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Posts Tagged ‘Another Gospel’

Prosperity Preaching: Deceitful and Dangerous

When I read about prosperity-preaching churches, my response is: “If I were not on the inside of Christianity, I wouldn’t want in.” In other words, if this is the message of Jesus, no thank you.

Luring people to Christ to get rich is both deceitful and deadly. It’s deceitful because when Jesus himself called us, he said things like: “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). And it’s deadly because the desire to be rich plunges “people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim. 6:9). So here is my plea to preachers of the gospel.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Encountering Prosperity Theology in Latin America

As a young Christian in a majority Roman Catholic country, I was always very excited when I met other young men and women who professed to be evangelical Christians. During my teen years, I spent a few months with some I considered Christians, people who were always eager to talk about religion and faith. When one of them learned I was a diabetic, his question left me perplexed: “So, what is it that you do?” He was asking what sin I’d committed that caused my diabetes. He then proceeded to explain how I could go to their church and their pastor would pray for me so I’d be healed.

Of that group of young friends, most—if not all—have fallen away from the faith. But the theology that fed that conversation isn’t only alive, it’s booming. In an article I wrote about the state of the church in Latin America, I argued prosperity theology is king in Latin America:

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Augustine and Miracle Reports in Church History

by Nathan Busenitz

Some time ago, I received the following question by email:

I was wondering what your thoughts are on Augustine’s “City of God”, book 22, chapter 8 where he records many miracles taking place in Carthage. Some sound doubtful — making the symbol of a cross over the malady. I’ve always found Augustine trustworthy but am sensing some overtones of superstition. Are there other sources that might shed some light on his testimony?

I’ve been asked similar questions before, regarding miracle and healing accounts throughout different eras of church history. Though each instance is different, Augustine’s testimony in The City of God provides an interesting case study.

From a cessationist perspective, here are a few thoughts in response to Augustine’s healing accounts:

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Prosperity Gospel Born in the USA

My eyes were intently scanning, and perhaps my heart coveting, the piles of books at the Christian book fair in Kyiv, Ukraine. As I perused the merchandise, my eyes stopped, focused, and involuntarily rolled upward. There it was: Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now, translated into Russian, lying on the table in front of me. This was another reminder that although the modern prosperity gospel originated in the United States, its preachers have exported this deadly virus around the world to places such as Latin America, Africa, Asia, and even Eastern Europe.

This article will briefly trace the origins of the prosperity gospel and suggest some reasons as to why it has prospered in the United States.

Rooted in New Thought

The prosperity gospel is built on a quasi-Christian heresy, popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the United States, known as New Thought. This philosophy teaches that the key to health and wealth acquisition is thinking, visualizing, and speaking the right words. Norman Vincent Peale (1898–1993), pastor of Marble Collegiate Church in New York City, popularized New Thought ideas and techniques in America through his book The Power of Positive Thinking (1952). Ralph Waldo Trine (1866–1958), however, was the most prolific purveyor of New Thought. In both works, one can discern some of the key recurring elements of the prosperity gospel: speaking the right words, invoking a universal law of success with words, and having faith in oneself.

The ideas of New Thought influenced, among others, E. W. Kenyon (1867–1948), an evangelist, pastor, and founder of Bethel Bible Institute. His approach to theology is the basis for one of the prosperity gospel’s most distinctive features—speaking the right words to bring about a new reality; what you confess, you possess. Kenyon served as a link to the popular prosperity preachers that formed the foundation of the modern prosperity gospel movement.

