Limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness


(image courtesy

By Spencer D Gear

What do Calvinists mean when they support the doctrine of limited atonement or particular redemption? Was there absolutely no possibility for Hitler or a multitude of reprobates to be redeemed? Who created all of the evil in the world? Was that God or someone else?

Did Jesus die for Hitler and all of the other evil monsters in the world over the last 20 centuries, including domestic violence perpetrators and paedophiles? Did God decree all of the evil in the world, including the Holocaust, Gulag, Pol Pot’s and Idi Amin’s atrocities? Was Jesus’ atonement only designed for a limited number of people throughout history and the rest are damned to hell for eternity – damned by God himself?

Here are a few samples of Reformed teachers who promote limited atonement or particular redemption and what they understand it means:

A. David Steele & Curtis Thomas

Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save the elect only and actually secured salvation for them. His death was a substitutionary sacrifice of the penalty of sin in the place of certain specified sinners. In addition to putting away the sins of His people, Christ’s redemption secured everything necessary for their salvation, including faith, which united them to Him. The gift of faith is infallibly applied by the Spirit to all for whom Christ died, thereby guaranteeing their salvation” (Steele & Thomas 1976:17)

The Scriptures that they use to support this view are in Steele & Thomas (1976:40-47). They include this scriptural support from Steele & Thomas (1976:40-47):

A. The Scriptures describe the end intended and accomplished by Christ’s work as the full salvation (actual reconciliation, justification, and sanctification) of His people.

     1. The Scriptures state that Christ came, not to enable men to save themselves, but to save sinners.

  • Matthew 1:21: “… she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
  • Luke 19:10: “For the Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost.”
  • II Corinthians 5:21: For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
  • Galatians 1:3, 4: Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.
  • I Timothy 1:15: The saying is sure and worthy of full accept­ance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners.
  • Titus 2:14: . . . who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.
  • I Peter 3:18: For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.

    2. The Scriptures declare that, as the result of what Christ did and suffered, His people are reconciled to God, justified, and given the Holy Spirit who regenerates and sanctifies them. All these blessings were secured by Christ Himself for His people.

    a. Christ, by His redeeming work, secured reconciliation for His people…. Etc, etc.

[The full list of Scriptures from Steele & Thomas (1976:40-47) has been transcribed HERE.]

George ‘Lee’ Nickles (2001) gives a brief summary of some of these Scriptures used to support this view (based on the 1963 edition of Steele & Thomas 1976). They stated:

Probably the most difficult to agree with. Also called Particular atonement.

Only the elect will be saved.

I. Christ does the saving

    1. Matthew 1:21

    Who does the saving?

    2. I Peter 3:18

    Who does the saving?

II. Christ is the basis of salvation (reconciliation, justification, sanctification)

    3. Colossians 1:21-22

    What is reconciliation?

    4. II Corinthians 5:18-19

    How are we reconciled to God?

    5. Romans 3:24-25

    How are we justified? What is justification?

    6. Galatians 3:13

    What is redemption? How are we redeemed to God?

    7. Titus 2:14

    What does Christ do for us? (2 things)

III. Only some will be saved

    8. John 10:24-29

    Does everyone follow Christ?

    9. John 17:1-3, 6-9

    Who does Christ pray for?

    10. John 17:24

    What does Christ want for his people?

IV. Concerns about “world” and “all”

    11. John 3:16

    What does “world” refer to here?

B. J I Packer:

Definite redemption, sometimes called “particular redemption,” “effective atonement,” and “limited atonement,” is an historic Reformed doctrine about the intention of the triune God in the death of Jesus Christ. Without doubting the infinite worth of Christ’s sacrifice or the genuineness of God’s “whoever will” invitation to all who hear the gospel (Rev. 22:17), the doctrine states that the death of Christ actually put away the sins of all God’s elect and ensured that they would be brought to faith through regeneration and kept in faith for glory, and that this is what it was intended to achieve. From this definiteness and effectiveness follows its limitedness: Christ did not die in this efficacious sense for everyone. The proof of that, as Scripture and experience unite to teach us, is that not all are saved (Packer 1993:137).

C. R C Sproul:

I prefer the term definite atonement to the term limited atonement (though it turns tulip into tudip). The doctrine of definite atonement focuses on the question of the design of Christ’s atonement. It is concerned with God’s intent in sending Jesus to the cross….

Christ’s atonement does not avail for unbelievers…. Some put it this way: Christ’s atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for some. This, however, does not really get at the heart of the question of definite atonement…. The Reformed view holds that Christ’s atonement was designed and intended only for the elect. Christ laid down His life for His sheep and only for His sheep. Furthermore, the Atonement insured salvation for all the elect (Sproul 1992:1975-176).

R. C. Sproul (cropped).jpg

R C Sproul (Wikipedia)

D. Did John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, believe in limited atonement?[1]

Did John Calvin (AD 1509-1564) support limited atonement? In the early days of his writing when he was aged 26, he completed the first edition of The Institutes of the Christian Religion. In these Institutes, he wrote:

I say with Augustine, that the Lord has created those who, as he certainly foreknew, were to go to destruction, and he did so because he so willed. Why he willed it is not ours to ask, as we cannot comprehend, nor can it become us even to raise a controversy as to the justice of the divine will. Whenever we speak of it, we are speaking of the supreme standard of justice (Institutes 3.23.5).

Here Calvin affirmed that God willed the destruction of unbelievers. Calvin continued:

Their perdition depends on the predestination of God, the cause and matter of it is in themselves. The first man fell because the Lord deemed it meet that he should: why he deemed it meet, we know not. It is certain, however, that it was just, because he saw that his own glory would thereby be displayed (Institutes 3.23.8)

While this description is tied up with Calvin’s view of double predestination, it is linked with the doctrine of limited atonement this way: How could God predestine unbelievers to eternal damnation, thus guaranteeing no hope of eternal salvation, while offering unlimited atonement? Unconditional election to damnation – which is the corollary of unconditional election to salvation – would make unlimited salvation useless to those who are deterministically damned. That is the logical connection, as I understand it.

I appreciate that there are some evangelical preachers and teachers who do not believe in eternal hell for the damned. See

clip_image004 Hell No!: A Fundamentalist Preacher Rejects Eternal Torment by Charles Gillihan;

clip_image004[1]Can a Loving God Send People to Hell?’ Debate: William Lane Craig vs. Ray Bradley;

clip_image004[2]Clark Pinnock’s thoughts on hell

I am not of that view. See my articles:

clip_image005What is the nature of death according to the Bible?

clip_image005[1] 2 Thessalonians 1:9: Eternal destruction;

clip_image005[2]Hell & Judgment;

clip_image005[3] Hell in the Bible;

clip_image005[4]Should we be punished for our sins?

clip_image005[5]Paul on eternal punishment;

clip_image005[6]Where will unbelievers go at death?

clip_image005[6]Torment in Old Testament hell? The meaning of Sheol in the OT;

clip_image005[7]Eternal torment for unbelievers when they die;

clip_image005[6]Will you be ready when your death comes?

clip_image005[8]What happens at death for believer and unbeliever?

clip_image005[9]Does eternal destruction mean annihilation for unbelievers at death?

clip_image005[10]Refutation of Seventh-Day Adventist doctrine of what happens at death;

clip_image005[11]Near-death experiences are not all light: What about the dark experiences?

However, even if one were to disbelieve in hell, the problem is still there for the Calvinist regarding God’s unfairness (injustice). If God makes salvation freely available to only a section of humanity and the rest are left to die in their sins, God’s goodness is violated by this injustice. But I’m jumping ahead of myself. That exposition is below.

Roger Nicole’s article on “John Calvin’s view of the extent of the atonement”, indicates that Calvin did not believe in limited atonement, but that it was a doctrine originated by Calvinists following Calvin. Calvin’s first edition of The Institutes was in Latin in 1536 and this was published in a French edition in 1560.

John Calvin did progress in his thinking when he wrote his commentaries on the Bible later in life. His first commentary was on the Book of Romans in 1540 and his commentaries after 1557 were taken from stenographer’s notes taken from lectures to his students. He wrote in his commentary on John 3:16:

Faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish….

And he has employed the universal term whosoever, both to invite all indiscriminately to partake of life, and to cut off every excuse from unbelievers. Such is also the import of the term World, which he formerly used; for though nothing will be found in the world that is worthy of the favor of God, yet he shows himself to be reconciled to the whole world, when he invites all men without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life (bold emphasis added; italics emphasis in original).

Thus John Calvin himself is very clear. He believed in unlimited (or universal) atonement.

E. What do some online Christians think of limited atonement?

Colossians 1:20


There is a considerable amount of back and forth between Arminians and Calvinists on the largest evangelical online forum that I have found, Christian Forums. I asked someone online at this Forum, ‘And you want me to believe that Christ preached and taught limited atonement? I do not support that view’.[2] The response was: ‘It’s the only view you can hold, since, obviously, nobody is burning in hell for sins that Christ already paid the penalty for’.[3]

My reply was: Limited atonement is not the only view that I can hold. I, as a Reformed Arminian, do not hold to limited atonement. I differentiate between Christ’s atonement SUFFICIENT for the whole world but EFFICIENT only for the elect.
I consider that the New Testament teaches these two doctrines in John 3:16; 1 Tim 2:4; and Acts 16:31. ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance’ (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).

I support the view in which Ron Rhodes has presented a summary case for unlimited atonement in, ‘The Extent of the Atonement—Limited Atonement versus Unlimited Atonement‘.

The response on the Forum was:

Unless you are a universalist, it is the only position you can hold, for the reasons I explained before. Otherwise, you believe in a conditional atonement, which is accessed when people meet that condition; after that, the atonement is limited to whoever accepted it. No one in hell has had their sins atoned for, otherwise they wouldn’t be burning for them.

“The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV).” The context here is “us-ward,” as the KJV puts it, or “towards you,” in this case, the church. It is not referring to the scoffers and the damned reserved for judgment in the previous verses.

That the atonement is not conditional, but is effectually carried through to all the elect, is self-evident from Christ’s reply to the unbelievers in John 6.

