Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#2)

This is the second post in a series of observations about Leighton Flowers’s post on SBCToday.com, The Five Points that Led Me Out of Calvinism.  

Find the Introduction Here.

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So last time I looked briefly at Mr. Flowers’s introduction to his 5 points that led him out of Calvinism.  What we saw was a person who seemed to be pretty involved, but shows no indication that it was the basis for his whole worldview, but more of a club to which he belonged.  His greatest concerns for leaving were losing position, friends, and/or respect; not the things most Calvinists might think would be their chief concern, such as the shift in perception of God’s holiness, sovereignty, character and man’s state in sin (along with all of the beliefs affected by that shift; i.e. evangelism, apologetics, ecclesiology).

Now we turn to his actual points.  My plan is to take the first two in this post, points 3 and 4 in the next, and point 5 in the last.  His first two points are:

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.   

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”  

To the first…

Point #1: I came to realize that the “foresight faith view” (classical Wesleyan Arminianism) was not the only scholarly alternative to the Calvinistic interpretation.

In this first point, Flowers tries to do what most non-Calvinists do—distance themselves from an Arminian soteriology.  It’s understandable, and proper for the most part; after all, most of them do not believe that man can fall out of a state of grace (how they maintain that is in question, but that’s off point for now).  So Flowers makes this distinction:

“I had so saturated myself with Calvinistic preachers and authors that the only thing I knew of the opposing views was what they told me. Thus, I had been led to believe the only real alternative to Calvinism was this strange concept of God ‘looking through the corridors of time to elect those He foresees would choose Him.'”

Couple things.

1) This reveals a bit of his lack of objectivity that he preached about in the introduction.  By the word “saturate,” I take to mean that he was well-immersed in the preaching and writings of “Reformed” theologians, and I don’t mean just the ones who write a monthly, 120-page booklet to keep their names known in the Young, Restless, and Reformed camp.  How much did he read of theologians on the topic of God’s foreknowledge and fore-ordination?  I can’t know how much reading he does, or how much he ‘saturated’ himself, but based on his comments, there’s no indication that he heavily dealt with the issue from both sides; especially because his statement comes off a bit flippantly, as if this is the only argument Calvinists know and have ever dealt with.  Note, not even the five Remonstrances of the Arminians spells out predestination/election that way:

“God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, his Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end.” (Article 1)

Flowers might be surprised to find how close his position of corporate election (which he espouses later) is to the position of many an Arminian.  The point is, the “corridors of time” is not the only position ever handled, and his inability to locate anyone who discussed it is disconcerting—and unfortunate.

2) Flowers is ignoring (or not wanting to go into) some of the nuances in the discussion.  “God looking through the corridors of time…” is simply a way for many non-Calvinists to deal with what the Scriptures clearly teach, that individuals are elected to salvation: For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified” (Rom 8:29-30).  Arminius, and others, were looking for a way to understand the implication of verses such as Rom 8:29-30—including appeals to Molinism.  Corporate election cannot account for the way the Scriptures speak of electing, calling, and regenerating individuals to belong to the corporate body (Matt 24:31; Rom 9:11; 11:4-6; Eph 1:4-14; 2:1-10; 2 Tim 2:10; 2 Peter 1:10).  Moreover, corporate election’s idea that God has set the boundaries in Christ, for all those who meet the boundary conditions, cannot be supported from the Scriptures—let alone explain verses like John 6:44-65 or Eph 2:8-10.

“In my experience, very few Calvinists give this view the attention it deserves because it requires a shift in perspective that, if recognized, would undermine their entire premise.”

It may have been his experience, but all this says to me is that he did not take the time to give the Calvinist position the time it deserved.  Moreover, he should recognize that he’s not really saying anything here; the same could be said to the corporate election proponent (or any opposing worldview): considering Calvinism would undermine their entire premise and require a perspective change.

Unfortunately, Flowers’s first point suffers from a lack of any useful detail.  I understand that he merely wants us to understand the points that led him out of Calvinism.  But as he said, he wants us to REALLY understand.  This does not help.  It essentially tells us “it was the corporate view…go look it up.”  I want to understand why the corporate election model was convincing enough to undermine his entire epistemology/soteriology/worldview.  And how does he deal with the verses that flatly contradict his corporate understanding of election?  He gives us no way to know.  I suppose the remaining points reveal some more concerning this, but not enough.

