10 More Questions for Calvinists

10 More Questions for Calvinists

1. If it is true that before a person can respond to God, God must irresistibly cause that person’s regeneration, why is God long-suffering, not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9)?  What’s He waiting for?  Is God long-suffering with Himself, as He waits for Himself to irresistibly and unfailingly bend the human will to faith and conversion? Isn’t it incoherent to believe that God would actively withhold the grace that man needs in order to respond the Gospel, while at the same time be long-suffering toward mankind, not willing that any should perish?  As an aside, the verse in question states that God is long-suffering “to us-ward”.  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

2. Is there any discernible difference between God “powerfully and unfailingly bend[ing] the human will to faith and conversion”, as the Canons of Dort teach, and God forcing someone to be saved?

3. Is Calvinism essential for salvation?  Does one need to believe Calvinism in order to be saved?  If not, was Spurgeon wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”?  Was Engelsma wrong when he said that “Calvinism is the Gospel.  Its outstanding doctrines are simply the truths that make up the Gospel.  Departure from Calvinism, therefore, is apostasy from the Gospel of God’s grace in Christ”?

4. Is there anything that the reprobate can do to avoid eternal punishment?  If not, would it be accurate to say that the reprobate do not have a Saviour to save them from their sins?  Would it be accurate to say that Christ did nothing to save the reprobate? Would it be accurate to say that the Gospel is for the elect alone, and that the reprobate therefore have no Gospel to believe, even if they could believe?  Further, would it be just to condemn them for rejecting the Saviour, when they had no Saviour to save them from their sins?

5. If Christ did nothing to save the reprobate, are the reprobate to be commended for their unbelief?  For example, if a reprobate flat-out denies that Christ died for him, isn’t he simply believing the truth that Christ’s death was not for him?  Suppose that the reprobate were to say, “I don’t believe that Christ did anything to save me.”  If Christ did not die for the reprobate who said this, then what he said is accurate, and should he not be commended for his unbelief, insofar as what he believes is the truth?

6. Regarding Jesus’ dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), is the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace compatible with Jesus’ statement that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v.25)?  If Irresistible Grace is true, isn’t it just as true that man’s will would immediately and unfailingly be bent to faith and conversion upon hearing God’s effectual call?  Why would it be harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s unfailingly irresistible calling than what it would be for any other sinner?  Doesn’t this imply that salvation is tied at least in some measure to our response?

7. God specifically states that “he himself tempts no one” (James. 1:13).  If God has indeed causally determined and decreed all that comes to pass to such a meticulous extent that “the ungodly, are, in all directions, held in by the hand of God as with a bridle, so that they can neither conceive any mischief, nor plan what they have conceived, nor how much soever they may have planned, move a single finger to perpetrate, unless insofar as he permits, no, unless insofar as he commands; that they are not only bound by his fetters, but are even forced to do him service”, as Calvin said, isn’t it incoherent to believe that He has causally determined and decreed absolutely everything to that extent, yet somehow does not cause temptation? As an aside, does the fact that temptation occurs without God causing it mean that the temptation is not under God’s sovereign rule?

8. If regeneration precedes faith, is faith necessary for salvation?  Even Calvinist Charles Spurgeon argued that once a man is regenerate, he is saved, and that it is therefore “unnecessary”, “ridiculous”, and “absurd” to preach Christ to him and bid him to believe in order to be saved.  Assuming that a regenerate man is a saved man, and vice versa, doesn’t this “axiom of Reformed Theology”, as R.C. Sproul put it, undermine the necessity of faith?  Further, is there any discernible difference between saying ‘regeneration precedes faith’, and ‘salvation precedes faith’?

9. Is belief in the doctrine of Limited Atonement more of a deduction from the T, U, I, and P of the TULIP, rather than a clear truth of Scriptural revelation?  Is Limited Atonement embraced because of clear Scriptural reasons, or is it embraced because the logic of the Calvinistic worldview requires it and the thought that the Scriptures allow it?

10. If God wanted to convey in the Scriptures the idea that Christ died for the elect and no one else, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?  Conversely, if God wanted to convey the idea that Christ died provisionally for the whole world, is there anything He could have done to make the message clearer, and if so, what?

