Why FreeWill Theism and Arminians’ ‘Choice’ is Theologically Aloof, pace Billings

January 16, 2012 § 44 Comments

I haven’t addressed (for some time) some of the very things that originally gave this blog inception in the first place; i.e. things related to Calvinism and Arminianism. One of the more frequent points of departure between the two camps is the question about freedom of choice in regards to salvation. Arminians argue that we have free will, albeit aided by prevenient grace, and thus have the capacity to choose or reject God’s free offer of salvation. The Reformed, or Calvinists, believe that man’s ‘will is in bondage’ to itself; and thus the only choice man will make is for himself. Further, Calvinists argue that salvation must be all of God and all of grace, or man has room to boast that he had a part in his salvation; etc. These are some of the basics that keep the continued debate going (as an Evangelical Calvinist I have a unique way to side-step this whole apparent dilemma–fodder for another post). I, in principle, side with the Reformed (of course, since I am Reformed … and this is one of the things that makes me Reformed). J. Todd Billings sketches the Reformed position, and in the process critiques the Arminian position that shows why it is untenable, theologically.

[B]ut how can we receive or even have faith unless we are free to do so on our own? This frequent question assumes that true humanity is humanity autonomous from God rather than united to God. The Reformation doctrine of the bondage of the will to sin asserts that, apart from the Spirit’s regeneration, the fallen will is unable to do any good that could contribute to salvation. No part of the fallen human being is untainted by sin such that it could take the first step toward God—that is what total (extensive) depravity is. But this claim is not a new speculation born out of the Reformation. It is simply the consequence of a theology of salvation and communion that John’s Gospel and Paul’s letters are well aware of: in the words of Christ, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

One faces a similar issue in interpreting Paul’s imperatives, which, if taken out of context, may appear to make divine and human agency partitive and competitive: “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption” (Eph. 4:30). Is Paul postulating an autonomous way of speaking about the Christian will, such that Christians “grieve” God unless they obey him from an autonomous space? No. Once again, this is part of Paul’s eschatological way of speaking. “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit,” like “put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14), is an imperative to live into the God-given identity that Christians have already received in Christ. For example, in Ephesians, the neighbor-love imperatives of 4:25 through 5:1 are rooted in the indicative of union in Christ: “for we are members of one another” (4:25). Ephesians does not exhort us to make ourselves members of Christ’s body; rather, being a member of Christ’s body is the accomplished fact that leads to the exhortation to speak only what is “useful for building up,” avoiding the evil talk and bitterness that would “grieve the Holy Spirt” (4:29-30). Similarly, Paul roots the imperative of Romans 13:14 in the indicative of union with Christ, which is prominent in the book of Romans. Only by removing such imperatives from the eschatological “now” but “not yet” that conditions Paul’s theology of union with Christ can one use such passages to support the notion that Christian action has a space that is autonomous from the Spirit’s work. Why is it impossible for the fallen human to take the first step toward God? Because it would be a contradiction in terms, both scripturally and logically, when the scriptural framework outlined above is owned. To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin—the corollary to salvation as communion.

If we are to move the implications of this position to a post-Reformation era, we can see how it differs from a classic Arminian position. On the one hand, unlike Pelagius, Arminians affirm that fallen humans cannot choose God on their own. Yet, in contrast to the Reformed explanation, the Spirit’s prevenient grace lifts the sinner to a state of equilibrium in which the sinner can either choose or reject God’s gospel. But this explanation is impossible without assuming that true humanity is autonomous from God rather than in divinely enabled communion with God. Why? Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself,” rather than effected “by the Spirit.”

Yet Arminians could object that their view of prevenient grace affirms divine initiative and communion with God the Spirit in the moment of decision. That is true, in a certain sense. But Arminians don’t confess that divinely enabled communion goes “all the way down,” so to speak. There is divine initiative not just at the conception of Christ in Mary but throughout the incarnation. We do not abide in Christ the Vine at the beginning, only to be replanted after Christ has given us new life. No. We abide in Christ “all the way down.” Apart from this abiding, John says, we can do nothing. The Arminian denial of the effectual or causal dimension of the Spirit’s work occurs to preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will. But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.” Only by the Spirit’s effectual work can one move toward communion with God. Or, stated differently, only by communion with God can we move toward communion with God. That’s what the Reformed teaching of the bondage of the will affirms. —J. Todd Billings, Union With Christ: Reframing Theology and Ministry for the Church, 47-9

Still here ;-) ? With the obvious popularity of Arminian Evangelical Roger Olson, and others; it is apparent that Arminian Freewillism is popular amongst all sorts of Evangelical Christians (e.g. not just those who are self consciously Arminian in theology, like Olson). I think Billings throws down the Reformed gauntlet, and I am unaware of how what Billings has written can be defeated by an Arminian response. If you know of one, let me know; won’t you?

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§ 44 Responses to Why FreeWill Theism and Arminians’ ‘Choice’ is Theologically Aloof, pace Billings

  • Nathan says:

    One answer would have to do with the warning passages in Hebrews. The basic idea being that there we see people who have received the Spirit, but then still turn away. The issue is discussed by Scot McKnight in a series of blog posts found here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/category/calvinism/

    We could also look to the teachings of Jesus. In John 3 we see that people have to be born from above of the Spirit before they can even understand Jesus’ message, but I don’t think this guarantees their salvation. Take for example the parable of the sower – we see people who respond, but then turn away. I think this is similar to the Hebrews passage – people who have received the Spirit, but then turn away. But how can this be?

    To that question I would simply ask – How is it that Adam and Eve could sin? They had no sin nature and they were in communion with God. Still they could turn from him.

    On a slightly different tack. I reject ‘Calvinism’ because I do not believe a God who loves the world and desire all to come to repentence would then withhold the grace that he knows would bring them to repentence, or condemn his creatures to hell, when it within his power to save them. To tell me that God has every right to send us all to hell, but shows mercy upon some of us by saving us does not satisfy me. Now this is not just me believing something because I like it. I believe in Arminianism because I believe it makes the most sense of the complete revelation of God.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Hey Nathan,

    Great to hear from you!

    I’ve read McNight’s series, but I don’t think he grasps the fact that there are other ways to work with this point of “all the way down” through a Reformed lens that equally emphasizes that God is by nature open (or gracious) and loving (self-giving to the other by nature). That’s what Evangelical Calvinism advocates; which took form in Scottish Theology contemporaneous with classic Calvinist development. Further Evangelical Calvinism is a constructive mood and instantiation of Calvinism that works (for me) from Thomas F. Torrance and Karl Barth.

    But, really, I’d rather see you deal with the theological implications that Billings draws out in his points before we turn to other passages of scripture. I understand the passages you mention, but given the hermeneutic of allowing scripture to interpret scripture I think it a better form to allow clearer principles to interpret what everyone would concede are difficult and controversial passages (such as the ones you mention here, they are crux interpretum). Nevertheless, I would like to hold your feet to the fire of what Billings has written; you didn’t deal with that, so I can only suspect that you don’t have a substantial rejoinder to the force of what he has articulated ;-) . I’m not interested, at this point, of trading one scholar to the other; unless of course you can point me to something or articulate something that directly deals with Billings’ point about autonomous humanity—which actually is a very scriptural point and inheres from the inner theo-logic of scripture (or the theologic that scripture assumes in order to make its occasional points).

    I reject classic Calvinism too, Nathan. I know you haven’t read me enough to know that. I think classic Calvinism and ARminianism are two different sides of the same philosophical coin (classical theistic coin). I reject that apparatus, and thus we are in agreement insofar that you reject that ‘kind’ of Calvinism; but then I reject your Arminianism for the same theological reasons that I reject the Calvinism that you do.

    Evangelical Calvinism, the kind articulated and advocated here (and one that will be on full display in our forthcoming book this March), holds that by nature God is a God of Triune love (see this Thesis that comes from our book: http://growrag.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/our-evangelical-calvinism-book-thesis-2-the-primacy-of-gods-triune-life-is-grounded-in-love-for-god-is-love/ and then this one which will fill you in on how we conceive of God as Triune which informs God as love: http://growrag.wordpress.com/2011/09/17/our-evangelical-calvinism-book-thesis-1-the-holy-trinity-is-the-absolute-ground-and-grammar-of-all-epistemology-theology-and-worship/). I dialectically hold that salvation has been offered to all, for real; and why people reject that is inexplicable and a surd, one that finds corollary in the original ‘Fall’. I could say much more, but there are other ways to get at this, Nathan. I hope you’ll check out our book, or my blog (just click on my Evangelical Calvinism category for many posts) to understand why both classic Calvinism and Arminianism are aloof IMO.

    I agree, as I said, in principle with Billings’ point. But how I move from that point, in fact, looks way different than it seems you are assuming (and I understand your assumption, it is one we are trying to correct with our book).

