Thursday, August 30, 2007

Examining A Rather Strange "Proof Text" For Irresistible Regeneration

I believe that I have sufficiently demonstrated that the Biblical ordo salutis [order of salvation] is not that regeneration precedes faith. I gave both a positive argument here, and negative arguments here, here, and here. Before moving on to examine the other petals of our favorite little flower, I wanted to give some brief attention to what I believe to be a rather odd proof text often urged by the proponents of irresistible grace.

This argument focuses on the grammar of two related passages in 1 John. James White makes use of these passages in The Potter's Freedom. He sets up his argument by first quoting 1 John 1:29,

"Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and whoever loves the Father loves the child born of Him."

He then explains that while one might interpret this text to mean that belief precedes the born again experience, it should properly be understood as "The one believing that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God" [pg. 287-emphasis his]. The reason for this interpretation has to do with the verb tenses of "believing" [present tense participle- emphasising continuous action] and "born" [perfect passive tense- indicating an action that took place in the past with ongoing results in the present]. He then attempts to bolster this argument with the following comments:

"Some Arminian exegetes might object to this interpretation [that the above exegesis leads to the conclusion that "Belief in Jesus Christ" is the "inevitable result of being born again"]. A means of testing the consistency of the exegesis offered of this passage [1 John 5:1] would be to ask how such a person interprets these words from John:

"If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him." (1 John 2:29)

James White then attempts to put the strangle hold on anyone who might disagree with his conclusions regarding 1 John 5:1,

"Every consistent Protestant would say, 'the reason one practices righteousness is because they have already been born of Him. We do not practice righteousness so as to be born, but instead the birth gives rise to the practice of righteousness.' And such is quite true. But, this means that in 1 John 5:1 the belief in Jesus Christ is the result of being born of Him. The verbal parallel is exact: in 1 John 2:29 'the one practicing righteousness' is a present participle; in 1 John 5:1 'the one believing' is a present participle. In both passages the exact same form is used...Therefore, sheer consistency leads one to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works." [ibid. 288- emphasis his]

I appreciate Mr. White's attempts to find support for his doctrine in the parallel grammar of these passages, but I must disagree with his conclusions. The grammar in no way forces the conclusion that one must first be born again in order to believe in Jesus Christ. Allow me to offer an alternative interpretation:

Mr. White's argument from parallel grammar between 1 John 5:1 and 1 John 2:29 is, in my opinion, a plain case of misunderstanding the text and misapplying the implications. The Greek says nothing more than that the one presently "believing" has been born of God (5:1), and the one who is presently practicing righteousness is born of God (2:29). Of course someone who is presently believing and practicing righteousness has been born of God. The word gennao [born] is in the perfect indicative tense. All this tells us is that an event that occurred in the past has continuing results now in relation to the time of the speaker. While dealing with the past to some extant, the perfect tense is primarily concerned with present time. Wallace says of the perfect tense of gennao, that it simply means "he is now born of God". The Greek grammar does not help the Calvinists case here. The verses do not say whether one became born of God before or after one believed (5:1). All that we can honestly conclude is that if one is now "believing" we can be certain that same person is [and "has been"] born of God. The same is true of 2:29. One who is presently practicing righteousness plainly demonstrates that he or she is born of God.

One of the main issues being addressed throughout 1 John is how one can determine whether or not one is truly saved ["born of God"]. The Gnostic's [i.e. antichrist's] were teaching that there was no connection between behavior and salvation. They believed that the human spirit was incorruptible and could in no way be affected by the sins of the flesh. John directly opposes such teaching numerous times in his epistle (1:5-10; 2:1, 3-6, 9-11, 15; 3:4-11, 15, 17, 18, 24; 4:7, 16, 20, 21; 5:1, 2). This is the context in which we need to consider 1 John 2:29 and 5:1. John is not trying to give us a lesson on the order of salvation. He is encouraging his readers to reject the false teachings of the "antichrist's" who are teaching that one can sin with spiritual immunity, and helping them to understand the true characteristics of God's children.

While these passages fail as proof texts for irresistible grace, I personally see further evidence in 1 John 2:29 that one must first believe to be born again. The passage reads,

"If you know that He is righteous, you know that everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him."

