Issues in Reformed theology and exegesis

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This post was prompted by the requests of fellow blog-commenter. It is specifically for comment-based discussions regarding Reformed theology and exegesis. Anyone is welcome to come and discuss.

To preface the discussion I will distinguish between theological and exegetical argument. This preface doesn’t mean we have to only discuss the distinction I make; but they are important, I think, and may be crucial in weeding out good arguments from bad ones.

-An exegetical argument begins with a verse or group of verses in Scripture and attempts to argue that the meaning of those verses is conducive to a certain theological system or belief.

Sometimes an exegetical argument correctly understands the implications of a certain Bible verse; other times it does not.

For example, if part of the meaning of a certain Bible verse is “human agency without grace cannot bring about salvation” sometimes this verse is taken to entail that human agency has no role in salvation. But this does not follow; perhaps human agency with divine grace can have a role in salvation. This exegetical argument would be going beyond the text if all that was taught is “human agency without grace cannot bring about salvation”.

-A theological argument begins with the assumptions or tenets of a theological system, and attempts to argue for an additional tenet or principle.

Sometimes the principles used in the premises of a theological argument are biblically-grounded; other times they are not.

For instance, the principle “If salvation is in any way based on human decision it is not by God’s choice and is man-centered” is sometimes assumed to be true. However, this does not seem to be obviously taught in Scripture.

Sometimes the principles used in the premises of a theological argument correctly understand the implications of the tenets of a theological system or Bible verse; other times they do not. Not all applications of true principles are done correctly; and not all principles assumed to be true are in fact true.

For instance, the principle that salvation is by God’s sovereign choice is sometimes taken to imply the principle that “If salvation is in any way based on human decision it is not by God’s choice and is man-centered”. After all, if God is ultimately responsible for our salvation then we have to have no part in causing it; otherwise it would depend on us and we would merit salvation and it would be man-centered. However, this doesn’t obviously follow. First of all, some choices we make are non-meritorious. For instance, the choice of accepting a gift from someone seems to be a non-meritorious choice. Also, even if we say that salvation depends on us in some sense, we need an argument for why this dependency would be a bad thing. The only argument I can think of is “if it depends on one person, it doesn’t depend on the other”. But it seems that sometimes an activity can be dependent on two persons at once without there being a conflict between the fact that it depends on one and the fact that it depends on the other too. Why should we assume, for instance, that the fact that I will pass my math test depending on whether or not I study somehow detracts from the fact of my passing the math test also depends on whether or not my teacher teaches me math? Finally, if the very possibility of an agent C making a good choice rests on an infinite number of more significant choices made by another agent D with the express intent of making it possible for C to choose to receive a gift, then it is clear that the primary, initial, and most significant actor in bringing about agent C’s good choice of receiving a gift is actually D. Even if C played a necessary role, D is the only one to actually be praised and credited for C’s choice.

After much consideration, I have come to believe that some of the arguments for the Reformed position on salvation are based on shakey inferences from theological principles–some of which are neither biblical nor implied by biblical teaching. I also believe this is the case with a great many arguments against the Reformed position. What I hope to do is sort out good from bad arguments within the context of this post and future posts on this subject as well.

–MG

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20 Responses to “Issues in Reformed theology and exegesis”

  1. henry Says:

    MG thank you very much for your willingness to discuss this subject. We can now “compare notes” as to what we see as the problems with Reformed theology.The Bible defines the sovereignty of God simply as: HE DOES AS HE PLEASES. This means that when God wants to accomplish a purpose no one, nothing can prevent Him from accomplishing His purpose. There are lots of examples of this throughout scripture. It is significant that Christians from all three of the major traditions, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant, would agree with this definition for God’s sovereignty. We especially believe this when we are on our knees praying for God to intervene in a situation, knowing that if it pleases Him, He can choose to do a miracle if need be, in answer to prayer. And yet if He chooses not to do so, we ascribe this to His sovereignty as well. And yet for theological determinists (i.e., Calvinists), this definition of sovereignty is insufficient. For the theological determinist, God’s sovereignty means that He has ***exhaustively predetermined every event*** which makes up the history of the universe, from beginning to end. They mistakenly equate EXHAUSTIVE DETERMINISM with GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY. MG I read your discussion of exegetical and theological arguments. What would you consider this error of equating God’s sovereignty with exhaustive determinism to be? An exegetical or a theological argument? The assumption of EXHAUSTIVE DETERMINISM (or ED for short) is the controlling presupposition behind the calvinist system of theology. This presupposition drives the theological determinist to his exegetical and theological conclusions. And it is this very presupposition that skews their entire system of theology and leads to their interpretive mistakes, theological errors and divisiveness. I say divisiveness because Christians across the theological spectrum are in agreement that God is sovereign and that this means that He does as He pleases; yet Calvinists by demanding that God’s sovereignty be defined as ED become a divisive influence in the church. Most Christians have no problems with God being sovereign, it is the mistaken and unbiblical claim that He has predetermined every event (ED) which causes the problems and controversy and division.The exhaustive determinism view entails certain ideas including that God preselected and then predetermined who would be saved and who would not be saved before they ever existed, before they were born. God developed a plan of redemption which was intended only for those who had been preselected to be saved. And since everything is predetermined by God in this scheme, the preselected will inevitably and with certainty come to believe. For those not preselected for salvation, but instead preselected for damnation, it is impossible for them to believe. And after a lifetime on earth they will be judged and then sent to Hell/eternal separation from God. As all events are exhaustively predetermined and then carried out by God (according to this system), all of this would involve necessary events in which nothing could be otherwise then as had been predetermined. The scheme is easy to lay out and understand and is quite logical, **if** everything is exhaustively predetermined by God. If ED is true.The Bible however does not present this claim that every event is exhaustively predetermined by God. The Bible presents that God is sovereign in all situations and works in all situations, but this is sovereignty, NOT EXHAUSTIVE DETERMINISM. Noncalvinists must constantly emphasize THIS DISTINCTION BETWEEN the sovereignty of God as BIBLICALLY DEFINED and the sovereignty of God as conceived by Calvinists. The Bible presents both that God **is** sovereign AND that on some occasions we have free will, we make choices from available alternative possibilities.I look forward to discussing these things with you MG and thank you again for your openness and kindness in allowing us to discuss this subject on your blog. I look forward to your response.Henry

  2. MG Says:

    Henry–I am in agreement with you I think. Sovereignty does not require exhaustive determinism. I disagree when Calvinists say things like “in order for God to be in control everything has to be determined” or “in order for grace to be grace everything has to be determined”.I think that the sovereignty=determinism assumption is a theological argument. It basically says “A basic commitment of Christianity is that God is totally sovereign; but if he is totally sovereign then he must stand behind all events in a deterministic manner; therefore exhaustive determinism is true.” I find this perplexing because it seems to me that God can order all things without determining all things. Molinism is one possible explanation for how this could be; and I tend to find it the most satisfactory explanation (once you weed out the oft-repeated objections).I actually think the non-Calvinist view of sovereignty is more God-glorifying. Not only does it seem to wash God’s hands of evil in a way that traditional Calvinism cannot; but it is also to God’s credit and power to say He can accomplish his sovereign purposes without determining all things. I think this magnifies God’s sovereignty all the more.A lot of the time what Reformed people criticize is an unfortunate attitude that some non-Calvinists have: a feeling of independence, individual power, and an assumption that sovereignty conflicts with “my rights”. I agree that this attitude is horrible and contrary to Christian teaching in many ways. But why can’t we hold to the right attitude–one that praises God’s sovereignty and extols his control and grace–without accepting Calvinism? Nothing about non-Calvinism should lead us to behave that way; nothing about this attitude makes it exclusive to Calvinism (or its close cousins).Much (probably 40%) of the argument for Calvinism is drawn from John 6 and Romans 9. These passages are used to overrule anything in Scripture that looks at face value like it might be contrary to Calvinism. “That passage you cited may seem to say x, but if you look at John 6 or Romans 9 its so much more clear that x is false”. But once an alternative interpretation of John 6 or Romans 9 can be given which is at least as plausible, the theological framework of Calvinism seems to become much weaker. That’s one rationale behind my arguments about “equally plausible interpretation”; this would re-balance things in favor of non-Calvinism. The appeal can no longer be made that “well, look, Romans 9 and John 6 are just so much more clear; so lets rule out the face-value interpretation of that verse”.This doesn’t mean I have a personal vendetta against Calvinism. I have a lot of good friends who are Calvinist and I don’t dislike them because of that. What I really want is to just provide a counter-balance to the mounds of literature that has been written in books and on the internet in defense of Calvinism. This will hopefully enhance the respect of both sides for each other, and perhaps lead both sides closer to the truth about God’s sovereignty through constructive criticism.Question: have you ever read anything about Romans 8, and the possibility that the phrase in verse 28 “according to his purpose” could be read “according to choice” (ie. free choice of the human will)? Witherington said this was possible and appealed to either Chrysostom or some other ancient commentator… do you know anything about this?Great talking to you as always, Henry.

