Is There Opportunity for All?
June 2006 version.

Q: Does God give everyone an opportunity to go to Heaven, or did God wish to create some with no opportunity?

A: An answer to this one simple-sounding question is what I believe distinguishes 5-point Calvinists from other Christians. The following gives three sets of statements, based on a hard 5-point Calvinist view, a hard 5-point Arminian view, and an intermediate view. It should be mentioned that prior to Augustine, all early Christians who wrote on this believed that people had free will.

Distinctives of a hard 5-Point Calvinist view (as seen by a non-Calvinist)

While TULIP acronym describes doctrines that are important to Calvinists, it does not well describe what is distinctive of Calvinism, because many non-Calvinists will tell you they believe "TUIP" too, at least by their definitions. The following eleven statements show the distinctives, as only a consistent, 5-point Calvinist would agree to these things.

Before time began (Titus 1:2) God predestined and foreknew all the elect, in such a way that no one can freely make a choice to accept or reject Christ. (Scriptural support: Romans 8:29-30; 9:14-23; 11:7-10; Ephesians 1:11; Psalm 138:8; Proverbs 14:6)

2. By God's mysterious justice, He holds the non-elect of all ages responsible for choices they could not make or change. (Augustine, Ambrose, and Prosper of Aquitaine include all unbaptized infants here, while many Calvinists say scripture gives hope for all infants who die.) (Scriptural support: Mark 4:11-12; Matthew 13:13-15; Luke 8:9-10; John 6:43-45,65; 8:42-47; 10:14,26-29; 12:39-40; Isaiah 6:9-10; 2 Corinthians 4:3; 2 Peter 2:12)

3. God is intensely angry at the disobedience of the reprobate people he created for destruction, with no ability to respond. We are not sinners because we sin, rather we sin because we are sinners. (Scriptural support: Romans 9:22; Ephesians 2:3; Proverbs 16:4; John 3:36)

4. God did not coerce anyone to sin and God is not the author of evil, yet, mysteriously, God specifically ordained and in His secret will desired each sin that they committed (as A.W. Pink and John Gill taught). God is not the [immediate] author of sin, but God decreed every single sin to occur. While God could have saved everyone, God is unwilling because of reasons in His secret will. (This can sound to an Arminian like they are ascribing capriciousness and injustice to God.) (This goes against Jeremiah 32:35; Ezekiel 13:9)

5. The sovereign, all-powerful God can never be disappointed or resisted, and He loses no one that Jesus came to save. (The Calvinists Francis Shaeffer and A.A. Hodge disagreed with the never disappointed part though.) (This appears to go against Jeremiah 13:17; Matthew 23:37-39; Isaiah 63:9; Luke 19:41-44)

6. Jesus did not die for everyone; many have no Savior. The atonement was not limited in power or effectiveness but in scope. It was definitive only for the elect, with no universal aspects except two: we may preach the truth of the gospel to all, and all have the responsibility to obey (though many are unable) (Amaryldian Calvinists stress the universal aspects more.) (Scriptural support: Matthew 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 6:37,44-45,65; 15;18-19; 17:8,20; Acts 13:48; Romans 9:19-23) (This appears to go against 1 Timothy 2:4-6; 4:10; 1 John 2:2; John 5:24; 2 Peter 3:9; Hebrews 2:9)

7. Faith is just another work; both are outputs, not inputs to salvation. Salvation is 100% from God and 0% from us or our faith. For the elect, God forgives and cleanses from all sins, even lack of faith. (This appears to go against Ephesians 2:8-9; Hebrews 4:2; Romans 4:2-10)

8. People in Hell can say they believe Jesus did not die for their sins, God gave them no opportunity to be saved, for God did not desire them to be saved. They are in Hell for believing the truth. Many thought that Jesus did not love them and would not save them, and they were completely correct. (This goes against Jonah 2:8; Luke 7:30; Romans 2:6-11; 2 Peter 2:1)

9. Christians who told a reprobate person that God loved him, Jesus died for him, or that he should (or could) choose to trust Jesus as his Lord and Savior preached falsehood. God does not want Christians to offer the gospel or salvation to everyone, and they should stop now. (This goes against Acts 17:30; 2:37-40; Titus 2:11; 2 Timothy 4:17; Proverbs 8:4; John 1:9; Matthew 22:1-14)

10. All of 1 John 2 must be a book about Gentiles and Jews as John Gill says, because Christ could not be the atoning sacrifice for everyone. 1 Timothy 2:4-5; 4:10 must refer not to all men but to all kinds of men.

