Hell Is not (a problem) Reserved for Calvinists

Hell Is not (a problem) Reserved for Calvinists September 23, 2016

Roger Olson shows some civility to Calvinists in a post about a t-shirt caption making the rounds, “#Some Lives Matter – Calvinism,” an iteration intended I suppose to play off Black Lives Matter and the Calvinist belief that only the elect will be saved.

Olson is correct that the eternal damnation of the non-elect is not one of those topics you bring up at a cocktail party. It’s not even all that comfortable for Calvinist theologians:

So, according to Boettner and other Calvinist theologians, past and present, why does not God save everyone? After all, election is unconditional and grace is irresistible. So, in theory, anyway, God could save everyone. However, Boettner, following a long line of classical Calvinist theologians, argued that even the reprobate, those God “passes over,” leaving them to their hellish destiny, matter to God and should matter to us. (I’m not quoting him; I’m paraphrasing here. I have copious notes on his book but my memory is good about this so I don’t feel the need to dig out my notes and offer direct quotations.)

Why do they matter to God? The simple answer Boettner and other classical Calvinists offer is that they play a needed role in God’s great plan to glorify himself by manifesting all his attributes without prejudice to any. Justice is one of God’s attributes. Hell is necessary for the full and unprejudiced manifestation of God’s attribute of justice. If God saved everyone, God’s justice would not be adequately manifested; it would be subordinated to his love—in terms of God’s “project,” as it were, to glorify himself in and through creation and redemption.

What needs to be added is that the problem of eternal punishment is not simply a problem for Calvinists. Unless you are a universalist (you believe everyone will be saved), you believe that some people are going to hell (easier to imagine for historical figures like Hitler). An Arminian like Olson may think that giving everyone a chance to be a believer — by affirming God’s free grace offered to all and by placing the responsibility for not receiving that grace on the free will of persons — that non-Calvinists have an easier time saying “All Lives Matter.” But Arminians still need to own up to a world that God created and in which he does not have the capacity to save everyone. In other words, they need to explain hell also and why Jesus would say, as he did in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23 ESV)

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