Posts Tagged ‘Regeneration before Faith

14
Oct
14

Unanswered post

I have posted this response here because, for some reason I do not yet understand, I could not respond to the comments themselves in the comment section.  It illustrates the violation of the rule that one should only raise one issue at at time. Everyone who visits this blog needs to understand that commenting here is not your right; it is a privilege.  Generally, I will not post the comments of those who fail to follow the rules.  The gentleman who posted these comments was at least courteous and for that reason I have overlooked his failure to follow the rules.

It is usually a good idea to study issues before commenting.  I don’t suffer fools gladly.  I don’t have time to correct all the misconceptions people might have about Calvinistic doctrine. I have taken the time to do so here because the person commenting seems to have articulated many of the misconceptions so common among those who have not taken the time actually to understand our doctrine.

I have posted his comments and interspersed my comments in italics.

He commented:

I thought I had posted a comment here a few days ago but perhaps I did not or it may not have gone through for some reason. If you have read my post and thought it irrelevant to place on your blog, I apologize for taking your time. However, if my comments have some value, however small, I would like to comment in the hopes that I have not done so already.

I am not a scholar, so please be patient as I engage some of your statements.

I answered your comments in an email when you posted them.  Perhaps the email was lost somewhere.  I am answering you again in spite of the fact that you have ignored the rules for commenting.  Before you post again, please read and follow the rules.

The first thing I’ve noticed, and please correct me if I have misunderstood you here, is that you begin your blog with what seems to be an implied insult that those who did not hold to Calvinistic theology (as you or others) do not have “their heads screwed on properly.” I see this many time reading James White’s articles online and, while I do respect him as an apologist, these implied insults, unnecessary to the argument, chips away on some of that respect.

This is not an implied insult.  It is a clear statement of my belief that most Southern Baptists have been so busy trying to count decisions so it would look good on the associational report they haven’t taken time to study the issues.  Simply stated, I believe they are in grave error. That is not intended as an insult. It is simply a statement of fact.  This is a deficiency they can remove by diligent study.

I would first like to ask, if you would know the answer, why do Calvinist seem to resort to character bashing, to one degree or another, in one way or another, their opponents first and then comment apologetically afterwards?

If what you have mentioned above is what you consider “character bashing” I would see no need to apologize for it. To say a person is wrong is not character bashing. It is a statement about his ignorance.

My issue with these people is not that they disagree with me. It is that they seem to be blissfully ignorant. They simply don’t seem to care that they can’t produce any biblical evidence for their views. We must simply believe it because they say it is true.

You say that, “There are a number of mysteries that surround this teaching [of prevenient grace] that no one seems to wish to address.”

The most glaring mystery is why anyone would believe a doctrine that is nowhere mentioned in the Bible.

It seems to me that Calvinists base the validity of their whole theology on “mystery”. Ask a Calvinist why God choose this or that one for salvation and this or that person he left alone for damnation and they will answer (repeatedly, I may add), “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” Afterwards, they will demand that such divine choices are divine mystery.

We base our theology on the clear statements of the Bible.  We don’t pick and choose which verses we want to believe and ignore the rest because we don’t think it will feel good to people to hear the truth. Perhaps I need to remind you that it was the Apostle Paul, writing under divine inspiration, who wrote, “Who are you O man, who answers back to God?” There are indeed certain aspects of God’s salvation about which we have no revelation. Those are the secret things that belong to him for which we have no responsibility.  I don’t need to know why God decided what he decided. That is his business. My responsibility is to believe and obey what God has revealed.

If you are demanding the Arminian to give answer to their “mystery”, it seems only legitimate to demand you provide a sound answer to this mystery of divine election and reprobation or predestination.

What I am demanding of the Arminian are clear biblical texts that give some vague hint that anything he believes is true. The divine mystery for Calvinists is not whether God chose and predestined but what motivated him to choose and predestine some to be conformed to the image of his Son and not others. Perhaps the greater mystery is why he would have chosen any of us. We remain silent about that mystery because the Scriptures are silent about it.  If the Arminian doctrine of “prevenient grace” is a mystery, they should keep quiet about it.

I can explain to you the biblical teaching concerning  election, effectual calling, regeneration, justification, etc. because these doctrines are revealed.  If the doctrine of “Prevenient grace” is revealed in Scripture, why can’t they find biblical material to support it? That is the mystery.

It also seems as if you are attempting to suggest that the burden of proof lies on the Arminian side rather than the Calvinist side. I don’t think that is the case. The Scriptures are clear in many areas, which Calvinists contradict by imposing definitions and word meanings alien to the texts and the context inherent in the verses they seek to exegete for purposes of harmonizing them with their particular brand of doctrines. Just one example is John 3:16, where it reads that God loved the world. Calvinists complain that the word “kosmos” does not mean or refer to all men but only to “the elect” (see for example:http://atdcross.blogspot.com/2012/10/swordfight-kosmos-in-john-316.html andhttp://atdcross.blogspot.com/2012/07/swordfight-1-timothy-24.html). The burden of proof lies with the Calvinists to soundly explain how the “world” can mean or refer to “the elect”; it does not lie with the Arminian to prove otherwise.

