AT&T Understands Grace for All

In the Foreword to the recent book, Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, editor John D. Wagner writes: "The meaning of our Savior's name Jesus is 'Yahweh saves!' It sums up in a single word the central theme of the whole Bible: the triumph of grace in the salvation of sinners, with that grace abounding for all."1 All? Everybody without qualification? The gracious heart of God in Christ abounds for all? Arminians do not have to qualify statements in Scripture regarding the scope of provision made on behalf of fallen humanity regarding the love of God (John 3:16, 17), the atonement of Christ (John 1:29; 1 John 2:2), or the grace of God (John 1:4). Let us carefully view this word "all."

In the Gospel of John, we discover that, all that can be seen (and unseen) came into being through Christ. (John 1:3) We cannot limit this all in any sense imaginable. John then continues: "In Him was life, and the life was the Light of all humanity." (John 1:4) The word "all" is in not in the Greek text, only ἀνθρώπων, referring to humanity in general. Though we might infer the usage of "all" here, in the same sense as we do at John 1:9, and John 3:16, because of the lack of "all" we will only mention the reference. He then writes: "He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him." (John 1:7 ESV, emphasis added) Here is God's intention in the mission of John the baptizer: he testifies to Jesus, the Light of the world, so that all might believe in Christ through John's testimony. Thus far we are granted no contextual justification for limiting the word "all."

A recent television commercial from AT&T demonstrates that even ad-execs of the company understand the universal aspect of grace (see commercial below). Thinking that a special package deal is granted to him alone, because of his birthday, the AT&T employee informs the young man that, in actuality, the package is intended for all people in an ultimately potential sense -- everybody without qualification. When asked, "Even that guy?" by the customer, the employee responds "Yep!" without even looking at the guy about whom he asks. He then responds: "You didn't even look." To which she replies, "He's part of everybody." There was no need for her to look at the guy about whom he was asking because each and every single person can receive the gracious package deal offered to everybody. To suggest that the gracious offer is secretly offered to only select individuals, unknown to the public at large, is to redefine the words "everybody" or "all."

Granted, "all" does not in every case represent "each and every single part" of the whole, as represented in the following passages: cf. Matt. 3:5; 4:23; John 3:26; 8:2; 11:48. But when taken within a given context, we are not granted license to arbitrarily or conveniently cherry-pick when "all" is limited in scope. In the Gospel accounts, when "all" is referenced geographically, we are not necessarily to think that Jesus visited every single village. Likewise, where in the Gospel accounts we discover "all" the people from a certain region are coming to Jesus, we are not necessarily to think that every single person from a certain village is coming to Jesus, trusting in Him, and receiving salvation. In first-century Jewish culture, generalities are often employed in communication, whether geographically, references to the general public, or to elements related to time.

However, we are not granted permission to then infer that this truth is to be applied universally, not unless we are willing to embrace contradictions. For example, for those individuals who mock Arminian use of the word "all," that the word must always mean "all," we are quick to remind detractors that, just as all sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), so contextually the righteousness of God is granted to all, that is, all who believe in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:22a), as St Paul notes that there is no distinction (Rom. 3:22b ESV); that sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned (Rom. 5:12); that the consequence of one man's sin led to condemnation for all (Rom. 5:18); and yet that the consequence of one man's obedience to God resulted in justification and life for all (Rom. 5:18), with the caveat that this justification is effected solely by faith in Christ (Rom. 3:25, 26).

Clearly, then, more often than not the word all actually does indicate all -- each and every single part of the whole: all of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isa. 53:6), who is Jesus Christ, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29); all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death (Rom. 6:3); all who are being led by the Spirit of God are children of God (Rom. 8:14); the Spirit searches all things (1 Cor. 2:10); we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10); all are children of God through faith in Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:26); God works all things after the counsel of His will (Eph. 1:11); all believers share in God's grace with the apostle Paul (Phil. 1:7); all things have been created through Christ (Col. 1:16); Jesus will return with all His saints (1 Thess. 3:13); all believers will marvel at Christ's return (2 Thess. 1:10); prayers are to made on behalf of all (1 Tim. 2:1), including all in authority (1 Tim. 2:2), because God desires the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:4), since Christ gave Himself a ransom for all (1 Tim. 2:6), and since God is the Savior of all (1 Tim. 4:10a), especially (all) believers (1 Tim. 4:10b); all Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16); God's grace has appeared, bringing an offer of salvation to all (Titus 2:11).

