Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”  Romans 9:16 (ESV)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (ESV).

Piper’s further, detailed argument for 9.16 as speaking of unconditional bestowal of divine mercy founders on both fundamental presupposition and its particulars. For the former, Piper assumes that the language of 9.16 is incompatible with God bestowing his mercy on a condition sovereignly determined by himself. But our exegesis has found this to be a false assumption. As for the particulars, appeals to 9.11-12 and Exod. 33.19 are contradicted by our exegesis of these texts as well as of 9.16, and the reader is directed to the relevant portions of the present volume. Curiously, Piper’s final main argument invokes Phil. 2.13 (because of the somewhat similar language of ‘willing’ (τὸ θέλειν) and ‘working’ (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν)) as somehow ruling out any condition for the bestowal of God’s mercy. But that text does not particularly talk about God’s mercy (except insofar as any blessing of God can be considered mercy) and it does not indicate anything about God’s bestowal of mercy, or any divine action, being unconditional. Piper seems to be overreaching here, and we conclude that Phil. 2.13 is largely irrelevant to Rom. 9.16 and the question of the conditionality of the mercy it mentions.

Piper, 154 n. 3, notes one further reference, cited by Sanday/Headlam as an analogy to 9.16 (though Piper mistakenly refers to 9.6): Jn 1.12-13. This reference actually works against Piper because the regenerating act of God there, performed by God alone, is presented as the divine response to human faith (cf. justification in Paul’s thought, which is performed by God alone in response to human faith). John 1.12 indicates that people become children of God by faith. That is, upon believing, God gives them the right to become something that they were not prior to believing – children of God. John 1.13 then clarifies that they become children of God not from human ancestry (that is the significance of ‘not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh [which equates to sexual desire that might lead to procreation], nor of the will of a husband [who was thought to be in charge of sexual/procreative activity]’), but from God, describing their becoming children of God as being born of God. ‘Becoming children of God’ and ‘being born of God’ are parallel expressions referring to the same phenomenon (it would be special pleading, and a desperate expedient at that, to argue that becoming God’s child and being born of him are distinct in the Johannine context or that the text would allow that a person could be born of God and yet not be his child), so that God’s act of regenerating believers, making them his own children, is a response to their faith.

The parallel with Rom. 9.16 is significant and quite supportive of our exegesis. Both contexts make the point that elect status (which equates to sonship; cf. Rom. 9.8) is not bestowed by human ancestry, but by God, whose will is to choose as his own those who believe in Christ. Even if one were to deny that reference to θελήματος σαρκός or θελήματος ἀνδρός is to human ancestry specifically and insist that it refers to human willing in general, it would not make the divine action of regeneration any less a response to human faith and hence any less conditional on it. Nor would this be inconsistent with Jn 1.13’s attribution of the act of regeneration to God. The text indicates that God is the one who grants the right to become children of God and the one who regenerates. His doing so in response to faith is a matter of his discretion and would not somehow make the human choice to believe the source of regeneration instead of God any more than it makes it the source of justification. (Excerpt from footnote #153 on page 191 of Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, by Dr. Brian Abasciano, paragraph breaks added for easier reading)

Does Paul Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in Philippians 1:6?

Philippians 1:6

For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it in the day of Christ Jesus.

Does this verse then teach that one who begins in saving faith will inevitably continue in that faith until the “day of Christ Jesus?”  The advocates of unconditional security are trying to squeeze far more from this verse than was intended by Paul.  Paul was confident in the work of God being completed in the Philippians to whom he writes because he had every reason to believe that they would endure in the faith.  Paul explains why he has such confidence in them:  They have participated in the ministry of the gospel from the “first day until now.” (1:5) They have shared in grace with Paul in supporting his ministry and supporting him while in prison (1:7; 4:18, 19).  Paul is also confident that God will complete his work in them because he is praying for them and trusting God on their behalf (1:3, 9-11).

Since Paul has every reason to believe that they will continue in the faith based on their track record he can express his confidence that God will continue to work in them since God cannot fail to work in believers.  All believers who continue in the faith will see God’s work completed in them on the “day of Christ Jesus.”  Paul is not guaranteeing that they will make it to glory but only expressing his personal confidence in them based on his own experience of their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, Paul’s confidence is seen to be a cautious confidence in that he warns them to continue following his example of single minded commitment to the gospel of Christ lest they begin to focus instead on the things of this world and become enemies of the cross (3:17-19).  Paul still expresses concern that he may yet return to them and not find them standing firm in Christ, and for that reason encourages them to continually conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the gospel (1:27).  In verses 12-13 we see that Paul has grounds for confidence in them since they have “always” obeyed, and yet he admonishes them to continue to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (2:12) If their destination was guaranteed there should be nothing for them to fear (cf. Rom. 11:19-22).  Yet they must continue to “work out” their salvation by yielding to the working of God within them (2:13).

Philippians 2:12-13 gets to the heart of the matter and provides the primary context by which we should understand Paul’s comments in 1:6.  God will complete His work in them but only as they continue to yield to that “working” within them.  If they continue to yield to the work of God within them God will certainly bring that work to completion (perfect it) on “the day of Christ Jesus.”  We cannot do this work in ourselves, God must do it.  We cannot even yield to the work of God in us on our own, but we can do “all things through Him” who strengthens us.  We are still called on to fearfully submit to God’s work and there is nothing in Paul’s words that would suggest that we cannot resist that work and fail to see it brought to perfection in us.  In fact, Philippians 2:13 suggests just the opposite.

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

Related Fallacies:
Equivocation

John Hendryx, who we’ve noted has employed numerous fallacies in defense of Calvinism and distortions against Arminianism, is at it yet again. This time he’s trying to prove that it’s conditional election, not unconditional election, that makes God into a “respecter of persons.” Before I address his points, I believe that the idea that God is impartial has to be defined and qualified carefully: God being impartial does not mean that He treats everyone exactly the same in every respect, nor does it imply that He gives the same circumstances or blessings to everyone. Scriptural references to God’s impartiality appear to refer primarily to how He makes His judgments of men’s hearts and actions, and how He accepts people who fear Him. It doesn’t imply God having some kind of warped, hyper-egalatarian mentality where He ensures everyone’s lot in life is exactly on par. Having examined the issue myself, I think it would be difficult to make a solid case for either conditional or unconditional election violating the principle of God’s impartial judgment in scripture, since election isn’t really the same thing as judgment. However, Hendryx seems to think this does make a good case against Arminianism, and so he tries to paint Arminian doctrine as making God into a respecter of persons, while exonerating his own doctrine. As we shall see, this is one of the worst possible maneuvers, and backfires on him badly.

Redefining Partiality

Hendryx cites Leviticus 19:15, Proverbs 24:23, 1 Peter 1:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and James 2:1-9 among others, to prove that God is impartial. Quoting him,

They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus ‘respecter of persons’ means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.

Hendryx’s definition of “respecter of persons” is too narrow: to show respect to persons extends beyond just showing favoritism due to superficial personal traits, it implies special treatment based upon any unobjective, uneven or irrelevant criteria. Let’s give an example: Suppose a judge renders his verdict in a case, but bases his decision not upon guilt or innocence, but upon how much he personally likes the plaintiff and defendant. Is that showing partiality? It most certainly is. Keep that in mind as we continue….

So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No.

We’re agreed on that point.

By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us.

This is also technically correct. Judgments are to be based upon what is actually done (guilt, innocence, or other objective criteria pertaining to action), not personal traits.

God does not stand to gain from currying anyone’s favor … even those who are in high positions … because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen “in Christ” not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.

This is something of a non-sequitur: having a motive of personal gain is one way to show partiality, but is by no means the only way. Proving that God has need of nothing and that He doesn’t judge on the basis of material gain or influence doesn’t automatically establish impartiality. Looking at our example of the judge above, if asked why he rendered the verdict that he did, which responses would indicate partiality or impartiality?

“The evidence that came out in the proceedings made it overwhelmingly clear.” – impartial
“Multiple eyewitness accounts establish this beyond reasonable doubt.” – impartial
“The argument was logically sound and airtight.” – impartial
“I rendered judgment strictly as the law dictates.” – impartial
“I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine!” – partial (motive of personal gain; but there are plenty more than just this)
“He looked guilty.” – partial
“I just had a feeling.” – partial
“He’s my nephew.” – partial
“The other guy made his case much more eloquently.” – partial
“I don’t like his type.” – partial
“I just wanted to do it that way.” – PARTIAL

Note that the last example is unconditional, a verdict rendered simply by arbitrary fiat (hereafter, just “fiat”). It is not objective, and it therefore doesn’t really matter what other reasons he has for declaring one guilty and the other innocent in such a case, such a ruling is partial. Hendryx refers back to the quote from James 2:1-9,

James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world … i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves… S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. … So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons.

Hendryx again displays a misunderstanding of what impartiality is. The quote he cited above from Leviticus declares,

“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15, NKJV)

Which plainly indicates that it is partiality to show favoritism in judgment to a poor man simply because he is poor. I would instead interpret James as referring to correlation and contrast: people are seldom granted riches in both spiritual and material possessions. Hendryx also unwittingly argues for conditional election in stating,

“[So] God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished.”

If God elected on that basis, that would still be conditional election, since being empty and impoverished would be a condition to being elect.

So far, Hendryx’s major errors have been in equating partiality as being based upon,
1.) personal traits
2.) motive for personal gain

And in concluding that judgment that isn’t for personal gain must be impartial (which is not necessarily true, since judgment based upon fiat is also partial).

Redefining Synergism

…it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God’s decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it.

This is entirely incorrect for one simple reason: election based upon whether one does (or will) believe is not rooted in traits, but action: belief in Christ. Hendryx’s reasoning falls completely apart when applied to actual cases of judgment. If a judge discerns from the evidence that a man is innocent, and declares him “not guilty,” is he showing favoritism because of the man’s “good sense not to commit the crime?” Not at all, his judgment is based upon action, not character. Whether the man is smart, stupid, sensible, foolish, etc, is irrelevant. A just and impartial verdict is based upon the objective criteria of his actions.

The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16).

Simply having the right to do what one wishes doesn’t make on impartial, those are separate issues (as supreme power allows for fiat). God is both sovereign and impartial (and therefore doesn’t rule by fiat).

If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God’s criteria in order to be chosen.

In synergism God’s love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition… i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn’t that favoritism?

Here is Hendryx’s third major error: basing decisions upon objective and relevant criteria (such as action) is not showing favoritism. Complaining about objective criteria as a basis for decisions is directly analogous to (and exactly as ridiculous as) accusing a judge of partiality in his rulings because he’s “biased in favor of the innocent.” Decisions based upon objective conditions (rather than merely who the persons involved are) are the very epitome of impartial judgment. In labeling that as “favoritism,” Hendryx has the issue completely and totally backwards.

God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so? The Arminian would have us think so.

This is also a bit strange, nothing makes God love anyone; He does so freely, and extends saving grace to those who freely believe. And Arminians don’t believe in anything “above” God, so Hendryx seems very confused in his verbiage at this point.

Redefining Conditionality

It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him.

To define believing as a “meritorious” act goes completely against the theology of all major Synergists. Something being a condition does not make it meritorious, as even demeritorious things can be conditions (sin is a condition for damnation). As orthodox Synergists maintain, faith is a condition to salvation, but is of itself of no intrinsic worth or merit. Hendryx is in such a fervor to promote his Calvinist agenda that he’s stooped to badly misrepresenting Synergist theology.

Redefining Context

Hendryx drones on with his ridiculously Westernized canard about parents unconditionally loving their children and making sure they don’t get hit by oncoming traffic (apparently while making sure that the children they don’t like do get run over). He tries to use this analogy to establish that God’s love for His children isn’t conditioned upon things like faith. This is countered easily enough: first, God does love all men in the world unconditionally, which is why Christ was sent (John 3:16, which also specifies the condition of faith for eternal life). Secondly, trying to frame God’s relationship to His children as being strictly analogous to the relationships between human parents and our children is fatally flawed: none of us (apart from Christ) are His children in any sense pertaining to salvation, but we’re rather children of wrath. But the scriptures declare,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

So faith is a condition to even being His child to begin with; Hendryx’s analogy, contrary to Galatians 3, incorrectly assumes that the elect are God’s children in some special sense apart from faith.

