I previously summarized the position of Walls and Dongell.
Response to Walls and Dongell
Walls and Dongell make three unwarranted assumptions: (1) that God cannot love people whom He allows to remain in sin; (2) that God cannot have two levels of “wishing,” whereby He simultaneously desires that all be saved (I Tim. 2:4), but decrees that not all receive electing love (Rom. 9:20-24); and (3) that God is obligated by His character to show saving mercy to everyone. They distort the Scriptures by reading these philosophical commitments into the biblical texts. In short, they reject Calvinism because they cannot understand why, given compatibilism and electing love, God would not save everyone. But our discomfort ought not to be mistaken for inconsistency within Calvinism. On the contrary, the doctrine of election, properly understood, is a comfort to Christians (Rom. 8:28-30), a reason to praise God (Eph. 1:5-6), and a motivation for evangelism (since God guarantees some will be saved, II Tim. 2:10). It is by God’s wisdom that the elect do not differ from the non-elect, except that He chooses them (Deut. 7:7). God is glorified by our total dependence upon Him for salvation (I Cor. 1:21-31). The elect receive mercy, and the non-elect receive justice. None receive injustice. Biblically, it is incorrect to conclude that God is obligated by His character to show saving mercy to all (Ezek 36:22-32). As sinners we are not in a position to presume upon grace.
Electing grace is explicitly taught in the Bible (Acts 13:48; 16:14; Eph. 1:12; I Thes. 1:4-5; II Thes. 2:13; II Tim. 1:9; I Pet. 2:9; Rev. 13:7-8). Predestination is in love toward the elect (Eph. 1:3-12). John 6:37 speaks both of our coming to Christ, and of our being given to Christ by the Father (cf. John 17:2, 6, 9, 24). This is compatibilism, just like the account of Joseph, whom God “sent” to Egypt (Ps. 105:17) by the means of his wicked brothers, who meant evil in the same act in which God intended good (Gen. 50:19-20). On the one hand, humans act freely (i.e., according to their desires). On the other hand, God sovereignly accomplishes His objectives through these very same acts (cf. Acts 2:23). In salvation, God causes us to be born again (I Pet. 1:3), so that we are made alive spiritually (Eph. 2:1-4), and therefore freely choose to embrace Christ as our indescribably beautiful Savior, Lord, and Treasure (Mat. 13:44).
Indeed, nothing ultimately stops God from saving everyone, except for His divine prerogative, by which not all are the recipients of His electing love. But God nevertheless loves the non-elect, for God is love (I John 4:8). This does not mean that love is God or that God is nothing but love, but rather that love is central to God’s being and therefore present in all His attributes and dealings with man, including His anger toward sin and sinners (Ps. 7:11; 11:5; 78:62). Christ’s death on the cross flowed from a salvific, loving posture toward a wicked world in full, open rebellion against Him. Out of this love, God showers undeserved blessings upon everyone—blessings which are meant to encourage repentance (Matt. 5:44-45; Acts 14:17; Rom. 2:4). And out of this love, God has chosen an innumerable array of people from every nation and tribe to be adopted into His family (Rev. 5:9). In terms of God’s intention, Christ died effectively for the elect—in the same way the Bible consistently speaks of God’s saving love for the elect only (Deut. 7:7-8; 10:14-15; Mal. 1:2-3; Eph. 5:25).
It is not contradictory for the world to be under both God’s condemnation and love. For example, Moab is so wicked that God says: “Make her drunk, for she has defied the Lord. Let Moab wallow in her vomit…” (Jer. 48:26), but for this same Moab God also “wails” and “cries out” and “moans like a flute” (Jer. 48:31-36). In His sovereign will, He approves of her judgment; as a loving Creator, He grieves that it must be so.
It is not contradictory to speak of God desiring that all men repent and be saved, while only willing that this occur for the elect. Consider Pharaoh, whose heart was hardened by God, such that he disobeyed God’s wish (expressed via Moses) that he let Israel go to worship. Or Eli’s sons, who lay with the women serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting and when warned that their wickedness would have consequences, “would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to put them to death (I Sam. 2:22-25).” So while God surely did not condone their sexual immorality, it was (in another sense) His will that it persist. Moreover, the same Hebrew word for “willed” (haphez) used in I Sam. 2:25 is used in Ezek. 18:23,32 and 33:11 where God asserts he has no “pleasure” in the death of the wicked. So while God may not desire (in one sense) that wicked people die, He may (justly) deem that it be so. The biblical witness is that it is sensible to speak of God having a sovereign will (which always comes to pass) and a moral will (which reflects those things which accord with His character).
By analogy, it is reasonable to make a genuine gospel offer to everyone. Not all will respond and be saved. The offer is legitimate in that all who respond affirmatively will be received. Statements such as, “Christ died so that everyone who trusts in Him will escape the wrath of God, have their sins forgiven, and enjoy everlasting life” are biblically accurate and not disingenuous: God generally longs for everyone to be saved (I Tim. 2:4, II Pet. 3:9, Ezek. 18:23). Further, these statements express not just what God has done, but what man must do to receive the benefits: man (not God) does the repenting and believing. God ordains not only the salvation of the elect, but that their saving faith be awakened by the means of faithful gospel proclamation to all (Acts 16:14; Rom. 10:14). Since only God knows who will be saved, we are prohibited from discriminating.
Finally, Walls’ and Dongell’s view leads to justifiable boasting, since the elect differs from the non-elect only due to the prudent choice of the former, God having provided them both with an identical measure of graceful wooing to Himself. This directly contradicts God’s plan to retain all the glory in salvation (I Cor. 1:28-31; Isa. 48:11; Eph. 2:8-9).
By either view, God allows many to suffer eternal torment. For Walls and Dongell, God’s will to save all is restrained by the higher good of relationships with God only possible via human self-determination. For Calvinists, the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of God’s glory in both mercy and wrath, so that the saints’ rejoicing is intensified by the exhibition of wrath that they, too, deserved (Rom. 9:22-24). The latter is both biblically defensible and not contrary to God’s genuine love and saving posture toward every person.
Read the entire paper in PDF format (five pages; includes some foot notes).
1. D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Wheaton: Crossway, 2000.
2. Wayne Grudem, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. (partially reviewed here and here)
3. Hywel R. Jones, “Is God Love?” Banner of Truth Magazine 412 (Jan 1998), 10-16.
4. John MacArthur, The Love of God: He Will Do Whatever It Takes to Make Us Holy, Dallas: Word, 1996.
5. John Piper, “Are There Two Wills in God?” Pages 107-131 in Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace. Edited by Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware.
6. Jerry Walls and Joe Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press,