Paul Washer’s – “Doctrine” of Election: An Arminian Critique

I have been frequently referred to Paul Washer’s video discussion, “Doctrine” of Election.  I found the video transcript and decided it would be beneficial to interact with this apparently influential accounting of Calvinist election.  The sections of the transcript are marked by block quotes with my comments in between.  A copy of the transcript can be found at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/21411721/Paul-Washer-Video-Transcript

Student:  I got a question, I don’t understand.  I’ve been raised Southern Baptist my whole life and I’m searching for the Truth really hard in my life right now.  I’m in seminary and I want to understand the doctrine of election and things like that.  And my roommate’s a Calvinist and he’s been kind of trying to teach me a little bit but I just want to know the Truth and they tell me that you’re the guy, you know.  Is there any way that you can, you know…anything that you can…[say to help me understand this more clearly?]

Paul Washer:  If you will go to my pastor’s website, Anchored in Truth, he has a series of sermons called “Election: Plain and Simple.”  Some of the best you’ll ever hear.

Student:  Anchored in Truth.org?

Paul Washer:  Anchored in Truth.org.

Student:  .org?

Paul Washer:  “Election: Plain and Simple.”  What it all comes down to is this.  You only have to answer one question:  Is man radically depraved? That’s the only question you have to ask.  Because if he is, if he’s truly dead in his sin, if he truly hates God, if all men are equally evil (and they are), then the question is, how are you standing here right now believing God while some of your friends who are more moral than you still hate Him?  What happened?  If you say you opened up your heart, I’ll say no you didn’t because the Bible says God [unintelligible] opened any man’s heart.  If you say you repent, well repentance is an evangelical grace [unintelligible] confession, it means it comes from God as a gift.  You say, well I believe (pause) Ephesians 2 – that also is a gift.

So rather than look to what the Bible actually says about election, Paul Washer wants to take the student on a philosophical journey of the Calvinist conception of inability in order to “teach” this student why he should hold to the Calvinist unconditional election view.

Student:  I know that the Bible says that no man come to God unless [unintelligible].  I know that, but my question is, is the grace, the offer of salvation for all men or did God say back in eternity, say it’s for you, you, you, you, and you, you, you,

The student asks a great question here.  The student is not questioning election, but whether or not that election needs to be unconditional.  The student is not even questioning whether or not inability is a reality; rather, the student wants to know if God only overcomes the inability of some rather than all.  The student seems to rightly recognize that inability alone cannot really decide the matter in favor of unconditional election since God could draw all to Himself (John 12:32), enabling all to believe and become the elect if that were how God sovereignly chose to do things (John 16:7-11; Titus 2:11; 1 Timothy 2:1-6;).  The student has actually just cut the legs out from under the framework on which Calvinist Paul Washer wants to build unconditional election.  This is evident in Washer’s laborious attempt to draw a logical connection between inability and the necessity of unconditional election as if God could not enable all who hear the gospel to respond favorably to it (in faith).

Paul Washer:  See, first of all your problem is this.  Let’s say there’s no election.  None at all.  Alright?  Let’s just start fresh.  No election.  Alright.  Now.  Let’s say that men really are radically depraved and no man can come to God unless God draws him.  So God comes down to every man and says, “Anyone who will bow their knee to me, anyone who will accept My Son as their Saviour will be saved.”  Since every man is radically depraved, they all hate God, they all blaspheme Him, turn around and walk away and go to hell. The whole world goes to hell.  Is that God’s fault?

It is if Calvinism is true.  If Calvinism is true then God irresistibly caused these people to hate Him.  Now, Calvinists may not want to own such blunt language, but the above statement is in perfect harmony with traditional Calvinist thought [1].  In Calvinism, everything is controlled by God.  This includes the thoughts, emotions, desires, wills and actions of His creatures.  Furthermore, God’s foreknowledge is entirely based on His decree.  God can only foreknow what He decrees.  God has prior knowledge of an event only because God will make that event happen in time in accordance with His unchangeable and irresistible decree.  God’s foreknowledge is therefore based on the fact that all that will ever happen will happen only because God will cause it to happen in accordance with His eternal decree.  This again includes every thought, desire, and action of every person who will ever live.  This included the first sin (and every subsequent sin).  How did God foreknow that Adam would sin?  He foreknew it because He decreed it and irresistibly brought it about in accordance with that decree.  Adam could no more resist the eternal decree to rebel against God than he could create a universe. [2]

So God caused Adam to sin and then punished Adam for perfectly fulfilling the decree of God in such a way that Adam had absolutely no power to resist.  God controlled Adam’s desires and will to sin (it is useless to retort that Adam sinned “willingly” since his will was controlled by God in accordance with His unchangeable eternal decree).  With this backdrop in mind we can see how Washer’s comments do not fit with the theology he is trying to defend.  When the exhaustive decretal determinism of Calvinism is in view, questions like, “Is that God’s fault?” should be answered with “Yes”.  How can it not be God’s fault when He controlled and orchestrated the fall and the hatred and rebellion of every one of His “depraved” creatures?  Washer actually has to temporarily forget or ignore his fundamental theological assumptions in order to make such appeals. He basically has to temporarily work from Arminian assumptions in order to argue for Calvinism, since only on Arminian assumptions is it reasonable to say that God is not at fault.

