A good Calvinistic brother, Jared Longshore, posted an article entitled, “Calvinistic Southern Baptists and Theology” at Founders.org in which he addressed the chapel message of Dr. Rick Patrick at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Having once been a member of the Founders’ ministry and part of one of their church starts over a decade ago, I have great respect for these brethren and appreciate the cordial manner in which they confront these disputable matters within our convention. In that spirit, this would be a good opportunity to offer one Traditionalist’s commentary on the Founders’ initial response to Patrick’s message.
Longshore breaks down his critique into three sections of study; Patriology (the doctrine of God), Anthropology (the doctrine of man), and Missiology (the doctrine of missions). This article will cover the first of these three sections with the hope to address the other two at a later date. Under the heading of “Patriology,” Longshore writes,
In the message, Patrick claims that the Calvinistic system minimizes God’s love for unbelievers: “Under Calvinism, He [God] possess a very weak love for the reprobate.”
Scripture: Scripture continually affirms God’s abundant love for mankind in general. Psalm 145:8-9 says, “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all and his mercy is over all that he has made.”
John Calvin: Calvin, too, spoke of God’s powerful love and goodness to all mankind. He considered this love as that which steadily flows down upon those made in God’s image. He affirmed that God “is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it.” Calvin, also, saw a connection between Christ’s work of salvation and the Father’s love for mankind for “Christ brought life, because the Heavenly Father loves the human race, and wishes that they should not perish.” Calvin placed the responsibility on sinners for rejecting the loving-kindness of God, since “we drive God’s goodness away from us by our sins.”
Calvinistic Southern Baptists: The 293 delegates who gathered in 1845 to organize the Southern Baptist Convention all came from churches and associations which held to a robustly Calvinistic Confession. It is no surprise, then, to see them continuing in Calvin’s doctrine of the love of God. The confession to which they subscribed says God is “most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness” (2LBC 2.1). “He is the alone fountain of all being, of who, through whom, and to whom are all things” (2LBC 2.2). God’s great love for unbelievers is seen in that all they have has come to them from His kind hand.
Longshore, like most Calvinistic brethren when discussing the sincerity of God’s love for all people, seems to distance himself from the inevitable conclusions drawn by the implications of his own systematic. While attempting to maintain some semblance of divine love for those unconditionally rejected by God in eternity past, he appeals to God’s common provisions such as rain and sunshine. But can such provisions be deemed as genuinely loving given the Scripture’s own definition of love found in 1 Corinthians 13?
Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, clearly explains what love is not when he writes,
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
So we can conclude love is not:
- Having the power and ability to do all things (vs. 1)
- Having knowledge of all things (vs. 2)
- Giving gifts and showing kindness to the weak and poor (vs. 3)
Omnipotence without love is impotent. Omniscience apart from love is worthless. And even benevolent gifts, like the provisions of rain and sunlight, apart from love are nothing. We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient and graciously benevolent to all humanity, but we also know that these characteristics do not necessarily reflect the true nature of love. God, through his servant, tells us what true love is:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor. 13:4-8)
No Bible believing Christian questions the truth that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). “The Lord is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Ps. 145:9). This biblical truth is simply undeniable, which is why the Founders ministry offers this rebuttal in defense of God’s love for all people from their Calvinistic worldview. But, can one objectively conclude that God’s treatment of the reprobate within the Calvinistic system is truly “loving” according to God’s own definition above?
- Is God patient with the reprobate who he “hated” and rejected for salvation “before he was born or had done anything good or bad.”
- Is God kind to those he destines to torment for all eternity without any regard to their own choices, intentions, or actions?
- Does God honor the non-elect by allowing them to enjoy a little rain and sunlight before they spend an eternity suffering for something with which they had absolutely no control over?
- Is God not easily angered by those who are born under His wrath and without hope of reconciliation?
- Does God keep the record of wrongs committed by reprobates?
- Does the so-called “love” of God for the non-elect fail or does it persevere?
By Paul’s definition it would appear Dr. Patrick was being gracious to even concede that the Calvinistic version of divine love for the non-elect is merely “weak,” rather than all together non-existent. Yet, Longshore attempts to make the case that God’s love for all unbelievers is actually “great?” I must ask, as Dave Hunt so succinctly inquired, “What love is this,” and by what measure can it ever be deemed “great!?”
Lest someone accuse me of being uncharitable, it should be noted that some “higher” forms of Calvinism do not even attempt to defend the idea that God sincerely loves everyone. In a work titled, The Sovereignty of God, by A. W. Pink, he wrote, “God loves whom He chooses. He does not love everybody.” He further argued that the word “world” in John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world…“) “refers to the world of believers (God’s elect), in contradistinction from ‘the world of the ungodly.'”
The issue comes down to how one defines the characteristic of love. According to Paul, “love does not seek its own,” and thus it is best described as “self-sacrificial” rather than “self-serving” (1 Cor. 13:5). As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” It seems safe to say that love at its very root is self-sacrificial. Anything less than that should not be called “love.” One may refer to “kindness” or “care” in reflection of some common provisions for humanity, but unless it reaches the level of self-sacrifice it does not seem to meet the biblical definition of true love.
Given that biblical definition of love as “self-sacrifice,” let us consider Christ’s command to love our enemies. Is this an expectation Christ himself is unwilling to fulfill? In other words, is He being hypocritical in this command? Of course not. The very reason He told His followers to love their enemies is “in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…” (Matt. 5:45).
The meaning is undeniable. We are to love our enemies because God loves His enemies. He loves both “the righteous and the unrighteous” in exactly the same way we are told to love our enemies. The greatest commandment instructs us to “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37-38). “And who is our neighbor?” (Lk. 10:29). The pagan Samaritans, who were detested as enemies of God.
In short, Jesus is teaching us to self-sacrificially love everyone, even our worst enemies, because that reflects the very nature of God Himself.
Now, we know that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law in every way (Matt. 5:17-18), which would have to include the greatest commandment. Christ’s self-sacrificial love for His enemies was certainly as encompassing as what He demanded from His followers in Luke 10. Without a doubt, Jesus loved everyone, even His greatest, most undeserving enemies; otherwise, He would have failed to fulfill the demands of the law.
Paul taught, “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” And again in Romans 13:8: “He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.” Thus, to deny Jesus’ self-sacrificial love for everyone is to deny that He fulfilled the demands of the law. This would disqualify Him as the perfect atoning sacrifice.
If we accept that Jesus fulfilled the demands of the law by self-sacrificially loving all people, then how can we conclude that God’s love is any less far-reaching than that which is reflected in the Son? Would God expect our love to be more encompassing and self-sacrificial than His own?
When God invites His enemies to be reconciled (Isa. 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:20; Mt. 11:28-30), He is making an appeal from a sincere heart of self-sacrificial love. “‘As surely as I live,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’” (Ezek. 33:11). “The Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods…” (Hosea 3:1). Obviously, God does sincerely love even those who turn from His provision and grace.