Arminian Today

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Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God: Chapter Two

Chapter two of Evangelism & The Sovereignty of God is one that Arminians will rejoice in.  Packer begins the chapter by discussing what is an antinomy.  An antinomy is “a contradiction between conclusions which seem equally logical, reasonable, or necessary.”  An example of an antinomy in our world is light.  Light consists of both waves and particles.  How can this be?  Yet the evidence is there that light consists of both waves and particles.  This is an antinomy.  Both are true though they are not able to be reconciled with each other.  Packer sees an antinomy in the truths of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility.  This could also be true of many other aspects of theology.  How is Jesus both God and Man where He is not 50% man and 50% God but He is both 100% man and 100% God?  How is it that the Bible teaches that God is one yet we find three persons in the one Godhead?  This all doesn’t seem to make sense to us though it is logical.

The same is true of salvation.  Humans are responsible to believe the gospel yet God is sovereign in salvation.  When a person comes to faith in Christ, they realize that God alone saved them by His grace (John 6:44).  The person didn’t come to Christ nor did they seek after Christ but rather He sought after them through His Spirit and His gospel (2 Timothy 1:9).  Packer would assert that God predestined people to salvation yet He still holds people responsible for believing or rejecting the gospel despite the fact that He is sovereign in His choosing or His damnation though Packer avoids the reprobation of the unbeliever.

Packer spends the majority of the chapter dealing with this antinomy of divine sovereignty and human responsibility.  He alludes to both in Scripture.  For example, Luke 22:22 has both in the same passage.  Here Jesus states that He will be go as has been determined (in context by God) yet woe be to the man who betrays the Son of Man (human responsibility).  Simply because God had predetermined the betrayal of His Son does not negate the sin of Judas in betraying the Son of Man.  Packer sees both in the text.  I would agree.  Judas acted out of his own free will to betray Jesus yet he did so because God foreknew the events.  That is truly amazing!

One point Packer makes here that we all can rejoice in is that our God is mysterious.  Packer states that if you can understand your god, your god is not God.  God has revealed much about Himself in the Scriptures but He is still mysterious to us even in the Scriptures themselves.  God’s ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).  The one common thread among cults is that they have their god figured out.  They know his past and know just what he is like.  Not so with Yahweh.  He is mysterious and His ways don’t always make sense to us but they are good and just.  Like Paul, at the end of Romans 9-11, he simply bows down to the greatness of God (Romans 11:33-36).  So should we.  I don’t begin to know everything about God.  His ways are beyond me.  His actions don’t always make sense to me but who am I before Him?  He is holy, just, pure, and good.  I, on the other hand, am sinful, selfish, impure, and tainted by sin in all my being.  I bow down to His greatness and proclaim that He alone is God and all His ways are good (Psalm 111).

The temptation, writes Packer, is not to allow both truths to be apparent in Scripture.  He admits that some have preached the sovereignty of God while not emphasizing human responsibility and have erred in doing so.  Others have denied the sovereignty of God while emphasizing human responsibility.  They too have erred.  I would agree.  In fact, I would argue that much of Western Christianity is man-centered and emphasizes human responsibility above the sovereignty of God.  This semi-Pelagianism runs all through the evangelical Church.  Our songs, our sermons, our books, etc. are man-centered and not God exalting.  Our problem is that we have such a low view of God because we are no longer preaching the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible.  If the Bible is the Word of God, we should study it and delight in it and learn about this God the Bible reveals.  When we see God in truth, we see ourselves as well and we often will see how sinful and wicked we really are (Romans 3:10-18).  Mankind doesn’t love God nor do we want to know Him.  We despise God and would kill Him if He came around us.  This is why we need to emphasize the sovereignty of God in salvation.  Apart from God’s grace, none of us could be saved.  He must open our eyes to His salvation or we will not respond and be saved.

I agreed with Packer completely in this chapter.  I believe both truths of the sovereignty of God and human responsibility are taught in the Word of God.  God calls for us to repent of our sins and turn to Him to be saved (Acts 2:38-39).  I agree.  Yet the Bible also says that He draws us to Himself through the gospel (John 6:44-45).  When we preach Christ, He draws sinners (John 12:32; Romans 10:14-17).  This salvation is completely by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  The work of the gospel is to believe the Lord Jesus alone for salvation (John 6:29).  The Spirit of God produces regeneration (John 3:3-7; Romans 8:9; Galatians 3:13-14).  The Spirit of God seals us unto the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13-14).  The entire work of salvation is God (Jonah 2:9).  Works flow from our salvation (Ephesians 2:10; James 2:14-26).

What I struggle with in this chapter is not what Packer says but what he does not say.  Packer is obviously passionate that Christians believe both on the sovereignty of God and human responsibility because they are both true.  Yet he doesn’t spend time talking about the elephant in the room.  Arminians do not struggle with this.  Hyper-Calvinists do.  So it is not Arminians who wrestle with the antinomy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility but it is Calvinists.  And rightly so.  If Calvinism is true about God’s omni-causality then human response is a myth or as Dr. Samuel Storms wrote, “Free will is a myth.  It is not taught in Scripture.”  If God causes all things then He even renders certain man’s rebellion against Him.  John Calvin saw this and though he called it “the horrible decree”, he nonetheless agreed that since God is sovereign then He has decreed who is saved and who is lost or double predestination.

Calvin wrote on Romans 9:22:

But if we wish fully to understand Paul, almost every word must be examined. He then argues thus, — There are vessels prepared for destruction, that is, given up and appointed to destruction: they are also vessels of wrath, that is, made and formed for this end, that they may be examples of God’s vengeance and displeasure. If the Lord bears patiently for a time with these, not destroying them at the first moment, but deferring the judgment prepared for them, and this in order to set forth the decisions of his severity, that others may be terrified by so dreadful examples, and also to make known his power, to exhibit which he makes them in various ways to serve; and, further, that the amplitude of his mercy towards the elect may hence be more fully known and more brightly shine forth; — what is there worthy of being reprehended in this dispensation? But that he is silent as to the reason, why they are vessels appointed to destruction, is no matter of wonder. He indeed takes it as granted, according to what has been already said, that the reason is hid in the secret and inexplorable counsel of God; whose justice it behoves us rather to adore than to scrutinize.

In other words, God created these reprobates for one purpose: to destroy them for His glory so that those who are saved (the elect) will glorify Him even more for His grace.

So here is the issue that Packer does not deal with so far and that is that the logical conclusion for Calvinism is not that it should enhance our desire for evangelism but rather that God has already decreed who will be saved and He will save them in His timing.  Human response is nothing in light of God’s decree.  The hyper-Calvinist has that correct in my viewpoint.  They bemoan evangelism because if salvation is a work of God where He draws the elect to Himself then the elect will come no matter what once they hear that inward call.  God will regenerate the elect to believe.  Calling people to make a response is not the duty of the hyper-Calvinist.  The duty of the hyper-Calvinist is simply to allow God to draw the elect to Himself through the normal means of the Church and that mainly by teaching sound doctrine and allowing people to repent in God’s timing and not our own.  Packer has to go out of his way to not discuss this though I feel this is what he is hitting at in this chapter.

Thankfully, the Arminian finds comfort in knowing that we can stress both the sovereignty of God in salvation and yet call people to repentance (John 6:37).  This is not a struggle we face.  Let us rejoice in the greatness of our God!

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Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/10/2012 at 5:03 PM

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