Notice also how Washer doesn’t even deal with the main issue the student rightly pointed to, whether or not inability can be overcome in such a way as to enable all to respond.  Rather, he just assumes throughout his discourse that God cannot enable all depraved God haters to turn to Christ without needing to do so in an irresistible manner.  Therefore, his whole argument is an exercise in question begging.

OK.  Let’s say that really is the reality.  Let’s say that the Bible’s true and that men hate God that much. So who’s going to get saved?  Absolutely no one.  And if God saves no one because everyone is evil and rejects Him, is God wrong in doing that?  No.

Again, if fundamental Calvinist assumptions are in view (i.e. exhaustive determinism), the answer has to be “Yes.”

So that’s what you’ve got without election—you’ve got the whole world hating God and going to hell.  That’s it.  And the other option is this:  among these evil men, for His own glory and to demonstrate His own kindness before the foundation of the world, He chooses a group of men out of there to demonstrate His glory in them.  Is that wrong?

It would certainly seem to be wrong if Calvinist assumptions are granted.  It would certainly seem to be wrong according to the concepts of justice described in Scripture for God to irresistibly cause all of His creatures to hate Him and rebel against Him just so He could select some to save from the sin and rebellion that He caused in them while eternally punishing the rest for sinning and rebelling in perfect conformity with God’s irresistible eternal decree.  It is also unclear how God making some that He caused to hate Him suddenly love Him would demonstrate His glory.  What kind of glory would that be exactly?  Those who hate God do so only because God caused them to, and those who love God do so only because God caused them to.  God punishes those He causes to hate Him with unimaginable eternal punishment while blessing those He causes to love Him with unimaginable eternal joy.  In what way can we possibly say this is “glorious” or praiseworthy?  Nor could we call such an election gracious if God caused them all to be hateful sinners in the first place.

But still, there is yet a third “option” that Washer refuses to consider, the option that the student brought up concerning the possibility that God could enable all God haters who hear the gospel to respond positively to it.  That option would simply say that God makes it possible, by His Spirit and His word, for every depraved God hater to respond positively to the gospel message, yet without irresistibly causing a positive faith response.

That “option” would also make sense of the fact that God holds sinners who reject the grace God offers rightly accountable for their sin and rejection, rather than just punishing them for doing exactly what God irresistibly decreed for them to do.  That “option” would also ruin Washer’s desperate attempt to make unconditional election a necessary result of inability, and is therefore ignored.

Did He rip the other men off? What did He do?  You’ve got two choices.  God saves a group of people by His own sovereignty or everybody goes to hell—everybody.  Because men are that evil.  See your problem – see what you need to realize is this, if God right now would throw open the door of hell and say, “Everyone who wants out of hell, the only thing you have to do is bow your knee to me and recognize my Lordship,” they’ll slam the door and stay in hell.

This may be true, but given fundamental Calvinist assumptions such a hopeless despising of God is the unavoidable result of an irresistible eternal decree.  And again, the student never denied inability or depravity.  The student only questioned the logic that God’s enabling grace needs to be irresistible or restricted to only some.

See what you don’t realize, because of the humanistic Christianity inAmerica, you don’t realize men are really evil—they really are evil.  I’ll give you an example.  Any of you seen the Lord of the Rings?  Saurus…Sauron makes these Orcs, they come out of the ground—evil.  Evil.  Alright.  Aragorn, all the heroes in the movie, slaughter them like they were – you know—insects.  Slaughter them.  And every time an Orc gets killed, what do you do?  Yeah (cheering movement).  Why? Cause those Orcs really are evil.  They are evil.  There’s your problem.  You don’t think men are.  Men really are evil.  Men really deserve hell.  They really do. [3]

Student:  And I believe that.  I know that.

The student tries again to help Washer see that the issue is not whether or not men are evil or whether or not men need God to overcome their depravity to make faith possible.  The student doesn’t deny that man is evil.  The student doesn’t deny that depravity must be overcome.  The student only questions the Calvinist claim that God’s gracious enabling need be irresistible or given only to some.  Unfortunately, Washer is too worried about telling the student what his  “problem is” and what the student supposedly “doesn’t realize” to actually listen to the student and grapple with the actual question.  Instead, the student only gets the usual cookie cutter Calvinist brain washing techniques (no pun intended).

Paul Washer:  Alright.  So… it says – you know we talk about the doctrine of inability – that men cannot come to God – Jesus said that.  Alright?  Men cannot come to God.  Now.  If you say men can’t come to God, how can God judge them?  That’s like judging a blind man because he can’t read.  If men can’t come to God, then man’s not a culprit, he’s a victim.  Here’s what you have to understand, men cannot come to God because they will not come to God and they will not come to God because they hate Him and, therefore, they’re responsible.

