Wrapping Things Up With Gordan on John 5:40

Gordan posted a response to my latest post concerning our discussion on John 5:40. He made the point to me that our dialogue was becoming cumbersome due the length of our responses. He suggested a cross examination to narrow the focus and end the exchange. In private e-mail we agreed that a cross examination would not be feasible due to time constraints and other factors. I offered to write a final response to tie up some loose ends with regards to his latest response. I promised him that it would be my last post on the subject and offered to give him the final word at his blog. Gordan decided that he would rather let me wrap things up over here instead.

I will not be quoting from Gordan in this post in order to shorten its length. If you are still interested in this exchange then I encourage you to read his latest response here to get the proper context for this post. I appreciate Gordan and all the guys at Reformed Mafia. They are passionate about Calvinism, but more importantly they are passionate about Jesus. I will only be addressing a few of his points below:

Regarding reductio ad absurdum:

Gordan spoke of real and genuine life in Christ beginning at an eternal decree. I mentioned that such a position was absurd and would amount to eternal regeneration of the elect. In his response, Gordan contends that he was positing this idea to demonstrate the absurdity of my own position. The problem is that it was never my position that the life of John 5 could refer to any kind of life. My argument was that it referred to the specific new life in Christ that includes and begins with regeneration when one comes to be in union with Him through faith. The person who was contending that the scope of life could go beyond what I was claiming for it was Gordan. In fact, that was his main argument and the comments concerning real and genuine life in Christ beginning at a decree of predestination was taking his position to an extreme and not my own. The only position, then, that Gordan reduced to absurdity with his comments was his own.

Now I think I understand what Gordan meant and said that I believed he misspoke. Gordan affirmed that he does not hold to a position of eternal regeneration, but that does not change the fact that the language he used says exactly that. If real life in Christ for the believer begins at an eternal decree, then we can only conclude that the believer has been regenerated from eternity. Gordan points us to Ephesians where Paul says that we were chosen in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world. This passage, however, does not help him for it does not teach that believers were actually in Christ prior to creation. It only teaches that God determined from eternity to elect believers in Christ. Election is in Christ and only believers come to be in Christ. Real and genuine life, however, does not begin until one believes and is sealed in Christ by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). For Eph.1:4 to support Calvinism it must read “chosen to be in Him” but it does not. It can only refer to God’s eternal decree to elect believers in Christ. The only other option is to adopt the position that the elect were in Christ from before the foundation of the world, which would mean that the elect have always been alive in Christ, even prior to being born, which is plainly absurd and unscriptural.

Regarding the need for justification, and therefore faith, to precede life in Christ:

I stated that to assert that regeneration precedes faith is to have sinners attaining spiritual life prior to being justified. I explained that we would then have sinners having life prior to being forgiven on the merit of Christ’s blood. Gordan refers us to OT saints, saying that they were saved before there was any blood to apply. I agree that OT saints were saved prior to the cross, but they were still saved on the merits of the blood of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world. Gordan would seem to agree. The point to remember, however, is that the OT saints were justified by faith (in a proleptic manner), and could not attain life until God made them righteous. By faith they drank of the Spiritual Rock that is Christ and attained life in Him.

Gordan raises an interesting point regarding John the Baptist being filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb. Union with Christ through faith is the God ordained principle for those who are old enough to exercise faith. Faith cannot be the condition of union with Christ for unborn and small children who lack the capacity for saving faith. Many Arminians and Calvinists believe that children are under grace prior to an age of conscious and deliberate rebellion (an age of accountability). If that is the case, then it is possible that this grace was applied to John in a proleptic sense to empower him for the unique ministry that God was preparing him for. The fact remains that for morally accountable adults the Scriptures clearly teach that one comes to be in union with Christ by faith and not before.

Regarding temporal order:

Gordan contends that part of my problem is that I am looking at this in a temporal sense. That is not the case. I am concerned with the logical order. That is the same thing that Calvinists are concerned with when discussing the eternal decrees. These decrees can have no temporal order, but they must have a logical order. This order is what separates infralapsarian Calvinists from supralapsarian Calvinists. Calvinists also generally have only logical order in mind when discussing the ordo salutis. That is the case with Arminians as well. I believe, with Gordan, that faith, justification, and regeneration happen instantaneously with regard to time. The logical order, however, is still significant. If it were not, then why is Gordan insisting that regeneration precedes faith? Our positions could be stated as follows:

Arminian: The moment one believes, he or she is regenerated.