  3. henry Says:

    Hello MG,Before responding to the rest of your response to me, I want to provide what I believe may be the answer to your questions. You asked:“Question: have you ever read anything about Romans 8, and the possibility that the phrase in verse 28 “according to his purpose” could be read “according to choice” (ie. free choice of the human will)? Witherington said this was possible and appealed to either Chrysostom or some other ancient commentator… do you know anything about this?”Ben Witherington wrote a book called THE PROBLEM WITH EVANGELICAL THEOLOGY. I believe that you may be referring to some comments he made in that book in regards to Romans 8:28. I am not going to comment on his statements, here I will simply reproduce them for you here. At one point he is discussing Romans 8 and writes:===================================“The next phrase reads literally “those called according to purpose/choice.” The word **his** often found in translations before the word **choice** is not in the Greek text. Some commentators have urged that **prothesis** could refer to human beings here, in which case the text would mean “those called according to (our) choice,” or as we would say “by choice,” the free act of choice by which those called respond to God’s call. This is grammatically perfectly possible and is in fact the interpretation of this verse by Origen, Chrysostom, Theodoret, and other ancient Greek commentators who knew Paul’s Greek far better than we do.Chrysostom for example says in commenting on v. 28” “For if the calling alone were sufficient, how is it that all were not saved? Hence he says it is not the calling alone, but the purpose of those called too, that works the salvation. For the calling was not forced upon them, nor compulsory. All then were called, but all did not obey the call” (**Hom**. Rom 8). Thus the choice or purposing is seen by Chrysostom to be that of the respondent here. The human purpose or choice is in view seems to have been the view of almost all the Greek commentators. In support of the view that God’s choice is meant here is probably Romans 9:11 (cf. Eph. 1:11; 3:33; 2 Tim. 1:9; Philo **Mos.** 3:61), and one may point to the general tenor and drift of the passage, particularly the emphasis on divine action for the believer in 8:29. Since, however, this same verse refers to our love for God, the exegetical decision is not so clear cut and obvious, contrary to the impression left by most translations. Above all, the word “his” should not be inserted here, but rather the matter should be left open. It seems likely that Chrysostom was right.” (p. 74)===================================MG I believe this is what you are referring to. If you want to see further what Witherington says, go to the Biola library (I recall seeing at one time, I think, that you are a student at Biola) and check out the Witherington book for yourself. Or it may be available at the Biola bookstore. I would start with the library,as it will have this book for sure(if you are not at Biola then go to a theological seminary library near you). Hope that helps,Henry

  4. henry Says:

    MG we agree on many things, which is encouraging. Here I want to comment on some of your statements.”I am in agreement with you I think. Sovereignty does not require exhaustive determinism. I disagree when Calvinists say things like “in order for God to be in control everything has to be determined” or “in order for grace to be grace everything has to be determined”.”As your representative comments indicate: the Calvinist cannot accept that God’s sovereignty **does not involve exhaustive determinism (ED).** For the Calvinist we are not maintaining the sovereignty of God unless we are advocating ED. Because of their commitment to ED at all costs perhaps a better term than Calvinists for them, a term that better represents their commitment is **theological determinists**. ”I think that the sovereignty=determinism assumption is a theological argument. It basically says “A basic commitment of Christianity is that God is totally sovereign; but if he is totally sovereign then he must stand behind all events in a deterministic manner; therefore exhaustive determinism is true.””Again, for the theological determinist God cannot be **totally sovereign** or even **sovereign** at all unless He has exhaustively determined all events. There are not however degrees of sovereignty: God **is** either sovereign (meaning that in each and every situation HE DOES AS HE PLEASES) or He is not. In scripture and in His Word He proves that He is in fact sovereign, all the time, everywhere, without exception.“I find this perplexing because it seems to me that God can order all things without determining all things. Molinism is one possible explanation for how this could be; and I tend to find it the most satisfactory explanation (once you weed out the oft-repeated objections).”I also have sympathies with Molinism. Molinism attempts to retain both God’s sovereignty and free will which is the right move. Molinism maintains that God can, via his middle knowledge, know the future free choices of human persons. And there are clearly scriptures where God knows exactly how someone would have acted had circumstances or choices been different. While ED is not a biblically derived concept, middle knowledge is. Consideration of God’s ability via middle knowledge to know future free choices brings up another problem with Calvinism: theological determinists do not believe that God can foreknow the future free choices of human persons **unless** He has predetermined all of those actions. God’s foreknowledge is not causative; it means only that He knows exhaustively what will occur in the future. His knowing exactly what will occur in the future is not the same thing as Him exhaustively predetermining every event (i.e. ED). It is significant that **both** the open theists and Calvinists do not believe that God is capable of having foreknowledge of free choices made in the future. The open theology advocate argues that if God actually knows the future choices of human persons before they occur, then these choices cannot be real free choices. So the open theist keeps free will and jettisons God’s foreknowledge of the future. The Calvinist also objects to God foreknowing free choices of human persons in the future. The Calvinist, in agreement with the open theist, claims that God cannot know these choices if they are truly freely chosen. So the Calvinist retains God’s sovereignty (mistakenly defining it as ED) and jettisons free will. The bible presents **both** God’s exhaustive foreknowledge of all future events and free will, so we ought to jettison both open theism and Calvinism! 🙂 Some of my friends hold to Molinism, but I like the way one friend puts it: “If Molinism is not the truth, then something very much like it, is.” While Molinism by itself may be insufficient to capture all of the biblical texts, the biblical texts do include clear references to God’s capacity for middle knowledge. And this capacity for knowing what people would do in every possible circumstance is very important in arriving at a biblical view of God being sovereign at the same time that people have free will. ”I actually think the non-Calvinist view of sovereignty is more God-glorifying. Not only does it seem to wash God’s hands of evil in a way that traditional Calvinism cannot; but it is also to God’s credit and power to say He can accomplish his sovereign purposes without determining all things. I think this magnifies God’s sovereignty all the more.”I totally agree with you here. It would take much more power and wisdom and creativity to deal with a creation in which both angelic and human persons have free will and are capable of doing their own actions (including sinful actions of rebelling against God). Than it would to control a “Domino world” in which you set up all of the dominoes at the beginning so that they follow a precise and exact sequence and then start a process in which you predetermine the direction of every domino and timing of every falling domino. In such a “domino world” which is more like an erector set, than the actual world in which we live, one will would be operating and determining every event. There would be one puppet master controlling the strings of billions of puppets and making their every choice for them. As one Calvinist once put it when describing how God exercises his sovereignty over people: “But God chooses our choices.” If you assume ED as this Calvinist does, then the puppet master makes the choices of what every puppet will do in every situation thus controlling every action the puppets do. The puppets mistakenly think that they have free will and are doing their own actions according to their own choices. But in reality, only the will of the puppet master is being done in each and every situation. God would not need to exercise much power or wisdom or creativity in such a world. It would all work perfectly like some kind of giant machine that churns out every event that occurs. On the other hand, if angels and people really do have free will, so that they are able to say “No” to God and His commands by their own free will. Then God’s sovereignty would be much more robust and magnified more. A great example of this is the story of Pharaoh in which God hardens Pharaoh’s heart so that he chooses repeatedly to say No to letting God’s people go. And yet by repeatedly saying No, God demonstrates His power by means of the plagues on Egypt (which all directly challenge Egyptian deities) and the eventual release of God’s people and the accompanying miracles and destruction of the Egyptian army (which is exactly what Paul refers to in Romans 9). The Bible and our experience confirm time and again, that God can powerfully use the freely chosen actions of human persons to accomplish His purposes. He can also use and overcome the stubborn resistance of people in accomplishing His purposes as well. This is most notably seen with the crucifixion (cf. Acts 2:23, 4:27-28). God foreknew the evil choices men would make that would result in Jesus being crucified. None of this surprised God, or altered his redemptive plan. In fact, at the center of God’s redemptive plan is the giving of His Son for the World (cf. Jn. 3:16-17). And God accomplished this by means of the evil actions of sinful stubborn men making free choices. God in His sovereignty and foreknowledge can work with the reality of human free will as well as in spite of human free will, that is **real** power and sovereignty in action. Henry

  5. The Angry Viking Himself Says:

    I’m asking this question to both MG and Henry not with a point in mind but just curious. What is heaven to you? Will we be perfect there or still free to sin?

