Do Arminians Really Pray Like Calvinists?

It is often said by Calvinists that when Arminians pray, they pray like Calvinists. Typically this is expressed in such a way as to imply that while Arminians may deny the theological claims of Calvinism, they affirm Calvinism in the way that they pray. The Calvinist assumes that when Arminians pray for God to work or to save the lost we are praying for God to work irresistibly. But why should that be the case? Prayer is relational and if it is true that we are asking God to work in people’s lives, even bringing them to salvation against the backdrop of relational assumptions, then we have no reason to expect God to act irresistibly in response to such prayers. Why should it be assumed that if someone asks God to save a loved one that the person praying is expecting God to do so in an irresistible manner? This isn’t what such things would imply in our normal experiences, so why should we think that way with regards to prayer? Dr. Brian Abasciano makes this point well,

 …respectfully, I strongly disagree that as Arminians we should not pray for God to save people or that it is inconsistent with Arminian theology to do so.

It is all a matter of what is meant by such prayer. We use such language in everyday life all the time of resistible action. What corroboration is there for such language naturally implying a request for irresistible action? The evidence of actual language usage counters the automatic assumption of irresistible action. If I ask my son to take a visitor in our home to the bathroom, that does not mean to overpower them and force them into the bathroom. It means something like, “show them where the bathroom is and lead them there as long as they *willingly follow you*. Similarly, if I say to my son, “Please bring your mother here,” I certainly don’t mean, “get your mother here at all costs; overpower her and drag her here if necessary.” I simply mean something like, “let your mother know I want her to come here.” Or if I ask my friend to pick up my wife from the doctor’s office, that does not mean “force her into the car and drive her back to my home.” Such examples could be multiplied. One more. If a morally upright store owner tells his salesman to sell an item to a customer, he does not mean to do whatever is necessary to make the sale, including drugging the person and coercing them to buy the item, or overpowering them, taking their checkbook, and writing the check out himself, or kidnapping their family and holding them hostage in exchange for buying the item, or anything of the kind. “Sell them this item” or “make the sale”, simply means, “do all you can do that is not coercive or in violation of their free will to persuade them to buy the item.”

Similarly, when we ask God to save someone, we do not mean, “Take over their will and irresistibly cause them to believe and so be saved.” We mean something like, “Take action to lead them resistibly and willingly to believe in Jesus,” which would include any number of actions God might take. Olson mentions God bringing circumstances into their lives that will increase their awareness of their need of God and of his love and power to save them. Yes, that. But there are so many more things God might do that would work toward leading people toward faith in Christ. Be that as it may, I would argue that in a context in which there is the assumption of the honoring of free will, then such language implies a request for resistible action rather than irresistible action. If an Arminian prays for someone’s salvation, then it should be assumed that the prayer is for resitible action for the person’s salvation.

In my opinion, to discourage praying in such a way is needless, ignores this normal use of language, and limits our proper expression to God in prayer. It also fails to rightly grasp the critical issue of the meaning behind words and assumes a Calvinistic meaning for language that is completely compatible with an Arminian understanding. Indeed, it is biblical language–as Paul says in Rom 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (NASB)–and I think it would be very unwise to concede this language to Calvinists, just as it is unwise to let them own the terminology “doctrines of grace” (the *biblical* doctrines of grace = Arminianism).

So the important thing is what the person means by their prayer for God to save. I disagree that asking God to save someone is an incorrect or misleading way to express a request that God work resistibly for someone’s salvation. Indeed, I would argue that it is a perfectly natural and biblical way to pray for this. God, please save the lost! (From: Arminians Can be Consistent and Pray for God to Save the Lost; note that Abasciano’s comments were in response to some posts written by Arminian Roger Olson)

Old time Methodist theologian and philosopher, Daniel Whedon, argued in a similar manner long ago, pointing out that certain things are presupposed when either a Calvinist or an Arminian makes requests of God,

Calvinists often claim that the prayers even of Arminians presuppose that God may at any time consistently with his administrative system convert any man they are praying for, or even the world, at any moment. But in this matter Calvinists truly contradict themselves. They pray, as the result often shows, that God would do contrary to his own sovereign election. Their prayer, though itself decreed, is often against God’s decrees. They pray that God would act contrary to the strongest motive; which they say God has no moral power to do. That is, they commit these contradictions unless all prayer is considered as offered under the proviso that what is asked for be consistent with the Divine Will, and is in fact asked for so far only as allowable by the fundamental laws of God’s administration. Not my will, but thine be done, tacitly or expressly limits and underlies every true prayer.

And such a proviso as fully explains the prayer of the Arminian as of the Calvinist. When an Arminian prays that God would awaken the public mind to repentance, or convert an individual, or spread the Gospel through the world, and turn all men’s hearts to righteousness, he thereby expresses his earnest desire that such things be accomplished in accordance with fundamental laws. Just as when he prays that a temporal blessing may be bestowed, as health restored, or life preserved, he usually expects no unequivocal miracle, but trusts that it may be done in such way as Infinite Wisdom may devise in accordance with the constitution of things; and that on the condition of his prayer it may be ordered otherwise than if such prayer were not offered. We know not how far the prayer of the saints is a condition to the goings forth or putting forth of God, nor how fully he requires the co-operation of his Church, in order to render possible such displays of his truth as will convince the unbelieving, and such impressions by his Spirit as the free wills of men in process of time will, it is foreseen, accept and obey. Certainly man’s Will and not God’s remissness has prevented the complete good of the world. (Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, ed. John D. Wagner, 119)

As Whedon points out, unless a Calvinist brings certain presuppositions to his prayers with him, he may indeed be praying contrary to the will of God. Since the identity of the elect is hidden, the Calvinist cannot know if the subject of his prayer is one that God desires to save or one that God has decreed to forever leave in his or her hopeless state. They might pray for countless hours for the salvation of someone who God has decreed from eternity to reprobate and has no desire to save. Indeed, they might be praying for God to save someone who, as the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 would have us believe, has likewise been hated by God from the womb and been made an irrevocable vessel of wrath doomed for destruction. This is a difficulty that seems out of line with passages like Rom. 10:1 or 1 Timothy 2:1-6. Furthermore, 1 Timothy makes it clear that we should offer prayers for all people because God desires all to be saved and because Christ died for all. So the Arminian has Biblical warrant for praying for the lost and knows that in doing so he is always praying in line with the will of God.

But what of the Calvinist? If they interpret 1 Timothy 2:1-6 to mean “some among all kinds” or “some among all classes”, then in what way should they pray? Should they say: “God I pray for some among all men to be saved?” Or should they pray: “God, I pray that you will save all of the elect from among the various classes of men in the world?” Such prayers, driven by the Calvinist approach to such passages, illustrate again that the Calvinist shouldn’t pray for the salvation of any specific person because he cannot know that it is actually God’s will to save that person.

Furthermore, if Calvinism is true, it is hard to understand why one should even bother to engage in intercessory prayer at all. In Calvinism, God has already pre-determined from eternity which persons will be saved and which persons will be damned. That eternal decree is unchangeable, and that decree was not made in response to the prayers of yet uncreated people, who will in fact be created for one destiny or the other in such a way that nothing could possibly work to change that destiny. The person the Calvinist prays for is either elect or reprobate, and nothing can change that. No amount of praying can bring salvation to the reprobate, and no lack of prayer can prevent the elect from being finally saved. It would seem that the Calvinist prayer cannot possibly accomplish anything since eternal destinies cannot possibly change in any way.

Some Calvinists reply that such prayer may yet serve as the ordained means by which God saves the elect, but also maintain that God is in no way influenced by our prayers. It is, therefore, hard to understand how prayer can be a means to salvation, if those prayers can have no possible impact on God or His predetermination to save some and reprobate others. If prayer really plays no part in whether God will save or not, then how can it be a “means” towards accomplishing salvation? As one commenter responding to a post written to help understand and defend prayer in Calvinism well said,

While God knowing everything is consistent with prayer, God planning everything in the Calvinistic sense of unconditionally decreeing it is not. Calvinism cannot account for the Bible’s portrayal of prayer as a cause of God’s answers to prayer because it holds that God unconditionally decides all that he wants to happen and then irresistibly causes it to come to pass, including the prayer that supposedly causes him to respond to it with action that grants the request. It would be like saying that with putting a sock puppet on your hand and having the puppet ask you to do something, that the request made by the sock puppet is a cause of you doing what you had the sock puppet ask you to do. (link)

This observation is important because it highlights how Calvinism, if consistently held, can serve to undermine one’s motivation for prayer (and this eventual lack of motivation to pray is something we often see reported by former Calvinists). If all things are decreed by God from eternity, then whether we pray or not, it is likewise decreed and can have no impact on whether anyone is ultimately saved or lost. A Calvinist can still pray because he thinks it his duty as a Christian or because he thinks it has certain personal spiritual benefits, but petitionary prayer still seems essentially useless since it can have no impact on anything since God has already decreed whatsoever will come to pass from eternity (including any such ineffective petitionary prayers that might be prayed).

