SHOULD implies COULD

If I told my son to clean up his room it would strongly imply that I believed it was within his abilities to do so, especially if I punished him for failure to do so. No decent parent would tell their two day old infant to clean up a mess and then punish them for not doing so. Such an action would expose the parent as insane or completely immoral.

This is basic common sense, but is it applicable to how God deals with humanity? Is the implication in scripture of “you should” mean that “you could?” I think we can all agree that “ought” strongly implies moral ability for all practical purposes, but is that a biblical reality? Sometimes the Bible defies our practical sensibilities and turns our reality up on its ear. Is that the case here? Do God’s expressions of what we SHOULD do imply that we actually COULD do it.[1]

Could the “Rich Young Ruler” have willingly given up his wealth to follow Christ as Zacchaeus does in the very next chapter? Or was Zacchaeus granted an ability that was withheld from the Rich Young Ruler? (Note: I’m speaking of man’s moral/spiritual abilities to repent in faith, not their physical ability or mental assent, so please don’t try to rebut this article with the all too often “catch all” phrase of, “He is able but not willing.”)

Calvinists would agree with the Traditionalists that both Zacchaeus and Rich Young Ruler SHOULD have given up everything to follow Christ, but only the Traditionalist maintains that both of them COULD have willingly done so.

Why do Calvinists insist that COULD doesn’t imply SHOULD when it comes to the Biblical revelation?

Dr. Wayne Grudem, a Calvinistic scholar, explains the issue in this manner:

“Advocates of the Arminian position draw attention to the frequency of the free offer of the gospel in the New Testament. They would say that these invitations to people to repent and come to Christ for salvation, if bona fide, must imply the ability to respond to them. Thus, all people without exception have the ability to respond, not just those who have been sovereignly given that ability by God in a special way.” [2]

Grudem, like John Hendryx of mongerism.com, rebuts this perspective by making arguments such as:

“What the Scriptures say we ‘ought’ to do does not necessarily imply what we ‘can’ do. The Ten Commandments, likewise, speak of what we ought to do but they do not imply that we have the moral ability to carry them out. The law of God was given so that we would be stripped of having any hope from ourselves. Even faith itself is a divine command that we cannot fulfill without the application of God’s regenerative grace by the Holy Spirit.”[3]

Are you following the Calvinistic argument? Here it is put very simply:

  1. God tells man they SHOULD keep all the commandments.
  2. Man CANNOT keep all the commandments.
  3. God also tells man they SHOULD believe and repent for breaking commandments.
  4. Therefore man also CANNOT believe and repent for breaking commandments.[4]

If the fallacy in this argument is not obvious to you, please allow me to explain in this way:

Back when my kids were younger we did a family activity that our church had suggested. I stood at the top of the stairs with my four children at the bottom.

I said to them, “Here are the rules. You must get from the bottom of the stairs to the top of the stairs without touching any of the railing, the wall or even the stairs. Ready, go!”

My kids looked at me and then each other and then back at their mother. With bewilderment in their eyes, they immediately began to whine and complain saying, “Dad, that is impossible!”

I told them to stop whining and figure it out.

The youngest stood at the bottom and started trying to jump, slamming himself into the steps over and over. The more creative one of the bunch began looking for tools to help build some kind of contraption. Another set down on the floor while loudly declaring, “This is just stupid, no one can do that!”

Finally, in exasperation one of the kids yelled out, “Dad, why don’t you just help us?” I raised my eyebrows as if to give them a clue that they may be on the right track. The eldest caught on quickly.

“Can you help us dad?” he shouted.

I replied quietly, “No one even asked me.”

“Can you carry us up the stairs?” he asked.

“I will if you ask me,” I said.

And one by one, I carried each child to the top after they simply asked.

Then, we sat down and talked about salvation. We talked about how it is impossible for us to get to heaven by our own efforts, but if we ask Christ for help then He will carry us. It was a great visual lesson of God’s grace in contrast with man’s works.

But suppose that my children’s inability to get to the top the stairs also meant they were incapable of asking me for help. Imagine how this story would’ve played out if it was impossible for my children not only to get to the top of the stairs but equally impossible for them to recognize that inability and request help when it was offered.

This illustrates the mistake of Calvinism. Let’s go back to their fallacy above as it relates to my story:

  1. Dad tells his kids they SHOULD get to the top of stairs.
  2. Kids CANNOT complete this task as requested.
  3. Dad also tells the kids they SHOULD ask for help.
  4. Therefore the kids CANNOT ask for help.

Do you see the problem now? The whole purpose of presenting my kids with that dilemma was to help them to discover their need for help. To suggest that they cannot realize their need and ask for help on the basis that they cannot get to the top of stairs completely undermines the very purpose of the giving them that dilemma.

The purpose of the father in both instances is to get others to trust Him. The law was not sent for the purpose of getting mankind to heaven. Just as the purpose of the activity was not to get the kids to the top of the staircase.  The purpose was to help them to see that they have a need and that they cannot do it on their own.

Calvinists have wrongly concluded that because mankind is unable to attain righteousness by works through the law, they must also be equally unable to attain righteousness by grace through faith. In other words, they have concluded that because mankind is incapable of “making it to the top of the stairs,” then they are equally incapable of “recognizing their inability and asking for help.”  IT DOES NOT FOLLOW AND IT IS NOT BIBLICAL. Paul said;

What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith;but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (Rom. 9:30-32).

It seems Calvinists would have us believe that because pursuit by works fails in attaining righteousness that a pursuit by faith would not even be possible. This is simply never taught in scripture.

