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Inconsistent Monergism

I appreciate much the work of my fellow Calvinist laborers for the kingdom of God.  I appreciate that many of them are taking the gospel to the lost and they are preaching repentance to all.  As Dr. Forlines is quoted as saying, “Calvinists are Arminians until they say something Calvinistic.”  My fellow Calvinist preachers will plead with the lost to be saved, will call all to repent, will preach the cross and the call of God to forsake their sins and come to Christ alone for salvation.  A few (and not all) will even preach that God loves the lost sinner and will point to the cross as proof of this love (Romans 5:8-9; cf John 3:16).  And for all this I am grateful.

Yet Calvinists are monergists.  They will often accuse Arminians as being synergists and will make statements like, “Arminians believe that man must do his part and God does His part” or “God will meet the Arminian half way down the isle to salvation.”  Because Arminians preach that all can be saved who place their faith in Christ alone, we are said to be teaching “works righteousness” and that we are telling people to do their part to be saved and God will do the rest.

I honestly have never heard a true monergist evangelist.  I would love to hear one.  The message would have to be all on God and not on man.  Further, the message of salvation would have to be, “You can do nothing.  You can’t even hear me unless you are regenerate for dead sinners cannot hear the voice of God.  You must just lay there like Lazarus and allow the Holy Spirit to raise you up when Jesus calls you but I can’t do that and you can’t do that.  Only Jesus can do that.”  That is true monergism.

Now let me be fair here.  Calvinists preach the gospel for the same reason that I preach the gospel: because God said to (Matthew 28:19; Romans 10:14-17).  Calvinists preach repentance like I do because God told us to (Luke 24:47).  Calvinists agree that the Lord uses the means of grace to draw sinners to salvation (the preaching of the gospel) and I agree (1 Corinthians 1:18-21).  Calvinists and I agree that the Holy Spirit must work on the sinner to bring them to salvation (John 6:44; 16:8-11).  Calvinists and I even agree that prayer for the lost is biblical and necessary (Romans 10:1; 1 Timothy 2:1-7).

Yet Calvinists believe that nothing and no one but God can save the sinner.  Yet they plead with sinners to be saved.  They pray for sinners to be saved.  Yet nothing and no one aids the sinner but the Spirit in bringing salvation to the lost sinner.  They exhort sinners to call upon the name of the Lord (Romans 10:13) and to repent of their sins (Acts 17:30-31; 2 Corinthians 7:10) but none can do that but God alone.  And if they didn’t do any of this: the elect would still be saved somehow by God’s sovereign means.

So why preach?  Why pray?  Why plead?  Why reason?  Why call for repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus?  I agree that God calls us to do this but what role does this play in the saving of sinners?  If you say none then again, why do it at all?  If you say, “Because God has sovereignly chosen to use this to save sinners” (and I agree) then does God use our roles to bring sinners to salvation?  If so, is this monergistic salvation?

The Arminian answer is this: God does save sinners by His own power (John 1:12-13).  I don’t doubt one bit that the work of salvation is accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:30) and that His blood alone can save the lost sinner (Luke 19:10; cf. Matthew 26:28).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner who comes to Christ will find in Him true salvation from their sins (Matthew 1:21; John 6:37).  I don’t doubt that the humble sinner must recognize their own sinfulness to be saved from their sins (Romans 3:23-24) and that Christ alone is able to cleanse them from their sins (Acts 13:38-39).  I don’t deny that the work of the Spirit is to draw the sinner to salvation and that without His aid, none could be saved for none seek after God (Romans 3:10-18).  I don’t doubt that human works play no role in our salvation (Romans 4:5).  Good works flow from our salvation (Titus 2:11-14; James 2:14-26).

Yet the Spirit does not make us believe apart from our own will.  The Spirit frees the bound will so that the sinner hears the gospel and out of their own free will look to Christ alone to save them.  The freed sinner doesn’t look to their own moral goodness (Romans 3:19-20) but to the cross alone to set them free from the wrath of God (Romans 1:16-17).  The Spirit enables the sinner to believe but He doesn’t believe for the sinner. When the sinner repents, they are born again (John 3:3-7; Acts 2:38; 3:19-20; 16:30-34).  When they repent, they receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14).  We receive the promised Spirit through faith (Galatians 3:14) and become children of the living God (Galatians 3:26).  The Spirit works in all of this for the glory of God.

