Calvinism, Assurance, and Inerrancy

I’m pretty sure that by now I’ve heard all the major objections to Calvinism. Some of them deserve to be taken seriously, although none are weighty enough to overturn the balance (or rather imbalance) of biblical evidence. Others objections, however, I find hard to credit at all. An example of the latter is the claim that the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election undermines assurance of salvation. Only this week a student was telling me about a professor at a nearby liberal arts college who had wielded this objection in his theology class. The objection is rarely articulated with precision, but as best I can make out the idea is that a Calvinist can’t enjoy assurance of salvation because he’ll always be fretting about whether or not he’s really elect. What if he’s a reprobate after all? He longs to peer into the secret will of God, but all in vain — for as Deuteronomy 29:29 declares, the “secret things” belong to the Lord God alone.

The objection involves a serious misunderstanding of what Calvinists have meant by the “secret will” of God. God’s “secret will” is what the Westminster Confession refers to as his “eternal decree”:

God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise 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. (3.1)

In other words, God’s secret will is nothing other than what God from eternity has infallibly ordained will take place in history. But then it follows that God’s secret will is, by definition, being progressively revealed moment by moment — and can therefore be known as easily as any historical fact. When three items of mail appear in my mailbox, I know something about God’s secret will; namely, that it was his good pleasure to decree from eternity that three items of mail appear in my mailbox today. Likewise for any other event you care to mention.

Once this point is understood, we can see that Calvinism poses no special problem for the doctrine of assurance. Quite the contrary, in fact. On the Calvinist view, only the elect come to saving faith in Christ (leaving aside exceptional cases, such as those dying in infancy). It therefore follows that if a person — let’s call him Sam — has a saving faith in Christ then he must be elect. So the question of whether or not Sam is elect translates immediately into the question of whether or not Sam has saving faith in Christ. Answer the latter and you’ve immediately answered the former.

But how can Sam answer that question? Well, by applying various tests suggested in Scripture (cf. 2 Cor. 13:5). When Sam reflects on his own beliefs, do they include the beliefs that he is a sinner in need of a redeemer and that Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has indeed redeemed him by his atoning death and resurrection? Has he been baptized? Is he a member of a Christ-honoring local church? Does he regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper? Does his life show the fruits of repentance, good works, and love for his brothers and sisters in the faith? Does he no longer love the world? Is he growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?

Of course, these tests aren’t infallible. A professing Christian can deceive others and even himself. But the important point to see here is that the Calvinist is in no worse a position than the Arminian in this respect. The criteria the Arminian applies to confirm that he has a saving faith in Christ are the same as those applied by the Calvinist. Arminians don’t have infallible access to their present state of grace any more than Calvinists. (I should note in passing that this shouldn’t be thought a problem; as in most other areas of life, one can have assured knowledge without having apodictic certainty. I don’t have apodictic certainty that I’m writing this blog post — it’s logically possible that I’m dreaming or hallucinating — but that doesn’t bother me in the slightest.)

In fact, we can go further: the Calvinist is in a much stronger position with regard to assurance than the Arminian. For according to Reformed doctrine, those who are genuinely converted will surely persevere to the end. As the Westminster Confession puts it:

They, whom God hath accepted in his Beloved, effectually called, and sanctified by his Spirit, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but shall certainly persevere therein to the end, and be eternally saved. (17.1)

So the Reformed doctrine of perseverance has this crucial implication: if I have saving faith today then I will also have saving faith on my final day — and thus be eternally saved. So if I’m justified in believing (on the basis of the biblical tests) that I have saving faith today, then I’m also justified in believing that I will be finally saved. In other words, I have an assurance of salvation worth having!

Unfortunately, matters are not so assured for the Arminian, simply because Arminianism (in both its classical and Wesleyan forms) rejects the Reformed doctrine of perseverance and thus severs any necessary connection between my state of grace today and my state of grace in the future. On the Arminian view, if I have saving faith today it’s still entirely possible that I won’t have saving faith a year from now. There’s nothing even close to a guarantee that I won’t fall away and completely apostatize. Knowing that I have saving faith today is like knowing that I’m cancer-free today. How much does that tell me about whether or not I’ll succumb to cancer some day in the future?

So if the Arminian has it right, knowing that I presently have saving faith isn’t nearly sufficient for me to know that I will be finally saved. It all depends on whether I choose to persevere in the faith. But if whether or not I persevere in the faith ultimately depends on me, a fickle and frail sinner, how can I ever have any assurance of final salvation?

Consequently it seems clear to me that it isn’t Calvinism that undermines the doctrine of assurance; on the contrary, it’s Arminianism. Calvinism alone has the theological capital to fund the assurance that Christ has indeed prepared a place for us.

As I’ve reflected on this point, I’ve noticed a striking parallel between the Calvinist view of election and the doctrine of inerrancy. (I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that someone has already written on this, but if so, I haven’t come across it.) In its simplest form, the doctrine of inerrancy states that the Bible affirms only truths. (I have explained and defended the theological rationale for inerrancy in a previous post.) Since there are many textual differences among the extant biblical manuscripts, inerrantists have been quick to make the obvious qualification that inerrancy applies only to the original inspired texts (the so-called ‘autographa’).

This qualification has sometimes been ridiculed on the basis that we no longer have the originals. What use are inerrant documents that we don’t actually possess? But this misses the obvious point that we do have the original texts insofar as we can reliably reconstruct them from the extant copies we possess today. As Article X of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy rightly puts it:

We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

The importance of the doctrine of inerrancy is that it underwrites the inference from Scripture affirms X to X is true. So insofar as I can know, on the basis of textual criticism and grammatical-historical exegesis, that Scripture teaches some doctrine, I can also know with no less confidence that the doctrine is true. The disciplines of textual criticism and textual interpretation may not furnish us with infallible conclusions about what the Bible teaches, but when pursued successfully they amount to the clearing away of topsoil from a bedrock of truth.

So here’s the parallel between inerrancy and Calvinism:

Inerrancy: Necessarily, if the autographa affirm X then X is true. Therefore, insofar as one knows that the autographa affirm X, one can also know that X is true. Evidence that the autographa affirm X is nothing less than evidence that X is true.

Calvinism: Necessarily, if person S is genuinely converted then S will be finally saved. Therefore, insofar as one knows that S is genuinely converted, one can also know that S will be finally saved. Evidence that S is genuinely converted is nothing less than evidence that S will be finally saved.

Just as the doctrine of inerrancy provides a rock-solid foundation for the doctrine of biblical revelation, so the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election provides a rock-solid foundation for the doctrine of assurance. So it’s no surprise to find that denying inerrancy introduces the same kind of epistemic problems as denying unconditional election. If inerrancy is false, on what basis can I be assured that if the Bible affirms X then X is actually true? If Calvinism is false, on what basis can I be assured that if I’m trusting in Christ today then I will inherit eternal life in the end (cf. John 5:24; 1 John 5:13)?

I find this parallel interesting, but it doesn’t prove that all Calvinists should be inerrantists or that all inerrantists should be Calvinists. Considered as a matter of simple logical consistency, Arminianism is compatible with inerrancy and Calvinism is compatible with non-inerrancy. However, I do think the parallel reflects a deeper theological affinity between the two. It has been argued that a robust doctrine of biblical inspiration requires a robust doctrine of divine sovereignty. After all, how could God ensure that the human writers of Scripture would affirm only truths unless he had infallible control over their wills as they freely wrote? At the very least, Calvinists should take comfort from the fact that the divine sovereignty which underwrites the doctrines of grace also underwrites the absolute trustworthiness of the scriptures that teach those doctrines of grace.

37 Responses to Calvinism, Assurance, and Inerrancy

  1. When this objection is a reaction to the idea of election and God’s secret will, it’s very bizarre. Like you said, it’s hard to credit it at all.

    However, I find it much more understandable as a reaction to perseverance of the saints. In that case, I think this is what they have in mind:

    Arminian: “Did you hear about Bob? It’s so sad. He left the faith.”
    Calvinist: “That is sad. I guess he wasn’t a real Christian in the first place.”
    Arminian: “But he gave every evidence! Credible confession of faith, and a lot of fruit. I’m as confident that he was a Christian as I am that you are!”
    Calvinist: “I thought so, too. But true believers continue in the faith. We must have misread the evidence.”
    Arminian: “Then how can we ever be confident that someone is a Christian? How can I know that my faith is sincere?”

