Rejecting Calvinism Does Not Require a Weak View of Depravity

February 11, 2015

Ronnie Rogers | Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church, Norman, OK

Some Calvinists are prone to chide those who do not don the Calvinist perspective for having a weak view of man’s depravity, but that is not necessarily true.[1] As an Extensivist,[2] I categorically reject such a claim. As I have written many times, I believe in total depravity.[3] That is to say, man’s depravity is extensive (affecting every aspect of man).[4] Accordingly, since the fall, man is utterly and hopelessly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own. This ability (to be or continue in faith and fellowship with God) did reside in Adam prior to the fall, but it does not exist in mankind subsequent to the fall (Romans 3:10-18). Subsequent to the fall, God must provide everything necessary to enable sinful man to be restored to right relationship with Him.

As a result, God is not only the initiator in salvation, but also the energizing power that empowers every aspect of the process and then the eternally sustaining power that protects the redeemed.[5] Man’s part, which is exercising faith in Christ as Savior, is possible only because of God’s sovereign grace in providing as well as affording man a real choice to either reject the gospel and remain in darkness or accept the light by grace-enabled faith.[6] Thus, fallen man is thoroughly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own, an incapacity that is overcome only by God’s grace enabling, which is caused solely by God’s love—omnibenevolence (John 3:16).

Therefore, the difference between the two positions cannot be winnowed out by simply dismissing people who reject Calvinism as being weak on depravity. This is simply because a lack of belief in the utter depravity and inability of man is not the real issue, but rather the actual issue is our disagreement regarding what constitutes the nature of man. This difference is where the conflict actually lies. These widely divergent views determine what is required to afford fallen man a genuine occasion to exercise saving faith (being savable).

Calvinists[7] believe that man was created with a compatibilist free will, which means that man is considered to be exercising free choice so long as he is not coerced by external forces.[8] To wit, as long as man chooses what he desires, he is exercising free choice. The essence of compatibilism is that determinism and moral responsibility are compatible. Compatibilism argues that every choosing is free as long as one did what he desired to do, but it equally excludes the possibility of man choosing to do something other than what he chooses or to have chosen to do other than what he did in fact choose to do (man chooses but he does not actually have a choice).

That is to say, a person’s every decision is free as long as he chooses without external coercion, but such choosing is determined not by choosing between two accessible options (compatibilism includes voluntariness but it does not include origination—efficient agent causation), but rather by determinative antecedents. Atheists, Darwinists, Theists, and Calvinists often disagree on what the determinative antecedents are (Darwinists argue they arise from nature only, etc., whereas Calvinists would say they originate from God, man’s nature, etc.). In compatibilism, otherwise choice (man choosing other than he did in fact choose) is non-existent.

In view of that, from a Calvinist/compatibilist perspective, Adam freely chose to sin (according to his nature with no external coercion), but he could not have chosen otherwise without having a different nature than what he did in fact have (or some other variation of determinative antecedents);[9] accordingly, sinful man cannot believe without a new nature (regeneration) and with such he will believe; hence, Calvinism’s view that the new nature precedes and provisions faith.[10] This is at the heart of Calvinism’s understanding of freedom and depravity (involving also their understanding of sovereignty, but that is another article).

As an Extensivist, I unconditionally reject Calvinism’s compatibilism, and I maintain that the clear teaching of Scripture is that God endowed man with libertarian free will. To wit, man acts freely when he is not coerced by external force or limited by internal inability, and he is therefore responsible for his decisions because he could have chosen differently than he did in fact choose. Using Adam again, what makes Adam’s sin so damning is that he actually chose to sin and walk away from the light when God had done everything to enable him to reject the temptation of the serpent, which he could have actually done.

In both the compatible and libertarian views, God knew what Adam would do but for very different reasons. In compatibilism, God knew because He gave man a nature that would ultimately result in man freely choosing to sin (compatibilism raises the whole issue of ultimate responsibility for sin),[11] whereas in libertarianism He knew, not because man was predetermined to do so, but because God knows all; therefore by His nature, He knew what man would freely choose to do when he could have chosen otherwise. Adam’s sin, mankind’s ensuing plight, and God’s knowledge of all and love for His creation are expressed in His coextensive creation/redemption plan.

Therefore, my view regarding the severity of the fall is no less biblical since both views require a comprehensive supernatural work in order to both provide and secure salvation. The true difference lies in our divergent understanding of man’s nature and freedom, which occasions the difference between our answers to the question, what supernatural work is required for God to place man in a savable position.

In Calvinism, a savable positon leads inexorably to being saved (based upon unconditional election and selective regeneration). This means that, in the end, being in a savable position is merely sequentially distinguishable but not qualitatively distinguishable from salvation. Whereas according to Extensivism, savable means to be enabled to have a real choice to either remain in love with darkness, one’s sin, or to choose to receive the light of Christ and the gospel; consequently, being in a savable position is both sequentially and qualitatively distinguishable from salvation. Unlike Calvinism, the latter does not involve a selective deterministic trajectory that unalterably leads to faith for some and not for others.

Additionally, the Scripture ubiquitously speaks as though man has a choice between various accessible options and man concomitantly senses that he can choose between believing and rejecting righteousness (once grace-enabled). Daily, humans quotidianly sense as a reality that we can choose among various options[12] placed before us. Even after such a decision is made, we often reflect on how we wish we would have chosen other than what we did; again, with every sense of reality that we could have.

