Gospel Power: The Sufficiency Of The Gospel In Enabling The Lost | Part Three
Leighton Flowers | Professor of Theology
**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.
William, like Calvinists, seems to be presuming that mankind is born fully hostile/hardened/defiled based on the fact that they are born with a sin nature. The scriptures teach that mankind, while sinners, may “become hardened” or “grow calloused” (Acts 28:27-28) or “be given over to their desires so as to become defiled” (Rom. 1). This is something that mankind can become if they continue in their rebellion, as was the case with the Israelites of the New Testament, especially that of Saul prior to his own conversion. In my estimation, Calvinists and some Arminians misapply some of the teachings about the calloused condition of man once “given over” to their depraved and calloused wills as if it applies to an innate condition from birth. There must be a distinction drawn between the heart of a sinner and the heart of a hardened sinner.
For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (Acts 28:27-28)
What might they have done had they not “become calloused” according to the scripture above? “Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn…” And notice the contrast with the Gentiles (while still sinful), who will listen. What is the distinction Paul is drawing between the Jews and the Gentiles in this text? One is calloused and thus unable to turn while the other, who are still sinners, are willing to listen and respond.
Now, for the sake of brevity, if that is even possible at this point, I have attempted to narrow my focus upon the key elements of Micah’s latest response, entitled Unmediated.
First, allow me to offer a definition of the term “unmediated” as that seem to be a crux of the matter. One dictionary offers us this definition: “without anyone or anything intervening or acting as an intermediate; direct.” This definition, and how we apply it to mankind’s natural abilities to comprehend and accept directly revealed truth, is essential to this discussion. Micah argues that reading or hearing the inspired word of God is a “mediated” (by way of means, or through a mediator) form of divine revelation. And Micah asserts that those means are insufficient to enable the natural man to respond freely to God’s own appeal. He believes that the Holy Spirit must do more than inspire the words which clearly reveal truth and call us to reconciliation through faith in order for us to have the ability to freely respond. I content that his view is not convincingly established by the scriptures.
Below I have pulled out several quotes from Micah’s article that relate directly to this matter.
What I called “mere information” Leighton prefers to call “divine inspiration.” I certainly agree with him that the propositional truths of Scripture are in a different category than, say, a grocery list or even a profound poem by Milton. Scripture was “God-breathed.”
Yet, ironically, if Micah is correct, the natural man is able to freely respond to the average list or poem but not the “God-breathed” revelation, unless graced in some supernatural manner. Should we assume this is true? I see no biblical reason to do so.
However, the inspired Bible is not God Himself; it is instead information from God. Likewise, the message of the Gospel is not God Himself; it is information from God. This is all I meant by “mere information.”
Of course, I agree with this distinction (as Micah kindly acknowledges), but to be clear for our readers — our point of contention is not over whether or not the gospel is God Himself. No one is suggesting the gospel is God. Our point of contention, as I understand it, is over whether or not the message inspired by God is sufficient to enable a free response. It is simply a false dichotomy to in any way imply that one must either believe the Bible is an insufficient means of revelation to enable faith or to believe the Bible is equal to God Himself.
In practical terms of response-ability, I agree that the message of the Gospel produces faith in its hearers (Rom. 10:17) and it is then the response-ability of the hearer to “mix” that faith within their heart (Heb. 3), resulting in salvation if they do. But I’ll clarify that in a moment.
To be clear (or maybe more precise) on this point; I do not believe that the message of the Gospel “produces faith in its hearer.” I believe the Gospel enables the hearer to freely respond.
Certainly we should agree that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Suffice to say, I believe that the unmediated presence of the Triune God is the drawing in view (John 12:32, 16:8), while Leighton would hold that the mediated means of the scriptures are in view. The unmediated presence and influence of God is going to be my focus for this article.
I too affirm the Holy Spirit’s unmediated presence and continual influence, but do so while maintaining the sufficiency of the means by which He has chosen to reveal Himself and his inspired truth (even by mediated means). In other words, I see no biblical reason to believe that God’s unmediated presence and influence somehow suggests that His work through means is insufficient to accomplish its given purpose.
For instance, the mediate means of writing articles in response to each other’s theological perspective is sufficient for Micah and myself to understand and converse. If Micah were to come over to my house tomorrow to further discuss these matters in an “unmediated” manner, would that suggest that the articles were no longer sufficient to convince readers of his persepctive? Of course not. It would only reveal that Micah has chosen more than one way in which to communicate with me about his views. I am not sure why it would be any different with God’s chosen means of communication with fallen humanity.
Proof that God uses a variety of means to communicate does not suggest that some are insufficient and others are not. Was the testimony of the witnesses sufficient to allow Thomas to believe their testimony despite the fact that he refused to do so? I believe it was. It was Thomas’ own fault for not believing their testimony, not a lacking in the testimony or an inborn incapacity due to the sin of Adam. I blame Thomas alone for his unbelief in light of that clear testimony. The fact that God chose to reveal Himself more personally to Thomas was purely gracious, not required or necessary for a faith response. It must be established biblically that the proclaimed inspired truth is insufficient apart from some extra supernatural grace. Respectfully, I do not believe Micah has met that burden thus far in our discourse.
I believe that Leighton’s view downplays the cosmic spiritual war that surrounds us. The unsaved are styled as “blinded by the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4)…People are not merely uninformed (for which they would need only God’s inspired truth propositions), they are enslaved to a dark power which seeks to hinder and blind them to God’s truth.
Allow me to reword Micah’s argument in such a way that reveals how I read it from my worldview: “I believe that Leighton’s view of God’s word is more powerful than the cosmic powers that surrounds us. The unsaved are styled as ‘blinded by the god of this world’ (2 Cor 4:4) in such a manner that even hearing God’s inspire word is insufficient. People are not merely in need of God’s powerful, life-giving inspired truth, because God’s own word isn’t sufficient to set the fallen man free apart from some extra supernatural (unmediated) grace.” This would be a high bar to prove from scripture in my opinion.