Tag Archives: sovereignty

Does regeneration precede salvation?

RC Sproul writes:

Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised. The issue, however, goes deeper. The question still remains: “Do I cooperate with God’s grace before I am born again, or does the cooperation occur after?” Another way of asking this question is to ask if regeneration is monergistic or synergistic. Is it operative or cooperative? Is it effectual or dependent?

This is an excellent example of the problem in viewing faith as a work under the law. You see, if Sproul is right and faith is a work under the law then it certainly does mean the debate between Calvinists and non-Calvinists is one of synergism vs monergism. However since it is impossible to show how faith is a work under the law (because it isn’t) raising the issue of monergism vs synergism is simply a red herring thrown out to merely obscure the real issue, which is what we mean when we say that man exercises his faith and that God does not “believe for us”.

And here is where we also get to see the double-speak employed by Calvinists like Sproul.

The reason we do not cooperate with regenerating grace before it acts upon us and in us is because we can- not. We cannot because we are spiritually dead. We can no more assist the Holy Spirit in the quickening of our souls to spiritual life than Lazarus could help Jesus raise him for the dead.

That is very interesting, mostly because if people are dead in the way Sproul seems to think they are, then they can do _neither_ good nor evil. If God were to punish such a person, we would have to accuse him of literally beating a dead horse, that is, something that can do nothing other than lay there.

However the language of the whole of Scripture simply doesn’t support such a notion and Sproul knows it, that’s why he stated at the outset that:

“Yes, the faith we exercise is our faith. God does not do the believing for us. When I respond to Christ, it is my response, my faith, my trust that is being exercised.”

Well if Sproul says that at the outset and yet by the end comes to the conclusion that we are totally dead without the quickening of the Holy Spirit, what is he doing in the interim to alleviate the apparently logical paradox he has created?

The answer: He fundamentally redefines what faith is.

In the reformed view faith is simply a mechanistic system predicated on a chain of causes that eventually rests on God. Where faith is traditionally and commonly accepted to mean an act of the will (albeit not a directly volitional act).

Therefore Sproul’s assessment that faith is evidence of regeneration preceding salvation is only valid if we add in a hidden premise that faith is merely a mechanistic output of a predefined set of inputs. The trouble with that view is that if the will is reduced to a machine where faith is nothing more than a product of a series of causal inputs (regeneration being one of them) then the very words used such as “will” and “faith” loose their meaning.

Moreover, on this view of faith, we end up begging the ugly question of why God does not choose to regenerate all men so that they will automatically choose to place their faith in Christ and be saved. Then again, this butts up against another ugly reformed doctrine which is that God does not really love all men nor does he want them to all be saved.

In the end, however, I would agree with Sproul’s assessment that regeneration precedes faith. That the Holy Spirit’s prior operation is a necessary precondition to one’s placing their faith in Christ. however it is far from certain that such regeneration is a sufficient condition for one’s placing their faith in Christ. Indeed, Scripture indicates in many places that it is not sufficient as we have many accounts of people freely spurning the love and drawing of Christ. In other words, regeneration may precede faith, but it by no means causes faith.

So while a positive contribution can not be made in regards to one’s salvation, a negative contribution (ie. choosing to reject the drawing of the Holy Spirit unto salvation) is certainly possible.

Some may point out, however, that Sproul thinks that people are dead such that they only do evil. And that “it would, perhaps, be “double-speak” if he didn’t believe other things in lieu of those two.”

This is where the double speak comes in. You see, if I were to ask whether sinful man sins of his own free volition then you would undoubtedly say “yes”. However, if I asked if man knew he were sinning you would either have to say no in order to remain logically consistent within your own system or you would have to say yes if you wish to affirm what the Bible says on the matter. You see, throughout Scripture we are entreated with language that makes it appear (that is, if we do not presuppose a doctrine that claims otherwise) that man knows he is sinning (in spite of knowing what good is) and yet chooses to forgo God’s will thereby making himself, of his own free will, a rebel just like Satan, the rebellious angel and Adam and Eve, the rebellious progenitors of our race.

However, men like Sproul seem to think that if they redefine “faith” and “will” to mean something which is slavishly enslaved to some other causal entity (ultimately controlled by God, so the number of gears in the causal machine is really irrelevant) they can use the same words the Bible does without doing fundamental damage to language itself. Faith or belief, while not a volitional action, is still an action taken by a will that must be free in some capacity or else the word is emptied of its meaning.

