Tuesday, July 7, 2009

In Defense of Resistible Grace to Retain the Goodness of God (response to Peter Pike)

To Calvinists, God's grace is irresistible. This follows naturally in their entire scheme of salvation by logical necessity. It is a point that must stand, or the system falls. If God has not made His grace that moves the heart of man, convicts them of their sins, and enables them to come to Him irresistible, then the Arminian is correct in that man has the ability to choose to resist that grace when it is presented to them. The question is what does the Bible say, and what does what we know about the character of God say?

We know God must draw any to Him who come to Him (John 6:44). This is due to the depravity of man (Romans 3:10-11, Ephesians 2:1-3). But we also know the Bible asserts that God has a desire for all men to be saved (John 3:16, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9) and that to this end, Christ also died for all men (2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 1 Timothy 4:10, 1 John 2:2) and draws all men to Himself (John 12:32). Based on this Biblical testimony, we know that the grace of God which leads to salvation (Titus 2:11) must be resistible because we know that many men, perhaps most men, will not enter the kingdom of God (John 3:18-21, Matthew 25:41-46, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, 2 Peter 2:4,9 Revelation 20:10).

Since all of this is a part of the Bible, one must ignore or redefine clear Biblical teachings in order to teach that grace is irresitible. Titus 2:11 is the clearest affirmation in scripture supporting the Arminian's concept of the grace that goes before salvation which enables man to believe. In his post (click here), Peter Pike says, "because man is depraved, then it is only the grace of God that can change the sinner to a believer, and when that happens man is truly changed and thus he responds automatically in faith." All Arminians would agree with the first part of that statement. Only God's grace can change men. Only God's grace can enable men to believe. The second part of the statement he will have trouble finding Biblical support for. Since I have already established that God's grace leading to salvation appears to all, then in Calvinism every single person should come to belief in Christ. But this is an essential belief in the Calvinistic system, so a philosophical a priori must be formed in order to maintain consistency. 1) God actually doesn't want everyone to be saved and 2) God does not show His prevenient grace to everyone. How this becomes an appealing view of God and upholds the assertion that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16) is beyond me.

In his second paragraph, Peter presents us with a flawed view of Arminian theology. He asserts, "an Arminian who believes in depravity is left with the following system: Because man is depraved, then it is only the grace of God that can enabled a sinner to potentially believe in God. This is slightly off. The reason we call the grace of God resistible is because it must be actively resisted to not be effectual. When presented with prevenient grace, the individual will be converted unless that grace is resisted. It is up to the libertarian will of man whether or not to accept the free grace of God through the God ordained means of faith, or whether they resist the grace of God in disbelief.

Why give man the ability to resist His grace? I like how Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell put it in their book Why I am Not a Calvinist: "The same freedom that makes it possible to enter a genuinely trusting and obedient relationship with God also makes it possible for us to go our own way and disobey him. God allows the latter in order to enable the former" (emphasis mine). If this is not the case, then God just seems to be playing a giant game of chess against Himself. He is simply controlling a bunch of puppets and knows which ones he intends to trash at the end of the day.

The next thing Peter addresses in his post is what irresistible grace is. He describes, without using the word, the Calvinist view that regeneration must precede faith. I would simply point to Paul's epsitles which make it patently clear that we are saved by grace through faith. If a Calvinist could ever point to a place in scripture that teaches regeneration must precede faith I would be very thankful, because it's never happened.

I was interested to read in a commentary of the Gospel of John by John Calvin himself that faith comes prior to regeneration. He says, "For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the Gospel." That's interesting.

Later, Peter again presents a skewed view of what the grace of God does to humanity. He says, "In the Arminian view (those who believe in depravity, at least), God in essence sets man’s will to 'neutral'" (emphasis mine). I can hardly see the work of the Holy Spirit which calls the sinner to repent of his sins, draws the sinner to accept Christ, enables the sinner to accept Christ, and convicts the sinner of his or her sins and their need for Christ as simply setting man's will to "neutral." Peter is simply presenting a misrepresentation of Arminian theology.