So it seems to me that if Arminian prayer has difficulty, Calvinist prayer has far more difficulty. And while Arminians can pray for the lost knowing that such prayers are in line with God’s desire to save everyone and Christ’s provision of atonement for everyone, Calvinists cannot. While Arminians can make sense of why Paul’s heartfelt desire was for his fellow Jews to be saved (and in the context of Romans 9-11, Paul is speaking of the same Jews that Calvinists insist were reprobated and “hated” by God from eternity), Calvinists struggle to make sense of Paul’s anguish.

But if Arminianism is true and God desires all to be saved, why should prayer move God to act anymore than He would already be moved to act? The answer seems to be that as a relational God who so strongly values genuine inter-relational interactions, He wants us to be a part of the process (we are co-laborers with Him, 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) . He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.

Advertisements

36 Responses

  1. I think I would laugh out loud if a Calvinist ever told me that, because if anything, Calvinists actually pray like Arminians (as you pointed out)! They pray just as though their prayer might effect something real, which cannot happen in the Calvinist scheme.

    I LOVE that Whedon quote: “…that on the condition of his prayer it may be ordered otherwise than if such prayer were not offered.” That is, indeed, the way the Bible tells us to pray: So as to receive something you would not have received otherwise. I hate it when Christians (reformed or otherwise) try to wiggle out of it by saying that prayer only serves to align our will with God’s, rather than accomplishing anything outside of ourselves. The Bible tells us to pray for our daily bread so that we might receive it, not feel better about maybe not receiving it!

  2. Mackman,

    Well said.

  3. btw, your linked articles (stage right) on Atonement and Calvinism, et al. are producing a lot of 404s when you click on them. SEA must have removed the links for many of those posts.

  4. SEA moved a while back, so those links need to be updated. If you go to the site and do a search for the articles they should come up. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten around to finding and fixing all of the broken links yet.

  5. I am a Calvinist and here is what puzzles me about the way you describe Arminian prayer for the unsaved. You speak of asking God to assist the unsaved to come to faith. It seems to me, however, that Arminianism necessarily assumes that God is doing his utmost to save everyone, so that there can be no difference in the extent to which God is trying to bring people to himself. Am I wrong about this? If so, I’d value explanation of how God can do more for one person than for another without making the kind of choice that troubles Arminians about unconditional election. Thanks.

  6. Mr. Tiessen,

    Arminianism says that God is doing all that is necessary (or sufficient) to bring people to salvation. That means that everyone has an opportunity to come to faith. However, God works through people and relationships and allows (even requires) us to be a part of the process. That is His sovereign right, of course. That is why God calls on us to pray for the salvation of the lost and to reach out to the lost, preach the gospel to the lost and not be a stumbling block to the lost (or even believers, cf. 1 Cor. 8 where a believer can be “destroyed” by the carelessness of another believer). This fits very well with the overall Biblical portrayal of God’s interactions with His creatures and desire for them to all be saved.

    I addressed this at the end of the post:

    But if Arminianism is true and God desires all to be saved, why should prayer move God to act anymore than He would already be moved to act? The answer seems to be that as a relational God who so strongly values genuine inter-relational interactions, He wants us to be a part of the process (we are co-laborers with Him, 1 Cor. 3:9; 2 Cor. 6:1) . He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.

    Let me add that since relational interactions are based on free will, then no amount of influences will guarantee a certain result, and more opportunities do not necessarily equate to better results. So we have a situation where salvation is based on a relationship with Christ and that relationship is dynamic and brought about through a variety of resistible means. One of those means is prayer, which allows us the opportunity to influence how God might work to lead someone into a relationship with Himself. But again, despite God working in different ways, because of the nature of free will and its import for the relationships that God values (including the most important relationship of all: a saving relationship with God), there is no one specific thing that will necessarily lead someone to believe. So “more” is not always really “more”.

    You ask,

    If so, I’d value explanation of how God can do more for one person than for another without making the kind of choice that troubles Arminians about unconditional election.

    This isn’t a choice that necessarily troubles Arminians. It is not about equality of opportunity, but sufficiency of opportunity. Moreover, “doing more” does not necessarily guarantee a response of faith anyway and is not necessarily better qualitatively (as explained above). And on top of that, it is nothing like unconditional election where God does nothing at all for the (reprobate) lost to bring them to salvation. Indeed, He makes it impossible for them to be saved. Big difference.

    In the end, God will hold everyone accountable for whatever their response was to grace given and to the corresponding opportunities that come with that grace (to whom much is given, much is required…), and our prayers can have an impact on those opportunities and how God works through those opportunities. But again, more attempts and more opportunities still will not guarantee a certain result.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  7. Thanks, Ben. If I understand you correctly, you are telling me that God makes it possible for everyone to be saved, so that the only impediment to that happening is their own unwillingness to respond positively to God’s gracious overtures. But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others. Nevertheless, he is unable to ensure that any particular individual responds positively, so his choice to work harder on some people than others is an unconditional choice to be more gracious to some than to others, but success in those cases would not amount to an unconditional election to salvation, because those people were always able to resist God’s overtures; his saving grace, prevenient and accompanying, is never efficacious in the way it is for Calvinists.

    Thus, some people may be saved who would have not have been saved if God had only given them sufficient grace, but everyone could be saved if they chose, and none are saved by an efficacious grace comparable to that which Calvinists believe is necessary for salvation to occur. (In other words salvation is always incompatibilistic or indeterministic.) Even the most blessed by God with gracious overtures and inner promptings could have chosen not to respond if they wished. Our prayer for particular unsaved people is therefore motivated by the belief that God may graciously respond to our requests for his work in other’s lives and that some of those for whom we pray will be saved who would not have been, if we had not asked God to work harder on them, and if God had not chosen to respond positively to our intercession.

    Have I heard you correctly?

    Thanks,
    Terry

  8. Hi Terrance you said:

    “But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others.”

    I could be wrong but I don’t think Ben said “God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others”, but rather:

    “But again, despite God working in different ways, because of the nature of free will and its import for the relationships that God values (including the most important relationship of all: a saving relationship with God), there is no one specific thing that will necessarily lead someone to believe. So “more” is not always really “more”.

    I don’t think God has chosen to give more preceding Grace in some rather than others but rather there is a cooperation between His people sharing of His Gospel and the preceding Grace that is accompanied with that. Have you ever or have you known someone that has failed to share the Gospel when the Holy Spirit was prompting him/her to do so? Ben alluded to this in his above statement I quoted.

    Thanks,
    Russ

  9. Thanks, Russ. I was working from this statement by Ben:

    “He wants us involved. He wants us to demonstrate our own love and concern for others by petitioning Him for others which further glorifies Him in that it is an example of His love expressed freely in us for others. We reflect His love in our efforts to bring people to Christ and in our prayers for the salvation of the lost, efforts and prayers that are themselves empowered by God with a view towards seeing all saved.”

    I took from this that when we “petition God for others,” God might choose to respond positively to those petitions and do more for the person we had prayed for than the sufficient work of grace which is universally distributed to all. Are you telling me that our prayers do not in fact have any effect in eliciting from God further working on his part toward the salvation of the lost.”

    I’m hearing you speak of human cooperation with God’s grace only through gospel proclamation, but I heard Ben speaking of effective intercession which brings about action on God’s part. This coheres with Ben’s declaration that “its not about equality of opportunity.” That is the part I am trying to unpack, so I hope Ben will help me out by commenting on my attempt to restate his perspective.

  10. Terrance,

    Today is a pretty busy day for me, but I hope to get to your comments as soon as possible.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  11. Terrance,

    You wrote,

    Thanks, Ben. If I understand you correctly, you are telling me that God makes it possible for everyone to be saved, so that the only impediment to that happening is their own unwillingness to respond positively to God’s gracious overtures.

    Yes.

    But beyond that sufficiency, God has chosen to give some people more opportunities than others. Nevertheless, he is unable to ensure that any particular individual responds positively, so his choice to work harder on some people than others is an unconditional choice to be more gracious to some than to others

    First, let me make clear again that because of the nature of our wills, God is unable to ensure that any particular individual freely responds positively. I also made the point that it is misleading to think of God as working “harder” on a person because he makes more overtures to them than someone else. I am not sure we can always quantify God’s respective efforts towards people or workings in their lives.

    Furthermore, because of free will “less” might end up effective for one person and “more” might end up ineffective for someone else. So I find your way of framing the issue illegitimate. So let’s replace “harder” with more. And with that, actually, part of what I was saying was that it is often “conditioned” on our prayers in that prayer has a relational dynamic to it just as other ways God relates to us and wants us to relate to Him and to each other. So in accordance with God’s desire for us to be a part of the process through prayer, such a choice on my view is not “unconditional”, but “conditional”!

    but success in those cases would not amount to an unconditional election to salvation, because those people were always able to resist God’s overtures; his saving grace, prevenient and accompanying, is never efficacious in the way it is for Calvinists.

