f The Wittenberg Door: April 2007

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
My Photo

Commenting on Christendom, culture, history, and other oddities of life from an historic Protestant perspective.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Who’s Sovereign in Salvation? – Part 4 – Arminianism: Free Will with Partial Depravity

As we learned in Part 3, Arminianism was developed to contrast the strong view of God’s sovereignty expressed in the Belgic Confession. In this post we’ll begin to take a closer look at the Five Articles of the Remonstrance.

Free Will with Partial Depravity

Partial Depravity teaches that although fallen, man is not totally helpless when it comes to salvation. He, by his own will, can either accept God’s gift of salvation, or he can resist the grace that is being extended him. Below are two popular Arminian illustrations. The first is from Billy Graham and the second from The Bible Answer Man, Hank Hanegraaff:

  • Illustration One: Take and Drink
    A man lies terribly ill in a hospital room. Next to him on a table is a medicine that will cure him. All he must do is take the vile, put it to his lips, and drink, and he’ll be made well.

  • Illustration Two: The Beggar and the King
    A beggar sits at the side of the road as the king's procession approaches. When the king draws near, he, the king, extends his hand to the beggar and reveals a precious gift. All the beggar must do to avail himself of the treasure is to reach-out and take hold.

Argument for Partial Depravity

In 2001, the Christian Research Journal hosted a debate on it’s pages between James White and George Bryson (volume 24, number 1) on the topic of Arminianism vs. Calvinism. In it, Mr. Bryson argued for the concept of free will with partial depravity. Here’s an excerpt (bold added):

. . . like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe all men, except our Lord Jesus Christ, are born spiritually dead. Like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I do not believe they are born partially dead; rather they are entirely dead. Like Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe Scripture teaches that the only remedy for spiritual deadness is a spiritual resurrection. Along with Mr. White and all Calvinists, I believe regeneration or spiritual birth is a spiritual resurrection. Unless and until a spiritually dead person is born of the Spirit, he or she remains spiritually dead . . .

The Calvinist seems to fear that if he allows faith to be first (i.e., before regeneration), then he is making faith foremost. Just because a man must believe in Christ to be born again, however, does not suggest that there is regenerating power in a man’s faith, not even in a man’s faith in Christ. Only God can and does regenerate the spiritually dead, but He does so only (and always) for those who first put their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. . . .

In the two earlier examples, man was not dead, but simply ill and spiritually impoverished. Mr. Bryson, however, takes it a step further and says that man is dead. The following is a summary of his argument:

Man is dead.
Man can only be made alive by the Spirit.
The Spirit will only make man alive if he, man, by an act of his own will, extends the arm of faith.
If man is so willing and extends the arm of faith, God will regenerate and resurrect him (i.e., make him alive).

Scriptures for Partial Depravity

Mr. Bryson supports his argument with the following Scriptures:

Acts 16:31
They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."

John 3:16-17
16)"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

17"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.

John 20:31
but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.

John 1:12-13
12)But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name,

13)who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved," "whoever believes in Him," and "that believing you may have life." These versus clearly state that faith in Christ is necessary for salvation. No controversy here: Calvinist and Arminians are in hearty agreement. However, these verses shed no light upon the debate at hand, and certainly do not support Mr. Bryson's claim that dead men drum-up saving faith within themselves.

John 1:12–13 is a different matter. It does speak to the issue at hand. Where does vs. 12 say the "right to become children of God" came from? Christ. Furthermore, it clearly states that the new birth does not come by "the will of the flesh nor of the will of man," which is opposite of Mr. Bryson's claim that saving faith is an act of man's will. So if the new birth is not the result of man's will, then whose will is it? " . . . but of God."

Updated Analogies

To help us understand Mr. Bryson’s argument, I’ve updated the previous analogies to include the deadness of man:

  • Illustration One: Take and Drink
    After succumbing to his illness, the man dies and his body is taken to the morgue. While there, on a table adjacent to the corps’s slab, appears a medicine that will cause him to come alive. All the corps must do is take-up the vile and drink, and the lifeless body will be regenerated and the man will come back to life.

  • Illustration Two: The Beggar and the King
    While sitting by the road waiting for the king’s procession to pass, a beggar is hit by a bus and killed. As the king draws near the lifeless body, he, the king, extends his hand to the dead beggar and reveals a precious gift. All the corps must do to possess the treasure is to reach-out his lifeless hand and take hold.

In the next post in this series we’ll see what Scripture has to say about the extent and the result of the Fall.

Labels: ,