This blog post is a response to Kevin Courter’s response to my article “5 Biblical Texts That Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of”. Courter responded to that initial article here, and I responded to his response here. Kevin Courter has taken the time to respond to that article, which you can read here.
Passage 1: 1 Peter 2:1
Courter writes “…of the various theories of what the atonement accomplishes, the limited/unlimited debate is only relevant within a substitutionary view thereof. I also meant that these broader views of the atonement were not mutually exclusive; e.g., a Christus Victor view and a penal substitution view may both be true. If this is the case, then those passages that appear to indicate that the atonement benefits more than the elect may be about aspects that are irrelevant to the intentions of the atonement for the elect. That is, there are ways in which Christ’s death was intended for the entirety of humanity, ways in which it was intended for the visible church, and ways in which it was intended for the elect. Proving any one of these does not disprove either of the other two.”
First of all, I agree with Kevin that multiple views of the atonement could be true. The Penal view and the Christus Victor view could both be true. Indeed, I think of the atonement as a multifaceted diamond which no one theory of the atonement can fully encapsulate. I agree with the words of William Lane Craig, who said in a Q&A article: “Anyone who studies biblical teaching on the atonement is struck by the multiplicity of metaphors and motifs employed by the biblical authors to characterize the atonement: sacrificial offering, the suffering Servant of the Lord, justification, ransom, redemption, representation, and so on. There is no reason that our theory of the atonement should not reflect this diversity; on the contrary, a theory which tries to reduce the doctrine to just one of these motifs will necessarily omit important features of a full-orbed doctrine of the atonement.” 1
However, I don’t agree that the penal substitutionary view is the only view of the atonement which is germane to the limited/unlimited atonement debate. Consider, for example, the Christus Victor model. Dr. William Lane Craig briefly describes this theory thusly: “Ransom Theory of the atonement – or the Christus Victor model – which conceived of Christ’s atoning death as a payment that was made to Satan. Through our fall into sin, human beings had come to be in the control and rightful domain of Satan. God paid the life of Christ as a sort of ransom to rescue us from Satan’s dominion, much as someone might pay a ransom to some terrorists to free some hostages they had taken. Sometimes the theory would emphasize that God in so doing actually tricked Satan because Satan didn’t realize that Christ could not be held. Being the divine Son of God, he traded himself for the hostages, but then Satan couldn’t keep him, and he broke the bonds of Satan, death, and hell, and so Satan was left in the end empty-handed.”2
Clearly, the intent of the Christ’s crucifixion on Christus Victor is the accomplishment of salvation. Christ died to set people free from the devil’s captivity. Having died on the cross, we now have a means of escaping from the devil’s bondage.3 Now, I fail to see how one holding to a pure Ransom Theory of the atonement, devoid of penal substitution, would evade the limited/unlimited debate. After all, one can then ask “To who did Christ intend to free from the devil? All humanity or only the elect?”
Courter then wrote “Evan wants to use this passage as a proof text against limited atonement, and, in so doing, I think that he both begs the question and tries to prove too much. If it is the case that the false teachers, whom Christ has bought, receive non-salvific benefits from his death, then the question of limited atonement is left unanswered. If the question of what kind of benefits the false teachers receive is left undecided, then this passage cannot be used to decide the question of limited atonement.”
I don’t think I’m begging the question at all. In my previous blog post, I appealed to various scripture passages that portray Jesus’ death on the cross in relation to the “buying”, “bought”, “purchased” language to make the point that every time The Bible ever uses the terminology of Jesus buying someone, it means He died to obtain their salvation. Given that this is the case, it makes it highly probable that 2 Peter 2:1 was using it in the same manner: The sovereign Lord bought the false prophets, i.e Jesus died for sins of these Hell-bound heretics.
This is a natural reading of the text precisely because we know how the “Jesus bought” language is used everywhere else in The New Testament. If Courter wants to say that Christ’s death for these false prophets was intended to obtain, not their salvation, but some non-salvific, this-worldly benefits, then he needs to cough up some scriptural evidence for that. Where in The Bible is Jesus’ death on the cross ever talked about in non-atoning, non-salvific terms? Where in The Bible does it ever say that Jesus’ death was intended, not only to obtain peoples’ salvation, but also to bestow non-salvific, this-worldly benefits on them?
Now, even if Courter can show that Jesus’ death can and has provided non-salvific, earthly benefits to non-believers (either through a bible verse or by some extra-biblical argument), that still wouldn’t prove that that’s what Peter was saying in 1 Peter 2:1. By way of analogy, just because the universe is expanding doesn’t mean that’s what the biblical authors meant when they said God “stretches out the heavens” (e.g Psalm 104:2).