“But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father.”
(John 6:64-65)

This cannot be so if the atonement is conditional and is not given effectually to the elect, or that it is foreknowledge of who would obey and believe which determined their membership in the elect. Otherwise Christ’s reply would be nonsensical.[4]

My reply, in quoting verses provided by Matt Slick (a Calvinist) of CARM, was:[5]

Jesus died for everyone:

  • John 1:29, “The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'”
  • John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
  • John 4:42, “and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.'”
  • 1 Tim. 4:10, “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
  • 1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”
  • 1 John 4:14, “And we have beheld and bear witness that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world.”

The supporter of limited atonement came back with:

Matt Slick of CARM is a Calvinist, just FYI. Nothing is more common for the Jews, in their writings, to limit the “world” to particular persons, or to even use the word “world” when they are referring only, perhaps, to the Gentiles, or on other occasions, to the Jews. That atonement is limited only to believers is not a point that can be disputed, as if self-evident from the other verses CARM provides, and my own. Of course, we (you and I) dispute on how they come to believe. In which case, you would need to reconcile the verses from, say, John 6, and others like them, with your view of a conditional atonement. Since if it is only “offered,” but not effected, we cannot say that some do not believe because it was not given them to believe.[6]

I didn’t come down in the last shower!clip_image006 I know Matt Slick is a Calvinist. However, even he admits that there are Christians on both sides of this debate. And he provided verses to support unlimited atonement (quoted above).

I further emphasised[7] that Calvinists who support limited atonement need to make ‘world’ = particular persons in the world. Arminians take the word ‘world’ at face value, meaning the whole world. We know that this is what the Scriptures intend, based on 2 Peter 3:9, ‘The Lord is … not wishing any should perish’ (ESV). This is not saying ‘The Lord … is wishing many to perish’ (through double predestination).

However, what does this verse say? First John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

This is to refute the idea that the sins of the world = sins of part of the world. First John 2:2 is very clear that Christ Himself was the propitiation for the sins of the WHOLE world and NOT PART of the world.

First John 4:10 makes it clear how this applies as Christ’s atonement is sufficient for the whole world but efficient for those who believe, when it states that Jesus is ‘the Savior of all men [male and female], especially of believers.”

I find that unlimited atonement is the biblical teaching. Christ’s death is sufficient for the whole world, but it only applies to ‘whoever believes in Him’ (John 3:16).

However, I cannot see us agreeing on this point, even though I find the Scriptures to be clear about Christ’s atonement being sufficient for all but efficient only for those who believe.

This person did respond to me.[8] Did you notice what he did in his response to me?[9] He did not answer my post and verses I gave, with the interpretation I provided. He simply went ahead and gave his interpretation of a few verses. He ran off with his own agenda and did not respond specifically to my objections. What is he doing when he does this?

If he wants me to take notice of what he writes, he needs to stop using this kind of straw man logical fallacy. I will not engage with him further if he continues to use this tactic of writing what he wants to say and ignoring my objections. We cannot have a logical conversation when someone uses logical fallacies. For a good overview of logical fallacies, see The Nizkor Project.

clip_image007This person wrote:

First, if Christ is the propitiation for every single human being’s sins, then it means that He has atoned for the sins that they are still being punished for. It does not say that he is the possible propitiation. It says that he is, at that time, for every person in the world. This cannot be true, since only believers are saved. Unless you are a Universalist, this cannot be the verse for you. Also, your view is illogical, since it supposes that Christ died for sinners already in hell, or those who would go to hell, and millions of people who never heard the Gospel and never would, in all ages, whom the scripture regards as entirely under the guilt of sin and damned.

Arminians take these verses at “face value,” and contradict the whole of scripture and common sense. You also didn’t attempt to reconcile these views with that verse from John 6, either.

Next, let’s also put this verse side by side the parallel passage:

1 John 2:2, “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”[10]

My response was:[11]

Let’s try just one verse in this post and my response to your statement regarding 1 John 2:2 which you have quoted.

One of the most prominent Greek exegetes from the 20th century – and a Southern Baptist – Dr A T Robertson, provided this exegesis of 1 John 2:2: ‘For the whole world (peri holou tou kosmou). It is possible to supply the ellipsis here of twn hamartiwn (the sins of) as we have it in Heb. 7:27, but a simpler way is just to regard “the whole world” as a mass of sin (5:19). At any rate, the propitiation by Christ provides for salvation for all (Heb. 2:9) if they will only be reconciled with God (II Cor. 5:19-21)’ (Robertson 1933:209-210).

Lutheran commentator, R C H Lenski, prefers the translation of ‘expiation’ to ‘propitiation’ for the Greek, hilasmos. However, his exegesis is:

John advances the thought from sins to the whole world of sinners. Christ made expiation for our sins and thereby for all sinners. We understand kosmos [world] in the light of John 3:16 and think that it includes all men [male and female], us among them, and not only all unsaved men [male and female]. John does not add this “but also” as a matter of information for us regarding other people but as assuring us that, because Christ is expiation (qualitative, without the article; like dikaion) “in regard to the whole world,” we are included.

Augustine and the Venerable Bede offer the interpretation that “the whole world” = ecclesia electorum for totum mundum dispersa, which Calvin seconds…. But see II Peter 2:1: the Lord bought even those who go to hell. “The whole world” includes all men [male and female] who ever lived or will live (Lenski 1966:400).

Second Peter 2:1 reads, ‘But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction’ (ESV, emphasis added).

As for John 6:64-65, this interpretation that I have provided in no way conflicts with these two verses which read: ‘But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father”'(ESV).
These verses harmonise beautifully with Jesus’ foreknowledge of those who would believe (as opposed to unconditional election). This is obvious from the words, ‘Jesus knew from the beginning’ (his foreknowledge) those who would believe, even Judas who would betray him. The Father grants belief (faith) to those who come to him.

This fellow who was opposing me online, did run off with a long-winded reply that did not address the matters I raised, in my view.[12]

(courtesy ChristArt)

F. Prevenient grace

In the above kind of discussion, irresistible grace and unconditional election are often supported by Calvinists. It is at times like this that I enter into the Arminian discussion on prevenient grace. As to prevenient grace, this is my understanding of its meaning (which I support). Roger Olson, an Arminian, stated that prevenient grace ‘is the powerful but resistible drawing of God’ towards the unbeliever. ‘Prevenient grace’ is not a biblical term, “but it is a biblical concept assumed everywhere in scripture” (Olson 2006:159).

The Remonstrants,[1] Article 4 (as the earliest Arminians promotion of resistible grace), described it this way:

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to the extent that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But with respect to the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, since it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places).

The Remonstrants understood that there was only one way to eternal salvation and that was achieved when God’s grace came to human beings before, during and after justification. Why was God’s grace needed in this way? It was because, as the Remonstrants stated, that no human being could ‘think, will, nor do good’ unless they received God’s prevenient or assisting grace.

Steve Lemke put it this way, when speaking of the Remonstrants’ response to Calvinism in Article 4 (above):

The Remonstrants taught that the only way for anyone to be saved is for God’s grace to come before, during, and after justification because even the best-intentioned human being can “neither think, will, nor do good” apart from God’s grace.[13] They even went so far as to say that all good in “any way that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ.”[14] But the question is, Why is this saving grace of God not appropriated or experienced by all persons? Has God failed in some way? Does God not truly love all persons? Does God not desire the salvation of all persons? No. The Remonstrants refused to blame this failure on God but rightly assigned this failure to the rebellion and resistance of fallen human beings. God created human beings with the free will either to cooperate with God and receive His grace or to reject finally God’s gracious gift…. Human beings would have no salvation at all apart from the grace of God; but God refuses to actualize that salvation in the life of anyone who continually resists God’s grace, refuses to humbly receive it, and finally rejects it’ (Lemke 2010:110).

G. How Calvinists tame the language of ‘irresistible grace’[15]

R. C. Sproul (1992:169-170), a Calvinist, describes irresistible grace as ‘effectual calling’. For Sproul,

the effectual call of God is an inward call. It is the secret work of quickening or regeneration accomplished in the souls of the elect by the immediate supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit…. Effectual calling is irresistible in the sense that God sovereignly brings about its desired result…. irresistible in the sense that God’s grace prevails over our natural resistance to it.

We need to understand that the language of ‘effectual calling’ is a way to soften the language of ‘irresistible grace’, with the latter coming with overtones of God forcing a person to receive salvation. Lemke (2010:112) considers that ‘some contemporary Calvinists seem to be a little embarrassed by the term “irresistible grace” and have sought to soften it or to replace it with a term like “effectual calling”’.

While Sproul (1992), Spurgeon (1856) and Packer (1993:152-153) use the language of ‘effectual calling’, other Calvinists are more up front in emphasising that grace that brings about salvation cannot be refused – people are unable to resist. Packer’s language is that ‘in effectual calling God quickens the dead’, people understand the gospel through the Holy Spirit enlightening and renewing the hearts of elect sinners. They embrace this ‘truth from God, and God in Christ becomes to them an object of desire and affection’ as they are now regenerate and have been enabled ‘by the use of their freed will to choose God and the good’ and receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Packer 1993:153). Spurgeon (1856) said, ‘If he shall but say, “To-day I must abide at thy house,” there will be no resistance in you…. If God says “I must,” there is no standing against it. Let him say “must,” and it must be’.

Steele, Thomas and Quinn (2004:52-54), as Calvinists, are more to the point, using the language that ‘the special inward call of the Spirit never fails to result in the conversion of those to whom it is made’. It is issued ‘only to the elect’ and the Spirit does not depend on ‘their help or cooperation’. In fact, ‘for the grace which the Holy Spirit extends to the elect cannot be thwarted or refused, it never fails to bring them to true faith in Christ’. That sounds awfully like God forcing the elect to come to Christ and by implication, leaving the non-elect to damnation.

John Piper and the staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, MN, do not use the softly, softly language. They state that irresistible grace

does not mean that every influence of the Holy Spirit cannot be resisted. It means that the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance and make his influence irresistible…. The doctrine of irresistible grace means that God is sovereign and can overcome all resistance when he wills.[16]

However, there is a paradoxical statement in the Bethlehem Baptist statement in that only a few paragraphs after making the above statement, it stated:

Irresistible grace never implies that God forces us to believe against our will. That would even be a contradiction in terms. On the contrary, irresistible grace is compatible with preaching and witnessing that tries to persuade people to do what is reasonable and what will accord with their best interests.[17]

It sure is a contradiction in terms and the Bethlehem Baptist Church has given that contradiction by affirming that ‘the Holy Spirit can overcome all resistance’, yet God never ‘forces us to believe against our will’.[18] Sounds awfully like a Bethlehem Baptist contradiction to me.

