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Home: Articles / Bible Studies: Theology

"A Review and Rebuttal of the Article Calvinism Critiqued
By Fred Butler

Introductory Note

Sometime ago on a Christian Internet posting group, I had the opportunity to interact with a fellow who was a self-proclaimed street preacher.  After a few exchanges with him, I quickly learned that he was adamantly opposed to the doctrines of God’s sovereign, saving grace, otherwise known as Calvinism.  In fact, he was so opposite the biblical doctrines, that he denied that men were born sinners and taught with much fervency that Christians were in a constant danger of loosing their salvation with the slightest sin.   I challenged his various electronic diatribes advocating his theological errors by pointing out how his teaching conflicted with the Word of God.  After some more exchanges, he linked me to an online article found, at that time, on a Unitarian website.  Since then, the article has popped up on several other sites designed solely to bash Calvinism.  It can be read at either one of these two sites:

http://www.biblical-theology.com/calvinism/calvinism.htm

http://twtministries.com/articles/1_cal_arm/calvinism.html

The article is a personal testimony of an individual named Steve Jones who had been a Calvinist, but abandoned the doctrines after supposedly doing an in-depth study of scripture.  My Internet debater challenged anyone to answer the arguments offered by Steve Jones, so I took up his challenge and responded with my critique of Mr. Jones’s critique of Calvinism.   Much of what I originally wrote, except for a few revisions, is reflected in this article.  My reason for re-posting my response is primarily to help prepare other believers to answer the oft repeated and shrill objections by those individuals opposed to the doctrines of God’s saving grace. 

The article entitled, Calvinism Critiqued is the personal testimony of a fellow named Steve Jones.  He claims to be a former Calvinist who has now seen the “truth of scripture.”  According to Mr. Jones, he once believed Calvinism was sound doctrine, because many of the brightest lights of Christianity were Calvinist.  He points out men like John Bunyan, George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Spurgeon, to name a few, as being theological giants who were Calvinists.  After years of believing Calvinism, however, the author had a need to re-examine his beloved theology.  The remainder of the article bears out this examination.  Though he does critique each point of the system, the bulk of his article centers on the first point of Calvinism, the total depravity and inability of man.  The reason he spends so much of his critique on the first point of Calvinism is that he believes it is the cornerstone point that upholds the other four.  “Once that dogma [total depravity/inability] is removed” writes the author, “the entire superstructure crashes under its own weight.”

Those are bold words, and Mr. Jones then proceeds to try and back them up. Though he spends a good deal of time laying out his argument, he does not succeed with establishing its validity. In actuality, with a careful analysis, it is clear why he falls flat with his examination. 

My rebuttal will address two large areas with the article, Calvinism Critiqued.  I want to give some general, overall presuppositional problems, then, interact with the arguments against the doctrine of total depravity and total inability.

Beginning with the general problems, I found three with his article:

  1. His dependence upon doctrinally unorthodox teachers to support his case.

The most glaring problem I had with this article was with the utilization of men who are doctrinally unsound.  The whole critique is peppered with quotations from individuals who are known for their unbelief and false teaching.  Mr. Jones quotes freely from their works, using them to bolster his debate against Calvinism. 

In the opening comments, for instance, Mr. Jones quotes from Clark Pinnock, a seminary professor who is well known for abandoning biblical Christianity.  Pinnock denies the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture and embraces a sort of new age hermeneutic that allows him to come up with many novel meanings for one particular verse.  Furthermore, Pinnock has become an advocate for a theological viewpoint called open theism.  Open theists believe God does not know the future.  Though God is very wise, they affirm, He still has to anticipate the future and plan contingencies to counter unexpected events.  Open theism strips God of His attributes that establish Him as a sovereign, all-knowing, and all-powerful God the Bible proclaims Him to be.  The average reader of Mr. Jones’s Calvinistic critique is probably unaware of these foibles regarding Clark Pinnock's theology. 

A little further in the article, Mr. Jones has a favorable quote from Faustus Socinus.  Faustus, who was encouraged along by his uncle Laelius, was the progenitor of modern day Unitarianism, as well as theological liberalism.  These two heretics denied Christ's divinity, teaching that Jesus was just a man; denied the doctrine of the Trinity; denied the inspiration of the scriptures; and denied the miracles as recorded in the Bible.  Mr. Jones quotes from Socinus as if he is totally unaware of his historical heresy within the church.  I can only assume that he is aware of Socinus's problems, but agrees with his theology.

