Hebrews 6 has proved to be a contensious passage in the history of exegesis and theology: the strong warning issued in this passage has proved to be the battleground for many soteriological debates. In this paper, I argue that the passage, interpreted within the compatibilist worldview of the Bible, holds together the same tension found elsewhere in the NT: perseverance is assured by God’s protection but dependent on man’s endurance. The author of Hebrews juxtaposes God’s sovereign protection with man’s responsible action in a warning intended to be the very means by which the stagnated Hebrews were to press on to the maturity to which God had called them.

You can read or download it here.

“Problem” Passages and Perseverance Part 1

In a few conversations with some of my good friends, I have been continually shocked at their struggles with a doctrine very close to my heart, Perseverance of the Saints. This doctrine triggered a watershed moment in the transformation of my understanding of theology 4 years ago and seems to me to resound from the pages of Scripture. In our conversations, a few texts, without fail, come up as obstacles for accepting this doctrine (Eg. Heb. 6:4-6, Heb. 10:26-31).

These texts appear to rule out Perseverance because they could grammatically lead one to the belief that a true believer could, once and for all, fall away from the faith, but these texts are so controversial because, grammatically, they could be interpreted as teaching the opposite doctrine. This is not to say that Scripture is univocal or that both interpretations are equally valid, but that the conclusion cannot be made on grammatical grounds, it must be made on the grounds of context—immediate, authorial, and canonical. What is often missed is that grammatically ambiguous texts do not make good “chair” texts,[1] but there are at least three texts in Scripture that fit perfectly as “chair” texts for Perseverance of the Saints. Within both the immediate context of the problem passages and in light of these passages from the larger context, I think that Perseverance becomes obvious as the Scriptural teaching.[2]


The first is Rom. 8:28-39; vs. 28-30 read, “2And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. 29For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified” (NASB). As I have blogged about elsewhere, there is a beautiful and comforting logic to these verses that can only lead to one conclusion.[3] Continuing his line of thought that has come from vv. 24-25 through 26-27 on their hope for glory, he writes that the Romans know God is working all things for their good. He then provides the reason why this is true in vv. 29-30. The reason we know that all things work together for good is because all whom God foreknows and predestined are infallibly drawn to Him and glorified, that is, their good is being made like Christ (v. 29) and this is an ensured result. That every single member of those foreknown are glorified is ensured by the string of demonstrative pronouns that Paul uses to connect each clause; the ones who were …. these he ….  If God works all things together for good to those who love God, then everyone who truly loves God—and are called according to His purpose—will endure to be glorified in the resurrection. If they could fall away, then God’s promise will have failed—unless one decides that Hell is a good.[4] Eph. 1:13-14 affirms this promise, Paul writes that God has given us His Holy Spirit as a seal of the promise ensuring that we will receive our inheritance stored up in glory, i.e. we will be glorified.


Then there is 1 Peter. 1:1-7. Here we read that it is by God’s strength that we endure, believers are “protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (v. 5 NASB). Peter blesses God who has caused believers to be born again to a living hope to inherit a heavenly inheritance reserved for them (vv. 3-4), whom God is preserving so that they will receive it. This promise of God wrought endurance is a reason for them to rejoice even in the face of trials (v. 6).

If a believer were to fall finally from the faith, this would mean that God failed in His work upholding their faith. This possibility would undermine the reason for rejoicing in trials, for that trial could be what leads him to fall away and lose his inheritance. That God is preserving His saints is affirmed in John 10:27-39, were Jesus says, “27My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand(NASB). Speaking to Jews who did not believe Jesus’ testimony about Himself (vv. 24-25), Jesus tells them that only His Sheep believe (v. 26). In these verses, He says that these sheep receive eternal life and will never perish, they are in His and His Father’s Hand; no one can remove them from His hand. It is special pleading to say that the one thing that can lead to someone perishing and being taken out of His hand is oneself.


Lastly, there is John 6:35-51. Other than Rom. 8:28-39, this is the most powerful passage in support of Perseverance. In v. 37, Jesus says that all the Father gives Him will come to Him, that is believe, and these will “certainly not be cast out.” What is often missed is that this phrase does not mean that He won’t kick them out way from Him but that He will most surely keep them in.[5] This is confirmed by vv. 39-40, here Jesus says that He will not lose any those who come to Him in faith—those given to Him by the Father—and He repeats twice that He will raise these up on the final day. Then in v. 44, Jesus responds to those grumbling about His words, saying that only those drawn by the Father will come to Him and that all these drawn will be raise up on the last day. This passage is one of the strongest predestinarian texts in Scripture and the powerful force of these verses is that no one will fail to be raised to eternal life that has come to Jesus.


While all the supposed problem texts for perseverance of the saints are grammatically ambiguous to some extent, these three texts and those like them are grammatically and contextually unambiguous. All those who come to Jesus Christ in true saving faith can know that God works all things together for their good; because by God’s omnipotent power at work through their faith, they will most surely be kept in the faith and will assuredly receive their promised inheritance assured by the seal of the Spirit.

