Human Inability From An Arminian Perspective

I am reading some posts from a new Arminian Website called The Society of Evangelical Arminians.  Keith Schooley has posted a 2 part series entitled “Why I Am An Arminian”.  Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.  The site looks interesting so I have added it to my RSS reader.  The articles have also been interesting.  I am going to comment on some parts of the article as time permits.

In Part 1,  Schooley gives gives a positive presentation for he is an Arminian.  He does a good job of bringing in the Scripture as the basis for his belief.  I don’t agree with his interpretation but it is good to see that he is willing to base everything on what he understands the Bible teaches.  In Part 2 he discusses some objections Calvinists have to Arminianism.  He covers all the main bases.  It is from Part 2 that the inspiration for this post comes.

In discussing human inability, Schooley says

It is stipulated that unregenerate persons are unable to do anything to please God, merit salvation, or even come to the Lord without God first drawing them (Jn. 6.44, 65). Yet Jesus announces his intention to “draw all men” to himself (Jn. 12.32). Although unredeemed humanity is pictured in scripture as being spiritually dead and blind, completely unable to come to the Lord, there is no indication in scripture that those who are actually confronted with the Gospel are unable to receive it. The Gospel itself is viewed in the New Testament as bringing with it the power of salvation (e.g., Rom. 1.16, 10.14-15; Eph. 1.13; 2 Tim. 1.10). The best means of understanding God’s work in enabling people to believe (what Arminians have termed, “prevenient grace”) would be to view the Gospel itself as being invested with the power to respond with saving faith.

I have added the bold and italics to the quote so it would be easier to see what statement I am discussing.  I would agree with the first part of his comment.  The unregenerate are pictured in scripture as “being spiritually dead and blind” and “completely unable to come to the Lord“.  I don’t think you can read the scripture and not get understand this to be the case.  Arminians and Calvinists both understand this is the condition of fallen man.  So far so good….

The next part of the statement is where the I have to disagree with Schooley.  He says that “there is no indication in scripture that those who are actually confronted with the Gospel are unable to receive it.”  This seems to be a contradiction in the same sentence.  Am I reading it wrong?  First he says the Bible portrays the unregenerate as spiritually dead and blind and then turns around and says that if these same unregenerate people are confronted with the Gospel that should be able to receive it.  This is a contradiction.  People cannot be unable to respond and able to respond at the same time.

He does bring into the discussion the concept of prevenient grace which means that God has to do something to allow the unregenerate person accept the Gospel.  I agree with the concept.  I just call it Irresistible Grace instead of prevenient grace.  I know there are some differences between the two but they are essentially the same concept and action that God does.  We see it differently depending on our theological persuasion.

What do you think?  Am I on target or way off base on this one?

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9 Responses to Human Inability From An Arminian Perspective

  1. Joy says:

    I believe Arminians and Calvinists see differently on this one. Arminians believe God can enable the spiritually dead to accept the Gospel without regenerating them, while Calvinists believe God either cannot or is unwilling to enable the spiritually dead to accept the Gospel without regenerating them.

    The Arminian position is no contradiction. According to Arminianism, unregenerate man cannot seek God on His own. But God can enable unregenerate man to seek God without first making them regenerate, and they consider this enabling a form of prevenient grace. An analogy would be Peter cannot walk on water on his own, but Jesus can enable Peter to walk on water. Furthermore, the Arminian points out that only those who believe in God crosses over from death to life (John 5). Thus, if God has already given the person spiritual life prior to belief as Calvinists claim, how can he/she who is alive cross over from death to life? To the Arminian, it makes no sense for a person who already has life to cross from death to life.

    But then, people of different theological persuations see differently, and personally I don’t believe the C/A debate will end until the Lord returns.

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  2. Tom says:

    Joy,

    Two years ago I would have agreed with you almost completely….but I can no longer say that.

    Arminians believe God can enable the spiritually dead to accept the Gospel without regenerating them, while Calvinists believe God either cannot or is unwilling to enable the spiritually dead to accept the Gospel without regenerating them.

    This is not quite the correct representation of what Calvinists believe. First, we must understand what it means to be spiritually dead and where that condition came from. We must also understand the extent to which this condition affects us. By definition, a dead man is not able to do anything. So, in order for a dead man to do something, life must be restored. The restoration of life is regeneration and this can only be done by God.

    According to Arminianism, unregenerate man cannot seek God on His own. But God can enable unregenerate man to seek God without first making them regenerate, and they consider this enabling a form of prevenient grace.

    Calvinists would agree with the first part of this comment. Unregenerate man cannot seek God on their own. That is because they are spiritually dead and as I said before, dead men can’t do anything. It is the second part that causes the problems and the contradiction that you mentioned. A spiritually dead person can’t be given the ability to respond to the Gospel without first being regenerated. That is the why God regenerates….so that people can respond to the inward call.

