By Richard Coords
To preface, in the second movie of the Hobbit Trilogy, “The Desolation of Smaug,” the wizard Gandalf instructs his company of dwarves to pass through the Enchanted Forest, but with on key instruction: “You must stay on the path. Do not leave it. If you do, you’ll never find it again. No matter what may come, stay on the path.”
Often when approaching controversial Bible verses, there is a similar peril. If you get off the correct path of the true meaning of a given verse by making erroneous underlying assumptions, you’ll end up with erroneous conclusions that makes the text impossible to understand, and forcing you down the path of additional erroneous conclusions. Therefore, whenever facing a controversial Bible verse, always make sure to first contemplate your own key assumptions and presumptions, as well as that of other competing theologies. Identify any “forks in the road” which both sides may be taking. In this debate, it is clear that Pastor Gabriel [“Gabe”] never really understood the position espoused by Dr. Leighton Flowers, in terms of the two forks in the road.
At John 6:37-65, Jesus mentions the Father’s giving (v.37), drawing (v.44) and granting (v.65) of people to come to Him. Naturally, then, there are some key questions that involves forks in the road that must be identified. For instance:
- Who is being drawn?
- What exactly is the drawing?
- How is it that no one can come to Him?
Calvinists assume a certain answer to all three of those questions, and those assumptions necessarily take them down a path of a Calvinistic interpretation. Calvinists are so absolutely certain of their conclusions that they are often flabbergasted at the differing interpretations by non-Calvinists. The reason for the difference is because non-Calvinists do not make the same presumptions as their Calvinist counterparts, and hence their conclusions differ.
In the debate, Gabe often simply quoted John 6:44, as if the mere recitation of the verse immediately ended the debate. Why? Because it seems that Gabe was unaware of the competing underlying presumptions that both sides were making.
John 6:37: “‘All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.’”
John 6:44: “‘No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.’”
John 6:65: “‘And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.’”
- Those who come to Christ are given by the Father. (6:37)
- Those who come to Christ are drawn by the Father. (6:44)
- Those who come to Christ are those who have “heard and learned from the Father.” (6:45)
- Those who come to Christ are granted so by the Father. (6:65)
So, again, what are the two competing presumptions of the meaning of the question of who Jesus indicates is being drawn by His Father to come to believe in Him, and what exactly does the Father’s drawing constitute? The other issue that should be pointed out is that any other Bible verse, even if it’s in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark or Luke is perfectly acceptable to cite in this discussion of the Gospel of John if it also specifically relates to the matter of who comes to Jesus. Gabe naturally understood this principle when he left the immediately discussion of John 6:37-65 to briefly discuss John 1:12-13 and John 20:31.
Calvinist fork in the road: Those being drawn are unbelievers, of the elect kind, and the drawing is an internal regeneration, in order to go from being “dead rebel sinners” and “total haters of God” into loving believers of both God and Christ. The “regeneration” precedes faith in Christ, and hence is not by human choice but rather by God’s unilateral choice, changing the heart of the one who is “elect” and administering new “life” as being “Born Again.”
Non-Calvinist fork in the road: The context never mentions “regeneration” and one who is already a believer in Moses needs no regeneration to then believe in the Son. All they need is the revelation of the Son through the proclamation of the gospel. That said, those being drawn are believers, that is, the Father’s sheep, and the drawing is the Father’s messianic message given to Jesus to preach, and intentionally designed to offend the proud and appeal to the humble. (Matthew 11:25)
Gabe’s underlying presumptions:
For Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning of who is being drawn?
- Gabe: “The one who was not able to come until the Father drew him, is the one who comes to Christ, as Jesus said earlier that all that the Father gives Me will come to Me and I will raise him up on the last day.”
- Gabe: “Those who are taught by God the truth are also drawn by God to the truth, and that is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The frustrating part is that Gabe is not coming right out and saying that those being drawn are Calvinism’s “dead rebel sinners” and “total haters of God” who happen to be elect, and therefore on that account of being secretly elect, are the ones targeted for a special drawing.
For Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning of what the drawing is?
- Leighton asks: “Do you believe the [Greek] word ‘helco’ there refers to being given new life, regeneration”? Gabe: “Yes, regeneration preceding faith, correct.” (28:57-29:06)
- Gabe: “Being born again.” (29:58)
- Gabe: “The Father works before we have faith.”
- Gabe: “It is the Father that brings a person to Jesus.”
- Gabe: “It is the Father who shows us who Jesus is, and it is He who draws us to Him, so it is only by the work of God that we come to salvation.”
- Gabe: “The regenerating work that is done by God in a person’s heart.”
- Gabe: “The regenerating work is the Father revealing who the Son is.”
- Gabe: “You are given life before you have life.” (32:28)
- Gabe: “Whoever is drawn by the Father will believe in Jesus Christ.”
- Gabe: “This is an effectual calling. It is referred to in Calvinistic doctrine as ‘Irresistible Grace.’” (1:17:40)
- Gabe: “It is God who changes the heart, that when we hear the gospel, we believe what is being proclaimed, and therefore are saved.”
- Gabe: “I don’t deny that the word ‘draws’ could be rendered ‘enabled’ because what ‘enable’ implies is that you were not able before, and now you are.”
- Gabe: “The drawing is effectual.”
The Calvinistic assumption of the meaning of the “drawing” is that it is the Father’s “work” whereby He “brings” and “shows” something, metaphorically representing a pre-faith “life” through pre-faith “regeneration” and pre-faith being made “born again.” So, in short, Calvinists infer that the meaning of the drawing is a pre-faith regeneration of Calvinism’s elect-unbelievers, and Calvinists simultaneously insist that they are not carrying anything into John chapter 6 that is “external,” even though the term “regeneration” is nowhere found in John chapter 6.
As seen in this debate, Calvinists often quote John 3:3 in order to suggest that “regeneration” should be inferred: “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” But, Calvinists are raising another disputed presumption at John 3:3 as well, which (not to get too far off on a tangent), creates an interlocking network of key assumptions that holds Calvinism together.
When Gabe gets away from his Calvinism, he can engage in some sound biblical teaching. For instance, he states: “We have life in Christ; we don’t have life apart from Christ.” (30:14-17)
For Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning that no one can come to Him?
- Gabe: “A person by his own will cannot come to God.”
- Gabe: “A person does not have an ability to believe in Christ unless they are regenerated by the Spirit.”
- Gabe: “We by our own wills, by our own flesh—even as it says back in John 1:12 and 13—we do not come to God because we effect belief in our own minds and in our own hearts.”
Leighton’s underlying presumptions:
For non-Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning of who is being drawn?
- Leighton: “His strategic purpose is not to reveal Himself and His identity until He accomplishes the resurrection. It’s when He’s raised up that He sends the gospel to go into all the world, but He’s not drawing everybody to Himself during the time of John chapter 6, especially.”
- Leighton: “If you hear and learn from Moses, you’ll believe in Me because Moses spoke about Me.”
- Leighton: “If you come to Me, you will have life.”
- Leighton: “It’s never, ‘I will give you life—arbitrarily or unilaterally, just gives some people life so that you’ll certainly believe—that’s never the order of Scripture.”
- Leighton: “You don’t believe in Me [the Son] because you’re not a follower, a sheep of the Father.”
- Leighton: “A person who followed Moses, who listened and learned from the Father would hear the Son and recognize His voice and come to Him.”
- Leighton: “If you refuse to follow the Father, then guess what you’re going to do when you hear the Son, you’re going to refuse to follow Him, too, which is the theme throughout the Book of John.”
- Leighton: “Here we see an audience of rebellious Jewish people who are seeking to have their bellies filled, who have refused to hear and learn from the Father, and thus they’ve grown hardened in their rebellion against His truth. They’re following their leaders, the Pharisees. Jesus begins to teach them, using parables they can’t grasp what He means, they think when He’s saying ‘eat My flesh and drink My blood’ He’s talking like a cannibal, and Jesus doesn’t stop and try to explain it to them.”
