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Is there a ‘secret will” of God?

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3H

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” byDavid L. Allen


Dr. Ascol concludes his chapter “Calvinism Foundational for Evangelism and Missions” by stating:

Both the biblical and historical records demonstrate that those doctrines that are commonly known as Calvinism, far from hindering missions and evangelism, actually fuel such work. Rightly held, these truths have fostered the most unrelenting, persevering, and confident gospel advance in the history of Christianity. Only by ignoring evidence can the charge that Calvinism kills evangelism be given any consideration (288).

One of the key points I attempted to make in my chapter in Whosoever (96-100) is if there are lingering doubts that God loves all people and desires to save all people, that will eventually produce doubts in those who preach the gospel and thus diminish evangelistic zeal. Respected Calvinist Curt Daniel writes of “Reformed apathy and lethargy,” and says, “This is seen, for example, in the reluctance to evangelize because, ‘After all, God has His elect out there and He will call them to Himself in due time.’ It is also seen in the over-emphasis on the Secret Will to the detriment of the Revealed Will of God” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism [Dallas, TX: Scholarly Reprints, 1993], 468). This statement coupled with Daniel’s strong statement on page 463 should be heavily underlined: “. . . some Calvinists need to be rebuffed for an over-obsession with the Secret Will of God to the detriment of the Revealed Will in evangelism.”

Much of Dr. Ascol’s chapter appears to be an effort to use the “secret will” of God (election) to buttress evangelistic zeal and endeavor. Note that in his section on Paul, virtually the entire argument revolves around election. Curt Daniel’s warnings are especially relevant here since nowhere did I find Ascol expressing his affirmation of God’s desire for the salvation of all people in the “revealed will” of God. The only place he mentions the phrase “God’s revealed will” is on page 276 with reference to Acts 17:30, but even here Ascol uses this verse to buttress his point about the authority for Christians to evangelize all people in reference to God’s command for all to repent, not as an expression of God’s universal saving love and will. Where in this section is the appeal to God’s universal saving love and universal saving desire as motives for evangelism? The only reference in this entire section to any Scripture affirming God’s universal saving love and/or His universal saving desire is a tacit reference to the location of John 3:16 as being spoken “immediately after one of the clearest teachings on mankind’s spiritual inability.” I presume Ascol affirms God’s universal saving love and universal saving will, but he nowhere states as much in his chapter. When it comes to missions and evangelism, even from a Calvinist framework one should be operating out of statements in the “revealed will” of God concerning His love for all people and His desire that all people be saved (John 3:16; 2 Corinthians 5:18-21; 1 Timothy 2:3-6; 2 Peter 3:9) rather than dabbling in the “secret will.” Why focus on election as motivation for missions and evangelism when the New Testament focuses on God’s love for all (John 3:16), God’s desire for the salvation of all (John 17:21, 23; 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9), and the death of Christ for the sins of all (John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:6) as primary motivations for evangelism and missions (1 Timothy 2:7)?

At the center of my concerns with Founders Ministries is the distortion of the historical record of Baptists with respect to Calvinism and, more importantly, the failure to strongly promote the biblical concepts of God’s universal saving will, God’s universal saving love, and the failure to affirm and promote the fact that Christ died for the sins of all people. With respect to the former, consider the following facts.

In the early 19th century, before the creation of the SBC in 1845, some of the so called “five points” of Calvinism began to be opposed openly in Baptist life, especially limited atonement. With respect to limited atonement, the names of Andrew Fuller, William T. Brantly, J. M. Pendleton, Andrew Broaddus, and Jesse Mercer in his later years, come to mind. The 1801 Terms of Union between the Elkhorn and South Kentucky Associations eliminated limited atonement as a hindrance to fellowship. The 1833 New Hampshire Confession is less Calvinistic than the 2nd London Confession and does not affirm limited atonement. Even James P. Boyce, one of the founders of Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, appears to lean away from limited atonement (Abstract, 317-20).

