Is Salvation a Decision?

John Piper recently told a group of college students that “salvation is not a decision.”

Reactions here at SI were, shall we say, mixed. Some understood Piper to be saying something horrible for the worst of reasons; others took him to be saying something great for the best of reasons, and a few in between suggested that while the statement itself was likely to cause confusion, it is not hard to imagine good reasons for saying it.

In all of the flying feathers, the most important question seemed to get lost: is “salvation” properly characterized as “a decision”? Let’s table the “What did Piper mean?” question and consider the bigger one.

How we answer that question depends on two vital factors: (1) how we define the terms (“salvation” and “decision”) and (2) what we believe about salvation. Sadly, a third factor seems to drive most of the discussion: (3) how much pent up hostility we have toward Reformed or non-Reformed views of the human and divine in the saving of children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Intense passion against “Calvinism” or “Arminianism,” or “monergism” or “synergism” (quotes intentional, since understandings of these terms vary widely) results in haste to blame one “ism” or the other for every point of disagreement in the doctrine of salvation.

In reality, most who care at all about a question like “Is salvation a decision?” believe nearly all of the same things about “salvation,” but have strong opinions about which features ought to be emphasized and how they ought to be expressed. But because we’re so passionate about them, these relatively small differences lead us to misconstrue what others are saying—and, too often, lead to conflict over what words mean rather than about the substance of our differences.

Depending on how we define the terms, “salvation” both is and is not “a decision.” Since both “salvation” and “decision” are ambiguous terms (they may be defined in more than one way), many combinations of meaning are possible in the statement “salvation is not a decision.”1

Some ways salvation is not a decision

What is salvation? It’s hard to improve on J. I. Packer’s introductory definition in Concise Theology:

The master theme of the Christian gospel is salvation. Salvation is a picture-word of wide application that expresses the idea of rescue from jeopardy and misery into a state of safety. The gospel proclaims that the God who saved Israel from Egypt, Jonah from the fish’s belly, the psalmist from death, and the soldiers from drowning (Exod. 15:2; Jon. 2:9; Ps. 116:6; Acts 27:31), saves all who trust Christ from sin and sin’s consequences.

Though Packer’s theology is Reformed, nothing in this description of salvation is contrary to non-Reformed views. Regardless of how a sinner comes to be a saved person, all Christians believe God does the actual saving.

So if we define “salvation” as a delivering act of God, how do we define “decision”? We can easily group the possible understandings of “decision” under two headings: decisions of God and decisions of man.

If we start with the latter, we arrive at this:

In the sense that God is the one who saves and man does not decide for Him, salvation is not a decision.

Some non-Calvinists may object at first to the phrase “man does not decide for Him,” but there is really no objection to this in Arminian theology or even Pelagian. Though views of salvation vary regarding the sequence of events and what conditions trigger God’s decision to save, no serious student of Scripture teaches that God’s will is replaced by man’s in the saving moment and God saves like some sort of puppet.

God decides to save and then saves. Salvation is certainly not a decision if we mean that God’s deliverance is a decision of man.

Here, even the definition of “is” becomes important.2 If we’re being sloppy, we might say “is a decision” when we mean “results from a decision.” A whole lot of doctrinal confusion would be cleared up if we’d say what we mean (and then if people would read and listen precisely!).

But even if we change “is” to “results from,” there is a sense in which salvation is not (does not result from) a decision (of man).

Suppose one of my kids leaves a toy (or, more likely, a book) in a poorly lit place where I tend to walk early in the morning, and I stub my toe. What caused me to stub my toe? Under those conditions, I’m likely to identify the child who left the book “where it doesn’t belong” as the cause of my pain. But is that entirely true? Someone might say the cause was the impact of my toe on the object, or the laws of physics, or the firing of neurons in my body—or even my own decision to put my foot in that particular spot.

You could accurately deny that any one of these things was “the cause” of my pain. It depends on what you want to emphasize.3

What’s certain is that there is no reasonable way to construe God’s deliverance of a sinner as being fully caused by the sinner, and to the extent that this is what’s being denied, even a Pelagian could say “salvation is not a decision.”

If we define “decision” a bit more narrowly, the truth that “salvation is not a decision” in this sense becomes even more clear.

Suppose that by “decision,” we mean what sinners do on their own as they wisely see the truth of the gospel and the reality of their need. Most (though too few!) would say such decisions do not exist. Most would deny that salvation is that kind of decision. And suppose we use “decision” to mean something impulsive and superficial a person does only in response to a series of sad or scary stories or dramatic appeals (or long, pleading invitations) and later gives little thought to. Who would say “salvation is a decision” in that sense?