When Calvinists are pressed on the obvious implication that SHOULD implies COULD, they appeal to the demands of the law, which is like appealing to my demands for the children to get to the top of the stairs without touching anything. I didn’t make that demand with the expectation of my children actually doing it, after all it is impossible. I made the demand to help them realize they could not do it without my help.

So too, God did not send the law with the expectation that we could actually fulfill its demands. That is not the purpose of the law. According the scripture, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20).

The law is a “tutor” who points us to our need for Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law was never sent for the purpose of being fulfilled by mankind, just as the stair-climbing activity was never intended to be completed by my kids. It was a “tutoring” lesson to teach my children that they must rely on someone else, a useless activity indeed if they are somehow incapable of coming to that realization or admitting their need for help.

If my kids are as completely incapable of understanding their need for help in getting to the top of stairs as they are in getting to top of the stairs without help, then why would I bother with the activity in the first place? Likewise, if mankind is as completely incapable of trusting in the One who fulfilled the law as they are in fulfilling the law themselves, then what is the point in sending an insufficient tutor to teach them a lesson they cannot learn?

The argument that SHOULD implies COULD remains virtually unanswered by the Calvinist who appeals to the law as their example. That is, unless they can demonstrate that it actually was God’s intention for us to fulfill the law’s demand in order to attain righteousness. After all, to conclude that man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law’s demands begs the question, because it presumes man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law by believing in the One who fulfilled it’s demands.

Basic common sense tells us that if one ought to do something, he can do it. This is especially true if one is punished for his failure to do that which is expected. In 2 Thessalonians 2:10, Paul says of the unrighteous, “They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved.” And in John 12:48, Jesus said, “There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day.”

Scripture never once says that we will perish because of Adam’s sin. But over and over again it says that we will each be held accountable for our response to the clear the revelation of God.  According to Paul, all men stand “without excuse” (Rom. 1:20), yet Calvinistic doctrine gives mankind the best excuse imaginable:

Judge: “Why did you remain in unbelief?”
Reprobate: “I was born hated and rejected by my God who sealed me in unbelief from the time I was born until the time I died due to the sin of another.”

Can you think of any better excuse than that?  I cannot.

 


[1] Norman Geisler summarizes the problem in this way: “If I’m really not the cause of my actions, why should I take responsibility for them? Why should I take either credit or blame? After all, the extreme Calvinists believes that ought does not imply can. Responsibility does not imply the ability to respond. If this is so, why should I feel responsible? Why should I care when it’s completely out of my hand one way or the other? (Chosen but Free)

[2] Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, By Wayne A. Grudem, Pg. 341

[3] John Hendryx, What Do Arminianism and Hyper-Calvinism Share in Common? https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/HyperArmin.html

[4] Obligation Objection:  Simply put, ought implies can and moral duties make no sense in compatibilism.  1 Cor. 10.13 can be cited as an example for libertarian freedom (God gives a way out of sin, yet we still sin).  Prevenient grace seems to be a legitimate postulation, that is, the grace that precedes salvation that enables one to repent and turn from sin. Their example:  P is “we ought to avoid all sin,” and Q is “we can avoid all sin” (ought implies can).  However, it seems that some theologies (mainly Reformed), after the fall, P is true and Q is false (counterexample?).  How about:  P1, For any x, if x is a sin, then we ought to avoid doing x; Q1 For any x, if x is a sin, then we can avoid x.  Here is where David Baggett and Jerry Walls (Arminians) show the Calvinist’s fallacy of equivocation.  Clearly, P1 and Q2 are true but to understand where P is true and Q is false one would need to equivocate “all” for P as “for each individual sin x, taken on its own” and for Q “for the sum total of all sins added together.”  An argument on equivocation seems to break at the seams.  Thus, the principle of ought implies can perseveres and libertarian freedom is true. (http://sententias.org/2013/04/22/qa-19/)

 

 

65 thoughts on “SHOULD implies COULD

  1. Excellent again Leighton! And God was more helpful with us then you were with your children. ☺ He told Israel that their founding father made it to the top of the steps by trust, before He even told them to keep the law, showing them that obedience to the law wouldn’t work.

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  2. Wayne Gruden wrote /The Ten Commandments, likewise, speak of what we ought to do but they do not imply that we have the moral ability to carry them out. / I would simply ask which one of those do you not have the ability to carryout? Maybe your problem is not inability but like Jesus told the Pharisees, “You are unwilling”

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  3. This is excellent.

    Some comments on the Law. Paul writes: What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works (Rom. 9:30-32).

    You say: God did not send the law with the expectation that we could actually fulfill its demands. That is not the purpose of the law. According the scripture, “No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin” (Rom. 3:20). The law is a “tutor” who points us to our need for Christ (Gal. 3:24). The law was never sent for the purpose of being fulfilled by mankind,…

    My thoughts: I think that Paul uses the word work to mean earn. And his point is that the Israelites tried to earn salvation by obeying the Law rather than having faith. Yet the sacrifices as part of the Law show them how this faith works.

    One can consider the Law as a set of rules, and the sacrifices as the mechanism of forgiveness for breaking the rules. We have a set of rules that God knows the Israelites cannot keep (due to sin, not due to the Law) and a mechanism for which forgiveness can be obtained.

    For these ancient Hebrews it was not obedience to the rules that saved them, it was faith in the sacrifice that saved them. They had to trust God that the sacrifice that he had specified would somehow remove their offence. (We understand now that the particular sacrifices in themselves did not take away their sins (Hebrews 10), rather they just were the type pointing to the true sacrifice of Christ.) Whatever clarity, or lack thereof, they had at that time concerning the animal sacrifices is less important than the faith they had in the God who had appointed the sacrifices; the God who told them that this was the path of redemption.