  6. MG Says:

    Donald–You said:”I’m asking this question to both MG and Henry not with a point in mind but just curious. What is heaven to you? Will we be perfect there or still free to sin?”Heaven is “everything that is united to God”. Some people think of it as an abstract platonic realm separate from the universe where everyone goes after they die. But this is not so. It can overlap earth or the universe because earth and the universe can be mystically and ontologically united to God (cosmic deification/ pan-sacramentalism). Indeed, this is the destiny of the universe as taught in Holy Scripture.Now, regarding the sin issue:We will be perfect and not free to sin. This is because the saints, through ascetic struggle, are ever-increasingly drawn into God. To be drawn into God and united to Him is to grow in virtue. Virtue is a character trait that is developed by habituation.At a certain point in the process of developing virtue, a person’s habits become so set and complete that they can no longer act contrary to their habits. This is what I think happens to the glorified; they lose the freedom to sin because they have freely chosen to develop complete virtue.Does that make sense? Would you like the biblical support?

  7. henry Says:

    The Angry Viking asked:“I’m asking this question to both MG and Henry not with a point in mind but just curious. What is heaven to you? Will we be perfect there or still free to sin?” Jesus teaching on prayer made the statement: “Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:10) This statement implies to me, that while God’s will is not always done on earth, in Heaven God’s will is **always** done. Sin is the violation of God’s will. So if God’s will is always done in Heaven, then there will be no sin there. Regarding what is Heaven to me? It is being in the direct presence of the Lord. As Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:12 “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face: now I know in part, but then I shall know fully just as I also have been fully known.” The final book Revelation speaks of a New Heaven and New Earth in which only righteousness is present and only the saints are with the Lord. We are also told that the place which the Lord is preparing for those who love Him is beyond our ability to conceive (“but just as it is written, THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND WHICH HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM” 1 Cor. 2:9), so it is going to be great. I am looking forward to being in a place in which we are in the direct presence of the Lord and where there is no sin, are you?Henry

  8. henry Says:

    MG wrote:“But why can’t we hold to the right attitude–one that praises God’s sovereignty and extols his control and grace–without accepting Calvinism?”Bingo! One can be thankful for, take comfort in, and praise the Lord and His sovereignty without holding to Calvinism/theological determinism and ED.“Nothing about non-Calvinism should lead us to behave that way; nothing about this attitude makes it exclusive to Calvinism (or its close cousins).”One thing I have noted about many Calvinists is that they do not tend to be the most humble people. I have interacted with and seen many Calvinists who manifested excessive pride, condescension, belittling put downs of those with whom they disagreed, and even some who “played God” to the point of sitting in judgment over me and sending me to hell for disagreeing with their Calvinism. Now you would hope and think that if someone truly believed that they were only saved on account of the grace of God (which Calvinists claim they believe) they would be the most gentle and loving and forgiving and humble folks imaginable. Not so in my experience with many Calvinists. While I have met and know a few who are truly humble, gracious, loving folks. On the internet blogs in particular, they are some of the meanest most prideful and arrogant professing Christians that I have ever encountered. I believe that you can tell a lot about a person’s Christian character and maturity by how they deal with people with whom they disagree. If you are convinced of the truthfulness of your beliefs, secure in your relationship with the Lord, then you can be kind and loving and gentle even with those with whom you disagree theologically. It is significant that one of the texts most often quoted by Calvinists does not even refer to unconditional election but instead refers to manifesting Christ-like character: “For whom He foreknew, He also PREDESTINATED TO BECOME CONFORMED TO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON, that He might be the first-born among many brethren” (Rom. 9:29). This text does not say that our individual salvation is predestined. Rather, it speaks of how our sanctification, that we ought to be manifesting Christ-like character, **IS** PREDESTINED FOR EVERY BELIEVER. As one of my friends puts it: “you think you are one of His chosen people, then let’s see Jesus in and through you”. Or to put it another way in the context of this discussion: looking at our actions are we more likely to see someone arguing theology in a harsh manner with their “opponents”, or someone who sacrifices themselves for others sake and loves brothers and sisters with whom they may disagree?”Much (probably 40%) of the argument for Calvinism is drawn from John 6 and Romans 9. These passages are used to overrule anything in Scripture that looks at face value like it might be contrary to Calvinism. “That passage you cited may seem to say x, but if you look at John 6 or Romans 9 its so much more clear that x is false”. But once an alternative interpretation of John 6 or Romans 9 can be given which is at least as plausible, the theological framework of Calvinism seems to become much weaker.”Calvinists will often attempt to argue for unconditional election from the Jn. 6 and Rom. 9 texts. This is their attempt at proof texting for unconditional election. I think that your comment: “These passages tend to overrule anything in scripture that looks at face value like it may be contrary to Calvinism” is very accurate. Calvinists when they are proof texting will go to certain passages (primarily as you say, Jn. 6, Rom. 9) and will minimize, leave out, or reinterpret other passages that outright contradict their system. A classic example is that the Calvinist wants to believe that Jesus only died for the elect (i.e. “limited atonement”). And yet Jn. 3:16 properly interpreted clearly says that the Father gave Jesus in a ***redemptive or salvific sense*** for the **World** (and careful consideration of the meaning of “world” in John’s writings leads to the conclusion that the word means **less than everyone but more than just those who eventually become Christians**; and if it includes some who never become Christians then Calvinism’s limited atonement doctrine is false). So the Calvinist has to reinterpret “world” to escape the plain and clear meaning of the text in Jn. 3:16-17. So for Calvinists biblical texts are “clear” when the texts supposedly support Calvinism. But when other “clear” texts such as Jn. 3:16-17 are presented, these texts are reinterpreted and subsumed under the more “clear” passages that Calvinists like to present.I do not like this proof-texting-to-maintain-the-system method of interpreting scripture. The goal seems to be that the system is defended and maintained rather than inferring our conclusions from what scripture presents. My preferred approach is to look at what various scriptures say about a particular subject and then derive my conclusions from what the scriptures say rather than what some system says they should say. The bible may speak about part of the picture in one place and another part of the same picture in another place. If you do this, you often arrive at what would better be described as a BOTH/AND approach rather than an either/or approach. There are important both/and doctrines in scripture including: God is both one being and three persons (the Trinity); scripture is both divinely inspired and written by men; Jesus is both divine and human; and the bible presents BOTH God’s sovereignty AND man’s free will. The bible presents that some events are predetermined to occur and does not claim that all events are predetermined: so it is best to conclude both that **some** events are predetermined and **some** are not (thus ED and Calvinism is false).“That’s one rationale behind my arguments about “equally plausible interpretation”; this would re-balance things in favor of non-Calvinism. The appeal can no longer be made that “well, look, Romans 9 and John 6 are just so much more clear; so lets rule out the face-value interpretation of that verse”.”By showing that noncalvinist interpretations are also plausible, you certainly undermine the case for Calvinism. In my opinion, the attack on Calvinism ought to be even stronger: noncalvinist interpretations are not just equally plausible to Calvinist interpretations, they are superior interpretations. Calvinism is a false system of theology which leads to some serious errors and confusion and division among God’s people. All for the sake of defending a nonbiblical presupposition that God has exhaustively determined every event (ED). ”This doesn’t mean I have a personal vendetta against Calvinism. I have a lot of good friends who are Calvinist and I don’t dislike them because of that.”For me a person’s Christian character is more important than their espoused theological position. If they are saved and manifest Christian character, then I get a long quite well with them even if we disagree and differ on certain points. Unfortunately, I have met “jerks” who were non-calvinists and “jerks” that were Calvinists, so no one group has a monopoly on “jerkhood”! 🙂 “What I really want is to just provide a counter-balance to the mounds of literature that has been written in books and on the internet in defense of Calvinism.”That is a fine and worthy goal MG.“This will hopefully enhance the respect of both sides for each other, and perhaps lead both sides closer to the truth about God’s sovereignty through constructive criticism.”For those who are mature on both sides, I believe that they already do respect each other. It is the less mature who are usually the most contentious and hostile towards those who differ. Regarding leading both sides closer to the truth. As it stands, the two sides appear to be holding mutually exclusive truth
    claims (some examples would include: you cannot simultaneously affirm that people have free will AND that they do not have free will; you cannot simultaneously affirm that God has predetermined some events AND that God has predetermined **every** event; you cannot affirm that non-regenerate persons can respond with faith to the gospel message AND that a person must be regenerated first before they can respond with faith to the gospel message; you cannot affirm that Jesus died for the world/intending to save the world AND affirm that Jesus died only for the preselected and predetermined “elect”). I believe that the scripture, reason, experience and church tradition/teaching clearly and overwhelmingly supports the non-calvinistic claims.”Great talking to you as always, Henry.”Likewise, I am enjoying our discussion MG.Henry