 

Point #2: I came to understand the distinction between the doctrine of Original Sin (depravity) and the Calvinistic concept of “Total Inability.”  

The saying, “it [TULIP] all hangs on the T,” has some truth to it (though other things obviously have equal importance).  So it’s good to see that he recognizes that in the order of his points.

“Calvinists teach that ‘the natural man is blind and deaf to the message of the gospel,’ but I learned that is the condition of a judicially hardened man, not a natural condition from birth (Acts 28:27-28; John 12:39-41; Mark 4:11-12; Rom. 11).”

An interesting argument.  And probably not one used too often.  Not because it’s original or insightful, but because most would (should) recognize the difficultly of supporting it Scripturally.  Essentially the idea here is that every verse used of those deaf, blind, dead, or lost only apply to the hardened Jews—or to those who make themselves deaf, blind, dead, or lost.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t really remain faithful to the Scripture.  For instance:

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

And of course the rest of the verses fall apart if we apply his model to them.  “But God…even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (v.4-5; emphasis mine).  It completely undermines the necessity of God’s regenerative act if we apply Flowers’s model to Ephesians here.

And maybe the most obvious—Romans 3:9-12ff—is not even given a passing mention:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off?  No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not oneno one understands; no one seeks for God.  All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.'” (emphasis mine)

‘All’ means ‘all’ right?  For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (v.23)  It’s unfortunate that Mr. Flowers bought this stuff hook, line, and sinker without giving much thought to what he was saying.  More could be said, but the reader can look these up for starters, and deal with them faithfully: Gen 6:5; Rom 5:12-21 (especially 12); Rom 8:7; Col 1:21; Titus 1:15.

“At the time while Christ was on earth the Israelites, in John 6 for example, were being hardened or blinded from hearing the truth.  Only a select few Israelites, a remnant were given by the Father to the Son in order for God’s purpose in the election of Israel to be fulfilled.”

This seems to be a way to dismiss John 6:44 without actually having to deal with it.  It would be better for Flowers to show the verse, but it might reveal that what he’s saying doesn’t really make much sense in his system.  The argument of John 6 makes no mention of what he’s trying to espouse, and uses the word no one in reference to those who can come to 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.”

There is no mention of a Jew-only hardening here, only the general statement that no one can unless drawn by the Father.  It is a typical tactic of non-Calvinist for problem passages to divert attention to another book, chapter, verse with a different context, audience, and point, and impose it on verses that give them trouble (I’ve seen John 12:32 applied to this passage as well).  In this case Flowers imposes Romans 11 on John 6, to get around what is clearly being said.

And when those in Jesus’s audience began to grumble at his teaching, His response was:

“Do you take offense at this?  Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.  The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.  But there are some of you who do not believeThis is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (6:61-65)

The use of Romans 11, then, fails, mainly because of the unwarranted application to Jesus’s words.  It also fails within the chapter itself, and in the context of Romans, but I’m not too interested in dealing with his use of Romans 11 because at this point he is no longer dealing with the “total inability” issue, and has predicated his entire argument on a false foundation.  The burden lies with Mr. Flowers to show how the argument he’s made from Romans 11 can be used for the verses given above that actually speak to man’s condition.

To finish this section he concludes his points, but again they have little to do with the original point, which makes any Calvinist reading it justified in wondering: what happened to the inability argument?  So while he starts with the T in TULIP, he does nothing that makes one think he made a good decision in rejecting it.  I understand what he’s attempting to do with the Romans 11 argument, however a more poignant argument could be made by telling us how he came to understand actual “inability” passages differently (not many Calvinists use Romans 11 as an inability passage; while it can certainly be gleaned from those passages, it’s not commonly used).  Then we might REALLY understand.

He finishes by saying:

“When the scriptures spoke of Jesus hiding the truth in parables, or only revealing Himself to a select few, or cutting off large numbers of people from seeing, hearing and understanding the truth; I immediately presumed that those were passages supporting the “T” of my T.U.L.I.P. when in reality they are supporting the doctrine of Israel’s judicial hardening.”