Why does John begin by saying, "If you know that He is righteous"? Because we can only be righteous by being in Him, and if we are in Him we will inevitably practice righteousness as His life and power flows in and out of us. The question then becomes, "How do we come to be in Christ in the first place?" I believe that we have already conclusively demonstrated that we come to be "in Christ" and that Christ comes to be "in us" through faith in Him, and not before (Eph. 1:13; 3:17).

Mr. White's conclusion that, "sheer consistency leads one to the conclusion that divine birth precedes and is the grounds of both faith in Christ as well as good works" simply does not follow necessarily from the context of the epistle or from the comparison of Greek grammar in the above passages. That Calvinists have to look to passages like this to support their doctrine is further testimony to the fact that the doctrine of irresistable grace is a doctrine derived not from the pages of Scripture, but from a prior commitment to a theological system.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quick Questions For My Calvinist Friends

Calvinists contend that the elect believe due to the influence of irresistible grace. Arminius and the Remonstrants rejected this partly due to the fact that the Bible plainly says that some do indeed resist the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:51).

The Calvinist tends to retort that this is true only of reprobates. They also divide grace into two categories to alleviate the tension. They call one category "common grace" which has various meanings depending on which Calvinist you ask. The general definition comes from Matt. 5:47, where Jesus says that the Father sends rain on both the just and the unjust. The other kind of grace is "regenerating grace" which is always effectual and only for the elect. Calvinist James White makes some rather dismissive statements concerning this issue in Debating Calvinism,

"The doctrine [of irresistible grace] has nothing to do with the fact that sinners "resist" the common grace of God and the Holy Spirit (they do) or that Christians do not live perfectly in light of God's grace." [197]

He end notes this sentence with the following comment,

"Hence the irrelevance of citing passages such as Acts 7:51." [ibid. 207]

I personally find Mr. White's comments extremely unsatisfying. Just how does one resist "common grace"? Would one of my Calvinist friends please explain? Just how is Acts 7:51 a reference to "common grace"? Such a definition as that given in Matt. 5:47 does not fit the context of Acts 7:51.

So my question is rather simple. When a reprobate resists the Holy Spirit just what exactly is he resisting? If the Holy Spirit has no intentions of regenerating the reprobate and has instead decided to "pass him by", then what on earth is the reprobate resisting? Do you really believe you can resolve the difficulty by saying that he or she is resisting common grace? Just how does one resist the rain? And how does such an interpretation harmonize with the context of Acts 7:51? I invite anyone to explain this to me.

I also want to ask my Calvinist friends how they can harmonize their doctrine of irresistible grace with Isaiah 5:1-4,

"Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning his vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choices vine. And he built a tower in the middle of it and also hewn out a wine vat in it; then he expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones."

"And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done for it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones?" [NASB]

So according to the Lord Himself, He had done all He could do to His vineyard, and yet it still did not produce acceptable fruit. Shouldn't we be able to answer the Lord, "Sorry, but you obviously didn't do all that you could have done Lord. You could have irresistibly caused your vineyard to produce good grapes." The Calvinist, to be consistent with his doctrine, could object in such a way. So here are my last two questions for my Calvinist friends. Would you feel comfortable saying such a thing to the Lord? Would you contend that God did not give sufficient grace for the Israelites to produce acceptable fruit?

Monday, August 20, 2007

Does Jesus Teach That Regeneration Precedes Faith In John 3:3, 6?

Probably the favorite Calvinist proof text for their doctrine of irresistible regeneration is John 3:3, 6. Here Jesus directly addresses the doctrine of the new birth. Calvinists and most Biblical theologians correlate the new birth with regeneration. Jesus tells Nicodemus that no one can "see" or "enter" the Kingdom of God unless they are first "born again". Calvinists see in Jesus words the teaching that regeneration precedes faith. They point to two aspects of what Christ said to Nicodemus which they believe demonstrate that Jesus was teaching that the new birth precedes faith.