Related: 10 Questions for Calvinists

Who Makes the Final Choice in Salvation? Brown vs. Bennett

Here is Dr. Michael L. Brown’s debate with Pastor Bruce Bennett on the subject of Who Makes the Final Choice in Salvation – God or Man?

Predestination, Election, and the Will of God: Brown vs. White

Here is Dr. Michael L. Brown’s debate with Dr. James White on the subject of Predestination, Election, and the Will of God:

Q&A: If God’s Grace Can Be Resisted, Isn’t the Decisive Factor in Salvation Man’s Choice Instead of God’s?

PLEASE NOTE: THIS POST IS CURRENTLY IN THE PROCESS OF BEING REVISED AND UPDATED

Question: If God’s Grace Can Be Resisted, Isn’t the Decisive Factor in Salvation Man’s Choice Instead of God’s?

Answer: In a sense, the decision solely rests on the individual.  The responsibility to repent and accept Christ as Saviour is man’s and man’s alone.  God won’t do our repenting for us.  But it’s important to note that the ability to repent is not inherent to the individual – it is only by God’s grace that we can repent.  As Arminius said,

“No man believes in Christ except he has been previously disposed and prepared, by preventing or preceding grace, to receive life eternal on that condition on which God wills to bestow it, according to the following passage of Scripture: “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17 )” 1

So God does the enabling, but if a man wants to be saved, he must personally make use of the fact that he has been enabled by God’s grace, and choose to accept God’s gift of salvation.  The responsibility is on man to enter by the narrow gate, and not by the wide gate (Matt. 7:13-14); the responsibility is on man to seek for glory and honour and immortality in order to receive eternal life (Rom. 2:6-7); the responsibility is on man to sow to the Spirit and not give up in order to reap eternal life (Gal. 6:7-9).

So there is a sense in which the final decision is man’s, but it must be remembered that the decision is not based on man’s inherent ability; it is based on God’s grace, for it is only by the grace of God that man is enabled to respond in the first place. As Roger Olson said,

“The moral ability to respond to the gospel freely – by the graciously freed will – is a free gift of God through Christ to all people in some measure.  It does not mean that anyone can now seek and find God using natural ability alone!  It is a supernatural endowment that can be and usually is rejected or neglected.  According to Arminian theology, because of Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit all people are being influenced toward the good; the deadly wound of Adam’s sin is being healed.  And yet their fallen nature is still with them.  This dual reality is analogous to the simul justus et peccator, or the war between flesh and Spirit within every Christian.  The inability to will the good is not merely hypothetical; it is the state of nature in which every person (except Jesus Christ) lives.  But no person is left by God entirely in that state of nature without some measure of grace to rise above it if he or she cooperates with grace by not resisting it.  Arminians agree with Peterson and Williams that ‘without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians.’” 2

Note especially the last sentence: “without the Holy Spirit there would be no faith and no new birth – in short, no Christians.”  So yes, the final decision to resist or to not resist God’s grace is man’s, but without that grace, the decision couldn’t be made to not resist.  The decision to repent and believe the Gospel is the responsibility of man, but without God’s enabling grace, we cannot make the decision to repent and believe the Gospel. As Arminius said,

“This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.” 3

The fact that human choice plays a vital role in salvation can be illustrated by the words of Jesus when He was dealing with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30).  When the young ruler asks, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (v. 18) we do not read of Jesus rebuking the young man for having the audacity to presume that he himself could make a decision and inherit eternal life.  Instead, Jesus told him that there was something he could do: sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor (v. 22).  Jesus’ words, of course, were not as much about money as they were about the heart.  The young ruler loved his money, possessions, and the myriad privileges that his position granted him.  So much so that he just couldn’t bear to live without them.  But Jesus was not going to grant the young ruler eternal life while he was proud, self-sufficient, and unwilling to forsake all to follow Christ.  The young ruler needed to humble himself and quite literally forsake everything he owned to follow Christ.  Unwilling to forsake all and make a full commitment to Christ, the young ruler went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions, the passage says.  Noting the young ruler’s unwillingness, Jesus said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (vv. 24-5). 