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  4. Acts 7:37-39 (HCSB)
    37 “This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from among your brothers. 38 He is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our ancestors. He received living oracles to give to us. 39 Our ancestors were unwilling to obey him, but pushed him away, and in their hearts turned back to Egypt.
    To say we are unable to obey God is an excuse for our unwillingness to obey God. We freely choose Egypt.

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  5. Good article, agree with most. I would take issues with some things. The human idea of justice and fairness is not what the Bible teaches, and that’s easily proven; this leads to some false conclusions about things, such as the thought that “I can think of no better excuse” is actually going to be a valid excuse to God. It can’t just be an excuse based on the human understanding of fairness, because this isn’t what Scripture reveals. But as long as you throw in grace with the command of God, we can both agree that implies ability.

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  6. Non-Calvinists, when disputing with Calvinists, love to focus on the Calvinist’s view of the unsaved and their inability to repent and believe because it makes Calvinists seem unreasonable; to the humanistic mind this is true. Non-Calvinists love to focus on the supposed immorality of Calvinism or the illogic of Calvinism (in their opinion) because of the dilemma of being commanded to repent and believe and being unable to repent and believe. Why do rail against Calvinism? Because their goal is to have a reasonable faith system which they think makes God much more fair and reasonable than the Calvinist doctrines. But in doing so it changes the nature of the gospel message, makes God impotent to truly save, and empowers man to be the ultimate decider in matters of salvation. Those non-Calvinists who are the most committed and convinced of their faith system must attack Calvinism because of the incompatibility of the two systems…At the end of the day, Calvinists focus on one simple truth; “If a person repents and believes, God did it.” The non-Calvinist also wants to affirm this truth; they want their cake and eat it to, so to speak. But at the end of the day, the non-Calvinist affirms one simple truth; “If a person repents and believes, the person did it.”

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    1. Spurgeon624:

      Your post is like this Calvinistic “driveby”, just full of comments that are false and easily refuted.

      “Non-Calvinists, when disputing with Calvinists, love to focus on the Calvinist’s view of the unsaved and their inability to repent and believe because it makes Calvinists seem unreasonable; to the humanistic mind this is true.”

      Nice try, non-Calvinists do not reject the Calvinist’s conception of nonbelievers as zombies unable to believe unless regenerated first because we want to appeal to the “humanistic mind”. No, we reject it because it is false and does not fit reality. Nonbelievers do all sorts of good things (when the nonbeliever rescues you or family members from a raging fire, let’s see if you declare their actions to be evil). The Bible never says that the Jews could not fulfill the OT law at all, it says that they could not keep it perfectly (and God’s standard is perfection which is why James said missing one is like missing them all).

      “Non-Calvinists love to focus on the supposed immorality of Calvinism or the illogic of Calvinism (in their opinion) because of the dilemma of being commanded to repent and believe and being unable to repent and believe.”

      It actually is immoral to hold someone responsible for what they cannot do: and seemingly everyone **except** Calvinists understands that. We are commanded to repent and believe because the Spirit enables the sinner to repent and believe. It is not that we can repent and believe on our own (we cannot, we cannot believe and repent unless the Spirit works in us). But if He does work in the sinner they are then enabled but not necessitated into believing.

      “Why do rail against Calvinism? Because their goal is to have a reasonable faith system which they think makes God much more fair and reasonable than the Calvinist doctrines.”

      People “rail against Calvinism” because this theology has got some major problems. You need to ponder why most Christians, who read the same Bible that you do, and believe it, at the same time reject your Calvinism?

      I don’t have to reject Calvinism to maintain that God is fair. And the issue is not that non-Calvinist theology and doctrine is more reasonable than Calvinistic theology and doctrine: it is instead that Calvinism is false and non-Calvinism is true.

      “But in doing so it changes the nature of the gospel message, makes God impotent to truly save, and empowers man to be the ultimate decider in matters of salvation.”

      This is a very false and blatant lie: Non-Calvinists do not change the nature of the gospel message.

      The gospel message is that a person can only be saved through Christ through faith. That gospel message is held by biblical people whether they be Calvinists or Non-Calvinists.

      God is not “impudent to save”, he is able to save all who trust Him.

      We are not the final deciders of whether or not we are saved: last time I checked the Bible talks about this thing called the final judgment, where God alone makes final determinations of people’s eternal destinies.

      “Those non-Calvinists who are the most committed and convinced of their faith system must attack Calvinism because of the incompatibility of the two systems…”

      Not just the incompatibility of the two views, but that one is true and one is false. And those who are teachers and leaders in the church are responsible to protect the church from false and divisive doctrine (and Calvinism fits both of these, it is both false and extremely divisive).

      “At the end of the day, Calvinists focus on one simple truth; “If a person repents and believes, God did it.””

      Not quite accurate, at the end of the day Calvinism comes down to the belief that God decides beforehand who will be saved and who will be lost. That in a nutshell is Calvinism. Regarding when a person repents and believes, it cannot be God doing the repenting and believing because people do that, God does not do that **for us** or **instead of us**.

      If you say that when a person repents and believes that God led them to that, specifically the work of the Spirit does that (as He convicts people of sin and reveals Jesus to them, etc. etc.): then that would be accurate. But does not believe instead of us, nor does He repent in our place: we have to do that, and so we are responsible for doing that or not doing that.

      “The non-Calvinist also wants to affirm this truth; they want their cake and eat it to, so to speak. But at the end of the day, the non-Calvinist affirms one simple truth; “If a person repents and believes, the person did it.””

