Tuesday, February 2, 2016

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Irresistible Grace

"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Introduction
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Preaching John 3:16"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Total Depravity
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Congruent Election
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - The Atonement
"Whosoever Will": Blogging Through Allen and Lemke - Irresistible Grace

Of the five classic so-called points of Calvinism, particular redemption is the mostly hotly debated. In second place, I suspect, would be the "I" in TULIP - Irresistible Grace, or effectual call. In the book Whosoever Will, one of the editors is entrusted to tackle this reformed doctrine and, as expected, finds the Calvinist dogma lacking in biblical truth.

The Good

One of the purposes in reading and exploring this book is the hope that each side will honestly consider their own position. Thus, it is important to see that Lemke's criticism of Calvinism has some ground here. Key here regards the "order of salvation" (I'll avoid the Latin). Lemke provides a litany of verses in Scripture which seem to demonstrates that repentance precedes new birth, or faith precedes regeneration. The passages he highlights include John 3:15-16; 3:36; 5:24; 5:40; 6:51 (referencing chapter 6 of John is interpreting since it is a favorite of Calvinist); 6:53-54, 57; 11:25; 20:31; and 1 John 5:1.

Calvinists who conclude that Scripture consistently teaches that regeneration precedes faith will struggle against a host of passages which suggest the opposite. Lemke is wise to make this point.

Secondly, Lemke spends time discussing how modern Calvinists uncomfortable take on the term "irresistible grace." Reformed Christians usually prefer the term "effectual call" but Lemke will not let it slide. Admittedly, Lemke knows that the P. R. is much worse for the former term and not the latter.  His point is a valid one. Whatever term Calvinists may prefer, irresistible grace is the historic doctrine they affirm. The implication of that term, however, is why Calvinists prefer a different term. They do not teach, however, that God saves people "kicking and screaming."

The Bad

Let us begin here, I am uncomfortable ever suggesting that God can be resisted. The implications of that is troubling. Yet Lemke makes it over and over again without ever addressing the dangerous theological implications. Consider the following quotes:
"Clearly this Scripture (referencing Acts 7:51) teaches that the influence of the Holy Spirit is resistible." (118)

"Therefore, it would seem that God's grace is resistible, even among the elect who are eligible to receive the effectual call." (119)

. . . Scripture supports the idea that grace is resistible." (127)

"The Bible specifically teaches that the Holy Spirit can be resisted." (129)
This is not to deny the multiple of verses of people disobeying God or refusing to heed him. Yet to categorically state that the Holy Spirit can will and fail is theologically concerning to me. Does Scripture not clearly teach that God can and will do whatever he wishes?

Secondly, Lemke seems to contradict himself unaware. Speaking of Saul, who would become the Apostle Paul, Lemke writes:
Another example of resistance occurs in Paul's salvation experience in Acts. 26. As Saul was going down the Damascus road to persecute Christians, a blinding light hit him, and a voice out of heaven said, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads" (Acts 26:14 HCSB). Obviously, Saul had resisted the conviction of the Holy Spirit in events such as the stoning of Stephen, but now God broke through Saul's resistance in a dramatic way. Even so, some time lapsed before Ananias arrived and Paul received the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:17). (119, emphasis mine)
Surely he is aware of the contradiction. While denying irresistible grace he affirms it. Saul is a textbook case for Calvinist for effectual call. When God showed up, Paul could but repent!

Thirdly, Lemke fails to adequately handle the meaning of "dead" in Ephesians 2. Though he does a better job than Paige Patterson is a previous chapter, Lemke's explanation is weak. He writes:
Calvinist base much of their teachings on Eph. 2:1, that those who are lost are "dead in trespasses and sins." however, they tend to equate spiritual deadness with physical deadness and do not qualify this spiritual deadness in the light of other descriptions of lostness even in the same chapter. Ephesians 2 also speaks of the lost as "foreigners" and "aliens" (Eph 2:12, 19). Foreigners do not enjoy citizenship and are far from God, but foreigners are still alive. Ephesians 2:1 is further qualified by 1 Cor. 1:18 . . ., 2 Cor 2:15 . . ., and 2 Cor. 4:3 . . . the concept of spiritual deadness is present in all three passages, but the deadness is not yet complete. the lost are perishing but not yet dead. Opportunity remains for a response that can result in a different destiny. (135)
But Paul says we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Past tense. And dead only has one meaning.

The Ugly

One of the reasons why I chose this book to explore on such a controversial issue is because of the charitable tone it promised. The debate over the doctrines of grace is tertiary, not primary. Some of the chapters fulfill the promise of the book whereas other chapter do not. The tone of this chapter is less favorable.

Lemke is disingenuous to Calvinism. Forgive me, but I am tired of the worn our arguments that Calvinism equals anti-evangelism, anti-missions, anti-altar calls, and anti-free will or that non-Calvinists have a weak theology, are Pelagians in disguise, or have a low view of God's sovereignty. Lemke falls for this trap and it becomes central to his argument.

Also consider other evidence of either poor arguments or disingenuous towards Calvinist. First, he, too, suggests that "Spurgeon . . seemed to teach that conversion preceded 'the new life.'" (138) This isn't scholarship pure and simple. Secondly, he suggests that "Calvinism may inadvertently discount the preaching of the Word of God" (140). One is hard-pressed to find consistent evidence of this in churches led by Calvinist pastors.

Finally, Lemke reveals a serious concern regarding Arminianism. If Calvinist have to watch for hyper-Calvinism (and they do) then Arminians must watch for teachings like Pelagianism, semi-Pelagianism, and Open Theism. Regarding Open Theism consider the following:
How could God foreknow all things before the foundation of the world and yet allow us genuine libertarian free will? how could God be sure of something before we do it? If He knows for sure what we are going to do and choose before we do it, do we really have a choice? (152-153)
These are the questions that open theists raises and in no way reflects Lemke's theology. At the bottom of page 153, Lemke writes "We join Calvinists such as Bruce Ware in opposing the diminished sovereignty view of Open Theism." Yet Lemke reveals that the line he seeks to walk in defending his "soft-libertarian" view of free will naturally will lean towards the abuse introduced by those like semi-Pelagianism and Open Theism. The criticism made by many Calvinists that historically it is the Arminians who are the first to surrender to liberalism may be legitimate.

Finally, Lemke fails to do what virtually every chapter fails to do: adequately interact with passages regularly used by Calvinists for their position. This is a real weakness of the book. How can one write such a lengthy chapter on irresistible grace without addressing the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37 - a staple of Calvinism? Lemke is quick to criticize Calvinist theology but fails to address their arguments from their preferred texts and thus weakening their case.


At the end of the day, this chapter illustrates something we should be aware of. Non-Calvinists have their preferred passages of Scripture on the one hand (and he is quick to recite them) while Calvinists have theirs on the other (and they are quick to recite theirs). Either the Bible is contradictory or we are reading it wrong. I prefer to see a paradoxical mystery here. Some passages clearly teach that faith precedes regeneration while others clearly teach the opposite. Can we not hold both up and proclaim "thus says the Lord?"

In the end, Lemke makes some valid arguments that Calvinists should heed, but his arguments are weakened by contradictions and his disingenuous tone. Given that the primary audience of this book are non-Calvinist, I am concerned that most will read the tone and not the substance.
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