Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Total Inability of God???

This may seem like a silly post, but allow me to explain. Many Calvinists have explained to me that "since man is totally depraved, God must..." and then it follows that God must regenerate him (i.e. preemptively make Born Again), if anyone is to be saved. Now my reservation to this is that it takes the perdicament of man, and forces something upon God. Why? Why is God's hand being forced by the depravity of man?
Think of it this way. There are several things that God cannot do. God cannot make a square circle. God cannot learn anything. God cannot sin. These represent various types of inabilities. For instance, the first is a logical contradiction by definition, rather than true inability, just as God cannot learn anything because He is all-knowing by nature. So that's not really true "inability." Additionally, God cannot sin, not because Jesus lacked the physical parts to sin. He was fully man, just as we are, but yet He never sinned, and wouldn't ever have sinned, indicative of His nature as God, which had a preference not to sin. However, if you were to say that God is trying to reach as many people as He can, but is struggling along, doing the best that He can, then that reflects a serious matter of genuine inability, and though some non-Calvinists prescribe to such a belief, such as Geisler and Hunt, I do not. I believe that God could persuade any unregenerate person to repent, but has a preference to only impart a certain measure of Prevenient Grace, which can increased by the intercessory prayers of Christians, and which is also encouraged by Christ. (Luke 10:2) In fact, consider the most fallen and depraved person that you know. Have you thought of them? Ok, now what if Jesus stepped out of heaven and appeared to them, just like He did with Paul? What would happen? Alright, consider another example: The rich man of Luke 16:19-31. Here was a man that was in torment in Hell, and what did he want to do? He wanted Abraham to let him go back so that He could warn his brothers. Imagine that! A resident of Hell wanted to be an evangelist (of sorts). I believe that if God applied enough pressure (which He could do), everyone would crack and submit.

Having said all of this, here is my point. If Calvinists had said that God "can" reach the unregenerate, without having to resort to preemptive regeneration, then they could appeal to God's "preference" as a basis for why He chooses a different alternative. However, often Calvinists instead maintain, "...man is so depraved that God must....", which just makes me cringle, due to the way that it seemingly limits God, and seemingly pushes the Almighty into a corner, where has no other option left to Him, but to utilize Preemptive Regeneration.

So my one point in all of this is this: Why don't Calvinists instead say, "man is so depraved, but that is no obstacle to God, who could reach them in their unregenerate state anyway, but due to His preference, He chooses Preemptive Regeneration instead"? So there it is. Why can't Calvinists defer to God's preference? Seriously. Why should the big bad finger of Total Depravity push an almighty God into a corner?

P.S. Often I'm told that I'm simply down-playing the depravity of man, and yet I'm not at all. I'm simply lifting up God's ability to overcome it, by virtue of His own intervention. Now if the discourse should enter into the realm of "well, why then doesn't everyone positively respond to His grace" gets to the nature of free will itself, but is also the starting point of another line of dialogue.)

30 comments:

Matt said...

I must confess that I did not read your entire post. However, I have two questions I'd like to ask, the answers to which may take whole posts in themselves.

1. You mentioned the sinlessness of Christ and stated that He could not sin. If Christ could not sin, i.e. could not CHOOSE to do the action that was opposite of His own righteous action, does this not then refute the foundation of Arminianism, Libertarian Freedom? Christ, the Second Adam, the God-MAN, being the REPRESENTATIVE of humankind, could not CHOOSE the opposite.

Taken more generally, God, being the image all of us are created in, does not have "Libertarian Freedom". So why would His creatures, created in His image/likeness?

Furthermore, is it true freedom when you are choosing bondage (sin)?


2. You mentioned Prevenient Grace. Calvinists are often accused of not having explicit Scripture references for some of their tenets. Could you give me the biblical basis for Prevenient Grace? Honestly, I'd probably be at least a Molinist if I could see biblical evidence for that. I just don't. But of course, it is very likely that I'm wrong and so if you could point me to your support for that essential doctrine I would appreciate it.

In Christ,
Matt

Matt said...

P.S. I don't think that God HAD to save any of us. He chose to do it. Total Depravity does not necessitate God to act in salvation. It is His choice to save anyone at all.


Also, I really enjoy your posts. I disagree with you, obviously, but you come off in a kind way unlike many blogs from both sides of the table.

In Christ,
Matt

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Matt,

You caught me just before I was headed off to bed.

You wrote: “You mentioned the sinlessness of Christ and stated that He could not sin. If Christ could not sin, i.e. could not CHOOSE to do the action that was opposite of His own righteous action, does this not then refute the foundation of Arminianism, Libertarian Freedom?”

No, because in the post, I deferred to His preference, that is, His choice not to sin.

You wrote: “Furthermore, is it true freedom when you are choosing bondage (sin)?”

The thrust of Prevenient Grace is that it frees us from the bondage of sin, and enables us to receive His grace.

As for Middle Knowledge, I believe that it is expressed at Matthew 11:20-24. Thoughts?

As for Prevenient Grace, I usually cite Isaiah 65:2. I’ve also mentioned John 16:8.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Thanks for the compliment. Really, the purpose of this Blog post was not meant to refute Calvinism, but to encourage Calvinists to use a different argument.

Matt said...

I agree that God has Middle Knowledge, and I certainly agree that He determines what happens based on His full omniscience. My contention is with Libertarian Freedom.

I will have to check out those passages for P.G. and get back to you. I'm hitting the hay!

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Have a good night. Both Isaiah 65:2 and John 16:8 make for the start of a good dialogue.

My Daily Bread said...

God makes the ultimate difference, not the sinner. Why did I believe and another didn't?

I Cor. 4: 7 says God makes the difference. That is all the Calvinist is saying.

Stephen

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Stephen,

That's definitely how the dialogue proceeds. In other words, if God simply enables, ok, then why does one person repent and not another?

In that instance, Arminians have always pointed to the decision of the individual. Now to go back and say, "Yes, but that person is totally unable," takes a step back and presumes that God couldn't have made him able through PG. Some Calvinists on CARM have thus argued that PG is nothing more than the invention of Arminians to set aside total depravity. Regardless, Arminians have always maintained that the sovereign will of God is to push the sinner into a decision, which does have prescendent in the Bible. Consider 1st Corinthians 10:13, where God sets the boundaries, limits the options, and forces men to choose between sin or taking the sovereignly provided way of escape: "No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it." Now if God unilaterally determined the intentions of the individual's heart, thus causing them to either take the way of escape or reject it, then Compatibilism would logically have to be forefeited. Thoughts?

Jay said...

I have looked at Isaiah 65:2 as one of your proof texts for prevenient grace. The problem that I have is that, to get to your position, you must take the verse out of its context and apply meaning that is not evident from the text itself. Plus, just a little further in that same chapter, at verses 8 and 9, God states:

"8 Thus says the Lord:
“As the new wine is found in the cluster,
and they say, ‘Do not destroy it,
for there is a blessing in it,’
so I will do for my servants' sake,
and not destroy them all.
9 I will bring forth offspring from Jacob,
and from Judah possessors of my mountains;
my chosen shall possess it,
and my servants shall dwell there."

Doesn't this mitigate against your argument against total inability (which is the inability of the "sinner", NOT the inability of God)? It seems to me that if you apply verse 2 to verses 8 and 9, you must come back to the Calvinist position that salvation comes through the active regenerative work of God from start to finish, not through some innate "goodness" that we have within ourselves that "allows" us to choose God when others do not.

Matt said...

I agree that Is 65's context has nothing to do with salvation. It is God's dealing with His covenant people of Israel. Now, this does not mean that there are no parallels between the two. However, because Israel was a corpus permixtum (mixed body), i.e. full of saved and unsaved folks, and because this passage is dealing only with Israel and not the entire world, we cannot use it to support either position.

1 Corinthians 10:13 is dealing solely with believers. God does free us from bondage in salvation, but we are still sinners, thus the choice between sin and righteousness. The unsaved person is in total bondage, rather than in a position of "no condemnation" (Rom 8:1).

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hello Jay and Matt,

Just to focus on Isaiah 65:2 in isolation for a moment, let me ask this question, just to explain where I'm coming from on this one:

Isaiah 65:2: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts, a people who continually provoke Me to My face.”

So what do you believe that God is claiming to have been doing for them? Oh indeed, they are a stubborn and rebellious people (i.e. total depravity), nevertheless, doesn't it appear that God is expecting something better of them, based upon something that God is doing? (Compare with Jeremiah 18:11-13 which has a similar dialogue between God and Israel). My point in this is the flesh out what God is doing, when confronted with their total depravity.

Matt said...

I understand your point. I guess what I'm saying is that this is in the context of His dealing with Israel, and only in that context. It is not to be taken as representative of how God acts in salvation, because that is not what the text is about.

It's the same as the Lazarus/Prodigal Son issue. Those stories are not primarily about what God or man does in salvation.

a helmet said...

prevenient grace, common grace, salvific grace, effectual calling, general calling,.....Folks, who is actually bothering you with such conceptions? Why bother with questions that have absolutely nothing to do with the gospel? Did God ask you to rack your brains on that?

Matt said...

Helmet,
God tells us to love him with all our heart, soul, MIND, and strength. Loving him with our mind includes studying all parts of His Word and trying to understand it.

That's quite a silly question, really.

a helmet said...

matt, ok I agree.

a helmet said...

But we should not walk in the track of those mentioned in 2 Tim. 2:16-24 and 3:1-9.

a helmet said...

But the cat is sweet. I want one like this.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hello Helmet,

Granted that the Gospel is the death, burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that by believing, there is life in His name (Compare with 1st Corinthians 15:1-11), there are other doctrines in the Bible worth considering, but I agree that these theological discussions should be leading us closer to Christ, rather than driving us apart. I really feel that the Bible was written this way, by God, in order to drive us into deeper study of His Word.

My point in this post was to suggest that we should not infer that the big, bad finger of Total Depravity, should force God into anything, and that if God should use Irresistible Grace or Prevenient Grace, whichever option God takes, is purely out of sovereign preference, rather than inability to take one course over another. Again, this post does not refute Calvinism, but only attempts to refute that God is somehow limited in His options, by man's depravity.

And yes, that cat was adorable. I miss my two cats that passed away. Lord willing, there are cats in Heaven :)

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Going back to the father of the prodigal son for just a moment, why or why not, do you feel that Arminians are incorrect to draw a comparison to his son being "dead" and "lost" to the Ephesians 2:1 reference to being "dead"?

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

A principle that I have learned in understanding parables is to look for one or two points rather than assume that the parable is designed to speak to every possible theological issue.

My understanding of The Prodigal Son is Jesus' focus on the love of the Father for the most despicable sinner imaginable in that culture. Because of the dishonor shown by the son to the father in the parable, Jewish custom would have mandated that the father consider the son dead when the son left home. They would probably have held a funeral.

However, I don't think Jesus was focusing on total depravity in that passage. He could be, but other passages flesh it out more fully. It certainly is a good picture of total depravity if you look at it from the outrageous conduct of the son in light of Jewish culture at that time. Nevertheless, an intent of the parable clearly is to show the depths of God's grace to a truly repentant sinner, and the Father's joy in that repentance. Further, it shows the two types of people: those who get the concept of grace, the prodigal; and those who don't, the older son.

As a side note, it says that the son "came to his senses." Jesus doesn't tell us how he came to his senses, or what caused him to come to his senses. Was it chance? Did the Holy Spirit use the means of his circumstances to bring the son to his senses? Jesus doesn't tell us here. He does in John 3, 6, 10, and 17, among others.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Understood, but the context of "dead" to the father of the prodigal son meant "lost," as clarified by him, and so the Arminian naturally grabs a hold of that and says, "See, the deadness of man in sin means the lostness of man in sin," that is, in terms of total separation from God. As an Arminian, I'm persuaded by that argument. Whether that's a matter of reading too much into it, is certainly a matter up for debate.

Tomorrow's edition will focus on a series of quote from D. James Kennedy. Talk to you soon. I've been slammed at work lately.

Matt said...

The Greek word for "dead", "nekros", can be taken both figuratively and literally. To assume that one instance of this word within the context of a parable (i.e. something meant to challenge presuppositions - which in this case are the ones of the Pharisees and their belief as 'the older brother' that they are the ones who should get the inheritance) is not good exegesis.

Matt said...

That should read **within the context of a parable...means the same thing in all cases or is a paradigm for an entire doctrine is not good exegesis.**

Kevin Rhyne said...

Matt,

I would agree with that.

Richard,

When something is ambiguous, we look to what is clear to explain it. The use of "dead" in the parable of the Prodigal Son is at least ambiguous as to "total depravity." The parable is clearly showing that the depths of sin a sinner may be under is no match for the depths of grace displayed by the father in addition to the shot across the bow to the Pharisees for their legalism.

It's not meant to be a definitive teaching on original sin and its consequences. Other passages, like Ephesians 2, are.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Matt and Kevin,

Even if we assume from the Parable that "dead in sin" means "lost in sin" via separation from God, we still have the question of how a lost person becomes found. Did the son come to his senses on his own? Arminians agree with Calvinists that the answer to that question is "no," in that God must act, seek, knock, open, convict, prick and pierce unregenerate hearts, which also brings us back to the question of whether God's preceding, prevenient grace is irresistible or resistible (which I then invoke the discussion on "in Christ" as previously discussed). Nevertheless, the point is that even if we agreed from the parable that dead = lost, this still does not nullify the necessity of God's preceding grace. Though the parable is silent on God's role in his return, I wouldn't use an "argument from silence" in order to base a conclusion against a preceding grace, which I'm sure that you would agree.