      You have simplified things so as to misrepresent the Non-Calvinist view. Yes we believe that when a person repents and believes they are the persons who do these things. The relevant issue you leave out, however, is how does someone get to this place where they are willing to repent and believe? The Bible says it is the Spirit who reveals Christ to a person (cf. 1 Cor.12:3) who convicts people of sin (Jn.16:8) who gives understanding of scripture, etc. etc. No one is in the place where they desire to repent and believe unless the Spirit has worked in them first. So Yes technically it is true that when a person repents and believes, they are the ones who do these things. But they will never desire to do these things unless the Spirit works in them first. And we are not talking about them being regenerated first, and then this causing them to believe. We are talking about the Spirit working in them first, enabling them to have faith.

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      1. Robert writes, “Nonbelievers do all sorts of good things (when the nonbeliever rescues you or family members from a raging fire, let’s see if you declare their actions to be evil).”

        Robert does not understand the Biblical concept of “good.” When the rich young ruler came to Jesus, he addressed Jesus as “good” teacher, to which Jesus responded, “Why do you call be good. Only God is good.”

        Robert calls the works of men (e.g., saving a person from a fire) “good.” Such is his humanistic philosophy. In the Bible, “good” is that which God does or that which man does to glorify God. People, like Robert, call their works “good” not because they mean to glorify God but because they mean to exalt themselves in the eyes of men. Such is the desire of a prideful heart. Robert calls the exaltation of the works of men, “good,” because they look good to his sinful eyes, but he does not realize that they are not “good” in God’s eyes.

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      2. Robert writes, “Same question, you have not yet answered it:

        Are you a fool by choice or by nature??”

        Robert gets caught espousing his humanistic philosophy and turns on trash-talk mode. The proper response would be to defend your position or concede the point (which, by your response, you did).

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  7. Hmmm. So some of yu think you actually CAN obey the law of God. James says nay.

    “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”

    The scriptures are against you on this one.

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    1. Hi Les, I think Leighton made the point that his children were unable to make it up all the steps in one leap! But they certainly made it up a few steps… which was not of any value as far as the responsibility placed upon them was concerned, but it did help bring them to the place where they could ask for mercy. All the Jews were able to understand God’s perfect requirements, to try and to fail, and were able to call out for mercy when they failed. What about Cornelius who was not saved, but was “fearing God and doing righteousness” (Acts 10:35) before God purified his heart by faith (Acts 15:8-9)?

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  8. As I mentioned in the comments on your previous article, one cannot do otherwise than what God knows one shall do. This is a corollary of closed-future foreknowledge, and thus on that modal scope, it is impossible/irresistible to deviate. There’s no escaping this except to jettison logic and/or God’s closed-future foreknowledge. Period.

    So, how do our “shoulds” remain meaningful? The answer is that in the modal scope of human uncertainty, all plausible prospects are considered possible, and God can and does speak to us on those terms — that is, our terms. Why? To compel us to action, and to establish appreciable and consistent consequences for when we succeed and when we fail, both in service of fixing and redeeming us.

    Google “stanrock cup” and scroll down to the section “Open Language as Strategy” for examples of how a knowing person can nonetheless convey threats and hypotheticals tailored to an ignorant perspective.

    Finally, as I mentioned in another comment last time, this can be very confusing because it asks we recognize that true hypothetical conditional statements can have false antecedents. This is very counterintuitive, and if it isn’t dealt with and acknowledged, all sorts of problems arise given a God with closed-future foreknowledge (the question of the nature of free will isn’t even the crux).

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    1. So, Stan, how normally read from Scripture is your “closed-future foreknowledge,” or must that be chosen as a belief based on philosophy instead of divine revelation? In other words… should philosophy interpret divine revelation for us, or should divine revelation interpret philosophy for us. Why are you seemingly afraid of the reasonableness of an open-future foreknowledge?

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      1. Brian, you said,

        “Why are you seemingly afraid of the reasonableness of an open-future foreknowledge?”

        Both Prof. Flowers and I believe in a God with closed-future foreknowledge. Both Prof. Flowers and I reject pyrrhic metaphysical skepticism. As such, with Prof. Flowers, I can take those things as “givens” in service of reductio ad absurdums. Those reductio ad absurdums lead to only one kind of conclusion: a compatibilistic kind.

        I have great discussions with Open Theists regularly, on Reddit’s Christian community, on Facebook groups, on Twitter, on blogs, and through e-mail conversations. I’m great friends with several of them. As you know, I don’t have great discussions with you on the subject, because of your unique, needling rhetorical approach, e.g., “seemingly afraid,” irreverent to Scripture, etc. Perhaps if we met in real life things would be more productive, but the Internet isn’t working between you and me.

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      2. Satnrock, I think you are right to point out the way we converse. I’m certain I am guilty as well sometimes, though I’m working on not coming across as a smart alec, etc. Another commenter on a different post just did similarly:

        ““Salvation is available to each and every person even under the Calvinist system.” Rhutchin, great to hear you now believe that Christ died for the whole world.”

        Now he knows it is not true that rhutchin “now believe[s] that Christ died for the whole world” in the same way that most non Calvinists believe. It’s these kinds of comments that make it difficult to have a serious discussion.

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      3. Sorry Stan that you thought it sounded like a “needling rhetorical approach”, and I do hope we can meet sometime this side of glory. But my approach, I admit, from my perspective is confrontational, though it hopefully sounds less so by being phrased with sincere questions! What you say does trouble me about what appears to be your view of God and how He uses His Word!

        You said – “…examples of how a knowing person can nonetheless convey threats and hypotheticals tailored to an ignorant perspective.” You admit, even in your article that this idea does not prove determinism, but that you feel it is compatible with it. However, I think your illustrations in the article did not clearly deal with the possibility of Davi still freely responding to the threat as the threat giver had not intended. And these illustrations also still retain the problem of God’s unworthy motive of sometimes giving a threat without really wanting a good response to it from the individual threatened.

