Brian Abasciano addresses this oft repeated Calvinist argument against conditional salvation here:
This provides the initial definition of ‘believe’ by equating it with ‘receive.’ When we accept a gift, whether tangible or intangible, we thereby demonstrate our confidence in its reality and trustworthiness. We make it part of our own possessions. By being so received, Jesus gives to those who receive him a right to membership in the family of God.
‘Become’ indicates clearly that people are not the spiritual children of God by natural birth, for we cannot become what we already are. This verb implies a change of nature. The word children (tekna) is parallel to the Scottish bairns– “born ones.” It emphasizes the vital origin and is used as a term of endearment (cf. Luke 15:31). Believers are God’s ‘little ones,’ related to him by birth.” (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, pg. 32)
The implications are obvious. The new birth is received by faith and we become God’s children through faith. John 1:12 simply cannot be made to comport with the Calvinist claim that regeneration precedes faith. Indeed, it proves that contention false.
Back in 2010 J.C. Thibodaux started what would eventually become a four part series on Romans 9, with special focus on the problems inherent in the typical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. This short series was slow going as it did not conclude until 2012. For that reason it can be hard to follow the series by just looking through the site. Since it is a very good and concise critique of the typical Calvinist approach to Romans 9 as a proof-text for unconditional election, and because these posts continue to get a lot of traffic, I thought it would be good to highlight them together in one post:
Just saw this post called “Man’s Will: Before And After the Fall” which opens with these words:
Augustine and the Calvinistic tradition in general define the will’s freedom, or lack thereof, in relation to sin. Why? Because this is how the Bible defines it. Jesus declared “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. … So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36) Augustine understood that before the fall, Adam was “able to sin and able not to sin“, that he, as representative of the human race, was in a probationary state, not sealed in righteousness (like the glorified saints). Likewise regarding man’s condition after the fall he said we are in the sad condition of being “not able not to sin” So Augustine understood the Bible to be teaching that Adam (pre-fall) was free in regards to sin’s bondage but his willful act rendered his post-fall descendants to be in bondage to corruption; to have a will that is no longer free at all (apart from grace) to make God-pleasing redemptive choices. It is worthwhile to remember this in your discussions about free will, because the historical debate about free will refers to man’s condition in sin after the fall (emphasis mine).
As usual, while this Calvinist refers to Augustine to describe the difference between pre-fall and post-fall abilities, the problematic implications of Augustine’s view for traditional Calvinist views on sovereignty (defined as determinism in Calvinism), free will and foreknowledge are conveniently ignored. Sorry, but you just can’t have your cake and eat it too.
“Whether there is any foreknowledge or not, it is certain that there will be one particular course of future events and no other. On the most absolute doctrine of freedom there will be, as we shall soon more fully illustrate, there is one train of choices freely put forth and no other. If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible. The difficulty does not indeed lie in the compatibility of the two. The real difficulty (which we distinctly confess to leave forever insoluble) as may soon more clearly appear, is to conceive how God came by that foreknowledge. But that is no greater difficulty than to conceive how God came by his omnipotence or self-existence. It will be a wise theologian who will tells us how God came by his attributes. It will require a deep thinker to tell how the universe or its immensity came about by its real or actual deity; or how the present self-existent came to be, and no other.” (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pg. 229)
For the context of this quote, you can read Whedon’s entire book free online. The section dealing with the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge can be found on pages 267-293. The above quote was taken from a recent edited version which is why the page # is different.
Great Quotes: Thomas Ralston on Calvinist Arguments Against Free Will Based on Greatest Motive Force
Let us now contemplate these motives which are said to act upon the mind so as necessarily to influence the will. Let us look them full in the face, and ask the question, What are they? Are they intelligent beings, capable of locomotion? Are they endued with a self-moving energy? Yea, more: Are they capable of not only moving themselves, but also of imparting their force to something external to themselves, so as to coerce action in that which could not act without them? If these questions be answered in the negative, then it will follow that motives, considered in themselves, can no more act on the mind so as necessarily to determine the will, than a world can be created by something without existence. If these questions be answered in the affirmative, then it will follow that motives at least are free agents – capable of acting without being acted upon, and endued with self-controlling and self-determining energy. Necessitarians may fall upon either horn of the dilemma; but upon which horn soever they fall, their system must perish.
If the attempt be made to evade this by saying that motives do not act themselves, but God is the agent acting upon man, and determining his will through the instrumentality of motives – if this be the meaning, then I demand, why not call things by their right names? Why attribute the determination of the will to the influence of motives, and at the same time declare that motives are perfectly inefficient, capable of exercising no influence whatever? Is not this fairly giving up the question, and casting “to the moles and to the bats” the revered argument for necessity, founded upon the influence of motives?
Again, to say that motives exercise no active influence, but are only passive instruments in the hands of God by which he determines the will by an immediate energy exerted at the time, is the same as to say that God is the only agent in the universe; that he wills and acts for man; and, by his own direct energy, performs every physical and moral act in the universe, as really and properly as he created the worlds; and then that he will condemn and punish men everlastingly for his own proper acts! Is this the doctrine of philosophical necessity? Truly it is. And well may we say this is fatalism! This is absurdity!