[1] A “chair” text is one that overwhelmingly leads one to a theological conclusion and can be safely used to help clear up ambiguous or uncertain texts.

[2] Far from being the least certain of the so called “5 Points of Calvinism,” perseverance was the one doctrine that the Remonstrants, objecting to these 5 points, could not agree on; they were split on whether Scripture taught perseverance or not.

[3] See with It is telling that my least favorite Arminian commentator can only say against the conclusion of perseverance from these verses that he agrees with Wesley’s unsupported interpretation. F. Leroy Forlines, Romans, ed. Robert E.Editor Picirilli, First Edition., The Randall House Bible Commentary (Randall House Publications, 1987), 240.

[4] See my paper here I am convinced by Scripture that Hell is not good for those in it: it is eternal retributive punishment poured out by God against their sins.

[5] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991), 290.

A Review of The Potter’s Freedom by James R. White

I am tired of reading books that attempt to make me think big thoughts about myself, and small thoughts about God; Norman Geisler’s Chosen But Free was a textbook example of this kind of book. Fortunately, it produced this response; White’s book is anything but a book that will leave you thinking big thoughts about yourself. White masterfully rips apart Geisler’s quite terrible book, and in the process provides, as far as I have read so far, the best exegetical defense of the 5 points of Calvinism and the complete sovereignty of God over all creation that is available in one volume. If you have read Geisler’s Chosen But Free or are planning on reading it, I would recommend picking this book up. Also, if you are simply wanting a book that exegetes the Scriptures in relation to the doctrines of God’s sovereignty and predestination, you cannot go wrong with this book and will surely be driven to doxology by the glorious picture of God found within.

Why The Title “Irresistible Grace” is a Misnomer that We Should Abandon

Calvinists today have started using the term Effectual Calling in the place of what older Calvinists called Irresistible Grace, this is probably a smart move for this latter term often conveys a false understanding of what is meant.

This is for various reasons, but I think Jonathan Edwards explained it best. In the first few chapters of his Freedom of the Will he defines the terms he will be using later in the book, one of the terms defined was Irresistible. With the words Necessity and Impossibility Edwards separated the colloquial (or proper/general) use of these words from the philosophical (or “arts”) use of the word. [1]

In common speech “irresistible” means that something will come to pass no matter how much one may resist it. It demands the possibility, even the necessity, of resistance in its very meaning. When a Calvinist says that they believe in Irresistible Grace the natural tendency is for one to assume that the person will come to Christ against their will, it is a grace forced upon someone that batters down all resistance and leads inevitably to salvation. While some Calvinists have taught Irresistible Grace in this manner, this is not a good description of what the Bible teaches, nor of how most Calvinists present the Biblical teaching.

Effectual Calling bi-passes this unfortunate misunderstanding by using language that accurately reflects what Calvinists mean when they speak of Irresistible Grace; it is a calling made by God to His elect that will always be effective, it will never fail to bring about the end of saving faith.

Irresistible Grace is useful as part of the mnemonic acronym TULIP, it is useful as a tool for teaching the basics of what Calvinists call the Doctrines of Grace; but this pro is dramatically outweighed by the con of inaccuracy. The Calvinist understanding of Scripture is already misunderstand by many, some within its own camp, and we should do our best to describe it in a way the best conveys the true essence of the doctrine, even if it is less memorable.

Some may still think; if the Effectual Call brings around a certain effectual result, doesn’t this also in its name imply the very issue that Irresistible Grace does; if our response to God’s call is guaranteed then we are not free in expressing faith but are coerced.

As I have studied the Doctrines of Grace I have come to realize that one of the foundational differences between Arminianism and Calvinism is a disagreement between what it means to be free; they both take a different position on what it means for mankind to make meaningful choices for which a man or woman can be held responsible.[2] See the glossary from my paper on Hell here for further definitions, but in a nut-shell; Calvinists conclude from the testimony of Scripture that the outcomes of a choice can be rendered certain (determined any time in the past) and yet we still are rightly held responsible for our choices and they are meaningful choice (some, like Edwards, call this freedom, others, like Luther, reject the word freedom because of its predominate association with Incompatibilism), this position is called Compatibilism (Determinism—the rendering certain of future choices—is compatible with humans making meaningful choices for which they are responsible); Arminians assume[3] from the start that to be free we must have the freedom to choose from alternatives, we must be able to choose option A or Not-A at all times; this is a position called Incompatibilism, which says that determination is incompatible with meaningful human choices—i.e. if the outcome of a choice is rendered certain then that choice was not free. Whereas the term Irresistible Grace implies coercion, which both positions agree negates free choices, the term Effectual Call refers to the end result being guaranteed; this is something that Calvinists understand to be completely compatible with meaningful human choices for which we can be held responsible.


Irresistible Grace is a misnomer not just because of this confusion over terminology, but also because it doesn’t quite capture the essence of the doctrine as well as Effectual Call; what exactly do Calvinist’s mean when they speak of Irresistible Grace or the Effectual Call?