    Well, I just pointed out that the choice to work on the person more would not be unconditional. But what you say here is also true of my view. If we are able to resist while also enabled to respond, and salvation is conditional based on that response (the response of faith), then of course it would not amount to an unconditional election.

    Thus, some people may be saved who would have not have been saved if God had only given them sufficient grace

    I assume you are saying that some people may be saved who would not have been saved if they had sufficient grace to be saved but not more than that. If that is what you are saying, then yes, some people might get saved who would not otherwise have been saved if they did not get additional grace as the result of prayer.

    , but everyone could be saved if they chose, and none are saved by an efficacious grace comparable to that which Calvinists believe is necessary for salvation to occur. (In other words salvation is always incompatibilistic or indeterministic.)

    Yes, but I would rather say that salvation is always conditional, rather than unconditional.

    Even the most blessed by God with gracious overtures and inner promptings could have chosen not to respond if they wished.

    Yes.

    Our prayer for particular unsaved people is therefore motivated by the belief that God may graciously respond to our requests for his work in other’s lives and that some of those for whom we pray will be saved who would not have been, if we had not asked God to work harder on them, and if God had not chosen to respond positively to our intercession.

    Our prayers can make a difference, if that is what you are trying to say, just as our actions can make a difference (which I pointed out in my first response to you). And the fact that our prayers can make a real difference serves as another motivator for prayer. But in Calvinism I don’t see how prayer can possibly make a difference and that seems at odds with Scripture (and our own experiences) on many levels. Does that likewise “puzzle” you?

    God Bless,
    Ben

  12. I’d like to ask you, or any other Arminian who follows this blog, the same question that got me banned from SEA’s FB page run by Dale V. Wayman. I suppose the question made him uncomfortable since he banned me immediately–immediately—after I posted it. So much for “the gospel worth striving for”!

    In any case, my prior post contained several of the key differences between Calvinist doctrine and Scripture (Calvinism’s insistence that Christ didn’t die for everyone, there is an eternal hidden decree to damn certain individuals prior to birth, God actively “barring the door to life” to the non-elect etc). Standard Calvinist doctrinal beliefs. I even posted from the Institutes:

    “We call predestination God’s eternal decree, by which he compacted with himself what he willed to become of each man. For all are not created in equal condition; rather, eternal life is fore-ordained for some, eternal damnation for others.” (III.21.5)

    “..we say that God once established by his eternal and unchangeable plan those whom he long before determined once for all to receive into salvation, and those whom, on the other hand, he would devote to destruction. …he has barred the door of life to those whom he has given over to damnation.” (III.21.7)

    “By predestination we mean the eternal decree of God, by which he determined with himself whatever he wished to happen with regard to every man. All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation; and, accordingly, as each has been created for one or other of these ends, we say that he has been predestinated to life or to death.” (III.21.5)

    Following the ungracious non-answer reply to my first post in which Dale V. Wayman threatened to ban me on the spot, I replied, “With all due respect, I don’t wish to be banned for asking a question that refuses to be answered [and yet I was]. If I were a Jew who didn’t believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? If I were a Jehovah’s Witness and I didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? If I were a Mormon and I told you I believe the Bible 100% but I also believe there is another testament, could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? What if I were a Roman Catholic and I told you that the gospel I received was clear: faith plus works equals salvation? Could I be considered a “brother in Christ”? All of these belief systems deny central parts of the gospel message. I realize not all Calvinists believe everything John Calvin believed. But how much deviation from Scripture could you, or I, or anyone allow before we are talking about two different gospels, two different Gods? That’s all I am asking. What is the bare minimum for Christian fellowship given the distinct and glaring differences between Arminian and Calvinist beliefs?”

    That is my question to you. Realizing that not all Calvinists adhere to the same TULIP doctrine, and having come out of a Calvinist upbringing myself, I ask again, “What is the bare minimum for Christian fellowship given the distinct and glaring differences between Arminian and Calvinist beliefs?” Are these differences between Calvinism and Arminianism major or minor? If minor, why waste further time debating something that has found no resolution in 6 centuries? But if they are major differences (and I think it clear that they are), at what point can we say that the gospel according to Calvin deviates enough from the gospel according to Christ as to consider it a different gospel altogether? If that is a question that is too shocking to ask, I shudder at the future of any further theological inquiry because it is indeed, THE QUESTION. Dale was entirely wrong to avoid it and to presuppose my own answer. I merely ask, is TULIP Calvinism compatible with Scripture?

  13. Paul,

    As someone who fairly recently discovered himself aligned (almost by accident) with Arminianism, I’ll give my thoughts (which you can take or leave):

    Calvinists are often better than their theology.

    While they may proclaim that God has decreed all actions of all people everywhere, they will still feel shame at a sin, as something that they could have overcome.

    While they declare that God has damned the vast majority of the human race, many will still try their darndest to bring the gospel to people that, by definition, are either beyond all help or saved already.

    Although their own beliefs make effective prayer impossible, they will pray earnestly, in tears, for an unbelieving neighbor/child/parent.

    It would be difficult – perhaps impossible – to embrace as a brother in Christ someone who holds all that I believe Calvinism necessarily implies, and acts that out in their lives. But everyday Calvinists, who pray even though their theology makes it meaningless, who try to reach the lost even though their theology makes their efforts worthless…those I can embrace and call brother.

    I don’t know if this answered your question, but I’ve thought about that issue as well. (Same thoughts, expanded, here: http://imperfectfornow.blogspot.com/2014/05/calvinists-are-better-than-their.html)

  14. Mackman,

    Thank you very much for your response. I believe this paragraph states it quite well:

    “It would be difficult – perhaps impossible – to embrace as a brother in Christ someone who holds all that I believe Calvinism necessarily implies, and acts that out in their lives. But everyday Calvinists, who pray even though their theology makes it meaningless, who try to reach the lost even though their theology makes their efforts worthless…those I can embrace and call brother.”

    I can agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly.

  15. Thank you, Ben, this conversation has been very helpful to me. I will now speak differently than I have previously about the function of prayer within Arminian theology.

    I have frequently asserted that it is futile for Arminians to intercede for the salvation of the lost because God is doing his utmost to get everyone saved. I see the “fairness principle” as fundamental to Arminianism. Arminians generally have a strong revulsion at the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election and so they shrink from any suggestion that one person is saved and another is not saved because God did more for the one than for the other. Strangely, in previous conversations with Arminians no one has addressed my challenged my representation in the way you have, and so I have persisted in it.

    You have helped me to see things in a quite different light, and I’m grateful for this. I now see (through your Arminian lens) a situation in which God wants everyone to be saved, so he has made it possible for everyone to be saved through universal prevening grace. Anyone who is not saved is unsaved because they rejected God’s gracious drawing, not because God was insufficiently gracious to them. This does not mean, however (and here is where you have been helpful), that God does no more for one person than for another. God’s saving work is not simply a one-on-one operation. God has called his people to proclaim the good news persuasively and to intercede for the lost. God has not obligated himself to answer every prayer offered by his children (contra the teaching of some synergists of the “name it and claim it” variety, who do not represent classic Arminianism), but he is predisposed to do so, particularly when they ask him to do what he himself greatly desires. So, believers can expect that when they ask God to work for the salvation of particular unbelievers God will act. However, as you wisely point out, God is not always able to draw sinners efficaciously because of their libertarian freedom. His efforts may actually result in a further hardening of heart by a sinner, and hence lead to their greater condemnation rather than their salvation. In such a case, I assume that the believer should feel no guilt for having contributed to a worse rather than better situation than they had wanted. What they did was right, and what God did was done with gracious intentions, but God can not predict how a libertarianly free creature will respond to particular overtures made by God.

    What I’m hearing from you is an Arminianism that rejects Molinism, so you concur with Roger Olson on this one. I know that the validity of Molinism is hotly contested within Arminian circles, but it seems clear to me that you are not a Molinist. I hear you denying that God knows (or could know) counterfactuals of the actions of libertarianly free creatures. There I hear agreement with both Open Theists and Calvinists, but disagreement with many of your fellow Arminians. So you and I come at this from the same perspective, though you are an Arminian and I am a Calvinist.

    Given what you have said, I will speak differently about the necessary consequences of Arminian theology for intercessory prayer. That nuance is valuable, and I thank you for taking the time to correct me when I misconstrued your thinking.

    You wrote: “But in Calvinism I don’t see how prayer can possibly make a difference and that seems at odds with Scripture (and our own experiences) on many levels. Does that likewise “puzzle” you?”

