Saturday, December 22, 2007

Recap of debate on "Forced Grace"

I wanted to recap a specific aspect of a debate that took place recently. The debate spans multiple entries on multiple blogs and it went in many directions. So it might be confusing to follow in it's original locations. But I didn't want this point to be lost. So I collected the key points here.

The point I wanted to highlight is that:

  1. the concepts of libertarian freewill (LFW) and total depravity are compatible
  2. LFW is required for moral accountability.
  3. God would not justly command the impossible
  4. Grace is not forced.

In this post I plan on linking to the original discussion, giving the flow of the debate, providing the actual debate, providing some post debate thoughts which expand on the subject by talking about the difference between the law and the Gospel and finally providing a quote from Arminius on the subject.

Original Posts

Here's the lists of entries of original debate.

JC an Arminian:

Mr. Belvedere a Calvinist (my responses in the comments under Godismyjudge)

Mr. Belvedere a Calvinist (my responses in the comments under Godismyjudge)

Turretinfan a Calvinist (my responses in the comments under Godismyjudge)

Flow of the Debate

The flow of the debate is as follows:

JC an Arminian: Man has libertarian freewill and is totaly depraved, needing God's grace in order to be able to believe.

Mr. B a Calvinist: that means God is forced to give us grace in order for us to be responsible for rejecting.

Me an Arminian: Nope. God could have destroyed us without providing grace. Man is still responsible because he is free to pick between options, even if all the options available to him are evil and he's unable to do what God has commanded.

Mr. B a Calvinist: But LFW teaches man must be able to do what he is held accountable for not doing. So you have three options. 1) admit your view is that man is able to believe without grace (ie deny total depravity) or 2) admit God must give us enabling grace so we can be accountable (i.e. forced grace) or 3) admit LFW isn't required for responsibility (i.e. deny LFW)

Me an Arminian: LFW doesn't necessarily teach that man must be able to do what he is held accountable for not doing. Rather, he is held accountable for what he does, provided he could have avoided it. But the alternative doesn't have to be something good, it can be another evil.

Debate Recap

Arminians in Blue, Calvinists in Red.

JC: Thus by nature, human beings are blind and hard-hearted towards the
gospel and cannot believe in Christ of their own accord. To overcome the power
of the sinful nature, something stronger than sin must enter into the equation,
which can only come from God.
Mr. B: ...we see that if it weren't for God's grace, the human
race would be determined to fail, though it wouldn't be their faults, because
they didn't have the freedom to succeed in the Libertarian sense. And this is
inviolable for every Arminian. Now God is unjust in punishing man unless he
gives grace. And the implications are that God is forced to "award" grace in
order to justly punish the ones who reject him. But God being forced to award
grace in order to introduce Libertarian Free Will reduces grace to something God
had to do. And grace no longer becomes grace but obligation.

Me: This is a powerful argument and I am inclined to agree
with it. (JC may not, Arminians may vary on this point.) After the fall God
could have destroyed mankind, without grace.

When I read Arminius on this topic the thought process I get is that two things are fundamental for responsibility.

1) freewill

2) God's commands

The issue here is not that man is obligated to do the impossible, but rather would God (who is justice) command the impossible? On the surface these looks like the same thing. But they are not. God issued His commands to Adam, when Adam could keep them. So God wasn't requiring the impossible. But if Adam was causally predetermined to fall, God was requiring the impossible. Commanding the impossible and maintain a standard even though man ruins himself are not the same thing. I do think God could have justly destroyed mankind after the fall, but thank God for His mercy. So for mankind to be responsible he must be the causal source of his actions (ie agent causation) and he must violate God’s just commands.

Mr. B: 1. If you wish to hold to both Total Depravity and
LFW you need to find a way out of the following jam.

I) Man must be able to freely choose an act in order to be held responsible for rejecting it.

II) Total Depravity states that man in his depraved state will always reject Christ.

III) Prevenient Grace enables man to emerge out of his depravity and accept

IV) Therefore, God must give grace to every man in order to judge those
that reject him.

2. If point 3 doesn't occur, LFW doesn't come into play. But you
list "[Libertarian] free will" as your first "fundamental [requisite] for
responsibility." God is obligated to introduce Prevenient Grace in order to hold
man responsible.

Me. I disagree with I. Man is responsible if he is the
causal source of breaking God's laws. If X is required and man freely does
non X in the form of Y (such that he could have done non X in the form of
Z), man is responsible.

Post Debate Thoughts (Law v Gospel)

The key points here are that 1) LFW and total depravity are compatible, because man still has evil options 2) LFW (not the ability to do good) is required for responsibility and 3) God would not command the impossible. I think these were brought out in the debate. However, I do think a vital point was missed, for which I take the blame.