    Anyway, peace, Nathan. Hope you are doing well, brother!

  • Jon Sellers says:

    The federal Calvinists teach that according to John 3, we are born again first by the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit according to their doctrine of predestination of the individual and then the person has faith which comes to them as a gift from God. This view completely removes any humanity from the equation.

    I think Arminius, in his doctrine of prevenient grace, was trying to find some way of conceptualizing the enabling and gracious work of the Holy Spirit that is involved in our responding to the revelation of Jesus Christ with faith.

    I think Billings misrepresents many people’s position when he says that free will entails man making the first move towards God. That is not what Arminians teache, but Scripture does use language that points towards God’s revelation coming to us and then we respond. I think the question is how do we understand our response in faith to the revelation of Jesus Christ. Perhaps the totalizing import of Luther’s bondage of the will is an exaggerated conclusion that does not allow for any human ability to exercise faith in spite of sin. I think the Scriptures teach that we have the ability to respond to the revelation of Jesus Christ by the help of the Spirit. But that is not the Calvinist regeneration that comes prior to faith. Perhaps a modified view of prevenient grace that locates it not in autonomous man but rather man in union with Christ would be a better way of understanding that.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Hey Jon,

    Billings wrote:

    “Yet, in contrast to the Reformed explanation, the Spirit’s prevenient grace lifts the sinner to a state of equilibrium in which the sinner can either choose or reject God’s gospel. But this explanation is impossible without assuming that true humanity is autonomous from God rather than in divinely enabled communion with God. Why? Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself,” rather than effected “by the Spirit.”

    And you wrote:

    “I think Billings misrepresents many people’s position when he says that free will entails man making the first move towards God. That is not what Arminians teache, but Scripture does use language that points towards God’s revelation coming to us and then we respond.”

    So I am confused. Because Billings, as the isolated quote above demonstrates doesn’t say what you say he says i.e. ‘I think Billings misrepresents many people’s position when he says that free will entails man making the first move towards God.’ Billings says that Arminian teaching on the Spirit’s prevenient grace provides a space wherein an equilibrium inheres such that a person is ‘lifted up’ so that they have the capacity (in themselves, by prevenient grace … which is also created grace, which is another definitional/categorical problem that we don’t necessarily need to get into here) to respond negatively or positively to an offer of eternal life in Christ. So effectively, as I read Billings, he is arguing that Arminians teach that man is still ULTIMATELY (for emphasis) making their move towards or against Christ; it is not a move that is fully filled up by the Holy Spirit. Ironically, when Billings uses the language of ‘all the way down’ he is mimicking TFT’s common refrain of “grace all the way down.” This is why I am not a little confused by your comment Jon—unless you’ve moved somewhat away from TFT—because TFT is thoroughly Reformed and would say amen to what Billings has described as the Reformed position on this. That’s why TFT uses the language of ‘all the way down’. The ground for faith’s response of Yes is not an impersonal prevenient grace, but the personal Yes of the Son to the Father by the Spirit on our behalf—his Vicarious Humanity actively at work on our behalf.

    You know that I reject the language of regeneration prior to saving faith etc; or even thinking through terms of an ordo salutis, at most I have an historia salutis (history of salvation) at play in my approach; viewing things through the pre-incarnate prefigural medation of God through the nation of Israel finding its telos in the incarnation of God in Christ itself; and us participating in this by depending upon and echoing the Spirit inspired Yes to the Father from the Son on our behalf. It sounds like, Jon, that you are almost willing or are indeed operating from agreement with a more Arminian understanding of how all this works. Am I reading you right?

  • Duane says:

    The answer is that man does not move:

    “But the righteousness which is by faith speaketh on this wise: say not in thine heart, who shall ascend into Heaven? That is to bring Christ down from above.
    Or who shall descend into the deep? That is to bring Christ up from the dead.
    But what saith it? The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth and in thy heart, that is the Word of Faith that we preach. ”

    So as faith is a work that is our contribution to our own salvation [so goes the argument], we can not do it as this is bringing Christ down from Heaven.

    “What shall we say then, that Abraham our father, as pertaining to his flesh, hath found? For if Abraham were justified by works [bringing Christ down from Heaven] he hath whereof to glory, but NOT BEFORE GOD.
    For what saith Scripture? Abraham BELIEVED God and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” (continuing) If one works for something, he is then paid, as satisfying a debt, “but to him that does NOT work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.”

    See, whereas in a recent post on a different topic, the question is asked if the text is given force to answer questions that it was never intended to answer (I believe unjustifiably), I believe that both the Calvinists and Arminians (and the Augustinians) ask questions that are not even involved in the answers given by Scripture. Each of them has man moving toward his salvation, and so requires “grace” to enable that move. The entire question answered in John’s Gospel and in Paul, is not “how does one do a work unto salvation?”, but “is there a work unto salvation?” The answer from the side of Christ is a resounding “Yes!” “I must be about my Father’s work”. The answer from the side of the sinner is “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness”, not as a debt to be paid by God.
    Man does not move. Not one atom. God does the entire work unto salvation, coming all the way to the sinner, getting in his face, grasping him and taking him home. Beyond this, one can speculate all the live long day. He speculates on questions that if Scripture addresses, it does so in a thick darkness that is in great contrast to the plainness of Scripture that Salvation is by Faith alone, and faith MAY NOT be construed as a work. The arminians are wrong (as described by the Calvinists at least, and most Arminians I have known) the Calvinists as self-described in the 21st c. are wrong, because they have man moving toward God under God’s power.

    Bobby, I doubt that even Calvin himself can escape the charges you level. Maybe proto-calvin. From what little I have read, and that admittedly from anti-calvinists, he was not compelled to address these issues until Rome accused him of anti-nomialism, at which time he felt he had to make spiritual man into a perseverer (the “p” in much later “TULIP”). And so Institutes in it’s subsequent editions grew by many chapters because Calvin believed he had to defend the faith against anti-nomialism.

    From my core (and it aint boastin’) I have never felt in any way that I “contributed” one whit to my salvation, much less merited a single gram of it since saved, but on the contrary have felt unworthy to the point of merely casting myself on the mercy of God. Isn’t that how everyone feels? If so, then could you please repeat the question to me again?

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Duane,

    I didn’t level the charges, Billings did (a Calvin scholar). What charges do you mean?

  • Bobby Grow says:

    BY THE WAY; NOBODY HAS OF YET ACTUALLY DEALT WITH WHAT BILLINGS HAS SAID ABOUT AUTONOMOUS HUMANITY, HUMAN AGENCY, AND GRACE ALL THE WAY DOWN—AS BILLINGS WROTE AND TF TORRANCE TRUMPETS OFTEN. (JON HAS COME THE CLOSEST, BUT EVEN JON DID NOT ACTUALLY REPRESENT WHAT BILLINGS WROTE IN A ACCURATE WAY).

  • Jon Sellers says:

    Bobby, I have been wrestling with understanding the role of the will in faith for some time, but haven’t been able to read much lately. I would like to read more on this. Where does Torrance talk about grace “all the way down”? I am not sure exactly what that means.

  • kc says:

    Bobby,

    I believe Duane addressed the issue although he didn’t utilize the same language Billings did. Billings perception that “going all the way down” ends when a man is “divinely enabled” to save himself through “his” faith. I understand Duane to say that God has gone “all the way down” once He has has fully “authored” the faith by which we are saved.

    BTW do you consider regeneration synonymous to the new birth?

  • Duane says:

    That’s funny! Thank you kc. Yes, I’m sorry, “all the way down”.
    The GES version, ’cause even a stopped watch is right 2x a day, and GES is much better than that, is that “belief” has nothing to do with the will. One is either persuaded of the truth of the Gospel or not. However, I have read Wilkins say that if one understood the Gospel, and rejected it for bitterness against God, or to maintain his own “autonomy” or for whatever reason, he could by his will, reject salvation, because he would not believe that he personally was saved. So, by GES standards, “belief” is not connected to the will, as belief is an outside source (God’s witness) persuading the person. I could take issue on some nuanced levels, and by the time GES and other Free-Grace proponents get done formulating “belief” it becomes another ball game, AND for many, persuation could involve giving in and saying, “sounds like a good deal. I’ll take it”, which of course, involves the will. But all of those weeds are still outside of what Scripture addresses: “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness”. Romans could not be plainer. We do no, not any, none at all, ever, forever, any at all, nix, work unto our salvation. There is an epic work that must be done for our salvation. We do none of it. Daint nobody else going to do ought of it. That leaves only one, one and only, MonoGenes, with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father sent the Son all the way down, from eternity into time, from Heaven to Earth, from Eternal to mortal. The Spirit came all the way down, annointed the Son to do be about the work of His Father, to free the oppressed and the heal the sick, to preach salvation to the poor and so forth. The Father judged His Son for sin in the flesh, but not His own flesh, ours. The Son was lifted up, at which point “all men” [which I believe to mean "all mankind", every soul] were drawn to Him. And “lifted up” is the cross, the crucifixion of the Son, not His resurrection, unless that is included by extention. There! Right there is your “prevenient grace”! It applies to every soul. Grace is not a thing, a substance or a force, it is the Person of the Eternal Son of God become mortal man for us and for our salvation, high and lifted up on cross beams, a shame, a byword, scandalous! Badly beaten, naked, beard pulled out and a crown of thorns, for all the world to see.
    The rest of the story is “all the way down”: the Spirit empowers the Apostles to spread the Gospel, the Spirit moves in men’s hearts in concert with the drawing of the cross of Christ, to convict of sin and of righteousness, and judgement. “Of sin, because they do not believe in me.” “Of righteousness because I go to my Father…” “Of judgement, because the ruler of this world is judged.”