In 1840 the first Baptist Association in Texas was founded: Union Baptist Association. The articles of faith reflect a modified Calvinism, especially with respect to limited atonement. For example, Article Six stated: “We believe that Christ died for sinners, and that the sacrifice which He made has so honored the divine law that the way of salvation is consistently opened up to every sinner to whom the gospel is sent, and that nothing but their own voluntary rejection of the gospel prevents their salvation.” In 1843, representatives from four Baptist Associations in Tennessee met and adopted articles affirming universal atonement and stated that none of these adopted articles were to be “construed in their meaning as to hold with the doctrine of particular, eternal and unconditional election and reprobation” (J. J. Burnett, Sketches of Tennessee’s Pioneer Baptist Preachers, Being, Incidentally, a History of Baptist Beginnings in the Several Associations in the State Containing, Particularly, Character and Life Sketches of the Standard-Bearers and Leaders of Our People [Nashville, 1913], 380). These facts alone illustrate that high Calvinism was not the be-all and end-all for Baptists at the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Dr. Z. T. Cody was trained under J. P. Boyce, receiving his degree from Southern Seminary in 1887. His editorial, “Are Baptists Calvinists,” appeared February 16, 1911, in the Baptist Courier, the state paper of South Carolina Baptists for which he served as editor. He states that if Calvinism is equated with the so called “five points,” then it is “very certain that Baptists are not Calvinists.”  Cody continues: “It is also true that there are now many of our churches which hold some of the doctrines of this system.  All Baptist churches, so far as we know, hold to the perseverance of the saints. But it can be very confidently affirmed that there is now no Baptist church that holds or defends the five points of Calvinism. Some of the doctrines are repugnant to our people. Could there be found a minister in our communion who believes in the theory of a limited atonement?”

This historical data makes it clear that the historiography of Founders Ministries is problematic. The historiography of some of the chapters in WHW follows suit.

With respect to the biblical concepts of God’s universal saving will, universal saving love, and Christ’s death for all people, Dr. Ascol’s opposition to preachers indiscriminately telling everyone that “Christ died for you” seems the same as being against telling them that God is both willing and prepared to save them all. How the use of the code phrase “Christ died for sinners” (which for the high Calvinist means “Christ died for elect sinners”) as opposed to the use of the phrase “Christ died for you” can avoid leaving the impression with all sinners that Christ died for them is beyond me. It is at the very least confusing and at worst disingenuous. In fact, to oppose conveying to any and all sinners that God is both willing and prepared to save them is, in my judgment, implicit Hyper-Calvinism at the practical level. Please note my use of the words implicit and at the practical level. As I see it, saying “Christ died for you” is equivalent to saying that God is willing, able, and prepared to save all and will do so if they come to Christ through repentance and faith because all the sins of all people have been imputed to Christ. Refusal to tell any sinner “Christ died for your sins” implicitly questions God’s saving will and saving love for that individual. I believe such a posture entails problems for evangelism, missions, and preaching (see my chapter in Whosoever, 94-199).

Therefore, in light of the biblical and historical picture, it does not appear Dr. Ascol’s conclusion that Calvinism has been a catalyst for missions and evangelism can be sustained without qualifications and/or modifications. One might just as easily say that the non-Calvinist doctrines which the Moravians held in the 18th century had been a catalyst for missions and evangelism; or the doctrines the Wesleyan Methodists held in the 18th and 19th centuries were a catalyst for missions and evangelism; or the doctrines which the Wycliffe Bible Translators held and hold (many of whom were and are non-Calvinists) in the 20th century was a catalyst for missions and evangelism; or that the essentially non-Calvinistic doctrines which most Southern Baptists held in the 20th century and continue to hold today and which produced one of the greatest missionary  forces on the planet were a catalyst for missions and evangelism.

Passion and commitment to missions and evangelism has less to do with whether one is a Calvinist or an Arminian or a Traditionalist and everything to do with love for God, obedience to God and His inerrant Word, love for lost people, and a willingness to carry the gospel to the ends of the earth no matter the cost. This is what magnifies Jesus most and brings God maximal glory.

Leonard Woods – “…he wills that all men should be saved.”

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3G

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen

In the waning pages of the chapter under the heading of “Testimony of History,” Dr. Ascol treats Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice. Ascol implies that their Calvinism was commensurate with his own commitment to TULIP. Such is not the case, particularly with respect to limited atonement.

