An Arminian Response to John Hendryx on the Meaning and Implications of Spiritual Death Part 3: John Hendryx Concedes That it is a Plain “Fact” that Faith Precedes Regeneration

[You can find part one of this series here, and part two here]

John Hendryx continues his response to the “synergist” visitor:

Finally, your attempt to overturn the doctrine of total depravity relies entirely too much on the one biblical concept of “dead in sin” for the unbeliever. From my standpoint, if those texts which say”dead in sin” never existed there still would be a vast number of other texts which just as clearly show man’s woeful condition apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. For no one can say “Christ is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit.

Again, we see that Hendryx is not really grasping the main point.  The point is not that divine enabling isn’t necessary to bring sinners to faith, but that this enabling is not regeneration.

It is true that no one can say “Christ is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit, but this is not necessarily the result of the indwelling Spirit as Hendryx seems to imagine.  Indeed, the context of 1 Corinthians 12:3 is about the influence of God’s Spirit in contrast to the influence of pagan teaching leading to the worship of false gods (vs 2).  The deception of paganism influences people to worship mute idols while the Holy Spirit influences people to turn to Christ as Lord (and can never influence a person to curse Christ as the pagans may be led to do).

This divine influence can be understood in the context of prevenient grace in reference to the Holy Spirit’s convicting and enabling work that makes faith possible (John 16:8-11) or it can be in the context of indwelling (e.g. the exercise of spiritual gifts in vss. 4-11).  But what it cannot mean is that indwelling is what leads to initial faith in Christ since the Spirit of God is received by faith (Gal. 3:2, 4, 14; cf. Rom. 8:9-17).  So if Hendryx is trying to say that the indwelling of the Spirit is what makes initial faith possible, he is again at odds with Scripture.

(Among them are Rom 3:11; 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14) Aside from the obvious consequence of physical death to Adam and his descendants (Gen 2:17) there are several other curses revealing natural man’s spiritual impotence including man’s inability to understand God (Psalm 50:21; Job 11:7-8; ROM 3:11); to see spiritual things (John 3:3); to know his own heart (Jer 17:9); to direct his own steps in the path of life (Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12); to free himself from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:10); to receive the Holy Spirit (John 14:17); to hear, understand or receive the words of God (John 8:47; 1 Corinthians 2:14); to give himself birth into God’s family (John 1:13, Romans 9:15-16); to produce repentance and faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; John 6:64,65; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; Philippians 1:29; 2 Timothy 2:25); to come to Christ (John 10:26; John 6:44); and to please God (Romans 8:5, 8, 9).

Despite Scripture being so strongly against Hendryx and his false conclusions about deadness in sin and the contention that regeneration must therefore precede faith, he is not willing to give up the fight.  He treats us to a rapid fire example of gross proof texting.  Such passages are no threat to Arminianism which wholly agrees that God must graciously enable the depraved sinner to believe the Gospel before saving faith is possible. Indeed, Arminians contend that most passages put forward by Calvinists to illustrate the need for irresistible grace actually serve better to illustrate the operation of resistible enabling grace.

The passages that simply reference our depraved state and the consequent need for prevenient grace that Hendryx calls on for support would include Jeremiah 17:9; Rom. 3:11 and 8:7.  While Arminians fully affirm the doctrine of total depravity, it is important to point out that Romans 8:7 is actually addressing inability to obey the law without the indwelling Spirit, not the inability to believe the Gospel in the first place. Since the Spirit is received by faith, this proof text actually backfires on Hendryx.  For more on that, see my post on Ezekiel 36:26-27.  Jeremiah 10:23 likewise has reference to our inability to live a life pleasing to God without His help and guidance.

Job 11:7-8 has reference to man’s inability to fully comprehend God or His unrevealed mysteries.  That doesn’t really speak to our inability to believe the Gospel as revealed by God’s word and the Holy Spirit, and no amount of divine illumination would make it possible for us to fully comprehend God anyway (making this passage essentially irrelevant in the debate). Psalm 50:21 and Proverbs 14:21 seem to be the wrong references.

Gal 3:10 is a particularly strange one for Hendryx to appeal to since it is in a context where Paul is contrasting the claims of the Judaizers with the promise of the Gospel.  The Judaizers want the Gentile believers to become circumcised Jews, believing that this is the only way for them to receive the promises of God’s covenant people.

Paul, on the other hand, makes it clear that the indwelling Spirit is what marks them out as God’s people, not adherence to Jewish laws (especially circumcision).  And Paul is emphatic in verse 14 (just as he was in verses 3 and 5) that the promise of the Holy Spirit (who marks us out as belonging to God in the new covenant, cf.  Eph. 1:13; Rom 8:9, 14-17, Gal 3:26-28) is received by faith:

The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.”