With regards to the last portion of Courter’s response, I merely misspoke. I didn’t mean to imply that all whom Christ bought are actually redeemed. Obviously, I don’t believe that or else I’d be a universalist. What I should have said was “Because Jesus shed His blood, He purchased us. He bought us. And because He bought us, we can be redeemed.” Jesus bought everyone a train ticket to Heaven. Unfortunately, not everyone will hop on.
I need not “twist formal logic”, I merely need to deny one of the premises; namely that “Because Jesus bought us, therefore, we are (actually) redeemed.”
Passage 2: Romans 5:15, 18
Kevin Courter writes “These verses are parallel. ‘The many’ in the first corresponds to ‘all people’ in the second. There is also, in each verse, a double mention of its respective term. For either verse, Evan recognizes only three possible meanings for this double usage. 1) It means ‘the elect’ both times; 2) it means the entire human race both times; or 3) Paul is equivocating.”
He is correct in noting that the many in verse 15 correspond to the “all people” of verse 18. And he is correct in noting that in each verse, there is a double mention of its respective term. Kevin also rightly points out that my argument presents itself as a trilemma. Given that Paul mentions that Adam’s sin affects Many/All people, and he contrasts that which Christ’s work which brought justification and life to Many/All people, our options are (1) Paul is referring to elect individuals in both senses, in which case limited atonement is preserved, but the universality of sin is undermined. (2) It means the entire human race in both instances, in which case the universality of sin is preserved but at the cost of limited atonement, or (3) Paul is engaging in double talk, using the same word in the same sentence using two different meanings with nothing in the context to make us think he intends to use two words differently.
I find only the second option logically and exegetically tenable. With regard to option 3, Courter said that he agrees with me that “if a word used twice in the same verse changes meanings with nothing in the context to indicate a change, then all hope of doing exegesis is lost.”
Courter then writes “This is why I stated a contextual basis for assuming such a change. Not only do these verses differentiate between condemnation and justification, but they also indicate that the individual responsible for one of these is different than the one responsible for the other. Adam is not Christ, and being in Adam is no guarantee of also being in Christ. All people, or the many, who are in Adam are not necessarily identical to the many, or all people, who are in Christ. Both Adam and Christ are federal heads. Adam brought condemnation to all the people that he represented; Christ brought justification and life to all the people that he represented.”
Here, I think both our presuppositions are exposed. I don’t affirm the federal headship view of original sin. I don’t affirm that all of humanity is “In Adam” if by “In Adam” one means that all are held accountable for the sin Adam committed in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3). My view is that we’re all descendants of Adam and inherit his sinful nature that obtained upon committing the first sin. Every person inherits the sinful nature from our first parents. This sinful nature inclines us all to wrongdoing, affects every single aspect of our being (our wills, thoughts, emotions, behavior) and renders us totally unable to respond to God apart from grace (John 6:44, John 6:65, Romans 8:7-8), and renders it impossible to go an entire lifetime without committing sins (Romans 3:23, Psalms 14:2-4). I believe in inherited depravity, but not inherited guilt. The latter is an inherent part of The Federal Headship doctrine. Nor do I see this being taught in Romans 5. I think Romans 5 is merely presenting us with a chain reaction following from the sin of Adam.
Adam sinned –> Adam obtained a sin nature. –> Adam had descendants who also had a sin nature. –> Because Adam’s descendants had a sin nature, they sinned. –> Adam’s descendants therefore physically and spiritually die. And on this cycle went throughout human history, with the sin nature being passed on and the inheritance acting on it. It is in this way that I understand Adam to have brought sin and death to the whole of the human race.
I think to read federal headship into Romans 5 is to see something in the text that isn’t there. Since Courter’s counter-argument rests on the federal headship interpretation of Romans 5, I, therefore, find his argument to be question begging. For it to have any persuasive power, he’ll have to first demonstrate the validity of the federal headship interpretation. I go into more detail on my view of original sin and the reasons why I hold it in this blog post –> “My Take On The Doctrine Of Original Sin”
Kevin Courter then wrote “Evan denies any “reason to think that if Paul meant Christ’s act extended to all humanity, then all humanity received salvation and justification.” He believes the idea is that these were “offered to all of humanity, even though only a subset of humanity actually accepts it.” If only the words in the passage would allow for this. It says, “resulted in justification and life.” The range of meaning for ‘resulted in’ does include unfulfilled possibility. If p results in q, then, given p, q cannot fail to be.”