        You also said – “this can be very confusing because it asks we recognize that true hypothetical conditional statements can have false antecedents.” I think you have just tried to link together two logical fallacies to help you hold onto “closed-future foreknowledge”. You seem to beg the question when you seem to infer that conditional statements in Scripture, given by God, are “hypothetical”. It was my guess that you were doing this, but my observation that if so you must assume your “closed-future foreknowledge” to do so. And then you seemed to be affirming that God will often deny the truth of an antecedent in His mind when He speaks a conditional statement (threat). God is using that logical fallacy, denying the antecedent, for good… you seem to be saying.

        My questions were pointed, but honest, based on these observations! My guess that some kind of fear was keeping you from admitting the reasonableness of “open-future foreknowledge” was too blunt and does sound like “needling”. Please forgive me. But I do wonder why it seems to me that you regard the popular opinions from philosophy over the assumption of Scripture’s perspicuity. But I may be wrong, and that is why I asked.

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      4. Brian, you said,

        “And these illustrations also still retain the problem of God’s unworthy motive of sometimes giving a threat without really wanting a good response to it from the individual threatened.”

        That’s not what’s happening. Rather, it’s giving a threat, and wanting a good response (that is, a hypothetical good response would please him), but knowing that the good response won’t happen. You’d do this if you have greater motives than simply “to bring about that immediate and good response,” e.g., you might want to prove that your make good on your threats, and/or to show your power, and/or to express that aforementioned pleasure, for the benefit of the broader community. If the threat is given to a certain group-in-time, then the broader community entails: (1) That group, but in the future. (2) Outside of that group, at that time. (3) Outside of that group and in the future.

        These are wholly good while underlying — they are the hidden threads of God’s greater purposes, the “things too wonderful to know” — his “unsearchable judgments” and “unfathomable ways” that only new revelation can extract (as in Romans 11:32-33).

        You said, “You seem to beg the question when you seem to infer that conditional statements in Scripture, given by God, are ‘hypothetical.'”

        This is a worrisome impasse. It should be acceptable under both an open and a closed future that future conditionals are hypothetical unless/until realized. Unless you’re asserting some sort of parallel worlds thing?

        You said, “And then you seemed to be affirming that God will often deny the truth of an antecedent in His mind when He speaks a conditional statement (threat). God is using that logical fallacy, denying the antecedent, for good… you seem to be saying.”

        This isn’t a logical fallacy, it’s just a counterfactual about the future. We humans use counterfactuals all the time, especially about the past. “An avalanche fell yesterday. Had it not fallen (false antecedent), we’d be up there skiing right now.” The latter is a counterfactual hypothetical conditional with a false antecedent, but the conditional itself can nonetheless be true, and I can rightly assert it without committing any sort of fallacy. If God has closed-future foreknowledge, his expressed conditionals about future things are counterfactuals every time the antecedent is false (that is, something that won’t happen), and can nonetheless be true.

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      5. Thank you for further clarification of your position. If by “hypothetical” you mean possible, then we are on the same page. But there are no possibilities in a closed-foreknowledge future, in my understanding of it, except for assumed possibilities of ability but never of availability or necessity.

        And I have heard the attempt at saying counterfactuals in God’s mind about the past are the same as those in the future. But again, that is begging the question of a settled future. In even a partially open future, some things will not be known as counterfactuals until the alternative to them has happened in reality. And I believe divine conditional warnings assume an obvious good intention for those to whom its given. There are no “greater motives” in my thinking that would justify confusion of intention revealed by the conditional warning. And unconditional declarations of coming judgment are not threats in my view, though they are given to motivate repentance also. Thanks again.

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      6. Brian, you said,

        “But there are no possibilities in a closed-foreknowledge future, in my understanding of it, except for assumed possibilities of ability but never of availability or necessity.”

        There are no mutually exclusive possibilities in the modal scope of a foreknown-and-closed future, that is, there is only one possibility in that modal scope. Modal possibilities “live” only in absences-of-knowledge.

        Let’s say there are 3 doors before me, A, B, and C. Each are unlocked and I have the strength needed to open them. In the modal scope of a human observer, “open A first,” “open B first,” and “open C first” are all possible, even though they are mutually exclusive (you cannot both “open A first” and “open B first,” for example), that is, only one is realizeable.

        However, let’s say that God knows so much about me — in terms of my preferences, dispositions, brain-states, etc. — that he knows with absolute certainty that I’ll open B first. On that modal scope, only “open B first” is possible.

        Let’s say God does know this for certain. Is there any meaning left in talking about possibilities before me? Yes, because I live in the modal scope of a human observer. My lack of knowledge — even lack of knowledge of my own mind — means that it is most useful to me, as a gnomic decisionmaker (this is not an idiosyncratic term, but a thing batted-around by 7th/8th C. theologians), to contemplate and evaluate floating possibilities and their implications, and most useful for God to communicate with me in terms of floating possibilities and their implications.

        You said, “But again, that is begging the question of a settled future.”

        I’m intending to do a neutral apologetic right now, that is, rebutting the idea that contingent expressions — and in particular conditionals with knowingly false antecedents — from a foreknowing-a-closed-future God are fallacious. I’m not intending to positively assert a closed future at this time.

        This isn’t an attempt to flee the issue. It’s an important issue and the “Open vs. Closed” discussion is worthy. However, the logic employed by Prof. Flowers in this and previous posts tries to “keep cake and eat it, too.” If Prof. Flowers doesn’t like human irresistibility on God’s modal scope, then he needs to either start considering Open Theism, or abandon the use of logic in theology, one or the other.

