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James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision

July 20, 2011

Link History to this thread:
7. Finally an Answer!
6. Restating the Problem
5. Limited Atonement and the Falsification of the Sincere Offer of the Gospel

4. When is a conversation about an offer of something, not a conversation about an offer of something?
3. When is an offer not an offer?
2.God and Green Spotted Unicorns
1. James Anderson’s Argument for a Sincere Offer Based on a Limited Provision


Some time ago my old friend James Anderson posted an article attempting to demonstrate that one can sincerely offer the gospel to those for whom no gospel-provision has been supplied. In my opinion this argument is a reworking of previous arguments set out by Roger Nicole and, more recently, by Steve Hayes (and others following his lead). Furthermore, the rebuttal argument James presents is essentially the same rebuttal we have seen tabled by Greg Welty, and in earlier times by Abraham Booth (below).

I will respond to this by analyzing one side of is complex argument. My method here will be to state James’ line of thought in his own words and then reply. James’ comments are indented, mine are not. For the purposes of this rejoinder, I define “limited atonement” as the limited imputation of sin to Christ, or stated another way, Christ only suffered penal wrath for the sins of the elect.

Arguments and Rebuttals:

[Anderson:] Imagine that you are a master cook and have the best recipe for lamb casserole that the world has ever known. (If lamb casserole doesn’t take your fancy, substitute a dish more to your liking.) You decide to make some of your casserole as a gift for your neighbors. So you go door-to-door and ask each one whether they would like a portion. Let’s suppose that there are 10 houses in your street and 7 of them respond positively to your offer. (The numbers here are chosen purely for illustrative purposes, of course.) With knowledge of their responses in hand, you return home, prepare 7 portions of casserole, and deliver them to those neighbors.

Would anyone seriously suggest that, because you made only 7 portions, your offer to the 3 neighbors who refused the offer was insincere? Of course not. This shouldn’t be a controversial point, but it’s important to establish this baseline.

Okay, so here there is no problem because the provision is equally available to all, i.e., the availability is equally hypothetical in relation to all 10. He could make and bake for all 10.

[Anderson:] Now rewind the tape and add to the story that you have the ability to predict somehow — it doesn’t matter how — the future responses of your neighbors with very high confidence. You predict that 7 out of 10 will accept your offer, so you prepare 7 portions and then go door-to-door in the same fashion. To those who accept, you immediately give a portion of casserole; to those who reject, you don’t.

Now could it be reasonably claimed that your offer to 3 of the neighbors was insincere because you made only 7 portions? I say no. In both scenarios, you made exactly the same number of portions; the only difference was that in the second scenario you prepared them in advance, because you had prior knowledge rather than posterior knowledge of those responses.

But the hypothetical is now removed. The man knows only some would accept, and so the provision is now actual and limited to those foreknown to accept. What is more, it now grounds the offer’s sincerity upon the decree (or foreknowledge), that is, the intention to impart.

[Anderson:] If this point is accepted, so should be my earlier argument. However, I think the analogy can be extended to address the sort of concerns raised by Bnonn and others. Rewind the tape again and add the following: you live in a neighborhood where everyone has an aversion to lamb casserole, such that (all else being equal) each of your neighbors would refuse it if offered to them. (Perhaps this aversion is due to an irrational cultural prejudice or a bad experience at a neighborhood potluck; it doesn’t matter for the purposes of the story.) Nevertheless, your casserole is so incredibly delicious that anyone who is exposed to its aroma cannot help but want to try some. You know this, but for good reasons of your own that you don’t care to divulge, you’ve decided that you want only 7 of your neighbors to partake of the casserole. So you make the casserole and you arrange (in conjunction with favorable weather conditions) for its aroma to reach only those 7 houses. On the basis of what you know, you predict that only those 7 neighbors will accept the casserole, so you prepare no more than 7 portions. You then visit all 10 neighbors and offer them the casserole. Sure enough, only 7 of them accept and you hand over each of the 7 pre-prepared portions.