Perhaps you are right that some Calvinist understand the word “kosmos” to mean “the elect.” Well informed Calvinist do not. I cannot be held responsible for what ignorant Calvinists may say. If you are going to make accusations, it would be best if you got your facts straight before doing so. I won’t take the time to explain what we believe here since I have done so in detail on this blog. The short answer concerning the word “kosmos” is that the word very rarely if ever is used to refer to every individual on the face of the planet. The burden of the Arminian is to show that the word is used consistently in the NT Scriptures to refer to all people without exception. 

You have stated, “The Scriptures are clear in many areas, which Calvinists contradict by imposing definitions and word meanings alien to the texts and the context inherent in the verses they seek to exegete for purposes of harmonizing them with their particular brand of doctrines.”

You have accused Calvinists of insulting Arminians and engaging in “character bashing,” and yet you have the temerity to make a statement like that. Do you not understand that you have accused Calvinists of being dishonest people who willingly twist and distort biblical texts simply to support their doctrine? If that isn’t character bashing, I am not sure what it is. Physician heal thyself! I would be quite interested in seeing your evidence for such a charge. Show me a place where I have “imposed definitions and word meanings [I am not sure about the fine nuance of difference between definitions and word meanings] alien to the texts and the context. . .for the purpose of harmonizing them with my particular brand of doctrines.” I find your accusation particularly offensive since you are posing as the character bashing police.

In other words, the Calvinists are on the defensive here, not the Arminian. It is the Arminian who demands the answer. It is the Calvinist whose burden it is to respond with a sound answer, which they fail to do.

Read my blog.
You ask, “How do TSB’s define ‘free will’? Do they merely mean that sinners act freely in making their choices, or to they mean a person is able to choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is thoroughly averse? Do they mean a person’s nature has no bearing on his choices? If a will is to be truly free, it cannot be affected by anything, even nature.”

It seems your questions here (irrespective of too whom they are directed) have reference to, not the fact of free will but, the how – regarding the metaphysical nature – of free will, that is, the mechanics of how it works. Unless I have missed something, the Bible does not explain the metaphysical mechanics of how free will works, especially alongside God’s sovereignty; but only demonstrates as fact that men have free will, if not explicitly then by clear implications.

I am not asking anyone to explain mysterious working of the Spirit.  I am not asking anyone to explain how a clearly revealed work of God functions. I am asking for someone to provide a shred of biblical evidence that a preceding grace that removes the effects of total depravity even exists for those who will ultimately perish in their unbelief. There is simply no passage that teaches this doctrine.  I can show you clear biblical texts that talk about calling, drawing, regeneration and their effects in the life of God’s elect.  All I am asking for are references to a “grace” that removes the effects of total depravity but leaves men to perish in their sins because they don’t use their “free will”  as wisely as others.

There is no “FACT” of free will.  Neither the term nor the concept can be found in the Scriptures apart from a “free will offering” which was voluntary and not constrained by commandment.  Again, it would be a good idea for you to read and understand before you comment. That people choose freely does not mean they have a free will. People simply will not choose what they don’t want. I have spoken to many who coughed every two seconds between their puffs on their cigarette who told me they could quit smoking anytime they wanted to. I could not agree more with that statement. The problem is that the don’t want to.  An unregenerate can come to Jesus anytime he wants to. The problem is that if he really understands the issues of the gospel, he does not want to come.  In so called irresistible grace, God simply removes his resistance.

For example, see Joshua 24:15 and John 7:17. In both Joshua there is the command given that clearly calls men to freely exercise choice (“choose for yourselves”, NASB), and Jesus’ teaching in John clearly assumes the possession of freedom to choose (“if any man is willing”, NASB). In both cases such freedom is attributed to nothing or no one else but the selfsame persons doing the choosing. There is nothing to indicate even by a hint that God – and I agree Calvinist do not teach that God forces someone to choose – is somehow effectively orchestrating the mind or powers of choice upon the person to the point where he will inevitably and irresisistibly choose God or that God will impose no grace, thus “allowing” one to necessarily choose to reject God.

You are confusing free choice with free will. No one argues that sinners are forced into choosing something they don’t want. Packer was right when he stated that grace proves irresistible because it removes the disposition to resist. In Ezekiel 36:25-27 God promised to do precisely what you are claiming he does not do. He says “I will put an new spirit (disposition) within you, and I will put my Spirit within you AND CAUSE YOU to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my laws.”  There is no question that these people who have been the recipients of a heart transplant will FREELY CHOOSE to obey God. The issue is why they will do so.  The answer is because HE WILL CAUSE THEM TO. You have argued that if God causes a person to choose Christ [as if he is running for public office I suppose] his choice could not be a real choice because God caused him to choose rightly. Would you also argue that the obedience spoken of in these verses cannot be real obedience because God caused it?

No one questions whether called sinners freely choose Christ.  Clearly we do. The question is why we choose him. The answer is not that we have improved on the prevenient grace we have received and made a wise choice by our imagined “free will.” It is because God has granted us a new disposition.  He has “called us according to his purpose.”

Again, you continue asking, “If ‘prevenient [preceding, preventing] grace’ cancels the effects of inherited depravity, does it essentially place the sinner in a state of neutrality? If so, are the recipient’s desire’s equally balanced between an affinity toward sin and hostility toward God and an affinity toward righteousness and love toward God? If so, what tips the balance? How can one ever make a decisive choice if his desires are absolutely contradictory but equally balanced?”

Again, your question regards the metaphysical mechanics of prevenient grace and not whether or not it is a fact that the Bible teaches what Arminians view as prevenient grace. The same question can be demanded of the Calvinist to give an answer regarding irresistible grace or the notion of regeneration preceding faith (both ideas not Biblically affirmed).