    To continue with your analogy, the Arminian thinks that the Calvinist is undermining perspicuity of Scripture. Scripture may be inspired, but we can never be very confident that we understand it correctly, so we can never have much assurance in our theology.

    Have you encountered the objection in this form? What do you think of it?

    • As for the extended analogy: the Calvinist could point out that the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture doesn’t entail that every verse in the Bible can be understood with confidence! We could say something similar about our third-person judgments about the spiritual state of others.

  2. stephennhays

    Tim,

    Two basic issues:

    1. Whether I can be sure of my own salvation, and whether I can be sure in reference to someone else, are two different questions. I enjoy immediate access to my own mental states, and to no one else’s. Assuming I’m regenerate, I could be sure on the basis of my own interior experience even if I were unsure in reference to a second party.

    2. We should also distinguish between knowledge and certainty. Put another way, we should distinguish between first-order knowledge and second-order knowledge (knowing that I know something).

    We can always imagine being self-deluded. In that sense, we can’t prove to ourselves that we’re not self-deluded.

    This, however, doesn’t mean we can’t know if we’re saved. Rather, it just means we may be unable to meet the conditions of second-order knowledge.

    That might erode our certainty, though only in the Cartesian sense of an indubitable belief, which we shouldn’t confuse with knowledge.

    Put another way, we need to distinguish between rational and irrational self-doubts. To doubt oneself simply because it’s possible to doubt oneself, is an abuse of the imagination.

    And it’s also a bit self-defeating since, if we lack self-confidence, then we should lack confidence in our imaginary self-doubts!

    • Steve is exactly right. There are two different questions here. The doctrine of assurance is concerned with first-person knowledge of salvation, rather than the sort of judgments involved in Tim’s dialogue about Bob.

      As I acknowledged in my post, it’s true that a professing Christian can be self-deceived. But I’d suggest that anyone who applies the biblical tests won’t be self-deceived for long. The problem is that the self-deceived won’t be inclined to do that; but the promise of assurance is only given to those who are so inclined.

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  4. It seems a bit simplistic to say, “anyone who applies the biblical tests won’t be self-deceived for long.” Don’t you think that there are apostates who believed that they passed the biblical tests for decades before they fell away?

    To followup on Jugulum’s scenario: Suppose that Bob had applied the biblical tests for a long time and was persuaded he was a Christian. He also had a credible profession of faith and evidenced lots of fruit in his life. Bob turned out to be an apostate.

    I fail to see how it would be “irrational” (as Steve puts it) for a person in the same circumstances (believes he personally passes the biblical tests, has a credible profession of faith, and has evidence of fruit in his life) to believe that he too could be an apostate.

  5. Hey James.

    When Sam reflects on his own beliefs, do they include the beliefs that … Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, has indeed redeemed him by his atoning death and resurrection?

    This seems problematical. What necessary relationship is there between one’s belief about this, and the actual fact of the matter? Surely there are people who believe Christ died for them when he did not; and people who, in spiritual struggles, doubt Christ died for them when he did?

    Has he been baptized? Is he a member of a Christ-honoring local church? Does he regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper? Does his life show the fruits of repentance, good works, and love for his brothers and sisters in the faith? Does he no longer love the world? Is he growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ?

    Is assurance really predicated on one’s works? Surely, the deeper my understanding has become of my own depravity, the deeper my cynicism towards my own works has become also. If my assurance is based on how I live, I might despair.

    But the important point to see here is that the Calvinist is in no worse a position than the Arminian in this respect.

    I disagree. An Arminian’s assurance is rooted in the knowledge that Christ really did die for his sin. That’s an objective reality. A Calvinist knows that Christ seems to have died for his sin, based on the various subjective proofs he can muster. That’s a subjective reality.

    The criteria the Arminian applies to confirm that he has a saving faith in Christ are the same as those applied by the Calvinist.

    True; but again, the faith itself is grounded differently.

    On the Arminian view, if I have saving faith today it’s still entirely possible that I won’t have saving faith a year from now. There’s nothing even close to a guarantee that I won’t fall away and completely apostatize. Knowing that I have saving faith today is like knowing that I’m cancer-free today. How much does that tell me about whether or not I’ll succumb to cancer some day in the future?

    Agreed; this completely undermines assurance for an Arminian, regardless of whether it has a better grounding in the atonement or not. Arminianism has no assurance of salvation whatsoever.

    Calvinism alone has the theological capital to fund the assurance that Christ has indeed prepared a place for us.

    Agreed; provided one can sufficiently ground one’s faith in the atonement to begin with. I don’t think a strictly limited view of the atonement can do that though (: Sorry to rock the boat.

  6. platypus246

    Is it conceivable that an anxious person, irrespective of whether he be Calvinist or Arminian, can be faced with the crucially-important question of whether or not what he considers to be *faith in Chrisr* is in fact saving faith in the sight of the LORD God?

    I do indeed contend that this vitally-important question is valid, and that it does in fact occur, and to that person who is faced with that perplexing question, it is a life-and-death issue that demands priority attention.

    What, if any, are the Scripture passages which can satisfactorily resolve this quandary?

    Or is the answer only and always obtainable from the LORD God Himself?

  7. stephennhays

    oa0306

    “I fail to see how it would be ‘irrational’ (as Steve puts it) for a person in the same circumstances (believes he personally passes the biblical tests, has a credible profession of faith, and has evidence of fruit in his life) to believe that he too could be an apostate.”

    i) It’s irrational to indulge in self-doubt simply because you can imagine that you might be self-deluded.

    For example, somebody who’s insane might think he’s sane, while he thinks everyone else is insane.

    As such, a sane person could doubt his sanity by saying to himself, “Well, I seem to be sane. But, of course, crazy people think the same thing! Therefore, I have no reason to trust my own sanity!”

    We could extend the comparison to analogous cases, viz. somebody who’s dreaming, somebody who took a hallucinogen. Maybe I’m high on LSD. How could I tell the difference?

    If you take this argument seriously, it borders on global skepticism.

    In the nature of the case, somebody who’s self-deluded can’t detect his self-delusion from within the self-delusion.

    ii) At the same time, somebody who is self-deluded is not in the same condition as somebody who’s in his right mind. Their respective conditions are asymmetrical. They don’t have the same experience, the same perception of reality.

    iii) One of the ways in which global skepticism is self-defeating is that the very notion of a delusive experience presupposes a veridical experience which sets the standard of comparison. You can’t rationally doubt everything, for you’d only doubt one thing in relation to something else you don’t treat as doubtful.

    iv) Hence, my distinction between rational and irrational doubt. The mere ability to imagine self-delusive scenarios is not a rational motive to doubt yourself. Those are imaginary doubts, on the same plane as my ability to imagine that I’m Superman.

    Absent positive evidence that appearances are deceiving, it is irrational to doubt yourself.

    Because human beings have been endowed with a lively imagination, we can indulge in self-referential imaginary scenarios–including imaginary dilemmas. But that isn’t a good reason to think I may really be a brain-in-a-vat, even if I can’t disprove it.

    v) Of course, you can, if you wish, bite the bullet and make indubitability a necessary condition of assurance. If, however, that creates a problem for the Reformed doctrine of assurance, then it also creates a problem for every other position short of Cartesian solipsism. But, in that event, this is just a monologue masquerading as a dialogue!

    vi) That’s also why I drew a distinction between self-knowledge and certitude. It’s possible for people to doubt things they know.

    vii) From a Reformed standpoint, the born-again Christian and the closet apostate does not enjoy the same type of experience.

    In Arminianism, by contrast, an apostate may well have been a born-again Christian.

    Therefore, your objection, if it has any traction, has more purchase on Arminianism.

    D Bnonn Tennant

    “An Arminian’s assurance is rooted in the knowledge that Christ really did die for his sin.”

    i) Unless universal atonement entails universal salvation, the assurance that Christ died for you is no assurance that you are heaven-bound.

    ii) Also, if Cartesian certitude is a necessary condition of assurance, then we can harbor all sorts of doubts about universal atonement. Is that a self-evident truth of reason? Is that deducible from a self-evident truth of reason?

    I’m not saying that Dominic subscribes to Cartesian certitude. I’m just tying this into my previous response.