I believe the Lord Jesus has done everything for our salvation.  We add nothing to His work.  The sinner, however, must receive the free gift of salvation (Romans 6:23) and this is accomplished by the means of grace: the preaching of the gospel, the prayers of the saints for the lost sinner, the call to repentance.  We don’t work with Christ to be saved but we trust only in His cross to save us (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  And when a sinner does this they find (just as all true disciples do) that the Spirit of God heard the cries of the saints, opened their eyes, exposed them to the gospel, freed them to believe and receive, and He then seals them.  We find that the work of salvation is not our work but His work alone (Jonah 2:9).

So again, why pray for the lost?  Why preach to the lost?  Why plead with the lost?  Because God is faithful to save those who cry out to Him (Acts 2:21) but the sinner must hear to be saved (Romans 10:17).  God works through the Church to bring sinners to Himself.  This is His plan and His pattern.  We need not change that now.  We need only join in the battle for souls by preaching His gospel to the lost and allow Him to save those who believe.

Cause and Effect or Influence and Response?

The following comes from Dr. F. Leroy Forlines book, Classical Arminianism: A Theology of Salvation (pp. 47-50).

Calvinism has oversimplified the way that God carries out His sovereignty.  In so doing it has oversimplified the relationship of God to man in the application of redemption.  It is very important to distinguish between cause and effect relationships and influence and response relationships.  In the relationship of the physical to the physical, or the relationship of the parts of a machine to one another, we are dealing with cause and effect relationships.  The concepts of active and passive apply in their simple meaning.  When a hammer hits a nail, the hammer is active and the nail is passive.  The hammer causes the nail to be driven into the wood.  The nail had no choice.  A force outside the nail caused the nail to be driven into the wood.

Interpersonal relationships do not submit to such a simple analysis.  Influence and response are more appropriate terms.  A person is one who thinks with his mind, feels with his heart, and acts with his will.  In the simple sense of the terms cause and effect, one person cannot cause another person to do anything.  This does not depend on the lack of ability that one person has to influence another.  Rather, the inability of one person to cause another person to do something grows out of the nature of what it means to be a person.  When an appeal is made to a person, it is inherit within the nature of a person to consider the appeal and then make a decision.  There is no such thing as a person’s doing or not doing something without having made a decision.  This is true regardless of how strong the influence may be upon him or her.

Calvinism’s approach to irresistible grace (or effectual call) sounds more like cause and effect than influence and response.  When the appropriate time comes with regard to the elect, God regenerates him or her.  As a regenerated person, he or she is caused by God to have faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.  In such a view, faith is considered a gift.  It is problematic for faith to be considered an individual’s choice, act, or response.  The possibility of a negative response does not exist.  It was a guaranteed response.  The fact that it was guaranteed makes the terms cause and effect appropriate.  Calvinism considers all of this necessary if salvation is to be a gift.

In explaining the gift of faith in that way, the Calvinist is thinking along the lines of cause and effect.  The only problem is that, if being a person means anything beyond being a smoothly operated puppet with conscious awareness, it is impossible to describe the experience of a person in such a manner.  We must keep in mind that human beings are personal beings because God has made them that way.  This is necessary to the very notion of being made in the image of God.  Can anyone really deny that faith is a personal response to the working of God with that individual?  At least in some sense, the response of faith is a decision in which that person who believes actively participates.  Even Calvinism must admit this.

In my opinion, it has been a mistake over the centuries to focus the conflict between Calvinists and Arminians on whether fallen or redeemed man has a free will.  The real question is: Is fallen man a personal being, or is he sub-personal?  (The same question can be asked concerning redeemed man.)  Does God deal with fallen man as a person?  If He does, He deals with him as one who thinks, feels, and acts.  To do otherwise undercuts the personhood of man.  God will not do this – not because something is being imposed on God to which He must submit, but because God designed the relationship to be a relationship between personal beings.  Human beings are personal beings by God’s design and were made for a personal relationship with a personal God.  God will not violate His own plan.  The nature of the case does not demand that God work in a cause and effect relationship with human beings.

We dare not take the position that God is unable to work with human beings within the framework of influence and response.  Are we going to settle for the thinking that the inability of fallen man results in the inability of God, that is, the inability of God to work with fallen man and redeemed man in an influence and response relationship?  I hope not!  Are we going to say that the very nature of God’s sovereignty requires Him to work in a cause and effect relationship and prohibits Him from working in an influence and response relationship?  I hope not!