Lastly, the author quotes from Unitarian writers.  I actually visited the original website that supported this article, and it is a site devoted to spreading Unitarianism and other unbiblical teachings.  Unitarians are people who deny many of the biblical doctrines of Christianity, but most notably the doctrine of the Trinity.  They believe God is one being, but deny that God has revealed Him self in three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as the Bible teaches and orthodox Christianity affirms. Though some Unitarians might be somewhat conservative, they are for the most part theologically liberal, promoting such things as political correctness, homosexuality, and other controversial issues within the church.   The author's utilization of these teachers to support his argument against Calvinism is misleading toward his readers.  An unlearned believer would think these various men were sincere Christians whose studies brought them to the conclusion that Calvinism is unbiblical.  But, the author never gives any historical background to the men he quotes, and thus his readers do not know that these men first had a problem with the nature of God, the person of Christ, and the Bible, before they had a problem with Calvinism.  This is also telling of the theological ideology of the other websites that now host Mr. Jones’s essay.  They either agree with the theological error promoted by the men Mr. Jones cites, or they are just plain ignorant of what these men have historically taught, or they are so vehemently opposed to Calvinism that they may not care what a particular unorthodox critic believes or who he quotes, just as long as he is writing against Calvinism. 

2. The author fails to interact with Calvinistic authors and thinkers 

In his final sentence to his introduction, Mr. Jones writes that he will quote from Calvinist authors.  So, on the outset of the article, the reader is led to believe the author did some reasonable research on the system he is denouncing.  When the article is read, however, there are at best, quotes from four men who would call themselves Calvinists.   Moreover, they are quoted only briefly and there is no in-depth interaction with their works and argumentation.  Furthermore, the Calvinists are totally misrepresented by the author.  This is witnessed over and over through out the article.  For instance, in his discussion of John 6:44, where Jesus says, “no one can come to me unless the father draws him,” Mr. Jones states that “Calvinist make much of the Greek word that is translated drawing.”  According to Mr. Jones, Calvinists say the word drawing is better translated as dragging, thus contradicting the idea of sinners coming willingly to Christ after the Holy Spirit renews them.  He offers no documentation as to who has said this, however, and then misrepresents what Calvinists have traditionally taught about the passage.

Also, the tone of the article is condescending, implying that any person with Calvinistic convictions has not really studied the Bible, but ignorantly followed Calvinistic teachers.  This attitude is seen most prominently in the conclusion of the article.  Mr. Jones writes that, “Calvinism oversimplifies the profound truths of God” and they “derive their force from proof texts rather than the general tenor of scripture.”  The problem is that his article fails to verify this conclusion, simply because he never deals with Calvinistic thought.  He writes as if Calvinistic believers have never considered the criticisms against their convictions and that he has uncovered their error and composed the death knell against it.  The reality, however, is that the men he claims as being closed minded and lacking the Berean spirit, such men as John Gill, B.B. Warfield, Charles Hodge, and John Murray, have probably written more to answer his critique before Mr. Jones was even born!  It is laughable that he thinks such men have never taken a second look at their system. 

3. There is poor and sloppy exegesis of the biblical texts.

Biblical exegesis -- the drawing out of the original meaning from the biblical text -- is the weakest point of the article.  Mr. Jones emphatically repeats the need for being biblical and staying with in the context of the scriptures.  He pleads for his readers to lay aside the commentaries of Calvinistic writers and have an open mind and an open Bible so as to determine the true doctrines of Christ.  But, these remarks are those typical of historic cultists who have rejected biblical Christianity.  The irony is that Mr. Jones does not heed his own advice, because he fails to ground his arguments for abandoning Calvinism in any reputable Bible study.

First, Mr. Jones brushes quickly over the key passages in this debate.  For instance, he writes that the two texts Calvinists use to prove the total inability of men, Romans 5:1ff. and 1 Corinthians 15, say nothing at all about that doctrine.  After he writes that, he then moves on to another point with out backing up his assertion.  He doesn't explain why the doctrine of total inability is not found in those two texts.  Moreover, he doesn't list a single Calvinistic writer who believes total inability is found in those two texts to begin with.  Calvinist commentators believe Paul teaches about the doctrine of imputation with Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, but not necessarily the doctrine of man's inability.  Mr. Jones handles most of his proof texts in this manner.  He writes in generalities, accusing Calvinists of teaching one thing from the Bible, and then skims over the surface of the main texts without giving any foundational study as to why Calvinists are wrong and he is right.

