Sunday, April 20, 2008

The power of the Gospel

What impact does the dynamite power of the Gospel have upon the unregenerate heart?

I've been told that it is "truth" preached to dead people, that is, spiritually dead people. However, my question remains. What impact does the Gospel "truth" have upon the unregenerate heart? I'm not asking what the Gospel is. I'm asking what it does. It seems to me that the inevitable conclusion of Calvinism is that due to the deadness of man in sin, that the living and active, faith-producing Gospel has absolutely no impact upon the unregenerate heart, unless it is accompanied by an Irresistible Grace. If so, then why do we talk about the dynamite power of the living and active Gospel? Why don't we instead talk about the dynamite power of the living and active Irresistible Grace, without which, the Gospel is otherwise dead and dormant?


Robert Ivy said...

You seem to be making an odd distinction between irresistible grace and the gospel. The Gospel is God's message of Irresistible Grace. Therefore, whenever a person sees the Gospel as it is, they cannot resist. The reason some people fail to respond to the Gospel is not because it has not been accompanied by irresistible grace, but because they are blind to the message of the Gospel. said...

Hello and thanks Robert.

Yes, I have made the distinction between what Calvinism teaches as IG and the Gospel, and the reason is because Calvinism teaches that due to the deadness of man in sin, a person must be "regenerated" (Born Again) in order to receive the Gospel. So even Calvinism makes the distinction.

But here is the kicker. Consider the following quotes from John Calvin, and you'll see where I'm coming from with my question:

John Calvin on the "deadness" of the Gospel without IG:

John Calvin writes: “The minister’s teaching and speaking does no good unless God adds his inward calling to it. ... Preaching alone is just a dead letter, and we must beware lest a false imagination, or the semblance of secret illumination, leads us away from the Word on which faith depends.” (Acts: Calvin, The Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.278, emphasis mine)

Calvin explains: “For as in His creation of the world God has poured forth upon us the brightness of the sun and has also given us eyes with which to receive it, so in our redemption He shines forth upon us in the person of His Son by His Gospel, but that would be in vain, since we are blind, unless He were also to illuminate our minds by His Spirit. Thus his meaning is that God has opened the eyes of our understanding by His Spirit to make us able to receive the light of His Gospel.” (Calvin’s Commentaries: II Corinthians, Timothy, Titus, Philemon, p.57, emphasis mine)

Calvin writes: “Preaching only finds faith in people when God inwardly calls those he has chosen and draws to Christ those who were already his own (John 6:37).” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)

John Calvin writes: “In a word, Paul indicates that all clamorous sounding of the human voice will lack effect, unless the virtue of God works internally in the heart.” (Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God, p.104, emphasis mine)


Robert Ivy said...

I think I understand where you're coming from, and I certainly agree that Calvin teaches that regeneration is required prior to faith, but I still think the unity of IG and the Gospel holds.

I guess my difficulty is when you write, "that due to the deadness of man in sin, that living and active, faith-producing Gospel has absolutely no impact upon the unregenerate heart, unless it is accompanied by an Irresistible Grace."

1. It is true that to most people, the gospel has no impact. They hear it and they think it is ridiculous. (1 Cor 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.)

2. They think it is a "stumbling block" or "folly" because they do not see it for what it is. As Calvin writes in your comment, "we are blind".

3. Therefore, the failure to convert is not due to the weakness of the Gospel, but to the blindness of sinners who, even when encountered with the Gospel, can't make sense of it or see its perfection.

4. The answer to this problem (for God as described in Calvinism) is to let the sinner see the Gospel for what it is.

5. Irresistible Grace, then, is the result of the actual Gospel working on a sinner's heart, instead of a not clearly understood Gospel.

6. Thus it makes no sense to say, "the Gospel has no impact on the unregenerate heart unless accompanied by an Irresistible Grace" because without the grace the Gospel is not the Gospel (it is something that the person cannot understand). Furthermore without the Gospel, grace would not be irresistible. God would be opening our eyes to... what?

I think the significant point is that Calvin calls those who are unregenerate "blind". Thus, it is clear that it is not that the Gospel cannot produce faith, but that the non-Gospel cannot produce faith. Once the Gospel is seen faith is produced.

Perhaps we are also trading on different understandings of the term "Irresistible Grace" since I take the removal of blindness and the showing of the light to be captured in that term. Whereas it seems you envision IG as merely the removal of blindness, without the showing of any light (i.e. the Gospel). But I do not see how that could work, nor do I see Calvin teaching that.

Again, in all those quotes Calvin emphasizes the need to preach the Gospel. He only qualifies such preaching with the statement that such preaching is in vain if people cannot hear it, which seems true. But that does not mean that IG can happen without preaching. It only means that preaching, in and of itself, is not sufficient, for the very reason that listeners can't hear the preaching.

Sorry to let my comment get so long! I'm having a hard time making my point. Thanks for the dialogue.

Luke said...

I would have to take issue with the statement(second quote from Calvin) that "preaching finds faith". Actually, the Scriptures teach that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.

As pertaining to who the blind are, the Scriptures are also clear. These are they which believe not and as a result of not believing, they have their minds blinded.(II Corinthians 4:4) The same concept is found in II Thessalonians 2:11-12.

In the Old Testament, we find that preaching was used to make men deaf ie Isaiah 6:9-11. And the reason for this is because they would not believe/obey the Word of God. God had reached the point that rather than preach for repentance, preaching was done for judgment. But judgment would fall only upon the unbelieving. Jeremiah 18 also demonstrates how that blindness follows unbelief/rebellion and not the other way around. said...

Hello Robert and Luke,

This is making me think (and I had to read your post twice), and to help clarify, I want to share another quote from Calvin in which he is a little more candid, as well as a quote from Adrian Rogers where Rogers differentiates "sight" from "light," with sight being the enablement to receive God's grace and the light being the Gospel, which one hears, believes and is saved. Here is the first quote from Calvin:

John Calvin comments: “Since the whole human race is blind and stubborn, those faults remain fixed in our nature until they are corrected by the grace of the Spirit, and that comes only from election. Two people may hear the same teaching together; yet one is willing to learn, and the other persists in his obstinacy. They do not differ in nature, but God illumines one and not the other. We are, indeed, made God’s children by faith--faith is for us the door and beginning of salvation; but there is something deeper with God. He does not begin to choose us after we believe, but by the gift of faith he seals the adoption that was hidden in our hearts and makes it manifest and sure.” (Acts: Calvin, Crossway Classic Commentaries, p.229, emphasis mine)

Here you have Calvin stating that God performs an action upon a person's heart (most Calvinists describe this as removing the heart of stone and implanting a heart of flesh, something taken from Ezek 36:26, being a preemptive New Birth), with the result that the New Born will now irresistibly receive the Gospel, having been preemptively changed into the "new creation" of 2nd Corinthians 5:17.

Another teaching is that a person is not made Born Again until after he has first heard and believed in the Gospel, with the result that he is then sealed in Christ. (Compare with Eph 1:13)

Now I want to show you a quote from Adrian Rogers where he presents a dichotomy between the preemptive enablement of the Holy Spirit "sight" (conviction, goading, knocking, ect) in contrast to the "light" of the Gospel, which together enables a person to receive God's mercy. Here it is:

Adrian Rogers explains: “Spiritual blindness makes beggars of us all. ... The blind need more than light in order to see. ... I used to think, as a young preacher, that what you had to do to get people saved is just to tell them how to be saved. Just turn on the light. But it doesn’t matter how much light there is, or the person is blind because he cannot see it. It takes more than light, it takes sight. And a person who is blind cannot see the light, no matter how strong the light is or how pure the light is. It takes more than preaching to get people saved. That’s the reason I frequently say to you, I can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth. That is the reason why we must be a praying church. That’s the reason you must be a spirit filled soul winner. That is the reason that we must have the anointing, because we are dependent upon God to open blinded eyes to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It takes more than light, it takes takes sight. We need to understand that nobody can be argued into the kingdom of heaven. Nobody can be educated into the kingdom of heaven. I’m not against letting the light shine. You must let the let shine. You must preach. But remember, there is another dimension.” (Jesus is God’s Answer to Man’s Darkness: John 20:30, emphasis mine)

Adrian Rogers explains that sometimes the Gospel is not accompanied by the Holy Spirit's sight, and thus becomes ineffective. Adrian Rogers believes that a person must receive the Spirit's "sight" in order to receive the "light" of the Gospel, though the sight itself is not irresistible, but merely an enablement for a person to receive God. The thrust of my question is if such a "resistible" enablement, or a resistable preceding grace, cannot overcome a man's depravity in order to receive the Gospel, then where is the power of the Gospel? Thus, for Calvinism to be true, it seems as if a person has to be completely altered in spiritual chemistry (preemptive IG), in order for the Gospel to have any effect. Where then is the thing which we are told at Hebrews 4:12 is "sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart"? It seems that from Calvin's aforementioned quote, that none of these things can happen without IG. Let me know if this post clarifies it.

