Wiggling Out of An Arminian Trap: A Response to Cerebral Faith

Evan Minton, of cerebral faith has a great zeal for the Lord, he is a studious man and I believe he really thinks what he writes on his blog. Evan and I go way back, when I use to blog on a blogspot platform too! Evan had mentioned a few times personally that he didn’t want to bother with Calvinism much anymore, giving me the impression he was ready to agree to disagree, which would be fine with me. However, to my dismay, he came out with an article that sounded more like a diss track than an engagement over theological disagreement.

5 texts Calvinists can’t wiggle out of.” So, absolute statements like this along with countdowns are clickbait. (I know, I can’t judge I do the count thing too.)  The point is as a Calvinist, I’m immediately going to think that you’re going to provide some hard facts and some exegesis to back up your bold claim that there are passages that not only the Calvinists of today can’t deal with it, but Calvinists in general. I was interested in seeing what Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, etc. missed and what Evan found.

He starts off his blog by talking about scholarly debate at the canon of dort… wait no, he talks about Calvinists and Arminian debates on Facebook. Facebook debates are low-energy and usually low-quality, so I was not too thrilled with these being the introduction, because it indicates the low-caliber interaction this post was going to have.

Evan starts his piece on Calvinism with the standard rejection of Limited Atonement with John 3:16. There are many responses to the Arminian understanding with John 3:16, by Calvin, A.W. Pink, and even Calvinists today. This idea that John 3:16 is just this verse that we skip over when we read our bibles or that we just chock it up to mystery (Who do you think we are, Lutherans?) is really unfounded. Evan’s exegesis (If we can call it that) is simply him pointing out that John 3:16 says “the world” and that must mean everyone. Apparently, you’ve never told a girl she was your world! You better let Jasmine know that when Aladdin was showing her the world, he was supposed to visit every single person. Jokes aside, all doesn’t mean all, all the time. If you were to go to a movie with a bunch of your friends and your mom asks you about it, you would probably say “Everybody was there” but in that statement you weren’t referring to the entire human race but everybody in the scope of your contextual use of the word. Also, if you apply that same logic to 2 Corinthians 5:19, you get universalism.

There is not one Calvinist argument for this, there are many. So, besides the lack of nuance a Facebook reference might bring, simply saying “look there is  kosmos, that must mean my atonement theory is justified” is wishful thinking at best, shallow thinking at worst. Some Calvinists accept that it does mean world but don’t follow it with an atonement that doesn’t actually save anyone. So, even if John 3:16 meant the entire world, it wouldn’t necessarily follow that therefore unlimited atonement was true, you could add it to your cumulative argument but the Arminian insistence on world meaning every single person who has ever lived is not explicitly in the text, and even if it was would not automatically follow with the rest the Arminian says about the atonement.

Evan goes on to describe the Calvinist position on John 3:16 and 1 Timothy 2:4-6. The problem with the John 3:16 one is that is too simplistic and doesn’t allow the nuance of different views among Calvinists. Secondly, the argument for 1 Timothy 2:4-6 isn’t “calvinistic presupposition” it’s letting the Bible define it’s own terms. Revelation 7:9 describes a scene that involves people from every tribe, tongue and nation worshiping God and says that they couldn’t be “numbered”. This is the Bible’s way of saying “a lot.” Calvinists insist this was the point that 1 Timothy 2:4-6, which on a side note should get rid of the misrepresentation that Calvinists only believe a “select few” get into heaven.

This apparently was only the introductory bible passages that aren’t even the five we can’t wiggle out of, so I guess my explanations aren’t surprising since Evan didn’t include them in the texts that I couldn’t wiggle out of.

Evan decides to bring up 2 Peter 2:1 and I’m glad he did. It’s a wonderful passage about the fate of the false prophets who “deny the Lord that bought them.” The problem with this is Evan assumes his interpretation of 2 Peter 2:1 i.e. that bought always means atonement because in other places in scripture, paying is a constant theme in Paul’s writing. I think that assumption is fair to make, however, instead of interacting with Calvinist literature, Evan comes up with a hypothetical Calvinist response that I’m pretty sure he just made up.

Evan’s use of 2 Peter 2:1 is an example of Proof-Texting. Evan is using deductive reasoning, which we can all fall victim too. Essentially, Evan is convinced of a certain doctrine, so when he sees verses that on “plain reading” (which usually means first reading without any knowledge of context, church history, or the original languages) he gets a confirmation bias. This isn’t a personal thing, everyone falls victim to it once in a while, I just believe that is what is happening here with Evan’s argument.

