Why I Am Not An Arminian | Part Two

March 16, 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.
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Click HERE for Part One.

The question is not if Adam/Eve could physically hear God (we all affirm that). The question is whether or not Adam and Eve had the moral/spiritual ability to heed and respond willingly to God’s audible voice. Clearly they did, as they put on the clothes He provided to them (Gen. 3). We also see the responses of Cain and Able to the voice of God; followed by the subsequent rewards and punishments (Gen. 4). Thus, the question is why do some believe mankind is able to respond willingly to God’s audible word, but not His inspired word?  Both are made abundantly clear (able to be physically heard/read).  I can find no clear distinctions drawn in the text between mankind’s moral/spiritual ability to heed God’ word if revealed by different means (audible vs inspiration).

Most, even those who deny the doctrine of Total Inability, as outlined in the Reformed views of Total Depravity, will not deny that the Fall has affected the inward nature of the fallen mortal. What they deny is that the Holy Spirit must perform a special work of grace — some might suggest a separate work of grace (in the freeing of the individual from his bondage to sin in order to induce a freed-will response) — in order for the depraved individual to receive Christ in the Gospel.

William is right to point out that we do affirm the doctrine of Depravity while not going so far as to affirm the doctrine of “Total Inability.”  We believe that the Gospel is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit, and thus is sufficient to accomplish it’s given purpose… “so that you might believe and have life in His name…” (John 20:31).

Scott Ross posted this question under William’s article:

I’ve always understood, regarding prevenient grace, that the Holy Spirit worked through the faithful preaching of the Gospel to free a sinner from bondage and empower them to respond. Romans 10:14-17 is an example of Scripture that indicates this idea. So to be clear, I believe the Holy Spirit must free us from bondage and enable us to respond to the Gospel as you have outlined, but I’ve always thought that the faithful preaching of the Gospel was one mechanism the Holy Spirit uses to do that. Would you say that is accurate?

To which William replied:

Yes, Scott, you are a classical Arminian at heart and in doctrine! Both Arminius and the Remonstrants insist that the Gospel must be preached for the Holy Spirit to grant enabling grace. This is not to suggest that the Holy Spirit cannot use prior means of bringing someone to the Gospel and, thus, to Christ; but that the Gospel will always be the instrumental means by which a person is enabled by the Spirit to freely respond.

The problem is that Scott’s question doesn’t draw the right distinction, and thus William’s response fails to hit our actual point of contention.  For clarity, I would affirm “that the Holy Spirit worked through the faithful preaching of the Gospel to…empower them to respond.” And I would affirm “that the faithful preaching of the Gospel was one mechanism the Holy Spirit uses.” Whereas I wouldn’t affirm that “the Holy Spirit must free us from bondage and enable us to respond to the Gospel.” Confused? I admit, it can become quite confounding if one isn’t paying close attention to the nuances.

Notice the subtle difference between the Holy Spirit using the means of the gospel to empower the hearer to respond willingly, versus the Holy Spirit empowering the hearer through some other unknown hidden inward means (a “prevenient grace,” never expounded upon in the Bible) so that the means of the Gospel would become sufficient to enable a willing response of an otherwise incapacitated fallen person.  Do you see the difference?  The Arminian insists on the Holy Spirit’s use of two separate means of grace (the gospel and this so-called “prevenient grace”), whereas I contend the Bible only speaks of one (the gospel). Why? The Arminian assumes (without biblical warrant IMO) that the fallen person has become incapacitated to respond willingly to God Himself.

Some insist the Gospel, preached by Spirit-filled believers, performs an inner work within the sinner. Hence, the individual is in no need to be “freed from her bondage to sin” in order for the individual to then freely believe in Christ.

The author of Hebrews appears to be one of those people who insists the Gospel, God’s inspired word, does work inwardly within the sinner:

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

This penetrating work into the “soul and spirit” sounds like the work of “prevenient grace” described by William, yet the author simply refers to “the word of God” as accomplishing this work, not some extra working of grace that aids the otherwise incapacitated nature of fallen man.

Here are two other passages that seem to teach that the scriptures, God’s inspired word, are sufficient even even for the lost:

“…you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

And

“Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

The Early Church Fathers likewise seemed to agree with this understanding:

Irenaeus, (130-202) wrote, “We have known the method of our salvation by no other means than those by whom the gospel came to us; which gospel they truly preached; but afterward, by the will of God, they delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be for the future the foundation and pillar of our faith,” (Adv. H. 3:1)

Athanasius wrote, “The Holy Scriptures, given by inspiration of God, are of themselves sufficient toward the discovery of truth.”

It seems incumbent on William, and those who agree with him, to provide evidence that the Holy Spirit inspired scriptures, apart from an extra inner work of grace, are insufficient to enable the lost to respond willingly.

Hence, the individual is in no need to be “freed from her bondage to sin” in order for the individual to then freely believe in Christ.

Given that not everyone repents and is saved once ‘freed’ on William’s view, would he have us believe there may be a lost person who is “freed from her bondage to sin,” but still remains in sin’s bondage? I’m not sure how one could rightly speak of those under the wrath of God in sin as being “freed from sin” in any sense.  It appears to me that those spoken of in scripture as being “freed from sin’s bondage” are specifically those who have already believed and been reborn.

This is the same issue I have with the Calvinistic believers who insist in pre-faith regeneration, but they don’t have the same problem that William has here. For the Calvinist those who are regenerate will certainly come to faith and be saved, so at least the Calvinist can argue that God simultaneously brings someone to faith at the time of their regeneration. But William would have to argue that God frees all people from the bondage of sin (at some undisclosed time and in some mysterious way never revealed by the text), while only some individuals actually repent of sin—leaving the rest under sins curse while still “freed from sin’s bondage.” I find this view untenable.

Our view is far less complex. Mankind is freed from the bondage of sin by confessing that they are in bondage (admitting their inability to save themselves) and in faith trusting God to free them. Upon confession, Christ graciously steps in to provide freedom and salvation. It seems like William gets the cart before the horse to suggest that one has to be “set free from sin’s bondage” in order to even humbly admit they are enslaved by sin’s bondage.

William’s mistake (like that of the Calvinist) is assuming that the biblical reference to mankind’s being “bound in sin” equals mankind’s inability to see and confess they are in that condition even in light of God’s clear revelation.  In short, acknowledging that someone is trapped in a jail cell does not mean that the one trapped cannot see that he is trapped and admit his need for help in order to gain freedom.

Let us address, briefly, passages which refer to this inability to freely embrace the Gospel. Two statements from Christ most obviously bespeaks to this position: “No one can [i.e., does not have the innate capability to] come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” (John 6:44, emphases added; cf. John 6:65) If a fallen sinner is able to freely respond to the Gospel, when such is presented, then Christ must be mistaken — we actually can come to Him without a special inner “drawing” work wrought by the Father (through, no doubt, the work of the Holy Spirit). Also, St John refers “coming to” Jesus to “believing in” Jesus (John 6:35, 37, 40). Hence, no one is capable of coming to and, thus, believing in Jesus unless drawn and granted such (John 6:44, 65).