So now God is partial?

He leads into this with some minor issues, noting that God is not obligated to save anyone and his choices are always good (I agree). He cites people’s varying circumstances and stations in life, people treating their own children differently from their neighbors, Jesus’ selective healings & resurrections of the dead (e.g. Lazarus), and so on, to prove that in actuality, God does show favoritism. As I pointed out at the beginning, God’s impartiality is descriptive of His judgment and acceptance, trying to twist it to mean that people should have identical circumstances in the world is stretching it well beyond its intended meaning. Nonetheless, we now start to see a subtle shift in Hendryx’s argument: he was just arguing that condtional election (as opposed to his view of unconditional election) makes God out to be playing favorites, but now he’s actually acknowledging that he believes God is showing favoritism, and that he extends it to election as well. He argues,

…everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.

The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people’s of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, nor because he earned God’s favor, but because God chose to.

I agree that not everyone gets an equal lot in this life; I don’t believe that’s what the Bible’s teachings about God’s fairness and impartiality are in reference to. But Hendryx has turned it into a problem for himself: No sooner has he finished arguing that conditional election implies God playing favorites, than he takes supposed examples of God’s “favoritism” in regards to people’s life circumstances and tries to extend them to election. As the saying goes, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It’s a stunning display of cognitive dissonance for him to condemn one view of election for allegedly being partial (and therefore inferior to his view), then holding up alleged examples of partiality, and proceeding to use those to promote his own view of election! This inconsistency is Hendryx’s fourth major error. First he tries to blast conditional election for making God partial in His choosing, yet now he’s backpedaling and making the claim that God is partial in His choosing, He’s just partial in a different way.

If God doesn’t satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it?

No one’s arguing that God needs to explain all of His reasons, we’re discussing how God’s revelation of His impartiality relates to divine election. Despite his decrial of condemning God based upon not understanding His reasons, Hendryx himself is quick to condemn the Arminian understanding of God as partial, and he does so without even understanding what partiality in judgment means.

Sanity Check

The issue of people having different circumstances in life doesn’t necessarily denote God being partial at all. As a counter-example, if I give my children different chores according to their ability, different bedtimes appropriate to their ages, different gifts to fit different interests, and different rewards and punishments fitting for differing behavior, I’m not playing favorites. However, if both are equally guilty of willfully disobeying a rule that carries a standard penalty, it would be playing favorites and partial judgment for me to unconditionally punish one and unconditionally pardon the other. The last major underlying error apparent in Hendryx’s reasoning is the idea that everyone being guilty makes God’s choosing some unto salvation impartial. Everyone being guilty of offending the supreme God would make His treatment, at the very least, equal to or less than what we deserve. I must stress though that this is not the same thing as impartiality. The issue is not fairness to just an individual, but partiality between individuals.

Take for instance a judge who is rendering his judgment against two men who have been proven to be equally guilty of the same crime. If he unconditionally shows leniency to the one, but condemns the other, his judgments are at worst, what the men deserve, but they are not impartial, as he is showing favoritism to one over the other. While this example pertains to judgment, not election, it is nonetheless exactly analogous to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. Hendryx condemns conditional election as making God partial, yet himself proposes a scheme of election that is partial by definition. By that token, conditional election would be akin to the judge offering both men an opportunity for acquittal: say he offers that if one or both of them will sign a pledge of loyalty and service to their rightful ruler that apologizes for and renounces their evil acts, then the judge will show undeserved leniency to whoever signs it. One signs it and goes free, the other does not and is condemned. Was the judge showing favoritism in giving a different verdict? Not at all. The conditions were laid out; he judged them worthy of condemnation by the same standard to both, and showed undeserved leniency (or not) based upon the same objective (yet non-meritorious) condition to both. This is likewise analogous to how election is conditional per the Arminian view, and plainly demonstrates that God shows no respect of persons, but rather shows leniency based upon the objective standard of faith in Christ.

If God’s impartiality does apply to election, then unconditional election will invariably be shown wanting. The only options when choosing impartially are,

1.) Everyone is chosen unconditionally.
2.) No one is chosen unconditionally.
3.) Only some are chosen, but upon an objective basis.

The only way for God’s choosing to be impartial is if only some are chosen unconditionally, AKA unconditional election. If God is impartial in election, and only some are elect, then conditional election is the only game in town.

Bottom Line:

* The impartiality that the Bible attributes to God has to do with His righteous judgments and acceptance of righteous men; it doesn’t follow from this that everyone will have identical life circumstances.
* Hendryx’s definition of partiality is too narrow. There are more ways to be partial than simply judging based upon personal traits or for personal gain.
* The act of choosing one over another by fiat is, by definition, showing favoritism.
* That all men are guilty of sin is irrelevant to the issue of God’s impartiality: choosing one over another unconditionally is still being partial.
* God choosing according to one’s belief is not basing His choice upon a personal trait.
* God choosing based upon objective and relevant criteria (like faith) is not showing personal favoritism.
* Something being conditional is not the same as it being obtained by merit.
* If God’s impartiality does extend to election, then conditional election is the only impartial method by which some (not all or none) can be chosen. Thus such an argument ultimately backfires on the Calvinist.

“Saved by Grace”- Through Faith

Not surprisingly, a Calvinist has taken issue with my recent critique of Paul Washer’s arguments for unconditional election.  This Calvinist, who goes by the moniker, “Saved by Grace” (SBG), left a very lengthy and detailed comment after reading my post, rebuking me for misrepresenting Calvinism and for failing to rightly interpret numerous passages of Scripture.  Since SBG’s comments were very long, and a careful and detailed response will go a long ways towards dealing with common Calvinist proof texts, as well as clearing up charges of misrepresentation, I thought it best to make a post out of it.  SBG’s comments are designated by “SBG” in block quotes.  My responses are in between these block quotes.

SBG: Your first problem that you approach Mr Washer’s teaching from an unbiblical position of election by works.

This could not be more inaccurate.  No Arminian believes in election by works.

SBG: You first combat unconditional election:
When you say: “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.”

More specifically, I was arguing against Washer’s approach to establishing unconditional election via the claim that inability logically necessitates an unconditional election view.

SBG: Election is not conditioned on faith:
John 6:29: “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one whom He sent.”

We can see that the work God requires is faith. Either you accept from this verse that belief is God’s work into a man (the calvinist position) or belief is the work God requires from man for not only for initial salvation but also continued salvation.

Not really.  Jesus is just explaining that what God requires of them is faith (i.e. faith is the God ordained condition for receiving eternal life).  He is not speaking of “working” in the Pauline sense of faith vs. works.  You say that the Calvinist position is that this means not that man works, but that God “works [faith] into a man”.  But this contradicts the way Christ uses the word in verse 27 when He introduces the concept.  The idea of God “working” faith into man cannot make sense of the way Christ uses the concept in verse 27.  So the Calvinist interpretation (though I don’t think that many Calvinists interpret this as you do) is highly unlikely.  But it is important to add that Arminians do not necessarily object to the idea that God works faith into people.  They only object that God does so irresistibly.

I think the main idea here is simply for Christ to re-direct their focus to what matters most.  These men actually “worked” (labored) to find Jesus after He fed them (John 6:22-24).  Jesus doesn’t want to discourage their effort in coming to Him and seeking Him out.  Rather, Jesus wants to discourage them from coming to Him for the wrong reasons. The end result of their effort should be to believe in Jesus and receive from Him the bread that will create spiritual life in them.  Christ’s words might possibly have secondary application to be understood in the sense that in order to do the “works” God requires, these works can only be done in the context of a relationship with Christ, through which we gain the life and power to truly “work” for God (i.e. the work of God can only be done through faith, cf. Rom. 8:3-17).  Therefore, Christ points them to the need for faith, since this must be the beginning of any opportunity to do the works that please God.  There is work to be done, but this work must be the result of faith in God and a desire to serve Him, not just a desire  for God to take care of our physical needs (cf. John 4:4-38, esp. verses 31-38). It is also interesting to note that Jesus is clearly reaching out to them here, which contradicts the typical Calvinist understanding that these Jews were reprobates without any hope of truly coming to Christ in faith (more on that below).

However, since you seem to equate receiving eternal life with election (in your use of this passage as a counter to conditional election), you have essentially conceded that election is by faith as the Gospel of John repeatedly testifies that eternal life is received by faith.

SBG: Romans 9:11-12: “(for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.”

Why should this passage contradict election by faith?  It only says that election is not of works.  It isn’t even addressing individual election unto salvation, but God’s choice of the covenant head through which the covenant people will be named and thereby receive the covenant blessings, which ultimately include salvation.  That God is speaking of the covenant people as a corporate entity through the choice of the covenant head (Jacob) over Esau, is plain from what God said to Rebecca while they were in the womb,

“Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”

The quote from Malachi (Rom. 9:13, Malachi 1:2, 3) also makes this very clear (along with the fact that the individual Esau never personally served Jacob). If you want to better understand the corporate view and why these passages actually support conditional election, see the articles I linked to by Dr. Abasciano in the endnotes.  You can find those articles as well as links to several other good articles on corporate election here.

SBG: 2 Tim 1:9: “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began,”

Again, election is expressly not by works. But Christ clearly says that belief is a work. The basis of your view of election is therefore not Scriptural.

Again, no Arminian would ever say that election is by works.  Also, if Christ meant that belief is a work in the way you seem to want to describe it, then your “Calvinist” interpretation of John 6:29 given above must be false.  As I said before, Jesus did not mean that faith is a work in the Pauline sense, only that it is the God ordained condition for receiving the free gift of eternal life (and possibly, in a secondary sense, that the works of God can only be done through faith).  When Paul speaks of works vs. faith he is speaking of the difference between trying to earn or merit salvation (by works), and receiving salvation as a free and undeserved gift from God (by faith).  This is very clearly explained in Rom. 4.  That is not what Jesus is speaking of in John 6.  Jesus also makes it very clear that salvation is a free gift from God, received by faith, throughout John’s Gospel (and John 6, cf. verses 32-35, 51, etc.).

SBG: Next you say:
“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;).”

Firstly John 12:32 needs to be addressed: “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.”
The word “draw” needs to be understood before a person can understand what this text is saying. Draw is from the greek word “Helkuse” which means to drag, or draw in the sense of drawing water from a well first, It denotes force. First example:

Surely, you understand the difference between using a word to describe purely physical interactions with inanimate objects (as in most of your examples) like swords or nets (or even people who are being physically overpowered), and interactions between persons in reference to their emotions, wills, and other spiritual components?  You can see this in normal English usage just as well as in Greek.  In English, if I say that water was “drawn” from the well, it would be obvious that this would be in the sense of forceful pulling with the bucket having no power to resist that pulling force.  However, if I said that someone was “drawn” to strong drink, that would not mean that the person could not possibly resist that drawing.  It would be nonsense for me to use the example of drawing water to argue that if someone is drawn to alcohol it must likewise mean that the drawing is irresistible.  People immediately and quite naturally understand the difference based simply on the fact that the first example deals with purely physical interactions, while the second takes into account the human element that goes far beyond just physical components.  That is why no translation has “drag” in John 6 or 12, since “drag” does not fit the context.  L. Leroy Forlines makes this point well when he writes,

“I have no problem with the idea that the drawing spoken of in John 6:44 is a “strong drawing.”  But I do have a problem with speaking of it as a “forceful attraction” [quoting Calvinist Robert Yarbrough].  A word used literally may have a causal force when dealing with physical relationships.  However, we cannot require that that word have the same causal force when it is used metaphorically with reference to an influence and response relationship.  John 6:44 [and 12:32] speaks of a personal influence and response relationship.