The “I” in TULIP states that God will work a change in the hearts of His elect people so that they will no longer hate Him and reject His reality—which they are suppressing in their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-32)—but joyfully and willingly respond to His general call brought through the preaching of the Gospel.[4] The Effectual Call is God’s regenerating work in the hearts of His elect people that overcomes their depraved nature with the creation of a new heart and without fail brings them to saving faith.

In Romans 8:28-30 Paul writes to the Romans about God’s work in His people, he promises that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[5] The reason Paul confidently writes that we know this is because (οτι, hoti; for, v. 29) everyone whom God foreknew He also predestined for salvation, [6] and this same group—that is everyone whom He first foreknew and then predestined to become conformed to Chris—He will call, and everyone in who is called in this sense will respond (30). This call is cannot be the general call delivered to all mankind through the preaching of the Gospel (cf. Matt. 22:14), for we know that not everyone responds in saving faith; this is  different call which ensures a salvific response, what Calvinist’s call the effectual call.

One of the many verses (cf. John 3 for another example) Calvinists use to defend this doctrine and to suggest that this call is regeneration is John 6:44-46. Here Jesus responds to grumbling of the Jews about what He has been teaching (that He is the bread of life), He responds; “44“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.45“It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.””[7] In this text Jesus says that it is necessary for God to draw someone if they are to come to Him, he then goes on to explain what exactly this “draw” entails. First He says that all who are drawn will be resurrected on the last day, the context implies not just a general resurrection to either Heaven or Hell but a salvific resurrection; they will be glorified. This indicates that not all are being drawn, especially since Jesus gives this explanation to explain why some Jews do not believe, and that everyone who is drawn will effectually respond in saving faith (which is the only way anyone will be glorified, for we are saved by faith) (v. 44c). Jesus then goes on to explain what this drawing is from an Old Testament text, the verse in question is Isaiah 54:13. This is a promise of the New Covenant, specifically a promise of the new hearts given to those under the New Covenant. Under the Old Covenant Israel had an issue, they were a mixed community; within the Covenant community there was a remnant that was regenerate, that is they obeyed God, but the majority of Israel was made up of covenant breakers, that is; those who did not keep God’s covenant with them. As early as Deuteronomy we see the need for a change, the need for what will later be called the Covenant of Peace or the New Covenant. In Deuteronomy 29:5 we read that the Lord had not yet given the people a heart to believe and follow Him, in 30:6 Moses speaks of a time when God will circumcise the hearts of the Israelites in order that they may obey Him; they needed this circumcision of their hearts because they were unable on their own to be obedient, they were depraved. Throughout the rest of the New Testament we see various promises of a New Covenant in which every member of the Covenant would be enabled to obey God by the gift of a new heart; they all would be taught by God, God’s law would be written on their hearts and minds, they would have new and circumcised hearts (Jeremiah 31:33-34, Ezekiel 36:22-38, and Isaiah 54; cf. Hebrews 8); these prophecies all find their culmination in the regeneration experienced by all New Testament believers. On the cross Jesus ushered in this New Covenant (Luke 22:20). Jesus hear in John 6:45 is saying that the drawing of the Father is this New Covenant promise of regeneration and that everyone who has received this drawing, that is all that have “heard and learned from the Father,” will come to Him. This calling is effectual and it ensures a willing response of faith to the Gospel; in this text (including its greater context starting at v.22) God’s sovereignty in salvation, both Unconditional Election and the Effectual Call, are held up side-by-side with a willing response of faith to the Gospel; they are held up side-by-side but Jesus nor John sees a contradiction.


This is what Calvinists mean when they speak of Irresistible Grace, but it is much better represented by the term The Effectual Call. The Effectual Call is God’s regenerating work in the hearts of His elect people that overcomes their depraved nature with the creation of a new heart and without fail brings them to saving faith. And it would be wise for use, with Jonathan Edwards, to abandon the language of Irresistibility and use more accurate language of Effectual.

[1] See Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2012), 12–13. The whole chapter discusses the definitions, but these pages deal explicitly with “irresistible.”

[2] I demonstrate this assertion from various Arminian works in a large paper and/or book that I am currently working on and hope to finish by the end of the year.  In it I attempt to show as part of my larger argument—from books such as Arminian Theology, Classical Arminianism, Against Calvinism, and Chosen But Free—that an a-priori commitment to Incompatibilist Free Will leads inevitably to an Arminian theology and forms a foundational presupposition to their worldview and arguments.

[3] I know some will be offended by this choice of words, but most Arminians I read are unashamed of this presuppositions; see my upcoming paper/book on Prevenient Grace for a defense and explication of my view that this assumption is foundational to Arminian theology and can only be proven from the Bible if you first assume it (even then I would argue, and do in that paper, that you are forced to read the text in unnatural ways to accommodate this assumption).

