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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Kill Shot

It seems like, especially on religion, opponents of either a particular religion or a particular doctrine within that religion like to come up with their own "kill shot". You know, it's that fact or that verse or that argument that "proves" that the thing they oppose cannot be true. It seems, for instance, that every atheist has a favorite "kill shot". For some it's "If there is a God, why is there evil?" or something closely related. One very popular one is "Since God doesn't do what you ask in prayer, He must not exist." Something like that. All very high sounding, perhaps, but not particularly compelling.

In the disagreement between Arminians and Calvinist, there are a few verses that Arminians like to throw at Calvinists in the same sort of way -- a "kill shot". "There you have it! Straight from the Word of God! Proves you're a heretic!" Okay, maybe not all throw in the last line about being a heretic, but you get the idea. So what are these ever-popular "kill shot" verses?

Well, John 3:16 is one that seems to come up a lot. "It says 'whosoever'! How can you suggest that some cannot respond if it says 'whosoever'???!" That, of course, is too easy. Nothing about "whosoever" requires "everyone can". Move on.

More problematic are passages like 1 John 2 and 2 Peter 3.
He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
The first is aimed at "Limited Atonement", and the second at election. And they serve as undeniable proof that both are false doctrines. Nyeah! (Heretic!) Okay, okay, enough of that.

I'm not going to offer you explanations of how these don't serve the purpose their users try to make them serve. There are lots of places you can find answers to that. It's not that hard. But what I do want to find out is how Arminians deal with the problems these raise. "Problems?" Yes, indeed ... really big ones.

The 1 John 2:2 verse uses the term "propitiation" and says that He (Christ) is that for our sins and "the sins of the whole world." Arminian theology assures us that this means that Christ has paid for the sins of the whole world, so "Limited Atonement" is obviously bunk. Now, the fact is that both Arminians and Calvinists believe in "Limited Atonement". That is, neither side believes in unlimited atonement, or that would be called "Universalism". Arminians believe that the Atonement was potentially for all and Calvinists believe that it actually accomplished all it was intended to accomplish, but neither side believes that the Atonement actually covers all. And then we come to this particular "kill shot". Without determining what "the sins of the whole world" means (some say "the world of the elect" or "the sins of people from all people groups"), let me tell you what it cannot mean. It cannot mean that He is the propitiation for the sins of all people in the whole world. Why? Well, "propitiation" is "appeasement". To propitiate is to appease God's wrath. It is peacemaking. That is, if the Atonement appeases God's wrath, then there is no possible chance of future wrath. He has been appeased. If we want to argue that He may have future wrath, then there is no reason to think that one group ("believers") would be free of that future wrath while another group would not. No, we may disagree about what "the sins of the whole world" means here, but what we cannot disagree about is whether or not Jesus actually propitiated the sins of the whole world. So if you want to use this verse as proof that Limited Atonement is false by arguing that Christ is the propitiation of the sins of the whole world -- that He actually propitiated the sins of every single person for all time -- then you've built a doctrine you won't like. It's called Universalism, and you're stuck with it. Suddenly this is an Arminian problem, not a Calvinist one.

The 2 Peter 3 verse creates its own problem as well. It is trotted out to prove that God cannot choose the elect because it is His will that everyone be saved. That's what it says, right? What's the question?! Again, I'm not going to offer a defense. It's easy to find. Does "any" and "all" in context really mean "any human being" and "all human beings"? Does it require that it is God's will that all should be saved? If that is the argument (and that is the argument from Arminians or, rather, "anti-Calvinists"), it seems to me that now you've stepped into your own problem again. You see, if it is God's will that all human beings should come to repentance, then why do not all human beings come to repentance? If God works all things after the counsel of His will (which He does), why does His will not happen? If God is Sovereign (which we all agree He is), who is it that thwarts His will? It seems to me that this "problem verse" for Calvinists is more of a problem for Arminians. Calvinists affirm God's Sovereignty, but if this verse means what the Arminian says it means, it is a clear denial of God's Sovereignty. And, to be quite clear, I don't know any Arminians that deny God's Sovereignty. So this suddenly becomes another Arminian problem, not a Calvinist one.

As I said, opponents of certain views often try to find and typically love to use a "kill shot", some idea or argument or fact that clearly proves beyond all doubt that their opponent is wrong. The danger, I suppose, is that sometimes the "kill shot" goes through the shooter's own toe instead of through the head of the idea they were hoping to kill. We should probably be careful to check our ammunition and our aim before we start shooting, don't you think?

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