Exactly! The ones who rebelled against the Father and refused to believe Moses are not going to be drawn by the Father to His Son. They will be left in darkness, conditionally and consequently, due to their persistent unbelief in having grown calloused and hardened. So, this means that both sides—Calvinists and non-Calvinists—agree that not everyone is being drawn by the Father in the context of John chapter 6. Only after Christ’s resurrection is there a global drawing by the Son, through the global preaching of the gospel.
Alert: If you are a non-Calvinist, and unknowingly take the Calvinist’s initial fork in the road, assuming together with Calvinists that those being drawn by the Father in John chapter 6 are unbelievers, then you will end up lost and confused in Calvinism’s Enchanted Forest, unable to make heads or tails of the text. It’s so easy to do, and it happens often. You must be careful to identify your assumptions.
For non-Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning of what the drawing is?
- Leighton: “Enable by bringing the gospel,” in other words “by bringing light and truth, He’s enabling them to come.”
- Leighton: “If you believe Moses, you would believe Me.”
- Leighton: “If you listened and learned from the Father, you would believe Me, because you would know Me.”
- Leighton: “Who does He make His covenant known to? Those who fear Him.”
- Leighton: “We all agree the Father gives people to the Son. Of course He gives people to the Son, but He has a good reason for it—and it’s not a hidden reason and the secret counsels of His will—He states it all the time: ‘I save the humble.’ ‘I bring low those whose eyes were haughty.’ (Psalm 18:27) He doesn’t hide the reasons why He does what He does when He makes choices. He tells us very plainly why He would give somebody to the Son.”
- Leighton: “The best way, in the limited time we have, to understand the grammar, is to give a parallel sentence with the same grammar, so as to understand the two perspectives. So, on our view, it might look like this: ‘No man can come to the Son’s Wedding Banquet unless the Father invites or enables him, because the [Greek] word “helco” there “draws”, we would interpret that as inviting or enabling, and “he” [the man who comes] will have a great feast.’ Now grammatically, that is perfectly fine.”
For non-Calvinists, what is the underlying meaning that no one can come to Him?
- Leighton: “They can’t come unless they hear and know, and listen to the Father.”
- Leighton: “Notice it says the reason they can’t believe—according to v.39 of John chapter 12, is because He’s hardening them. It doesn’t say they can’t believe because of what Adam did, it doesn’t say that they can’t believe because God decreed for them to be born in a condition that they can’t believe. What’s the reason they’re in that condition? Because of their unbelief, they’ve refused to listen to Moses, they refuse to hear the Scriptures, they’ve grown calloused and hardened, and now Jesus is speaking to them in parables; He’s speaking to them with hard and difficult words.”
- Leighton: “Why is the audience in John chapter 6 (the Israelite in John chapter 6 that He came to who are not receiving Him), why are they in that condition? Is it because God rejected them before they were ever born? Is it because God decreed for them to be born as God-haters and that they couldn’t have done otherwise (because like the ‘T’ in TULIP says, they’re born in this completely disabled state from birth and they had no control over it), of course not. That’s not what’s happening.”
- Leighton: “He [Jesus] says, therefore, ‘I take the message to the Gentiles,’ which proves this is not just a universal condition of all men from birth, of being ever-seeing, never-perceiving. This is specifically about Israel being hardened in their rebellion, by a judicial act of God as judgment for them. You have to understand that, in order to understand what Jesus is talking about here in John chapter 6.”
- Gabe: “According to John 6:65, “why was it that they did not believe in Christ?” Leighton: “Because it was not granted to them to believe in Christ.” Correct, and of course the reason why the Father had not granted it of [the likes of those who rejected God and Moses] is because they were not the His sheep/followers to give, draw and grant to come to His Son. It was a giving, drawing and granting of the faithful Jews to come to Christ, in which the rebels were offended by Christ’s message which was intended to offend them, and hence the nature of the conditional, Judicial Hardening.