[4] There are few different positions on what this specific call is, but the position I take is that it is regeneration. For an explanation of this position see; Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 699–706.

[5] NASB

[6] for the progression of our conformity to Christ starting with the legal declaration of our justification, progressing through the Spirit’s work of sanctification making us holy in nature, and concluding in glorification when our sanctification will be completed and we will sin no longer. See v.28-39.

[7] This is from the NASB translation, for my full exegesis of this passage see my upcoming paper/book on prevenient grace.

A Primer on the Facets of the Human Responsibility Debate

The purpose of the this post is to give an overview and an introduction to the many ways Christians have answered the many questions around which the Calvinism-Arminianism debate revolve. I have attempted to lay out the central questions and give the historical and contemporary responses in language as close as possible to that of those who hold these beliefs. My hope is to show that the questions asked legitimately arise out of Scripture, to show that these positions are–while being mutually exclusive–not necessarily polarities, and to provide a better understanding of how the different positions have answered these questions.

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1. Human Inability – Human Ability

    • What does this mean?

      • The inability/ability of man to perform righteous acts and come to God for salvation.
    • What question is being asked?

      • Is man able to come to God on his own initiative?
      • Can a man perform righteous acts?
      • Can a man work to gain his own righteousness?
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • These questions are asked because Scripture at times seems to require good works (eg. Deuteronomy, Leviticus, Exodus 19-35, James 3, Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 3:14, Hebrews 4:11), at others it speaks of the inability of men to earn God’s favor, that we need faith to receive a foreign righteousness (eg. Romans 3:21-4:25, Galatians 31:-5:15, Romans 11:5-6, Romans 9:30-10:21). Scripture would seem to teach that to be justified (and have our salvation finished in glorification) we must respond to the free offer of the Gospel (eg. Romans. 3:21-4:25, 10:11-13; Galatians 3:1-9; Acts 16:30-31; etc.). Scripture also would seem to teach that man is completely enslaved to sin and unable to do anything righteous (eg. Jeremiah 17:9, John 6:33-47 [esp. 44], Romans 6, Romans 8:1-11, Ephesians 2:1-10, Psalm 51:5, Romans 5, Romans 1:16-3:20).
    • What are the answers given?

      • Pelagianism

        • Pelagianism was a view that emerged in the 5th century. The view attributed to Pelagius is that humans do not require God’s grace, do not require Christ’s righteousness or the Holy Spirit intervention in regeneration, to be saved; they can come before God on the basis of their own hard earned merit. Grace is very helpful, but not absolutely needed. The view attributed to Pelagius rejects an understanding of inherited sin or of depravity, we are not guilty in Adam nor are we born inclined towards unrighteousness.[1] Pelagianism represents the farthest position when it comes to human ability for it affirms that humans have an unhindered ability (outside of external negative influences) to be righteous and come to God.
      • Semi-Pelagianism

        • Semi-Pelagianism is a view that emerged after the Pelagian-Augustinian controversy, it remains today as a very prominent view in the North American church.[2] Semi-Pelagians acknowledge our need for God’s grace and Christ’s righteousness in salvation. They, at least functionally, hold the view that man was not totally inclined towards evil and could take the initiative to come to God for grace to be saved. In Semi-Pelagianism man takes initiative and comes to God for grace through which their salvation is then completed. Our will is weak so we cannot save ourselves, we cannot earn a positive state of righteousness before God, but our wills are strong enough to come to Him for salvation.[3]
      • Arminianism

        • Arminianism is a view that emerged with Jacobus Arminius during the Reformation. It became a centre of controversy at the Synod of Dort when Arminius’ disciples presented the five articles of the Remonstrance in opposition to five points of doctrine they disagreed with in the theology of the majority of the Reformed Church. It was the position held by prominent preacher John Wesley and today has a strong following within evangelicalism.[4] While there is a broad spectrum of views within the overarching banner of Arminianism, for the most part Arminians affirm a strong doctrine of human depravity.[5] Arminians believe that mankind inherited guilt from Adam and that everyone is born with a strong inclination towards sin. Man is unable to earn any righteousness or favor in the eyes of God on the basis of his works and cannot come to God for salvation on his own initiative. This is the state of man before God’s intervention. For an Arminian, God in his grace has intervened in the lives of all men and women[6] giving them prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is a work of the Spirit that comes before salvation; we either work with prevenient grace, and are saved, or we resist it, and are lost. According to one prominent Arminian writer; “[prevenient grace] is what makes Arminian synergism “evangelical”.”[7] In this position all men are unable, but God takes initiative and makes everyone able to make the decisive choice whether to work with grace and be saved or to reject it and drown in the mire of their iniquity.
      • Calvinism

        • Calvinism is the name we today give to a position that has gone by many names.[8] In the 5th century it was expounded and defended to some extent by Augustine. In the Reformation it was the view held by the Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, and many other reforming groups. With Arminianism, Calvinism says that man is totally depraved. On his own a man is unable to perform any work of righteousness or even desire to come to God; he is dead in his iniquities, enslaved to sin, knowing God he has rejected him to pursue unrighteousness and there is no fear of the LORD in his eyes. Calvinism believes that a mild injection of grace to which we could work with or reject is not what men need to be saved; they need a completely new heart. Calvinism says that for a man to be able to come to God, God must first reach in and rip out his heart of stone, replacing it with a new heart of flesh from which a man now desires God and will willingly come to him. A helping hand is not enough; we need to be resurrected from our deadness in sin.

