My friends over at the Society of Evangelical Arminians just posted a response to my article titled: Why I’m not an Arminian. The article’s author is Micah Currado and it is very well written. You can read it in its entirety HERE, but I will only be responding to what I see as the root cause of our contention.
Micah begins by somewhat nitpicking my nail driving analogy (though in a very clever way, I must admit) by insisting that my representation of the Holy Spirit’s work is not personal enough. All analogies fall short on some point, but this becomes especially evident when an “opponent” avoids the point of the analogy by focusing upon a point the analogy was not even meant to address.
Rather than seeking to defend the analogy itself I wish to focus directly upon the application that Micah draws out in his critique when he writes:
“This [referring to my analogy] is not the Arminian view, for it misses the personal, relational aspect of God directly working within our hearts prior to our acceptance of the gospel.”
In contrast, I would contend that it is by the means of the Holy Spirit inspired gospel that God directly works within man’s hearts prior to their acceptance and/or rejection of the appeal made by that gospel. In fact, I believe that is what the scripture is contending when it says:
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
This penetrating work into the “soul and spirit” sounds like the work of “prevenient grace” described by my Arminian brethren, yet the author of Hebrews simply refers to “the word of God” as accomplishing this work, not some extra working of grace that aids the otherwise incapacitated nature of fallen man.
Here are two other passages that seem to teach that the scriptures, God’s inspired word, are sufficient even for the lost:
“…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
“Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).
“The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life” (John 6:63)
The Early Church Fathers likewise seemed to agree with this understanding:
Athanasius wrote, “The Holy Scriptures, given by inspiration of God, are of themselves sufficient toward the discovery of truth.”
Irenaeus, (130-202) wrote, “We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith,” (Adv. H. 3:1)
Shockingly, Micah also appeals to the teaching of Irenaeus in his article:
The respected early Christian writer Irenaeus (170 AD) wrote: “The light does not fail because of those who have blinded themselves; rather, while it remains the same as ever, those who are blind themselves are involved in darkness through their own fault. The light does never enslave any one by necessity; nor, again, does God exercise compulsion upon any one unwilling to accept the exercise of His skill. Those persons, therefore, who have apostatized from the light given by the Father, and transgressed the law of liberty, have done so through their own fault, since they have been created free agents, and possessed of power over themselves.”
For the life of me I cannot comprehend why Micah believes this quote supports the concept of man’s innate total inability to believe the light of the gospel appeal. Irenaeus places the fault onto the individual chooser, not on an inherited moral incapacity of the fallen nature. Micah continues:
It is true we have freedom, yet, this freedom is not independent from the light of God shining forth. This light is not merely information, but the very personal acts of the Holy Spirit…
Is Micah arguing that the Holy Spirit inspired revelation of the gospel is “merely information?” This argument presumes that the gospel itself is not an intimately personal work of the Holy Spirit. Calvinists have often accused me of believing that lost men merely “need knowledge or information” (see my discussion with Sean Cole), but why would Arminians make the same critical error of equating the Holy Spirit wrought gospel truth with “mere information?” I’ve always called the gospel “divine inspiration” or “revelation,” but never “mere information!”
Here is the issue:
We both believe the Holy Spirit is personally working to enable the lost to come to faith so as to be saved. We disagree as to the MEANS by which the Holy Spirit does this, period.
For instance, Micah says, “In my mind even the thought experiment of whether the gospel is sufficient without the personal work of the Holy Spirit makes no sense…” I agree, that does not make any sense.
Do you see the clear contrast between Micah and myself on this point? He thinks I believe “the gospel is sufficient without the personal work of the Holy Spirit,” whereas I actually believe, “the gospel is sufficient BECAUSE it is the personal work of the Holy Spirit.”
I could have just let that sentence alone be my rebuttal to this entire argument, but I want to cover a few more points for the sake of clarity.
We believe the gospel is sufficient to accomplish the biblically stated purpose. And what is the purpose for which the gospel was sent according to scripture? “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31)*. We believe the gospel is sufficient to enable faith because it IS a personal work of the Holy Spirit Himself.
*HERE is a great resource to support this interpretation of John 20:31 from the original language. (From Thomas “Willie” Adams, PhD)
Micah says, “Yet, by God’s personal and direct spiritual contact with our souls, He may free our will again, to be able to receive the message of the Gospel.” And I would counter this saying, “By God’s personal and direct spiritual contact with our souls, by means of the Holy Spirit inspired gospel, He enables us to freely respond.”
Dr. Brian Abasciano proposed a better analogy: “It is like the difference between me giving someone a message to pass on to you and me coming to your house and sitting down with you and discussing my message with you. In one instance, I am not actively and personally conversing with you, and in the other I am.
This analogy, like the doctrine of inability, presumes you would not be able to understand and willingly reply to a message passed on to you by means of a messenger so as to arrange a personal meeting with Brian. I agree there is a clear difference between reading Brian’s invitation and meeting with Brian in person, but I thought we all agreed that the Holy Spirit does not take up residence with us until we first believe the gospel (i.e. respond to his invitation)? Yet, this analogy seems to get “the cart before the horse” by suggesting that the Holy Spirit must personally reside with us prior to our response to His invitation to do so (i.e. the gospel). I’m sorry, but that comes mighty close to conceding the pre-faith regeneration argument over to the Calvinists, even if unintentionally so.