I am sure that Calvinists would want to say that they do not believe in “mechanical” cause and effect as it relates to the way God deals with human beings.  While they would object to the word “mechanical,” if they opt for any form of determinism, they cannot successfully reject the words cause and effect.  My reading of Calvinistic writings suggests that classical Calvinists would not object to these terms.  If anyone doubts this observation, I would suggest that he reread the quotations above that are taken from Calvinistic writings.  I think the description of God’s relationship to man that Calvinism would give would be much like my description of influence and response.  However, the result is thought to be guaranteed.  When the result is guaranteed, they would simply have a softened form of cause and effect.  Any time the result is guaranteed, we are dealing with cause and effect.  When the guarantee is gone, Calvinism is gone.

From a Calvinistic viewpoint, it will not do to say that cause and effect describes God’s relationship to us, but influence and response describes our relationship to one another.  The entirety of that which falls within the scope of determinism falls within the scope of cause and effect.  There is no influence and response.  Yet, I get the impression when I read Calvinistic writings that they are trying to persuade me.  Persuasion is a form of influence.  I get the impression that they think I could and should agree.  I do not think they have any different idea about persuasion than I do.  I have a statement that I make sometimes, “Calvinists are Arminians except when they are making Calvinistic statements.”

I need to point out that in common speech we frequently tend to use the terms influence and response and cause and effect somewhat interchangeably.  We may say, “He caused me to do it.”  To be technical, we should say, “He influenced me to do it, and I chose to do it.”  Though the terms may be interchangeable, (to a certain extent) in common speech, I do not believe any confusion will develop from my using them the way I do in a theological work.

Effectual Call

In Calvinism, effectual call is the doctrine also known as “irresistible grace.”  The logic goes like this: if God has elected from among fallen humanity those whom Christ would die and if Christ did in fact secure their justification through His atoning death on the cross then it follows that those whom God chose and those for whom Christ died will be saved.  God sovereignly draws His elect from among the masses of fallen humanity by His grace, His gospel, and His Spirit (means of grace) and the elect respond to both the outward call (the gospel preached) and the inward call (given by God’s grace).  This calling is effectual in that it never fails.  Those whom God has chosen before time will be saved.  The cross is also not a failure since Christ died to secure the salvation of the elect of God.

The Arminian reply, in short, would be that God does draw sinners to Himself by His means of grace (the gospel preached) and sinners must have their eyes opened by the work of the Spirit for them to be saved since it is impossible for sinful humans to save themselves.  The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin and He opens our eyes to our lost condition (John 16:8-11).  However, the Spirit does not make one believe.  Even Calvinists acknowledge this.  The belief, while given to us by grace, is not something God does for us.  We must believe on our own and God holds us responsible if we reject His Son (John 3:18).  When a sinner does repent, it is a work of the Spirit (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:25).  In fact, all of salvation is a work of God (John 1:12-13; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  When in glory, we will praise our Lord Jesus for His great work of salvation and not our working to earn our own salvation (Revelation 5:9-10).

So what is the key difference here?  If both Arminians and Calvinists acknowledge that God saves sinners and that salvation is the work of the Spirit, what is the major issue here?  The key question is whether the effectual call can be resisted by the sinner.  Calvinists say no.  Arminians say yes.  And therein is the key difference.

On a final note.  I was reading a Calvinist theologian today and he remarked that one has to prove their effectual calling to be sure of their salvation.  Of course he pointed to passages that I would point to as well such as 2 Peter 1:10-11.  He pointed out that where there is no perseverance, one can rest assured there is no true calling unto salvation.  While I would disagree slightly (as he would reject personal apostasy from the faith), I would add that no Arminian has an issue with this in regard to necessary perseverance in the faith.  Those who abide in Christ through faith (Romans 5:1) are saved.  We rest in our salvation through faith in the Lord Jesus (Hebrews 7:25).  Jesus is our salvation and we must rest in His grace alone (Hebrews 12:1-2).  When one perseveres in the faith they do in fact prove they belong to Christ and are saved in Him (Acts 14:22; Romans 11:20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:1-2; 2 Corinthians 1:24; 12:21-13:5; Ephesians 3:17; Philippians 2:12-15; Colossians 1:21-23; etc.).

I pray that I was fair to my Calvinist brethren in this short post.

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

Arminius on Free Will

It is vital for the Arminian to know what it is we believe about free will otherwise we will tend to think that the Arminian-Calvinist debate is over free will when in fact it is not.  The heart of the debate is the doctrine of God.  Other issues involved with that would be whether God’s decrees are conditional or unconditional.  Does God elect people conditionally (upon faith in Jesus) or unconditionally (based on God’s sovereign choice)?  Does God send His Son to die for the sins of the whole world and whosoever believes is saved (conditioned upon faith) or did Jesus die only for the elect (unconditionally chosen by God before time began)?  This all flows from our view of God.  Free will comes into play only in the sense of whether God’s grace enables the person hearing the gospel to believe on their own or must they be first regenerated by the Spirit to believe (or as R.C. Sproul puts it, “born again to believe”).