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2. Unconditional Election – Conditional Election

    • What does this mean?

      • Scriptures uses the word ‘elect/election’ (gk. ἐκλεκτός/ἐκλογή – eklektos/eklogē) at various places throughout Scripture[9] conditional and unconditional are two mutually exclusive positions on how one is chosen by God to be His elect. Unconditional Election says that God chooses those who are his elect people based on nothing inside themselves, but solely on the good graces of His sovereign mercy; the elect are chosen in spite of their wretchedness, not because of any act or worthiness. Conditional Election says that God’s election is based on something seen in us, or through a lens by which we are seen. There are various views on what this condition is; for some it is our faith, God—foreseeing our act of putting faith in Him (whether this be actual or potential)—elects those whom he has seen chose Him. Others see the condition of our election as being our union with Christ; God has elected a corporate body of his people, we are elect because through our faith we are united with Christ and are part of the corporate body of God’s elect people.
    • What question is being asked?

      • What does Scripture mean when it refers to “the elect?”
      • How is one part of the elect?
      • What does it mean for God to “foreknow” someone?
      • What does it mean to be chosen “in Christ?”
      • What does it mean to be “predestined?”
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • The questions are asked because this is the language Scripture uses.[10]
    • What are the answers given?

      • Calvinism:

        • Calvinism is the proponent of Unconditional election. The Calvinist says that God’s elect people are those whom God has chosen in eternity past to be destined for salvation. God’s choice was made in light of human sin and involved Him showing mercy on some who only deserved his wrath.[11] God’s election was in spite of our sinfulness and not based on any foreseen action on our part nor on any intrinsic value differentiating the elect from those who are not elected. He chose the weak things of the world, those without status or wisdom, those who were His enemies, so that He may be true to His sovereignty and righteousness in showing mercy to whomever He wills to show mercy and to render any thought of human boasting impossible.
      • Arminianism:

        • Based on God’s foreknowledge:

          1. Foreknowledge: This position sees God’s elect as those whom God has seen would chose to put faith in Him in response to His prevenient grace, God then ratifies this foreseen choice by declaring this individual to be elect.[12] From this position election is less of an active choosing and more an act of recognition.
          2. Middle knowledge:[13] This position, championed today under the banner of Molinism, says that God foresees what potential human beings would do in specific circumstances; the elect are those whom God sees will respond in a potential circumstance to the offer of the Gospel. God creates a world in which the maximum number of people will freely respond to his free offer of salvation and this potential faith seen through God’s middle knowledge becomes actual faith.[14]
        • Corporate Election:

          • Corporate election is not necessarily divorced from the first position on foreknowledge, for many Arminians in history have understood Rom. 8:28 to be referring to the above idea of foreknowledge, but have understood Eph. 1 to be speaking about God electing a corporate body of people who are in Christ. From the perspective of Corporate election God elects not individuals but a corporate body which is Christ’s Church, His elect bride. The elect individuals are elect via their participation in Christ’s Body through faith.[15]

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3. Monergism in Regeneration – Synergism in Regeneration

    • What does this mean?

      • Regeneration is the new birth; it is the Holy Spirit’s work of reaching down and taking out the sinful and hardened heart of stone and replacing it with the heart of flesh. It is being born again, born form above, without which none can see the kingdom of God. Monergism says that regeneration is solely a work of God; God regenerates us without our input, without our consenting action. In Monergism the Spirit’s work of regeneration happens before[16] conversion. Synergism sees regeneration as a work primarily of God, but with some sort of human input. In evangelical Synergism, such as Arminianism, this input is human faith, in response to which God gives regeneration.
    • What question is being asked?

      • How can a fallen and depraved human being come to faith in Jesus Christ?
      • If we hate God, how can we ever accept His free offer of salvation?
      • What does it mean to be born again?
      • What does Scripture mean when it says that only those whom the Father draws can come to Jesus?
      • Does regeneration come before or after an expression of faith?
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • These questions are being asked because Scripture would seem to teach that to even see the kingdom of God we need to be born again (John 3), that to come to Jesus we need to be drawn (John 6), that all men—whether that be all men particularly or without distinction—are drawn to Jesus in one sense or another (John 12:32), that we must be have become born again to love God (1 John 4:7-8), that we are in some way lost in depravity (Rom. 6, 8:1-11, John 6:44, Jer. 17:9). Scripture speaks of a new birth; we need to ask “what is its nature?” People see the evidence and wrestle with whether regeneration is before or after faith.[17]
    • What are the answers given?

