A New Book from the Andrew Fuller “Free Offer” School
Salvation by Grace: The case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration, by Matthew Barrett, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 2013.
I start with a quotation from p78.
“In the Twentieth century, hyper Calvinism has shown its head yet again in the work of Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)…Building off of HIS VIEWS ON election and reprobation, Hoeksema argues that there can be no well meant offer of the gospel, which would imply and desires the salvation of the nonelect, for Scripture is clear that God determines to harden the hearts of the nonelect, not to save them. In fact, says Hoeksema, God does not even desire the salvation of of the nonelect, nor does God act favorably toward the nonelect, but only acts to further their sentence to destruction. When the gospel is preached it is not a free offer to whomever will believe, but rather it is simply a promise meant only for the elect. The only thing the nonelect receive in hearing this message is condemnation.”
Barrett continues: “Hoeksema’s view is deeply unbiblical. Scripture everywhere affirms the well-meant offer of the gospel, as Capsar Olevian termed it, the evangelium oblatum (Scott Clark) whereby God genuinely desires the salvation of the lost (II Peter 3:9, I Timothy 2:4). Jesus Himself DID KNOW who was the elect and noneelect were and yet he offered the gospel freely (Matthew 22:3-8, Luke 14:16-21, John 5:38) Hyper Calvinists like Hoeksema are wrongly used as representatives of Calvinism instead of the traditional Reformed Reformed theologians.”
1. Throughout the book the reference to “historic” or “traditional” Calvinism is used as a code word to mean the “universal sufficiency” view of Andrew Fuller, who of course reacted against earlier “traditional” views. The idea is to appeal to a broad historic tradition, at least for appearance sake, but in the meanwhile to exclude and marginalize other historic views as not being really “historic”. The strategy is often used by Kenneth Stewart to argue that Reformed people should be more “evangelical”. Steward of course is one who endorses this book, along with Haykin, Timothy George, Robert Letham, Greg Forster. Bruce Ware, Fred Zaspel, and other Andrew Fuller fans. It’s a tricky strategy, because on the one hand, it’s saying that the “God does not love everybody” view is a tiny blip, not really Calvinism, but then on the other hand, it acts as this “hyper” threat is very dangerous and important.
2. Putting 2 Peter 3:9 or some other reference in parenthesis is not careful PHD exegetical work. It’s simply begging the question.
3. There’s no mention of the details of the “offer” debate. Barrett does not discuss the views of Gerstner, Gordon Clark, and others who agree with Hoeksema in denying that God loves everybody. Barrett simply quotes Anthony Hoekema, with whom Barrett agrees. From Hoekema’s Saved by Grace: “The Bible teaches that God seriously desires that all who hear the gospel should believe in Christ and be saved. To our finite minds it seems impossible that election and this should both be true… One type of rational solution is that of Hoekseam and the hyper-Calvinists. Since the Bible teaches election, it cannot be true that God desires the salvation of all to whom the gospel comes. Therefore we must say that God desires the salvation only of the elect among the hearers of the gospel. This kind of solution may seem to satisfy our minds, but it completely fails to do justice to Scripture passages (Ezekial 33:11, Matthew 23:37, II Corinthians 5:20, and II Peter 3:9).”
We see that Anthony Hoekema is also a master of the parenthesis (without exegesis). His finite mind is simply not satisfied with any idea that God loves some sinners and does not love other sinners, so Hoekema assumes that only other minds perhaps more finite than his own would be satisfied with a rational solution. Hoekema assumes that his own rational solution is a better solution and that this conclusion somehow transcends even being rational. It does, you must remember, come along with some Bible texts referenced in parenthesis. But nowhere does either Barrett or Hooekema prove from the Bible that God loves the nonelect or desires the salvation of the nonelect. They simply begin with that assumption and then argue in a circle back to it.