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Gal. 3:8-14, bold emphasis mine)

Hendryx continues:

 (Reminder of something the Visitor asked)
If unregenerate man is cadaver-like and incapable of hearing from God and believing in Him, then why does the Bible record statements such as this one from Jesus: “You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40)? In other words, if life precedes believing, then why did Jesus reverse the order? Shouldn’t he have said, “You are unwilling to come to me because you don’t have life”?

“You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40)?

…This is merely a statement of fact. All men are called to come to Christ. All men are called to believe but these are in the subjunctive
(hypothetical) mood. A grammarian would explain that this is a conditional statement that asserts nothing indicatively. In this passage, what we “ought” to do does not necessarily imply what we “can” do.

John seems to be missing the point once again.  This is not about what they are able to do or not do.  It is about what comes first, faith or regeneration.  Jesus says that coming to Him (by faith) is what leads to receiving new life in Him.  Hendryx wants to flip the script so that we must first receive life in order to come to Jesus, but this is the exact opposite of what Jesus says in John 5:40.  As the visitor well points out, if Jesus believed as Hendryx says we should believe then He should have said, “You are unwilling to come to me because you do not have life.”

 The Ten Commandments, likewise, speak of what we ought to do but they do not imply that we have the moral ability to carry them out. The commandments of God were never meant to empower us but to strip us of trusting in our own ability so that we would come to an end of ourselves. With striking clarity, Paul teaches that this is the intent of Divine legislation (ROM 3:20, 5:20, Gal 3:19,24).

It is strange that John would compare inability to fully obey the law with inability to believe the Gospel, especially when Paul explicitly says that the life the law was unable to bring about in us because of our disobedience is actually received by faith in Christ (Gal. 3:18-25).  So once again, John’s own prooftexts backfire on him.

If anyone is tempted to argue that belief is merely an invitation, not a command, read 1 John 3:23: “And this is his
command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ…”
So I believe that those who hold to the idea that since God commands the fallen
unregenerate man to do something he therefore has the ability to do so is imposing an unbiblical assumption on to the text.

This may be true in certain circumstances, but John has offered no proof that with regards to the Gospel God does not enable those who hear it to believe unto life.

A command or invitation with an open ended statement does not imply the ability to fulfill it.

Actually it most normally does, even if the ability is granted rather than inherent (as in the case of the Gospel).

This is especially true in light of texts such as John 1:13, ROM 9:16, John 6:37, 44, 63-65; ROM 3:11; Matt 16-26′ 1 Cor 2:14 and many more which show man’s moral inability to believe the Gospel in the fallen state. In our unregenerate nature we do not want God but rather love darkness and “will not come into the light”.

Another rapid fire list of prooftexts with no exegetical interaction.  Suffice it to say that Hendryx is not properly understanding these passages if he thinks they teach regeneration precedes faith.  Indeed, John 1:12-13 teaches the exact opposite:

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (bold emphasis mine)

Verse 12 plainly teaches that one becomes a child of God by receiving Christ through faith.  It is to those who receive Christ by believing in His name that God grants the power to become something they were not prior to believing: children of God.  In verse 13 we see that becoming children of God is parallel to being born of God”.

The apostle John also goes on to say that this new birth is not of us, but of God.  In other words, God grants us new spiritual birth and makes us His children in response to faith.  We are powerless to regenerate ourselves and become children of God so we need to trust in Christ to receive the new birth that God promises to all who will receive His Son. For more on that and on Romans 9:16 which parallels John 1:13, see here.

From the start Hendryx has been laboring to prove that regeneration precedes faith but then references a passage that explicitly puts faith before the new birth.

Furthermore, to drive home the point further, Jesus actually does say that life precedes believing in other passages. Here are two examples:

“but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:26,27)

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. “But there are some of you who do not believe.” … And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” (John 6:63-65)

I would suggest once again that John is misreading and misapplying these passages in John’s Gospel which actually have nothing to do with regeneration preceding faith.  For more detail on that, see here.

Hendryx then quotes a lengthy passage from Charles Spurgeon to help him further dismiss the visitor’s reference to John 5:40, missing the point yet again.  Hendryx claims that Spurgeon actually uses John 5:40 to “prove depravity”, but that is not the case at all.  Spurgeon, like Hendryx, appeals to man’s depravity to dismiss the implications of John 5:40, but that is not the same as using the passage to prove depravity.

In the end, Spurgeon says little that an Arminian would disagree with (with the one exception of claiming that God’s grace is irresistible) despite pretending to respond to an Arminian (proving that Spurgeon did not really understand Arminianism at all).  For example:

You [Arminian] reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer–Did you ever meet with any person who was?…

No, just as I have never met with any Arminian who would dare suggest “that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit.”  If they would say that it would only prove that they are not Arminian at all, and Spurgeon should know that full well (as should Hendryx).

