At times it is helpful to witness the interactions of others regarding different theological perspectives, especially when those interactions are cordial and focused on the biblical issues at hand.
His post was divided into 5 parts and due to time restraints I chose to focus on his concluding remarks. I felt these sufficiently rebutted his major points, but welcomed further commentary as requested.
I pray this helps bring clarity to some of the points raised against this soteriological perspective.
Below is my response to his original article:
Hi Jon, thanks for engaging with my article. Due to time constraints I’ll limit my comments to this final page, but if you feel there is an important point that you’d like me to address just let me know.
Jon: It will be necessary for Flowers—as it was for Tozer—to show how this is the case from Scripture. Not only that, but no one denies a will given to the creature
Leighton: Jon answers his own request. No one denies creatures have a will. We are discussing our theories of how that will functions based on our interpretations of the exact same texts. So, my answer to him would be the same…he would need to show his theory of how man’s will functions is supported by individual texts. I’d be glad to discuss any specific text Jon would like to present, but blanket appeals like this are far too broad to give a fruitful reply in this format. The scholarly works of both perspectives are well documented.
Jon: what state is that will now in after the fall?
Leighton: Man’s will is fallen, but not judicially hardened. Man is Sinful, but not unable to admit that fact in response to God’s revelation. I recently posted an article on my blog titled “The Nature of Man vs. The Nature of the Gospel,” in which I spell out the issue is less about how fallen man is and more about the purpose and power of the gospel. We can agree as to the nature of the man after his fall while still disagreeing as to the sufficiency of the gospel’s appeal to enable a fallen man to respond.
Jon: Flowers needs to define free and autonomous.
Leighton: Contra-Casual freedom is the ability of the will to refrain or not refrain from a given moral action. Compatibilists believe the will is ‘free’ if it is acting in accordance with its desire (voluntary), yet the desire itself is ultimately determined by God’s meticulous determinism. In other words, man is doing what they want but what they want is determined by God…would you agree? If not, why not?
Jon: Is it free and autonomous at all times? In all situations? Is the will affected by nature, circumstances, temptations, the fall, regeneration?
Leighton: Free does not mean free from outside influence…it means free from outside determination. The chooser determines his choice though he does so in light of many countless influential factors. The will makes the determination, not the outside factors. Some refer to this as “self-determination.” The cause of the choice is the chooser.
Jon: Is there anything in history that is known to God, but not decreed?
Leighton: Depends on what you mean by “decreed”… do you affirm the concept of a permissive decree (bare permission)…where by God merely allows (does not prevent) the contra-causal free agency of others to choose and act?
Jon: It is not for me to reckon how man’s accountability and God’s sovereign decrees are reconciled, I can only admit that both are Scriptural, and be content to leave it at that. I’d actually charge the person who rejects compatibilism with attempting to fit God’s sovereignty and man’s accountability into a logical or linear construct—so that it can make sense in their mind.
Leighton: Scholarly compatibilists go further than you do in their “reckoning” of these issues…as alluded to before (i.e. men do as they desire but God determines men’s desires). I point you to my blog post titled, “Why the Theory of Compatibilism Falls Short,” where I engage with a scholar on the subject.
Jon: Flowers may want to tread lightly here, before he rejects—out of hand—the proper definition of sovereignty. The first question I asked upon reading this was: where does he get this definition of sovereignty? The Bible certainly never speaks of God’s sovereignty in this manner. The problem for the Flowers is evident: he is forced to change the definition in order to fit his new system. No longer is Sovereignty an eternal attribute of God, meaning “absolute rule, dominion, power, kingship, authority, etc.”; it is now a role taken on by His interaction with creation.
Leighton: I am fine if Jon wishes to use the term “providence” instead of “sovereignty” as that which is in relation to God’s rule over creation. The terms change but the point remains.
God’s eternal power or abilities do not change because God might choose to grant others rule, dominion, authority temporally within His creation. I contrasted “sovereignty” (rule over creation) with His eternal attribute of “omnipotence” (all power and ability). Likewise, Jon would need to contrast “providence” (rule over creation) with His eternal attribute of “Omnipotence” or “Sovereignty” (or whatever term chosen to represent the eternal unchanging attribute of God’s limitless power and ability).
