I have a confession to make. When it comes to profile pics, I don’t just randomly pick a photo, I look through all my recent photos and choose the best one, or better yet, I take twenty-five pictures knowing that one of them is bound to look better than the others. The process is called “cherry picking” – selectively choosing the best from what is available. It is a common practice that may or may not be morally sound, depending on the situation. And it has a lot to do with inductive versus deductive logic. What is the difference between inductive logic and deductive logic? Glad you asked.
A process of reasoning that moves from specific instances to predict general principles.
A process of reasoning that moves from the general to the specific.
Suppose you are given a basket of cherries, and they all look perfect. You might assume that most of the cherries in the orchard look like the ones in the basket. Or it could go the other way around. You could be given a basket of small, misshapen, discolored cherries and you might assume they came from a diseased or neglected orchard. The truth is that the person who picks the cherries can create an image of the orchard based on selection. And what does all of this have to do with induction or deduction? It is the way your mind works as you hold the basket of cherries and consider the orchard. Maybe your opinion of the orchard is based on inductive logic. If this is the case, then you will go through a process of reasoning in which you base your opinion of the entire orchard (general principles) on one hand picked basket (specific instances). This is NOT an intelligent way to make sense of the world. In contrast, you may base your opinion of the orchard on deductive logic. If this is the case, then your process of reasoning about the orchard will not begin when you are handed a basket, because you won’t be willing to form an opinion about the orchard until you have examined, individually, most or all of the cherry trees for yourself.
In the orchard of theology, it is best to examine every tree. In Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, he advises readers regarding 1 Corinthians 15:22 and similar scriptures,
You’ve got to figure out from the context what “all” means.
I agree with Chan’s statement, that the context of “all” determines just how far “all” extends. For example, in the previous blog, Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: The Anathema of Scrutiny, I wrote,
My Spanish 1 instructor, Professor Farcau, assigned each student in her class a number and informed the students, “In la clase de Spanish 1, all will give an oral presentation.” Then, she said, “All who have been assigned numbers one through twenty will present on Monday.” The students assigned numbers twenty-one and up did not assume that they were exempt from giving an oral presentation, because they had already been told that everyone would give a presentation. They knew that they would give their oral presentations in a class period other than Monday.
How ridiculous would it be if I thought that when my instructor said “all”, she meant that every human being, from Adam to present day, would be required to give an oral presentation in my UCF Spanish 1 class? Obviously, the context of her statement tells me to what extent “all” goes, that is, it applies only to the students in Spanish 1.
The problem with Chan’s advice, is that he does not apply it, at least, not in the section of the book to which it refers. Chan lists four passages of scripture regarding Christian Universalism that he calls “The Big Ones” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 2 Corinthians 5:19, Colossians 1:19-20, 1 Timothy 2:4). Rather than examining each of these scriptures (reasoning from deduction), Chan cherry picks some misleading information on only two of them, and then ignores the other two, instead referencing a basket full of cherries from an entirely different orchard, cherries that are similar to my Spanish 1 class example, where the extent of “all” is limited by the context. He concludes,
So “all” doesn’t always mean everything or everyone. And the same goes for 1 Corinthians 15:22, as is clear from the context. The “all” who will be made alive in Christ refers to believers of all types, not every single person.