So when men like Sproul, who are smart guys that know better, equivocate on the meanings of the words they are using, they are being deceptive and dishonest. They are practicing double-speak in the classic Orwellian sense by attempting to subvert the very words being used. They would be more honest and respectable if they were to say what they plainly mean in language everyone can understand. But then, they would have to resort to mechanistic language wherein we would have to take great pains to avoid words like “puppet” and “robot” which, while derided by Calvinists far and wide, continue to provide an apt description of the epistemic bankruptcy of Reformed epistemology.

Consequently, this equivocation or redefining of words is one of the reasons that it is so hard to have a productive discussion with Calvinists. Then again, for a system of doctrine that ended up burning many men at the stake merely for disagreeing with it, I suppose being intellectually dishonest is but a small price to pay.

For an extended treatment of this topic I highly recommend this article from the Society of Evangelical Arminians.

Also, if you are interested in what I consider to be a more credible alternative to irresistible grace, I suggest overcoming grace.

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How not to answer the question of evil

Here is Voddie Baucham Jr.‘s treatment of the question of evil:

A couple of things need to be observed here:

  1. Voddie completely dodges the question.
  2. Voddie turns the question around to be about the questioner.
  3. Voddie derides the questioner by assaulting their intelligence (his preamble regarding first year philosophy students is not only uncalled for but a clear appeal to authority, namely his own)

Man does not put God under a standard by asking the question. The problem with Voddie’s approach, which seems typical for most Calvinists, is that it attempts to avoid the real and serious question by attempting to turn it around to be all about the questioner. This attempt at trivializing a weighty subject is the paramount of both arrogance and ignorance in my estimation.

The issue is this: If God causally directs all events “for His glory” as men like John Piper have often claimed in the past, then

  1. How can we say that evil really exists (since all things are causally directed by God)
  2. How can we hold any other creature accountable for something they have no causal control over (beating a dead horse is the phrase that comes to mind here) and
  3. How are we to make sense of God claiming to be at war with something he secretly causes to bring about his ends.

You see, none of the above issues..

  1. ..depend on a standard of holiness that is independent of God (though I’m sure you’ll take the time honored tradition of redefining words in a desperate attempt to further weasel out of this problem) or
  2. ..have anything to do with the questioner, these issues would still exist even if all men (and angels) were wiped out in the next instant.

As one person pointed out in an earlier conversation regarding this issue. This does not have to be an issue that does great damage to Calvinism. Afterall, many Calvinists like Alvin Plantinga have long since accepted the fact that only by upholding the limited freedom of other causal agents such as men and angels, as the Bible clearly teaches, can we avoid the horrible implications raised in a causally closed universe. However this is a very damaging challenge against a particular brand of hyper-Calvinism which depends on a causally deterministic view of God in relation to His creation.

For any answer to the problem of evil to be considered even remotely good it needs to satisfy the following criteria:

  1. It needs to recognize the pain and suffering in the universe.
  2. It needs to acknowledge the reality and seriousness of the question. Flippant appeals to sovereignty, mankind’s depravity, or anything else simply will not do here.
  3. It needs to actually show how it is logically possible for evil to exist in a world created and sustained by an thrice holy God. This means showing both
    1. How evil can even exist and
    2. How God is truly separated from that evil

For a good example of how to answer the question of evil I recommend this material from Dr Little, this debate between Michael Brown and Bart Ehrman, and this lecture by Dr William Lane Craig.

Now because I don’t want you to form the opinion that all of Voddie’s material is worthless. Here is an excellent clips of him dealing with the issue of marriage and how men ought to love their wives:

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On the “secret will of God”

The common view of the multiplicity of wills of God (revealed and secret) has several flaws. Namely it seeks to resolve the apparent paradox posed by the view of God’s sovereignty wherein God MUST get his way without fail (and his way is the only way any situation or event may come about) and the view that man possesses responsibility and therefore the power of limited free choice.

So when we read about events such as God repenting for creating man or for saving Israel we are forced to call into question the initial presupposed definition of sovereignty (as stated above and affirmed throughout Calvinistic literature). However, rather than reject this view of sovereignty God’s will is seen as divided and hierarchical such that God MUST (by necessity) have a “hidden” will that can somehow freely subvert and even contradict his revealed will.