One way salvation is a decision

It’s important to see how “salvation” and “decision” (and “is”) can be defined in ways that accurately deny that salvation is a decision. It’s also important to see some ways in which it’s true that salvation is a decision.

What if, by “salvation,” we mean “conversion”? Depending on how far back you go into the history of theology, “conversion” refers either to the same thing as regeneration, or specifically to the human element in regeneration. I imagine some shouting at their screens right now: “Human element? There is no human element!” But consider the observations of a couple of respected authorities.

The first is from the glossary of William G. T. Shedd’s Dogmatic Theology. Though added by editors, the entry accurately summarizes some important distinctions from a Reformed point of view.

conversion Latin converse, viewed by the older theologians as either passive or active. Passive conversion (conversio passiva) refers to the habit or disposition, implanted by God, to repent and believe in Christ as Savior. Active conversion (conversio activa) is the actual turning of the sinner in repentance and faith in Christ. Passive conversion is also termed “regeneration” because it involves the renewal of the sinner’s will. Active conversion, or the actual turning of the sinner to Christ, is often termed simply “conversion” without any additional qualifications. Shedd himself adopts the distinct terms regeneration and conversion in his own discussion of the matter, believing that the separate designations are less prone to confusion.4

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones seems to agree.

What do we mean by conversion? It is the first exercise of the new nature in ceasing from old forms of life and starting a new life. It is the first action of the regenerate soul in moving from something to something. The very term suggests that: conversion means a turning from one thing to another. The term is not used very frequently in the Scriptures but the truth which the word connotes and represents appears constantly.5

Earlier, Lloyd-Jones observes,

So as we consider what we mean by regeneration, the one important thing, it seems to me, is that we must differentiate it from conversion. And yet how frequently they are confused. But regeneration is not conversion and for this reason: conversion is something that we do whereas regeneration, as I shall show you, is something that is done to us by God.6

Charles Hodge’s discussion is lengthy and fascinating. A small sample will have to do here. After quoting a portion from Turretin, Hodge observes,

Here as was common with the writers of that age, Turrettin includes under “conversion,” what is now more frequently distinguished under the two heads of regeneration and conversion. The former including what the Spirit does in the soul, and the latter what the sinner, under his influence, is induced to do. With his usual clearness he refers what is now meant by regeneration to the physical operation of the Spirit; and all that belongs to conversion or the voluntary turning of the soul to God, to the mediate influence of the Holy Ghost through the truth.7

How exactly conversion relates to repentance is another discussion. My point is that even in genuinely Reformed soteriology, there is a moment when a sinner does something, and it would be absurd to argue that he does it without making a choice to do so. Regardless of how “free” or “not free” we see that choice, it remains a choice. In the Reformed understanding, God ensures the decision, but the sinner is still the subject who performs the action of some verbs. The sinner repents. The sinner believes.

In the sense that “salvation” is a sinner’s turning to God in repentant faith, salvation is a decision.

Arguably, this is the only sense in which Scripture allows us to affirm that “salvation is a decision.” But let’s not neglect the point or qualify it to death.

Though the Augustinian/Calvinistic view of what happens in the moment one passes from death to life (John 5:24) is often caricatured as a sequence of events in which an automaton is remote-controlled from the broad road of destruction onto the narrow way (and those who hold that view often beg for the caricature by overstating their own position), we can’t reasonably understand the NT to teach that the sinner coming to Christ never actually does anything.

Clearly, he does not “work” (Eph. 2:8, Rom. 4:5), but he does repent. He does believe. He does “decide” in that sense.

My plea to all of us who have an interest in salvation doctrine (and there ought to be many more than there are) is that we reflect thoughtfully on these questions and seek accurate understanding, not only of Scripture, but also of what the people we disagree with really believe.

Notes

1 Even if we suppose each of these terms can only be understood in only two ways, that produces four possible meanings of when the two are combined (S1 and D1, S1 and D2, S2 and D1, S2 and D2).

2 Seems Clintonian, I know, but he was not entirely wrong to suggest that people mean different things by “is.”

3 Aristotle would divide the possibilities into formal cause, material cause, efficient cause and final cause. These are well worth reading up on for thinking clearly about causes and results.

4 Shedd, W. G. T., & Gomes, A. W. (2003). Dogmatic Theology (3rd ed.) (953). Phillipsburg, N.J.: P & R Pub.

5 Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1997). God the Holy Spirit (117–118). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossways Books.

6 Lloyd-Jones, 77.

7 Hodge, C. (1997). Vol. 2: Systematic Theology (686). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc. Hodge continues with a discussion of Owen on this point also.

[node:bio/aaron-blumer body]

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Caleb S's picture

Jay C. wrote:

And just for the record, I'm not the only one with a 'cause-evasive problem' - Reformed and Compatibilist Calvinists have the same issue, as http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-origins-of-evil-and-will-of-man ]this thread pointed out.