In summary, the non-Calvinist’s underlying assumption is that the drawing means to enable, rather than to effectually cause, and the faithful believers of the Father (like Nathanael of John 1:46-51) came to Christ simply through the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that is, the same gospel that turns off the proud and haughty: “At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.’” (Matthew 11:25)
The reason why no one can come to the Son unless it has been granted him from the Father is because no one knows the Son except the Father. (Matthew 11:27) The Father gave the Son a message to preach which revealed the Son to Israel’s true believers while offending the unbelieving and rebellious.
Key moments of the debate:
- Strange Dichotomy: Leighton Flowers brought up the fact that the Bible states that a person only receives “life” when they come to Jesus—not before—as Calvinism would require (in its frequent reference to deadness, like Lazarus being physically dead in the tomb), and is response, Gabe raised a dichotomy of “life” vs. “eternal life,” so that a person must first have a regenerated “life” to come to Jesus, and then after coming to Jesus, receives a different type of life known as “eternal life.”
Gabe states: “The regenerating work in a person’s heart is not the ‘everlasting life’. The ‘everlasting life’ that we have in Christ is by faith, but that the person’s spirit was dead and could not believe in Jesus until the work of the Father that is done on that person’s heart. So, it is only that regenerative work that we have ‘life’ in Christ.”
But that made no sense for two reasons: (1) Leighton asks: “Well, regenerating life is eternal, isn’t it?” (2) John 5:40 and 20:31 specifically mention “life” for those who actually believe in Jesus. So, if Calvinism was true, then the Bible would be found to be sloppy in its references to “life” and “eternal life.” Gabe then concluded that “the order of events is difficult for us to fathom or to understand,” being “complex” and “complicated.” But, that is only true of Calvinists, since they are caught in an irreconcilable contradiction.
- Out-Calvining John Calvin: Gabe stated in his opening that John 6:29 referred to a “work of God” in terms of an effectual work of God to cause people to believe, and at 59:56, Leighton cited John Calvin as a “hostile witness” to contradict Gabe, and confirm what Leighton was saying, which is that Jesus was referring to the “works of God” that they—the people—were to do, using their terminology or language, not that faith is literally a “work” or a meritorious work, per se.
John Calvin: “People who infer from this passage that faith is God’s gift are mistaken, for Christ does not show here what God produces in us, but what God wants and requires from us.” (The Crossway Classic Commentaries: John; Crossway Books; Wheaton, IL; 1994, p.393)
- Question on Judicial Hardening: In the side-chat, Bob asks: “Can a man who is ‘judicially hardened’ obey the free call of the Gospel? If not, what distinguishes him from one who is not hardened?” The answer involves the meaning of being judicially hardened. It is conditional? Is it permanent? What is it? Leighton explains it as having grown calloused—not necessarily a condition from birth—so that a person would then be offended by Christ’s parables and metaphors and turn and stumble over the “stumbling stone” and “rock of offense,” but even for such who did not believe in Jesus, He still pointed them to consider the evidence of His miracles so that they would know the truth. See John 10:37-38. So, the question assumes and presumes an answer of “no,” even though the answer is “yes,” because the judicial hardening is simply a reflection of Matthew 11:25, in terms of the way in which God instructed Jesus to present His message in a way that would spurn the proud and appeal to the humble, but, being conditional, if a person repents of their calloused position—and perhaps takes Jesus’ words at John 10:37-38 to heart, then they could be more receptive to what Jesus has to say and hence “obey the free call of the Gospel.”