  9. henry Says:

    Michael you have done some excellent work on the two primary proof texts used by Calvinists for their mistaken doctrine of unconditional election (Romans 9 and John 6) at Coram Deo. You have spent a lot of time on these texts so I am curious to see how you handle another calvinistic doctrine. The doctrine is called by Calvinists “total depravity” (The “T” in TULIP). It seems to me that if you topple this doctrine the whole Calvinistic house of cards will come tumbling down. So Michael what is your approach towards total depravity? Henry

  10. MG Says:

    Henry–Total depravity seems to be false, depending on what is meant by it. Generally I have read / I have been told that total depravity is the belief that all human faculties are corrupted by sin and unable to move toward salvation unless God acts first. This is generally taken to include belief that it is human nature that is affected by the fall.But if human nature is turned profoundly evil by the fall, this calls into question either God’s goodness or his sovereignty. If God caused human nature to be so evil, what of his goodness? And if God put man in a position where he was able to manipulate his nature like that, then what of God’s sovereignty?Human nature is not totally corrupt. But it does seem that human beings are TOTALLY UNABLE to turn to God apart from His grace. Though I don’t think man is powerful enough to destroy his nature, I do think that human persons have become dis-united to their nature. And unless God acts in some way to fix this, they cannot become reunited.I’ll deal with biblical issues sometime soon.

  11. henry Says:

    Michael you wrote:”Total depravity seems to be false, depending on what is meant by it. Generally I have read / I have been told that total depravity is the belief that all human faculties are corrupted by sin and unable to move toward salvation unless God acts first.”To be precise the Calvinist belief is that: due to the effects of sin upon human nature after the fall of Adam/Eve into sin, humans are now incapable of responding in faith to the gospel message and work of the Spirit **unless** they are first regenerated (the regeneration is what produces faith in them). “This is generally taken to include belief that it is human nature that is affected by the fall.”The effects upon human nature according to the theological determinist include that the unregenerated person has total inability to understand spiritual things or have a faith response towards God **unless regenerated first**.”Human nature is not totally corrupt. But it does seem that human beings are TOTALLY UNABLE to turn to God apart from His grace.”This is a very important and true distinction. The bible clearly teaches that sin has affected all aspects of human nature (so human nature has been corrupted by sin but this does not mean that human nature has been eliminated or destroyed; that the capacity to choose which is part of human nature, including to choose to respond with faith, has been eliminated). The bible also clearly teaches that human beings **apart from** the work of the Holy Spirit/grace are “totally unable” to turn to God or have a faith response towards God (part of the corruption by sin is that we are born out of relationship with God/spiritually dead).”I’ll deal with biblical issues sometime soon.”I look forward to seeing that soon.Henry

  12. henry Says:

    Hello Michael,You said that you were going to deal with “biblical issues” associated with total depravity soon. I continue to look forward to your discussion of these points.Henry

  13. MG Says:

    Henry–Hahah oh boy looks like I have again procrastinated on a response to someone. Sorry about that :-\. So as for now, I will attempt to argue that John 10:26, Ephesians 2:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 do not entail total depravity in the way that Calvinists mean–ie. humans are so evil that God must effectually call them in order to overcome their sinful dispositions. Of course I believe in *total inability* to come to a saving knowledge of God apart from grace; but that’s not the same thing as total depravity. Because of time limits I won’t be able to talk about all the relevant texts of course; but we can discuss them bit by bit. I guess that because total depravity seems to go hand in hand with effectual calling, my arguments will also be arguments against effectual calling.John 10:26Jesus says “you do not believe because you are not my sheep”. This seems to imply that God calls us effectually to salvation and that as a result of being saved directly by sovereign grace that overrides our freewill, because belief is a result of salvation, not the other way around. This means that our depravity is total, because it seems like we couldn’t become saved by responding in belief unless God called us effectually; and this presupposes that we have no natural capacity remaining in us for response to God.But this conclusion is unnecessary in John: a. First of all, Jesus’ exhortations to believe could be taken as implying the ability of various people present to believe by their free volition. (However, this is not necessary; a Calvinist could argue that this is just Jesus bringing out what is already in a person’s heart because of God’s work). b. Secondly and more importantly, there is a question of what makes one a sheep. What is the condition under which a person becomes a sheep? Is it by God’s grace? Well obviously yes. God’s grace is a necessary condition for this. But is God’s work in a person’s heart effectual in this case? Or is it possible that there is a condition upon which salvation is based that is more fundamental than belief/faith? I would argue that Jesus tells us the innermost human condition upon which salvation is based: LOVE. In John 7:17 Jesus says that it is those who choose to do God’s will who find out if his teaching is from God. This seems to imply that choosing to do God’s will comes prior to belief in Jesus teaching. In John 14:21 Jesus says that those who have his commands and obey them are those that love Him, and that those who love Him will be loved by the Father and Jesus will love him and show himself to him. This seems to imply that loving Jesus is prior to salvation and Jesus fully revealing Himself to a person. Then in verse 23 Jesus says that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This too can indicate that love and obedience precede and provide a condition for a person’s salvation. This could be taken to indicate the following chain of events:i. God sends prevenient grace enabling human beings to love God.ii. God offers saving grace to human beings.iii. Some human beings respond in love by accepting saving grace.iv. Those who respond in love are saved by God.v. Those who are saved then believe.Hence there is a prior condition upon which a person becomes a sheep: love. Of course a Calvinist could argue that love is deterministically caused by God, and so calling is still effectual. But I don’t know any reason to affirm this. Love seems like a combination of divine and human activity. There is thus no reason to think that John 10:26 implies total depravity or its of corollary effectual calling.1 Cor 2:14The argument Schreiner gave (I think it was Schreiner) in an article in “Still Sovereign” for effectual calling from this verse was also an argument that human beings without the Spirit are totally depraved. The Spirit’s absence is the explanation for their unbelief, as opposed to their unbelief being the explanation for the Spirit’s absence. But if this is the case, then unbelief is not something that human beings can help prior to the effectual movement of the Holy Spirit. And if the effectual movement of the Spirit is necessary, then human beings are totally depraved.Several things can be said in response:a. First of all, I’m not entirely sure that salvation is being talked about in verse 14, because verse 3:1 seems to imply one can be an infant in Christ without having the Spirit in the sense Paul is talking about here. If so, then its unclear if Paul would mean that 2:14 is about a knowledge that results in initial salvation, or just a knowledge that involves spiritual maturity and progress in the process of salvation.b. Second of all, the “accepting” that is spoken of in verse 14 seems to be an act of assenting to truth about God. One could say that this act of assent is the most fundamental condition of salvation that is internal to a human being. If this is correct, and this cannot be had unless God has already saved a person, then calling may be effectual. But is it possible that there is a more fundamental condition for salvation off of which assent is based? Again I would appeal to the various verses in John that show the innermost human condition of salvation is LOVE. Those who respond to God’s grace in love are then given faith and spiritual knowledge.Ephesians 2:1-5The argument given here is that because Paul says we were dead in our transgressions and sins, and a corpse can’t do anything, we therefore are unable respond to grace in any way prior to becoming fully regenerate. This seems suspect to me for a number of reasons:1. How far should the analogy of spiritual death to physical death be taken? Not as far as the Reformed are taking it I don’t think. After all, a dead person actually can’t do anything at all. Sin is out of the question for a dead person. Can a physically dead person align themself with the devil? No. Can a dead person continue to make himself or herself physically WORSE by exercising volition? That’s where the biggest disanalogy comes in, I think. Sure you can decay; but if your spiritual death involves decaying, then your decaying has to involve some kind of ability to choose evil when given the option between good and evil.2. I doubt that being spiritually dead implies the inability to do anything responsive to God at all. I do think it would make true virtue impossible and meritorious good action would be impossible (if you really want to bother talking about merit). But does this exclude the possibility of exercising faith? Only if we assume that spiritual death implies that all volition is closed off. But why not just assume that virtue and meritorious volition are closed off instead?3. The very language of Ephesians 2 should cause us to raise our eyebrows at people who want to take the Reformed view. Ephesians 2:1 and 5 say that we were dead in trespasses. But we are also said to have “followed” the ways of this world, to have been “following” the ruler of the power of the air, and to have been “following” the flesh’s desires and thoughts. Paul says we “lived among” the disobedient.So here’s the problem. Corpses cannot “follow” or “live among”. So why take the language of “dead” so far? Why take it to be implying a kind of depravity that makes the non-meritorious, grace-empowered volitional response of faith impossible?4. Or better yet, why not switch the controlling image/idea? After all, the “following” metaphor/image is used twice as often as the “dead” metaphor. We could interpret “dead” in light of “following” and say that because “following implies volitional activity, and one can follow one path for awhile and then move to another path, we should take the metaphor of following as being compatible with libertarian freewill to accept or reject saving grace. Thus we should in
    terpret dead in trespasses as being compatible with such agency.”Of course the Calvinist could respond “but the ‘dead’ language is the primary emphasis because that’s what Christ reverses in verse 5.” But then why not look back at the Gospels and point to passages where Jesus says that following Him is what makes you a disciple, or where he calls people to follow Him? In those situations, following is clearly the primary thing in view and there’s no reason to think it implies causal determinism there.Basically I think that sometimes Calvinists can take the word “dead”, ascribe a very specific significance to it–strongly analogous to physical death, talking about ALL volition (as opposed to just virtuous volition), controlling metaphor/image–and then draw conclusions that are unnecessary.So what do you think of these ways of dealing with the total depravity/effectual calling texts in question? Does this seem adequate?

