Anthony Flew and CS Lewis come to God

Anthony Flew

I discuss and compare the journeys to belief of Anthony Flew and CS Lewis.

Clive Staples Lewis

Robert B. Stewart, in his “C. S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith,” describes Lewis’ road back to the faith of his early years:

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.” (My emphasis).

Here is part of Lewis’  reasoned decision to surrender to God; not yet, the Christian God.

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. Just how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? … Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning” (Mere Christianity, 45-46).

So far, Lewis is only a theist. This theism, however, is more than just the belief in a supernatural power controlling the world; this power is also personal, because an impersonal force , as far as definitions ago, does not have the foggiest “idea of justice” (Lewis above). 

Compare Anthony Flew, who at the time of his conversion to theism, was the world’s most celebrated and “cerebrated” atheist.” Here is an excerpt from the obiturary column of the Daily Telegraph:

After months of soul-searching, Flew concluded that research into DNA had “shown, by the unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved”. Moreover, though he accepted Darwinian evolution, he felt that it could not explain the beginnings of life. ‘I have been persuaded that it is simply out of the question that the first living matter evolved out of dead matter and then developed into an extraordinarily complicated creature,’ he said.”

Flew went on to make a video of his conversion entitled Has Science Discovered God? and seemed to want to atone for past errors: ‘As people have certainly been influenced by me, I want to try and correct the enormous damage I may have done,’ he said.”

So far, we have two celebrated cerebral atheists whose intellect compelled them to accept the existence of a creator of the universe. In Flew’s case, we’re not sure whether his belief in a supernatural creative force went further than deism, where the creator kick-starts the universe into being with all its constants in place, and then leaves it to its own fine-tuned devices. 

Flew’s obituary continues:

But believers waiting to welcome this most prodigal of sons back into the fold were to be disappointed. Flew’s conversion did not embrace such concepts as Heaven, good and evil or the afterlife – let alone divine intervention in human affairs. His God was strictly minimalist – very different from “the monstrous oriental despots of the religions of Christianity and Islam”, as he liked to call them. God may have called his creation into existence, then, but why did he bother? To that question, it seemed, Flew had no answer.”

In Flew, we have a“God (who) calls his creation into existence,” and then flies off. And that’s why Flew is, indeed, a deist. But why then, as the Telegraph asks, did Flew bother (changing his fine atheistic tune)? What difference did this knowledge make to his “enormously damaging” (Flew above) life, for surely a belief in a deistic god didn’t add an inch to Flew’s moral stature, which he was so concerned about.

Lewis, in contrast, moved beyond theism/deism to a belief in a personal God. Here is Lewis (in a radio interview), The question of God: C.S. Lewis: A Leap in the Dark:

The fox had now been dislodged from the wood and was running in the open, bedraggled and weary, the hounds barely a field behind. The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears to be a moment of wholly free choice. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words, and almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay.”

I felt myself being given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open. I felt as if I were a man of snow at long last beginning to melt. Drip-drip. And presently trickle-trickle. I had always wanted, above all things, not to be interfered with. I had wanted — mad wish — to call my soul my own. I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight. You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet.”

Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded. I gave in, and admitted that God was God … perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Wait a minute. An “absolute leap into the dark?” (Not about faith in Christ, mind you, but about faith in a personal supernatural being). What then do we make of Robert Stewart’s (see first paragraph):

The road back to faith was cluttered with obstacles Lewis once thought impossible to overcome. His conversion to a robust Christianity required years of intellectual struggle and came only after being convinced that faith was reasonable.”

There is, granted, no contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap; but there certainly is a contradiction between intellectual conviction and a subsequent leap in the dark. Whatever way they believed they arrived at theism/deism, the determining factor for both these humanists was their freedom to believe. Whether one is forcefully persuaded, as in Flew or “gives in” as in Lewis, they both, in Lewis’ words, were “given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut. I chose to open.”

Brothers Lewis and Lazarus have been dead and buried for four days, and stinketh by now. Jesus says “Lazarus and Lewis come forth!” Lazarus exercises his atrophied muscles, rolls off the slab, staggers erect and stumbles out the entrance of the opened tomb. Lewis exercises his free choice to rise from the dead, get off the slab and move to the closed door. But look, the door is already open. I could’ve done that myself, says Lewis, but thanks for the gracious help.

As Lewis didn’t believe in the inerrancy of scripture, it would have been hard for me to appeal to what Jesus says in John 6:44:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Like a good Arminian, he believes that Jesus is knocking at the door of his will, and pleading: “Let me in, let me in, please; and if you don’t, it’s curtains – for me.” What does John 6:44 really mean? It means that God enables a sinner to come to him., which does not mean come as far as the moment of decision (shall I or shan’t I believe). No, “coming”means “believing,” And we need his grace to come to Him; that is indisputable.

A major reason why many hate the doctrine of radical corruption – there’s a flower growing out of the navel of Lazarus’ and Clive Staples’ soul – is because “dead in sin” (Ephesians 2:1-3) implies that a person plays absolutely no part in his salvation, for the obvious reason that the dead can do nothing, not even play a part. Lewis believed and taught that he came to Christ because he wanted to.  But here is the problem, as Charles Spurgeon explains:

The question is, are men ever found naturally willing to submit to the humbling terms of the gospel of Christ? We declare, upon Scriptural authority, that the human will is so desperately set on mischief, so depraved, and so inclined to everything that is evil, and so disinclined to everything that is good, that without the powerful, supernatural, irresistible influence of the Holy Spirit, no human will ever be constrained towards Christ. You reply, that men sometimes are willing, without the help of the Holy Spirit. I answer-Did you ever meet with any person who was? Scores and hundreds, nay, thousands of Christians have I conversed with, of different opinions, young and old, but it has never been my lot to meet with one who could affirm that he came to Christ of himself, without being drawn. The universal confession of all true believers is this-”I know that unless Jesus Christ had sought me when a stranger wandering from the fold of God, I would to this very hour have been wandering far from him, at a distance from him, and loving that distance well.” With common consent, all believers affirm the truth, that men will not come to Christ till the Father who hath sent Christ doth draw them.”(End of Spurgeon).

In conclusion, Anthony Flew shocked and shook the atheist world because he believed in a prime mover. No one was moved; least of all, perhaps, Flew. But as the Telegraph pointed out, why did he bother? It didn’t change anything for him. And Lewis, caught between the intellectual rock and leaping-off place, opened the door. Both could say “I did it my way.” Flew’s way was to follow the evidence where it leads – which led – ultimately- nowhere. Lewis’ way was “I will to ‘let God be God,’” and willed himself into (a version of) Christianity to boot, a Christianity that undermined the central doctrine of the atonement: the  propitiatory sacrifice of Christ. (See Myths, facts and blood sacrifice: CS Lewis at his best and worst).

In the trade: The songs Arminians – and Calminians – love to sing

 

 

 

 

In You have won my heart, now I can trade my ashes in for beauty: How one does not come to faith in Christ, I examined the song, “At the foot of the cross.” I examine more closely the lines “You have won my heart” and “Now I can trade these ashes in for beauty,” and show how it exemplifies the Arminian/synergistic view of justification (obtaining a right standing before God).

 

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith (monergism; mono “alone,” ergos “work”), while the Arminian says that man cooperates (synergism; syn “together,” ergos “work”) with God in that he is ultimately justified (made right with God) only when he turns to God, that is, wills to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates (born again) the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation.(See Calvinism and Arminianism).

 

A “Calminian” is someone who loves the story about the arch of heaven. As the believer approaches, he sees written above the arch, “All are welcome.” He passes through the arch into heaven. He turns around to wave farewell to the sorry stubborn lot who preferred to stay outside, and sees written above the inside of the arch “predestination.” Happy reconciliation.

 

I was in correspondence with a music leader of a church. With his permission, here is the conversation. He initially appears in agreement with my critique of the view I expressed in “At the foot of the cross.”

 

Music leader

 

“So many of the really good songs with good messages still have some dodgy words in them, even some of the hymns. Most modern song writers are not theologians and often words are chosen to fit the rhyme or the flow of the music (one of the reasons I still really love hymns). So do we go with the overarching message of a song and allow for poetic license or do we chuck it out because of a questionable word? I would say that if the incorrect word or words are clearly pointing at incorrect doctrine, chuck it out.” He then begins to tweak his tune and seems to repenting 180 degrees: “Can ‘you’ve won my heart” be interpreted any other way than “I’m giving Him my heart because I’m so impressed?’”

 

“When I was preparing for Ash Wednesday I came upon this verse in Isaiah  “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.” (Isa 61:3  KJV). It’s within the context of the passage that Jesus quoted and proclaimed Himself to be the fulfillment of Luke 4:18-21.” “I will give the benefit of the doubt to the possibility that the author of our communion song is referencing to this verse (Isaiah 61:3 previous paragraph), which would mean that her use of the word “trade” is simply alluding to an exchange of one thing for another and not a commercial transaction. I would then go back to my original interpretation of the words “…you have won my heart…”, as referring to Christ winning over sin and death, beating sin and rescuing me from death and not me giving my heart to Him as a prize since He is to be glorified because it was all His work.”

 

Me

 

“If it is understood that only after Jesus takes the heart of stone out of us and replaces it with a new one (like His), and in so doing makes us free to choose him (we choose Him because He first chose us), then “you’ve won my heart” does seem to be acceptable. But, unfortunately it is not understood that way (by the song writers as well as by most who sing it), which is proven by another line in the song (much worse), ‘I have traded…..'”

 

“Theology is nothing more than how we think about scripture. Poetic “license” in how we right our songs has to e faith to the scripture meaning. To play safe, why don’t we just use scripture for our lyrics, because scripture is always right. There are already thousands of beautiful songs that have scripture lyrics. It’s a great eye-opener scrutinising all the fluff on the buff of many of songs of “worship.” Makes one feel like a peeping tom.”

 

End of conversation.