    Presently, I am fairly satisfied on this point, but it is one that I have pondered at great length. I wrote a book on “Providence and Prayer” (IVP 2000) in which I unpacked 10 models of divine providence which I have encountered in Christian theology and endeavored to show how petitionary prayer operates within each model. I then proposed an eleventh model which I labelled “middle knowledge Calvinism.” Correspondence with Paul Helm following an article I wrote in Westminster Theological Journal led me to abandon the idea that God knows counterfactuals as middle knowledge. He and I then coauthored another WTJ article in which I revised my earlier terminology and agreed with him that God knows counterfactuals naturally/necessarily. So I now call my model “hypothetical knowledge Calvinism.”

    I understand your puzzlement. It is a point on which (Open Theist) John Sanders pushed me in a constructive way, and I spoke to it in a chapter entitled “Can God Be Responsive if the Future is Not Open?” in a festschrift for Clark Pinnock (Semper Reformandum, eds. Porter and Cross, 2003). As I understand the situation, God has chosen to actualize this world from among all the possible worlds, about whose possibility God knew because of his natural knowledge of the principles of agent causation. So God chose this world, in all its detail, including which people are saved. In this world, all who are saved come to faith because of God’s efficacious calling (as all Calvinists assert), but God’s knowledge of counterfactuals enabled him to assure this without coercion. (God’s knowledge of counterfactuals is a fundamental plank in my understanding of compatibilism, and I have appropriated a fair bit from Molinism in this regard, even though I consider Molinism to be incoherent in its own construction, on account of the grounding objection.)

    Within this framework, evangelism and intercessory prayer are effective means by which we participate in the bringing about of the history which God chose. Like other Calvinists, I believe that God has ordained means as well as ends. Graciously, he has chosen to let his church be involved in his saving work, so I pray that God will draw to himself particular sinners, and I believe that my prayers can be effective, because God has not only chosen to save particular people but to save them in response to the petitions of his children. I assume that God has gracious intentions for everyone, since he has not revealed otherwise to me. So I ask God to draw people to himself, and if they come to faith, I thank God for having answered my prayers. (I say more about this in “Who Can Be Saved?, IVP 2004).

    I may have gone on too long here, Ben, but I thank you for clarifying some things for me regarding what I wrongly took to be the necessary entailments of Arminian theology.

  16. Mr. Tiessen,

    I do hope to reply to some of what you wrote when I have the time. I am in the middle of a major project on top of other work responsibilities at the moment, so it might still be a while.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  17. Ben,

    I’ve been meaning to ask you about the issue of intercessory prayer in Arminian theology but rather than post to the Questions??? page I found this discussion thread from 2014 which engaged most of my questions. I also read your post from 2008 entitled: “Examining Inconsistencies in Calvinistic Monergism, Part 1: Intercessory Prayer”

    I also read the comments to these posts, both of which ended some time ago. This thread in particular seems to have ended abruptly with no detailed response to Terrance’s post on 9/1/14. I hesitate to respond to his post before you but since it has been quite some time I will take the liberty to ask a quick clarification and then explain my main question. Hopefully this reaches you.

    As I have wrestled with this Calvinist/Arminian debate the issue of prayer has remained unresolved in my mind. Like Terrance, you have been helpful in clarifying my misconceptions about Arminian perspectives. Perhaps you can clarify a few more.

    Terrance wrote:
    “However, as you wisely point out, God is not always able to draw sinners efficaciously because of their libertarian freedom…God can not predict how a libertarianly free creature will respond to particular overtures made by God.”

    Do you agree with these assertions regarding God’s inability? Wouldn’t it be better to say that God freely chooses to restrain himself from violating our freedom rather than saying he is unable to do so? And if God chooses to restrain in most cases, can’t he make an exception if he so chooses?

    The question of God’s ability to efficaciously save (through the means of persuasion not coercion) is central to my question regarding prayer for the salvation of others. I believe that God has perfect knowledge of us and therefore he knows exactly what “buttons to push” to persuade us to believe. He understands us better than we understand ourselves. He knows what is keeping us from believing.

    Let me use an example to illustrate. I wanted my daughter to attend a Christian camp but she was apprehensive because it was her first time away from home. My wife and I thought it would be good for her but she was resisting me. We attempted to persuade her to change her mind because we did not want to force her to go. We wanted her to want to go.

    The problem as I saw it was that although I know my daughter better than most, I did not really understand all her fears and concerns. My thinking was that if I were omniscient like God, I could persuade her efficaciously to willingly go to camp without coercion. Since I am not God, there was a good chance she would refuse. Sure I could make her go against her will but that would not fulfill my intentions for her to be blessed through willing participation and openness to the experience.

    Perhaps you could argue that even with omniscience and perfect explanation of the benefits of camp and my good intentions toward her, she could still simply decide that she did not want those benefits or did not trust me. But it is hard to conceive how she could not want those benefits or trust me if she truly had all the facts and perfect divine perspective by grace. She could certainly decide to not believe me concerning the benefits, but I guess that begs the question whether faith is at root a choice or a response. Is she simply choosing not to go and enjoy the benefits? If so, she would be a fool. Does she simply choose not believe me that the benefits will be realized? Or is she just not yet persuaded they are real (not enough evidence to invoke a positive response). If the problem is the latter, then more evidence, proof, demonstrations of its reality should prove effective.

    Allow me to argue against this position a minute. This assertion that more evidence must be effective reminds me of the rich man who pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus back to his family because they would believe one raised from the dead. But Abraham said that if they did not believe Moses and the prophets (OT revelation) they would not believe one raised from the dead either. So, according to Jesus, more evidence does not necessarily assure belief. But is this truly a perfect understanding? More proof is not the same as perfect perspective. Maybe perfect perspective is impossible due to our human limitations, but with God all things are possible! See my confusion?

    Other biblical examples that come to mind in this discussion are Jonah and Saul of Tarsus. Jonah did not want to obey God but God did not allow him to get away with disobedience. Calvinists often use his example to demonstrate that God’s grace is irresistible, but this example does not prove that. What it does indicate to me is that God is able to persuade even the most hard-hearted and determined person to change their coarse. He does not need to resort to coercion, but rather chastening as a Father disciplines a straying son. It seems hard for me to accept that despite God’s persistence, Jonah still could have resisted. The lengths that God goes to persuade Jonah are so extreme it seems to prove what we should already know, God can do anything.

    Likewise, Saul was a zealous persecutor of Christ and his church. His mind was made up and there was no changing it as he headed to Damascus. But God intervened in such a forceful, powerful way, are we really to believe that the resurrected Jesus would have taken no for an answer on that road?

    I suppose you could argue that my daughter with perfect revelation, and Jonah and Saul with overwhelming force, could have still “cursed God and died” as Job’s wife suggested. The fact that they did not is not proof that they could not. But at the very least that hypothetical stretches my imagination.

    I apologize for a long post to get to my question. My question is this: Does Arminian theology have room for the belief that God can at least in some cases save/persuade irresistibly? Does he possess the power and is he free to use this power if he so chooses? And if he does, is it not proper for us to pray “irresistibly draw my daughter to saving faith. Do not take her “no” for an answer. Do not give up on her. Pursue her until she repents! Do for her as you did for Jonah and Saul. Please Lord Save My Daughter!” I do not intend an ounce of demand in this prayer. I am just humbly asking God to do what I know he is able to do.

    I understand Dr. Abasciano’s examples of the common use of language where requests like “shown them” or “bring them” do not necessarily meaning “force them.” But what’s un-biblical about asking God to work so forcefully that it effectually (yes, irresistibly) results in their “seeing” and “coming”? Is this not what every Christian father wants for his children?

    If in the future you prefer I post these to the Questions??? page rather than an old comment thread, let me know.

    Grace & Peace,

    Dana

  18. Hello Dana,

    My time is very limited these days, and sadly I find myself leaving many discussions unfinished (like here). I am not as concerned about getting the last word as a I once was.

    I understand your confusion, but I think that your comments assume that one can be “freely” made to “irresistibly” choose God. I think that is plainly incoherent. In your scenarios you seem to assume that with just the right persuasions (buttons being pushed, etc.), the desired outcomes would be guaranteed, and the only reason they are not is not because of freedom, but because we are not capable of all the right persuasions (as God is). But that still just assumes that we do not have full control of our wills, that with the right persuasions we simply cannot help but to react a certain way, and yet that response, which we cannot help to make, is still somehow truly free. But again, it is incoherent to say we can freely choose otherwise and yet cannot help but to choose as we do. You either need to fall on the sword of freedom or determinism. You simply cannot have it both ways.

    I liked your illustration about your daughter because we went through that exact same thing with our 11 year old daughter this year. In the end we could not persuade her. Now we could have forced her, and I could have found ways to manipulate her so that she would go (and probably have a great time), but that is not what I wanted. I did not want to manipulate her. I wanted it to freely come from her heart.