  8. i) Unless universal atonement entails universal salvation, the assurance that Christ died for you is no assurance that you are heaven-bound.

    Agreed. And as I said, whatever assurance Arminianism theoretically has over five-point Calvinism in this regard, it completely undoes with its denial of perseverence.

    ii) Also, if Cartesian certitude is a necessary condition of assurance, then we can harbor all sorts of doubts about universal atonement. Is that a self-evident truth of reason? Is that deducible from a self-evident truth of reason?

    Fortunately, Cartesian certitude isn’t a necessary condition of assurance (:

  9. stephennhays

    D Bnonn Tennant

    “Agreed. And as I said, whatever assurance Arminianism theoretically has over five-point Calvinism in this regard, it completely undoes with its denial of perseverence.”

    Adding perseverance to unlimited atonement wouldn’t be sufficient to confer assurance. The deficit is broader than the subset of apostates.

    The basic problem is that unless unlimited atonement insures that every one of the redeemed is bound for glory, then the universal scope of the atonement is irrelevant to the assurance of salvation.

    The hiatus isn’t confined to converts who believed for a while, but later fell away. It would include unbelievers as well as nominal believers. Those who never came to faith, even temporarily.

    In 5-point Calvinism, as you know, those whom Christ redeemed are conterminous with those whom God preserves. That’s the “objective” basis of assurance.

    We can, of course, debate how that is subjectively discernible. But Dr. Anderson has already pointed the way.

    The only potential objection I can see is if we make indubitability a necessary condition of assurance. But for reasons I’ve already given, that is fraught with its own difficulties.

  10. stephennhays

    Put another way, in 5-point Calvinism, everyone who perseveres is also redeemed. Therefore, I don’t see how adding perseverance to unlimited atonement (minus universal salvation) confers an objective ground for assurance lacking in 5-point Calvinism.

    To the contrary, wouldn’t it undercut objective grounds for assurance by decoupling the extent of the redeemed from the extent of the heavenbound?

    I’m not following your argument. You may have other reasons for affirming universal atonement. But I don’t see how this reason does the job you you hired it to perform.

  11. The basic problem is that unless unlimited atonement insures that every one of the redeemed is bound for glory, then the universal scope of the atonement is irrelevant to the assurance of salvation.

    Not so; for the simple reason that assurance can be couched as the question “Do I have saving faith?” And that question immediately suggests the prior: “Faith in what?” That may be answered: faith in God’s promise of salvation through Christ’s saving work. But under a limited atonement, the saving work is restricted to the redeemed; so how can one have faith it, or the promise of it, without already knowing that one is redeemed? Yet the question of whether I am redeemed is exactly what I am anxious about. The problem becomes circular.

    In 5-point Calvinism, as you know, those whom Christ redeemed are conterminous with those whom God preserves. That’s the “objective” basis of assurance.

    Agreed; the problem is that the objective reality is not objectively accessible in an epistemic sense. So although all those who are redeemed will be preserved, this doesn’t help as regards the assurance of salvation for a given person who questions if he is redeemed.

    • The problem you raise is a pseudo-problem for the same reason the “Am I really elect?” problem is a pseudo-problem.

      All those, and only those, who come to saving faith have been redeemed by Christ. So the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ reduces (like the question of whether I am elect) to the question of whether I have saving faith. If I recognize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and I am looking to him alone for salvation, then I have every reason to believe that Christ died for me.

      Spurgeon answers the pseudo-problem as eloquently as ever in his sermon ‘Particular Redemption’ (see the last paragraph):

      http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/0181.htm

      To put the point another way: if the particularity of the Son’s redemption can undermine a believer’s assurance, then so should the particularity of the Father’s election and the particularity of the Spirit’s regeneration. For the logical relation between each one and assurance of final salvation is exactly the same. So if the questions “Am I really elect?” and “Am I really regenerate?” needn’t disturb the believer, neither should the question “Am I really redeemed?”

    • To put the point yet another way: the problem is a pseudo-problem in the way that Newcomb’s paradox is a pseudo-problem if the sovereign God of the Bible is the ‘predictor’.

  12. platypus246

    Greetings, Bnonn,

    D Bnonn Tennant said:
    “But under a limited atonement, the saving work is restricted to the redeemed;”

    Since the Scriptures teach that redemption and eternal salvation, together will all of the constituent events thereof, are all the outworking of GOD the Father’s election and predestination of His chosen ones, it’s preferable to state that the saving work of Christ is restricted to all of God’s elect people.

    D Bnonn Tennant said:
    “But under a limited atonement, the saving work is restricted to the redeemed; so how can one have faith it, or the promise of it, without already knowing that one is redeemed?”

    Just as devout Muslims are deluded into being very sure that they’re on the way to Islam’s Paradise, so also there will be many unregenerate and therefore spiritually-dead people within churchianity who are equally convinced that their place in Heaven is sure, certain, and beyond all doubt. But in both cases, those people are smugly deluded and they’re in an invidious position.

    D Bnonn Tennant said:
    “Yet the question of whether I am redeemed is exactly what I am anxious about. The problem becomes circular.”

    So, apparently, you see no solution, no alleviating guidance within the Scriptures to which you can point out to troubled souls, to ease their acute anguish?

    If not, then are you implying that the only remedy is for these perplexed people to simply exist in blindness and darkness, hoping against hope? Yet the Scriptures urge that we rejoice in the Lord always (Philippians 4:4). Could it be that those New Testament believers possessed the solution to our dilemma; a solution which eludes the speculative blogger, but which is obtainable by grace?
    through grace?

  13. All those, and only those, who come to saving faith have been redeemed by Christ. So the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ reduces (like the question of whether I am elect) to the question of whether I have saving faith.

    And all those, and only those, who have been redeemed by Christ come to saving faith. So the question of whether I have saving faith reduces to the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ.

    If I recognize that I am a sinner in need of a Savior, and that Christ is the only Savior of sinners, and I am looking to him alone for salvation, then I have every reason to believe that Christ died for me.

    Every subjective reason, sure. I’m not arguing that particularist Calvinists can’t have subjective assurance as regards the question “did Christ die for me?” I’m arguing that they can’t have objective assurance.

    Spurgeon’s quote misses the point of what I’m saying. My issue is what our faith is grounded in. As I intimated before, the particularist view seems to create a circular problem as regards assurance here. To have assurance that God’s promise of redemption extends to you, you must already have assurance that you’re redeemed.

    Platypus:–

    So, apparently, you see no solution, no alleviating guidance within the Scriptures to which you can point out to troubled souls, to ease their acute anguish?

    On the contrary, like the New Testament believers, I believe that Christ died for everyone without exception, and thus I experience no anguished perturbations of the soul in trying to discern whether I am among the redeemed.

    • Bnonn,

      And all those, and only those, who have been redeemed by Christ come to saving faith. So the question of whether I have saving faith reduces to the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ.

      Right. As I pointed out, the two classes are coextensive. So what’s your point? :)

      Every subjective reason, sure. I’m not arguing that particularist Calvinists can’t have subjective assurance as regards the question “did Christ die for me?” I’m arguing that they can’t have objective assurance.

      I’m afraid I don’t understand your distinction between subjective and objective assurance. What exactly is it and why is it relevant? In your view, if I know some true proposition, do I know it ‘objectively’ or ‘subjectively’? Your distinction strikes me as a category mistake.

      As I intimated before, the particularist view seems to create a circular problem as regards assurance here.

      And as I pointed out in reply, particularism here is no more problematic than particularism elsewhere. :)

      To have assurance that God’s promise of redemption extends to you, you must already have assurance that you’re redeemed.

      What exactly is “God’s promise of redemption” in your view? Where do we find it in the apostolic preaching (or anywhere else in the NT) expressed in such a way as to entail a universal atonement?

      On the face of it, your statement doesn’t make much sense to me. In Scripture, a divine promise concerns a future blessing. What sense does it make to say God promises something that has already happened?

    • platypus246

      Greetings, Bnonn,

      Platypus426 said:
      “So, apparently, you see no solution, no alleviating guidance within the Scriptures to which you can point out to troubled souls, to ease their acute anguish?”

      D Bnonn Tennant said:
      “On the contrary, like the New Testament believers, I believe that Christ died for everyone without exception,”

      The New Testament Scriptures very clearly show that the Apostles Paul, John, and Peter, an in particular, the Lord Jesus Christ all explicitly taught that salvation in Christ was and always is based on God the Father’s election from before Creation of those whom it was His good pleasure to adopt as His children and to bring to salvation in Christ by grace [Ephesians 1:3-11; 2 Timothy 1:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; Romans 8:28-30; Acts 13:48; etc.]

