The Total Inability of Calvin To Explain Man’s Ability to Respond to God?
Inability: lack of sufficient power, resources, or capacity
It is true that humanity can not come to Christ unaided. The Scriptures and the early church agree on this. Both sides of the Monergism vs Synergism civil war agree on it. Without God’s grace no one is able to come to Christ. Period!
But what does that actually look like and how does it work? The truth of the matter is that no one really knows and those who say they do don’t understand what they are saying. How God works this out in humanity lies within the mystery of God himself.
Calvin and the “ists’ his teaching has inspired believe this means that humanity can not even respond to God unaided. They teach that man must first be born again and then exercise faith in Christ. One can not say “yes” to God until after the new birth takes place. Which leads them to teach things like this:
“This doctrine of total inability which declares that men are dead in sin does not mean that all men are equally bad, nor that any man is as bad as he could be, nor that anyone is entirely destitute of virtue, nor that human nature is equal in itself, nor that man’s spirit in inactive, and much less does it mean that the body is dead… The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination)
“The inability under which he labors is not an inability to exercise volition, but an inability to be willing to exercise holy volitions.”
Essentially, reformed theology teaches that human beings do not have the capacity to desire God, to obey Him or answer when He calls. I have wrestled with this pretty much all of my Christian life for several reasons. Three of which I now share here.
#1 The Bible is full of people who willingly respond to God
If we have absolutely no ability to do this, then how do we explain Gen 4:26 “At that time people (plural) began to call upon the name of the Lord.” How is that possible? Were all these people not affected by Adam’s sin? How could they begin to call on God if they were totally depraved? Were they regenerated before Christ even came to die for our sins?
Or how do we explain the Ninevites? An entire city, estimated to be 120,000 non-Jewish, idol worshipping pagans who responded to God’s call to repent. They repented of their sins, urgently called out to God, and gave up their evil ways. Read the story in Jonah 3. We’re they born-again too?
Consider Job, whom God declared this of: “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil?” How is that even possible, if man has no ability to even desire God? Job seemed to be doing a pretty good job if he impressed even God himself!
#2 The World is full of people who believe in a god
Look around today. Many people have a desire to know “god”. People on every continent, every tribe and every language can believe in any god they want to. Nothing holds them back from searching out, longing for and believing in a host of false gods. There is this undeniable, crazy missing part inside all of us that yearns for something beyond ourselves. Isn’t there? Yet Calvin would have us believe, based on his understanding of Scripture, that humanity is completely unable to even believe in the real God until they are born again.
Correct me if I am misstating this point: Because of Adam’s sin, it is now impossible for us to respond to the real God or even desire to know Him or anything about Him unless we are born again first? But, we can desire and choose to follow fake gods all we want? We can choose to believe in and give our lives to follow a non-existent god and any other moral code we want, but His. AND we are totally unable to even consider the real God, whose image we are made in?
#3 The Early Church was full of leaders who didn’t see it that way
When you combine these things with the fact that the early church fathers categorically reject the idea that we can not respond to God, it forces me reconsider Calvin’s idea.
” There is set before us life upon our observance [of God’s precepts], but death as the result of disobedience, and every one, according to the choice he makes, shall go to his own place, let us flee from death, and make choice of life.” Ignatius 35-107 AD. He was a Disciple of the Apostle John and appointed as Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.
“And again, unless the human race has the power of avoiding evil and choosing good by free choice, they are not accountable for their actions, of whatever kind they be. But that it is by free choice they both walk uprightly and stumble, we thus demonstrate… Justin Martyr c. 160
But this we assert is inevitable fate, that they who choose the good have worthy rewards, and they who choose the opposite have their merited awards. For not like other things, as trees and quadrupeds, which cannot act by choice, did God make man: for neither would he be worthy of reward or praise did he not of himself choose the good, but were created for this end; nor, if he were evil, would he be worthy of punishment, not being evil of himself, but being able to be nothing else than what he was made.” Justin Martyr c.160
“There is, therefore, nothing to hinder you from changing your evil manner of life, because you are a free man.” Melito c. 170
“But man, being endowed with reason, and in this respect similar to God, having been made free in his will, and with power over himself, is himself his own cause that sometimes he becomes wheat, and sometimes chaff.” Irenaeus c. 180
“to Obey or not is in our own power, provided we do not have the excuse of ignorance.” Clement of Alexandria c. 195
I could go on and on and on but I will stop here.
A theology that works should be able to expound what the Scriptures clearly teach and accurately reflect the real world we live in. Calvin’s idea on Total Inability seems to fall short here. From my view in the cheap seats, it appears to be a doctrine that doesn’t really work, or at least only works in a classroom.
For these reasons and many others, I have had the most difficult time accepting Calvin’s idea as gospel. It would appear that though we can’t come to Christ unaided, we do have the ability to say yes to God whenever and however that works. Though the Reformed brothers and sisters among us would disagree with this, they are in the minority among Christ followers. The Catholic church, the Orthodox church have throughout history rejected Calvin’s idea. Not to mention the many Protestant theologians who do as well.
Having said all that, I think that we sometimes spend too much time splitting hairs on this topic! The reality is that both sides of the Monergism vs Synergism debate believe that one must exercise faith in Christ and follow Him. In the final analysis, how that actually happens does not matter as much as the fact that it does happen.
Now, play nice!
Posted on January 12, 2015, in Christianity, Theology and tagged Arminianism, Calvinism, catholic, christianity, early church history, Eastern Orthodox, El cristianismo, entertainment, faith, family, fathers, God, Gospel, humor, inspiration, John Piper, Justyn martyr, leadership, Life, Not For itching Ears, Reformed Theology, spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.