In compatibilism, such sense is a delusion with regard to both the process of decision-making and the review of such decisions, whereas in the libertarian and biblical view, it seems like a reality because it is a reality. That is why man should and can come to the light and is judged for not doing so (John 3:16-21). Many Calvinists (some of whom do not fully understand such), obscure or elide the unflinching determinism associated with every decision according to Calvinism, compatibilism (I am not assigning intentionality to such); unfortunately, even many who reject Calvinism, particularly its determinism, still tend to miss how deterministic Calvinism actually is, and this far beyond the doctrine of salvation. It actually creates a world where man thinks, feels, and acts as if he and everyone around him are making decisions every day, which are either good or bad, and the ones that are bad should have been rejected. Such is a phantasm, delusion, in compatibilism.

Thus, it is fallacious to equate rejecting Calvinism with necessitating a biblically weakened perspective regarding depravity. I believe that God is sovereign enough to rule over truly free beings and powerful enough to restore man to a place of savableness, which enables man to have a real choice of whether to accept Christ or not, and whatever man does in fact do, he could have done otherwise; this enablement is provided by God’s loving and gracious pre-conversional work, which I often refer to as grace-enablement or grace-enabled faith (see reference note 6).

The truth is that both Calvinism and Extensivism recognize the need for a sovereign pre-conversional work of grace, but we disagree on what is included in that work, and that is due to our disagreement regarding the nature of man and not merely biblical depravity. In compatibilism, total depravity might logically require a new nature before a person could be savable, and such change in man would inevitably result in a free exercise of faith; however, that is not essential to a scriptural definition of depravity, which is that man is so affected by sin that he is incapable of coming to God without God’s sovereign enabling grace. Therefore, one can reject Calvinism without accepting a weak view of depravity.

With this in mind, it is clear that we do not necessarily disagree on the seriousness of sin, which is such that it requires that God must not only initiate the salvific process, but that He must provide every essential of such and continually be involved. What we disagree on (in this limited discussion) is the idea of compatibilism verses libertarianism, and thereby God’s sovereignty and love in a world so constituted. In Calvinism’s determinism, God did ultimately desire (though not directly cause) that Adam sin, or else He would have given him a different nature (or other determinative antecedents). Accordingly, God evidentially and undeniably desires only for some to be saved or else He would have given all a new nature that inevitably results in saving faith—the attempted palliation or denial of such by some Calvinists notwithstanding.

In Extensivism, God did ultimately desire for Adam to remain in fellowship with Him and not sin. Equally, He desired the same for all of Adam’s posterity. Therefore, as God provided Adam the opportunity to remain in the light, He now works to provide a genuine opportunity for all of Adam’s posterity to return to the light. According to Extensivism, God always desired holiness in His creation, and He still does. Therefore, Extensivism does not proffer a weak view of depravity but rather a different understanding of God and the created nature of man.

 

[1] Some who reject Calvinism may in fact have a weakened view, but that is not because they reject Calvinism.
[2] I describe my position thusly thereby highlighting the biblical heart of the issue regarding God’s love and salvation plan. Calvinism teaches an exclusive plan (limited salvific love, limited election, limited atonement, limited call, limited potential, etc.), and I believe the Bible teaches an extensive plan. Others who reject Calvinism, but are not properly Arminians (such labeling by Calvinists notwithstanding) use various terms such as Traditionalists, Savabilists, etc.
[3] For example see my article “The Image of God in Man: A Proposed Working Definition” at ronniewrogers.com.
[4] This does not mean that man has lost all sensibilities of God (Genesis 3:8-13; Romans 1:18-23).
[5] See my article “Can Man Endowed with Libertarian Free Will Live Righteously Forever in Heaven” at ronniewrogers.com.
[6] For a list of some of these grace enablements, see my article, “Anyone and Everyone Can Be Saved by Grace” at ronniewrogers.com.
[7] I am only addressing those who hold to this view, which is a characteristic of mainstream Calvinism.
[8] See my article “The Fall of Angels and Man: Two Views Calvinism and Non-Calvinism” at ronniewrogers.com. Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1957), 11, 15, 413. God’s predestination of all things compliments this as well. John Calvin, Institutes of Christian Religion, translated by Henry Beveridge, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997 reprint), vol. 2, Book 3, Chapter 21, Section 5, page 206. Every attempt to free Calvinism from its unflinching determinism seems to succeed only in providing an inconsistency within one’s Calvinism or a slightly different path of terminology without substantive change in the deterministic nature of Calvinism.
[9] Calvinists seek to avoid this reality by delving into discussions of moral and intellectual abilities, etc., but these merely obfuscate the actual reality of compatibilism that Calvinism embraces. This is because the question being addressed is not whether Adam could intellectually or morally resist the fall, but rather could Adam, who possessed both moral and intellectual ability, resist the fall. The answer is no, not according to compatibilism. I call this one of the disquieting realities of Calvinism, which is quite often obscured.
[10] Held by many but not all Calvinists, but it is to my knowledge the vastly dominant view among Southern Baptists.
[11] I first ran across this concept when reading a chapter on this subject by philosopher Robert Kane, “Some Neglected Pathways in the Free Will Labyrinth,” The Oxford Handbook of FREE WILL edited by Robert Kane, (New York, Oxford University Press, 2002), 407.
[12] This does not mean man can do anything (fly, become an airplane, etc.,), but that within the range of options actually accessible, he can choose to act or refrain; accordingly, man does actually have a choice rather than just a choosing.

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phillip

Brother Rogers,

You write…..

“Thus, fallen man is thoroughly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own, an incapacity that is overcome only by God’s grace enabling…”

In the Traditional Statement under Article II (the Sinfulness of Man) it reads…

“We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will…..”

