[Solved] Irresistible Grace and Free Will
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Do we choose to believe or does God *make* us believe? or is it in between somehow?
The question “Do we choose to believe or does God *make* us believe?” is a famous debate in theological circles. The reason it arises is because of various misunderstandings…
Pelagius and Augustine debated whether it was in a man’s power not to sin, for example. Calvin and Arminius continued the debate into the nature of providence, and how much God controls things in general, and faith in particular.
The writers of the Bible had no such questions. Those things did not ever come up.
Unfortunately those debates have affected the way we read certain passages so that it *appears* to be there. Eph 2:8 is an example. Paul says that the power of salvation is given freely by God, through your faith – therefore salvation is “not your own doing”. Calvinists insist that Paul is saying that faith is “not your own doing”, but grammatically it cannot say that – “this” (the thing “not of your own doing”) has the neuter gender, and “faith” has the feminine gender. No Greek would read that sentence to mean that faith is “not of your own doing”, but Calvinists do, because Calvinists are reading it in English (or without proper regard to Greek grammar…).
… and there are other “proof texts” that have been employed to prop up philosophical arguments. Calvinism extends it all the way to “Total Depravity” of the human condition, which then also means Double Predestination, in which the majority of people are created by God specifically to burn in hell with no hope ever of redemption, no matter what they do in life…
The Hebrew central contemplation was that we, as God’s people, or as humanity at large, have failed God. God is calling us to be worthy bearers of his image, and we keep failing, to our shame. It’s not that we “cannot”, it’s that we “do not”, and we should take responsibility for that. Ultimately it is Christ who takes responsibility for it, but as God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you, but you must master it.”
So the argument you refer to about whether or not a person is capable of faith is not a Biblical argument about theology. It is a philosophical argument about Determinism, which is about as sensible as “Can God make an object so heavy that even he cannot lift it”…
Thanks for taking the time to comment.
I think you’re asking two things: “depravity”, and then the interpretation of 1 Cor 2:14.
Firstly to the question of “depravity”. I will suggest this is an invention of Calvin, or, more properly, of Augustine and thinkers in his corner. I’m going to suggest the idea does not arise from the Bible itself, or the thinkers who write it.
The idea of this doctrine is that humanity is, in some fundamental way, incompatible with divinity. That is, humanity is in a depraved state, unable to be brought close to God without supernatural intervention. I don’t see the Biblical authors and thinkers contemplating life that way at all.
Although there are superlatives employed like “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Ps 14:3, loosely quoted in Romans 3), it is not possible, with intellectual any rigor, to argue that this was intended literally. For one thing, it is in the context “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Ps 14:1), so it refers to the unbelievers, but it is clearly hyperbole in any case. Paul employs it not as an observation about each-and-every human being, but rather as an observation that “Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin” (Rom 3:9). This is Paul’s point through chapters 2-3. His point is not to develop some universal philosophy applicable to every human soul, which is how Luther was reading it, for example.
So the very idea of “depravity” is, I suggest, imported and imposed over the Biblical witness. It wasn’t there to begin with.
1 Cor 2:14
Again in this case, context is everything. Just as the overarching concern of Romans was a pastoral concern about Jews and Gentiles worshipping together, which gave rise to Paul’s careful exploration of what it means to be a “true Jew” (one who may or may not be circumcised in the flesh, but one who is circumcised of heart), so we need to consider the context of the text we are looking at in 1st Corinthians as well, in order to avoid misinterpreting it.
The second chapter of 1st Corinthians is Paul appealing to the Corinthians to consider his ministry as opposed to the ministries of other “apostles” who have come past and offered teachings which oppose Paul’s teaching. He talks about having received his teaching in an authentic way as a spiritual revelation. He contrasts this with the “wisdom of this world”, essentially meaning the Greek philosophers on one hand, and the Jewish anti-Christians on the other.
This brings us to the verse we are looking at:
The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.
This literally has nothing to do with the ideas ascribed to it by the Calvinistic thinkers. This is a criticism of Paul’s opponents, who consider Paul’s teaching “foolishness”, and cannot understand it. These people, Paul is saying, clearly are not spiritual people and should not be considered authoritative. This designation, “spiritual”, is one that is particularly meaningful in the Corinthian community, and Paul spends much of this letter correcting and informing the Corinthians about what it means.
But this verse says nothing about the general human condition, as it relates to the Calvinistic idea of “depravity”.
I think it’s helpful here to point out that the proof-texting techniques employed by those who argue the Calvinist/Arminian issues are unhelpful techniques. They atomise texts to the point where they are not only interpreted without their original context, but more than that, the debate then dictates false premises which are then used to form a false interpretation of the surrounding text. The result is a book which appears to be mystical, and loaded with bizarre hidden meaning.
But in most part, that’s not what the Bible is. Particularly in Paul’s case, his letters are real letters between a teacher and his students, a leader and his congregation. They are written using plain language, and they seek above all else to be clear and understandable, to be consumed by an audience containing many who are illiterate and unlearned. Any interpretation that makes them seem complex is the wrong interpretation.
Wherever we know the situation into which Paul is writing, we find his writing is clear, on topic, and precise. It is never an excursion into lofty philosophy – something he explicitly criticises, not least in the chapter preceding this verse.
I trust that’s helpful. Thank you again for participating. Your thoughts and ideas are welcome.
Kevin, I like your articulation of “The Hebrew contemplation was…”. How would you articulate depravity and how would you answer the calvinist contention of 1 Cor 2:14? Thanks and Lord bless.