He has not established this point contextually, within the passages mentioned above.  The alls, anyone, and no one are universal; there’s no way to get around it in Romans 3.  It’s always humorous to me when these individuals apply those terms to the whole world in the atonement’s application and salvation’s availability, but then limit it when it might debunk their system at the start.

Remember, they must change the condition of man’s heart, downplay their wretchedness, play with the doctrine of original sin, and ignore certain universal passages in order to make the rest work.  This is why it’s dangerous.  It all hangs on the T…

SDG,

Jon

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~ by TSL on January 9, 2015.

3 Responses to “Ex-Calvinists and SBCToday.com (#2)”

  1. I felt it necessary to respond to this point since you did not seem to engage with my meaning. This is probably the single most important and convincing point that lead me away from Calvinism, thus I felt it needs to be addressed as well:

    Jon: An interesting argument. And probably not one used too often. Not because it’s original or insightful, but because most would (should) recognize the difficultly of supporting it Scripturally. Essentially the idea here is that every verse used of those deaf, blind, dead, or lost only apply to the hardened Jews—or to those who make themselves deaf, blind, dead, or lost. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really remain faithful to the Scripture.

    Leighton: It would be a misunderstanding of my view to think that I believe only Jews were born fallen or may grow calloused in rebellion. All are born in a fallen, sinful condition and in need of a savior. And anyone can and would grow calloused if they continually reject the clear revelation of God.

    Growing stubborn or calloused in your own contra-causally free rebellion against God is one thing, but being bound by God’s active work to judicially hardened/blind you from any means that might break through that calloused heart is a WHOLE OTHER THING.

    Consider this teaching of Paul out of Acts 28:

    “Go to this people and say, “You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.” For this people’s heart has BECOME calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. OTHERWISE they MIGHT see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!”

    Notice that they aren’t born calloused, they become calloused. And notice what their abilities would have been otherwise? They MIGHT see, hear, understand and turn. Then to make it even more clear that CALLOUSNESS is not a condition of all humanity from birth, he contrasts the Jews condition with that of the Gentiles, “who will listen.”

    Keep in mind that after the Jews grow calloused that God actively “cuts them off” or “blinds them in their rebellion” so as to prevent them from coming to faith (seems redundantly unnecessary if Calvin’s “Total Inability” is true). God actively sends Israel a “spirit of stupor” and “speaks to those on the outside in parables lest they repent.” God is “giving them over” to their calloused hearts and blinding them from the means that might convince them to repent. Why? To accomplish a greater redemptive purpose through them.

    Is that fair? Is it fair of God to blind Jews in their rebellion to use them to accomplish redemption and then still blame them for their rebellion? That is the question Paul addresses in Romans 3:1-8 and Romans 9:19-33. The objector IS NOT someone bound to total inability from birth until death without hope of ever responding to God’s gracious provisions, as the Calvinist would like us to believe. The objector is the JEW who has been temporarily cut off, blinded, hardened in his rebellion so that God could accomplish a greater redemptive good. Romans 11 says they have been cut off but may be grafted back in, so even God’s hardening of Israel is redemptive in purpose, not retributive.

    Jon, goes on to quote passages about both Jew and Gentiles being born fallen, sinful, etc, but never acknowledging the distinction between the fallen/sinful condition and the judicially hardened (“totally disabled to respond”) condition, as pointed out by the passage above (and many others).

    • Well, I considered writing a blog post in response, but the prospect is too daunting for me. It’s awkward to quote you without the context of the quote your responding to, which amounts to me practically reposting my whole blog post along with your comment. So I’ve decided I’ll just respond here.

      Leighton: It would be a misunderstanding of my view to think that I believe only Jews were born fallen or may grow calloused in rebellion. All are born in a fallen, sinful condition and in need of a savior. And anyone can and would grow calloused if they continually reject the clear revelation of God.