11. Our requests in prayer do not change anything God has ordained, and God has ordained all things, so our prayers do not change anything. We should still pray though, because God commands it, it glorifies Him, and it helps us feel better.

Here is an analogy loosely taken from R.C. Sproul. Suppose God told us to paint a fence, and we were incapable because we were trapped in a big hole. God would still hold us responsible if we were trapped because we chose to jump in the hole. (A counter-analogy is that if God created some people to be born in the hole, and live all of their lives with no opportunity to escape the hole, would God hold them responsible for what He forced them to be?)

In brief, if there were a single maverick molecule in the universe, then God would not be in total control, and God would not be God. (adapted from R.C. Sproul)

Distinctives of a hard 5-point Arminian view (as seen by a non-Arminian)

Different Arminians have different views, and these twelve distinctives are a combination of somewhat extreme views I have personally heard or read.

God feels inside of time, and Jesus was on earth in time. Therefore God does not exist outside of time. (adapted from a YWAM training manual). Before the universe was created, God foreknew who would accept and either predestined mankind in general, or else passively selected based on foreknowledge based on their degree of faith. (Some deny that God knows all the future, despite what 1 John 3:20, Psalm 139:4,16, Isaiah 44:7; 46:10, and Ephesians 1:4 say.)

God is just and only holds people responsible for things they have a choice or opportunity to change, based on the knowledge they were able to have. When people are wicked and go to Hell, it is all their own fault, nobody else's. (Jeremiah 17:3; Jonah 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:10)

3. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, and it is only after we die that we are objects of wrath.

4. God will never interfere with our free-will. We can make passively make choices within the limits God has set. While God could have saved all, He is unwilling because He only wants to save those who have the initiative of faith. (This can sound to a Calvinist like a work of merit.) (This appears to go against Romans 9:18, and Satan interferes with people's free will when he possesses them.)

5. The sovereign, all-powerful God allows people to resist His will. "I do not believe in predestination" as one otherwise mature Christian once told me. (Ephesians 1:11 and Romans 8:30 show that denying predestination is not an option for a Christian, though some may mis-define predestination.)

6. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the whole world. He died for potentially for all, but His atonement was not effective for those who failed to combine what they heard with faith as Hebrews 4:2 says. Christ provided all we needed, but the rest is up to us. The atonement was unlimited in power or scope, but limited in effectiveness to those who believe. The atonement is universal to all, with only two definitive aspects: God knows in advance who will accept, and it is only effective for those who accept. (Scriptural support: 1 John 2:2; 1 Timothy 2:4,6; 4:10; 2 Peter 2:1)

7. Faith, or crying out of helplessness to trust in God is an "empty virtue". It carries no merit, and is not a work. Being saved by grace through faith does NOT mean we are saved of ourselves, or that faith is a work. We get saved through faith, but our works keep us saved. (Scriptural support: Romans 4:1-5; Ephesians 2:8-10)

8. People in Hell personally bear all the guilt and responsibility for their chosen destiny. They rejected the truth they were given. (Some Arminians, such as John Stott, deny that Hell is eternal, despite what Revelation 20:10 and Luke 16:26 say.)