While it is true that “all” does not always mean everything or everyone, it is also true that “all” is not always limited to “all types” or some other subset. Chan draws attention to the truth that suits his argument, while he draws attention away from the other truth that is just as valid. Proving that “all” is sometimes limited to all types in no way negates the fact that “all” is in fact used many times throughout scripture to mean everything or everyone. For example,
[…] for all did sin, and are come short of the glory of God […] Romans 3:23
And we are as unclean – all of us, and as a garment passing away, all our righteous acts; and we fade as a leaf – all of us. Isaiah 64:5-6
Thou [art] He, O Jehovah, Thyself — Thou hast made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens, and all their host, the earth andall that [are] on it, the seas and all that [are] in them, and Thou art keeping all of them alive […] Nehemiah 9:5-6
All of us like sheep have wandered, each to his own way we have turned, and Jehovah hath caused to meet on him, the punishment of us all. Isaiah 53:6
Righteous [is] Jehovah in all His ways, And kind in all His works. Psalm 145:17
Let’s have a look at Chan’s “The Big Ones”:
For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22
[…] that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19
For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Colossians 1:19-20
[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4
The context of “all” 1 Corinthians 15:22, is specifically stated, that is, the people group in Adam. It is a compound sentence which begins with the word “as”, indicating that the first thought cannot stand alone. The Greek word for “as” is,
If all that Paul wrote was “As in Adam all die”, readers would look for what comes next, and if the “next” were not there, readers would wonder why Paul began a thought and didn’t conclude it. They would ask, “Just exactly like what?” The context demands that we continue reading in order to understand the point. It is very similar to the “if/then” sentence structure in logic. If this happens, then that happens. The first part of the compound sentence is connected to the second part with the word “so”. In Greek, the word “so” is,
3779 hoútō (an adverb, derived from the demonstrative pronoun, 3778 /hoútos, “this”) – like this . . .; in this manner, in this way (fashion), in accordance with this description (i.e. corresponding to what follows); in keeping with; along this line, in the manner spoken.
If we use common sense to put it all together, we see this:
Indeed, just as, just exactly like “In Adam all die”, like this, in this manner, in this way, in accordance with this description, in keeping with, along this line, in the manner spoken, “In Christ all will be made alive.”
Let’s pretend that Paul wants to write about “all”, but he sees that there is an exception. Do you think he will take the time to specify the exception? Yes, he will. In fact, he does, so we don’t need to pretend at all. Paul writes,
[…] for all things he did put under his feet, and, when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him, and when the all things may be subjected to him, then the Son also himself shall be subject to him, who did subject to him the all things, that God may be the all in all. 1 Corinthians 15:27-28
Here, Paul first states “for all things [Jesus] did put under his feet”. Some people may point out that if Jesus is included in the category of “all things”, then does this mean that Jesus is subjecting himself to himself? That’s very strange. So Paul clarifies that there is an exception to the group named “all things” and writes, “when one may say that all things have been subjected, [it is] evident that he is excepted who did subject the all things to him”. Why would Paul take the time to be so specific and clear about this, a case in which there is a single exception to “all”, but not also take the time to be specific and clear about a case in which there are literally millions of exceptions?
If eternal torment in Hell is true, and the majority of mankind is headed there, why would Paul be so careless as to make the misleading statement, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” without being specific and clear about the billions of exceptions? Think about it. Shouldn’t Paul, in order to be consistent, have written, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive, and when one may say that all will be made alive, [it is] evident that all who do not have faith before death are excepted who will be made alive?
The reasonable response is not to write Paul off as some kind of irresponsible fruitcake but to conclude that Paul says exactly what he means to say, even if orthodox churchianity pitches a fit about it.
This isn’t the only time that Paul communicates the idea that all people will be made alive. Many of Paul’s writings contain a universalist perspective. Here’s another example of the Adam/Jesus parallel,
[…] just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more […] Romans 5:18-20
Moving right along, now, the context of 2 Corinthians 5:19 in which God is reconciling “the world” to himself, demonstrates the broad implications of “the world”:
For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
The skeptic might object, “Aha! It says ‘anyone in Christ’! That means the ‘all’ doesn’t apply to unbelievers!”
To this I would reply, “Not so fast.”