We can see this further when Jesus tells us to love our enemies. This seems to stand in stark contrast to the late Calvinistic notion that God gleefully damns sinners to hell “for his glory” even though he (limited atonement) never died for them in the first place. This can only be resolved by positing a hidden or secret will that freely contradicts the revealed will (Scripture).

After many long hours of studying this whole view of God’s will as being multiplied beyond a single unified will that is revealed in part, I am forced to wonder whether this whole “secret will of God” is not, in the end, much different than the hidden knowledge the Gnostic were so infatuated with.

In summation; I find the attempt to resolve the apparent conflict between the Calvinistic understanding of sovereignty (as God being the sole causal agent in the universe) and man’s responsibility before him (which, itself, requires a limited view of freedom that causal determinism explicitly prohibits) by way of hidden or secret wills to be insufficient at best and downright subversive (intentional or not) at worst.

For more information about the problems posed by dividing God’s will up, see:

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A brief exposition of John 3:16

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. -John 3:16

World is not merely nations in this text. Such a distinction, while required in order to prop up the doctrine of limited atonement, is simply not found in the text. What the text does say, however, is that God loves the whole world (without distinction so that we understand God to love all men, as is his revealed character throughout Scripture) in such a way as to give his only begotten son for the same (that is, all men without distinction, elect and non-elect, chosen and non-chosen) and that whosoever will may believe in Jesus and be saved (indicating how one may go from being one of the not-saved to one of the saved or non-elect to elect “in Christ”).

The glory of God here is that God is both willing (so loved) and able (that he sent) to save all men without distinction so that there is hope (whosoever will) for all men.

Curiously this verse does not say that God only loved the elect, only died for the elect, and that only the elect will (through irresistible and forceful changing of a person’s will against their desires/wishes/choice) be saved.

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God and evil, two views

From a conversation via Google Buzz1:

I can’t help but coming to the conclusion that, outside of open theism where God has no clue what the future holds, God is always in some way ‘responsible’ for sin and evil in the world. I say that with reverence and a few qualifications, of course. But God created the world at least knowing the sin and evil that would come from it. He also sustains the world and the wicked in it. He gives them life, breath, health, cognitive ability, opportunity, freedom of conscience, He doesn’t restrain their evil, and He doesn’t always save the innocent (though having full power to do so).

So if you really want to talk about ‘responsibility’, then God is most definitely the ultimate cause of all things. Without Him this world would not exist.

If we’re going to use our fallible understanding in determining if God is ‘responsible’ or not, which IMO is what Molinism is trying to do, then by anyone’s book the definition above applies full guilt and responsibility to God.

There is a big difference between 1a) God choosing to actualize (or create) a world where in evil is possible and 1b) further choosing to sustain it’s order in spite of the free choice to sin and perform evil by free (in a limited capacity) causal agents and 2) God’s being the direct cause of all that happens in the world such that all things that happen do so as a direct result of his will.

In the first instance we can show how God is truly holy and unconnected with sin who can nonetheless use it or direct it to good ends.

In the second case we are left wondering how God could be against something he causally directs. We are left with a dualistic view of evil’s being necessary for the existence of good which is something that ought to bother us since God declares his absolute disdain of evil.

We can also see that only in the second sense can God truly be at war with evil, sin, and death. Whereas the second view of God’s direct involvement in the promulgation of sin calls into question God’s commitment to it’s destruction, the first view is able to logically account for evil as being the sole product of limited free causal agents outside and independent of God.

Or, as Ravi Zacharias put it in a recent open forum: God gave us the tools of free will and love and we chose to misuse those tools to produce slavery and death.

  1. I love Google Buzz. []
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Wordy Wednesday: Causal determinism

I’ve used the phrase “causal determinism” quite a lot recently when talking about the doctrine of Middle Knowledge/Molinism and one of it’s chief competitors, the Calvinistic notion of soverigenty which posits God as being the one who “decrees all that comes to pass”.

Since this isn’t a phrase that isn’t often used outside of philosophical circles, I figured it would be helpful to take a minute and define this term and how it has a significant bearing on the philosophical presuppositions we filter everything, including our interpretation of Scripture, through.