        You said, “There are no ‘greater motives’ in my thinking that would justify confusion of intention revealed by the conditional warning.”

        God has made many, many statements that have catalyzed confusion, even knowingly-so (e.g., Matthew 13:11-17), with underlying payoffs as part of a many-threaded and manifold plan. A robust theodicy must bear this load.

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  9. I like the stair lesson very much as pertaining to the Law, that is impossible to reach righteousness or “heaven” on our own, and I think I get the argument of faith not being the same as not being able to keep the Law, yet I think the article leaves the impression that Jesus kept the law for us as part of our salvation rather than keeping the perfect law perfectly as proof of his qualification to die for us. I think many believe we have kept the law through him or are credited with Law keeping (part of our righteousness) through his ability to keep the Law but this is not the case, our righteousness is only credited to us by our personal faith of his work on the cross. Grace through faith.

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    1. Hi Q! I think you misspoke. Our righteousness in not credited to us… nor is Jesus’ law-keeping righteousness, as you said. But God’s righteousness, which He had before creation, is what was credited to us at salvation… the very righteous life of the Son!

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  10. Leighton,

    You make some good points in your article here, but you are also making what appears to be an important omission. Looking at your article there is one comment that brings this out:

    “So too, God did not send the law with the expectation that we could actually fulfill its demands. That is not the purpose of the law.”

    Your first statement here is what you claim, **is not** a purpose of the law (“God did not send the law with the expectation that we could actually fulfill its demands”). So according to you God did not believe that the Jews could fulfill the law at all? No, you would probably back off and then claim something like: “well they could obey the law to an extent, but not PERFECTLY”. That would be more accurate, it is not that the Jews could not fulfill the law AT ALL, it is that they could not fulfill it perfectly.

    Leighton you seem to be emphasizing that the sole purpose of the law was to be the tutor that shows us that we fall short (cf. the passage that Les brought up from James 2:10, that declares that if we are going to go the law route, the standard is perfection, fulfilling it all perfectly, if you do not, then you fail, in fact it is as if you failed them all, this is because if the standard is perfection which is God’s standard then it is a Pass/fail exam, either you “pass” by fulfilling it ***perfectly*** or you “fail” if you **miss it even once**).

    But didn’t the law have multiple purposes (not just it function as a tutor to lead people to Christ because they realize they cannot fulfill it perfectly and so then understand they cannot be saved that way): but also to help ensure order and protection in the Jewish theocracy. In other words God did not just give the law to be a tutor to lead us to Christ (that is one purpose of it, but not the only purpose). It was also given to benefit and enhance the Jewish theocracy. If they fulfilled it even imperfectly it would help them maintain stability, order, protection, even freedom in their theocracy.

    I hear some people talk about the law as if its **only** function was as the tutor. But that is not a good representation of the law as its purposes were multi-faceted. I am not Calvinist or Reformed but at least their theologians recognize that the law has multiple purposes.

    The approach to the 10 commandments for example by some is dubious. They will speak about them as if they are archaic and irrelevant for us today (“Oh we are not under the law now, so who cares about them”/ so we cannot learn from them today; “those applied in the Jewish theocracy but not today”/so adultery is Ok today?).

    Can we obey the 10 commandments perfectly? No, and they, like other parts of the law, function as the tutor showing us we cannot save ourselves by law keeping as we cannot obey it perfectly (that James passage speaks loudly again!). But not **obeying them perfectly** does not mean that we should not be trying to live them out to some extent.

    An important distinction concerning the law comes out, earlier Christians recognized the moral law revealed in the commandments, they spoke of natural law (you can see this especially with Catholic theologians, and note the same person who spoke of the law as tutor also spoke of a moral law written on every heart, cf. Romans 2:14). True we cannot keep the Jewish law perfectly, and true we are not in a Jewish theocracy or “under the law”, but do the commands sometimes reveal or point to a moral law, a natural law that is universal? Is this the law that Paul says the Gentiles not having the Jewish law “do instinctively” (cf. Romans 2:14)? Seems to me that some Evangelicals are so into getting people saved (pointing to the laws’ purpose as tutor), that they forget that there is a moral law, natural law, and that we can learn from OT laws even if we are not under the Jewish theocracy. Leighton your article seems to imply that the law has only one function, that of being the tutor that leads people to Christ. And you are right that is one of the purposes of the law, but there are also others.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Ha! I LOVE how logical you are, Leighton! God has truly blessed you!

    “The whole purpose of presenting my kids with that dilemma was to help them to discover their need for help. To suggest that they cannot realize their need and ask for help on the basis that they cannot get to the top of stairs completely undermines the very purpose of the giving them that dilemma.”

    “…if mankind is as completely incapable of trusting in the One who fulfilled the law as they are in fulfilling the law themselves, then what is the point in sending an insufficient tutor to teach them a lesson they cannot learn?”

    “…to conclude that man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law’s demands begs the question, because it presumes man cannot fulfill the purpose of the law by believing in the One who fulfilled it’s demands.”

    These are such an AWESOME points, and so easy to miss if you’re not really THINKING about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am not a Calvinist, but I would like to point out that both Calvinists and Arminians have the “problem” of God holding people accountable for not doing what they could not do. We both agree that men deserve to go to hell for not keeping the law even though we can’t.

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    1. Daniel, I am Reformed and yet you and I agree. You are correct that we cannot keep the law. ““For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”

      Leighton, you ARE still around. Hoping you will come back to those questions I have asked several times at that post Calvinism undermines Apostolic Authority and Divine Inspiration.

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  13. Given that he claims to have been a Calvinist early in his life, Pastor Flowers should (and could) know better than to argue as he does above. It betrays a basic misunderstanding of Calvinism. Nonetheless, he makes an important point:

    “Basic common sense tells us that if one ought to do something, he can do it.”

