October 20, 2017

Guess Who? on John 3:16

mask.jpgUPDATE: Welcome Fide-O readers. I invite you to read this post and tell me why Jason Robertson thinks it’s about him. Good luck.

Guess Who said it?

“I am troubled by the tendency of some – often young people newly infatuated with Reformed doctrine – who insist that God cannon possibly love those who never repent and believe. I encounter this view, it seems, with increasing frequency. The argument inevitably goes like this: Psalm 7:11 tells us “God is angry with the wicked every day”. It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect. Those who hold this view often go to great lengths to argue that John 3:16 cannot really mean God loves the whole world.”

Reformed theology has historically been the branch of evangelicalism most strongly committed to the sovereignty of God. At the same time, the mainstream of Reformed theologians have always affirmed the love of God for all sinners. John Calvin himself wrote regarding John 3:16. “Two points are distinctly stated to us: namely, that faith in Christ brings life to all, and that Christ brought life, because the Father loves the human race and wishes that they should not perish.” Calvin also states: “John 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 without exception to the faith of Christ, which is nothing else than an entrance into life. Let us remember, on the other hand, that while life is promised universally to all who believe in Christ, still faith is not common to all, but the elect alone are they whose eyes God opens, that they may seek him by faith.”

Calvin’s comments are both balanced and biblical. He points out that both the gospel invitation and “the world” that God loves are by no means limited to the elect alone. But he recognizes that God’s electing, saving love is uniquely bestowed on His chosen ones. These same truths have been vigorously defended by a host of Reformed stalwarts, including Thomas Boston, John Brown, Andrew Fuller, W.G.T. Shedd, R.L. Dabney, B.B. Warfield, John Murray, R.B. Kuiper, and many others. In no sense does belief in divine sovereignty rule out the love of God for all humanity.”

“Surely we ought to be lest “sheer logic alone” lead us to a conclusion that runs counter to the whole thrust and tenor of Scripture. Applying logic to an incomplete set of propositions about God has often yielded the bitter fruit of false doctrine. We must constantly check our logical conclusions against the more sure word of Scripture. In this case, the notion that God’s love is reserved for the elect alone does not survive the light of Scripture.”

“John 3:16 demands to be interpreted as speaking of God’s love to sinful mankind in general.”

Comments

  1. Boo-YA!

    I love reading good theology.

  2. You know, I think the logic of the TR that God in fact hates the people He doesn’t pick, makes alot more sense to me.

    I don’t think it is true, but it hangs together logically.

    On the other hand, the idea that God loves everybody yet by only choosing some consigns the rest to damnation doesn’t seem to make sense. What kind of love is that? We have to radically redefine what love means for this to work.

    Perhaps someone could make explain this more clearly to me?

  3. panhandle says:

    This is a great example of how we confuse the various concepts of “Love”. The love described in John 3:16 is agape love – God’s goodwill given freely, undeserved, unreserved.

    The attituted of God towards his creation as they sin would (if it must be described in terms of “love”) be better discussed in terms of the phileo (roughly: brotherly love) or eros (roughly: desire).

    Not that those 3 Greek terms are beginning and end of the discussion on love, but they are the common terms employed in the NT and provide a good starting point.

    Finney (regardless of what you think of the rest of his theology) wrote some excellent messages about this (he used the now outdated term “Benevolence).

  4. Good stuff. I really must read Calvin for myself someday.

  5. Wow. That is superbly edited prose.

  6. Finney should be avoided at all costs.

  7. The answer is “Who is John MacArthur?”

    Though I wished it came from Finney as someone suggested. I love me some Finney.

  8. Phil: Whoever edited it, consistently misspelled “emerging church apostate pomo devil.” 😉

    This is good stuff.

  9. Yeah, but I’m waiting for some follow-up to explain why you believe the above quotation is in any way incompatible with particular redemption. Or was that your point?

    What, actually, was your point again?

    MacArthur’s point seems clear to me: he was making a distinction between God’s general love and His redemptive love. Nothing there has any bearing on the design of the atonement.