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Limited Atonement Is A Hindrance To Missions and Evangelism

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3F

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen

Carey’s work on the mission field would have been virtually impossible were it not for the indefatigable labors of the pastor/theologian Andrew Fuller. Ascol appeals to Fuller in an effort to discredit my claims in Whosoever that limited atonement is a hindrance to missions and evangelism. He quotes Fuller:

There is no contradiction between the peculiarity [sic] of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, have promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a compliance, nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations and invitations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the Gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election; both being secret things, which belong to the Lord our God, and which, however they be a rule to him, are none to us (284-85).

It is important to note at this juncture that this quotation is from the second edition (1801) of Fuller’s famous The Gospel Worthy of All Acceptation (the first edition was published in 1785). It is also important to note Fuller’s use of the word “design,” and his mention of “no natural impossibilities.” These points will become important in a moment.

Ascol follows this quote with the statement, “The reason that some do judge particular redemption to be a hindrance to evangelism stems from an unbiblical understanding of what the message of evangelism actually entails. As noted above, David Allen is representative  of many who think that it is essential to say indiscriminately what no evangelist in the New Testament is ever recorded as having said to unbelievers, namely, that “Christ died for your sins’” (285). Ascol continues, “If the Bible required or even exemplified such evangelistic language then the charge that particular redemption undermines evangelism would have some merit. [See above on 1 Corinthians 15:3.] Again, Fuller acknowledges this point in exposing the error of those who make it” (Ibid.).

Ascol quotes Fuller again from Gospel Worthy:

If that which sinners are called upon to believe respected the particular design of Christ to save them, it would then be inconsistent; but they are neither exhorted nor invited to believe anything but what is revealed, and what will prove true, whether they believe it or not. He that believeth in Jesus Christ must believe in him as he is revealed in the gospel, and that is as the Savior of sinners. It is only as a sinner, exposed to the righteous displeasure of God, that he must approach him” (Ibid.).

Ascol concludes: “The call of the gospel is ‘believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,’ not ‘believe that Jesus died for your sins in particular and you will be saved’” (Ibid.).

Dr. Ascol presumes he has sufficiently answered my point by his appeal to Fuller. He also presumes Fuller affirms limited atonement in the sense of a limited substitution of Christ only for the sins of the elect. Ironically, neither presumption is accurate. Let’s begin with the latter – the suggestion that Fuller held to limited atonement. At this point, space will only permit the briefest sketch of Fuller’s view on the extent of the atonement. For more information, including some of the primary and secondary sources verifying Fuller’s position, consult my “Preaching for a Great Commission Resurgence” in Great Commission Resurgence, eds. Chuck Lawless and Adam Greenway (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 291-96.

At the time of Fuller’s publication of the first edition of his Gospel Worthy (1785) he held to limited atonement. However, after his debates with the General Baptist Dan Taylor, Fuller was persuaded that limited atonement did not comport with Scripture. Taylor had argued the position that the only proper ground for universal invitations for sinners to believe the gospel was in a universal provision in Christ’s death. If limited atonement were true, there was no provision for the non-elect in the death of Christ. Fuller felt the brunt of this argument and could not answer it. He later confessed in 1803: “I tried to answer my opponent  . . . but I could not. I found not merely his reasonings, but the Scriptures themselves, standing in my way” (Fuller’s Works, 2:709-10). Fuller stated his new position clearly in Works, 2:488-89; 496; 550. As a Calvinist, Fuller’s concept of redemption was still “particular” in the sense that the particularity was located not in the extent of the atonement, but in the design and application of the atonement. This shift can also be observed in a careful comparison of the first and second editions of Gospel Worthy. The section on “particular redemption” in the first edition is almost completely rewritten in the second edition. (1st edition, 132-39; 2nd edition, Works, 2:373-75). Fuller said, “The only subject on which I ought to have been here interrogated is, ‘The persons for whom Christ was a substitute; whether the elect only, or mankind in general’” (Fuller’s Letter III, “On Substitution,” January 12, 1803). Notice the date of this letter: 1803. Fuller in the context answers the question that Christ was a substitute for mankind in general. Fuller believed that Christ died for the sins of all people.