Here’s the problem with Evan’s “bought” argument. Every verse he brings up is a reference to a saved group of people. When Paul says you were bought at a price, he is talking to saved people. I would challenge Evan to present an example of Paul indicating that the Lord purchased everyone in the world. See Evan is taking two entirely different authors and implying that their use of the word bought must be consistent. This might be due to his understanding of inspiration, or maybe he just thinks Paul and Peter are consistent with their use of the phrase. Regardless, you can’t make that assumption without defending it. If Evan was to read even an online exegesis of 2 Peter 2:1 by a Calvinist, he’d at least run into Dr. Matthew McMahon’s exegesis in which he states

“The word avgora,santa is a masculine participle verb in the aorist tense. It is a derivative of avgorazw. Before I explain what the tense means, you should be aware that the verb itself is literally defined as “someone or something bought or purchased, as a slave would be bought or purchased in the marketplace.” That means the verb does not mean “hypothetically bought” but “actually bought.” Then, getting back to the tense which amplifies the meaning, the aorist tense means that it has been completed in the past. For example, I bought some groceries. That does not mean I am in the process of buying, or that I hope to buy, or that I possibly bought groceries depending on one or two other factors. It emphatically demonstrates that I bought them and they cannot be anything else other than bought. In the verse we are looking at, the verb tense and meaning refers to the buying a slave’s freedom for a price paid by a benefactor, or to “redeem.” Now the aorist tense makes this very plain. According to the verse these false teachers have actually been bought. There is no possibility of being possibly bought, or any dependence on other actions. The Lord literally buys these false teachers, and they are truly bought or, more theologically, they are redeemed. Hmmmm, now what do we do? We seem to be confused about the meaning. Either they are false teachers going to hell, or they are elect saints redeemed by the Lord. Which is it? It seems to say both, but that would be a contradiction. It cannot be both… Think for a moment, what half-sane Christian church would ever believe or follow after a false teacher who admits they are a false teacher, and admits they are unconverted? My heavens, they would be admitting the obvious and the church would never, ever be foolish enough to follow them! If the devil popped up in all his wickedness and announced he was the devil, the one who desired to drag all people to hell to be tormented, who would be so foolish as to listen? However, it makes perfect sense that these false teachers are not openly admitting that their heretical doctrines are in fact heretical. Rather, they are claiming to be saved with their mouth, though their doctrines are false. They are claiming to be servants and Disciples of Christ, but have really only obtained a nominal knowledge of the Savior. They claim to be bought as slaves, but their doctrine proves them to be hell deserving false teachers.”

This is just one example of a Calvinist response to this passage, there are more nuanced views. The interesting thing is, Evan covers none of them. Now, I don’t expect Evan to cover every nuance, but at least one instead of his hypothetical Calvinist would be nice.

It takes a strange turn because Evan now decides that Romans 5:15, 18, a commonly used verse that Calvinists point to and say “many not all” but Evan says “no, many is all.” Evan argues that because “the many” is used in reference to Adam’s sin and to Christ’s redemption, they most have the same scope. This sounds convincing, until it is taken to it’s logical conclusion. If they have the same scope, why is Adam’s part more efficacious than Christ’s redemption? These also brings to many side issues that I have with you taking this interpretation. Such as you arguing for a tabula rasa for babies (That would mean that Adam didn’t affect every single person) and how this scope argument would either imply Christ’s redemption doesn’t save as many as Adam infected, or would imply universalism. Since Evan is content with pointing to the word and declaring victory, I will say “many people” isn’t “all people” and leave it at that.

Just kidding, but this is another example of Evan not reading Calvinist authors. Now, he may read them, but he either doesn’t understand where they’re going or refuses to cite them and interact or even interact with their arguments and not cite them! I’ll give you one for free. Charles Hodge states:

“The second question of importance respecting this verse is, whether the all men of the second clause is co-extensive with the all men of the first. Are the all who are justified for the righteousness of Christ, the all who are condemned for the sin of Adam? In regard to this point, it may be remarked, in the first place, that no inference can be fairly drawn in favour of an affirmative answer to this question, from the mere universality of the expression. Nothing is more familiar to the readers of the Scriptures than that such universal terms are to be limited by the nature of the subject or the context. Thus, John 3:24, it is said of Christ, “all men come to him;” John 12:32, Christ says, “I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men unto me.” Thus the expressions, “all the world should be taxed,” “all Judea,” “all Jerusalem,” must, from the nature of the case, be limited. In a multitude of cases, the words all, all things, mean the all spoken of in the context, and not all, without exception; see Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:20, 1 Cor. 15:22, 51, 2 Cor. 5:14, &c. This limitation is always implied when the Scriptures elsewhere speak of a necessary condition connected with the blessing to which all are said to attain. It is everywhere taught that faith is necessary to justification; and, therefore, when it is said “all are justified,” it must mean all believers.”