For example, in the late 1940s, Oral Roberts burst onto the religious scene with his ministry of alleged healing and financial prosperity. In the 1980s, his television show was one of the most popular religious programs in the country. While Roberts certainly captured national attention and spread prosperity theology, most recognize Kenneth E. Hagin (1917–2003) as the most prominent evangelist of the prosperity gospel as well the father of the Word of Faith movement. More than any other factor, the Word of Faith movement was the vehicle responsible for spreading prosperity teaching across the United States in the late 20th century.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

A Call to Separation

by A.W. Pink

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?” (2 Cor. 6:14-18)

“…….“Be ye not unequally yoked together.” This applies first to our religious or ecclesiastical connections. How many Christians are members of so-called “churches,” where much is going on which they know is at direct variance with the Word of God either the teaching from the pulpit, the worldly attractions used to draw the ungodly, and the worldly methods employed to finance it or the constant receiving into its membership of those who give no evidence of having been born again. Believers in Christ who remain in such “churches” are dishonoring their Lord. Should they answer: “Practically all the churches are the same, and were we to resign, what could we do? We must go somewhere on Sundays,” such language would show they are putting their own interests before the glory of Christ. Better stay at home and read God’s Word, than fellowship that which His Word condemns…….”

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Dr. Carson interviews Conrad Mbewe about the church situation in Africa

5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel

More than a century ago, speaking to the then-largest congregation in all Christendom, Charles Spurgeon said, “I believe that it is anti-Christian and unholy for any Christian to live with the object of accumulating wealth. You will say, ‘Are we not to strive all we can to get all the money we can?’ You may do so. I cannot doubt but what, in so doing, you may do service to the cause of God. But what I said was that to live with the object of accumulating wealth is anti-Christian.”

Over the years, however, the message being preached in some of the largest churches in the world has changed—indeed, a new gospel is being taught to many congregations today. This message has been ascribed many name, such as the “name it and claim it” gospel, the “blab it and grab it” gospel, the “health and wealth” gospel, the “prosperity gospel,” and “positive confession theology.”

No matter what name is used, the essence of this message is the same. Simply put, this “prosperity gospel” teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy. Listen to the words of Robert Tilton, one of its best-known spokesmen: “I believe that it is the will of God for all to prosper because I see it in the Word, not because it has worked mightily for someone else. I do not put my eyes on men, but on God who gives me the power to get wealth.” Teachers of the prosperity gospel encourage their followers to pray for and even demand material flourishing from God.

 

 

 

Read the entire article here.

Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism Pt 8

Conclusion

The Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace is fraught with serious problems. It has a deficient view of human depravity allowing its view of divine grace to mitigate the effects of depravity. It does so by enabling all human beings with an ability to “seek” after God contrary to the Bible’s descriptions of corruption and spiritual inability in the natural man. Subsequently, the doctrine under-girds a deficient view of the natural human will by saying it is freed from the bondage of sin and capable of acting contrary to the unbeliever’s sin nature. It has a deficient view of regeneration by failing to recognize that apart from receiving a new nature the natural man cannot and will not believe upon Christ for salvation. Finally, the doctrine has a deficient view of God’s grace and the unmitigated power it has to transform sinners. Rather, Arminians believe divine grace can and must be resisted placing the final determining power for salvation in the hands of the man who wills not the God who has mercy upon spiritually impotent and recalcitrant creatures. The natural man is depraved, his will enslaved by an unregenerate nature and incapable of exercising faith in Christ apart from the monergistic transforming irresistible grace of God. These conclusions place the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace under the essential rubric of semi-Pelagianism under which it is difficult for it to escape.

Scott Christensen-Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism

Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism Pt 7

August 11, 2014 1 comment

A Deficient View of the Power of Grace

This reinforces another important conclusion. Divine saving grace is irresistible. Arminianism mitigates the power of grace by its view of prevenient grace. Arminians hold that grace has no power in the life of its recipients unless a person activates that power by his free will. This indicates that the determining factor of salvation rests not in the hands of God but in the hand on the one who exercises free will in a favorable response to grace. In other words, divine grace is completely resistible. Nonetheless, Arminians like Olson deny that Arminianism is man-centered and that the free choice of the sinner is the deciding force determining salvation. He insists that it is the grace of God that inclines one to choose and this choice is defined as “nonresistance”34 to divine grace. However, he seems to forget that the corollary of libertarianism means equal resistance to grace otherwise man is not regarded as free. This poses serious problems for the doctrine of prevenient grace.