The problem with his proposal remains, however: what reason is there for accepting the interpretation that “That is, assuming that he did mean ‘all kinds of people.’ It is also possible, as I indicated in my original response, that he could mean all people without exception. This group would be saved in a different sense than those who believe;” Is there any place in The New Testament or even the entire Bible that talks about salvation in a different sense than those who believe? What verse(s) might Courter have in mind that would support this view? Or is he, as it appears to be, simply conjecturing to avoid the Arminian implications of this verse? What would it mean for a person to be “saved” yet still end up in Hell?
This explanation is the gave with regards to 1 Peter 2:1, which is that Jesus’ death could have secured non-salvific, this-worldly benefits for the non-elect. But again, where is the scriptural backup? Where’s the evidence that this is what the author intended to convey?
Passage 4: Ezekiel 18:32
First of all, I’ve always found it odd that Calvinists simply appeal to the statement in The Westminister Confession to argue against Arminians and Molinists who say that divine determinism logically entails that God is the author of evil. We understand that Calvinists don’t agree that their views logically entail such things, but The Westminister Confession only states that point. You can say determinism doesn’t entail that God is the author of sin, but that don’t make it so. I don’t think you can affirm that “God from all eternity did by the most and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” on a divine determinist view. I do think you can affirm this confession if you interpret it Molinistically. As a Molinist, I technically agree with everything in the cited text above, I just think it only works under Luis De Molina’s paradigm (see my article “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”). Only on Molinism can (A) God decree everything down to the smallest detail that occurs (B) not be the author of sin in doing so, and (C) do no violence to the (free) will of the creatures, nor of liberty or contingencies. However, this is more an aside. As I said, I can agree that compatiblism works, that determinism doesn’t logically entail the disastrous results I think it does, and my argument in “5 Biblical Passages That Calvinists Can’t Wiggle Out Of” would still stand.
Courter then wrote “Evan wants to refocus on limited atonement and, for the sake of argument, concedes that Compatibilism achieves what it seeks to accomplish. He says it would make no difference; however, I don’t believe he adequately grasps what such a concession entails.” and then cited me in the previous article in which I said “The point in my appeal to Ezekiel 18:32 is that given the proposition that God takes displeasure in the death of the wicked and would much rather prefer the wicked turn from their ways and live, then why doesn’t (A) Jesus die on the cross for them so they can have atonement available, and (B) God send irresistible grace to them to cause them to come to repentance?”
Courter responded to me saying “Jesus doesn’t make salvation available for them because he doesn’t make it available for anyone. That’s not how it works. He either saves someone or he doesn’t. Those whom he saves he intended to save, and those whom he does not save he did not intend to save. As to sending them irresistible grace, if, even for argument’s sake, Evan has conceded that Compatibilism is correct, then he also realizes that irresistible grace has nothing to do with a grace that is too powerful for the will to resist.”
Okay, granted, on the Calvinist paradigm Jesus doesn’t merely make salvation “available” but the atonement goes to whomever it was intended to go to. As I said above, this automatic-application view entails an absurd result even inside the Calvinist paradigm, but I won’t repeat that again because it isn’t important for responding to this particular section of Courter’s counter article.
Again, I can ask: if God takes displeasure in the death of the wicked, then why does the death of the wicked occur? On the Calvinist view, God doesn’t care about libertarian freedom and if, per compatibilism, He can causally determine them to do whatever he wants them to do without violating their “free will” in the process, then why doesn’t God causally determine via His irresistible grace, people to repent so he would have to lament over their destruction? On the T.U.L.I.P scheme, Ezekiel 18:32 and it’s parallel in 33:11 make no sense. God laments over the deaths of the wicked yet did not provide atonement for them, didn’t give them the grace to bring them to repentance, and as a result, they were lost.
Moreover, for Courter to compare his view of compatibilism with my view of eternal security is a gross comparison. For one thing, my view of free will is libertarian free will. This means it truly lies within the power of the elect to forsake Christ after receiving Him, it’s just that they never will actualize this power. On compatibilism, you have no power to act other than what your strongest desire is, or what your nature determines, or what God decrees. Sure, people can act otherwise, but only if God says so. Only if God decides to change their natures or desires. They can’t up and decide otherwise on their own as they can on LFW.
So, here’s my question: If God hates it when people are lost, as He says in Ezekiel 18:32 and 33:11, then why doesn’t he change the natures of everyone so they’ll come to him?