- Not Tracking: Gabe asks several repetitive questions which shows that he was not tracking the non-Calvinist interpretation:
Gabe: “The one whom He draws is not the one who comes?” (1:09:45)
Gabe: “So, how do you understand that according to v.37 ‘all that the Father gives Me will come to Me and whoever comes to Me, I will never cast out,’ the question simply being, where do you see that the Father is drawing people who don’t come?” (1:11:30)
Gabe: “We do not see Jesus calling anyone who is therefore resisting.” (1:17:20)
Gabe: “We don’t see anywhere in John 6 where the Father is drawing people that can resist the Father’s drawing.” (1:20:25)
Answer: That’s because John 6 was not a giving, drawing and granting of resisters. Jesus referenced the Father’s drawing of His faithful sheep to the resisters to show that they were not right with God, and not part of the move of God in Israel. Again, the reason for the perfect consistency between the ones whom the Father gives, draws and grants to come to the Son at John 6 all do indeed come to the Son is because it was a drawing of believers, that is, the faithful sheep of the Father who had “heard and learned” from Him (John 6:45), and hence believers in Moses seamlessly would come to Christ. (John 5:46) Why would someone who believed in Moses need a special “regeneration” to then believe in Jesus? They wouldn’t. And that’s why it is incorrect for Calvinists to import “regeneration” into this text. A believer in Moses would merely need to be presented with the proclamation of the gospel—the drawing—and upon hearing Christ’s message, they would recognize the Father in that message and love Him. (John 8:42) When someone does come to Christ, then they receive a regeneration, which is the privilege and benefit of the Cross, so that God could now come to live inside of the New Covenant believer. (1st Corinthians 3:16)
Regarding this point, at 1:51:44, Leighton provided a graphic from Gabe’s own teaching materials to show that even he (Gabe) understood this point, but yet wasn’t tracking his own teachings on the seamlessness of going from the Father’s sheep to the Son’s sheep:
Leighton remarked: “I love that he said that because it’s exactly my exposition of this passage. If they learn from Moses, if they learn from the Father, then they would have come to the Son. So, what’s the opposite of that? Then if they don’t listen and learn from the Father, then they won’t come to the Son.
Gabe: “In v.66…we see the conclusion of this discourse that Jesus has with the people, ‘After this, many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him, except for the twelve.’ V.67, so Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well,’ and Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed and have come to know that you are the Holy One of God.’ How is it that these twelves come to believe in Jesus Christ, and they did not walk away with the rest of the dozens and possibly even hundreds of disciples that turned away from Him when Jesus said these hard things to them?”
Answer: The twelve disciples were in fact believers, whereas the rest who walked away after hearing how Jesus compared Himself to the “Bread of Life” were exposed as not being believers, after all. Gabe simply wasn’t tracking the non-Calvinist interpretation of John 6.
Leighton: “He was giving those who trust in Him, who believe in Him, to the Son. He’s giving those who humble themselves and truth in Him to the Son.”
After the resurrection, factoring in John 12:32, this graphic shows that Jesus ultimately does draw all men, through the global preaching of the gospel.
At least 10 key problems with the Calvinist interpretation of John 6:
- Heard and learned from the Father: The text specifically states that true believers are the ones that come to Jesus: “‘It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught of God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.’” (John 6:45) So, already the non-Calvinist fork in the road is proven accurate. John 6 represented a drawing of faithful Jews, quoted to unbelieving grumblers to show they were not among the faithful.
- Imported terms: Calvinists import the concepts of regeneration and predestination, even though neither are mentioned in the context. Calvinists observe the consistency in John 6:37’s reference that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me” and conclude that an effectual grace must be at work, when in reality, Jesus already explained the perfect consistency in that “if you believed Moses, you would believe Me” (John 5:46), “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:45), “if anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself” (John 7:17), and “if God were your Father, you would love Me.” (John 8:42) In other words, if a person is one of the Father’s sheep (i.e. covenant believers, faithful Jews, ect.), then they will seamlessly come to Christ. Those who believe Moses require no regeneration to then believe in Jesus.
- Audience: If the audience understood a Calvinist meaning, in terms of a bifurcation of humanity into elect vs. non-elect camps, one would have to expect that there would have been some pushback over that point. It’s impossible to think that Calvinism is controversial today but wouldn’t have been controversial back then, had that been their understanding of Jesus’s words. Hence, the absence of the audience’s reaction over anything Calvinistic is a strong indication that Calvinists have misunderstood John 6:44.
