A Biblical Critique of Calvinism
Part 4: The Revelatory Nature of the Gospel Invitation
This is the seventh of a series of articles by Dr. Cox, with a Biblical critique of Calvinism drawn in part from his book Not One Little Child.
Calvinism does not seem to account for the fact that God has promised to reveal Himself in one way or another to everyone. Many Scriptures bear clear testimony to this fact. Isaiah said that people will see what they had not been told, and will understand what they had not heard (Isa. 52:15). The Apostle John announced that the true light enlightens every man, suggesting that God’s redemptive scope is inclusive (John 1:9). The Apostle Paul proclaimed in Rom. 1:19 that what is known about God is evident within man. This means that knowledge of God is innate. God makes Himself known in them (en autois), that is in the human consciousness.1 The present tense verb “it is” (estin) denotes the permanency of this knowledge of the personal God. Moreover, God has stamped knowledge of Himself once for all time upon human consciousness, which is denoted by the past (aorist) tense verb for “manifested.”2 No human being has ever been without this knowledge. This implies that one has the ability to know, thus eliminating infants and the mentally challenged. All people have received at least general revelation within and, with the exception of infants and the mentally challenged, are accountable for it.
Romans 1:20 declares that the truth about God is evident without. This means that divine truth about God as Creator, Judge, and Redeemer is evident outside each person. The invisible attributes of God’s character are seen in creation through the medium of nature. Note carefully the paradox – the invisible is seen. How are these unseeable attributes observed? Through the heavens, the expanse, and through day and night God’s glory is declared (Ps. 19:1-4). And God’s care is proclaimed by way of rains and fruitful seasons in order to feed man and provide gladness (Acts 14:17). What is clearly seen is that God is God and that no created thing in the universe is God. God’s eternal power is seen through creation, for things that are made cannot make themselves. He has the might to make something out of nothing (fiat creation). God’s divine nature is seen through creation and the Creator transcends the creation. So, the existence of something as tremendous as the universe demands a Being of eternal power and divine attributes.3 That Being deserves worship and total allegiance. The result of this knowledge and manifestation of truth is that mankind is without excuse for rejecting God and for falling into sin. God is the revealer and nature is the medium of his self-disclosure. However, His disclosure does not guarantee a positive response from people; yet, it establishes the minimal ground of human responsibility.4 Moreover, it is terribly imprecise to say that nature reveals God, for it is only the medium through which God reveals Himself. In other words God reveals, nature does not; nature is merely a medium.
Further, all people have received at least general revelation without and, with the exception of infants and the mentally challenged, are accountable for it. Therefore, our responsibility before God is based upon our response to the disclosure that God has made available to us.5 Those who have general revelation are accountable for responding in faith to the biblical triune God who provides the general revelation. Yet, mankind suppresses, restrains, or holds back, meaning he refuses to obey the truth. Observation of created life sufficiently demonstrates that creation does not provide the keys to its own existence.6
Also, Rom. 10:18 explains that Israel had plenty of messengers and many special revelations from God. Thus, all receive general revelation. All have heard of God. The voices of the prophets go out into all the earth and their words extend to the ends of the world. Hearing is not the problem. Heeding is the problem. Knowing is not the issue. Responding to the light one has is the issue. Israel is without excuse, and so is the world.
Then, in Rom. 15:21 the Bible teaches that Paul wanted to reach out to those who had heard no specific news of Christ. Paul wanted to impart understanding to those unaware of the gospel and he viewed his work as fulfillment of Isa. 52:15, which he cited. Isaiah’s words suggest that those who have no news of Christ shall see and understand. However, God is not obligated to work through people, He may work through angels or simply through His Holy Spirit, but He will reveal Himself. It is a privilege to be allowed to participate in God’s redemptive activity. The evangelistic work of man is an honor granted by God, not a right. He does not need us, yet He has opted to let us take part in revealing Him and His word to the masses.
All of this revealing implies that a decision either for or against Him, the Revealer, must be made by everyone, otherwise, why reveal? I am compelled to agree with the assertion that “around every soul there swirl the winds of sin and grace.”7 Further, I believe that, if indeed there are those who were never privy to the gospel message, due either to infancy, retardation, or insanity from birth forward, Jesus becomes “proxy” (not proxy faith but proxy person) for them and they will be admitted into heaven. In support of this view, remember the tragic case of the death of David and Bathsheba’s son conceived as a result of adultery. King David said that he will go to his deceased infant son (2 Sam. 12:23). Now, David could have meant that he would join his son in the grave. But he could have meant heaven too, which suggests that the baby went to heaven, because David was certainly headed there, and David was declaring that he would go to his son. I believe God has made a way for Jesus to become “proxy” for those who never reach a stage of accountability, although much debate will surely be had determining what constitutes accountability.
The Bible teaches that he or she who hears (understanding is implied) becomes accountable, not he or she who does not hear (John 5:24). Hearing leaves man without excuse (John 15:22). So, because God has revealed Himself, His Word, and His Son, the accountability and the response of mankind to God’s revelatory overtures are bound up in God’s disclosures. In other words, God is not playing some cosmic game, revealing the necessity of faith and the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, without also simultaneously establishing levels of accountability on behalf of the recipients and eliciting their response. Calvinism does not do justice to the point of God’s revelatory activity, therefore, Calvinism has a flagrant revelatory weakness.
The next article in this series will explore the deterministic weakness of Calvinism.
1Dale Moody, Romans, in The Broadman Bible Commentary, ed. Clifton J. Allen, vol. 10, Acts – 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1970), 170.
2J. P. McBeth, Exegetical and Practical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (Dallas, TX: by the author, 1937), 52.
3Kenneth S. Wuest, Romans, in Wuest’s Word Studies, vol. 1, Mark – Romans – Galatians – Ephesians and Colossians (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955; reprint, 1973), Romans, 30.
4John William MacGorman, Romans, in Layman’s Bible Book Commentary, vol. 20, Romans – 1 Corinthians (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1980), 26.
6C. K. Barrett, The Epistle to the Romans (New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), 35.
7Clark H. Pinnock, The Scripture Principle (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984), 176.