      • Calvinism

        • Calvinism, for the most part, believes that regeneration comes before faith and is completely monergistic. While we were enemies of God, while we were drowning in the sea of our iniquity, while we hated Him and lived for ourselves, God reached down and changed the hearts of His elect people so that they would now desire Him. God’s drawing is the teaching promised under the New Covenant, it His regenerating work without which no one can see God’s kingdom.
      • Arminianism

        • Arminianism believes that regeneration comes after faith and is, in a very mild sense, synergistic. Regeneration is completely a work of God, we can do nothing to regenerate ourselves, but God only regenerates us when we cooperate with His prevenient grace and accept the free offer of the Gospel. While the work itself is God’s, it is conditioned on our expression of faith. After we express faith God reaches done and gives us a new heart by which we can be faithful to His new covenant with us.

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4. Particular Intention of the Atonement – General Intention of the Atonement

  1. What does this mean?

    • For God to have a particular intention in the Atonement means that when He sent Christ to die, He sent Him for a specific group of people above others (sometimes, at the exclusion of others). For Him to have had a general intention means that He sent Christ to die for all people in the same way.
    • What question is being asked?

      • What does it mean for Christ to have died for “all”? Is this all without distinction (all peoples) or all men collectively?
      • How is it that Christ died to sanctify a bride for Himself?
      • When Christ died, did He purchase for us the forgiveness of our sins only, or much more? If more, what else?
      • What does it mean for Christ to have died for the World?
      • Did God send Christ to save a people for Himself, or was God able to lovingly choose a people for Himself because Christ died?
      • Did Christ bear the full guilt of all human beings on the Cross? If so, how can God still try some for those sins already paid for?
      • What does it mean for Christ’s atoning work to make the free offer of the Gospel available for all?
      • How closely tied is Christ’s atoning work to His priestly office in the New Covenant?
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • The questions are being asked because there is a genuine Scriptural tension between what seems to be universal language (eg. Isaiah 53:6-12; John 1:29; 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 4:10; Heb. 2:9; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 2:1-12; 4:14) and what seems to be quite particular language (eg. Isaiah 53:6-12; Matt. 1:21; John 10:10, 11, cf. 26-27; 11:50-52; 15:13; 17:9; Acts 20:28; Rom. 8:32-34; Eph. 5:23-27; Rev. 5:9). On top of this there are themes of the New Covenant and the priesthood of Christ relating to His atoning work that run strongly throughout the NT and the OT.
    • What are the answers given?

      • Calvinism:

        • The Neo-Reformed position:[18]

          • What I am calling the Neo-Reformed position is what I have been reading about more and more in contemporary Calvinist works on the atonement. This position holds that there is a definite distinction in God’s intent with the atonement. God intended Jesus to come and die to ransom a people for Himself, He died specifically purchasing the New Covenant, forgiveness of sins, faith, and sanctification for His bride so that in eschatological glory she may be presented to Him in all her glory.[19] In this position there is also a sense in which Christ died for unbelievers, Christ died making the free offer of the Gospel available to all.[20] This position says that the particular and general language in Scripture is too clear to deny either side.[21]
        • The Reformed Position (Dort):

          • This position says that Christ died only for the elect and in no sense for the reprobate (those not elected). His death bore the sins of His people and bought their reconciliation, purchasing for them the benefits of the new covenant as well as the gifts of faith and salvation.[22]
        • Sublapsarianism/Amyraldism/4 Point Calvinism:

          • These are all names for positions that reject particular redemption (also called limited atonement) and maintain an Arminian general redemption (unlimited atonement) idea within a Calvinistic framework. These positions are not exactly the same, but the common thread is that they reject particular redemption and accept general.
      • Arminianism:

        • General/Unlimited atonement:

          • General Redemption sees God sending Jesus to die for all men in the same way; His death is provisional in the sense that its efficacy is contingent upon the human response of faith in salvation.[23]

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5. God’s Sovereignty – Human Autonomy

    • What does this mean?

      • One side of the measure is the absolute sovereignty of God, where He is the primary cause of all things and His will happens apart from any free (in any sense) input of man; man’s decisions are meaningless and God does not work through means, we are not responsible for our actions. On the other end of the scale is human autonomy; God does not interfere at all in the lives of His creatures, He wound up creation and let it run its course. In between these extremes are the various evangelical positions.
    • What question is being asked?

      • How does God’s sovereign control of the universe interact with human freedom?
      • Is God active in the world, or did he wind it up and let it run?
      • Are humans free?
      • Do we make choices for which we are held responsible?
      • How active is God in raising up leaders, allowing/causing disaster, etc.?
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • Throughout the ages different secular philosophies have clashed with the Biblical view of God and resulted in various distorted pictures of His relationship to the world, there is also considerable talk in Scripture of God’s sovereignty and active working in His creation (eg. Eph. 1:11, Romans 8:28, Prov. 16:33) as well as human responsibility and meaningful human choices.
    • What are the answers given?