Resistible Grace. Many Arminians take pains to explain why a person chooses Christ when under the influence of prevenient grace. But little is said about those who reject Christ under the same influence. For example, Thomas Oden, a Wesleyan, states:

Grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need of God, is the work of preparing, preventing grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own unrighteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the gift of God.35

This statement could easily fit the theology of any Calvinist if the grace described here were irresistible. However, the Arminian concludes that such grace is resistible. What is peculiar about this description of prevenient grace is that this could never be the experience of the one who resists it. In what sense does this grace draw one to faith, convict of sin, prepare one to please God, causing such a person to despair over unrighteousness, challenging their perverse dispositions and yet in the end they still resist the gift of God? How does the Arminian describe the work of prevenient grace in the life of the person who resists it? Wesley’s answer was to exhort men to “stir up the spark of grace which is now in you, and he will give you more grace.” Thus, the sort of grace Oden describes does not seem possible unless a person of his free will chooses to allow God to supply more of this grace at each nascent stage of being awakened to the truth of the gospel and one’s spiritual need for it. The Arminian is at pains to say that salvation solely rests upon God’s grace and non-resistance to this grace, but God appears not to supply it unless one wants it. The picture is one in which grace is withheld until further movements toward acceptance release it in evermore incremental stages. In the end, it is dependent upon man’s free choice to cooperate at every step of the way toward saving faith. That however, appears indistinguishable from semi-Pelagianism.

Roger Olson, demurs. He says,

Wesley anticipated the Calvinist accusation that by affirming even grace-enabled free will he was opening the door to Pelagianism or semi-Pelagianism. He rejected that criticism as invalid, attributing all goodness in human beings to God’s supernatural grace: “Whatsoever good is in man, or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it.”36

The problem with this statement is it is not possible for God to supply the grace and the goodness unless the recipient continues to long for more of it. And this points out a major problem for the Arminian. The Arminian wants to avoid any charge that salvation rests ultimately upon human free will. They want to say salvation rests upon divine grace. Olson says, “The decisive factor [for the reception of salvation] is the grace of God – from beginning to end.”37 He says, “The only ‘contribution’ humans make is non-resistance.”38 But Olson fails to mention if at any point between beginning and end that the recipient of grace resists it, then grace fails to be effective. The Arminian conception of grace cannot save as long as it is resisted. Let’s consider this problem further.

Unbelief a Gift. Remember that according to Arminianism, prevenient grace supplies the gift of libertarian freedom (i.e. contrary choice). Prior to prevenient grace, man’s will was in strict bondage to sin which concurs with the Calvinistic doctrine of Total Depravity. Thus, if the Arminian says that the will to believe is a gift of initial prevenient grace, then they must also affirm that the concurrent will to disbelieve is also a gift of grace since both responses are necessary if libertarian freedom is true. It is not exactly an appealing point to say that the will to disbelieve is a gift of grace, but that has to be a necessary corollary to the fact that grace is what first supplies libertarian freedom.

Denial of Further Grace. But Arminianism cannot resolve the main conundrum here. Further effusions of divine grace are withheld if the recipient does not use his libertarian freedom to respond positively to the grace given. This seems a cruel by-product of the gift of libertarian freedom. Only if you use that freedom correctly will God supply more grace, otherwise you are barred access to further grace. One might take Thomas Oden’s description of prevenient grace as something that happens wholesale at one time resulting in the freedom to exercise faith and thus procure salvation once and for all. But no Arminian would say that God’s grace is dispensed in every case all at once and then faith is exercised to procure salvation. Everyone’s conversion experience is different. Some respond to the call of the gospel immediately and without any intervening deliberation. But many more experience various promptings, convictions, awakenings to spiritual need, God-ward directed desires, increased understanding of the gospel, and so forth before exercising faith. These come in successive stages or waves and in varying intensity and so forth. Each occurrence culminates eventually in saving faith, but only if each occurrence of grace is responded to positively. If at any point the sinner resists these occurrences of grace then he cuts off further supplies of grace. Each successive act is wholly dependent on the positive response of the recipient, otherwise further acts are denied. Thus, it is not just one act of free will that procures salvation, but several and perhaps enumerable acts of free will. Thus, no matter how important and necessary divine grace is, in the end salvation is primarily conditioned and dependent on free will and only secondarily upon grace. Arminians are at pains to emphasize the priority of grace, but the final accent rests upon free will.

