Is it that the non-elect cannot believe, or that they could but will not?

In a recent article posted by Tyler, the subject of "Prevenient Grace" came up.

But this raises a broader question.

In your understanding of how far to take the concept "dead in trespassed and sins" and your understanding of regeneration, is it, in theory, possible that anyone can believe?

The issue for those of us who believe in election is not "who will believe."  If you are 4 or 5 point Calvinists, you believe that only the elect will be saved, and that all the elect will be saved.  From a practical viewpoint, the only issue is whether the offer of salvation is offered legitimately to the non-elect or whether it is offered merely as a token, like offering a drink of water to a drowning man?

Or perhaps you reject the idea of election (in the sense of God choosing apart from anything we do or choose) completely.  So when we use the term "election" in the poll, we are talking about the term in the Calvinist sense.

I reject the idea that God chooses people to believe.
17% (5 votes)
I believe in election, but believe that the non-elect could believe but will not.
31% (9 votes)
I believe in election, but believe that the non-elect cannot believe, even in theory.
24% (7 votes)
I believe in election, but am uncertain about whether the non-elect could believe or not.
3% (1 vote)
I hold a view that is not described above.
24% (7 votes)
Man, what's wrong with you asking such theoretical questions?
0% (0 votes)
0% (0 votes)
Total votes: 29
538 reads

There are 5 Comments

josh p's picture

I would argue, with Edwards as I understand him, that man always chooses what he desires and that he always desires sin. I usually think of it like the machinery of the will is still in place but it can never be used for proper ends due to man’s sinful bent. So, it’s still a matter of inability because mankind’s will is subjugated to his sinful nature. 

josh p's picture

I am amazed that a thread on Calvinism has so little traffic. The SI planets have aligned. We have at least one thread on music, one on Alcohol, and one on Calvinism all at the same time!

TylerR's picture


People will legitimately be condemned for refusing to believe the Gospel. You cannot get away from that fact. In a cold, analytical way I believe in (1) unconditional, single election to salvation and (2) that regeneration precedes faith. That's what I believe on paper. But, I will also declare that men are held responsible for what they do with the offer of the Gospel. And, in a way we cannot understand, people's free actions to reject the Good News are condemnatory. And, yes, I understand the concept of "freedom" give the constraints of total depravity, etc, etc.

This doesn't make for a neat, tidy systematic soteriology. But, it's what I've got. I'm happy with that.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Aaron Blumer's picture


I don't really see any difference between "can't" and "will not." .... because "will not" simply means "the will is fallen and unable to want what it does not want," which means "can't."

So, I'd be willing to say natural man could choose repentance "If he wanted to," but biblically, he doesn't want to and can't start to want to unless God brings about some kind of change. (Exactly what that change is called is not terribly important to me. .... at the moment. )

Ed Vasicek's picture

To comment on Aaron's comments, I do think the difference between the non-elect choosing not to believe vs. not being able to choose is the difference between God's sovereignty and determinism.  Although we can argue that the net effect is the same as far as eternity goes, the "why" of it all makes a difference, IMO.

I am more responsible for what I could have done but chose not to do than I am for what I could not have done. The difference is not who is in heaven, but, rather, how we view those who reject the Gospel.  When someone chooses not to believe, do we simply think, "he (or she) is non-elect," or do we think, "he is stubborn and refuses to come to the Lord," or think, as I do, both (while being aware that such persons might believe later).

The level of culpably seems more important to me than it may to others, I suppose.


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