We have the ability to receive Christ because God’s Holy Spirit draws us to repentance. Jesus said “And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32), but this drawing isn’t irresistible, it can be resisted. For example, Stephen told the religious leaders who put him on trial that they were constantly resisting The Holy Spirit and that’s why they wouldn’t accept Christ as their Messiah (see Acts 7:51).
God wants our love for Him to be genuine. That’s why He’s not going to causally determine anyone to repent and worship Him. He wants it to be a genuine free decision. True, genuine love isn’t possible unless it’s done freely. To illustrate; imagine that it’s the year 3,000 and robotics have been perfected to the point where robots look and behave exactly like real people. I go down to Robo Depot to purchase a robot made to look like an adult human female. My purpose for getting her is because I want a wife. I can have her programmed to have all of the personality traits I find likable. I can program her to serve me, compliment me, cook for me, do all the cleaning, and just about anything I want. At some point, I ask her why she does so many nice things for me and she tells me it’s because she loves me and wants to make me happy. However, the only reason she’s doing these things is that I programmed her to do so. She cannot possibly do otherwise. She cannot go against her programming.
As a result, I probably wouldn’t feel loved by this robot girl. Her devotion to me would be nothing but empty automata. By contrast, let’s say that a real human woman did the exact same things for me, and her reasoning was “Because I love you and want you to be happy”. Would I feel loved? I probably would. She had the ability to choose otherwise. She doesn’t have to do these things for me. In fact, she doesn’t even have to be with me at all. She could be with a completely different man if she so chose.
God doesn’t just want people to go to Heaven. God wants people to come into a loving relationship with Him. Without free will, love is impossible. As Tim Stratton of FreeThinking Ministries explained “Since God is all-good, he is also all-loving. Since he’s all-loving, he desires an authentic, loving relationship with all people. Since he desires an authentic love relationship with every human, he had to give us libertarian free will to choose to love him or to reject him. …. It follows that if people are really free, there is no guarantee that all people will freely choose to love Jesus and be saved. It is logically impossible to force someone to freely do something. Although God is omnipotent, this does not mean that he can do the logically impossible. Therefore, even if God created a world in which all persons did hear the gospel, he could not guarantee that they would freely choose to respond in the affirmative and freely choose to love Jesus.”7As William Lane Craig said; “For all we know, in any world of free people that God could create, some people would freely reject his saving grace and be lost.”8
There are some other issues I could address here, but I’ll leave them for the sake of brevity. Under his treatment of Ezekiel 18:32, Courter writes “Could there be a double-standard here for ‘well-meant’? Consider the case under Evan’s Arminian/Molinist system. God knows who will not be saved; of these, some have trans-world depravity (i.e., they would not repent no matter what possible world was actualized for them). He also knows that some of them would have been saved had he actualized a different world for them. Molinists will say that God had morally sufficient reasons for doing this, and I accept that. Nevertheless, given the standard that Evan has set, how is it well-meant for God to offer salvation to someone who only would have repented had God actualized a different world for him? Under a more reasonable standard of well-meant, we could point out the difference between a world in which an individual would but can’t and one in which he can but won’t. When it comes to repentance, a just God would never actualize a would but can’t world. This truth is accepted even within Reformed theology. Despite this, Evan persists in the common caricature that Calvinism entails a host of individuals who would have repented if only God had let them.”
First, let me point out that it’s not at all a caricature to say that on Calvinism there are “a host of individuals who would have repented if only God had…” sent them irresistible grace. How could it be so? Isn’t the reason, on Courter’s soteriology, that people don’t repent because they can’t repent? And is not the reason that they can’t repent their condition of Total Depravity? And would it not be the case that if God changed the will of some creature and directed it towards Him by regeneration that they would be saved? Isn’t this T.U.L.I.P?
Secondly, I think we could accuse Kevin Courter of committing the tu quoque fallacy, because basically, he says “Your theological system has this same problem. How can God’s offer of salvation be sincere if He could have actualized a world in which an unelected individual was saved?”That said, it is a fair objection and one I had to wrestle with before adopting Molinism, so as an aside, I’ll give it a brief response here.