First, Calvinists lay great stress on the parallel between spiritual birth and physical birth. They will often argue that a sinner can no more decide when he will be reborn than a child can decide when he or she will be physically born. The problem with this approach is that Jesus no where says that we are to understand his words in this way. What about labor pains? What about the passage through the birth canal? Should we also seek to draw parallels from these aspects of physical birth? If not, then why not? How do we know which parallels should be drawn, and which should not. The best approach is to let Jesus instruct us.

Christ's emphasis in these passages is the need for new life and does not deal with the issue of how that life is attained until later in the chapter. If we follow Jesus' discourse we will discover that Jesus answers the question of whether we should draw such a parallel with physical birth. All we can rightly deduce from John 3:3, 6 is that no one can see or enter the Kingdom of God until they are born again. He does not tell us how one becomes born again until later in the passage. We need to be careful not to read our doctrinal biases into Christ's words before he has had an opportunity to further explain them.

Second, Calvinists lay great stress on the word "see". They argue that one cannot believe in Christ until one first "sees" the Kingdom. They believe that "seeing" must precede "believing". Since one cannot "see" the Kingdom of God until one is born again, then it would seem logical that one cannot believe what they "see" until they are born again. This is the more significant Calvinist argument. But will it stand up to scrutiny?

There are a few problems with this argument. First, "seeing" the Kingdom of God does not necessarily mean "seeing" the need for the redemption offered in the atonement of Jesus Christ. One does not necessarily need to fully comprehend the nature of God's Kingdom in order to recognized one's need for a redeemer. This is a false correlation that is not supported by the text. Second, it seems better to understand "see" and "enter" as metaphors for full experience. The Greek word for "see" in this passage is also used as a means of "experiencing" something in other passages. In Acts 2:27, 31; 13:35 and Heb. 11:5 the word is used of experiencing either death or corruption. It is used in 1 Pet. 3:10 for experiencing "good days". It is used for experiencing "sorrow" in Rev. 18:7.

The TDNT (the one volume abridged addition) says of eidon [which is used in John 3 and the other passages mentioned above] and horao [another word for "see"] that:

Often the verbs mean "to perceive" in such senses as "to experience," "to note," "to establish," "to realize," "to know," "to judge," "to mark," "to heed". (pg. 710)

Calvinist D.A. Carson says of "see" in John 3:3:

"To a Jew with the background and convictions of Nicodemus, "to see the kingdom of God" was to participate in the kingdom at the end of the age, to experience eternal, resurrection life. The same equivalence is found in the Synoptics (cf. Mk. 9:43, 45 'to enter life', parallel to 9:47 'to enter the kingdom of God/); it is particularly strong in the Fourth Gospel, where 'kingdom' language crops up only here (3:3, 5) and at Jesus' trial (18:36) while 'life' language predominates. One of the most startling features of the kingdom announced in the Synoptics is that it is not exclusively future. The kingdom, God's saving and transforming reign, has in certain respects already been inaugurated in the person works and message of Jesus." (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According To John, P. 188)

Since Jesus uses "enter" to further describe "see" it seems unreasonable to conclude that Jesus is speaking of anything other than fully experiencing God's Kingdom. He is describing the transition from one sphere of existence to another.

This was especially relevant in light of the Jewish understanding that they would experience God's Kingdom on the basis of being a descendant of Abraham. Nicodemus would have approached Jesus believing that he was already entitled to a share of God's Kingdom on the basis of the promises given to Abraham in Genesis 13:14, 15 and 17:18. The Jews believed that when the Messiah came they would simply move into His Kingdom on the merits of God's promise to Abraham's descendants and on the merits of obedience to the Mosaic Law. While the Jews believed that they could earn heaven on the merits of their works, they seemed to primarily believe that they were unconditionally promised the eternal inheritance simply because they were circumcised Jews. F. Leroy Forlines describes this important Jewish understanding of salvation.

"We are confronted with two seemingly contradictory concepts in the New Testament concerning the Jewish viewpoint of their own salvation. The first is the concept of unconditional salvation of all Jews as the seed of Abraham. It was this viewpoint that caused John the Baptist to say, 'Therefore bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance; and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, we have Abraham for our father; for I say to you, that God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham' (Mt. 3:9; see also Jn. 8:33-40). The other viewpoint is that they were depending on their own works. This viewpoint is set forth by Paul when he said, 'But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works' (Rom. 9:31, 32)." [Quest for Truth pg. 347-emphasis his]

Forlines then goes on to argue that even the Jewish view on justification by works was in the context of the corporate righteousness of Israel. The Jews then did not view salvation as individual but as corporate, based on the promises made to Abraham and on the corporate righteousness of Israel. He explains,

"It appears that these two observations about salvation among the Jews are mutually exclusive. However, from all that I can gather, Jews were not as concerned with harmonization as some of us are. They were more content to let some loose ends dangle in their thought. E.P. Sanders astutely observes, 'Rabbis were not concerned with the internal systematic relationship of their statements.' [ibid. 348]

He then concludes with,

"Their concept of unconditional corporate election of all Jews was by far the more basic of the two thoughts. All the rest of their thoughts must be weighed in the light of that foundational thought." [ibid. 348]

This is the cultural context in which this dialogue between a leading Jew and Jesus takes place. Jesus is correcting two fundamental misconceptions of the Jewish understanding of salvation. They will not inherit the Kingdom of God unconditionally. They must be changed. They must be reborn. This change does not take place corporately but individually, "No one [individual] can see" or "enter" the Kingdom of God without first being reborn. The Kingdom of God is not unconditionally guaranteed to them. They cannot enter the Kingdom until their sin has been dealt with, for the Kingdom of God is a holy Kingdom. There is need for real atonement before one can enter into the life of God's Kingdom. Since sin brings death "you must be born again". How does this happen? Nicodemus asks Jesus this same question in verse 9, "how can this be?"

Jesus quickly directs Nicodemus to the necessity of atonement. He says in verses 14 and 15, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." So how does one attain the new life necessary for seeing and entering the Kingdom of God? He must look to the lifted up Messiah and believe in him. While Calvinists lay great stress on the analogy of spiritual birth with physical birth, they virtually ignore the implications involved with the analogy of the bronze serpent that Jesus specifically used to answer Nicodemus' question of how one becomes born again (vs. 9).

The Israelites in the desert were dying from the deadly venom of snake bites. The only way they could escape certain death was to look to the bronze serpent that God had provided for their healing. Those Israelites were dying until they fixed their gaze on the bronze snake. Jesus correlates this "looking" to the snake with "believing". When someone believes in Christ the blood of atonement is applied, the curse of sin and death is broken, and new life begins. If the Calvinistic interpretation of John3:3, 6 is correct then Jesus chose a poor analogy to explain to Nicodemus how the new life begins. If their view is correct then we must also believe that the Israelites in the desert were not given life as a result of fixing their gaze on the bronze serpent, but were rather first given life so that they could then look to [or "see"] the serpent. In this view they looked to the serpent because they had already been cured of the venom's deadly effects. They would not have looked to the serpent to secure life; they would have looked to the serpent because they had already been given life. I would venture to say that no Calvinist believes that the Israelites looked to the bronze serpent because they had already been cured and given life. Since this is the illustration that Christ chose to explain the nature of his atonement and the means by which we attain life, it is absurd to believe that Jesus was teaching that the new birth precedes faith in John 3:3, 6. Consider the parallels,

The Bronze Snake:

The Israelites had to look to the bronze serpent to escape the deadly effects of the venom and experience life, "Anyone who is bitten can look at [the serpent] and live...when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake they lived." [Numbers 21:8, 9]

The Crucified Messiah:

Only those who look to the Messiah's atonement by faith in His blood will escape the deadly effects of sin and experience new life, "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [as a necessary atonement], that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." [Jn. 3:14-16]

Rather than allowing Jesus to explain His own teaching, the Calvinist wants to "explain" what Jesus meant before He does. If we want to understand what Jesus meant by His comments in John 3:3, 6, we only need to keep reading. If we can resist the temptation to read our theology into his comments we will soon discover that one is born again by believing in Christ and thereby appropriating the benefits of His atonement. Only after the blood of the "lifted up" Messiah is applied through faith can one begin to experience the eternal life that begins at the new birth.