Now read the Ascol quotes above in light of Fuller’s shift. Note Fuller’s use of the word “design” in the first sentence of Ascol’s first quotation of Fuller. As a Calvinist, Fuller did believe the “design” of the atonement was to bring about the salvation of the elect. But he also had come to believe that Jesus died for the sins of all people and this fact guaranteed the well-meant gospel offer to all (Fuller’s “universal obligation” and “universal invitation” language). Notice in Ascol’s second block quote of Fuller the word “design” appears again in the first sentence. Later in the quote he speaks of how people are called upon to believe in Jesus as He is revealed in the Scriptures, namely, the Savior of sinners.

Now we see that Ascol’s conclusion, “The call of the gospel is ‘believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved,’ not ‘believe that Jesus died for your sins in particular and you will be saved’” is also unfounded. 1 Corinthians 15:3 and Andrew Fuller become “exhibit A” for why it is biblically, theologically and practically important to believe in a universal atonement for the sake of missions and evangelism.



Some Calvinists are not evangelistic
just like some Traditionalists are not evangelistic.

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3E

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen

3. Testimony of History.

Dr. Ascol now turns his attention to address the testimony of history and argues that Calvinists were among the greatest missionaries and evangelists. This cannot be gainsaid.  One of the mistakes often made by non-Calvinists is to assume or state that Calvinists are not evangelistic.  This is an over-generalization and as such is simply not true. Some Calvinists are not evangelistic just like some Traditionalists are not evangelistic. But to generalize that Calvinists are not evangelistic is false.

Ascol contends in the remainder of his chapter, “Far from being a drag on missionary endeavors, Calvinism has actually been a catalyst for them” (280). To demonstrate his thesis, he briefly discusses the following: Calvin and the Puritans, George Whitefield, William Carey, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson and Luther Rice.

Ascol asserts that Geneva under Calvin was a missionary and church planting center, with hundreds of missionaries being sent out across Europe and many French refugees being trained to return to their homeland to plant churches. It is one thing to send missionaries “across Europe,” but quite another to send them to foreign nations. The Magisterial Reformers’ record on the later, including Calvin, is weak at best. Grosart’s claim, which Ascol cites, that Richard Baxter was the most successful preacher and soul winner England ever had (281), coupled with Ascol’s claim that George Whitefield was the “greatest evangelist of the eighteenth century, both stand in need of a two-word qualification: John Wesley.

The last four names Dr. Ascol discusses are all famous Baptists known for their missionary spirit. I freely grant his point that all these men were Calvinists who exhibited missionary and evangelistic zeal. I do not grant his presupposition that all these men were Calvinists of Ascol’s stripe, i.e., five-point Calvinists.

William Carey’s story is legendary. Ascol mentions the Serampore Compact of 1805 which Carey and his fellow missionaries drew up as a summary of their guiding principles and its stress on God’s sovereignty in the missionary enterprise (283). But consider what this compact says in one place:

Fifthly. In preaching to the heathen, we must keep to the example of Paul, and make the greatest subject of our preaching, Christ Crucified. It would be very easy for a missionary to preach nothing but truths, and that for many years together, without any well-grounded hope of becoming useful to one soul. The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand mean of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh, that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others. It was the proclaiming of these doctrines that made the Reformation from Popery in the time of Luther spread with such rapidity. It was these truths that filled the sermons of the modern Apostles, Whitefield, Wesley, etc., when the light of the Gospel which had been held up with such glorious effects by the Puritans was almost extinguished in England. It is a well-known fact that the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day make the atonement of Christ their continued theme. We mean the Moravians. They attribute all their success to the preaching of the death of our Saviour. So far as our experience goes in this work, we must freely acknowledge, that every Hindoo among us who has been gained to Christ, has been won by the astonishing and all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death. O then may we resolve to know nothing among Hindoos and Mussulmans [Muslims] but Christ and Him crucified. (

Notice Carey’s reference to “Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits.” Notice Carey includes Wesley with Whitfield who preached “these doctrines.” Notice his reference to the Moravians as being “the most successful missionaries in the world at the present day” and keep in mind the fact that they were not Calvinistic and affirmed an unlimited atonement. Notice finally Carey’s reference to the “all-constraining love exhibited in our Redeemer’s propitiatory death.”