Robert Ivy said...

Thanks examiningcalvinism, it does help to clarify, and I appreciate your digging up of quotes. I would certainly do the same to bolster my case if I had some time, but unfortunately at this time I don't. But the quotes also helped to clarify what we are talking about.

So to get to your question, which I think you put well: "if such a "resistible" enablement, or a resistable preceding grace, cannot overcome a man's depravity in order to receive the Gospel, then where is the power of the Gospel?"

First, your question is still a little confusing to me because it seems to me that Calvinism teaches that the enablement is not resistible. At least, that's what I get from the quotes you provided from Calvin and Adrian Rogers. Take the first line of Calvin's quote: "Since the whole human race is blind and stubborn, those faults remain fixed in our nature until they are corrected by the grace of the Spirit, and that comes only from election"

So our "blindness" is corrected "by the grace of the Spirit". This, then, is where one's initial encounter with IG seems to lie. First, by no act of their own will, their eyes are opened, their blindness is removed.

But, going along the lines of Adrian Rogers, just as, "a person who is blind cannot see the light, no matter how strong the light is or how pure the light is", so can a person who has sight not see anything without light. There, after God grants the grace of sight, he grants the grace of gospel. And the Gospel, in turn, cannot be rejected by a person who has sight.

Now, does this make the Gospel impotent, since it has no power to give sight to the blind? It "merely" convicts the soul and gives salvation to the sighted? Well, there are two ways of responding (and I'm not sure which way Calvin would, in fact, respond).

First, one could point out that God's work of opening eyes is never separated from the preaching of the Gospel. In other words, God uses the occasion of the Gospel heard to give sight. Although the events can be separated theoretically, they cannot be separated in reality. In the quotes you provided, it certainly seems as if Calvin would go this route. Since he seems to be saying that although preaching is necessary for salvation (i.e. opening eyes and granting faith) preaching is not sufficient for salvation.

The other response one could make is: clearly this does not diminish the power of the Gospel, since the Gospel is no less necessary for salvation than spiritual sight is. Indeed, one who says that the Gospel is all that is required for salvation seems to diminish the role of the Spirit, who will, "convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment" (John 16:8).

Also consider a passage such as 1 Thess 1:5, "our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction." Which seems to imply that the word of the Gospel may go forth without the power of the Holy Spirit. (But certainly more exegesis would be done to show that. At least this shows that the two can be distinguished.)

In other words, the IG of Calvinism is the full combination of "opening the eyes of the blind" and "showing them the light". One without the other is not sufficient for salvation. God grants the dual mercy of opening eyes and showing the Gospel (through a preacher) for a person to be saved.

Anyways, sorry this is long again, but it's a fairly detailed topic. Thanks again for the dialogue, I certainly hope I am not coming across as harsh. If I am, I apologize, I really do not intend to - I'm enjoying the conversation.

Robert Ivy said...

By the way, I'm from a younger generation and am not familiar with Adrian Rogers (although I do come from a Southern Baptist background). On Wikipedia it says he actually rejected the doctrines of Calvinism. Did he accept them later in life or is Wikipedia just wrong about his beliefs about Calvinism?

I'm just curious, since I'm not familiar with his ministry. I like the quote you gave though :) said...

Hey Robert,

Thanks for the reply.

Adrian Rogers passed away a couple of years ago. He was a former SBC President, and Senior Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN. He was a non-Calvinist, and preached a sermon against it:

Having read your post, one statement stands out to me:

"And the Gospel, in turn, cannot be rejected by a person who has sight."

Why do you feel that way? Recalling the parable of the seed and the sower of Luke 8, and I'm inclided to believe the opposite. In such a parable, would you suppose that those who fizzled were those who lacked sight? Realize that it is said that they initially received the word with joy. How would they receive the word at all, if they did not have some form of "sight"? Here is the passage:

Luke 8:11-15: "Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance." said...

Just to clarify the last post. I do believe in Eternal Security for those who have been made Born Again. I believe that those on the rock soil, in Jesus' parable, were not Born Again. I believe that they were granted sufficient sight, by the Holy Spirit, and sufficient light, through the Word that they received with joy, but turned away before having truly embraced Christ and received the eternal life that He offers. I think that what Adrian Rogers was trying to get across is that both Sight (by the Holy Spirit, i.e. the conviction that you referenced) as well as Light (via the Gospel) are both necessary, but are not irresistible. Adrian Rogers rejects the doctrine of IG.