Semantics often keeps us from discussing the real point being made and so for the sake of that point I’m more than willing to concede the definition of terms and use Jon’s terms. Take everything I said about “Sovereignty” and plug in “Providence”…now answer the argument regarding how God’s eternal quality is not comprised by our claims regarding God’s choices in regard to how he rules over the temporal world.
Jon: As James White has rightly observed: Sovereignty is not something God does, it’s something God is.
Leighton: Allow me to translate using White’s definitions of those terms: “God’s meticulous deterministic control over all created things is not something God does, it’s something God is.”
That is the point I was debunking. I was doing so by drawing the distinction between Providence (what God does in relation to creation) and Omnipotence (who God is). White confounds the two as one thus presuming true the very point up for debate. White presumes that what God does in relation to creation IS EQUAL to WHO God is…do you?
When I debated White on this subject he would object to my view saying, “God cannot create a rock to big for Him to move.” And my rebuttal, which went unanswered was, “Does that mean God cannot create a rock that He chooses not to move?” White believes the choice of God to allow others to have any level of control would be equal to God choosing not to be God and that is convoluting the eternal nature of God Himself with God’s contingent choices to rule over His temporal creation.
White’s view suggests that God’s power is limited in that He would be unable to create a world with contra-causally free creatures because to do so would deny Himself. White limits the abilities of God’s eternal attributes (an all powerful God cannot create a contra causally free creature) in order to protect a temporal attribute (His power over the temporal world).
Jon: This sentence really doesn’t make any sense: “God is all powerful, not because He is sovereign, but He is sovereign because He is all powerful.” It might be better written as “God is sovereign and omnipotent.”
Leighton: Let me use your terms to see if it clarifies things: “God is all powerful, not because he has Providence over creation, but He has Providence over creation because He is all powerful.” The point is to understand the distinction between the eternal attribute and the attribute that is contingent upon the existence of another. God’s control OVER ANOTHER is contingent upon the existence of ANOTHER. That was the point… a point you didn’t seem to understand or address throughout the rest of this discourse. I hope this helps.
Jon: In a sense Flowers has a point; Christ has not yet subjugated all to a final judgement (well, already-not-yet); and God has permitted evil forces to continue for His “sovereign” purposes. However, what is the implication of this statement? Is the idea that God is now, somehow, completely hands-off?
Leighton: Complete hands-off? Of course not. I’m not arguing that God doesn’t play either side of the chess board…I’m arguing that He only plays His own side. He doesn’t determine creatures moves and His own by the same deterministic control. He does determine some things, just not everything.
Jon: Does He not still exercise dominion and sovereignty over all things that take place?
Leighton: Depends on your definitions, but it seems clear that God gives creatures dominion/authority/control/power over some things…as pointed out already in the text. God PERMITS others to rule and have dominion…and thus suffer the full weight of the consequences associated with their rule.
Listen, there is a place where God has complete meticulous deterministic control…its called Heaven and I can’t wait to get there because of that fact. His will here isn’t being done like it is there, which is why we pray for his will to be done here like it is in heaven…there is a distinction between the two places. People and the rulers of darkness have been given dominion HERE, but not THERE. Surely you don’t want to suggest God is just as in control over what happens here as what happens in heaven, are you? God controlled the rape, molestations, holocausts…etc etc? I don’t think so…those where the MOVES of free creatures, not the MOVES of God. Now, I do agree God counters those evil MOVES with his works of redemption and bringing about His good purposes, but He is not to be associated with moral evil in any way (Jer. 7:31)… He doesn’t even tempt men to moral evil much less causally determine it. (Jms 1)
Jon: He now goes on to list the passages that show how authority is still being given to temporal powers, including: Isa 24:21; Eph 6:12; Col 2:20; 1 Cor 15:24. But again, we must not understand these as though God has no present control or decreetive purpose in what comes to pass. To say that takes these verses much too far.
Leighton: I’ve only stated what the verses themselves say…God has given dominion and authority to others. It appears Calvinists want it both ways…God gives dominion to others while maintaining all dominion for Himself? Does God give dominion to others or not? Are the “others” just tools God uses to work his dominion through (i.e. puppets)? If so, please expound. You affirmed that I have a point but you never seem to acknowledge what that point is in relation to your views.
