away my freedom to receive or reject the gospel despite that grace.
That being said, election by foreknowledge still suffers at least a bit from circular reasoning. That is why I prefer the corporate election model. God elects His people, a corporate group, in Christ the elect one. When we believe we become elect in Christ, the elect one. We cannot look back and then and say, “because I believed, now I know I was always elect.” No, we become elect when we put our trust in Christ and become united to the benefits of His election. We cease to be identified among the elect when we cease to believe in Christ. This was one of the key nuances of Arminianism that opened my eyes as a more robust argument.
My Christmas and New Year was a blessing, I trust yours was as well. Grace and peace to you brother, belated Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! In Christ, every day is a holy day (mass) and every day is new with fresh mercies for the needs of the day (Lam. 3:23). May God grant you abundant mercies to persevere in the work of His Kingdom.
Gratefully in Christ,
Great follow up comments Dana. Thanks! I totally agree with you that the corporate election model is a welcome addition to the Arminian framework. I absolutely love it. It brings so much clarity. Brian Abasciano’s writings are some of the best on the issue.