When Jesus said that no one can "see" or "enter" the Kingdom of God unless that person was born again, He was teaching the necessity of the application of His atoning work. Only when sin is dealt with in the life of the individual can that person experience life and move into the sphere of God's holy Kingdom. Jesus made it clear that the soul cleansing benefits of His atoning work are given only to those who "believe" in Him.

Nicodemus may have walked away confused and frustrated but Jesus perfectly explained to him why the Jewish view of salvation was inadequate. The only way for anyone, Jew or Gentile, to attain the life of the Messianic Kingdom is for them to personally put their faith in the atoning work of the Messiah. While John 3:3 and 6, when read in the context of the entire chapter, lends further weight to the Arminian view, it fails as a proof text for the Calvinistic doctrine of regeneration preceding faith.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Debate Tips For Calvinists

I stumbled upon this blog while visiting the Calvinist Gadfly. It basically makes fun of the way that some Arminians debate with Calvinists. It is followed by some 45 comments, most of which consist of laughing Calvinists high five-ing each other. I have not personally known any Arminians to use the techniques that Gordan ridicules, but I am sure that there are some out there that would. I thought it might be fun to have my own list of debate tips for Calvinists based on my own experience in on-line debates. I mean no disrespect with the following tips. I believe that Calvinists, who are so quick to criticize how Arminians argue their case, should be made aware of some of their own inept and unfruitful debating tactics as well. It is all in good fun, and hopefully it may even help to un-clutter meaningful dialogue between the two theological camps in this growing debate. Since most Calvinists I have debated with seem to have a rich sense of humor, I am sure that they will not be offended by what follows. If you are, feel free to tell me all about it in the "comments" section. I look forward to the interaction.


Got your horns tangled with an Arminian who has backed you into a theological corner? Just memorize the following tips, and you should be able to get yourself out of any debating jam...

1) If the Arminian begins making a strong case, quoting Rom. 9:20 will usually put them in their place..."Who are you O' man to talk back to, I mean...God!"

2) Always remember that God knew Calvinism would "seem" incoherent, and therefore ordained from all eternity that you should make frequent use of Deu. 29:29 whenever you find that there is no way out of a logical dilemma.

3) Whenever it is pointed out that compatibilism is no different than determinism and still leads to the conclusion that God authored sin, just say, "Stop worshipping at the alter of free will!", and remind them that they have Romanizing tendencies. Hopefully they will be so ashamed of themselves that they will forget all about the point they were making.

4) It is helpful to make frequent use of obscure theological terms like "exegesis", and "hermeneutics". Most Arminians won't even know what you are talking about and will realize that they are way out of their league in debating you.

Note: Extreme caution should be used whenever mentioning "hermeneutics" as the spelling is a bit tricky, and a knowledgeable Arminian may point out that you had better not use big words that you can't even spell. That would be embarrassing and cause you to lose the intellectual high ground you worked so hard to establish. The main trick is to remember that "e" comes before "u". Spell check will probably not recognize such a sophisticated word, so make sure you practice.

5) If the Arminian is starting to make some good points, rebuke him for being like a pot talking back to the Potter. If this fails to shut him up, try #1 above. If that doesn't work, tell him you don't have the time to waste on someone so ignorant and blinded by traditions.

6) Remind the silly Arminian that the problem with his theology is that it leaves no room for, I mean...mystery!

7) If the Arminian starts going with all that mushy "God is love" garbage, just remind him that the real issue is God's sovereignty and just hatred of sinners, and "who are you O' man to talk back to, I mean...God, anyway!"

8) Continually remind the Arminian that when he says he is saved by faith he really means that he is saved by works (as faith is obviously just a "work" in Arminianism). He will eventually get frustrated and stop arguing with you.

9) Never let the Arminian define his beliefs. Tell him that he is confused, and if he really wants to know what he believes he should read a Reformed author's critique of Arminianism; after all, that is the only way one can properly understand Arminian theology.

10) Tell him you don't give a hoot about church history prior to Augustine. The Greek fathers were obviously mislead, confused, and ignorant if they weren't Calvinists. Thank God a gnostic who converted to Catholicism wrote enough to clear up the mess those Greek fathers left us.

