The Maximally Great Argument for Arminianism – REFUTED

I recently stumbled across an argument entitled, “The Maximally Great Argument for Arminianism.” The Argument is located at the Society of Evangelical Arminians. Its author is Evan Minton. The thrust of the argument is to refute the Calvinist view of the nature and extent of the atonement. Most of these arguments are grounded in rationalist philosophies and this one is no different. The aim of this post is to evaluate the argument in an attempt to assess whether or not it is valid and if it is valid, whether or not it is sound.

Here is the argument in its full form:

  1. If God Is a Maximally Great Being, then He would love all people.
  2. If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people.
  3. If God desires to save all people, He would die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people and send Prevenient Grace To All People.
  4. God is a Maximally Great Being.
  5. Therefore, God loves all people.
  6. Therefore, God wants to save all people.
  7. Therefore, God died on the cross for all people and sends all people Prevenient Grace.

If you have studied philosophy, theology, or apologetics, you recognize immediately language that finds its ultimate source in Anselm’s Ontological Argument for God. The problem enters immediately in #1. The argument presupposes something it does not bother to prove, i.e., that a maximally great being would be the sort of being that would love all people. Why would we make this assumption? Does the Bible teach that one of the necessary conditions for being a maximally great being is loving all people? Would a maximally great being truly love Adolph Hitler? If so, what would that love look like? Wouldn’t a maximally great being hate truly evil men who only set their intentions of power and hurting others?

In addition to this problem, the game is rigged from the very beginning because it pretends to separate God from God’s attributes and then uses those attributes to “prove” God. In other words, it is impossible to come up with the idea of a maximally great being without already having an idea of what that being looks like. And this idea is certainly informed by the Christian view of God. It takes God, separates his attributes, and then uses those attributes to prove God. I call foul. Moreover, Anselm’s argument does not demonstrate that the Christian God exists even if you buy his ontological argument. The same is true for Plantinga’s modal version and any other argument based on natural theology. None of them accomplish their goal.

As far as #2 goes, most Calvinists believe that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. This means that God’s desire is that men would NOT do wickedness but that they would acknowledge him in all their ways. God desires that all men would repent and believe the gospel. But there is a problem looming in the background that will require considerable explanation from the Arminian. I will come back to that problem toward the end of this article.

Now, #3 is probably the most troubling of the propositions. If one is evangelical, it means they subscribe to a penal-substitutionary atonement. The last I checked, if you rejected this view of the atonement, you were not considered evangelical. That being the case, if it is true that God must atone for the sins of all men without exception in order if he truly desires that they be saved, then God must not desire all men to be saved. The reason men are NOT saved is that they will come to the judgment seat still guilty of sin. But if God atoned for your sins, you are no longer guilty of sin. God bore your guilt at the cross. He took your guilt away. You are no longer guilty. God now has NO legal basis to judge your guilty of sin and to sentence you to eternal punishment.

Now, if this is the case, and we follow the logic backward it follows that if God does not atone for all men’s sins without exception, then God must not desire that all men be saved. And if God does not desire that all men be saved, then he must not love all men. And if he does not love all men, then he must not be a maximally great being after all. The argument collapses right here if it doesn’t collapse in #1. This is the stuff that atheists are made of.

It gets worse. If you are evangelical, then you must affirm that apart from the gospel, no one can be saved. And I have confirmed with the creator of this argument that he does in fact affirm that men cannot be saved apart from hearing the gospel. So, let’s reconstruct his argument in a way that corresponds with what the author affirms but conveniently leaves out of his argument:

  1. If God Is a Maximally Great Being, then He would love all people.
  2. If God loves all people, He would desire to save all people.
  3. If God desires to save all people, He would die on the cross to atone for the sins of all people and send [the gospel and] Prevenient Grace To All People.
  4. God is a Maximally Great Being.
  5. Therefore, God loves all people.
  6. Therefore, God wants to save all people.
  7. Therefore, God died on the cross for all people and sends all people Prevenient Grace.

If it is the case that God loves everyone so much and that God desires everyone to be saved and that God would die on the cross for everyone’s sin, then surely God would make sure that people knew about it by giving them the gospel. Here is how the argument really shapes up:

  • If God loves all people without exception, then he desires that all people without exception be saved.
  • If God desires that all people without exception be saved, he would die on the cross for all people without exception
  •  If God would die on the cross for all people without exception, surely he would send the gospel and prevenient grace to all people without exception.
  • Not all people have heard the gospel.
  • Therefore, it is not the case that God desires that all people without exception be saved.

Or, we could take a couple of other paths.

(5a) Therefore, God is not powerful enough to send all men the gospel. And therefore, God is not omnipotent. And therefore, God is not a maximally great being after all.

(5b) Therefore, God does not know how to send all men the gospel. And therefore, God is not omniscient. And therefore, God is not a maximally great being after all.

Maybe we could adopt the view that God has sent this prevenient grace to all men but not the gospel. Now what? Would God send men prevenient grace and not send them the gospel, the very thing prevenient grace requires in order to be effective? The author of the argument writes the following: It’s illogical to think God loves someone but takes no steps whatsoever towards their salvation. What is actually illogical is to think that God wants to save someone and he is powerful enough to send them the one thing they need for salvation and he is smart enough to send them the one thing they need for salvation, but he just doesn’t send them the one thing they need for salvation. What sort of being is this God? If this is the God that exists, surely, he is not maximally great by the author’s own definition.

And then there is this notion of prevenient grace. Where is this grace mentioned in the text of Scripture? It should be noted that Arminius himself did not affirm the modern notion of prevenient grace. His view was that prevenient grace goes out with the hearing of the gospel. No hearing the gospel = no prevenient grace. His immediate followers departed from this view and expanded prevenient grace to the point that it poses a serious threat to the doctrine of original sin. What was done in all BY Adam is undone to all BY Christ.

I will address one or two of the premises above in a follow-up post.

Remember, God created man in His image to be like Him. Man rebelled against God and is living under God’s curse. This includes you. Jesus Christ came to be a curse for sinners so that man could be rescued from the curse and wrath of God. It is through faith in Jesus Christ that men are rescued from divine wrath. Repent and believe the gospel.

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