Again, Paul Washer can’t help talking like an Arminian in order to defend his Calvinism.  He seems to quickly forget that at the heart of Calvinism is the fundamental assumption that God sovereignly controls everything, creating serious problems for his claims of personal accountability for hating God.

This includes His creature’s desires, wills, and therefore “hatred” of God.  When we keep this in mind we immediately see that the “…therefore, they’re responsible” doesn’t follow as Paul Washer seemingly wants us to believe.  Washer’s statement, “That’s like judging a blind man because he can’t read.  If men can’t come to God, then man’s not a culprit, he’s a victim”, is completely accurate in light of Washer’s theology and Washer seems to plainly recognize the problem this would create for his position.  However, he can offer no real solution because in Calvinism those who “willingly” hate God do so because God irresistibly controls their wills to hate Him.

Men are evil.  God is good.  So, men hate God, they hate His law, they hate everything about Him.  OK?

OK, but how did they get evil?  According to Calvinism they got evil because God irresistibly decreed for them to get evil.  If the Calvinist wants to say they chose to be evil, this solves nothing since God decreed for them to “choose” to be evil as well.  And again, Washer can’t stop long enough to realize that the student never denied that man was evil in the first place.

It says of Joseph’s brothers, they could not speak to him peaceably.

And why not?  Because God decreed this for them (according to Calvinism).

Now they spoke [unintelligible].  Why couldn’t they speak to him?  They could not speak to him peaceably because they hated him.  Alright?

Again, why did they hate him?  Because God decreed this for them from all eternity.

That’s why no man will ever come to God.  If God comes down and says, “Alright everybody make their choice.” No one’s coming to God.  Why?  They hate Him.  And that’s why they’re judged for their inability because their inability’s moral.  They really hate God.

But notice how Washer keeps skirting the issue and keeps talking like an Arminian.  He wants to establish moral accountability but can’t do this without ignoring fundamental Calvinist assumptions. “Choice” doesn’t even make sense in Calvinism.  Aren’t our desires, thoughts, wills, and actions all under the meticulous sovereign control of God?  If God decreed from all eternity that they would reject and hate Him, then in what sense can we possibly say they had a “choice” in the matter? [4]  Again, Paul Washer has to temporarily shelve his fundamental Calvinist assumptions and adopt Arminian assumptions in order to morally defend his Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election.

So you’ve got a whole human race – everyone of them’s fallen, everyone of them hates God, God comes down and says, “Who wants to be saved?” Everybody blasphemes the name of God and walks into hell and slams the door.

…in perfect conformity to the irresistible and unchangeable eternal decree of God of which they have no more power to resist than to create a universe.  Washer just keeps saying the same thing over and over.  Man is evil.  Men hate God.  Men are depraved.  None of which the student has denied and all of which the student gladly agreed with.  So why is Washer working so hard to convince the student of something the student already accepts?

That’s what you’ve got – because men really are evil.

Just as God irresistibly decreed for them to be, with no power to be anything other than “really evil”.

And out of that, God says, “But for My own glory, I am going to redeem a people and give them to My Son.  By My own choice, by My own sovereign election.”  He’s done wrong to no one.

See comments above about how this could hardly be considered gracious or glorious given Calvinist assumptions.  It is also hard to imagine how it could be said that God has “done wrong to no one” in electing some of those He caused to hate Him for redemption while holding the rest He caused to hate Him accountable for the hate God decreed for them to have from all eternity.  One would really need to redefine “right” and “wrong” to make such a claim given such Calvinist assumptions.

And now, how does He save a man?  Here’s a question?  Are you spiritually dead prior to conversion?  Well then how do you come to Christ?  If you’re spiritually blind, how do you see?

Student:  He draws men unto Him.

Again, the student nails it.  God must draw us, but there is no reason to assume that this drawing cannot be resistible, rather than irresistible.  There is likewise no reason to assume it cannot enable all who hear to believe.  But Washer must make a logical connection between inability and unconditional election.  He now resorts to the usual Calvinist tactic, the misunderstanding and misapplication of the Biblical concept of being “dead in sin”

Paul Washer:  But you’re a dead man.  If some of it has to do with you, you’re a dead man.  If God calls your name, you hate Him.  You’re not going to come.

Unless God enables you to come.

You’re going to run farther away from Him.  That is why in all of the – listen very carefully – in all of the Christian confessions, the old Christian confessions, in the Reformation, early Baptist confessions – you have been raised on this, if you believe in Jesus, you can be born again.  All the early Baptist confessions say you must be born again in order to believe in Jesus. That’s the difference!

That’s the unbiblical difference.  And is Washer truly saying that “all of the Christian confessions” put regeneration before faith?  That is certainly inaccurate.  It is true that many “Reformed” confessions do this, as well as many “Reformed” Baptist confessions, but that is a far cry from saying that all Baptist confessions and every Christian confession puts regeneration before faith (unless Washer is actually claiming that only “Reformed” Baptists are true Baptists and only “Reformed” Christians are true Christians, which is also grossly inaccurate).