Of course they are biblically affirmed. Read my blog and grapple with the issues. There is abundant evidence that regeneration precedes faith and that calling is effectual.  If you don’t know that, you should spend time studying and not commenting.

  For example, once can ask, regarding irresistible grace, “How much is the elect’s turning to God to be attributed to God and how much to man?

None of it is to be attributed to man.

If all is God’s work and not man’s at all, does God encompass the will so as to do the willing for the one elected for salvation?

Study what we believe. Of course God does not do the willing for the elect. The will along with the other aspects of the human personality is controlled by the person’s nature. In the case of the depraved sinner, that nature is represented as a “heart of stone.” The work of changing that nature is called “regeneration” in Scripture.  It is represented metaphorically by such terms as birth, circumcision, baptism, creation, deliverance from the prison house, and restored sight. These are not acts a person performs for himself, but the one who performs them does not also perform the subsequent actions such as walking, seeing, and breathing.

Is the elect’s will and personality subsumed by God’s will and personality? How can the choice be the elect’s if God, by his sovereign free choice, makes him willing? Is he creating a new will for those chosen to salvation”

No one believes God creates a new will any more than he creates a new intellect. If a person is a dullard before regeneration, he is likely to be a dullard after regeneration. He creates a new nature and that alters the desires and choices a person makes. That God makes him willing doesn’t mean God decides for him. It is a new nature God gives, not a new personality.

Regarding regeneration preceding faith, one may ask, “Is the person to whom God decrees to save, ‘born again’ – in essence, saved – before he believes? By divine regeneration before the act of believing, does that mean the elect are essentially spirit-filled with the fullness of God’s Spirit before he actually believes?”

If by “saved before he believes” you mean justified before he believes, “no”.  If you mean regenerated before he believes the answer is “yes”. Whether a person is Spirit filled prior faith  would depend on what you mean by being “Spirit filled.” As I understand Paul’s use of those words they refer to the believer’s responsibility to be continually being controlled by the Spirit.  It really has little, if anything, to do with the issue at hand.

There are possibly more metaphysical questions that can equally be demanded of the Calvinist to validate his position if one demands metaphysical answers in order to validate the Arminian position.

I have not responded directly to your challenge to answer the questions nor have I discussed all of them because they seem to require more of a metaphysical or philosophical explanation of how God works – which may tend more to speculation – rather than to the fact that God works in certain ways declared in the Bible. However, the Bible says nothing regarding the metaphysical mechanics of grace, prevenient or otherwise, in the same way it does not tell us the mechanics of regeneration. The Bible just lays down as fact that “You must be born-again and that it is accomplished by the Spirit on condition of faith. That is, all the Bible does is declare, “By grace are you saved through faith…” And, again, “of his grace we have all received” and, further, that we “have access into this grace by faith.”

That is not all the Bible declares. If you believe it is, you need a great deal more study. These are not metaphysical questions.  What I am asking for is some indication that there is a shred of proof for the imagined doctrine of a prevenient grace that removes the effects of total depravity but potentially allows all sinners to perish because they refused to cooperate with it.  What I am asking is proof that sinners are enabled to act autonomously. I don’t need to know how PG works. All I am asking for are texts that indicate that a person can receive grace that removes the effects of total depravity but leaves him to perish in his sins. Explain to me why such sinners need regeneration at all if the effects of total depravity have been removed. That is the work of regeneration. Am I to believe that sinners have all had the effects of total depravity removed and are yet described as being hostile toward God, dead in trespasses and sins, children of wrath just like the rest, callous toward God, etc? Am I to believe that PG has removed the effects of total depravity so that I can believe and then once I believe God regenerates me again to remove the effects of total depravity?  That would be redundant.

Perhaps I have misunderstood you in your reference to “of his grace [the text says fullness] we have all received”, and “we have access into this grace by faith.” If you are citing such texts with the idea that they teach that God’s grace has been given universally, you seriously need a few lessons in biblical interpretation.

I have been patient with you this time, but don’t ever post on my blog again unless you have read the rules first and closely adhere to them.

 

 

27
Jun
13

“Enabled to Believe?”

I need help understanding a concept I have encountered quite a few times lately. It is the idea that all sinners are given the ability to believe. No one seems to know exactly when this enabling occurred or occurs for all sinners. No one seems to be able to point to a Scripture verse that indicates that such an enabling occurs. Even if one should concede that John 12:32 refers to the drawing to every individual without exception to Christ, which, of course, I do not, there are still several unanswered questions that render this an untenable position. One would assume, since this drawing is mentioned in connection with Jesus’ crucifixion, that it would be related in some way to the news of that crucifixion. The problem with that idea is that not everyone has heard the gospel. How can a person be drawn to a Savior about whom he has never heard? One could argue that the drawing about which Jesus spoke occurs whenever the gospel is proclaimed, but that would make it less than universal. Additionally, Jesus had already made it clear that it is the Father who draws, and that EVERYONE who thus hears and learns from the Father comes to him [Jesus] (Jn. 6:45).

If this “enablement to believe” occurs when sinners are born, why do the biblical writers consistently describe sinners universally as recalcitrantly entrenched in their resolve to continue in their hostility against God? Where in Scripture do we find an example of a person who clearly has been enabled to believe the gospel, but continues in his rebellion against God and in his unbelief? If such an enablement is a reality, why do we not find it described in any theological passage in the New Testament Scriptures?