His lack of any profound study doesn't end there.  In his section on the Genesis account of Adam's sin, he claims the account doesn't prove Calvinism's first point of total depravity, but doesn't give any reason why it shouldn't, or why the account should support his position.  This is also how he handles Romans 3:10, 1 Corinthians 2:14, and John 6:44.  If he had only bothered to read some of the Calvinistic authors he disdains, he would discover they answered his objections a few hundred years ago with their substantial exegesis of these texts. 

A second area where Mr. Jones mishandles the biblical text is with his sloppy research of the original languages.  Probably the most horrendous example of this is found in the comments Mr. Jones makes upon Ecclesiastes 7:29.  The text reads:  Truly, this only I have found: That God made man upright, but they have sought out many schemes.  Mr. Jones's point of contention is with the translation of the word upright.  In his attempt to disprove the belief that Adam was originally created with moral perfection, from which he fell after he sinned against God; Mr. Jones states that the word is a mistranslation of the Chaldean derivative yisrael.  The word, he contends, literally means, he will rule as God, and he finds this little nugget in the lexicon of Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. 

The problem is that Mr. Jones is totally wrong about this word.  First, if he had checked a Hebrew text, he would discover that the word translated, upright is yashar, and is translated correctly by the KJV translators.  Also, it would have been helpful if he had checked some reliable Hebrew lexical works and commentaries, like Owen's massive parsing and lexical work, or Keil and Delitzsch's commentary on the whole Old Testament.  What it appears that Mr. Jones did, however, was check one reference in the Strong's lexicon, and in this case, I believe he fell victim to a typo.  Strong's is a fine concordance (I use it regularly), but, like any other exhaustive wordbook, it is prone to mistakes with editing, such as having an English word in the concordance keyed to the wrong lexical entry in the back of the book.  I believe this is exactly the case here.  One of the Strong’s editions printed in 1982 has the reference for upright keyed to the wrong dictionary entry: yisrael, rather than yashar.   A more recent edition of Strong's concordance, printed at least after 1990, corrected the mistake and the word upright in Ecc.7:29 is keyed to the proper entry of yashar.  If Mr. Jones truly wished to strengthen his point against the understanding of upright, then he could have done better research. 

Another example is found with his comments on Ephesians 2:1. In a hopeless attempt to redefine Paul's description of man's spiritual condition, Mr. Jones asserts that the phrase, “dead in trespasses and sins,” is not describing man’s spiritual condition.  He quotes from another writer to try and prove that Paul was using the phrase as sort of a descriptive term that says men are only “certain to die.”  The problem is that the writer uses an OT term to define a NT term instead of dealing specifically with how Paul is using the word in the context of Ephesians.  He also fails to interact with Paul's almost exact use of the phrase in Colossians 2:13, where he contrasts the spiritually dead to the spiritually living, those made spiritually alive by God.   Mr. Jones also ignores other important words in the context of Eph. 2:1-4.  For example, the word “nature” in 2:3, that is descriptive of an inborn, innate characteristic of man, and the word “quickened” in 2:4 that describes a transformation from one spiritual state (dead in sins) to a new state (life in Christ). 

This poor method of exegesis, word study, and ignoring the context undermines Mr. Jones's arguments.  How can a person who is trying to persuade Christians to reconsider Calvinism and abandon it as inadequate doctrine be taken serious when his biblical study is characterized with an over all ineptitude?

Now that I have examined some of the presuppositional problems with the general arguments in Mr. Jones’s essay, I would like to move on to an interaction with his main objection to Calvinism.  According to Mr. Jones, the foundational stone of the Calvinistic system of salvation is the doctrine of man's depravity and inability.  If this first point can be proven erroneous, Mr. Jones argues, then the entire structural system of Calvinism will come crashing to the ground.  Thus, he spends a good portion of his essay evaluating the doctrine of man's depravity and inability.  Sadly, however, Mr. Jones's argumentation is wrought with setting up straw men against Calvinism and thrashing them wildly.  His exegesis of various passages is stunningly poor, and any serious interaction with Calvinistic writers and theologians just isn’t found.  

If anyone wishes to do a devastating critique of any theological system, I would at least hope that there would be some reliable research, but it is obvious this author neglected to do any.  Be that as it may, he does offer up some comments from a handful of passages he believes Calvinist have abused and misused as proof-texts for their doctrines of depravity and inability.  It is not my intention to deal with every sniggling passage Mr. Jones raises against Calvinists and their view of salvation, but to interact with those significant ones he highlights in his critique. 

Before I beginning, however, it is important to define what Calvinism actually believes the Bible teaches about man's sin nature and what is meant by the words depravity and inability.  The Westminster Confession of Faith states the doctrine of depravity this way:  Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability to will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation.  So, as a natural man being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or prepare himself to that salvation.