 

The music leader conveys the impression that he has found a solution to what he considers a misunderstanding, and that when seen it the right light, “trade” may not be so bad after all.

 

A few more comments.

 

He is finding it hard to shuck off his Arminian coil, even though he had told me previously that he believes the monergistic doctrine that only after you are born again do you come to believe. The Arminian/synergistic view is (first you make a decision to have) faith then comes regeneration, which flies in the face of Ehesians 2: 1-10:

 

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.But3 God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this (refers to the whole previous chunk, namely, “by grace you have been saved through faith) is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (My italics and emphasis).

 

“Dead,” in verse one; is that, I ask, merely “poetic license?” If so, the sinner cannot really be (spiritually) dead but still has enough life in him to blink or wave his limp poetic pinky, which is all that God, philosophy and poetics require for the sinner to retain the imaginary dignity of his free will. Is any “trade-off” possible between “really” dead and “poetically” dead? To answer that question, let’s return to the Arminian “trade.”

 

trade

 

1. the act or process of buying, selling, or exchanging commodities, at either wholesale or retail, within a country or between countries: domestic trade; foreign trade. 2. a purchase or sale; business deal or transaction. 3. an exchange of items, usually without payment of money.

 

The songwriter obviously has basic interpersonal communicative English skills, and thus should know what “trade” means. If so, how to explain the use of this inappropriate term in the song? It’s pretty obvious; she thinks like an Arminian and, being consistent, writes songs like an Arminian. I suggest she knew exactly what she was conveying, namely, an exchange effected ultimately by herself (God has voted for you, the devil against you, and you have the final vote).  What, though, does the Bible say? God didn’t traded anything, neither did (could) I. This, however, does not mean that I did not accept Jesus, but merely  that I did so only after God raised me from the dead and made me free to do so. The Arminian position is “God I accept your offer.”

 

On the monergistic view, therefore, there is everything wrong with “I traded.” Keep in mind that we are talking about justification (our “standing” before God), which is conditional on regeneration, faith, and repentance, in that logical order (which occur simultaneously). The dead “I” cannot be involved because it is unable to lift a darning finger or to reverse the lethal damage of the Fall. And this reversal is what justification is all about (as Martyn Lloyd Jones makes so clear in his teaching on Ephesians). Nor can there be any trade – a cooperative transaction. Justification is a unilateral divine sovereign act of love; a pure gift; like winning a lottery, but only better, because it’s rigged for you to win – big time. Also, you don’t need to buy a ticket, and more; your prize is far greater than your money or your life –

 

Or my wife. (“I’ll see you afterwards!”).

 

 

 

You have won my heart, now I can trade my ashes in for beauty: How one does not come to faith in Christ

The song “Draw me close to you” makes congregations warble and swoon. It moves for two reasons: first, it gets to the emotions, and second, it moves away – very far away from the Gospel, indeed, in the opposite direction to the Gospel (Good News). One of the lines says, “I’ll lay it all down again to hear You say that I’m Your friend.” Lay what down, I ask? What did you lay down the first time? The only thing you can ever lay down – if you are a true believer – is your sinful nature. And you didn’t even lay that down. Christ took your sinful nature on him and exchanged it for His righteousness. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). (See “Draw me close to you. But what’s with ‘I’ll lay it all down again?'”

Another song ( with great music and voice, sung by Kathryn Scott) is “At the foot of the cross.” Here is the first verse:

At the foot of the cross

Where grace and suffering meet

You have shown me Your love

Through the judgment You received

And You’ve won my heart

And You’ve won my heart

The first four lines are a magnificent summary of the Gospel. But then the next line goes and spoils it all. What does it mean for Jesus to win my heart other than that the end result is that I give my heart to Jesus, that – in the context of the preceding lines – he has earned my love through suffering the judgment that I deserved. Absolutely right, Jesus did suffer the judgment I deserved by (to return to the previous song) laying it – his life – down for me. But, as in the previous song, I didn’t, I was totally unable, to give my heart to Jesus, for how can a dead (in sin) heart even emit the tiniest flutter. It is at this point in the song that the profound truth of the propitiary (no, not merely expiatory) sacrifice descends into the murky waters of Arminianism. Yes, of course, I accepted Jesus – and willingly, but only after he made me free (alive) to do so (Ephesians 2:1-10). And those he makes free are free indeed. “Indeed” means nothing less that certain eternal life.

The first chorus line, which immediately follows the double trouble “You’ve won my heart” reinforces the idea that Jesus earns/deserves my heart.

Chorus

Now I can trade these ashes in for beauty,

And wear forgiveness like a crown,

Coming to kiss the feet of mercy,

I lay every burden down,

At the foot of the cross.

Can I “now” trade my sins for His righteousness (beauty)? Do I have the permission or the power to make this transaction? God forbid. Faith is a gift from God. In other words faith is free (gratis, grace). We’re not talking here about a transaction between two (equal) parties – I give Jesus (a teeny) something (say a wink of acceptance), and Jesus gives me (a gigantic) something (salvation). In reality, I had nothing to give, and everything to take; and even the taking required the divine quickening of my dead arm to enable me to reach out to receive the gift. How you come to faith determines everything else about your Christian life, including the songs you sing. Keep ’em peeled.

“Your question is awaiting conflagration” (Wintery Knight)

Being a dutiful Jewish Calvinist (do you have any such friends?), I posted a question on Wintery Knight’s blog regarding the debate between Michael Brown, a Jewish Arminian, and James White, a non-Jewish Calvinist. Wintery does NOT- as is the situation with most professing
Christians – believe that a person is so dead (in sin) that he is unable to choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Here is my comment to Wintery:

“Hi Wintery, Your position seems to be that there is something inherent in people that (inwardly) determines their acceptance of Christ. Is that correct?”

As many others have found with Wintery Knight’s “awaiting moderation,” my comment ended up in the fiery moat.

If you’re an Arminian (man chooses Christ, Christ doesn’t choose man), you will probably never say openly – or even dare to think – that you deserve to go to Heaven, but instead you will push grace to the fore- “it’s all about grace” you might say. The thing is this: for Wintery Knight, his eternal destiny depends on himself because the Arminian position is that God offers saving grace to all but only some are willing (good enough) to choose eternal life. It follows that there must be something in Wintery that is better than the person who does not choose Christ. Now, hardly any Arminian will deny that if you reject Christ, you deserve the terrible consequences. But ask him whether he is willing to apply the same logic to himself who has chosen Christ.

Calvinist (Jewish): You say you chose Christ. So do you deserve to go to Heaven, then?
Wintery Knight: Your question is awaiting conflagration.

Salvation and the creaturely corridors of time

Is it something (good) in the believer that counsels God to favour his chosen (Jews and Gentiles)? Not at all; “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; but because the LORD loved you” (Deuteronomy 7:7,8).

“And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” (Exodus 33:19). Indeed, “the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger: as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” Romans 9:11-13.

Jew and Gentiles who come to believe in the Son of God, Jesus the Christ, come because they are “predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11).

“He declareth the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10).

God doesn’t look down the corridors of time to learn which sinners will choose to believe in Him, and on that basis elects those who will be saved. There are many verses in the Bible (I quoted a few above) that should put that dead idea to bed for good.

Furthermore, God knows everything from the beginning , from eternity in fact. God, therefore, doesn’t learn anything, and certainly nothing from his creation of which the two primeval creatures are (the corridors of) time and space. So God doesn’t look down any corridors of time to see any who are righteous enough to deserve to be elected to eternal life – and on the basis of what He learns decides on a plan of salvation.

7 He hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
8 Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God; 9 Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Timothy 1:7-9).

The gift of a sound mind comprehends the understanding that God calls and saves according to his own eternal purpose and grace.

John Owen on Arminianism and the idol of “free” will

In Chapter 4 of a “A Display of Arminianism,” John Owen discusses “The providence of God in governing the world diversely, thrust from this pre-eminence by the Armininian idol of free will. Owen writes:

“That God by his providence governeth and disposeth of all things by him created is sufficiently proved; the manner how he worketh all in all, how he ordereth the works of his own hands, in what this governing and disposing of his creatures doth chiefly consist, comes now to be considered. And here four things are principally to be observed: — First, The sustaining, preserving, and upholding of all things by his power; for “he upholdeth all things by the word of his power,” Hebrews 1:3.

“Secondly, His working together with all things, by an influence of causality into the agents themselves; “for he also hath wrought all our works in us,” Isaiah 26:12.

“Thirdly, His powerful overruling of all events, both necessary, free, and contingent, and disposing of them to certain ends for the manifestation of his glory. So Joseph tells his brethren, “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is at this day, to save much people alive,” Genesis 1:20.

“Fourthly, His determining and restraining second causes to such and such effects: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will,” Proverbs 21:1.

end of Owen

Now we can appreciate more fully what it means to “work out your salvation,” and to do it “in fear and trembling”:

“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. 13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).

Children of God should not tremble out of fear of not coming out on the right side of the balance sheet of works. Rather, they should tremble at the astounding thought that their bodies are the temple of God. In the Christian view, this does not mean – as in Eastern, Gnostic and Kabbalistic thought – that the soul is a piece of God, but rather that God comes to dwell in the soul.

“That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; 17 That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:16-19).

When Voluntary is not free? Faith and Will in salvation

What is freedom? Is there a distinction between a “voluntary” action and a free action? I examine these questions in the light of how one comes to faith.

At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Erasmus wrote his “On the Freedom of the will” (1524) where he defines free will as “a power of the human will by which a man can apply himself to the things which lead to eternal salvation or turn away from them.” Erasmus, like a good Arminian, says that this does not mean that man contributes to his salvation but merely cooperates with God in salvation, which an Arminian, like the Calvinist, would say is 100% of the Lord. In response to Erasmus, Luther wrote “The Bondage of the will (1525), which was later accepted by all the main Protestant reformers such as Calvin and Zwingli. Calvin stands out among the reformers.