The only problem that that thread pointed out is that if you beg the question of libertarian freedom and human autonomy, then you will have a problem with Scripture's view of causality. The problem is that libertarian freedom cannot be supported from Scripture; it is a self-refuting philosophical imposition. And the problem is that human autonomy is the fallen mindset since Genesis 3, and so it should not be the norm for the believer who is to have a renewed mind. If you interpret Scripture with that kind of hermeneutic in place, then severe problems will result.

Larry's picture

Quote:
@ Larry - I don't know; that's not my problem to figure out.
I have no problem with this, but why isn't it okay for someone to say that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely responsible, and it's not my problem to figure it out? You seemed to reject that type of mystery, but then invoke it here.

Quote:
I'm no Pelagian, if that's what you are asking.
The position you espoused is Arminianism, except I don't think Arminianism ties the enablement to the hearing of the gospel. They say that God enables everyone with a prevenient grace.

PErsonally, I believe enabling grace to want to repent in a divine gift. Romans 2 actually calls it "the kindness of God." I am not sure where you would go in Scripture to tie it to the gospel, or how you would answer the "fundamental fairness" problem for those to whom God does not sent his gospel message.

So in reality, I don't think you gain anything here.

G. N. Barkman's picture

Jay C,

You have landed on one of the texts that teaches the opposite of what you suggested earlier, namely that everyone who hears the Gospel is given the ability to understand and believe it. Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44) What does this teach?

1) That no one can come to Christ without Divine enablement.
2) That all whom the Father draws to Christ will come to Christ.
3) Number 2 indicated by the statement that all whom the Father draws will be resurrected to life by Christ in the last day.

Verse 45 quotes Isaiah 54:13, which states that all God's children shall be taught by God, and goes on to say, "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me."
In other words, no one who is enabled by God to understand the Gospel fails to come to Christ. Far from teaching universal enabling, this text teaches an effectual call that when extended, always brings the person who receives it to saving faith in Christ.

G. N. Barkman

JNoël's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:
Verse 45 quotes Isaiah 54:13, which states that all God's children shall be taught by God, and goes on to say, "Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me."
In other words, no one who is enabled by God to understand the Gospel fails to come to Christ. Far from teaching universal enabling, this text teaches an effectual call that when extended, always brings the person who receives it to saving faith in Christ.

Does God then only call certain people, or does He call everyone?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

G. N. Barkman's picture

II Peter 3:9 may be one of the most misunderstood verses in the Bible. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering TOWARD US, not willing that any (of us) should perish, but that all (of us) should come to repentance."

Far from teaching God's universal desire that none should perish, this verse, when understood in the way most in keeping with normal language, teaches God's desire that none of the elect shall perish. God will not bring judgment upon the world until all the elect are brought to salvation. That explains the seeming delay for Christ's return.

"Not willing that any should perish" is commonsly assumed to apply to all mankind universally. A closer examination of the text indictates the opposite. Not only does the wording of II Peter 3:9 point toward particular, not universal redemption, but a careful examination of all the pronouns in II Peter 3 leading up to verse 9 reinforces the same point. Peter paints a stark contrast between "them" (scoffers, unbelievers), and "you" and "us", the dearly beloved of the Lord, to whom God makes special promises and exerts special effort.

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

I disagree with your interpretation of 2 Peter 3:9.

I did a quick perusal of my commentaries, and neither Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, nor the Tyndale NT Commentary, nor the Expositors' Bible Commentary interpret it that way. The ESV Study Bible, New Scofield Bible, and the Life Application Bible also disagree with your interpretation, although I will note that MacArthur's ESV Study Bible does support it.

As a matter of fact, Expositor's quotes Calvin himself on his passage as saying:

Quote:
Not willing that any should perish. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost" (Epistle of Peter, p. 419).

Earl Nutz, writing in Biblical Viewpoint (November 2002, p. 25), also writes:

Quote:
Although man is a fallen and sinful creation and depraved, he yet bears an image which reflects the transitive attributes of God, and God expects voluntary responses to the extension of his grace callled thanksgiving or the return of grace..."Not willing or desiring that any should perish" (v. 9) implies a strong responsibility on man's part to decide about Christ. It is a decision made under the influence of the Holy Spirit, who convinces the sinner of the truth (John 16:8). Since the beginning of time, deciding for or against the Almighty and his will is a very real part of the responsibility of the image of God that every man bears. Man certainly does have a free will although he is finite and not free in the same way that God is free.