Peter then presents us with a quandary. "But ask a simple question here. What kind of person would reject the grace of God? What kind of person resists the Holy Spirit? Good question. Why do some repent and others not? There are probably many factors, including lack of prayer,lack of discipleship, and many other personal issues. The bottom line is no man has an excuse for not repenting. Even though the Calvinist would chastise someone who claimed, "I can't repent because I'm not elect," according to a faulty reading of Romans 9:19-20 (why would the unelect ask "why does He still find fault," anyway? Why would they care?), it is a valid point. Those men have an excuse. They can't repent. Granted they don't deserve the chance to repent but that doesn't remove the fact that they never have the ability to repent. So an excuse does exist.

Just because we may not know the individual reasons some choose not to place their faith in Christ doesn't mean that the Calvinist assertion, that they haven't been elected, is correct. The Biblical account agrees with Arminians.

Finally, Peter presents us with 11 points. I will respond individually to each point

1. Those who resist grace are depraved. - True
2. There are those who resist grace. - True
3. Therefore, there are those who are depraved. - True

4. Those who do not resist grace are not depraved. - False, for all men are depraved
5. There are those who do not resist grace. - True
6. Therefore, there are those who are not depraved. - False, for all men are depraved

7. Grace changes people from depraved to non-depraved. - Grace provides us with forgiveness by the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to our account. When we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, He begins a process of sanctification in our hearts to make us like Christ.
8. Grace can be resisted. - True
9. Grace is given to all. - True
10. But those who resist grace are depraved (1) - True
11. Therefore, if grace is resisted, then at least one of (7), (8), or (9) must be false. - I addressed why premise 4, 6, and 8 are faulty, making this conclusion faulty.

I hope Peter finds this post irenic, as I have tried to be. If he decides to respond I hope he can refrain from the normal, sinful Triablogue behavior of calling names, insulting intelligence, and using abbreviated bad words.

20 comments:

The Puritan said...

Calvin didn't use the term 'regeneration' the way Reformed systematic theologians have used it since the 1600s. In Calvin's day and in his language regeneration is a term that suffuses throughout the ordo salutis and is sometimes put for the entire process. As for Calvin believing being born again, or, regeneration (as we know that term) precedes faith his language is obviously clear in that it is a subject that is involved with the bondage of the will and other points of doctrine of which Calvin is very and obviously clear.

bossmanham said...

I'm just quoting the guy; and I happen to agree with that quote.

Bob Brewer said...

Very solid argument and thank you for the spirit in which you delivered it. I have grown weary of the destructive infighting amongst believers and it is refreshing to see a brother defend his faith with love and gentleness.

bossmanham said...

Thanks, Bob. I let it get out of hand the other day so I'm not without reproach, but hopefully we can have a peaceable exchange from here on.

The Puritan said...

You of course can agree with the quote, but if you think Calvin is saying faith precedes regeneration in the way Arminians and Roman Catholics say that you're not agreeing with the quote, you are misreading how Calvin historically used the term regeneration.

I.e. if you think Calvin was a secret Arminian you should write a book based on your quote there and make a lot of money because it will shock the world of Reformed and Arminian theology.

bossmanham said...

Puritan,

Nope, I'm not that naive. I think modern Calvinists have sometimes taken their Calvinism farther than Calvin himself did. That mainly comes from his own followers not reading what he actually wrote.

You're free to find a counter quote.

Jc_Freak: said...

Puritain,

You realize that Arminians and Catholics don't talk about regeneration the same way either, right?

The Puritan said...

Pelagian, semi-Pelagian, it comes down to the same thing.

The Puritan said...

>Nope, I'm not that naive. I think modern Calvinists have sometimes taken their Calvinism farther than Calvin himself did. That mainly comes from his own followers not reading what he actually wrote.

I think I mentioned Calvin wrote an entire book on the bondage of the will.

And Calvinists tend to be Bereans. We not only read Calvin but we check him against the Word of God. As did Turretin, the Puritans, the Dutch Calvinists, Berkhof, etc.

The Puritan said...

>You're free to find a counter quote.

The subject is *will.*

Read Calvin's Institutes at Book 2, Chapter 3, Paragraphs 5 and 6.

bossmanham said...

Pelagian, semi-Pelagian, it comes down to the same thing.

It's hard to take people seriously when they display their ignorance like this.