The implications of this encounter are clear and undeniable – Jesus is suggesting that salvation is, in some measure at least, tied up in man’s response and commitment to Him and His calling.  Surely if the Calvinistic doctrine of Irresistible Grace were true, then Jesus would never have said that it was harder for rich persons to be saved than poor persons.  Surely their wills would be irresistibly and invincibly bent to faith and conversion upon hearing the effectual call of God.  Surely it would be no harder for a rich person to be saved by God’s monergistic and irresistible call than it would be for any other person.  But of course, what Jesus is suggesting stands in stark contrast to the Calvinist’s doctrine.  Surely there can be no doubt that human choice is vital for salvation.

While human choice is certainly vital for salvation, it does not contribute anything to salvation:

“[I]n and of themselves, people’s choices accomplish nothing. Perhaps the best model is the story of Naaman in 2 Kings 5. Naaman, the commander of the Aramite army, had leprosy. He asked for help. The prophet Elisha told him to go wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman initially rejected that notion, complaining about having to bathe in the dirty Jordan River. Finally, after his servants prevailed upon him, he did it, and his leprosy was cleansed. What was it that cleansed Naaman’s leprosy? Was it his dunking himself in the Jordan River seven times? Of course not! He could have dunked himself in the river a thousand times and nothing would have happened. On the other hand, what happened when he did not go bathe? Nothing! God allowed him to suffer the results of his own rebellion. But when Naaman responded obediently to God’s direction through the prophet, Naaman was healed.

So it is with our salvation. Humans do not do anything to earn or deserve salvation. Humans are too sinful in nature to seek God independently or take the initiative in their own salvation. Humans can come to salvation only as they are urged to by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and they are drawn to Christ as He is lifted up in proclamation. Cooperation contributes absolutely nothing to human salvation. God’s grace provides the necessary and sufficient conditions for salvation. However, God in His freedom has sovereignly decided that He will give the gift of salvation to those who believe, who trust Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. So salvation truly is monergistic – only God provides for human salvation, and He alone. Before He does so, He requires humans to respond. If humans do not respond, then He does not save. If humans do respond, He surrounds them with overpowering grace impelling them forward until they come to the point of repentance and faith.” 4

Notes

1 Complete Works of Arminius, Vol. 2, Letter to the Reader, ‘Certain Articles to be Diligently Examined and Weighed’, (On Faith)

2 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p. 155

3 Complete Works of Arminius, Vol. 1, Declaration of the Sentiments, (5)(3)

4 Steve Lemke, “A Biblical and Theological Critique of Irresistible Grace,” in Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism, p. 159

On Spiritual Death

Calvinists are fond of drawing a parallel between spiritual death and physical death, and upon this comparison comes the theory that ‘regeneration precedes faith’.  For example, one Calvinist writes:

“Could the Word of God show more plainly than it does that the depravity is total? and that our inability to desire or procure salvation is also total? The picture is one of death — spiritual death. We are like Lazarus in his tomb; we are bound hand and foot; corruption has taken hold upon us. Just as there was no glimmer of life in the dead body of Lazarus, so there is no “inner receptive spark” in our hearts. But the Lord performs the miracle — both with the physically dead, and the spiritually dead; for “you hath he quickened — made alive — who were dead in trespasses and sins.” [Eph 2.1]. Salvation, by its very nature, must be “of the Lord.”” 1

Calvinist duo Boice and Ryken write:

“Abraham Kuyper observed that, prior to regeneration, a sinner ‘has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse … [Therefore] every effort to claim for the sinner the minutest co-operation in this first grace destroys the gospel, severs the artery of the Christian confession and is anti-scriptural in the highest degree.’  Like a spiritual corpse, he is unable to make a single move toward God, think a right thought about God, or even respond to God – unless God first brings this spiritually dead corpse to life.” 2

Edwin H. Palmer defines the issue graphically:

“[T]he Calvinist holds to the plain teaching of Scripture and says: ‘No; he is dead.  He cannot even open his mouth.  Nor does he have any desire to call a doctor to help him.  He is dead’ … The Calvinist … would compare man to one who jumps off the top of the Empire State Building and is spattered over the sidewalk.  Even if there were anything left of him when he landed, he could not know that he needed help, let alone cry out for it.  That man is dead – lifeless – and cannot even desire to be made whole … And that is the picture of the sinner.  He is dead in his sins and trespasses (Eph. 2:1, 5).  He does not want to be made whole, let alone even know that he should be made whole.  He is dead.  When Christ called to Lazarus to come out of the grave, Lazarus had no life in him so that he could hear, sit up, and emerge.  There was not a flicker of life in him.  If he was to be able to hear Jesus calling him and to go to Him, then Jesus would have to make him alive.  Jesus did resurrect him and then Lazarus could respond.” 3

It is undeniable that the unregenerate are dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13).  In other words, Calvinists and Arminians both agree that unregenerate men are dead; that’s not the issue.  The issue is: what does it mean to be spiritually dead? 

As shown above, the Calvinist equates spiritual death with physical death, but the Arminian is not convinced about said comparison.  While the Calvinist defines spiritual death in terms of physical death, the Arminian defines death in general and spiritual death in particular, in terms of a separation, or a departure, namely, the separation/departure of the spirit from the body (physical death), the separation/departure of the spirit from God (spiritual death), or the eternal separation of the spirit and God (the second death). 

Ben Henshaw defines the terms thus: “To be dead in sins means that we are cut off from the relationship with God that is necessary for spiritual life.  Our sin separates us from a holy God and causes spiritual death.  This is both actual and potential. The sinner is presently ‘dead’ because, in the absence of faith, he is not enjoying life giving union with Christ.  The sinner is potentially dead because if he continues in this state he will be forever cut off from the presence of the Lord in Hell (2 Thess. 1:9).”4

Even ‘moderate Calvinist’ Norman Geisler rejects the standard Calvinist definition of spiritual death, and offers a much more Biblical one:

“[S]piritual death in the Bible means fallen people are totally separated from God, not completely obliterated by Him.  They lack spiritual life, but they’re still humans with all their God-given faculties.  Isaiah put it this way: ‘Your iniquities have separated you from your God’ (59:2).  In brief, it does not mean a total destruction of all ability to hear and respond to God but a complete separation of the whole person from God.” 5

As shown, the standard Calvinist definition of spiritual death is in terms of physical death, i.e., “… prior to regeneration, a sinner ‘has all the passive properties belonging to a corpse …’”6  The problem, however, is that such a comparison between spiritual death and physical death is unfounded. 

The Calvinist will object to that statement, and refer us to Ephesians chapter 2 and Colossians chapter 2.  The error of the Calvinist in doing this is assuming that the Calvinist definition of spiritual death is the same as the spiritual death spoken of in Ephesians and Colossians.  To put it another way, the Calvinist first assumes that his definition of spiritual death is the correct definition, and then proceeds to simply latch on to the word ‘dead’ in Ephesians and Colossians, and claim that his position is thus Scriptural.  The problem with this approach is evident: the Calvinist is making the Bible conform to his theology, when it should be our theology that conforms to Scripture. 

By simply reading the Bible (i.e., starting with the Bible rather than theology), the Calvinist definition of spiritual death is seen to be unfounded.  The passage in Colossians doesn’t add a great deal, though by what Paul says, it can be reasonably inferred that even though the Colossians were dead in trespasses and sins (2:13), they could still exercise faith in God (2:12).  In other words, their spiritual ‘deadness’ did not mean that they could not respond to the Gospel. 

The passage in Ephesians, however, is more enlightening.  Paul, after saying that the Ephesians were dead in trespasses and sins, describes what this meant.  While they were dead, they also walked (in trespasses and sins), they followed the course of this world, they followed the prince of the power of the air, they lived in the passions of the flesh, and they carried out the desires of the body and mind (Eph. 2:2-3).  Hardly a fitting description if the dead in sin do indeed have “all the passive properties belonging to a corpse”. 

That’s not all Paul has to say either.  He goes on to describe the state of spiritual death as being “separated from Christ,” “strangers to the covenants of promise,” “without God in the world,” “far off,” “strangers and aliens” (Eph. 2:12, 13, 19), and “alienated from the life of God” (Eph. 4:18).