      God’s election for salvation [Ephesians 1:3-11] was discriminatory in intent; i.e. in His elective choice from before Creation, the LORD God did not include the entire human race. This discriminatory character in God’s election is frequently declared and implied in the Scriptures; e.g. the fact that saving repentance and saving faith are both the gifts of God, and, as Christ Himself declares in Gospel of John 6:44, no one can of themselves come to Christ; if they are to come at all, they must be drawn to Christ by GOD the Father.

      It therefore inevitably follows that as far as all those who perish in their sins are concerned, it never was the will of God that any of those should be brought to salvation for had it been so, God the Father would most certainly have drawn them to Christ for salvation, and also bestowed upon them His essential gifs of saving repentance and saving faith, since God always “works all things according to the counsel of His own will” and His will cannot ever be effectually resisted. [Ephesians 1:11; Romans 9:6-23; etc.] But God passed them by, and thus they all perished in their sins. Where then is the utopian theory of “universal redemption”? It is discredited and shown to be fictitious.

      D Bnonn Tennant said:
      “On the contrary, like the New Testament believers, I believe that Christ died for everyone without exception, and thus I experience no anguished perturbations of the soul in trying to discern whether I am among the redeemed.”

      If Christ did in fact die for everyone of the entire human race in all generations since Creation without any exception whatsoever, then everyone without any exception in all generations would have been saved, since, as already cited above, the LORD God always “works all things according to the counsel of His own will” and His will cannot ever be effectually resisted. [Ephesians 1:11].

      Since the Scriptures consistently teach that salvation has always been by grace; i.e. salvation has always been the sovereignly irresistible work of God altogether apart from any human effort, the witness of the Scriptures repeatedly exposes the theory of “universal redemption” as imaginative as erroneous.

      Consider also Genesis 6:6, wherein the LORD God declares His intention of destroying the world’s population because of their violence. It’s obvious that the one true LORD God revealed in His Scriptures has not the slightest resemblance nor any connection with the fictitious “universal santa claus-type false deity of “universal redemption.”

      The LORD God subsequently fulfilled His intention as described in Genesis, chapter. 7, and in doing so, God spared only eight people; Noah and seven others. All others perished in their sins.

      A conservative estimate by John Whitcomb and Henry Morris of human fatalities in the Great world-wide Flood amounted to 1,030 million people. Is this Divine intervention consistent with your scenario of “universal redemption”?

      Add to this the destruction of 3,000 people at Sinai for idolatry, the annihilation of the tribe of Korah and of the Canaanite tribes of the Jebusites, the Girgashites, the Amalekites, and others; God’s condemning an entire generation of Israelites; i.e. at least two million people] to die in the Sinai desert because of their disobedience.

      In case it is assumed that “universal redemption” only came into existence in New Testament times, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 is but one of numerous passages in the New Testament Scriptures which very decisively demolish all presumptions that the Lord Jesus Christ is a “universal redeemer.”
      2 Thessalonians 1:7-10 reveals Christ, not as Saviour but as the Just Judge. The passage reads::

      v.7 “And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
      v.8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
      v.9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
      V.10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”

      Other New Testament passages which point to particularistic; i.e. not universal atonement include Matthew 25:31-46; Revelation 21:8; Revelation 21:27; Romans 9:6-33; John 3:36; to cite but a few.

      It’s obvious that Redemption by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is particularistic, definite, and limited to all of God’s elect and predestinated people and to no more or less than these.

      “Universal redemption” is no more than a product of deluded human imagination and though you find in it what you consider to be an assurance of personal redemption, it’s a false assurance, and puts you in the same category as the man who built his house upon the sand. [Matthew 7:26-27]

      Regards.

      • It therefore inevitably follows that as far as all those who perish in their sins are concerned, it never was the will of God that any of those should be brought to salvation

        Agreed.

        But God passed them by, and thus they all perished in their sins. Where then is the utopian theory of “universal redemption”? It is discredited and shown to be fictitious.

        Since universal redemption does not imply universal salvation, you’ve only discredited your own pretense of knowledgeable interaction with the doctrine.

        If Christ did in fact die for everyone of the entire human race in all generations since Creation without any exception whatsoever, then everyone without any exception in all generations would have been saved

        Only if you assume a pecuniary view of penal substitution—a view, needless to say, which people like me reject on a number of grounds.

        since, as already cited above, the LORD God always “works all things according to the counsel of His own will”

        You seem to be assuming some kind of logical connection between God willing that all people be atoned for, and God willing that all people be saved. But that’s hardly a self-evident inference. If you think it’s valid, you’ll need to argue for it.

        Since the Scriptures consistently teach that salvation has always been by grace; i.e. salvation has always been the sovereignly irresistible work of God altogether apart from any human effort, the witness of the Scriptures repeatedly exposes the theory of “universal redemption” as imaginative as erroneous.

        Once again you draw some kind of logical connection where none appears to exist. What does the election and irresistible calling of God have to do with the extent of the atonement? Are you assuming that a universal atonement entails universal salvation?

        Similarly, what does the flood have to do with universal redemption? You’re deeply confused.

        It’s obvious that Redemption by the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is particularistic, definite, and limited to all of God’s elect and predestinated people and to no more or less than these.

        Actually, it’s not.

  14. stephennhays

    D Bnonn Tennant

    “And all those, and only those, who have been redeemed by Christ come to saving faith. So the question of whether I have saving faith reduces to the question of whether I have been redeemed by Christ.”

    i) I don’t see how it “reduces” to that question. If you think the relationship is circular, then a circular relationship is not reductive. You can’t have a relation, circular or otherwise, without at least two relata. Any relation is irreducibly complex.

    ii) So there’s no particular order in which you have to answer those questions. If you think they’re correlative, then you can indirectly answer the one by directly answering the other, right?

    iii) Moreover, you yourself don’t think that everyone who’s been redeemed has saving faith. So how does the question of saving faith boil down to the scope of redemption?

    “Every subjective reason, sure. I’m not arguing that particularist Calvinists can’t have subjective assurance as regards the question ‘did Christ die for me?’ I’m arguing that they can’t have objective assurance.”

    Assurance for *whom*? You seem to be saying that only a universal atonement can supply an objective basis for assurance. Hence, no professing believer can have objective assurance unless Christ died for him.

    But why should every professing believer be entitled to the objective assurance of salvation? After all, some professing believers are closet apostates. Do you think that Bart Erhman ought to have enjoyed the objective assurance of salvation back when he was a professing believer? Wouldn’t that be false assurance?

    Indeed, doesn’t your position amount to the possibility, which is sometimes an actuality, that some professing believers can meet the twin conditions of subjective assurance and objective assurance, but still have false assurance? Isn’t that a prescription for spiritual paralysis?

    Or do you distinguish between veridical subjective assurance and delusive subjective assurance?

    For example, do you think the regenerate have the same experience as closet apostates?

    Suppose, due to universal atonement, both the born-again Christian and the closet apostate enjoy objective assurance.

    Yet the closet apostate will go to hell. So his objective assurance is false assurance.

    What about subjective assurance? If you think there’s a difference between the subjective experience of a born-again Christian, and the subjective experience of the would-be apostate, then wouldn’t that contrast be the differential factor?

    And if there is not difference, then both objective and subjective assurance could be, and sometimes are, delusive.

    Yes, according to universal atonement, it’s objectively true that Christ died for the apostate. It’s not delusive in that sense (assuming universal atonement). But it’s an unreliable, and sometimes delusive grounds of assurance, is it not? What’s the value of having an untrustworthy assurance of salvation?

    Conversely, if the regenerate enjoy a veridical subjective assurance, and if, what is more, the fact that Christ died for them is a guarantee of their salvation, then isn’t their assurance of salvation veridical on both grounds?

    Seems to me that your objection really boils down to the difference between first-order knowledge and second-order knowledge. How can you indubitably prove to yourself that you’re not spiritually self-deluded?

    Even if you’re not self-deluded, can you prove it?

    But if you’re not self-deluded, why is it incumbent on you to prove it? Aren’t we back to the quest for Cartesian certitude at the end of the rainbow? And isn’t that just a refined form of self-induced paranoia?