For John 6:44 to aid the cause of unconditional election, it must be understood in terms of cause and effect.  The verse plainly says that no one can come to Christ without being drawn by the Father.  But there is nothing in the word helkou that would require that it be interpreted with a causal force.  In fact, if we keep in mind that the relationship between God and man is a personal relationship, the use of helkou in this verse is better understood in terms of influence and response rather than cause and effect.” (Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation, ed. J. Matthew Pinson)

SBG: John 6:44 uses the same word and we see that, just as in ever other use of the word (examples given), irresistibility is depicted.
“No one can come to Me unless to the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

So now you know from the word “Draw” that it is not a simple wooing, because that is never how the Holy Spirit uses this word in the Bible.

Sure He does, in John 6 and 12 where the word is not being used to describe purely physical interactions, but interpersonal interactions between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man.

It is especially important to note that the LXX uses the same Greek word in Nehemiah in the context of God working to bring Israel back to Him, and Israel resisting that work (drawing),

“And many times You rescued them according to Your compassion,
29 And admonished them in order to turn them back to Your law. Yet they acted arrogantly and did not listen to Your commandments but sinned against Your ordinances, By which if a man observes them he shall live. And they turned a stubborn shoulder and stiffened their neck, and would not listen.

30 “However, You bore with them (literally, “drew” them, the same Greek word used in John 6 and 12) for many years, And admonished them by Your Spirit through Your prophets, Yet they would not give ear (which proves that this drawing was not irresistible). Therefore You gave them into the hand of the peoples of the lands.

31 “Nevertheless, in Your great compassion You did not make an end of them or forsake them, For You are a gracious and compassionate God.

This really destroys your entire argument as it is clear from this passage that the Greek word for “draw” does not always convey the idea of irresistible drawing or dragging (I am indebted to a New Testament scholar for pointing this out to me).

SBG: Further, the pronoun “him” being used twice reveals that ever “him” that is “draw[n]” is also the same “him” that is “raise[d]… up” I have never heard a convincing argument to why a person should separate the obvious connection in this verse between the two uses of the pronoun “him.” Everyone drawn is also raised up. This is why Jesus says “All that the Father gives Me will come to me… This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given me, I should loose nothing, but I should raise it up at the last day.” (John 6:37,39).

I think you meant to quote verse 44.  The verses you quoted use the plural in verse 37 and neuter singular pan (denoting the whole of all that are given) in verse 39.  Those verses are focused on the whole of those given.

In John 6:44 it is clear from the language that no one can come unless drawn (i.e. drawing is necessary for coming) and that the one who “comes” as a result of that drawing will be raised up.  That is all that the language dictates and that is the most natural reading.  The problem for your claim is that the passage does not say that the drawing guarantees the “coming”.  That is something that you must read into the passage.  All it says is that no one can come unless drawn.  It then says that the one who comes (as a result of this drawing, since the necessity of drawing is clearly implied) will be raised up.  It nowhere says that all who are drawn also come. The one who is “raised up” is the one who is both drawn and comes, but since the passage never says that all who are drawn come, your interpretation is a very forced and unnatural reading of the text.  So the burden really is on you to do the “convincing”.

SBG: Your use of John 16:7-11 is questionable not only becuase it is unraveled by the exposure of the error in John 12:32, but also from the very next chapter (John 17:9-10), “I pray for them, I do not pray for the world, but for those whom you have given Me, for they are yours, and all mine are yours and yours are mine and I am glorified in them.” Further, all those who are given receive eternal life from Christ, this is why He has been given authority over all flesh. (John 17:2-3).

First, you have exposed no error in John 12 except the error that you have made in wrongly assuming that “draw” must mean irresistible “dragging”.  Second, John 16 is in no way “unraveled” by John 17:9-10 as those passages are a specific reference to Christ’s disciples.  This is clear from the language of verses 7-18.  It is especially clear from verse 12, “While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave Me.”  This is clearly a specific reference to the disciples alone.

But it gets worse for your interpretation in the second part of the verse, “None have been lost [of those you gave Me] except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”  Here we clearly have Jesus saying that one “given” Him by the Father was lost. But it even gets worse as later Jesus does pray for the world, that the world would be saved through the disciples and their teaching (vss. 20, 21).  This is in perfect harmony with the Spirit’s universal work of convicting the world of sin and unbelief (John 16:7-11).  So my interpretation is confirmed and strengthened by John 17 rather than “unraveled” by it.  This illustrates the potential problem with stringing together lists of proof texts.  All one has to do is examine the language and context to see that these passages are being misused by you.

SBG: Further the Apostle in Hebrews 2:13: “Here am I and the children whom God has given Me”

This says nothing about whether or not such were given conditionally or unconditionally.  Faith as a condition for belonging to Christ (and remaining in Him) is all over Hebrews, and it is only through being “In Him” that we are “elect” (Eph. 1:4 cf. Hebrews 3:3-6, 14).

SBG: Titus 2:11: “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men”

A couple things to remember is that in the first century a major problem was the Jews arguing that Gentiles could not receive salvation without being a Jew first. This was the argument of the Judaizers (Gal) and the overarching sediment of non-christian jews. The greek word “All” can either mean all as in head for head or all as in some of all types.

Rev 5:9: ” You are worthy to take the scroll,
And to open its seals;
For You were slain,
And have redeemed us to God by Your blood
Out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation,”

I am sorry, but I don’t see the word “all” in your quote of Revelation.  You are going to need to do better than that to prove that “all” in Titus 2:11 actually only means “some of all types.”  Do you really think that Paul meant, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to some of all types”?  It is telling that you need to draw from a passage in Revelation to try to make your point, since there is nothing in the context of the Titus passages that would restrict “all” to “some of all types”.  If there were, we probably wouldn’t see you jumping to an unrelated passage in Revelation to try to make your case.

SBG: If it is not all in the collective sense, then it would have to be head for head, which is an impossibility because millions of people even today have never heard the gospel so that they could believe.

Neither have “some of all types” or “all tribes” heard the gospel so they can believe it (in accordance with the typical Calvinist claim that unreached tribes serve as support for unconditional election against Arminianism).  A better interpretation is to see that God’s gracious revelation is given to all, though the extent and function of that revelation leading people to Christ depends on certain factors.  Not all are immediately presented with the gospel (for a variety of reasons), but this does not mean that God is not at work to lead everyone to the possibility of receiving and responding to the gospel.  If they respond positively to whatever measure of grace they are exposed to (whether through natural revelation or otherwise), God will continue to work in them, drawing them closer still, even ultimately leading them to an encounter with the gospel by which they might be saved (through missionary work, visions, etc.).

Part of this also entails God working through the example and testimony of those whose lives have already come to fully share in God’s grace through faith (Rom. 5:1, 2).  For this reason, Paul focuses on God’s grace being revealed to all to remind Timothy and those he will teach that the grace of God that has been revealed and that believers have received should result in a holy life (vs. 12).  Those who have received God’s grace must live in harmony with the revelation of God’s grace to all, so that none that God is reaching out to with His universal grace will be made to stumble by our example (Titus 2:10, 12-15).

SBG: Romans 10:14-15: “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?…” I have heard that Wesley because of his errant views of Scripture thought that God would draw people through general revelation, but such an idea is severely foreign to Scripture. (Also see Ecc 8:16-17 clearly teaches that general revelation will never lead a person to a true knowledge of the God of the Bible. But rather only enough to condemn: Rom 1:20)

Rom. 1:20 doesn’t say “only enough to condemn”.  Rather, it says that because of God’s universal revelation, those who reject it are “without excuse”.  Why are they without excuse?  Because they could have accepted it instead and potentially been led to repentance as a result (Rom. 2:4-16 cf. Acts 17:26-28).  Rom.2:4 is another powerful testimony to God’s resistible prevenient grace since it is clear that the kindness of God described there is for the express purpose of leading to repentance.  However, this grace can be finally resisted by showing contempt for this grace and coming under the ultimate wrath of God in divine judgment (vs. 5).

SBG: Further, the passage you display in from Titus actually teaches the effectual work of Christ, which contradicts your view grace and potential atonement.
Titus 2:14: “who did give himself for us, that he might ransom us from all lawlessness, and might purify to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works; ”

There is nothing here about atonement being made only for some and nothing that contradicts the universal provisional nature of the atonement that is expressed in 1 Tim. 2:1-6.  It is perfectly natural to move from the universal to the particular.  This in no way implies that the particular limits the universal (forcing the universal language to be understood in extremely strained ways that are contrary to the natural reading).  The grace of God (in the specific provision of atonement) that has appeared to all has special application for us who have received this grace by faith (as I explained above).  Likewise, in 1 Tim. 4:10, God is the Savior of all men (provisionally), but “especially of believers” who have had this universal provision applied to them through faith.  It is the simple difference between provision and application, an important distinction that seems so obvious and yet is so difficult for Calvinists to recognize.

SBG: Not only does the passage you quote denote the work of Christ on the cross as a “ransom” which is a full payment for a slave to be free. It also displays Christ’s intent, to purify a peculiar people. The book of Hebrews and the correct doctrine of atonement, (which starts with His office of High Priest not proof texts that use the world “all” and “world”)

Are you really suggesting that when trying to determine the scope and extent of the atonement, we should not look to passages which specifically address the scope and extent of the atonement?  The passages that specifically address the extent of the atonement all use universal language, yet you are saying that we should discount that due to passages that do not even address the scope and extent of the atonement, but rather focus on the application of the atonement to believers. Surely you see what a backwards hermeneutic that is?

SBG: The work of the High Priest in Leviticus is composed of two parts, oblation (propitiation) and intercession. This is when the high priest would slay the animal (oblation) and then sprinkle the blood before God at the Mercy Seat (intercession). We see from the true doctrine of atonement, which is the office of High Priest that intercession is no more than a display of the oblation. Therefore the intercession bestows the gifts of the oblation cannot be of greater scope than the intercession and vice versa.

This conclusion here doesn’t follow.  Neither the oblation nor the intercession was effective for those who were outside of a covenant relationship with God (through faith).  But this doesn’t mean that nobody outside of the covenant community could join the covenant community and thereby come to enjoy the benefits of the atonement.  Indeed, foreigners could join God’s people and come to enjoy all the benefits promised only to God’s covenant people (e.g. Isaiah 56:3-6, which, by the way, further shows that election is primarily corporate and individuals only become “elect” by being joined to the “elect” body, which is only by faith in the new covenant.  Likewise, those who are members of the elect body can be cut off from that body and become “non-elect”, cf. Rom. 11: 16-25).

Again, it is simply the difference between application and provision (and even in the OT, there was a universal aspect to the atonement, since it was possible for non-Israelites to “become” Israelites, as explained above).  You conflate the two aspects of atonement while Scripture recognizes the difference.  Hebrews specifically addresses Christ’s atonement in the context of His ministry as a high priest, and yet Hebrews has no problem describing Christ’s provision of atonement in universal language (Hebrews 2:9).   That is because there is no conflict between Christ’s high priestly work and the universal provision of atonement, despite your attempts to create one.

For the record, I don’t have a problem with the nature of atonement being primarily penal-satisfaction either (I hold to the penal-satisfaction view).  As you point out, these passages have to do with the benefits of the atonement for those who are partakers of the new covenant; yet, we become partakers of the new covenant by faith.  So again, you have confused passages that speak of the application to those who are in the covenant, with passages that speak of the universal provision of that atonement.  It is the universal provisional nature of the atonement that makes it possible for anyone (and everyone) to enjoy the benefits of the atonement by becoming the covenant people of God (the elect) through faith.  For more on this see my series on Provisional Atonement .

SBG: Last text you presented was 1 Tim 2:1-6 has the same problems. The same problem is displayed. A lack of context and a view of atonement that is not based on Christ’s office as High Priest as presented in Hebrews and Leviticus 16, but instead based on proof texts and the word pas, pamos, pan. The High Priesthood of Christ establishes the doctrine, not the word “all” because “all” has an ambiguous meaning and has nothing to do with any of Christ’s offices.

