Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 7

three-thumb.jpgFourth theological conclusion — prevenient grace makes better sense

It’s just a thought. And I know I can’t prove this.

Remember: the classic Calvinist argument is that humans cannot have faith without the Spirit changing their hearts.

The classic Arminian argument is that humans cannot have faith without the Spirit changing their hearts, but the human has free will to choose after the Spirit has opened his heart. (The work of the Spirit is bring people to faith (or potential faith) is called prevenient grace.)

The classic Church of Christ argument (which is common among modern evangelicals) is that we are quite capable of choosing to have faith without any help from the Spirit — other than the word of the gospel.

But many verses don’t quite fit the evangelical mold. We’ve already considered —

(Acts 16:14) One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.

Or what about —

(John 6:43-44; 63-65) “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. …

63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

In verse 63, “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit — a major theme of John’s Gospel. If the Spirit works with the spoken words, then it makes perfect sense to say “the words I have spoken … are spirit and they are life.” If the Spirit only comes as a result of believing the words, Jesus’ statement is problematic.

Moreover, in v. 65, Jesus, speaking of Judas, and reiterating the point of verse 44, certainly seems to say that God has not enabled Judas to believe. If the enabling were Jesus’ preaching, well, Judas heard the sermon, too. So did the many other disciples who left him at this time.

Now consider —

(Acts 19:9 NASB) But when some were becoming hardened and disobedient, speaking evil of the Way before the people, he withdrew from them and took away the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.

(Rom 9:18) Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

(John 12:37-41) Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” 39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: 40 “He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn–and I would heal them.” 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.

(Rom 1:25-26) They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator–who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.

These sound horribly Calvinistic, don’t they? But the idea of God hardening and blinding people so they won’t be saved contradicts only about 99% of the Bible. Calvinism cannot be right. But if Calvin got it wrong, what do these verses mean?

Rom 1:25-26 gives an important clue, I think. Those whom God “gave over” rejected God. God didn’t make them sinners. Rather, those who would never choose faith, even with God’s help, are given over to sins that demonstrate the price of rejecting God. They are hardened because of their unbelief. This helps the world see the difference between the world and the church.

Thus, another possibility (a Fourth Way, in this case) is that God softens the hearts of those who will respond in faith with a softened heart. God hardens the hearts of those who won’t. In other words, God starts with the answer. God lets the effect (faith) be the cause (the Spirit’s opening of the heart).

You see, God not only knows the future, he has perfect knowledge of contingencies — he know what will happen if … . He therefore doesn’t cast his pearls before swine. He doesn’t give his Spirit to those who won’t believe even with the Spirit’s help.

God would never harden the hearts of someone who would have otherwise been saved. Why send your Son to die for everyone and then arbitrarily refuse to save some? It’d be irrational in the extreme.

But God might well refuse to send the Spirit to someone who wouldn’t believe even with the Spirit’s help (very much like blasphemy of the Spirit). In such a case, sometimes God even hardens their hearts — as explained in Romans, to show the awfulness of being without God.

If we see God starting with the answer, knowing the future perfectly, then it only makes sense that he’d only send the Spirit to those willing to respond. In fact, the only reason this doesn’t seem natural is because we tend to create God in our image — and we can’t know the future as God does.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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4 Responses to Searching for The Third Way: Baptism, Part 7

  1. mark says:

    Grace as the ultimate dialectic union is very plausible. I never thought of it that way.

  2. Alan says:

    Exodus interchangeably states that God hardened Pharaoh's heart, and that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. (Ex 4:21, 7:3, 8:15, 8:32, 9:12, 9:34, 10:1, 10:27 etc). One would think that the plagues God sent would change the heart of most people, out of fear for their lives if nothing else. But in Pharaoh's case, these things hardened his heart. So God really did do things that hardened Pharaoh's heart, even though those same deeds would have brought repentance in some other people. Pharaoh himself chose which response he would have — but God knew how Pharaoh would respond before he performed the plagues. So there was an element of free will and an element of causation by God.

  3. Pingback: Some readings on baptism | TimothyArcher.com/Kitchen

  4. Midgeoreno says:

    What is the difference between a God that predestines some to election, and a God that knowingly creates some that will never choose rational belief in Christ? The truth is that Jesus spoke more of Hell than he did of Heaven. He created all, for the Glory of God, some for noble purposes, some for ignoble.

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