The following post is a result of an on going conversation that was taking place at Dr. Ascol's Founders Blog in light of Falwell's latest charge. I raised the question of how Owenists, or strict atonement advocates, can make sense of the well-meant gospel offer. As a result, Dr. Greg Welty raised a question about the consistency of an affirmation of both an unconditional election and a sincere gospel invitation. Here is the first part of my reply.
Hi Dr. Greg Welty,
Here is my reply to questions and comments that you made. I hope that they stimulate others to prayerfully meditate upon and study these things further, even if they end up disagreeing with me.
Dr. Welty said:
"BTW, you seemed to imply in earlier comments here that you thought the Owenic view undermined the free offer of the gospel."
To be exact, I raised the question about how they would argue for a well-meant gospel offer when Christ, in their view, didn't suffer sufficiently for the non-elect (didn't bear their guilt in the death he died). While you and I both know that I think there is an actual inconsistency there, I didn't make that charge above. I said I "wondered" about it in order to stimulate people to reflect upon and to study the matter further. It was also an invitation for any of my higher Calvinistic brethren to type a brief reply to show the consistency between a limited imputation of sin to Christ and a sincere gospel offer. Anyway, I just wanted to clarify that.
THE CRUCIAL QUESTION CONSIDERED:
Dr. Welty asked:
"I wonder: do you believe that unconditional election undermines the free offer, and if not, why not? After all, if unconditional election is true, then certain matters have been settled salvifically by the time the gospel ever gets preached to anyone. Matters of eternal consequence, you might say. So why wouldn't that undermine the free offer just as much as Owenic limited atonement?"
The above question amounts to asking this:
If it's the case that a strictly limited atonement undermines the well-meant nature of the gospel offer/invitation, then why is that not also the case by the very existence of an unconditional decree to save the elect alone? After all, by the time that the gospel reaches the hearing of a non-elect human being, their eternal destiny has already been foreordained.
The logical thrust of the point seems to be this:
(P) If a SAV (a Strict Atonement View) implies an IGO (an Insincere Gospel Offer),
then it seems that
(Q) the fact of UE (an Unconditional Election) implies an IGO (an Insincere Gospel Offer).
Since UE does not imply an IGO, then a SAV does not imply an IGO either. If (P), then (Q). It's not the case that (Q) is true [according to Tony's own presuppositions], so it's not the case that (P) is true either. It's a Modus Tollens (P > Q. ~ Q, therefore ~P) argument. If Tony wants to say (P) is the case, then is he also obligated, by the logical necessity of his own system, to say that (Q) is also the case?
The form seems valid, but is it also sound?
THE CONSEQUENT (Q) CONSIDERED LOGICALLY AND SCRIPTURALLY:
Let's take a look at (Q) first. Does the existence of an unconditional election mean that the gospel offer (given by God through His people) is insincere or well-meant? By "sincere" or "well-meant", we're considering the notion of whether God really wants or wills them to have life when He has determined not to grant them life. Light can be thrown on this subject by considering the problem of evil. When God has determined to give us over to sin in a particular instance, does He really want us to comply with his commandments? Just because God has foreordained that evil exist by permitting His creatures to fall, does it therefore follow that He never really wanted them to comply with his revealed will as expressed in His commandments? I would say that the existence of a decretal will in God does not negate the existence of a revealed will as well. In other words, even though God determined men [the exact men who actually did it] to kill his Son, it's still true that he did not wish for them to break his commandment(s). God, as it were, willed (decreed) what was against his will (commandments). Therein is the conceptual tension that is difficult for many to accept.
As I read scripture, God not only commanded men not to murder, he warns them, convicts them and sends messengers to stay the hands of murderers. He may also send a dream to the wife of a murderer in order that he not put the Lord of Life to death. So, not only did God express a disapproval of murder in giving a commandment to men, He also was moved to plead with men not to murder his Son. That movement is expressive of a real intention or will. The revealed will of God is just that, a will. Intentionality is not only associated with God's decree, but with his precepts as well. He doesn't issue signs (commandments) without also wishing compliance to those signs that are consistent with His nature. That's the testimony of scripture.
What do we have then concerning the problem of evil? We have an example of how the decretal will of God does not negate the revealed will of God. Just because God determined in His decretal will that men should sin, it doesn't follow that he really doesn't want them to obey. When we take this example to the domain of the gospel commandments, it's not the case that God's unconditional decree that some men die means that He in no sense wills that they should live. Passages in Ezekiel underline that point, I think, as well as other scriptures. God wills not the death of the sinner in His revealed will, even though it's the case that He wills their death by decree. Whoever wants to take one half of the truth to negate the other half falls prey to the theological absurdity that R. L. Dabney points out:
"Say that God has no secret decretive will, and He wishes just what He commands and nothing more, and we represent Him as a Being whose desires are perpetually crossed and baffled: yeah, trampled on; the most harassed, embarrassed, and impotent Being in the universe. Deny the other part of our distinction (Tony: he means the preceptive will here), and you represent God as acquiescing in all the iniquities done on earth and in hell."
If we use the preceptive will to negate the decretal, then we have a diminished finite deity unworthy of the title "God." If we do the reverse, and virtually negate the preceptive will by means of an affirmation of the decretal, then we slip into blasphemy, whether we realize it or not. Scripture, our ultimate authority, underlines the fact that God wishes or wills what He commands. He is not a hypocritical commander who doesn't really want compliance to His expressed commands. When He tells the sinner to repent, He wills/wants/desires/wishes compliance, just as when He commands them to do other things consistent with the holy nature of God.
Coming back to the consequent (Q) explicitly, what we have is God with a decree which does not impart life to the non-elect, but also wishing for them to have life through his righteously ordained means, i.e. faith and repentance. Just because God doesn't will to grant a sinner the moral ability to obey him, it doesn't follow that God doesn't really want that sinner to obey him. Just because there is a divine purpose to leave the non-elect in their sins everlastingly, it doesn't follow that God never, at any point, wanted their compliance to what he commanded. He sought their well-being in this life, according to scripture. Therefore, I would say, He is not insincere in giving His gospel offer to the non-elect because it's still true that He wills their life, according to the revealed or preceptive will of God. If there was no sense in which God willed the life of the non-elect (if the decretal will negated the preceptive), then God would be insincere, or not really well-meaning, when He stretches out his seemingly compassionate hands to them all day long. Instead of having compassionate, outstretched arms towards the non-elect at times in this life, there would only be, in reality, a stiff-arming move towards them at all times. The tender gospel appeals by Christ to the world would then be a sham in the case of the non-elect. Because the revealed will of God exists side-by-side with the decretal will of God in scripture, I can only conclude that an unconditional election is consistent with a sincere gospel offer. Also, the consequent (Q) makes a category error. The gospel concerns the revealed will of God, not the secret will of God.
I don't see how (Q) can be used a a defeater for my view that (P) is the case, since the existence of a secret will does not diminish the existence of the revealed will. Let me also add that I do not think (P), or that the SV results in an IGO, is true because I think (Q) cannot defeat (P). A positive case for (P) needs to be made. It's also true that Dr. Welty hasn't absolved himself from the charge that the Owenic view entails an insincere gospel offer by an appeal to this (Q) defeater. The problem is not deflected.
We shall consider (P) in my next post: The Sincerity of the Gospel Offer: Consistent with Limited Imputation?