So we see that although the Calvinist is not wrong to point to Ephesians (and Colossians) in order to show that the unregenerate are spiritually dead, they are wrong to assume that the passages support the standard Calvinistic definition of spiritual death.  The fact of the matter is: according to the passages in Ephesians, spiritual death is 1) a separation (Eph. 2:12, 13, 19; 4:18), and 2) spiritual death is not to have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse (Eph. 2:2-3). 

The fallacy of the Calvinist apologists is latching on to the single word ‘dead’ while ignoring the surrounding text, and then proceeding to draw un-Biblical analogies, from a man jumping off the Empire State Building to a man at the bottom of the ocean, whose heart has been eaten by sharks7.  Palmer even dares to call this “the Biblical picture,”8 yet for some strange reason, he can’t show from Scripture such an analogy.  

Funnily enough, it is typically those from the Reformed crowd that shout ‘Sola Scriptura’ (Scripture alone) the loudest, yet had they followed their own advice on this issue, they wouldn’t be able to escape the conclusion that there is nowhere in the pages of Scripture where mankind’s spiritual death is described in such terms as a man splattered on a sidewalk, or a man at the bottom of the ocean with his heart eaten out.  ‘Sola Scriptura’ indeed.

There is also more Scriptural proof that spiritual death cannot be equated with physical death.  For example, even though the unsaved are spiritually dead, they can still perceive the truth of God.  Irrespective of their spiritual state, they are still made in the image of God (Gen. 9:6; Jas. 3:9), which, as Geisler says, “was effaced but not erased by the Fall.”9

And fallen men still retain that which was gained from the Fall, namely, a conscience.  This means that, irrespective of their spiritual state, they can (and do) know, and thus discern between, the good and the evil.  When Paul was writing about unrighteous men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, he wrote that what can be known about God is plain to them, and that His invisible attributes have been clearly perceived, so that they are without excuse (Rom. 1:18-20).

As soon as Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they died spiritually.  Yet this did not mean that they were incapable of hearing God, or even responding to God.  From the Scriptures, it is as clear as day that Adam and Eve both heard God, and responded to Him (Gen. 3:10-13).  Clearly, the burden of proof rests squarely on the Calvinist to show how the spiritually dead are incapable of hearing and responding to God.

Yet another Biblical example of death that contradicts Calvinism is the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  After the prodigal son is restored, his father describes him thus: “… for this your brother (the prodigal son) was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”  (Luke 15:32)  Anyone remotely familiar with the parable will readily acknowledge the fact that even while the prodigal son was in the state of ‘deadness,’ he still made choices.  In other words, even while dead, he did not have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse, as the Calvinist would have us believe.  And what’s more, the prodigal son also recognized his sin and resolved to return to his father penitent, all while he was still ‘dead’ – hardly the picture we would expect to see, if indeed the standard Calvinistic doctrine is to be believed.

It would seem obvious that the Calvinist is in error with regards to what the Biblical picture of spiritual death is.  That is, the Calvinist defines spiritual death in terms of physical death, whether it simply be in terms of a corpse, or sometimes more graphic, as in the case of Palmer, who describes spiritual death in terms of a man jumping off the Empire State Building and being splattered, and also in terms of a man at the bottom of the ocean, whose heart has been eaten out by sharks, whereas the Bible paints a very different picture, namely, in terms of a separation, where the spiritually dead can still hear and respond to God, as in the case of Adam and Eve, or even the unrighteous men spoken of in the first chapter of Romans. 

That being said, there is yet another area where the Calvinist errs.  This time, it is not so much to do with how one defines death, but what the results of mankind’s depravity are.  The Calvinist will typically make a remark along the lines of: ‘man is not simply sick, he is dead.’  For example:

“Man is dead in sins and trespasses, not just sick or injured but nevertheless alive.  No, the unsaved, the unregenerate, is spiritually dead (Eph. 2).  He is unable to ask for help unless God changes his heart of stone into a heart of flesh, and makes him alive spiritually (Eph. 2:5).  Then, once he is born again, he can for the first time turn to Jesus, expressing sorrow for his sins and asking Jesus to save him.” 10

The issue that comments like these raise is not over what spiritual death means, but rather, whether man is indeed spiritually dead.  Of course, Palmer, the author of the above quote, is setting up a straw man, for no Bible-believing Christian, regardless of where he stands on the Calvinism/Arminianism issue, denies that man is spiritually dead. 