    So despite our desires we allowed her to have her way. That is the nature of genuine relationships. We interact freely and while we might not agree with the choices others make, we honor their ability and right to make those choices. It is what makes them persons and not automatons. And just as we guard our own person-hood, we respect theirs as well, and this forms the basis of meaningful relationships with real persons.

    Of course, God is the most genuine Being in the universe and He would not be satisfied with anything less than genuine relationships. And relationships are so important to Him that He will sometimes not act unless we engage each other in relational ways with Him and each other. That is God’s free choice and I trust that He knows what He is doing.

    As for your Biblical examples, I think they are both problematic. In the case of Jonah, the problem was Jonah’s heart. He did not want God to be merciful to the Ninevites. He wanted God to destroy them for the harm they had to done to Israel and many other nations. And Jonah worried that if he preached to them they might repent and avoid judgment (Jonah 4:1, 2). So Jonah disobeyed.

    God forced the issue for the sake of the Ninevites, but Jonah’s heart was never in it. He obeyed, but begrudgingly. God manipulated Jonah for the sake of the Ninevites, but he was not able to persuade Jonah’s heart. When God did not destroy the repentant Ninevites, Jonah was angry. The book ends with God trying to reason with Jonah to help him understand His compassion on the Ninevites, but we are left to wonder how Jonah responds.

    And when it comes to salvation, the heart must certainly be in it. There is no other way. Because salvation is about a genuine response to God by which we enter into a loving relationship with Him. Apparently, this not something God can manipulate (because of who He is and who He has created us to be, more on that below), though He can certainly influence it.

    Suppose the story of Jonah was about his own salvation. Jonah obeys but his heart is not in it. Could that save him? Apparently not, since the relational response required to be joined to God must come from the heart, and for that response to be genuine it must be free.

    I also think we are wrong to assume that even with God’s manipulation of the circumstances in Jonah’s life that Jonah had to respond appropriately. Think of all the times Israel rebelled against God after seeing amazing miracles and being delivered in amazing ways, yet God makes it clear again and again that His desire is for Israel to be saved and to obey Him fully and freely. If the Israelite’s could still disobey and refuse to trust in God despite such amazing miracles, why would we assume that Jonah had no choice even after those amazing events? We can tend to rationalize anything away.

    Think of a smoker. It would be hard to find a smoker who does not know how bad smoking is and the many risks involved. I understand that nicotine is addictive, but that addiction can be overcome. Yet these people continue to smoke, sometimes even after being diagnosed with cancer or emphysema. What else could be used to persuade them? In the end, they choose to smoke and accept the consequences. Now it might be that for some, the diagnosis of cancer would persuade them to immediately quit. But that is not the case for all.

    I think Paul is likewise not the best example. Paul did have a powerful encounter with the risen Christ, but he did not have to obey that revelation, just as a smoker does not have to quit when the x-rays that show the beginnings of cancer are clearly laid before his eyes.

    In fact, Paul strongly implies that he could have disobeyed in Acts 26:19. There he is careful to make the point that he did not disobey the vision. But why did Paul feel the need to make that point if he believed that disobedience was impossible, especially when nobody was even challenging his obedience in the first place? And there is no reason to think that if Paul had disobeyed, God could not have found someone else to use in his place, just as God was willing to start all over with Moses in the face of Israel’s disobedience (but interestingly allowed Himself to be freely persuaded not to destroy Israel as a result of Moses’ prayer)

    In prayer, we are asking God to work in people’s hearts in ways that will give them more opportunities, opportunities where they can freely respond to that persuasion (and sometimes this prayer helps to move us to action as well). For some this will make the difference (though it does not guarantee the difference, as we have seen). And that is the bottom line for why prayer is so important. It can and often does make a difference, just not irresistibly so.

    Could God have done all of these things without prayer? Sure.
    But God’s desire is for us to interact with love and obedience to Him (in prayer) and freely so, and for us to lovingly interact with each other (in prayer, witnessing, etc.), and freely so. Relational love is fundamental to who God is and for that reason it is how God works in our lives (both vertically and horizontally). To expect God to act differently is to expect God to be very different than how He has revealed Himself to be.

    So can you pray for God to irresistibly work in someone’s heart? Sure. But I think that might be the same as asking God to contradict His own nature in a variety of other ways. Could we pray that God save someone even if they die in unbelief? Yes. Would God honor that prayer? Apparently not, since God has made it clear that he will not save unbelievers. But why not? Couldn’t God do that? If not, why not? What keeps God from doing that, especially if He desires all to be saved?

    Apparently, because of God’s nature as a relational Being who desires and deserves our free obedience and and loving allegiance and will only save in that context, God cannot save unbelievers, and we would not think to ask Him to, even if we might very much want that to be the case. Likewise, I don’t think he can save irresistibly and still be consistent with His nature.

    In the end, this may be a philosophical difficultly we will just have to wrestle with from time to time, without a fully satisfying answer (which is the case with many things). But we should not let that difficulty keep us from accepting the clear testimony of Scripture. For me, that clear testimony is that God desires all to be saved, but does not desire to save irresistibly. And God allows (and even requires) us to be a part of that process through intercession, intercession that does indeed make a difference, but not irresistibly so.

    When we understand God’s fundamental relational nature and that this nature requires genuine freedom in His creatures for them to properly interact with and receive from Him (and each other), as well as the logical line in the sand between what is resistible and what is irresistible (though we might try to find ways to erase that line), then it is not so hard to understand. What makes it hard is our own desire to see people saved, even if it means seeing it happen irresistibly.

    But that desire is not fully comprehending the nature of humans as made in God’s image and what that entails both for our relationships with each other and with God. It is based on a distorted view of humanity and God. It assumes that if we want something bad enough, we should be able to make it happen, especially if it is extremely important (as salvation certainly is). But that is not the reality of the world we live in, and honestly we can see the seeds of that distortion in the first sin where man tried to make something happen that seemed good and important despite the fact that God had forbidden it. He tried to force God’s hand and the results were disastrous rather than good.

    In the end, we need to trust God that irresistible force is not the way God works and it is not the way He should work either. Really, if we believed that God can work in such a way to get anyone to freely choose Him (which again incoherently melds freedom with irresistibility, the opposite of freedom), He should also be able to get us to always freely make the right decisions and never sin (which would sure remove a lot of pain and suffering from the world we live in). But again, that is simply not the reality of the world we live in, and it is not how Scripture reveals God or reality either.

    That might not be a fully satisfying answer, but I believe it is Biblical and the best answer that can be given when both the experience of life and the revelation of Scripture are fully embraced. We might like it to be different, but that doesn’t mean it should be.

    I hope that helps some.

  19. Ben,

    Thanks for taking the time to reply. I’m amazed you have time to reply to so many inquiries so no criticism intended. I also appreciate your testimony that you no longer feel the need to always have the last word, a sign of humility.

    Perhaps I need to let go of the concept of irresistibility, but it is hard when I think of God’s persuasive compelling love. I do though appreciate your observation regarding Jonah’s heart. I agree he never seemed to really get it.

    Romans 9:19 also comes to mind: “…who can resist His will?” I’ve read numerous Arminian interpretations of Romans 9 and understand from them that the question may not be related to irresistibility in the salvation of individuals but rather God’s sovereign choice to save by faith rather than works of the law or genealogy. But even if this is true, the principle of God’s will being irresistible is set forth as an accepted doctrine by Paul. There is no getting around that. The question I suppose is what will of God does Paul have in mind that cannot be resisted? Is it God’s will/decree/decision to saved by faith in general or God’s will/call/desire to saved a particular individual? Is the former a fair representation of the Arminian position?

    I think I understand your position to be that theoretically God has the power to save irresistibly but since it contradicts His nature to do so, he will not exercise that power. You go so far as to say he cannot do so because he cannot contradict his nature, just as God cannot lie. Am I understanding you correctly?

    You’re right, my desire to hold on to irresistibility is that I want a God who can overcome even man’s will and save those I love against their current will, but in a loving, non-coercive way. What can I say, I want to ‘have my cake and eat it too’ as a recent post suggested. Calvinists would say that is “big-God theology”, but I reject that strawman argument. God is who he reveals himself to be and I must submit to him. I am not the judge of what is “big-God theology.” Maybe I am trying to have it both ways (free to choose but also compelled to choose). But if I had to choose between the two I would rather give up freedom than God’s gracious compulsion. I would gladly trust in the goodness of God. But again, it is not my preferences that define who God is and how he operates.

    Allow me to digress and confess another hangup of mine briefly. Best I can tell “free-will” is not a biblical term and so I am loathed to embrace it. It feels like a human invention to satisfy our warped sense of fairness. I do not deny we are free volitional creatures, I just wish there was a better way to define it using biblical terms. Maybe you can point me in the right direction?

