December 07, 2004

Calvinism and the sincere offer of the Gospel

Dr. Science has a standing offer to local crank inventors. Anyone who can demonstrate a working model of a perpetual-motion machine or some other "free energy" device is entitled to a cash reward of $10,000, payable immediately.

Of course, Dr. Science is a good physicist, and so he knows that his conditions cannot ever be met. Perpetual motion violates the first two laws of thermodynamics. You can't get more energy out of a system than you put into it, and all mechanical systems, left to themselves, will eventually succumb to friction and stop working. His $10,000 is perfectly safe.

Question: Is the offer sincere? Most people probably doubt it, thinking that he is cynical and just out to prove a point.

Likewise, one of the most frequent objections raised against Calvinist soteriology is that it makes God insincere in light of the doctrines of unconditional election and particular redemption. If God has already chosen the elect from the beginning of time, and if Christ has died for them only, then how can God sincerely offer salvation to the lost? He knows full well that they will refuse; indeed, they can do nothing but refuse. God, according to the Calvinists, must be some sort of cosmic tease, like a child dangling a piece of meat just out of reach of a dog tied up in the yard.

The problem with the accusation of insincerity is that it ignores the prerequisite of a sincere offer: what is offered, is granted. In fact, the focus of the argument has been shifted away from the terms of the offer onto the one making the offer.

It may very well be that Dr. Science is only trying to prove a point about kook science with his challenge. But that has nothing to do with the sincerity of the offer: "Demonstrate a working perpetual-motion machine and win $10,000," he says; "Meet my conditions, and I will keep my promise." As long as no one actually steps up to claim the prize, there is no logical ground upon which to question Dr. Science's sincerity. It hasn't been tested one way or the other.

But suppose that Mr. Crank, an inventor, discovers a genuine loophole in the laws of thermodynamics. He designs a working perpetual-motion machine. He presents it to Dr. Science with a thorough explanation of the underlying theory. However, Dr. Science chooses to rest upon his own presuppositions. Ignoring the evidence in front of him, he refuses to pay Mr. Crank his reward. Now Dr. Science's sincerity has been tested, and it has been found wanting.

And so it is with God as well. He demands that the Law be kept perfectly, else if we violate one of its statutes we are guilty of violating all of them (cf. Deut. 27:26; Gal. 3:10; Jas. 2:10). And indeed, he is trying to prove a point: that it is impossible for any man, by his own ability, to obey the Law perfectly. The Law is "our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Gal. 3:24). Its purpose is to teach what sin is, and also to expose man's sinfulness and drive him to seek God's mercy through Christ. "[I]f thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved," God says (Rom. 10:9). "Meet my conditions, and I will keep my promise." Man is not able, of his own ability, to meet God's requirements, but that does not call his sincerity into question.

But God seizes the initiative and grants some men the ability to meet his conditions. If he then refused to deliver what he promised, there would be grounds upon which to doubt his sincerity. Indeed, some professed "Calvinists" have complicated matters by claiming that God may not save all who call out to him. For example, a few years ago I personally heard Harold Camping of Family Radio tell a caller who asked how to be saved:

Remember if God wants to save you, and I have no idea whether he will save you, God has to do it. But the environment in which he saves is the Word of God and I would encourage you to read the Bible, read the Bible and, and try to become as acquainted as you can with the Word of God, as you're in an environment where if God plans to save you he will apply that word to your heart. At the same time, for your own encouragement you can beseech the Lord, and God wants us to do this, you can beseech him and beg him, "O God, have mercy on me, have mercy, have mercy." Doesn't mean you're gonna get saved, but at least you know that you can get the, the message to Eternal God that you, er, uh, truly wish to have that salvation. And those - that's a luxury that God gives us. But we don't dictate to God we, we'd like, we'd like to get saved right now, right this minute. We have to wait upon the Lord. I know men and women who have waited almost a lifetime before God saved them. But, er, uh, the glorious and glamourous thing is, today is the day of salvation, God is saving all over the world. So the situation is not hopeless at all. (Open Bible Dialogue, August 21, 2002, emphasis added)

But Calvinists and Arminians alike can agree that Camping and his kind are in grave error. God has promised that "[w]hosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed" (Rom. 10:11). Because God is as good as his word, the sincerity of the gospel offer is beyond question.

Postscript: I was, um, inspired to write this after reading Jollyblogger's post on limited atonement, in particular the most recent (topmost) comment it garnered.

Post-postscript:Rebecca has also posted a different approach to this objection to Calvinism that is well worth reading.