Monday, January 14, 2013

John 6:44 – Compatible with Compatiblism?

Both Calvinist and Arminians hold to total depravity, which minimally includes the idea that man cannot believe without God’s grace, but they mean very different things by this. Most of the historic controversy has centered on what each side means by God’s grace; but it’s time to look at what each side means by “man cannot believe”. I am going to argue that total depravity is not compatible with compatiblism. Because Arminianism asserts and Calvinism denies total depravity in ordinary everyday language, Arminianism makes better sense of total depravity.

John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.  (See also Job 15:14, Romans 8:7-8, John 6:65, John 15:5, and Romans 5:6)

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we would not come to Him even if we wanted to? No if we wanted to we would come. Christ is not saying we have a physical defect with our minds, such that we cannot think the thoughts. So in the classical compatiblistic sense of saying a man can do something, if it’s true that he would do it if he wanted to, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because it’s true that he would come if he wanted to.

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we have dispositions such that we would not come to Him even if we wanted to? No if we wanted to we could come. So on dispositional compatiblism, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because he has dispositions such that he would come if he wanted to.

When our Lord says “no man can come to me”, does He mean we know for certain we will never come to Christ? No, for no one knows for certain they are reprobate. So on epistemic compatiblism, we would deny Christ’s words and say yes man can come, because we don’t know that we will not come.

Yet classic compatiblism, dispositional compatiblism and epistemic compatiblism are the three main engines compatiblists use to interpret ordinary everyday statements on ability. So John 6:44 is not compatible with compatiblism. While this problem never crosses the lips of Calvinist popularizers such as Piper, Sproul, and White; Johnathan Edwards admits total depravity is an improper use of language and using language normally can do good.1 Tell that to Christ!

But the bible affirms and never denies that man cannot believe without God's grace. This is because the bible was written to the ordinary man in ordinary language.
When our Lord says, "no man can come to me" does He mean we cannot come? Period. Without qualification. Yes. We do not have libertarian freedom respecting conversion. Unlike Calvinism, which in ordinary language must affirm man's ability to believe, man cannot believe without God's grace.

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1But it must be observed concerning moral Inability, in each kind of it, that the word Inability is used in a sense very diverse from its original import. The word signifies only a natural Inability, in the proper use of it; and is applied to such cases only wherein a present will or inclination to the thing, with respect to which a person is said to be unable, is supposable. It cannot be truly said, according to the ordinary use of language, that a malicious man, let him be never so malicious, cannot hold his hand from striking, or that he is not able to show his neighbor kindness; or that a drunkard, let his appetite be never so strong, cannot keep the cup from his mouth. In the strictest propriety of speech, a man has a thing in his power, if he has it in his choice, or at his election: and a man cannot be truly said to be unable to do a thing, when he can do it if he will. It is improperly said, that a person cannot perform those external actions, which are dependent on the act of the Will, and which would be easily performed, if the act of the Will were present. (Edwards.  Freedom of the Will.  I.4)

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