Responding to WLC on “Why Limited Special Revelation?”

by | Dec 9, 2018 | Adult Christian Learning | 0 comments

Recently, Dr. William Lane Craig was invited by the undergraduate Christian Union at Imperial College, London, to give a lunch time lecture on the “Evidence for God.” One of the students asked a very good question during the Q&A session: “Why did God limit his prophets to the small middle-eastern nation of Israel rather than selecting prophets from other cultures all around the world?” This is a very good question and it is aimed at understanding the rationale employed by mostly non-Reformed Christian apologists who employ the classic approach to apologetics.

Now, let’s think about what this question is trying to get at. At bottom, there is a logical problem for the existence of the God of the Bible that every Christian should be aware of and prepared to answer. This logical problem is generally expressed in terms of some sort of moral objection or critique of the Christian God. If God is interested in the salvation of every single individual who lives in the actual world, why would he so limit the mechanism that is essential to their salvation? This question itself illustrates the logical problem. God earnestly wants to save everyone but deliberately chose a mechanism so limited that it is impossible for him to accomplish what he supposedly, earnestly wants. Hopefully you can see the problem.

How did Craig answer the question? First, let me say that there are a number of problems with Craig’s theology from my perspective. Moreover, I reject his overall method and approach to Christian apologetics. That said, I do believe he is a brilliant philosophy and has given us much that is useful in this field. That said, Craig’s answer didn’t really address the problem. Craig pointed the young man to the sufficiency of general revelation to hold all men morally culpable for their sin. On that point, Craig is absolutely correct. Men are judged, not because they reject the special revelation of God in Christ and Scripture. They are judged because they refuse to acknowledge God as their Creator. They knowingly engage in immoral and ungodly behavior. Just ask anyone, could you be a better person? They answer will always be yes. Are you morally perfect? The answer will always be no. All men know the truth about how they ought to live. God has created that within them and all around them so that they are without a defense or justification for their refusal to acknowledge Him.

But this is not the issue the young man was trying to get at. While general revelation is sufficient for condemnation and judgment, it is not sufficient for a clearer knowledge of God that leads to salvation. Craig’s answer only tells us that God is morally justified for holding men accountable for their sin. It does not provide an answer for why God would earnestly want to save everyone but withhold what is essential for that salvation. So the argument goes like this:

  1. If God earnestly wanted to save every man, he would give every man what is necessary to save him.
  2. God did not give every man what he needs in order to save him.
  3. Therefore, God earnestly wants to save every man.

The problem with this argument is easy to see. The conclusion not only does not follow from the premises, it contradicts (2). (1) makes sense and seems to be uncontroversial. The denial of (1) immediately leads to irrationalism. God earnestly wants to save every man, but he deliberately withholds what is essential to their salvation. This is like saying that God wants to redeem us but just won’t send a redeemer to do the job even though it is well within his power to do so. In short, this argument commits the fallacy of the non-sequitur. The conclusion does not flow from the premises.

Let’s craft the argument a little differently and see where it goes:

  1. If God earnestly wanted to save every man, he would give every man what is necessary to save him.
  2. God did not give every man what he needs in order to save him.
  3. Therefore, God does not earnestly want to save every man.

Now, when I use the expression “earnestly wanted,” not only do I mean that God possessed a desire or preference, I mean that God would have engaged in whatever activities are necessary in order to accomplish this desire or preference. Just because I desire a cookie today, that does not mean I am going to have one. Just because a cookie brings me a certain kind of pleasure, that does not mean that there is no greater pleasure that I might seek in denying myself the specific pleasure of the cookie. Now, as we examine the argument, we can see that it is logically valid. The first argument was not. The question that we have to ask is whether or not the argument is sound. I think (1) seems to be consistent with the Scripture’s depiction of God as a perfectly rational being. In the end, God does what he really wants to do in the sense that if God has an aim, he never fails to reach it. If it was God’s true aim to save every man, he would have, at a minimum, provided the necessary and sufficient conditions for each man’s salvation. I take this to be uncontroversial. Has God given actualized the necessary and sufficient conditions for the salvation of every individual human? In order to answer this question, we must turn to Scripture to see exactly what the necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation are. I think the Romans 10 is the best place to consult for this investigation.

First of all, Romans 10:9 says that if one confesses with his mouth Jesus as Lord and believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, one will be saved. This establishes the fact that a sufficient condition for salvation is this specific confession. But it also establishes that the necessary condition for salvation is knowledge of Jesus as Lord and that God raised him from the dead. That, folks, is the gospel. The necessary condition for salvation is the hearing of the gospel. The sufficient condition for salvation is genuinely believing the gospel. Genuine faith is always accompanied by public confession. Therefore, the necessary and sufficient condition for the salvation of every man is hearing and believing the gospel. But that is not all. You see, hearing the gospel has a necessary condition. You can’t hear the gospel unless someone preaches it. So, a preacher is a necessary condition for hearing the gospel. But that is not all. For a preacher must be sent if he is to go preaching the gospel. So, being sent is the necessary condition for preaching the gospel. In short then, and according to Romans 10:9-17, God has to send a preacher who preaches the gospel. That gospel has to be heard and believed if anyone is to be saved at all. So, we are back to the question, why wouldn’t God send a preacher to a man or even a people group?

So, here is the objection as best as I can lay it out. The objector says to us; you say God is love and that God truly aims to save all men. Then you say that men can only be saved through the gospel of Jesus Christ. And it is the case that this gospel can only be brought by a preacher who must be sent by God. And then you admit that God has not sent preachers to every part of the world. So, why is it that God aims to save all men but refuses to send preachers to all men because without these preachers, salvation is impossible? The objection that the question gets at is that Christianity involves a logical contradiction in this case. It cannot be the case that a perfectly rational and powerful God really aims to save all men while at the same time failing to provide the necessary conditions for that salvation to actualize. Either God aims to save all men, in which case he would ensure that the necessary conditions obtain, or he does not. But it cannot be both. That is the problem. And if your version of Christianity is outside the reformed camp, you will immediately feel the weight of this objection. You have a choice. Back the train up and think better about God’s aim regarding the salvation of all men or move into the various errors propagated by Arminian theology.

The answer to this question is that God has obviously not aimed at the salvation of every individual man. He restricted his revelation to Israel for specific reasons. Some of which are known only to him and few are known to us. If God aimed to save all men, he would save all men. It is that simple. However, the Christian doctrine of election by its very nature implies that God choose some from among those whom he has not chosen. God chose Noah from among men. God chose Abraham from among me. God chose Joseph. God chose David. Jesus said to his disciples, you have not chosen me, but I chose you! God chooses us, we do not choose him.

The objection to my answer is that this does not get God off the hook because this view is immoral and unjust. It is not fair that men do not have a chance to hear the gospel and be saved. How do we answer this question? If you are a Christian, then you believe in grace. Grace is God’s undeserving favorable disposition toward us. What this means is that no one deserves to be saved, to be chosen, or even to hear the gospel. Men are not forced against their will to refuse to acknowledge God in all their ways even if they never hear the gospel. The perfect holiness of God demands eternal punishment for even the slightest violation. We are all universally guilty of violatingGod’s law. None of us deserve salvation. So, I leave you with a better and more informed question than the one the young undergraduate asked:

Why is anyone saved?

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