This is just another example of your backwards hermeneutic in action as explained above.  “All” does not have an “ambiguous” meaning in those passages which specifically address the extent of the atonement.  Rather, its meaning is very clearly universal.  Any ambiguity would seem to lie squarely in your reluctance to accept what these passages are plainly implying, due to your prior commitment to unconditional election.  God’s intent and desire to save all is also clearly expressed in passages like 1 Tim. 2:1-6 (this is why even many who call themselves Calvinists reject limited atonement).  John 12:47 is especially damaging to your claims,

“As for the person who hears my words but does not keep them, I do not judge him.  For I did not come to judge the world, but to save it.”

Here Christ plainly says he came to save the world and that those who do not keep His word and reject Him (verse 48) are among those He came to save (i.e. they are specifically identified with the world He came to save).  Big, big trouble for Calvinism!

SBG: In the next section I think this is worth responding to:
“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.”

First, God irresistibly makes people hate him, is certainly not representative of the calvinist position. I think you make a straw man with the hyper view, their are differing views among Calvinist about this issue, you should not be so general and then present it as fact.
The Bible teaches that Natural men are haters of God because the are children of the devil after the fall in the garden. (Psa 51:5)

This is not the hyper view.  The traditional Calvinist view holds to exhaustive determinism and bases foreknowledge entirely on God’s irresistible decree.  I explained this in the post. Those who reject this are not rejecting hyper Calvinism, but traditional Calvinism.  Did God decree the “fall in the garden” or not?

SBG: John 8:44: “You are of your father the devil and the desires of your Father you want to do…”

(Also I would just say as a tangent thought John 8:47 clearly refutes prevenient grace. “He who is of God hear’s God’s word, therefore you do not hear, because you are no of God.”

“Not of God” simply means that these Jews were not in right covenant relationship with the Father when they encountered Christ and His claims.  Since they didn’t know the Father they naturally would not recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son, nor would they recognize the Father’s teaching in the Son’s words (John 8:19, 20, 42, 54, 55, cf. John 5:37-40; 7:16, 17 12:44, 45).  As long as they reject the Father and refuse His teaching, they will reject the Son and His teaching (which is also the Father’s teaching, John 12:49, 50) and will not be given to the Son (John 6:37, 44, 45).  None of these passages say anything about an unconditional eternal election being behind the description of these Jews as “not of God.”  Such an idea is only read into these passages by Calvinists.  For a detailed exegesis of these various passages in John against the typical Calvinist view, see Robert Hamilton’s essay, The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

SBG: The prevenient grace view says they should have been able to hear and then decide because prevenient grace frees them from their natural ignorance of spiritual things (1 Cor 2:14), but the reality is that they where still “of their father the devil” which is the reason why they are not “able to hear” (John 8:43). Jesus says they are not able to hear even though Jesus is preaching and the Spirit is working.

First, 1 Cor. 2:14 is addressing infants in Christ (3:1) who are acting worldly because they are resisting the Spirit’s work that would bring them to spiritual maturity so that they might understand the deeper spiritual teachings that Paul wanted them to receive.  Instead, they were caught up in quarreling over who their favorite apostle was (3:1-4).  It is not describing the inability of depraved unbelievers.  They are already saved.  However, it does highlight that God’s gracious efforts can always be resisted, even by believers.  It is also wrong to assume that being free from ignorance means that one cannot still resist that thing that has been revealed.  Many persist in using alcohol, drugs, and tobacco with full knowledge of the harmful and potentially dangerous consequences.

Second, as mentioned above, their inability to hear was not because God wasn’t working, but because they were resisting that working.  Clearly, Jesus is still trying to reach them (8:27-31, 36, cf. John 5:44; 10:37, 38), which would be senseless if He viewed them as hopeless reprobates. This is especially evident in Christ’s statement to the same sort of resistant Jews in John 5 where Christ both declares their inability and yet tells them, “…not that I accept human testimony, but I mention it that you may be saved”, vs. 34.  This is especially relevant to my point since the “testimony” Christ refers to is the prior testimony of John the Baptist. Christ then points them to other “testimonies” like His miracles, the Scriptures in general, and Moses, obviously implying that through the acceptance of these testimonies they may yet be enabled to “come to” Him and be “saved”, cf. vss. 39, 40.

Jesus’ method of discourse is actually a rather common teaching technique used for the purpose of admonishment in order for the “students” to fully realize their situation with the hope that in realizing it (coming to grips with this important revelation) they will be spurred on to change (i.e. repentance).  I work in schools daily and see this type of teaching technique used all the time.  It is similar to a Math teacher saying, “how can you expect to do division when you haven’t even learned your times tables?  You can’t do division while you remain ignorant of multiplication.”  Such instruction is not meant to highlight a hopeless state.  It is not meant to express that the student can never do division.  Rather, it is intended to get the student to re-examine the reality of their current state and how it makes further progress impossible, with the hope that they will learn what is required in order to move forward (e.g. John 5:41-45).

Likewise, Jesus is actually using much of what He says for the purpose of getting those who are listening to re-examine their present relationship to the Father and thereby realize that they are not in a proper position to be making such judgments about Christ and His claims, with the hope that they will yet “learn” from the Father so that they can come to a place where acceptance of Christ and His words is possible (e.g. John 5:33-47; 10:34-39, cf. John 6:45, etc).  Had they already learned from the Father (been receptive to God’s grace and leading through the Scriptures, the prophets, the ministry of John the Baptist, the miracles of Christ, etc.), they would have immediately recognized that Jesus was the Son of God, the promised Messiah, Shepherd and King of God’s people, and been given to Him.  Yet, not all hope is gone, for they may yet learn if they stop resisting the Father’s leading.

Christ’s teaching on drawing in John 6:44, 45, therefore, is not just descriptive, but for the purpose of admonishment, that they might be careful not to spurn and resist this drawing and miss eternal life and the promise of resurrection.  God’s working in prevenient grace and drawing can be complex and operate in different ways depending on the person and the situation.  God approaches us from a variety of angles.  These passages illustrate that.  Yet, we dare not assume that because the operation of prevenient grace on the human heart and mind doesn’t necessarily reduce to a simple equation or formula, God is not still working.  Indeed, God is always working (John 5:17). There is much more that could be said on this, but this alone is sufficient to overturn your objection to prevenient grace based on these various passages in John.

SBG: Again you say: “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. ”

But this is unscholarly rant and a poor representation of the view you are trying to refute. Again, your refute a straw man and not the real thing. Most Calvinist believe that Adam had ability to either sin or not sin.

Sorry, but this is simply false.  Are you really suggesting that most Calvinists believe that Adam had libertarian free will?  John Calvin sure didn’t and he had no problem saying that the fall was decreed by God, calling foolish anyone who disagreed.  Was John Calvin a hyper Calvinist?  Likewise, the traditional Calvinist position has always been that God’s foreknowledge is based on His eternal decree so that God can only foreknow because He decreed it.  This was also Calvin’s position.  So if Adam could have “not sinned” (as you claim) then, according to traditional Calvinism (and John Calvin), God could not have foreknown Adam’s sin since God cannot foreknow libertarian free will choices, but only what He has decreed to happen.  So the traditional Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge means that God could only foreknow the fall because He decreed it.

Surely, you are not suggesting that Adam could have acted contrary to the eternal decree of God, are you? If not, then your defense and rebuke is groundless and all that I have said necessarily follows. If you don’t think that God decreed the fall then you are not a traditional Calvinist.  That’s fine, but you can’t fault me for slandering or misrepresenting Calvinism just because you personally disagree with a major traditional tenet of Calvinism.

SBG: Adam’s sin was not caused by God, this is just blasphemous and a lie / misrepresentation.

Again, if God decreed the fall, and foreknew the fall only because He decreed it, then the cause of Adam’s sin was certainly God’s decree, which Adam was powerless to resist.  If you don’t like it, maybe you should not be a Calvinist.

SBG: God was not involved in the fall, He left Adam to himself, surely God could have applied grace and protected Adam, but He did not see that as fit.

Are you suggesting that God denied Adam the grace to resist temptation, making it impossible for Adam to keep from sinning?  If that is the case, then how can you say that Adam had the power to “not sin”?  He had the power to resist a temptation that he was powerless to resist?  What?

SBG: But while you kick against the goads of Scripture, I suggest one text that clearly presents God’s sovereignty:
Eph 1:11: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will”

I never denied God’s sovereignty.  Rather, I fully affirm it.  I affirm that God has the sovereign right to give His creatures a measure of free will and to hold them accountable for the choices they make.  I affirm that God has the right to make salvation and election conditioned on faith, and I affirm that this is exactly what Scripture teaches.  If you want to deny God these sovereign freedoms and divine rights, that’s on you.  Just because I deny the false Calvinist claim that sovereignty = exhaustive divine determinism, doesn’t mean that I deny God’s sovereignty.  I only deny the bizarre Calvinist definition of sovereignty.

Your quote of Eph. 1:11 does nothing to help your case.  Eph. 1:11 is big trouble for Calvinism.  Calvinism says that we are predestined to faith, but Eph. 1:11 locates predestination “In Him” and Eph. 1:13 says that we come to be “in Him” through faith.  Likewise, Eph. 1:4 locates election “In Him”.  Since election is “In Him” (since through identification and union with Christ we share in His election) and since predestination is “In Him” (since through identification and union with Christ we share in His predestined inheritance), and since we come to be joined to Christ by faith (Eph. 1:13), then it follows that one becomes elect and predestined by faith, the Arminian view exactly!

SBG: Again you say: “When the exhaustive decretal determinism of Calvinism is in view, questions like, “Is that God’s fault?” should be answered with “Yes”.”

This is again a baseless suggestion and a straw man. Most Calvinists believe in a soft determinism called compatiblism. This is clearly taught in Gen 50:20:
“But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”

Compatibilism is still determinism.  It simply means that free will is supposedly “compatible” with determinism.  So it is still true that God predetermined everything, including every sin that would ever be committed in such a way that those sins could not have possibly been avoided.  Appeals to compatibilism do nothing to solve the difficulty.  I actually addressed compatibilism in the post, since in compatibilism the will is still controlled by God.  All compatibilism does is redefine free will so that it means the freedom to do what we want or desire.  But since our wants and desires are still controlled by God (even according to compatibilism), it doesn’t solve anything.  The will is still completely determined by desires that the person has no control over.  So I wasn’t fighting any straw men and my claims were not baseless.

To say that God purposes to bring good out of evil, or that God can use even behaviors that do not please Him to accomplish His ultimate purposes (which is all that Gen 50:20 is expressing) does nothing to prove “compatibilism”.  Passages like this can just as easily be understood from the view point of libertarian free will.  One must read the concept of compatibilism into these texts.  Therefore, while they may not necessarily contradict a compatibilist view, they cannot be used to prove it.  In other words, compatibilism is not “clearly taught” in such passages, despite your assertions.

SBG: And very strongly in Isaiah 10:5-16 when God first raises up Assyria to punish Israel and then punishes the nation that He uses to punish another because of what is in their heart. Here is the text:

““ Woe to Assyria, the rod of My anger
And the staff in whose hand is My indignation.
6 I will send him against an ungodly nation,
And against the people of My wrath
I will give him charge,
To seize the spoil, to take the prey,
And to tread them down like the mire of the streets.
7 Yet he does not mean so,
Nor does his heart think so;
But it is in his heart to destroy,
And cut off not a few nations.
8 For he says,

‘ Are not my princes altogether kings?
9 Is not Calno like Carchemish?
Is not Hamath like Arpad?
Is not Samaria like Damascus?
10 As my hand has found the kingdoms of the idols,
Whose carved images excelled those of Jerusalem and Samaria,
11 As I have done to Samaria and her idols,
Shall I not do also to Jerusalem and her idols?’”