Calvinism for the average person as well as for the average Arminian is this: “Calvinism designs men to perdition no matter what they do” (Cornelius Van Til, “An introduction to Systematic Theology, ed. William Edgar, P&R Publishing, Second Edition, p. 294).

With regard to the terms “cooperation” and “contribution,” the Calvinist goes further than the Arminian by stating that man does not even cooperate with God in salvation. In other words, the Arminian holds a synergistic (cooperation) view of salvation, while the Calvinist holds a monergistic (God does it all) view of salvation. In both Arminianism and Calvinism, though, the believer responds to God’s call. The difference between the Arminianism and Calvinist response is that in the former the response is the cause of regeneration (being born again, “made alive”), whereas in Calvinism the response is the effect of regeneration.

We “were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—  and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:3-5). (See the Arminian claim that it is not synergistic).

From the Calvinist perspective, the best treatise on the will is Jonathan Edwards’ “Freedom of the will,” which can be summed up in Edwards’ words, “we are free to choose that which we most desire.” His argument is this:

The natural man is dead to the commandments of God, and thus dead in sin. Human beings are “by nature in a state of total ruin, both with respect to the moral evil of which they are the subjects, and the afflictive evil to which they are exposed, the one as the consequence and punishment of the other.” (Jonathan Edwards, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, in Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 10th ed., 2 vols. (Edinburgh/Carlisle, Penn: Banner of Truth, 1979, 1:1).

So, from the biblical view, sin is man’s best friend, while freedom is his greatest enemy. The will is mistakenly taken to be a thing – a faculty – like the mind. In fact, the will is not a noun but a verb; the will is “the mind choosing” (Edwards).

“The human will is not free” means that it’s freedom is determined by the heart’s desire to do what it wants, which is not to obey God. Most professing Christians believe that they cooperate with God in their salvation. Jesus is standing outside, knocking at the door of whosoever’s heart offering salvation, where the handle is on the inside of the door.

  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

Yes, says John Stott, Jesus Christ says he is standing at the door of our lives, waiting.” (Stott is talking to the unsaved, those who are dead in sin – Ephesians 2:1-10). Stott continues, “He (Christ) is the landlord; he bought it with his life-blood. He could command us to open to Him; instead, he merely invites us to do so. He will not force and entry into anybody’s life. He says (verse 18) ‘I counsel you.’ he could issue orders; he is content to give advice. Such are his condescension and humility, and the freedom he has given us” (John Stott, “Basic Christianity,” Intervarsity Press, 1958, p. 124).

According to Stott’s Arminian view, the sinner is free to choose reconciliation/salvation or remain unreconciled to God. The Calvinist view, which is the same as that of the original Anglican Westminster Confession, is that man is not free to choose salvation, or anything “good.” The reason is NOT that he is a robot, but that he is dead to the good; his heart’s desire is to do his own will, that is, to choose only what is not good, where “good” is what God wills. According to the Calvinist view, man does what he wants; he follows the desire of his heart. Owing to the fact that man is unable to choose good he is not free to choose good.

An important point: both the Arminian and the Calvinist agree that the will is not autonomous (neutral). In other words, what the heart chooses (dictates!), it will necessarily do. The process of choosing may involve deciding which of two or more options is the best, but whatever the number of options, it is the mind/heart that inwardly determines the option finally chosen. None of these options, of course, involve moving towards Christ. John Gerstner explains:

“Your choices as a rational person are always based on various considerations or motives that are before you at the time. Those motives have a certain weight with you, and the motives for and against reading a book, for example, are weighed in the balance of your mind; the motives that outweigh all others are what you, indeed, choose to follow. You, being a rational person, will always choose what seems to you to be the right thing, the wise thing, the most advisable thing to do. If you choose not to do the right thing, the advisable thing, the thing that you are inclined to do, you would, of course, be insane. You would be choosing something that you did not choose. You would find something preferable that you did not prefer. But you, being a rational and sane person choose something because it seems to you the right, proper, good, advantageous thing to do.”

(John H. Gerstner, A Primer on Free Will (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1982, p.4-5). (See  W. Tullian Tchividjianan Jonathan Edwards’ “Freedom of the will”).

If you asked an unregenerate person whether his heart forced him to choose something, he’ll look at you funny. In his book, not the Bible, of course – the unregenerate actions are voluntary. So, if you tell him he’s a robot for allowing his mind/heart to “force” itself on his will, you could end up on the floor.

In sum, the heart dictates (internally determines) a person to reject God (good), and so the person does so voluntarily. Owing to the fact that a person is unable – he thinks, of course, he’s free – to choose God/Christ, he is not really free, for only those who are free are able to choose between good and evil. As Paul Helm puts it:

Normal human activity is not forced or coerced; insofar as it proceeds from fallen human nature it is not free because a person with a fallen nature does not have the power to choose what is good. Nonetheless, where a person is not forced, but makes a contribution to his action, and is not acting out of ignorance, he is acting voluntarily, and is responsible for what he does.”

The Calvinst’s view of Augustine of Hippo  is that he was a monergist, whereas the Roman Catholic view of Augustine was that he was a synergist. The following from Augustine shows clearly that he was a monergist:

”It is not enough simply to have choice of will, which is freely turned in this direction and that, and belongs among those natural gifts which a bad person may use badly. We must also have a good will, which belongs among those gifts which it is impossible to use badly. This impossibility is given to us by God; otherwise I do not know how to defend what Scripture says: ‘What do you have that you did not receive?’ (1 Cor.4:7) For if God gives us a free will, which may still be either good or bad, but a good will comes from ourselves, then what comes from ourselves is better than what comes from God! But it is the height of absurdity to say this. So the Pelagians ought to acknowledge that we obtain from God even a good will.”

”It would indeed be a strange thing if the will could stand in some no-man’s-land, where it was neither good nor bad. For we either love righteousness, and this is good; and if we love it more, this is better. If we love it less, this is less good; or if we do not love righteousness at all, it is not good. And who can hesitate to affirm that, when the will does not love righteousness in any way at all, it is not only a bad will, but even a totally depraved will? Since therefore the will is either good or bad, and since of course we do not derive the bad will from God, it remains that we derive from God a good will. Otherwise, since our justification proceeds from a good will, I do not know what other gift of God we ought to rejoice in. That, I suppose, is why it is written, ‘The will is prepared by the Lord’ (Prov.8:35, Septuagint). And in the Psalms, ‘The steps of a man will be rightly ordered by the Lord, and His way will be the choice of his will’ (Ps.37:23). And what the apostle says, ‘For it is God Who works in you both to will and to do of His own good pleasure’ (Phil.2:13).”

(Augustine – On the Merits and Forgiveness of Sins, 2:30),

Now, if someone (non-“Reformed”, naturally) asks me: What about, “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live?” Deuteronomy, 30:19)?, I shall ask: just because God commands doesn’t mean that we are able to do so? What, God commands what we are unable to do! Yes. How else is He going to convey his commands to his elect?

Furthermore, “I can only ‘run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!’” (Psalm 119:32).

When the Bible says that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9),  “[w]e are to understand by this that the whole of the work whereby men are saved from their natural estate of sin and ruin, and are translated into the kingdom of God and made heirs of eternal happiness, is of God, and of him only. “Salvation is of the Lord.” (Charles Spurgeon)

 


Normal human activity is not forced or coerced; insofar as it proceeds from fallen human nature it is not free because a person with a fallen nature does not have the power to choose what is good. Nonetheless, where a person is not forced, but makes a contribution to his action, and is not acting out of ignorance, he is acting voluntarily, and is responsible for what he does.”

Analysis of the Modern Evangelical Mind and the Lost Art of Boxing

Before I begin my mind-walk, let me say something briefly about the knotty term “evangelical.”

David Bebbington in his “Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s” mentions four key marks of “evangelicalism”: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism (the cross) and activism (activity).” (See review of Bebbington and Al Mohler’s “Thinking in Public: in conversation with David Bebbington). Bebbington lumps the Puritans together with Arminians (e.g. Methodists) where he gives more weight to Wesleyan Methodism than to the Puritans (Calvinists). When I refer to the “modern evangelical” mind, I am referring to the Arminian evangelical who thinks that thinking about Jesus can get in the way of believing in Jesus. I now examine one of these “modern evangelical” minds.

Walking with Jesus, all Christians would agree, often involves talking to others about Jesus. Talking, naturally, involves thinking. The main operation of thought is categorising. Many modern evangelicals rebel against “boxing in” Jesus into categories. My aim in this post is to argue that “boxing in” and “boxing,” (categorising) are not the same process.

To describe one’s beliefs, or anything, you have to use words, which is the usual human way of expressing thoughts. Some words are more important than others. These are called “key” words. Problems arise in communication because of contradictory definitions of these key words.

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Here is a typical comment I received from and evangelical Christian on one of my posts about Calvinism and Arminianism:

“Can I make a suggestion, because these terms – Calvinian, Arminian.. etc.. – have never occurred to me in my walk with our Lord, Jesus Christ – I don’t even know who Spurgeon is (and I’m sure many others can say the same) this kind of thing can just spread confusion with different followings. I’d suggest we continue to Humbly study the Word, and do what is commanded of us. That is to spread and teach the gospel; to continue to seek the Kingdom of God first; to ask Forgiveness and to repent of our sins… but all the time to remember that God sees and weighs up the heart – so whatever we do or say, may it be with an examined heart, or we could fall into a trap ourselves. Using terms like Arminian and Calvinism is putting people in boxes – this is the thing the world does. We don’t do this – because its putting man-made limits and assumptions up. I believe that God, in his sovereignty, does as He pleases. Has mercy on whom He pleases, gives understanding to whomever he wants at whatever time suits Him and his ultimate plan.”