It seems to me the debate above was a bit unclear in regards to the difference between the Law and the Gospel. God has given us moral commands and also invites us to believe and be saved. These two might have been mixed a bit in the debate. When Mr. B asked me if grace was forced in order for man to be held accountable, I should have asked, accountable for what? For breaking the Law or not believing the Gospel?

We were discussing if prevenient grace was forced. The point of prevenient grace is enabling men to believe the Gospel. Prevenient grace does work with and through the law, but the end goal is belief in the Gospel. But when discussion Adam's sin and the impacts of the fall, we aren't talking about rejecting the Gospel. Rather, we are talking about disobedience to the moral law.

So does God have to give prevenient grace in order to hold man accountable? It depends. If man is being held accountable for breaking the moral law, no, God doesn't have to give prevenient grace. He could punish mankind just for breaking the law, without having to give them grace that enables faith in Christ. But if we are talking about holding man accountable for rejecting Christ, I would say that such accountability does in fact entail God's provision of enabling grace.

God gave Adam a moral command, which in a way contained all moral commands. At that time Adam was able to break the command or keep it. So God wasn't commanding the impossible. After the fall, Adam and his offspring are now unable to obey the law. But that doesn't mean God commands the impossible. Just that God doesn't change, just because mankind ruined themselves.

The Gospel however, is a new covenant. It's separate from the law. Breaking the law is a separate offense from disbelief in the Gospel. The scriptures are clear that God holds man accountable for both.

John 12:47And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.
48He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

So it seems to me that since God holds man accountable for believing the Gospel, God must have provided sufficient grace to man for him to be able to believe the Gospel. This grace is what Arminians call prevenient grace.

Now notice, God could had destroyed mankind after the fall without giving prevenient grace. So grace is not forced in that sense. But for God to justly hold man accountable for unbelief in the Gospel (as opposed to just violations of the moral law) then yes, God did have to give man enabling grace. So again, God didn't have to give prevenient grace, but he did have to give it in order to hold man accountable for unbelief.

Quote From Arminius on the Subject

Here's Arminius' thoughts on the subject:

8. "That man should be rendered inexcusable," is neither the proximate end, nor
that which was intended by God, to the divine vocation when it is first made and
has not been repulsed.
9. The doctrine which is manifested only for the purpose of rendering those who hear it inexcusable, cannot render them inexcusable either by right or by efficacy.
10. The right of God -- by which he can require faith in Christ from those who do not possess the capability of believing in him, and on whom he refuses to bestow the grace which is necessary and sufficient for believing, without any demerit on account of grace repulsed -- does not rest or depend on the fact that God gave to Adam, in his primeval state, and in him to all men, the capability of believing in Christ.
11. The right of God -- by which he can condemn those who reject the gospel of grace, and by which he actually condemns the disobedient -- does not rest or depend on this fact, that all men have, by their own fault, lost the capability of
believing which they received in Adam.
12. Sufficient grace must necessarily be laid down; yet this sufficient grace, through the fault of him to whom it is granted, does not [always] obtain its effect. Were the fact otherwise, the justice of God could not be defended in his condemning those who
do not believe

Arminius does seem to think that enabling grace is needed in order for God to require faith of fallen mankind. Without prevenient grace, God could punish man for violating the Law, but not rejection of the Gospel.

1 comment:

Steve Finnell said...


Is it possible to be saved without having your sins forgiven? Was Saul saved by faith alone before his sins were forgiven?

If Saul was saved on the road to Damascus, then he was saved without having his sins forgiven.

Saul believed in Jesus on the road Damascus, but his sins were forgiven three days later in Damascus
Act 9:1-19......9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank....

Saul sins were forgiven in Damascus, three days later, not on the road to Damascus.
Acts 22:1-16.....10 And I said, 'What shall I do Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'.......16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins,calling on His name!

Saul was not saved by faith only. Saul was saved by believing and being baptized in water.

Jesus did not establish faith only salvation on the road to Damascus. Jesus confirmed what He already had said "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved"... (Mark 16:16)

You cannot be saved unless your sins have been forgiven.

In order to support the doctrine of faith only men have offered many reasons why the Scriptures cannot be trusted.
1. The Bible is not the inerrant word of God, it has many errors and contradictions.
2. You have to be a Greek scholar to understand the Bible. If you understand the original Greek language, then you would know water baptism is not essential for forgiveness of sins.
3. You need to use extra-Biblical writings to understand the plan of salvation.
4. The Bible has been mistranslated, therefore men are saved by faith only and not the way it is presented in the Bible.

If God is not smart enough to give men an accurate translation of His plan for salvation and Christian living, then why would anyone trust in Him for salvation or for anything else.

God has given us His plan of salvation in many translations, in different languages. You do not have to know Greek.You do not have to have a Greek dictionary. You do have to be Greek. If men had to be able to read and understand original Greek to understand the Bible, then all Bibles would be in Greek.


Men are not saved by faith only and there is no verse of Scripture that states men are saved by faith only. Men are saved by faith, but not by faith only.