Do you disagree with the TS?

God bless.

    Ronnie W Rogers

    Hello Phillip
    Thank you for reading the post and your comment.
    I am not actually trying to challenge the Traditional Statement, but rather to express my understanding of the biblical teaching regarding this subject. I think it would be unwise for me to try and explain the meaning for the authors since they have done so elsewhere; see the two journals that address this document, http://www.baptistcenter.net/journals_page.html. I spend most of my time trying to defend my own understanding of the biblical teachings. The ones who wrote this document are far more educated and capable than I am. I, to the best I can, simply attempt to use language that seeks to be faithful to the biblical teaching regarding the severity of the fall and God’s infinitely sufficient grace. To wit, the inadequacies in fallen man are overcome by the adequate grace of God with regards to salvation.

Troy Mueller

Brother Ronnie,

Amen! You hit the theological nail on the head regarding total depravity. Some of us non-Calvinists need to be careful that in rejecting Calvinism we don’t also reject what the bible has to say about our fallen humanity. We are extensively affected by the fall and completely dependent on enabling grace to be saved, and to continue to have victory in walking with Christ.

Pastor Troy Mueller — East End Baptist Church Roanoke VA

Rick Patrick

Ronnie,

Thank you for expressing so clearly that there is plenty of room within biblical anthropology for both the depravity and the responsibility of man. I’m glad to see you have signed “A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God’s Plan of Salvation.”

I also appreciate the descriptive nature of your preferred term, “Extensivist.” It actually describes the content of the theology, rather than its chief proponent (Calvinism) or its majoritarian status in our denomination (Traditionalism). There are many reasons to applaud its use.

As is *quotidianly* the case, you have given me my word for the day. :-)

    phillip

    Brother Rick,

    Based upon some of your earlier articles and comments, I was a little surprised by your statement above.

    So to clear any confusion on my part are you an advocate of both TD/TI and prevenient grace?

    God bless.

      Rick Patrick

      Hi Phillip,

      Which of my statements above surprised you? That Ronnie could articulate his theology while also in good conscience signing the Traditional Statement? He doesn’t seem to see a contradiction. Neither do I. Or are you surprised that I have room in my anthropology for Total Depravity–albeit not one that vitiates man’s ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s gracious initiative in drawing us through the gospel?

      You quoted this statement by Ronnie: “Thus, fallen man is thoroughly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own, an incapacity that is overcome only by God’s grace enabling…” You then quoted a different portion of Article Two then I felt was relevant. I would have quoted this: “While no sinner is remotely capable of achieving salvation through his own effort, we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a free response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel.”

      If you define “not remotely capable…through his own effort” as inability, then I suppose you might find TI in the Trad Statement, but I don’t think that’s the right definition. The statement that “we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a *free* response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel” implies a libertarian free will that does not necessarily require a pre-gospel work other than the Holy Spirit’s drawing. With such genuine free will, man indeed possesses the ability to say either “yes” or “no” to the gospel.

      Totally depraved man possesses the inability to save himself, but retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel. If you want to call that prevenient grace, I won’t stop you. I think Ronnie describes it as God’s grace enablement. Whatever you call it, God takes the initiative and man responds. Man has “response ability” but not “initiative ability.”

      Perhaps we’re splitting hairs a bit, but do you think God can fit His prevenient grace into the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel? Must there be a pre-gospel work of unconditional election (for the Calvinist) or prevenient grace (for the Arminian) or can God’s initiatory grace not simply arrive with the proclamation of the gospel itself and depraved man’s ability to respond to God’s gracious drawing?

        phillip

        Blessing, Rick.

        I don’t believe you and I are “splitting hairs” brother. From what you wrote (now and previously) I think we are on the same page.

        You wrote…. “Totally depraved man possesses the inability to save himself, but retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel”

        I agree completely. Man cannot earn his right standing before God, however, even in a depraved state he can still respond favorably towards God. His libertarian free will was never lost. So while I affirm TD, I reject TI.

        You said…. “The statement that ‘we deny that any sinner is saved apart from a *free* response to the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the Gospel’ implies a libertarian free will that does not necessarily require a pre-gospel work other than the Holy Spirit’s drawing.”

        If I understand you correctly, then I agree. But it seems some believe this libertarian free will towards God (and the gospel) was lost due to the fall and must be restored.

        Now brother Rogers wrote the following…..

        “Thus, fallen man is thoroughly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own, an incapacity that is overcome only by God’s grace enabling”

        What exactly needs to be “overcomed”? If man can’t believe because he is totally depraved, then it would seem the issue of depravity needs to be addressed first before a man can believe. If man can’t believe God (or His Gospel) because he is depraved, how do you explain all the biblical examples to the contrary?

        Below is a quote from an article from the SEA website under the title of “Prevenient Grace and Libertarian Free Will”.

        “Many Calvinists point to such concepts as total depravity and bondage of the will to make the case that the will is not free, but don’t realize that they hit cleanly beside the point in that we (Arminians) agree that the human will is by nature enslaved to sin…….Thus by nature, human beings are blind and hard-hearted towards the gospel and cannot believe in Christ of their own accord. To overcome (there’s that word again) the power of the sinful nature, something stronger than sin must enter into the equation, which can only come from God……. This grace which can overcome (Yikes! Not again!) the innate sinful desires of men and allow them to receive the gospel message and believe in Christ as Savior is sometimes called ‘preventing grace’ or ‘prevenient grace’”.