    Personally, I feel compelled to follow Christ in my own life and attribute that to the grace of God which won’t let me go. Yet at the same time I realize that I am making a choice not to turn away from Christ. I imagine that if I decided to turn away, I would feel such conviction that I would rather die then remain in my backsliding state. But perhaps if I persisted in sin, my heart would grow hard and callous toward that conviction. That is why I must not lean on the grace of God as a license to sin for as Paul taught, “the wages of sin is death.” (I believe Romans 6:23 speaks of the consequence of sin in the believer’s life rather than the unbeliever as it is often used.)

    My struggles with prayer and the lost reminds me of Abraham’s discussion with the angel of the Lord concerning the judgement against Sodom. He wanted to know if God would destroy the city if there were 50 righteous in it, then 45, 40 and so on. But he stops at 10, apparently satisfied that the judge of all the earth will do right. I relate that to my prayers for the salvation of my family and particularly my children. Lord, will you give them “more opportunities” (as you put it)? But maybe like Abraham, I need to stop short of saying will you destroy the city if there is only 1 righteous or maybe even none righteous?” (i.e. will you irresistibly cause my loved one to believe even if they don’t want to?) In the end it should be enough that the judge of all the earth will do right. When I step back from the emotion I can agree that it is wrong for God to save those who do not believe, even my children.

    There are not many things in this world more important to me than praying in a God pleasing manner. May he grant me grace to pray according to knowledge. Thanks for your help.

    Dana

  20. Dana,

    Could be a while before I can get to this.

  21. Ben,

    I am still wrestling with how best to pray for the lost and was curious about your thoughts on the nature of prevenient grace. I was directed by your site to an SEA article,

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/prevenient-grace-and-semi-pelagianism/

    In the article, the author (Dan Chapa?) mentions that Arminians have differing views on the nature of prevenient grace. Some say that God grants prevenient grace to everyone which essentially eliminates Total Depravity. The author claims that others like himself and Arminius view the process as more “iterative”. Not that God is obligated to respond to our initial responses to prevenient grace with gifts of more grace, but rather He is pleased to do so or it is consistent with his nature to do so.

    The author also suggests from Roman 7 that prevenient grace may be teaching us that we can’t obey rather than enabling us to obey (Gal. 3:24 also comes to mind). In that case wouldn’t we still be Totally Depraved (captive), just more aware of why we are depraved because of the law’s convicting ministry?

    So are there some in this world who are not yet enabled to believe? Have some received a measure of grace (e.g., the law) and yet are still in need of further enabling? I’m not sure I understand the Arminian’s position on this. Not that you can speak for all Arminians, but I could use some help.

    This relates to my question of prayer for the lost. If everyone has already received enabling prevenient grace, then I don’t need to ask God to grant it. But from an Arminian persective, what can I ask God to do? Give more grace? Different kind of grace? Dare I say effectual grace? I assume the Arminian accepts this term in the sense that any grace becomes effectual when it is proven effective.

    Repeating a sentiment from my previous post, I’ve been praying for my unsaved children, “Lord, don’t give up on them! Keep giving them more grace. Be patient with them. Do not judicially harden their hearts even though you have every right to do so because of their past resistance to your grace. Do not accept their answer of no. Persist with them until they relent and submit to your will.” Essentially I am praying, “Lord, do whatever it takes to persuade and bring them to saving faith.”

    I am interested to hear how you pray for the lost from an Arminian perspective. Do you use similar language or different, and why? How does your Arminian theology inform your prayer life?

    I would appreciate your thoughts as your time permits. No rush.

    In Christ,

    Dana

  22. Dana,

    I see that I did not reply to your last question, though I thought I had for some reason.

    Sadly, I am unable to devote any time to either of these comments at the moment, but might be able to get to them next week.

    God Bless,
    Ben

  23. Hi Ben,

    I imagine you forgot to reply to my posts since it has been some time. No problem. I understand you are busy. I didn’t want to keep pestering you but I had another thought and I wanted to get your feedback.

    It seems to me, and I have read this in several places, that belief and faith are not actually a choice in the sense that you cannot force yourself to believe something that you are not persuaded is true. No matter how hard I try, I cannot make myself believe that I am from Mars.
    I could be brainwashed or deceived into believing this but that would not be a volitional choice.

    Faith is more of a state of being you find yourself in rather than a decision you make. This line of thinking initially seemed to support the idea of passive regeneration (i.e., God regenerates us and we find ourselves in the state of believing).

    However, I think the key is not in the obtaining of faith itself (which is a gift, Eph. 2:9), but rather the process of getting there. In a sense, we cannot truly choose to believe but we can choose to seek God or not seek him. It is our choice to seek him that ultimately leads to us finding him by faith. As Rom. 10:8 says, “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart.” and the Deut. 30 passage this quotes also adds that the commandment is “not to difficult.” So we have the ability to choose to seek him or not seek him and indirectly that is what determines whether we believe.

    If this thinking is correct, then my prayers for the lost should be that they seek God. Because if they seek him, he is very near and not to difficult to find. If they seek him they will find him. The problem is that lost people don’t want to seek him. Something has to motivate them to seek him. Certainly the grace of God, his drawing, is essential in that process. I can pray that God would draw but it is imprecise to pray that God would save. Of course he will save if they come. He promises that all who come, who call on the name of the Lord, will be saved. Nor do I have to pray that they would find God if they seek him, for he is near and will certainly be found.

    Of course we are not forbidden from praying that God would do things he has already promised to do (in fact I think it is good to do so), but that is not really the heart of my desire in the case of the lost. I want what is missing in the equation. I want my lost loved ones to desire to seek him. So perhaps I should pray, “Lord, give grace and draw them so that they may seek you. I know that if they seek you, they will find you and believe. I know that if they believe you will save them. So, please Lord, persist in your grace. They do not deserve more chances just as none of us deserve any grace. But I believe you want them to believe. Please do not be angry with their resistance to your grace. Remember they are but dust. Show them again your grace that they might believe. Persuade them by every means available.”

    The problem is, it still seems like a gray line between irresistible grace and resistible grace. How close to persuasion can God get with his grace before he has to step back and let us choose?

    You argue that even with full knowledge of the evidence, one can still refuse to embrace faith. That’s hard to conceive. I always assume the problem is ignorance not outright rejection. But refusal is a biblical description of the lost (John 5:40). What a terrifying thought that someone could be given all the facts and clearly understand the truth and yet still reject it.

    I pray that is not my children, but can I really ask God for that? Is it his to give? If their LFW is autonomous then it is out of my hands and God’s at least to some extent. It is therefore a helpless feeling that not even God will stand in their way if they insist on rejecting the truth laid out plainly before them.

    Thanks for your help on this journey of mine.

    Dana

  24. Hello Dana,

    I have not forgotten about you, but have been very busy (and continue to be). I could give you a short answer, but wanted to give it more detail and interact more with all that you have written (and now you have written more), but that would take more time than I have right now.

    The short answer is to just pray however the Holy Spirit leads you to pray, and trust God with the rest. I personally think you are stressing out too much about this.

    The bottom line is that Scripture says God desires all to be saved, Christ died for all so that all can be saved, and we are to pray for all people against the backdrop of these amazing truths (meaning we should pray for people to be saved because God truly desires for them to be saved, and has made provision for them to be saved). We can do this in all sorts of ways as God’s Spirit leads us, and we can know that our prayers make a difference somehow. Beyond that, we are probably just getting into the weeds and creating an unnecessary distraction from those important fundamental truths.

    That would be my short answer.

    God Bless.

  25. Fixed a typo in last sentence (from “necessary” to “unnecessary”).

  26. “You argue that even with full knowledge of the evidence, one can still refuse to embrace faith. That’s hard to conceive. I always assume the problem is ignorance not outright rejection. But refusal is a biblical description of the lost (John 5:40). What a terrifying thought that someone could be given all the facts and clearly understand the truth and yet still reject it.”

    Dana, I wonder if you’ve read CS Lewis’ “The Great Divorce”? Among other things, he explores what it might look like to refuse in the full knowledge of what you are refusing…how they justify it to themselves and knowingly choose hell instead of heaven. I’ve never read anything quite like it.

  27. Bestmackman,

    No. I’m not much of a reader, especially fiction. But I found it online and read it today at your suggestion. Though the old English and dialogue was a little hard to follow, I did find it interesting. The twist at the end was actually reassuring as I had trouble with the extra-biblical concepts of heaven and hell and the second chance theology it initially seemed to be espousing. I also had a hard time following the chess analogy. It seemed to undermine the point of choice, referring to the pieces as “puppets”, “mimicking” a predetermined choice.

    But specifically to your point, I thought the exchange between the lady and the dwarf was the closest fit to the issue I raised. The narrator could see the beauty and persuasiveness of the lady’s pleas but the dwarf could not. Like my incredulity toward the hardened sinner in the face of presumably sufficient divine grace and revelation, the narrator could not understand how the dwarf could resist, yet he did.

    But just because the grace given seemed irresistible and irrefutable to the narrator, does not mean that it was so. It was sufficient for the narrator but not sufficient for the dwarf. But this does not prove that a more sufficient grace could not have been given. i.e., how do we know they had “full knowledge”?