    My guffaw at the beginning of this reply is because my Lutheran friends and I suppose other liturgical types enjoy poo pooing the “born again” set, which the next time I hear it am determined to ask “oh, you don’t believe in regeneration?” I suppose if you’ve been regenerated since you were sprinkled as an infant, you might tend to forget the significance of that, and so the minister must constantly remind the faithful to “remember your baptism”, which would have been difficult for me in any case. I don’t remember anything before my 4th birthday. I remember my baptism. It was cold. I aspirated some of the water. I was dunked at age 18 :O)

  • Duane says:

    In the movie “Chariots of Fire”, aspiring olympic champion Jewish Brit Harold Abrahams is courting professional trainer, Lebanese Italian Sam Mussabini to help him to his goal. Sam is taken back at the forwardness of Abrahams, because as in a dating scenario, where the guy should do the asking, “the coach should do the asking”. None the less, he says, he would watch Abrahams. If he (Mussabini) could see something there, if he could see the big prize (the olympic medal) hanging there, he would help Abrahams. But, “You can’t put in what God’s left out”. You can’t put world class speed in a runner who does not have the frame for it.
    You can’t put in what God’s left out. If it is not in His word, you will not find it by raking for it, or by finding the right algorythms. I just heard some bloke on the radio the other day relating, maybe it was David Jeremiah, how that the Holy Scriptures “The book of the Law” had been lost right in the House of God until found in the reign of Josiah, the Pharisees and Sadducees searched and searched the Scriptures for Truth, while He stood in their midst, and Pontius Pilot asked rhetorically “what is truth?” while the Person of “The Way, The Truth and The Life” was on trial before him. :O)

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Duane,

    Where do you find the time write these massive comments all the time … oh my!

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Jon,

    Hmm … and all this time I thought you were a committed ‘Reformed’ Torrancean ;-) . I will find some biblio on “all the way down” from TFT for you in the near future; I’ll message that to you on FB when I get it in hand for you.

    “All the way down” would simply mean that we are utterly deprived of anything good or right left to ourselves, such that even ‘our goodness’ is well, like filthy wrags. The incarnation and cross itself are the primary witness to this reality. So it is noting the symmetry that is inherent between grace and sin. If it took God becoming man and dying on the cross to deal with the “problem,” then it lets us know that the problem went “all the way down” through our whole existence. Billings, as you read between the lines in the quote, is operating with this definition; and this is why I said that TFT would be happy with it.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Kc,

    I didn’t necessarily read Duane that way, but you may be right.

    I don’t think in terms of ‘regeneration’ to ‘new birth’, I think in terms of ‘by his poverty we’ve been made rich’ ;-) . I see the humanity of Christ preceding our humanity; and it is by our participation in his humanity that we have the ground to echo ‘Yes’ to the Son to the Father, through the Son’s Spirit annointed Yes in our behalf. So I see the ground that is required for humanity to be open to the God provided by the ground realized in the saving humanity of Jesus Christ. This is where I would emphasize the Primacy of Christ over all of creation Col. 1. So I am not going to respond to the bondage of the will in the same terms as the classically reformed do; who do indeed think in the terms you have just questioned me on. :-)

    Hope you are doing well, Kc; great to hear from you!

  • kc says:

    Thanks Bro. I’m doing great. I never miss an article but I tread lightly here these days because I’m still learning the language. ;-)

    I won’t ask you to go off topic any further but maybe sometime…
    In light of your response I would need to expand the scope of my question and alter the language.
    “Sir, what must I do to echo yes?” ;-)

  • Nathan says:

    Bobby,
    I’ll be glad to look further into your views and to check out your book (that’s great to hear you have a book coming out). Since I was not familiar with your position I called myself an Arminian as shorthand, because if I’m forced to chose between Calvinism and Arminianism I’m on the Arminian side, but my views are certainly not classic Arminianism, nor am I as far as I know a disciple of Olson. Anyhow, I will get to the matter at hand.
    I do believe I addressed what Billings said. But I’ll take another run at it and expound upon my previous statement.
    I do not believe the will is in bondage to sin. I believe the will is free to choose whatever it desires. If we desired God we could freely choose him. The issue is our desires and what we think will fulfill our desires not our freedom, or lack thereof, of will. Our desires are perverted by sin.
    The idea that a human united to – or we may say in communion with – God cannot choose to reject or love God, because this is an autonomous choice and humans united to God can’t make autonomous choices, but are controlled by the Spirit, is wrong. I cited three examples which I believe illustrate this. Those who turn away in Hebrews, those who Jesus mentions who turn away after receiving the Gospel and Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve are to me the most compelling example. They had no sin nature; they were in perfect union with God; they had no habit, or pattern of sin. But, still they chose to sin; though in union with God, they chose to reject him. So what about us – sinners drawn by the Spirit into union with God – we can’t reject God? To say that we can “assumes that true humanity is humanity autonomous from God rather than united to God”? No, it doesn’t.
    Billings appeals to John 15 for support. Certainly it is true that if we don’t abide in Christ we can do nothing. But, in that chapter Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Which sure seems like an instruction to abide, with the possibility of failing to abide. Again an example of those in union with God rejecting that union and therefore failing to abide. We may say as Billings does that, “To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin”, but we can’t say that a human cannot chose to take a step away from a God that has drawn them near.
    Maybe that’s the key. Grace draws the sinner to God, but the recipient of that grace is still capable of walking away.
    Billings says, “Only by the Spirit’s effectual work can one move toward communion with God.”
    To which I also say yes. Though maybe I would not use the word effectual; it depends on what Billings means by that word. Does he mean irresistible? I believe the Spirit’s work is resistible. The Spirit draws, convicts, woos, enlightens (Heb 6) – and we respond. We trust and allow the Spirit to draw us into communion, or we distrust and move away from God. Trust is not an autonomous act of the will it is the response of faith. This is what we do – have, or don’t have faith. I cannot have faith unless the Spirit first works in me, but I still must choose to abide in that faith, or reject God and turn to idols. This is not our work, it is the work of God, but we can still reject this work.
    Getting back to the issue of desires, all humans desire life, purpose, love, fulfillment, goodness and those of us who know we are lost, which is most of us, desire salvation. Our sin nature has not eradicated these desires, but in our lost state we seek to find life etc. in false gods. The good news includes the offer of life etc. The Spirit works to draw us into union with God, our response is gradual, but by loving us we are able to respond in love to God. But, for whatever reason, some people do not respond to the love of God with love. They do not choose to trust that God can deliver what he promises and they reject him. Why do some people trust God – have faith – and others don’t? Some believe God is what they desire. Others, even those in union with him, may still choose to believe the Serpent’s lie. But this is not because some receive irresistible grace while others do not. God desires all people to be saved and not only calls all, but enables all.
    In searching for a metaphor that would explain my view, and may avoid Billings accusation that my view proposes that humans perform some autonomous act which earns them union with God I thought of this: God comes down, searches us out, find us, lifts us up and puts the gift of salvation into our hands – he’s done all the work on our behalf who can do nothing to win God’s approval; some of us then choose to drop the gift. We may even say that when Christ’s work was finished he had reconciled all humans with God, he had saved every one of us, he had paid for all our sins, but many simply reject the work done on their behalf and in this way they are thoroughly responsible for their sins and can blame no one else (not even Adam) for the judgment that comes upon them. This may also explain how some people – children, mentally handicapped, those who have never even heard the name of Jesus – may still be justified and covered by the his blood even though they never formally “accepted” him as their savior.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Kc,

    Great to hear all is well with you, my brother.

    You must participate with Christ, from Christ’s humanity in order to say ‘Yes’. I see the causal aspect that you are getting at; I will address that later through a post ;-) .