12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Lord has performed all His work on MountZionand on Jerusalem, that He will say, “I will punish the fruit of the arrogant heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his haughty looks.”
13 For he says:

“ By the strength of my hand I have done it,
And by my wisdom, for I am prudent;
Also I have removed the boundaries of the people,
And have robbed their treasuries;
So I have put down the inhabitants like a valiant man.
14 My hand has found like a nest the riches of the people,
And as one gathers eggs that are left,
I have gathered all the earth;
And there was no one who moved his wing,
Nor opened his mouth with even a peep.”
15 Shall the ax boast itself against him who chops with it?
Or shall the saw exalt itself against him who saws with it?
As if a rod could wield itself against those who lift it up,
Or as if a staff could lift up, as if it were not wood!
16 Therefore the Lord, the Lord[a] of hosts,
Will send leanness among his fat ones;
And under his glory
He will kindle a burning
Like the burning of a fire. ”

Several things to point out. First, there is no autonomy in this passage. There is a compatibalism between the will of the Assyrians as wicked sinners with evil hearts (Gen 6:5 & 8:21) and the righteous justice of God with His sovereign decrees.

I can basically agree with the second sentence in your conclusion here, but this does not mean that the Assyrians had no free will in a non-compatibilist (libertarian) sense.  In other words, just as with your other quote, passages like this are just as “compatible” with the Arminian view (and I would argue, more compatible).  See below.

SBG: Particularly notice verses 5-7 and then 13-15. The point is clear that God is absolutely sovereign and man is full responsible.

Again, all these verses show is that God can use the intentions of others to accomplish His purposes.  Arminians wholly agree with this.  It is not even contrary to Arminianism to say that God sometimes controls the wills of people to accomplish His purpose or to execute judgment (surely, it was not Nebuchadnezzar’s will to lose his mind and act like an animal, Daniel 4:28-37).  Arminians only hold that God gives man a measure of free will.  Man’s will is not unlimited, nor does it operate in a vacuum.  Free will, when rightly understood, operates within a framework of possibilities.  See this post for a good description of the limits of free will from an Arminian perspective.

However, this passage does not address the idea of God controlling someone’s thoughts, desires and actions and then holding that person accountable for the desires, thoughts and actions that God irresistibly controlled.  The passage actually teaches the opposite.  The Assyrians became an instrument of wrath in God’s hands against Israel because they were already bent on conquest.  Therefore, they were already perfectly suited to be the rod of God’s wrath and correction.  God used them to punish His people, but He had no need to irresistibly cause them to.  He did not control their desires and wills to go against Israel.  Their desire was already to conquer other nations (verse 7).  God simply directed the Assyrian’s attention towards His people, a people that God had, up to that point, protected from such a devastating conquest.  But God did not control their desires.  Indeed, their intentions in attacking Israel are displeasing to God (verse 7-11)

Their intentions are especially sinful because they attack in arrogance, not even believing that YHWH is a true God.  So God will punish His people through the Assyrian invasion, but also punish Assyria for their arrogance in thinking that their conquest was due only to their superior strength in believing that the God of Israel was no different than the false gods of the other nations they had conquered.

Now why should any of this contradict the idea that man has libertarian free will and yet this in no way prevents God from accomplishing all that He plans?  God is not threatened by free will.  He isn’t so small that He cannot be sovereign over a world where there are wills that He does not directly control. Nothing in this passage suggests that God irresistibly controlled the wills of the Assyrian people and then held them accountable for what He caused them to do.  Rather, God punishes them because their wills are not in harmony with God’s ultimate purpose (to punish His people).  Instead, their wills are bent on mocking God in their arrogance, believing that the success of their conquest was because there was no God inIsrael (verses 8-11).   It is for that reason alone that God punishes them.  So again, there is nothing in these passages that force a compatibilist interpretation.  Therefore, they do nothing to prove compatibilism.  Indeed, they make more sense from a libertarian viewpoint.

SBG: You say: “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. ”

But the problem you don’t seem to understand is the Mr. Washer starts and ends with the Bible. He doesn’t start with imported philosophical values and doctrine that makes the Bible contradict itself. God could enable all men to come to Christ, He could have even used resistible saving grace. But the problem is that the Bible does teach this, that’s why Washer doesn’t teach it.

Well, obviously I disagree.  All you have done here is made an assertion.  I counter assert that Paul Washer’s understanding of election and Scripture was indeed influenced by imported philosophies (just as I repeatedly pointed out in my post).  I further assert that he did not start and end with the Bible, but with unfortunate theological assumptions that the Bible doesn’t really support at all.

SBG: In the next section you say: “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. ”

But again you are just ranting.

No.  I am just pointing out the obvious given fundamental Calvinist assumptions.

SBG: You are battling the same straw man that has no weight. God doesn’t need to make anyone hate Him, natural men are already very good at that. (Romans 8:7-9, Col 1:20-21. etc, etc.)

But you are just parroting Washer here and ignoring the fact that I already addressed this very argument.  It is not enough to just lay the blame on “natural man” without considering how this became man’s natural state in the first place.  As I repeatedly pointed out (even in the sections you have already quoted of my argument), if decretal determinism is true, then man never had any control over his state or over his thoughts, desires, wills, or actions.  At some point you need to deal with the heart of the problem and the heart of the problem lies in the ultimate fundamental Calvinist assumption: Exhaustive determinism.

SBG: Your battle is against a straw man of “hard determinism” which is referred to many calvinists as the hyper view. Your whole argument against calvinists here is based on a straw man fallacy.

As I already pointed out, so called “soft” determinism is no less deterministic than so called “hard” determinism.  Calling it “soft” doesn’t change the fact that God still exhaustively determines everything.  The only difference between “hard” and “soft” determinism is that hard determinism realizes that the compatibilist redefinition of “free will” is a ruse and embraces the obvious: there can be no real free will in a universe that is exhaustively determined by God.

SBG: You say: “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.”

Again, this is your straw man. A hard determinist position and Infralapsarianism versus Supralapsarianism. This is a debate in house, but you are not fair to the audience in the way you beat up straw men instead of speaking honesty in love.

What is really “not fair” is how Calvinists try to hide the reality of their views behind “softer” language.  But when pressed, even “soft” determinists admit that God has determined everything.  Exhaustive determinism in Calvinism isn’t an “in house debate” at all.  It also isn’t fair that you bring in “supra” verses “infra” as relevant to the point.  It isn’t.  Both supralapsarians and infralapsarians hold to exhaustive determinism (determinism is not the point of contention between them, but the “order of decrees”).  Both supralapsarians and infralapsarians believe that God “sovereignly controls everything”, so they are both in the same boat when it comes to the points I am making.  I have in no way been dishonest, nor have I beat up any straw men.

SBG: Your idea about the “heart of Calvinism” is just silly and proves my point. Please see Isaiah 10 for help that you may better understand the biblical teaching of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility.

Please see my response to your use of Isaiah 10 above.  I don’t even disagree that it presents the biblical teaching on God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility, but that is only because it actually supports the Arminian view, rather than the Calvinist view.  But you are wrong if you are truly claiming that exhaustive determinism is not at the heart of Calvinism, for it surely is.

SBG: You say: “Again, why did they hate him? Because God decreed this for them from all eternity.” referring to Joseph and his brothers. Here it becomes obvious that your rant is mainly emotional rather than logical and Biblical.

Look at Genesis 50:20: “But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.”
We can see that God sovereignly decreed it but the brothers are judged for what is in their heart. This is the same as what is clearly taught in isaiah 10:5-19.

I already addressed this above.  This passage can be understood from an Arminian perspective in the same way that Isaiah 10 can.  The Arminian view is not “incompatible” with these passages and these passages do not prove Calvinist compatibilism (they don’t even imply it).

SBG: You say: ““Choice” doesn’t even make sense in Calvinism.”

This is your straw man again. To you it doesn’t make sense. That is why you seem so hot in your approach to this rant. But the Bible clearly teaches compatibilism as already shown. Calvinists do say people don’t make choices, you build up the hyper view and then destroy it. But even Calvinists hate the hyper view…

I did not deny that Calvinists claim we make choices (I assume you meant “Calvinists don’t say”…, rather than “…do say…”).  I only claimed that the language of choice doesn’t make sense in Calvinism, despite their using the word.  If God controls our thoughts and wills, then we never have any real options to “choose” from.  Therefore, we never have any choices (and again, even “compatibilists” admit that God controls our desires and wills.  They locate “freedom” only in the power to act in accordance with our desires, without ever denying that God controls these desires.  That is why compatibilism solves nothing.  It makes fee will “compatible” with determinism by redefining “free will” in a deterministic sense.  In the end, compatibilism means only that determinism is compatible with determinism- brilliant!).  If you are still confused about why “choice” doesn’t make sense in Calvinism, see my post The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.

SBG: You continue: “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.”

I have already shown why your view of grace is not Biblical.

See above for why your claims against my “view of grace” have not been successful.

SBG: But again. Jesus says in John 8:43 that the reason they do not hear is because they are not “able” to listen to His words. If prevenient grace as you hold diligently to was true Jesus would not have said this. If your view is true, prevenient grace would have enabled them to believe and Christ would have said something about their refusal to believe out of their own autonomy. But, this is not what jesus says. Instead, although the preaching was present and the Spirit working, they were still not “able.” Your whole argument is based on an imported idea that is not only foreign to the Bible but also not supported by the texts where you would expect it to be supported.

Likewise, I already dealt with this above.

SBG: You say: “And there it is, the unbiblical attempt to make “dead in sin” mean “the inability of a physical corpse.”

A person actually doesn’t need to go to Eph 2 to describe inability. Mr. Washer chose this passage, but there are many other passages that say the same thing. Not only John 8:43-47, which reveals that its not about prevenient grace because even with preaching they were not “able.” instead it is because they are still natural and in the flesh, “You are of your father the devil…” (v. 44) and then verse 47:

1. He who is of God hears God’s words
1. You do not hear
2. Therefore, you are not of God.

Again, I already dealt with this above.  I also showed in the post that Jesus plainly says the spiritually “dead” will “hear” unto salvation, which completely undermines Washer’s argument.  Also, I never claimed that inability was not a Biblical concept.  I never claimed that it was not taught elsewhere in Scripture.  What I denied (and Scripture denies) is that this inability is comparable to the inability of a corpse so that only regeneration can make faith possible.  That is a conclusion wrongly drawn from the Biblical concept of being “dead in sins.” I made this very clear in my post.

SBG: It’s not about prevenient grace and a man rejection even though they had the ability. Jesus clearly teaches that this has nothing to do with it. Therefore He says… again… “because you are not able to hear…” this is denoting ability not the decision of the human will. 1 Cor 2:14 is also helpful.

Again, please see my comments on the John passages above (as well as Hamilton’s excellent essay).  Please see my treatment of 1 Cor. 2:14 above as well.

SBG: You say: ” 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!”

Your problem is a lack of distinction between regeneration and adoption.

The burden of proof is on you to show a distinction between becoming “children of God” and becoming “sons of God.”  Are you saying that one can be a child of God and yet not be a part of God’s family?  Or are you saying that one can be adopted into the family of God without becoming God’s child?  Both are by faith and becoming a child of God is no different than becoming His son (or daughter).  If there is some important distinction to be made here, you haven’t shown what that is.  Regardless, John 1:12 is definitive by itself,

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God,”

The right to “become children of God’” is given only to believers who have received Christ by faith.  The passage could not be any clearer in teaching that faith precedes “becoming” a child of God, and even Calvinists admit that becoming a child of God in this passage refers to the new birth/regeneration (as verse 13 makes clear).  But you think that verse 13 contradicts this when you write,

SBG: You make becoming a child of God depending of the decision and will of man but John clearly says
John 1:13: “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.”

How can it be that they were born not of human decision but your say that its all about God enabling men to make a decision? this is hopelessly contradictory.