Because if I tell a dead man, “Look, you’re dead. There’s a hospital over here.  We can put some electrodes on you so get up and follow me on over to the hospital.”  It’s not sensible.  He’s dead.  If he can get up, he doesn’t need to go to the hospital.

And there it is, the unbiblical attempt to make “dead in sin” mean “the inability of a physical corpse.”  The Bible nowhere defines “dead in sin” in such a way.  Rather, “dead in sin” is a description of the spiritual separation of the sinner from the spiritual life found only in Christ.  Below is an excerpt from a post I wrote on the subject long ago:

Calvinists are fond of comparing spiritual death to physical death.  This gives them the framework with which to press their theological conviction that regeneration precedes faith.  If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more ”hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see.  But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical?

Nowhere in Scripture is such a strict parallel drawn.  To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential.  The sinner is presently “dead” because, in the absence of faith,  he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.   The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel.  The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life.  In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life.  This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.

But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support.  If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd.  A single example will suffice.

The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit.  Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something?  Of course not.  So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21).  Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything.  This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin.  It is not Biblical. (from What Can The Dead In Sin Do?)

Much more could be said, but for now I would only add that the very passages that speak of being “dead in sin” make it clear that the solution is to be joined to Christ, the source of spiritual life (John 5:26, Cf., Col. 2:11-13; Eph. 2:4-9).  This confirms that the phrase makes reference not to the inability of a physical corpse (to see, hear, believe, etc.), but to the absence of spiritual life that naturally results from being separated from God.  The solution is to be joined to Christ and one is joined to Christ by faith (Eph. 1:13; Gal. 3:26-29).  If one can only cease to be dead in sin by coming to be joined to Christ, and one can only be joined to Christ by faith, then it is Biblically inaccurate to suggest that “dead in sin” means the inability to believe without regeneration.

[Washer continues] When Jesus looked at Lazarus and said, “Lazarus come forth,” Lazarus is dead.  How does he hear the command?  The command not only must be given but the moment the command is given, Lazarus must be resurrected to be able to even hear the command to respond.

Again, there is no Biblical reason to connect “dead in sin” to the inability of a physical corpse to do anything without first being brought back to life.  The story of Lazarus is not a spiritual object lesson on how unbelievers come to faith.  In the same gospel Jesus said “An hour is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25, emphasis mine)  This is the “hearing” of faith (verse 24, cf. Gal. 3:2, 5, the same passages, along with verse 14, which make it clear that the Holy Spirit is also received by faith).  So Jesus says that the spiritually dead will “hear” (with the hearing of faith) unto spiritual “life”.  Paul Washer says that one must be spiritually alive in order to hear, the exact opposite of what Christ said!

The apostle Paul says that the new covenant “promise” that “imparts life” is given “through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 3:21, 22).  Paul Washer says that God must first impart life for us to be able to have faith in Christ, the exact opposite of what the apostle Paul says!  John says that one must receive Christ by faith in order to “become” a child of God (John 1:12, 13) and the apostle Paul says that we become sons of God “through faith” (Gal. 3:36).  Paul Washer says that one must become a child of God (be born again) before one can put faith in Christ, the exact opposite of what John and the apostle Paul taught!

The apostle Paul says that it is through “faith in the power of God” that we move from spiritual death to spiritual life by being joined to Christ and subsequently “raised” to spiritual life “in Him” (Col. 2:11-13).  Paul Washer says we need to be raised to spiritual life in order to have “faith in the power of God”, the exact opposite of what the apostle Paul said!  Examples like these could be easily multiplied.

Washer has put the weight of his entire argument for unconditional election on the teaching that one must be regenerated in order to believe.  Since the Bible contradicts him and says that regeneration results from faith rather than causes it, his main philosophical basis for unconditional election collapses.  In the end, the student was correct to question the Calvinist commitment to unconditional election based on the doctrine of inability.  There is simply no logical or Biblical reason to believe that God cannot graciously overcome man’s depravity in such a way that all who hear the gospel can either respond in faith or choose to remain in unbelief (which is exactly what Arminianism and the Bible teaches).  Neither is there any Biblical basis for claiming that God can only enable a faith response through regeneration.  In fact, the Bible clearly puts faith before regeneration. But Washer won’t give up so easily.  As a last resort he appeals to personal experience to establish his case:

That’s why when you probably heard the gospel for many, many years and you were sitting there and you didn’t care, no big deal, maybe you made a confession of faith – nothing – and then, one day, the Gospel’s preached and you’re like [WHOOSH] – the blinder’s taken off and not only that, you want Him.

Unfortunately, our present theological convictions can easily color how we interpret a past conversion experience.  I remember desiring to live for God many times before I was willing to finally let go of those things I valued more than God.  I also remember sensing in that moment when I did finally fully surrender to God that I had full power and ability to reject Him once again and remain in my sin instead.  It felt like a real choice to me.  Did I feel God’s conviction very strongly?  Yes.  Did I sense that He was drawing me?  Absolutely.  Would I say that I was powerless to resist?  Not at all.  At the very least then, my experience alone renders Washer’s argument invalid.

