Should I preach hell to my granny? No, says McCraney

About five years ago, I gave a sermon in a church, as part of my practical for a Bible diploma. Previously, I had asked the pastor of the church why he never preached on sin. He told me that sermons on sin were the old days and people need to be encouraged rather than be condemned. Besides, he said, many of his congregation are either elderly, sick or hurting in one way or another. What they needed was encouragement. They needed, he said, to be told that when God looks at them, he jumps with delight. He did go over the basic outline if my sermon with me beforehand, but I later added some undelightful bits.

 After church, he called me into his office. Four or five of the elders were already there. The pastor told me that that my sermon was bad. One of the elders said I was “very harsh.’’ One of the parts of the sermon I think she was referring to was: ‘’Therefore, it is not unreasonable to say that one can be poor as well as evil, frail as well as evil, jobless as well as evil.’’ I have published my harsh sermon elsewhereWhat I’d like to do here is quote different parts of a sermon by anti-Calvinist Shawn McCraney on his rejection of “unconditional election” and Calvinist James White’s response, which are directly related to my harsh appraisal of “little gran’ma” (Shawn McCraney). (The Dividing Line, 9 January 2014).


“Those condemned to hell are not horrid murderers, serial killers, but they could be anyone that God has not elected. Little gran’ma who faithfully served the community, or twelve-year-old girls, who loved dolls and flowers before they’re taken, and babies, all created by God’s good will and pleasure for hell that never ends.”

White’s response


“There are not any little old ladies who are good. If they are going to end up under God’s judgment, then they have lived their entire lives with hatred towards God. They have taken the gifts of God and abused them. They are sinners. And either you believe that sinners are worthy of the judgment of God or you don’t. If you think that little old ladies and 12-year-old girls who play with dolls are not worthy of God’s judgment then we’re not reading the same Bible; we’re not reading Romans 3, we’re not reading Ephesians 1; we’re not seeing what God did in the Old Testament when he brought judgment upon the nation of Israel. Your anthropology is not a biblical anthropology; it’s not consistent with biblical anthropology.  


“Just in case those who have been elected started to think that they were elected to salvation because they’re so good and all that, Calvin clearly explains that the elect are chosen not because of any act of goodness present in them but solely based on God’s sovereign will. Calvin suggested that by God saving some, we are given a tremendous example of his mercy since we all deserve hell fire to begin with. That’s the thinking.”

 White’s response 

“Yes that’s the thinking because that’s the Bible. We all deserve hell fire: the 12-year-old girl, the little old lady. These are categories you are saying would not deserve hell fire. They are enemies of God, are not holy, and honestly if you have a high enough view of God’s holiness and being and a realistic view of man’s sinfulness, these issues are not going to be all that pragmatic to you. But since they are, I have to wonder where you are within the spectrum of having a Biblical perspective of man’s sin.” 


“Not one of us deserves God’s love and mercy, which I agree is true, if you think about it in that way, but to show his great love and mercy, he decided to save some reprobates while leaving the rest to become eternal kindling in the lake of fire.” 

White’s response 

“What is the reason you think that God is under some obligation to save anyone, because that’s clearly in your thinking. Your objection is clearly to God being the one who makes the decision rather than rebel sinners. As if the judge of all the earth won’t do right, but rebel sinners will do right. I want salvation to be in the hands of the just God of all eternity, not in the hands of mankind. Romans chapter 8, what does Paul say about those in the flesh? What can they not do? They cannot submit themselves to the law of God. They cannot be pleasing to God. How do you understand that? Part of your problem is your anthropology, your view of man… There are no morally neutral creatures.” 

White is undoubtedly referring in Romans 8 to “5 Those who live according to the flesh (fallen human nature) have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.


 He quotes R. C. Sproul’s definition of “unconditional election.” 

“Our final destination, heaven or hell, says Sproul, is decided by God not only before we get here but before we are even born. It teaches that our ultimate destiny is in the hands of God. Another way of saying it is this: from all eternity, before we ever lived, God decided to save some members of the human race, and to let other members of the human race perish. God mad a choice; he chose some individuals to be saved to everlasting blessedness in heaven, and others he chose to pass over to allow them to follow the consequences of their sins into eternal torment in hell.” 

White’s response 

“Sproul talks about God passing over them and they experiencing the just condemnation of their sin. That is not the way you presented it.” 

A few remarks: 

With regard to Sproul’s “from all eternity, before we ever lived, God decided to save some members of the human race, and to let other members of the human race perish.” Why should McCraney object to God’s foreknowledge of the future? Surely he believes that, unless he is an open theist where God doesn’t know what people will do until they do it. The problem Arminians have is that they are transfixed between the rock of God’s foreknowledge and the hard place of his fixed foreknowledge. Their problem is that if God foreknows from eternity what’s going to happen, then what will happen must happen. And “what will happen must happen” is plain English for “God’s decree.”

We read in Romans 9: 

6b For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, 7 and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 

10 And not only so, but salso when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.

 So, God’s election, that is, God choice of those he saves, has nothing to do with anything in themselves, because there is absolutely nothing they can contribute to their salvation. God’s grace is not only efficient but sufficient. It seems to me that the main problem with the idea of freely willing to come to Christ is the Arminian’s lack of understanding or rejection of the doctrine of “total depravity” (“radical corruption” is a better term); as James White puts it, a faulty biblical anthropology. 