4. Of course it will always be said that the problem here is merely semantics, and that we need to remember that God has “two wills” and that we must use the word “will” in two senses. But the truth of it is that people who advocate the “free offer” are intentionally use the word “will” in a double sense so as to sneak in their assumption without making an argument for it. Of course God’s law does not depend on the ability of humans to keep it for that law to be legitimate. Of course God can and does command all sinners to believe the gospel. Barrett writes as if Hoeksema somehow denies that responsibility depends on ability, and that this is somehow in parallel to the Arminian argument that inability to keep the law would mean that we have no duty to keep the law. But Hoeksema nowhere makes this argument, and Barrett is projecting it onto Hoeksema to avoid the read question which is about God’s supposed desire to save all sinners. Barrett assumes that God loves all sinners. When Hoeksema denies that, Barrett accuses Hoeksema of making duty depending on ability.
Barrett is doing exactly what Andrew Fuller did, which is confusing the gospel with the law. It was not Hoeksema but Andrew Fuller who ultimately made duty depend on ability, because it was Andrew Fuller who said that if God commanded all sinners to believe the gospel, then we must make some kind of distinction between “moral inability” and “natural inability” so that we can say that all sinners can be told that God loves them. Fuller got this from the New England Theology (and Jonathan Edwards). Instead of merely saying that God commands all sinners to believe the gospel, the Andrew Fuller–Southern Baptist approach of Michael Barrett turns this into the “will of God” and then confuses this “will of God” with the non-biblical idea that God “wants and wishes and desires” to save all sinners. It comes down to the idea that, since God commands you to believe the gospel, then that must mean that God wishes (unsuccessfully in many cases) that you would believe the gospel, and that those who deny this are being “insincere” when they call people to believe the gospel.
Of course, much more could be said. In what way do we make a distinction between the command to believe the gospel and the gospel itself? is the command itself part of the gospel? Is the gospel in the end no different from law, with commands and “conditions”? In what way do we make a distinction between the promise of the gospel and the gospel itself? What is the promise of the gospel (or of “the covenant”)? Is the promise of the covenant that God loves everybody, or is it a promise that God only loves those in the covenant? Or only the elect in the covenant?
But to return to Barrett’s language (first paragraph above) when he’s describing Hoeksema’s position—“When the gospel is preached it is not a free offer to whomever will believe, but rather it is simply a promise meant only for the elect.”
I will ask two questions.
1. Does God desire the salvation of the sinners who never hear the gospel? Barrett keeps saying that God desires the salvation of all who hear the gospel. What about those who never hear the gospel? Does God want them to be saved as well? If the gospel in the end is also the law, so that only those who hear the gospel can justly be condemned, how can those who never hear “the gospel” be justly destroyed by God? And why, if God really loved them, did God not send somebody with the gospel to these people? If Jesus died in order to condemn those who resist them, how can God condemn those who never heard of Jesus? Now it will be argued that these questions are another topic, and not appropriate for the book Barrett wanted to write. But if there can be no sin unless God has first somehow loved you and desired your salvation, then this changes everything about how we approach the Bible. Instead of beginning with our plight (before the law), the Andrew Fuller school begins with a well-intentioned solution, which is God’s love, which is supposedly universally sufficient but in the end not quite enough.
2. “When the gospel is preached it is not a free offer to whomever will believe, but rather it is simply a promise meant only for the elect”. What if I flip the phrases around here in the structure of this sentence? What if I “deconstruct” the implied (but un-argued) difference? Are there any elect who will never believe the gospel? Are there any nonelect who will believe the gospel? When the gospel is preached it is meant only for those who believe, to as many as who believe, for all who believe it. The gospel is not good news for those who will not believe it. How can it be gospel for who will perish to be told that those who won’t believe will perish? Thus far I leave out the word “election” (the word most Calvinists want to leave out when they do evangelism), but my point is that Barrett has not yet argued for a real difference between those who believe and those who are elect. This is good news for those who believe. This is good news for the elect. There’s no ultimate difference, unless you are somehow ashamed of the word “election” and want to leave it out and say something like “covenant” or “promise”.