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Nathan,

    You wrote: “I do not believe the will is in bondage to sin. I believe the will is free to choose whatever it desires. If we desired God we could freely choose him. The issue is our desires and what we think will fulfill our desires not our freedom, or lack thereof, of will. Our desires are perverted by sin.”

    But of course this is Billings point; and so I remain unclear how you have deconstructed or ‘defeated’ his point by what you offer here. In other words, it seems that you’re simply appealing to an ad hoc rejection of the anthropological/hamartiological issues that Billing’s suppositions and argument flow from. Namely passages like Rom 3 and Rom 8:7 that explicitly state that as the result of the fall the noetic effect has resulted in a total incapcity on humanities’ part to seek after God, or know Him left to themselves. In other words your belief does not cohere with clear pronouncements and teaching from Scripture. So I remain unconvinced you your major premise here (major in the sense that your supposition here is necessary to make sense of everything else that you have suggested/argued through the rest of your comment).

    In fact, when you write: “The issue is our desires and what we think will fulfill our desires …” this sounds exactly like what Billings critiques when he writes: “We abide in Christ “all the way down.” Apart from this abiding, John says, we can do nothing. The Arminian denial of the effectual or causal dimension of the Spirit’s work occurs to preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will. But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.” Only by the Spirit’s effectual work can one move toward communion with God. Or, stated differently, only by communion with God can we move toward communion with God.”

    So I am not sure how you move beyond this point w/o first actually avoiding the weight of Billings’ point; that is, w/o simply making an assertion (but no argument) about desires. I agree that desires play a significant role, Augustine certainly did, with his thinking on competing affections etc. Of course that’s the point. Another point is that we need to make a distinction between ‘will’ and ‘choice’, these are not synonymous components; the will (if we so choose to even speak through a faculty psychology), according to passages like Rom 3 and 8 is incapacitated (or dead as scripture says Eph 2); under these conditions human ‘choice’ can only operate within the realm and conditions that are available to the will. Given the fact that as a result of the ‘Fall’ man is homo in se incurvatus (inward curved on himself), and given his love for himself, he will only ‘choose’ what benefits him from his ‘fleshly’ perspective. So again, I don’t understand how you can maintain your position here, either theologically or scripturally.

    You wrote: “Billings appeals to John 15 for support. Certainly it is true that if we don’t abide in Christ we can do nothing. But, in that chapter Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Which sure seems like an instruction to abide, with the possibility of failing to abide. Again an example of those in union with God rejecting that union and therefore failing to abide. We may say as Billings does that, “To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin”, but we can’t say that a human cannot chose to take a step away from a God that has drawn them near.
    Maybe that’s the key. Grace draws the sinner to God, but the recipient of that grace is still capable of walking away.”

    But Billings is presupposing Calvin’s duplex gratia, double grace of justification-sanctification which he sees, as do, as grounded in the humanity of Christ for us; and thus both of these realities are benefits that are not grounded in a humanity that is abstracted from Christ’s, but thoroughly grounded in his for us; that is what the ‘wonderful exchange’ is all about (II Cor 8.9); we are made rich by his poverty for us. With this in mind, then, interpreting Jn 15 takes on a different character, in the sense that to “walk away” is to be a disobedient child, and one’s fellowship is now hindered. Nevertheless, the union is firmly grounded in Christ as both the branch and vine for us (or as our mediator through which we have sustenance). Obviously I am engaging in theological exegesis, but so are you ;-) . I am following the implications of the two nature christology articulated by Chalcedon, and applying that to the vicarious humanity for us. So we can’t speak of an naked humanity, that is apart from Christ’s humanity in the way you are assumingi n order to come to the conclusion you are on this passage.

    I thing it is in error to appeal to Hebrews 6, based upon what I’ve already noted on your initial supposition about man’s ability to choose or not through a libertarian free agency, philosophical understanding of humanity. I think we need to work from what the incarnation implies about grace and sin.

    I’ll come back later (I’m at work) to follow up with a few more points that I didn’t get to. Interestingly your last points fit better with a Barthian perspective (but you need to work on the anthropology piece still ;-) ) on election and reprobation etc. This is something I follow, somwhat, in a modified form. I’ll be back.

  • Nathan says:

    Billings has said that it is our will which is in bondage. I have said that, no it is our affections which are in bondage. I think the distinction matters to the rest of the argument. I’m not denying anything which Romans 3 or 8 affirms, because they merely say mankind cannot seek God on their own initiative; giving no indication that this is because it is there will that is in bondage. Nor am I denying our total depravity which goes “all the way down”. I don’t know what I said that makes you think I am. I agree, my first point in and of itself does not “defeat” Billings point. I’m just laying some ground work. We are focusing on the wrong issue if we are focusing on volition and choice. Furthermore, asserting that allowing humans room for choice means we are allowing room for an autonomous self is not true. I realize I’m only making a counter assertion, but I have offered biblical evidence that may assertion is the right one.

    We are free to choose that which we desire. Therefore when God loves us, we become capable of responding to his love and loving him. Our will is free to reject God once he has brought us into union with him. Certainly we could never achieve that union without it being established by God. We could not love him if he had not first loved us. But, some people will reject his love.

    That’s all I’ll say for now. I will await your furthur comments before I post again.

  • Duane says:

    Bobby,
    “Where do you find the time write these massive comments all the time … oh my!”
    Right back atcha brother! And you’re at work!
    I have the benefit of working 12 hours per day (and I do mean WORKING) 4 days one week and 3 days the next, That gives me plenty of time in my off periods to write and not enough time in my on times to even keep up with my reading.
    Reminds me: 4:00 am wake-up! Good night!

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Duane,

    Just curious. I work 12.5 hr shifts, currently; and it is definitely “work” too ;-) .

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Nathan,

    I am really unclear what your anthropological commitments are at this point; what are they? I studied with Dr Ron Frost while in seminary, and continue to be friends with him to this day; he is known as an Affective Theologian, and he has majored in this stuff and its development as it relates to a theological anthropology, soteriology, ethics, etc. He, of course, is a historical theologian, which makes sense that he has focused so much time on a medieval (even Patristic in Augustine) tripartite faculty psychology. I’m not totally sure I am altogether happy with this kind of anthropology today; I see humanity as an integrated whole, and see working through these mechanistic components (affections, intellect, will) of what or does not define humanity seems, in some ways, not the best way forward—in fact if we do a lexical analysis of leb (heart affections) and kardia in the Bible it becomes clear, that the Scriptures don’t parse humanity this way either (i.e. reduce humanity down to the affections, intellect, will). Of course, the reason I brought this up is because I am into Reformed theology, and what Billings highlights is certainly an aspect of a Reformed history of ideas. And yet, as Billings noted earlier in this book—prior to the quote I provide from him—he says it would be more accurate to say bondage of the choice V. bondage of the will—because of the things that Billings has provided in the quote above.

    But really, Nathan, I am still unclear what you’re really getting at. You seem to be making a hard distinction between the heart, intellect, and will; privileging the heart or affections. Furthermore, you also seem to be setting up the affections as if they have their own special ontology that is somehow present in humanity, waiting to be actuated; but not actually an essential property of humanity, rather you seem to be suggesting that the affections are a created quality that are present in humanities’ accidents; again, waiting for a ‘Wooed’ humanity to actuate those by either choosing or rejecting the Gospel. If this is so, how do you escape the implication (it doesn’t matter if you want to isolate the affections, mind, or will, since these are interlocking overlapping realities in a tripartite faculty psychology, such as you are working with) that Billings is critiquing. You continue to assert that you have, but I see you illustrating Billings’ point in spades; i.e. that humanity has the capacity, inherent to their humanity (or maybe placed in their accidents), “in the affections,” to choose God or reject him. How is this different than what Billings’ has described as, ultimately, a self-moved heart or affections? Even if, as I’m sure you grant, that the Holy Spirit sets the human mover up to a place wherein “they” can choose or reject; ultimately what you are articulating still has man—even with the aide of the Holy Spirit—cooperating with God in their salvation. You haven’t escaped this implication whatsoever, Nathan. And so I will press you on this until you explain to me how you think you do; thus far I don’t see it.

    At the end of the day if humanity, and I mean humanity abstracted out from the humanity of Christ—like I said “naked humanity”, which seems to be operative in your account of things—has the ‘created capacity’ to choose or reject God, then they ultimately have the capacity to look at themselves—which you concede with your belief that someone can ultimately choose to reject the Gospel even after they have at one point genuinely been born from above—as the center or the reason for their choosing of salvation. How does your view escape the label of semi-Pelagianism (yep, I said it ;-) )? Thus far, it doesn’t.

