I had the pleasure of reading “Calvinism and Arminianism: Neither Are In The Truth” on Daniel P. Barron’s blog recently and I thought I could give a response to it here, as some fairly deep issues are raised. You can read the article here;
The essential structure of the argument presented here is as a response to TULIP. Thus the first point made is in regards to “Total Depravity”. Fish quotes Seaton by saying “(Calvinists contend) … that man’s natural state is a state of total depravity and therefore, there [is] a total inability on the part of man to gain, or contribute to, his own salvation. (The Five Points Of Calvinism, by W. J. Seaton, second printing, 1972, The Banner Of Truth Trust)”.
The article responds to this point of Calvinism from the Christian position as follows:
The Calvinist’s idea of total depravity excludes the idea of God giving men the free will to accept or reject Him. The Arminian’s idea of total depravity includes this free will choice and ability, understanding that it exists only by the grace of God. Now, what does the Lord say?
The Lord says explicitly in regards to salvation that “it is not of him who wills” (Romans 9:16) nor “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).<cite>–Fish (article)</cite></blockquote>
The problem with the Christian response is in the asking of the question,
“What does the Lord say?”
- 1. “it is not of him who wills” (Romans 9:16)
- 2. nor “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
- 3. The Word teaches that man, in his lost state, seeks only rebellion (Proverbs 17:11)
- 4. and does not seek God (Romans 3:11).
- 5. That he is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3),
- 6. does evil continually (Genesis 6:5, “only”; Psalm 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-18),
- 7. and is unable to do good on his own, especially any good that would lead to his salvation (Psalm 58:3; Jeremiah 13:23; Isaiah 64:5:b; Romans 11:36).
- 8. when someone is saved, this lost state is broken, and they have the freedom to live in righteousness, by the power of God: Romans 6:2, 7, 14, 17-18, 20, 22; Ephesians 2:8-10.
It should be noted first and foremost that these points rest upon cherrypicked passages, because there are also many passages in the greek scriptures such as “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believed in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And yet at the same time, we may refute the greek scripture entirely by noting that this is a problem which was already dealt with in the Hebrew scriptures many times.
First, God has presented the idea of freewill, especially in choosing righteousness and sin, on multiple well-known occasions;
IN the Cain and Abel story,
it is written (4:7) “If you do well[a], will you not be accepted[b]? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; it greatly desires you, but you can master over it.”
God’s statement that Cain can master over sin is a statement that Cain has the capacity to choose to allow sin to enter his life, or not. This is further echoed in the continuing story, where Cain asks God, “…am //I[a]// my brother’s keeper?” God’s response is direct, “What have you done? … from your hand”. God notes that it was Cain, and not God, who is responsible for this action; Cain’s question insinuates that if he is not his brother’s keeper, surely this is God’s job. God responds that no, it is in fact Cain’s job, and he has failed to do his job by his own hand.
This story exemplifies the nature of free-will versus Calvinism, in stating that it is not God who causes us to sin but ourselves.
AT Mt. Sinai,
it is written, (Deu 30:11) ” 11 For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that thou should say, ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?'”
In this simple statement God illustrates that it is not God’s, nor any other heavenly agency’s responsibility, to cause you to do good versus evil. Rather, “14 But the word is very close to you — in your mouth, and in your heart — so that you may do it.”
God makes it clear that his word has been given to the Israelites such that they have the capacity to choose to to Good. Further, God states (30:15,19) “15 See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; … 19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live,”
It is therefore an unconditional property of God’s capacity to do so, that we are given free will to choose life versus death. This choice was given at Sinai as well as earlier; it was not abrogated by an earlier action as shown by it’s repetition at Sinai.
IN the Garden of Eden,
it is written, (1:26) “26 And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion… 27 So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him…”
In Genesis the statement is made that instead of ‘after their kind,’ Man is created ‘after (our kind)’ i.e. “in our image”. This primarily refers to those qualities we observe in the first part of this chapter, but could be expanded to other qualities of God expressed later (ex. ‘Be holy for I am holy.’). Therefore our first consideration is that human beings are not mindless animals with no free will but instead have a capacity and responsibility to act in accordance with discernment – not to blindly seek hedonism and self-interest.
Part of the observed qualities of “in the image of God” are underlined by the act itself; instead of animals acting on instinct, God discusses the creation of man with the angels; this requires language, humility, conscious thought, judgement, capacity, agency, patience, care and respect for others. All of these and more are the traits which separate man from the animals.
