In my last article (Click HERE) on SBC Today, I explored Calvinism’s view of the origin of sin and salvation through the lens of their belief in compatible freedom and the “mysteries” that such a view generates. This article looks at Extensivism’s view of the same issues. In this article I use Extensivism (broadly) as encompassing all soteriological perspectives that see God’s love and salvation plan as provisioning salvation by faith for everyone, and this in contrast with Calvinism’s exclusive plan, which only includes some people—the unconditionally elect.[i]
Extensivists believe Scripture teaches that God gave Adam and Eve the true ability to choose to sin or not to sin. God gave that freedom, which is good, and man misused it, which is sin. Man is a free moral agent with the ability to choose to sin or not to sin, which means that he is the efficient cause of sin, and thereby avoids the intrinsic revelatory problems of Calvinism and compatibilism with regard to the origin of sin and God desiring people to sin or be in hell.[ii] Extensivists believe that being endowed with libertarian free choice is an essential component of what it means for man to be created in the image of God.
Therefore, God creating man in His own image necessarily includes giving man the ability to choose otherwise. To wit, whatever man did in fact choose in the moral moment of decision, he could have chosen otherwise; he could act or refrain. Furthermore, the meaning of concepts like love, mercy, compassion, worship, and righteousness are inextricably connected to otherwise choice, and consequently emanate from the freedom to act or refrain. We reject the notion that deciding is synonymous with desire as illustrated in the life of Paul. He said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (Romans 7:15–16).[iii]
It is the essential foreknowledge of God, which includes exhaustive eternal knowledge of contingencies in time, that resolves the problem of how to establish the certainty that man would sin even though he had been created in holiness and did not have to sin. God’s foreknowledge can assure certainty without Calvinism’s causality and eternal necessity.[iv] For the question, “If God knew we would sin with otherwise choice, why not create man without free will?” The answer is that man created without true free will is not man created in God’s image. God’s love toward man is a free choice—God could have chosen not to create man with whom to share His love—in like manner, man is designed by God so that he may choose to love, worship, or follow God or not.
To say that man freely chose to love and worship God, but actually could not choose to do otherwise is contrary to the most obvious teaching of Scripture as well as human understanding and application of those terms in real life. Imagine a wedding with the groom standing at the altar by his bride. The pastor says, “In taking this woman you hold by your hand to be your lawful wedded wife before God and these witnesses, do you promise to love her, cherish her, forsaking all others and cleave only to her so long as you both shall live?” Then the man responds, “I do, but of course that is all I can say; I must say yes because that is my nature.” Besides everyone being aghast, I suspect the honeymoon would lack some honey.
Part Two Coming Soon!
[i] The use of this term as a positive term for non-Calvinists is limited to just that rather than meaning that everyone who rejects Calvinism must agree with every point I make in this article.
[ii] This desire is not merely the desire to create so that man and things would exist in time. Rather, it is in regard to what precisely God’s desire to create included regarding the state and nature of man. According to Calvinism, compatibilism, God did in fact desire to create man with a past that would unalterably emanate a desire from which man would predeterminately freely choose to sin. Thus, the choice of Adam and Eve was something God truly desired because if He did not, He could have, according to compatibilism, created man with a nature from which no desire to sin would arise. Contrastingly, in Extensivism God’s desire to create man included a desire that man would not misuse his freedom to sin, but provisioned sufficiently for such a reality. God always knew that man would sin, and fallen man would continue to misuse his freedom, but God always desires man to walk in holiness. Knowing man would sin, God out of love provisioned for that eventuality in His coextensive creation/redemption plan for everyone, which further evidences His desire for all of His creation to live holy lives.
[iii] “The commentator C. E. B. Cranfield observed, ‘The more seriously a Christian strives to live from grace and to submit to the discipline of the gospel, the more sensitive he becomes to … the fact that even his very best acts and activities are disfigured by the egotism which is still powerful within him—and no less evil because it is often more subtly disguised than formerly”’ (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975], 1:358. As cited in John F. MacArthur Jr., Romans, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 383–384. Electronic Edition Logos Bible Software.
[iv] Eternal necessity in the sense that within Calvinism, God knows what man will choose because He knows and governs by deterministically making everything certain in time to happen precisely as it does.