    I do have more to write and say on this, Nathan. But I’ll let you come back with more first. In fact I have another schema to offer, other than these rather ‘classic’ and ultimately, from my view, impersonal categories that we are currently talking through. Like I noted in the original body of the post; I have a unique way to work around this whole morass. Nevertheless, as a young Reformed theologian, I am persuaded by Billings’ point nonetheless; I just move out from that point differently than classic Arminian or Calvinists; i.e. not using the substance metaphysics that they use, and what seemingly you are assuming (even if not self-consciously).

  • Bobby Grow says:

    I should add, my usage of semi-Pelagianism is simply in reference to the idea that, like a semi-Pelagian what you are presently saying seems to suggest that we are aided by grace, but “we” take the final step; much like John Cassian’s idea of grace as the hook which leads us to the point of being able to say yes or no. But the yes or no is ultimately up to us, not the grace that led us there.

  • [...] to develop some things I would like to in response the discussion I have been having with Nathan in this thread. Some have asked what ‘grace all the way down’ might mean (in the thread and post I am [...]

  • Nathan says:

    I too studied with Frost and was greatly influenced by his views, though I doubt I have as much of a knowledge about them as you do (I don’t think I have ever heard the term “tripartite faculty psychology”). I would (I think, it’s been a few years) basically agree with his views concerning anthropology (though I reject his application of Calvinism – I believe all humans have received a grace that can save them). Of course man is an integrated whole, but as in anything we make artificial – for lack of a better word – distinctions so that we may discuss and understand certain issues. The practice of systematic theology is the process of artificially dividing up an integrated whole, but I digress. If nothing else my emphasis upon affections is the assertion that man’s will free or otherwise is not the central concern here. On a side note a person’s affections (by which I mean desires) are not the same thing as their emotions, or as we today say their heart. A person’s desires are if not the exact same thing inseparable from their intellect. In the end it comes to this; we are free to choose whatever we desire, therefore our choices are determined by our desires; our desires are guided by our nature; so we may say that our choices are bound by our nature. If our natures are sinful we are bound to sin. If our natures are good, we are bound to be good. But wait a moment, what about Adam and Eve (and we may even ask the same question concerning Satan and the other demons depending on how we think they got to be the way they are). I want you to engage this question – how was it possible for Adam and Eve to choose sin.

    Our desires are the central driving force behind everything we do. They are not waiting to be actuated, they are not accidents. Without desire we cannot act, or choose. So, our desires are certainly essential to our humanity. And, though we are holistically corrupted by sin, we still retain our desire for life, pleasure, love, fulfillment etc. This is an aspect of the image of God we bear – the desire for relationship/love. However, when we are not in union with God all of our efforts to fulfill our desires are sin, because we trust in idols rather than God. We do not act in faith.

    Anyhow hopefully that answers your questions about my anthropology. If not please ask me a specific question, because I’m not exactly sure what you mean when you say, “I am really unclear what your anthropological commitments are at this point; what are they?”

    In regards to Billings’ critique; first I am asserting that he is wrong. I may not be able to prove that he is wrong, or argue why he is wrong. But, I am saying – if nothing else – I look at the Bible and I see happening something like what he says can’t happen. Now maybe the Arminians don’t offer a good explanation as to what is really happening, but neither do the Calvinists. And I will remain upon the side of those that say humans have a choice – even if the way most people understand that word is not quite right. If nothing else I am not persuaded by Billings.

    That said I do believe Billings offers a good critique and I’d like to come up with what is to me a satisfactory answer. For that reason I’m glad to have this discussion, because your challenges make me think deeper about this issue, which I’ve been pondering – though I have certainly not focused upon it – for a very long time.

    So, here’s my answer – Let me be clear humans do not choose God, they respond to him. Some respond positively and some respond negatively, but their response is not based upon how much grace God decides to give them, it is theoretically possible for every human to respond positively. Again humans do not have the autonomous ability to choose God. Our choice, or response to God is not self moved; it is God moved. Humans do not cooperate with God in order to attain salvation, or sanctification. Naked humanity does not have the ability to choose God. Only through the work of God can we be brought into union with God. We are not aided by grace and choose to take the final step. We do not choose God, our desires respond to his Spirit. All that said – those in union with God can choose to reject him, those be drawn by the Spirit into Union with God can resist. Both of these responses would be an autonomous act of the will and thus sin (as Billings asserts), turning the sinner from communion with God. Again Adam and Eve; until you tell me different what other example do I need?

    We don’t say yes, but we can say no. We can’t lose our salvation, but we can forfeit it.

    What do you mean by, “then they ultimately have the capacity to look at themselves”?
    And, “not using the substance metaphysics that they use, and what seemingly you are assuming”?

  • kc says:

    All of these arguments seem, to me, to be an elaborate means of avoiding the elephant in the room.

    The Calvinist rhetorically ask, “Can a man save himself ?”, then applies his answer to the question, “Can any man be saved?”, and thus justifies his presupposition of Determinism.

    The Arminian ask, “Can any man be saved?”, then applies his answer to the question, “Can I choose to be saved?”, and thus justifies his presupposition of self determination.

    The elephant is of course the question, “Why aren’t all men saved?”, to which the Calvinist would reply, “It is not the will of God” and the Arminian would reply, “because they choose not to be”.

    I don’t think the truth can be found through an examination of man.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Kc,

    You’re exactly right; that’s why my prolegomenon, theological method, is to start with God’s Self-revelation in Jesus Christ; not in speculative philosophical abstraction and inference from there.

    Here’s a post I did on critiquing causal determinism in any form: http://growrag.wordpress.com/2011/08/26/the-implosion-of-classic-causal-determinism-through-resurrection/

  • Nathan says:

    KC – good stuff. I like what your saying and I think you’re exactly right about what the real question is we are trying to answer.

    I look at the Bible at it says God loves all people and it is his will/desire that all are saved. So, I conclude that the reason why all people are not saved cannot be because something God is witholdind — as in they would be saved if God just gave them the irresistable grace. Yet, I look at the Bible and I also conclude that we can’t save ourselves. So that brings me to where I am. I’m not asking, “can I choose to be saved”, I’m asking, “I can I choose to not be saved”. I think there is a significant difference.

    Anyhow, you make a great point, but what is your answer. Can we find a bit of the truth, and if so what should we be examining?

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Nathan,

    I didn’t realize you studied at Mult seminary too; you must’ve just caught Frost on is way out then. Now your emphasis on the affections makes some sense (except for how you’ve appropriate them from the schema through which Ron articulates).

    Nathan, I think what your construct is missing is a thick account of the ground upon which grace is found. I see grace in personal terms, personified in the ‘act’ of God becoming man for us. So grace is not some ‘thing’ (and read affections when I write grace, since I think we are using those synonymously), but is the person of Jesus Christ himself. He has provided the ground for all of humanity, through his vicarious humanity, through which, by the Spirit we choose God. I see an asymmetry, along with many others in the ‘Tradition’ between election and reprobation; so that the latter is not the focal point when we are talking about salvation in general or NT terms—new creation and life is the foci. So I press the ‘why’ that people believe as the Holy Spirit’s consubstantial work from the Son, as he unites them (all humanity) to himself. In light of this reality, it can only remain a surd or inexplicable relative to the mystery of sin as to why some reject the life they have been given in the Son. But I don’t believe that once someone is spiritually united to Christ that this can be forfeited, given the nature of the ‘kind’ of life they are now participating in (i.e. eternal and indestructible).

    This leads, to my response on your question to me about Adam and Eve. That’s not my theological method; i.e. to speculate about something that hasn’t been revealed. I work from God’s Self-revelation in Christ and read Adam and Eve’s situation from there. If I do that I see that the only response to sin was to put it to death (so Rom 8.3); this is where ‘all the way down’ comes from, and this is how I know I stand on solid ground with the notion that we are incurably dead apart from the life of Christ. I see Christ as the imago Dei, and in his incarntion as the imago Christi (Col 1) we are now recreated in his image; by so doing we mirror God’s life in the Son, and have freedom of choice for God alone … that’s it. There is no other notion of freedom in Scripture.

    I have to run back to work. I’ll respond more later.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Let me quickly say it like this:

    God alone is the only free non-contingent self-determined being simpliciter; thus, if creation can be said to be ‘free’ (or have ‘free desires’) it can only be in a contingent way as it participates from the only kind of freedom available (from and thus for God). So creation’s freedom (while having an independent integrity of its own as creation) is a contingent freedom, and it is only ever truly freedom when it finds its terminus in God’s life of freedom for the other (which is is how I would describe God’s self given being, as subject-in-being or ontorelational). So whom the Son sets free is free indeed; free for God. There is only freedom of desires when our hearts of stone have been replaced (recreated) through Christ’s heart of flesh which we participate from as we are joined to his humanity by the Spirit. There is no other alternative way to speak about human freedom, theologically. (surely we can speculate and make inferences from our human intuition, but this is foundationalist methodology that imposes an abstracted aparatus upon God’s Self-revelation as it reasons from its own being to God’s or the analogia entis or analogy of being; which my personal chapter in our book is on, and which I reject, methodologically … I follow something like Barth’s analogy of faith and/or TFT’s).