        Now here’s the problem I have with the above. If the sinner’s sinful nature is overcomed, thus the blindness and hard-heartedness has been removed, and he still rejects Christ, then the sinful nature wasn’t the cause of the sinner’s refusal in the first place because the issue of the sinful nature has been addressed. In other words, if the sinful nature is the cause of man’s rebellion against God and the sinful rebellious nature is removed, then why does the sinner still rebel? If this grace overcomes the “innate sinful desires of men” then why do most men still give in to their sinful desires and reject Christ?

        Brother Rick, I apologize for the length of this post. It’s just that the issue of TD/TI and the solutions for it concern me. My understanding is only two groups embrace the Calvinistic teaching of TD/TI. The Calvinists and their Arminian offspring. Both believe the issue of TD must be addressed before one can come to faith in Christ. The first thru regeneration (the sinner is given a new nature which is no longer TD) and the other with the depraved nature being overcomed (so the sinner must less depraved then he was when he makes a decision either for or against Christ). It seems to me the Arminian solution for TD/TI is just a softer form of Calvinism.

        I appreciate you time.

        God bless, brother.

          Ronnie W Rogers

          Phillip
          In your response to Rick, you quoted him, “You wrote…. “Totally depraved man possesses the inability to save himself, but retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel”

          To which you responded, “I agree completely. Man cannot earn his right standing before God, however, even in a depraved state he can still respond favorably towards God. His libertarian free will was never lost.”

          First, I agree totally with your quote of Rick. Man is unable to save himself, which means without God’s grace-enablement. Yes, he can respond to God because the Holy Spirit’s initiative, drawing, and gospel are all grace-enablements. Second, please reread my article because I do not in this article nor anywhere else argue that man has lost his libertarian free will. Rather with regard to salvation, I argue God must be at work–unlike using one’s libertarian free will on whether to go to the movies or not.

          Third, the existence of libertarian free will and limitations upon what one can do with it are considered in light of whether a particular choice is within the range of options. Libertarian free will is not eradicated because one cannot choose a particular thing that may have been within his range of options at one time (or even in the future). I do believe the Bible presents the fall as being so severe that man cannot make a libertarian choice to trust Christ “on his own” i.e. without God’s grace.

          Now if man cannot believe or come to God without God’s enabling grace (see ft. note 6 in article) that flows from His love (which is the initiation of the initiation) in providing the essentials for a process of salvation and the invitation and initiation of the process, then my statements are a true reflection of Scripture, and I believe they are. If you can demonstrate that man, apart from all of the provisions of salvation provided by the love of God, can reconcile himself with God by faith, then you are correct that man’s libertarian free will is unfettered by sin. That is to say, he is able with his unaided libertarian free will to come to God. However, I hope that is not your belief and do not think that is reflective of the panoply of Scripture regarding man, the fall, and salvation.

            phillip

            Brother Rogers,

            Rick wrote….. “Totally depraved man possesses the inability to save himself, but retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel”

            You followed that up with…. “Yes, he can respond to God because the Holy Spirit’s initiative, drawing, and gospel are all grace-enablements.”

            Now I am not an English major, but there appears to be a discrepancy here.

            Rick wrote that fallen man “retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative” while you state that man can “respond to God because of the Holy Spirit’s initiative”.

            So for Rick (and me) the ability to respond was in place prior to the Holy Spirit’s initiative (brother Rick, please correct me if I am misunderstanding you) while you seem to be suggesting the ability to respond was the result of the Holy Spirit’s initiative.

            Ronnie, I am not trying to be disagreeable here. Please forgive me if it is coming across that way.

            In brotherly love.

              Ronnie W Rogers

              Phillip
              You wrote, “there appears to be a discrepancy here”

              Although we may use different language, I do not understand the Traditional Statement to affirm, all things considered within the statement and explanations (see earlier citation), that man, without God’s preceding grace, can (has an unfettered ability to) come to God. I personally know many of the signers, and I assure you they would not affirm such an understanding, nor do I.

              Consequently, I must be too obtuse to understand your point. Here is what I am stating. Man was created with libertarian free will; thus, he had the libertarian ability “on his own” to walk with God or not. The choice to walk away from God was one that resulted in the loss of that ability to choose to walk with God once again “on his own”.

              There are many choices within libertarianism that result in the loss of certain choices but not the loss of libertarian free will. The loss of certain choices is not equivalent to the loss of libertarian free will; hence, man still retains his free will, but he cannot make certain choices he once did. E.g. man can make a choice to drive carelessly, wreck, and lose his eyesight. Now, he still has free choice but not to see. Without help, he cannot see.

              Further, as I understand the Scripture, God in love provided the grace so that man could once again exercise his retained, albeit restricted, libertarian free choice and come back to God. However, the fall is of such gargantuan depth and breadth that the work on God’s part to make this available makes salvation by grace, which grace includes all that God has done in love to provide everything we need to be enabled to make a real choice to believe or not.

              Please note that I make no apology for seeing the fall in such a catastrophic way. No matter how profoundly I see the heinousness and ghastliness of the fall, I fear I have still not stated it sufficiently to convey its horror. However, I believe any idea that man retained within his fallen self the ability to exercise pre-fall Adamic faith is a failure to reflect the biblical teaching regarding the seriousness of the fall and its consequences. I am not implying this of others, only seeking to clarify my limited understanding of Scripture.

              My article was, as the title and content demonstrate, to show that a rejection of Calvinism is not equivalent to missing the biblical seriousness of depravity, and to show that the real nature of the conflict begins with are irreconcilable views of the nature of man. Rightly understood, a libertarian view knows that every aspect of salvation is by grace—grace-enabled.