    Put another way, the concern seems to be that one individual can’t directly compare and contrast his spiritual experience with the spiritual experience of the next guy. The unregenerate can’t access the mind of the regenerate, while the regenerate can’t access the mind of the unregenerate. So we lack that intersubjectival reality check.

    Okay, but short of telepathy, isn’t that true of everything? Isn’t that inherent to our first-person experience, which is intransitive?

    Isn’t that existential anxiety akin to the spooky specter of behavioral zombies (a la Chalmers)? If the zombie’s behavior is indistinguishable from human behavior, and you have no scanning equipment to peer inside, how can you tell?

    Well, maybe you can’t. So what?

  15. Gentlemen, I think maybe my argument has been misunderstood; or maybe I was confused in my own mind. Having considered the issue, I think Steve is right in casting it in terms of second-order knowledge; really, I’m talking about my ability to have faith in my faith. Rather than deal directly with your objections, allow me to rearticulate my view:–

    I take it as given that faith is a justified and true belief of God’s favor toward the believer. Since this favor is availed to us by the atonement, the object of faith is the person and work of Christ; or the promise of salvation through that work. (I’ll just refer to this collectively as the work and the promise.) In whichever case, for faith to be faith, a believer needs to have a justified and true belief that the work and the promise are actually availed to him; ie, the believer holds his belief in virtue of it being true.

    As you both state, one can certainly have this kind of faith, in first-order sense, under a particular atonement. However, it does seem to me that a second-order knowledge is important. This is because, in case the atonement is particular, a Christian believes that God’s favor is availed to him not because he has God’s word, but because he experiences certain inward perceptions which convince him that it is true.

    Conversely, if the atonement was made for everyone, a Christian believes God’s favor is availed to him both because he has God’s word, and because he experiences the inward work of the Spirit.

    The latter seems far stronger to me than the former in terms of establishing assurance of salvation—which was the point I was seeking to demonstrate initially. The former position, on the other hand, seems hard-pressed to deal with spiritual extremes. Faith which is not grounded in an external and objective knowledge that Christ atoned for my sins; but rather in an internal and subjective perception that he did so, looks to me obviously less assured. If it’s not rooted in the infallible promise that the cross-work extends to me, made by God himself in Scripture; but rather in my own perception that it does, then it is very subject to the fickleness and unreliability inherent in my own heart. So while under a universal atonement my “faith in my faith” is as sure as the word of God, under a particular view it’s only as sure as my inward conviction.

    Indeed, this seems to lead into a violation of sola fide. If my faith in my faith is only as strong as my own internal perception of God’s favor towards me, rather than the external certainty of that favor grounded in the Bible, then my assurance of salvation is derived ultimately from my own spiritual life. When I feel I’m doing well, I feel God’s favor towards me. But if I feel spiritually depressed or weak, if I am failing to overcome sin, if I think I am backsliding, then my assurance is undermined and damaged. The less confident I feel about myself, the less confident I feel that God really has availed salvation to me. Maybe God loves me and Christ died for me. But maybe not. Sometimes I feel that way. Sometimes I don’t.

    I take it from what you’ve said already that you don’t consider this a problem for the limited atonement view. But even if it isn’t, I think my original assessment is accurate that, in respect to its view of the atonement, Arminianism does offer a better kind of assurance than five-point Calvinism.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

    • Bnonn,

      Steve has done a fine job of responding point by point, and I’m reluctant to take away from it by adding to it.

      But I do think it’s worth homing in on the major problem for your argument. You still need to explain how an ‘objective’ (by which I gather you mean not person-dependent) knowledge of an atonement that is not sufficient to save anyone can offer any greater assurance than a ‘subjective’ knowledge of an atonement that is sufficient to save those who trust in it. This is the Achilles’ heel of your argument.

      What good is it for me, with regard to assurance of final salvation (which was the focus of my original post), to know that Christ redeemed me if that doesn’t actually entail my final redemption?

      As for your point about sola fide, it conflates the meritorious ground of justification with the evidences of justifying faith. The position I’ve defended no more violates sola fide than James’ argument that faith without works cannot justify (James 2).

      Prediction: 5 years from now, you’ll no longer be defending a universal redemption. In fact, you’ll be one of the most formidable defenders of particular redemption on the Internet, because you’ll have come to see the inconsistencies and other weaknesses of the Arminian view from the inside. :)

  16. stephennhays

    D Bnonn Tennant

    “I take it as given that faith is a justified and true belief of God’s favor toward the believer. Since this favor is availed to us by the atonement, the object of faith is the person and work of Christ; or the promise of salvation through that work. (I’ll just refer to this collectively as the work and the promise.) In whichever case, for faith to be faith, a believer needs to have a justified and true belief that the work and the promise are actually availed to him; ie, the believer holds his belief in virtue of it being true.”

    In the case of the regenerate believer, his faith does, indeed, correspond to an objective fact about him. For Christ, indeed, died for him. And, in 5-point Calvinism, that ensures his salvation (although other factors contribute the outcome).

    “This is because, in case the atonement is particular, a Christian believes that God’s favor is availed to him not because he has God’s word, but because he experiences certain inward perceptions which convince him that it is true.”

    False dichotomy:

    i) The 5-point Calvinist believes the Scriptural teaching that Christ died for the elect. And that, in turn, results in the spiritual renewal of the elect. And this, in turn, engenerates a spiritual predisposition which, in response to the Word, terminates in saving faith.

    It isn’t grounded in himself rather than God’s word, or vice versa. It’s grounded in both.

    ii) Seems to me that you’re trying to directly access the objective fact that Christ died for X. To bypass the faith of the believer. But that’s futile on two grounds:

    a) A merely nominal believer or closet apostate isn’t entitled to that assurance. In his condition, that would amount to false assurance.

    b) Belief in unlimited atonement is just as much an act of faith as belief in limited atonement. In both cases, the mind of the believer must mediate that belief. There is no way to independently access the truth of Christ’s objective work apart from the mental act of the believer. Even if unlimited atonement were true, recognition of that fact is inherently subjective. A psychological state in relation to an extramental fact.

    “Conversely, if the atonement was made for everyone, a Christian believes God’s favor is availed to him both because he has God’s word, and because he experiences the inward work of the Spirit.”

    But how does a universal atonement ground the assurance of salvation if Christ also died for the damned?

    “The former position, on the other hand, seems hard-pressed to deal with spiritual extremes. Faith which is not grounded in an external and objective knowledge that Christ atoned for my sins; but rather in an internal and subjective perception that he did so, looks to me obviously less assured. If it’s not rooted in the infallible promise that the cross-work extends to me, made by God himself in Scripture; but rather in my own perception that it does, then it is very subject to the fickleness and unreliability inherent in my own heart.”

    But your faith in universal atonement, vouched by the promises of Scripture (as you construe it) are subject to the same psychological vicissitudes. If a Christian suffers a crisis of faith, he will harbor doubts about the atonement, or his relation to the atonement, regardless of whether his model of the atonement is limited or unlimited. He can’t insulate all self-doubt from doubts about the object of faith. The deeper his self-doubts, the more he harbors doubts about what he believed.

    “So while under a universal atonement my ‘faith in my faith’ is as sure as the word of God, under a particular view it’s only as sure as my inward conviction.”

    i) Under a universal atonement, your faith in your spiritual condition is only as sure as your faith in universal atonement. But if you’re going through a crisis of faith, where does that leave you?

    ii) Moreover, since a universal atonement can’t save you, how is it any consolation to know that Christ died for you, if he also died for the damned?

    “Indeed, this seems to lead into a violation of sola fide. If my faith in my faith is only as strong as my own internal perception of God’s favor towards me, rather than the external certainty of that favor grounded in the Bible, then my assurance of salvation is derived ultimately from my own spiritual life.”

    i) We’re not justified by our assurance of salvation.

    ii) You can’t insulate objective certainty from subjective certitude. Although the external facts are certain regardless what you believe, the *sense* of assurance that you derive from those facts is irreducibly subjective.

    If your assurance is grounded in unlimited atonement, then it’s subjectively grounded in your “internal perception” of that extramental fact (assuming it to be a fact).

    The *sense* of assurance is a state of mind. No way around it.