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

I think this is a helpful distinction you are making. My understanding is that Weslyan Arminians do believe that the Holy Spirit must "woo" a sinner in order for that sinner to come to faith. Although we wouldn't call it "wooing", Calvinists believe that the Holy Spirit must draw the sinner before he will come to Christ.

The crucial question is, does He just bring the sinner to a point of neutrality and leave him there? Calvinists answer with the words of Jesus (and yes, I prejudice the point...)

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. (John 6:37)

[Christ will not reject a gift from the Father]

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. (John 6:44)

[Again, none will come unless the Father draws, and those (all of those) drawn will be raised up on the last day]

And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (John 6:65)

Why was Jesus focused on this issue with His disciples at this moment?

But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) (John 6:64)

He was speaking of Judas. Judas was not given to Him from the Father. Judas was not drawn like the apostles and true disciples were drawn. He certainly heard the Gospel from the greatest evangelist that ever lived. But, his heart was hostile toward God. Rom. 8:7 But all of their hearts began as hostile toward God, according to Scripture. What made the difference between Judas and Peter? Jesus explains it in these passages: an effectual drawing, not simply a wooing, but drawing that had results. Namely, the conversion of the hard heart to a heart of flesh.

By the way, read your post today on Kennedy. Bubba, if you agree with those statements, you are a closet Calvinist... ;)

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Which comment from Kennedy makes you think that?

In terms of John 6:37, 44, what do you feel that John 6:45 means?

Kevin Rhyne said...

Richard,

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:45)

I think it means exactly what it says. Those who do not hear and learn from the Father will not believe. I'm sure that you don't believe that "they all" means every man, woman and child who has lived, is living and ever will live. To push it to the extreme, is everyone going to come to Christ? Was Hitler taught by God?

Look closely at what Kennedy says...“So God makes His sovereign selection from among the human race, a race of sinful and corrupt people, all of whom deserve condemnation. But God extends mercy to a vast multitude. He must be just, but He doesn't have to extend mercy to any. Those whom He selects are saved---a great number out of every tribe and tongue and nation. He sends His Spirit to them to draw them to Himself. But what about the rest? Note carefully: God invites them all to come. With a sincere invitation, He offers them a free salvation, paid for at the cost of His own dear Son.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.30)

Kennedy is stating what all Calvinists state: Christ's atonement was sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect. It goes back to "Why do they come?"

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Hey Kevin,

Actually, most Calvinists state that that would create a case of "double jeopardy." Some Calvinists believe that God doesn't "offer" salvation to all, but instead simply "preaches" the Gospel to all.

My focus was on what Kennedy said in reference to “the rest,” in terms that their sins had been paid for:

But what about the rest? Note carefully: God invites them all to come. With a sincere invitation, He offers them a free salvation, paid for at the cost of His own dear Son.” (Solving Bible Mysteries, p.30)

Doesn’t that seem to imply an unlimited scope atonement, though with the condition that one must look upon Christ in order to receive His gift of eternal life?

Regarding John 6:45, my understanding of “they shall all be taught of God” was in reference to Israel, to whom Jesus was sent, and that everyone (within that context) who has heard and learned from the Father will come to His Son (i.e. the Father drawing His own to His Son). The Pharisees refused the Father, whom they claimed to serve, even claiming to be disciples of Moses, even claiming that God was their Father, and hence did not hear and learn from the Father, and instead rejected the Father, and thus rejected the Son whom He sent. That’s my understanding of the overall context of who was given and who was drawn, as per John 6:37, 44 and John 17. The reason why I asked you about John 6:45 is because I wanted to establish background context to this interpretation. You may be surprised to hear that this has been the historical interpretation of this passage by many Arminians, though excluding Wesley, who took a different view.

www.examiningcalvinism.com said...

Sorry for my lack of consistency in posting. I'm currently in transition between South FL and North FL. I just started my new job on Monday. I actually wrote the Kennedy post in June, and just posted/edited it Wednesday morning. If you don't mind, please post your Kennedy thoughts in the Kennedy post, so we can dedicate this post for just thoughts on John 6 (giving/drawn/come). I'll visit your cite later today to pick back up on our discussion on Numbers.