And Calvinists tend to be Bereans. We not only read Calvin but we check him against the Word of God. As did Turretin, the Puritans, the Dutch Calvinists, Berkhof, etc.

Not the little neo-calvinists you guys are spawning, Puritan.

The Puritan said...

What's a neo-Calvinist? Seriously. If it's like neo-orthodox (Barthian) then it's not Reformed or Calvinist.

You should do a google search on 'Calvin vs. the Calvinists' and see that it's a theme that has been worked over for years, and discredited by some rather heavy hitting scholars (Paul Helm, Richard Muller, etc.).

And I notice you didn't remark on the Calvin citation I sent you to. Maybe you don't own the Institutes? Oh, but you are the one who actually read him! It's on the 'net, anyway. Easy to find.

And how is identifying Roman Catholicism as pelagian and Arminianism as semi-pelagian and pointing out that half-pregnant is still pregnant ignorant?

bossmanham said...

Puritan,

How typical. I never said I read Calvin's institutes, but I do not claim to be a follower of a Calvinism. I said most of Calvin's followers haven't even read him. I'm not trying to say Calvin wasn't a Calvinist. He clearly was. (btw I will get around to reading his institutes at some point)

On what Calvin writes, I agree with him until the grace he presents becomes irresistible. All classical Arminians agree with Calvin up to that point. God must begin the work in our hearts. We are not inclined toward true good (although unregenerate men do not sin ceaselessly [Luke 11:13]) until presented with God's prevenient grace through the hearing of His word. Some men are woken up, only to roll back over and go to sleep again.

On the neo-reformed

bossmanham said...

However, it may be said that perhaps Calvin agreed with the Arminian that regeneration didn't occur until faith has been exercised. An awakening (prevenient grace) is not the same as a cleansing (regeneration).

The Puritan said...

Calvin, again, didn't use the term regeneration as a synonym for born again as theologians began to use it in the 17th century and beyond. For the third time: Calvin wrote an entire book on the bondage of the will. The subject is will.

So, you say you havn't read the Institutes yet you are forming opinions and even teaching Calvinists what Calvin believed, all the while accusing modern day
Calvinists of not actually reading Calvin himself. Hmm.

bossmanham said...

Actually, Puritan, Luther wrote Bondage of the Will. Calvin wrote the Bondage and Liberation of the Will.

So, you say you havn't read the Institutes yet you are forming opinions and even teaching Calvinists what Calvin believed, all the while accusing modern day
Calvinists of not actually reading Calvin himself.


No, I was quoting an interesting quote by John Calvin and leaving conclusions up to the individual, but you still haven't shown anything to prove Calvin thought we were born again before we have faith.

bossmanham said...

Actually, Puritan, Luther wrote Bondage of the Will. Calvin wrote the Bondage and Liberation of the Will.

So, you say you havn't read the Institutes yet you are forming opinions and even teaching Calvinists what Calvin believed, all the while accusing modern day
Calvinists of not actually reading Calvin himself.


No, I was quoting an interesting quote by John Calvin and leaving conclusions up to the individual, but you still haven't shown anything to prove Calvin thought we were born again before we have faith.

The Puritan said...

Well... I *think* the Institutes reference kind of cleared that up. Maybe you just didn't follow it?

And when I write that Calvin wrote a book on the bondage of the will that is not the same as identifying the title. But if you feel better thinking a Puritan - someone kind of tuned in to Reformation era theology - doesn't know Luther wrote his most famous book then fine.

Bottom line: learn your subject before you accuse and teach others.

bossmanham said...

Puritan,

The fact that there are some people who disagree with you displays that your conclusions aren't necessarily set in stone. You may be correct (although in the section you told me to read in Institutes didn't testify to that) but then again you may be relying on some of Calvin's successors than Calvin himself.

To repeat myself, I posted the quote because it's interesting. You have not shown me anything that says one is born again prior to having faith.

bossmanham said...

Bottom line: learn your subject before you accuse and teach others.

I wasn't "teaching" anyone. I would also request the same of you Calvinists. Before you attack Arminians as "semi-Pelagian" or some stupid baloney like that, how about you figure out what 1) semi-pelagians believe and 2) what Arminians actually believe. That means you may have to step outside your reformed tent and read something other than Piper or Spurgeon.