Because some people say what God does is He draws us all to a certain point and then gives us a choice.

Rather, God’s drawing is what enables a faith response and thereby makes a “choice” possible.

There’s only a problem.  If God only illuminates the mind of the sinner, then the more the sinner sees God, the more he’s going to hate Him.  So, He not only illuminates the mind, He changes the heart and with the new heart for the first time you love Jesus, you can say, “I love Him, I’m irresistibly drawn to Him, and I want Him more than anything.”

Again, if God enables us to love and trust Him, then we do not have to continue hating Him.  To say that we would just keep hating Him is simply to deny that God has enabled the person to love Him, which is plainly question begging.  Either God has enabled the response of faith and love, making it a possibility, or He has not.  If Washer grants the Arminian concept of divine resistible enabling, then he can’t say that we would just keep hating God anyway.  That is just denying the very thing that was supposed to be granted.  The “new heart” of Ezekiel is a promise given to those who enjoy the blessings of the new covenant, and the new covenant promises (which include the promise of a new heart) are received by faith.  Therefore, a new heart is received by faith and does not cause faith (for more on that see my post Is The New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?).

Summary

This interaction is very instructive in how Calvinists often come to their conclusions regarding election and how Calvinists primarily go about indoctrinating people into the so called “Doctrines of Grace” (which should be called “Doctrines of Grace for a Lucky Few” or “Doctrines of Limited Grace” or something similar, if we were to be truly honest about what this little self assigned catch phrase for Calvinism represents).

The student has a question about election, but Paul Washer doesn’t look to what Scripture says about election.  Rather, he goes on and on about depravity and tells the student seeker that his “problem” is simply the need to understand that “men are evil” and “hate God.”  There are passages in Scripture that teach on election and there are passages in Scripture that teach on depravity, but the Bible does not say, “Once you understand depravity, then you can understand election.”  That is not to say there is not some connection between these doctrines or any number of various doctrines, but if we really want to understand a doctrine, we should first look to what the Bible specifically teaches on that doctrine.  Paul Washer doesn’t do that here.  The truth is that unconditional election cannot be found in Scripture.  No passages expressly teach that election is unconditional. [5]  That may very well be the reason why Calvinists like Paul Washer typically lead people around in such ways.  First you need to understand depravity (as defined by Calvinism to mean that regeneration alone can enable [that is, “cause”] a faith response), and then you will see how the logic of depravity leads us to unconditional election, etc.

We have also seen how hard it is for a Calvinist to describe unconditional election as being something that should not be seen as capricious or unjust without temporarily abandoning fundamental Calvinist assumptions in favor of Arminian assumptions.  I am convinced that Calvinists so often talk like Arminians when trying to defend unconditional election because Calvinism, with its exhaustive determinism, simply cannot provide a satisfying framework for moral accountability or theodicy in general.  It is too bad that these same Calvinists do not pause long enough to take note of these practical inconsistencies (in the way that they still tend to think and talk about these issues) and re-evaluate their undergirding philosophical assumptions that make it so difficult to meaningfully communicate or explain issues of justice and moral accountability [6].

Lastly, we have seen yet another example of a Calvinist not really understanding or rightly grappling with the Arminian solution to depravity: resistible prevenient grace.   Rather, Paul Washer engages in blatant question begging in claiming that only irresistible grace can make faith possible, even to the point of immediately denying what he seemed to grant for the sake of argument.  Put simply, if God has overcome the sinner’s depravity, enabling the response of faith and love, then the sinner can respond in faith and love; therefore, it is by no means necessary for the sinner to continue hating God as Washer claims.

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[1] Appeals to “permission” only make sense when determinism is denied and libertarian free will is affirmed.  Appeals to “secondary causes” likewise fail since God controls even secondary causes.  God controls everything.

[2] On this Arminius astutely observes:

“If any one acknowledges that this is indeed true [that the decree of predestination presupposes the fall and considers men as sinners], but says that God has arranged this, as an occasion for Himself, by decreeing that man should fall, and by carrying forward that decree to its end or limit, we ask the proof of that assertion, which, in my judgment, he will be unable to give. For that sentiment is at variance with the justice of God, as it makes God the author of sin, and introduces an inevitable necessity for sin. This I will prove. For if that decree existed, man could not abstain from sin, otherwise the decree would have been made in vain, which is an impious supposition.  For “the counsel of the Lord standeth forever.” (Psalm 33:11). We remark also that the human will would have been circumscribed and determined by that decree, so that it could not turn itself except in one direction, in which there would be sin; by that act its freedom would be lost, because it would move the will, not according to the mode of freewill, but according to the mode of nature. Such an act it could not resist, nor would there be any volition in that direction, indeed, there would not be the power to put forth that volition on account of the determination of the decree. (“An Examination of the Treatise of William Perkins, Part 1” pp. 264, 265 from The Wesleyan Heritage Collection, CD)

[3] The example of the Orcs is instructive because it actually corresponds with the fundamental assumptions of Calvinist theology that Paul Washer seems to ignore or forget when trying to explain why God is just in passing over so many of His creatures and denying them the salvation He gives only to the ones He unconditionally chooses from the fallen and depraved mass of humanity.