    “When I feel I’m doing well, I feel God’s favor towards me. But if I feel spiritually depressed or weak, if I am failing to overcome sin, if I think I am backsliding, then my assurance is undermined and damaged.”

    i) Well, that’s a matter of degree.

    ii) At the far end of the spectrum, a backslider, in his backslidden condition, is not entitled to the assurance of salvation.

    iii) Working through the dry seasons of faith is an unavoidable part of the pilgrimage.

    “But even if it isn’t, I think my original assessment is accurate that, in respect to its view of the atonement, Arminianism does offer a better kind of assurance than five-point Calvinism.”

    In Arminian terms, I don’t see how that follows on either front:

    i) On subjective grounds, someone who exercises saving faith today may suffer a lapse of saving faith tomorrow. Therefore, he has no subjective assurance of salvation.

    ii) On objective grounds, Christ died for the saints and the damned alike. Therefore, he has no objective assurance of salvation.

    Seems to me that Arminianism cuts the grounds out from any assurance of salvation.

  17. Hey James, I think you’re arguing cross-purposes to me. And I think maybe you aren’t getting my point; I’m not sure. As I’ve tried to clarify, my issue as regards assurance is specifically in relation to “having faith in faith”. I do indeed mean to say that a person-independent knowledge is important. But you misrepresent me by referring to a universal atonement as “not sufficient” to save anyone. Surely it goes without saying that, in fact, a universal atonement is sufficient to save anyone whosoever—which is exactly the reason one can have a person-independent knowledge of God’s favor toward one if one simply trusts in this atonement! Conversely, a particular atonement is not sufficient to save anyone whoever, which is exactly the reason that trusting it is difficult if one’s subjective assurances are weak (even when they are justified).

    What good is it for me, with regard to assurance of final salvation (which was the focus of my original post), to know that Christ redeemed me if that doesn’t actually entail my final redemption?

    Again, we’re coming at this from different angles, which is leading to confusion. My original argument was that without an assurance of initial salvation, an assurance of final salvation is undercut. And the universal atonement view seems to provide much better assurance in this regard than the particular view.

    Prediction: 5 years from now, you’ll no longer be defending a universal redemption. In fact, you’ll be one of the most formidable defenders of particular redemption on the Internet, because you’ll have come to see the inconsistencies and other weaknesses of the Arminian view from the inside.

    Well, it will be interesting to see how that prediction goes. I’ll see if I can remind you of it in five years time. I’ve strongly defended particular redemption in the past, and only reluctantly came to the universal redemption view after I found that it’s a major historical Reformed position, and interacted with it on its own terms (rather than through Gillian pecuniary categories). So I’m not putting any money on your prediction myself (:

    Steve, re your false dichotomy allegation, I should clarify that I’m not claiming that Christians, in case the atonement is particular, don’t have any beliefs about salvation based on God’s word. I’m only saying that their belief that the atonement extends to them is not taken “directly” from God’s word (since God’s word does not name them specifically), but rather is verified indirectly by their subjective perceptions in relation to what God’s word says about the elect. And that seems quite plainly to be a weaker kind of knowledge about being covered in Christ than a knowledge based on a universal redemption.

    Seems to me that you’re trying to directly access the objective fact that Christ died for X. To bypass the faith of the believer.

    No, I’m not trying to bypass the faith of the believer. Rather, I’m trying to elucidate the different kinds of knowledge which underwrite the faith of a believer on a universal versus particular view.

    a) A merely nominal believer or closet apostate isn’t entitled to that assurance. In his condition, that would amount to false assurance.

    I’m not sure what you mean. Are you talking about assurance of final salvation? But that isn’t what’s in view when we talk about who Christ died for. A nominal believer, in case of a universal atonement, does not have a false assurance that Christ died for him. He merely has an irrelevant assurance; or a useless assurance, or however you’d like to phrase it. Christ did die for him—he just hasn’t appropriated that work by faith.

    Belief in unlimited atonement is just as much an act of faith as belief in limited atonement.

    True. Again, I’m not trying to by bypass faith. I’m saying that, in case the atonement is universal, and in case a Christian believes it, he has better assurance that his faith is justified than if the atonement is particular and/or he believes the atonement is particular. Maybe you guys have thought I’m trying to make an argument that universal atonement is true—in which case I should apologize for being unclear. I’m only arguing that if universal atonement is true, Christians have better justification for their faith. I happen to believe that universal atonement is true, but it isn’t (mostly) on the grounds of the argument I’m offering here. Even if this argument succeeds, merely showing that universal atonement looks favorable compared to particular atonement as regards the justification of faith doesn’t go anywhere toward showing that it must be true.

    If a Christian suffers a crisis of faith, he will harbor doubts about the atonement, or his relation to the atonement, regardless of whether his model of the atonement is limited or unlimited.

    Speaking for myself, that would be quite a different kind of crisis of faith than I had in mind. Of course, it can happen—I just wasn’t addressing it specifically. I’d also add that, given how spiritually impoverished I often feel, I would say that if I believed in a particular atonement I would often doubt God’s favor toward me; whereas believing as I do that the atonement really does extend to me and that I can simply appropriate it by faith, this is not so much the case. Again, this is not a logical reason to believe in a universal atonement; it merely demonstrates the point at issue.

    Moreover, since a universal atonement can’t save you, how is it any consolation to know that Christ died for you, if he also died for the damned?

    Again, I’m not sure what you mean. Obviously a universal atonement can save me. That’s the point.

    On subjective grounds, someone who exercises saving faith today may suffer a lapse of saving faith tomorrow. Therefore, he has no subjective assurance of salvation.

    Remember, I already explicitly acknowledged this. Arminianism cuts its own throat as regards final assurance. But I was speaking in respect to its view of the atonement.

    On objective grounds, Christ died for the saints and the damned alike. Therefore, he has no objective assurance of salvation.

    Again, you’re conflating final assurance (the original issue) with the assurance one can have in one’s own faith (the issue I raised). Under the particular view, the atonement actually justifies, so if one knows one has been atoned for, one has objective assurance of salvation. Under the universal view, the atonement provides the means of salvation, and faith actually justifies. So if one has faith in that atonement, one has an objective assurance of salvation—objective in the sense that the assurance is grounded in the universality of the atonement, rather than one’s subjective perception that it applies to one.

    Regards,
    Bnonn

  18. James Anderson misconstrues the objection against Calvinistice assurance of salvation.

    First, the objection is not based on a misunderstanding of the secret will of God, and the objection is not answered by observing that His secret will is revealed progressively. The secret will of God includes that portion which has neither been revealed nor is being revealed but which is yet to be revealed (i.e., the future). Hence the Calvinist cannot know in the present time anything which God has not revealed and is not revealing, and cannot know whether in the future he/she will be an apostate and thus prove that the currently felt faith was not true but merely evanescent.

    Second, the Calvinist asserts that the Bible promises unconditional assurance of future salvation, which is denied by the Arminian (I use that term loosely to refer to all those who are not theological determinists). Arminians assert that the assurance of future salvation is conditional, and that assurance of present salvation is immediate (that is, anyone who is concerned that they “may not be saved” need merely to call out to God in faith (by which I mean whatever one believes are the essentials for saving faith) and thereby know that they are saved at the time that they do that act.

    Third, the Calvinist’s assurance is undermined by the fact that she cannot do anything about her state of salvation, whereas the Arminian can (and can do it immediately). If the Calvinist has merely been given evanescent faith, there is nothing she can do to turn it into a permanent saving faith. Indeed, when the time comes for her apostasy it has been foreordained that she will desire that apostasy and would not choose any different. That is, she may be anxious now, but later she will not care. So the Calvinism does nothing to address that present anxiety.

    Calvin wrote, “I therefore deny that [reprobates] either understand his will considered as immutable, or steadily embrace his truth, inasmuch as they rest satisfied with an evanescent impression; just as a tree not planted deep enough may take root, but in the process of time wither away, though it may for several years not only put forth leaves and flowers, but produce fruit. (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 3:11,12)

    So the reprobate can be producing fruit for years before her apparent faith vanishes. There is just no way for her to know that her faith is of the permanent perservering kind until she in fact endures in that faith to the end. Such a result is contained in Anderson’s initial statement about the secret decree of God in which he argued that the secret decrees are revealed progressively.