The Beggar Analogy. Olson offers a couple of analogies to describe the Arminian position on grace and free will. One is borrowed from Arminius himself.39 A rich man representing God offers a beggar alms. The only condition of the beggar receiving the alms is that he simply reach out his hand to take it. The principal source for the receiving of alms is not the liberty of the receiver, according to Arminius, but the liberality of the giver. Olson takes this analogy and expands it.40 The rich man bestows the gift upon the poor man by offering him a check that simply needs to be endorsed and then deposited in the bank. Olson says surely no one would suggest that the decisive factor for the reception of the check was the endorsing and depositing of it in the bank. But there are several problems with this analogy. First, there is the assumption that the beggar/ poor man recognizes that he is poor and desperate and needs the money offered him. Again, the Arminian would say this recognition comes as part of prevenient grace. But as we have seen, it only comes if the person responds positively to each “spark of grace” offered along the way. Every aspect of grace as Thomas Oden earlier described it would have to be positively responded to (or as Olson says, not resisted). But what do we make of the one who resists? If it is always possible to resist prevenient grace then grace is only made effective by one’s freely cooperating with it. Otherwise grace has no power to save. If grace was truly effective in the analogy Olson presents then the poor man would need to do nothing. The money would be automatically deposited into his bank account. But Olson would likely object. In this case, such a deed would be done apart from his freedom to accept or reject it. But that does not follow from the nature of the analogy. What beggar would refuse an automatic deposit to his bank account? Why is he begging in the first place? The point is, grace by its very nature does the work Thomas Oden described earlier and it does so irresistibly moving the recipient to saving faith. But that is the Calvinist position not the libertarian position of Arminians.

The Failure of Grace. So we are still left with the question of what to make of the one who resists grace. If two persons are the equal recipients of prevenient grace and one resists while the other does not, what explains the difference? Did grace succeed in one case and fail in the other case? The Arminian would be awfully hard pressed to say grace failed for the man who resisted. It was wholly dependent on his free choice to resist. But once you say this, then it is no longer dependent on grace. Furthermore, you must say the same for the man who did not resist. Was grace more powerful for him? Again, the Arminian would have to be compelled to say no if grace is to be regarded as non-partisan in its effects. It depended on his freely accepting the grace offered. The Arminian would not want to say that the one who does not resist actually gets a little extra grace to push him over the fence whereas the other doesn’t get quite enough. That would make God unfair and it would be hard to distinguish from a deliberate determination of God to be inclined to save one person over the other. For Arminianism grace must be an equal opportunity employer. Each person should receive an equal share of grace. Thus, it is extremely difficult to avoid the fact that in the end the deciding factor is not primarily God’s grace but man’s free will that procures salvation. And again, this state of affairs essentially amounts to semi-Pelagianism. The only way one can truly affirm that grace is what saves is if grace in the end is irresistible and wholly efficacious in its salvific results for the one who believes in Christ.

Another question begs for an answer. Is not God’s grace the most compelling and powerful force on earth? Why wouldn’t it be if God desired the salvation of men as much as Arminians claim He does? Olson is unequivocal about the foundation for Arminian theology. It is protecting the character of God as primarily good and loving.41 This would seem to provide the impetus for a magnanimous display of love toward all of humanity. In an Arminian account of matters, what reason would a God who desires the salvation of all men yet respecting their free will would not use every powerful resource He could muster to persuade men short of forcing them to believe? And if that is the case, then how could such grace possibly be resisted? The only answer the Arminian can give is that man simply has the free will to refuse grace and for no other reason.