The same problem. In the first scenario, the provision was not actual, only hypothetical. In the second scenario its now actual, not hypothetical. The extra details do not change anything substantively. However, the problem is, as one friend has noted: “The absurdity should be evident, the analogy must go that the person has prepared 7 casseroles and then proceeds to offer them to 10 families, and even continues to offer them after all the casseroles have been given away.” And following this up : “I think a person could offer something he didn’t have to give but it would be a dishonest offer–even if you knew the person wouldn’t have accepted anyway. That’s what it boils down to in my opinion. They have God “getting away with” a dishonest offer because he has the advantage of knowing who will not accept the offer. They can’t understand that God’s integrity is at stake in offering what is impossible to provide.”

[Anderson:] This third scenario seems to correspond more closely to Calvinism, for here the neighbors respond as they do because of the way you prepared the casserole, rather than the reverse. So now ask the same question as before: Was your casserole offer sincere in every case? You didn’t coerce anyone into accepting or rejecting the casserole. Furthermore, if you had thought that all of the neighbors would accept, you would have made casserole for all; no one who asked for casserole would have gone without. So on what basis could your offer be judged insincere?

This is nothing more than Nicole/Hays arguments restated. The offer is sincere if X comes, and in so coming finds sufficient provision. The offer is only insincere if it turns out that X comes and God does not have sufficient provision for X.

So, God can sincerely offer to X, even when there is no actual provision for X and if  X never embraces the offer. If this is not demonstrably absurd, I don’t know what is.

[Anderson:] My suspicion is that those who think that in this third scenario the offer is not sincere do so on the basis of the particularism of the entire scenario (i.e., the fact that you decided that you wanted only some of the neighbors to eat the casserole) rather than the mere fact that you didn’t prepare portions for everyone. If I’m right about this, it confirms my claim that 4-point Calvinists (for want of a better label) are misguided when they argue that limited atonement would render the gospel offer insincere while unconditional election and effectual calling would not. Either particularism per se is objectionable or it’s not, in which case the “semi-particularism” of 4-point Calvinism is either inadequate or unnecessary.

It seems to me that this is the same WeltyAbraham Booth argument.

1) If limited atonement precludes a sincere offer, then election must likewise preclude a sincere offer.
2) But its not the case that election precludes a sincere offer
3) Therefore it is not the case that limited atonement precludes a sincere offer.

Or stated in another way, the argument assumes:

4) As limited atonement and election stand in the same exact relationship to the sincere offer, such that is if election is compatible with the sincere offer, so limited atonement must also be compatible.

What Anderson is saying is,

A) What you don’t intend to impart

has the same functional relationship as:

B) What you don’t have to give.

And so, again, if A) does not preclude a sincere offer, neither does B)

This is case of a category conflation as if election equals limited atonement, bearing the same functional relations to the sincerity of the free offer, no more, no less, but exactly the same. That is, they must have an univocal relationship with the sincere offer. If however they have a analogical or equivocal relationship, Anderson’s counter is unwarranted.

I would think, that the fact that the offer is not grounded in election, shows that A) and B) do not have the same univocal relationship to the offer’s sincerity. Or the same point stated another way, election is not offered to any one, especially the non-elect, but yet the atonement is. Thus they do not stand in equal relationship to the sincere offer of the gospel.

Further, the offer is not based in the intention to impart (or not) the benefit of the satisfaction, but it is based in the ability to impart.

Here is where Anderson does not grasp the point. If one does not have the ability to impart, then the offer cannot be sincere, irrespective of what one intends to impart or not. And so, a limited intention to impart may be compatible with the free offer, while limited atonement is not. One cannot just assume that because the former is compatible, the latter must also be compatible, which is the very thing Anderson is doing.

If one concedes this, the question turns to this: While limited atonement is incompatible with a sincere offer, does this same incompatibility affect the doctrine of election? All sides here would agree that election is compatible the sincere offer. But again, election and limited atonement do not bare a univocal relationship to the sincere offer (as shown), such that as one is must be seen as compatible, for the same reasons, so too must the latter.