Assuming these Orcs come out of the ground “evil” by nature, having no ability or desire to do anything other than that which we would call evil, then it would be wrong to hold these Orcs morally accountable for their “evil”.  That doesn’t necessarily mean they shouldn’t be destroyed.  We could say that they should be destroyed because they are dangerous and harm others.  We could say they should be destroyed because “evil” should be eradicated.  However, we could not say they “deserve” to be destroyed in a moral sense.  We can’t hold creatures “morally accountable” for just being what they are by nature, anymore than we would hold a Lion morally accountable for attacking its prey (or for just being a Lion).  But this is what is at the heart of Calvinism, the idea that God rightly “punishes” (not just destroys) creatures who can no more help being what they are or doing what they do than an Orc can presumably help coming out of the ground “evil.”  In the end, we are saying that God holds His creatures morally accountable for being just as He intended for them to be, with no power or ability to be otherwise, and then punishes them for being just what He intended them to be.  Therefore, God essentially punishes His creatures just for being His creatures, and this is supposed to bring Him glory?

[4] For more on why Calvinist determinism makes nonsense of the language of “choice”, see my post, The Reality of Choice and The Testimony of Scripture.

[5] The problem for the Calvinist is that no passage of Scripture teaches that election unto salvation is unconditional.  There are passages that do not explicitly state a condition in reference to election, but the lack of a stated condition does not necessarily imply that the election being described is unconditional.  In fact, in most cases (if not all) a condition is either stated or implied in the immediate or surrounding context.  For a concise treatment of the corporate election view (which I hold to be the strongest Arminian view of election) along with some links to some very good articles on corporate election, see here.  Among the articles listed, I highly recommend the two by Dr. Brian Abasciano, Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner and Clearing up Misconceptions About Corporate ElectionAnother good place for getting a grasp for the corporate view would be this series of quotes from various scholars holding to the view here.  For a strong defense of the traditional Arminian view of election, I recommend F. Leroy Forlines’ excellent book, Classical Arminianism.  You can see my review of the Forlines’ book here.

[6] See this slightly abridged series by Thomas Ralston for a strong critique of Calvinist determinism and the many problems it creates for moral accountability and theodicy, as well as a strong defense of the Arminian accounting of free will.  For a more comprehensive listing of resources that challenge Calvinist determinism, see here.  Daniel Whedon, in his devastating critique of Edwards’ necessitarianism, The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, summarizes the problem well,

“From all this, there results the conclusion that without free volition there can be no justice, no satisfying the moral sense, no retributive system, no moral Government, of which the creature can be the rightful subject, and no God, the righteous Administrator…If there is a true divine government, man is a non-necessitated moral agent.” (352)

Parallel Passages on Regeneration

Ephesians 2 is one of the primary proof-texts often cited by Calvinists for regeneration preceding faith (apparently because it mentions being spiritually ‘made alive’ without using the word ‘faith’ in the same sentence).

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive [suzwopoieÑw] together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up [sunegeiðrw] with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus….” (Ephesians 2:4-6)

While reading the scriptures, I noticed that his letter to the Ephesians wasn’t the only place Paul expounded upon the theme of our being raised with Christ. Compare the structure and wording in Colossians 2,

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised [sunegeiðrw] with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive [suzwopoieÑw] together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses….” (Colossians 2:11-13) [emphasis mine]

The Colossians passage, clearly expounding upon the same subject as that in Ephesians, includes an additional piece of detail concerning how we’re raised unto life together with Christ.

Some Excellent and Concise Comments on Free Will, the Bondage of Sin, and Prevenient Grace

Overall, the following comments by F. Leroy Forlines are an excellent representation of the Arminian viewpoint:

“Freedom of will is a freedom within a framework of possibilities.  It is not absolute freedom.  Man cannot be God.  He cannot be an angel.  The freedom of a human being is in the framework of the possibilities provided by human nature.  Also, influences brought to bear on the will have a bearing on the framework of possibilities.

Before Adam and Eve sinned, it was in the framework of possibilities within which they operated to remain in the practice of complete righteousness, or to commit sin.  After they sinned, it no longer remained within the framework of possibilities for them to practice uninterrupted righteousness.  The same is true of fallen man now (Rom. 8:7, 8).  If anyone [takes] freedom of the will to mean that an unconverted person could practice righteousness and not sin, he misunderstands the meaning of freedom of will for fallen human beings.  Romans 8:7, 8 makes it clear that Scripture does not teach this.

Jesus makes it clear that it does not fall within the framework of possibilities for a sinner to respond to the gospel unless he is drawn by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 6:44).  The influence of the Holy Spirit working in the heart of the person who hears the gospel brings about a framework of possibilities in which a person can say yes or no to the gospel.  If he says yes, it is his choice.  If he says no, it is his choice.  To say less than that is to raise serious questions about the existence of real personhood after the fall.  If a human being is not in some sense a self-directed being, he or she is not a person.  The self-direction may have a degree of dependence at times, but it is still self-direction.  As has already been made clear, I am not suggesting that fallen man can choose Christ without the aid of the Holy Spirit.  In fact, I strongly reject such an idea.  I am saying, however, that no matter how much or how strong the aid of the Holy Spirit may be, the ‘yes’ decision is still a decision that can rightly be called the person’s decision.  After all, one can say no….”