      This isn’t how I presented your position, though. I said that you said a person makes themselves unable to respond, they aren’t born that way. To quote you, “but I learned that is the condition of a judicially hardened man, not a natural condition from birth.” I responded saying, “Essentially the idea here is that every verse used of those deaf, blind, dead, or lost only apply to the hardened Jews—or to those who make themselves deaf, blind, dead, or lost.” So I think I understood your point.

      Leighton: Growing stubborn or calloused in your own contra-causally free rebellion against God is one thing, but being bound by God’s active work to judicially hardened/blind you from any means that might break through that calloused heart is a WHOLE OTHER THING.

      I believe in original sin. That means, I believe that man is born in sin, leading to death (Rom 5), is enslaved to sin (Rom 6), and by nature children of wrath (Eph 2), and in desperate need of a gracious action on God’s part to make them able to respond in faith and repentance. There are means to break through an unbeliever’s rebellion, but they must be accompanied by the power of the Spirit and the purpose of God.

      Your use of Acts is not really making your point. I have never denied that a people can be judicially hardened, or that there are varying degrees of callousness, or that some refuse to hear the Gospel at all. I only make the simple point, with the Scriptures, that “the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (cf. Gen 8:21; Titus 1:15-16). I’m a compatibilist, I think God’s sovereignty and man’s will are compatible; therefore, man is accountable, God decrees and knows all things.

      But I don’t think you can reconcile what you’ve said about Acts 28 with the verses I’ve provided here and in the post.

      Leighton: Notice that they aren’t born calloused, they become calloused.

      This is a stretch, to use the verse you did and conclude this. Obviously these people became further calloused, disobedient, unwilling to hear. That doesn’t disprove what the Scriptures say elsewhere about the state of man’s fallen nature. This is what concerns me, you play down the sinfulness, disobedience, rebellion of fallen man, and so I worry that you will use any means to try to get people to make a profession (more education, more music, more guilting) and not the power of the Holy Spirit and the reliance on God to convert.

      Here’s a question: these calloused and hardened Jews…were they beyond salvation? If yes, then you undermine the power of God. If no, then what would need to take place for their conversion, because obviously the preaching of the greatest evangelist wasn’t doing it. Maybe God can? I don’t know if your theology allows for that.

      Leighton: Then to make it even more clear that CALLOUSNESS is not a condition of all humanity from birth, he contrasts the Jews condition with that of the Gentiles, “who will listen.”

      And I’ve already shown that you need to elide several Scriptures to come to that conclusion, including Romans 3:8ff.

      Leighton: Keep in mind that after the Jews grow calloused that God actively “cuts them off” or “blinds them in their rebellion” so as to prevent them from coming to faith (seems redundantly unnecessary if Calvin’s “Total Inability” is true).

      Not really. God had a purpose in bringing salvation to the Gentiles, and taking salvation from the Jews for a time. It is language of judgment. It is also certainly true that God restrains evil, gives light, gives revelation, and gives prosperity to a people—and he can take it all away. You’ve made this point; I don’t disagree, I just don’t think you’ve sufficiently handled the other passages that don’t seem to talk about a judicial hardening.

      By the way, I have a side thought at this point. I keep thinking: so it’s okay that God sends a spirit of stupor. That he judicial hardens. That he leaves off a people in their rebellion. But it’s not okay for Him to intervene to save against their rebellion and hardening? That’s troubling to me. Maybe I’m misunderstanding. I’m glad God stepped in and opened my eyes and heart to respond to His word.

      And no, I don’t buy the last paragraph of your response. The objector may be the Jew, but the Gentile is in the same condition…thus the rest of Rom 3…which it would benefit anyone reading for you to explain in more detail.

      Leighton: Jon, goes on to quote passages about both Jew and Gentiles being born fallen, sinful, etc, but never acknowledging the distinction between the fallen/sinful condition and the judicially hardened (“totally disabled to respond”) condition, as pointed out by the passage above (and many others).

      I just acknowledged the distinctions. Can you now respond to those verses in a meaningful way?

      -Jon

    • Please include verses like:

      1 Corinthians 2:14 – The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

      Roman 3:9-11 – What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.”

      Ephesians 2:1-10, Romans 6:15-18; 8:7-8

      In any response..

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