Addressing Ed Dingess’ Critique Of My Prevenient Grace Article

Addressing Ed Dingess’ Critique Of My Prevenient Grace Article

I recently was contacted by a theologian named Ed Dingess who runs the website www.reformedreasons.com letting me know that he had wrote a “refutation” of my Maximally Great Argument against Calvinism, and if you’ve been following this blog for more than a week, you’ll remember how I dealt with those. It turns out that he also wrote a response to my blog post “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace?” in which I make the biblical case for God’s universal mission to bring “all men to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4) through the enlightening work of The Holy Spirit. Does Dr. Dingess succeed in undermining this crucial tenet of Arminian soteriology? Let’s take a look at what he has to say. His original article can be read in its entirety by clicking here. –> https://reformedreasons.com/2020/04/30/evan-mintons-evidence-for-prevenient-grace/

No Mention Of Prevenient Grace Or Molinism?

Ed Dingess wrote 

“Minton admits that the Bible itself does not mention the concept of prevenient grace but he contends that it can be inferred from four facts that the Bible does teach: ‘Like The Trinity (and I would contend, Molinism), even if The Bible nowhere addressed the potency level of God’s grace, it could still be inferred from 4 other facts that The Bible does teach.’ Why Minton tosses in Molinism alongside the Trinity is interesting to me because it has no more support either directly or by inference from Scripture than prevenient grace does. If anything, it has less which means it has no support from Scripture whatsoever.” 1

The very first sentence might be a straw man. I never said that The Bible does not mention the concept of prevenient grace, if by that he means that I asserted that the doctine is nowhere to be found in the pages of scripture. If by this he means that there’s no verse explicitly saying “God’s grace enables the depraved sinner to choose to repent or not”, then I will readily admit to that, just as there’s no verse explicitly saying “God is 3 persons in 1 divine essence”. I do think that there are verses that directly speak to the potency and resistibility of grace, but my main purpose in this article was to make an inferential argument for 4 facts that Dr. Dingess tries to refute later on in his article. 

Dr. Dingess says “Why Minton tosses in Molinism alongside the Trinity is interesting to me because it has no more support either directly or by inference from Scripture than prevenient grace does”2 – If he really believes this, then it’s clear that he hasn’t interacted with much of Molinist literature. I would defer him to check out my two papers “The Case For Mere Molinism” and “The Soteriological Case For Molinism” wherein I argue that only Molinism can explain ALL of what The Bible teaches about God’s sovereignty, human free will, and soteriology, whereas Molinism’s competitors can explain some of the biblical data but is at odds with others. 

The Four Facts That Infer Prevenient Grace

What are these “4 other facts” that the Bible does teach that infer prevenient grace?

1: Men are totally depraved and cannot repent without the aid of grace

2: God wants all people to be saved.

3: Jesus died on the cross for all people.

4: Not all people will be saved. Some will end up in Hell for eternity.

Fact 1: Men Are Totally Depraved and Cannot Repent Without The Aid Of Grace 

As expected, Dingess gladly concedes this point, but he takes issue with the phrase “aid of grace”. He then goes on to explain how Calvinists understand regeneration so that fact 1, at least in how it is worded, is problematic. But this is just semantic gnitpicking. Clearly, fact 1 asserts that grace is needed for human beings to repent. Whether you understand this grace in terms of resistible, enabling, grace or an irresistible force that makes someone saved irrespective of a free decision, will depend on whether the other 3 facts in my case stand up to exegetical scrutiny. To take issue with the phrase “aid of grace” is gnitpicky, but if Dr. Dingess prefers, I can change it to

1′ Men are totally depraved and cannot repent unless God does something.

Draw Or Drag? 

Dr. Dingess writes 

“The only issue here is how Minton uses the word draw. He seems to employ a modern definition in that the word draw means “try to persuade.” This is typical in Arminianism. The Greek word ekluo employed in John 6:44 means to pull or drag, requiring force because of the inertia of the object being dragged. It is a word that is always efficacious. Think about the idea of drawing a gun, or knife, the fishing net. It has no element of “trying to convince or persuade.” This changes how one interprets that text remarkably.”3

I find it very funny that the same people who say that Calvinism does not teach that God forces people into Heaven nevertheless say that The Holy Spirit’s work “drags” people to repentance. Which is it, Mr. Calvinist? Does God force people to be saved or not? You can’t have it both ways? Or can you? Maybe Dingess can do away with the inconsistency by appealing to “mystery” as is typical of Calvinists when inconsistencies in their system are exposed. Or maybe Dingess disagrees with most Calvinists on the issue of coercion. 

But let’s leave that aside. Dingess is correct that ἑλκύω can mean “dragged.” In John 21:6 & 11 it is used of the drawing of fish in a net, in John 18:10 of the drawing of a sword, and the word is used inActs 16:19 & 21:30 of the apostles being forcibly dragged through the streets. But, as Old Testament scholar John Walton says; words can have multiple meanings and we can’t simply survey the list of options and choose which one we like as though we were at a buffet picking what to put on our plate. We have to let the context decide.4

The context alerts us that tells us what Jesus means. As Craig L Adams says The same word (ἑλκύω) shows up in John 12:32 where Jesus says : “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” (NRSV, emhpasis mine) If ἑλκύω always means ‘forcibly dragged’ then this passage would logically entail universalism! Yet, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus says: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.‘ Thus, it appears, that Christ desires to draw to Himself people who are nonetheless unwilling to come! And, they do not.” (emphasis mine). Moreover, in Matthew 7:13 Jesus says “Enter ye in at the straight gate for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many which go in whereat.” (KJV). Clearly, not everyone will enter into the narrow gate that leads to life. Some (many in fact) will enter into the gate that leads to destruction. 

The only way out of this is to either concede that ekluo doesn’t have to mean “drag” in every single usage or, as Calvinists typically do, interpret “All people” as “all kinds of people” (some within every group in people in the world). However, I have never seen any Calvinist ever give a compelling reason to read “all people” as “all people groups” that didn’t come off as (a) ad hoc or (b) assert something the Arminian doesn’t already agree with. For example, many Calvinists will try to justify this reading of John 12:32 to by saying that The New Testaments’ emphasis is on saying that salvation isn’t for the Jews only, but gentiles also. “Gentiles also. Gentiles also. Gentiles also.” is what they had to pound into the minds of their Jewish audience who were under the impression that Jews and Jews only were God’s chosen people. However, could it be that The New Testament places such an emphasis, not because only some individuals in every group of people are who God wants to save, but because God wants all people in all people groups to be saved? If God wants all individuals to be saved, then, OF COURSE, we ought to find a gentile-extension emphasis in the text. After all, gentiles are people too. 

Now, Ed Dingess goes on to write

“The text essentially says No man can come to me unless the Father brings him and I will raise him up on the last day. Notice that the same people that God brings to Christ are also ‘raised up on the last day.’ There is nothing in the text to suggest that the person being drawn will resist.”

My recent e-mail correspondence with Dingess on Romans 9 has taught me that this guy is really bad at actual exegesis but rather good at proof texting. He’s not very good at taking scripture in context. Yes, there’s nothing in John 6:44 that suggests resistance. But we’re justified in making this interpretation on the basis of other biblical passages, and I’m sure that as a TH.D, Dr. Dingess has been taught the hermeneutical rule of interpreting scripture in light of scripture, so he ought to not call fowl here. 

In Acts chapter 7, Stephen had just been dragged in front of the Sanhedrin on the accusation that he repudiated the law of Moses and had blasphemed God. Stephen then went through a very lengthy recap of biblical history. At the end of his speech, he rebuked the religious leaders saying “You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (Acts 7:51, emphasis mine). Stephen says outright that the religious leaders were resisting The Holy Spirit! But wait, I thought that grace was a “dragging” type of act, something forceable and cannot be resisted! But Stephen says in Acts 7:51 explicitly that the religious leaders are resisting The Holy Spirit!

Again, in Matthew 23:37, Jesus says: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.‘ Thus, it appears, that Christ desires to draw to Himself people who are nonetheless unwilling to come! And, they do not.” (emphasis mine).

In Revelation 2:20-21, Jesus says “Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling.” 

All three of these passages certainly sound like someone is resisting God’s call of repentance. So while Dr. Dingess is right that there’s no hint of resistibility of God’s drawing in John 6:44, that is irrelevant once one looks at what the rest of scripture has to say.

The rest of Dr. Dingess’ comments are irrelevant. I agree that

“EVERYONE who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Christ. No ever hears and learns from the Father and then does NOT come to Christ.”

and 

“The Father is the one who brings men and Jesus will not cast them out and they will be raised up on the last day.”

What exactly is supposed to be the argument here?

Fact 2: God Wants All People To Be Saved

Dingess seems to have two strategies in his attempt to refute this point: (1) An appeal to the fact that God did not provide a way of salvation for fallen angels, and (2) The Secret/Revealed Will view. 

God Didn’t Provide A Way Of Salvation For Fallen Angels

With regards to the first, I ironically can appeal to an argument that Calvinists themselves (e.g Jim Boucher or ThereforeGodExists.com) make in trying to harmonize their view that (1) God loves all people and (2) that Jesus did not die for all people despite loving them. While I don’t think this works for human beings (see my response to Jim Boucher here to see why), I do think it’s a plausible explanation for why the devil has no means of salvation. I would dispute that God hates fallen angels. I don’t think God hates fallen angels any more than he hates fallen humans. God is an omnibenevolent being because He is a Maximally Great Being, and as a Maximally Great Being, He loves all people to the deepest extent possible (see my “Maximally Great Argument Against Calvinism”). This includes even non-human persons like the fallen angels. But if God loves them, why didn’t He prove a way to be saved? Well, it may be that God could not atone for the sins of humanity AND the sins of the fallen angels. He could atone for either humans or fallen angels but not both? Why? Well, the majority of the church fathers held that the very reason that God became incarnate was that it was the only way to save us. Gregory Nazianzen said  “What has not been assumed has not been healed”, in response to the question of whether Jesus had a rational mind; the point was that in order for Jesus to heal our sinful minds He had to have a thoroughly human mind of his own. The argument extends to all elements of our humanity, to every aspect of our nature, and — contrary to various heretics — especially to those things which make us weak. Jesus had to assume the human nature to save the human nature. 

Now perhaps in assuming a human nature, He couldn’t have also assumed the nature of a fallen angel. Since he couldn’t have assumed the nature of a fallen angel, he couldn’t save them, even though He wants to. It may have been infeasible for God to have provided atonement for both groups. Or perhaps as some preachers have said, Christ can’t die for angels because angels inherently can’t die.5 The Bible does not tell us why fallen angels aren’t granted atonement, but it is biblically and philosophically untenable to say that the reason is that He doesn’t love them or want them redeemed. 

The Secret And Revealed Wills Of God

What Dingess puts forth as the Secret/Revealed Wills paradigm

Dingess said 

“God does NOT want unrepentant sinners to be saved. That is to say that for humans who insist on remaining obstinate, God does not have some internal emotional desire (in the same sense as we think of desire) that they be saved. God wills that all men would repent in that God wills that no man should commit adultery, murder, lie, steal, etc. God wills that all men repent and believe the gospel because this is a universal command. No people group and no class of men is exempt from God’s will or command. But this is remarkably different from God’s eternal plan, his decretive will, his purpose in the earth and Minton conflates God’s will in the sense of command with God’s will in the sense of God’s eternal purpose and plan. …….Therefore, God desires to punish the wicked for their iniquity even though he takes no pleasure in their death. It is both. God does whatever he wants to do and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

He begs the question in favor of the secret/revealed wills paradigm rather than the antecedent/consequent wills paradigm. I would say that antecedently, God wants all people to be saved. Consequently, God desires unbelievers to perish. God wants everyone to be saved, but He only wants this to happen through entering into a faith covenant relationship with Him.

Perhaps I can cash this out another way. I agree that God doesn’t want unrepentant sinners in Heaven. God doesn’t want to let people clinging to their evil ways through the pearly gates. God desires evil people to perish and repentant people to have eternal life. However, God wishes there were no unrepentant people. He desires that all people fall into the latter category (those of repentant sinners). 

I also agree that

“God does not enjoy the death of the wicked even if he decreed it. And the question cannot be did God decree it for Scripture is abundantly plain that God decreed everything that comes to past and that his purpose will be accomplished everywhere and at all times.”

I am a Molinist after all, and Molinists affirm that everything is exhaustively prdestined. Where Dr. Dingess and I disagree is in how God decreed everything. Does God determine causally all things? Or did God consult His middle knowledge of what free creatures would do? Dingess begs the question in favor of the former definition of “decree”, and here I would just defer him to my paper “The Case For Mere Molinism”. 

As a Molinist, I wholeheartedly affirm the words of Isaiah 46:9-11.