Use that word “promise”. The gospel is a promise of life (not maybe, but certainly) if and when a sinner believe the gospel, only for them, as many as them. all of them. no more than them. I know a couple of preachers who actually use the word “free offer” and that’s all they mean by the expression. But they should not use the expression, because “historically” it now has built into it a false idea that God also desires the salvation of those who never believe the gospel. Barrett of course believes that God DOES (now, I don’t know about later, will God still be desiring their salvation after the second coming and the second death?) desire the salvation of the non-elect. But Barrett needs to argue directly for this, instead of falsely representing Hoeskema as agreeing with Arminians that duty depends on ability.
Nathan Finn-“Chun agrees with scholars who emphasize greater continuity than discontinuity between Edwards’s understanding of the atonement and the moral government view of the New Divinity theologians. Fuller embraced governmental language and was actually much closer to Edwards, who also allowed for a governmental aspect . Both men combined a universal sufficiency with a particular efficacy, the limitation being in God’s covenantal design rather than in the nature of propitiation itself.”
Andrew Fuller (Reply to Philanthropos, Complete Works,II, p499) comments: “There would be no propriety in saying of Christ that He is set forth to be an expiatory sacrifice THROUGH FAITH IN HIS BLOOD, because He was a sacrifice for sin prior to the consideration of our believing in Him. The text does not express what Christ WAS as laying down His life , but what He IS in consequence of it.”
Andrew Fuller made a distinction between “covenantal intent” and “the nature of the atonement itself”. We need to examine Fuller’s controversy with Abraham Booth, and take sides with Abraham Booth.
This is NOT a question about the duty of the non-elect to have faith in the gospel, and the related question of “two kinds of ability” (as argued by Edwards and Fuller). That is a distraction from the greater question about the nature of the atonement. While I don’t see much in the Bible about the “duty” of unbelievers to believe the gospel, I don’t deny that all sinners are commanded to believe the gospel. And (unlike Edwards) I don’t need to connect that command to some philosophical account of “ability”.
This is not even a question about the optimism of the post-millennial fantasies of Edwards and Andrew Fuller. It’s a question about both the love and the justice of God, and about the justice of God in Christ dying for the sins of all those God loves imputed to Christ by God. If the sins of all those God loves are not “really” justly imputed to Christ, then the death of Christ itself is not that which “really” makes God both just and the justifier of those God loves.. Instead we would have to look away from the cross itself, and look to what God is now doing in terms of some kind of “covenantal intent”.
Election is God’s love, and when the Bible talks about God’s love, it talks about propitiation. I John 4:10, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” If all we can stipulate is that the appeasement of wrath will not work without our faith, then it’s not enough to add on that God sent His son to purchase our faith. The nature of the cross as God’s propitiatory love will not be proclaimed.
You can use the word without agreeing with the Bible about what it means. A propitiatroy love for the non-elect amounts to nothing. Since there is only one propitiation, a propitiation for the elect which is also the same thing for the non-elect, amounts to nothing. The “young restless and Reformed” (and the “confessional” who support them) need to stop playing with words and tell the truth.
Do those who talk about being “Reformed” (and about “the covenant”) love the gospel of election, or do they hate the doctrine and suppress it? Yes, Christ loved the church, but the church in the non-election way of talking is not individuals written in the lamb’s book, but a “sort of people” who continue to meet “covenantal conditions”. Many of these Ian Murray/ Errol Hulse “free offer Calvinists” refuse to talk about Christ not dying for the non-elect. Even worse, they want to say that God wants the non-elect to be saved (even though these people officially agree that Christ did not die for these people that God supposedly desires to be saved!
These folks wants you to “love Christ back” without knowing anything about election. Then someday they will teach you that all who “give themselves” to Christ were given to Christ. Like Norman Shepherd, they will justify this (God loves everybody and wants everybody to be saved) as being the only perspective possible to us. We have to know we believe, before we can know if we are elect.