Perhaps I have misunderstood what these folks are saying, but it appears to me that “enablement to believe” would involve the removal of all the obstacles that keep sinners from saving faith. If this enablement is universal, then all the obstacles to saving faith must be removed from everyone without exception. What are the obstacles that must be [or must have been] removed from the life of every sinner?

1. Sinners don’t seek after God (Psa. 14:2-3). Like our first parents, we run and hide from God rather than running to him and seeking his mercy, we run from him. One would assume that “enablement to believe” would reverse this pattern and cause all without exception to seek God diligently.

2. Sinners suppress God’s truth wherever we are confronted with it (Rom. 1:18). We love darkness rather than the light. We hate the light and will not come to the light (see-John 3:19-20). One would assume that “enablement to believe” would have to reverse this prevalent tendency among sinners so that all would love truth and light wherever we encountered it and hate error and darkness wherever it presented itself.

3. Sinners don’t want to come to Jesus that we might have life (See- John 5:40). In this chapter Jesus presented four barricades to faith. People don’t believe because they don’t have God’s love remaining in them [sinners don’t love God] (v. 42), People prefer the honor that comes from other people more than they value God’s approval (v. 44), People don’t believe the Scriptures (vv. 46-47). The ultimate reality is that sinners don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.
When Jesus and the biblical writers tell us that sinners cannot come to Jesus, they do not mean that sinners have somehow been mentally, emotionally and volitionally incapacitated so that they cannot reason, feel, or choose. Sinners are not stocks and stones who have no will at all. They make decisions every day. Instead, they mean sinners cannot come to Jesus simply because they have no desire to do so. They cannot come because they will not come. A person cannot choose that for which he has absolutely no desire and to which he is absolutely averse.
One would have to assume that “enablement to believe” would have to involve the complete reversal of the sinner’s desires. Such a sinner would have to become a lover of God, seek his approval above all others, believe his Word, and desire to come to Jesus that he might have life.

4. Sinners in a state of nature regard the gospel as foolishness (1 Cor. 1:18) and do not welcome the things of the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14). This is a great barrier to faith. “Enablement to believe” would have to involve a change in this attitude. Everyone who is thus enabled would have to begin to regard the gospel as God’s wisdom and begin to welcome the truths received by God’s Spirit.

5. Sinners in a state of nature are spiritually dead toward God (Eph. 2:1), and having their understanding darkened are alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them. They are described as being past feeling (See Eph. 4:17-19).

One would assume that “enablement to believe” would have to involve resurrection from this spiritual death and a reversal of the entire condition Paul describes in this passage.

6. Sinners are hostile toward God (Rom. 8:7). “Enablement to believe” would have to involve a radical reversal of this hostility.

I could continue, but I think the reader probably gets the picture by now. My question is where do the biblical writers give the slightest indication that God enables every sinner to believe by accomplishing such reversals in them? The obvious answer to anyone who has an ear to hear and a heart to understand is that God does effect such a reversal in the hearts of those who are effectually called by the gospel. There are several metaphors that biblical writers employ to describe the enablement we are discussing. For example, this change [usually referred to as “regeneration”] is called “new birth”[birth from above], “circumcision of the heart,” “resurrection,” “creation, “ “baptism,” “deliverance from the prison,” “heart transplant” etc. In not one of these is the subject active. He is always acted on.

John clearly tells us that “those who received him” (John 1:12) were “born of God.” Being born of God was clearly the cause of faith.

Finally, consider the term born/begotten of God in John’s first Epistle. It is unclear whether John intended to represent God’s work of grace in the sinner’s heart as begetting this new life or giving birth to it. In either case, it is clear John intended his readers to understand this work of God as initiating all that is righteous and holy in the believer’s life. He uses the term in the following verses; 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18. In each case, He uses the perfect tense of the verb, a tense whose action occurred in the past with results continuing into the present. In each case, John represents this act of begetting/birthing as causing present actions or characteristics in the believer’s life. In none of these cases would it be reasonable to conclude the present actions or characteristics in the believer’s life in any way caused this begetting or birthing experience. Consider the following chart that shows these tenses in terms of cause and effect. In each case the cause is that these are “born of God.” In every case the effect follows being born of God. Those who are born of God–

2:29 practice righteousness
3:9 do not practice sin cannot go on sinning
4:7 love
5:4 overcome the world
5:18 keep themselves and the wicked one does not touch them.

There is one verse we did not list in this cause/effect chart. I deliberately omitted it because I want you first to consider the relationship between having been born of God and the effects of God’s work carefully. Is there any question in your mind that in all these effects, being “born of God” was the preceding cause? Now I want you to consider the identical grammatical construction in 1 John 5:1. John wrote, “Everyone who is believing that Jesus is the Christ, has been born of God. . . .” Based on the pattern we observed in the above chart, can anyone reasonably argue that faith is an act that moves God to regenerate a sinner? Is it not clear instead that being born of God is the antecedent cause of a believer’s faith?

In the absence of biblical texts that give the slightest indication that God enables all sinners to believe, the proponents of this view often retreat to the “mystery” defense. “We don’t have a shred of Scripture to support our view because it is a ‘mystery.” Of course, this is true but not in the sense they mean it. It is true in the sense that we would never have known it apart from divine revelation. But, the answer to the question, “Why do some believe while others remain obdurate?” is clearly revealed in the Scriptures. Consider just one passage that gives us the answer to this “mystery.”