    Furthermore, the Arminian points out that only those who believe in God crosses over from death to life (John 5). Thus, if God has already given the person spiritual life prior to belief as Calvinists claim, how can he/she who is alive cross over from death to life? To the Arminian, it makes no sense for a person who already has life to cross from death to life.

    Crossing over from death to life is the definition of regeneration. As I said above, a spiritually dead person can’t do anything until they are regenerated. They must be regenerated so that they can believe. That is the essence of what the Bible teaches.

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  3. Joy says:

    Tom,

    Thank you for your response.

    “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24.

    Again, here is where Arminians and Calvinists differ. Arminians interpret that as saying that whoever believes the Father who sent Jesus has crossed over from death from life. In other words, Arminians believe Jesus indicated that believing the Father who sent Him precedes the crossing over from death to life. In contrast, Calvinists interpret this as indicating that crossing over from death to life (regeneration) precedes believing the Father who sent Him.

    In a way, it’s similar to this statement: whoever eats the medicine will not die; he has gotten better. Some people interpret this statement as saying that eating the medicine precedes getting better. Other people say that getting better precedes eating the medicine.

    “I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.” John 5:25.

    Again, here is where Calvinists and Arminians must agree to disagree. Arminians interpret this verse as saying that the spiritually dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and that those who believe in Jesus (those who hear) will be given spiritual life (regeneration). This verse is not referring to the resurrection of physical dead, because Jesus mentioned “and has now come”, indicating that John 5:25 is something that takes place even at the present moment. In other words, Arminians think that here Jesus is teaching salvation through faith.

    Many Calvinists interpret John 5:25 as a description of how God regenerates spiritually dead people. As John Hendryx wrote, “The dead in sin are granted new life (John 5:25) by the Spirit who works in us all that is required to be made partakers of his righteousness that we might be reconciled to God. As the Spirit illumines and regenerates the soul, Christ’s perfect faith and obedience are reckoned to us by God’s grace, and on account of Him are we accepted as righteous before Him.”

    The C/A in-house debate has involved devout theologians from both sides whose wisdom and devotion to the Lord far exceeds my own. I am thankful that as evangelical Trinitarian Protestsants, Calvinists and Arminians agree on all essential doctrines, as well as the importance of living a God-centered life.

    Food for throught:
    At this very moment, while Calvinists and Arminians are debating each other on earth, Calvin and Arminius and Wesley and Whitfield are worshipping God together in heaven, along with the angels as the other saints who have fallen asleep.

    To Him be the glory.

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  4. Joy says:

    Tom,

    What tags did you use to display your quotes in yellow?

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  5. Tom says:

    Joy,

    That is the blockquote command that offsets the text and changes the color. The color is part of the theme I guess because I don’t specify that.

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  6. Tom says:

    Joy,

    Arminians interpret that as saying that whoever believes the Father who sent Jesus has crossed over from death from life. In other words, Arminians believe Jesus indicated that believing the Father who sent Him precedes the crossing over from death to life.

    The question that needs to be answered is who can believe the father? That is the crux of the situation. Can a dead man believe anything? The answer is no. In chapter 6 of his gospel John addresses this issue. He says in verse 37

    All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.

    and in verse 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.

    From these verses it is clear that for a person to come to God (to believe) that he must be drawn by the Father. It is the Father’s actions not the persons that determine who can believe. How does the Father allow us to believe? He must regenerate us first…then we can believe. Paul tells us in Ephesians chapter 2 who and how we can believe.

    Ephesians 2:1-7 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins (2) in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– (3) among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (4) But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, (5) even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– (6) and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (7) so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

    I will agree that this debate is an in-house debate. Arminians and Calvinists are brothers in Christ and though we may vigorously debate the specifics of our individual theologies we both need to keep in mind our ultimate goal — to glorify God in all that we do.

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  7. Tandy says:

    I am not so sure about the “in-house” debate. One side or the other is gong to be in the “out-house” given such differing views of God. I can’t believe that God is pleased with the diminished view of God and exalted view of man I find in Arminian theology. What is God going to do at the judgment seat of Christ – pat us all on the head and say, “Wow that was an interesting debate? Come on in good and faithful servants?” I don’t think a calculated diminishing of God as either “good” or “faithful.”

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  8. Pingback: Pleasing God » Blog Archive » Is the A/C Debate and “In-House” Debate?

  9. calvinscorner says:

    The idea stated at the beginning of the post that the Gospel carries with it the power of granting life is itself true, as the apostle says in Romans 1:16. Yet salvation is the bearing witness, volitionally as well as intelligibly, to the message of the Gospel. This, in my understanding, is the role of the Spirit. The Spirit bears witness to the Gospel. In the order of events I believe the preaching may be ontologically first but by way of receiving the Gospel one must be made alive in order to understand or believe. The debate then becomes; when is a person justified? Though I believe regeneration precedes belief, and in fact causes belief, it is only at belief a person is justified in my view.

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