Drawing upon the discussion held at the John 3:16 Conference in late 2008, Whosoever Will is a collection of theological assessments that serve as a response to the five points of Calvinism. The book ultimately highlights the notion that many Baptists do not hold to Calvinism's doctrines on Election and "Limited Atonement," and offers an alternative, yet biblical, understanding of how God works in salvation.
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This book, intended be a critique of Calvinism, fails, not because it does not try to critique Calvinism, but because it can offer no real alternative to Calvinism. Calvinism has distilled basic truths from the Bible and framed them in easy to understand statements. The authors question these truths but aren’t able to offer the reader alternatives without appeal to Universalism or Open Theism, but they oppose these also.
The non-Calvinist has yet to find a way to deal with the Calvinist view of God’s omniscience, and consequently, election, other than to affirm it (p5) and then ignore it. Thus, there is not a chapter in this book dealing with omniscience. We might even introduce most chapters with, “First, let’s forget that God is omniscient and pretend He really doesn’t know who will be saved.”
Some non-Calvinists allow that God knows the future because He is able to look into the future and discover who chooses salvation (p152 – unavailable in the preview). This view says that God has some basic knowledge but is then able to observe people’s actions in the future thereby gaining additional knowledge; it is a denial of omniscience but not as extreme as Open Theism. A unique view is presented in Chap 3 where the author writes, “God’s experience of my responses to, and relationship with, Him has caused Him to deal differently with me than He does with a person with whom God’s eternal life experience has been rebellion and rejection.”(p58) In other words, God gains knowledge, not just from observation, but also from His experiences with people; this is also a denial of omniscience.
Calvinism tells us that God has an exhaustive knowledge of all things past, present, and future. To deal with omniscience, the non-Calvinist must deal with verses that say, “…[God] chose us in him before the creation of the world…” (Eph 1) and the “Lamb’s Book of Life” (Rev 13,17). God knows the identities of both elect and reprobate before He creates the world, and this has enormous significance in discussions of election, atonement and irresistible grace. In discussing the atonement (Chap 4), the author says, “ALL the options need to be on the table,…” (p62) He then ignores the issue of omniscience. Later, this author says, “The basic issue involves the question that if Christ did not die for the non-elect, how can this circumstance be reconciled with passages of Scripture…which affirm that God desires the salvation of all people?” (p94). A good question; he then refuses to address it by ignoring the issue of omniscience that must be considered in any reconciliation. The issue of omniscience is critical to any discussion of Calvinism yet the reader will find the authors in this book (as with other books purporting to critique Calvinism) are forced to exclude it as they advance their arguments. A book like this must include a critical examination of the Calvinist conclusion that God is omniscient, and has elected some to save, if it is to describe itself as a critique of Calvinism. It fails to do this.
Unable to deal with God’s omniscience, the non-Calvinist then faces problems with God’s sovereignty. Sovereignty joins omniscience with omnipotence (plus God’s other attributes) and Calvinists conclude from this that God ordains all that happens. This is because God has knowledge of all events before they occur and has the power to change any event He chooses. Thus, it is God who decides (ordains) all that happens either because He decides to intervene to cause/change any event, or He decides to do nothing thereby allowing events to play out naturally.
The author addressing the problem of evil (Chap 11) recognizes that God’s sovereignty is the issue but says, erroneously, “First, it seems rather obvious (at least to me) that something happens in this world either because God has allowed it or ordained it.”(p284) To say that God ordains all things means that He either causes or allows those things to happen. Regardless, the author does not argue against the Calvinist understanding of sovereignty nor suggests an alternative to the Calvinist view. Another author (p154ff) gives a confusing explanation of sovereignty. He basically says that a sovereign God made a sovereign choice not to behave sovereignly. I found it amusing and confusing.
The issue of election is naturally a problem for the non-Calvinist. One author dealing with the issue of election (chap 3), writes, “According to the reformed view, from eternity past it has been decreed that the elect must be saved and the non-elect cannot be saved, and it will thus unfold in human history just as God has decreed it.”(p56) He doesn’t seem to like that but does not argue that it is not true. He writes as if election does not exist.
Attempting to resolve the problem posed by election, one author (Chap 3) offers his personal opinion of a distinction between “one must be saved” (God elects whom to save without regard to any action by the person) and “one will be saved” (the person must first express a desire to be saved (e.g., by crying out for salvation(p43)) and as this information becomes known to God, God will then elect to save the person).(p59) He doesn’t explain what this has to do with critiquing Calvinism perhaps assuming that the reader will make the connection. Because the authors do not deal with election, we find much muddling through in the chapters on the atonement and irresistible grace.
Both the Calvinist and the Arminian subscribe to total inability to describe man’s inability to respond to salvation apart from the enabling grace of God. Arminians call this prevenient grace and Calvinists call it saving grace. These Baptists say that they are neither Calvinist nor Arminian (p5), so what do they believe with regard to total depravity? The confusion about total depravity leads the authors to ignore it as we see in Chap 1, 5, 10, a serious blunder for those supposing to critique Calvinism. In chap 10, the author writes, “This chapter aims to provide some thoughts on why endorsing a strong Calvinist view of human freedom is unnecessary even when taking the problem of sin seriously.” (p255) Then he proceeds to downplay total depravity in his analysis preferring a humanistic approach to make his argument.
There are many more comments that could be written about this book. This book proves, once again, that the non-Calvinists have much work to do to overturn the truths that Calvinism has distilled from the Bible.
This book of reflections from the John 3:16 Conference in 2008 is a good resource for those studying and dealing with the issue of 5-point Calvinism. The book is a part of the B&H academic series and is well researched and written. I recommend this book to those who are struggling with areas such as Election and the view of Limited Atonement. There is also a chapter dealing with God and Evil. It is worth the time and money.