    Calvinism deprives those anxious about the nature of their faith of the single most important resource available: the confidence that God loves ALL with every kind of love needed to save us and to bring about for ALL our eternal flourishing and well being. God, in Calvinism, only has this type of love for the elect. For the Arminian, she reads that God loves her and professes her faith response to God’s drawing and in that moment (and afterward) knows that she is saved. Moreover God promises to enable her to make that confession and to live in that confession the remainder of her life. This simply is not true of Calvinism since the only infallible test of genuine faith is its ultimate endurance to the end.

    A Calvinist can never know whether she is currently deluded about her long term salvation, because what appears to be saving faith may only be evanescent faith, and she cannot (because no one can) determine or recognize the difference between the two:

    “In the past, dear reader, there have been thousands who were just as confident that they had been genuinely saved and were truly trusting in the merits of the finished work of Christ to take them safely through to Heaven, as you may be; nevertheless, they are now in the torments of Hell. Their confidence was a carnal one; their “faith,” no better than that which the demons have. Their faith was but a natural one which rested on the bare letter of Scripture. It was not a supernatural one, wrought in the heart by God. They were too confident that their faith was a saving one, to thoroughly, searchingly, frequently, test it by the Scriptures, to discover whether or no it was brining forth those fruits which are inseparable from the faith of God’s elect. If they read an article like this, they proudly concluded that it belonged to some one else. So cocksure were they that they were born again so many years ago, they refused to heed the command of 2 Corinthians 13:5 “Prove your own selves.” And now it is too late. They wasted their day of opportunity, and the “blackness of darkness” is their portion forever.” (Arthur W. Pink, An Exposition of Hebrews. I ignore for now the misstatement by Pink that under Calvinism there was a day of opportunity and that a person could ignore it)

    regards,
    #John

  19. The points being made by Bnonn and me, in relation to present knowledge of saving faith, are further explicated by Bertrand Russell in his “Problems of Philosophy”. In Chapter X, “On Our Knowledge of Universals”, he writes:

    “We may now take a survey of the sources of our knowledge, as they have appeared in the course of our analysis. We have first to distinguish knowledge of things and knowledge of truths. In each there are two kinds, one immediate and one derivative. Our immediate knowledge of things, which we called acquaintance, consists of two sorts, according as the things known are particulars or universals. Among particulars, we have acquaintance with sense-data and (probably) with ourselves. Among universals, there seems to be no principle by which we can decide which can be known by acquaintance, but it is clear that among those that can be so known are sensible qualities, relations of space and time, similarity, and certain abstract logical universals. Our derivative knowledge of things, which we call knowledge by description, always involves both acquaintance with something and knowledge of truths. Our immediate knowledge of truths may be called intuitive knowledge, and the truths so known may be called self-evident truths. Among such truths are included those which merely state what is given in sense, and also certain abstract logical and arithmetical principles, and (though with less certainty) some ethical propositions. Our derivative knowledge of truths consists of everything that we can deduce from self-evident truths by the use of self-evident principles of deduction.

    “If the above account is correct, all our knowledge of truths depends upon our intuitive knowledge. It therefore becomes important to consider the nature and scope of intuitive knowledge, in much the same way as, at an earlier stage, we considered the nature and scope of knowledge by acquaintance. But knowledge of truths raises a further problem, which does not arise in regard to knowledge of things, namely the problem of error. Some of our beliefs turn out to be erroneous, and therefore it becomes necessary to consider how, if at all, we can distinguish knowledge from error. This problem does not arise with regard to knowledge by acquaintance, for, whatever may be the object of acquaintance, even in dreams and hallucinations, there is no error involved so long as we do not go beyond the immediate object: error can only arise when we regard the immediate object, i.e. the sense-datum, as the mark of some physical object. Thus the problems connected with knowledge of truths are more difficult than those connected with knowledge of things. As the first of the problems connected with knowledge of truths, let us examine the nature and scope of our intuitive judgements.”

    Furthermore, we can observe a difference in the epistemic stance of the Calvinist v. the Arminian. The Arminian’s knowledge of her salvific state is, in relation to the work of Christ, one of necessary knowledge, whereas the Calvinist’s knowledge is only contingent and moreover requires belief.

    The Arminian asserts that the inerrant Bible provides the true proposition that Christ died to save every person who will ever live (“all”). Since this knowledge is simply deductive from propositions (Christ died for all humans and his death is effective for all humans, I am a human, Christ died for me and his death is effective for me), then the Arminian’s belief is necessarily true. I.E., it is necessarily true that Christ died a salvific death for her.

    On the other hand, the Calvinist knows that Christ died only for the elect and she may or may not be one of the elect. Therefore it is only possibly true that Christ died for her. It is only possibly true that Christ died a salvific death for her.

    Furthermore, as I have noted above, the contingency in each case is different. In the Arminian case the effectiveness of Christ’s death is contingent on the exercise of faith by the subject in response to the drawing of God / or the failure to reject the drawing of God which would be effective but for the rejection (exercise of faith is Biblical terminology and is easier to write). In the Calvinist case the contingency relates to the act of election by God; she is saved if God had elected her prior to creation.

    We can then progress to the level of epistemic confidence that one may have in one’s knowledge and beliefs. Because the Arminian can take an immediate action to confirm her salvific status (i.e., put herself in the right relation to God), she can have confidence at every moment that she is saved (in addition the Bible teaches that sin by the believer does not negate one’s salvific action of putting or having put one into right relation to God).

    However, the Calvinist does not have that ability. An action apparently taken by the Calvinist may only be one of evanescent faith and thus even at the very moment that the Calvinist takes a salvific action that action is of no effect unless she is elect. That is, if she is not elect the action of “faith” by her is only an action of evanescent faith. It is even possible to die in a state of evanescent faith (unless God has foreordained that every case of evanescent faith will result in behavioural apostasy prior to death, but we cannot know if He has so foreordained).

    regards,
    #John

  20. The points being made by Bnonn and me

    I’d like to take this opportunity to distance myself from John. If we agree on something here, it appears to be out of coincidence; not out of a set of basic common beliefs. I share far more in common with James and Steve.

  21. stephennhays

    john1453

    “Third, the Calvinist’s assurance is undermined by the fact that she cannot do anything about her state of salvation, whereas the Arminian can (and can do it immediately).”

    What is even better, the Arminian can immediately damn himself by freely losing his salvation. Thankfully, though, that chronic liability does nothing in the slightest to throw his assurance of salvation in doubt.

    “If the Calvinist has merely been given evanescent faith, there is nothing she can do to turn it into a permanent saving faith.”

    Well, since I’m not a “she,” I dodged that bullet.

    “If the Calvinist has merely been given evanescent faith, there is nothing she can do to turn it into a permanent saving faith.”

    Unless the Calvinist is transgender, in which case those horribly sexist pronouns don’t apply.

    “A Calvinist can never know whether she is currently deluded about her long term salvation, because what appears to be saving faith may only be evanescent faith, and she cannot (because no one can) determine or recognize the difference between the two.”

    An Arminian can never know if he’s a man or a Talkie Toaster whom the Great Dwarfer programmed to hallucinate that he’s a man when, in fact, he’s actually a Talkie Toaster–doomed to the everlasting junkyard. Our Talkie Toaster lies awake at night in a state of existential ennui, forever asking himself if he’s a man imagining he’s a Talkie Toaster, or else a Talkie Toaster imagining he’s a man.

  22. stephennhays

    What “John’s” little rant boils down to is that some professing believers can be self-deluded. He singles out Calvinism, but except for universalism, antinomianism, and Sandemanianism (all three of which are textbook examples of self-delusion), all major theological traditions admit that a professing believer can be self-deluded.

    Yes, a closet apostate can imagine he’s heavenbound when, in fact, he’s hellbound. So what?

    In the meantime, “John” disregards a number of key distinctions I’ve drawn, both in articulating Calvinism and Arminianism.

  23. stephennhays

    D Bnonn Tennant

    “Surely it goes without saying that, in fact, a universal atonement is sufficient to save anyone whosoever …”

    Really? Unless universal redemption entails the salvation of whosoever was redeemed, then it’s hardly a sufficient condition for the salvation of anyone whosoever.

    “Conversely, a particular atonement is not sufficient to save anyone whoever, which is exactly the reason that trusting it is difficult if one’s subjective assurances are weak (even when they are justified).”