Arminius was clear in his writings about his view of free will.  He wrote,

This is my opinion concerning the free-will of man: In his primitive condition as he came out of the hands of his creator, man was endowed with such a portion of knowledge, holiness and power, as enabled him to understand, esteem, consider, will, and to perform the true good, according to the commandment delivered to him. Yet none of these acts could he do, except through the assistance of Divine Grace. But in his lapsed and sinful state, man is not capable, of and by himself, either to think, to will, or to do that which is really good; but it is necessary for him to be regenerated and renewed in his intellect, affections or will, and in all his powers, by God in Christ through the Holy Spirit, that he may be qualified rightly to understand, esteem, consider, will, and perform whatever is truly good. When he is made a partaker of this regeneration or renovation, I consider that, since he is delivered from sin, he is capable of thinking, willing and doing that which is good, but yet not without the continued aids of Divine Grace.

Methodist theologian Richard Watson wrote about free will,

The doctrine of the Remonstrants is, “That God, to the glory of his abundant goodness, having decreed to make man after his own image, and to give him an easy and most equal law, and add thereunto a threatening of death to the transgressors thereof, and foreseeing that Adam would wilfully transgress the same, and thereby make himself and his posterity liable to condemnation; though God was, notwithstanding, mercifully affected toward man, yet, out of respect to his justice and truth, he would not give way to his mercy to save man till his justice should be satisfied, and his serious hatred of sin and love of righteousness should be made known.” The condemnation here spoken of, as affecting Adam and his posterity, is to be understood of more than the death of the body, as being opposed to the salvation procured by the sacrifice of Christ; and, with respect to the moral human nature since the fall, the third of exhibited at the synod of Dort, states, that the Remonstrants “hold that a man hath not faith of himself, nor from the power of his own free will, will, see seeing that, while he is in the state of sin, he cannot of himself, nor by himself, think, will, or do any saving good.”

The state of mankind is clear; apart from the grace of God, we are sinful and slaves to sin (John 8:34).  Romans 3:10-18 is equally clear that we do not love God, do not choose God, do not please God with our lives.  Instead, Romans 3:10-18 is clear that we are the opposite and we reject God just as all people tend to do by nature (Romans 1:18-32).  Paul the Apostle states further in Ephesians 2:3 that we all are by nature “children of wrath.”

Richard Watson goes on to quote Ambrose writing on the Fall of Mankind,

Thence was derived mortality, and no less a multitude of miseries than of crimes.  Faith being lost, hope being abandoned, the understanding blinded, and the will made captive, no one found in himself the means of repairing these things.  Without the worship of the true God, even that which seems to be virtue is sin; nor can any one please God without God.  But whom does he please who does not please God, except himself and Satan?  The nature, therefore, which was good is made bad by habit; man would not return unless God turned him.

When it comes to the issue of free will, Richard Watson further admonished his readers to neither place too much emphasis on free will nor on our lapsed state.  He said that to go either extreme would pervert the gospel and make God the author of sin.  It is clear that the first inclination toward sin came from man’s free will.  God did not cause Adam to sin.  Adam sinned because Adam was tempted by Satan and chose to sin.  From the fall of Adam, we born in his image are likewise now born with a sinful desire, a sinful nature.  I do reject the teaching of inherited guilt meaning that I reject the teaching that says we go to hell because we inherit the sin of Adam.  I find this teaching to be contrary to the Word of God (see Ezekiel 18:4 for example).  However, I also know of Arminians who do hold to inherited guilt and disagree with me over this view.

Yet all true Arminians believe that mankind is incapable of pleasing God or earning His perfect righteousness in our own free will.  We need His grace to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5-7).  We need His Spirit to be born again (John 3:1-7; Romans 8:9-10; Galatians 3:14).  We need His gospel to set us free (Galatians 5:1).  We believe that the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to draw sinners to the Savior (John 16:8-11; Romans 10:14-17; 1 Corinthians 1:21).  The Spirit of God opens the eyes of sinners to hear and believe and thus be saved (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).  Yet we do not believe that the Spirit forces anyone to believe.  People believe by their own free will that is set free to believe by the Spirit (Acts 2:21, 37-39).  God certainly foreknows those who are His (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) and He lovingly convicts sinners to draw people to Himself who become the elect of God through faith in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10).

Calvinism & the Necessity of the Crucifixion

Here is a video that answers questions about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and how this relates to predestination.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

05/31/2013 at 2:00 PM

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