Let’s look at the entire passage:

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name (which simply clarifies how we receive Him, i.e. by faith), he gave the right to become the children of God– children not born of human descent (literally, “of bloods”), nor of human decision or a husbands will, but born of God.”

Verse 13 makes it clear that how one becomes a child of God is based on God’s prerogative alone.  It is not the automatic result of Jewish heritage or ancestry. Rather, the new birth is a supernatural act of God (rather than the result of a natural birth, by the “will of the husband”) given only to those who believe in His Son. If the Jews were left to decide the condition of salvation, they would leave it in their heritage (which is proven by the fact that most Jews refused to “receive Him”, verse 11) but the decision as to how one becomes God’s children is God’s alone, and God has decided that only those who receive His Son by faith will become His children.  God is the one who decides and has made the condition faith in His Son.  Being a Jew is not enough (which, by the way, is the same basic issue being discussed inRom. 9, esp. see verse 16)

So there is nothing in verse 13 that would undermine my interpretation of verse 12, nor anything that would force us to understand verse 12 in a way that would make nonsense of the specific and deliberate language being used (that one becomes a child of God through faith).  Verse 13 isn’t saying that there is no decision involved in the condition for receiving Christ (faith).  Rather, it is saying that God alone is sovereign over the decision regarding who will become His children, and He has sovereignly decided to that only believers will be His children, without regard to heritage or ancestry.

SBG: Also, it should be said that in the Greek “tekna” which means “children” does not appear in John 1:13. Instead it uses a pronoun to describe why the people received Him.

This isn’t really relevant.  “Children” is supplied by some translations because it is obvious that the pronoun refers back to “children” in verse 12.

SBG: John 8 is very clear. But also in John 10:26:

“But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep.”
Jesus says the reason people do not believe is the result of them not being His sheep. He does not say they are not sheep as a result of their unbelief. Your position is the exact opposite of what Christ said not only hear but also in John 8.

Again, see my comments above and Hamilton’s essay on the order of election in John’s gospel.

SBG: You say: “In fact, the Bible clearly puts faith before regeneration.”

Not only does John 1:13 contradict you because faith is a decision it is the will. John clearly says people are not born of the will.
John 3:3: “Unless one is born again he is not able to see thekingdom ofGod.” How can a man choose and put saving faith into an object if he can’t even see it…

John 3:6: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.”
First notice that the flesh only ever brings forth flesh. But you seem to think that the flesh can be the factor that brings forth spiritual life… Further it is the Spirit who brings forth a man’s spirit.

On John 3:3, 6 see my post, Does John 3:3, 6 Teach that Regeneration Precedes Faith?  As far as the flesh and the spirit, no one ever claimed that it is not God alone who regenerates by His Spirit.  We meet the God ordained condition of faith to receive life, but God alone is the one who gives us life in response to our faith.  We cannot regenerate ourselves.  Faith is total dependence on God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.  That is why faith doesn’t “earn” anything and is the perfect condition for receiving the free and undeserved gift of life and salvation from God (Rom. 4:4-8).

SBG: John 6:63: “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing…”
But if two people are brought forth by prevenient grace then still in their flesh and one chooses and another refuses…. it is actually that man’s flesh that profited everything.

I think you are missing the point of this passage as well. Just as in John 3, John 6:63 is simply saying that God alone can give life by His Spirit. Jesus goes on to say that His words are spirit and life (i.e. they are spiritual and life giving).  Therefore, only by receiving His words can we attain life.  It was the Jews’ misguided focus on the natural that prevented them from seeing the spiritual implications of what Jesus was teaching them (about eating His flesh and drinking His blood).  This is why Christ directed them to the fact that His words are spiritual and give life.  He is trying to get them to refocus (rather than seeing His words in purely physical ways- literally eating His flesh, etc.) so that they can learn the spiritual implications of what He has been teaching them.  As mentioned before, this is just another example of Christ continuing to reach out to those that Calvinism would have us believe were hopeless reprobates.

SBG: 1 Cor 2:14: “The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.”

Your whole argument is bases on imported views, ie prevenient grace which has already been refuted. John 8, though the Spirit was present and Christ was preaching the people were not “able” to listen… John 8:43… the implications are obvious.

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

But the Bible says; “children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” Not of the will of the flesh (NKJV).

Just like Washer, you seem to think that just repeating the same thing over and over is somehow sufficient to prove your point.

SBG: I didn’t mean for this to be so long,

Well, now we are even.  If we discuss this further, let’s stick to one or two points and dramatically shorten our comments.  I would also suggest starting your own blog where you can make long responses like this outside of the confines of a discussion thread and just leave a link to your comments that people could follow if interested.

 SBG: …but its not right for people to read something like this and not sympathize for those who may be misled by the saturation of errors.

This is exactly why I felt I needed to respond to Washer’s misguided teaching on election.  It bothers me how many have potentially been led astray by his erroneous arguments.

SBG: Also, your problem with evil is refuted by the Book of Job.

How so?

SBG: Job’s friends’ rebuke is your rebuke.

Not at all.

SBG: When God appeared what did He say? He didn’t even tell them why bad things were happening to Job, He simply declared His sovereignty and made them repent.

True, but irrelevant.

SBG: Further Chapter one clears up that satan was on God’s leash

Satan was on “God’s leash” only so far as God set limits on what he could do to Job.  This is a far cry from what is implied by Calvinist determinism, which would force us to see God controlling even Satan’s desire and will to attack Job and challenge God in the first place.  It is the difference between “being on a leash” (which is far more in line with the Arminian view) and being a hand puppet (which is essentially the Calvinist view based on the unavoidable implications of the doctrine of exhaustive determinism).  You may also be interested in this post I wrote on Job a while back.

So while I appreciate your zeal for truth, I don’t see that your comments and objections to my interactions with Washer’s discussion on election really hold up.  In fact, it seems that many of the points you have made actually serve to further undermine the Calvinist view of election and support the Arminian view instead.  Of course, I will not be surprised if you continue to disagree.  I respect your opinion; I just think it is wrong.  However, I am proud to consider you a brother in Christ and I trust that God will continue to lead you into truth as you seek Him.  May we both be very careful in how we approach Scripture so that we do not find ourselves missing what the Spirit of God is trying to communicate to us.  All of us have misconceptions and none of us have perfect theology.  That is all the more reason to rely on His Spirit in allowing Him to correct those misconceptions, whatever they may be.

Resistible Grace or Sinless Perfection? A Call For Theological Precision in The Calvinist Accounting of Monergistic Conversion

 A recent question in the ??Questions?? thread reminded me of an issue I raised long ago [1].  I thought it would be beneficial to raise this question again in more detail and maybe get some feedback from any Calvinists out there that may be able to come up with a satisfying answer.

The question has to do with why, in Calvinism, the newly regenerated sinner necessarily turns to Christ in faith [2].  Calvinists tend to bristle at the suggestion that the newly regenerated sinner chooses Christ in such a way that the choice cannot be considered free.  Most Calvinists still want to speak of the process in terms of freedom.  They tell us that such a person, once regenerated, will be motivated by the new nature created within and as a result recognize the beauty and value of Christ in such a way that this person will freely, in accordance with the new desires produced by regeneration, turn to Christ.  Calvinist John Piper illustrates the point,

The most immediate and decisive work of God in the new birth is that the new life he creates sees the superior value of Jesus over all else. And with no lapse of time at all, this spiritual sight of the superior value of Jesus results in receiving Jesus as the Treasure that he is. (source)

My question pertains to how this faith response can be a theological certainty given the remaining presence of the sinful nature?  Unless the sinful nature is wholly overcome or eradicated, what is to prevent the regenerated sinner from yielding instead to the desires and motives still remaining in the sinful nature, and reject Christ?

Many Calvinists seem comfortable with the idea that the sinful nature is at least wholly overcome when the sinner is regenerated.  This would explain how the regenerated sinner might be said to “freely choose” Christ without the possibility remaining of the desires of the flesh interfering in the process [3].  But if that is the case, why is it that the sinful nature is able to overcome the godly desires of the regenerated nature and produce sin in the regenerate post conversion?

It seems to me that for the Calvinist to be consistent, he should hold to a view of sinless perfection from the moment of initial regeneration onward, a view of entire sanctification that would even make the strictest Wesleyan uncomfortable.  There should never again be a moment when the regenerated believer chooses again in accordance with the sinful nature.  If the sinful nature and its desires are wholly overcome at the point of initial regeneration, why should that change?  Unless the believer ceases to be regenerated, there should be no reason for the believer to ever sin again [5].  Sin should no longer be possible.  But Calvinists do not believe this.  It is contrary to both Scripture and reality.

This is likely the reason why some Calvinists are even comfortable in saying that while initial conversion is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic (which creates further difficulties for both Calvinist theology and Calvinist polemics: see here and here).  But I have yet to see an explanation as to why this should be the case, given the Calvinist assumptions on how the newly regenerated nature apparently operates to guarantee the person will “freely choose” Christ.

So it seems to me that the Calvinist has some issues to work out.  If the newly regenerated nature does not wholly overcome the sinful nature, guaranteeing a positive response to Christ, then it can only be said to enable the sinner to choose between competing motives.  If that is the case, then Calvinism will quickly find its accounting of initial conversion to have no practical difference from that of  Arminian prevenient grace.  Irresistible grace suddenly becomes resistible, in which case we gladly welcome the Calvinist to the Arminian camp.

On the other hand, if the Calvinist wants to maintain that the regenerated nature eradicates or wholly overcomes the sinful nature, they need to explain how or why this should suddenly change after initial regeneration so that the regenerated nature’s desires are often overcome, evidenced by the sinful choices that believers still occasionally make after conversion [6].  If the Calvinist answer is to make sanctification synergistic, then the Calvinist needs to also explain how synergistic sanctification isn’t sanctification “by works” in accordance with the Calvinist charge that Arminian synergistic conversion amounts to salvation “by works”? 

Conclusion

In light of the above questions and potential inconsistencies created by the Calvinist accounting of the conversion process, there is need for theological precision on the part of the Calvinist regarding the specifics of the claim that regeneration causes faith in the sinner.  There is especially need for precision regarding the claim that regeneration causes the sinner to “freely” embrace Christ. It is not that this issue, in general, necessarily presents an impossible or fatal problem for Calvinism (though the specific claim that we can “freely” choose something that has been predetermined or necessitated is incoherent, see footnote # 3 below), but it does mean the Calvinist has some explaining to do as to how their view makes sense, and at the very least, exposes a need for Calvinists who make such arguments to be more careful and precise in explaining how and why regeneration causes faith in the sinner, as well as explaining how and why this process should change post conversion.

[Note: Some necessary revisions have been made in the conclusion since its original posting.]

___________________________________________________________

[1] See the last two paragraphs of my post, Fletcher on Being “Dead in Sin” Part 2

[2] I refer to the person as a “regenerated sinner” for the sake of illustrating that we are speaking of the regenerated person logically prior to coming to faith.

[3] See my post, The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture, for why I find the language of choice to be wholly incompatible with Calvinist determinism.

[4] Here it is proper to speak of the regenerated person as a believer rather than a sinner since we are now focusing on the person’s state after regeneration has produced faith.  Strangely, if my observations are correct, the Calvinist might be forced to view the will of the regenerated “unbeliever” as stronger than the will of the regenerated “believer”.  This makes one wonder why faith should not be considered a detriment to the person’s ability to resist sin, which is obviously in sharp disagreement with the testimony of Scripture (e.g., Eph. 6:16; 1 John 5:4; Acts 26:18).

[5] In fact, it is often Calvinists who tend to emphasize the Christian’s weakness as a sinner (e.g., see the typical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 7).  I have often interacted with Calvinists who claim that Christians sin “a thousand times a day”, or something similar.