    Trusting limited atonement as well as unlimited atonement are both subjective mental states. If your subjective perception is too weak to trust the one, then it’s too weak to trust the other. Or so it seems to me.

    “I’m only saying that their belief that the atonement extends to them is not taken ‘directly’ from God’s word (since God’s word does not name them specifically), but rather is verified indirectly by their subjective perceptions in relation to what God’s word says about the elect. And that seems quite plainly to be a weaker kind of knowledge about being covered in Christ than a knowledge based on a universal redemption.”

    i) Of course, that’s fatally equivocal since there’s a qualitative as well as quantitative difference between limited atonement and unlimited atonement. It’s not a case of taking whatever limited atonement has to offer, and then extending its benefits to every man. A limited atonement is intrinsically efficacious whereas an unlimited atonement is intrinsically inefficacious.

    ii) For that matter, God’s word doesn’t specifically name the elect or the regenerate. Hence, all you’ve done is to shift the problem–assuming that’s a problem to begin with.

    “A nominal believer, in case of a universal atonement, does not have a false assurance that Christ died for him.”

    That fails to distinguish between true belief and true assurance. In case of universal atonement, the nominal believer has a true belief that Christ died for him.

    However, his true belief doesn’t automatically function as true assurance. Remember that, in context, “assurance” is shorthand for the assurance of salvation.

    Yet, in case of universal atonement, the true belief that Christ died for him doesn’t ipso facto translate into true assurance that he will be saved–inasmuch as Christ also died for the damned.

    “He merely has an irrelevant assurance; or a useless assurance, or however you’d like to phrase it.”

    Once again, in Reformed usage, “assurance” is shorthand for the assurance of salvation. (At least, that’s what it means to me.) In the nature of the case, you can’t have an irrelevant or useless assurance of salvation.

    You seem to be filling in the blanks (of the shorthand expression) by defining assurance, not as the assurance of salvation, but the assurance of redemption–even if redemption is inefficacious.

    You can, of course, redefine traditional terms, but that’s a very different concept.

    “True. Again, I’m not trying to by bypass faith. I’m saying that, in case the atonement is universal, and in case a Christian believes it, he has better assurance that his faith is justified than if the atonement is particular and/or he believes the atonement is particular.”

    A “Christian” in what sense? A true believer or nominal believer? Does a closet apostate have a well-grounded assurance that his faith is justified? Or is that delusive?

    If, on the other hand, you mean a true believer, then, of course, his justified faith is well-grounded in the efficacious atonement which Christ made on his behalf.

    “Maybe you guys have thought I’m trying to make an argument that universal atonement is true…”

    No, I’ve been discussing unlimited on its own terms, and comparing that with limited atonement on its own terms.

    “I’d also add that, given how spiritually impoverished I often feel, I would say that if I believed in a particular atonement I would often doubt God’s favor toward me; whereas believing as I do that the atonement really does extend to me and that I can simply appropriate it by faith, this is not so much the case.”

    i) Once more, I don’t see the practical difference. If you can appropriate the unlimited atonement by faith, then you can appropriate the limited atonement by faith. And if you’re too spiritually impoverished to do the latter, then I think you’d be too spiritually impoverished to do the former.

    ii) Since the type of divine favor which unlimited atonement presents is inefficacious, I don’t see how that has much nutritional value for someone who’s already famished.

    iii) God ministers to each of us as individuals. He gives each one of his children what they need at any particular time. Some Christians are more temperamentally prone to self-doubt than others. Likewise, we can feel different at different stages of life. A twenty-something Christian may feel very different (for better or worse) than a forty-something Christian.

    “Again, you’re conflating final assurance (the original issue) with the assurance one can have in one’s own faith (the issue I raised).”

    You try to drive a wedge between initial assurance and final assurance. Since, however, “assurance” is shorthand for the assurance of salvation, any such assurance, if authentic, includes the final outcome. To be assured of salvation is to be assured of the fact that you will endure to the end.

    “Under the particular view, the atonement actually justifies, so if one knows one has been atoned for, one has objective assurance of salvation. Under the universal view, the atonement provides the means of salvation, and faith actually justifies.”

    If you’re using “justification” in a theological (rather than epistemological) sense, then that’s a mischaracterization of limited atonement.

    Limited atonement doesn’t justify the redeemed irrespective of faith. Rather, limited atonement ensures the exercise of justifying faith on the part of the redeemed. That’s a piece of the overall package. It’s a package deal. All the benefits of limited atonement are conferred on the redeemed.

    “So if one has faith in that atonement, one has an objective assurance of salvation—objective in the sense that the assurance is grounded in the universality of the atonement, rather than one’s subjective perception that it applies to one.”

    At the risk of tautology, only a believer thinks the atonement applies to him. That holds true whether the believer thinks the applicable atonement is limited or unlimited. In either case, the believer qua believer thinks the atonement (whether limited or unlimited) applies to him.

  24. Hays writes, “What is even better, the Arminian can immediately damn himself by freely losing his salvation.” The term “losing” is incorrect, as it takes active rebellion to throw away one’s salvation. Nevertheless, it is true that a Christian can throw away her salvation, which is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the word’s of Scripture. That is, it is not a failing of Arminianism for it to assert what it believes is the correct interpretation of Scripture.

    Using “she” pronouns is perfectly acceptable in modern English, and I am not forcing you to use them in your response. To make snide comments about their use comes across as sexist, unnecessarily disputatious and petty, and a poor witness to nonChristians.

    BTW, I suggest not describing posts with which one disagrees as a “little rant”; such a comment is uncalled for and drags the discussion down to a less than civil level. Christians can disagree without being uncivil, and incivility is a poor witness to nonChristians who may view this thread.

    regards,
    #John

  25. stephennhays

    john1453

    “The term ‘losing’ is incorrect.”

    Whether or not a Christian can “lose” his salvation is stock, idiomatic jargon in the Calvinist/Arminian debate. I didn’t invent that lingo.

    “That is, it is not a failing of Arminianism for it to assert what it believes is the correct interpretation of Scripture.”

    In that event, it’s not a failing of Calvinism for it to assert what it believes is the correct interpretation of Scripture. So you’ve just disqualified your attacks on Calvinism.

    “To make snide comments about their use comes across as sexist, unnecessarily disputatious and petty, and a poor witness to nonChristians.”

    What is sexist is gender tokenism and liberal paternalism.

    “BTW, I suggest not describing posts with which one disagrees as a ‘little rant’; such a comment is uncalled for and drags the discussion down to a less than civil level.”

    You make no effort to be evenhanded in your comparison between Arminian and Reformed assurance. It’s a purely partisan exercise on your part. Therefore, my characterization is entirely called for.

    “Christians can disagree without being uncivil, and incivility is a poor witness to nonChristians who may view this thread.”

    i) To begin with, I notice that your strictures about civility don’t inhibit you from being noticeably uncivil in the combo of Dangerous Idea and Between Two Worlds–to mention just two blogs you frequent.

    ii) I’d add that you haven’t said anything about your spiritual affiliations one way or the other. You’ve simply used Arminianism is a club to beat Calvinism.

    iii) Finally, since I don’t know you, and since you make a point of shielding your personal identity, I have no opinion about your spiritual affiliations one way or the other. Hence, I don’t treat you as either a believer or unbeliever.

  26. Hays on December 9th at 12:18 wrote that he is using “losing faith” as a idiomatic jargon. Given that approach, it is then not clear whether he, as some Calvinists do, believe that Arminians believe that faith can be lost without an intent to do so. I wanted to be clear that I do not think that it is true that faith can be “lost” in that manner. Since Hays takes issue with what I describe as the incorrect view of “lost”, it seems implied that he agrees with me that the Arminian view is that faith can only be discarded by intentional action to do so. That is, if he disagrees with the Arminian viewpoint he will not use as an argument that an Arminian can inadvertently lost her faith.

    Hays may view my use of “her” as tokenism, but I do not and it is not viewed as tokenism by writers and philosophers who do so. In any event, it would be silliness to argue that the example is not applicable merely because of the pronoun.

    As to incivility, I am not perfect, but my imperfections do not justify a like response from others. If our cheek is slapped, we are to turn it and not respond in kind. In addition, Jesus calls us to love both the unbeliever and the believer and Paul commands us to not be rude, regardless of how others treat us.

    regards,
    #John

  27. Okay, it’s been a fun ride, but I think we’re done with the comment thread on this one.

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