    Unless, we want to set up a competitive relation between the God-world Creator-creature relation; we will not posit an ontological category of desire or freedom that is not first grounded in God’s desire or freedom for us; as mediated through the homoousios life of the Son, our high priest, our mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. This is how I view freedom, and anthropology, Nathan; as participationist; to me, all other discussion of human freedom and desire is non-sensical as it arises from a position that is non-being or nothing.

    I actually have more to say on this; can you believe it? ;-) I’ve got to run to lunch though.

  • kc says:

    Bobby,

    Please forgive my aside here to answer Nathan.

    Nathan,

    To answer your last question first; I agree with Bobby in that our point of reference for all things pertaining to God should be Jesus and I agree that the perception of Christ is by revelation alone. We then comprehend the truth as we comprehend The Truth. In a perfect world we would all move from there toward the full knowledge of God, but in reality we struggle to either overcome or to justify our own presuppositions concerning God, His will and way.

    I have exhaustive opinions on all of the issues mentioned in this article and the discussion. Sadly I enjoy discussing and debating them way too much! ;-) I’ll forgo any scriptural reference for now but in a nutshell; Where Bobby would say that grace is a person, Jesus Christ, I would say the grace of God that brings salvation is the revelation of Jesus Christ. This may be splitting hairs but it is in this I find the grace of God irresistible. When God reveals Christ in us we see the Truth whether we choose to or not. I understand the scripture to teach that those who see Christ and believe are given to Him (Christ). I understand those that believe not remain condemned. I don’t consider belief in Christ to be the manifestation of our desire for God though our desire for God is certainly rooted in our faith. Neither do I consider unbelief to be self love. I consider belief to be the only rational response to being confronted with The Truth. I do not find the scripture to give a single reason for unbelief though for every example of unbelief noted in scripture, the reason was due to a judgment or determination by man and not based on God’s choice.

    I’m not sure but I might be in disagreement with Bobby in that I understand that God saves us just as we are, broken, lost in sin and without hope. I don’t find the scripture to teach that we are made new or recreated in order to believe. I understand that we are made new in Christ and that the only way into Christ is through faith (justification before recreation rather than recreation before justification).

    I do agree with Bobby concerning the eternal nature of life in Christ.

    That is my opinion to date but is apt to change http://justsoyouallknow.blogspot.com/2009/04/re-post-from-032107-for-better-part-of.html.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Kc,

    Thanks for sharing your current position. Here’s my response.

    You write: “Where Bobby would say that grace is a person, Jesus Christ, I would say the grace of God that brings salvation is the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

    But ultimately, at least theo-logically there is a problem here that I think you would rather avoid, Kc. When you say that the ‘grace of God that brings salvation’ you make Jesus Christ the predicate of a quality or ‘attribute’ known as grace, of which grace is now the subject. To think through these terms is no different that how a classic Calvinist or Arminian think of the decrees as the intermediary created realities through which God interacts with creation. This is to place creation prior to God, in an order of being, and thus in the incarnation of Christ, he is meeting the conditions of ‘grace’ (whatever those are) and thus becomes only the instrument of “God’s grace,” instead of grace himself, in his act toward/for us. So this places a rupture in God’s life, and subordinates the Son to the Father (which in Church history is consider a heresy).

    I want to think of grace as God’s personal act for us in himself (antecedently), and temporally made manifest in the incarnation of the Son. So I see God’s covenant life of grace preceding creation instead of following it. This emphasizes the primacy of Christ over all creation as its purpose (Col. 1.15ff). So we can then think of God’s purpose in creation as always already mediated through the Son who in Colossians 1 is called the icon or image of God. So to think from protology (first things) to eschatology (last things), if the eternal Son is the image of God, humanity was originally created in the Son’s image; and yet, this was not all that God had in store for creation (i.e. protology), since his life is eschatological. So given the ‘Fall’ humanity was ripped asunder from God’s image in his Son and from his being, into non-being. Yet humanity was kept/covered (Rom. 3:25) and suspended by God’s grace in his ongoing being for us in his Son. It was this being, the image of God, that incarnated for us, died, buried, and rose again through which we have been re-created; so now we have become mirrors of the mirror of God’s image (and exact representation Heb 1.3) in the (imago Christi) ‘image of Christ’. This is God’s grace, it is his person, in Christ for us reconciling us back to union with God through Christ; but back to something much greater, back through the mediator and point and purpose of all creation; through Jesus Christ, and it is in his eschatological life that our lives have purpose as we participate in him by the grace of his humiliating act of in-humaning.

    Further, I do not hold to a form of perfectionism; that misunderstands TFT’s point. Instead, while the life of Christ is stable and perfect, and it is this kind of life that we participate in; we are still in the now aspect of the not yet coming consummate form of the kingdom. And it is this coming kingdom in Christ that breaks in on us anew and afresh every morning through which we have the power to reckon ourselves dead to sin and alive to and through Christ. This is the point of TFT’s ontological theory of the atonement; he penetrates into the depth of our sinful lives and hearts, and redeems us from the inside out. Starting in his crib, penultimately at the cross, burial, resurrection and ascension; and ultimately at the consummation of all things at his second advent when he makes all things new in fully realized form. This is when the protology of God’s life will be ‘fully’ know in eschatological form; the form that has always shaped even the ‘first things of God’s life’ in his gracious act of original creation (gracious because he, according to his outward othered focused life he choose to create a counterpoint that he might love us in the Son, the point of the creation).

    Just spitting up some thoughts ;-) .

  • kc says:

    Bobby,

    Thanks, as always, for the space and the time. I beg your patience while I struggle through this.

    All I am saying is that, subjectively, the grace of God is made manifest to us in the revelation of Jesus Christ. This places the revelation prior to our being in Christ (subjectively) and makes no implication on the order of God’s being. I am comfortable with the language I used in that it is in line with both past and current translations of the scripture (Acts 11:20-23, etc.). It may be more precise to say “graciousness”, but then also, to be precise, in my statement revelation is the predicate and instrument of grace, not Jesus. This should relieve me of any fear of excommunication. ;-) I understand our interaction with God to be in Christ, but as stated we enter into Christ (subjectively) by grace through faith.

    In the abstract or objective perception of grace I am not yet comfortable defining it as the person of Jesus but I will try to remain pliable. ;-) To be honest at this point it seems to me the term is being used in a similar manner to the terms “regeneration” and “sanctification”. The definition and meaning is extended or altered in order to accommodate a given theology.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Kc,

    Take all the time you need :-) … at least you are considering such things; I don’t think most Christians do nowadays, which makes you and I some rare birds. As you know, I would want to say, and do, that Jesus is God’s revelation; I am not comfortable, at all, with positing ontological categories of grace, revelation, etc that are not fully personal and realizable in the act and life of God himself. If we do indeed do this (create separate ontological categories for these things), then there is something outside of God constraining him to act in certain ways (things that are tied into creation), and thus this implodes God’s self-determined freedom to be the God that he is.

    No, I don’t think the way I am using grace correlates to the way “classics” use regeneration etc. Because, again, they think of this as created things; I am thinking of salvation through the mediating humanity of Jesus Christ, and pressing the themes of sacrificial lamb, and priest (Heb 7.25 Jn 1.29 etc) as the personal salvation that God has brought about in his hypostatic life in Christ for us. I am not willing to think of salvation or reality apart from how that is in the primacy of God’s life in Christ over all of creation; and so this has exegetical and theological and spiritual implications; which I am trying to draw out here and there ;-) . Blessings.

  • kc says:

    Bobby,

    Thanks for the room to “Grow” here. :-)

    It may be that it’s not only in going all the way down but all the way back as well. We know that in the beginning God was bound to His word. He created the heaven and the earth void and without form. His Spirit then moved on the face of the waters but His word was not yet spoken and there was no life.

    The thing constraining God is not outside God’s self but is His own word. His word gives justification to life even before it is known and life is given.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    His ‘Word’ is the Son Jn 1.1 QED ;-) .

  • kc says:

    That was my point with regard to the ontological problem you noted. The justification to life that precedes life itself is in Christ alone, thus the revelation is grounded in Christ’ being prior to His being known to us. ;-)

    You can call this a swing and miss if need be. :-)

  • Bobby Grow says:

    Kc,

    You’d make a great Evangelical Calvinist or Torrancean ;-) !

  • Nathan says:

    This will most likely be my last post on this thread, unless someone asks me a direct question. Still, this has been a good discussion; it has given my brain some good exercise and has given me much food for thought.

