In Vacation Bible School and in summer camps teachers and kids alike love to sing, “Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World.” But did you know that there is a growing number of Christians who have come to believe that those words are biblically incorrect? Jesus does not love all the children of the world—at least not enough to desire their eternal salvation.
Does It Matter?
I believe it matters. Does it matter that God only loves some kids, or loves all kids? Does it matter when you look at a bunch of squirming kids in your VBS class—many of whom are just there because mom wants a break from kids and free childcare is a blessing—to think that God loves every one of them and wants every one of them to have eternal life? If that’s true, then you can pray for them, love them, and put up with their dirty hands, dirty feet and continual chatter. You love them all, and you know that God loves them all. You are working with God and doing His will. Does that matter? Yes, theology matters. Immensely.
One young Christian and his wife, who came to faith through Harvest Crusades led by Greg Laurie, were amazingly transformed by their coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Their lives were radically changed. The love they expressed for each other and the way they raised their kids was, indeed, a marvel of God’s work in their hearts. But most marvelous of all was the burden they had for their lost family members, friends, and neighbors. They became true soul-winners.
So, in an attempt at creative witnessing and low-key outreach, they started having Saturday afternoon parties at their home. They had free time, then a dinner, and after that they showed an evangelistic movie. They would tell people, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” Several people were saved with this informal, non-churchy approach.
The husband began sharing his faith at work. One of his co-workers was a Reformed Baptist—a Five-Point Calvinist all the way. He told the husband, “‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life’ is not scriptural.” The co-worker gave the husband some Calvinistic literature. One of the booklets was titled, “For Whom Did Christ Die?” The booklet was pushing limited atonement—Christ only died for some, the elect.
The husband read the booklet and found it quite believable. Yes, there were those scriptures. “All” and “world” mean something different than what he had been taught they mean. So, the husband took the booklet to his pastor. The pastor said he did not agree with the booklet but frankly admitted the arguments in the booklet did appeal to Scripture. The pastor read in the booklet that the words “God is not willing that any should perish,” mean “God is not willing that any of the elect should perish.”
To make a long story short, this couple’s evangelistic zeal died a sure and certain death. Were they doing the right thing in trying to win the lost?
Were they dishonoring God in saying to lost people “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”? Gone were the Saturday fellowship dinners. Gone was the effort to get people to come to faith in Jesus Christ. What will be will be, so what’s the use? As far as I’m concerned this was a horrible disaster. A theology that is becoming more popular is sapping the lifeblood out of evangelism. Yes, theology matters. Immensely. Especially today.
We are seeing an amazing convergence of end-time signs that are leading right-minded individuals to pray, to witness, and to work. Jesus could return at any moment, perhaps before you finish reading this Prophetic Observer. However, for many Calvinists that doesn’t matter. They are either partial preterists or full preterists and think Bible prophecy is all a lot of end-times hype.
Core Beliefs Control the Narrative
Core beliefs, that are assumed to be true, control the outcome of one’s thinking. When I was a Reformed Presbyterian pastor, my core belief was Covenant Theology. I believed that infant baptism is scriptural because of my core belief. I used to run with Calvinists, both Presbyterian and Baptist. Then, a Reformed Baptist friend challenged me and said, “Larry, forget Covenant Theology. Just read the New Testament and take it at face value. Don’t let your Covenant Theology bleed over into your thinking. And then tell me who are the proper subjects for baptism.”
I couldn’t escape the fact that there are absolutely no examples in the New Testament of an infant being baptized. Without the presuppositional bias of Covenant Theology, there is absolutely no justification for infant baptism. Baptism is for believers. This, of course, doesn’t mean that we hate babies. It simply means we don’t sprinkle them and call it “baptism.”
In the same way TULIP—Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints—is based on a core definition of the sovereignty of God that is unique to Calvinism. Let’s face it, every Christian believes that God is sovereign, not just Calvinists. The sovereignty of God is that attribute of God by which His is the highest authority and does not need to get approval from any higher authority before He makes a decision. God exercises His prerogative to do whatever He pleases.
For the Calvinist, however, God can only be considered sovereign if He controls everything and if He maintains continuous and absolute Lordship over everything. But let’s be honest—if God is really sovereign, He is free to make man free. He is even free to give man the privilege and responsibility of choosing his own destiny.
For Calvinists, this is the depth of impiety. The Calvinist view of divine sovereignty leads him to argue that if man has the freedom of choice, then God is not sovereign. And if God is sovereign, then man is not free. But those are not the only alternatives.
Calvinists take this one more step into absurdity. They will argue that preaching Calvinism is preaching the Gospel, and those who are not Five-Point Calvinists don’t believe in grace. They will hold that because I don’t support Five-Point Calvinism I am an Arminian! I am neither an Arminian nor a Calvinist. There is a vast canyon of possibilities between Calvinism and Arminianism.
Insulated Against Truth
In 1 Timothy 2 we read, “Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth … Who gave himself a ransom for all” (vss. 4, 6). Second Corinthians 5:14–15 is similar: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead. And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.”
There are many, many scriptures that argue against Calvinism, and yet they don’t seem to register with Calvinists. Universal terms are often reinterpreted. I often think, “What more could God say to describe the extent of His love that He hasn’t already said?” The answer is, “Nothing.” Nothing will convince the Calvinist. Core beliefs control the narrative.
What is the meaning of the word “all”? Calvinists love to appeal to Luke 2:1 where we read that a decree went out that “all the world should be taxed.” All the world like China, Afghanistan, and Borneo? Of course not. In biblical times, “all the world” means “all the known world, mainly the Roman Empire.” It is true that in certain contexts that speak about geopolitical issues, “all” doesn’t mean “all” without exception.
But does “all” ever refer to something that is timeless and above the human situation? Indeed, yes. Consider Isaiah 40:17: “All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing.” “All” cannot mean “some.” “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19). Acts 1:8 gives us the scope of “all nations”: “… and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.” This clearly defines “all nations” in Matthew 28:19.
Did John Calvin and Noted Calvinists Believe in Limited Atonement?
While the five points of Calvinism by their very name, are associated with John Calvin, John Calvin made some statements that suggest he believed in a universal atonement, or at least a universal benevolence to all men. David L. Allen in his detailed 800-page book, The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, gives several quotations from Calvin on pages 48ff. We don’t have space to cite them all, but Calvin’s comment on John 3:16 makes the point: “Such is also the significance of the term ‘world’ which He had used before. For although there is nothing in the world deserving of God’s favor, He nevertheless shows He is favorable to the whole world when He calls all without exception to the faith in Christ, which is indeed an entry into life.”
In his sermon, “Compel Them To Come In,” Spurgeon, loved by Calvinists, appeals to unbelievers in the congregation: “Come, I beseech you, on Calvary’s mount, and see the cross. Behold the Son of God, He who made the heavens and the earth, dying for your sins. Look at His face so full of pity. Is there not love in His heart to prove Him willing to save? Sure, sinner, the sight of Christ will help thee to believe.” In my new book, Calvinism on Trial: This Tulip Has Thorns, shortly to be released, there are a plethora of quotes from other Calvinists who believed in a universal atonement.
At all times, and especially in these days of the Lord’s imminent return for His church, we must stand for doctrinal fidelity. To that end I will remind my readers that Luke gives us some unique insights into the Savior’s heart in the hours before His death. “Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” Who is included in the “you”? “But, behold, the hand of him that betrayeth me is with me on the table” (22:20–21; also 2 Pet. 2:1).
It’s time to let this unbiblical and injurious notion of limited atonement die once and for all.