Addressing the Calvinist Claim That God Can Irresisitibly Cause (Make) People to “Freely” Love Him

Below is a recent response to a Calvinist in a discussion forum which addresses the oft repeated Calvinist claim that while God works in the elect irresistibly, the elect still freely come to Christ in such a way that their free will is not violated. In other words, Calvinists often say that it is a misrepresentation of Calvinism to suggest that God saves people “against their will”, while it seems that their theological claims cannot actually avoid that logical conclusion.  This is a part of a conversation I recently had with a Calvinist that made this claim:

Calvinist: “My wife made me willing to love her the first time I saw her. She was so appealing to me I knew that I had to have her. That is what the Lord does to His people. He makes us willing by showing us our desperate need of Him and then the beauty of His salvation. He makes us willing by giving us a new heart to know our need and to see the wonder of the truth of the Gospel as it is in Christ.”

Me: “But prior to that we were God haters who wanted nothing to do with God, so the analogy fails. And we didn’t want a “new heart” prior to God giving us one (in Calvinism, since in my view the new heart is clearly and Biblically the result of faith, and not the cause). It would be like someone using a mind control device in someone who hated broccoli and controlling the mind in such a way that it suddenly found broccoli irresistibly attractive. Would we say that the person then freely chose to love broccoli? Of course not.”

Calvinist: “That is why Christ said that you must be born again in order to even see the kingdom of God. The new nature must come before faith. God making us willing is not mind control in the sense that you describe it but giving us a new nature and a new mind. Of course the analogy isn’t perfect but it does illustrate the fact that we can be made to love without it being against our will.”

Me: “No it doesn’t. If we were God haters that wanted nothing to do with Christ prior to His irresistible act of “giving us a new heart” that “makes us willing”, then it was certainly “against our will” because our will was to hate and reject God prior to His irresistible working in us. It would be like a man meeting a girl at a bar and the girl doesn’t like him and wants nothing to do with him. In fact, she finds him repulsive. So the man slips a pill in her drink that removes her inhibitions and causes her to begin to find him attractive, even to the point of “making her willing” to sleep with him. Now if this incident was brought before the court, would the court say that the man is not liable for violating the woman against her will, since the pill he put in her drink “made her willing”? Of course not. Nobody would say that she freely chose to be with the man under such circumstances, and no one would say that her will was not violated.”

“As distasteful as this illustration might be, it illustrates the exact same principle behind your claims that while God “makes us willing” this making us willing by “giving us a new heart” is not a violation of the person’s will. Instead of dropping a pill into our drink, God drops a “new heart” into our God hating chest. The only difference would be that in your view of how God works, the “effects” of the “drug” would never wear off. But that doesn’t change the fact that a person’s will has been obviously violated in the process.”

“It really is pretty simple. If God’s working faith into us is not resistible, but irresistible, then it certainly violates freedom and the will. That is so obvious, it shouldn’t even need to be pointed out. If you want to say that God irresistibly brings sinners to faith and love and devotion to Him (by irresistibly removing their “hate God heart” and putting in a “love God heart”) because you think the Bible teaches that, then fine. But trying to then claim that God does this in such a way that we freely come to him in such a way that our wills are not violated is clearly incoherent. You can’t have it both ways. Sorry.”

Related posts:

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

The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture

No Real Choice in Calvinism

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

Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Book Review)

John D. Wagner has produced  an updated and expanded version of “Grace Unlimited”, originally edited by the late Clark H. Pinnock.  This updated version is called “Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation.”  This newer version contains several new essays along with some changes and heavy editing of  a few essays that appeared in the original version.

Essays that remain from the original version include: “God’s Universal Salvific Grace” by Vernon Grounds; “Conditional Election” by Jack Cottrell; “The Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:27)” by William G. McDonald, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner; “Predestination in the Old Testament” by David A. Clines; “Predestination in the New Testament” by I. Howard Marshall; “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts” and “Soteriology: Perseverance and Apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” both by Grant Osborne, and “God’s Promise and Universal History: The Theology of Romans 9” by James D. Strauss, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner.

For the purposes of this review I will focus on the new material and make some closing comments that will address some of the older material as well.

The first essay in this new volume is “Arminianism is God Centered Theology”, written by Roger Olson.  In this section Olson clears up many misconceptions and misrepresentations of Arminian Theology commonly propagated by Calvinist authors and those who simply have not carefully studied the subject.  In doing so, Olson convincingly demonstrates that Arminian Theology is thoroughly Evangelical and grace oriented.