              If you believe that man retains the unfettered freedom to exercise saving faith (same range of choices he had in the pre-fall era), this apart from preceding grace, then, yes we do very much disagree. Forgive me if I have misunderstood your position.

              Rick Patrick

              Philip,

              You wrote: “brother Rick, please correct me if I am misunderstanding you.” I will try to do so, but this time without mentioning anything about the hairs we may be splitting.
              It is clear to me that you and Andy seem to find a discrepancy between Ronnie’s position and the Traditional Statement, although neither Ronnie nor I have been able to grasp said discrepancy from your quotes.

              Allow me to parse my phrase, “retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel.”

              Like you, I embrace TD but reject TI. Thus, man is able to respond without the pre-gospel work of God’s election. However, please notice that man is responding to the “Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel.” What exactly is that Holy Spirit initiative if it is not God’s grace enablement–grace that precedes the human decision?

              I am not all that interested in whether or not someone wishes to call God’s grace “prevenient” or an “enablement.” I am, however, very concerned that we not leave the impression in anyone’s mind that man can simply come to God on his own.

              The “ability” I believe man retains is an ability to “respond” and not an ability to “initiate.” What exactly is man responding to? The gospel. How does he hear about the gospel and begin considering this free response he is capable of making? God’s Holy Spirit takes the initiative to draw him–an activity of God’s grace that one may call “prevenient” (since it is pre-decision) or simply a “grace enablement.”

              I don’t know if this will clear things up for you or not, but I believe that Ronnie’s position, my position and the Traditional Statement, properly understood, all three allow for (a) man’s depravity and (b) man’s response ability, while disabusing everyone of the notion that man is capable of doing this *on his own* since it is always in response to the (c) grace of God in initiating His Holy Spirit drawing of man through the gospel.

                phillip

                Brothers Ronnie/Rick,

                I appreciate your gracious tones. Again, I am not trying to be difficult.

                Let me add that I do agree with you that man cannot believe in Christ on his own. The seed, the very word of God, must first be planted within the heart (Luke 8:11, Acts 16:14, James 1:21). Once equipped with the word, man can then believe in whom he has heard. However, this, I believe, has absolutely nothing to do with overcoming man’s depravity.

                Romans 10:14;17 (NKJV)…..
                How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed (they can’t)? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard (they can’t)? And how shall they hear without a preacher?…..So then faith comes by (what?) hearing, and hearing (what?) by the word of God.”

                Once the sinner is equipped with the word of God, then can he come to saving faith in Christ. Now if you want to say this is “grace enabled” I think that’s a stretch, because it has nothing to do with overcoming man’s depravity or sinful nature. What I am saying, and what I believe the TS affirms, is man never lost the ability to respond to God. Man’s free will (libertarian or otherwise) was not incapacitated, or lost, after the fall.

                The gospel of John is full of examples of people coming to faith in Christ, but never once is there any mention of their depraved natures being overcomed. Every time someone came to faith in Christ in the gospel of John it was because of something Jesus either said or did. Every time. It appears, from scripture, they just needed proof that Jesus was who he said he was. Jesus taught and man listened and learned. It’s not that man had a learning-disability that had to be overcomed. Now if you want to say that it was “thru grace” or “by grace” I would agree (Romans 4:16, Ephesians 2:8, Acts 18:27), but to say it had to be “grace enabling” due to their inability as a result of the fall is going beyond what I believe the scriptures say.

                Rick, you said…. “the ‘ability’ I believe man retains is an ability to ‘respond’ and not an ability to ‘initiate’.”

                I agree completely. As you stated earlier “Totally depraved man……retains the ability to respond to the Holy Spirit’s initiative in drawing him through the gospel.” So man’s ability to respond either favorably or unfavorably to God’s revelation was not lost.

                Rick you added… “Like you, I embrace TD but reject TI. Thus, man is able to respond without the pre-gospel work of God’s election.”

                Now I am not sure if I follow you here. Election, in the Calvinistic scheme of things, is WHO will be the recipients of God’s irresistible grace. Irresistible Grace is the cure (or the HOW) for the condition of TD/TI. I know we disagree with our reformed brothers who believe “regeneration precedes faith”.

                Here’s a simple definition of TD found on-line.

                “Total depravity is a theological doctrine derived from the Augustinian concept of original sin. It is the teaching that, as a consequence of the Fall of Man, every person born into the world is enslaved to the service of sin and, apart from the efficacious or prevenient grace of God, is utterly unable to choose to follow God, refrain from evil, or accept the gift of salvation as it is offered.”

                Now let’s put the other petals of the TULIP to one side and focus solely on the issue of TD. Are Traditionalists Augustinians when it comes to TD? Ronnie/Rick, is there anything in the quote above you disagree with?

                Also, if Traditionalists believe in “prevenient grace” how are we different than our Arminian brothers?

                Now, brothers, I know I have others things to attend to today (as I am sure you both do too) so I don’t know how much interaction I can have today. Perhaps we can continue this gracious dialogue later.

                Brother Ronnie, by the way, I am an elliptical guy myself.

                May God richly bless you both.

                  Rick Patrick

                  I believe the TS affirms TD but not TI. That is, man is totally depraved in that there is nothing good in him. However, he has not lost the ability freely to respond to the gospel–hence, no TI. (I suppose we can make a case for including the Holy Spirit’s drawing through the gospel as either inside or outside the definition of God’s pre-decision grace. As long as we preserve the concept that God initiates the salvation process, I can live with it if you don’t want to call that initiative prevenient grace.)