    Well, I take it back. If you understand MacArthur’s point about the uniqueness of redemptive love, combined with his stress on vicarious atonement, you’ll see that his position actually demands the view that the substitutionary and redemptive aspects of Christ’s death had specific people in mind. MacArthur makes precisely that argument elsewhere. He is, after all, an unabashed 5-pointer.

    So MacArthur’s argument with Calvinists who flinch at understanding “world” in Jn. 3:16 as a reference to “mankind in general” is not a disagreement about the extent of the atonement. It’s a disagreement about the implications of the word “love” in John 3:16; it’s a disagreement about whether it’s really appropriate to view God’s non-redemptive general benevolence as authentic “love” or not; and perhaps its’ a disagreement about whether Christ is freely offered to all in the gospel. JM says yes. Calvinists who follow Pink say no. But both sides actually agree on the extent of the atonement.

    Confusion on this is not unique to anti-Calvinists. Lots of zealous 5-pointers are horribly confused about it as well. I’ve lost count of the number of young Calvinists who have written me troubled because they think MacArthur’s statements about “world” in John 3:16 undermine particular atonement, even though it ought to be pretty hard to miss the glaring fact that in that context MacArthur makes no point that has any direct bearing whatsoever on the extent of the atonement.

    I do think parts of your critique are perfectly appropriate, insofar as you deplore the of the zealousness with which some Calvinists want to deconstruct Jn. 3:16. Warfield agreed with that, too, incidentally. His little volume “Savior of the World” made the point extremely well. If I recall correctly, the title sermon in that volume was delivered to ministerial students, and I’ve always suspected Warfield was deliberately targeting some young hotheads with hyper-Calvinist tendencies.

    Still, having finally found time to read the thread over at Frank Turk’s, I honestly don’t see where the valid parts of your critique apply to any point he was trying to make.

    As a matter of fact, I think the angry hordes who immediately gathered round hoping to take turns stomping on Centuri0n, labeling his post “idiotic,” then responding to his careful arguments only with sighs and deleted posts and whatnot—actually ended up providing living proof that it’s not just overzealous Calvinists who completely lose it whenever the subjects of John 3:16 and the extent of the atonement come up.

    (On a side note, if you’ll allow me some candid criticism, I think the atmosphere at the pub you operate actually fosters that kind of juvenile hotheadedness. Worse, by disallowing comments–even moderated ones–you’ve permitted some pretty silly opinions to go unchallenged and be restated so many times that they have come to be regarded as fact by BHT regulars. That’s why I think you have actually had more strife, not less, since you disallowed all comments. If someone wants to respond to some profoundly disturbing comment at the BHT, such as this one, one has to do it from a distance, which has the effect of making the Tavernistas circle their wagons and become more entrenched in whatever questionable opinion has been floated amongst them. If you don’t perceive that the Tavern has become a darker, nastier place since you closed off comments a year ago, a lot of us do. Just an observation from someone who is genuinely concerned about the drift of the “conversation” in your establishment.)

    I do agree with many at the BHT about this, however: the disagreement between Calvinists and Arminians such as yourself 🙂 over John 3:16 is not worth the bandwidth the argument typically consumes.

    So can we get back to arguing over the really fundamental issues, such as the coherence of truth, the authority of Scripture, and the deadly dangers of consuming alcohol while trying to do theology?

  10. Hi Phil. Welcome.

    I did not mean to imply that Dr. Mac rejected “L.” Far from it. I know he is quite articulate on “L.” I have tried to say I have genuine respect for the position and those who hold it.

    The BHT is 4 years old, and existed for 2 years without comments, 6 awful months with, and without since. We are exploring ways to have comments. Many BHT fellows want them, including me. But I will not be accused of child abuse, have my family threatened, my job threatened and my life threatened in the name of whatever the heck someone thinks is “theology.”

    I know of many who hold the “L” with total fairness to the way we see Jesus dealing with the lost. R.C. is a good example. But, as anyone can now read, the cage phase Calvinists continue to follow Pink into “Glorying in limitation.” There is something very wrong with that.

    Daughter’s birthday celebration. 21 years old. Where does it go. Thanks for stopping in. I wish we were friends.