    That being said, I do think it was Lewis’ intent to leave the reader with the sense that the Lady had not failed. She did all that could be expected or asked. The problem was the dwarf was unwilling and apparently no amount of goodness, light or love could overcome his obstinate will.

    As I think I have said before, this is a hard hurdle for my mind to overcome. How could anything be too difficult for God? It seemed Lewis tried to answer this question with this quote:

    “Witness the doctrine of Predestination which shows (truly enough) that eternal reality is not waiting for a future in which to be real; but at the price of removing Freedom which is the deeper truth of the two.”

    Not sure what Lewis was getting at, but I’m thinking that this is similar to [my understanding of] Ben’s point that though God has the ability to remove Freedom, he will not do so because it would contradict His own nature. Thus the value of freedom trumps the value of saving all or even one with irresistible grace.

    Thanks for weighing in.

    Dana

    p.s.

    I also found it interesting to see the narrator wrestle with the Lady’s contentment once the dwarf left. Clearly she was motivated to plead with him passionately. I naturally associate motivation with emotional investment such that failing to win the soul results in a sense of loss and disappointment. But not the lady. I thought Lewis’ use of the frequent, seemingly inappropriate laughter by the “solid people” was an effective tool to describe a divine perspective that can laugh in contentment even when rejected. This is a hard state to truly imagine, but it is wonderful to contemplate. I’m praying for this kind of passion coupled with contentment when it comes to praying for the lost.

  28. “The narrator could see the beauty and persuasiveness of the lady’s pleas but the dwarf could not. ”

    This is where you’re wrong, I think, and it’s an important point. The dwarf COULD see it: He just chose to ignore it in favor of his claim for special “unselfishness”. “This was not the meeting he had pictured: He would not accept it.”

    It’s not about knowledge and facts. The smoker doesn’t smoke from lack of knowledge; The sulker doesn’t sulk from lack of knowledge. And the dwarf did not choose hell from lack of knowledge. It’s not about knowledge.

  29. Sorry for the double-post, but how about a personal example:

    I’m married to a fantastic wife. Occasionally, she will (unknowingly and accidentally) do something that hurts my feelings. Often it’s not even about something she actually did, but about an expectation I had that wasn’t met.

    And so I will end up with hurt feelings. And so I have two choices:

    1: I can either forgive her fully and unconditionally or acknowledge that the fault was entirely my own, and therefore let go of the hurt;

    2: OR I can hold onto the hurt, nurse it, almost treasure it, and think of how good a husband I am for not voicing it, basking in the moral high ground…even though doing so hurts me and my marriage.

    I KNOW those are the two options. Yet that knowledge doesn’t do anything without my will. Knowledge, by itself, is worthless. (Which, as an aside, is why James tells his readers that their belief that God is one is shared by demons, and therefore worthless.)

    Finally…a will that has a metaphorical “button” that God can press to guarantee the desired result isn’t a will or a person at all, but merely a machine. I think that’s the crux of it.

  30. Bestmackman,

    Thanks for the follow up comments. I agree that the dwarf could see with his eyes, but he could not see with his heart. You say that he COULD see the “beauty and persuasiveness of the lady’s pleas” as I put it, but since he did not consider them beautiful, I say that means he did not TRULY see. Perhaps it was his own choice not to see, to shut is eyes to what was right in front of him. Perhaps his heart was so seared and hardened through years of bitterness and envy that it prevented him from seeing clearly. But clearly, he lacked the affections of faith. He had some knowledge but not affection for that knowledge.

    I appreciate your personal example. That is a wonderfully mature perspective to have about offenses in marriage. Praise God! You say you KNOW there are two options when faced with an offense and the deciding factor in which option you choose is your will. But why do we make the choices we make? What we KNOW intellectually and what we BELIEVE in our heart (Rom. 10:9) are distinct things. Why did Adam & Eve choose to eat the forbidden fruit? They believed a lie. Although they had knowledge, it was not perfect because they allowed their knowledge to be tainted by a lie. They began to doubt the goodness and trustworthiness of God’s Word.

    So, the dwarf should have been able to see what the narrator saw, but he did not see it with the eyes of faith. He was believing a lie. It is impossible to believe what you are not persuaded is true. And it is difficult to stop believing something when you have become persuaded it is true (even if it is really a lie like in the dwarf’s case). The key I believe is to choose to seek truth and God’s grace will provide the right sufficient persuasion (grace). That is where the dwarf failed in my opinion. He did not seek God and he is now paying the price by looking at the truth with blind eyes.

    Returning to your personal example, if you chose to “nurse” your hurt rather than forgive, you would be doing so believing that it was in your best interest. Even if you knew on some level that this was hurting your marriage, your decision to do it anyway betrays your true thinking. You are at that moment believing the lie that holding onto the hurt will somehow help you in a more satisfying way. It fills a void. Even if it is at the expense of your marriage, you hold on anyway. This reveals a self-love that trumps your love for your wife and God. Just because you can articulate the choice intellectually, does not mean that you truly believe that option 1 is the better choice. I don’t doubt you believe it is true now, but when you (or I) choose option 2, we are saying that we believe option 2 is better. We act like the dwarf.

    I agree that the button metaphor is a crude way to describe effectual grace. We are certainly more than machines. We are image-bearers of God. Let me try to explain my thinking this way:

    You know when someone says about their beloved, “he gets me.”? They mean that he understands me in a way that most do not. God “gets us” in such a complete way that he knows exactly what part of our understand (knowledge) is warped by sin and deception. i.e., God knows what lie we are believing that keeps us from trusting him. He knows exactly why we believe it, what void it fills in our heart. He wants to fill that void. We wrongfully think we can fill it on our own. We believe the lie. But if we were truly persuaded that heaven was better than hell, we would choose heaven if just for our own self-interest.

    Perhaps that is the rub. Choosing based on perfect knowledge alone would be selfish. God wants us to choose to love him for his interests (glory). So perhaps he holds back from giving us perfect knowledge (effectual grace) so that we will trust him by faith (by sufficient grace) even as doubts and lies still haunt us.

    I thought about deleting that last paragraph because I feel like I am rambling. Perhaps I am getting to far “into the weeds” as Ben put it.

    God Bless,

    Dana

  31. “But if we were truly persuaded that heaven was better than hell, we would choose heaven if just for our own self-interest.”

    I think you’re mixing two fundamental issues. One is knowledge and facts, the other is value.

    To use The Great Divorce: All of the ghosts have accurate knowledge of heaven. They KNOW what heaven is, and they know what staying would entail. Knowledge is not the issue.

    The issue is that they don’t VALUE what they see. The old priest doesn’t value the exclusivity and finality of heaven, the mother doesn’t value God over her son, the dwarf doesn’t value real, actual love over his claim to unselfishness and long-suffering. They believe themselves to be better off in hell than in heaven.

    Two important take-aways here:

    First off, THEY’RE RIGHT! They’re 100% correct that – as they currently are – they are better off in hell. They could not find contentment or happiness in heaven as they currently are. They would never grow solid enough to walk on the grass, they could never drink the water, and they certainly could not withstand the light that falls on the narrator at the end (“The morning! The morning!” I cried, “I am caught by the morning and I am a ghost.””). As they currently are, they cannot live in heaven.

    And second: These values that make them unsuitable for heaven aren’t a matter of knowledge or information. Those values *comprise who they are as people.* Their values are fundamental parts of them, and without those values, they would no longer be the same people.

    That’s what it comes down to, I think. It wouldn’t be a matter of God “convincing” them, or imparting new knowledge to them: It would be a matter of God forcibly changing who they are as people. God glories in transforming those who desire to be transformed: But you’ll note that the angel cannot kill the man’s lust without his permission, because his lust is part of who he is. For God to change them without that desire would be for God to essentially kill their old selves and forcibly create new selves for them.

    Maybe this makes no sense at all and I’m just rambling. But this is what I’ve been thinking about.

  32. I agree there is a distinction between knowledge and value, but truth is not subjective. Anyone who values hell above heaven is deceived. They do not properly understand. But I suppose you are right; unless a person is changed, heaven would not be good for them. The light of heaven would be a consuming fire, like when Isaiah cried “Woe is me, I am undone!” or when Moses asked to see God’s full glory but was denied lest it kill him. Praise God for the righteousness of Christ that makes us worthy to approach the throne of grace and ultimately enjoy him forever in heaven without fear of being consumed!

    So relating this discussion back to the subject of prayer, when you pray for the lost, what exactly are you asking God to do? You don’t expect God to “convince” them since that would forcibly change who they are? It sounds like your prayer would be more of a wish than a request. I wish they would choose to give permission to God so that he can transform them. Forgive me for being blunt but that sounds weak. Maybe that’s not what you mean.