                  Apart from the issue of Total Inability, Traditionalists are also different from Arminians in that (a) we disaffirm inherited guilt, while still affirming a sinful human nature, and (b) perseverance of the saints (in the sense of once saved, always saved) is mandatory for the Traditionalist and optional for the Arminian.

                    phillip

                    Brother Rick,

                    You wrote….. “I believe the TS affirms TD but not TI. That is, man is totally depraved in that there is nothing good in him. However, he has not lost the ability freely to respond to the gospel–hence, no TI.”

                    I agree. I would say that the TS affirms TD, but not TI. That is, man is totally depraved (rotten to the core) in that he cannot earn his right standing before God (utterly incapable of saving himself by works). However, he has not lost the ability to freely respond to, or believe, the word of God (including the Gospel).

                    Are we in agreement?

                    Blessings.

                  Ronnie W Rogers

                  Phillip
                  You said, “Let me add that I do agree with you that man cannot believe in Christ on his own…. Once equipped with the word, man can then believe in whom he has heard. However, this, I believe, has absolutely nothing to do with overcoming man’s depravity.”

                  It appears to me, that you believe upon hearing the gospel man today has unfettered freedom to choose to seek and follow God; consequently, his choosing is on par with Adam’s in that no other works of God are necessary to overcome (call it enable, overcome, place man in a position of true understanding and freedom to choose to follow or not etc.,) the effects of the fall so that sinful man may be freed to decide as Adam did. That is to say, what Adam had from creation was enough for him, and that is also enough for us (with regard to the exercise of choice). If so, we do sorely disagree because, as I understand you, the effects of the fall have not deleteriously affected man’s freedoms so long as he gets to hear the truth.

                  Am I to assume that you believe that hearing the gospel is sufficient (no other grace-enablements); therefore, the fall did not affect man’s ability so profoundly that might require God graciously working synergistically with the gospel. Consequently, I can only suppose that you never pray for the Holy Spirit to convict the one with whom you speak, or that the Father and Son might draw him (grace-enablements).

                  There are other grace workings that the Scripture clearly teaches that state emphatically that God has and is doing in concert with the proclamation of the gospel; these cannot be superfluous to the conversion of people.

                  If you think that God’s ever-present salvific love, conviction of the Holy Spirit, drawing of the Father and Son, enlightening of the Son, God working to afford people opportunities to hear and understand, (to name a few) play a vital role in enabling man to understand and believe the gospel while still in his sinful state, then it appears to me that you do believe in grace-enablement, i.e. both necessary and unmerited works of God so at to afford every person to have a real chance to trust Christ. These cannot be superfluous. These are such that I have in mind with the concept of grace-enablements.

                  My dear brother, my assumption is that I am misunderstanding you because to believe that the fall did not affect man totally (please do not read compatibilism into this), including his spiritual abilities beyond just needing to hear…signifies to me that the fall is clearly not much; moreover that these other gracious workings of God in order to make salvation not only possible but accessible to all are unnecessary beyond hearing the gospel. This seems to minimize the fall as well as everything else the Scripture clearly says God is doing in the gospel endeavor.

                  To say one can hear the gospel and believe (which I believe) is not the same as saying that God is not graciously working in concert with the proclamation (grace-enablements) in order to make that a reality, which I understand you to be saying. While in the context of proclamation and hearing one can believe, what makes that so according to my position, is that God is graciously at work.

                  To minimize the fall by minimizing any of the biblically declared components required to afford sinful man a real opportunity to believe is to minimize grace, God’s love, and wisdom.

                  Additionally, whether one uses the word overcome, enable, held in abeyance etc., what is meant is that all of the workings listed above are necessary in order to afford sinful man the opportunity upon hearing the gospel to both understand and believe the gospel.

                  It is unnecessary and contrary to Scripture to minimize the fall from affecting mankind totally—extensively i.e. every part. This is a serious issue. My position is that the seriousness of the fall is such that all of the workings of God as declared in Scripture are essential and sufficient (no place for unconditional elections selective regeneration, internal call for some etc.). To wit, to hear the gospel without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, drawing of the Son etc., is in fact insufficient. The problem of sin is so serious and debilitating that merely hearing is not enough (we are not like Adam since the fall); hence, God supplied drawing, conviction of the Holy Spirit etc.

                    phillip

                    John 4:39-42….
                    And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him BECAUSE OF THE WORD OF THE WOMAN who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed BECAUSE OF HIS OWN WORD. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, FOR WE OURSELVES HAVE HEARD HIM and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.”

                    John 6:45….
                    It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be TAUGHT BY GOD.’ Therefore everyone who has HEARD and LEARNED from the Father comes to Me.

                    John 20:31…
                    but THESE ARE WRITTEN THAT YOU MAY BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

                    Acts 14:1….
                    At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There THEY SPOKE SO EFFECTIVELY that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.

                    Acts 17:2…
                    As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days HE REASONED WITH THEM FROM THE SCRIPTURES

                    Acts 28:24…
                    Some were convinced BY WHAT HE SAID, but others would not believe.

                    2 TIMOTHY 3:15…
                    and that from childhood you have known THE HOLY SCRIPTURES, WHICH ARE ABLE TO MAKE YOU WISE FOR SALVATION through faith which is in Christ Jesus.

                    Brother Ronnie,

                    No one is saying the Spirit doesn’t convict the guilty sinner. The scriptures plainly state He does (John 16:8). But in order for someone to be convicted, he must first be convict-able. So there goes total inability.