    This is the conclusion of the Calvinists. A person, like the example of his sons, when faced with a task that he cannot do alone should naturally ask for help just as his sons did. Similarly, all who are faced with eternal death and find that they cannot save themselves should naturally appeal to God for help. All should be saved as the Universalists say. The conundrum is that the Scriptures tell us that many will not be saved. Faced with these Scriptures, the Calvinist then asked, “How is this so?” How can we understand a person doing the logically inexplicable given that one’s eternal destiny is at stake.

    The answer that the Calvinists arrived at is that people reject salvation because they are depraved and that depravity neutralizes their ability to make a rational decision to ask God for help. Given that to be the case, the Calvinist then asked, “How can anyone be saved if all are depraved?” They concluded that a person who refuses to ask God for help could be saved only if God took the initiative to save them.

    So, the example that Pastor Flowers begins the article should be modified. He tells his sons that they are in great harm but that great reward awaits them if they can come up the stairs without touching anything. His sons are uninterested in what he says and do what they want. It is only when Pastor Flowers walks down the stairs, picks them up, and takes them upstairs that they are rewarded.

    In his book on Romans 9, Pastor Flowers offers an interesting alternative to Calvinism. He suggests that God turns some unsaved people over to Satan who then blinds them to the gospel per 2 Corinthians 4. Thus, it is not their depravity that condemns them but God’s rejection of them.

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  14. Can someone help me understand something? I tweeted Dr. Flowers, but I then saw this. I did not read the article. I admit it. I only have a question. Is it logically possible, however improbable, that someone could live and never sin? I really don’t understand that in the non-Calvinistic view. I know no one ever makes it besides Jesus. I did not want to misrepresent the non-Calvinistic view. I do not get that part of it. Thanks.

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    1. Yes its logically possible in that there is nothing illogical about someone refraining from sinning. It’s not feasible due to our sin stain and the temptations of a fallen world.

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      1. But that’s what I don’t understand. If should implies that I could, and I am responsible for my actions because I could act otherwise (for the good, not sin), and at the same time I don’t because it is not feasible because of sin stain, then what is the sin stain? Does the sin stain keep us from doing what we should but at the same time it doesn’t stain us so bad that it does not preclude could?

        I don’t know if that makes sense. Let me ask this way. If should means that we could, then it is logically possible someone, someone not Jesus, could be sinless. Logically. Not very probable, but logically. In fact, we are told it has never happened, but it only hasn’t happened because people always end up sinning somewhere in their life. Everyone has sinned.

        Here is where I am lost. If it is logically possible someone could never sin, the Bible is only telling me that everyone does sin. In what you said, it is true that people sin because of the stain of sin (if I understand you) and because temptations are too strong for anyone to bear it even though, logically again, not probably, could resist and indeed have the ability to resist, but sin anyway. What is that stain? How does it defeat the logical possibility that one might never sin?

        Sorry. I got lost in there. I hope my question(s) make sense.

        I guess I’m asking what it means for it not to be feasible to not sin but at the same time have the capacity to have been sinless (logically). If God put us in a world, and it is logically possible that we could not have or ever would sin (should implies could), but if it is never feasible, how can that imply we could logically ever have done otherwise (not sin)? How can should imply could, if it is not feasible one could? From birth to death, is it logically possible for it to be feasible for someone always be pleasible? (Yes, I made that word up…I think.)

        Thanks for your time.

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      2. Dr. Flowers writes, “Yes its logically possible in that there is nothing illogical about someone refraining from sinning.”

        I don’t think that is necessarily true. It comes down to Original Sin and determining the impacts of Adam’s sin on his children. There are two key impacts to be considered. Do Adam’s children inherit his corrupt nature (a sin nature) and are his children born without faith? If the children are born with a sin nature, they are inclined toward sin but without faith they have no way to counteract the sin nature and resist sin.

        The unsaved do not have the Spirit of God dwelling in them so they cannot manifest the fruit of the spirit – love, joy, peace… They can only manifest a corrupted form of love (i.e., lust), a corrupted form of peace (i.e., hatred) etc.

        Thus. I don’t see even the logical possibility of a person refraining from sin.

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    2. I would like to throw in the interesting idea that since all infants do not inherit Adam’s guilt, those that die before their conscience is mature enough to disobey God’s law can be said to have never sinned, as I see it. The sin nature that was lying dormant in their flesh (Rom 7:9) is removed by the benefits of Christ’s redemption and resurrection.

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      1. Thanks Johann for continuing the conversation with an example you think counters what I said about guilt not being inherited from Adam. Your example proves that God is just to bring physical punishment/death upon my children because of my sin. That’s a very sobering thought! But that is not making them guilty for my sin, as His judgment after their death would reveal. I hope you see the difference.

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      2. brianwagner writes, “Your example proves that God is just to bring physical punishment/death upon my children because of my sin.”

        I think there could be the presumption that Achan’s sons and daughters were witnesses to his sin and choose to conceal that sin and thereby became accomplices as they also coveted the gold and silver as did Achan.

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      3. Roger, that is an unnecessary presumption, for there are too many examples of innocent children before the age of such choice (Is 7:15-16) dying physically because of the sins of others.

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      4. brianwagner writes, “…many examples of innocent children before the age of such choice (Is 7:15-16) dying physically because of the sins of others.”

        Do they die “because of” the sins of others (being judged guilty of the sin of others) or as collateral damage – being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Can an infant destroyed in Noah’s flood plead innocence because he had not committed sin as those who did sin and deserved to die in the flood? Was God unfair, unjust, or unrighteous to destroy babies in the flood or in Sodom? Unlikely.