“I think that some understanding and having our eyes opened brings us to the point where we can do nothing but be humbled, quietened, moved by our God. A seeing person can only be effected and touched by what he sees. Maybe its like a person who is slowly gaining strength back in his/her legs… he can do more and more each day that his strength is renewed. But, that person with the weak legs has to go to the doctor first to get worked on. Jesus Christ didn’t just go to people and spontaneously heal them. The people came to and called on Him. These man-made terms and translations mean nothing to me personally – I wont be put into a box. Its like the rest of the world.. if you’re like this, you’re Aries or a Dragon.. Fill in these questions that our Well Learned Psychologists have put together and we will tell you Who you are and What Category you fit into….. harumph! No thanx.”

The problem with this view is summed up in the writer’s last paragraph, specifically the misunderstanding of the term “category”:

“These man-made terms and translations mean nothing…I wont be put into a box… Fill in these questions that our Well Learned Psychologists have put together and we will tell you Who you are and What Category you fit into…” (My italics).

Categorizing is the mother of all mental processes. What do we do when we categorize? Here is a thesaurusful:

Words related to (that is, the semantic field of) Categorise

analyze, ascertain, distinguish, characterize, classify, collate, decide, demarcate, determine, diagnose, differentiate, discriminate, estimate, figure out, identify, judge, know, label, mark off, pinpoint, place, qualify, recognize, select, separate, set apart, set off, sift, single out, singularize, sort out, specify, spot, tag, tell apart.”

Now, obviously, the writer does not advocate that when we study the Bible or talk to others about it we should not differentiate, select, diagnose (something psychiatrists do very well), sift, and so on.

The writer says:
“I’d suggest we continue to Humbly study the Word, and do what is commanded of us. That is to spread and teach the gospel; to continue to seek the Kingdom of God first; to ask Forgiveness and to repent of our sins… but all the time to remember that God sees and weighs up the heart – so whatever we do or say, may it be with an examined heart, or we could fall into a trap ourselves.”

This is good advice. My question is: How is one going to teach the Gospel to enemies of the Gospel, which all human beings are in their natural state? The writer asks: “Why try to analyze it all? God is not subject to any laws or rules.”

I answer: the fact of the matter is that the writer and I understand a key doctrine of scripture in opposite ways, namely, I hold the Calvinist view that sinners play no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while she says that sinners cooperate with God by turning their hearts to God, that is, by striving (exerting their will, with help from God – “prevenient grace”) to come to faith. Her view is Arminianism. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something that God gives, as Calvinism understands it.

Obviously there is much sifting, demarcating, differentiating, categorising, analysing going on. In “Analysis,” we break things down, where we move down the ladder of abstraction from the general to the particular. Here is Hayakawa’s graphic explaining the ladder of abstraction. (S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, George Allen & Unwin, 2e edition (1973, London).

(See here for further clarification).

Here is an example from scripture. A large section of the New Testament deals with explaining what is meant by Jesus is the Son of God; for example, in John’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles. Paul spends much effort – mental, analytical effort – explaining what “Jesus the Son of God” means. Three thousand years ago, the psalmist asks:

[1] Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

[2] The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together,

against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,

[3] “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

[7] I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.”

Why do the unbelievers rage when they hear: “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” The reason, the Bible explains, is that their “hearts” are darkened. “Heart” in the Bible refers to man’s internal(ised) determination to disobey God, and what better way to do it, says the modern man, than to deny that God has a Son, or worse, God does not exist.

Now, a follower of Christ like the Apostle Paul or like many modern Christians will want to – indeed are commanded to – defend the truth that Jesus is the Son of God. To do that you’ll have to use your noggin and not your bottom – unless you’re sitting down. And that is where “analysis” is pretty useful.

Definition of analysis
1580s, “resolution of anything complex into simple elements” (opposite of synthesis), from M.L. analysis, from Gk. analysis “a breaking up, a loosening, releasing,” from analyein “unloose, release, set free; to loose a ship from its moorings,” in Aristotle, “to analyze,” from ana “up, throughout” (see ana-) + lysis “a loosening,” from lyein “to unfasten” (see lose). Psychological sense is from 1890.
(Synthesis, the opposite of Analysis, is putting things together).

Walking with Jesus will have to also involve thinking about Jesus and how to explain to non-believers how to think about Jesus and Jesus as the Son of God. To do so does not mean that you have to talk about ladders of abstraction and other such theoretical concepts. Nonetheless, when you do explain a biblical doctrine such as the divinity of Jesus, you are trawling – in your noggin – with Jesus up and down the mental ladder of abstraction. Theology, the science of God, is based on the same principles as Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction above. To return to “Jesus is the Son of God. In 1, Moving from the bottom up, we move from Jesus through Son to God. But it is not a simple as that, for in 2, we see that “Son” only applies to Jesus, and not to other sons; the Son is God and the Father is God.

My explanation is “analytical.” So walking with Jesus should also involve analysing Jesus (the concept) for ourselves and (unless we do it ourselves we can’t do it) to others. “Analyse” means use your reason to give reasons for the faith that you have received, and defend the body of teachings (doctrines) that pertain to this faith. The Bible is clear: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” ( 1 Peter 3:15). There are many examples of Jesus and Paul reasoning (analysing, and synthesising) with their listeners. One important topic in this regard was the authenticity of the historical events in the scriptures. Paul was a master “apologist” (defender) of the Gospel. “Apologetics” is a very important part of learning and teaching the faith.

Having established that we need categories to know how to “apologise” (defend) for our faith, that is, walk the walk with Jesus, I can safely say that we also need categories to establish how a person comes to Christ – the Arminian or the Calvinist way (or, what is very bothersome, the Calvinist-Arminian and the Arminian-Calvinist way) which is closely bound up with what is meant by the “Sovereignty of God.”

They (people who don’t read – books) say that books aren’t everything. But that does not mean that books are nothing. Similarly with the mind; “the mind isn’t everything” does not mean that the mind is nothing. Actually when it comes to living the Christian life, reading (and thinking that is required to read) are important. As is very clear from the scriptures, minds can be darkened by more than lack of information. For example, the Gospels are very clear that most, if not all, the disciples, were “slow of heart” to understand Jesus. Peter got it most in the neck from Jesus. Jesus kept on telling the disciples that he was to suffer, die and rise again, but they couldn’t take it in because they didn’t want to; they were not expecting a suffering Messiah but a victorious one.

Happy analysing, in other words, bottoms up.

(See A Jewish view of a French Bottom)

1S.I. Hayakawa, Language in Thought and Action, George Allen & Unwin, 2e edition (1973, London)

Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s

Calvinist Arminians and Arminian Calvinists

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no cooperative or contributive role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of salvation. Faith, for the Arminian is something the believer does, not something God gives, as Calvinism understands it. See John Wesley, Budding Calvinist, Naughty Arminian.

I use excerpts from Ephesians 2:1-10 to illustrate the contrast between Calvinism and Arminianism:

[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ… [8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…(Ephesians 2:8 ESV)(Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV).

Here is a table of the contrasting interpretations:

Ephesians 2 Arminianism Calvinism
[2:1] And you were dead in the trespasses and sins. …[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ Dead” does NOT mean that the mind/heart/will is so darkened that it has no desire to choose “good,” namely, the Good News (the Gospel).Made alive” means made our spirit alive, not our wills. Our wills were always intact, that is, the Fall didn’t affect our ability to choose God/Christ. Dead DOES mean that the mind/heart/will is so darkened that it has no desire to choose “good,” namely, the Good News (the Gospel)Made alive” means made our spirit alive, where “spirit” subsumes the will.
[8] For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, God’s shines enough light (prevenient grace – the offer of salvation) into a corner of our darkened mind/heart. We can choose to follow the source of that light or to retreat into another dark corner of our mind/heart. Faith means “follow.” We have faith in God’s offer, and in that act of faith we are saved through God’s “saving grace,” which is the grace that follows prevenient grace “Faith” is something we (our wills) do. The “this” in And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” refers only to grace, because “faith” is your own doing (willing); and thus NOT a gift of God.” The gift of God is salvation – if you exercise your faith God regerates/makes alive the dead soul; in other words, he shines His light into the darkened a soul/spirit. That is what it means to be born again. “Prevenient grace” is a figment to those who have been brought back from the dead. The grace that is involved in salvation is “venient” (it comes) at God’s convenient time, and is efficient and sufficient to save. In the Greek original, “this” is in the neuter form, which means that in “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,” the “this” refers to BOTH grace AND “faith.”

See John Owen for a comprehensive description of the differences between “Scripture” (Calvinism) and Arminianism.

In general, one usually can distinguish an Arminian from a Calvinist. Many people, however, exhibit a bit of both Arminianism and Calvinism, leaning more towards one or to the other to produce either an Arminian-Calvinist or a Calvinist-Arminian – sandwich.

In the Calvinist-Arminian sandwich, the bread is Calvinism, and the much more substantial tasty middle is Arminianism. In the Arminian-Calvinist sandwich, the bread is Arminianism, and the much more substantial and tasty middle is Calvinism. What I’d like to do is to describe an Calvinist-Arminian sandwich, not because it is to my taste, but because it may help someone think more about what he puts into the mouth of his mind. Here is a picture of a Calvinist-Arminian sandwich.

Over the years, I have taken up the habit of writing down the sermons I’ve listened to in the different churches I attended. I came across a series of sermons on the beatitudes. Throughout the series of sermons – sometimes within the same sermon – we find: bottom slice of bread (beginning of sermon)– Calvinism; filling (bulk of the sermon) – Arminianism; top slice of bread (end of sermon) – Calvinism (which is often a recap of the beginning of the sermon).

In his first sermon in the series, the preacher made the – very Calvinistic, and biblical, therefore useful – observation that the term “blessed” in the beatitudes does not mean that salvation is conditional on whether one is poor in spirit, or merciful or pure in heart. Blessed” in the beatitudes (the preacher acknowledges Spurgeon as the source) means “fortunate are the poor in spirit,” where the preacher stresses that those whom Christ has previously saved/regenerated have received His character (righteousness). To use our sandwich analogy, the preacher has placed the first Calvinist slice of bread on the plate of his sermon.

