When Does the Good Faith Offer Become a Bad Deception? | Part One

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Calvinists’ commitment to unconditional election along with believing in obeying the Great Commission to evangelize and make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) necessitates certain auxiliary concepts in order to harmonize these two; the good faith offer is such a concept. The simple explanation is that while the Calvinist is to preach the gospel to all so that God can call out His unconditionally elect, every Calvinist is well aware that much of his gospel proclamation will fall upon the non-elect, who have no more chance of receiving the good news than a beaver does of being happy in a petrified forest.

Accordingly, the good faith offer is understood to exculpate Calvinists from appearing to be deceptive when they offer the gospel to all even though unconditional election inviolably precludes most from responding. Now, surely such an understanding does at least permit some legitimacy in thinking that such could give the appearance of artificiality; such may even prompt one to ask, is there a point at which this good faith offer is more accurately defined as a bad deception? I must admit, this question came to bother me greatly as a Calvinist.

Francis Schaeffer, in his book He Is There and He Is Not Silent says, “You have to preach the simple gospel so that it is simple to the person to whom you are talking, or it is no longer simple.”[1] I believe our challenge is to not only “speak the truth in love” or merely proclaim truth of the gospel, but to do so with due consideration given to enabling the listener to understand the proclamation as it is understood by the proclaimer. Thus, a crucial endeavor of all who attempt to proclaim the glorious good news to the lost is that both in intent and effort, we seek to speak in such a way that our listeners truly understand what we are saying, what are their options, and what we mean by what we say. This seems so self-evident that one could deem me foolish for broaching such a subject, but that would be imprudent.

Based upon a Calvinist understanding, God has eternally and unconditionally elected some to be the recipients of His loving salvation and has equally determined (one’s perspective regarding the order of decrees is impertinent to this reality) those for whom there is no hope, even if they heard the gospel from God Himself and also could recite the gospel in every language in the universe. Therefore, regardless how one seeks to explain the plight of the non-elect, whether through discussing decrees, or God either passively or actively not affording them the grace to be one of the elect, etc., all Calvinists believe that this group not only will not but cannot ever be the recipients of God’s salvific love and thereby, salvation, adoption, and forgiveness of sin.

As a result, remaining faithful to both unconditional election and the Great Commission requires Calvinists to offer knowingly what does not actually nor meaningfully exist for most of those to whom it is presented. Thus, in order to avoid glaring duplicity, the need to develop a concept that is supposed to justify sufficiently offering what does not meaningfully exist as though it does, which in normal understanding would be simple and unabashed deception; the good faith offer comes to the rescue.

Additionally, the coalescing of unconditional election, the Great Commission, and the good faith offer into an actual gospel presentation calls for yet another rhetorical tool, and that is the employment of enigmatic phrases that seem to mean one thing to the listener but truly mean a thoroughly different thing to the Calvinist evangelist. His meaning is esoteric (for only the select inner circle) but the listener indubitably understands it as exoteric (for the masses).

It is this last device that leads every listener to believe he is unmistakably hearing the most loving message of hope one could ever conceive while permitting the Calvinist to remain true to Calvinism. This requires the Calvinist to be extraordinarily chary in how he presents the gospel. For example, he speaks of God loving to save sinners, which actually can only mean He salvifically loves the unconditionally elect, but he dare not say to the lost with whom he speaks, God loves you and desires you to be saved or that God salvifically loves the world. He may say, “If you believe you can be saved” (which is only trivially true), whereas he cannot in anyway communicate that everyone who hears him can do that, or that God genuinely desires them to do that (I utterly reject seeking escape into the darkness of a secret will that ultimately trumps God’s revealed will as aiding the Calvinist plight).

Although I do not mind being considered too doltish to grasp how the good faith offer, which gives all the appearance of being a good offer, truly solves the problem of duplicity; it does seem to me to be in stark contrast to the gospel encounters in Scripture, which, if read without theological importations, always seem to be making nothing less than simply a good offer. This is also the practice of the rest of the Christian world as well. This brings us back to the question, is there ever a point in which the good faith offer becomes the bad deception? My answer is yes. This is in spite of a well-adorned theological need, Calvinistic consistency necessitating such, and the ever-present justifying asseverations. Upon serious, unprejudiced reflection, I find the adornment to be nothing more than a gauzily veiled misleading message. This does not speak to the motive of the messenger, but rather to the nature of the message and the understanding of the listener. Motive seems to be correlated to each particular Calvinist’s level of understanding of Calvinism; consequently, I leave that to the individual.

Although I found solace for years walking arm in arm with the good faith offer, I did reach a point where the relationship began to deteriorate. This awareness did not surface because of the challenge of others or that the concept did not fit nicely into my Calvinism. No, for me, it was my constant engagement with Scripture and people that gradually turned my solace into a chronic theological uncomfortableness and finally into an intolerable acute disdain. When I read the Scripture, offers always appeared to simply be good offers—what you see is what you get sort of thing. My regular and sometimes long-term engagements with people elicited an increasing sensitivity to my biblical responsibility to aid the listener in fully understanding the offer of the gospel, their opportunity, and the consequences of rejecting God’s grace.

This increasing desire led me to see that apparently (contrary to my surface thoughts and trite words), I really did not desire that they understand too clearly or else I would doff the sophistry and tell them about unconditional election, limited atonement, efficacious calling, etc. Rather than continue down this path of conflict, I gradually found biblical harmony by abandoning the good faith offer for the good offer. Seeking to make good offers as found in Scripture quite naturally resulted in further evaluation of Calvinism’s concepts that led to such.

 

[1] Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian Worldview, vol. 1 (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982), 285.