God is also a creator, not a destroyer, in a primary sense; his primary quality is that of the Creator. He also expressed his will in the choosing of that which was good (ex. light) over that which was not good (darkness), separating them and assigning the Day to be the time in which we see clearly.
Thus we conclude that humans were created with language, free-will, and the capacity to discern that which is good from that which is not good (ex. light from darkness). Note that this would be different from “The Knowledge of Good and Evil” which would represent the knowledge, and thus the desire, to commit evil (ex. for short term gain) — we were clearly created with a basic idea of, or ability, to choose good when the choice was presented to us. We were not created in a hedonistic, animalistic state, in which our “innocence” shielded us from the effects of sin.
In fact, the flood narrartive…
illustrates beautifully the counterpoint to this notion of animalistic innocence, for it is written (6:12)
“12 And God saw the earth, and beheld it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth, 13 And God said unto Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.”
This is why God commanded Noah (6:19) “And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shall you bring into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female.” and “20 Of the birds after their kind, and of the cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the ground after its kind, two of every sort shall come to you, to keep them alive.”
The specific additions of male and female and after their kind illustrate that there may have been some animals who had intermingled their species or who had increased their gender; only those who remained male and female and those who were after their kind were to be taken. This is illustrated by the idea that there were only two of each (bird, etc) — thus otherwise the addition of after their kind would have no meaning. Rather, it is only to take male and female from among two animals which had reproduced after their kind (also see: Rashi [6:12]).
Thus any such claim of “animalistic innocence” is to be disregarded as an inconsistent theory.
Conclusion over the Christian Response
1. “it is not of him who wills” (Romans 9:16) 2. nor “of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
- 3. The Word teaches that man, in his lost state, seeks only rebellion (Proverbs 17:11)
4. and does not seek God (Romans 3:11). 5. That he is dead in his trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3),
- 6. does evil continually (Genesis 6:5, “only”; Psalm 53:1-3; Romans 3:10-18),
7. and is unable to do good on his own, especially any good that would lead to his salvation (Psalm 58:3; Jeremiah 13:23; Isaiah 64:5:b; Romans 11:36). 8. when someone is saved, this lost state is broken, and they have the freedom to live in righteousness, by the power of God: Romans 6:2, 7, 14, 17-18, 20, 22; Ephesians 2:8-10.
It is interesting that we can immediately reject all of the greek scriptures for representing an inconsistent theology. Those points which remain, however, offer a fascinating insight into the Christian mind and how the scripture has been used to prove a point.
The article states that Proverbs 17:11 gives the notion that “The Word teaches that man, in his lost state, seeks only rebellion”. However, a look at proverbs 17:11 shows that this is a misrepresentation of what is said:
- 17:11 An evil man seeks only rebellion, and a cruel messenger will be sent against him. (ESV)
Proverbs 17 refers to evil men; i.e. people who are evil (and by definition) seek only rebellion. It does not refer to all human beings. This is confirmed by examining that the entire chapter presents a series of contrasts; the verse in context is:
- 10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.
- 11 An evil man seeks only rebellion, and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
Other examples are seen throughout the chapter; ex.
- 22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
- 24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
- 26 To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good, nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.
- 27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
The very presence of “a man of understanding”, a “discerning” man, a “righteous man” and a man who “has knowledge…” and “..understanding” is more than enough to repudiate the idea that v. 11 could ever mean that “man” is always seeking rebellion.
Doing evil continuously
The idea that man does evil continuously, as contained in Genesis 6:5, and in Psalm 53, should also be examined.
In Genesis 6:5 it is written, “5 And God saw that the wickedness of man had gripped the earth, and that everything they thought and planned was evil.” There are a number of problems in taking this as a statement that all men are always evil. First, this is a pre-flood observation made by God; alongside the notion of v.9 that “…Noah was a righteous man, and perfect in his generations: Noah walked with God.”
The verse does not say that Noah was righteous because he was perfect in his generations; it says he was righteous and perfect in his generations. This is underscored by the clarification, Noah walked with God. Secondly, the passage states that the wickedness of man had gripped the earth, which is why it had to be destroyed. The they mentioned here can only refer to the previous subject; not the ‘man’ in ‘the wickedness of man,’ which is a noun-adjecive describing whose wickedness had gripped the earth; but the statement that it was “their” evil which had done so, because “they” were continuously evil; The previous subject is then “1 And it came to pass, when **men** began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, 2 that **the sons of God[a]** saw the daughters of men, that they were fair[b]; and they took for themselves wives from among anyone they saw fit[c].”
“Sons of God” is a well-known term used to refer to the judges and kings of the era (John 10:34, Psalm 82:6, Exodus 7:1).