[6] See my post, Sanctification by Works?   It should also be noted that Calvinists seem to view resistible grace as no grace at all.  For this reason, Calvinists say that Arminians deny salvation by grace because Arminians see such saving grace as resistible.  But if the Calvinist holds to synergistic sanctification then the Calvinist must admit that resistible grace is no less grace than irresistible grace.  If that is the case, the Calvinist insistence that Arminianism does not teach salvation by grace is shown to be completely baseless.  Sadly,  Calvinists seem to keep ignoring such obvious inconsistencies and continue to libel Arminiansm as a system of “works salvation.”

Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity Gets it Wrong: Examining the So Called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism”

About a year ago I engaged in a conversation with someone who kept misrepresenting Arminian and Wesleyan teaching while insisting that his claims were “historical facts”.  This person kept making reference to the “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” to back up his claims.  I had no idea what this could be a reference to since I was not familiar with any document written by Arminius or the Remonstrants that went by such a name.  As it turns out, the so called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism” is a sub-title given under the heading “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity.  Below is a critique proving that these 15 tenets are far from representative of Arminian theology.  

The 15 Major Tenets of Arminianism are:

1. Human beings are free agents and human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God.

I suppose this might be considered a feature of Arminianism, but the wording is hard to follow.  What does it mean that “human events are mediated by the foreknowledge of God?”  Arminians certainly affirm that some human actions are truly free.  Arminians also affirm that God has exhaustive foreknowledge of all things, including truly free human choices and actions.  If that is what is meant, then the point is accurate; but it is worded very poorly and could be easily misconstrued.

2. God’s decrees are conditional, not absolute.

I don’t think this accurately reflects Arminianism at all.  One would first need to define “God’s decrees”.  Are we speaking of eternal decrees?  If not, then there are certainly decrees in Scripture that prove to be conditional (e.g., the decree that the priesthood would continue forever through Eli’s line, which was revoked due to Eli’s disobedience and failure to deal with his rebellious sons, 1 Samuel 2:30-33).  If the decrees in view have reference to eternal decrees, then the Arminian could say that God’s decrees are absolute while also affirming that they encompass conditions.

For example, the Arminian could say that God decreed from all eternity to endow His creatures with the power of free will and to hold them accountable for their choices and actions [1].  That would still be an “absolute” decree.  If an “absolute” decree has reference to an unchangeable and irresistible eternal decree that determines everything that will ever happen (including every human choice, sinful or otherwise), then Arminians do indeed reject such an “absolute” view of God’s decrees.  Still, the “conditional” aspect of #2 is imprecise and does not necessarily comport with any standard Arminian view of God’s decrees.  I can’t imagine that any Arminian would consider #2, as worded, to be anything even close to a “major tenet of Arminianism.”

3. God created Adam as innocent.

True.  Is this supposed to be in contrast to Calvinism?  Did God create Adam guilty in Calvinism?  I would say this is a major tenet of theology in general and not just Arminianism.

4. Sin consists in acts of the will.

Correct.  James 1:13-15 establish that well enough.  However, if this is meant to say that Arminians do not believe that we have a corrupt (sinful) nature, then this is entirely false.  All Arminians fully affirm man’s depravity and some (though not all) even affirm racial guilt (which is not the same as affirming total depravity).

5. Only the pollution, not the sin of Adam, is imputed to his
descendants.

As above, this is true of some Arminians, but not all.  Personally, I do not believe that God holds Adam’s descendents responsible for Adam’s sin.  However, I agree with all Arminians that Adam’s sinful nature is passed on to all of his descendents (though I am not sure “imputed” is the best way to express this).

6. Man’s depravity is not total, and his will is inclined toward God and good.

This is entirely false.  Such a claim has never been a feature of Arminianism.  Man’s depravity is total in Arminianism so that the will is not inclined towards God and good.  Point #6 is the opposite of what Arminianism teaches. [2]

7. The Atonement was not necessary but once offered is available to all.

This is worded so awkwardly it is difficult to grasp what is being asserted (just as many of these so called “tenets” so far).  However, the Arminian would certainly object to the idea that the atonement “was not necessary.” I suppose this might be a description of the governmental view of atonement which some Arminians have held.  But even then, I doubt that many (if any) of those who hold the governmental view would say that the atonement was “not necessary”.  At any rate, Arminius held to penal-satisfaction (and for that reason saw the atonement as wholly necessary) as did Wesley and numerous other Arminians throughout history.  Therefore, if this is a reference to the governmental view of atonement (accurate or not), it cannot be rightly called a “major tenet of Arminianism”.   As far as the atonement being a provision available for all, this would indeed be a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

8. The Atonement does not actually effect the salvation of human beings but merely makes it possible.

False again.  The atonement makes salvation possible for all and “effects the salvation” of those who repent and believe the gospel.

9. Salvation becomes effectual only when accepted voluntarily by penitent sinners.

Here #8 is contradicted by #9.  If the atonement “does not actually effect salvation” (as #8 claims), then it cannot even “effect” salvation on the condition of voluntary acceptance.  Again, I do not care for the wording of #9.  I would prefer to say that the free gift of salvation is received by the God enabled exercise of faith in the person.  Still, there is nothing in #9 that the Arminian need object to.

10. Regeneration is determined by the human will, not divine decree.

Arminians believe that regeneration is received by faith, but caused by God.  Faith precedes regeneration in Arminianism as it receives the free gift of new life from God and enjoys this life as the result of being joined to Christ and indwelt by the Holy Spirit through faith.  If “determined by the human will” is meant to say that man regenerates himself, then the statement is false and misrepresents Arminianism. Only God can regenerate just as God alone can justify.  To say that justification and regeneration are by faith does not mean that the one who trusts God is doing these things to himself, any more than it can be said that the one who receives a gift also gives the gift to himself or provided the gift in the first place. 

Does this mean that regeneration is not determined by “divine decree?”  Not at all.  The Arminian affirms that God decreed from all eternity to justify and regenerate sinners on the condition of faith in His Son.  Therefore, regeneration is determined by “divine decree.”

11. Faith itself is a good work.

It is ridiculous to claim that this is a feature of Arminianism, let alone a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  The Arminian agrees with Paul that faith is not a work and in no way merits salvation.  Rather, faith receives the free and undeserved gift of salvation (Romans 4:4-8).  For this reason salvation by faith is salvation by grace (Rom. 4:16).  The Arminian also acknowledges that faith is impossible if not for the gracious enabling work of God in the sinner.  For this reason, even faith can be considered a gift from God.

12. There is no distinction between common grace and special grace.

This is hardly a major tenet of Arminianism.  Many Arminians do make such distinctions, but understand “special grace” differently than Calvinists and, apparently, the misinformed architect of these so-called “15 Major Tenets of Arminianism.”  The Arminian would likely understand “special grace” as that special working of God that makes faith possible while the Calvinist would see this same working as irresistible.  The typical Arminian understanding of “common grace” is roughly the same as the Calvinist view (i.e. as that grace which restrains evil in this world, etc.).

 13. Grace may be resisted.

Yes, this could be rightly classified as a “major tenet” or Arminianism.

14. The righteousness of Christ is never imputed to the believer.

This is false.  Arminius affirmed the imputation of Christ’s righteousness on the condition of faith as have many (if not most) Arminians since.  Some Arminians deny that Christ’s so called “active” obedience is imputed to the believer, while still maintaining that Christ’s “passive” obedience is imputed for righteousness.  Other Arminians affirm that both Christ’s active and passive obedience is imputed to the believer (e.g. Free Will Baptists). 

There are some from the Wesleyan tradition who would add “imparted righteousness” while still holding to a form of “imputed righteousness” as well.  It seems to me that there are some from the Wesleyan tradition who might deny that the imputation of righteousness can rightly be called “the righteousness of Christ”, though from my readings of Wesley, I am confident that while Wesley denied the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in the “active” sense, he affirmed it in the “passive” sense.  Regardless, it can hardly be accurate to say the rejection of Christ’s imputed righteousness is a “major tenet” of Arminianism when its founder and so many of his theological heirs fully affirm that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer.  It would be far more accurate to say that Christ’s imputed righteousness to the believer is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.

15. A believer may attain full conformity to divine will in this life, but may also fall from grace and be lost eternally.

Again, this is worded very strangely.  If this is meant to say that true believers can yet abandon faith and be eternally lost, then this might be considered to be a major tenet of Arminianism.  Unfortunately, Arminius never took a stand on the issue (though Arminius seemed to believe that apostasy was both theoretically and scripturally possible and argued against the contrary view [of inevitable perseverance] in his response to Calvinist William Perkins- see pp. 272-289 in Arminius Speaks). [4]  Likewise, Arminius’ first followers (the Remonstrants) initially left the question of apostasy open to debate, though they eventually took a stand on the issue against the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance. 

If “full conformity to divine will in this life” has reference to entire sanctification, then this could only be rightly called a feature of Arminianism rooted in the teachings of Wesley.  Many Arminians hold to progressive sanctification and Arminius did not take a stand on the issue (though he did not deny the possibility of entire sanctification for the regenerated believer so long as it was emphasized that such could only be possible through total dependence on the empowering grace of God). [5]

Therefore, it doesn’t seem quite accurate to say that either claim in #15 is a “major tenet” of Arminianism.  For this reason The Society of Evangelical Arminians does not prevent Arminians who hold to inevitable perseverance from holding membership in the society, nor does it take a stand on the possibility of entire sanctification.

[This unfortunate and inaccurate listing of “major tenets” is found under “Arminianism” in Nelson’s Dictionary of Christianity (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 47]

________________________________________________________

[1] A. W. Tozer expressed this view of divine decree very well in the following quote:

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy: The Attributes of God)

In Arminius’ descriptions of the divine decrees he twice uses the word “absolute” to define these decrees:

“The first absolute decree of God concerning the salvation of sinful man, is that by which he decreed to appoint his Son, Jesus Christ, as Mediator, Redeemer, Savior, Priest and King, who might destroy sin by his own death, might by his obedience obtain the salvation which had been lost, and might communicate it by his own virtue.”

“The second precise and absolute decree of God, is that in which he decreed to receive into favor those who repent and believe, and, in Christ, for His sake and through Him, to effect the salvation of such penitents and believers as persevered to the end; but to leave in sin, and under wrath, all impenitent persons and unbelievers, and to damn them as aliens from Christ.” (From “A Declaration of the Sentiments of James Arminius Part 2” in Arminius Speaks: Essential Writings on Predestination, Free Will, and the Nature of God, pg. 63).

[2] James Arminius wrote:

“In this [depraved] state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but imprisoned, destroyed, and lost.  And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they are excited by Divine grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace.  For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing”…..The mind of man, in  this [depraved] state, is dark, destitute of the saving knowledge of God, and, according to the Apostle, incapable of those things which belong to the Spirit of God (1 Cor. 2:14),…” (From “Public Disputation” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 3, 4, brackets mine).

[3] James Arminius wrote:

“I believe that sinners are accounted righteous solely by the obedience of Christ; and that the righteousness of Christ is the only meritorious cause on account of which God pardons the sins of believers and reckons them as righteous as if they had perfectly fulfilled the law…” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 78)

[4] James Arminius wrote:

“But I think it is useful and will be quite necessary in our first convention, [or Synod] to institute a diligent inquiry from the Scriptures, whether it is not possible for some individuals through negligence to desert the commencement of their existence in Christ, to cleave again to the present evil world, to decline from the sound doctrine which was once delivered to them, to lose a good conscience, and to cause Divine grace to be ineffectual.”

“Though I here openly and ingenuously affirm, I never taught that a true believer can, either totally or finally fall away from the faith, and perish.  Yet I will not conceal, that there are passages of Scripture which seem to me to wear this aspect; and those answers to them [the passages that seem to teach the possibility of apostasy] which I have been permitted to see, are not of such a kind as to approve themselves on all points to my understanding.  On the other hand, certain passages are produced [of unconditional perseverance] which are worthy of much consideration.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pp. 69, 70, first brackets in second paragraph mine.  Unfortunately, Arminius did not live to participate in such a “convention”, and the “Synod of Dort” that his followers participated in proved to be nothing less than a kangaroo court.)