I agree that knowing our election before we believe is impossible. Knowing our election is not our warrant to believe. (See Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings). But this is no excuse for leaving the doctrine of election out of the doctrine of redemption and propitiation by the cross. And it certainly no excuse for telling everybody that God loves them and wants to be their Father!
Though Andrew Fuller affirmed a particular atonement in a certain sense- in that the atonement will procure faith for only the elect-he was not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling that plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense. This universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with the nature of propitiation. He denied that Christ in the past propitiated the Trinity for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller taught that Christ died to make a “free offer” of propitiation to every sinner.
According to Andrew Fuller, what’s important is the “covenantal design and intent” of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the “free offer” of propitiation and thus join themselves to Christ through faith . Fuller asserted an universal conditional sufficiency in Christ’s death for all sinners. It is an old and subtle doctrine, but Andrew Fuller was a very subtle man, much like John Wesley, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to mislead those who had a different meaning for the words.
What did Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He “Can” do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the “free offer”? Andrew Fuller changed the meaning of the propitiatory love of Christ. With the Arminians, he made the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The subtle “hybrid” part though is that (with more historic Calvinists) Andrew Fuller also made the having faith be dependent on what God obtained by means of Christ’s death.
Andrew Fuller ended up putting the emphasis on God’s supposed universal love as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to give faith to elect sinners because of Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been JUSTLY propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sovereign grace” is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice by his references to divine universal love.
Two final comments. First, even though Fullerites want to say that the only way to be consistent in teaching a definite propitiation (what Christ WAS as laying down his life) is to teach an eternal justification, where the elect only subjectively find out that they were always justified, I do not (and Abraham Booth did not) teach that any unbeliever is justified.
All the justified elect are people who believe the gospel. Belief in the gospel is an immediate consequence (not a condition) of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect (not of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ).
“Through faith” in Romans 3:25 does not mean “conditioned on faith”. Faith for the elect is what God’s justice demands will happen as soon as righteousness is imputed by God. I do not say this gift of faith is “our right” but it is Christ’s right because of what Christ WAS AND DID. Once sins were imputed to Christ, then Christ died by the law because of these sins, and now Christ is free and justified before the law.
So I can and do say to any unbeliever, unless you believe the gospel, you are not yet justified. But I also say to those unbelievers: your believing is not something you can or will do unless Christ died for you, and you will never know if Christ did until you believe the gospel.
Second comment. Look at what Andrew Fuller is saying with his distinction between what Christ is as opposed to what Christ was. Fuller is teaching that God is governmentally sovereign and therefore God can do whatever God wants to do now with what Christ did then.
If so, why did Christ die? Does God’s love make salvation possible? Does God’s love mean that propitiation “might” happen? To ask such questions leads to another question. If God is so sovereignly superior to strict justice in His government, why did Christ need to die at all? If the meaning and effectiveness of the propitiation was only to be assigned later, is that meaning a matter of justice or only arbitrary?
Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”
Although the gospel teaches that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, the gospel does not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Romans 6 explains how the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.
But folks like Andrew Fuller use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse people who disagree with thinking there is no command for faith in the gospel. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.
There is no justification apart from faith. Faith in the gospel is NOT a mere recognition that we were already justified. But those who follow Andrew Fuller practically deny any distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.
At the end of the day, these folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration to “covenantally unite” people with that propitiation. Though they may formally agree to some “legal aspect” to “union”, for all practical purposes they ignore the reality that God already imputed the sins of only the elect to Christ.
In this way, the followers of Andrew Fuller make way for the idea of some “universal sufficiency” in Christ’s propitiation. And when it turns out that this `sufficiency” is not enough to save the non-elect, they answer: “well, you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”
The followers of Andrew Fuller teach universal sufficiency and a “free offer” ( at least to everybody who is not already dead) . They claim that we can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to Andrew Fuller, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. God did not really impute specific sins, according to Andrew Fuller.