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6). The same God who spoke and the universe came into being, speaks again through the gospel and brings the new creation into being. There is no evidence whatsoever that God produces this new creation in every sinner. When he enables sinners to believe, they believe.

24
Jun
13

Response to “free graceful”

I want to offer my sincerest apologies to any who may have come to this blog expecting to find my response to freegracefull’s “answers” to a series of questions I asked him. In my opinion, his responses are so lame as not to merit an argument against them. He seems to base much of his argument on his abysmal misinterpretation of Romans 1. I have written sufficiently here to rebut any argument he has made. I will be happy to entertain any questions or objections you wish to pose, but please follow the rules for commenting. For example, don’t accuse me as he did of believing in “double predestination.”

I usually have difficulty knowing to whom I am responding since some of these folks seem a bit hesitant to truly identify themselves. The quote below to which I will respond is from a person who calls himself “drew” which I believe is short for “Andrew.” At any rate, since his comment, at a couple of points, seems to be virtually the same as that of “Freegracefull,” I thought it might be appropriate to comment on it here. The following is his statement and my response to it.

Men left in ther dead state are unable in themselves to come to repentance and believe the Gospel. I will agree with this. How does this prove regeneration before faith though? What is it in Total Depravity that PROVES regeneration before faith?

There are, however, many verses/examples that plainly teach faith before regeneration and God drawing a sinner to Himself before regeneration. If you want I will supply more, but here are a few:
The story of Cornelius: Acts 10, where Cornelius and his household were very obviously NOT regenerated until the end of the chapter. If anyone claims otherwise I would like to hear how they come to such a ridiculous conclusion. Again, a PLAIN SENSE reading of Scripture leaves no other conclusion.
Galatians 3:2 “This only would I learn of you, did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?”

The obvious biblical answer to Paul’s query is indeed: “we received the Spirit by faith”. I do not see how anyone can argue otherwise from a plain sense reading of this verse.
So if Galatians 3:2 is true (and it must be if we believe in the inerrancy of Scripture) then it is a pretty good blow to the doctrine of regeneration before faith. How can the Spirit regenerate us to have faith if we receive the Spirit through faith in the first place?

I know you will curl your lip and sneer at this, but from the above I conclude that a dead sinner is actually enabled by God to have faith to be regenerated. How this happens is a mystery and a work of the Holy Spirit, yes, even in the heart of a dead sinner.

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” (Rom. 1:19-20).

The above is referring to a TOTALLY DEPRAVED SINNER. Who is without excuse because even the very invisible attributes of God are clearly perceived by unregenerate man in the natural order of things. If unregenerate man is without excuse, this implies a work in his heart outside of regeneration that draws him to God/Christ.
What a precious gift that God would enable us through the conviction of the Holy Spirit and power of the Holy Spirit even before we are regenerated. This makes salvation a WILLFUL, VOLITIONAL ACCEPTANCE of Christ and a ONE TIME event. This is where your Total Depravity (the way Calvinists describe it) falls flat. God will hold everyone accountable for the decision they made for Christ.
We can get into every point of TULIP if you want. But since you brought up the Canons of Dort I thought I would respond to this one.

drew,

You make an interesting argument you make. You have stated that God enables the sinner to have faith to be regenerated. I assume you mean God gives this ability to all dead sinners. You have clearly covered your backside by stating that this is a mystery. It is a mystery indeed since the Word of God which you seem to accept as your authority never says a single word about it.

The burden of proof is yours to show that the indwelling of the Spirit and regeneration are the same. As far as I know, these two works are never equated in the NT Scriptures. In fact, Paul clearly states that no man can say that Jesus is Lord apart from the Spirit. I am sure you know the term regeneration only occurs once in the NT in a way that even approximates the Systematic Theological term that corresponds to it. It seems that occurrence has reference to the Old Testament promise that God will replace the stony heart with a heart of flesh, put a new spirit [disposition] within AND put his Spirit within. The granting of a new disposition and the indwelling of the Spirit are stated as separate and distinct blessings. It seems to me the order is, calling/regeneration, faith, indwelling of the Spirit.

The real discussion we should be having concerns the Father’s work of calling by which he unites believers with Christ. The apostle Paul gives us to understand that everyone who is thus called will be justified. If the call in view refers merely to an invitation of the gospel, then everyone who hears the gospel message will be justified. I don’t think you will be willing to accept that conclusion. If you reject that, the only alternative is to believe that God’s internal call effects justification every single time he issues it.
None but those called in this way will be justified and only those thus called will be justified. There is no question but that every person must choose and that God will judge him for his choices. The question still remains as to why some make the right choice and others make the wrong choice. If God raises all up to a neutral state, how is it that some believe the gospel and others do not? The only answer I can think of is that though all are equal, some are more equal than others.

If God enables all sinners to have faith, that would imply that no sinner continues in his hostility toward God and no sinner continues to have his understanding darkened being alienated to the life of God through the ignorance that is in him. Would it not indicate that no sinner is past feeling and no sinner has given himself over to unbridled lusts? Every sinner is now in a state of neutrality toward God. There is no longer any negative influence persuading the sinner to reject the gospel.