“Faith can be called a gift in the sense that it would not have been possible without divine aid.  It is not a gift in the sense that it exists outside the person and is given to him, nor is it a gift in the sense that God believes for the person.  The person himself does the believing by divine aid.

I think Calvinism errs in its understanding of ‘dead in trespasses.’  Cornelius Van Til explains the Calvinist interpretation:

It was only as a creature of God, made in his image, that man could sin.  So, when a sinner, and as such ‘dead in trespasses,’ unable of himself even to stretch forth his hand to receive salvation, Scripture continues to deal with him as a responsible being.  He is called to faith and repentance.  Yet faith is the gift of God.  Lazarus lay in the tomb.  He was dead.  Yet Jesus told him to come forth.  And he did come forth.

The above interpretation interprets ‘dead’ in ‘dead in trespasses’ (Eph. 2:1) as meaning lifeless.  The dead body of Lazarus had no life in it.  It was capable of no action until it was made alive by Jesus.  If ‘dead in trespasses’ means dead in the same way, the logic of Calvinism follows.  The sinner would be both deaf and speechless.  He would know nothing about God, sin, and salvation until God made him alive through the new birth.  Then and only then would he be able to hear and to speak.

I think that ‘dead in trespasses and sins’ or spiritual death means that man is separated from God, dead in relationship to God.  There is no communion and no fellowship with God.  The principle is similar to that spoken of by Paul when he said, ‘By whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world’ (Gal. 6:14).  Both Paul and the world were alive in the sense that they were not lifeless.  They were not alive so far as a functioning relationship between them was concerned.

Spiritual death, if this be the correct interpretation, refers to the fact that the sinner is cut off from communion and fellowship with God.  This is true both because a holy God demands that it be so until sin is taken care of, and also because the bias of the sinner’s heart is against God.  The fact the sinner is not in communion with God does not mean he is totally deaf to God’s communication.  If that were the case, the sinner could not even distort the message of God. You cannot distort that to which you are totally deaf.  That a person is a sinner does mean he does not hear well.  He tends to resist and oppose the Truth and distort the Truth.  The gospel has to go forth against great opposition.  The Holy Spirit must work before there can be a successful communication of the gospel to the sinner and before there will be conviction and response from the sinner.  This approach recognizes the seriousness of sin, the necessity of the enlightening and drawing power of the Holy Spirit, and the personhood of the sinner.

I believe that saving faith is a gift of God in the sense that the Holy Spirit gives divine enablement without which faith in Christ would be impossible (Jn. 6:44).  The difference between the Calvinistic concept of faith and my concept of faith cannot be that theirs is monergistic and mine is synergistic.  In both cases it is synergistic.  Active participation in faith by the believer means it must be synergistic.  Human response cannot be ruled out of faith.  Justification and regeneration are monergistic.  Each is an act of God, not man.  Faith is a human act by divine enablement and therefore cannot be monergistic.”

F. Leroy Forlines, The Quest For Truth: Answering Life’s Inescapable Questions, pp. 158-160 (emphasis his)

Related posts: 

What Can the Dead in Sin do?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

Can A Regenerate Christian Be Totally Depraved?

In an earlier post I wrote concerning John Calvin’s character with regards to his dealings with Servetus, a Calvinist commenter admitted that what Calvin did was wrong and said it wasn’t a problem since Calvinists would just chalk it up to his total depravity.  I then asked him if he was affirming that Calvin was both regenerate and totally depraved at the same time.  He responded that this was indeed what he was suggesting.  I mentioned that I understood the idea that we still have a sinful nature that must be overcome by yielding to the Spirit, but to say that one can be totally depraved and regenerate at the same time seems very problematic, especially considering the way that Calvinists explain total depravity as a state of being like a lifeless corpse, unable to respond to God.  We didn’t pursue the issue any further, but I wanted to bring it up again and get some opinions.

Do you think that many Calvinists would put the matter as that commenter did, that Calvin was totally depraved while also being regenerate?  I can’t imagine that many Calvinist would agree, but maybe I am wrong.  If it is the case that Calvinists believe that one can be dead in sin while regenerate, then how would they address the apparent problems such a position would seem to imply?  For example: How can one be dead in sin and dead to sin at the same time?  How can one be dead in sin and enjoy the life of Christ at the same time.  How can we call a believer who is being sanctified by the indwelling Holy Spirit “totally depraved” in the Calvinist sense?

Three More Great Articles For You to Check Out

Below are the blurbs and links from SEA,

This article is posted with permission from the publisher, the scholarly journal Bibliotheca Sacra. Please click on the attachment to view Robert B. Chisholm Jr., “ANATOMY OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHISM: DOES GOD DISCOVER FACTS?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (January-March 2007) 3-20.

