Gospel Power: The Sufficiency Of The Gospel In Enabling The Lost | Part One

June 20, 2016

Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
Dallas, TX

**This article was previously posted by Leighton Flowers on his website www.soteriology101.com and is used by permission.

Leighton is: teaching pastor in his local church, an adjunct Professor of Theology, and the Youth Evangelism Director for Texas Baptists.

Learn more about Leighton, HERE.
Follow @soteriology101 on Twitter HERE.
Follow him on Facebook HERE

William Birch and Micah Currado, two good Arminian brothers, and I have had a few cordial points of disagreement regarding the sufficiency of the gospel revelation in enabling the lost to respond in faith. In response to our previous discussions (seen HERE and HERE), Micah most recently wrote:

In this matter, I’m reminded of the dangers of quarreling over words, or of spending time on disputations (2 Tim. 2:14). I hope that my response below will demonstrate a Christian charity between fellow believers bought by the blood of Jesus. I pray that my readers will not focus on matters of doubtful disputation leading to their ruin, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ, who redeemed every person in the world (1 Tim. 4:10, John 2:2, 2 Peter 2:1, etc), who graciously offers this salvation by simple trust in Him (John 3:16, Eph. 2:8-9) which we are free(d) to do, and who promises eternal life to those who are believing in Him. In this core element, Dr. Leighton Flowers and I are in full agreement, standing together against the flood of faithless and merely moralistic teaching.

I could not agree more and I wish all my theological interactions were with brethren who are as careful, kind and Christ-like as Micah and William have been in our exchanges. Allow me to begin by addressing some of the pertinent sections of William’s most recent article (seen HERE), then I will touch on Micah’s latest response. (their words will be in blue)

Arminians affirm both Total Depravity and Total Inability. We affirm not free will but freed will — freed by the Holy Spirit in order to freely respond to the Gospel.

The Arminian must establish from scripture that mankind lost their freedom to respond willingly to God Himself. I simply do not feel John 6:44 and 1 Cor. 2:14 meet that burden when understood in the right context. Obviously we may just have to agree to disagree on that point, but I will say that neither Micah or William take the time to engage my interpretation of those passages.

That human beings are born with a sin nature is denied only by Pelagians and certain semi-Pelagians. That statement is constructed not as a boogie-man tactic but as bare fact.

William is simply appealing to the historical “fact” that other Christians (mostly Calvinistic) have employed this “boogie man tactic” so as to escape culpability for following their poor example. The fact that others throughout history have attempted to label those who agree with my perspective as heretical or semi-heretical does not make it less of a fallacious tactic.

William could just as accurately call my view “semi-Augustinian” or “semi-Chrysostomian” or  “semi-Barthian”  but the reason he does not is because to appeal to those notable historical Christians would not serve the fallacious purpose of associating me with a “bad character” or a “boogie man.” The difference is that the “Pelagian” label is associated with a known heretical belief (of which I have clearly disavowed HERE).

The fact is that most of the earliest Church Fathers held to one false view or another, as have many notable and respectable believers throughout human history. To “boogie man” those good believers by marginalizing, decontextualizing, exaggerating, and often times out right misrepresenting their views is something that those throughout history should be ashamed of doing and something we should not encourage today by following their fallacious example.

Someone who denies this understanding of prevenient grace may argue, as does Leighton Flowers, “we must not presume that just because man is born fallen that the gospel is not up for the task of enabling the fallen man to respond to its appeal for reconciliation from that fall.” But the message or words of the Good News are not magic words: words do not enable a person to believe in Jesus.

I’m not sure why William would make this argument against my view. After all, from my perspective the words need not be “magical” (i.e. infused with some supernatural inner working or ‘Prevenient Grace’) in order to have their intended effect.  They simply must be clear and understandable. This seems to be a case against his own perspective rather than mine. The words are sufficient to accomplish their purpose without a ‘mystical’ (magical) or ‘supernatural’ work because mankind has the basic capacity to hear, understand and respond to clearly revealed truth. It is his view that appears to require a work of “magic,” not mine.

…a carnal or natural person “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness” to that person…

As stated above, it might benefit our conversation for William and Micah to engage with my interpretation of these texts in question instead of presuming their interpretation of them, otherwise we will continue to go around and around without addressing the biblical evidence.  As I’ve explained elsewhere, the natural man who deems the things of the Spirit foolish do so by their own free moral choice, not by compatibilistic compulsion imposed by Calvinistic philosophy (i.e. man is free and thus accountable as long as he does what he wants to do but what he wants is determined by his nature which is ultimately determined by God).

I have to ask if William is a compatibilist? If not, then why does he think some of humanity deems the things of Spirit as foolishness as if they were not free to deem otherwise?  I believe William has fallen into the same erroneous line of argumentation upheld by our Calvinistic friends…i.e. that mankind is born only able to deem the revelation of God as foolish due to their innate nature yet they are still held culpable because they are doing so “freely” (according to their preset innate desire/nature).

…indeed, that individual cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised, examined, or discerned (1 Cor. 2:14). Unless the Holy Spirit enables and grants a person to freely believe, that person will not believe, because that person cannot believe.

What is it that the natural man cannot understand? “The deep things of God,” (vs. 10) those things which are “a mystery that has been hidden” from this generation, otherwise “they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (vs. 7-8). Paul is not talking about THE GOSPEL, which is being revealed NOW through Holy Apostles so as to explain the “deep things of God” in such a way that man COULD understand. As Paul explained in Ephesians 3:

2 Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. 4 In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. 6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. 7 I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. 8 Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, 9 and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. 10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Part Two Coming Soon!