I would be interested in seeing one verse of Scripture that indicates that such is the case. Paul indicates that the Jews go on considering the gospel a stumbling block and the Greeks go on considering it foolishness, but to those who are called, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. It doesn’t appear to me that God had enabled either Jews or Greeks to have faith apart from the divine call.
So, in what sense does God enable sinners to have faith if they continue in their hostility toward him, continue in their love of sinning, persist in their opinion that the gospel is foolishness? Can you give me one verse that gives the slightest hint that all sinners are now in a state of neutrality toward God?
Perhaps I have misunderstood what you mean by being enabled to have faith. Does it mean that God has removed the sinner’s hostility toward him? Does it mean that sinners are ambivalent about sin? Who are the biblical writers describing when they talk about recalcitrant sinners who are bent on sinning? Who are those who are dead in trespasses and sins? Who are those who walk according to the course of this world and obey the wicked one? One wonders what these people would have been like if God hadn’t enabled them to have faith.

Re: Romans one, there is no disagreement that fallen sinners continue to have the physical ability to see what God has made and to reason from design to designer and from effect to cause etc. Sinners know God exists and that they must give an account to him. Additionally, sinners know the difference between right and wrong and actually choose to do certain things contained in the Law even if they are not under the Law covenant.

The issue is what sinners invariably do with this God given revelation. Romans 1:18 teaches us that God’s wrath is is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Wherever sinners find a revelation of God’s truth, whether it be in creation, conscience, commandments or Christ’s gospel, the sinner’s reaction will always be the same. Left to ourselves, we will always suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
I want to make one final comment on the following statement:

“This makes salvation a WILLFUL, VOLITIONAL ACCEPTANCE of Christ and a ONE TIME event. This is where your Total Depravity (the way Calvinists describe it) falls flat. God will hold everyone accountable for the decision they made for Christ.”

Aside from the fact that I don’t know the difference between “willful” and “volitional,” I am not sure what the significance of this statement is contra the Calvinists’ position. If he means that justification before God only occurs once and that it comes through faith alone which is not only an act of the intellect and emotions but also a volitional decision, we would agree wholeheartedly. If he means that faith is a one time proposition and that once we get it behind us we can move on to other things, I would, of course, disagree. If he thinks Calvinsts don’t believe God will hold everyone accountable for any decisions we have made, perhaps he should write less and study more.

30
Mar
13

Straw Man Arguments of A Major Southern Baptist Pastor

I just finished reading a sermon about “Reformed Theology” by a “great Southern Baptist Preacher.” I must confess I was amazed to see how theologically ignorant one of the most revered pastors in the Convention could be. I have omitted the name of this pastor because this is not an issue of personalities but of doctrine.

I read this message because the President of Louisiana College, (a Southern Baptist college) Dr. Joe Aguillard, cited it as representing his position on these issues. Apparently, LC is axing Calvinistic professors because “they are teaching contrary to the Baptist Faith and Message.” Now, I want to confess up front that I have heard none of these professors teach. Perhaps they are teaching that we should not preach the gospel freely to all sinners, but only to awakened sinners. Maybe they are teaching we do not need to proclaim the gospel at all. If this is their teaching, it is not an issue of Calvinism contra Arminianism, but of hyper-Calvinism or fatalism contra Calvinism. Please be clear. Five point Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism. The original Calvinists formulated five points. To be a hyper [above] Calvinist, one would have to go above or beyond a belief in five points. The sad thing would be if these people are being dismissed based on a complete misrepresentation of Calvinists’ beliefs.

There are two observations I would like to make about this situation. The first is it is obvious some of these people are too theologically inept to understand their own confession. The second is, it is time for those who believe the historic “Doctrines of Grace” to abandon the acrostic, TULIP.

First, I want to examine the issue of the “Baptist Faith and Message.” Is the BFM a document that, if properly understood, Calvinists cannot sign or a document so called “Traditionalists” cannot sign? Admittedly, the BFM is a rather watered down document that is deliberately ambiguous so as to include everyone in the big tent. If you don’t want to be offensive to anyone, it is a good idea to mumble a great deal. If no one understands what you are saying, how could anyone possibly be offended? The BFM is to some extent a “mumbling” document.

There are at least four statements in the BFM that so called Traditionalists could not sign if they understood the theological underpinning of those statements. Let me list them and comment on them briefly.

Under the heading IV. Salvation, the BFM states,

“Salvation involves the redemption of the whole man, and is offered freely to all who accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, who by His own blood obtained eternal redemption for the believer.”

A “non-Calvinist” could not agree to that statement because non-Calvinists do not believe Jesus “by his own blood” OBTAINED eternal redemption for anyone. In their view, Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner. Only Calvinists believe Jesus obtained eternal redemption for sinners who will believe.

If Jesus died equally and in the same way for every sinner and some of those for whom he died perish in their sins, then he could not have, by his blood, “obtained” the salvation of anyone. Conversely, if, based on their presupposition, he “by his blood” OBTAINED the salvation of anyone, then he obtained the salvation of everyone.

I want to expand on this thought a bit in regard to the other issue I raised and the letter “L” in TULIP. My point here is merely that there is nothing in this statement to which the Calvinists cannot agree. If properly understood, it is a statement to which the non-Calvinists cannot agree.

The second statement, under the same heading is this:

A. Regeneration, or the new birth, is a work of God’s grace whereby believers become new creatures in Christ Jesus. It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, to which the sinner responds in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Repentance and faith are inseparable experiences of grace.

