He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not…
Dr. Bob Gonzales is the Dean of the purportedly “Reformed” Baptist Seminary and is a defender of the contradictory and Arminian notion of so-called “Well Meant Offer” (WMO). I first encountered Gonzales back in 2009 when he appeared on this blog defending his incoherent belief that God both desires and does not desire the salvation of all men (see Irrational Baptists ). Admittedly, for Arminians the WMO is not irrational simply because for them salvation is not premised on the sovereign good pleasure and determination of God but on the sovereign good pleasure of man instead. In the Arminian scheme it is man who is free to choose, or not to choose, the salvation hypothetically and universally offered to all. In their scheme Jesus Christ does not actually “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), but rather only makes it possible for all people to save themselves from their sins if they so choose. Those calling themselves “Reformed,” as Gonzales mistakenly does, have no such luxury. That’s because according to the Reformed faith both election and reprobation are founded on God’s good pleasure completely outside of and apart from any prior choice of man. And, if election and reprobation are premised on God’s good pleasure and if God’s good pleasure is an expression of God’s desire, then it follows that God does not desire the salvation of all men universally considered. That’s because for the Reformed if you are a believer in God and in the good news of Jesus Christ it is because God first chose you, not because you had the good sense and moral fortitude to first choose God. Quite the reverse. As Jesus said in John 15:16: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you….”
Well, Gonzales is back at it again attempting to salvage the WMO from the pit of irrationality and this time he does so by employing the bankrupt and completely un-Reformed and un-biblical hermeneutic of perspectivalism. For those who don’t know, perspectivalism is a relativistic system of interpretation first popularized in theology by Van Tillian theologians Vern Poythress (WTS) and John Frame (RTS). According to Gonzales making sense out of the contradictory notion that God both desires and does not desire the salvation of the reprobate (i.e., those who according to God’s good pleasure He determined not to save) depends on one’s perspective:
Claiming that God *desires* the salvation of a non-elect sinner and that it’s also the case that God *doesn’t desire* the salvation of a non-elect sinner sounds illogical. The same would be true of the following juxtaposed remarks: “I *like* chocolate ice-cream,” and, “I *don’t like* chocolate ice-cream.” Contradiction! Right? Not necessarily…Just as the same word may have a different semantic value when placed in different contexts, the significance of an affirmation, an expressed objective, and/or a value statement may change depending on the circumstances (whether real or conjectured) in which its situated. For instance, it’s undeniably true that I like chocolate ice-cream *in most situations.* But it’s equally the case that I don’t like ice-cream *when I’m shivering at the North Pole.* Hence, what at first may sound like a contradiction isn’t a contradiction when one understands the different contexts in which each value statement is made or affirmed.
According to Gonzales just as his desire for chocolate ice-cream is based on the context in which eating ice cream is contemplated, God’s desire for the salvation of those He has decree not to save is similarly contextually based. Of course, even at the North Pole the shivering Gonzales still likes chocolate ice-cream only he prefers it when it’s balmy rather than when it’s cold. Gonzales equivocates on the meaning of the word “like.” In the one sense it’s a preference (as opposed to Vanilla or Strawberry), in the other it is the desire for something he may want or crave. So for Gonzales in one context God desires to save those whom he predestined to perdition and in another context not so much.
Gonzales then goes on to offer two examples from Scripture where we see Paul and Jesus conflicted. The first example Gonzales draws from Philippians 1:20-26 where “the imprisoned apostle Paul expresses simultaneously a desire to depart this life immediately and a desire not to depart this life immediately.” The second he pulls from Matthew 26:39 where Jesus knowing what was soon to occur at the crucifixion pleads to the Father; “if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Gonzales writes:
On the one hand, Jesus knows the Father’s decreed purpose and wants to fulfill it. On the other hand, Jesus does not want to drink the cup though he knows he’s been called for this purpose. Undoubtedly, he was well aware that his desire to avoid drinking the cup of God’s wrath was “dissonant” with his desire to do what he’d been sent to accomplish and what was consonant with the maximal display of God’s glory (John 12:28; 13:31-32; 17:1, 5, 24). Yet Jesus doesn’t merely passively experience a discordant note of desire, he actively plucks the chord of that dissonant note in the Father’s ear.
To resolve this seemingly “discordant note,” Gonzales quotes Hugh Martin who correctly observes: “Considered simply in itself, to desire exception from the wrath of God was the dictate of his holy human nature . . . .” Jesus according to his human nature, just like Paul who only has a human nature, can be momentarily torn and conflicted by two mutually exclusive choices. Gonzales puts his argument in the following form:
Major premise: Jesus desires to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath, an objective that has reference to God’s decretive will.
Minor premise: Jesus does not desire to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath, an objective that has reference to God’s preceptive will.
Minor premise: The two desires and/or objectives above are not univocal but each are circumstantially situated within its own conceptual context.
Conclusion: Jesus’ desire to drink the cup and his desire not to drink the cup are not, therefore, logically contradictory.
Of course, if there is no univocal meaning between the two competing and conflicting desires in Gonzales’ major and minor premises, then Gonzales’ conclusion doesn’t follow. He is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation. Big surprise. Just as in his example chocolate ice cream on the North Pole, Gonzales equivocates on the word “will” by attaching the idea of a “desire” to both God’s precepts and decrees. The problem is Jesus’ desire not to drink the cup of the Father’s wrath is in the hope to avoid the punishment God has decreed against sin (see Genesis 2:17). Jesus’ human desire to have the cup of God’s wrath removed from him is a direct contradiction of God’s decretive will. Hence, Jesus resolves this obvious dilemma by stating “yet not My will, but Thine be done.” The whole point of Jesus’ struggle is precisely that he was confronted by two mutually exclusive and contradictory alternatives. As Hugh Martin observed (as cited by Conzales) to “not be filled with an earnest longing to escape from it (considering the matter simply by itself) would have argued that he did not possess a true human nature with all the sinless sensibilities which are of the essence of humanity.”