    Bobby I had no intention, or hope, of changing your beliefs when I responded to your thread. I merely intended to offer a counter view. I wasn’t trying to offer a proof, because I don’t think such a proof exists. Now, rereading your post I see that you asked for an Arminian response that could “defeat” what Billings had written. Of course such a response could never be produced. If one such opposing viewpoint could so easily be defeated, then all of us who love God and his word would agree on such things. I hope you do not actually believe your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ need to be defeated, or that our disagreements can be ironed out simply with some good ‘ol rational thought and the application of some proper biblical interpretation.

    That said, now that I’m starting to get a feel for your views on this matter, I don’t think our beliefs are actually that different. First off I too am (at least trying) building upon a Trinitarian point of view and God’s revelation as the foundation of all theology, with Jesus Christ at the center. I agree “that we are utterly deprived of anything good or right left to ourselves”, which is what you say “All the way down” means. I agree that “no part of the fallen human being is untainted by sin such that it could take the first step toward God”. Also, “There is only freedom of desires when our hearts of stone have been replaced (recreated) through Christ’s heart of flesh which we participate from as we are joined to his humanity by the Spirit.” And certainly “apart from [Jesus we] can do nothing” John 15:5. Along with that I would say nothing exists, or has being, apart from, or independently, from God. All goodness and all good things (not just talking about substances) exist through God’s active presence. To me this means that God is even present in the lives of people who are in rebellion against God; no one or thing operates independently from God.

    You said, “Nathan, I think what your construct is missing is a thick account of the ground upon which grace is found. . . . [Jesus] has provided the ground for all of humanity, through his vicarious humanity, through which, by the Spirit we choose God.” I agree that Jesus has provided the ground etc. – does that mean my construct has a “thick account of the ground upon which grace is found” and that I just didn’t spell this out?

    You also said, “So I press the ‘why’ that people believe as the Holy Spirit’s consubstantial work from the Son, as he unites them (all humanity) to himself. In light of this reality, it can only remain a surd or inexplicable relative to the mystery of sin as to why some reject the life they have been given in the Son. But I don’t believe that once someone is spiritually united to Christ that this can be forfeited, given the nature of the ‘kind’ of life they are now participating in”. I completely agree with the first two sentences (as I understand them), and it is this ‘why’ some “reject the life they have been given” that I’m trying to get at. Perhaps I push things too far if I insist that “once someone is spiritually united to Christ that this can be forfeited”. Perhaps I should only say people reject the wooing that would unite them to Christ, but that would seem to imply that others are choosing to move into unity with Christ before they have been given the capacity to do such.

    I wonder what you mean when you say “some reject the life they have been given in the Son”? And, if you say some reject, then does not that mean that the others choose to accept the life they have been given? If so, aren’t you just as dangerously close to saying we choose to move towards God as you think I am – and therefore close to being guilty of falling under Billings’ critique.

    You said, “This [the previous quote] leads, to my response on your question to me about Adam and Eve. That’s not my theological method; i.e. to speculate about something that hasn’t been revealed. I work from God’s Self-revelation in Christ and read Adam and Eve’s situation from there.” But, in another post you said, “I dialectically hold that salvation has been offered to all, for real; and why people reject that is inexplicable and a surd, one that finds corollary in the original ‘Fall’”. Which to me sounds like your saying that there is a correlation between how it is some people today can reject the grace of God and Adam and Eve could reject the grace of God. Which is the correlation I’m trying to build upon?

    Sure I’m speculating some, but my speculations are based upon the revelation of Scripture. I don’t think I am basing my speculation upon foundationalist methodology. I am trying to understand God’s revelation. We are both, as Duane has pointed out, speculating to a certain degree. Our speculations are based upon Scripture, but we are both – in trying to understand and articulate how we understand Scripture – moving beyond the clear teachings of Scripture. I’m doing what I’m doing, not because these questions are particularly interesting to me, but because I don’t believe in Calvinism and I feel a need for my own sake and to help others who also reject Calvinism to at least attempt to explain why I reject Calvinism. I’m trying to answer these questions not because I like the exercise, but because I’m trying to defend myself and others from what I believe to be a flawed way of looking at God and his Scripture. Which is especially important today as the Neo-Reformed movement gains popularity.

    Despite what you’ve said about Evangelical Calvinism – that “God is by nature open (or gracious) and loving (self-giving to the other by nature).” I still can’t believe he is if the Calvinism of Evangelical Calvinism is true. Despite what Ron Frost said about his brand of Calvinism – and he said God was loving, gracious and just – I couldn’t accept his brand either. I happened to catch a conversation between Roger Olson and Mike Horton on the White Horse Inn today http://www.whitehorseinn.org/white-horse-inn.html and what Roger Olson says about Calvinism and Calvinists is exactly how I feel. (And by the way I love those Reformed guys on the White Horse Inn and I’ve learned a lot from them that I wish I had learned at Multnomah.)

    To quote Jon Sellers, “I think the question is how do we understand our response in faith to the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . Perhaps a modified view of prevenient grace that locates it not in autonomous man but rather man in union with Christ would be a better way of understanding that.” This may be the only response to Billings that an Arminian can make. Billings levels a good critique against Arminianism here. But, my response is similar to Jon’s, “how do we understand our response in faith to the revelation of Jesus”? For me the answer cannot be anything like anything I’ve ever heard a Calvinist say. Now, I like what you’re saying Bobby when you describe what you call Evangelical Calvinism, but I’m actually starting to wonder how it is that you are actually a Calvinist. I also very much appreciate that you recognize how many of the followers of John Calvin got off track. Also, I agree with you, “The ground for faith’s response of Yes is not an impersonal prevenient grace . . . .” Nor, can it be an autonomous choice. It is as you say, “by the Spirit we choose God”.

    You said, “read affections when I write grace, since I think we are using those synonymously”. I am not using them synonymously. And, by the way I don’t believe grace is a substance or force. And, I can certainly agree that Jesus is Grace personified.

    Now back to Billings for one more go round:

    “To be human is to be in communion with God. Thus, it is impossible to act “in oneself” in taking a step toward God, because acting “in oneself” is part of the very definition of sin—the corollary to salvation as communion.”

    Yes, I agree.

    “Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself,” rather than effected “by the Spirit.”

    Yes, so if that’s what Arminians are thinking they are wrong. Though it may be that Arminians are still right, but just don’t have a good way of expressing their view. So, whatever it is that actually happens it cannot be that one is empowered by oneself to choose God. But, it may be that one is empowered by oneself to reject God.

    “The Arminian denial of the effectual or causal dimension of the Spirit’s work occurs to preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will. But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.””

    The Spirit’s work is effectual in that it is able to produce the desired effect, but I cannot believe it is irresistible, or that some are not offered this effectual work. And the one who “preserve a certain type of autonomous space for the will” is rebelling against God, acting in one’s self and thus in sin. They choose to reject God, and as you say “reject the life they have been given”. But this is not a choice made by an independent will which moves itself. It is a choice motivated by the person’s desires. And, the Spirit is the only one who can cause a person to turn from love of self and turn to love of God; moving that person to find the satisfaction of their desires in God rather than a false god.

    Ron Frost was my thesis advisor and I took a number of classes from him, but he is not a close personal friend of mine and I am certainly no expert on his schema. What I took from him in regards to affective theology is that we are motivated by our desires, our loves/affections, not by a self moved will.

    Why is this so important to me? Because to me it is the key to (if not understanding) getting a glimpse at how it is that some people reject God’s love. Love is not a choice; it is not a belief; it is not an act of the will – it is a response of trust; an act of desire. We do not choose to love God, we respond to the love of God – positively or negatively. But this is not a rational choice (which is not to say it is irrational to love God). It is irrational that anyone would reject the love of God; there is no good reason for it. But, people still do. And it’s not a matter of how much grace a person gets, some respond immediately to the smallest amount of revealed grace. Others can stand before Jesus, or see the greatest miracles and still harden their hearts to God. They may even believe in God, as James tells us the demons do, but they will never love him. They will certainly not submit to his Lordship. Belief does not necessarily result in love. Belief can be very impersonal. Faith is the result of a love that trusts that God is who he says he is. For some people even what is often called ‘common grace’ is enough to turn the heart of a person towards God, leading that person to seek to know and love God more deeply.

    I’m not saying that humans have the capacity to independently choose God, or to choose to place one’s faith in God apart from the Spirit’s causal work. We can only love God, because he has first loved us. I do believe humans have a God given desire for life and love. All God’s creation has a desire to live. Humans, because we were created in God’s image, have a special capacity for relationship and love with God – this is the primary way in which I believe we were created in the image of the Trinitarian God. We cannot love God on our own, but we still have the desire to choose something like God. Which is why we pursue idols and put our faith in idols. And, why when we are loved by God we may respond with love and faith that he is the fulfiller of our desires.