Free will is not an adequate answer to this dilemma. Oden quotes Wesley on how prevenient grace works. Wesley says, “God recreates our freedom to love from its fallen condition of unresponsive spiritual deadness.”42 This explains the responsiveness of some who receive prevenient grace, but it does not explain the unresponsiveness of other recipients of prevenient grace. The freedom God creates in prevenient grace to love must also be the same freedom it creates to hate. But hate is more indicative of the fallen condition of man which is rightly described here as “unresponsive spiritual deadness.” This undermines the whole nature of prevenient grace. Arminians consistently emphasize that prevenient grace is meant to induce responsiveness not continued unresponsiveness even though they explicitly acknowledge the latter must be true because libertarian freedom is necessary for salvation to be meaningful. In other words, a relationship with God cannot be meaningful unless one is free to reject it. Libertarianism teaches that any choice made that could not as easily not been made must necessarily be a choice that is determined by outside forces and therefore coerced. A coercive choice is no choice at all. So unresponsiveness to grace is a necessary corollary of libertarian freedom as unattractive as that seems to the Arminian.

But, the problem is unresponsiveness is characteristic of spiritual deadness and Arminians seem unwilling to recognize this as part of the logical result of their doctrine of prevenient grace. To say prevenient grace provides the renewal of free will makes no sense. The freedom to choose to love God and exercise saving faith is not a problem. Calvinists agree with this in substance as long as freedom of choice is defined as acting willingly or voluntarily in accordance with one’s regenerated nature. But to say free will also creates the equal freedom to reject God is simply to say that the person still retains the conditions of spiritual deadness that prevented them from loving God or exercising faith in the first place. Arminians believe that Original Sin and Total Depravity placed the will in bondage and that prevenient grace restores the will with libertarian capacities. But to say that the recipient of prevenient grace can resist all such grace and continue to reject God is to say that grace fails for some. In fact, it is non-existent for those who resist it. Grace is only present and effective (i.e. successful for leading one to salvation) for those who do not resist, but this is what Calvinists have said all along. Grace is irresistible.

Furthermore, since libertarian free will by its nature has no antecedent causes and choices are contingent and therefore unpredictable, the libertarian must concede that there is no explanation for why one responds with non-resistance to grace while another resists it. But this is an absurdity. Few rational people believe choices never have their reasons. Choices always have determining causes even if we cannot always determine what those causes are. Again we come back to the same pressing questions. What reason does the recipient of prevenient grace have for resisting it? If God’s grace is powerful and compelling then what keeps one from being persuaded by it? Would we not say that this person is somehow blind to what other recipients of grace see? If so, would they still not be in bondage to their spiritually dead nature that blinded them in the first place? If the other recipient of prevenient grace is able to see, what reason explains why he does so? The Arminian has eliminated the failure of God’s grace so the only alternative lies in the person himself. To say belief or unbelief depends strictly on the contingent, unpredictable, causeless choice of the recipient of grace is to be mired in the arbitrary confusion that libertarian freedom amounts to. Therefore, the choice of believing and not resisting grace must be regarded as virtuous and the choice of the one who resists grace and refuses to believe is decidedly un-virtuous otherwise how do you explain the difference? So then, the problem reduces itself to the conclusion that one person believed because he was the better person than the one who did not believe. And if that is the case, the Arminian is forced to wrestling with the more serious criticism that their view of salvation amounts to worksrighteousness. It depends on the particular virtue of the person who believes.

Now of course it is true that the choice of a person who believes in Christ is virtuous and the choice to remain in unbelief is un-virtuous. Unbelief is sin. Belief is righteous. This being the case, salvation cannot depend upon the free will of man to resist or not resist the grace of God (John 1:12-13; Rom. 9:16). The grace of God must be wholly responsible in every aspect of the reception of salvation. This means that grace must first transform the recipient as matter of course such that his nature is regenerated and made capable of seeing and believing. Such a transformation must of necessity lead to saving faith as a divinely enabled gift not a humanly initiated work otherwise grace is nullified. The power of grace rests in its efficacious nature as dispensed by a gracious God. If the power of grace can only be activated by the virtuous choice of the believer, then salvation would be by received only by people with prior virtue. Indeed belief is a virtuous response, but not one that is rooted in one’s free will. The virtue of faith and repentance rests wholly in the efficacious and irresistible nature of transforming grace. Salvation depends on God who has mercy (Rom. 9:16). No one can come to Christ unless he is drawn by the Father (John 6:44). This drawing power cannot be resisted because all who come to Christ are the same people God gave to Christ (John 6:37). This is why Jesus says no one comes unless it has been “granted” by the Father (John 6:65). Thus, saving faith is wholly a gift of divine grace that obtains necessarily in the life of the recipient. It is not a gift that can be rejected, but then again, neither is it a gift one would ever desire to reject. When God changes the heart of a sinner (Ezek. 36:26-27) the sinner willingly comes only to Christ (John 10:3-5, 14) and with full joy (Psa. 13:5; 51:12; 110:3). Thus, contrary to all protests, the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace is rooted in semi-Pelagian notions that undermine the nature of true grace.

Scott Christensen-Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism

 

34 Ibid., p. 157.
35 Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity, p. 249. Picirilli gives a similar explanation for how grace impacts the one who believes, but says little about the one who does not believe. See Grace, Faith, p. 155-58. He says, “When we come to try to explain why some, when hearing the gospel, give more evidence of… conviction than others, we are not always able” (p. 158).
36 Arminian Theology, p. 169.
37 Ibid., p. 166.
38 Ibid., p. 165.
39 Ibid.
40 Ibid., p. 166.
41 Arminian Theology, p. 97-114.
42 Thomas Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 249.

Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism Pt 6

August 4, 2014 1 comment

A Deficient View of Regeneration

This leads to a further problem. The Arminian view of prevenient grace undermines a proper view of regeneration. Arminianism says that prevenient grace enables all men with the power of libertarian free will such that they can exercise faith by non-resistance to divine grace or resist it by the same power of free choice. If they choose not to resist grace, then they are afforded the opportunity to provoke more grace that then leads to saving faith. Once saving faith is exercised then God regenerates the believing person.31 Thus, in Arminianism faith precedes regeneration. Even though the Arminian argues that it is God who regenerates and not faith, faith is a necessary prerequisite to the reception of the new nature. Thus, it is difficult to escape the charge that faith invokes the divine response bringing us back to the charge of semi- Pelagianism. But once again, Arminians will respond that faith cannot be exercised without prior prevenient grace.32 This is immaterial since it has already been pointed out that semi- Pelagianism does not deny such a construct. The main distinctive of semi-Pelagianism is its insistence upon synergism – God’s grace and man’s free will must cooperate together in order to procure salvation.33 Which comes first is not at issue because the human response in the end has the last word finally prompting God to act with saving/ regenerating/ converting grace. The charge against Arminianism is simply that it is not monergistic. Subsequently, any form of synergism seems inevitably to lead us back to semi-Pelagianism. The Scripture’s teaching on regeneration contradicts the synergistic understanding of prevenient grace. Furthermore, the nature of regeneration has a direct bearing upon how one understands the sin nature and its grip upon the unbeliever.

Paul makes a distinction between the natural man and the spiritual man in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. His teaching here is critical for understanding the Spirit’s role in transforming the nature of those whom God has chosen for salvation. In support of what has already been said, the absolute resistance of the natural man to anything spiritual is reinforced by Paul’s teaching in these chapters. He says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). Note the contrast between those who are perishing and those who are being saved. The perishing are those who are unregenerate. Their minds are blinded to the truth (2 Cor. 4:4). The gospel has no compelling force to any such person. The gospel has nothing but the appearance of obscurity and absurdity. But those who are being saved experience the unmitigated power of the cross. There is no middle ground. Paul says for the believer that, “[God] is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption. Therefore, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’” (vss. 30-31). There is no sense in which the one who believes can claim that he arbitrated the grace of God via his own self-determining freedom of choice. John says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13). Again Paul says, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Salvation is monergistic. God does all the work necessary for salvation to obtain. Of course, that does not mean humans are passive recipients of His work. Rather divine grace is the necessary cause of human faith.

1 Corinthians 2:14 continues Paul’s argument. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In other words, unless one has the Spirit indwelling him he cannot ascertain spiritual realities. In this way, one’s faith is completely dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit (vss. 4-5). The “wisdom” Paul preached to the Corinthians (vss. 1-5) was the gospel – “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (vs. 2). This is not a wisdom that comes naturally to men. It is wisdom born of the Spirit. Paul says the Corinthian believers have received this wisdom of the gospel that led to their faith because they have received the Spirit Himself (vs. 12). Elsewhere, Paul says if a person does not have the Spirit of Christ he does not belong to Christ (Rom. 8:9). Paul is simply describing the power of the Spirit to transform the natural man into a spiritual man (vs. 15; cf. 1 Cor. 3:1). In this regard, Paul uses the word “spiritual” to mean one who is of the Spirit. That is not the description of the unregenerate person because Paul has used the word “natural” to refer to such a person. Thus, anyone who is enlightened with the wisdom of the gospel is in fact one who has already received the Holy Spirit and become the recipient of the Spirit’s power to transform one’s nature from a natural unregenerate state to the spiritual regenerate state. But according to the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace one can be enlightened concerning the wisdom of the gospel but still reject it. Paul allows for no such possibility here. True enlightenment concerning the wisdom of the gospel comes necessarily and inevitably from the power of the Spirit which leads necessarily and inevitably to the transformation of regeneration and subsequent saving faith. Such gracious power is irresistible as an unbroken chain of cause and effect.

Likewise, Jesus is also clear that apart from regeneration one is neither able to “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3) nor “enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). In other words, the natural disposition of the unregenerate person is such that he is incapable of understanding the gospel in a spiritually enlightened manner nor is he capable of exercising faith so as to enter the realm of God’s kingdom. The perquisite of spiritual enlightenment and saving faith is to have one’s nature transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit such that the person is willing and able to repent and believe. But again what is necessary to understand here is that the grace that attends regeneration is an absolutely efficacious and irresistible grace. The primary contention of Arminianism is that any grace leading to salvation is resistible. All prevenient grace does is liberate the will from bondage to sin such that it is free to choose contrary to either influence – grace or sin. In other words, the will is free to resist the forces of the sin nature or concur with them. Likewise, it is free to resist divine grace or concur with it. Saving grace can only be efficacious for the person who wills it to be so. Thus, salvation is ultimately centered and dependent on a particular person’s choice of God not God’s choice of a particular person.

James makes it clear that regeneration is due to the sovereign will of God in the life of its recipients. “In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (James 1:18). First of all, God’s will here speaks of his irrevocable sovereign will. Secondly, the phrase “brought us forth” literally means “gave us birth.” The means by which He unconditionally willed believers to be born again was through the instrument of His word of truth, the message of the gospel. This gospel message is the same “wisdom of God” Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:7 that is distinguished from the wisdom of men. Paul’s message is the wisdom of God and that same message, called the word of truth by James, is applied in regeneration to those God willed to be saved and is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit. He says, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4-5; cf. Rom. 1:16). Again, salvation is monergistic, but not passively received. Regeneration always efficaciously results in the conversion of its recipients. Regeneration is God’s work in the recipient and conversion (i.e. faith and repentance) is the inevitable active response of the person who has been regenerated. The synergistic view of Arminianism says God does His part in prevenient grace, but if the recipient doesn’t do his part in exercising his free will, he cannot be saved. The Scripture nowhere teaches this concept.

Scott Christensen-Prevenient Grace and Semi-Pelagianism

 

31 See for example the order of salvation (ordo salutis) given by Forlines, Classical Arminianism, p. 84.
32 Ibid., p. 22.
33 Most Arminians readily admit that their soteriology is synergistic. E.g. Forlines, Classical Arminianism, p. 24; Olson, Arminian Theology, p. 39. Picirilli rejects the synergism label as he believes this implies that faith is a work and salvation is not by works (Grace, Faith, p. 36, 96, 146). Nonetheless, his understanding of prevenient grace is in no way substantially different from other articulate Arminians.