Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Serious Arminian Exegesis of Calvinist Prooftexts (First Half)
12/18/2004 - James WhiteThis morning I was noting the words of a "I'm such a soft and warm and ecumenical and Catholic Calvinist that I believe in baptismal regeneration and temporary justification and loss of true salvation" attempting to dig himself out of yet another hole he dug himself into by going way beyond the bounds in trying to take shots at yours truly. He was reduced to having to say, "It simply is not the case that only Calvinists are capable of doing serious exegesis of biblical passages, including disputed texts such as John 6 and Romans 9." Like anyone has ever claimed such a thing to begin with, of course. I have often lamented the unwillingness of non-Reformed evangelicals (since "Arminian" seems such a bad word these days) to do exegesis, or even allow for the discussion of the text on that level (Hunt, Bryson, etc.), and have demonstrated this by playing sermons by leading non-Reformed evangelicals, but as anyone can see, that's a far cry from saying they are not capable of the act of exegesis. I have often said that they are, because they use sound hermeneutics when addressing, say, the Deity of Christ. But they are unwilling to test their traditions by those same exegetical parameters when it comes to the sovereign freedom of God to save a people in Christ Jesus.
So this morning we were directed to an example of "serious Arminian exegesis of Calvinist prooftexts." Since this particular writer is fond of proclaiming my own incompentence in exegesis, I was excited to get the chance to learn what "serious Arminian" exegesis looks like. So we were referred to the 1975 Bethany House production, edited by Clark Pinnock (he hadn't completely melted down at this point, but was on his way) titled Grace Unlimited, and to the words of Grant Osborne on pp. 167-189. So I pulled this volume down off the shelf and, since the discussion had included reference to John 6, and I am outlining a book proposal of my own on the subject at the moment, I turned to the section on John 6:35-40, 44-45, 64-65, found on pp. 170-171.
Now, I first observe that it seems a bit unfair to call 606 words a representative sample of "exegesis" to begin with. When I provided a very brief outline of the exegesis of the passage in response to Geisler in The Potter's Freedom I wrote over five times that amount. But, this is what we were referred to. Here is the section, en toto
John 6:35-40, 44-45, 64-65-The question here is not whether this passage teaches divine sovereignty in the salvific decision but rather what this means. In this passage three Calvinist doctrines are discovered-predestination, irresistible grace, and eternal security. Murray 12 sees in this passage a progressive development-they will not be cast out, they were given, they will not be lost, they will be raised up at the last day-and asserts that election is the basis for the believer's final perseverance. The theme of God "drawing" the elect to Jesus in verse 44 and their "coming" to Jesus in verse 45 seems to reenforce this by stressing the sovereign power behind that "inevitable decision." Morris 13 points out that the verb ekluw here implies resistance to the drawing power, but that there is no instance in the New Testament where that resistance is successful. "Always the drawing power is triumphant, as here." The same thought is expressed in verses 64, 65, which say no one comes unless the Father gives him the ability to do so; "left to himself the sinner prefers his sin."
While there is some truth to the above statements, they for the most part neglect John's other emphasis, man's responsibility. In each of the above passages this is forcefully brought out. Verses 37-40 are based upon verse 35, where we see that eternal life is dependent on coming and believing. Moreover, the present tenses of the participles indicate it does not speak about a crisis faith-decision but rather about persevering in those two states. As Brown says, "The stress in verse 37 that God destines men to come to Jesus does not in the least attenuate the guilt in verse 36 of those who do not believe... with all John's insistence on man's choosing between light and darkness, it would be nonsense to ask if the evangelist believed in human responsibility." This is not to denigrate the strong emphasis on the sovereign will in this passage; it is rather to point out that the sovereign force considers human responsibility before moving.
There are four major words in these three sections of John 6, organized into two sets of synonymous pairs-drawing = giving and coming = believing. They illustrate the two sides of the salvific act, God's part in drawing, man's part in coming. Here we must ask if God's drawing determines man's coming and if man's coming thereby is an act apart from the decision of his will. In 6:44 this certainly seems to be the case, but the verse must be taken in light of John's entire "draws" theology, which stresses the attraction itself, not the certainty of it. In 12:32, Jesus says that as a result of his death, he will "draw all men" to himself. In itself, then, it does not teach irresistible grace but rather God's universal salvific love. Moreover, the context of those verses presupposes responsibility, for verse 45 says that only those who have "heard and learned" will "come" to Christ. As Marshall concludes:
The purpose of the predestinarian language in John is not to express the exclusion of certain men from salvation because they were not chosen by the Father.. . but to emphasize that from start to finish eternal life is the gift of God and does not lie under the control of men. A person who tries to gain eternal life on his own terms will find himself unable to come to Jesus because it has not been granted to him by the Father (John 6:65); he has in fact been resisting the leading of the Father.
Now, for comparison's sake, one can see my exegesis of the text in The Potter's Freedom, pp. 154-162, or Debating Calvinism, pp. 118-125.
In the second half of this article I will examine this "serious exegesis" and show that in point of fact we are given here a classic example of how to utilize an over-arching interpretational grid to "filter out" troubling aspects of texts that do not, in fact, fit into traditional schemes.