 Essentially, what Calvinists believe the Bible teaches about man is that when Adam acted in disobedience, he plunged the human race into a state of sin.  The apostle Paul teaches in Romans 5 that Adam imputed his sin to all men.  Man's sinful condition infects his whole being, both physically and spiritually.  This is what is meant by the words, total depravity.  Total doesn't mean that each sinner is totally corrupt in his thoughts and actions.  Instead, the word is used to indicate that the whole of man's being has been affected by sin.  The Bible calls unsaved men “natural” man (1Cor. 2:14), or “carnally minded/carnal” and “in the flesh” (Rom. 8:6-7, 8).  The idea with these words in their contexts is to describe non-spiritual man.  All men born into the world are born “natural” men.  In this state, people are unable to do anything good to please God and they are unable to save themselves, hence the reason Calvinism also uses the words total inability to describe sinners.

 In Ephesians 2:1-4, the apostle launches into descriptive detail about the impact man's depravity has on him.  According to Paul in Ephesians 2, humanity is in dire circumstances.  Man is in need of a savior who will free him from this condition of sin; taking him out from under the penalty of sin and the wrath of God; and creating in him a new man who no longer delights in serving lustful desires, but delights in serving God.  This is what Christ accomplished on the cross.  Paul continues in Romans 5 to show that just as Adam imputed his sinfulness to all humanity; Jesus imputes His righteousness to those for whom He died.   This righteous imputation now gives a person, who previously had no ability to live righteously, the ability to do so. 

What Calvinism further believes is that when God saves a person, He imparts to them a new life.  This is called the doctrine of regeneration. Paul had this in mind in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he writes, “all things have become new.”  The regenerative act of God gives the new Christian a love for God and a new heart to love and keep Christ's commandments.  According to Ephesians 2:10, the Christian is called, “a workmanship by God, created in Christ Jesus.”  Men are not the initiators of this regeneration, but the recipients.  It is something given to them by God, as the biblical language implies.  For instances, in the dialogue Jesus has with Nicodemus in John 3:1-8, Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again.  The word that is translated “born again” is in the passive tense in the original.  That indicates that it is the spirit who initiates that begetting again, not the individual himself.  The individual had something happen to him; The Holy Spirit imparted to him new birth, so that he is born again from above.  A man can no more “birth” himself spiritually, as he could physically.  Thus, all of salvation is solely a work of God, including the impartation of saving faith and repentance to the sinner so that they will believe savingly upon the gospel and turn from their sin.

Now, when we move into a rebuttal to some of Mr. Jones's arguments against Calvinism's understanding of man's totally depravity and the work of salvation by God, the reader will see that he takes a totally different approach to these issues.  His over all thesis is that the doctrine of man’s sinfulness, as Calvinism understands it, is devoid of any true merit.  In Mr. Jones's thinking, the Calvinist is reading his interpretation of depravity into his various proof-texts.  None of the Calvinist's conclusions stand up under the slightest scrutiny.  The reality, though, is that Mr. Jones's attempt to dispel Calvinism is unpersuasive and lacks any true, biblical scrutiny. 

I want to primarily respond to his evaluation of what he considers the Calvinist's main texts for proving man's inability to come to salvation on his own.  He opens with Genesis 3, then examines Romans 3:10-12, 1 Corinthians 2:14, John 6:44, and then Ephesians 2:1.

The Genesis Account

Mr. Jones opens his critique of the inability of man by giving a brief summary of the events found in Genesis 3 of Adam and Eve's disobedience in the garden.  At the outset, Calvinists are accused of reading into the narrative of Genesis, because, according to Mr. Jones, there is no record anywhere in Genesis 3 revealing to us God's curse upon man's spiritual ability.  There is a quote from another author complaining that if this doctrine of man's inability is true, then God has lied by not telling the whole truth of the curse. 

There are a couple of flaws with Mr. Jones's objection to the Calvinist understanding of Genesis 3. 

First, Mr. Jones's contention (and the author he quotes) that God would be made a deceiver because he withheld the information that men would no longer have moral ability if Adam ate from the forbidden tree is groundless.  God was forthright, and did tell Adam the consequences prior to eating from the tree.  In Genesis 2:16-17, God told Adam that he could freely eat from any tree in the garden, but if he partook from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, then in that day, Adam would most certainly die.  Mr. Jones states that this death only refers to physical death, because God defined it as such in Genesis 3:19.  But, if that is true, and the biblical concept of death is only limited to a physical death, then God most definitely lied, because He told Adam in Genesis 2:17, “for in that DAY of thy eating of it thou shalt certainly die.”  If this is only physical death, we have a theological dilemma, because Adam lived to be 930 years old! (Gen.5:5). This fact makes God's threat meaningless if biblical death is only meant to be physical.  Mr. Jones conveniently ignores this little textual detail. 