While you or others may take that interpretation, I do not think it is correct and hadn't even heard of that interpretation until a few weeks ago. I am taking comfort in the fact that I am not alone on this. Smile

Besides, there are other references to the 'whosoever', and 'all', and 'world' that I haven't pulled out yet.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

@JNoel:
I'm sure brother Barkman will answer for himself, however, it seems clear from Scripture that God does not call all people.

@JayC: Calvinist's have no argument with the whoseover's and all's of scripture. The point of disagreement comes in that only those who are regenerated will/do/can call. God does not reject anyone who calls, but He does not enable everyone to make that call. Some (the lost) are left to follow their own desires of rebellion and rejection toward God.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jay's picture

Larry wrote:
Quote:
@ Larry - I don't know; that's not my problem to figure out.
I have no problem with this, but why isn't it okay for someone to say that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely responsible, and it's not my problem to figure it out? You seemed to reject that type of mystery, but then invoke it here.

No, I don't reject the mystery of it; I reject what I see as a dodge by people who would affirm the man sinned because God decreed that he must sin and then refuse to admit that God must bear the responsibility for declaring that man sin. If you look at the http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-origins-of-evil-and-will-of-man ]Origin of Evil thread, I think you'll see that I (and others) are pretty clear on that.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

JNoël's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
@JNoel:
I'm sure brother Barkman will answer for himself, however, it seems clear from Scripture that God does not call all people.

I see at least these options:

1) God loves and calls all
2) God loves all, but only calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
3) God only loves and calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
4) God loves all, but only calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge
5) God only loves and calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

JNoël wrote:
Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
@JNoel:
I'm sure brother Barkman will answer for himself, however, it seems clear from Scripture that God does not call all people.

I see at least these options:

1) God loves and calls all
2) God loves all, but only calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
3) God only loves and calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
4) God loves all, but only calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge
5) God only loves and calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge

I started to reply and had to start over. I would not accept any of these choices as accurate because you have redefined foreknowledge. Biblically, the word is always indicative of a determinative action. Foreknowledge is not just that God knows but that He decides.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Caleb S's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Larry wrote:
Quote:
@ Larry - I don't know; that's not my problem to figure out.
I have no problem with this, but why isn't it okay for someone to say that God is absolutely sovereign and man is absolutely responsible, and it's not my problem to figure it out? You seemed to reject that type of mystery, but then invoke it here.

No, I don't reject the mystery of it; I reject what I see as a dodge by people who would affirm the man sinned because God decreed that he must sin and then refuse to admit that God must bear the responsibility for declaring that man sin. If you look at the http://sharperiron.org/forum/thread-origins-of-evil-and-will-of-man ]Origin of Evil thread, I think you'll see that I (and others) are pretty clear on that.


Again, I must repeat. When you take away libertarian freedom and all the assumptions that are derivative of it, and when you take away the fallen autonomous assumption, then these "necessary" implications of God being responsible are removed. Again, all that that thread showed is that if you beg the question of libertarian freedom and human autonomy, then you will have a problem with Biblical causality.

Caleb S's picture

JNoël wrote:
Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
@JNoel:
I'm sure brother Barkman will answer for himself, however, it seems clear from Scripture that God does not call all people.

I see at least these options:

1) God loves and calls all
2) God loves all, but only calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
3) God only loves and calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
4) God loves all, but only calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge
5) God only loves and calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge


You left out the fact that "love" has different nuances; it is not flat-lined. It has contours: highs and lows; it is not static. Furthermore, a general call can coincide with a more limited effectual call. "Foreknowledge" is impossible to appeal to because it is a part of God's nature as self-sufficient. This just means that God's knowledge goes from Himself to creation; it does not go from creation to God.

Furthermore, even given the universality of "any" and "all men" in the previous passage. That only begins another question that people constantly ignore. Why then are those people not saved? If God is not willing that any person on the face of the earth at any time should be lost, then why is this thwarted? Well, I guess that God is not omnipotent then! Certainly, that is one rout that I would not recommend for answering this question. Universalism is another rout that I would not recommend; in this view God is not thwarted at all, for all will be saved! Well, now we have two bad possibilities down, and I will leave the other options open for those who prefer this rendering of the verse. So how do you answer the question. Why then aren't all people saved? If you say man resists, then we must ask "is not God omnipotent?" If none can thwart God's hand, now what?

JNoël's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
I would not accept any of these choices as accurate because you have redefined foreknowledge. Biblically, the word is always indicative of a determinative action. Foreknowledge is not just that God knows but that He decides.