    I assume an Arminian would view the dynamic of prayer as a synergistic process rather than monergistic. We do not ask God to irresistibly overpower their resistance to the truth (though when it comes to my loved ones I would like to). We ask God to give more grace, more chances to believe. We ask rather than assume because God is not obligated to do this and may even be inclined not to do so. Even though God loves the sinner and wants them to be saved, his longsuffering nature has limits. He only puts up with our resistance and defiance for so long. Eventually he gives us over to our desires (Rom. 1) and stops drawing us, stops imparting grace.

    But when a child of God prays to his Father to show more mercy to that sinner, the heart of the Father may be moved to relent from his just hardening. The Father is not unjust to deny a sinner more chances to believe, but neither is he prevented from doing so. That the heart of God could be moved to change his mind in response to the prayer of his child is an indication of how much he loves us! This seems to me to be a great motivation to pray. Prayer really can change God’s orientation toward an individual. And that is the single most important factor in determining their ultimate destiny because apart from the enabling grace of God, no one will be saved.

    Grace & Peace,

    Dana

  33. Ben,

    In my post on 6/26/17 I wrote:

    “Best I can tell “free-will” is not a biblical term and so I am loathed to embrace it. It feels like a human invention to satisfy our warped sense of fairness. I do not deny we are free volitional creatures, I just wish there was a better way to define it using biblical terms. Maybe you can point me in the right direction?”

    Thinking about this statement I feel I was a little impetuous and overly dramatic. I’ve been doing some study on this subject of free will and wanted to let you know I think I found a satisfactory answer.

    Although “free will” is not strictly a biblical term, freedom and liberty certainly are, as is the word “will”. I could cite texts to support this claim but I don’t think it is in dispute. But usually when the Bible speaks about freedom it is in the context of deliverance from the bondage of sin (Gal. 5:1-13; Rom. 6:22; 8:2, 20-21). Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that our bondage to sin renders us unable to choose to believe in Christ until God imparts enabling grace. Whether that grace is resistible or not, we should agree that once we believe, we now posses a greater degree of “freedom” than we previously enjoyed. We are now free not to sin.

    Granted, Rom. 6:18 speaks of us now being slaves of righteousness, but I”m pretty sure that does not mean we are no longer able to sin and must irresistibly always do what is right. Nor does it mean that when we do right, it was God causing us to do it in a monergistic sense. Helping us in a synergistic sense, sure, but not causing. This slavery just means we have a new master.

    Does this new found freedom of the believer mean that we possess the ability to do otherwise (LFW)? 1 Cor. 10:13 seems to suggest this is the case. Whether we escape temptation is not a matter of divine decree but rather our free decision to choose “the way of escape” or not. So I feel more comfortable with the term in that sense. We are made free to potentially choose otherwise by the grace of God.

    Whether we possessed this LFW in our depraved state when we were incapable of believing is another subject. Perhaps the general revelation of Rom. 1, the gospel proclamation of Col. 1:23, and the appearing of Titus 2:11 are sufficient grace to enable LFW? I’m still not totally comfortable with the notion of universal enabling, but I’ll table that discussion for another time.

    And on the other end of the spectrum, how we can posses LFW in heaven when we can no longer sin, is also a head scratcher. Perhaps there is some merit to the Calvinistic view that we possess the physical ability but not necessarily the desire to will it? So in heaven with the temptation removed, there is no longer a conflict of desires.

    Anyway, thought you might like to know I am not as “loathed” to embrace the term free will. Have a nice weekend.

    Freed in Christ,

    Dana

  34. Dana,

    I think you have keyed into something important. Even as believers with the empowering presence of the Spirit within us, the Spirit that always wants to work sanctification in us in accordance with the will of God (1 Thess. 4:3), we are still able to choose against God and sin.

    So even with all of that going for us, we can still choose to value sin more than obedience, even though we know God is not pleased with sin. I think that is proof that even with full knowledge of what is good and true, we can still choose what is not.

    Does that mean we shouldn’t pray for others or encourage them not to sin? Of course not. The bulk of the epistles are concerned with persuading God’s people to grow in holiness and is often filled with prayers for that to take place. So Biblically, we have good reason to believe that while prayers and other forms of persuasion that are empowered by and accompanied by the Spirit, can make a difference in our choices, they are still not irresistible (since despite such things, we still, at times choose against what is best and grieve the Spirit, even with full knowledge of what is best).

    I agree that 1 Cor. 10:13 is a powerful passage along these lines. As far as LFW before conversion, I would say the inherent power to choose is there, but unable to operate in the direction of God because of our corrupt nature. God’s enabling makes submitting to God an option where it was not an option before. In a similar way, God’s enabling post-conversion makes it possible for us to avoid sin, grow in sanctification, and truly please God, but as you mention and as is clear from experience, we still fail in those areas at times and choose contrary to the will of God.

    As far as free will in heaven, you might find this helpful: http://evangelicalarminians.org/brian-abasciano-true-love-free-will-and-heaven/

    Some other posts you might find helpful if you have not already seen them:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/04/01/the-reality-of-choice-and-the-testimony-of-scripture/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/10/19/sanctification-by-works/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/02/19/examining-inconsistencies-in-calvinistic-monergism-part-2-sanctification/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2009/01/06/synergism-as-a-model-for-gods-glory/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/resistible-grace-or-sinless-perfection-a-call-for-theological-precision-in-the-calvinist-accounting-of-monergistic-conversion/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2016/03/07/addressing-the-calvinist-claim-that-god-can-irresisitibly-cause-make-people-freely-love-him/

    http://evangelicalarminians.org/does-prevenient-grace-make-total-depravity-only-hypothetical-and-not-actual/

  35. Fixed a significant typo above…Does that mean we should [changed to “shouldn’t”] pray for others?

  36. Ben,

    Thanks for the reply and the links. I had read some of them before but it was good to refresh my memory. I was particularly struck by the issue of synergism in sanctification. I read some of the comments to your posts but they were very long and no one seemed to be addressing your main question: If we can resist God’s grace in sanctification, why according to Calvinism can’t we resist his grace in salvation? Like you, I have not heard a satisfactory answer to this question from a Calvinist. To simply accept without explanation (as some Calvinists do) that one grace is irresistible and the other is resistible is unsatisfying to say the least. (I actually think many Calvinists consider this a virtue of contentment and submission to God’s transcendence.)

    The last link you gave addressed the issue of universal enabling grace which I said I still have a hard time seeing as Scriptural. Something you said seemed to clarify the issue for me. You said in that post,

    “First, many Arminians hold that the grace that specifically enables a faith response accompanies the Gospel message. So it is only in accordance with the Gospel message being heard that one is enabled to believe it. It seems that this person is thinking more of a version of prevenient grace that would have us under that influence from the time we are born (more like in Wesleyanism).”

    Is this an outright denial of universal enabling grace or just an acknowledgement that such enabling may not happen at birth?

    I agree with Barret that Wesleyan prevenient grace (if defined as universal enabling grace from birth) means that “no person actually exists in such a state” [of total inability], because they were cured at birth.

    You argued against this claim by suggesting that depravity is like ADD which requires medication to suppress. But is regeneration really like an ADD prescription or is it more like a supernatural healing (the blind made to see and the lame made to walk)? I think the later is a better analogy.

    But to your point, even if someone lame is made able to walk, they still have to choose to get up and walk and more importantly to use their ability for good. It seems absurd to contemplate a lame man being healed and yet choosing to remain seated. But it is certainly conceivable to imagine this lame man choosing to get up but not follow the one who healed him. In fact that is exactly what happened to 9 of the 10 leapers (Luke 17). They resisted the grace of the Lord Jesus. Though recipients of healing, they chose to not return and give thanks.

    You also wrote:

    “The point is that whenever or however that grace we need is applied, it is applied exactly because “we need it” and without it we would be without hope and unable to respond to God as we should. ”

    Agreed, but the “whenever” is exactly the point of debate. As long as we do not insist on Wesleyan enabling from birth, the texts that describe remaining inability (e.g., Rom. 8:5-8) still make sense to me.

    As for eventual universality of grace, Rom. 1:18-20; Col. 1:23; and Titus 2:11 seem to imply that everyone receives revelation, gospel and grace at some point, but not necessarily at birth. Maybe at an age of accountability? I am also still open to the possibility that these texts are not universal but normative (all kinds rather than every person ever born).

    It makes sense that God who loves all universally would give everyone a legitimate chance to believe but I won’t charge him with wrong if I find out in heaven that he gave some only enough revelation to condemn and not enough gospel to be saved. That is why we need to go and preach the gospel. But I lean more toward the idea that general revelation enables some “faith response’ (as you put it) and those who choose to respond are then given more grace until ultimately they are given the gospel either through a missionary or a more unusual form of revelation (possibly dreams and visions).

    I sense I am venturing into the weeds again. Sorry to deviate from the subject of this thread. I was just responding to the links you sent.

    God Bless,

    Dana

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: