I recently made an exception to my self imposed rule about not writing any posts about Calvinism when I wrote “What Biblical Evidence Is There For Prevenient Grace”. I did this because I had a fire lit under me. Richard Bushey of ThereforeGodExists.com wrote an article critiquing the article. You can read it by clicking here. Unfortunately, that means I have to respond to his critique (A) out of courtesy and (B) to prevent people from being lead away from the truth by the falsehoods in his response. So, let’s get this over with.
Richard’s first critique is that my argument is logically invalid. Let me defend that first point.
First, I want to correct a misunderstanding that several people have had, and perhaps Richard had this as well. My first argument for Prevenient Grace wasn’t a syllogism, but merely a list of facts from which I drew my inference from. Similar to how, when arguing for Jesus’ resurrection, I’ll list
1: Jesus died by crucifixion.
2: Jesus’ tomb was empty
3: His disciples saw Him 3 days after His crucifixion.
4: Paul converted based on what he claimed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
5: James converted based on what he claimed was an appearance of the risen Jesus.
From the 4 facts in my prevenient grace article, I used abductive reasoning afterwards to conclude that the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace was the best explanation of the 4 established facts, and that to deny prevenient grace, in order to uphold Universalism, Calvinism, or Pelagianism, you’d have to conclude that at least one or two of the listed facts are not true. Just like in the Minimal Facts, I conclude that only the resurrection hypothesis can explain the 5 facts mentioned above. So if it looks invalid, it’s because I never intended for it to be a syllogism in the first place, but merely a list of facts from which I would build an abductive case from. Once you understand this, you’ll realize that it’s not invalid logically, and that if you disagree with the conclusion, it’s because you deny 1 or more of the facts.
*Would God Not Reach Out To Someone Because He Knows They Won’t Repent?
The thing Calvinists usually deny is facts 2 and 3, that God wants all to be saved and that Jesus died on the cross for all people. I argued that if these are true, then it would follow that God would send grace to all. But then, universalism would be true resulting in a denial of fact number 4 (that some people end up in Hell).
Richard objected to my argument that God would send grace to all if He wanted all saved by saying “But if that man knew infallibly that his beloved would say no, then one could hardly blame him for withholding the proposal. Similarly, God knows who would decline his offer. Why should he be compelled to reach out to someone that he knows will not answer?”
— One answer I’ve given from time to time to this is that if God grants a person grace and draws them to Himself, and they reject it, He can hold them accountable for the sin of unbelief. They have no excuse since it was entirely possible for them to receive salvation. Now, on the other hand, if no grace at all is being extended to them, they could very well excuse themselves on judgment day for not believing. If God says to them “Why did you reject me in unbelief?” they could say “I could not do otherwise. You did not give me the grace I needed to respond in belief”. But The Bible teaches that no one will be able to excuse themselves before the Almighty. In John 15:22, Jesus said “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.” Jesus said those who denied Him during his ministry were without excuse because He came and spoke to them. Romans 1:20 says that men are without excuse in not believing in God because the evidence from nature is so compelling. Yet we know that without grace, no one can believe. So for God to punish unbelievers for being unbelievers would be akin to penalizing an armless man for not hugging you, or it’d be like holding a comatose man accountable for not going to work. He can’t help not working! He’s in a comatose! It makes no sense not that things not making sense has ever bothered a Calvinist. It seems man would have a very good excuse to bring to God on judgment day (i.e “I didn’t because you didn’t.”), and that contradicts what the scripture states. On Bushey’s Molinist-Calvinist view, God could condemn people for other sins they commit (since, unlike on regular Calvinism, God didn’t cause them to commit murder, rape, etc. they committed these actions freely), but I don’t see how unbelief (i.e rejection of the gospel and Christ) could be culpable.
One reason God gives grace to those He knows will never respond may be to deprive them of any excuses they may have on judgment day, so that rejection of the gospel proclamation can actually be culpable. If Salvation was within their reach and they did not take it, they cannot complain to the Almighty for being unfair in condemning them precisely for the sin of unbelief.
Secondly, it seems to me that if God really loves a person, He would try to woo them even if He knows in advance that He’ll be turned down. After all, that’s what you do when you care about someone, right? A doctor who cares about his patient will still perform CPR and use defribulators, and all kinds of things to keep a patient alive even if he knows there’s a 99% chance the patient won’t make it. He does so because he cares.
In fact, we see evidence of this in The Bible. For example, when a rich man came to Jesus and asked Him what he could do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to obey all of the commandments. The man said that he had obeyed all of the commandments his whole life. Jesus then told him that there’s one thing he hasn’t done, and said “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (ESV) The Bible then says that the man went away said because he had many possessions. (see Matthew 19:16-22). The man did not heed Jesus’ instructions. His wealth was of more importance to him than his relationship with God. Ergo, he did not inherit eternal life because his sin of greed and idolatry was too precious for him to give up. Nevertheless, Jesus spoke to him. He didn’t brush him off saying “What good will it do talking to you? You’re not going to listen to anything I say.”
Perhaps Richard or other Calvinists might object that Jesus didn’t really love him nor desired his salvation (because God hates the reprobate, like Esau), and that perhaps He was reaching out to the rich man for the sake of following it up with the lesson he gave the disciples in the following verses, but the parallel account in Mark’s gospel mentions that Jesus loved the rich young man (see verse 21), so that response will not do. It seems Jesus was reaching out to him in love, and not merely to use him as a prop for a spiritual lesson.
*The Competing Desires Argument
Richard then argued that God could have more than one desire, in fact that he could have conflicting desires. He said that this isn’t uncommon, after all, even human beings have conflicting desires. A man may want to lose weight to get in shape but also spend more time with his family, but doing one may infringe on his doing the other. He wrote “It is logically possible for God to want everybody to be saved, but have a greater desire that his justice and his wrath are put on display for the sake of his glorification.” – I’m not sure if Richard is making this argument, but it sounds a lot like the explanation I’ve heard from many other Calvinists….which is that the damned must be damned in order for God to be glorified. God may want everyone in Heaven, but His glory is far too important to sacrifice for the sake of universal salvation, so He must damn a good many people for maximum glorification. I have always been unnerved by this kind of thinking. The Calvinist usually asks “How could God’s justice and wrath be displayed if no one ends up in Hell? How could anyone know God was just unless there was an opportunity to mete out justice?” So, they argue, even though God wants everyone saved, He doesn’t irresistibly drag everyone to Heaven because some have to be sacrificed so people know just how just and wrathful He is.
The problem with this explanation is that it seems to remove freedom from God. In order for God to be 100% glorified, He has to create the damned, He’s not free to save everyone if He wants to. Worse yet, God doesn’t have the freedom to refrain from creating! He has to create the material universe or else He’s not as glorified as He could be. This contradicts the traditional view that creation is a FREE act of God, and in fact logically entails that God was lacking in glory prior to the damnation of the non-elect. How could He be a maximally great being if He was lacking in glory? And doesn’t The Bible imply that God does not need anything? “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” (Acts 17:24-25). Paul said that God doesn’t — unlike the pagan gods his audience worshiped – live in temples made by human hands and isn’t served by human hands “as if he needed anything”. The phrase “as if he needed anything” implies that God doesn’t need anything from us humans. He’s complete in and of Himself. There’s nothing we can give to God to improve Him in any way. Instead, God gives US everything we need, and improves US.
If God must damn people in order to FULLY be glorified, doesn’t this entail that He does need something from us? Namely, to be damned so He can show off His wrathfulness? This explanation, which I’ve heard far too often from the Calvinist crowd, seems to diminish God by making Him needy of the damned.
But even if Richard is not saying the damn must be damned for God to be fully glorified, but is merely saying that God merely desires both, and chooses one over the other, I’m still not swayed. The Bible teaches that love is not self seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), and that God is the very essence of love (1 John 4:8, 1 John 4:16). If God loves all people (because He is love), wouldn’t He care more about their eternal well being than to show off how wrathful He can be in the face of evil? To damn people simply for the sake of glory seems self seeking. If love is not self seeking (1 Corinthians 13:5), and God is love (1 John 4:8), then how can God act in a self seeking manner?
The apologist Tim Stratton points out another problem with the competing desires argument. Namely that it entails that God desires sin. If all people being saved would detract from God’s glory, and God desires all to be saved, then it follows that God desires something which would detract from His glory. Stratton writes “Why would God even have a desire for something which would detract from or negate His glory? Anything that does not bring glory to God is evil. It seems the Calvinist inadvertently contends that God has a desire (albeit a lesser one) to sin!” “The Petals Drop: Problems With The Competing Desires Objection“ Since I can’t believe God would desire sin, I must reject the competing desires argument, unless Richard can show that desiring for something to occur which would detract from the glory of God is not sinful.
Given the problems with the competing desires argument, we must conclude that if God does desire all saved, he would do something to get them saved, such as dying on the cross for them and sending them grace. The only out Richard has is to deny that He does in fact want everyone saved, which is what Calvinists do.
How Do I Understand Total Depravity?
Richard then quoted my section on total depravity, and doesn’t take issue with it since it is something even Calvinists agree on. Only a pelagian would deny total depravity. Then Richard wrote “The question that confronts Mr. Minton is in what sense these classifications even apply to mankind. Does it even make sense to say that mankind is totally depraved and unable to turn to God? If God has provided this prevenient grace to mankind so as to fundamentally alter our state of mind and enable us to choose him, then in what sense are we hostile to God, unable to submit to his laws?”
Richard’s question mirrors an allegation that I’ve heard from different Calvinists on different occasions, namely that prevenient grace makes total depravity only hypothetical and not actual. Arminian blogger Ben Henshaw addresses this in one of his blog posts.
He writes “First, many Arminians hold that the grace that specifically enables a faith response accompanies the Gospel message. So it is only in accordance with the Gospel message being heard that one is enabled to believe it. It seems that this person is thinking more of a version of prevenient grace that would have us under that influence from the time we are born (more like in Wesleyanism). But even in that version, the objection still doesn’t really work.”
I myself lean more toward this view than the Wesleyan view that God is drawing us 100% of the time. I think it very well could be the case that God’s grace enables us to believe only when faced with gospel presentations; A person is drawn whenever he hears a sermon, or reads The Bible, or watches a Christian movie, or debates a Christian Apologist. I don’t know if this version is true, but this is where I lean, and this model of PG would avoid the implications of the Calvinist objection, as it would be the case that people are experiencing total depravity to the fullest extent much of the time except for those moments that someone is witnessing to them. For the full answer, I recommend clicking on this link. I can’t quote anymore for the sake of brevity, and for the sake of staying within fair use.
Do Facts 2 and 3 Of My Arguments Not Entail Each Other?
In addressing my arguments for God wanting all saved, and Jesus dying for all. He said that the 2 need not necessarily go together (i.e God wanting all saved and Jesus dying for all do not have to presuppose one another), because Jesus could die for all in one sense, but not another. He wrote “Perhaps he died in a victus christi sense for those who are not his people, and he died in a substitutionary sense for those who are not his people.” –
We must ask “If God wants all saved, why didn’t He die (in a salvific sense) for all?” If a child wants his entire school to come to his birthday party, does it make sense for him to send invitations to only a few, and then penalize the ones unaware that it was his birthday for not coming? Or again, if the child sent invitations to his entire school, wouldn’t that presuppose that he wanted everyone to come? Why else would he send the invites? If he wanted them to come, wouldn’t he send them an invitation? It does seem to me that the two do imply each other, just like God wanting everyone saved and Jesus dying for all. If God wanted everyone saved, He would have died for all for the purpose of achieving their salvation. If the purpose of Jesus dying was to achieve salvation for all, that entails that He wanted them to be saved in the first place.
Richard’s argument that facts 2 and 3 don’t imply each other is because it’s possible that Jesus could have died for the non-elect for some non-salvific purpose, so “Jesus died for all” wouldn’t have to mean that God wanted the ones He died for to be saved. But it seems very speculative to suppose that Jesus died for one group of people in one sense, and another group in another sense. One would need to provide evidence that this is in fact the case. One would need to provide evidence that Jesus did not die for all the same sense. Richard acknowledges this, but for some reason he thinks the mere possibility undermines my argument. As J. Warner Wallace pointed out in his book Cold Case Christianity, just about anything is possible, but what is the most probable explanation? What direction does the evidence point? Possibilities are cheap. Probabilities are what matter. Would anyone reading these passages, unless they had a theological axe to grind come to the conclusion that Jesus died for all people in 2 different senses?
This “two different senses” notion is especially untenable when one reads passages like the following; “and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:15). These texts at least seem to be talking about Jesus’ universal death for the purpose of achieving salvation. 1 John 2:2 is another text that comes to mind “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” If one agrees that these passages are referring to all people, then one has to conclude that Jesus died for the sins of all people, and not merely to accomplish some other goal. Richard obviously doesn’t agree that these refer to all people, but nevertheless, his point in this section was that even if one conceded that Christ’s death was intended for all people, we need not conclude it was intended for the non-elect in a salvific way. In response to his point, I’m arguing that it seems clear that if you take these passages at least to refer to every human being, then it follows that Jesus died in a salvific sense for all people. Many Calvinists realize this, and that’s why they try to deny that they are in fact referring to all people. Richard also denies that these and other texts like them are referring to all people, and he gives his reason in the article. I’ll address it in a moment.
In conclusion, if you take “Jesus died for all” in a salvific sense, which is what I presupposed and which the plain meaning of the atonement texts seem to be saying, then it seems 2 and 3 do entail one another after all.
Let’s move on to Richard’s rebuttals of my exegesis of several texts.
John 3:16 —
Richard criticized my interpretation of John 3:16, pointing out that animals, molecules, and insects are part of the world too, so my argument makes no sense to say that Jesus died for anyone who was a part of the world.
This criticism is just silly. I thought it was clear that both the verse and my exegesis of it presupposed that it was human persons who were a part of the world, since only human persons are sinners in need a redeemer. No one reading the passage would think it refers to dogs or molecules.
The context is clearly that of personal salvation. Remember that just a few verses earlier, Jesus, in the very same conversation with Nicodemus, was talking about how to become born again in order to enter the Kingdom of God (John 3:1-3). But moreover, the stress of the verse and the verses that follow is on the conditionality of salvation, not the restoration of the created order. There are other passages that deal with that topic, but John 3 is not one of them.
Besides, John consistently uses Kosmos to refer to human civilization, such as John 1 to give one example. Overall, Richard seems to be taking the term too literally. The context is clearly indicating that the subject of Christ’s death are human beings. Jesus most likely used “the world” to reveal the scope of people He came for (i.e everyone across the globe).
2 Peter 3:9 —
I’m aware of the context in which this verse is written, and I agree with Bushey’s exegesis of 2 Peter 3 (in fact, I’ve said as much in my dealings with the problem of suffering), however, I disagree with his conclusion that it means the passage is implying that God only wants a certain number of people saved. Why is God delaying the end of the world? Precisely because He wants all people saved, and He knows that if given more time, another person would repent. God keeps the world turning for the sake of that one person. God so loves human beings that He isn’t willing to lose even one to the fires of Hell. If keeping this wretched world in existence for one more second means one more person will respond, so be it.
True, those who respond are the elect, so He is keeping the world in existence for the sake of the elect. But it doesn’t follow that He doesn’t want the others saved too.
God wants all people saved. That’s why He keeps the world turning, because if He ends it now, people who would repent in 2020 or 2073, or whatever, would perish. He knows not all will repent (even though that’s what He wants), but He knows some will.
All People –
Richard then addressed a group of texts I used to argue that Jesus died for all people which explicitly used the terms “all people” and “world” and other universal language. He seems to be arguing that 1 Timothy 2:4 and others are parallel passages to scriptures talking about salvation being extended to gentiles as well, and not merely Jews, and that the reason passages like John 3:16 and 1 John 4:14 use the term “world”, and why passages like 1 Timothy 2:4 uses the term “all people” is precisely because they’re trying to emphasize the fact that the Jews are not God’s people alone, but gentiles can be a part of the group as well. This one surprised me in particular because I’ve never heard the justification for the “all kinds” hermenutic done quite this way. Every other time Calvinists just assert that these passages mean “all kinds” of people with no justification given for such an interpretation, which is precisely why I said it was an ad hoc explanation it seemed it was contrived just to avoid the conclusion that the atonement was meant for all. But Richard actually tried to provide a defense for it.
Addressing all of the “all” texts in general, I noticed that Richard just asserts that “all men” means “all people groups”. There’s a bit of truth in what Richard said, and he’s taking that little nugget of truth in order twist the meanings of the words used in passages like 2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4, 1 Timothy 4:10, and so on. While it’s true that The New Testament addresses people groups , (particularly Jews and Gentiles), that does not somehow change the meaning of “all people” into “all people groups”. And even if it did, it would not somehow exclude many of this or that people group. The plausibility is on the side of interpreting the wording of the text at its prima facie meaning and seeing a particular emphasis being brought out. The language might emphasize Jesus’ death for both Jews and Gentiles, but it does not transform into meaning ONLY some Jews and some Gentiles. No, it means all Jews and all Gentiles.
I agree that Jesus died for all people groups. Again, if He died for everyone, the logical entailment is that He died for every people group. The question is; did Jesus only die for certain individuals in all people groups, or did He die for everyone in every people group.
The fact that The Bible teaches (A) *That the atonement applies to the Gentiles, not just the Jews*, does not cancel out (B) *The Atonement was provided for every individual human person*. And the fact that some passages teach A, does not mean all passages are merely referring to A rather than B. Richard has not proven B to be false. He has only shown A to be true. But of course, B presupposes the truth of A. So pointing out that A is true only reminds us of what we already knew. If Jesus died for every single human being, as the prima facie meaning of the texts appear to say, then of course that entails that the atonement goes beyond just Jews, since Gentiles are people too.
Over the course of my writing this, I had an e-mail discussion with my friend Jonathan Thompson of the Facebook group “Molinism – Official Page”, on what he thought about this particular section of Bushey’s article. In an e-mail, He gave me his exegesis on one of the several passages I used in the previous article, arguing that indeed it does mean “all people” without exception or distinction.
He writes ” With respect to 1 Timothy 2:4 I think this is probably the strongest prooftext one can give in favor of general atonement for a few reasons: First, there is the immediate definition of the word ‘all’ (πάντας/pantas) used in that verse. It means “every kind” without qualification. Second, the word used for desires (θέλω/thelo), according to Strong’s, denotes a strong desire and willingness for anyone willing to act. Further, as Strong’s highlights, this word is often used when the Lord is wanting to produce a saving faith in someone.
Next, although Richard will likely point out that universally quantifying words or phrases such as “all” or “all-type” words can and often do restrict themselves to a particular sub-group, it’s worth noting that this feature in of itself doesn’t give us reason to think that our understanding of the relevant verse as referring to all people, without qualification is just a crapshoot. This is because there are always contextual hints which indicate the authors intended meaning.
……the giveaway of what the author intended seems to be in verse 1 which states “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people”. In this verse the phrase “all people” seems to be referring to all people, without qualification. Paul then moves on to singling out particulars (authority figures) who ought to be prayed for. That in mind, given verse 1, the argument Paul is making seems to be using the word ‘all’ symmetrically: that all people be prayed for (2:1), that God wants all to be saved (2:4), that Jesus gave himself, a ransom for all (2:6). So why would Paul single out particulars? First, just to get it out of the way we wouldn’t want to say that the ‘all’ applies to the authority figures mentioned because this would entail (given other reformed commitments) that all rulers are elect, which is surely not true.
Maybe Richard wants to get around this by suggesting that the word ‘all’ in these verses are used asymmetrically, but how in the world could he reach that conclusion exegetically? Surely that is ad hoc. Instead, it seems that authorities are given by Paul merely as an example of those who are to be prayed for (recall that Nero was the emperor during the time of this writing after all, so it would be completely appropriate for Paul to mention this) Why? “so that we may lead a quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (2:2) . This is pleasing to the Lord. In other words, this authority clause is a sidenote – a parenthetical expression – something commonplace in Pauline writing; Paul interrupting his own symmetrical exhortation, since God, who is Savior, desires all to be saved and died for all.”
Also, while Paul is talking about gentiles in verse 7, he specifically relates it to the purposes which speak of all people, without qualification.
With respect to Titus 2:11, again, I’ll point out the fact that Arminians are in total agreement with Calvinists in the belief that Jesus died for all groups of people, so merely pointing out that the “all” concerns types and not particulars does not prove the Calvinists point. Rather, where Calvinists and Arminian’s disagree is with respect to how extensive the offer of salvation is within those types. So the question is not whether Christ died for all types of people, rather it’s if he died for all of the people within the set of all types.
Further, merely pointing out that Christ died for all types of people and leaving it at that actually supports general atonement. Why? Because the set of all types of people just is logically equivalent to all people without qualification. Think about it this way: Suppose we have a set, call it X, Males that have an X and Y chromosome. Since males, by definition, have both an X and Y chromosome then every type of male specified will be exhaustive of all males, period. Similarly, pointing out that Christ died for all types of people just is logically equivalent to saying that Christ died for all people. The only way this wouldn’t be equivalent is if Paul made some qualification that would exclude individual members within those types. The problem is that Paul makes no such distinction, thus, we have no reason to believe that Titus 2:11 is talking about limited atonement.
Next, it’s worth noting that Titus is a pastoral epistle and the overarching theme of the letter of course is going to include specific instructions for the administration of the church, which requires distinctions between various groups in the church, which Paul identifies as older, men, older women, younger women, young men, bondservants, etc. but in verse 11, in a phrase on salvation, Paul chooses to use the Greek words for all men. If Paul really wanted to specify something narrower than that, he could have used the phrase we see in Titus 1:1, “God’s elect.” Instead, he chooses to use the exact term that he’s used elsewhere throughout the New Testament that clearly mean absolutely everyone. Such uses would be found in verses such as: Romans 5:12, 5:18, 12:17, 12:18, 2 Cor 3:2, 1 Tim 2:1, 2:4, 4:10 and most relevantly, Titus 3:2. It’s hard to see how someone with Calvinist sympathies could think Paul’s use of the word “all” in Titus 2:11 could be anything less than a universal statement in light of this.
Finally, Richard might point out that we can know that Paul is only talking about salvation being offered to Christian’s because verses 13 and 14 say that grace and salvation was given for Christian’s – of course grace and salvation is given to Christian’s. Arminians don’t deny this. It does not say, however, that grace is not given to unbelievers or that salvation is not available to unbelievers.
Richard is reading too much into the text.
It would take too long to address the other texts individually, but at least these are evidently referring to all people. There is nothing in the context of the verses which would merely restrict it to simply every people group. Pointing out the doctrine of salvation extended to gentiles does not disprove the Arminian interpretation of this verse.
Before I end this section, I want address Richard’s use of the 1 Cornthians passage, I think this actually does refer to all people. Paul is saying that regardless of the social situation, he’ll blend in for the sake of spreading the gospel. He’ll become anything to any man so that by God’s grace, he might win some converts. I Corinthians as well is not just talking about people groups, but it is not talking about individuals either. Paul is saying that wherever he is, and whoever he meets, he’ll blend in socially. Paul could very well be thinking of the entire human race and expresses a desire to change his evangelistic tactics to be a more effective witness regardless of which human being in existence he has an opportunity to preach to. In other words, Paul couldn’t travel to the Americas to witness to the Native American Indians, but he would have changed up his tactics if he did.
Acts 7:51 –
Richard may be the first Calvinist to ever address my use of Acts 7:51 in my case for resistible grace. I’ve stumped just about every Calvinist I’ve pulled this on except Richard. He should get some prize for actually having a response (regardless of whether it’s a successful rebuttal). However, the fact that this isn’t a salvation text isn’t necessarily relevant. This is because the irresistibly of God’s power in His general providence is also part of Calvinist theology. If Richard wants to say that we can resist God, but not in salvation (which, given his combination of Molinism and Calvinism is likely the case), then Acts 7 may or may not fall out of play. However, I know of no regular Calvinist who would say that. Most Calvinists argue that no one can resist God’s will, that God always gets what He wants and is never thwarted. Acts 7:51 flies in the face of that however, regardless of whether it can be applied to salvation.
Besides, the removal of Acts 7:51 need not lessen the case for resistible grace. I used to think Revelation 3:20 was a good text arguing for the resistibility of God’s grace, but I no longer think that’s the case, which is why I didn’t cite it in my prior post on this subject. It’s a favorite text among Arminians, but I’m more inclined to see Revelation 3:20 the same way that Calvinist does; it’s Jesus speaking not to unbelievers, but to the lukewarm churches, hence, not a good proof text. Acts 7:51 could be discarded as well if it proves useless to the case. I would still believe the resistibility of God’s grace based on the abductive inference from the 4 biblical facts I cited and defended in the previous blog post, and other scriptures cited in the previous post as well as other scripture passages I didn’t even cite in the previous article for the sake of brevity.
But can this passage not apply to salvation after all? I don’t know anymore, but I’ll surely investigate to find out if Richard’s right about this one.
Joshua 24:14 –
For a person claiming to be a Molinist, his treatment of this passage struck me as bizarre. He said that Calvinists don’t deny that people have a choice, and said “If I put a plate of cookies and a plate of liver and onions in front of Evan, he would have a choice. He would be able to choose the liver and onions. But he never would. He would choose the cookies every single time. Liver and onions repulse him.” – Let me explain why this is bizarre; Richard identifies as a Molinist. Essential to being a Molinist is a belief in libertarian free will. Molinism is, at minimum, a view that people can have libertarian freedom while God still has meticulous control over what happens in history. He does this by means of his middle knowledge. But here, Richard seems to be talking like a compatiblist! Implying that I have no ability to choose the liver and onions, and will only and always opt for the cookies!
It seems to me that if it’s only possible for me to take one course of action when presented with alternatives, then I am not “free” in any meaningful sense of the word. Essentially, the compatiblist is saying we made a free choice simply because we took the course of action we wanted to. But we couldn’t want otherwise, and moreover, we cannot choose against what we desire. Our desires determine us. Another form of compatiblism says our nature or character determines our choices. But no matter which form of determinism you take, if I can only do A or A when faced with the choice of A or B, how could I be free? Was my choice really a choice?
Most of us would say no. In fact, when faced with situations in which we have only one course of action to take, we qualify our actions with “I had no choice”. For example, in an episode of The Big Bang Theory, when Leonard finds out during a dinner conversation that his mother and roommate Sheldon had his dog put down, he shouts “Mitzy’s dead!?” and Sheldon responds “She was old and blind, Leonard. What choice did we have?”
The common sense of most people tells them that if they only have one course of action to take, they had no real choice. Compatiblism is like telling a caged man that he’s free to be caged. Calvinists may use the word “choice” but it carries a very different meaning then the way most people (and I) use the term. And in fact, I argue that it’s a very trivial meaning. It’s just that you “choose” to do what forces outside of yourself (or inside of yourself) make you want to do. You can call having your actions rendered inevitable by forces out of your control “free choices” if you want to, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they are. I can call myself a dog, but that doesn’t mean I am one.
Joshua is implying that the Israelites had a genuine choice to make, and that they could choose one or the other. They could choose to serve God or not. God would be disingenuous if He said “You can do X or Y” if He would causally determine them to only do X, or not enable them to choose Y. And yet, Joshua 24:14 appears to imply just the opposite; the Israelites can go either to God or pagan false gods. They have the ability to make either choice, thus truly having a choice to make.
Liver and onions might repulse me, but I do have it within my power to eat them. If in my childhood, my mother put the plate in front of me, commanding me to eat it, I would refuse. I might put up a fight if my Mom consistently berates me for resisting, but I may eventually cave in and eat. Or I would go to bed without supper if I was extra resilient. In fact, the child me couldn’t cook, so if my mother didn’t cook the liver and onions, I wouldn’t be able to eat them. If she didn’t berate me, I probably still wouldn’t eat it. Mom had to take the steps necessary to get me to choose to eat the onions. Similarly, depraved human beings often don’t submit to God without a fight. Some get worn down and throw in the towel. Others resist until the end and go to Hell. It’s up to us, but we wouldn’t have the ability to choose if God didn’t provide all of the necessary means to free our wills in bondage (the death of Christ, the pulling of The Holy Spirit, and so on).
Richard’s piece isn’t very compelling. The thinking Christian would be unjustified to read his treatment and come away doubting the doctrine of prevenient grace.
|↑1||not that things not making sense has ever bothered a Calvinist|
|↑2||“The Petals Drop: Problems With The Competing Desires Objection“|
|↑3||it seemed it was contrived just to avoid the conclusion that the atonement was meant for all|
|↑4||as well as other scripture passages I didn’t even cite in the previous article for the sake of brevity|