For our part, the question turns to this: We argue that God is not able to give what he offers on the terms of limited atonement (namely, pardon and forgiveness) because the legal impediments remain, which stand between God and the non-elect. The sins of the non-elect are not forgivable, nor are any of the non-elect savable. And needless to say, smuggling in possible worlds logic will not help in this actual world: its too late (see below).

This legal inability precludes a sincere offer of pardon to all mankind, even the non-elect. Arguing elective intentionality to “not impart pardon” misses the point. It misses the point as much as the fact that the sincere offer is not grounded in the electing intentionality to impart the benefits of Christ to some and not others.

Have now laid the foundation, I want to come back to this line from Anderson: “Either particularism per se is objectionable or it’s not, in which case the “semi-particularism” of 4-point Calvinism is either inadequate or unnecessary.”

The problem is that the two particularist dimensions are not the same. There is the particularism of the intention to impart, and the particularism of the inability to impart. We would say the latter precludes any sincere offer, but the former does not. Thus its not “particularism per se” that is the problem here. High Calvinists continually fail to understand this point.

[Anderson:] The point can be reinforced by asking this final (rhetorical) question: If the offer of the casserole in the last scenario was indeed insincere, why think that it would have been sincere if only I had prepared 3 more portions?

1) because you cant offer what you don’t have to give. 2) because the contrary is impossible to sustain, namely: I can offer to Y what I don’t have to give to Y, and somehow its a remains a sincere offer.

Inserting conditional statements such as “the offer is sincere in that if/were the offeree to come, he would find a sufficient provision for his sins,” does not help, other than by smuggling in possible worlds logic.

For example, allegedly, the offer of forgiveness and salvation to Judas would have been sincere because:

Were (/if) Judas to have believed, he would have found a sufficient provision for him.”

Notice the “contrary-to-fact hypothetical subjunctive,” e.g.,: “If Harry had looked to his left, he would have seen the oncoming car…” The point is, Harry didn’t see the oncoming car.

Often this conditional proposition is presented as if the mere asserting or uttering this statement constitutes and exhausts the essence and substance of an “offer” of something. Purportedly, simply posing such a conditional supposition is equivalent to an offer.

Next, as noted, the conditional statement smuggles in possible world logic, for while the proposition is true in a sense, it is not true of this world, but only of a possible world, where his sins would have been imputed to Christ, thereby making Judas’ sins forgivable. However, in this actual world, there is no provision for Judas, Judas is not savable, and his sins are forgivable.

The limited expiation advocates shift the focus of sincerity away from the motives of the offerer and applicability of the thing offered to the reception (or not) of the thing offered. If a man comes and finds provision, then it’s sincere. If the man comes and finds no provision, then it’s insincere, etc.

I really think they just dont understand the problem. The conditional proposition, “Were Judas to have believed, he would have found a sufficient provision for him,” has no problematic import for them. It’s as if they are oblivious to the problem.


Anderson, wants to argue that if a moderate Calvinist insists that limited atonement precludes a sincere offer, he must accept that election likewise precludes a sincere offer, for the same reasons. However, a proper rebuttal rejects the assumed univocal relationship between limited atonement and election in relation to the sincere offer, such that one can counter that limited atonement is incompatible with the free offer, while election is not. The only avenue Anderson can have, as I see it, is to attempt to claim that we should see election as equally incompatible with a sincere offer (given our assumptions?). But on what grounds could he suggest that? and does he really want to argue that in the first place? Perhaps Anderson might say both election and limited atonement bare a paradoxical relationship to the sincere offer. My reply would be limited atonement and the sincere free offer entail a contradiction (you cannot offer what you are not able to give), while election and the free offer entail a paradox (one offers, by revealed will, what one does not intend to give, by secret will). We would say we are warranted in rejecting the contradiction, while retaining the paradox. Anderson could only claim that one can indeed sincerely offer what one is not able to give.



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