Consider also this quotation from Carey in a letter dated April 10, 1796:

I preach every day to the Natives, and twice on the Lord’s Day constantly, besides other itinerant labours, and I try to speak of Jesus Christ and him crucified, and of him alone, but my soul is often much dejected to see no fruit. This morning I preached to a number from “to know the Love of God which passeth knowledge”. I was much affected myself, filled with grief and anguish of Heart, because I knew they were going to Idolatrous and Mohammedan feasts immediately after, this being the first day of the Hindu Year; and the new Moon Ramadan of the Mohammedans. They are going I suppose to their Abominations at this moment, but I hope to preach to them again in the evening. I spoke of the Love of God in bearing with his Enemies, in supporting and providing for them, in sending his Son to die for them, and in sending the Gospel to them, and in saving many of them from eternal Wrath. (The Journal and Selected Letters of William Carey, ed. Terry G. Carter [Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2000], 85. Emphasis mine.)

Also consider this letter from Carey to Andrew Fuller dated November 1800 where Carey explains to Fuller how he shared the gospel with several of the people in one of the villages:

You and I, and all of us are Sinners, and we are in a helpless state but I have good things to tell you. God in the riches of his Mercy became incarnate, in the form of Man. He lived more than thirty years on earth without Sin and was employed in doing good. He gave sight to the Blind, healed the Sick, the lame, the Deaf and the Dumb – and after all died in the stead of Sinners. We deserved the wrath of God, but he endured it. We could make no sufficient atonement for our guilt but he compleatly made an end of Sin and now he has sent us to tell you that the Work is done and to call you to faith in, and dependence on the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ibid., 149. Emphasis mine.)

In these two quotes, it sounds like Carey is making “the bold proclamation,” saying that God sent his Son to die for them (all in his lost audience) and other “enemies,” some of which (not all) are saved from eternal wrath. If Carey accepts limited substitution (limited atonement), he would have to be equivocating on the term “sinners” and fudge on the inclusive term “we,” as if he really didn’t mean all those in his audience.

I am not at all convinced that Carey was a full-fledged card-carrying member of the high-Calvinist order with respect to limited atonement as Ascol appears to assume.



Paul did not tell any unsaved persons
“Christ died for your sins.”

A Selective Review and Critique of Whomever He Wills – Part 3D

Dr. Tom Ascol’s chapter “Calvinism Foundational For Evangelism and Missions” by David L. Allen

Turning to a discussion of Paul’s evangelistic method and message, Dr. Ascol states, “Certainly Paul did not evangelize this way” [contextually meaning Paul did not tell any unsaved persons “Christ died for your sins”] (276). Ascol appeals to Paul’s preaching in Acts to support this contention. Ascol concludes from this lacuna that Paul never employed such a phrase in evangelistic preaching or witnessing. But is such a conclusion valid? First, as stated above, this is an argument from silence. It does not conclusively prove Paul, Peter, or anyone else did not say it nor is it a valid argument that they did not believe it. Second, all of the sermons in Acts are condensations of the actual sermons given. Third, with respect to Peter’s sermon in Acts 3, how else could he tell his hearers to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 3:19) if he did not somehow connect the death of Christ on the cross as accomplishing the means for their forgiveness and salvation? Are we to think that Peter’s hearers did not understand that what Peter was saying in essence was that since Christ died for their sins, the door is opened for them to repent and believe? Furthermore, if Peter believed in limited atonement, how could he say “it was for you first that God raised up his Servant, and sent him to bless you by turning every one of you [hekastos in Greek meaning “each one, every one” BDAG, 298] from your wicked ways” (Acts 3:26)? For any of the non-elect present in his audience, there was no atonement for them, so it would be impossible for them to be saved, even if they wanted to. It would also be disingenuous on Peter’s part to give anyone such false hope.

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