  11. marklewin says:

    Michael,

    If election is true, and God is the author of it, then how can we speak of God as loving those he elects the same as those he does not elect? I do not see how you can have the doctrine of election and reject a limited atonement.

    I see a clear declaration in scripture of God being the one who chooses who will be saved, what is called election. I also see a universal call to all to repent and believe. And all I can conclude is that God in some sense loves some more or differently than others. At the very least, God does not treat all of us sinners in the same way. This fits with the general love vs. redemptive love idea, I think.

    You wrote, “It seems reasonable to assume that if God loved everyone, He would have chosen everyone unto salvation. Therefore, God does not love the non-elect.” And I think you were trying to make the point that we should not jump to the conclusion that God does not love the non-elect. However, at the very least we can conclude that God does not treat the elect and the non-elect the same. I think you could even say that by leaving any of us (elect and non-elect) alive for even a single second, in this God is showing us his love.

    Was your main concern the danger of making limited atonement the primary point in the gospel? I would agree with you on that, the extent and outworking of God’s love is not the major issue.

  12. If you are quoting this post, I didn’t say that. John Macarthur said it.

  13. I’m the one who sent Imonk the JM quotes from his book THE LOVE OF GOD (which Phil did indeed edit!). The reasoning wasn’t limited atonement.

    As I followed along with what was going on between Jason and Imonk, I got the sense from Jason’s words that, if you were a “true” expositor who did “real” exegesis, the only conclusion you could come to is that in JN 3:16 is that kosmos refers to the believing world, not humanity. I remembered JM writing a lot about JN 3:16 in THE LOVE OF GOD, and posted his view, mainly to point out that two expositors can have differing views.

  14. Phil, I’d like to respond to your comments about the BHT:

    >On a side note, if you’ll allow me some candid criticism, I think the atmosphere at the pub you operate actually fosters that kind of juvenile hotheadedness. Worse, by disallowing comments–even moderated ones–you’ve permitted some pretty silly opinions to go unchallenged and be restated so many times that they have come to be regarded as fact by BHT regulars. That’s why I think you have actually had more strife, not less, since you disallowed all comments. If someone wants to respond to some profoundly disturbing comment at the BHT, such as this one, one has to do it from a distance, which has the effect of making the Tavernistas circle their wagons and become more entrenched in whatever questionable opinion has been floated amongst them. If you don’t perceive that the Tavern has become a darker, nastier place since you closed off comments a year ago, a lot of us do. Just an observation from someone who is genuinely concerned about the drift of the “conversation” in your establishment.

    First, Much of your criticism of the BHT is accepted by me and I’m sure by many of us. The BHT was never established to be a “serious” forum. I find the idea that every reformed blog must be a little seminary to be silly. In fact, I find the whole blogosphere a little silly. The idea that Michael Spencer is worth your time because of what I write on a blog is simply bizarre, and I think all of us could stand to remember that this medium is as inflated as Yahoo stock.

    Second, I believe that more opinions- in house and out- are challenged at the BHT than anywhere else on the net. What annoys Reformed Baptists is that the BHT doesn’t give anyone=especially them- the last word. Josh doesn’t have the last word on Lutheranism. Dennis and Matthew don’t have the last word on Arminianism. Bill and Phillip don’t have the last word on Calvinism. Jim doesn’t have the last word on raving lunacy. Alex and Josh- graduate students in prestigious universities- do not have the last word on philosophy. Your continued insistence that I impose the last word, and such a last word be acceptable to reformed Baptists isn’t going to happen.

    Third, you are well aware that James White has no comments. If you are going to tell me that I can go on his webcast or chat room and take him on personally, that doesn’t solve the problem. I actually listen to White’s program and it is not hard to see why the comments are closed and few critics walk into the “webcast” environment. Particularly, it is incredible to imagine that I could close comments at the BHT and then demand that you meet me on a webcast/chatroom to vindicate yourself. I’ve made it clear that I am not going to subject myself to what is currently going on with one Mr. Ken Fields, a Fide-O commenter, right now: insinuating that I have secret moral failures that I am “hiding.” This kind of life-destroying, slanderous trash is dished out, not by you or Frank or even Scott and Jason, but by people like C.T. and others of even more perverse motives, convinced that nothing is unfair if it saves the Gospel from the hands of the iMonk. I’ll not be involved in that, and until there is a technical ability to stop it, the BHT won’t have comments.

