Dr. Brenda B. Colijn is Professor of Biblical Interpretation and Theology at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, Ohio. Dr. Colijn offered an interesting parable in her paper "A Parable of Calvinism"1 wherein she challenges the Calvinistic understanding of the well-meant offer of the gospel to all human beings. Coming from an Anabaptistic theological framework, I think she makes a valid point in critiquing standard Calvinistic explanations given and accepted by Reformed believers.
Below is Colijn's "parable of a cruise ship." Consider:
The kingdom of God is like a cruise ship that goes on a long voyage. The captain of the ship overhears his passengers planning to go swimming off the side of the ship. He makes an announcement to all the passengers, warning them against such an action. If they jump off the ship, they will be unable to climb back in, because the hull is too steep and there are no ladders to give access. The ship is hundreds of miles from land, so they won't be able to swim to shore. The surrounding waters are infested with sharks. Nevertheless, despite the captain's warnings, all of the passengers jump overboard to go swimming. They are soon in deep trouble.
Seeing their distress, the captain broadcasts a message to all of them. He says that he can rescue them all; to be rescued, all they need to do is to grab the life preservers that he will throw to them. Then he takes out a few life preservers and instructs his crew to throw them to certain individual passengers he has picked out. For the other passengers, he does nothing. He continues to broadcast his message that they need only to grab the life preservers in order to be rescued. Some of the people with life preservers beg him to help the passengers who are drowning. The captain ignores them. With his message of rescue still sounding across the water, he watches the rest of the passengers die. When asked why he didn't rescue the others, he says that they all deserved to die, and they should be grateful that he chose to save any of them.
What would we think of a captain who did these things? This is a parable of Calvinism, and the cruise ship captain is the Calvinist God. All orthodox Christians believe that human beings are in danger of eternal death because of sin, and their only hope is to be rescued by God. God provides this rescue through the work of Christ (the atonement). No one can be rescued unless God takes the initiative, reaches out to them with the offer of rescue, and enables them to receive it.
But Calvinists and non-Calvinists differ in their understanding of God's intentions and actions regarding the rescue. (Ashland Theological Journal 36 (2004): 102).
1Ashland Theological Journal 36 (2004): 99–102. Dr. Colijn's essay was the source from which I earlier cited a quote from John Wesley.