[5] James Arminius wrote:

“But while I never asserted that a believer could perfectly keep the precepts of Christ in this life, I never denied it, but always left it as a matter which has still to be decided.” (From “A Declaration…Part 2” in Arminius Speaks, pg. 71)

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

Related Fallacies:
Equivocation
Category Mistake

“[Arminianism] denies sola fide (faith alone) by changing the character of faith so that it is basically a work.” (Rev. Richard Phillips [Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals], Is Arminianism a Biblical View or Is it Heresy?)

“Nay, the doctrine of justification itself, as preached by an Arminian, is nothing but the doctrine of salvation by works, lifted up; for he always thinks faith is a work of the creature and a condition of his acceptance. It is as false to say that man is saved by faith as a work, as that he is saved by the deeds of the law” (Spurgeon, C.H., “Effects of Sound Doctrine”)

Continuing on the theme of faith, another odd assertion often made by Calvinists is that non-Calvinists somehow make faith into a “work” (as in “salvation by works”). If true, this would of course spell disaster for any competing belief system, since the scriptures clearly deny that a man can be justified by works. The simplistic logic behind the argument is rashly demonstrated by Fred Butler of Grace to You Ministries in my exchange with him:

“If God requires that we cooperate with His plan of salvation … then how is this NOT works?”

Their reasoning is straightforward enough: all human acts are “works” of some kind, therefore to believe that faith is something people do makes faith into a work. While seemingly sound, this decontextualized logic begins to fall apart quickly when the scriptures are examined. To dismantle this fallacy, let’s examine a few incontrovertible facts from scripture:

1. Salvation and righteousness are by faith

This should go without saying. To be thorough:

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….” (Romans 5:1)

“So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” (Galatians 3:24)

“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.” (Romans 4:11)

2. Faith is believing

Some may try to draw some artificial distinction between faith and believing; no such differentiation exists in the Bible, the two are synonymous. It’s accepted by all sides that righteousness is by faith (see Romans 4:11 above), and it’s stated directly in scripture that it is believing that is accounted as righteousness:

“For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”” (Romans 4:3) [see also Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:6, James 2:23]

So faith is synonymous with belief in Christ.

3. Believing is a human action

To put it simply, God doesn’t believe for us, it is we who believe in our hearts, to which the scriptures plainly attest:

“For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” (Romans 10:9-10)

As I commented on the last post:

“…it’s vital to differentiate between the condition to salvation and the actual saving work. Coming to faith in Christ freely isn’t 99.99% God saving me and 0.01% me saving me. I do exactly 100% of my own believing in Christ, to which God has graciously responded with doing exactly 100% of the saving work.”

So putting the facts we’ve learned together syllogistically:

(P1) Salvation and righteousness are by faith
(P2) Faith is believing
(P3) Believing is a human action
(C1) Therefore, salvation and righteousness come about through a human action – believing

The conclusion here correlates perfectly with the preceding thought in Romans 10:10a, “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified….”

The Calvinist may object at this point that he believes that faith is irresistibly conferred by God through regeneration or some such, but that’s quite beside the point when addressing their ‘salvation by works / works-righteousness’ charges. Regardless of whether people believe in a truly free sense, or are irresistibly changed so that they have no other choice, believing something with one’s heart is still a human action, which brings us to our next point.

4. Scripture teaches that salvation is by faith, not works; and that no one can be justified by works

“David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works….” (Romans 4:6)

So given these facts,

(P1a) Salvation and righteousness come about through a human action – believing (C1 above)
(P2a) Scripture teaches that salvation is by faith, not works; and that no one can be justified by works
(C2) Therefore the action of believing isn’t comparable to the “works” scripture says no one can be justified by

Obviously, when the scriptures refer to our righteousness not being by works, the action of believing logically can’t be included in such a set if one reads the scriptures with any consistency. The unscriptural charges of the Reformed apologists begins to further unravel when the obvious resolution is shown….

The simple solution from the context

There really isn’t any deep mystery or paradox here. the “works” which men cannot be justified by are the works of the law as the contexts in Paul’s teachings on faith and justification easily bear out.

“Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20)

“Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.”” (Romans 9:32)

“…knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” (Galatians 2:16)

“Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”” (Galatians 3:11)

Nowhere does the Bible equate believing in Christ with keeping some work of the law, and hence salvation by faith can never be “salvation by works” in the sense Paul condemns. Some Calvinists may insist that it being a human action still makes it into some sort of work, but this really isn’t an objection, since even though anything one does can be classified as a ‘work’ in some sense, such actions wouldn’t necessarily have relevance to the topic of the law. When Christ spoke of laboring for the food which doesn’t perish, the crowd asked how they could do so.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:27-29, emphasis added)

So believing can in fact be considered a work (in a very loose sense) by virtue of it being a human action. This fact comes into no conflict whatsoever with Paul’s teaching against salvation by works, since Paul isn’t condemning salvation through the action of belief, he’s decrying attempts to merit salvation by the keeping of the Mosaic law. This fact is further driven home by the fact that Paul draws a direct contrast between the two practices:

If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about–but not before God. What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”” (Romans 4:2-3 [emphasis added])

Notice that the action of Abraham’s believing itself is spoken of in direct contraposition to “works.” Clearly, since believing is an action men perform in their hearts (cf Romans 10:9-10 above), his dismissal of justification by works doesn’t imply exclusion of all human actions in obedience to the gospel such as hearing (Romans 10:17), receiving (John 1:12, James 1:21) or believing, but simply that the works of the law cannot justify.

“Salvation unto faith?”

To save the ill-founded case that they and their forebears have pushed for centuries, some Calvinists will actually go as far as to deny redemption through faith! Incredibly, Hendryx takes this stance:

“Again, it is true that the Bible contrasts faith and works, but biblical faith is never seen as something we, in our unregenerate condition, had to autonomously (apart form[sic] the invincible power of the Holy Spirit) contribute. … But the work of Christ redeems us unto faith, not on the condition of faith.” (Hendryx, J., ‘Can Faith Ever Be Considered a Work?1)

Myron Berg (a monergist Lutheran) apparently agrees:

Proponents of prevenient grace also make faith into a work. God’s purpose of declaring faith as essential to salvation was not to reduce God’s requirement of keeping the ten commandments down to just having faith, (which is a part of the first commandment) but to use faith as an indicator that the person had come to the realization that his condition is so repugnant to God that his only hope is that Christ can stand in his place before God. (Berg, M., ‘Prevenient Grace’)

To Hendryx’s assertion, the word for ‘redemption’ (apolytrosis) is used synonymously with forgiveness of sins.

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace….” (Ephesians 1:7, see also Colossians 1:13-14)

Now it’s apparent that one cannot have such redemption/forgiveness from sins if he’s not justified in Christ (the terms ‘justification,’ ‘forgiveness’ are both used synonymously with being made righteous throughout Paul’s exposition on righteousness through faith in Romans 4). To assert we’re “[redeemed] unto faith” as Hendryx does is then tantamount to saying that redemption and justification precede (and therefore don’t come by) faith, contrary to scripture’s plain teaching on justification by faith (e.g. Romans 5:1, Galatians 3:24 cited above). The same problem permeates Berg’s commentary, since if believing is merely the indicator or symptom and not the condition to justification in Christ, then it can’t correctly be stated that we’re justified by faith. Such attempts to frame salvation conditioned upon faith as being “salvation by works” collapse under their own weight, since the one doing so must implicitly deny justification by faith.

Faith is a work of the law?

Berg raises an interesting objection that I’ve seen before. Some monergists retort that faith was a matter of the law, therefore if it’s a condition of salvation, one is still preaching “works righteousness.” For instance, Jesus states,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)

So is faith in the general context of Paul’s epistles a matter of the Mosaic law then? Consider, a man who seeks to establish his own righteousness by the deeds of the law may hold to some form of faithfulness or faith in God and His wondrous works as a point of duty to the law for his justification (as Paul doubtless did before his conversion). Yet despite this, such a one would be denying the work of Christ through attempting to establish his own righteousness. Just as those Jews who rejected their Messiah, one can be “zealous for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2). So to show that faith in God is a matter of the Mosaic law hardly equates to faith in Christ being a work thereof. This abject ignorance of said accusation is also directly refuted by Paul’s clear distinction the law and faith that has come in Galatians chapter 3:

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.” But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” ), that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Brethren, I speak in the manner of men: Though it is only a man’s covenant, yet if it is confirmed, no one annuls or adds to it. Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise. What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one.

Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:10-26 NKJV, emphasis added)

As it’s writen, the law isn’t against the promises of God through faith, but neither is it the substance thereof, for the law isn’t of faith, but was added centuries later because of transgressions. The law and prophets rightly do command belief in God (2 Chronicles 20:20). This does not encompass, but as a good schoolmaster, rather points to the superior faith in Christ (Luke 24:44, Galatians 3:24 quoted above).

One under the law can believe in God and that He does miraculous things as a point of the law’s righteous requirements, this is not the same as one who trusts Christ for his salvation. The former shows faithfulness as a matter of duty in attempt to justify himself, the later acknowledges his inability to be justified by the law and his need for the righteousness of Christ. As opposed to attempts to keep the law, faith itself is not what actually justifies, but He in whom the faith is placed graciously accounts it as righteousness. As opposed to one who believes in God as a matter of keeping the law unto self-righteousness, one who believes in Christ’s atoning work, in acknowledging his need for Him as Savior, has already admitted that he has fallen short (Romans 3:23) and that his own works are inadequate to justify him. That is why such a distinction is drawn in Paul’s epistles between the law and faith, and that it would be a critical error to equate saving faith in Christ with the works of the law.

Conclusion

The accusations of works righteousness that Calvinists are so well-known for flinging really don’t hold any water when the scriptures are examined. The very suggestion that Arminians/Synergists believe in such betrays a fundamental ignorance of what faith and works really are within their scriptural contexts on the part of the accusers.

The assertion that faith is a “work” because it’s something people do is incoherent in light of the Bible equating faith with believing (an action); the plain resolution being that the “works” in the context of scripture’s teaching of “faith, not works” are the works of the law. Failure to recognize this has led to even mainstream Calvinists such as Hendryx into advocating “redemption unto faith” in opposition to the “justification by faith” taught in the New Testament. Their counter that faith is commanded in the law is hopelessly erroneous in that it, a.) ignores the strong distinction drawn by Paul between faith in Christ and the works of the law in Galatians, and b.) winds up effectively making the self-contradictory claim that it’s a matter of keeping the law to trust Christ to do for me what my keeping of the law cannot.

The charge that Arminians “turn faith into a work” being shown to be simple equivocation of terms (conflating works of the law with faith), the associated charges they level against those who believe that free will plays some role in whether we believe collapse as well.

“And a point I have yet to see explained as well is how making a decision qualifies as a “work.” The Jews were forbidden to work on the Sabbath; did this prohibit them from thinking or making a decision? Is there any evidence that the Greek word behind “works” (ergon) ever refers to a thought or a decision? It is my earnest wish that an enterprising Calvinist will step to the plate and answer this question, for it seems to me that this is a flawed premise upon which the Calvinistic case rests.” (Holding, J.P. [Tektonics.org], Un Conditioning)

It’s apparent then that the charges of “salvation by works” that Calvinists typically employ are based upon their elementary misunderstanding of the nature of saving faith and works of the law. Such charges then constitute mere pointless quibbling founded in decontextualization of terms, and the error of equating the works of the Old Covenant unto our own righteousness with obedience to the New Covenant for the righteousness of Christ.

Footnotes:

1. Hendryx’s further objection, “The question we need to be asking ourselves is, “what makes us to differ from other men who do not believe?” … the grace of God in Christ or the will of man? If we say “the will of man” it is a boast and therefore not the kind of faith that is contrasted with works in the Bible.” was answered in our previous post.