God's words in Genesis 2:17 are quite clear to Adam, and I believe he understood precisely what God meant.  The thought actually expressed in the verse is the instantaneous occurrence of the penalty threatened.  This understanding is further solidified in part by the imperfect tense of the Hebrew word for death, mooth, with the absolute infinitive.  So that the phrase is translated, “dying, thou shalt die” and it equates the idea of “you will most certainly die.”   Death means separation in scripture.  The term can imply physical death, in that the dead are separated from the realm of the living.  However, there is a spiritual aspect as well.  Mankind is spiritually dead in that they are separated from true communion with God.

We see this demonstrated in a couple of ways with Adam and Eve.  First there was shame and guilt for their actions, (Gen. 3:7).  The couple was both instantly aware of their nakedness, and they took action to cover their bodies.  Their behavior shows some sort of moral change had taken place with in their heart.  Secondly, right after God confronts Adam and Eve for their disobedience, He drives them from the garden; the one place where they had experienced God's presence, (Gen.3:22-23).  Thus, when Adam disobeyed God, there was a spiritual separation from Him immediately.  

Mr. Jones's second flaw comes out of the fact that he ignores the entire body of biblical revelation that expands and teaches about man's total depravity and inability by referencing back to man’s fall.  If the issue of man's sin is to be discussed biblically, we have to take in the entirety of revelation God progressively revealed age to age regarding mankind.  Mr. Jones fails to give any meaningful interaction with the biblical passages that address this discussion.  He makes a passing reference to Romans 5 and 1 Corinthians 15, but as I pointed out earlier above, he doesn't explain why the Calvinists have a wrong interpretation with these two passages; nor does he explain their scriptural relevance to his argument.  In fact, the scriptures he uses to disprove the doctrine of man's inability are handled quite poorly.  It was almost embarrassing to read his argumentation

Romans 3:10-12

Mr. Jones begins his examination of this “alleged proof” text used by Calvinist, by erecting one of his many straw man arguments.  He writes that this is a passage the Calvinist often employs to prove man's total inability, and then explains how he thinks Calvinist misuse the text.  He offers, however, no interaction with these Calvinists in order to substantiate his claim.  He then asserts that Romans 3:10-12 is an example of what he calls “poetic outburst;” an exaggeration that is not to be read with slavish literalism.   In other words, Paul is not giving a “literal” description of the nature of man, simply using a little bit of hyperbole, to highlight man’s general badness.

Two problems surface with his unique interpretation.

First, how does the author understand other similar passages of scripture where Paul strings together a series of descriptive terms for sinfulness? For instance, would Mr. Jones believe Paul's words from Romans 1:29-31 to be “poetic outburst?”  What about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10?  Colossians 3:5-8? Do none of these passages describe the totality of man's depravity or inability? 

Secondly, Mr. Jones divorces Rom.3:10-12 from Paul's overall teaching on the power of sin in a man's life.  Paul introduces his description of man's sinful behavior in verses 10-12 by stating in verse 9 that “they are all under sin.”  Mr. Jones is basically correct is pointing out that Paul is proving how the Jews, God's covenant people, are just as sinful and unable to keep the law of righteousness as the gentiles, the rest of humanity.  He overlooks, however, the thrust of Paul's argument for total depravity and inability that he develops further through the book of Romans.

When Paul writes, “they are all under sin” in Romans 3:9, he presents the theological concept of man being totally under the power of sin.  He builds on this theme through out the remainder of the book of Romans.  For instance, sin is described as reigning (5:21), enslaving (6:6), ruling (6:12), and exercising dominion, or lordship (6:14).  People are described as slaves to sin (6:16, 17, 20) or freed from sin (6:18, 22).  Sin as a power cannot ultimately be separated from acts of sin as Mr. Jones here attempts to do.  Sin, as a power, rules over all people, but it manifests itself in specific acts, as Romans 3:10-17 attests. 