Another new essay in the volume is “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of the New Testament Texts Or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist” by Glenn Shellrude.  This is an excellent essay which looks at numerous Biblical texts and the overall tenor of Scripture against the backdrop of Calvinist determinism.  Shellrude succeeds in showing that one cannot read or understand Scripture in any coherent manner when the fundamental presuppositions of Calvinist determinism are in view.

Picirilli’s contribution on “The Intent and Extent of Christ’s atonement” focuses on the exegesis of the many key texts that point towards an unlimited provisional atonement in accordance with God’s love for the world and desire to save all.  Picirilli does an  excellent job showing how these texts support the Arminian view and are simply incompatible with the Calvinist “limited atonement” claims.

The next new essay in the volume is J. Matthew Pinson’s “Jacob Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming” which looks at Arminius and his Theology in historical context and how his Theology is thoroughly “reformed” despite being at odds with Calvinism on many crucial points.  Like Olson’s essay, this essay serves as an important corrective to so many false views and claims about Arminius and his Theology.

Another new contribution comes from Fundamental Wesleyan scholar Vic Reasoner which focuses on John Wesley’s attention to  grace in his own articulation of Arminian Theology called: “John Wesley’s Doctrines of the Theology of Grace.”  Not surprisingly, Dr. Reasoner spends a good deal of time describing Wesley’s view of entire sanctification and it’s relation to God’s powerful working of grace in the hearts and lives of believers.

The final essay that is new to this updated volume is Steve Witzki’s “Saving Faith: The Act of a Moment or the Attitude of a Life Time?” which argues strongly for the need of continuance in faith to reach final salvation.  While Witzki’s essay argues against  any Theology that would deny the possibility of apostasy, he especially takes aim at the popular and very dangerous version of “Once Saved, Always Saved” that would deny the need for perseverance in faith at all, claiming that an initial moment of genuine faith is all that is needed to guarantee one’s eternal place in heaven regardless of any subsequent eventuality, including loss of faith and rejection of Christ.  Witzki’s exegetical work is devastating to this dangerous  and surprisingly popular “saved regardless” view of eternal security.

Overall, this is a great effort by editor and contributor John D. Wagner,  pulling solid essays from the original “Grace Unlimited” and many newer essays of several contemporary and important Arminian writers together in order to take this work to a whole new level.  My only complaint would be that the corporate election view as articulated by such notable scholars as Brian Abasciano and William Klein was not represented in this new volume.  However, Wagner does incorporate some minor elements of this view in his contribution to the essay on Romans 9, while still not fully capturing the essence of this view as articulated by the best proponents of the view like Abasciano, Klein and Shank.

I also found it disappointing to see Dr. Jack Cottrell representing the Arminian election view in his essay since, despite the name of the new volume referencing “The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation”, Cottrell is not, himself, an Arminian, as he denies two key features of Arminianism: total depravity and the need for enabling grace to overcome that depravity in order to make a faith response possible.  For those reasons, Cottrell’s soteriology is more  properly classified as semi-Pelagian  and not “Arminian.”  And while Cottrell does  a good job describing the classical Arminian “election by foreknowledge”  view in his essay, he also unfairly dismisses the corporate election view and demonstrates that he does not fully understand the view he is rejecting in his brief interactions with Robert Shank’s work “Elect in the Son.”

Despite Cottrell’s misunderstanding of the corporate view and the fact that a key contributor to this volume on Arminian Theology is not even Arminian,  this updated volume is a huge improvement over the original publication and is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the topic of Arminian Theology.

Interesting Comments From John MacArthur on the Nature of Preveninet Grace and the Ordo Salutis

A Concise Description of Prevenient Grace From a Surprising Source (spoiler: It’s John MacArthur)


I don’t think…particularly I don’t think that regeneration precedes anything except the fruit of regeneration which is a righteous life. I do not think that regeneration precedes saving faith.

Now I know that that’s becoming a…that’s a strongly Calvinistic…I shouldn’t even say Calvinistic, it’s a bit of a hard line Calvinistic viewpoint, I’m hearing it quite a bit nowadays. I had a two and a half hour discussion last week with a man who tried to convince me that regeneration occurs first and after you’re regenerate, then you can believe. So I said to him, “Show me the verse….just show it to me.” Well, he wanted to argue logic but he couldn’t find a verse. I do not find anywhere in the Scripture that the Bible says you will be saved and somewhere along the line you’ll come to realize it. When you separate saving faith from the regenerating act of God, you have put yourself in a non-biblical frame of reference and you have also created a new kind of dynamic in salvation where God is saving people completely independent of anything they do and then they’re just waking up to realize it and putting faith which they’re given by Him in regeneration into action.


Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

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

Is The New Heart of Ezekiel 36:26-27 A Reference to Regeneration Preceding Faith?

The Arminian and Calvinist Ordo Salutis: A Brief Comparative Study

A Preliminary Defense of Prevenient Grace

Craig L. Adam’s on Calvinism’s Use of John 6:44

Calvinism and John 6:44

Related posts and articles:

Various Thoughts on the Use of John 6 and Related Passages From John’s Gospel to Support Calvinism

Daniel Whedon on John 6

The Order of Faith and Election in John’s Gospel: You Do Not Believe Because You Are Not My Sheep

John 6:37 (Richard Coords)

Does John 6:44 Teach Irresistible Grace?

Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?


Troubling Trends Among YRR Calvinists

The troubling trend in America’s “Calvinist Revival” 

HT: Dale V. Wayman

Strong Patristic Agreement With the Standard Arminian Approach to Rom. 7:14-25 Part 2

Read the article at The Arminian magazine on-line:

The Patristic Interpretation Of Rom. 7:14-25 Part 1, The Early Christian Witness to the Arminian Interpretation Part 2

Note:  While this represents the typical Arminian interpretation of Rom. 7 going back to Arminius, not all Arminians subscribe to this basic interpretation.   Dr. Robert Picirilli and Dr. Brian Abasciano are examples of Arminian scholars who take a different approach to the passage.

Go to Part 1


Jesus Says The Dead Will Hear Unto Spiritual Life

I want to recommend Chris Chapman’s article available at SEA called, The Extent of Spiritual Death.

Chapman’s article does an excellent job of demonstrating from Scripture that the spiritual death described in the Bible does not warrant the Calvinist spin that equates spiritual death with the inability of a physical corpse to act in any way.  However, his article doesn’t go far enough with regards to a key passage in John 5.

Chapman recounts how Calvinists will often use the Biblical narrative of Lazarus as an example of a corpse having no choice but to come alive when Christ calls, apart from any response of faith.  Likewise, Calvinists will often use the illustration of a preacher in a morgue preaching to a bunch of lifeless corpses.  They reason that none of the dead bodies in the morgue can hear or respond to the preacher until they are first made alive. 

In addressing the Calvinist use of the Lazarus narrative, Chapman rightly notes that Jesus is speaking of physical resurrection in John 11 just as He did in John 5:25-29.  Unfortunately, he fails make the very important point that John 5:25 has reference not only to a future resurrection, but to the present spiritual resurrection of those who are hearing Christ’s voice in faith.  This simple observation destroys the Calvinist insistence that those who are dead in sin are as unable to hear as a lifeless corpse.   The implications Calvinists draw from the Lazarus narrative and the analogy of the preacher in the morgue are plainly at odds with the words of Jesus in John 5:25,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (NASB, emphasis mine)

Jesus makes it clear that the time when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God unto life is “now.”  How does this happen?  It happens through faith in Christ,

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (John 5:24, NASB, emphasis mine)

Here Jesus plainly describes the initial movement from spiritual death to spiritual life.  The one who hears the words of Jesus in faith (i.e. receives them through faith) passes from spiritual death to spiritual life.  This clearly marks the transition from death to life and that is a perfect description of what constitutes regeneration.  Regeneration is the beginning of spiritual life, and is thereby marked by the initial transition from death to life.

In the oft repeated Calvinist analogy of the preacher in the Morgue, Calvinists insist that one cannot hear or respond to Christ or the gospel until that person is first given spiritual life.  This claim is in obvious and stark contrast to what Jesus says in John 5.  Jesus tells us that the spiritually “dead” will “hear” unto “life”, and this hearing unto life is the result of faith (verse 24). It is the “hearing of faith” that Paul describes in Galatians by which we receive the Spirit of life (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14, cf. Romans 8:1-12).