ADAM AND EVE LOSING THEIR INNOCENCE

From even a cursory glance through the New Testament, where the love, grace and salvation of God in Christ are noted, the context demands that such is provided for and offered to all without qualification. God is willing to save all. Jesus declares to a multitude of anonymous people: "Come to Me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28, emphasis added) John Wagner rightly states: "We reject all forms of theology that deny this truth and posit some secret abyss in God's mind that contradicts his revealed will."2 After all, the apostle John emphatically states, "For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." (John 3:17) We believe that an Arminian or non-Calvinistic interpretation of such passages are the only proper conclusions that keep these texts intact.

In other words, if a Calvinist hermeneutic is employed, then what the apostle John really intends to indicate is that Jesus is truly only calling unto Himself the unconditionally elect (Matt. 11:28) -- that the apostle John truly, secretly means to convey, "For God did not send His Son into the earthly realm to condemn the unconditionally elect, but that the unconditionally elect through Him might be saved." (John 3:17) There remains no viable hermeneutic for such a redundant and inane presuppositional consequence. Though "all" does not in each and every case indicate "all," one can trace the word throughout the New Testament and discover that, concerning the spread of sin, "all" have been affected; and, concerning the extension of the love, grace, and salvation of God by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, "all" are offered the healing cure from sin and its consequences.

What of election and predestination? How does the doctrine of election relate to the context of "all" throughout the New Testament? First, let us not conflate election and predestination, the latter of which merely refers to a predetermination in God to consider as His child the one who will by grace trust in Christ His Son. (cf. Eph. 1:5; Rom. 8:29) Are "all" predetermined from eternity past to be children of God? No. Sonship is granted solely to those who trust in and belong to Jesus Christ. Second, the doctrine of election is also limited in scope, centered around the ones God has chosen to save. Whom has God chosen to save? God has chosen or elected to save those who will trust in Christ. (John 3:15, 16, 36; 4:14; 5:24, 40; 6:47; 6:50-58; 20:31; Rom 3:21-30; 4:3-5; 4:9, 11, 13, 16; 4:20-24; 5:1, 2; 9:30-33; 10:4; 10:9-13; 1 Cor 1:21; 15:1-2; Gal 2:15-16; 3:2-9; 3:11; 3:14, 22, 24; 3:26-28; Eph 1:13; 2:8; Phil 3:9; Heb 3:6, 14; 3:18-19; 4:2-3; 6:12; 1 John 2:23-25; 5:10-13, 20) God has not elected to save unbelievers. (Mark 1:15; Luke 8:12; John 1:12; 3:16; Acts 16:31; Rom. 1:16-17; 3:22; 6:8; 10:9-10; 1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 1:19; 1 Tim. 1:16; Heb. 7:25; 11:6; 1 John 5:13)

That God foreknows His elect, however, does not diminish the truth that the offer of salvation is granted to all without qualification. In other words, a person will never be able to judge the motives of God related to election, salvation and the offer of the Gospel. In the Gospel, the righteousness (rightness, justice, divine approval) of God is revealed from faith for faith, and is the power of God unto salvation for all. (Rom. 1:16, 17) The offer of salvation in the Gospel is genuine;3 so that, if the person would, by grace, trust in Christ Jesus as sovereign Lord and atoning Savior, God would save that person. That the individual refuses the grace of God is of no consequence to the integrity and motives of God -- at least, not within a biblically Arminian theological context. What perplexes me most about this subject is how ad-execs at AT&T properly understand the scope of a gracious offer, granted to all, whereas our Calvinist brothers utterly fail to do so.

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1 Grace for All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation, eds. Clark H. Pinnock and John D. Wagner (Eugene: Resource Publications, 2015), xv.

2 Ibid.

3 Taking their theological cue from Arminius, the Remonstrants argue that God maintains "a gracious and serious intention to save and so to bring to faith all those who are called, whether they really believe and are saved or not, and so obstinately refuse to believe and be saved." In other words, whether or not the individual comes to faith and is saved by the grace of God, He calls them to repentance, faith, and eternal bliss with Him regardless. See The Arminian Confession of 1621, trans. and ed. Mark A. Ellis (Eugene: Pickwick Publications, 2005), 106. The Confession, thanks to Dr. Ellis, can also be read in its entirety on this site: The Arminian Confession of 1621.

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ABOUT WILLIAM BIRCH

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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.