9. Christians should tell people that God is loving and compassionate toward all He has made. Everyone is supposed to obey the Gospel. God sincerely offers salvation to everyone, even though God knows the choices everyone will make as already known and selected those will inherit eternal life. Many, but not all, Arminians believe a genuine Christian can lose their salvation. (Scriptural support: 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Thessalonians 1:8)

10. Romans 9:13-24 and Romans 11:11 refers only to nations, not individuals, as God must love all people equally. "Hate" can only mean "love less", as God is loving to all. (Psalm 145:9; 13, 17)

11. A genuine Christian can truly love the Lord, serve Him well, live a holy life, and later choose to turn away from God, lose their salvation, and spend eternity in Hell. A person cannot have confidence that this will not happen to them. (This can sound almost like getting saved by grace and staying saved by works.) (The original Arminians differed among themselves on losing one's salvation.) (Scriptural support: Hebrews 6:4-8; 10:26-31; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Matthew 7:22) (This appears to go against Matthew 7:23; John 10:29; 17:12; 1 John 2:19; 5:13)

12. In some respects, we purify ourselves (1 Peter 1:22), save ourselves (Acts 2:40), and are commanded to make our calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10).

Here is an analogy. We all lined up on the coast of California and required to swim to Hawaii. Some people cannot swim more than 100 feet, while others, being more righteous, can swim a couple of miles. Nobody can make it to Hawaii though. Jesus comes alongside in a boat and tells us to get in. Those who climb in themselves are saved and the rest are lost. (A counter-analogy is that in the freezing water we are not even capable of climbing in, or even of grabbing a life saver. All we can do is cry to Jesus to save us, and Jesus jumps in the water and carries us out.)

In brief, as ships in a fleet move freely but in formation, our wills move freely but according to God's purpose. (adapted from A.W. Tozer)

The Interaction view

Predestination and sovereignty are NOT Calvinist doctrines, and man making choices and Christ atoning for all are not Arminian doctrines. They are Biblical doctrines. Interaction has few distinctives, because Calvinists can agree with many parts, and Arminians can agree with many parts. Much of the scriptural support is given in the preceding two views.

1. Outside of time, God foreknew and predestined all the elect, in such a way that everyone still chooses whether to put their faith in God or not. Just as our near-certain knowledge of the past did not coerce any person in history to do anything, God's certain knowledge of all time does not coerce us.

2. God is just and only holds people responsible for things they have a choice or opportunity to change, based on the knowledge they were able to have. We are so sinful that no one on their own could seek God, but God in some respects draws everyone.

3. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, but those created as objects of wrath as such because of their choices. We have free agency, or free-will in the sense that we can truly choose. However, like a drug addict is to drugs, our free will is too bound by sin to free itself. We are "free" in the sense of freely crying out in our helplessness. We have real choices to make. (Scriptural support: Joshua 24:14-15; 24-25; John 7:17; 5:35; Psalm 119:30,173; Proverbs 8:10; 16:16; Deuteronomy 30:19; Isaiah 56:4)

4. God does not coerce people's choices, but He more than passively permits too. Not only does God influence people such as Jonah or Saul externally, God in His judgment chooses to harden those who choose to harden themselves.

5. The sovereign, all-powerful God, who could have controlled all of us like puppets, instead has chosen to delegate a very limited part of His sovereignty and allow people to make Him sad and reject God's purpose for themselves (Luke 7:30). Ultimately God's purpose is always fulfilled though (Ephesians 1:11).

6. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the whole world. He died for potentially for all, but His atonement was not effective for those who failed to combine what they heard with faith.

7. Faith, or crying out of helplessness to trust in God is an "empty virtue". It carries no merit, and is not a work. Being saved by grace through faith does NOT mean we are saved of ourselves, or that faith is a work.

8. People in Hell personally bear all the guilt and responsibility for their chosen destiny. However, while some people in Hell can say they did not get all the knowledge or opportunities, they did reject the truth they were given.

9. Christians should tell people that God is loving and compassionate toward all He has made (Psalm 145:9, 13, 17). However, God does have a special love for the elect. Everyone is supposed to obey the Gospel. God sincerely offers salvation to everyone, even though God knows the choices everyone will make, and outside of time, and has already known and selected those will inherit eternal life.

10. The first half of 1 Timothy 4:10 is one place that shows the atonement has universal aspects. The last half of 1 Timothy 4:10 is one place that shows the atonement has limited (or definitive) aspects.

