Does not the insistence of the need for a “prevenient” (prior) working of enabling (or irresistible) grace assume that the gospel revelation itself is not sufficiently gracious and enabling?
- Why do so many seem to presume the Holy Spirit’s inspired truth, preserved in the scriptures and carried by the Holy Spirit led Bride of Christ is not sufficient to enable the lost to respond willingly to it’s appeals?
- Why should we accept the far-fetched claim that mankind is born able to place their trust in the claims of the Koran but not the Bible?
- Does it make much sense to teach that mankind is born in a kind of fallen condition that makes them unable to even respond willingly to God’s own powerful and gracious appeals to be reconciled from that fallen condition?
- Where does this presumption originate and why do so many seem to accept it without question?
First of all, we can see that this assumption has not always been prevalent in the church.
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.”
And, most importantly, the scriptures themselves teach:
“…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).
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and by believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30-31).
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63).
“Consequently faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the preached word of Christ. But I ask, have they not heard? Yes, they have: Their voice has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:17-18).
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him BECAUSE OF THE WORD OF THE WOMAN who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed BECAUSE OF HIS OWN WORD. Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39-42 NKJV)
“At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There THEY SPOKE SO EFFECTIVELY that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed.” (Acts 14:1)
“…from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets (the written word of God) he tried to persuade them about Jesus. Some were convinced BY WHAT HE SAID, but others would not believe.” (Acts 28:23a-24)
‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:16-18, emphasis added)
“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit…” (Eph. 3:1-5, emphasis added)
We must not presume that just because man is born fallen that the gospel is not up for the task of enabling the fallen man to respond to its appeal for reconciliation from that fall. In other words, there is no reason to assume that God’s message of hope is hopeless to enable a willing response from those who need it the most.
Think about this objectively for a minute. To teach this concept of pre-faith regeneration or even the necessity of “prevenient grace” means you have to affirm that God (for some unknown reason) decided to punish all of us for the sin of Adam by making us all innately incapable of responding willingly to His own word unless He actively did something to make us able again. Does that make any rational sense if viewed objectively?
The lost can accept the Koran, the Book of Morman and every Satanic lie the world has to offer, but the awesome truth revealed in the Bible was placed on shelf beyond every man’s reach. Why? Why would God intentionally make mankind’s fallen nature able to accept the truths revealed in every other factual history book but not His own Holy word? Why has God decided to permit the fallen man to place his trust in the mythical fictions produced by atheists and liars, but banned them from birth from seeing the rich and beautiful truth of His graciously inspired word? [Granted, for the Classical Arminian the truth of God is brought down to a lower shelf to be made accessible for everyone at some mysterious point and some mysterious way, but that makes one question why they assume He put it on the top self to begin with?]
Calvinists speak of mankind being born with an innate distain for God and His revealed truth, yet they often fail to mention that mankind is born like this due to God’s own sovereign decree (according to their own systematic). So, God decided that all mankind would be born with an uncontrollable distain for truth and then sends them to burn in hell for eternity for rejecting that truth? And this is supposed to bring Him glory? How so?
Scripture does not teach that men are born with a depraved mind, a calloused heart, defiled, and hardened so as to be totally unable to willingly respond to the clearly revealed truth of God. Instead, it teaches that mankind may “trade the truth in for lies” (Rom. 1:25) so as to be given “over to a depraved mind” (Rom. 1:18). It says they may “become calloused” (Acts 28:27a) so as to grow into a condition that is unable to “see, hear understand and turn” (Acts 28:27b). Scripture says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Notice that this is never described as a condition from birth.
The author of Hebrews warns, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). And even more explicitly, “if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (Heb. 3:7). Again, nothing here indicates all are people born in a totally hardened condition from birth, but instead a sharp warning is given against allowing such hardening to come. What is the point in warning a blind man to not allow himself to become blind?
The first chapter of James also makes this truth quite clear:
“When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:13-15).
When sin is “full-grown” it “gives birth to death?” Calvinists would have us believe its full grown from the time we are born, in that they teach we are “corpse-like” dead and thus totally incapable of willingly responding to God’s revelation — and this by God’s eternal and unchangeable decree!
Now, I know Calvinists are quick to argue that Total Depravity does not mean mankind is as bad as they could be, but that is not addressing my point of contention. I am not making that argument. I am talking about “Total Inability,” which is mankind’s supposed inability to recognize their fallen condition and repent even when confronted by God’s powerfully revealed truth. That presumption is simply unfounded in the text.
So, where do Calvinists go to support the concept of mankind’s Total Inability to respond willingly to the gospel truth? The three most quoted proof texts* for Calvinists do not even reference the gospel, yet the gospel is God’s powerful, gracious Holy Spirit wrought solution to the very fallen condition they presume is preventing man’s ability to respond willingly to its appeal.
Here is a discussion between a Southern Baptist Calvinist and me, a Southern Baptist Traditionalist, over these issues.
Added point of clarity: Mike Keel, a listener, sent me this and I like it. “My take-away is this: scripture is entirely sufficient for bringing one to repentance and reconciliation to God. At the same time, I believe the Holy Spirit draws the unbeliever through various means including human agency, scripture, and an internal call.”
Point being is that I am not suggesting the Holy Spirit is not still actively working to draw the lost to Himself. I simply deny that His doing so suggests the work of scripture is insufficient in and of itself to lead one to faith. Additional revelatory work does not suggest the previous work is somehow insufficient to accomplish its purpose.