Simply put, causal determinism is the notion that every event is directly caused or decreed either by an impersonal force like the Fates or destiny, a natural series of causes and effects1 constrained within a causally closed system2, or a personal deity like Allah or, as some suppose, the God of the Hebrew Scriptures.

A more in-depth study regarding the validity of the notion of causal determinism3 is beyond the scope of this post. My intention here is to merely present the term for edification and clarification in the future as we explore what I believe to be one of the most significant divisions within all of Christendom. Indeed, I would argue (elsewhere of course) that the abandonment of causal determinism is one of the defining characteristics of Christianity.

  1. Think about the famous, but hopelessly simplistic, debate regarding nature vs. nurture []
  2. That is, the notion that there are no non-material influences or causes. No souls or wills. Your mind is merely a biological information processing unit. []
  3. Or, as Turretinfan asserts, oozes from Scripture []
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Molinism: Free will and divine sovereignty living in harmony

What if I were to tell you that I had a perfectly rational explanation to the question of free will and predestination that has been ravaging the Church of Jesus Christ for centuries? I bet you would think that I was mad, unlearned (after all, what have all the highly educated theologians been fighting about), and overly simplistic.

Well there is such an answer and many may be surprised to find out that it is fully accepted by Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, etc. In other words, it’s not the sole product of a sectarian group with a vested interest in a particular theological system.

It may also surprise you to find out that you probably already hold to the core tenets of this “magic bullet” system even though you may have never heard them clearly stated as a codified set of doctrines before.

Molinism is a theological system named after a Spanish Jesuit priest, Louis de Molina. In modern times it has also come to be known as “middle knowledge” due, in part at least, to the influence one of it’s most ardent supporters, Dr William Lane Craig.

While many books have been written on this subject (some of which I’ll list below), and many lectures (some of which I’ll link below), I’ll try to summarize Molinism in a few paragraphs.

Before God created he knew all possible worlds and all possible events and all possible interactions in all of the possible worlds (including all possible reactions and outcomes of His direct interactions in all of these possible worlds). Out of all of these possible worlds God chose to actualize or create one of them so that, while all things are effectively determined, they are neither causally determined by God nor is God constrained to the position of merely reacting to the choices of His free creatures. We are indeed free1 and God is indeed sovereign2.

One seminary professor3 put it to his students this way: “It’s up to God which world you find yourself in. It’s up to you what you find yourself doing in that world.”

I’m sure if you are new to Molinism (or if you are like most pastors4 and incredibly confused5 about what it really is6), I encourage you to explore this topic further.7

Here are a few resources that might help (if you know of any more, please let me know!):

divine providenceonly wise godThe Innocence of GodReasonable Faith

I also recommend this article by William Lane Craig as a great primer for anyone looking to delve deeper into this doctrine than my overly simplistic depiction above.
  1. In a libertarian sense. []
  2. It is also helpful to point out that we need not describe sovereignty in the classic Calvinistic terms of causally directing all that comes to pass. An analogy I like to use is that I am sovereign over my children and yet I still have to spank them from time to time. []
  3. This is a seminary professor at Southeastern in case you were wondering. []
  4. There is more to be said here, but a pastor I knew very well once told me he didn’t like Molinism. When pressed as to whether he had even studied it he told me he had “fallen asleep” when someone tried to present it to him and a group of other pastors. With a commitment like that to learning and growing is it any wonder why most Christians are perpetual infants? Situations like this give great weight behind the notion that it is foolish to rely on one man as the source of Biblical learning. []
  5. Here is an example of a recent blog post that completely misses the point of Molisnism and arrogantly assumes it is somehow anti-Biblical simply because it involves philosophy. This is another example of an inherent anti-intellectual bias that has run rampant in the Church since the premise is essentially: anything that makes me think, or runs contrary to my favorite celebrity preachers, like John Piper, is obviously not from God. []
  6. The saddest example of this is this wiki-style site that would otherwise be a very good resource if not for their blatant bias which is particularly obvious in their section on Molinism []
  7. One final example of someone who completely misses the point is James White’s extended tirade wherein he presupposes that the doctrine of middle knowledge is merely philosophical (whereas reformed theology somehow isn’t) and not based on Biblical theology (which is not only a lie, but is intellectually dishonest). []
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