Irresistible grace has been described as:

When God calls his elect into salvation, they cannot resist. God offers to all people the gospel message. This is called the external call. But to the elect, God extends an internal call and it cannot be resisted. This call is by the Holy Spirit who works in the hearts and minds of the elect to bring them to repentance and regeneration whereby they willingly and freely come to God. Some of the verses used in support of this teaching are Romans 9:16 where it says that “it is not of him who wills nor of him who runs, but of God who has mercy“; Philippians 2:12-13 where God is said to be the one working salvation in the individual; John 6:28-29 where faith is declared to be the work of God; Acts 13:48 where God appoints people to believe; and John 1:12-13 where being born again is not by man’s will, but by God’s.[19]

H. One of the major problems with the doctrine of limited atonement

Good Witness

(courtesy ChristArt)

This also applies to the Calvinistic understanding of unconditional election and irresistible grace as well. These three doctrines cut to the heart of God’s love, goodness and justice. In my understanding, limited atonement renders impotent God’s love for the world; it attacks the goodness of God; and it makes God’s justice look like injustice for the damned – those who are elected to damnation by God.

Roger Olson has stated that the pride of place or first principle of Arminian construction is ‘the Arminian vision of the character of God as discerned from a synoptic reading of Scripture using the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as the hermeneutical control’. He explained that ‘all Arminians object to is belief that God controls human choices – especially evil and sinful ones! And Arminians do not see any way to embrace divine determinism (monergism) and avoid making God the author of sin and evil…. Arminianism does not object to the idea that God controls human choices and actions through the power of persuasion’ (Olson 2006:98).

1. God as the author of sin (i.e. rape, murder, rebellion)

Olson drew my attention to this quote from Calvinistic theologian, Edwin Palmer’s[20] 1972 publication, The five points of Calvinism (see bibliography for details): ‘The Bible is clear: God ordains sin’ and ‘although all things – unbelief and sin included – proceed from God’s eternal decree, man is still to blame for his sins’. Olson’s citation was to Palmer (1972:85, 103, 106, in Olson 2006:99, n. 4). I examined my hard copy of Palmer (1972) and the pages stated by Olson and these exact quotes were nowhere to be found in those stated pages given by Olson. I did find the following different quotes in my 1972 edition of Palmer in which he stated that ‘whereas the Arminian denies the sovereignty of God, the hyper-Calvinist denies the responsibility of man’ (1972:85). His response, under a heading of Calvinism, ‘a paradox’, was that

the Calvinist accepts both sides of the antimony. He realizes that what he advocates is ridiculous. It is simply impossible for man to harmonize these two sets of data. To say on the one hand that God has made certain all that ever happens, and yet to say that man is responsible for what he does? Nonsense! It must be one or the other, but not both. To say that God foreordains the sin of Judas, and yet Judas is to blame? Foolishness! Logically the author of The Predestinated Thief[21] was right. God cannot foreordain the theft and then blame the thief (Palmer 1972:85).

Palmer than claimed that ‘the Calvinist freely admits that this position is illogical, ridiculous, nonsensical, and foolish’. He appealed to Paul in 1 Cor 1:18 to support this view: ‘The word of the cross is to them that perish foolishness’ (Palmer 1972:85) as

the Greeks seek after wisdom and logic, and to them the Calvinist is irrational. The Calvinist holds to two apparently contradictory positions.[22] He says on the one hand, God has foreordained all things. Then he turns around and says to every man, ‘Your salvation is up to you. You must believe. It is your duty and responsibility. And if you don’t, you cannot blame God. You must blame only yourself. But if you do believe, remember that it was God who worked in you both to believe and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12, 13). ‘If you do press on to lay hold on the goal of life, remember that Christ laid hold on you that you might lay hold on it’ (Phil. 3:12). In the face of all logic, the Calvinist says that if man does anything good, God gets all the glory; and if man does anything bad, man gets all the blame. Man can’t win (Palmer 1972:85).

However, Palmer’s theology is inconsistent in that he claims that while ‘all things – unbelief and sin included – proceed from God’s eternal decree, man is still to blame for his sins’. However, in the same publication he states that ‘our first parents, being seduced by the subtilty[23] and temptation of Satan, sinned in eating the forbidden fruit. This their sin God was pleased, according to His wise and holy counsel, to permit, having purposed to order it to His own glory’ (Palmer 1972:103, emphasis added). How can it be that ‘unbelief and sin … proceed from God’s eternal decree’ but this means that God chooses ‘to permit’ the Fall into sin by ‘our first parents’? This is a conflicting interpretation. Again he has deconstructed ‘God’s eternal decree’ to mean, ‘to permit’. Honestly, this is Palmer’s promotion of contradiction. To make decree synonymous with permit, prostitutes the English language.

Thus, Calvinistic theologian, Edwin Palmer, has admitted to the content of the very Calvinistic theology to which Arminians object regarding God’s creation of sin and God’s decreeing all of the evil in the world.

Palmer wrote: ‘The Bible is clear: God ordains sin’ (Palmer 2010:83). This is a later edition of Palmer’s 1972 publication. Although Edwin Palmer died in 1980, here in this article I am citing from and enlarged third edition that is indicated as Palmer (2010) in which the quotes by Olson appear (Olson 2006:99). However, this 2010 edition was published first in 1980 (Palmer 2010:4). Palmer stated that, ‘All the Five Points of Calvinism hang or fall together’ (2010:84). He continued, ‘To emphasize the sovereignty of God even more, it is necessary to point out that everything is foreordained by God’ and

although all things, unbelief and sin included, proceed from God’s eternal decree, man is still to blame for his sins. He is guilty. It is his fault and not God’s….

To emphasize the sovereignty of God even more, it is necessary to point out that everything is foreordained by God. Not only is God omnipotent, so that the nations are to him a drop in the bucket or as a fine coating of dust on weighing scales (Isaiah 40), but he also ‘works all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11).

It is even biblical to say that God has foreordained sin. If sin was outside the plan of God, then not a single important affair of life would be ruled by God. For what action of man is perfectly good? All of history would then be outside of God’s foreordination: the fall of Adam, the crucifixion of Christ, the conquests of the Roman Empire, the Battle of Hastings, the Reformation, the French Revolution, Waterloo, the American Revolution, the Civil War, two World Wars, presidential assassinations, racial violence, and the rise and fall of nations.

In two instances, the Bible is especially clear in teaching that everything, including sin, is ordained by God: the selling of Joseph and the crucifixion of Christ (Palmer 2010:103, 100).

This kind of statement about the absolute sovereignty of God’s foreordination of sin and evil, by Palmer, has obnoxious ramifications. It means that every act of a reprobate in paedophilia, rape, violence of person-to-person, the Holocaust, the Gulag, and every other evil act imaginable by individuals, groups and nations is attributed to the sovereignty of God in decreeing sin and evil. This is not only a reprehensible view, but it is not consistent with Scripture. How is it possible to harmonise Palmer’s perspective of the sovereignty of God who causes (decrees) all of the sin and evil in the world, with an appeal to the Scriptures?

Edwin Palmer (2010) has added this section: Twelve Theses on Reprobation[24]

This focus of Calvinistic theology is torn apart when faced with the character of God as the following exposition investigates.

2. Paedophilia, rape, the Holocaust: God’s justice and goodness.

Love and justice

(courtesy ChristArt)

Roger Olson has nailed the major problems for Calvinists: ‘This is why Arminians object to belief in the exhaustive divine determinism in any form; it cannot avoid making God the author of sin and evil, and the logical conclusion must be that God is not wholly good even though Calvinists and other monergists disagree’ (Olson 2006:99).[25] Then Olson affirms one of the Arminian vs Calvinistic differences:

Arminianism begins with God’s goodness and ends by affirming free will. The latter follows from the former, and the former is based on divine revelation; God reveals himself as unconditionally and unequivocally good, which does not exclude justice and wrathful retribution. It only excludes the possibility of God sinning, willing others to sin or causing sin’ (Olson 2006:99).

Olson could not be clearer:

There is no example within humanity where goodness is compatible with willing someone to do evil or sin and suffer eternally for it. Arminians are well aware of Calvinist arguments based on the Genesis narrative where Joseph’s brothers meant his captivity for evil but God meant it for good (Gen 50:20). They simply do not believe this proves that God ordains evil that good may come of it. Arminians believe God permits evil and brings good out of it. Otherwise, who is the real sinner?

Arminianism is all about protecting the reputation of God by protecting his character as revealed in Jesus Christ and Scripture…. God does not have to be fair. Fairness is not necessary to goodness. But love and justice are necessary to goodness, and both exclude willing determination of sin, evil or eternal suffering (Olson 2006:100, emphasis in original).

Palmer’s Calvinistic promotion of God as the author of sin and evil, runs aground on God’s attributes of goodness, justice and love. Let’s examine these attributes from God’s perspective and using some Calvinistic theologians to explain these attributes.

3. God’s goodness

There’s a marvellous verse that begins Psalm 136, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever’ (Ps 136:1 NLT).