The next passage he goes too is 1 Timothy 4:10. Another great Universalist proof-text! Wait…that’s not what he’s arguing for. Again, Evan shows no familiarity with the Calvinist literature on this passage. There is nuance to be sure, but the most common response you will see to this verse being used against us is that there are two senses of savior being used here. What does “especially” mean? I think me and Evan would agree that especially has to indicate that those in the “especially” category or the ones actually saved by Christ. Where we would disagree is the people before that,  Evan says these are the people Christ died for. I say rather, that this is a statement of authority rather than of scope of atonement. Is there any other savior of the world than Jesus? Jesus clothes, feeds and provides sunlight and other common graces to everyone, so in one sense, he saves people like a fireman saves someone, in another sense he gives people eternal life. If the Arminian hypothetical salvation was true, Jesus couldn’t be deemed the savior of someone he didn’t save. Authority and Common grace, in my opinion, make much more sense of this passage than what Evan has provided. Again, I don’t think assuming your theology into 1 Timothy 4:10 is enough to prove unlimited atonement.

Ezekiel 18:32 is the next passage Evan says I can’t wiggle out of. I was actually surprised that this verse was included. So, Evan’s argument is that Calvinists say God does whatever he pleases and if he chooses to assign someone to eternal death and is pleased then this interpretation of God can’t be the same one who said this in Ezekiel 18:32.  There are several problems with this.

First, Evan brushes aside the two wills defense by our beloved Calvinist Jim Boucher then he implies that the two will defense is all we’ve got. This is where reading a popular commentary on the Bible by a Calvinist might have been useful. John Gill states:

“For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,…. Which is not to be interpreted simply and absolutely, and with respect to all persons afflicted and punished by him; for he does take delight in the exercise of “judgment” and “righteousness”, and “laughs” at the “calamity” of wicked men, Jeremiah 9:24; but comparatively, as in Hosea 5:6. The sense is, that he takes no pleasure in the afflictions, calamities, and captivity of men, which are meant by death here; but rather that they would repent and reform, and live in their own land, and enjoy the good things of it; which shows the mercy and compassion of God to sinners”

Evan assumes that Ezekiel 18:32 is universal, which is a consistent trend in his thought process on biblical passages. But if it is, we find ourselves in a bit of a contradiction, because in other passages we see that God is laughing at the wicked at their demise and is righteous and judge and enjoys being that way. Whether you think free will is involved or not, people are unrighteous and God is righteous and judges people who don’t have the imputed righteousness of Christ.

The last verse Evan says we can’t wiggle out of is 1 John 2:2. He essentially just says we do gymnastics (Wait, if I do gymnastics, then i’m probably flexible enough to wiggle out.) and urges us on the “plain reading” of the text, again.

Again, a google search would have gave something for Evan to interact with instead of a made-up Calvinist.

“The heart of John’s Epistles concerns the Judaist heresy. Over and over again, he warns that “No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23). It also appears as if he was writing to Jewish Christians in particular, those who had been “anointed by the Holy One” (1 John 2:20) and knew the truth (1 John 2:21). John was writing to those who had the “old commandment … from the beginning” (1 John 2:7), most likely referring to Jewish converts (the Gentiles did not have the old commandment from the beginning).

So when John tells us that Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only”, he is using the pronoun “ours” to refer to Jewish Christians. Those who push this passage to favor unlimited atonement must assume that “ours” and “the whole world” consists of a dividing line between Christians and non-Christians, and that is a huge assumption. John Gill comments:

1Jn 2:2 – And he is the propitiation for our sins,…. For the sins of us who now believe, and are Jews:

and not for ours only; but for the sins of Old Testament saints, and of those who shall hereafter believe in Christ, and of the Gentiles also, signified in the next clause:

but also for the sins of the whole world; the Syriac version renders it, “not for us only, but also for the whole world”; that is, not for the Jews only, for John was a Jew, and so were those he wrote unto, but for the Gentiles also. Nothing is more common in Jewish writings than to call the Gentiles עלמא, “the world”; and כל העולם, “the whole world”; and אומות העולם, “the nations of the world””.

Here is some advice for my good Arminian friend, interact with Calvinist material, not a single out-of-context quote from a popular preacher and some hypothetical Calvinist you may have found on the internet. Know the extent of your arguments, many of your arguments didn’t prove what they claimed nor did they just utterly 360 no scope Calvinism as you probably hoped they would.

Lastly, when evaluating biblical passages, consider what Dr. James White said

“Remember when you were in school and you had to take a test on a book you were assigned to read? You studied and invested time in learning the background of the author, the context in which he lived and wrote, his purposes in writing, his audience, and the specifics of the text. You did not simply come to class, pop open the book, read a few sentences, and say, “Well, I feel the author here means this.”

 

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