                    The “drawing” you are referring to is the divine instruction we receive from the Father (John 6:44) and the teaching of the Cross (John 12:32). So both the Father and Son “draw” us thru the word of God. But, again, in order for someone to be taught (John 6:45), they must first be teach-able. For someone to be drawn, they must first be draw-able. Another blow to TI.

                    Respectfully, a denial of the Augustinian/Calvinistic doctrine of TD/TI in no way minimizes one’s view of God’s grace; for without it, all would be hopelessly lost. Non-Calvinists and Non-Arminians do not minimize God’s grace. We believe that Christ lived the life we couldn’t live and died the death we deserve. Grace Is…. God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. No one needs the precious blood of the Savior more than I.

                    Dear brother, I can’t tell you enough how much I appreciate both your time and gentle tone.

                    Grace.

                  Ronnie W Rogers

                  Phillip
                  Here is another attempt to understand and rightly reflect your position.

                  Adam in the Garden was told not to eat of the tree….Now, with the abilities that God had graciously given Adam during creation, Adam could upon hearing these words trust and not eat or distrust and eat. No additional work of God was necessary beyond telling Adam truth. I assume we agree.

                  Are you saying that man today needs only to hear truth because what he inherited from Adam is so qualitatively similar to what Adam had that he can, without any additional grace workings of God, sufficiently understand his options (like Adam) and choose. If not, you believe in grace-enablements. If so, it appears to me that we disagree on the significance of the fall of man.
                  Thanks, and please forgive me if I am misreading your position.

                  Ronnie W Rogers

                  Philip
                  Please excuse my continuance, but I would just like to know:

                  Do you believe that man’s free will is unaffected by the fall? That is to say, are we, as far as free will goes, the same as Adam prior to the fall? If so, how do you understand TD if not extensively.

                  If you do believe free will was affected, then how so, and what are the ramifications from such?

                  Your responses to the things I mentioned do not address what I mentioned, e.g. conviction of the Holy Spirit based upon the meaning of the word seems to indicate a making known, providing evidence etc., which is a part of enabling man to see His sin as God does and God’s righteousness as it is so that man can make a decision. All the scriptures you mentioned about believe, well of course. My point is, that the will was affected by sin, and therefore man is not like Adam as far as being able to choose.

                  So I know we will disagree, but I would appreciate your response to the questions regarding TD.

                  It might be helpful if you would not lump me together with others since I do not hold to Augustinian or Calvinistic or Arminian soteriology. similarities do not overcome essential dissimilarities and therefore make the two one and the same. I personally seek to listen to the person rather than ascribing a label, with all of its baggage, to them.

                  thanks for your time

                    phillip

                    Ronnie,

                    You asked… “Do you believe that man’s free will is unaffected by the fall?”

                    Rick wrote…. “I believe the TS affirms TD but not TI. That is, man is totally depraved in that there is nothing good in him. However, HE HAS NOT LOST THE ABILITY FREELY TO RESPOND to the gospel–hence, no TI.”

                    The TS states…. “We DENY that Adam’s sin resulted in the INCAPACITATION OF ANY PERSON’S FREE WILL…..”

                    So if I stand by the TS, and what I believe the scripture teaches, man did not lose his free will due to the fall. Simply put, I don’t believe man needs to be restored to a pre-fall, pre-depraved, pre-lost state in order to respond to God’s revelation as revealed thru His word.

                    If the notion of TD is adding confusion (since the phrase is found nowhere in scripture) I will simply say that as a result of the fall (his sinful, depraved nature), man cannot earn his right standing before God (hence, man cannot earn salvation by keeping the law), however, man can still respond favorably to God’s revelation provided thru His word. I believe man is depraved, but I reject TD if it has to include TI.

                    Again, brother, I want to convey to you how much I appreciate your precious time. I know your duties as a Pastor are very time consuming. You have been very gracious with me. I don’t want you to think it has gone unnoticed.

                    May God bless both you and your ministry.

                Ronnie W Rogers

                Rick
                Well said!

        Andy

        I share Phillip’s confusion here. The following statements sound like descriptions of inability, and then prevenient grace. I cannot find a difference.

        FROM RONNIE ROGERS:
        “since the fall, man is utterly and hopelessly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own.”

        “Thus, fallen man is thoroughly incapable of exercising saving faith on his own, an incapacity that is overcome only by God’s grace enabling, which is caused solely by God’s love—omnibenevolence (John 3:16).”

        “The truth is that both Calvinism and Extensivism recognize the need for a sovereign pre-conversional work of grace.”

        These seem to not fit with the TS – “We deny that Adam’s sin resulted in the incapacitation of any person’s free will….”

        …Because Rogers says since the fall, mankind is INCAPABLE of exercising faith.

        The question here is not “is prevenient grace correct”…but rather…Is Ronnie Teaching prevenient grace, without using the words? and if so, how does that fit with the TS?

          phillip

          Brother Andy,

          Bingo!

          Sounds awfully Arminian to me.

          God bless.

          Mary

          My understanding of “prevenient grace” is that it is a work that God has to perform to fix a person’s will so one is capable of responding – Arminians believe God does this for everyone who hears the Gospel and the Grace is not irresistable – the will is still free to reject/accept. The TS statement on the other hand is that no work needs to be done because man never lost the ability to “respond” to God. Both Arminians and Calvinist believe that God has to perform a work so that man can respond. But Traditionalist do not believe that man if left to himself would ever seek out God. I think of it as “our seekers are broken” – everyone is seeking but we seek in all the wrong places but God offers us Grace by not allowing us to wander along blindly – when God speaks we are able to hear without any divine work on our nature. God doesn’t have to raise anyone from the “dead” because when God speaks even the dead hear.