- The Reason Part 1: John 6:65 reiterates the drawing of John 6:44, and indicates that Jesus stated the “reason” for the drawing—so there is no great mystery here—which according to John 6:64 is because “there are some of you who do not believe,” once again confirming that unbelievers were not being drawn. It is a drawing of believers, such as those who believed Moses (John 5:46), who had heard and learned from the Father (John 6:45) and whose father was God. (John 8:42)
- The Reason Part 2: Jesus never said that the “reason” why “no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father” (John 6:65) is due to an inborn total inability, especially since that would contradict what Jesus said at John 5:46 and John 8:42. The Father’s giving, drawing and granting may simply be a matter of the Father bringing Jesus’ message to the people, whom they cannot believe unless they hear.
- The Two Drawings: Calvinism cannot adequately explain the two distinct drawings, that is, the Father’s pre-Calvary drawing of His faithful sheep to follow His Son (John 6:44-45), and the Son’s post-Calvary drawing of all men (John 12:32), through the global presentation of the gospel. If Calvinism was true, then John 12:32 would be superfluous and redundant.
- Who the drawing is for: In Calvinism, the Father is not merely drawing people to His Son, but is drawing people to Himself. In non-Calvinism, these are already the Father’s believing sheep/followers that He is now drawing to His Son.
- Genesis too? The Calvinist interpretation would require that this drawing would not only be something happening in Israel at that present time, but also comprise a drawing that goes back to the beginning in Genesis, even though the Old Testament never mentioned a special drawing that preceded these events. One verse that captures the nature of the drawing is something that John the Baptist stated: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) This was the sheep transfer from the custody of the Father from the prophets to the Messiah.
- The Purpose: If Calvinism was true, what would be the point of Jesus telling people who are allegedly non-elect that God doesn’t want them? The Calvinist meaning seems to imply a sense of mockery. The answer from the non-Calvinist perspective is that His objectors deemed themselves the disciples of Moses (John 9:28), and felt that their strong relationship with the Father was the reason why they were not falling for Jesus’ claims about Himself, unlike the ignorant masses who were beholding His miracles and listening to His messages and being swept away. So, Jesus’ reference to God’s drawing would meet their claim head-on, by making the exact opposite point. In other words, the real reason why the grumblers rejected Him was because they had not “heard” God’s voice (John 5:37), did not have God’s word “abiding” within them (John 5:38), did not have the “love of God” in them (John 5:42), did not “know” God (John 7:28), were not “of God” (John 8:47), but were instead “from below” and were “of this world” (John 8:23), who did not do the “deeds of Abraham” (John 8:39), in which God was not their “Father” (John 8:42), but were instead children of their father “the devil.” (John 8:44) So, the frequent references to the Father who “sent” Him (John 5:23, 5:24, 5:30, 5:36, 5:37, 5:38; 6:29, 6:38, 6:39, 6:44, 6:57, 7:16, 7:18, 7:28, 7:29, 7:33, 8:16, 8:18, 8:26, 8:29, 8:42, 9:4, 10:36), in which He does not speak on His “own initiative” (John 5:30, 8:28, 12:49) was intended to challenge the basis for their objection to Him.
- Gnosticism: The Calvinist interpretation raises literally the same exact arguments raised by the Manichæan Gnostics.
 The Calvinist fork in the road is that those “drawn” are Calvinism’s elect-unbelievers, whereas the non-Calvinist fork in the road is that those drawn are “believers,” that is, the faithful Jews who had “heard and learned from the Father.” (John 6:45) So, when Gabe numerous times asked/stated that none who were drawn resisted, non-Calvinists agree, and therefore I have to conclude that Calvinists simply weren’t tracking the two proverbial “forks in the road.” A global drawing occurs later. (John 12:32)