Let’s home in one on one of the sermons, which is on the sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8). In the beginning of this sermon, the preacher goes straight to the Arminian fillng, but that’s ok, because if his listeners were observant they would’ve noticed that in his first sermon of the series he had placed the bottom slice of bread on the plate (recall the discussion on “Fortunate are the poor in spirit” of Spurgeon mentioned above).

Here are a few layers of the Arminian topping in the preacher’s own words with my comments in brackets:

How are we to be saved from our sins?” The answer, said the preacher is “Matthew 5:8.”

What must I do to be saved? I must have a pure heart.”

(This is the opposite of what the preacher said at the beginning of the series, namely, salvation produces a pure heart – not fully pure, of course).

Only the pure in heart will be saved.”

(The cause and the effect is the reverse of what the Bible says. The biblical – Calvinst – position is that when God saves you, He gives you a new (pure) heart. Cause – salvation; effect – pure heart).

God is looking for people who are pure.”

(No; God is looking for sinners whom he wants to make pure through the new birth. That’s the Bible; that’s Calvinism).

Before you can see God, there has to be a total change.”

(The Calvinist agrees but insists that it is God who brings about the total change, not you. “Total” has two meanings: 1. born again and 2. growing in holiness, which follows after God had given you a new nature, that is, after He has given you a “totally” new nature).

This beatitude is the process of salvation.”

(As long as does not make this beatitude a condition for God regenerating you and ultimately being brought into his heavenly kingdom.The are four senses of salvation in the Greek text: you will be saved (will bee born again through grace and faith) you have been saved (born again), you are being saved (sanctification) you will be saved (heaven).

That’s the end of the Arminian topping. The preacher then tops up the sandwich with this Calvinist slice.

The Lord “opens our eyes” and “then gives us the pure heart of Christ.”

(The Lord “opens our eyes.” This is a reversal of the Arminian doctrine that a person’s eyes must be open, that is, he must be able to see/understand that God is making him an offer of salvation, and it is up to him – his open eyes – to accept the offer. I must add, though, that many Arminians believe, as do Calvinists, in the doctrine of “total depravity” (radical corruption), which means that man needs God’s grace to enable him to come to Him (to believe in Him). The difference between the Arminian and the Calvinist is that the former believes in prevenient (“comes before” making a free choice) grace whereas the latter asserts that there is no such idea in the Bible.The Arminian’s prevenient grace is the grace that lifts man’s corrupt will to a neutral state, which enables him to decide whether He wants Christ to “quicken” him (make him alive) or prefers to remain dead (see Ephesians 2:1-10) to Christ.

Recall also that the preacher said previously “Only the pure in heart will be saved.” and “God is looking for people who are pure,” which is pure Arminianism. Having said that, it is indeed biblical that God opens our eyes and gives us the pure heart of Christ, but I don’t think there is a chronological sequence (as in “then gives us”). The two acts of God are simultaneous. Here is another example of this simultaneity:

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).

Towards the end of the sermon, the preacher describes the five marks of a pure heart:

  1. Hunger for greater holiness.
  2. Sincerity.
  3. Hatred of sin.
  4. Love of others.
  5. Increased desire to know the Lord.

Arminians and Calvinists agree on that.

The sermon ends with Psalm 51:1 “Create in me a clean heart…”

From a Calvinist view, if one asks God to create in you a clean heart, he has already done it. What you should be asking God, if one understands that salvation is 100% of the Lord (that is, there is no human cooperation, no human contribution to your salvation) is: “Create in me a purer heart/increase the purity of the pure heart you have given me at the new birth.”

After the sermon I asked one of the church members which of these was the sermon about?

  1. If you have a pure heart you will be saved.
  2. If you are saved, God will give you a pure heart.

He said 1.

In this final section, I want to show that the Calvinist-Arminian preacher (whose stronger inclination, as I have described, is Arminianism) is in good company. Many, including myself, struggle with the difficulty of reconciling God’s predestination of His elect with man’s will. A prime example of this conflict is the “naughty Arminian,” John Wesley (see below). Another example is the naughty Calvinist, J.I Packer.

In his lecture series “The attributes of God,” J.I. Packer, in several places refers approvingly to C.S. Lewis’ theology. For example, in his “Immutibility and Impassibility” (21 minutes into the lecture), Packer refers to Lewis’ view of the reason why God rejects those who spurn Him, which, Packer says, is also what the Bible says in many places. Lewis’ view (in Packer’s words) is this: “God’s rejection of sinners is simply His ratifying their prior rejection of Him…Lewis went on to say that such rejection is God’s last act of respect to the self-determining free agency, Lewis says simply ‘free will,’ of the human creatures that He makes.”

Lewis is the perfect English gentleman: “God’s last act of respect to the self-determining free agency – man’s ‘free will'” I can’t see, however, where God’s “last act of respect” to man’s “free wil”l is – or can be inferred from – the Bible.

I wrote elsewhere that John Wesley’s Calvinist leanings threatened to turn him into “naughty Arminian.” Well, Packer’s commendation of Lewis’ Arminian view that God respects man’s “free will” – where the implication is that man is free to choose God or reject Him – makes Packer, who says he is a Calvinist, a naughty Calvinist, because in Calvinism man’s will is inwardly determined by his own radically corrupt heart, which is to reject God. The biblical reason why man isn’t a robot is not because he is able to choose God in his natural state; the reason is that man’s will is in bondage to his own heart. He, of course, thinks his will is autonomous (neutral) because he is following his own independent inner determinations, which are to reject God (the God of the Bible). Notice that Lewis doesn’t seem to believe in prevenient grace, that is, he believes that the Fall didn’t affect man’s will, and so, it has retained its neutral (autonomous) quality. That puts Lewis closer to Pelagianism than Arminianism, where the latter believes that man’s will is corrupt and needs Gods (prevenient) grace to bring it back to the neutral (autonomous) position.

Many are confused about Packer’s “Calvinism. Here is an example:

“I am a bit confused. I respect J.I. Packer immensely. He states he is a Calvinist, but also says he believes what CS Lewis has stated about life being a series of choices which either lead us to Christ or away from Christ; that each of us by our own actions either chooses what we know to be right or choose what seems to benefit us in the moment. When asked if each person controls their own destiny he answers “I think it is a true statement, but we don’t always know what we are choosing.” (from the youtube video:Does Each Person Choose Their Own Destiny? J.I. Packer ) This seems to line up better with Arminian thought. Could someone please explain.”

So, is Packer a Calvinist Arminian or an Arminian Calvinist. From what I know of Packer, I’d give him the benefit of the doubt and say he’s a kosherish Calvinist sandwiched between two slices of Arminian bread – he’s an Arminian Calvinist.


A Calvinist Jew’s gratitude to Gentle James White

Who of all the Reformed Christians (Calvinists) on the internet is the most vilified and despised? That’s easy. James White.

James (I’ve already revealed my bias by dropping the “White”), besides many of his other activities, presents a weekly chat show “The Dividing Line” (Aomin.org under “Blog Articles). Each broadcast begins with the following admonition from the Apostle Peter to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (respect)” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Sometimes James’ humour – on the dividing line – may appear to contradict the Apostle Peter’s admonition to “do it with gentleness and reverence,” but I don’t think this is so. In general there is no doubt that no matter how strong James’ criticisms, they are done with gentleness and respect. Besides “The Dividing Line” (DL) is a different kettle of fish to his sermons and debates, where the former (DL) is less formal than the other two. For example, James would spend less time in a sermon or a debate telling us about his incredibly flashy ties and shoes, and his bicycle rides, without which all the other deep stuff on DL would be, if not spare, unconsummated.

The term “criticism,” like so many other terms – such as “argument” – has the social meaning of “saying nasty things” as well as the formal meaning of “critiquing,” that is, presenting an “argument” (a reasoned presentation of ideas). In my book, James is one of the best defenders of biblical truth. The main thing people (naturally) hate about James – and about all “Calvinists”-  is his view that man plays absolutely no part in his salvation.

Here is some of what James showed me so clearly about the sovereignty of God in salvation, which I express in my  own “boggy” way (my blog user name is “Bography”).

Consider John 6:44 “No one can (has the ability, the power to – Greek  “dynamai”) come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

So, if you are drawn, you will logically come. And if you come, you will logically be raised up. In other words, if the Father “draws” – Greek “drags” (helko) not “woos” you – you will (logically and futuristically) be raised up. There nothing in John 6:44 about God only raising up a sinner IF he uses his “ability” to choose to come.

In John 12:32 Jesus says “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will drawall people to myself.”

“All” must mean “all kinds of people,” as only those who are drawn will come to believe, because as John 6:44 says, all (those) that God draws will be raised up on the last day. “So, if you are drawn, you will logically come. And if you come, you will logically be raised up. In other words, if the Father “draws”  – Greek “drags” (helko) not “woos” you – you will (logically and futuristically) be raised up.”

The “dragging” is not of someone bursting all over with autonomy, screaming all the way to salvation: “No, no, I don’t want to be saved. I hate you God. Stick to your Sovereign bargain of keeping my autonomous will intact after death came into the world. I want nothing of this hellish “helko” stuff.

What in reality does God’s “dragging” of the sinner to himself entail; what is this biblical “dragging?” It’s this:

You’re drowning in a bog. No, it’s more radical than drowning – you’re drowned. The Father, in his mercy, dredges (drags) you up out of the mud, and breathes new life into you, not only a restored life, but a life of a completely different kind. In your boggy (sinful, spiritually dead) state, you, of course, won’t be scratching and screaming for your Father – yes, your Father, because if He is dragging you out of the mud, He has already become your Father – to take his predestinating prehensile hands off you. Instead, what will you be doing? Rejoicing, because you were dead and now you’re alive, you were locked into your desires (freely following your heart), and now you’ve been released into the real meaning of the love of God.