            Mary

            The Gospel is the “preconversion work” from a Traditionalist side whereas with Arminians/Calvinists there has to be some work on a person’s nature before anyone can even hear the Gospel. It’s not The Gospel + some work by God on man’s nature. It’s the Gospel + nothing.

              phillip

              Mary,

              You said…. “The Gospel is the ‘preconversion work’ from a Traditionalist side whereas with Arminians/Calvinists there has to be some work on a person’s nature before anyone can even hear the Gospel.”

              I tend to agree. When our blessed Saviour said “It is finished” that was it. No other “work” had to be done. However, both the Calvinist and Arminian believe another “work” must be done on man’s depraved nature before he/she can believe.

              Basically, as I understand TD/TI, when we went from the Law of works to the Law of faith (Romans 3:27) nothing really changed, because man can no more believe than he can keep the law. In other words, God replaced the impossible (the law of works) with the equally impossible (the law of faith).

              However, I believe God replaced what no man could do (the law of works) with something everyman can do (the law of faith).

              God bless, sister.

                Mary

                Phillip, it seems to me there is a disconnect here where people are saying they don’t believe Total Depravity = Total Inability to respond where God speaks but then turn around and say that because of Depravity God first must make man capable of responding. I agree with you that it’s adding another work and cheapening the work of the cross.

Ronnie W Rogers

Hello Rick
Thank you, and I was going to e-mail you to say Thank you for your leadership and great articles; although I do not often comment (usually on a treadmill at the time), I read all the articles on SBC Today. So, Thank you!

    Rick Patrick

    Ronnie,

    Thanks for your kind comments. Let me be quick to say that this website is being superbly led by our editor, Jonathan Carter.

David L. Allen

Superb!

rnieman

Great post.

The following Tozer quotes echo your post, all but the last are on prevenient grace with the last being in regards to God’s Sovereignty and the salvation of men.

“Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.

“Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. “No man can come to me,” said our Lord, “except the Father which hath sent me draw him,” and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is our following hard after Him.” [1]

“When the great God brought salvation to men, He put it in the form of a message, and according to Paul in the Corinthian epistle, He decreed that men should be saved through preaching. That is, they should be saved through hearing that message. We call that message, the Gospel.

“What was before that? Some theologians refer to this as ‘prevenient grace.’ That is the grace God brings to their hearts before they hear, and before they believe. I don’t know too much about ‘prevenient grace,’ and I don’t think anybody else does. So when you hear anybody expostulating on that learnedly and at length, write him off, because he knows more than the Bible reveals. But there must be some preparation of God in the heart or there would be no believing at all. On the other hand, there isn’t enough preparation to save the man, so he has to hear something.” [2]

[1] Tozer, The Pursuit of God (1961, Marshall Morgan & Scott Ltd., London, UK), pp. 11-12
[2] Tozer, Fellowship of the Burning Heart (2006, Bridge-Logos, Alachua, FL, USA), p. 102

A.W. Tozer on the sovereignty of God:

“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, “What doest thou?” Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.”

Russ

Rick Patrick

Philip and Ronnie,

Having sought the godly counsel of a Bible scholar thoroughly familiar with the doctrine of the Traditional Statement, let me simply say that, in his opinion, Ronnie’s affirmation of grace-enablements is consistent with the Traditional Statement. He went on to write, “I don’t think the TS requires an affirmation of PG. The term is not used. But the view of PG is consistent, at it’s core, with the TS.” I hope this helps to resolve the issue.

    phillip

    Rick,

    Thanks for the clarification, but this only opens another can of worms.

    Roger Olson (from Prevenient Grace: Why It Matters) writes….

    “Back to the statement of the traditional Southern Baptist belief about salvation. I am not accusing the authors or signers of semi-Pelagianism. But, as it stands, the statement affirms it, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It begs correction. When corrected, however, if it is ever corrected, to include the necessity of prevenient grace due to incapacitation of will, it will be an Arminian statement whether that term is used or admitted or not. The only reason I can think of why the authors won’t amend it is to avoid being Arminian. Is that good enough reason to rest in theological error?”

    It appears some Traditionalists owe Roger Olson an apology because the TS is, in my opinion, ambiguous at best or misleading at worst.

    God bless you, brother.

      Rick Patrick

      It’s fair to say that none of us really appreciated Dr. Olson’s remarks concerning the Traditional Statement. He is the one who owes us an apology. Calling a Traditionalist a semipelagian is practically cursing. We have argued at length to explain why this definition is improper.

      Both Calvinists and Arminians prefer to keep their system intact. They don’t like it when someone squeezes in the middle and says, “No, we reject the TD/TI that requires prevenient grace for the Arminians or unconditional election for the Calvinists. No, we reject the Arminian view regarding Perseverance. No, we reject the Calvinist views on election, the atonement and irresistible grace. We are neither Arminian nor Calvinist. We are Baptists. Traditionalists. Extensivists. In my town the Baptist Church sits in the middle between the Methodists and the Presbyterians. That’s where we are theologically, too.

      Here are a few good resources for you to check out:

      http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/File/NeitherCalvinistsNorArminiansButBaptists.pdf
      http://baptistcenter.net/journals/JBTM_10-1_Spring_2013.pdf#page=50 PAGE 47

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