For the beginning of the series, see here.
The doctrine of the unconditional election of a part, necessarily implies the unconditional reprobation of the rest. I know some who hold to the former, seem to deny the latter; for they represent God as reprobating sinners, in view of their sins. When all were sinners, they say God passed by some, and elected others. Hence, they say the decree of damnation against the reprobates is just, because it is against sinners. But this explanation is virtually giving up the system, inasmuch as it gives up all the principal arguments by which it is supported. In the first place, it makes predestination dependent on foreknowledge; for God first foresees that they will be sinners, and then predestinates them to punishment. Here is one case then, in which the argument for Calvinian predestination is destroyed by its own supporters. But again if God must fix by his decree all parts of his plan, in order to prevent disappointment, then he must fix the destiny of the reprobates, and the means that lead to it. But if he did not do this, then the Calvinistic argument in favour of predestination, drawn from the Divine plan, falls to the ground. Once more: this explanation of the decree of reprobation destroys all the strongest Scripture arguments which the Calvinists urge in favour of unconditional election.” (Calvinistic Controversy: Embracing A Sermon On Predestination And Election, And Several Numbers, Formally Published In The Christian Advocate And Journal, By Rev. Wilbur Fisk, D. D.)
The Calvinist who wants to claim that the condemnation of the reprobate is conditioned on their sinfulness while the salvation of the elect is conditioned on nothing at all run into serious problems regarding the typical Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge and the exhaustive pre-determinations of a divine secret eternal decree. If the decree is the basis for foreknowledge (as traditional Calvinism asserts), and therefore the means by which God foreknows anything, then it must be admitted that God irresistibly decreed the sinfulness of the reprobate from eternity, just as He decreed all else, and it is only because of God’s eternal decree that He is able to foreknow the state of the reprobate as sinful (because He previously decreed that it must be that way).
So the reprobate finds himself in a sinful state for no other reason than because God irresistibly decreed it from eternity. If that is the case it is nonsense to say that God’s decree for the reprobate is based on them being considered as rebellious and deserving of condemnation already. And as Fisk points out, it cuts against the typical Calvinist argument concerning the nature of foreknowledge, that it is based on the eternal decree. And in doing so, it affirms the Arminian view that God has foreknowledge of true contingencies that are not based on the necessity of an irresistible eternal decree.
This is the same problem that Calvinists encounter who want to claim that Adam had libertarian free will (LFW) when he fell in the garden after the pattern of what Augustine taught (which is often quoted or paraphrased by Calvinists),
God holds us accountable because we were included in Adam so far as God is concerned. Adam was our source, our representative, our “head.” When he rebelled and fell into death and condemnation, we all fell with him. Before he fell, Adam had the power not to sin; after he fell, he lost that power. We are born in the condition of Adam after the fall: unable not to sin. (God in Dispute: “Conversations” Among Great Christian Thinkers, by Roger E. Olson, pg. 93)
Or as R.C. Sproul puts it in Chosen by God,
The Reformed view follows the thinking of Augustine. Augustine spells out the state of Adam before the fall and the state of mankind after the fall. Before the fall Adam was endowed with two possibilities: He had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin…stated another way, it means that after the fall man was morally incapable of living without sin. The ability to live without sin was lost in the fall. This moral inability is the essence of what we call original sin. (pg. 65)
Clearly, the claim is that Adam had the “ability” and “power” to avoid temptation in the garden and “not sin.” That is an apt description of libertarian free will: the power of contrary choice. But if Adam did not have to sin in the garden, then how did God foreknow that He would indeed sin?
This is no problem for the Arminian who claims that God has the ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices. But this is precisely what traditional Calvinists deny. Instead, they say that God can only foreknow what He first decrees. If that is the case, then Adam had no power to not sin since God irresistibly decreed from eternity that he would sin. Clearly, Adam could not have the power to act contrary to the irresistible eternal decree of God (by definition you cannot resist the irresistible). This leads to major theological problems for the Calvinist who claims that Adam had libertarian free will prior to the fall, but this power was lost by all after the fall (following Augustine). He would need to affirm that:
1) God could not foreknow Adam’s sin (if it were truly free), or
2) Admit that God can indeed have foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices and that not all of what God foreknows is based on a prior decree
#1 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Open Theism
#2 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Arminianism
On this score, the Calvinist simply cannot have his cake and eat it too
So if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be denied, the oft repeated argument that God’s decision to reprobate was justly in view of mankind’s sin and rebellion must fall (as Fisk notes above).
And if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be affirmed (as it must be to claim that Adam did not have to sin in the garden), then the arguments against Arminianism based on the incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge must fall (as well as arguments that try to paint LFW as logically absurd).
The only way to avoid the horns here is to accept the view that Adam’s fall was irresistibly predetermined by God and Adam’s posterity are therefore sinful and rebellious by divine necessity so that God’s decision of reprobation cannot be based on a sinful state that God simply found them in (of their own accord), and justly left them in as a result. Instead, it is a state that God Himself necessitated by way of an irresistible eternal decree. The reprobate has no power over his depraved state or over his actions, and never did. So reprobation can only be based on raw decree, which includes the fall of Adam and the sinful state and actions of all his posterity.