Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Faith and ineffectual regeneration

Jason asks,
Scripture does seem to indicate that saving faith is a gift from God. (Ephesians 2:8) While we are culpable for all our sins, including our unbelief, am I right in understanding that you believe God offers all people grace through faith (the kind that raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life) and that some people reject the offer? If that is correct, do you believe that faith is only operable upon receipt by the individual? In other words, how does one receive the gift offered if they are dead in their trespasses and sins?. You mentioned “ineffectual regeneration” in the post. I’m not sure if you accept that term or not, but if you do, do all people get “spiritually raised from the dead” and then spiritually die again if they reject?
I think that faith in 1 Corinthians 12 is a special gift of faith that is not given to all Christians; for example the sort of faith that can believe for miracles. This is because it occurs within a list where Paul states each gift is limited to some.
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills. (1 Corinthians 12:4-1)
Paul says: to one is given this, to another this; this includes faith. Then he summarises by saying, "to each one individually as he wills." This is not particularly controversial, even Calvinists see a special faith here.

I do not think that faith in Ephesians 2:8 is a gift (this will require a post of its own). So I don't see faith in God as a gift from God. I see it as our response to his calling.
Am I right in understanding that you believe God offers all people grace through faith (the kind that raises the spiritually dead to spiritual life)
Well, I wouldn't say "through faith." Part of the problem here is that I am addressing Calvinist terms which carry suppositions that I do not subscribe to. So I am trying to be generous by using the term they have chosen but this can backfire because by conceding the term it may seem as if I agree with their suppositions, or worse, they equivocate. So I don't mind the theological term "synergist" but I object to those who go from synergism to the claim that Arminians think that they save themselves. I would prefer to say that God is calling all men to himself. Because God is calling us that is an act of kindness, or, if you like, grace. This is usually called "prevenient grace". God does that regardless of whether we will have (saving) faith. By "saving" I mean the type of faith that results in God saving us, I don't mean our faith effects salvation for us. I don't think that prevenient grace saves people, it is God showing his kindness to us.

This prior state Calvinists call "total depravity" and (spiritual) death (Eph 2:1). So all men are in this state prior to God regenerating them and God effecting a saving faith in them. They claim this is effectual because God's regeneration can not fail to result in a man coming to faith and being saved.

Now I don't really agree with what Calvinists think "dead" means. Are people spiritually dead? Yes, but in the sense that they are lost without Christ. Those who die without him are damned. I don't think that we are unable to do things, nor do I think we are unable to respond to God. We are disposed against God but we respond to him. To the (hypothetical) question "can dead people do anything ?" my response is this is over-reading a metaphor. When Isaiah says all our deeds are filthy rags he is speaking hyperbolically. I believe men are fallen and sinful, and men are often worse than they realise, but I am cautious when people apply deductive logic to statements that are not meant as ironclad premises.

So God desires all men to be saved. He calls all men to himself. We can accept or reject God's call. That is what Arminians mean by resistible. Using Calvinist terminology this would mean that God's call is "ineffectual" in those who reject him, but this is not a useful term as it is subtly conceding that the call could be effectual. However Arminians don't think that the call is effectual or ineffectual. We don't think it works like that at all. Rather we think that faith is something we choose to have or decline to have. We do not receive faith. Faith is not something that God can cause; just as love is not something God can cause. This is not a limitation of God, this is the nature of love and faith. For love to mean anything it must originate from the person.

So people aren't made spiritually alive and then made spiritually dead if God's call is ineffectual. Rather God's prevenient grace is always at work and those who respond to God in faith God saves.

1 comment:

  1. Re: “grace through faith” – I was simply quoting the passage. I was not intending to impose Calvinistic terminology onto the text. Rather, exegetically, I suggest that when Paul writes, “it is the gift of God,” the “it” refers to the whole phrase “by grace, through faith.” I know you haven’t written a post on the passage yet. Just trying to give some context.

    So, based on my exegetical position, the questions hopefully make more sense. For me, it really is a textual question, long before it is a soteriological systematic question.

    Re: spiritually dead – I think I agree with you that spiritually dead means “lost without Christ.” I don’t think I agree with you that Isaiah is speaking hyperbolically about our deeds being filthy rags. Metaphorically to be sure, but I’m not convinced it is hyperbole. I hesitate to speak for Calvinists here (mainly since I don’t think I’m a card carrying member of the club) but I don’t know any Calvinists who deny that lost people/spiritually dead people DO things. In other words, the spiritually dead carry out volitional acts and are morally responsible for those acts. I consider a subset of these acts to be actual choices – but apart from Christ these choices always result in movement toward (eternal) death instead of life.

    Re: “We can accept or reject God’s call.” – Agreed. My question is how is God’s call accepted? You state that “We do not receive faith. Faith is not something God can cause…” This has to be determined on exegetical grounds before it can function as a logical premise in a system. And so again, I eagerly await your post on Ephesians 2:8.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed our interaction.

    Jason

    ReplyDelete

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