Notice first that “one died for all”. Most believers would take this to mean that Jesus died for the world, for everyone. Then Paul (and possibly Timothy) writes about a subgroup of the “all”, that is, “those who live”. What does this mean? It can’t mean “live” in the physical sense, as in respiration and pulse, because the not-yet-believers during this time also have a respiration and pulse. So, “live” must be about the life that transcends physical existence, the life to which Jesus refers in His intercessory prayer, “[…] and this is the life age-during, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and him whom Thou didst send […]”, the life which begins in the faith of Jesus Christ. Paul reminds the believers that it hasn’t always been this way, that there was a time when they were not yet “a new creation” because they “once regarded Christ […] from a worldly point of view”. He states plainly that this subgroup has been “reconciled” through Christ for a purpose. What is that purpose? Paul calls it the “ministry of reconciliation”, and they have been given a message to communicate with the world, those who are not in the subgroup, the rest of the “all” for whom Jesus died. What is the message? Reconciliation! Not counting people’s sins against them!
So, Christ did, in fact, die for all – for the whole world, not just a select few, and this is the same “world” that is being reconciled to God through Christ.
This begs the question, was the death of Christ effective? Did Jesus accomplish His mission? That’s another blog for another day. The point here is that Chan would have us to believe that when Paul writes “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” that Paul really means a small percentage of “the world”. The non-cherry-picking context indicates otherwise.
I really won’t need to spend much time on Colossians 1:19-20, for obvious reasons. When Chan suggests looking at the context, I have to wonder how he could have missed this. “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Here, we see “all things” qualified for us, that is, “whether things on earth or things in heaven”. This is such a loaded verse! I will return to this in another blog. For now, unbiased readers can see that the extent of this “all” is as broad and inclusive as the Greek language will allow it to be.
Finally, 1 Timothy 2:4 states, “[God, our Savior] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” Chan formulates an argument based on what it means to say that God “wants” something. I will address this concept in another blog and, for now, concentrate on the “all” argument Chan makes. The context of 1 Timothy 2:4, does, as Chan asserts, refer to all types of people. But the context is specific that the PRAYER should be offered up for all types of people. We should pray for all people, not just the ones we happen to like. However, we must ask, does God want all types of people to be saved, or just some types of people? Does this passage exclude people or does it include people? Does our PRAYING for specific people groups negate the idea that God wants all people to be saved? Chan admits,
It’s probably the case that Paul wants Timothy to pray for all types of people because God is on a mission to save all types of people.
If God is on a mission to save all types of people, does this mean that some types of people will NOT be saved? Again, does naming a few particular subsets of the whole, such as the subset called “people in authority”, exclude the remainder of the “all”? Let’s look at the reason Paul gives for praying for “all” men:
I exhort, then, first of all, there be made supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, for all men: for kings, and all who are in authority, that a quiet and peaceable life we may lead in all piety and gravity, for this [is] right and acceptable before God our Saviour, who doth will all men to be saved, and to come to the full knowledge of the truth; for one [is] God, one also [is] mediator of God and of men, the man Christ Jesus, who did give himself a ransom for all – the testimony in its own times.
Notice it does not say that God wants all “types” of people to be saved, nor does it say Jesus gave Himself as a ransom for all “types” of people. This is Chan’s idea. One simple way to settle the dispute between Chan’s orthodox view and my unorthodox view is to ask one simple question.
Did Jesus give Himself as a ransom for all people or just all types of people? More specifically, did Jesus give Himself as a ransom ONLY for those who believe before they die, or did He give Himself as a ransom for everyone? If we are to take Chan’s argument seriously, we will have to say that Jesus died ONLY for those who believe. The implications are huge. We’ve all heard evangelists preach, “Jesus died for you.” If Chan is right, then evangelists need to stop giving people false hope. They should preach, “Jesus died for SOME of you.” Do you think Chan would be willing to adjust his evangelistic message in this way? If he really believes what he writes, then he ought to do so. And if he is unwilling to do so, then we ought to wonder why. Perhaps when he looks people in the eye, the fear of God gets ahold of him, and the Spirit of God enables him to preach the truth, “Jesus died for everyone”, despite his beliefs.
Next blog in this series: Why Chan Can’t Erase Hell: Now or Never