Why I Am Not An Arminian | 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.
It should be noted, the text William references to prove that the Gospel is an insufficient work of Grace to lead sinners to repentance does not even mention the Gospel (nor is it even written at a time when the gospel had been fulfilled and commissioned to go into all the world). As we have more fully developed in other articles, the fact that Jesus was purposefully hiding His identity from the Jewish leaders of that day and not entrusting Himself to most of Israel while “down from Heaven,” clearly indicates they were not privy to the appeal of the Gospel’s calling to repentance and faith in the death, burial and resurrection of the Messiah for the redemption of sin. This is a concept not even understood by His closest followers until after His resurrection (“when he is lifted up” – John 12:32).
After Christ is raised up, the message of the Gospel is complete and His messengers are commissioned to “go into all the world and preach” and in so doing, “drawing all people to Himself.” (John 12:32; Acts 1:8; Matt. 28:16-20).
St Paul argues: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness,” ???????????, “divine kindness and Spirit-produced goodness” (link), “is meant to lead you to repentance?” (Rom. 2:4)
Romans 2:4 states, “Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Clearly, God’s kindness is in reference to His “forbearance and patience” with humanity (as seen also in 2 Peter 3:9). And patience, as discussed earlier, is God’s gracious means of allowing for mankind to live and thus have more time to respond to His provisions of Grace, the power of which is said to be in the Gospel itself (Rm. 1:18); never in some extra secondary means which supposedly makes the gospel sufficiently powerful and/or the human soul sufficiently able to respond freely (i.e. responsible).
“For he has graciously granted you,” ????????, “to grace, bestow, favor,” “the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well.” (Phil. 1:29)
While this point could be conceded by simply appealing to the “common grace” referenced earlier, I believe the “granting” here is in reference to the sending of the Gospel first to the Jew and then to the Gentile. By sending the means of faith (the Gospel), God is “granting” each one (first the Jew and then the Gentile) the means by which they too may believe in Christ and subsequently suffer for Him as they continue to walk in that faith.
William also mentions 1 Cor 2, which I discuss in great detail HERE.
Yes, the Holy Spirit must convict sinners (John 16:8-11), as they are presented with the Gospel…
We all agree that the Holy Spirit must convict sinners. Our point of contention is over the means by which the Spirit brings conviction to sinners. Let’s look at John 16:
“7 But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. 8 When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: 9 about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. 12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”
To whom is Christ speaking in John 16? Is He speaking to all of us, or is He addressing the inspired “holy apostles” given the “administration of God’s grace” and shown “the mystery…which was not made known to people in other generations but has now been revealed by the Spirit of God…so that you [the rest of us] will be able to understand…the mystery of Christ.” Let’s look at Eph. 3:1-11:
“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.
The Spirit’s means of revelation was to graciously inspire “holy apostles” to proclaim and write God’s very word and in reading those words we may “be able to understand…insights into the mystery of Christ.”
I believe William, like many Calvinists, have imposed an “individualized Western hermeneutic” to these types of texts by applying it to us personally when the intention of the author was pointing his readers to the sacred means of divine inspiration of the “holy apostles” set apart for the noble purpose of inspired revelation.
To the credit of Flowers, we agree that there is power, ???????, in the Gospel of Christ (Rom. 1:16), but this “power,” strength or ability, regards the revelation of the righteousness of God and that the person who shall live with Him eternally are those who live by or in the faith of Christ (Rom. 1:17). Such are accounted righteous (Rom. 3:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26). But Flowers rejects the notion that anyone must be “set free” from one’s bondage to sin in order to believe that Gospel: there is no condition from which one must be released from captivity (contra John 8:34; Gal. 5:1).
John 8:32 says, “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Truth, once known and accepted, will set you free. One is not set free so as to respond freely to truth, as William presupposes. Again, it would be difficult to defend a belief that sinners who remain in unbelief and under sin’s bondage all their lives can ever be described as “freed from sin’s bondage” in any meaningful sense.
So, then, Flowers, and those who agree with him, have created their own theological niche: they deny Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, Arminianism and Calvinism. The view they are espousing is termed Traditionalism. They appeal to the early Church fathers regarding free will, that such has not been so affected by the Fall that a person cannot freely respond to the Gospel, but can freely respond to that Gospel because the Holy Spirit “works” within the heart through the Spirit-inspired Gospel. Again, from my perspective, I fail to see why the Holy Spirit needs to “work” within a person who is inherently capable of freely responding to the Gospel.
What William seems to miss is that on our view the work of the Holy Spirit, by means of the gospel’s arrival, is for the first time revealing a mystery that has been hidden for generations (1 Cor. 2:7-8; Eph. 3:1-11) thus making it accessible to all. So, the work of the Holy Spirit, on our view, is not to “aid an innate disability due to the Fall,” but to reveal truth that could not have been known or understood by any other means except the divine revelation through supernatural inspiration of “holy apostles.”
One would be hard pressed to find where Pelagius taught this fully or even partially, so I’m not sure what the labels really accomplish (if not the nefarious intent I’ve described in “The Calvinist’s Boogie Man” article). I’m beginning not to care too much about such labels given there abuse in modern times. Nevertheless, no label will simply make the clear biblical arguments I have presented disappear. William’s article is a well written defense of his perspective, no doubt, but will he engage me over the passages in dispute?
For instance, can he demonstrate that the Israelite audience of Jesus in John 6 were incapable of coming to Him while he was “down from heaven” because of an innate disability imputed to all humanity as a natural consequence of Adam’s sin, rather than a calloused condition of Israel due to their own libertarianly free choices (which God is judicially giving them over to, so as to accomplish a greater redemptive purpose; Acts 28:27-28; John 12:39-41; Mark 4:11-13; Rom. 11)?
An analogy for consideration:
I’ve said before, the gospel is to the Holy Spirit what the hammer is to the carpenter. Every analogy falls short, but the only point of this one is to reveal that the Holy Spirit (the carpenter) uses a tool (the Gospel) to enable a response (drive the nail). Whereas, the classical Arminian position insists that the carpenter (the Holy Spirit) must secretly put some mysterious oil on the nail (prevenient grace) that supposedly enables it to be driven into wood while still maintaining that the carpenter (the Holy Spirit) used the hammer (the Gospel) to drive the nail (enable a response). This presupposes the nail NEEDED the oil in order to be driven by the hammer and creates confusion as to the sufficient power of the carpenter’s hammer (the Gospel).
Now, if the “Authoritative Carpenter’s Manual” clearly indicates that nails cannot be driven by the hammer apart from the application of oil, then by all means, I would concede this point. But if the manual never even mentions anything about oil at all, but over and over again points the hammer as the sole means of power and sufficiency for driving nails, then why add the additional oily means? (Of course I understand that William, and other scholars, do interpret certain texts to mean that the “oil is necessary” whereas I simply do not see it.)