No one was more wretched than a Calvinist; that is why when he sings “Amazing Grace” for saving “a wretch like me,” what is more amazing than God saving me with nothing in me having anything to do with it? Thank God for giving me no say in the matter.

Joe Rutherford asks: “Are people in hell just randomly chosen to suffer the wrath of God forever, or is there a valid reason for their punishment?”

No, people are not randomly chosen to suffer in hell. God’s reasoning, as you know, is perfect. Everyone deserves hell,  but God has mercy on those (whosoever) He wants to have mercy. Why God has mercy only on the ones  He has chosen, and not on everyone is hidden in God’s secret decrees. It’s all in Romans 9, which is not only about Jews (like moi) but about everyone.

The Christian Science Monitor carries an article about the “surprising comeback (of Calvinist theology, which is) challenging the me-centered prosperity gospel of much of modern evangelicalism with a God-first immersion in Scripture. In an age of materialism and made-to-order Calvinism’s unmalleable doctrines and view of God as an all-powerful potentate who decides everything is winning over many Christians – especially the young.”

I pray that James will continue for many more years to hammer home the “unmalleable doctrines” so lacking in modern Christianity.

Who of all the Reformed Christians (Calvinists) on the internet is the most vilified and despised? That’s easy. James White.

James (I’ve already revealed my bias by dropping the “White”), besides many of his other activities, presents a weekly chat show “The Dividing Line.” Each broadcast begins with the following admonition from the Apostle Peter to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence (respect)” (1 Peter 3:15 ESV).

Sometimes James humour – on the dividing line – may appear to contradict the Apostle Peter’s “do it with gentleness and reverence,” but I don’t think this is so. In general there is no doubt that no matter how strong his criticisms, they are done with gentleness and respect. Besides “The Dividing Line” (DL) is a different format to a sermon or a debate, where it (DL) is less formal than the other two. For example, James would spend less time in a sermon or a debate telling us about his incredible ties and shoes, and his bicycle rides, without which all deep stuff on DL would be, if not naked, unconsummated.

The term “criticism,” like so many other terms – such as “argument” – has the social meaning of “saying nasty things” as well as the formal meaning of “critiquing,” that is, presenting a “argument” (a reasoned presentation of ideas). In my book, James is one of the best defenders of biblical truth. The main thing people hate about him – and all “Calvinists” is, naturally, his view that man plays absolutely no part in his salvation.

Here is what James showed me so clearly about the sovereignty of God in salvation. Consider John 6:44 “No one can (has the ability, the power to – Greek  “dynamai”) come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

So, if you are drawn, you will logically come. And if you come, you will logically be raised up. In other words, if the Father “draws” – Greek “drags” (helko) not “woos” you – you will (logically and futuristically) be raised up. There nothing in John 6:44 about God only raising up a sinner IF he uses his “ability” to choose to come.

In John 12:32 Jesus says “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

“All” must mean “all kinds of people,” as only those who are drawn will come to believe, because as John 6:44 says, all (those) that God draws will be raised up on the last day. “So, if you are drawn, you will logically come. And if you come, you will logically be raised up. In other words, if the Father “draws”  – Greek “drags” (helko) not “woos” you – you will (logically and futuristically) be raised up.”

The “dragging” is not of someone bursting all over with autonomy, screaming all the way to salvation: “No, no, I don’t want to be saved. I hate you God. Stick to your Sovereign bargain of keeping my autonomous will intact after death came into the world. I want nothing of this hellish “helko” stuff.

What in reality does God’s “dragging” of the sinner to himself entail; what is this biblical “dragging?” It’s this:

You’re drowning in a bog. No, it’s more radical than that drowning – you’re drowned. The Father, in his mercy, dredges (drags) you up out of the mud, and breathes new life into you, not only a restored life, but a life of a completely different kind. In your boggy state, you, of course, won’t be scratching and screaming for your Father – yes, your Father, because if He is dragging you out of the mud, He has already become your Father – to take his predestining prehensile hands off you. Instead, what will you be doing? Rejoicing, because you were dead and now you’re alive, you were locked into your desires (freely following your heart), and now you’ve been released into the real meaning of the love of God.

No one was more wretched than a Calvinist; that is why when he sings “Amazing Grace” for saving “a wretch like me,” what is more amazing than God saving me with nothing in me having anything to do with it? Thank God for giving me no say in the matter.

Joe Rutherford asks: “Are people in hell just randomly chosen to suffer the wrath of God forever, or is there a valid reason for their punishment?”

No, people are not randomly chosen to suffer in hell. God’s reasoning, as you know, is perfect. Everyone deserves hell,  but God has mercy on those (whosoever) He wants to have mercy. Why God has mercy only on the ones  He has chosen, and not on everyone is hidden in God’s secret decrees. It’s all in Romans 9, which is not only about Jews (like moi) but about everyone.

James may think, and rightly so, that he is a rare breed. I wonder, though, not how many Jewish Calvinists he knows, but how many he knows who are, as evident in my “bogs,” somewhat gentle and respectful, but not as much as James certainly is.

Bography

John Wesley, Budding Calvinist, Naughty Arminian

When Calvinism is contrasted with Arminianism, what first comes to mind is God’s role and man’s role in coming to faith. The Calvinist says that man plays no role in coming to faith, while the Arminian says that man cooperates with God in that man turns his heart to God, that is, exercises his will to come to faith. In Calvinism, God first regenerates the sinner and then gives the sinner the gift of faith, while in Arminianism, regeneration follows the sinner’s acceptance of God’s offer of faith.

John Owen compares various scriptures with their Arminian interpretation, for example:

Scripture

Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy,” 1 Corinthians 7:14.
“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one,” Job 14:4.
“Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3.
“That which is born of the flesh is flesh,” John 3:6.

Arminian interpretation of the above scriptures

Neither is it considerable whether they be the children of believers or of heathens; for all infants have the same innocency,” Rem. Apol. “That which we have by birth can be no evil of sin, because to be born is plainly involuntary.”

John Wesley is a famous Arminian. George Whitefield, his Calvinist friend and colleague wrote a letter to Wesley “In answer to Mr. Wesley’s sermon entitled ‘Free Grace’” in which Whitefield rebukes Wesley:

“Dear, dear Sir, O be not offended! For Christ’s sake be not rash! Give yourself to reading. Study the covenant of grace. Down with your carnal reasoning. Be a little child; and then, instead of pawning your salvation, as you have done in a late hymn book, if the doctrine of universal redemption be not true; instead of talking of sinless perfection, as you have done in the preface to that hymn book, and making man’s salvation to depend on his own free will, as you have in this sermon; you will compose a hymn in praise of sovereign distinguishing love. You will caution believers against striving to work a perfection out of their own hearts, and print another sermon the reverse of this, and entitle it “Free Grace Indeed.” Free, not because free to all; but free, because God may withhold or give it to whom and when he pleases.”

Iain Murray writes: “These doctrines of “free grace” were the essential theology of his (Wesley’s) ministry from the very first and consequently the theology of the movement which began under his preaching in 1737.”

When I read Wesley’s commentary on John 3:3, I think that he might have taken Whitefield’s advice. Let’s examine Wesley commentary on John 3:3. Here are two translations of John 3:3:

“Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Verily, verily, I say to thee, If any one may not be born from above, he is not able to see the reign of God;'” (John 3:3 Young’s literal translation). And the ESV translation:

“Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”  (John 3:3 ESV)

Here is John Wesley’s commentary on John 3:3:

“Jesus answered – That knowledge will not avail thee unless thou be born again – Otherwise thou canst not see, that is, experience and enjoy, either the inward or the glorious kingdom of God.”

Spoken like a good Calvinist – regeneration first; see God, second. The Arminian might very well say that “Kingdom of God” does not refer to the “inward” Kingdom (Wesley) but only to (a future) Heaven. But, as any good Bible student knows, “Kingdom of God” refers to the “reign of God, not only in Heaven but – in our hearts – on earth, that is, in the “inward Kingdom of God.” What is very interesting, and very“Whitefieldian,” is that Wesley – naughty Arminian! – says, no one can see (the reign of) God unless they are first born of God, that is, unless God “quickens” him – Ephesians 2:

[4] But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, [5] even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive (quickened us) together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— [6] and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus… (Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV).

The Arminian position, as I mentioned in the introduction, is that the sinner first has to accept God’s offer to be regenerated before God can regenerate him. Unless by “quicken” the Arminian means a prodding of his will. A Calvinist understands “quicken” as “Dead, dead, see I am dead, and there is a flower growing out of my belly button. My blood is ice cold. Now, look, there is Christ standing over me . ‘Come! get up!’

Wesley continues (my italics and bold):

“In this solemn discourse our Lord shows, that no external profession, no ceremonial ordinances or privileges of birth, could entitle any to the blessings of the Messiah’s kingdom: that an entire change of heart as well as of life was necessary for that purpose: that this could only be wrought in man by the almighty power of God: that every man born into the world was by nature in a state of sin, condemnation, and misery: that the free mercy of God had given his Son to deliver them from it, and to raise them to a blessed immortality: that all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews (all = “all kinds of men”seems  to be Wesley’s meaning) might share in these benefits, procured by his being lifted up on the cross, and to be received by faith in him.”

Well, that’s the Calvinist view. John Wesley continues:

“but that if they rejected him, their eternal, aggravated condemnation, would be the certain consequence.”

Wesley is supposed to be commenting on John 3:3, but I don’t see anything about rejection of Christ in John 3:3. We do, however, read in John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 ESV). But to get to John 3:18. Wesley has to somersault over John 3:8 “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8 ESV).

John 3:8 is enough to disarm any Arminian, for it’s all about being born of the Spirit (born again, born from above). It’s not at all about playing a part in one’s regeneration; indeed John 3:8 is about (one’s will) being totally blown way by the process of being born again, and into the arms of God? If this is true, what does Jesus mean later in verse 18 by “whoever does not believe is condemned already?” If the “Spirit blows where it wills,” means regeneration, how, protests the Arminian, can someone who is not blown on by the Spirit (born again, born of the Spirit) be blamed if the Spirit does not blow on him? Because, for those who believe in the biblical doctrine of Original Sin, every human being is guilty and deserves damnation; except – as the Bible says in Romans 9 – Jews and Gentiles of the “promise.”