This article reconciles God’s foreknowledge with some of the most difficult texts in the Old Tesament that can be taken to imply that God does not have exhaustive foreknowledge. Classically, Arminianism holds to God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of the future, a doctrine included in SEA’s statement of faith (see http://evangelicalarminians.org/sof) and to which SEA members must adhere. At the same time, Chisholm shows that these texts at least show that God’s knowledge is (sometimes) contingent on what people do. Though he does not draw the implications out for the Arminian/Calvinist debate, his conclusions support the Arminian view of God’s knowledge (and hence also his foreknowledge) of free human acts as contingent on those acts rather than on divine unconditional decree.

“ANATOMY OF AN ANTHROPOMORPHISM: DOES GOD DISCOVER FACTS?”

This article is posted with permission from the publisher, the scholarly journal Bibliotheca Sacra. Please click on the attachment to view René A. López, “IS FAITH A GIFT FROM GOD OR A HUMAN EXERCISE?” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (July–September 2007) 259–76.

“IS FAITH A GIFT FROM GOD OR A HUMAN EXERCISE?”

Does Arminianism Diminish God’s Glory? One charge often heard against Arminianism is that by allowing for human agency to play a significant role in the process of salvation, Arminians decrease the scope of God’s agency and thus diminish the glory that is rightly due him.  Warfield, for example, urged that “men owe in each and every case their actual salvation, and not merely their general opportunity to be saved, to [God].  And therefore, to him and to him alone belongs in each instance all the glory, which none can share with him.”  (Benjamin B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, n.d., p. 23, emphasis added). This argument by Calvinists has strong emotional overtones, and tends to be effective in silencing would-be objectors, given that no truly humble believer wishes to be seen as diminishing the glory of God.

Does Arminianism Diminish God’s Glory?

“Dead” means “Dead!”

When Arminians insist that “world” means “world” and “all” means “all” in certain passages (Jn. 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4), we are met with jeers from our Calvinist friends.  But don’t you dare question their understanding of “dead” in sin (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); after all, “dead” means “dead” don’t you know?

Related Links:

What Can The Dead in Sin Do?

John Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin”

John Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

What Can The Dead In Sin Do?

Calvinists love to point out that we are dead in sin.  That we are dead in sin prior to conversion cannot be denied (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); the question has to do with what it means to be dead in sin.

Calvinist are fond of comparing spiritual death to physical death.  This gives them the framework with which to press their theological conviction that regeneration precedes faith.  If being dead in sin means that we are as helpless as physical corpses then we are told that we certainly can no more “hear” the gospel or “see” our need for Christ than a physical corpse can hear or see.  But is there any justification for such a strict parallel between the spiritual and the physical?

Nowhere in Scripture is such a strict parallel drawn.  To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential.  The sinner is presently “dead” because, in the absence of faith,  he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.   The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).

Calvinists will often mock Arminians by saying that it is as useless to expect the dead in sin to respond to the gospel as it is to expect a bunch of corpses in the morgue to respond to the gospel.  The only way that corpses could hear such preaching is for them to first be given life.  In like manner, we are told, the only way that someone who is “dead” in sin could respond to the gospel would be if they are first raised to spiritual life.  This supposedly proves the need for regeneration before faith.

But this leads to absurdities and demonstrates that pressing this parallel between those who are spiritually dead and physically dead is unwise and without Scriptural support.  If the analogy is accurate then spiritually dead people should not be able to do anything more than corpses can do, which is plainly absurd.  A single example will suffice.

The Bible plainly teaches that those who are dead in sin resist the Holy Spirit.  Now have you ever seen a corpse resist something?  Of course not.  So if we adopt the implications of the Calvinistic definition of “dead in sin” then we must deny that anyone who is dead in sin can resist the Holy Spirit or reject the gospel (Acts 7:51; 2 Thess. 2:10; 1 John 4:10; Rom. 10:21).  Corpses can’t resist or reject anything any more than they can see or hear anything.  This, of course, should tell us something about the Cavinistic understanding of dead in sin.  It is not Biblical.

“You’re pushing it too far” says the Calvinist.  Really?  And how is it that you determine how far the analogy should be pressed?  We are either as spiritually useless as a physical corpse or we need to abandon the parallel.  You can’t just draw from the illustration what suits your fancy and ignore the rest.  That is special pleading.

Now it is important to remember that Arminians do not deny the need for God’s gracious enabling before a sinner can believe and embrace the gospel.  Without divine initiative and enabling no one would ever come to God in faith.  We are confident, however, that God is powerful enough to overcome our depravity and there is no need for the priority of regeneration since there is no strict parallel between the inability of a physical corpse and the inability of those dead in sin.  We can therefore accept the Biblical teaching of depravity and God’s prevenient grace without needing to turn the Bible on its ear in an effort to put spiritual life before faith.

For a more detailed defense of the Arminian ordo salutis see the following posts:

Jesus Says the Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith in John 3:3, 6?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin”

Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

Is the “New Heart” of Ezekiel 36:26-27 a Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?