1 Corinthians 2:14

First Corinthians 2 is one of the clearest scriptural passages of how man is blinded to spiritual truth and is unable to come to God with out a divine, regenerating work in his heart by the Spirit of God.  Mr. Jones, however, does not see it this way.  He understands Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2 as addressing the various spiritual obstacles both Jews and gentiles have to overcome in order to embrace the gospel.  He writes, “both groups generally have problems that render them spiritually obtuse, driving them to the conclusion that the gospel is foolish.”  He further explains that when Paul says, “the natural man receives not the things of the spirit,” his words are similar to what he wrote in Titus 1:12 in his description of the people of Crete being liars and lazy gluttons.  Obviously, not all Cretans are like that, and it would be wrong to conclude that absolutely about them.

There are three problems with Mr. Jones interpretation of 1 Cor. 2:14.

First, he partially misses the point to Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1-2.  He states in his essay that Paul's flow of thought begins in 1:18 and runs through to 2:16.  (Unfortunately, the author fails to summarize clearly what that flow of thought is).  Paul's argument is for the power of the gospel message preached.  The method of preaching the gospel is foolishness to men, but it is the instrument God uses to display his saving power.  Paul contrasts the message of the crucified Christ with human wisdom from 1:18-25; then reminds the Corinthian believers of their response to the gospel from 1:26-31; and then he gives a defense for his method of simple preaching from 2:1-5. 

Continuing on the theme of the power of the gospel from 2:6-16, Paul shifts his focus to discuss how the true nature of gospel wisdom is spiritual.  It is not perceived or understood by human means, but by the power of God working in the heart of the person.  This wisdom is revealed by the spirit, and not humanly discovered by human wisdom.  There is a reason for this: unsaved men are not spiritual, and thus cannot understand spiritual things, unless God does a saving work in their hearts. That is what Paul argues in 2:14-16. 

Secondly, Mr. Jones says that Calvinists make too much out of the term “natural men” in 2:14. According to him, Calvinists wrongly believe Paul is teaching about men in their native state.  Here again is one of Mr. Jones's typical straw men.  He never interacts with any Calvinist writers to explore exactly what they teach about the term and why.  Moving past his shallow study, one thing he overlooks about the term “natural man” is its uniqueness in Paul's writing.  Here in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul contrasts the spiritual with the non-spiritual.  Normally, in his epistles, Paul uses the word “flesh,” translated from the Greek word sarx, to speak of the non-spiritual contrasted with the spiritual.  Here in 2:14, however, Paul uses the word psychikoi, translated “natural man,” with his contrast to the spiritual.  Paul usage of that term more than likely comes out of his Jewish background where the Greek word psyche has been used to translate the Hebrew word nephes, which denotes mankind in its natural and physical existence.  Paul uses the same word in 1 Corinthians 15:44 where it is translated as “natural body.”  In that passage the distinction between the non-spiritual physical aspect of man and his spiritual aspect is clear.  Paul's use of language is not speaking to generalities, but to a physical body described as one that is natural, as opposed to a resurrected body described as one that is spiritual.   If Mr. Jones is correct that Paul is addressing the general opposition men have toward the gospel in 2:14, then how does he explain Paul's statement in 15:44?  Moreover, if Paul is speaking in generalities about unsaved men in 2:14, is he also speaking in generalities about the spiritual man in 2:15-16 that is contrasted against the natural man in 2:14?  Paul's overall thought does not allow for Mr. Jones's novel understanding of this phrase.

Third, because Mr. Jones centers on the word “nature,” he misses explaining the one essential word that makes the case for man's total inability as the Calvinists teach.  The author over looked the phrase ou dunatati, which is translated “cannot.”  The word dunati comes from the dunimas word group that implies power, or ability to do something.  Connecting the negative, ou to dunatai, Paul is saying that man is powerless to discern spiritual things on his own.  The same word usage is found in Romans 8:7,8 where Paul describes unsaved men in the flesh, as unable, or powerless, to please God. That is what Paul is arguing here and 1 Corinthians 2:14.  Man's sin problem is serious, and not a matter of him overcoming his opposition to the truth.  Man is in the need of a spiritual resurrection by the spirit of God before he can understand spiritual things.

John 6:44

This is another clear passage, coming directly from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, demonstrating the total inability of man and the gracious, effectual work of God in a sinner's heart.  Mr. Jones doesn't believe this however, and he attempts to re-interpret the passage to fit his unusual view of sinfulness.  Again he erects another strawman argument against Calvinists by challenging their understanding of the word “draw” in verse 44.  He doesn't go into any detail of how exactly Calvinist teachers have understood this passage, but just how they miss the point of the passage.  He then moves on to saying that John 6:44 needs to be understood in light of verse 45.  When verse 45 is read with verse 44, according to Mr. Jones, we will see that it is the person's listening to God that brings him to salvation; not the direct, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.   In his explanation of this text, he glosses over some important key nuances that lend greater insight to the words of Jesus. 