It is no surprise that in Hendryx’s concluding remarks he imagines that he has refuted his visitor just as we are quite sure we have refuted Hendryx.  Really, Hendryx has done quite well repeatedly refuting himself, even conceding that coming to Jesus in faith precedes receiving the life that can only be found in Him:

“You are unwilling to come to Me, that you may have life” (John 5:40)?

…This is merely a statement of fact.

Indeed it is.

11 thoughts on “An Arminian Response to John Hendryx on the Meaning and Implications of Spiritual Death Part 3: John Hendryx Concedes That it is a Plain “Fact” that Faith Precedes Regeneration

  1. Calvinist here who rejects the born again before faith error. So too did Spurgeon.

    Your rebuttal was spot on.

    Stephen Garrett

  2. br.d,

    Thanks for the link. I think I read that somewhere before. Most of it is excellent and really shows why trying to have discussions with Calvinists is so exasperating and often fruitless. My only gripe would be in the way he describes foreknowledge as God observing and learning.

  3. Thanks – yes – that would be understood.
    Divine Omniscience – on the Orthodox position is an “Essential” attribute.
    Which means there is never any point at which it is lacking.
    So you are correct – there would be no such thing as learning something that is already known.

    BTW: Its my understanding that Omniscience as as an “Essential” attribute is where the Calvinist view of Omniscience deviates from what is considered Orthodox. I’ve had Calvinists assert that prior to the decree which establishes [X] Calvin’s God does not have Omniscience of [X]. They therefore make divine knowledge subservient to the divine decree. Is that your understanding as well?

  4. br.d,

    Sorry my response is so late. You wrote: “They therefore make divine knowledge subservient to the divine decree. Is that your understanding as well?”

    Yes. Absolutely. The decree is the basis of foreknowledge. God only foreknows because He will infallibly bring about all that He has irresistibility decreed.

  5. Does the doctrine of Arminius allow, like the Council of Trent, for a grace, chronologically prior to both regeneration and faith, by which the as yet unjustified sinner is enabled to respond to God’s grace ?

    And, do the Wesleys, or John their colleague John Fletcher, or any other representative Arminian theologians of any time or place since 1609 or so, allow for such a grace ?

    Thank you 🤗🤗🤗

  6. Hello Jamesc,

    “Does the doctrine of Arminius allow, like the Council of Trent, for a grace, chronologically prior to both regeneration and faith, by which the as yet unjustified sinner is enabled to respond to God’s grace ?”

    Yes, absolutely. It is called prevenient grace and Arminius was a strong defender of the doctrine. The same is true of Wesley and Fletcher. Prevenient grace was a vital doctrine for all of them.

  7. I am not a Calvinist. I understand how Calvinism came to be. If salvation is God’s work, and not everyone is saved, then… Calvinists made a conclusion that seems logical, but is not biblical… God does not want everyone to be saved. That erroneous conclusion resulted in Arminianism as reaction: No, God DOES want everyone to be saved, the Bible clearly teaches that. So far, so good. But Arminianism presents us with another problem: God does the work of salvation in Christ (the Atonement) and gives prevenient grace to everyone. Everyone is, thus, enabled to respond to the Gospel and “say ‘yes’ to God’ – and so be saved. Enablement to choose Christ comes from God but the choosing itself comes from us humans. The problem, however, is this: If I and all around me are enabled to accept Christ, but they don’t, because they prefer sin, darkness, and evil, and I accept Christ, because I prefer holiness, light, and goodness, then am I not better in that respect, in preferring what is good? If one prefers to steal and lie, and one prefers to be honest, is the latter not better than the former? So, if I am the only one of my relatives who is saved, because I saw Christ bleeding for my sins and my heart melted, and they are not, because they dispised and rejected the loving Savior, am I not better than them, and cannot I say that I – in that regard only – conributed to my salvation (regeneration)? I would appreciate your answer, because my church affiliation and ministry depends on it. Thank you.

  8. Hello Leopold,

    This is a popular philosophical argument for Calvinism and it is meant to imply a few different things with the hope that it will cause one to think that only Calvinism can make sense of the supposed dilemma. It has been a pretty effective tactic for many, but it lacks Biblical support and isn’t even strong philosophically. Here are several short posts that address the question from slightly different angles (addressing all that is typically meant to be implied by the argument in its various forms). I think if you read these you find that this argument isn’t very compelling after all. If you still have questions, let me know.

    God Bless,

    The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #9: Faith is Some Reason to Boast?

    The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #2: Arminianism entails salvation by “inherent ability”

    The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #1: “If we have libertarian free will, what makes us choose one way or the other?”

    The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacy #10: Wait, Now Faith is a “Work?”

    Does Arminian Theology Suggest That We Depend on Ourselves Instead of Christ for Salvation?

    Synergism as a Model for God’s Glory

    Does Paul Support Calvinism’s View of Irresistible Grace in 1 Corinthians 4:7?

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