  14. henry Says:

    “Hahah oh boy looks like I have again procrastinated on a response to someone. Sorry about that :-\. So as for now, I will attempt to argue that John 10:26, Ephesians 2:1-5 and 1 Corinthians 2:14 do not entail total depravity in the way that Calvinists mean–ie. humans are so evil that God must effectually call them in order to overcome their sinful dispositions.”Thanks for your response. As you ended with Ephesians 2:1-5 and I consider **that** to be their key text they use to argue for depravity. I will comment only on that passage here.”The argument given here is that because Paul says we were dead in our transgressions and sins, and a corpse can’t do anything, we therefore are unable respond to grace in any way prior to becoming fully regenerate. This seems suspect to me for a number of reasons:”The Calvinist is attempting to argue from an **analogy/metaphor** to an **ontological conclusion**: that human nature after the fall due to the effects of sin is incapable of understanding spiritual things or responding to God (unless regenerated first). ”1. How far should the analogy of spiritual death to physical death be taken? Not as far as the Reformed are taking it I don’t think.”This is a critical point: the Calvinist goes too far with the analogy, beyond what the text states, beyond common sense and everyday experience. “After all, a dead person actually can’t do anything at all. Sin is out of the question for a dead person. Can a physically dead person align themself with the devil? No. Can a dead person continue to make himself or herself physically WORSE by exercising volition? That’s where the biggest disanalogy comes in, I think. Sure you can decay; but if your spiritual death involves decaying, then your decaying has to involve some kind of ability to choose evil when given the option between good and evil.”Again, your observations are right on. The Calvinist wants to claim that nonbelievers are spiritually dead and as spiritual corpses incapable of doing things. And yet for supposedly being “dead” the nonbelievers are able to do quite a lot of things, including performing lots of sinful actions. Nonbelievers are in fact quite active in a myriad of ways indicating that they are not quite “dead” after all.”2. I doubt that being spiritually dead implies the inability to do anything responsive to God at all. I do think it would make true virtue impossible and meritorious good action would be impossible (if you really want to bother talking about merit). But does this exclude the possibility of exercising faith? Only if we assume that spiritual death implies that all volition is closed off. But why not just assume that virtue and meritorious volition are closed off instead?”Here you are talking about how the Calvinist is making ontological claims about human nature (what human nature can or cannot do). And it is precisely here that we find the fatal flaw of calvinism on this passage. The passage says that the nonbeliever when a nonbeliever is said to be DEAD and yet when this same person becomes a believer they are said to be MADE ALIVE. The analogy then involves being dead and then resurrecting/ being made alive. And yet common sense and observation shows the nonbelievers while being nonbelievers are capable of all sorts of actions and choices. These facts indicate that the analogy is not speaking ontologically about human nature (i.e., about what human persons can or cannot do).So if the analogy does not have an ontological meaning then what meaning does it have?I believe this is a classic example of where it pays off to compare scripture with scripture to find the proper meaning of a textt. In John 5:25-29 Jesus speaks of two types of resurrections (a spiritual resurrection and a physical resurrection). This text is common knowledge to Calvinists as most of them are amillennialists who use the text to prove that the first resurrection of Rev. 20 is not a physical resurrection. In v. 25 Jesus speaks of a time (“an hour is coming and NOW IS”) when those who are DEAD, hear the voice of Jesus and “shall live”. In v.28-29 he speaks of people who are dead and in the tombs (so that must mean they are physically dead) who hear his voice and live/”and shall come forth those who did the good to a resurrection of life, and those who committed the evil to a resurrection of judgment”. So the second resurrection spoken of in John 5 must refer to physical death and physical resurrection. If this is true, then what is the first resurrection in these verses speaking of? Must be a spiritual resurrection (from spiritual death to spiritual life). Who are those who experience this spiritual resurrection? Believers. This also shows that a person can be active and doing all sorts of actions and making choices and yet be considered to be DEAD. So John 5 gives us a major clue as to the meaning of the analogy in Eph. 2: there is a reality described in the NT as spiritual resurrection (going from spiritual death to being made alive).The key passage however that really explains the meaning of how a person could be DEAD and yet be very active in doing actions and making choices and needs to be made alive, is Luke 15:11-32/the parable of the prodigal son. The key verse is v. 24: “for this son of mine WAS DEAD, and HAS COME TO LIFE AGAIN; he WAS LOST, and HAS BEEN FOUND. And they began to be merry.” The father in the parable represents our Heavenly Father. What is critical is to see that from the father’s perspective when his son went away from the father and engaged in a sinful lifestyle he was considered to be LOST and DEAD by his father. When he came back to his father, he was seen as having come back to life. This shows that the analogy of BEING DEAD AND THEN BEING MADE ALIVE can have a RELATIONAL MEANING.The prodigal son in the parable when he went away from his father was quite active, doing all sorts of sinful actions and making choices and that is when he was considered to be DEAD by his father. When he returned he was considered to be MADE ALIVE AGAIN. If we compare Eph. 2 with Jn. 5 and Lk. 15 it is better to take the analogy of death/being made alive, to be speaking RELATIONALLY rather than ONTOLOGICALLY. From God’s perspective when we are nonbelievers, as we are not in proper relationship with Him, we are considered to be DEAD. When we enter into a relationship with God we are then considered to be MADE ALIVE. In each case, whether when we were DEAD or when we are made alive, it speaks from the perspective of relationship with God not ontologically about human nature.”3. The very language of Ephesians 2 should cause us to raise our eyebrows at people who want to take the Reformed view. Ephesians 2:1 and 5 say that we were dead in trespasses. But we are also said to have “followed” the ways of this world, to have been “following” the ruler of the power of the air, and to have been “following” the flesh’s desires and thoughts. Paul says we “lived among” the disobedient.So here’s the problem. Corpses cannot “follow” or “live among”. So why take the language of “dead” so far? Why take it to be implying a kind of depravity that makes the non-meritorious, grace-empowered volitional response of faith impossible?”You make good points here, all of which show that taking the analogy ontologically as Calvinists do, is wrong. If taken relationally, we can explain and understand how “dead” persons can still engage in many activities and make lots of choices.”4. Or better yet, why not switch the controlling image/idea? After all, the “following” metaphor/image is used twice as often as the “dead” metaphor. We could interpret “dead” in light of “following” and say that because “following implies volitional activity, and one can follow one path for awhile and then move to another path, we should take the metaphor of following as being compatibl
    e with libertarian freewill to accept or reject saving grace. Thus we should interpret dead in trespasses as being compatible with such agency.”We **should** change the controlling image/idea, from an ontological emphasis to a relational one. ”Basically I think that sometimes Calvinists can take the word “dead”, ascribe a very specific significance to it–strongly analogous to physical death, talking about ALL volition (as opposed to just virtuous volition), controlling metaphor/image–and then draw conclusions that are unnecessary.”It is further evidence that their theology is not derived from exegeting scripture. They are proof texting in order to support an unbiblical system of theology. The Calvinists appeal to a few proof texts and must force everything else to fit the Calvinist grid. Other Christians see through this when they come across verses that do not say what the system says. We are wise to keep the verses and discard the Calvinistic system.”So what do you think of these ways of dealing with the total depravity/effectual calling texts in question? Does this seem adequate?”I like many of your points. I can use some of your points and you can use some of mine, combined they make for a formidable opposition to the false Calvinistic system of theology.Henry