Calvinist: The moment one is regenerated, he or she believes.

Gordan tells me that there is no causation in the text of John 5:40. He tells us that we are reading into the text by saying that “coming” in faith precedes having “life”. I agree that there is no causation there because I do not believe that faith causes regeneration. God causes regeneration when a sinner meets the God ordained condition of faith. That seems to be plainly implied when Jesus says, “you will not come to Me so that you may have life”. One must come [in faith] to receive life. I see an order of events there. If Gordan does not, then I don’t know what language could improve on it. We will just have to agree to disagree on that one.

Regarding a wooden use of metaphors:

Gordan agrees that the language of John 5:24, and 25 is consistent with regeneration. He argues, however, that there are other metaphors for regeneration besides spiritual resurrection, and gives some examples. I don’t see how this invalidates the fact that John 5:24, and 25 is using a metaphor for regeneration. To say that there are other metaphors for the same thing does not help things.

I am intrigued by one of his examples. He cites the example of the Lord opening Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel. He concludes that “opening the heart” is another metaphor for regeneration. Remember that Gordan’s entire argument boils down to saying that my claims that the life Jesus speaks of in John 5 includes regeneration are inconclusive at best; this despite the context containing plain regeneration language [or metaphors]. I cannot think of a more ambiguous passage that Calvinists use to defend irresistible grace than Lydia’s conversion. The text says that the Lord opened her heart so that she could respond to the gospel. The text does not say that the opening of her heart made her positive response inevitable. It is also worthwhile to ask if the heart the Lord opened to respond was Lydia’s old heart. The text gives no indication of a new heart being opened. If it was her old heart that was opened to respond to the gospel then this account beautifully portrays the Arminian understanding of enabling prevenient grace.

The point is that the context and language of John 5 seems to me to be far more conclusive than that of Acts 16:14 which Gordan has no problem seeing as a definite example of regeneration. Surely there is a lesson here for both of us concerning the ease by which we allow our biases to effect our exegesis.

Gordan also insists that I am being inconsistent by holding a wooden view of the spiritual resurrection metaphor in John 5 while making light of the dead in sin metaphor that Paul employs. Arminians do not try to water down the “dead” of being dead in sin. What Arminians try to do is understand it in a Biblical framework and consider carefully what spiritual death means. There really is no contextual warrant for correlating spiritual death with the inability of a corpse. There is good reason to view it in the context of separation from the spiritual life that can only be found through faith union with Jesus Christ. I would contend that it is more accurate to say that Calvinists use this metaphor in a way that the Scripture never intended, rather than saying that Arminians try to downplay the metaphor. Many Arminians would fully agree with the Calvinist understanding of dead in sin while laying the emphasis on the power of God’s grace to overcome that inability. In any case, I just don’t see any ambiguity in the description of passing from death to life and experiencing a spiritual resurrection in John 5.

There is much more that could be said, but I will leave it there. Gordan has given me the last word so I will not over do it. I am flattered that he thought my arguments were worth his time and I have enjoyed the interaction. We may disagree on the particulars of how God goes about saving sinners, but we are both in agreement that we owe everything to Christ and His amazing grace.

(Go to Part 1 of this Debate)

3 thoughts on “Wrapping Things Up With Gordan on John 5:40

  1. You are starting to make your rounds on the Calvinist blogs. They really do not like you much Ben.

    BTW, how do you think the Steelers will do against Jacksonville? It’s hard to believe that the Jags are favored in Pitt!

  2. I happen to like Ben and J.C. and believe them to be fine Christians The fact that we currently disagree on some things, shouldn’t cause us dislike each other…

    Actually, I believe these guys will be awesome Calvinists someday!



  3. I’ll take that as a compliment Rhett. Though rest assured, if I do ever become Calvinist, it will involve my free will being completely subverted. 😉

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