3 And the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with[a] man forever, for he is also flesh; yet shall his days be numbered a hundred and twenty years.”
4 Now giants[a] were upon the earth in those days, and also afterwards, when the sons of God[b] took the daughters of men, who brought forth children unto them; they were the mighty men, which in olden times were men of renown.
The subject then is these guilty kings. God had proclaimed 120 years judgement time. This is the meaning of “In those days…” and “…also afterwards,” i.e. when the judgement was proclaimed. (Genesis Rabbag 26, Rashi, Seder Olam). If one is wondering where the basis for this reading is in the Torah itself, please see Rashi’s comment “Similarly we find שַׁ for שָׁ, (Judges 5:7) עד שַׁקמתי דבורה “Until I Deborah arose”, where it is the same as שָׁקמתי; so also (Judges 6:17) שַׁאתה מדבר עמי “that it is thou who talkest with me”, where it is the same as שָׁאתה — so also here.” Therefore we know that this statement is to be taken as such.
Rashi on v.6 is especially important here;
h.ויתעצב GRIEVED HIM — means, in the mind of God man became an object to be troubled (punished): it entered God’s heart to grieve him. This is how the Targum of Onkelos understands the verse. Another explanation of verse 6: וינחם AND [THE LORD] REPENTED — The thoughts of God turned from Divine mercy to Divine justice: He considered what to do with man whom He had made on the earth. Wherever this term is used in the Scripture it means “considering what to do”. Examples are: (Numbers :19) “nor the son of man that He should consider (ויתנחם)”; (Deuteronomy 32:36) “and reconsider (ויתנחם) regarding His servants”; (Exodus 22:14) “and the Lord reconsidered (וינחם) regarding the evil”; (1 Samuel 15:2) “I am reconsidering (נחמתי) that I have set up Saul to be king” — all these passages denote a change of mind.
h.ויתעצב אל לבו AND IT GRIEVED HIM AT HIS HEART— He mourned at the failure of His handiwork. Similarly (2 Samuel :3) ‘The king grieved (נעצב) for his son”. (Similarly here: God grieved for his (man’s) heart: that it had changed from good to bad). The following extract from the Midrash Rabbah I am writing in order that you may know how to refute the arguments of certain heretics: A gentile once asked Rabbi Joshua, the son of Korcha, saying to him, “Do you not admit that the Holy One, blessed be He, knows what is to happen in the future?” He replied, “Yes.” The gentile retorted, “But is it not written ‘and He was grieved in His heart’?” He answered: “Have you ever had a son born to you?” The reply was “Yes.” He asked (the gentile): “And what did you do?” He replied: “I rejoiced and I made others rejoice also.” The Rabbi asked him: “But did you not know that he must die?” The heathen replied: “At the time of joy, let there be joy, at the time of mourning let there be mourning”. The Rabbi then said: “Such, too, is the way of the Holy One, blessed be He: although it was clear to Him that in the end men would sin and would be destroyed, He did not refrain from creating them for the sake of the righteous men who were to issue from them” (Genesis Rabbah 27:4).
In conclusion then, Genesis 6:5 can not be taken as a statement that “man is always evil” in the sense that the original (Christian) article wanted to take the verse.
What then finally of Psalm 53:1-3 (NSV)?
1 The fool has said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that does good.
2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.
3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that does good, no, not one.
The striking notion here is that the passage is speaking only of people who have rejected God — not of people who are earnestly seeking to do His will! This is confirmed by the continuance of the passage:
4 Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.
5 There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.
6 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.
Simply put, the notion that there is a contrast between ‘the workers of iniquity’ and ‘my people’, where such people (the workers of iniquity) have “not called upon God” — and that there is a “those that encamp against you–” and that God has despised //them// (but not ‘his people’), and that there will be a salvation for Israel — and that God will remove the captivity of his people, and Israel shall be ‘glad’ — these notions are inconsistant with a reading of 2-3 in isolation which would seem to indicate that all men are evil.
Total Depravity, Conclusion
In conclusion, Calvinism has committed a serious error by stating the principle of Total Depravity, but what is worse, not only has non-Calvinist Christianity failed to adequately overturn Calvinism, but they have implicated themselves by presenting false witness as to “What did the Lord say?” in response.
While it is my goal to return to this and continue a response later, it is essentially complete in the sense that without the T, there cannot be a TULIP and therefore there cannot be a Calvinism; also that in by presenting a false theology, that the Christianity presented here as authoritative will be found to lack any viable ecumenical authority. Therefore,
but, it will be something for another day.