Its my understanding that Foreknowledge, Election, and Predestination are not the same thing. Foreknowledge means he, in his omniscience, knows all things about his entire creation, past, present, and future. He elected specific ones to salvation. Those he elected are predestinated to be conformed to his image. Obviously these are majorly surface descriptions, but I had never heard anyone say that his foreknowledge and his decision are tied together like that. Probably just a subtle difference, but clearly enough for you to be able to shoot holes in my list. Wink

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Furthermore, even given the universality of "any" and "all men" in the previous passage. That only begins another question that people constantly ignore. Why then are those people not saved? If God is not willing that any person on the face of the earth at any time should be lost, then why is this thwarted? Well, I guess that God is not omnipotent then! Certainly, that is one rout that I would not recommend for answering this question. Universalism is another rout that I would not recommend; in this view God is not thwarted at all, for all will be saved! Well, now we have two bad possibilities down, and I will leave the other options open for those who prefer this rendering of the verse. So how do you answer the question. Why then aren't all people saved? If you say man resists, then we must ask "is not God omnipotent?" If none can thwart God's hand, now what?

And that's why I brought up the verse, because obviously universalism and non-omnipotence aren't viable options. I think it also may be the reason why it is not that simple to answer the question of whether or not "[salvation is a decision ]."

To me, the entire question of how God's act of changing the condition of a human being from being destined for eternal damnation to being destined for eternal life is yet another example of how we, in our humanity, cannot put God in a box. His mind is so far beyond ours that we'll never fully grasp the enormity of his majesty, wisdom, and beauty until we are in our glorified condition.

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Jay's picture

Caleb S wrote:
Again, I must repeat. When you take away libertarian freedom and all the assumptions that are derivative of it, and when you take away the fallen autonomous assumption, then these "necessary" implications of God being responsible are removed. Again, all that that thread showed is that if you beg the question of libertarian freedom and human autonomy, then you will have a problem with Biblical causality.

So the solution to the freewill/sovereignty debate is to say that God didn't give man ~any~ free will? Yikes. If that's the case, then let me know why should anyone bother praying.

If you say that "God knows all things that must happen and they must occur because God declares it", then God is and must be the cause of sin - that is why I spent so much time talking about Adam in the Origin of Sin thread that I referenced above. I cannot and will not say that Adam sinned because it pleased God for him to sin. That's nonsense - God is too pure than to behold evil, and He does not tempt (nor bring about) temptations that man must yield to. At least Calvin, Boettner, and other Calvinistic thinkers will say 'it's a mystery' rather than go down the determinist road.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Caleb S's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Caleb S wrote:
Again, I must repeat. When you take away libertarian freedom and all the assumptions that are derivative of it, and when you take away the fallen autonomous assumption, then these "necessary" implications of God being responsible are removed. Again, all that that thread showed is that if you beg the question of libertarian freedom and human autonomy, then you will have a problem with Biblical causality.

So the solution to the freewill/sovereignty debate is to say that God didn't give man ~any~ free will? Yikes. If that's the case, then let me know why should anyone bother praying.

If you say that "God knows all things that must happen and they must occur because God declares it", then God is and must be the cause of sin - that is why I spent so much time talking about Adam in the Origin of Sin thread that I referenced above. I cannot and will not say that Adam sinned because it pleased God for him to sin. That's nonsense - God is too pure than to behold evil, and He does not tempt (nor bring about) temptations that man must yield to. At least Calvin, Boettner, and other Calvinistic thinkers will say 'it's a mystery' rather than go down the determinist road.


"~any" free will" You should know better than that. Compatibilism is not hard determinism. The statement is not only not what I was advocating, but it is also a non-sequitur. It does not follow that just because libertarian freedom is eliminated, then one is advocating that God didn't give man ~any~ free will. This is true because there are other views of the will that are "compatible" with God's sovereignty over all things. And praying is necessary because the means are ordained just like the ends.

And then we are given half-truths. Yes, God is too pure than to behold evil; yet the God-man bore our sins upon the cross; and the Father's wrath was satisfied against the sin that He (beholding it) punished.

No, He does not tempt, but to say that He does not ordain it is to go beyond the text. There are different kinds of causality you know; to eliminate one is not to eliminate the other. Further, it is to go contrary to explicit texts like Acts 4 where God predestines the very sinful deeds done to Christ in the crucifixion.

Further we have Isaiah 10 stating, with Hiphil participles, that God used the king of Assyria like an instrument. And then the same text says that God was holding the king of Assyria responsible for the pride of his heart. This is utterly unintelligible with libertarian freedom in view, but with compatibilism the Biblical data is actually allowed to say what it says.

Fighting against Scripture with the axe of libertarian freedom and various autonomous assumptions is what I'm against; I'm not against compatibilist freedom or that freedom of the will espoused by Jonathan Edwards.

Greg Long's picture

Jay, perhaps I missed it, but I don't recall an explanation regarding how you reconcile your view with Acts 2 and 4 where God is explicitly said to have predetermined ( decreed, ordained, etc.) the most heinous sin in human history.

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

Larry's picture

Quote:
I don't reject the mystery of it; I reject what I see as a dodge by people who would affirm the man sinned because God decreed that he must sin and then refuse to admit that God must bear the responsibility for declaring that man sin.
Jay,

What you call a "dodge" is what has usually been called a mystery. I don't think it right to invoke it for yourself and deny it to others.

I affirm that God decrees all things because the Bible teaches it.
I affirm that man is absolutely responsible to God for his sinfulness because the Bible teaches it.

At some point, we just have to let go of our own questions and logic and just trust that God will draw and that God will enable and man will respond. We might all be better off to spend as much time doing the evangelist's work instead of trying to make all the pieces fit into our minds or logical systems.

Jay's picture

Greg-

I don't have any problems with God working in and through humanity's sinful choices to bring about His plan..that's the point of the book of Esther and Gal. 4:4 (for starters). I have said that God works in and through humanity to establish His Will and to specifically to offer up Jesus 'as a ransom for many'.

As I have said before - and will continue to say - I reject the idea that Pilate or the Jews had no option but to carry out the murder of Jesus. What I have said and will continue to say is that God knew before the Foundation of the World that Jesus would have to die for our sins, but that he used the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Caleb S wrote:
JNoël wrote:
Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
@JNoel:
I'm sure brother Barkman will answer for himself, however, it seems clear from Scripture that God does not call all people.

I see at least these options:

1) God loves and calls all
2) God loves all, but only calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
3) God only loves and calls some, regardless of his foreknowledge
4) God loves all, but only calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge
5) God only loves and calls those he knows will accept his call by his foreknowledge


You left out the fact that "love" has different nuances; it is not flat-lined. It has contours: highs and lows; it is not static. Furthermore, a general call can coincide with a more limited effectual call. "Foreknowledge" is impossible to appeal to because it is a part of God's nature as self-sufficient. This just means that God's knowledge goes from Himself to creation; it does not go from creation to God.

Furthermore, even given the universality of "any" and "all men" in the previous passage. That only begins another question that people constantly ignore. Why then are those people not saved? If God is not willing that any person on the face of the earth at any time should be lost, then why is this thwarted? Well, I guess that God is not omnipotent then! Certainly, that is one rout that I would not recommend for answering this question. Universalism is another rout that I would not recommend; in this view God is not thwarted at all, for all will be saved! Well, now we have two bad possibilities down, and I will leave the other options open for those who prefer this rendering of the verse. So how do you answer the question. Why then aren't all people saved? If you say man resists, then we must ask "is not God omnipotent?" If none can thwart God's hand, now what?


You're right Caleb. This was where I started initially, then I realized I couldn't even get that far with the use of foreknowledge. Definitions are so important, and so often overlooked in assumption.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

DavidO's picture

Martin Luther wrote:
Faith is not that human notion and dream that some hold for faith . . . This is the reason that, when they hear the Gospel, they fall-to and make for themselves, by their own powers, an idea in their hearts, which says, "I believe." This they hold for true faith. But it is a human imagination and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, and so nothing comes of it, and no betterment follows it.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us. It changes us and makes us to be born anew of God (John 1)...

...Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers, who would be wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest of fools. Pray God to work faith in you; else you will remain forever without faith, whatever you think or do.

from the Introduction to his commentary on Romans.

Shaynus's picture

Do you guys ever wonder if God is chuckling a little bit reading this thread? We all must look like toddlers arguing over toys to God as we scratch the surface of His will. I'm perfectly content to believe mysterious things, things that seem illogical can be true. Witness: the Trinity.

To me, the Calvinist tradition does the best job at joining the most scriptures the most adequately into a cohesively understood whole. That doesn't mean it deals with every question to logical satisfaction.

Aaron Blumer's picture

Well, we've gone pretty far afield in this thread.
Interesting, but the unresolved differences of centuries are not going to go away.

I think those inclined in an Arminian direction should concede one point though: students of the Bible are not doing wrong to systematize--to compare parts of revelation with other parts of revelation in order to understand the truth as thoroughly as possible. Both the Arminianistic and Augustinian approaches do this.

Why answering the question of how a God-hating sinner begins to be interested in trusting God and turning toward Him is not a question we should put in an "unsolved mysteries" file:
(1) Because, in reality, everybody answers the question, either taking a man-caused solution, a God caused solution, or inconsistently switching between the two. The latter is what really happens (in my experience) when people try to take a "cause undefined" position.

(2) We can't skip the sovereignty of God passages in our preaching and teaching. Preachers and teachers have to take some kind of position on what verses like Acts 16:14, John 6:44, Rom. 8:29-30, Eph.1:5, and many others, mean.