11) Tell em', "John Gill said it, I believe it, that's good enough for me".

12) Overwhelm your opponent with long lists of Reformed writers whenever you feel the debate is slipping. For example,

"Hhmmm...let's see, should I believe you or Spurgeon, Edwards, Owen, Gill, Perkins, Toplady, Beza, Whitefield, Frame, Hodge, Pink, Van Til, Bahnsen, Murray, Piper, MacArthur, Berkhof, Sproul, Carson, Palmer, Packer, etc.? Uhh...I think I will go with the really smart Reformed guys"


"No I can't make sense of it, but Spurgeon, Edwards, Owen, Gill, Perkins, Toplady, Beza, Whitefield, Frame, Hodge, Pink, Van Til, Bahnsen, Murray, Piper, MacArthur, Berkhof, Sproul, Carson, Palmer, Packer etc. can't possibly be wrong. They are certainly smarter than you."


"The problem with you is that you are so blinded by your traditions. If you want to understand the pure word of God and break free from your man made traditions, then I suggest you read Spurgeon, Edwards, Owen, Gill, Perkins, Toplady, Beza, Whitefield, Frame, Hodge, Pink, Van Til, Bahnsen, Murray, Piper, MacArthur, Berkhof, Sproul, Carson, Palmer, Packer etc.


The reason those warning passages bother you so much is because you haven't been sufficiently brainwashed by Reformed theology. Try reading Spurgeon, Edwards, Owen, Gill, Perkins, Toplady, Beza, Whitefield, Frame, Hodge, Pink, Van Til, Bahnsen, Murray, Piper, MacArthur, Berkhof, Sproul, Carson, Palmer, Packer, etc. If you do that, I promise you will feel better.

13) Tell them that you haven't got time to do an exposition of the tricky verses they are mentioning, and just tell them to read some reformed commentaries if they "really are interested in how a Reformed theologian would handle that passage"; then demand answers to the questions you have posed concerning the proof texts you offered to support your position.

14) Make sure that the Arminian debater understands that if he cannot answer your questions, or make sense of your proof texts, that it proves Arminiansm is false and the Arminian is quite plainly blinded by the traditions of men. If they appeal to mystery, gently remind them that only Calvinists are allowed to do that (see #2 above).

15) When things get tough, just refer to God's "inscrutable counsel".

16) When dealing with "warning passages" tell them that they should certainly be taken seriously, for they are God's way of scaring his elect into perseverance, but of course you have no need to worry about them since you know that you are eternally secure.

17) If you find yourself losing the debate just call them Pelagians or semi-Pelagians, or tell them they are closet Roman Catholics, etc. If they insist otherwise, just keep saying it until they get so frustrated that they will forget that they had you on the ropes and end correspondence.

18) Always be patient with those poor blinded Arminians. Try to think back to how stupid you were before you became a Calvinist and it might help you to pity them some.

19) Make sure they understand the proper meanings of "exegesis" and "eisegesis". "Exegesis" is whatever ingenious interpretation a Calvinist can come up with to rescue his theology from a problem passage. "Eisegesis" is basically any interpretation an Arminian assigns to any passage that would seem to contradict Reformed theology, or Arminianism.

20) Remind the poor deceived Arminian that Arminianism was condemned as heresy at Dort by a bunch of Calvinists who judged the Arminian doctrines by a bunch of Calvinistic creeds and confessions. He is probably so ignorant that he doesn't even know this.

I think these 2o tips should sufficiently help the Calvinist debater to tackle any silly argument an Arminian can come up with. If you find that you are still having trouble just drop a comment and I will give you some more.

Good Luck and God bless.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Is The Drawing of John 12:32 Universal or Particular?

Before examining some of the other Calvinists "proof texts" for irresistible regeneration, we will take a moment to deal with a common Calvinist objection to the Arminian appeal to Jn. 12:32 as an example of universal "drawing".

When Calvinists point to John 6:44 as an example of particular irresistible "drawing", Arminians will often quickly refer to John 12:32 to demonstrate that the drawing of John 6:44 cannot be a reference to regeneration. The reason is that Jesus states in Jn. 12:32 that he will "draw all men" to himself. The same Greek word is used here as in Jn. 6:44. The implication is that if Jesus was speaking of irresistible regeneration in John 6:44, then his statement in Jn. 12:32 would lead to the conclusion that Christ will irresistibly regenerate all men. This would be a plain case of universalism (the teaching that all will be saved), a teaching that both Calvinists and Arminians reject (Luke 13:24). I noted in my last blog that the Arminian conclusion is confirmed by the entry in "little" Kittle,

"There is no thought here of force or magic. The term figuratively expresses the supernatural power of the love of God or Christ which goes out to all (12:32) but without which no one can come (6:44). The apparent contradiction shows that both the election and the universality of grace must be taken seriously; the compulsion is not automatic [p. 227]."

Calvinists have recognized this problem and have suggested that Arminians have failed to carefully exegete Jn. 12:32. Calvinists Peterson and Williams state their case as follows,

"Arminian interpreters have appealed to the parallel use of the same word, draw (helko), in John 12:32 and have concluded that God draws everyone to Jesus. There Jesus says, 'But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.' He means that when he is crucified (see Jn. 12:33), he will bring all men to himself in salvation. "All men" here does not mean every individual, however, but Gentiles as well as Jews. We say this because of the context, in which after "some Greeks" ask to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22) he apparently ignores them and talks about his approaching cross (Jn. 12:23-28). But he doesn't really ignore the Greeks; he includes them in "all men" whom he will draw by his death. Jesus thus speaks of all without distinction (e.g. all kinds of people, Greeks as well as Jews) and not all without exception (i.e. every individual)." [Robert A. Peterson and Michael D. Williams, Why I Am Not An Arminian, pp. 166, 167]

I have no problem with their consideration of John 12:20-22, nor with their statement that he includes the Greeks in "all men". The part I take issue with is their conclusion that when Jesus says "all men" he means only "all without distinction" or "all kinds of people". This is a conclusion that Peterson and Williams have read into the passage based on the necessities of their Calvinist theology. There is no exegetical justification for reading "all men" as "some men" from among "all men" in this passage. It makes just as much sense to say that because Jesus' drawing power would go out to "all men" (without exception), that the Gentiles of Jn. 12:20-22 could then rest assured that they too would have access to the gift of God's salvation. To say that the presence of Greeks in vss. 20-22 necessitates that Jn. 12:32 must be understood in a restrictive sense is a huge leap in logic, and a conclusion which the un-biased reader of Scripture would likely never come to on his or her own. Lets break their argument down to see how sound it is.

1) Jesus says he will draw "all men" to himself (Jn. 12:32).
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, when Jesus says "all men" he means "some men" from among "all men" (Jews and Gentiles).

It doesn't take too much intelligence to see that 3) does not necessarily follow from 1) and 2).

The Arminian position could be stated as follows,

1) Jesus says he will draw "all men" to himself.
2) This statement is likely a response to the presence of Greeks who are requesting to see Jesus (Jn. 12:20-22).
3) Therefore, since Jesus will draw "all [conceivable] men" to himself, he will surely draw Greeks as well as Jews.

The conclusion to the first syllogism seems forced and artificial, while the second takes the Biblical data at face value and still accounts for the presence of Greeks which may have provoked Jesus' statement. Robert E. Picirilli gives us a helpful and relevant exegetical reminder in Grace, Faith, Free Will,

"All of us who handle God's Word do well to remember that we do not honor Him with our interpretive ingenuity but with submission to what He says. To say, even to show, that a given statement can be interpreted in a certain way does us no credit at all. The question is always not what the words can mean but what they do mean, here." [pg. 137]

Despite Peterson and William's best efforts, there is no contextual reason to reject the Arminian interpretation of Jn.12:32. When we consider Jn. 12:32 and Jn. 6:44 together we are justified to conclude, with Kittle, that the drawing spoken of in these passages has reference to a universal, and therefore resistible, drawing. This interpretation harmonizes with the Arminian doctrine of universal prevenient grace, and renders Jn. 6:44 useless as a proof text for irresistible regeneration.