Consequently, since it is admitted that men can sometimes be torn between by two mutually exclusive and contradictory alternatives, does it follow that God too can be likewise conflicted? Is God like a man and can be straddled between the horns of a dilemma?
According to Gonzales God is very much like a man and desires what He knows He has not decreed will come to pass. As proof Gonzales adduces Deuteronomy 5:29; “Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” In this example God knows that the Israelites who were given the Law and pledged to keep it would not do as they promised. Yet, Gonzales claims God is here expressing His desire that they would keep the Law so “that it may be well with them and with their sons forever.” Gonzales concludes: “Thus, this passage teaches us that God desires the good of those who never experience that good.”
But does this verse really teach what Gonzales says it does, or is this an example of God speaking in the anthropomorphically or after the manner of men? Concerning this verse Calvin writes:
God signifies that they would not be so firm and faithful in keeping their promises, as they were ready and willing to make them; and thus that hypocrisy was not altogether banished, or purged from their minds. Moreover, He figuratively assumes a human feeling, because it would be vain and absurd for Him to desire what it was in His power to confer. Certainly He has the power of bending and directing men’s hearts whithersoever He pleases. Why, then, does He wish that it were given to the people from some other quarter, that they should be always kept in the path of duty, except that, speaking in the character of a man, He shows that it was rather to be wished than hoped that the people would constantly persevere in their fidelity? Wherefore this and similar passages have been ignorantly abused by some, to establish man’s free will. They understand this passage, as if man’s will were capable of bending either way, and that he possessed the power of doing right, whilst God without interfering looked on at the event; as if God’s secret counsel, and not rather the end and use of external teaching, were referred to here. But we, taught by innumerable testimonies of Scripture, maintain, that it is the attribute of God alone to give what He here requires. So also immediately afterwards He says, that he wishes it may be well with the Israelites and their children, viz., because it is certain that it depends on men whether they are happy or not, as often as God invites them, when they refuse the grace offered to them; yet does it not therefore follow, that it depends on every man’s free will to attain happiness for himself. But here we must consider God’s will as it is set before us in His word, not as it is hidden in Himself; for, while by His word He invites all promiscuously to (eternal) life, He only quickens by His secret inspiration those whom He has elected. In sum, although God approves of the people’s answer, he says that there will be too much difficulty in the performance of it, for the event to accord with it. – The Harmony of the Law Vol. 1
Of course Calvin was writing long before the development of the man-made and extra-biblical hermeneutics like “perspectivalism,” yet it should be obvious that it’s not only those who would seek to establish “man’s free will” who abuse this passage, Gonzales abuses it too by ignoring that God is here speaking “figuratively” and in the “character of a man.” Gonzales rejects the anthropomorphic understanding of this passage and instead argues that “God’s desiderative desire for the salvation of the non-elect (e.g., Deut 5:29) and his decretive resolve not to effect their salvation are consistent when viewed from the perspective of the distinct attendant circumstances or conceptual framework in which each is situated.”
While I have no idea what a “desiderative desire” is (aren’t desires already desiderative or does Gonzales simply mean a “real” or “genuine”), I will say Gonzales’ proffered solution to the problem of the WMO is as incoherent as is the perspectivalism he uses to defend it. According to Gonzales this verse proves from one perspective that God desires the salvation of the reprobate (the non-elect), whereas from another perspective (i.e., God’s eternal decree) God desires no such thing. Of course, if what Gonzales confusingly calls God’s “desiderative desire” is merely figurative language where God is speaking after “the manner of men,” then there is no perspective in which God desires the salvation of the reprobate (much less where God desires a scheme of salvation by the works of the Law). Reformed Baptist theologian John Gill also recognizes the obvious anthropomorphism lost on Gonzales. Concerning this passage Gill writes:
Deuteronomy 5:29Ver. 29. O that there were such an heart in them,…. Not that there is properly speaking such volitions and wishes in God; but, as Aben Ezra observes, the Scripture speaks after the language of the children of men; and may be considered as upbraiding them with want of such an heart, and with weakness to do what they had promised; and, at most, as approving of those things they spoke of as grateful to him. . . .
Understood in this way God no more desires the salvation of the non-elect, the reprobate, than He has eyes and hands. Beside, don’t we already know according to the analogy of Scripture (not to be confused with the Van Tillian “analogous” view of Scripture where no two teachings of Scripture need logically cohere) that the Law was given not so that man might do the Law and live, but rather that through the Law they might come to “the knowledge of sin” and their need for a savior. If God really desired the Israelites keep the Law so that they might be justified through it, wouldn’t God be at cross purposes with His entire plan of redemption culminating in Christ’s cross work? Or, to put it another way, why the cross if God really desires man to attain salvation through law keeping? Therefore it follows, and as Calvin rightly said, that God is here speaking figuratively and “in the character of a man.”
Rejecting this solution, Gonzales concludes:
We’ve demonstrated that God may logically desire what he hasn’t decreed. Moreover, it’s my view that God’s wish in Deuteronomy 5:29 has ultimate reference to the saving good of the historical and personal referents within the scope of the text.
Thankfully Gonzales has not demonstrated that God logically desires what he has not decreed. What he has demonstrated is that he cannot rightly divide God’s Word and that he has adopted an irrational hermeneutic that is positively hostile to the truth of Scripture in order to defend his irrational belief that God both desires and does not desire the salvation of all men.