But that’s not all, for statements like the one above reveal that Palmer in particular, and Calvinists in general, employ what has sometimes been called ‘cafeteria hermeneutics.’  That is, the practice of picking what you like, and leaving what you don’t like.  In other words, the error of the Calvinists is latching on to particular ‘golden bullet’ passages, while ignoring other portions of Scripture, viz., the Calvinist errs by failing to take into account all the Biblical data. 

The simple truth is: in the Bible, the unsaved (i.e., the unregenerate or spiritually dead) are described as being sick, in spite of the Calvinist’s claims to the contrary.  None other than Jesus Christ Himself said, when questioned on why he stayed in the company of sinners: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mat. 9:12). 

So, taking into account all the Biblical data, the unsaved are described as: Sick (Mat. 9:12); Dead (Eph. 2:1, 5; Col. 2:13); Perishing (1 Cor. 1:18; 2 Cor. 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:10; an interesting point, considering it shows that the death has not yet reached its completion); Separated from God (Isa. 59:2); Separated from Christ (Eph. 2:12); Strangers (Eph. 2:12); Without God (Eph. 2:12); Far off (Eph. 2:13, 17); Strangers and aliens (Eph. 2:19); Alienated from the life of God (Eph. 4:18).

And further taking into account all the Biblical data, the unsaved (i.e., the spiritually dead) have the ability to: Walk in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:2-3); Follow the course of this world (Eph. 2:2-3); Follow the prince of the power of the air (Eph. 2:2-3); Live in the passions of the flesh (Eph. 2:2-3); Carry out the desires of the body and mind (Eph. 2:2-3); Act in accordance with their conscience (e.g. Gen. 3:7); Hear God (Gen. 3:10-13); Respond to God (Gen. 3:10-13); Know the truth about God (Rom. 1:18-20); Clearly perceive God’s invisible attributes (Rom. 1:18-20); Repent of sins (Luke 15:18-19); Seek God (John 3); Fear God (Acts 10:2); Pray to God (Acts 10:2).

After taking the Biblical picture into account, it is clear that the spiritually dead do NOT have all the passive properties belonging to a corpse, nor are they viewed as corpses.  They also have the ability to hear and respond to God.  Clearly, Calvinism is weighed and found wanting. 

At this point, it should be re-stated that man does not naturally possess the ability to respond to God.  Indeed, it would be erroneous for anyone to believe that man possesses that natural ability apart from God’s grace, for it is only in God that we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).  It would therefore be terribly inconsistent to say on the one hand that man cannot even take a breath without God’s continued grace, and then on the other hand say that man can make the first move in the salvation process without Divine aid. 

The truth is: just as man needs God’s continued grace to even draw a breath, so he needs God’s continued grace to be convicted of sin, and to respond positively to the Gospel.  This grace: Draws men (John 6:44; 12:32); Is universal (John 1:9; 12:32; 16:7-11; Titus 2:11); Convicts men (John 16:7-11; Acts 16:14; 16:29-30; 24:25); Is designed to make us seek God (Acts 17:26-27); Is designed to lead us to repentance (Rom. 2:4); Encompasses the Holy Spirit’s work of convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (John 16:7-11).


Notes

1 Seaton, W. J., The Five Points of Calvinism, available online at Monergism.com (<http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/fivepointsseaton.html>).  Retrieved 19 Sept. 2012

2 James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, (Crossway,Wheaton,IL, 2009), p. 74.

3 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, pp. 17-18.

4 Ben Henshaw, What Can The Dead in Sin Do?  (<http://evangelicalarminians.org/node/178>) URL correct at 4th June, 2011.

5 Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, (Bethany House Publishers, Third Edition, 2010), p. 63.

6 Boice and Ryken, The Doctrines of Grace, p. 74.

7 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 18.