The so-called Traditionalists are loud in their protest against the idea of “regeneration before faith, but consider what the statement says. The key word in the statement is the word “responds.” The question in this issue is who responds to whom? Does God respond to the sinner’s faith and repentance by regenerating him, or does the sinner respond to God’s work of regeneration by believing and repenting? The statement is quite clear on this point. “It is a change of heart wrought by the Holy Spirit through conviction of sin, TO WHICH THE SINNER RESPONDS in repentance toward God and faith in The Lord Jesus Christ.” If a person responds to a stimulus, which occurred first, the response or the stimulus? If a person responds [in faith] to regeneration, which came first, the response or the regeneration?

The third statement occurs under the heading V. God’s Purpose of Grace–It simply says, “Election is God’s gracious purpose. . . .”

The key word here is “gracious.” Everyone who believes the Bible believes in election. The issue is not whether God has elected some and passed over others, but the basis on which he made that choice. Was that choice made based on faith or some other foreseen action performed by the sinner, or was it a “gracious” choice? The Scriptures make it clear that God’s electing purpose was a “gracious” purpose in the sense that it was not only unmerited but contrary to merit. In Romans 11:5-6, the apostle Paul speaks of the “election of grace.” By this he clearly meant that God’s choice of some sinners from the fallen mass of humanity was not based on some positive virtue in them moving him to act in that way. His purpose was a gracious purpose.

The final statement concerns the “perseverance of the saints” under the same heading: The BFM simply, but profoundly states, “All true believers endure to the end.” This is a Calvinistic doctrine. How often have I heard non-Calvinists refer to those who have fallen by the wayside so that they no longer claim to believe the gospel, as “carnal
Christians.” This is not the Calvinistic doctrine.

Now to the second issue. I believe it is time for those who believe the historic “Doctrines of Grace” to distance ourselves from the acrostic, TULIP. In the sermon I mentioned above, the well-known pastor, a man who during his lifetime rose to iconic status in the SBC told why he did not believe in TULIP which he equated with hyper-Calvinism. As I read the message, I concluded that one of three things [perhaps all three] must have been true of this man: 1. He deliberately set out to distort the position he claimed to be arguing against in order to deceive his audience, 2. He was guilty of a failure to exercise “due diligence” in researching the subject he was addressing. In other words, he was to lazy to study the subject before he began to bloviate about it. Proverbs 18:13 tells us that it is a folly and a shame to answer a matter before one hears it. I believe that clearly applies to answering a person’s theological arguments and commenting on another’s theological views. I should be able to state a theological opponent’s position to his satisfaction before attempting to comment on it. This pastor clearly failed in that regard. 3. He was so theologically inept that he was unaware that most of what he said was absolute nonsense.

Now, the reason I have suggested that we distance ourselves from TULIP is not that we do not believe the truths represented by those five letters, but because the words associated with them are so easily misunderstood and misrepresented. I could write pages upon pages critiquing and correcting, but anyone except for the most biblically illiterate should be able to recognize the fallaciousness of his argumentation. Instead, I want to consider three examples of how the TULIP can be and has been misinterpreted.

I have answered most of his other arguments in a series of articles entitled “Arminian Presuppositions Refuted.” I would invite you to read and interact with those articles at http://www.truthunchanging.wordpress.com.

For now, I want to consider his statements about Total Depravity, Limited Atonement, and Irresistible Grace. I am not suggesting that by changing the way we package our doctrine we will cause people to like it any more [or perhaps I should say hate it any less]. What I am suggesting is that perhaps we could at least begin addressing the real issues instead of the “straw man” arguments.

T–the following is what he said about Total Depravity: “T stands for “total depravity.” That means we are just about as bad as we can get. TOTAL DEPRAVITY (to be depraved means to be evil).” I have cut and pasted this from his sermon to be sure not to misrepresent him in any way.

In this dear man’s defense, would that not be the impression this term would leave apart from any kind of investigation of what is truly meant by the term? Leaving aside the obvious fact that he really did no investigation, if depraved means evil and that evil is “total” one might conclude that “total depravity” means “we are just about as bad as we can get.” But, is that what Calvinists mean by the doctrine? It is true we believe that all sinners are equally sinful at heart. Left to ourselves we could all act as badly or even worse than the vilest sinners who have ever lived. I found it interesting that before this preacher began to deny total depravity, he stated something pretty close to what we believe about it. This is what he said, “. I believe a man is a sinner. I believe he’s a sinner by birth…a sinner by choice…a sinner by nature…a sinner under condemnation…a sinner deserving hell – totally depraved.” The problem is, he soon began to deny what he had just affirmed. He spent a great deal of time supposedly arguing with Calvinists about whether sinners who are dead in sins are so dead they cannot see or hear. The reality is, no one argues that sinners, dead in sins, cannot see or hear physically. Of course they can. He cited Romans one as his proof-text to show that sinners universally have seen that which God has made known of himself. What he failed to point out in the context is that Paul has described these sinners as those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness ” (v.18). Their culpability lies in their rejection of all God’s self-revelation. Sinners, in a state of sinful nature, reject everything they see and hear of God. Their inability lies in the spiritual realm. They cannot hear and see spiritually because they do not want to see or hear. When Paul tells us we were all “dead” in trespasses and sins, he means we were spiritually separated from the life of God, that we were insensitive to our condition in sin, and we were unable, because unwilling, to do anything to deliver ourselves or to be delivered from such a state. He did not mean we were passive. Though we were dead toward God, we were very much alive toward sin.