Fact 3: Jesus Died For All People

In this section, Dr. Dingess begs the question against an inclusivist view of the unevangelized, and uses this as his attempt at justifying restricting the universal language of 1 John 2:2 and John 12:32. But what reason does he give to think inclusivism (i.e that people can be saved through the work of Christ by responding to God’s general revelation in nature and conscience even though they never heard the propositional content of the gospel) is false? Dr. Dingess doesn’t give any reason to think it’s false, he just presupposes it in his rebuttal. 

Moreover, that “Scripture employs the word all with a qualification in a number of instances.” is irrelevant. We know when “all” is used with or without qualification because the context reveals this to usw. But there is nothing in the context of John 3:16, 1 John 2:2, 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, or John 1:21 that would restrict it. In the absence of such contextual qualification, The Bible reader is justified in believing that these verses apply across the globe to every individual.

Dingess wrote 

“The Hebrew word atonement is כָּפַר (kapar) and it means to smear, to cover, to appease, to make amends. So, when the Hebrew heard that his sins had been atoned for, it meant he was forgiven. This is exactly what penal-substitutionary atonement means. If Christ made atonement for your sins, then they are covered, appeased, amended. There is no such thing as a person whose sins have been atone for later coming under the judgment and wrath of God. This leaves Arminians and Minton with them in the awkward position of having to do some exegetical gyrations.”

We Arminians are not the ones who have to do exegetical gyrations. We have no problem with the word “atone”. I agree that to atone for one’s sins means to pay the debt for one’s sins. To have the debt paid means you are free from the aformentioned debt. Arminians agree with Calvinists that only the elect have their sins atoned for. Where we disagree is on whether God intended for all people to have their sins atoned for or only a select few. Dingess would obviously say it’s the latter. As I said in another article, my sins were not atoned for at the cross. My sins were atoned for when I placed my faith in Christ. Thus, God had a legal basis to condemn me prior to believing in Jesus. For those who never believe, their sins are never atoned for. For them, the death of Jesus remains an uncashed check. So I guess you could say I do believe in “Limited Atonement” in one sense. It’s limited in application. But that’s not really where the disagreement lies, obviously.

One can say atonement is available for all, but applied only to some. Thus, we need not adopt some strange definition of the word “atonement” to hold that Christ died for all people. 

Also, in a funny twist of irony, Dingess has a problem interpreting 1 John 2:2 as “potential propitiation” but for some reason, he considers interpreting “all people” as “all kinds of people” is perfectly acceptable.

Fact 4: Not All People Will Be Saved

I wrote “What Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace” before I became an annihilationist, but the way Fact 4 is worded still fits with my view. While people don’t exist “in” a place for all eternity, they are condemned for eternity. Matthew 10:28 says that unbelievers will be destroyed in both body and soul and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 says that this destruction will be eternal. 

Concluding Remarks

Dingess fallaciously goes on to use an instance of “all” (Colossians 1:28) which is clearly qualified to argue that an unqualified “all” (John 1:9) should be restricted. He’s done this several times throughout his article and it’s a common tactic of Calvinists. Context is king. I will gladly concede that “all” does not mean “All without exception” in passage X if passage X has some restrictive qualifier N, but the fact that Passage Y has a restrictive qualifier cannot be used to restrict passage X if passage X lacks such restrictive qualifiers. To do so would be the fallacy of illegitimate totality transfer. 7

He then uses examples of prevenient grace (disciples on the road to Emmaus and Lydia) as examples that contradict prevenient grace. 

Then he asks some rhetorical questions that, if done by me, he would accuse me of “relying on human reasoning rather than solid exegesis”, but which I actually have dealt with elsewhere on this site

In the end, Ed Dingess once again fails miserably to refute the case for Arminian soteriology. 


NOTES 

1: Edward Dingess, “Evan Minton’s Evidence For Prevenient Grace”, April 30th 2020, https://reformedreasons.com/2020/04/30/evan-mintons-evidence-for-prevenient-grace/ 

2: Edward Dingess, “Evan Minton’s Evidence For Prevenient Grace”, April 30th 2020, https://reformedreasons.com/2020/04/30/evan-mintons-evidence-for-prevenient-grace/

3: ibid. 

4: Walton, John H.. The Lost World of Genesis One (The Lost World Series) (p. 91). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

5: Although as an annihilationist who interprets Psalm 82 literally, I find this alternative untenable. 

6: ” How God Shows No Partiality In Relation to Salvation”By Phillip A. Mast | August 15, 2017 – https://freethinkingministries.com/how-god-shows-no-partiality-in-relation-to-salvation/ 

7: https://danielbwallace.com/tag/illegitimate-totality-transfer/

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