      • Fatalism:

        • Fatalism says that God is absolutely in control of all things and our actions and choices in this life are meaningless. We have no responsibility and no matter what we do, it is what we were fated to do. We become puppets in creation. Some extreme sects of Islam hold this extreme view of their god.
      • Calvinism:

        • Calvinism says that Scripture affirms God’s sovereign hand in all events in history and all that all things are rendered certain in God’s plan. When a leader comes to power, he is there because God has placed him there. God is sovereign over the created order, the sphere of human life, seemingly chance events, and politics. Calvinism says that Scripture also affirms that humans are responsible for the choices they make; we make meaningful choices, God uses us to work out His plan for creation, God uses means to do a lot of His work (though not all) in creation. Calvinists say that this is a tension we must live with for Scripture teaches both things very strongly. God can be in complete control, and His creation can also make un-coerced—willing—choices for which they are held accountable. The stress in this position is on God’s sovereign control of the universe.[24]
      • Arminianism:

        • The Arminian, for the most part,[25] believes that God is completely sovereign, but for the sake of giving His creation complete freedom He has willing held back His sovereignty in many ways.[26] One Arminian, A.W. Tozer, describes God’s sovereignty with this illustration; it is a like a cruise ship departing from New York to England, while the destination is secure and unchanging (determined) what those who are on the ship do is up to them.[27]
      • Deism:

        • Deism is the enlightenment view that God created the world and then left it to itself. He created all things and no longer interferes; all that happens is a result of natural forces and free human choices. This is the opposite extreme of Fatalism.

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6. Determinism – Responsibility

    • What does this mean?

      • This departs from the realm of Theology to that of Philosophy and the question of free will. For something to be determined is to have its end fixed, for the outcome to be guaranteed, rendered certain. For something to be fixed in place and unchanging. Responsibility is human culpability for actions taken; are we held responsible for the actions we take, or are we merely puppets who cannot be held responsible for choices which we were force to make (the extreme of Fatalism)?
    • What question is being asked?

      • How much influence can be exerted upon someone before they are no longer responsible for their actions?
      • How does Scripture define free will?
      • Can one be free if he cannot choose otherwise than he did?
    • Why is the question being asked?

      • These questions are being asked, I believe, as our experience and presuppositions come in contact with Scripture and we wrestle to ascertain what is the Biblical understanding of freedom, what it says as to in what circumstances are we held responsible for our actions.
    • What are the answers given?

      • Incompatibilism:

        • Incompatibilism is the idea of free will most often held by Arminians. It says that human freedom is not compatible with God’s determinism. For my choice to be free I have to be able to choose choice “A” or choice “not-A”. Practically this means that the end result cannot be fixed in place beforehand, for if it is determined that I will choose “A” then I could not ever do otherwise. Some would say that this is incompatible with divine foreknowledge, hence the emergence of Molinism and Open Theism to reconcile human freedom and God’s knowledge, but Aquinas showed—hundreds of years ago—that this is not necessarily the case.[28]
      • Compatibilism:

        • Compatibilism says that determination and responsibility are compatible. This is the traditional Calvinist/Augustinian position. A compatibilist suggests that free will[29]—according to first Scripture, and then reason & experience—is best defined as doing what we most desire to do without external coercion or without being forced. They suggest that there is no inherent conflict between God’s determination of all things, rendering all things certain and all outcomes fixed in accordance with His secret will, and human responsibility for their actions. Often how these too are reconciled is left in mystery; we must accept that Scripture teaches both and dwell in this antinomy (an apparent contradiction, where both seemingly contradictory statements are true).[30] Others defend this view philosophically.[31]

1 See Allison 342, and then 343-350. Cf. 184 in Demarest, Grudem 499, Elwell375, Hodge 711

2 R.C. Sproul, “The Pelagian Captivity of the Church, by R.C. Sproul,” Bible Researcher, last modified June 2001, accessed May 22, 2013,

3 F. Loops, “Semi-Pelagianism,” ed. Samuel Macauley Jackson, The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge (Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1908), 349.; Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church: Nicene and Post-Nicene Chritianity. A.D. 311-600, Revised., vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, n.d.), sec. 146, accessed May 1, 2012,; Walter A. Elwell, ed., Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Books, 1984), 1000.; Cf. with Canon 5 of the Canons of Orange. “The Canons of Orange,” accessed May 18, 2013, Gregg R Allison and Wayne A Grudem, Historical Theology: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine: a Companion to Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 349–350.; Sinclair B. Ferguson, David F. Wright, and J. I. Packer, eds., New Dictionary of Theology, The Master reference collection (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 1988), 636.


5 Roger E. Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2006), 33; F. Leroy Forlines, Classical Arminianism: a Theology of Salvation (Nashville, Tenn: Randall House, 2011), 1–34.

6 Some would say that prevenient grace comes through hearing the Gospel, so this is a generalization. But this is the strongest Arminian position outside of Molinism, which affirms the Arminian view of conditional election but does not require a doctrine of prevenient grace.