For the Arminian, what Jesus can do is based on what individuals want him to do. “This whole idea, says James White that God’s activity in time is limited by man again illustrates the difference between looking at scripture from the divine perspective or the human perspective. If man is at the centre and God is peripheral, if it’s all about what God can’t do without man’s help, that would work. But if it is first and foremost about God, God as creator, and God’s glory, man is therefore secondary to these issues.” (James White’s review of Stephen Gaines’s sermon on Calvinism, Dividing Line, 2 January 2014). (See “Who limits God?).























24 thoughts on “Should I preach hell to my granny? No, says McCraney

  1. Absolutely agree with two caveats.

    Firstly, a somewhat speculative possibility that infants before a certain age who died might have come under Christ’s atonement for their sins.

    Secondly, the immortality of the soul seems to be a pagan Greek concept that crept into Biblical thought. The Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings do not speak of the immortality of the soul. In my thinking, God does not punish finite sin with infinite punishment. I do not buy the argument that human sin committed against an infinite God deserves infinite punishment. The unconverted upon judgement and previous at death, will be punished commensurate with their deeds, then experience destruction of soul and spirit: annihilation. Imagine how horrible that will be for those who have tasted the good things of God’s creation to miss out of His goodness eternally. The smoke of their torment rising forever and ever will be for the redeemed to eternally thank God for his Love and mercy in saving us.

    • 1. Alex, as you know immortal means never die, and eternal means both uncreated and never die. While I argue that the Bible says that man’s soul is not eternal (because it is created) but immortal (never dies), you, in contrast argue that man’s soul – if unredeemed by Christ – does die. In other words, you are an annihilationist, and I am not. Do I understand you correctly?

      2. Am I correct in inferring that you reject the doctrine of “original sin?”

      • 1. Yes, you understand correctly. I am a conditionalist (annihilationism). The president of the seminary I attended was one also. At the time I was smug because I thought my view I held at the time was eternal, never-ending punishment, and I thought I had the better and Biblical view. Upon examination of the concept, I now lean heavily towards conditionalism.

        2. You are mistaken, I do hold to original sin. We are all “in Adam” by birth. By faith we receive the Last Adam and then are clothed in His righteousness. I also lean towards “Natural Headship” instead of “Federal”. I think sin is transmitted naturally by the human father’s contribution in procreation. Therefore Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a sinner in need of salvation since she was born naturally. Her Son however was fully human but sinless because no male was involved in the conception.

        • Alex, re immortality of the soul. When it comes to God,I think you are aware of the distinction between “immortal” (never die) and “eternal (uncreated).

          But I want to ask you something else: what do you believe the nature of the human “soul” is? Is it something derived from the body. One more: do yo distinguish between human “soul” and “spirit? If so, what is the difference?

          • Hi Raph,

            Maybe you can help me on the point of distinction you are trying to make. God only is eternal and immortal as the reference I gave earlier states.

            Why did God in His mercy not allow Adam access to the Tree of Life after the Fall? This seems to imply lack of immortality. I am fairly sure God redeemed Adam and that he will be brought to eternal life because of redemption.

            Immortality of unredeemed persons seems to me a Romanist concept derived from Pagan Greek philosophy. I don’t think immortality of unredeemed persons is biblical.

            Most everywhere the explication of the text indicates destruction or perishing. John 3.16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.

            To claim immortality for the unredeemed requires quite a bit of mental gymnastics in my view.

            • Alex, “immortality” is not about having no beginning, but about having no end. “Eternal” means no beginning and no end. So, when we talk about God being immortal (who is, of course, also the source of all immortality), we are referring to his having no end.

              If, for the annihilated unredeemed, there is no torment and no “for ever and ever,” is it only the smoke in the following verse that is immortal.”And the smoke of their torment goeth up for ever and ever.” Rev. 14 :11-14. If so, who cares – except the redeemed? To gloat?

              By the way, did you get the joke in the title? Tee hee.

              • Sorry, missed the joke.

                The unredeemed will be tormented for their sin in measure and denied access to eternal life with The Author of Life.

                The redeemed cannot gloat but are ever thankful for His great mercy and love.

                    • It seems the text implies mortal angels, that is about all I am willing to say on this matter. I do not say the text (as far as I know), speaks of angels having redemption.

                      Anyway, we are starting to veer off topic. I hold that redeemed humans receive life forever and that immortality is not possessed by unsaved humanity.

                    • I don’t think I am veering off the topic because you stated that only God is immortal. In that case no angels are. Would you quote the text that says that angels will receive life forever.

                    • In Luke 20:36 we read
                      “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.”

                      My point is that you would say that the above only refers to elect angels, not so.

                      When you say you are done and it’s my blog, would it be remiss of me to encapsulate all that in one word: bloggeroff.


                    • “Eternal” can also mean everlasting in some contexts:

                      Matthew 25:46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

                      Alex, what do understand by eternal punishment?

                      Here is the complete verse 11 of Rev 14:

                      And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”

                      “No rest” because annihilated? Can’t see that.

                    • I do not have time to go back and forth now. I quoted the relevant scripture and what I think it means. If you have anything else, I am waiting. I don’t have anything more than what I said.

                    • I am puzzled that for you “eternal damnation” means annihilation. But as we both would agree, we dont want ruin our friendship over this issue. It would a different matter if you were to take a bite out of my Mars bar.

      • Well, the best you can do with the Rev. passage is say that endlessness is implied. This certainly is not overtly explicitly saying “endlessness for the soul (immortality).” You can only say maybe the implication possibly, but other places it in scripture indicate destruction so that conditions the Revelation passage. Maybe that is a way of saying their souls are no more endlessly.

        By the way, John Stott greatly recommended a reexamination of the concept of conditionalism of the soul.

        Paul tell us in 1Tim. 6.16: “Who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

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