    Is the BHT “darker” than a year ago? Since a year ago I have worked hard to balance out the BHT with non-reformed, emerging churchers, RCCs, ECUSA/Anglicans, Arminians and so on. The majority of the BHT are PCA or SBC Calvinists. We do not have anyone from the GCC/MS fold. That tells the story, in my opinion. I understand your frustration that your POV isn’t represented in the discussion, but if you think I have failed to admit someone from your side of the fence, you would be mistaken. I’d be happy to do so, if they could live with the rules we’ve established.

    As I said, criticisms well taken. I appreciate them, and I appreciate you. Thanks for the dialogue.

  15. Michael – Phil’s idea of opening up the BHT’s comments is a good one – I strongly encourage it.

    mjb

  16. Reasons it won’t happen:

    1) There are 4 voting members who run the bht. 3 are against it.
    2) The majority of the almost 40 members are against it.
    3) The move to a blog client that would allow individually controlled, moderated comments would be massive.
    4) I don’t have time to moderate hundreds of comments a week.
    5) IM comments are open, so is email. That’s the options.
    6) If you want to discuss things with the BHT fellows, join the BHT.
    7) I am not going to open comments just so a small group of reformed Baptists can take over what is one of the most interesting reading experiences on the web. It almost killed the discussion at the bht before. We stopped interacting with one another- which is the point- and talked with commenters. That’s a forum. That’s not the BHT.

  17. The BHT bartenders discussed this, and my summary of that conversation is here:

    http://www.boarsheadtavern.com/archives/2006/03/28/23039736.html

  18. ken fields says:

    MR SPENCER…

    You said, “I’ve made it clear that I am not going to subject myself to what is currently going on with one Mr. Ken Fields, a Fide-O commenter, right now: insinuating that I have secret moral failures that I am “hiding.” This kind of life-destroying, slanderous trash is dished out, not by you or Frank or even Scott and Jason, but by people like C.T. and others of even more perverse motives, convinced that nothing is unfair if it saves the Gospel from the hands of the iMonk.”

    I am rather befuddled and disturbed by these comments in reference to me. What you say about me and my intentions at the FIDE-O blog is misconstrued and simply untrue. I have emailed you a clarification…and even posted it at FIDE-O. My comments at FIDE-O had nothing to do with your personal life, and I find it a bit disconcerting that you took them as such. I was considerate enough to publicly clarify my statements (the very same day)…I’m wondering if you would show that same consideration (when you immediately requested it of me)…now that it’s been nearly two weeks that you have failed to correct the above comment. And according to the times that the comments were posted, you had already received my email clarification when you made this statement impugning my character.

    I will patiently wait for your public clarification…as I have for nearly two weeks.

  19. While Mr. Fields comments at Fide-O were clarified to exclude moral failure on my part, they remain an example of the hazard of open comments, where a question such as “What is he hiding?” is a “Has he stopped beating his wife?” kind of comment that, which containing no direct accusation, leavens the reader- not the writer- the option of filling in the blank.

    I am grateful that Mr. Fields clarified that HE did not mean to imply anything untoward in his original Fide-O comment. I would remind us all that what the readers of that comment drew from it on their own, cannot be apologized for, since the nature of the comment left the door open, and the cow is already out, so to speak, and remains out today to those who would selectively quote.

    I am happy to say that Mr. Field clarified the comment and is not to be seen in the light of my 3/25 comment above.

  20. Since you are trying to keep BHT balanced can I be a member of the BHT. As far as I know you don’t have any big mouthed TR’s on your site, and if you intend to balance it then I think at least one is a must, and two would even be better. I suggest Gene Bridges for the second.

  21. >And according to the times that the comments were posted, you had already received my email clarification when you made this statement impugning my character.

    This statement is simply not true. The comment in question was written twenty minutes before I even mailed a request for a clarification.

  22. The BHT is the balance to the TR blogosphere.