7Olson, Arminian Theology, 36.

8 Calvinism gone by many names, some prefer; the Doctrines of Grace, Reformed Soteriology, Augustinianism. Calvinism here does not refer to the entire system of Reformed ecclesiology or theology, but to the five doctrines at the center of the Arminian-Calvinist debate.

9Eg. Rom. 8:33; Luke 18:7; Mark. 13:20, 22; Matt 24:22, 24, 31.

10 Eg. Eph. 1; Rom.8:28-39, 11:2, 8:33; Luke 18:7; Mark. 13:20, 22; Matt 24:22, 24, 31

11There is another position under the banner of “Calvinism” known as supralapsarianism: this rather arcane position sees God electing and then ordaining the fall so that those He chose to damn would be damned. This position was made popular by the reformation scholastics and is not the mainstream position.

12Olson, Arminian Theology, 19, 35, 190.

13Middle knowledge refers to God’s counterfactual knowledge, his knowledge of possible futures and possible circumstances.

14 The best populariser and defender of Molinism today would have to be William Lane Craig, but various other philosophers and theologians have worked to help this position gain momentum. Another supporter seems to be Millard J Erickson and L. Arnold Hustad, Introducing Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2001), 126–127. (Erickson appears to be quite inconsistent at times, often espousing a high view of God’s sovereignty and providence as found within Calvinist texts, but here affirming conditional election based on middle knowledge).

15Olson, Arminian Theology, 184–185.

16This is “before” in the terms of logical priority.

17Again, “before” and “after” do not necessarily have to refer to temporal priority.

18 The distinction between what I am calling the Neo-Reformed position and the Reformed position may be artificial, it may be based more on limited historical accounts than an actual distinction. Some modern accounts seem to attribute to the traditional view the same features as what I am calling the neo-reformed position, Packer—writing of the traditional reformed position—writes of the free offer of the gospel coming from Christ’s work of the cross and being offered to all people, seeming to imply that in this limited sense Jesus died for all. J. I. Packer, Concise Theology: a Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1993). I am driven to make this distinction by what is left out of the traditional formulation at Dort and how Owen attributes even the most universal texts on Christ’s sacrifice to the elect (John 3:16). John Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (Edinburgh; Carlisle, Pa.: Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 209; Allison and Grudem, Historical Theology, 405.

19 See Five Points by John Piper, available as a free pdf download from Also see D. A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books, 2000), 77.

20 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology : an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press ; Zondervan, 1994), 598, 601.

21 For more on this position see Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ; Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, 73–79; Grudem, Systematic Theology, 594–603; Peter John Gentry and Stephen J. Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant: a Biblical-Theological Understanding of the Covenants (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2012), 679–683; Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), Vol. 2 546; Packer, Concise Theology: a Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs. Also see part 5 of John Pipers conference on TULIP from a few years ago and Five Points.

22 See Owen, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ; Allison and Grudem, Historical Theology, 450; R. C Sproul, What Is Reformed Theology?: Understanding the Basics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books, 2012), 167; Michael Scott Horton, For Calvinism (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 2011), 92–97.

23 Olson, Arminian Theology, 221–225; Forlines, Classical Arminianism, 233–235, 189–195. Also see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 757; Gentry and Wellum, Kingdom through Covenant, 671; Horton, For Calvinism, 91.

24 The best book on this I have read is probably; J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, IVP classics (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2008). Another useful read is; Arthur Walkington Pink, The Sovereignty of God (Seaside, Ore.: Watchmaker Pub., 2011). Cf. Grudem, Systematic Theology, 315–354.; Jean Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008), 15–25, 122–144.

25 There is a broad school of thought under the heading Arminianism, so this is a generalization.

26 A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York, NY: HarperCollins Pulishers, 1978), 108–113; Forlines, Classical Arminianism, 79–83; Olson, Arminian Theology, 132.

27 Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, 109.

28 Ronald H. Nash, The Concept of God, Contemporary evangelical perspectives (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Pub. House, 1983), 65–66. For another answer, this time from a Molinist perspective, to the question of foreknowledge and causation see this article by William Lane Craig on Newcomb’s Paradox and backtracking counterfactuals. William Lane Craig, “Divine Foreknowledge and Newcomb’s Paradox | Reasonable Faith,”, accessed May 29, 2013,

29 An overarching definition encompassing both definitions might be; The ability to make un-coerced choices for which we can reasonably be held responsible. The issue here is over the philosophical definition, what a Platonist my call the universal of freedom; what is the objective standard by which a choice is judged to be free and for which we can be held responsible. It is not merely semantics, but a debate over what is the nature of the created universe and even God’s freedom.

30 Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. Luther also rights on the compatibility of sovereignty and human responsibility, but he chooses to throw out the term “free will”; Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, ed. J. I Packer and O. R Johnston (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Fleming H. Revell Company, 2003).

31 Jonathan Edwards, Freedom of the Will (Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications, 2012).


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