So the Lord God is ‘good’ and his ‘faithful love’ continues ‘forever’. What does it mean to say that God is good?

a. Calvinist theologian, Charles Hodge

Hodge wrote of the goodness of God:

Goodness, in the Scriptural sense of the term, includes benevolence, love, mercy, and grace. By benevolence is meant the disposition to promote happiness; all sensitive creatures are its objects. Love includes complacency, desire, and delight, and has rational beings for its objects. Mercy is kindness exercised towards the miserable, and includes pity, compassion, forbearance, and gentleness, which the Scriptures so abundantly ascribe to God. Grace is love exercised towards the unworthy. The love of a holy God to sinners is the most mysterious attribute of the divine nature (Hodge 1979:1.427)

Thus it is impossible, based on that definition, for the God of goodness to decree to create all evil and suffering in the world and for God to be the good God and responsible for all the reprobate monstrosities that happen in our world. God’s goodness does not equate with God being the creator of sin and evil. And this is the Calvinist, Charles Hodge, speaking.

b. J I Packer, Calvinist theologian

Packer claimed of particular redemption that

this sovereign redemptive love is one facet of the quality that Scripture calls God’s goodness (Ps. 100:5; Mark 10:18), that is, the glorious kindness and generosity that touches all his creatures (Ps. 145:9, 15-16) and that ought to lead all sinners to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Other aspects of this goodness are the mercy or compassion or pity that shows kindness to persons in distress by rescuing them out of trouble (Pss. 107, 136) and the long-suffering, forbearance, and slowness to anger that continues to show kindness toward persons who have persisted in sinning (Exod. 34:6; Ps. 78:38; John 3:10-4:11; Rom. 9:22; 2 Pet. 3:9). The supreme expression of God’s goodness is still, however, the amazing grace and inexpressible love that shows kindness by saving sinners who deserve only condemnation: saving them, moreover, at the tremendous cost of Christ’s death on Calvary (Rom. 3:22-24; 5:5-8; 8:32-39; Eph. 2:1-10; 3:14-18; 5:25-27) [Packer 1993:46].

How does Packer, the Calvinist’s, description of God’s goodness line up with Palmer’s understanding that all sin and evil are decreed by God? Packer aligns God’s goodness with:

  • Particular redemption (limited atonement); the obvious corollary is particular eternal damnation. The latter hardly adds up to a demonstration of God’s goodness.
  • God’s glorious kindness and generosity to all people and living things. How can that be for those eternally damned and suffering eternal punishment? It cannot work for those who do not make it to eternal bliss through salvation. The Calvinistic God in action represents deterministic, censorship of those who are not included in the redeemed. Goodness as discrimination is not a consistent application of God’s goodness to all people.
  • He wrote of mercy, compassion and pity in demonstrating kindness to people in distress and rescuing them from trouble. That doesn’t work for those who are eternally damned by God or left out of God’s eternal salvation. That is not a manifestation of His goodness, but of evil. This attribute of rescuing people in trouble does not apply to the reprobate. It can’t, in the Calvinistic system.
  • Amazing grace and inexpressible love and kindness by saving sinners who deserved condemnation? What about the multiple millions throughout human history who are now experiencing torment? That’s a violation of God’s goodness, especially since they are unconditionally damned (the necessary consequence of the Calvinistic unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace).
  • Saving sinners through the cost of Christ’s death on Calvary. Wait a minute! Multiple millions since the first century have experienced eternal loss and were not included in the limited atonement provided by the Calvinistic God. This is not a demonstration of God’s goodness, but of God’s contemptible prejudice against them. That’s my understanding of how the God of Calvinism is not the good God of the majority of humanity for those unconditionally elected to eternal condemnation and for whom there was no atonement through Christ’s death.

c. Louis Berkhof, Calvinist theologian

Of the goodness of God, Berkhof wrote:

This is generally treated as a generic conception, including several varieties, which are distinguished according to their objects. The goodness of God should not be confused with His kindness, which is a more restricted concept. We speak of something as good, when it answers in all parts to the ideal. Hence in our ascription of goodness to God the fundamental idea is that He is in every way all that He as God should be, and therefore answers perfectly to the ideal expressed in the word “God.” He is good in the metaphysical sense of the word, absolute perfection and perfect bliss in Himself. It is in this sense that Jesus said to the young ruler: “None is good save one, even God,” Mark 10:18. But since God is good in Himself, He is also good for His creatures, and may therefore be called the fons omnium bonorum [source of all good gifts]. He is the fountain of all good, and is so represented in a variety of ways throughout the Bible. The poet sings: “For with thee is the fountain of life; in thy light shall we see light,” Ps. 36:9. All the good things which the creatures enjoy in the present and expect in the future, flow to them out of this inexhaustible fountain. And not only that, but God is also the summum bonum, the highest good, for all His creatures, though in different degrees and according to the measure in which they answer to the purpose of their existence. In the present connection we naturally stress the ethical goodness of God and the different aspects of it, as these are determined by the nature of its objects (Berkhof 1941:70).

How is Berkhof’s understanding of God’s goodness compatible or otherwise with the Calvinistic theology of limited atonement? Berkhof believes God’s goodness means this:

  • ‘It answers in all parts to the ideal… He is in every way all that He as God should be’.
  • ‘Absolute perfection and perfect bliss in Himself’.
  • ‘Source of all good gifts’.
  • ‘All the good things which the creatures enjoy in the present and expect in the future’ come from God’s goodness ‘for all His creatures’.
  • He is ‘the highest good for all His creatures’.
  • The stress is on the ethical goodness of God.

I find it impossible to match these points regarding God’s attribute of goodness with the Jesus of Calvary who only died for a portion of the human race, leaving the rest to experience eternal damnation. God is thus not the source of good gifts for the lost. Yes, all creatures, redeemed and reprobate, enjoy good things in their human life but the expectation of damnation for a large hunk of the human race is hardly an experience of God’s ethical goodness. How can it be ethical goodness in operation to damn people eternally?

Now let’s check out a few Arminian or Arminian-leaning theologians for their definitions of God’s goodness.

d. Theologian Henry Thiessen, whose views harmonise with Arminians

Thiessen explained:

In the larger sense of the term, the goodness of God includes all the qualities that answer to the conception of an ideal personage; that is, it includes such qualities as His holiness, righteousness, and truth, as well as his love, benevolence, mercy, and grace. It is probably in this broad sense that Jesus said to the young ruler, “Why callest thou me good? None is good save one, even God” (Mark 10:18). In the narrower sense, however, the term is limited to the last four qualities named (Thiessen 1949:130)

Thiessen proceeded to explicate these four qualities of God’s goodness, the first being,

(i) The love of God

God is Love

(courtesy ChristArt)

By the love of God we mean that perfection of the divine nature by which God is eternally moved to communicate Himself. It is, however, not a mere emotional impulse, but a rational and voluntary affection, having its ground in truth and holiness and its exercise in free choice. This love finds its primary objects in the several persons of the trinity…. True love necessarily involves feeling, and if there be no feeling in God, then there is no love of God.

The Scriptures frequently testify to the love of God. They speak of him as “the God of love” (2 Cor. 13:11) and declare him to be “love” (1 John 4:8, 16). It is his nature to love. He is in contrast with the gods of the heathen, who hate and are angry; and of the god of the philosopher who is cold and indifferent. The Father loves the Son (Matt. 3:17), and the Son loves the Father (John 14:31). God is said to love the world (John 3:16; Eph. 2:4), his ancient people Israel (Deut. 7:6-8, 13; Jer. 31:3), and his true children (John 14:23). He also loves righteousness (Ps. 11:7) and justice (Isa. 61:8)[26] (Thiessen 1949:131-132).

God’s love, from this Arminian view, is extended to all (as in John 3:16; 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 3:9), but not in the Calvinistic TULIP theology. God is not eternally moved to communicate his saving truth to the damned in Calvinistic theology. Why would God want to converse with those who are not unconditionally elected, included in the limited atonement, and for whom he does not extend irresistible grace? It would be a waste of God’s resources to extend himself to communicate with those who would never ever respond. Why wouldn’t they respond? Because they are eternally predestined not to respond! That is my understanding of Calvinism. This is far removed from the actions of the loving God who is absolutely good to all of his creation. Calvinism sounds more like the discriminatory action of a deterministic dictator who hates a large chunk of humanity and doesn’t want them in his eternal presence.

The second quality of God’s goodness according to Thiessen is,

(ii) The benevolence of God

Thiessen stated:

By the benevolence of God we mean the affection which He feels and manifests towards His sentient and conscious creatures. It is due to the fact that the creature is His workmanship; He cannot hate anything that He has made (Job 14:5), only that which has been added to His work. Sin is such an addition. The benevolence of God is manifested in His care for the welfare, and is suited to the needs and capacities, of the creature. “Jehovah is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works… Thou openest Thy hand, and satisfieth the desire of every living thing” (Ps 145:9, 15, 16). See also Job 38:14; Ps. 36:3; 104:21; Matt. 6:23. It also extends to men as such: “He left not himself without witness” (Acts 14:17); even to men as sinful: “He sends the sunshine and the rain upon both good and bad” (Matt. 5:45)[27] (Thiessen 1949:131).

This view is contrary to the Calvinistic view of God being responsible for all of the sin and evil in the world. We note Thiessen’s understanding of the decrees of God:

Most of the difficulties concerning the decrees disappear with the proper apprehension of the nature of the decrees. They are not, as some erroneously suppose, inconsistent with free agency; they do not take away all motives for human exertion; and they do not make God the Author of sin…. We believe that the decrees of God are His eternal purpose (in a real sense all things are embraced in one purpose) or purposes, based on His most wise and holy counsel, whereby He freely and unchangeably, for His own glory, ordained, either efficaciously or permissively, all that comes to pass (Thiessen 1949:147, emphasis added).

Those emphasised words are critical. The decrees of God are designed by God efficaciously or permissively. As Thiessen explained,

There are two kinds of decrees: efficacious [which means to produce the desired effect] and permissive. There are things which God purposes that He also determines efficaciously to bring about; there are other things which He merely determines to permit…. Even in the case of permissive decrees, He overrules all for His own glory…. The decrees embrace all that comes to pass. They include all the past, the present, and the future; they embrace the things which He efficaciously brings about and the things which He merely permits. Surely, this conception of the decrees removes most of the difficulties that are often associated with them (Thiessen 1949:148).

Thiessen explains that the events that happen in our universe are ‘neither a surprise nor a disappointment to God, nor the result of His caprice or arbitrary will, but the outworking of a definite purpose and plan of God, is the teaching of Scripture’ (Thiessen 1949:148). Thiessen quotes these verses to support this teaching:

‘The Lord of hosts has sworn: “As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand….26 This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth, and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations. 27 For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?’ (Isa 14:24, 26-27); ‘making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ…. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will’ (Eph 1:9, 11).

The eternal nature of these decrees is noted in Ephesians 3:11, ‘This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord’.

So God, in his eternal purposes has permitted sin to enter the world through human beings, but God has not decreed such evil as it would make God the originator and perpetrator of sin and evil – according to the Calvinistic scheme. Such is contrary to the holiness, goodness and righteousness/justice of God. The goodness of benevolence that God has manifested to all human beings is that they are given free will to choose to obey or disobey God and that God did not decree that people would sin. Human beings, starting with Adam, chose to disobey. It was not decreed by God that Adam should disobey God and that sin should infect the entire human race. It was Adam’s choice and he was acting on our behalf. We would have made the exact same decision if we had been there.