Romans 9:

8 This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. 9 For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” 10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” 14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion,2 but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”

“19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is moulded say to its milder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honourable use and another for dishonourable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24 ESV, my italics).”

(See Whitefield’s comments – in his letter – on Welsey’s Arminian interpretation of the above passage).

Wesley ends his commentary of John 3:3 with these words:

Except a man be born again – If our Lord by being born again means only reformation of life, instead of making any new discovery, he has only thrown a great deal of obscurity on what was before plain and obvious.”

All good Arminians as well as all good Calvinists will agree.

Finally, Whitefield, in his introduction to his letter to Wesley (cited above) says:

Known unto God are all his ways from the beginning of the world. The great day will discover why the Lord permits dear Mr. Wesley and me to be of a different way of thinking.”

Now they know. And soon will – willy nilly – we all.

God’s will and God’s swill in salvation: thoughts on the Arminian-Calvinist controversy

In “How have you personally dealt with the Calvinist-Arminian issue?,” I came across the following two responses. My comments appear after each response:

1. Ryan on February 13, 2010 at 2:30pm

Derek said: ‘I think its also important that Christ’s first commandment when He began His ministry was “repent!”, thus seeming to suggest some human response to the divine calling.’”

Comment:

Derek seems to assume that a human response to God’s call implies that the believer must have cooperated with God in his salvation. Obviously “responding” involves doing something. The question is whether the act of responding is what saves you.

God not only chooses the ends but also the means, namely, in this case, the desire to respond. At the back of this desire to respond lurk secondary causes, often in the form of misfortune. We’re all familiar with  “man’s importunities are God’s opportunities.” One good example of misfortune is Jesus’ parable of the “Prodigal Son.” The secondary means God provided in that story – the son’s final straw – was pig swill. The primary means God used was his miraculous raising the prodigal son out of that swill by an act of pure mercy and grace. It wasn’t the son’s will that saved him; it was God’s will and God’s swill.

So, the “means” of God’s provision for salvation embraces far more than the human reponse, and covers all that Jesus makes explicit in the “Great Commission” – Go and preach: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20 ESV).

When we turn over the page of our Bible to Mark 1, what was the first thing Jesus does in his ministry? “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”

The Great Commission in a nutshell is: “Repent and believe in the gospel.” But before one can repent one needs to hear, to read, to learn the Gospel. The means is the Gospel, the end is repentance, and all that comes with repentance such as faith, assurance, and the desire to obey God’s commands. God grants the repentance (like faith, repentance is a gift of God) as the Bible clearly points out in several places. God enables a person to repent. He also commands us to repent. How to reconcile this apparent contradiction. “Commands” is the means, while “repentance” (which is a sign of salvation) is the end.

So whether you are an Armenian Arminian or an Armenian Calvinist, you must have repented to become one or the other. Every believer will repent, and will also will to do so. When God regenerates a person, he makes him free to repent. It is that truth that will make you free.

Here is the second response at “How have you personally dealt with the Calvinist-Arminian issue?”

2. Lisa Robinson on February 13, 2010 at 4:04pm

The question I really had to grapple with was, is it regeneration or some type of prevenient grace that enables the person. If it is the former, then response will be given but not so if it is the latter.”

This is what I understand her to be saying:

  1. If regeneration occurs before believing (faith), that is, if salvation is 100% of grace, THEN a response will be given.
  2. If regeneration occurs after believing (faith), that is, if the believer cooperates with God’s PREVENIENT grace, then NO response is necessary, and so, is not given.

Isn’t she perhaps confusing her “latter” with her “former” because no Arminian (a believer in prevenient grace) will say that he does not make a response. So perhaps Lisa means the following?

1. If regeneration occurs before believing (faith), that is, if salvation is 100% of grace, THEN a response will NOT be given.2. If regeneration occurs after believing (faith), that is, if the believer cooperates with God’s PREVENIENT grace, then A response WILL be given.

But say Lisa did mean the second set of propositions, there would still be something wrong, because a response is given in both the synergist (Arminian) and the monergist (Calvinist) siutation. The difference lies in the cause of that response. The synergist says “I made the decision to be saved,” in other words, “I saved myself, whereas the monergist says “God made the decision, that is, “God saved me.” The Arminian will probably object, “I didn’t save myself, God saved me.” Not so. You did save yourself. All God did was – in your view – make you an offer that you could refuse; but if you accept the offer, you’re saved. So, it’s what’s in you, in your “flesh,” and not what is in God that determines that you are saved. When I says “determines” I mean “inwardly determines” (coming from you, the Arminian).

Even if an Arminian says, “I only did .000000000000000000001% and God did 99.000000000000000000099%, the fact of that matter is that it is that flick of that floating eyelash that redeems you from the pit and makes you a child of God. By the same logic it would be the same eyelash response that sends you to the pit. Such eternal consequences determined (inwardly) by an eyelash!

The question is: “Is God really knocking at whosoever’s heart, begging to come in, but failing – sovereignly so – most of the time?

Calvinists, Neo-gnostic Calvinists and Seeking Arminians

 

When non-Calvinists bring up (not too graphically, I hope) Calvinism, they are generally referring to the doctrine that “salvation is of the Lord.”—Jonah 2:9, that is, salvation is 100% of the Lord (see Charles Spurgeon).

Arthur Cunstance, in his “Sovereignty of Grace,” summarises the Calvinist position:

Men are not born again by human will, nor because of blood relationships, nor even because out of their own inner being they desire to be saved (John 1:12, 13). It is perfectly true that whosoever will may come, but it is also true that whosoever may, will come. [Cunstance “may” means “are invited to.” Here is a clearer rendition: “Those who desire to come are invited to come, but it is also true that those who are invited will definitely come]. We will to come only because God has graciously worked upon our wills to turn them about. We may come only because He has opened the way for us and in us, making it possible. Whosoever will, may come; and whosoever may, will come. When God makes it possible by converting our wills to seek his face, then we may come, and only then. At the same time, because of his sovereignty, once this turnabout has been wrought in us by his Holy Spirit, then the rest is certain, no matter how long it takes. We shall come.”

The question is: how much understanding of this doctrine is required to be a true Christian? Greg Fields is outraged by the “neo-gnostic Calvinist” (Fields’ term) assertion that without a comprehensive grasp of the Calvinist/monergist doctrine described by Custance above, no one can be saved. I shall examine Fields’ description of “neo-gnostic Calvinism” and compare it with Charles Spurgeon’s contrast between the “seed of the flesh” and the “seed of the promise.”

In his “The Bane of Neo-Gnostic Calvinism, Greg Fields writes:

Who among us who have been illuminated by the Spirit of God to heartily embrace that exalted system of Pauline Theology commonly called “Calvinism” can forget the sublime joy experienced when these verities became manifest in our believing heart? For many of us grasping these truths or better, being gripped by these truths, was the real “second blessing” in our Christian pilgrimage. For me personally, sovereign grace teaching revivified my entire demeanor as a saint and delivered me from the morbid introspection engendered by Arminian, fundamentalist pietism. I have a passionate commitment to Calvinistic soteriology and am quite emphatic in my apologia for these truths that so exalt and glorify the grandeur of the Sovereign Triune Lord. Thus, it is with both sadness and reticence that I issue this urgent caveat regarding an extreme chimerical form of Calvinism that is spreading great mischief among the elect of God and dear souls seeking spiritual solace.”

This “extreme chimerical form of Calvinism” is the “heresy” (Fields’ words) of the recent form of Calvinism called “Neo-Gnostic Calvinism.”(Greek neo “young,” gnosis “knowledge”).

The main tenets of this aberration of Calvinism, Fields continues, involve primarily a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved” by these ersatz-Calvinist “teachers”. The subtlety involved in this neo-gnostic Calvinistic soteriology is that they vigorously promote truths that any committed believer would commend. For example, they incessantly exhort all to focus on Christ’s imputation of Righteousness as being indispensable to one’s salvation. Of course this is true and this needs to be emphatically declared in our presentation of the gospel. Particular Redemption is stressed with great vigor. Again, a hearty amen to the vital importance of this great doctrine is in order. They clearly enumerate the “five points” with undiminished zeal. Again, I concur and wish we all would stress these great doctrines with the zeal demonstrated by these men.”

If this was the focus and crux of what these men taught, I would be promoting their writings and encouraging all interested Calvinists to bookmark their websites and to participate in their e-group discussions. But, alas, these glorious doctrines are merely the frosting on the cake of their real agenda. After elucidating these verities they then go on to add to these truths a dogmatic unsubstantiated requirement for salvation that in effect nullifies all the peace and joy that should attend sovereign grace. They assert with bellicose intensity that unequivocally, all Arminians are lost because “Arminianism is a false gospel” and under the anathema of Gal. 1:8-9. They set the stage for this “leap of logic”, by describing the five points of Arminianism and showing how incompatible Arminianism is with the gospel of grace. Again, any thoroughgoing evaluation of Arminianism would demonstrate this to be truebut they then use this evaluation to assert that all who have never yet grasped the doctrines of grace to be by default, Arminians, thereby validating their “lostness”. The insidious nature of their neo-gnosticism becomes manifestly transparent here. The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”

(My underlining).

The first sentence of these two paragraphs is reiterated in the last sentence:

First sentence: “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist or seeking Arminian is truly considered “saved,”

Last sentence: The major tenet of gnosticism was the acquisition of knowledge to achieve, N. B., salvation.”

Fields seems to agree that the five points of Arminianism are incompatible with the gospel of grace, and under the curse of Galatians 1:8-9. Here is the Galatians passage in its wider context:

[6] I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— [7] not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. [8] But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. [9] As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9 ESV).