Unlike on Calvinism, on an Arminian-Molinist model, God sends grace to all people to enable them to repent (John 12:32), they, therefore, can repent even if they won’t repent. There’s a difference between “Bob would not repent in the actual world” and “Bob could not repent in the actual world”. The latter would be the case in the absence of grace, given total depravity (see John 6:44, 6:65). In any possible world God actualizes in which Jesus died for all and sends grace to all, all can turn to Him and be saved. Therefore, God is not culpable if anyone is damned in the actual world. It’s a would do/would-not-do differently situation rather than a can-do/cannot-do-differently situation. As such, no man can stand before God on judgment day and say “If only you had placed me in a particular situation, then I would have repented. But because you did not place me in that particular situation, I did not repent, and now I stand here before you condemned. So this is all your fault, God.” God will say “No, you had the freedom to choose me or reject me. It was possible for you to do either no matter what situation I placed you in.” Now, just in case Courter is a fatalist (I don’t know whether he is or not) and thinks that God’s middle knowledge of creaturely choices somehow renders those choices inevitable, I’d advise him to read William Lane Craig’s book The Only Wise God. Or he can read my treatment of fatalism in my blog post “Molinism and Divine Foreordination”.
By contrast, on Calvinism, no one even can come to Christ unless He (A) provides an atonement and (B) sends grace to people. According to 5 point Calvinism, he does neither.
Passage 5: 1 John 2:2
With response to this passage, Courter writes, first citing my previous response and then giving his: “‘But Courter only puts this forth as a bare possibility. He doesn’t give us any reason to think that “the whole world” doesn’t apply to all humanity.’
That’s it? I’ll admit that this passage is not a go to proof text for limited atonement; however, Evan presented it, not as something that might be better understood as teaching unlimited atonement, but as a defeater for Calvinism. Generally, the more absolute and grandiose a claim is, the smaller the counterclaim needed to debunk it. A simple and accurate ‘not necessarily’ will do.”
As I said in my second response to Tony Lee Ross Jr. I take passages employing universal language as literally all-encompassing unless it meets the following conditions: either the wider textual context of the verse gives us reason to restrict its usage, or common sense shows that it couldn’t be universal. This is why I don’t think 2 Timothy 3:16 is referring to only some of every type of scripture, and why Romans 3:23 doesn’t say “all kinds” of people sinned and fell short of the glory of God, and why I think Philippians 2:10 says that literally every single knee will bow and every single tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. I take these texts as absolutely universal for the same reason I take 1 John 2:2 absolutely universal.
A plain reading of the text is that Jesus died for the global population. If you want to dispute that and say it should be restricted in any way, you’re going to need to do more than say “Well, MAYBE it could mean this” or “It’s possible that the author meant this.”
I mean, what’s a more grandiose claim? That all people/the whole world means all people and the whole world or that all people means “only some of every type of Jew and gentile?” Why should I adopt your view of the verse instead of the prima facie reading? Give me some reason. Possibilities come cheap.
This brings the blog wars to the end. I have responded to two of Tony Lee Ross Jr’s counter articles and two of Kevin Courter’s Facebook comments. As I said in my second response to Tony, blog wars generally become difficult to follow after both sides write follow ups, which means that if Kevin Courter wants to respond, he’ll have the final word.
I have appreciated the interaction these two Calvinists have given to my article, and it allowed me to strengthen my case by engaging objections that either never occurred to me or that I had never heard before. Proverbs 18:17 says “The first to plead his case seems right until another comes along and examines him”. Hopefully, you’ve found my case compelling in spite of Calvinist cross-examination, or even, as in my own case, you’ve found it more compelling because of the strength of the Calvinist responses.
1: William Lane Craig, “Q&A: The Need For A Multifaceted Theory Of The Atonement”, November 6th, 2016, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/writings/question-answer/the-need-for-a-multi-faceted-atonement-doctrine/
2: William Lane Craig, Transcript of Defenders 2, Doctrine Of Christ, Part 13, November 27th 2011, https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-2/s2-doctrine-of-christ/doctrine-of-christ-part-13/
3: I disagree with this version of The Christus Victor. Clearly, there is, as Dr. Craig said, a sense of Christ ransoming us in the scriptures. However, I believe the ransom was paid to God to free us from the penalty of our wrongdoings and the clutches of our sinful nature. I think the original form of this theory gives too much spotlight to Satan. The idea of Jesus having to pay off the devil just doesn’t set right with me. That said, one has to say that Christ ransomed us in some sense or other, for Jesus explicitly said: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:45
4: Pinnock, Clark H.. Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (pp. 60-61). Resource Publications, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.
6: Shedd, “Dogmatic Theology”, 2:477
7: Tim Stratton, “True Love, Free Will, and The Logic Of Hell”, FreeThinking Ministries, May 18th, 2015, http://freethinkingministries.com/true-love-free-will-the-logic-of-hell/
8: William Lane Craig, On Guard, Published by David C. Cook, Colorado Springs, CO, 2010