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      5. Yes… I meant collateral damage, in that the sin of others brought the physical judgment and they suffered physically for it. But physical death is never the issue, and God is never unfair if life is shortened for whatever the reason. But you admit that infants physically dying in a judgment is not because of any person sin of their own. And it does not negate that God will redeem them from their sin infected flesh that never exercised itself because their conscience was not mature enough respond to God’s law… and sin is not imputed where their is not law.

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      6. brianwagner writes, ” it does not negate that God will redeem them from their sin infected flesh that never exercised itself because their conscience was not mature enough respond to God’s law… ”

        God is certainly able to do anything He wants. In Matthew 18, Jesus seems to say that God will indeed save all children – “…it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones perish.” – depending on the meaning of little ones.

        Then, “…and sin is not imputed where their is not law.”

        “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned– for until the Law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam,…”

        Sin is not imputed where there is no law, but people stilled died – death spread to all men, because all sinned (by reason of Adam’s sin).

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      7. Rom 5:12 has produced many interpretations for that last phrase, especially the translation of the conjunction. I think “so that” is the appropriate translation… not “because”… and Paul is talking about the sin nature from Adam that leads to all sinning when theit conscienceso mature.

        But physical death did reign for there was a law before Moses law (Rom 2) that was sinned against. Paul is not dealing with infants in this passage… but I borrowed the imputation maxim from it for in believe it fits with infants. See 7:9 where Paul is talking about the moment of accountability, I believe.

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      8. brianwagner writes, “I would like to throw in the interesting idea that since all infants do not inherit Adam’s guilt,…The sin nature that was lying dormant in their flesh (Rom 7:9) is removed by the benefits of Christ’s redemption and resurrection.”

        So, do infants inherit a sin nature from Adam (on account of Adam’s sin which then resulted in Adam having a sin nature) after which he has children? If an infant is born with a sin nature, he is not righteous, and cannot enter heaven even if the infant never sinned – the infant is as much in need of salvation as his parents who also sinned.

        God had to address two problems to save people. He had to deal with the sin they committed and then their unrighteousness (or sin nature). Thus, Romans 4, “Christ who was delivered up because of our transgressions (Christ died for our sins), and was raised because of our justification (His righteousness is imputed to those for whose sins he died).

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      9. Roger, the sin nature, I take it, is in the infant’s physical flesh and removed by the resurrection, provided for him by the resurrection of Christ.

        You probably affirm that even the sinner receives a resurrected body based on Christ’s resurrection. It would be interesting to speculate if sinners keep sinning in hell? I can’t think of any verses that affirm either way.

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      10. brianwagner writes, “You probably affirm that even the sinner receives a resurrected body based on Christ’s resurrection.”

        Of course, God’s elect receive new bodies. Do the reprobate receive new bodies prior to being cast into hell? Hmmmm.

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      11. Roger – John 5:28-29 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth–those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”

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      12. That there is a resurrection is not the issue. The form of the resurrected bodies of the reprobate is the issue. We have specific references to the bodies of the elect but I don’t think the language necessarily applies to the reprobate as well. Revelation 20 has, “the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.” So perhaps the remains of the earthly bodies or maybe just the spirits of the dead. I’m open to anything reasonable.

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      13. The idea of resurrection and human identity has always been as a body with a living soul. Jesus affirms bodies being thrown into hell.

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  15. Here is a question. If Should implies Could, then you Could be perfect. You could never sin. You should never sin, so you could never sin. Do I misunderstand?

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  16. The main problem with your argument is that it is unbiblical in it’s anthropology.
    Man is not in the position, as it were, of eager children waiting at the bottom of God’s staircase, looking up, desiring to know how to get from here to there.
    To make your analogy biblical, man (and the kids) spit at you, give you the finger and then run away in rebellion, refusing to head your call to ascend the staircase. And when you come down they attempt to kill you.
    You miss that romans three days there is nkne righteous not even one. No one seeks God. No one understands. No one seeks God. The natural man is hostile to God, does not and cannot submit to God.

    The calvinists have been answering your “should implies could” objections since spurgeon. And Christians in general have been answering that objection since Augustine.

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    1. Your mixing analogies. The child’s inability to get to the top of the staircase on their own represents mankind’s inability to attain righteousness by the law through works (the same Inability spoken of in Rom 3:9-20). The point of the analogy was to reveal that their lack of ability to get to to top of the staircase alone (attain righteousness by law) DOES NOT EQUAL a lack of ability to admit that inability and trust in someone to help (attain righteousness by grace through faith), which is EXACTLY what your rebuttal presumes (see question begging fallacy).

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      1. The Calvinist position is that people are born with a sin nature that inclines them to sin. No one is born with faith (it is transmitted to a person through the preaching of the gospel) and without the Spirit (a person is sealed by the Spirit only when they believe). Without faith and the Spirit, the sin nature dominates (producing only works of the flesh) and the person can do no good and does not seek God. Per Romans 8, the person is even unable to keep the law.

        Dr. Flowers then states, “Calvinists have wrongly concluded that because mankind is unable to attain righteousness by works through the law, they must also be equally unable to attain righteousness by grace through faith.” This is wrong. Calvinists say that it is only by grace through faith that a person is able to attain righteousness. The point of the example using his children getting to the top of the stairs is that a person can only come to know his predicament through the preaching of the gospel (his telling his children what they need to do). It is the gospel that opens a person’s eyes to their need for God’s help.

        The issue between Dr. Flowers and the Calvinists is the Calvinist claim that God favors His elect with faith by which they accept the gospel but does not do so for the reprobate. Dr. Flowers objects to this.

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