I couldn’t help thinking about one of my favorite Spurgeon quotes as I was reading his message. Spurgeon said, “What a wonderful deed has been done by some men in burning figures of their own stuffing. . . .How earnestly do they set themselves to confute what no one defends.”

When we use the term “total depravity” what we are saying is that the crookedness and perversity that has resulted from Adam’s fall has extended to every facet of the sinner’s being. The will has not escaped the corruption of sinful nature. Though sinners act freely, we are not free from our natures. We are free to choose anything we wish, but we are not free to choose that for which we have absolutely no desire and to which we are completely averse. John stated it this way, “. . . .men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil, and every one that does evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed.” It is not that sinners cannot see the light or hear and understand the gospel. It is that sinners invariably turn from the light and refuse to welcome the gospel. Could any and every sinner embrace Jesus by faith if he wanted to? Of course! It is the “if he wanted to,” that is the issue.

L–L stands for “Limited Atonement.” He states, “this is the idea that Jesus died only for some people.” He employs the usual proof-texts to disprove the doctrine as he understands it. Any person who has not studied the issue would, based on the term “limited atonement,” arrive at the same conclusion. But, is that really the issue? The reality is that everyone but the universalist must admit that there is a limitation in the work of Christ. This preacher used the text in 1 John 2:2 as evidence that Jesus is the propitiation for the whole world. What we must acknowledge is that something must be limited in this verse. Our concept of “whole world” must be limited to sinners from every nation who actually come to faith in Christ, or we must admit a limitation in the nature of propitiation. Neither in this passage nor in any other NT passage do we ever find the accomplishments of Christ’s death described as a mere provision. It is always presented as an accomplishment. The text does not say, “he is the potential propitiation. . . .” If his death actually satisfied the wrath of God, did it do so for every sinner whether he will believe or not, or did it do so for the most vile and guilt sinner who will actually come to faith? The real issue is not “for how many sinners did Jesus die?” The issue is what was the nature of that death. What did he do for those for whom he died?

The Calvinist believes the redemptive work of Christ was two-thirds unlimited and one third limited. It was unlimited in its sufficiency, unlimited in its offer, but limited in its design. Jesus left no doubt about the reason for his mission. He said, ” For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Whether we believe election was unconditional or based on foreseen faith, it should be clear that God the Father did not intend to save anyone but those he had chosen. Jesus made it crystal clear that his mission was not contrary to the will of the Father and that it was the Father’s will that he should lose none of those the Father had given him.

No sinner will ever perish because Jesus didn’t die for him. The worst non-elect sinner who ever lived would be saved by the work of Christ if he believed. Every saint in glory will enjoy eternal bliss because Jesus sealed his pardon on the cross not because he decided to make that work effectual by believing. Perhaps it would be helpful to quote the original formulation of the so-called doctrine of “Limited Atonement.” I will cite three statements from the Canons of Dort–one concerning the sufficiency of Christ death, one concerning the free offer of Christ’s death and the third concerning the design and accomplishment for his death.

OF SUFFICIENT VALUE

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 4. This death is of such infinite value and dignity because the person who submitted to it was not only really man, and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Him a Savior for us; and, moreover, because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.

UNIVERSAL OFFER

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 5. Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 6. And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 7. But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

DESIGN AND EFFECTUAL ACCOMPLISHMENT

SECOND HEAD: ARTICLE 8. For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.

Perhaps it would be better to call “Limited Atonement” “Effectual Redemption.”

I–I stands for “Irresistible Grace.” This is what he said about irresistible grace.

And then the I stands for “irresistible grace.” If God is going to save you, there’s nothing you can do about it. His Holy Spirit is going to zap you and you’re a goner, because that is irresistible. There’s no way that you could resist the Holy Spirit of God. So, if you’re one of the elect, you’re going to be saved and there’s nothing you can do about it. And if you’re not one of the elect, there’s nothing you can do about that either….you’re going to get saved, no matter what…God’s gonna catch you…God’s gonna zap you, and you’re going to be saved. You cannot resist the Holy Spirit of God.

The reality is, Calvinists believe sinners, ALWAYS resist the Holy Spirit. That is not a statement of the sinner’s ability but of the sinners depravity and rebellion. The issue is how God overcomes this resistance and rebellion. Calvinists do not believe “you are going to get saved, no matter what.” We believe sinners are going to be declared righteous in God’s sight only if they believe the gospel. We do not believe “what will be, will be.” We believe what God has willed will be, that he will bring to pass whatsoever he has willed, but he does not drag unwilling sinners into the kingdom kicking and screaming. He makes us willing by the operation of his grace in our hearts.

The term “irresistible grace” leaves the impression that God forces sinners to be saved against their wills. This is not our doctrine at all, so why continue to use the term? There are going to be thousands who are going to neglect their “due diligence” and merely take someone else’s word for what Calvinists teach. Why should we continue to use terms that make it easy for them to misrepresent us?

I have written this in an effort to bring unity among those who currently disagree on these issues. It will be sufficiently difficult to have unity when we begin to discuss real issues. It will be impossible to have unity as long as people harbor their “straw man” arguments. True unity exists only on the basis of truth. I once heard a wise man say, “You can tie together the tails of a cat and a dog who don’t like each other very much. The result will be union but not unity.” It is not mere union we need but unity based on careful, contextual, exegesis of pertinent biblical passages.