It is as William G T Shedd has stated, ‘Sin is no part of creation, but a quality introduced into creation by the creature himself’ (in Thiessen 1949:153). This revolt by human beings against the will of God cannot be associated with God as the cause of sin as James 1:13-14 teaches, ‘Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”, for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire’. There you have the key to temptation and sin by human beings, ‘by his own desire’, or as the New Living Translation puts it, ‘Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away’ (James 1:14).

God declared in Ezekiel 18:23: “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” Notice the language, ‘When they turn’ from their wicked ways. Too often, we hear Calvinists say that the damnation of the non-elect is ‘the good pleasure of His will’. But here, God states explicitly that He takes no pleasure in damning anyone but prefers that they turn from sin and live. How this idea fits into the Calvinist scheme is not at all clear.

Thiessen asks this penetrating question: ‘How could He [God] be the Author of sin and then condemn man to an endless hell for doing what He caused him to do?’ (Thiessen 1949:153). Olson affirmed the Arminian position, contrary to Calvinism: ‘Arminius’s main concern was to avoid making God the author of sin’ (quoting William Witt) and ‘to put it bluntly, for Arminius, God could not foreordain or directly or indirectly cause sin and evil even if he wanted to (which he would not), because that would make God the author of sin. And God’s good and just nature requires that he desires the salvation of every human being. This is completely consistent with Scripture (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9)’ (Olson 2006:103).

What, then, is the origin of sin? How did it enter the universe when we understand God as an absolutely good and benevolent God? Arminius, contrary to Calvinism, expounded this as ‘the cause of sin’, i.e. Adam’s first sin:

The efficient cause of this sin is two fold. The one immediate and near. The other remote and mediate.

(1) The former is Man himself, who, of his own free will and without any necessity either internal or external, (Gen. iii. 6,) transgressed the law which had been proposed to him, (Rom. v. 19,) which had been sanctioned by a threatening and a promise, (Gen. ii. 16, 17,) and which it was possible for him to have observed (ii, 9; iii, 23, 24).

(2.) The remote and mediate efficient cause is the Devil, who, envying the Divine glory and the salvation of mankind, solicited man to a transgression of that law. (John viii. 44.) The instrumental cause is the Serpent, whose tongue Satan abused, for proposing to man these arguments which he considered suitable to persuade him. (Gen. iii. 1; 2 Cor. xi. 3.) It is not improbable, that the grand deceiver made a conjecture from his own case; as he might himself have been enticed to the commission of sin by the same arguments. (Gen. iii. 4, 5.) (Arminius 1977:1.481).

Thus, the biblical data is consistent with the Arminian view that God did not create or decree that first sin, but in his permissive will he allowed for human beings to break the law of God, commit the first sin and so infect the entire human race. The Bible is very clear about that: ‘Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’ (Rom 5:12). This is consistent with God’s attribute of goodness. It is not God who decreed sin, but it was God who permitted Adam to sin and the sin infection came to the entire human race because of one man’s sin. Ephesians 2:3 confirms that the Ephesian Christians are ‘by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind’.

A third quality of God’s goodness, according to Thiessen, is

(iii) The mercy of God

Thiessen explained:

By the mercy of God we mean, his goodness manifested towards those who are in misery or distress. Compassion, pity, and loving kindness are other terms in Scripture that denote practically the same thing. Mercy is an eternal, necessary quality in God as an all perfect being; but the exercise of it in a given case is optional. To deny the freeness of mercy is to annihilate it; for if it is a matter of debt, then it is no longer mercy…. The Scriptures represent God as “rich in mercy” (Eph. 2:4) and as “full of pity [compassion] and merciful” (James 5:11).[28] He is said to be merciful toward Israel (Ps. 102:13), toward the Gentiles (Rom 11:30f.), and toward all that fear him (Ex. 20:2; Luke 1:50)[29] and seek His salvation (Isa. 55:7; Luke 1:72) [Thiessen 1949:131-132].[30]

What does it mean for reprobate people who are in distress because of their sin? If God provides atonement only for a certain section of humanity (the elect), he cannot manifest his goodness – through mercy – to the entire human race, including those who are eternally damned. The Arminian view of God’s mercy is more in line with the biblical message than that of Calvinism.

Bread from God

(courtesy ChristArt)

There’s a fourth quality to God’s goodness that Thiessen identifies;

(iv) The grace of God

By the grace of God we mean the goodness manifested toward the ill-deserving. Grace has respect to sinful man as guilty, while mercy has respect to him as miserable.[31] The exercise of grace, like that of mercy, is optional with God. He must be holy in all his actions; he may or may not show grace to a guilty sinner…. The Scriptures show that the grace of God is manifested toward the natural man: (a) In his forbearance and long-suffering delay of the punishment of sin (Exod. 34:6; Rom. 2:4; 3:25; 9:22; 1 Pet. 3:20; 2 Pet. 3:9,15) and (b) in His provision of salvation, the Word of God, the convicting work of the Spirit, the influence of God’s people, and prevenient grace. This is the common grace of God (1 John 2;2; Hosea 8:12; John 16:8-11; Matt 5:13, 14; Titus 2:11).

They also show that His grace is especially manifested towards those who respond to prevenient grace: (a) In their election and foreordination (Eph. 1:4-6), (b) their redemption (Eph. l:7, 8), (c) their salvation (Acts 18:27), (d) their sanctification (Rom. 5:21; Titus 2:11, 12), (e) their preservation (2 Cor. 12:9), (f) their service (Heb. 12;28), and (g) in their final presentation (1 Pet. 1:13). This is God’s special grace[32] (Thiessen 1949:132, emphases in original).

God’s grace toward the undeserving is evident to all, from an Arminian perspective, but only to a select minority of those for whom there is limited atonement in the Calvinistic theology. The Arminian teaching, in my understanding, is more consistent with Scripture in accurately upholding the grace of God

e. Arminian theologian, H Orton Wiley

Christian Theology -<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> By: H. Orton Wiley</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> <p>

H Orton Wiley (

Wiley explained goodness, as an attribute of God:

The goodness of God is that attribute by reason of which God wills the happiness of His crea­tures. Perfection as we have shown, is the absolute ex­cellence which God has in Himself; goodness is that ex­cellence which moves God to impart being and life to finite things apart from His divine essence, and to com­municate to them such gifts as they have capacity to re­ceive. Goodness is generally expressed by the Hebrew word chesedh, and by the Greek words  agathosune or chrestotes and such like terms. The goodness of God ad intra [towards the inside, i.e. internally] belongs to the Holy Trinity, in which the Blessed Three eternally communicate to each other their infinite richness. In this sense, goodness is eternal and neces­sary. The goodness of God ad extra [in an outward direction] is voluntary, and refers primarily to His benevolence which may be de­fined as that disposition which seeks to promote the happiness of His creatures. Schouppe defines it as “the constant will of God to communicate felicity to His crea­tures, according to their conditions and His own wisdom.” It is related to love, but love is limited to respon­sive persons or to those capable of reciprocation, while goodness applies to the whole creation. Not a sparrow is forgotten before God (Luke 12:6). The word is applied to the whole creation in the dawn of its existence. And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (Gen. 1:31). The positive declarations of Scripture concerning the goodness of God are numerous and convincing. God said to Moses, I will make all my goodness pass before thee (Exod. 33:19); and again, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth (Exod. 34:6). The psalmist seems to take delight in meditating upon the goodness of God. Surely goodness and mercy shall fol­low me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23: 6). I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27: 13). O how great is thy goodness, which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee (Psalm 31: 19). The goodness of God endureth con­tinually (Psalm 52: 1). They shall abundantly utter the memory of thy great goodness, and shall sing of thy right­eousness (Psalm 145: 7). Isaiah mentions the great goodness toward the house of Israel (Isa. 63: 7) and Zechariah voices the exclamation, For how great is his goodness, and how great is his beauty! (Zech. 9: 17). In the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks of the goodness of God as leading to repentance (Rom. 2:4); and in the same epistle mentions the goodness and severity of God as apparently the constituent elements of the divine holiness [Rom. 11:22].[33] In Gal. 5:22 and Eph. 5:9 goodness is mentioned as a fruit of the spirit (Wiley 1940:362-363, emphasis in original).

God’s goodness, based on this definition, deals with what God wills for the happiness of human beings. Eternal damnation through limited atonement thus violates God’s attribute of his goodness and how it functions in the external world because it does not lead to the happiness of creatures. It leads to the damnation of a large portion of humanity.

f. Methodist and Arminian theologian, Thomas C Oden

Oden wrote:

The psalmists delighted in meditating on the goodness of God (Pss. 1:2; 77:12). For “The goodness of God endureth continually” (Ps. 52:1). “Thou, O God, in they goodness providest for the poor” (Ps. 68:10). “How great is thy goodness” (Ps. 31:19). The same divine goodness is celebrated in the New Testament as leading to repentance (Rom. 2:4) and providing the gifts and fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22; Eph. 5:9).

The divine goodness is that attribute through which God wills the happiness of creatures and desires to impart to creatures all the goodness they are capable of receiving….

God is not only good in himself, but wills to communicate this goodness to creatures. Not merely possessing goodness, but communicating it to others, is characteristic of Scripture’s attestation of God. This may be viewed in the light of triune teaching. For within the Godhead, there is an eternal communication of the Father’s benevolent self-existence and life to the Son by eternal generation, even as the Father and Son communicate the effulgence of divine glory to each other and to creation…. God’s goodness is wholly voluntary – not imposed upon God by something else….

Divine goodness profoundly qualifies all other divine attributes, for there is no divine power apart from its being benevolent. There is no divine justice that could ignore what is good. There is no truth of God that is not good for creatures. The being of God encompasses every excellence that can properly belong to the One eternal, personal Spirit who is incomparably good, undiminished by defects, uncorrupted by evil motives and unsurpassable in holiness….

God’s goodness corresponds with, yet transcends, the best conceptions of moral good of which we are capable….