And we affirm God has a purpose in permitting others to have dominion. His purpose in doing so is the same purpose he put the forbidden fruit in the garden and gave his youngest son his inheritance to go and squander. It is only in PERMITTING man to make choices (i.e. free will) that they will experience the forgiveness, unconditional love and joy in the journey. See the CS Lewis quote.
Jon: Oy! This is another one of those statements that just makes me wonder how I can believe this guy was a “former Calvinist.” I just don’t think I could ever reject Calvinism and then make arguments like this; I should hope they’d be a bit more fair and understanding.
Leighton: I agree, the way in which this is stated is not palatable for the Calvinistic system, but that doesn’t make it any less true of the Calvinistic system’s claims. What specifically is untrue or misrepresentative of what Calvinism teaches? Explain why.
Jon: One more time: The reason men won’t come to Christ is not because God won’t enable/allow them, it’s because of their sin. But they won’t come unless God enables them, because of their sin.
Leighton: It’s more than their sin being discussed. It is their inability from birth to acknowledge their sin and trust in Christ for healing (a condition imposed on them by God’s decree leaving them without hope of responding to God’s revelation). Jon is equating the two as if they are one in the same. Proving man is born a sinner is not proof that man is born unable to respond to God’s appeal to be reconciled from that sin. Proving that the lost cannot seek God is not proof man cannot respond to a God who is seeking lost. Proving that man cannot attain righteousness by law through works is not proof that man cannot attain righteousness by grace through faith.
Jon: It truly belittles the Scriptural account of man’s sin and God’s gracious provision.
Leighton: Ironically it is just the opposite… I believe it belittles God’s gracious provision to suggest man’s sinful nature is too fallen to be able to respond to that provision. It seems backwards to suggest that God has to irresistibly reconcile man from their fallen condition in order for man to be able to respond to the appeal to be reconciled from that fallen condition. It’s like a doctor finding the cure for cancer making an appeal for all with cancer to come and be healed only to find out that they can’t be cured by the new medication because they have cancer and so they must first be cured from their cancer in order to take the medication meant to cure them.
Jon: It was Mr. Flowers’s stated objective to help all—even the Calvinists—reading his blog to REALLY understand why he ended up abandoning his Calvinist position. But, as I have said several times, he has failed to REALLY help us understand.
Leighton: Jon may be correct in my lack of abilities to explain these views, but there is no shortage of materials available for anyone to read, listen to or study if they desire to really vet this perspective. As the old saying goes, “You can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.” Jon seems to confuse the word “understand” with the word “accept.” Whose fault is it for not understanding a well established, well documented perspective? I’m glad to work with any willing soul seeking to better understand our point of view, but they must be open to understanding it even while rejecting its claims.
The two reasons Jon believes I’ve failed in my goal is (1) I didn’t prove (to his satisfaction) that I was actually a Calvinist and (2) I didn’t provide enough biblical exegesis. First, I’m not sure how point 1 matters as to the fact that I went from affirming the claims of TULIP to not affirming the claims of TULIP in my ministry. I taught TULIP for over a decade and now I don’t teach TULIP. I was on staff with a Reformed Baptist Church associated with The Founders of the SBC and willingly affirmed the claims of the Calvinistic confessions associated within and now I do not. I went from attempting to convince people to affirm the Calvinistic interpretation to attempting to convince people NOT to affirm the Calvinistic interpretation (but instead affirm the corporate perspective). Those are just the facts of the matter.
Whether I taught Calvinism or even understood it to the level that would satisfy Jon is really not the point. That doesn’t affect the well established systematic held to by most non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist scholars. It doesn’t affect that fact that I affirmed one systematic and now I affirm another.
Second, the article was a narrative, not an exegesis. I’ll refer him to my blog and podcast to hear more of my exegetical commentary on these subjects…or to the scholarly journal from Brian Abasciano I linked to at the bottom of the first part of my story at SBCToday. It seems if Jon were interested in understanding, not merely debunking, my views (or the established scholarly exegesis that underlie these views) then he would have researched the subject instead of questioning my scholarship based on a relatively short narrative. (NOTE ADDED: since this response, Jon has posted an article responding to Dr. Abasciano on his blog)
Thanks for the manner in which you approached this subject. Though you got a bit personal in parts, you seemed to be relatively cordial in your approach, which is all too rare.
I’d love to discuss the doctrines by phone for my podcast one day when you have time. It would give the listeners a good example of the different perspectives. Let me know when you have time.