Dr. Brian Abasciano recently posted an article on the Society of Evangelical Arminians website in response to an “untenable grammatical argument” offered by (so he claims) James White, Guillaume Bignon, James A. Gibson, and yours truly. Dr. Abasciano generously describes me as a “respectable Calvinist philosopher” (who are the disreputable ones, I wonder?) even though he thinks I committed an “embarrassing mistake” (if so, at least I’m in good company).
Drs. Bignon and Gibson have replied here. Dr. White made some excellent comments in response on The Dividing Line (April 24 episode). I don’t have much to add to these, but I’ll make a few observations of my own.
Yes, it really does. Hear me out.
John 3:16 is commonly cited against the Calvinist doctrine of limited atonement (LA). The argument is simple: LA teaches that Christ made atonement only for the elect, but this best-known verse in the Bible says that God so loved the world that he sent his Son. That implies a universal atonement, for all mankind, not one limited in its extent.
That seems like a knockdown argument on the face of it, but on closer examination it turns out to be very weak. In John’s writings “the world” (ho kosmos) rarely if ever carries the sense of “all mankind” or “every human who ever lived.” It certainly doesn’t mean that in 3:16 because that would make nonsense of the immediately following verse. (Try replacing “the world” with “all mankind” in verse 17 to see the point.) Rather, “the world” typically means either (i) “the created universe” (as in John 17:24), (ii) something like “the fallen creation in rebellion against God” (e.g., John 3:19; 13:1; 15:19; 17:13-18; 1 John 2:15-17) or (iii) “all nations” as opposed to the Jewish people alone (as in John 4:42). Whatever the exact sense in 3:16, there’s nothing that conflicts with LA.
So John 3:16 doesn’t count against LA. Perhaps most Calvinists are content to leave it at that, but I think we can go further and argue that it actually supports LA.
In an earlier post I offered a response to a specific objection to the doctrine of particular redemption. This objection boils down to the claim that the following two statements are incompatible:
(1) Christ did not die in an atoning sense for S.
(2) The gospel can be sincerely offered to S.
I argued that (1) and (2) can be seen to be compatible by drawing an analogy with Newcomb’s paradox in the case where one of the two boxes turns out to be empty.
Dominic Bnonn Tennant raised some characteristically thoughtful objections to my argument. He and some other readers thought they smelled a rat, in the form of a relevant disanalogy between the two scenarios. In the first part of this post, I’ll first respond directly to Bnonn’s comments; in the second, I’ll try to advance the argument a little further.
Newcomb’s paradox is a famous puzzle in decision theory that has provoked much discussion. It has been formulated in different ways, but a standard formulation runs as follows.
The Predictor is a person who is able to make a prediction about a future choice of yours with a very high degree of certainty. (In some versions, the Predictor is infallible — a point to which we will return.) The Predictor invites you to play a game involving two boxes: A and B. Box A is transparent and you can see that it contains $1,000. Box B is opaque. You’re now given a straight binary choice: you may pick either both boxes or only box B. But before you choose, the Predictor informs you that he has already predicted which choice you will make and has arranged the contents of box B accordingly. If he predicted that you will pick only box B then he placed $1,000,000 in that box; but if he predicted that you will pick both boxes then he left box B empty.
The million-dollar question is this: What choice should you make? (The thought experiment assumes, of course, that you want to maximize your winnings!)