[In the goodness of God], the varied themes of divine reliability, veracity, and benevolence have been constantly and necessarily interwoven with the theme of the love of God. As divine goodness is the bridge between God’s holiness and God’s love, so does divine love constitute the aim, end, and zenith of all divine attributes (Oden1987:116-117).

Notice some of Oden’s descriptions of the goodness of God and how they do not apply to Calvinistic limited atonement (or unconditional election, or irresistible grace).

  • ‘God wills the happiness of creatures and desires to impart to creatures all the goodness they are capable of receiving’. This cannot be applied to those who are damned eternally through limited atonement. That would make happiness = reprobation with eternal suffering. An abominable thought!
  • ‘There is no divine power apart from its being benevolent’. This is false when applied to limited atonement. Those sent to eternal perdition for lack of receiving Christ’s atonement, do not experience the goodness of God through benevolent divine power. They receive evil from God. But that is the fundamental error of TULIP coming to light through these violations of the goodness of God
  • ‘There is no divine justice that could ignore what is good’. Yes there is if one believes in TULIP, with application here to limited atonement. Divine justice does evil to the reprobate according to the Calvinistic view of particular atonement.
  • ‘There is no truth of God that is not good for creatures’. There most certainly is if one is not included in limited atonement.
  • ‘The being of God encompasses every excellence that can properly belong to the One eternal, personal Spirit who is incomparably good, undiminished by defects, uncorrupted by evil motives and unsurpassable in holiness’. That’s not the case for those who are left out of salvation through unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. These TULIP characteristics again shatter the goodness of God. They make goodness equal badness and doing sinful evil.
  • ‘God’s goodness corresponds with, yet transcends, the best conceptions of moral good of which we are capable’. That’s not according to the Calvinistic limited atonement.
  • ‘[In the goodness of God], the varied themes of divine reliability, veracity, and benevolence have been constantly and necessarily interwoven with the theme of the love of God’. Not so with the Calvinistic doctrines of salvation that prostitute the teaching on the goodness of God.
  • ‘As divine goodness is the bridge between God’s holiness and God’s love, so does divine love constitute the aim, end, and zenith of all divine attributes’. That’s if one is an Arminian in theological understanding of the biblical material, but it most definitely gets a fail grade in the examination of the biblical teaching on eternal salvation.

We remember what Edwin Palmer, the Calvinist, stated: ‘All the Five Points of Calvinism hang or fall together’ (Palmer 2010:84). With the ULI violations of the goodness of God, this should cause Calvinists to reconsider their false teaching on ULI of TULIP and its conflict with the goodness of God.

Evangelical theologian, Norman Geisler, stated:

All Calvinists believe in some form of irresistible grace: Strong Calvinists believe grace is irresistible on the unwilling, and moderate Calvinists [where he identifies himself][34] believe it is irresistible on the willing…. But in view of God’s onmibenevolence [i.e. goodness], it follows that grace cannot be irresistible on the unwilling, for a God of complete love cannot force anyone to an act against his will. Forced love is intrinsically impossible: A loving God can work persuasively, but not coercively (Geisler 2003:370, emphasis in original).

Other fundamental attributes of God also come into conflict with limited atonement (and unconditional election and irresistible grace). These are:

4. God’s righteousness and justice.

a. Henry C Thiessen – an Arminian perspective

Thiessen summarised the biblical material on these attributes:

By the righteousness and justice of God we mean that phase of God’s holiness which is seen in his treatment of the creature. Repeatedly, these qualities are ascribed to God (2 Chron. 12:6; Ezra 9:15; Neh. 9:33; Isa. 45:21; Dan. 9:14; John 17:25; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 16:5). In virtue of the former [the righteousness of God] He has instituted moral government in the world, imposed just laws upon the creatures, and attached sanctions thereto. In virtue of the latter, he executes his laws through the bestowal of rewards and punishments. The distribution of rewards is called remunerative justice, and is mentioned in such Scriptures as the following: Deut. 7:9-13; 2 Chron. 6:15; Ps. 58:11; Matt. 25:21; Rom. 2:7; Heb. 11:26. The infliction of punishment is called punitive justice [the expression of divine wrath] and is mentioned in such Scriptures as these: Gen. 2:17; Exod. 34:7; Ezek. 18:4; Rom. 1:32; 2:8, 9; 2 Thess. 1:8 (Thiessen 1949:129-130).[35]

Thiessen (1949:130) inserted this quote from Wm G T Shedd:

Divine justice is originally and necessarily obliged to requite disobedience, but not to reward obedience…. God cannot lay down a law, affix a penalty, and threaten its infliction, and proceed no further, in case of disobedience. The divine veracity forbids this…. Hence, in every instance of transgression, the penalty of law must be inflicted, either personally or vicariously; either upon the transgressor or upon his substitute…. Justice may allow of the substitution of one person for another, provided that in the substitution no injustice is done to the rights of any of the parties interested (Shedd 1888: 370-373).

Thiessen concluded: ‘In other words, justice demands the punishment of the sinner, but it may also accept the vicarious sacrifice of another, as in the case of Christ’ (Thiessen 1949:129-130). However, with Calvinistic theology, there is no justice for all sinners because salvation to eternal life is only available to some sinners – those who are deterministically, discriminately chosen by God through unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace. God’s justice is in conflict with Calvinistic theology because of the discriminate way in which the atonement is made available – not to the whole world, but to the limited number who are the subjects of particular redemption.

b. H Orton Wiley, a Nazarene Arminian theologian

Orton Wiley, an Arminian, described God’s justice and righteousness:

Dr. Strong[36] regards jus­tice and righteousness as transitive holiness, by which he means that the treatment of His creatures always con­forms to the purity or holiness of His nature. While closely related, justice and righteousness may be dis­tinguished from each other, and both from holiness. The term holiness applies to the nature or essence of God as such, while righteousness is His standard of activity in conformity to that nature. This refers both to Himself and to His creatures. Justice may be said to be the counterpart of God’s righteousness but is sometimes identified with it. Righteousness is the foundation of the divine law, justice the administration of that law. When we regard God as the author of our moral nature, we conceive of Him as holy; when we think of that na­ture as the standard of action, we conceive of Him as righteous; when we think of Him as administering that law in the bestowment of rewards and penalties, we con­ceive of Him as just. Justice is sometimes considered in the wider sense of justitia interna, or moral excellence, and sometimes in the narrower sense as justitia externa, or moral rectitude. A further division of the term is (1) Legislative Justice which determines the moral duty of man and defines the consequences in rewards or penalties; and (2) Judicial Justice, sometimes known as Distributive Justice, by which God renders to all men according to their works. The justice by which He re­wards the obedient is sometimes known as remunera­tive justice, while that by which He punishes the guilty is retributive or vindictive justice. But whether as legis­lator or judge, God is eternally just.

In the following scripture references no distinction is made between the terms justice and righteousness. The careful student of this subject will be impressed with the many and various ways in which these attributes are combined. The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (Psalm 19: 9). Justice and judg­ment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face (Psalm 89: 14). There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me (Isa. 45: 21). The just Lord is in the midst thereof; he will not do iniquity (Zeph. 3: 5). Who will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom. 2: 6). Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty; just and true are thy ways (Rev. 15: 3).

Dr. Strong takes the position that neither justice nor righteousness can bestow rewards, in that obedience is due to God and therefore no creature can claim a reward for that which he justly owes. Dr. Pope takes a more scriptural position, insisting that while all that is praise­worthy in human nature is of God, either by prevenient grace or the renewing of the Spirit, there can be no men­tion of merit except as the word is used in divine con­descension. Nevertheless, He who crowns the work of His own hands in glorifying the sanctified believer, con­stantly speaks of his own works of faith as a matter of reward. God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love (Heb. 6: 10 ). Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? (I speak as a man) God forbid for then how shall God judge the world? (Rom. 3:5, 6).[37] The rewards of God’s judicial or distributive justice are, therefore, according to St. Paul, to be reckoned not of debt but of grace (Rom. 4:4). The last day is, by the same apostle, called the revelation of the righteous judgment of God (Rom. 2:5). We may therefore with confidence believe that the punishment of evil-doers, will be at once an infliction of the divine judgment and the consequences of the treasuring up of wrath against the day of wrath. And we may equally assure ourselves that the rewards of the righteous will be at once the decision of a Just Judge, and the fruitage of their own sowing in righteousness (Wiley 1940:387-388, emphasis in original).

The following Calvinistic theologians had this to affirm about God’s righteousness and justice:

c. Wayne Grudem, a Calvinistic Baptist theologian

Grudem explained that in English, righteousness and justice are two different terms ‘but in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament there is only one word group behind these two English terms’. Therefore, these two terms deal with one of God’s attributes:

God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right and is himself the final standard of what is right…. What is ‘right’? In other words, what ought to happen and what ought to be? Here we must respond that whatever conforms to God’s moral character is right…. It should be a cause for thanksgiving and gratitude when we realize that righteousness and omnipotence are both possessed by God. If he were a God of perfect righteousness without power to carry out that righteousness, he would not be worthy of worship and we would have no guarantee that justice will ultimately prevail in the universe. But if he were a God of unlimited power, yet without righteousness in his character, how unthinkably horrible the universe would be! There would be unrighteousness at the center of all existence and there would be nothing anyone could do to change it. We ought therefore continually to thank and praise God for who he is, ‘for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and right is he’ (Deut 32:4) [Grudem 1999:93-94, emphasis in original].