The “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” says Fields, then uses this passage to infer by a leap of false logic that not only are all Arminians lost, but also those Calvinists “who have never grasped the doctrines of grace.”

I’m not sure whether Fields means that a person can only be saved if he believes that salvation is 100% of the Lord (Calvinism/monergism), and where Fields and “neo-gnostic Calvinism” differ is that the latter asserts that such a person can only be saved if he has a “a comprehensive cognitive system of knowledge (gnosis) that must be firmly grasped and indoctrinated into before the professing Calvinist orseeking Arminian is truly considered ‘saved.’” (Fields above).

If the “neo-gnostic Calvinist requires the “seeking Arminian” to have a strong commitment to monergism, that would indeed be a bizarre requirement, seeing that Arminianism, by definition, is synergism. That is not to say, of course, that Arminians have a poor comprehension of monergism, for many do. Commitment is not the same as comprehension: “And crying out with a loud voice, he said, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me” (Mark 5:7 ESV). Even the demons shudder.

Charles Spurgeon (in his “God Promises you,” 1995, Whitaker House) says that if one believes that one cooperates with God in salvation, then one has started “in the flesh,” and as one starts, one ends – in the flesh. He compares Ishmael, “son of the flesh,” with Isaac the son of promise. The promise is the believer’s inheritance ,which is also the believer’s “test and touchstone” (p. 13). Spurgeon describes the Calvinist/monergistic position on how we come to faith, which is identical to Arthur Custance’s description above:

Let us use the test at once by seeing whether we have been formed by the power which fulfils the promise…How were you converted?…You profess to have been born again. Here did that new birth come from? Did it come from god in consequence of his eternal purpose and promise, or did it come out of yourself? Was it your old nature trying to do better, and working it up to the best form? If so, you are Ishmael. Or was it that you, being spiritually dead and having no strength whatever to rise out of your lost estate, were visited by the Spirit of God. Did God put forth his divine energy and cause life from heaven to enter into you? Then you are Isaac. All will depend on the commencement of your spiritual life and the source from which that life at first proceeded. If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die.”

But an Arminian/synergist, would say we certainly need grace, lots of it; but man must make the final decision, because “forced love is rape, and God is not a divine rapist!” (Norman Geisler in “Chosen but free”). According to the “neo-gnostic Calvinist,” Norman Geisler is damned – twice over: first, because he rejects the monergist doctrine that man plays no part in his salvation; second, because on such a view of salvation, there’s no possibility of having even an infinitesimal grasp that salvation is 100% of the Lord. Recall that Greg Fields’ complaint is that “neo-gnostic Calvinists” believe that to be saved, both the Calvinist and the “seeking Arminian” must have a comprehensive knowledge (gnosis) of the ordo salutis “order of salvation.”

I agree with Fields that “neo-gnostic Calvinism” must be rejected. What worries me though is Charles Spurgeon’s “If you began in the flesh, you have gone on in the flesh, and in the flesh you will die”(two paragraphs above). In other words, the “Ishmaels” (born of the flesh) are not saved, while the “Isaacs” (born of the promise) are. The logic of this position is that Arminians are lost, while Calvinists are saved. I am almost in awe – like so many – of Spurgeon’s magnificent legacy, but this point, however, namely, that Arminians “end in the flesh,” leaves me disturbed. In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 we read:

[14] The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. [15] The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. [16] “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” (Paul is quoting Isaiah 40:13) But we have the mind of Christ.”

Spurgeon seems to be saying that the “we” (the saved) in verse 16 applies only to those who do not “start in the flesh.” If this were true, it would follow that the Wesleys, Alan Redpath, Paris Reidhead, CS Lewis, Oswald Chambers and many others “ended in the flesh.” I am sure that all these great names I have mentioned believed the following passage from Philippians 3 with all their hearts:

[8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— [10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:8-11 ESV).

Yet earlier in the same chapter of Philippians we read (verse 3): “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— ” (My italics). Now, if one believes that salvation is ultimately the decision of the flesh, of the human will, and not as John 1:13 proclaims – “who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” – then has such a person began in the flesh, in the sense that he believes that although God’s grace is necessary for salvation, it is not sufficient. He believes that Christ teaches that grace is not sufficient for salvation, because he believes that God has sovereignly decreed that the his free will to choose Him is sacrosanct. This means that a person is saved because of something in himself, and not because of everything in God: I (ultimately) did it my way). And that’s what Spurgeon means by “what begins in the flesh, ends in the flesh.”

I hardly comprehend because I find it hard – morally, more than intellectually, hard. Where does that leave me, my “neo-gnostic Calvinist” friends?

 

Knowing God: Where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road

In this piece, I examine two questions from the Christian view:

What does it mean “to know God?”

How does man come to know God?

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt (Psalm 14:2-3a; repeated in Psalm 53).

Paul in Romans 3 quotes from Psalm 14 (or 53):

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless…”

(Romans 3:9-12a).

So to be “under sin,” that is, to have the (natural) inclination to sin implies that we are not seeking God. Doesn’t Paul contradict himself (doesn’t the Bible contradict iself) when it says two chapters earlier, in Romans 1, that men indeed do know God?

“[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ESV).

Some argue that men are “hard-wired” for belief in a transcendent being. This is the view of the Bible, as expressed in Romans 1 above. Others, in contrast – mainly in Western culture – believe with Protagoras (circa 490 BC – 420 BC) that man is the measure of all things:

What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601).

Alexander Pope, who does believe in God, argues in in his “Essay on man,” that Christians behave no differently from other people in their “thirst for gold.” The Bible describes such Christians as those who “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).

And

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV).

To summarise the biblical view, all men know God but do not want to honour or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). This situation applies to professing Christians and everybody else. Only the true Christian wants to honour and give thanks to God.

Now, here is the heart of the Gospel – one can only know God through Jesus Christ:

[6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:6-9 ESV).

How does one begin to know and continue to know God? Through faith in Jesus Christ:

[18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18 ESV).

I now come to the place where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road of God. That road is “The Way,” Jesus Christ. How do we come to know the right way, “The Way, the truth and the life?”

The primary truth – which man in his sin nature cannot see – is that fallen man is nothing, a dead nothing. As we read in Ephesians 2, man is dead in sin. He is unable to seek Christ, to call Christ, because the dead can’t call.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Here is Herman Bavinck, who incomparably says it all:

“In the Christian religion the work of men is nothing, and it is God Himself who acts, intervenes in history, opens the way of redemption in Christ and by the power of His grace brings man into that redemption and causes him to walk in it. Special revelation is the answer which God Himself gives in word and deed to the question which through His own guidance arises in the human heart.
Immediately after the fall God already comes to man. Man has sinned and is seized upon by shame and fear. He flees his Creator and hides himself in the dense foliage of the garden. But God does not forget him. He does not let go of him, but condescends, seeks him out, talks with him, and leads him back to fellowship with Himself (Gen. 3:7-15). And this thing that happened thus immediately after the fall, continues in history from generation to generation. We see the same thing happening again and again. In the whole work of redemption it is God and God alone who manifests Himself as the seeking and the calling One, and as the speaking and acting One.”

Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith, 267. (Sourced from Jamin Hubner).

In this piece, I examine two questions from the Christian view:

What does it mean “to know God?”

How does man come to know God?

The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt (Psalm 14:2-3a; repeated in Psalm 53).

Paul in Romans 3 quotes from Psalm 14 (or 53):

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless…”

(Romans 3:9-12a).

So to be “under sin,” that is, to have the (natural) inclination to sin implies that we are not seeking God. Doesn’t Paul contradict himself (doesn’t the Bible contradict iself) when it says two chapters earlier, in Romans 1, that men indeed do know God?

“[18] For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. [19] For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. [20] For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. [21] For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:18-21 ESV).

Some argue that men are “hard-wired” for belief in a transcendent being. This is the view of the Bible, as expressed in Romans 1 above. Others, in contrast – mainly in Western culture – believe with Protagoras (circa 490 BC – 420 BC) that man is the measure of all things:

“What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals!” (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1601).

Alexander Pope, who does believe in God, argues in in his “Essay on man,” that Christians behave no differently from other people in their “thirst for gold.” The Bible describes such Christians as those who “went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19 ESV).

And

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end” (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV).

So, to summarise the biblical view, all men know God but do not want to honour or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). This fact applies to professing Christians and everybody else. Only the true Christian wants to honour and give thanks to God.

Now, here is the heart of the Gospel – one can only know God through Jesus Christ:

[6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [7] If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” [8] Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” [9] Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:6-9 ESV).

How does one begin to know and continue to know God? Through faith in Jesus Christ:

[18] Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18 ESV).

I now come to the place where the humanistic rubber meets the Sovereign road of God. That road is “The Way,” Jesus Christ. How do we come to know the the right way, “The Way, the truth and the life?”

The primarytruth – which man in his sin nature cannot see – is that fallen man is nothing, a dead nothing. As we read in Ephesians 2, man is dead in sin. He is unable to seek Christ, to call Christ, because the dead can’t do anything.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

Here is Herman Bavinck, who incomparably says it all:

“In the Christian religion the work of men is nothing, and it is God Himself who acts, intervenes in history, opens the way of redemption in Christ and by the power of His grace brings man into that redemption and causes him to walk in it. Special revelation is the answer which God Himself gives in word and deed to the question which through His own guidance arises in the human heart.
Immediately after the fall God already comes to man. Man has sinned and is seized upon by shame and fear. He flees his Creator and hides himself in the dense foliage of the garden. But God does not forget him. He does not let go of him, but condescends, seeks him out, talks with him, and leads him back to fellowship with Himself (Gen. 3:7-15). And this thing that happened thus immediately after the fall, continues in history from generation to generation. We see the same thing happening again and again. In the whole work of redemption it is God and God alone who manifests Himself as the seeking and the calling One, and as the speaking and acting One.” – Herman Bavinck,
Our Reasonable Faith, 267. (Sourced from Jamin Hubner