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
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
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:
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.