First, Jesus says that, “no one can come to me.”  The word “can” is translated from the same word we saw in 1 Corinthians 2:14, dunatai, which means, power or ability.  Since dunatai is coupled with the negative word, oudeis it is translated as unable, or literally, powerless.  Jesus is saying that men are powerless, lacking any ability to come to him unless the father draws them.

Secondly, the word draw is significant.  Mr. Jones tries to reduce its importance by saying Calvinists make too much of the word.  Mr. Jones writes, “They assume, without exegetical necessity to be the work of efficacious grace renewing the sinner so he can believe the gospel.”  But, there is a clear, exegetical reason why Calvinists emphasize it.  In every instance it is used in the NT, particularly when it is used to describe the divine activity of bringing men to salvation, it is in the sense of being powerful, or irresistible.  There is no way of getting around this grammatical fact, and Mr. Jones, for some reason, ignores it.

Third, Mr. Jones says verse 45 helps clear up any Calvinistic misconception about verse 44.  He says that when it is read, it is obvious that men come to salvation “by listening to the father, not by passively experiencing efficacious grace.”  However, verse 45 is just a restatement of what Jesus said previously in verse 44.  Mr. Jones disregards the opening words of verse 45 that say, “and they will be taught of God.”  Right there is an indication that God first teaches; then the hearer listens, learns, and comes.  God is the original initiator of those being taught and learning.  Furthermore, he doesn't consider the quotation of Jesus's words. Our Lord is quoting from Isaiah 54:13, and when Isaiah's words are read in their entirety, it is God's promise of what He alone will do for the children of Israel. 

Lastly, Mr. Jones quotes from two other NT citations, 1 Peter 1:23 and James 1:18, but they do nothing to establish his point, and actually stand against him.  First of all, bringing these two texts to bear upon John 44, 45 is a hermeneutical fallacy.  The student of scripture should strive to read John's words in their own context, allowing them to say what they are saying by themselves. Moreover, Mr. Jones wants to separate the work of the Holy Spirit from the gospel message, but the two are undivided.  The Holy Spirit uses the word of God to proclaim the gospel; yet the salvific nature of the gospel is dependent upon the application by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the sinner.  It is as if the doctrine of regeneration is being denied throughout this essay, with out regard to its clear teaching in the NT.  This is what Peter affirms when in 1 Peter 1:23, when he writes that Christians are born-again by the word of God.  Mr. Jones wants to believe that it is the word of God alone with no application by the Holy Spirit that causes men to be born again, but 1 Peter 1:15, 22 say otherwise.  The Holy Spirit was the applying agent of the word of God to the hearts of the hearers.  Also, in James 1:18, we see the Christian being begotten by the will of God. The text reads, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth...” It seems rather clear that the Holy Spirit, in conjunction with the word of truth, beget spiritual children.  Unless I am reading the author wrong, it amazes me that he can so carelessly overlook the plain implication of these words.  He is either on the one hand devoid of any real understanding of biblical concepts of salvation, or he, on the other hand, has altered the meaning of those terms in order to fit his theology. 

Ephesians 2:1

The last proof text of Calvinists Mr. Jones examines is Ephesians 2:1.  He doesn't deal with the whole unit of Paul's thought from 2:1 through 2:10, but deals specifically with verse one and the phrase, “dead in sin.” Calvinism has taught that what Paul describes here is man in his spiritual state before salvation.  He is in essence, dead in sin, separated from understanding any spiritual truth and incapable of performing any spiritual good.  The description of this state is severe.  The scope of this “dead in sin” is a lifestyle of worldliness; bondage to the prince of the air (Satan), enslavement to the lustful desires of the flesh, and being children under God's wrath. Calvinists correctly interpret this section of scripture as speaking of the totality of man's sinfulness and inability because the language of the text so emphatically teaches this. 

Also, Paul says in Eph.2:3 that the believers were, “by nature the children of wrath.”  The word “nature” is an important one to this debate, because it is translated from the word phusis that literally means, “to bring forth” or “produce.”  The word speaks to something that is innate to the individual, in this case, being children of wrath.  In other words, men are born in opposition to God and his truth, and with a desire to serve sin and the flesh.  As a result, God's wrath burns against them; thus, they are “children of wrath.”