A major issue arises out of this kind of definition. This deals with hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). For the Calvinist, what God considers is ‘right’ includes limited atonement. For me, a Reformed Arminian, what God considers is ‘right’ is that ‘the atonement is universal. This does not mean that all mankind will be unconditionally saved, but that the sacrificial offering of Christ so far satisfied the claims of the divine law as to make salvation a possibility for all’ (Wiley 1952:295). Therefore a better statement, in my view, could be , ‘God’s righteousness means that God always acts in accordance with what is right by His holy standard, but sinful human understanding of this righteousness by Christian believers is limited by the hermeneutical biases of the interpreters of Scripture’. Based on my hermeneutical bias, the God of Calvinism has an attribute of determinism that causes him to be unjust towards the unbelievers to whom he does not extend the benefits of Christ’s atonement.

d. J I Packer, Anglican Calvinistic theologian

Packer explained:

Justice, which means doing in all circumstances things that are right, is one expression of God’s holiness. God displays His justice as legislator and judge, and also as promise-keeper and pardoner of sin. His moral law, requiring behavior that matches His own, is “holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). He judges justly, according to actual desert (Genesis 18:25; Psalms 7:11; 96:13; Acts 17:31). His “wrath,” that is, His active judicial hostility to sin, is wholly just in its manifestations (Romans 2:5-16), and His particular ‘judgements’ (retributive punishments) are glorious and praiseworthy (Revelations 16:5, 7; 19:1-4). Whenever God fulfils his covenant commitment by acting to save his people, it is a gesture of “righteousness,” that is, justice (Isa. 51:5-6; 56:1; 63:1; 1 John 1:9). When God justifies sinners through faith in Christ, He does so on the basis of justice done, that is, the punishment of our sins in the person of Christ our substitute; thus the form taken by His justifying mercy shows Him to be utterly and totally just (Romans 3:25-26), and our justification itself is shown to be judicially justified (Packer 1993:43-44).

I find some issues with this explanation. These include:

  • Like with Grudem’s definition, here he defines justice as meaning doing things that are right and being a just legislator and judge. This relates to the problem of hermeneutics. Packer as a Calvinist supports limited atonement, which he calls ‘definite redemption’ (Packer 1993:137-139). How can that be called a just judgement by God when God’s provision of atonement through Christ is not made available to all people in the world. This doesn’t mean all will accept it, but Packer’s definition is limited to his Calvinistic hermeneutical restriction of the atonement to particular redemption.
  • There is another issue as Packer’s definition of justice includes God’s ‘covenant commitment’ to ‘save his people’. That means justice is deconstructed to mean justice for some and not all of the people in the world. There is no justice here for the reprobate who are damned for eternity.
  • God’s justifying ‘sinners through faith in Christ’ is ‘on the basis of justice done’, with ‘the punishment of our sins in the person of Christ our substitute’. I find this to be a cagey way of Calvinists putting it as it avoids stating ‘the punishment of our sins’ only refers to those who experience definite redemption and excludes the rest of humanity. My understanding is that Packer here redefines injustice as Calvinistic justice. This should make the postmodern deconstructionist[38] smile with glee. For the deconstructionist, there is no fixed meaning in the text. The meaning of the text is not determined by the intended meaning of the original author, but is determined by the reader/interpreter of the text. For postmodern deconstruction, there are multiple meanings to a text and these meanings can be determined by multiple interpreters or by the one interpreter in multiple situations.

e. Reformed theologian, R C Sproul

In his explanation of the justice of God, R C Sproul wrote:

How then does mercy relate to justice? Mercy and justice are obviously different things, though they are sometimes confused. Mercy occurs when wrongdoers are given less punishment than deserved or greater rewards than they earned.

God tempers His justice with mercy. His grace is essentially a kind of mercy. God is gracious to us when He withholds the punishment we deserve and when He rewards our obedience despite the fact that we owe obedience to Him, and so we do not merit any reward. Mercy is always voluntary with God. He is never obligated to be merciful. He reserves the right to exercise His grace according to the good pleasure of His will. For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion” (Romans 9:15).

People often complain that because God does not distribute His grace or mercy equally on all people, He is therefore not fair. We complain that if God pardons one person He is therefore obligated to pardon everybody.

Yet, we see clearly in Scripture that God does not treat everyone equally. He revealed Himself to Abraham in a way He did not to other pagans in the ancient world. He graciously appeared to Paul in a way He did not appear to Judas Iscariot.

Paul received grace from God; Judas Iscariot received justice. Mercy and grace are forms of nonjustice, but they are not acts of injustice. If Judas’s punishment was more severe than he deserved, then he would have something about which to complain.

Paul received grace, but this does not require that Judas also receive grace. If grace is required from God, if God is obligated to be gracious, then we are no longer speaking of grace, but of justice.

Biblically, justice is defined in terms of righteousness. When God is just, He is doing what is right. Abraham asked God a rhetorical question that can only have one obvious answer: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25). Likewise, the apostle Paul raised a similar rhetorical question: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” (Romans 9:14) [Sproul 1992:53-54, emphasis in original].

Sproul provided this summary of his view:

1. Justice is giving what is due.

2. Biblical justice is linked to righteousness, to doing what is right.

3. Injustice is outside the category of justice and is a violation of justice. Mercy is also outside the category of justice but is not a violation of justice.

4. Biblical passages for reflection are:

Genesis 18:25

Exodus 34:6-7

Nehemiah 9:32-33

Psalm 145:17

Romans 9:14-33 (Sproul 1992:54).

I find some serious issues with this description of justice/righteousness in the light of Sproul’s support for ‘definite atonement’, which he prefers to the term ‘limited atonement’ (Sproul 1992:175-177). The points with which I have contention are:

  • ‘God is gracious to us when He withholds the punishment we deserve’. But this graciousness does not extend to all human beings according to Sproul’s view of ‘definite atonement’. God withholds punishment from the elect but he lambasts the rest of humanity with the damnation of eternal punishment. That is hardly how to defend God’s gracious actions in withholding punishment that all human beings deserve; but only some are saved from it through definite atonement that covers only salvation for the elect.
  • ‘Mercy occurs when wrongdoers are given less punishment than deserved’. That’s OK for the elect who are redeemed but not OK for the reprobate who experience the injustice of death without mercy and then eternal damnation inflicted by God. That is deconstructing mercy.
  • ‘Mercy is always voluntary with God. He is never obligated to be merciful. He reserves the right to exercise His grace according to the good pleasure of His will’. That comes out as deterministic, voluntary refusal to grant mercy to unbelievers for whom God does not provide atonement. Sadly I have to say that that is censorship in the name of mercy – Calvinistic deconstruction is in operation again.
  • ‘People often complain that because God does not distribute His grace or mercy equally on all people, He is therefore not fair. We complain that if God pardons one person He is therefore obligated to pardon everybody’. People have every right to complain because limited atonement is grossly unjust when it comes to God’s eternal treatment of people, based on Calvinism. It is one thing to see that God treated people differently while they were on earth. But it is quite a different perspective when one’s eternal destiny is determined with grace for those who receive limited atonement, but not received with God’s grace for the rest of the damned. This in injustice with a capital I, but all in the name of Calvinistic views of the ‘grace’ of God in ULI of TULIP.
  • ‘Mercy and grace are forms of nonjustice, but they are not acts of injustice’. This is an example of Calvinistic sloganeering. If one is among those for whom there is no atonement in Christ’s death, no mercy and grace were offered to the sinners who were damned, but mercy and grace were provided to the elect. Sproul’s ‘nonjustice’ language is a euphemism for injustice to those who experience eternal punishment in the afterlife.
  • ‘If grace is required from God, if God is obligated to be gracious, then we are no longer speaking of grace, but of justice’. If grace is a dimension of God’s goodness – as it is – then limited atonement conflicts with God’s goodness, repudiates God’s grace, and demonstrates God’s injustice towards the ungodly in their eternal suffering in reprobation.
  • ‘When God is just, He is doing what is right’. That is correct! But God is not doing what is right by not providing an opportunity for all people to have access to Christ’s atonement through his shed blood on the cross. Limited atonement offers a large chunk of humanity the injustice of God. It rescinds God’s goodness and justice by excluding it from large numbers of people in the world.
  • “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not!” (Romans 9:14). There is no unrighteousness with God but there is certainly unrighteous injustice in the Calvinistic censorious application of the atonement, by leaving a large portion of fallen humanity to wallow in their own sins without any opportunity of redemption. Such is a rewriting of the justice of God to make it synonymous with the injustice of God – for the Calvinist.
  • ‘Biblical justice is linked to righteousness, to doing what is right’. Therefore, Calvinistic limited atonement is linked to biblical injustice by doing what is wrong for a large number of people throughout human history. Damnation, without the opportunity of redemption (which is what limited atonement does) amounts to Calvinistic discriminatory practice of injustice towards the Calvinistic non-elect.


God’s righteousness is the standard of God’s action by which he bestows rewards and penalties in conformity with God’s holy nature. How can there possibly be holy, righteous justice when God discriminates in providing atonement for some and condemning the rest of humanity to outer darkness, according to the Calvinistic system? God’s righteous justice does not harmonise with discriminatory action towards people, providing salvation for some and damnation for the rest.

As this article has summarised, the Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement (with its package that includes unconditional election and irresistible grace) is in significant conflict with the nature of the goodness of God in its failure to demonstrate God’s goodness through love, benevolence, mercy and grace in action to all people throughout human history.

For your consideration:

I have covered similar issues in my articles:

# The injustice of the God of Calvinism;

# Is a Calvinistic God a contradiction when compared with the God revealed in Scripture?

See also my articles on Christ’s atonement,

blue-satin-arrow-smallDoes the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?

blue-satin-arrow-smallCalvinistic excuses for rejecting Jesus’ universal atonement’;

blue-satin-arrow-smallDoes God’s grace make salvation available to all people?

blue-satin-arrow-smallDid John Calvin believe in limited atonement?’ ‘

blue-satin-arrow-small What is the connection between Christ’s atonement and his resurrection?

blue-satin-arrow-smallDoes God want everyone to receive salvation?

I also recommend consideration of the content of:

design-gold-small Keith Schooley, ‘Why I am an Arminian, Part 1’;

design-gold-small Keith Schooley, ‘Why I am an Arminian, Part 2’.

design-gold-small Keith Schooley, ‘Why I Am Not a Calvinist (with apologies to Bertrand Russell) Part 1’;

design-gold-small Keith Schooley, ‘Why I Am Not a Calvinist (with apologies to Bertrand Russell) Part 2’.

I recommend the article by Roger E Olson, ‘What’s wrong with Calvinism?‘ (Patheos, March 22, 2013).

Works consulted

Arminius, J 1977. The writings of James Arminius, vols 1-3. Vols 1-2 tr by J Nichols, vol 3 tr by W R Bagnall. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House. Also available at: (Accessed 7 October 2013).

Berkhof, L 1941. Systematic theology (online). London: The Banner of Truth Trust. Available at:–Systematic-Theology_djvu.txt (Accessed 6 October 2013).

Geisler, N 1999. Chosen but free. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers.