    Finally why I can’t be a Calvinist – I can’t believe that God is the one who ultimately decides that some humans will not be saved. I must believe that if humans are responsible for their sin, then the reason some chose to reject God, must lie within the heart of each human, not the heart of God.

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Nathan,

    Given the length, I am not going to be able to respond to everything you have written here; but let me hit the points that stand out to me.

    1) The primary thing that I have taken away from your view is that you have ontologized ‘desire’ as an inherent capacity in humanity that humanity (even aided by the Holy Spirit) has ultimate control over; I take this impression when you write: “Finally why I can’t be a Calvinist – I can’t believe that God is the one who ultimately decides that some humans will not be saved. I must believe that if humans are responsible for their sin, then the reason some chose to reject God, must lie within the heart of each human, not the heart of God.” I actually think this sums up everything else you have written above (except for your question of how I escape Billings’ critique as an Evangelical Calvinist). Based on this, Nathan, again, there is no modally logical way that what you are saying is any different than what Billings is critiquing; so I am left to conclude that you agree with Billings, at one level, but at another level you simply want to qualify “somehow” your way out of holding to an autonomous humanity—even in light of your closing paragraph which I just quoted.

    2) How do I escape Billings’ critique? Because I ground human choice in the God-human choice for us. And I do believe that God has chosen salvation for humanity, and the reason why all of humanity then does not get ‘saved’ is left to the surdity and inexplicable nature of evil and sin. This is not to build anything (as your position does pace your last paragraph) off of the ‘Fall’, it is simply to stop where the ‘Fall’ does and to use it as analogy to help in a heuristic way for having a category for answering a question that doesn’t ultimately make sense in light of what Christ has done. I work this way, because my theological methodology is not constrained by logico-causal schemata; but, again, is dialectic and dynamic.

    3) You wrote: “Despite what you’ve said about Evangelical Calvinism – that “God is by nature open (or gracious) and loving (self-giving to the other by nature).” I still can’t believe he is if the Calvinism of Evangelical Calvinism is true.”

    Thus far you haven’t evidenced to me that you have grasped what Evangelical Calvinism is about. Wait until our book comes out, read it, and then let me know what you think. Olson and Horton work as classical theists, see my most recent post describing what that entails. Since you’ve read Barth you’ll understand how the Barthian moves are much much different than those allowed for by classical theism. Again, I see you conflating the two distinct methodologies and trying to make interpretation and even criqitue from that vantage point; it won’t work, Nathan. So I would just challenge you to read further before you make too quick of a judgment about so called Evangelical Calvinism.

    4) You appealed to Jon Sellars, and quoted this from him: ““I think the question is how do we understand our response in faith to the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . Perhaps a modified view of prevenient grace that locates it not in autonomous man but rather man in union with Christ would be a better way of understanding that.” But I would suggest to you, Nathan, that Jon got this line of thinking from hanging around TF Torrance and not Arminians. But this is a much different mode of thinking from the classical theism present in Arminian theology; a mode that has humanity in a competitive relationship with the humanity of Christ.

    At the end, Nathan, I appreciate all the engagement, and all the time you spent on this thread. But I think that your conclusions are premature, yet, esp. in regards to how you are perceiving what we are calling Evangelical Calvinism. And so I just think you need to read some more on us and EC, and then maybe reconsider what you’ve written and concluded thus far … you might conclude the same things, but I highly doubt it. Blessings, brother!

  • Nathan says:

    I must respond briefly.

    In regards to your first point – You are right to identify this as my views weakness. I may have to abandon it, but I’m not ready to do that yet.

    And I will say that I feel I’m incredibly close to accepting what you are saying, but can’t go all the way. So, yes I’ll have to keep on studying these things.

    But, let me ask one more question. Why call your view Calvinism? Even if you believe this is true Calvinism, you have to see how confusing it is to the average Christian, and even the educated Christians who just haven’t study this much, so why not call it something else? Your views might make more headway if they aren’t met with preconceived notions as to what they are (as I did).

  • Nathan says:

    It may simply be the word Calvinism I am choking on, and I actually like John Calvin.

  • Trin says:

    Late to the party (again)…

    I must preface my thoughts with noting, imho, that Calvin’s systematic theology does a lot of unnecessary hair splitting (I believe it was the way his mind, trained in law, worked; I do not think his ‘system’ it is true to scripture). A lot of the minutiae is lost on me, I’m sorry; I tend to think big picture, but I hope it is still ok to participate?

    1. given the triune, perichoretic, kenotic God of love who loved us first, who initiated restoration and supplied all necessary to mend our broken relationship (covenant) as we could not repair it ourselves, the issue is whether or not we will respond to his ‘advances.’ HE alone has made a way to restore that which is broken; he is the redeemer, not us.

    2. given the nature of love, the wooer has no choice but to give room for the other to either respond to or reject those advances; such is what love IS.

    3. given this, I would agree with Billings (B) that we cannot take the first step toward God.

    4. B = “to be human is to be in communion with God.” So the unsaved are not human? The issue is that communion has been broken by sin (Adam’s rel. with God pre and post fall); many humans are not in communion (restored rel.) with God

    5. B = “apart from me you can do nothing,” and later he adds, “We do not abide in Christ the Vine at the beginning, only to be replanted after Christ has given us new life.” He’s right! We don’t abide in Christ at the beginning. That is the problem! Relationship severed due to our sin. His view is that we ARE abiding in Christ – but we are not “in” Christ until we are saved. Context says this passage is to those who are in a relationship with God – they are “in Christ,” i.e. this is speaking of the saved.

    6. B = “…a state of equilibrium in which the sinner can either choose or reject God’s gospel. But this explanation is impossible without assuming that true humanity is autonomous from God…” Sinners are not in relationship with God, i.e. are autonomous from God, are acting independently of God, are their own ‘gods’, are not in submission to God. That’s what sin is.

    7. B = “…Because if one chooses God in that moment of equilibrium, the decisive movement toward God was empowered “by oneself”” The lover must give us room to either accept or reject his love; that is not a meritorious work. Accepting a gift is not a meritorious act. We have done nothing to deserve or earn the gift; it is a gift. But neither can it be forced on us, for that is not the nature of love nor of relationship.

    8. B = “But if sin is acting “in ourselves” and obedience is acting in communion with God, then it is simply impossible to move toward God by acting “in ourselves.”” Sin can be defined many ways, but this is new to me. I think of it as missing the mark, choosing self over God, my ways over God’s ways, disobedience to God. Also, equating sin with acting “in ourselves” has no bearing on the possibility/impossibility of moving toward God. We respond to God’s call by either saying ‘yes’ to him, or saying ‘no.’

    9. Bobby = “…Billings throws down the Reformed gauntlet;… I am unaware of how [it] can be defeated by an Arminian response…as I read Billings, he is arguing that Arminians teach that man is still ULTIMATELY (for emphasis) making their move towards or against Christ; it is not a move that is fully filled up by the Holy Spirit.” No man comes to Jesus unless the Father draws him; the Spirit reveals the Father and the Son – it is entirely the work of God, not of man, lest any should boast. Arminians don’t believe men make a move towards/against Christ. “For God so LOVED…” That love is revealed to us, and in order to be IN Christ, we must die to ourselves to live to God. For some that is asking too much.

    I still remember the night I gave him my life…the fear and hesitance…the fight, for lack of a better word.

    Do you remember when you met him? Does that not shed light on these questions?

    To hold that God IS agape, to be Trinitarian, to understand the nature of the intratrinitarian relationships, to know that the covenant making and keeping God provides a way for us to be IN Christ (for those IN Christ shall receive the gift of eternal life [interesting implications regarding eternal hell...but let's go there another time]) is the context here, is it not? Further, love given what is simply is must provide space. Without the ability to choose, God is nothing but a divine rapist (Geisler). God offers us an intimate relationship with him; the issue is whether we accept or reject that offer, i.e. Him.

    imho….

  • Bobby Grow says:

    @Nathan,

    I’m glad to hear you might be close to what we are trying to communicate through the mood of EC.

    The reason we used EC is because it is tied into and comes from Scottish Theology which is a strain of Calvinism that developed alongside of what we think of Calvinism today. I just gave a long comment reply to try on my post ‘Why I disdain westminster Calvinism’ which you should go check out. I’ll do a post to make this all that more clear. And the intro, that Myk and I cowrote for our book explains all of this much furhter as well. Stay tuned.

    @Trin,

    I’ll have to respond to you later.

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You are currently reading Why FreeWill Theism and Arminians’ ‘Choice’ is Theologically Aloof, pace Billings at The Evangelical Calvinist.

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