  15. henry Says:

    Michael you also spoke about 1 Cor 2:14:”The argument Schreiner gave (I think it was Schreiner) in an article in “Still Sovereign” for effectual calling from this verse was also an argument that human beings without the Spirit are totally depraved. The Spirit’s absence is the explanation for their unbelief, as opposed to their unbelief being the explanation for the Spirit’s absence. But if this is the case, then unbelief is not something that human beings can help prior to the effectual movement of the Holy Spirit. And if the effectual movement of the Spirit is necessary, then human beings are totally depraved.”Calvinists will sometimes take single verses such as 1 Cor. 2:14 and also Rom. 8:7, and then argue that the nonbeliever cannot understand spiritual things whatsoever, cannot respond in faith to the work of the Spirit. The Calvinist is correct that apart from the work of the Spirit, left to ourselves, we do not understand spiritual things nor will we respond with faith. But, and this is critical, the Lord does not leave us in our nonbelieving state without working upon us. The Calvinists commonly makes two mistakes here. First, they over-emphasize the nonbelieving state, not properly factoring in the work of the Spirit. Second, when they do speak of the power of the work of the Spirit, they intentionally and unbiblically **limit** the work of the Spirit **only** to the predetermined and preselected, “elect”. And it is the power of the Spirit who illuminates scripture for human persons, shows them who Jesus is, what Jesus did to redeem them, how we are to be saved through Jesus, our need for forgiveness of sins, etc. etc. Put simply, it is the work of the Holy Spirit (and He is God), to bring us to a place where we can choose to follow Jesus or choose to reject Him. In our nonbelieving state, we are in a hopeless condition. But the NT says that God did not leave us in this condition but sent His Son to die for people’s sins and sends the Spirit:“And He when He comes will convict the world concerning sin, and righteousness, and judgment . . . “ Jn.16:8-11The Father gives the Son to the World according to Jn. 3:16-17 and the Spirit convicts that same world of sin, righteousness and judgment. So God does not leave us in the state referred to by verses such as 1 Cor. 2:14. The Calvinist **because of his system** (contrary to explicit biblical passages that teach otherwise) argues that the work of the Spirit in a redemptive sense is **only** upon the preselected, predetermined elect. But scripture does not limit either the availability of the atonement to only the elect, nor the work of the Spirit to only the elect. Both with the atonement and the work of the Spirit, the scripture says these works of God were not limited only to the elect, but were FOR THE WORLD.”Several things can be said in response:a. First of all, I’m not entirely sure that salvation is being talked about in verse 14, because verse 3:1 seems to imply one can be an infant in Christ without having the Spirit in the sense Paul is talking about here. If so, then its unclear if Paul would mean that 2:14 is about a knowledge that results in initial salvation, or just a knowledge that involves spiritual maturity and progress in the process of salvation.”I believe that in 2:14 Paul is sharing an observation about nonbelievers (i.e., the “natural man”, the man without the Spirit, the man apart from the Spirit) in the midst of a discussion of Paul’s reliance upon the Spirit. Believers have the Spirit and if they rely on Him, will not be like the person described in 2:14. ”b. Second of all, the “accepting” that is spoken of in verse 14 seems to be an act of assenting to truth about God. One could say that this act of assent is the most fundamental condition of salvation that is internal to a human being. If this is correct, and this cannot be had unless God has already saved a person, then calling may be effectual. But is it possible that there is a more fundamental condition for salvation off of which assent is based? Again I would appeal to the various verses in John that show the innermost human condition of salvation is LOVE. Those who respond to God’s grace in love are then given faith and spiritual knowledge.”Your point about “is it possible that there is a more fundamental condition for salvation” is interesting. In my thinking of the whole subject of salvation, it is becoming more and more important in my thinking to recognize and realize that **salvation** IS A RELATIONSHIP NOT A THING. People sometimes speak about salvation as if it is a **thing**, so they end up with mechanistic explanations involving technical discussions of causation, which cause precedes which cause, etc. etc. Thinking in this way, is all misguided as salvation is a **relationship** with God. When they speak in this way they also tend to speak as if **God alone** is working in the “relationship” (whereas in genuine relationships, both persons are acting and contributing to the relationship). So we need to ask better questions such as: how does a personal relationship with God develop? What actions do both persons contribute to the relationship? What does a healthy relationship involving God and man look like?At the beginning there is no relationship with the human person being in an unbelieving state where they don’t care about spiritual things, about Jesus, about the way of salvation (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). Then the Spirit comes along and begins teaching the person about spiritual things and salvation (cf. Jn. 6:45 – “It is written in the prophets, AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD. Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.”). It is as the Spirit develops this knowledge in a person that they begin to develop trust in God and love for God realizing that God first loves us (cf. “We love, because He first loved us.” 1 Jn. 4:19; “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” Jn. 3:16). One of the key things that the Spirit shows us is that God does in fact love us and because of this love took steps to make redemption possible for us. If we respond properly to the work of the Spirit, we will respond with love and trust, and desire to be in an eternal relationship with the God who “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). So if we view salvation **primarily relationally**, then your point about the importance of love is confirmed. It is alarming to me to hear people talk about salvation, which **is** a relationship, without talking about how love and trust in the Lord is developed by the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is not merely revealing information to us so that we can be knowledgeable about spiritual things. The knowledge the Spirit is giving is a means to the end of developing a healthy personal relationship with God.Henry

  16. henry Says:

    Michael the third passage which you refer to is John 10:26.John 10:26”Jesus says “you do not believe because you are not my sheep”. This seems to imply that God calls us effectually to salvation and that as a result of being saved directly by sovereign grace that overrides our freewill, because belief is a result of salvation, not the other way around.”Throughout John 10 Jesus is contrasting those who are believers/his disciples (sheep who hear his voice and follow him) and those who reject Him (you are not of My sheep). Jesus uses two main metaphors: (1) He is the good shepherd (v.14); (2) He is the door to the sheepfold which a person must enter in order to be saved (Jesus says that “I am the door, if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved.” v. 9). At that time, a sheep was trained to recognize its shepherd’s voice/call, and so followed **only** His voice. Jesus speaks of false shepherds/hirelings whom the people should not follow (vv.9-14). So Jesus is speaking of how salvation is found only in Him (coming through Him/the door to the sheepfold, cf. Acts 4:12) and how we ought to follow Him only and not others. Thus the passage is focusing on salvation only being found in Christ and **proper discipleship**. It is not discussing unconditional election or effectual calling. Calvinists attempt to proof text by citing only verse 26 while ignoring and downplaying the context and all of the verses which came before verse 26. The themes in this section are salvation through Jesus alone (we must come through Him/the door) and true discipleship (i.e., those who are Jesus’ disciples will follow only Him in the same way that a sheep listens to, recognizes and follows only the its shepherd). The contrary is that those who do not come through Him are unbelievers who do not listen to His voice, do not follow Him, because they are unbelievers/not his sheep/not His disciples. If we eliminate the metaphorical language, we could paraphrase verses 26-27 as “But you do not believe, because you are not my disciples. My disciples hear my voice, listen to my voice/obey what I say, and I know them, and they follow me.” Unbelief then, shows that you are not saved and not a disciple of Jesus. At another place speaking more directly, Jesus will say “Why do you call me Lord and not obey what I say?” (Lk. 6:46). “This means that our depravity is total, because it seems like we couldn’t become saved by responding in belief unless God called us effectually; and this presupposes that we have no natural capacity remaining in us for response to God.But this conclusion is unnecessary in John: a. First of all, Jesus’ exhortations to believe could be taken as implying the ability of various people present to believe by their free volition.”Common sense suggests that if Jesus exhorts people to believe in Him then they have the capacity to do so, to make this choice. In ordinary life situations we exhort people to do things which we believe they are perfectly capable of doing. ”b. Secondly and more importantly, there is a question of what makes one a sheep. What is the condition under which a person becomes a sheep? Is it by God’s grace? Well obviously yes. God’s grace is a necessary condition for this. But is God’s work in a person’s heart effectual in this case? Or is it possible that there is a condition upon which salvation is based that is more fundamental than belief/faith?”You are asking about “what makes one a sheep”? Rephrase the question: how does a person become a Christian? Or how does a person enter into a personal relationship with Jesus? In our lost and spiritually dead condition we are not seeking after God nor do we want to be in relationship with a holy God (cf. “And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach” Col. 1:21-22). Then the Holy Spirit comes along and begins to show us things about our spiritual condition (that our sin separates us from God, that our sin must be forgiven for us to relate to a holy God, that we must humble ourselves, that God loves us enough to send His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins, etc. etc.) If we develop faith in the Lord and respond in love to the Lord it is only after the Holy Spirit has been working on us showing us about God’s love for us and His provision of atonement through Jesus. Seen relationally, God initiates the relationship by the sending of Jesus and work of Jesus and then the work of the Spirit. A person who after having experienced the work of the Spirit then desires to be in a relationship with God will have love for God and will trust God and will be thankful to God. The love, faith and thankfulness that come from our end, are preceded by the love and grace from His end. “I would argue that Jesus tells us the innermost human condition upon which salvation is based: LOVE. In John 7:17 Jesus says that it is those who choose to do God’s will who find out if his teaching is from God. This seems to imply that choosing to do God’s will comes prior to belief in Jesus teaching. In John 14:21 Jesus says that those who have his commands and obey them are those that love Him, and that those who love Him will be loved by the Father and Jesus will love him and show himself to him. This seems to imply that loving Jesus is prior to salvation and Jesus fully revealing Himself to a person. Then in verse 23 Jesus says that “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” This too can indicate that love and obedience precede and provide a condition for a person’s salvation.”It is true that the relationship between the believer and God will involve love. In 1 John the apostle John speaks about how the believer will, if he is genuine, love God and love the brethren. This love is indicative that he is really a “sheep” and not a “goat” (cf. Matt. 25:31-46). And the bible is clear that we love him because he first loved us (Rom.5:8). In your last line here you speak of how “love and obedience precede . . . a person’s salvation.” I do not see our love for God **preceding** salvation, as salvation is the relationship we have with God that involves love and obedience. The relationship itself consists of love and obedience from our end of the relationship. When we were **not** in relationship with God we were spiritually dead and we neither loved God nor were we obedient to God (cf. Col. 1:21-22, Eph. 4:1-3). The love for God develops as we see who God is and what He has done for us. The obedience results when we are His disciples and desire to please Him because we love Him. Love and obedience then, **do not PRECEDE** salvation, rather, they are what the relationship/salvation consists in. “This could be taken to indicate the following chain of events:i. God sends prevenient grace enabling human beings to love God.ii. God offers saving grace to human beings.iii. Some human beings respond in love by accepting saving grace.iv. Those who respond in love are saved by God.v. Those who are saved then believe.”I guess what you call “prevenient grace” is what I see as the work of the Holy Spirit. And it **is** the work of the Spirit which makes it possible for us to know about God, understand spiritual things, and respond in faith and love to God (your point i above). Jn. 16:8-11 makes it clear that the work of the Spirit involves the same “world”, to which the Father gave the Son (Jn. 3:16-17; your point ii above). With regard to your point iii. above, we respond in love to God only after the Holy Spirit shows us that God is a person worthy of trust. I am also not sure that we ought to separate or compartmentalize faith and love
    (cf. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but FAITH WORKING THROUGH LOVE” Gal. 5:6). It seems they work together in the Christian life. A person who trusts God will love God, a person who loves God also trusts Him.I am also not sure about your point v. above (“those who are saved then believe”). There are bible passages teaching salvation is by grace and through faith (e.g. Eph. 2:8). We are not saved first and then believe (that is like Calvinism’s claim that a person is regenerated first then they believe). Rather, we are saved (i.e. enter into relationship with God) when we believe. When the Phillipian jailer asks Paul: ”what must I do to be saved?”(Acts 16:30). Paul answers: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved” (Acts 16:31). Paul does not say: Love the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and **then** you will believe. Part of the problem is that God in desiring a relationship with us is not just aiming for barely getting us in to Heaven or giving us insurance against Hell. No, God wants us to have a healthy relationship with Him. A healthy relationship with Him will involve love for Him and his people, faith in Him, and obedience to His commands as he is the Master/Lord and we are the disciples.”Hence there is a prior condition upon which a person becomes a sheep: love.”I have to disagree with you here, we do not love first and **then** become a sheep: we love Him if we are one of His sheep. I would reassert that the prior condition upon which a person becomes a sheep is the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing us to the Lord and then our response of faith, love, and gratitude for what He has done. We were separated from God, spiritually dead, not loving God or obeying God or following God as a disciple of Jesus. Then after the work of the Spirit we became disciples, are now spiritually alive, are reconciled with God, and now love and obey Him. The bible talks about Jesus reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and how the people in the world oppose and hate God. So before we were sheep, before we were saved, before we were in a saving relationship with God, we were enemies of God, hostile to God, rebelling against God and His commands. We did not love God when we were not His sheep!“Love seems like a combination of divine and human activity. There is thus no reason to think that John 10:26 implies total depravity or its of corollary effectual calling.”Love **is** a combination of divine and human activity. But when we were not His sheep we did not love God nor did we follow the shepherd nor were we listening to His voice (which is what John 10:26 is talking about; when people are not his sheep they do not follow him as disciples nor obey His commands nor are they His people). Then we entered into a saving relationship with God when we put our trust in what Jesus did for us/trusting in the Shepherd who laid down his life for us. Within the context of this relationship we develop love, faith, obedience, become disciples of Jesus, love other sheep, love the world so that we want to tell people about the love of God demonstrated in Jesus.Henry

  17. MG Says:

    Henry–I like your point about relational vs ontological death. That’s an excellent argument.And I also appreciate that you explained the first/second resurrection in John 5 thing in such detail.I will respond more in awhile.–MG

  18. MG Says:

    Henry–Regarding your response to my analysis of the 1 Cor passage:Good point about the fact that there’s a contrast between saved and unsaved. I retract my point about “well, maybe its not a salvation thing.” regarding v 14.Also, the verse you brought up about the Spirit convincting the world of unrighteousness is quite good.–MG

  19. MG Says:

    Henry–As for John 10:Thanks for the response as always. It looks like here we might begin our first major disagreement since the time we were talking about perseverance of the saints. :)You say that unbelief shows that you are not saved and not a disciple. But it seems to me that there is a causal connection implicit in Jesus’ words, not just a revelatory connection. Not being a sheep is the cause of unbelief. It is true that not believing reveals that one is not a sheep. But again, it seems that being a sheep is posited here as a necessary precondition for believing in Jesus.You take issue with my statement that “love and obedience precede a person’s salvation”. I probably should have said “the initial moment when a person is saved is when they personally cooperate with God’s activity by choosing to love Him and obey Him.” Thus I am agreeing with you that they are what constitutes salvation.Because I believe persons are distinct from their natures, and God has saved human nature in Christ, I believe that all men are saved already in one sense (from death). In another sense, though, it is only those who personally align their wills with Christ who are saved.Though I agree with you that faith and love work together, it seems to me that the initial choice-for-God that we make might be the choice to love God.How would you respond to the fact that it seems that in John 7:17 Jesus seems to put “choosing to do God’s will” prior to “finding out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own,” and the fact that in John 14:21 and again in verse 23 Jesus seems to say that loving him and obeying his commands precedes the revelation of and indwelling of Himself and the Father?Your arguments from Paul’s exhortations make me wonder: perhaps faith in God is a kind of love. Maybe the act of trusting in God just *is* love? What I’m concerned about is the idea that in 10:26 it seems that being a sheep precedes and is a condition for believing in Jesus. If faith is the thing that we choose, how can this be the case?What confuses me even more is that the order seems to be reversed in 5:38.What do you think about this odd tension, where in one verse faith is the result of salvation, in another it is the condition of personal volition upon which salvation is established, and in another love is (apparently) what leads to belief and salvation? –MG

  20. henry Says:

    Happy to see a response from you Michael:”Thanks for the response as always. It looks like here we might begin our first major disagreement since the time we were talking about perseverance of the saints. :)”I don’t mind disagreement; I do mind how professing Christians disagree. The way Christians handle disagreement shows their level of maturity. As you probably know, recently I was attacked by a Calvinist, who claims that I am a false teacher going to hell simply because I challenge his Calvinism. He is intelligent but does not manifest Christian character or maturity. Instead of love of other Christians he hates those who are not Calvinists. Instead of manifesting grace, he manifests a prideful and mean-spirited character. Thankfully, I do not have to be concerned about you as you are the opposite of this other fellow.”You say that unbelief shows that you are not saved and not a disciple. But it seems to me that there is a causal connection implicit in Jesus’ words, not just a revelatory connection. Not being a sheep is the cause of unbelief. It is true that not believing reveals that one is not a sheep. But again, it seems that being a sheep is posited here as a necessary precondition for believing in Jesus.”According to Jn. 10 a sheep is a believer who follows Jesus as his disciple and this is shown be the fact that he/she hears Jesus’ voice and follows **only** Him. A non-sheep is a nonbeliever who does not follow Jesus, is not his disciple, and this is shown by they fact that he/she does not hear Jesus’ voice and does not follow Him. The text does not say that “sheep-hood” CAUSES belief; or that “non-sheep-hood” CAUSES UNBELIEF. Our natures do not make the choices we make: WE MAKE THESE CHOICES! It simply says that sheep believe and follow and non-sheep do not believe and do not follow. ”You take issue with my statement that “love and obedience precede a person’s salvation”. I probably should have said “the initial moment when a person is saved is when they personally cooperate with God’s activity by choosing to love Him and obey Him.” Thus I am agreeing with you that they are what constitutes salvation.”That is a helpful clarification. I agree with “the initial moment when a person is saved is when they personally cooperate with God’s activity by choosing to love Him and obey Him” because we are talking about how the **relationship starts**. Before the relationship starts we were enemies to God and rebelling against Him. Jesus came and was attempting to reconcile the rebellious world to Himself (cf. 2 Cor. 5:18-19; Col. 1:19-22). When we surrender to God, acknowledge our own sinfulness, acknowledge Him as Lord and ask for forgiveness and respond in love to what God has done, that is when the relationship is getting started. There is a transition from being a non-sheep to becoming one of His sheep. During this transitional period the Spirit is working to bring us to Christ and during this period our faith and love for the Lord is developing. If we reject God and the gospel then our unbelief will keep us in rebellion to God, keep us from trusting God for salvation and keep us from loving God.”Because I believe persons are distinct from their natures, and God has saved human nature in Christ, I believe that all men are saved already in one sense (from death). In another sense, though, it is only those who personally align their wills with Christ who are saved.”Not exactly sure what you mean here. Is there only one **human nature** that gets saved and then all partake of this one nature when they are saved? Or do each of us have a human nature and as individuals we need to be saved and have God work in our natures to work out sin and work in righteousness? You speak of those “who personally align their wills with Christ”. When does **that** begin? Does that involve faith and love? Does that involve the work of the Spirit? Will you align your will with His if you do not trust Him?”Though I agree with you that faith and love work together, it seems to me that the initial choice-for-God that we make might be the choice to love God.”Let me switch the relationship to make the point. For those who are married did they initially choose their spouses, initially make a choice to love that person? Or did the relationship develop over time and as the relationship developed the love and trust developed? My point is that in genuine relationships we do not automatically start trusting and loving the person from the moment we first encounter them, it develops over time as we get to know the person and as we **relate** to the person. Likewise, when we encounter God we do not start with love and trust, but as the Spirit teaches us and draws us to Jesus, the love and trust develop over time. ”How would you respond to the fact that it seems that in John 7:17 Jesus seems to put “choosing to do God’s will” prior to “finding out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own,” and the fact that in John 14:21 and again in verse 23 Jesus seems to say that loving him and obeying his commands precedes the revelation of and indwelling of Himself and the Father?”In Jn. 7 if you examine the context, Jesus is teaching and his authority to teach is being challenged and questioned (v. 15 “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” meaning never trained like the other Jewish leaders, he was the unknown from Nazareth remember?). In v. 16 Jesus says his teaching comes from God the Father: “My teaching is not Mine, but His who sent Me.” In v. 17 Jesus is saying that if you really want to know if what He is teaching is true, a person who is willing to do it will find it to be true. In our modern vernacular we have a similar expression: “the proof is in the pudding”. In other words, we know some things to be true only when we experience them for ourselves directly. Note in v. 19 he challenges them saying that Moses gave them the Law “and yet none of you carries out the law”. And adds “why do you seek to kill Me?” As a point of historical background, at that time only trained priests were allowed to teach in the temple area (according to 7:14 “when it was now the midst of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and began to teach”; that was a big cultural No-No, Jesus was directly challenging the authority of the priests and so was challenged as to His teaching an authority). The context of these verses is not talking about how one becomes saved or becomes a sheep. Rather, the context is Jesus’ authority to teach being challenged. One of the ways Jesus responds is to say “the proof is in the pudding, want to see if I am teaching the truth, do it, then you will see.”With Jn. 14:21 and 23 Jesus is speaking about what **characterizes** His people: “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love Him, and will disclose Myself to him.” The apostle John makes this same point in his 1 John letter where he talks about what characterizes Christians (e.g. they love God, they love other Christians, etc. etc.). In Jn. 14 Jesus is not talking about timing or how the Christian relationship starts, he is talking in general about the relationship between God and those people who are His own, His sheep: those who love God are His people and they will be loved by both the Father and the Son. Love for God and other believers is one of the surest signs that someone is a sheep/saved/Christian: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:35)You also asked: “Jesus seems to say that loving him and obeying his commands precedes the revelation of and indwelling of Himself and the Father?”We cannot love God unless God first reveals Himself to us (i.e., the work of the Spirit). You cann
    ot in real time be “loving him and obeying his commands” if He has not yet revealed Himself to you. So first God reveals Himself to you, then if you respond properly, God **continues** to develop the relationship with you. ”Your arguments from Paul’s exhortations make me wonder: perhaps faith in God is a kind of love. Maybe the act of trusting in God just *is* love?”That is an interesting thought. That salvation begins with a “loving faith”, an act of trusting that is grounded in love for God. Perhaps this is something to pursue further, think about some more. ”What I’m concerned about is the idea that in 10:26 it seems that being a sheep precedes and is a condition for believing in Jesus. If faith is the thing that we choose, how can this be the case?”An act of faith is a choice. If I choose to trust you in regard to something, my choice to trust you is an action and it is faith. We do not choose **faith**. Rather, we choose to trust in Christ, and that choice **is** an act of faith. Christ is the object of our faith and the action of trusting is an action of faith. God’s sheep are those who habitually are making the choice to trust Him. When we did not know God and were out of relationship with him, spiritually dead, then we were not choosing to trust Him. In most cases we were trusting in ourselves rather than God. A big change that occurs in salvation is that we consciously begin to put our trust in the Lord rather than ourselves.”What confuses me even more is that the order seems to be reversed in 5:38.”Assuming you mean Jn. 5:38 here. The verse talks about how in the case of nonbelievers “you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe whom He has sent.” The word abiding in us is a present continuous reality true of sheep. His sheep hear his voice and keep hearing his voice, so His word is continually abiding in them. Nonbelievers may hear it and even initially entertain it, but it does not abide, does not continue in them (recall the parable about the soils and how one soil has a good initial reaction but does not continue). God desires not only that we get saved but that we continue to develop that saving relationship. Those who are saved are those who remain in relationship with Him.”What do you think about this odd tension, where in one verse faith is the result of salvation, in another it is the condition of personal volition upon which salvation is established, and in another love is (apparently) what leads to belief and salvation?”I don’t think there is a tension. The verses do not teach that faith is the result of salvation (that is a Calvinist notion; according to them a person is regenerated/saved first, and then they believe; the NT teaches a person believes first and then is saved). The ground of our relationship with God is the finished work of Jesus on the cross. **That** is the basis for the relationship, without that ground, sinners cannot be in relationship with a Holy and righteous God. So the relationship is based ultimately upon what Jesus did. Our love and trust is also primarily based upon understanding and being thankful for what Jesus did for us. Again, the scripture puts it as we love Him because He first loved us, or while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. God’s love took the initiative in sending Jesus. Jesus out of love died for people. The Spirit lovingly reveals Jesus to people. Only after God does all of these things do we find ourselves in a place where we may choose to trust and love God.Henry

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