Geisler, N 2003. Systematic theology: God, creation, vol 2. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Grudem, W 1999. Bible doctrine: Essential teachings of the Christian faith, J Purswell (ed). Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press.[39]

Hodge, C 1974. Systematic theology, vol 1 (online). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Company. Available at Christian Classics Ethereal Library, (Accessed 6 October 2013).

Lemke, S W 2010. A biblical and theological critique of irresistible grace, in D L Allen & S W Lemke (eds), Whosoever will: A biblical-theological critique of five-point Calvinism, 109-162. Nashville: B&H Academic.

Lenski, R C H 1966. Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John, and St. Jude. Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers.

Nickles, G L 2001. The five points of Calvinism: A study of our great salvation (online),[40] Spring. Winder GA: Developed as a small group study for the youth group of New Life Presbyterian Church. Available at: (Accessed 5 October 2013).

Oden, T C 1987. The living God: Systematic theology, vol 1. New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco.

Olson, R E 2006. Arminian theology: Myths and realities. Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic.

Packer, J I 1993. Concise Theology. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc. The chapter on ‘Definite Redemption: Jesus Christ Died for God’s Elect’ (Packer 1993:137-139) is available at Monergism (online), (Accessed 5 October 2013).

Palmer, E H 1972. The five points of Calvinism: A study manual. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.

Palmer, E H 2010.[41] The five points of Calvinism: A study manual (online), 3rd edn. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books. Part of this book is available free as a Google Book HERE.

Robertson, A T 1933. Word Pictures in the New Testament: Volume VI, The General Epistles and the Revelation of John. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press.

Shedd, W G T 1888. Dogmatic theology (online), vol 1, 2nd edn. New York: Scribner. Available at Cornell University Library, (Accessed 7 October 2013).

Sproul, R C 1992. Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers Inc.

Spurgeon, C H 1856. Effectual calling, sermon 73, 30 March. Available at: (Accessed 5 October 2011).

Steele, D N & Thomas, C C 1976. The five points of Calvinism: Defined, defended, documented. Philadelphia, Pa: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

Steele, D N, Thomas C C, & Quinn S L 2004. The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, Documented. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed.

Strong, A H 1907. Systematic Theology (online), three volumes in one. Philadelphia: The Judson Press. Available at, (Accessed 7 October 2013).

Thiessen, H C 1949. Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Thiessen, H C (rev by V D Doerksen) 1979. Lectures in Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Vanhoozer, K J 1998. Is there a meaning in this text? The Bible, the reader and the morality of literary knowledge. Leicester: Apollos.

Wiley, H O 1940. Christian theology, vol 1 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 14 on ‘The attributes of God’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: (Accessed 7 October 2013).

Wiley, H O 1952. Christian theology, vol 2 (online). Kansas City, Mo.: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Chapter 24 on ‘The atonement: Its nature and extent’, is available from Nampa, Idaho: Northwestern Nazarene University, Wesley Center Online, at: (Accessed 7 October 2013).


[1] I have taken this section from my article, ‘Does the Bible teach limited atonement or unlimited atonement by Christ?’ (Spencer D Gear).

[2] I am OzSpen#36, Christian Forums, Baptists, ‘Calvinist Arminian dialog’, available at: (Accessed 21 September 2013).

[3] Petruchio#37, ibid.

[4] Petruchio#41, ibid.

[5] OzSpen#42, ibid. In my original quote I did not mention Matt Slick but gave the link to his website, CARM.

[6] Petruchio#43, ibid.

[7] OzSpen#50, ibid.

[8] Petruchio#54., ibid.

[9] I told him so at OzSpen#56., ibid.

[10] Petruchio#54, ibid.

[11] OzSpen#58, ibid.

[12] See the long-winded reply by Petruchio#59, ibid.

[13] His footnote here was: ‘The Five Arminian Articles,” Articles III and IV, in The Creeds of Christendom (ed. P. Schaff; 6th ed.; Grand Rapids, Baker, 1963), 3:547, available online at; accessed November 1, 2008’ (Lemke 2010:110, n. 1).

[14] Ibid.

[15] I have taken this section from my article, ‘Is prevenient grace still amazing grace?’.

[16] Desiring God, ‘What we believe about the five points of Calvinism’ (rev. March 1998). Available at: (Accessed 5 October 2011). I was alerted to this reference from Piper in Lemke (2010).

[17] Ibid.

[18] This contradiction was pointed out in Lemke (2010:112).

[19] The Calvinist Corner, available at: (Accessed 3 October 2011).

[20] The Baker Publishing Company, which published Palmer (1972), gave these biographical details about Edwin Palmer: ‘Edwin H. Palmer (1922-1980) was a theologian, scholar, teacher, and pastor. He served as executive secretary on the team’, available at: (Accessed 6 October 2013).

[21] This refers to Henry Statius’ (AD 1585-1623) book from the 17th century that had the unusually inflated full title (for the 21st century) – typical for that era – of, The predestinated thief. A dialogue betwixt a rigid Calvinian preacher and a condemned malefactor. In which is not onely represented how the Calvinistical opinion occasions the perpetration of wickedness and impieties; but moreover how it doth impede and hinder, nay almost impossibilitate the reducing of a sinner to emendation and repentance. London: printed by R. Trott for Daniel Jones, and are to be sold at the three Hearts in S. Paul’s Church-yard, 1658. Statius’s book is available online from Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, Digital Library Production Service, at:;idno=A60360.0001.001 (Accessed 6 October 2013).

[22] At this point the footnote was, ‘It should be emphasized that the contradiction is only apparent and not real. Man cannot harmonize the two apparently contradictory positions, but God can’ (Palmer 1972:85, n. 2).

[23] This is an archaic form of the spelling of ‘subtlety’ according to at: (Accessed 8 October 2013).

[24] This website from Our Savior Lutheran Church, Houston, Texas, is available at: (Accessed 6 October 2013).

[25] At this point, Olson had the footnote, ‘I am well aware that Calvinists (and other divine determinists) say that God is wholly good and they appeal to some higher good that justifies God’s foreordination of sin and evil. But Arminians want to know what higher good can possibly justify the Holocaust? What higher good can possibly justify some significant portion of humanity suffering in hell eternally apart from any genuinely free choices they or their federal head Adam made? Appeal to God’s glory to justify unconditional reprobation to hell, as Wesley said, makes our blood run cold. What kind of God is it who is glorified by foreordaining and unconditionally reprobating persons to hell? If appeal is made to the necessity of hell for the manifestation of God’s attribute of justice, Arminians ask whether the cross was sufficient’ (Olson 2006 99, n. 5).

[26] At this point, Thiessen (1979) added, ‘The assurance of God’s love is a source of comfort to the believer (Rom. 8:35-39)’.

[27] At this point Thiessen 1979 adds, ‘The benevolence of God is manifested in his concern for the welfare of the creature and is suited to the creature’s needs and capacities (Job 38:41; Ps 104:21; 145:15; Matt 6:26)’. However, this added information is not from Thiessen but from his new reviser, V D Doerksen. It seems as though Doerksen has Calvinised Henry Thiessen, the Arminian, a little, which would be contrary to Thiessen’s theological persuasion.

[28] We could add that God has ‘great mercy’, according to 1 Peter 1:3.

[29] See also Psalm 103:17.

[30] At this point in Thiessen (1979), the editor added, ‘The term is often used in salutations and benedictions (Gal. 6:16; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; 2 John 3; Jude 2)’.

[31] At this point the editor of Thiessen (1979) added: ‘Scripture speaks of the “glory of His grace” (Eph. 1:6), “surpassing riches of His grace” (Eph. 2:7; cf. 1:7), “manifold grace” (1 Pet. 4:10), and “true grace” (1 Pet. 5:12).

[32] At this point the editor of Thiessen (1979) added, ‘Like mercy, this term is also often used in salutations and benedictions (1 Cor. 1:3; 16:23; Eph. 1:2; Philem. 25; Rev. 1:4; 22:21)’.

[33] The original had Rom. 22:22, which is a typographical error.

[34] Geisler wrote, ‘Moderate Calvinists, such as I am, differ with Arminians on many points’ (Geisler 1999:117).

[35] The editor of Thiessen (1979) inserted the following at this point: ‘God cannot make a law, establish a penalty, and then not follow through if the law is disobeyed. When the law is violated, punishment must be meted out, either personally or vicariously. In other words, justice demands punishment of the sinner, but it may also accept the vicarious sacrifice of another, as in the case of Christ (Isa. 53:6; Mark 10:45; Rom. 5:8;1 Pet. 2:24). The righteousness of God is revealed in his punishing the wicked (Rev. 16:5-7), vindicating his people from evildoers (Ps. 129:Iff.), forgiving the penitent of their sin (1 John 1:9), keeping promises made to his children (Neh. 9:7ff.), and rewarding the faithful (Heb. 6:10)’.

[36] Here he refers to Baptist Calvinistic theologian, Augustus Hopkins Strong (1907:249f).

[37] Here Wiley provided the bibliographical information: ‘(Cf. STRONG, Syst. Th., I, p. 293 and POPE, Compend. Chr. Th., I, p. 341.)’.

[38] What is postmodern deconstruction? Kevin Vanhoozer explained its meaning: ‘Through the activity of reading, interpreters construct the text, or rather, its meaning. This is a new role for interpretation… hence the postmodern ‘incredulity towards meaning…. Deconstruction, as its name implies, is a strategy for taking apart or undoing’ (Vanhoozer 1998:18, 20, emphasis in original). Vanhoozer provided this further insight: ‘The virtue of deconstruction, according to David Clines, is that it undoes dogma: “The deconstructive strategy eliminated dogma as dogma, and in recognizing that multiple philosophies are being affirmed in the deconstructible text loosens our attachment to any one of them as dogma”…. Where, however, does deconstruction get us? After casting down the graven images, the Idols of the Sign, what does deconstruction put in their place? Nothing but empty spaces. Having cleaned the home of meaning of its author, the Undoer may find that seven other worse spirits return to take possession of the text (cf. Matt. 12:45)’ (Vanhoozer 1998:184, emphasis in original).

[39] This is ‘published by special arrangement with Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530’ (Grudem 1999:4).

[40] This is based on the 1963 edition of Steele & Thomas (1976).

[41] This was previously published in 1980 (Palmer 2010:4).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 3 November 2015.