11. By God's grace all have a responsibility to seek God, and many do seek God, as David did. (Scriptural support: Psalm 63:1; 22:26; 24:6; 27:4; 34:10; 69:32; 70:4; 83:16; Proverbs 28:5; Zephaniah 2:3; Zechariah 8:21,22; Malachi 3:1 Matthew 7:33; 1 Chronicles 16:10,11; 2 Chronicles 11:16; 14:4; 15:12; 30:19; Ezra 6:21; Deuteronomy 12:5)

Here is an analogy. Someone was born and lived all their life on a ship, and that ship is about to sink. They had no choice about where they were born. However, they are responsible for their own death if they foolishly refuse the offer to get in a life raft to save them.

In brief, the universe has no random molecules, but God has chosen to give us the responsibility for our own oscillations in state and position.

Distinctives of Interaction:

Upon further reflection, here is what might be somewhat distinctive about the interaction view.

Both Calvinism and Arminianism are over-simplifications of the truth. Interaction is not just an intermediate point on a line between 5-point Calvinism and 5-point Arminianism, but like the top of an equilateral triangle, it attempts to be above the line. The problem with both strong Calvinism and strong Arminianism is not so much what they affirm, as with what they deny.

God is in the eternal now. Since God exists outside of time as well as within It, what we call the future is more certain to God than the past is to us. What we call the past is more changeable to God than the future is to us.

The Lake of Fire is the horrible place, where man's freedom to choose to be separate from God drifts away in the justice of its consequences.

Our responsibility is not due to either incomprehensible mysteries or to our ability, but rather our respond-ability.

Like a potter, God molds us as He wills. But we too have a responsibility for how we turn out.

Q: How can God justly judge us, since God already knew everything we would do before we were born, and only things happen that are in His will?

A: God's foreknowledge and predestination are done in such as way as not to coerce us or reduce our own responsibility. Here are five brief points to consider.

a) When did God first discover what you would do? Many (but not all) Christians believe God is timeless (Titus 1:2), as well as within time. Thus the question is meaningless from an eternal perspective.

b) The only two verses in the Bible that mention that God foreknew and predestined us, (Romans 8:29 and 1 Peter 1:2) both have foreknowledge first. Simplistically, some Calvinists think that God predestined everything and then foreknew, contrary to these verses. Simplistically, some non-Calvinists think that first God foreknew everything and based on that then predestined. However, if God is timeless as well as within time, then both might be simultaneous in ways beyond which we can see.

c) God gave us free will (or more precisely free agency), and apparently God values creatures that can truly choose to love Him more than robots. He values our free agency so much, that for those who choose their own destiny eternally separated from God, God allows them to make their choice. (Deuteronomy 30:19; Joshua 24:14-15; 24-25; Psalm 119:30,173; Proverbs 8:10; 16:16; Isaiah 56:4; John 7:17; 5:35.)

d) God is sovereign, but God is powerful and wise enough to be able to choose to give us a measure of freedom without abdicating being God.

Perhaps an illustration can help. We read in history books that John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln, but our knowledge did not force Booth to commit this murder. Suppose we could go in a time machine to before either of them were born, and we take a history book with us. The fact that we know this information before it happens likewise did not coerce Booth's choice. God's foreknowledge of all events did not coerce us to do things, nor did it lessen anyone's responsibility.

Contrary View: Some (but not all) Calvinists emphasize that since God controls everything, we are either robots for God or robots of Satan. Other Calvinists give up trying to reconcile these things, (correctly) saying that predestination and free agency are like parallel lines, that meet in eternity. However, a better answer by A.A. Hodge, that God who is sovereign over all, can choose, for a period of time and within limits, to delegate a portion of His sovereignty. It is by God's act of delegating sovereignty that we have free will at all.

Your Conclusion: When you come to your own conclusion about those who never heard the gospel, you have to answer two questions

(Yes/No) Did a just God choose to give everyone an opportunity to be saved?

(Yes/No) Would it be possible for God to ever gave anyone an opportunity after they die?

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