(3) We really shouldn't ask people to stop thinking. The logic of the situation requires that a sinner's turning from rebellion to trust must have some kind of cause, and the people we preach to and teach are going to surmise some kind of cause. Should we encourage them not to think about that?

(4) It's true that the secret things belong to the Lord, but when He seems to repeatedly take credit for what happens in sinners' hearts, who are we to declare that a secret?

(5) Because how we deal w/the causation question has implications for what we do in evangelism.

(6) Because God's glory is partly at stake. If God brings each repentant sinner to repentance, rescuing him from himself, He deserves the credit for that, and it's no small thing to withhold that honor, if it's due.

I'll concede that the problem of evil is a similar challenge. If God ultimately causes all things, how is He not responsible for sin? But while I grant that it's a similar challenge, it's dissimilar in some important ways. When God speaks about His relationship to moral evil/unrighteousness, it's always to affirm that everything in Him is contrary to it. When He speaks of sinners coming to faith, He doesn't distance Himself from that--in fact He seems often to put Himself right in the middle of the process.

JohnBrian's picture

Jay C. wrote:
What I have said and will continue to say is that God knew before the Foundation of the World that Jesus would have to die for our sins, but that he used the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal.
I, as a monergist, can affirm this statement as it is perfectly consistent with Acts 2:23:

NKJV wrote:
Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death

Thus they (and they alone, NOT God) were guilty of crucifying Christ.

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JNoël's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

(1) Because, in reality, everybody answers the question, either taking a man-caused solution, a God caused solution, or inconsistently switching between the two. The latter is what really happens (in my experience) when people try to take a "cause undefined" position.

Does it have to be one of those two options? Is the answer the reason why the discussion has existed for hundreds of years, without resolution, by people a great deal more intelligent and learned than I? Isn't that enough to say the answer is, in fact, truly unsolved, and why people must settle on one or the other?

Can a new thread be started that would delve more into the pros and cons of each option, showing, for example, what happens to number (2) and number (5) in real life when a person decides to consistently settle on God-caused or man-caused?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg

Jay's picture

JohnBrian wrote:
Jay C. wrote:
What I have said and will continue to say is that God knew before the Foundation of the World that Jesus would have to die for our sins, but that he used the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal.
I, as a monergist, can affirm this statement as it is perfectly consistent with Acts 2:23:

NKJV wrote:
Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death

Thus they (and they alone, NOT God) were guilty of crucifying Christ.


JohnBrian-

Exactly. I should have thought of the Acts quote myself...thanks for putting that out!

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Greg Long's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Greg-

I don't have any problems with God working in and through humanity's sinful choices to bring about His plan..that's the point of the book of Esther and Gal. 4:4 (for starters). I have said that God works in and through humanity to establish His Will and to specifically to offer up Jesus 'as a ransom for many'.

As I have said before - and will continue to say - I reject the idea that Pilate or the Jews had no option but to carry out the murder of Jesus. What I have said and will continue to say is that God knew before the Foundation of the World that Jesus would have to die for our sins, but that he used the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal.


But Jay, it doesn't say God "knew" it would happen. It says God "determined" it would happen. He decided, determined, ordained, and planned that it would happen. And how exactly does God "use" the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal? God reacts to what men decide to do?

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

G. N. Barkman's picture

Sorry to drop out of the discussion, but it was a busy and blessed day of ministry yesterday.

Wow. A non-Calvinist quoting John Calvin for support! Surely this must be a sign of the soon coming of Christ. Smile I'll make a deal--I'll accept John Calvin's interpretation of II Peter 3:9, if you agree to accept Calvin's interpretation of other verses in future discussions. Deal? Smile

Although I firmly believe Calvin (and a good number of other "Calvinists") are wrong in their understanding of this text (for several textual and contextual reasons), I'll be happy to accept their understanding for the moment, and consider the implications:

1) This text could be understood to teach God's desire for the salvation of everyone.
2) Some who believe in unconditional election, particular redemption, and effectual calling interpret the text in this manner.
3) Therefore, this text, even if understood as customarily interpreted by Arminians, does disprove any of the docrines mentioned in # 2.

So to the question, "What about II Peter 3:9?" as a response to the clear teaching of John 6:44? Answer: What indeed? It does not and cannot contradict the teaching of Christ that no one can come to Christ unless they are drawn by the Father, and all those drawn by the Father will be raised to eternal life, that is, are effectually drawn with salvation as the result.

G. N. Barkman

Jay's picture

Greg Long wrote:
But Jay, it doesn't say God "knew" it would happen. It says God "determined" it would happen. He decided, determined, ordained, and planned that it would happen...And how exactly does God "use" the free will choices of men to accomplish that goal?