Imagine if my wife, Laura, sent me a text message asking to meet her for a date tonight. Would it be reasonable to suggest that was an “impersonal” means of inviting me to a personal interaction? Of course not. Both the message and the date are personal because BOTH were from HER. The gospel IS FROM GOD, so it is personal. It is an inspired message sent by Him to fallen mankind. Why would anyone assume that is not personal?
Likewise, would it be reasonable to call the text from my wife “insufficient?” Of course not. The message is meant to set up a personal encounter with her, not to be the “end all” of the relationship. The text accomplishes it given purpose, just as the gospel does. To call that Holy Spirit inspired message “mere information” or “impersonal” or “insufficient” is simply misunderstanding the source, the purpose and the power of the gospel itself.
Micah also made several points with which I would firmly agree, yet did so in a manner that might lead one to believe I would not agree. For instance, he wrote, “Exercising faith in God is not about merely affirming the historicity of the Gospel message, but about “keeping faith” with God Himself.” If Micah is under the impression that I am promoting a doctrine that one must merely affirm the information brought by divine revelation rather than placing one’s trust in Christ personally, then he has certainly gotten the wrong impression. To return to the analogy above, I can read my wife’s text so as to understand her desire to meet me, but if I do not show up to the date to personally meet with her then that is my own fault, not an insufficiency of the means by which my wife chose to invite me.
All the problems of unsaved humanity — mortality, the fear of death and slavery to sin that it produces (Heb 2:15), our hostility to God (Col 1:21; Rom 8:7), are at root driven by our alienation from God and at root solved by connection with God. Non-believers do not have God living and abiding in them. This is not so much a problem actively present in a non-believer, as it is an emptiness for which the solution is a Person.
Of course we would agree with this as well, but what are the means that Person chose to invite us into relationship? And are those means sufficient? The answers to those two question gets to the heart of our actual contention.
Finally, Micah concludes:
As I have written, the Holy Spirit presents Jesus Christ Himself to the door of our heart, shining His light in His personal presence. It is only when we are confronted personally by God Himself that we may choose to welcome Him or resist Him.
To which I would also say “Amen!” But how does “the Holy Spirit present Jesus Christ Himself to the door of our heart?” How does He shine “His light?” How has the Holy Spirit “confronted personally…that we may choose to welcome Him or resist Him?” This concluding statement, like the entire article itself, carries with it the unfounded presumption that the inspired means of the Holy Spirit (the Gospel) is not personal enough or sufficient enough to accomplish its biblically stated purpose.
This whole discussion reminds me of that old analogy that preachers often tell about the man caught in the flood who refuses a car, a boat and a helicopter because he insists, “the Lord is going to save him.” Upon the man’s arrival in heaven, he asks God why he refused to save him from the flood and God replies, “I sent you a car, boat and helicopter, what else do you need?” The analogy is to remind us not to over spiritualized and theologize how God works in our world. He works through MEANS! The Holy Spirit works by the means of the gospel! It baffles me as to why anyone would presume those means are somehow insufficient to accomplish their stated purpose.
In conclusion, have you noticed what the Arminian has conceded to the Calvinist in maintaining the unfounded belief that mankind has somehow loss His moral capacity to respond willingly to God’s own inspired revelation? All of the arguments that we have expounded upon here on Soteriology 101 about Christ’s parables, the Messianic Secret and God’s judicial hardening of Israel so as to ensure redemption are GONE if we concede the point of Total Inability. I realize this is not about winning a debate against Calvinists. It is about rightly understanding the scriptures. And I realize that is the sincere desire of my Arminian friends when approaching the text.
I’m simply appealing to my brothers and sisters to objectively consider the fact that Calvinists and Arminians have been waring over an issue that is virtually non-existant in the early church or in Eastern Christianity today. Why do you suppose that is? Could it be that both Calvinists and Arminians start with the wrong PRESUMPTION? (i.e. that the Holy Spirit inspired gospel itself is not personal enough or sufficient enough to accomplish its biblically stated purpose?) Think about it, brethren! If you simply accept our view of the gospel as being a personal appeal inspired by the Holy Spirit Himself so as to sufficiently enable a free response, then the whole 1500 year debate between the waring fractions within the church virtually disappears!
As Dr. James Leo Garrett rightly obverses: “From Augustine of Hippo to the twentieth century, Western Christianity has tended to interpret the doctrine of election from the perspective of and with regard to individual human beings. During those same centuries the doctrine has been far less emphasized and seldom ever controversial in Eastern Orthodoxy. Is it possible that Augustine and later Calvin, with the help of many others, contributed to a hyper individualization of this doctrine that was hardly warranted by Romans 9–11, Eph. 1, and I Peter 2? Is it not true that the major emphasis in both testaments falls upon an elect people—Israel (OT) and disciples or church (NT)?”
My Arminians friends, please, I beg of you, simply take just one more step in the right direction so as to topple the T of the Calvinistic TULIP. Do away with the unbiblical and illogical presumption that fallen men cannot morally respond to God’s own inspired appeals to be reconciled from that fall because they are fallen.
To hear more on this topic please listen to this message I preached at Southwestern Baptist Theology Seminary.