A False Premise: The Cause of Craig’s Concern
Craig is responding to universalists who argue against Christian particularists on the basis of some kind of inconsistency they’ve found between what Craig refers to as God’s all-knowingness and all-lovingness and the fact that there are people consigned to hell for their unbelief. Why would God create a world in which He loves all people (because all-loving) yet leave some people, if not most, ignorant of the gospel so as to be condemned? Craig writes:
Rather the real problem with Christian particularism is much more subtle. If God is all-knowing, then presumably He knew the conditions under which people would freely place their faith in Christ for salvation and those under which they would not. But then a very difficult question arises: why does God not bring the gospel to people who He knew would accept it if they heard it, even though they reject the general revelation that they do have?
The claim seems to be that Christian particularism is internally inconsistent in affirming on the one hand that God is all-powerful and all-loving and on the other that some people never hear the gospel and are lost. But why think that these two affirmations are inconsistent? After all, there’s no explicit contradiction between them. So the post-modernist or universalist must think that these two statements are implicitly contradictory (emphasis added).
The underlying assumption here seems to be that there is an internal inconsistency since God is omniscient. And since God is omniscient, He would thus know some people would not come to salvation in the world He chose to create. So, this says something about Him being all-loving (or not being all-loving for that matter). The sentiment for the universalist seems to be that God must save all if He is truly both omniscient and all-loving. I will try to answer this assumption/objection as follows.
First, I’m coming at this discussion from a Reformed perspective and I believe Reformed theology has a way (albeit sometimes an emotionally uncomfortable way) of answering objections like these. God is not all-loving in a numerically comprehensive way. That is to say that God’s attribute of love is not such that it necessarily entails God’s loving the entire human race without exception. In fact, Scripture tells us clearly that there are people God doesn’t love (Rom. 9:13; Mal. 1:2, 3). Ontologically, there is nothing in God that requires Him to love any part of creation. God freely chooses to love those whom He chooses to love.
Second, God’s all-lovingness must be understood in substantive terms. God is not all loving because He loves everything external to Himself exhaustively, or every human person without exception. God is said to be all-loving because of the substantive language in Scripture. John writes, “God is love (1 Jn. 4:8).” God is identified with the very perfection of love. God doesn’t merely participate in the universal of loving-ness, God just is that perfection of love.
Third, because God does not love all people without exception, and because God’s all-lovingness is in reference to who He is, not in reference to what He loves, the universalist argument falls flat on its face. They’re arguing against a straw man at best. For this reason, Craig’s response is unnecessary in reconciling the traditional Christian understanding of salvation with the universalist argumentation. I think Craig is granting their confusion of God’s ad intra ontology and God’s ad extra economy. God is love, but this does not entail God loves every person who has ever lived.
To be fair, Craig himself calls out the false assumptions of the universalists mentioned above. But he goes on to reveal a strikingly similar sentiment:
But we can go one step further. We can actually show that it is entirely consistent to affirm that God is all-powerful and all-loving and yet that many persons do not hear the gospel and are lost. Since God is good and loving, He wants as many people as possible to be saved and as few as possible to be lost. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more of the lost than is necessary to attain a certain number of the saved.
It looks like Craig actually jumps from the skillet onto the frying pan. It might be a comical statement if it weren’t taken so seriously by its author. First, apparently, because God is all-loving His goal is to save as many people as possible. There is a problem here. Where in Scripture does it state that God’s goal is in reference to the quantity of saved souls? Perhaps that’s the goal of the evangelist, but there’s no Scriptural evidence that it’s the goal of God. God is not an evangelist. God is in the heavens and does what He pleases (Ps. 115:3). It’s also amazing that Craig appears to place possibility on par with divine ontology. But for things to be possible they need to have potential, the actualization of which can only derive from God.
If possibility has some sort of divine-independent existence, apart from the actualization from divine power, then Craig can speak as he does about possibility, because God would be subject to what is possible. But God is not subject to what is possible, God is the actualizer of all potential. Craig might respond by saying, “What is possible is contingent upon the nature of God.” Of course, this is a true statement. But the underlying assumption is that since God is all-loving, His nature constrains Him to save as many people as possible.
If salvation (X) is potential (possible) in any given world (P), then X must be actualized by God (S) in P. But then God can save whoever He desires irrespective of possibility since the potentiality of salvation must be actualized by God. God is behind possibility, not possibility behind God. God is both actualizer of creation and salvation, and this actualization is based on His eternal decree.
There is nothing back of God which actualizes Him to save a certain number of people or particular persons. His goodness doesn’t compel Him to save a certain number of persons or particular persons because, in that case, His goodness would be a part or determination in God which actualizes God. But, we must hold that there is no potentiality in God and so God’s goodness doesn’t actualize anything in God (i.e. a desire to see all people saved). Rather, God actualizes anything that Has potential on the basis of His eternal decree. Ad extra it may be said the God desires that all should come to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9), but ad intra this cannot be the case, and this tension is strictly biblical and deduced via good and necessary consequence (Ps. 115:3 read with 2 Pet. 3:9, for example).