8 Ibid.

9 Geisler, Chosen But Free, p. 63.

10 Palmer, The Five Points of Calvinism, p. 19.

Is the Human Decision to Accept God’s Grace a Meritorious Work?

Is the human decision to accept God’s grace a ‘work’ that we contribute towards our salvation? Roger Olson writes,

“Isn’t the bare human decision to accept and not resist God’s grace and mercy unto salvation a meritorious work?  Arminians respond with a resounding no.  In sum, and by way of preview, classical Arminianism argues that anyone who shows the first inkling or inclination of a good will toward God is already being influenced by grace. Grace is the first cause of genuine free will as liberation from bondage to sin, and grace is the source of anything good.  In its prevenient (going before) form, it is the ‘quickening ray’ Charles Wesley wrote about in his famous Arminian hymn ‘And Can It Be?’  It awakens the prisoner lying helpless in the dungeon of nature’s night and breaks off his chains so that he can rise up and follow Christ.  There is no hint in traditional Arminian theology of salvation by works righteousness; all good is attributed solely to God’s grace…  All that is required for full salvation is a relaxation of the resistant will under the influence of God’s grace so that the person lets go of sin and self-righteousness and allows Christ’s death to become the only foundation for spiritual life.  Was Arminius’s soteriology then synergistic? Yes, but not in the way that is often understood.  Calvinists tend to regard synergism as equal cooperation between God and a human in salvation; thus the human is contributing something crucial and efficacious to salvation.  But this is not Arminius’s synergism. Rather, his is an evangelical synergism that reserves all the power, ability and efficacy in salvation to grace, but allows humans the God-granted ability to resist or not resist it.  The only ‘contribution’ humans make is non-resistance to grace.  This is the same as accepting a gift.  Arminius could not fathom why a gift that must be freely received is no longer a gift, as Calvinists contend.  To explain the ‘concurrence and agreement of divine grace with free will’ he offered an analogy:

To explain the matter I will employ a simile, which yet, I confess is very dissimilar; but its dissimilitude is greatly in favour of my sentiments.  A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it?  Can it be said with propriety, that ‘the alms depended partly on the liberality of the Donor, and partly on the liberty of the Receiver,’ though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, because the beggar is always prepared to receive, that ‘he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?’  If these assertions cannot be truly made about a beggar who receives alms, how much less can they be made about the gift of faith, for the receiving of which far more acts of Divine Grace are required!

At this point, of course, some Calvinist critics still maintain that Arminius makes the free acceptance of the gift of salvation, including faith, the decisive factor in salvation; so the human act of acceptance, and not God’s grace, becomes the ground of righteousness. No Arminian, including Arminius, will agree with the formula that the person’s mere acceptance of redemption from Christ is ‘the decisive factor’ in salvation. For Arminius, as for all classical Arminians, the decisive factor is the grace of God – from beginning to end. Using Arminius’s analogy of the rich man and the beggar, would it be normal speech to say that the beggar’s acceptance of the rich man’s money was the decisive factor in his family’s survival?  Who would say that? All attention in such a case would focus on the benefactor and not on the poor receiver of benefaction.  We might extend the analogy a bit and suggest that the rich man bestowed the gift in the form of a check, which needs only to be endorsed and deposited in the poor man’s bank account.  What if someone claimed that the act of endorsing the check and depositing it was the decisive factor in the poor man’s family’s survival?  Surely even the Calvinist must see that no reasonable person would say that.  So it is with Arminian evangelical synergism; the bare act of deciding to rely totally on God’s grace for salvation and to accept the gift of eternal life is not the decisive factor in salvation.  That status belongs to God’s grace alone.” 1

J.P. Holding writes,

“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 seems to me that this is a flawed premise upon which the Calvinistic case rests.” 2

So is the human decision to accept God’s grace a meritorious work that we contribute toward our salvation?  So far, all the evidence is to the contrary, but if making the decision to accept a gift is a work, the burden of proof is on the Calvinists to show how it is.

Notes

1 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, p. 161-66; According to Olson, the Arminius quote is from ‘The Apology or Defence of James Arminius, D.D.,’ Works [Of Arminius], 2:52

2 Holding, J. P. ‘On Unconditional Election’ (Link)