Mr. Jones, in a radical attempt to alter the meaning of these words, claims that what Paul is describing when he says, “dead in sins,” is the certainty of men dying because they are under the sentence of destruction.  He offers no exegetical reason for such an unusual interpretation - just a quote from an obscure writer.  His interpretation is problematic for a few reasons.

First, Paul uses the words, “dead in sin” here in Ephesians 2:1 and also Colossians 2:13, to describe a significant theological concept.  “Dead” and “death” are consistently used by Paul to express the spiritual realm where men dwell.  It is more than a title to say men are certain to die.  When Paul writes that men are “dead in sin,” it speaks to man's spiritual condition - the present state of the sinner.  In Colossians 2:13, Paul expands on this spiritual condition when he writes, “dead in sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh.”  It is a spiritual condition where unsaved people dwell.  The effects of that condition will manifest itself in ungodly behavior, but it is being “dead in sin” that give root to that behavior. 

Secondly, and for some reason, Mr. Jones completely misses Paul's contrast of the former way of life for the Christian as described in Eph.2:1-4, with the present way of life highlighted in Eph.2:5-10.  Paul describes a radical transformation that takes place in an unbeliever by God, a divine regeneration.  There are two significant words used by Paul to express this divine regeneration: “quicken” and “raised.” Both words speak to a spiritual resurrection that God performs upon the unbeliever.  The word “quickened” in Eph.2:5 is translated from a word that means, “to impart life.”  The word, “raised” in Eph.2:6 is translated from a word used to speak of a resurrection, and in the context of Paul's theme in Ephesians 2, it is a spiritual resurrection from a life marked by death in sin, to a life marked by life in Christ.   The tense of the grammar implies an action by God and passivity on the part of the person.  The individual contributes nothing to this divine work; it is God's alone. This truth in reinforced further with Paul's words in Ephesians 2:10 where he describes how all Christians are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus. Again, the voice of the language is God's action, man's passivity. 

Conclusions

With all these things in mind, as I read through Mr. Jones's critique, I believe he confuses regeneration, a divine work by God, and conversion, the response of belief in the gospel message by the regenerated.   It is easy to see how the two terms can be confused, but the biblical authors distinguish them from each other.  Although we are active in conversion, turning from sin to Christ, we are not active in regeneration.  We cannot birth ourselves into spiritual life, nor can we self-create ourselves in Christ.  Those are divine acts performed by God.  God does the drawing (regeneration); we do the coming (conversion).  The fact that the sinner can trust Christ; believe the gospel; or call on the name of Christ, is due to the regenerating work of God in the sinner's heart.  It is a total myth that Calvinism discourages evangelism, or downplays the responsibility of man in repenting from sin and believing the gospel.   When the gospel message is preached to all men, those who respond with faith and obedience in Christ, demonstrate that God has wrought a regenerative work in their heart.  Regeneration is an unseen work that no man can witness, but conversion to faith by the sinner is the outward fruit of that work. 

                Then finally, it is my opinion, now that I have read through this essay a few times, that the author is uninformed about the teachings of those who hold to Calvinistic convictions.  This is fairly clear with his shallow interaction with Calvinistic writers, preachers, and teachers.  I would be interested to know how immersed into Calvinism he really was previous to his abandoning it as a system of theology.  He may well have held to sincere Calvinistic beliefs; Mr. Jones seems to indicate so in the introduction.  His essay, however, portrays a person who was perhaps exposed to Calvinism on a surface level after his conversion, yet was persuaded against the system by other writers.  It begs the question,  “Did Mr. Jones really believe Calvinism as a system of theology, or was it only because his heroes were Calvinist?”  In other words, was he fascinated by a handful of godly men who happen to be Calvinists, rather than one who truly understood why Calvinists affirm the teaching of the Word of God regarding God’s sovereign grace? 

In his thinking, Calvinists force their system upon the Bible, reading into it the doctrines of the various five points.  But, Mr. Jones never once begins to rationally illustrate this assertion for his readers.  What he does offer as a critique, to be blunt, is lame.  The truth of the matter is that Calvinism, as a theological system of understanding God's plan of salvation, draws out the doctrines of the five points from a careful exegesis of key passages.  Several Calvinistic men have done this over the last 400 years or so before and after the Synod of Dort, when Calvinists first answered the arguments of the Remonstrants, but Mr. Jones seems to just ignore such work.

Overall, because he lacks any solid argumentation, as well as any coherent Bible study, his critique of Calvinism, particularly the doctrines of depravity and inability, is unconvincing.  No biblical alternative is ever offered, and the serious student is just left befuddled. 

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