Yes, I know that. I can't explain how it all works, but I can rest in Acts 2:23. My only thing to say at this point is that God knows a lot more than I do, so it's absolutely possible for God to do both, rather than declare the future and forcing all people to disobey in order to accomplish His goals.

Quote:
God reacts to what men decide to do?

2 Kings 20:1-20 wrote:

In those days Hezekiah became sick and was at the point of death. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die; you shall not recover.’” Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Now, O Lord, please remember how I have walked before you in faithfulness and with a whole heart, and have done what is good in your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. And before Isaiah had gone out of the middle court, the word of the Lord came to him: “Turn back, and say to Hezekiah the leader of my people, Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord, and I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city out of the hand of the king of Assyria, and I will defend this city for my own sake and for my servant David’s sake.” And Isaiah said, “Bring a cake of figs. And let them take and lay it on the boil, that he may recover.”

And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz.

Yes, I'd say that He does. How would you interpret this passage?

@ G.N. Barkman - No one was as shocked as I was to read the Calvin quote. That doesn't mean that I'm going to make any more promises about agreeing with Calvin for the future! Smile

Quote:
So to the question, "What about II Peter 3:9?" as a response to the clear teaching of John 6:44? Answer: What indeed? It does not and cannot contradict the teaching of Christ that no one can come to Christ unless they are drawn by the Father, and all those drawn by the Father will be raised to eternal life, that is, are effectually drawn with salvation as the result.

I didn't bring up the question of II Peter 3:9; I just brought that verse up as an objection to what I was seeing written by others. It's on them - not me - to synergize the position and the verse. I have no objections to either verse.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Lee's picture

Wow, in my absence this thread has grown some legs. Sorry I couldn't keep up but I was too busy kicking at death's door (which is probably not exactly true since I would have had to feel better to die! :Sp ).

However, the direction this thread has taken seems to be obsessing on an "angels on the head of a pin" type of scenario rather than on that which would have pragmatic application. As I have read these posts I don't think that anyone has espoused a salvific scenario that didn't conclude in a decision--repent, believe, trust, convert, commit, call, or whatever.

Yet there has been a lot of bandwidth used to espouse that salvation and a decision must be separated or else.

In an earlier post I wrote "Salvation...is no longer a point in time when a lost person comes under conviction of sin, recognizes via Holy Spirit illumination that Christ is the only solution for that sin, and calls out to Him in faith for salvation. Rather it has become a process of believing..."

A couple of questions on the pragmatic line:
(1) When hearing a persons testimony of salvation are we not generally listening for them to recount a point in time when they succumbed to conviction by calling on Christ for salvation? Without being judgmental, is there not something unsettling about the following testimony of Huey Harris?--"On April 6, 2001. Pastor Huey Harris was leaving The Rose Supper Club, Former "Top Flight"around 3:00AM, When God showed him three visions of the judgment day of the lost. The first vision he recall seeing young and old running around and God sent fire down from the sky.The second vision the earth was dark he also recall seeing dead bones and vapor from the smoke covering the earth. The third and final vision the earth was beautiful the water was pure. After this God encounter the Lord told him am taking you out of this hellish lifestyle to be a witness about my son. The next day he preached the gospel to his mother and father. He went throughout the whole city declaring that all people must repent and turn to Jesus...." (taken from this website: http://99.198.99.154/testimony/HueyHarris.htm)

(2) For those who still give invitations, are you not inviting/confronting one with a point of decision?

(3) On the occasion that we are approached with a "what must I do that I may inherit eternal life" (not unknown in Scripture) will we not reply Scripturally with an answer of a decisional nature, i.e., something akin to "repent, and believe the Gospel"?

Thus my continuing question, what is the purpose, ours or Piper's or whoever, in separating salvation from a point of decision with phrases such as "salvation is not a decision" when we all seem to agree that the end game is a point of decision? I fail to yet see where this is a pragmatic endeavor.

Lee

Caleb S's picture

Lee wrote:
Thus my continuing question, what is the purpose, ours or Piper's or whoever, in separating salvation from a point of decision with phrases such as "salvation is not a decision" when we all seem to agree that the end game is a point of decision? I fail to yet see where this is a pragmatic endeavor.

I must then again ask, "Does Scripture present a monolithic understanding of the term or concept 'salvation'? Are there different nuances and perspectives which end up defining the term?" I ask this because of the invitation comments preceding this quote end up allowing only one definition of "salvation". Are there multiple nuances of the term in Scripture? Does it have a semantic range? If it does have a range, then are we doing others and the topic injustice by only assuming one as if it were the whole?

Edited to add the following: Please take note of the opening post in answering this question. I ask this question because if there are multiple nuances, then some nuances are legitimately separating between the two while others it would be severely problematic to separate them.

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