So Jesus tells us that the “dead” will “hear” (in faith) unto “life” and the Calvinist tells us that only those who are already regenerated can “hear” unto faith.  Jesus says that hearing and faith come before life and Calvinism says that life comes before hearing and faith. Calvinists say that the “dead” cannot possibly hear anything, just like a lifeless physical corpse.  Jesus tells us that the “dead” can hear (as God enables them), and this hearing by faith is what moves those who hear from the realm of spiritual death to the realm of spiritual life.

Chapman rightly points out that Jesus is speaking about a future physical resurrection in verses 28-29.  In these verses Jesus speaks only of “an hour that is coming”, but in verses 24 and 25, Jesus speaks of an hour that is coming and “now is.”  The Jews should not marvel at the authority and power of Jesus’ claim that His words can give spiritual life to those who hear and receive those words in faith (vv. 24, 25), since Jesus has the ultimate authority to judge all of mankind when He calls them out of the grave at the end of time (vv. 27-29).

Jesus is here building on the theme of His authority and power given to Him by the Father.  The Father gives Jesus the power and authority to give life to whom He wishes (vs. 21).  Jesus makes it clear in verses 24 and 25 that the Father and Jesus wish to give life to believers, those who hear and receive Christ’s words in faith.  Spiritually dead unbelievers become spiritually alive by becoming believers (vs. 24).  The only way for the spiritually dead to receive the life that Jesus has authority to grant them is to hear His words by faith (vv. 24, 25).

Jesus then moves from this authority and power given to Him by the Father to the authority and power given Him by the Father to resurrect and judge all of mankind, both believers and unbelievers.  This authority and power given Him by the Father reinforces Jesus’ central theme in His teaching (and John’s central theme in his gospel) that He belongs to the Father and is from the Father, and “…the Father has placed into the Son’s hands the entire question of human life and death.  It is with the Son we all must deal.” [1] The Jews who suppose themselves to have a special relationship with the Father are actually opposing the Father and proving that that they do not know the Father when they oppose Jesus, the perfect expression and revelation of the Father (verses 36-47, cf. John 6:35-58; 8:31-59; 10:24-38).

The difference is clear.  In verses 24, 25, Jesus speaks of an hour that is present as well as future.  In verses 27-29 Jesus speaks only of an hour that is future.  In verses 24 and 25, Jesus is speaking of spiritual life given to believers.  In verses 27-29, Jesus is speaking of resurrection life that will be given to both believers and unbelievers when all of mankind is called out of the grave by God’s appointed judge, the Son of Man (cf. vs. 22).  Therefore, one cannot discount the reality of the spiritually dead hearing and receiving spiritual life by faith in John 5:24 and 25 by appealing to verses 27-29.

Conclusion:  The Bible everywhere declares that spiritual life is received by faith.  The Bible nowhere states that spiritual life of any sort is granted prior to faith as Calvinists claim.  The Calvinist appeal to passages which refer to spiritual death is erroneous in that they draw conclusions from those passages that the passages simply do not teach [2].  Nowhere is spiritual death or man’s deadness in sin described in terms of the inability of a physical corpse to do anything (like hear or respond in faith) as portrayed in the Calvinist morgue analogy.  Rather, Jesus flatly contradicts such an interpretation when He declares that the spiritually “dead” will “hear” unto spiritual life.


[1] Joseph Dongell, John: A Commentary for Bible Students, page 93

[2] These passages actually work against the Calvinist claims.  Ephesians and Colossians both represent spiritual life as being received upon our being united with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-7; Col. 2:13), and we come to be joined to Christ by faith (Eph. 1:13).  Ephesians further states that all of the spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) that are in Christ, including redemption and regeneration, are received “by grace, through faith” (2:8).  Colossians makes the same point, describing our spiritual resurrection as resulting from “faith in the power of God” (Col. 2:11, 12).  Likewise, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit of life is received by “the hearing of faith” (Gal. 3:2, 5, 14, cf. Romans 8:11).  Paul also tells us that the righteousness of justification brings spiritual life and we know that justification is “by faith” (Romans 5:17, 18, 21; 8:10; Rom. 4; Gal. 3:21-24).  We become children of God through faith (John 1:12; Gal. 3:26).  All the promises of the new covenant, including new spiritual life, are received by faith as well (Gal. 3:14-22).  Many similar passages could be cited.  Truly, the Biblical evidence against the Calvinist claims that new spiritual life precedes faith is overwhelming.  Perhaps this is why some Calvinist are now moving away from this claim, just as four point Calvinists have rejected the doctrine of limited atonement due to the overwhelming Biblical evidence against it and in support of unlimited atonement.