Sunday, December 30, 2007

More with Kangaroodort

Ben, of Arminian Perspectives, has responded to my earlier post (Revisiting John 5:40.) This is my response to his response. It can't help but get confusing, doing things in this manner, so I apologize at the outset. Here is the code you need in order to follow along: KD is Ben, whose blogger nick is Kangaroodort. He is responding to my earlier post. What I wrote in that post will be prefaced by GR, for Gordan Runyan, or Gregarious Reformer, or Greasy Redneck. My current response to Ben will be in blue.

Also, I apologize ahead of time for the length of this. I did edit a lot of stuff out, I promise. Not for nefarious reasons, but for length. This is still huge. Sorry. You don't have to read it. I won't be hurt.


KD: I did not say that John 5:40 was the death knell of Calvinism. I do believe that it is one of many passages which destroy the Reformed view of the ordo salutis.

> Okay, you didn’t use the words “death knell.” That’s my own analysis of what you’ve proposed. You think John 5:40 should “destroy the Reformed view.” Death knell, destroy, tomayto, tomahto.

GR: Here is the verse in the NKJV: “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (This is Jesus speaking to the Jews who sought to kill Him.)Ben says this proves Calvinism is wrong. He is fairly certain that the “life” mentioned there must necessarily include Regeneration. He thinks that if I would simply read the text, I’d see that as an inescapable conclusion.Spiritually dead people have to come to Jesus (i.e. believe in Him) in order to be regenerated. Ben sees that as straightforward, if only we Calvinists would read what the Bible says there.

KD: There is a lot to deal with here. Gordan has been fair enough in representing my view that the “life” spoken of in John 5:40 must at least [if not primarily] include regeneration. … Before looking at these passages (5:24-26 and 29), something must be said concerning his comment that, “[life] may be synonymous with ‘salvation,’ which is not uncommon in John’s writings”. I agree completely. This is probably the biggest difference in our views. Arminians do not see regeneration as a means to an end (the ability to put faith in Christ), but as the ends itself. Regeneration is the beginning of the new life (which is the eternal life that is found in Christ alone). It is, therefore, the beginning of “salvation”, which Gordan admits is synonymous with “eternal life”. For Calvinists, the purpose of regeneration is to enable (more properly, “cause”) faith in the individual which leads to salvation (i.e. eternal life). The Calvinist, then, sees things like this: life--> faith--> life [eternal life, salvation]. The Arminian sees things like this: faith--> life [eternal life, salvation, which begins at regeneration].

> You make a good point here, Ben, and one that will be necessary to remember later: Our definitions of what regeneration is and does are different, and that simple fact is behind of lot of the current disagreement. So, when you submit that a passage has implications for regeneration, since you conceive of the thing differently than I do, I don’t necessarily see how what you’ve suggested has to flow from the text.

KD: The text in question says, “But you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life.” Gordan believes that there must be another “life” hidden in between the “unwilling” and “come”. The “unwilling” necessitates a need for “life” so that one can “come” to have “life”. For him we should understand Jesus to really mean: “Because you do not have life, you are unwilling to come to Me that you may have life”. I am arguing that Jesus has given us enough information without needing to insert a separate sort of “life” in between the “unwilling” and “come”. I think that Jesus is quite plainly telling the Jews that they must come to Him in order to have “life” (which begins at regeneration).

An important question, then, resolves around whether or not the “life” spoken of in 5:40 has any reference to regeneration (the new birth where life begins). I believe that it must, and found evidence for this in the same passages Gordan now refers us to (John 5:24-26, and 29):“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” (verse 24)Look at that last phrase, “but has passed out of death into life”. Doesn’t that sound like the language of regeneration to you? A transition from death to life is a perfect way to describe regeneration, and many Calvinist have described regeneration with that exact same language. Another favorite metaphor for regeneration is “spiritual resurrection” which is just another way of saying that one has passed from [spiritual] death to [spiritual] life. This is the imagery that Jesus now turns to in describing the life spoken of in this context:

> I do in fact believe that in order to pass “out of death into life” you must be regenerated. However, I note that you rightly call resurrection a “favorite metaphor” for regeneration. It is indeed a favorite, but it is not the only. Regeneration is also pictured by other metaphors. I’d contend these include effectual calling, teaching, washing, and even (contrarily) death as in Romans 6 and 7.

This is a big part of why I think you miss the boat on this whole issue, Ben. You have to mandate that if spiritual resurrection is spoken of in John 5, it must include regeneration, since that is a common, even “favorite” way of describing regeneration in other places. But the whole work of salvation in a man’s life is also referred to in resurrection terms throughout the Bible, including the disparate elements of repentance, faith, justification, new life, unity with Christ, etc. I’m saying your whole argument here rests on a wooden use of biblical metaphors, where, if resurrection means one thing in one place, it has be speaking of the same thing in the other place. It must include regeneration here since it includes it somewhere else.

I will note at the end of this post as well, that you are quite inconsistent in the application of this hermeneutic, giving your side a pass while demanding this sort of strict usage from Calvinists. But later.

Another point about this text. While it does speak of a resurrection, what it does not do is explain any kind of causation. I mean, you apparently read it to say that hearing and believing causes this new life. He who believes will be regenerated, or something similar. But this idea is really not there. All the text does is state a fact about the condition of the one who believes: that is, he is released from judgment and is spiritually raised from the dead. Who has eternal life? The one who believes in Jesus. There is a vital correlation described there: you can’t have one without the other, but the text itself doesn’t speak to whether one of those connected ideas caused the others.

“Truly, truly, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the Son of God, and those who hear shall live.”Here Christ speaks of a spiritual resurrection for those who hear the voice of the Son of God. The previous verse [24] reminds us that hearing unto life includes believing, “…and believes Him who sent Me”. So what have these passages taught us? They have taught us that Jesus is describing the need for these spiritually dead Jews to experience a transition from death to life: a spiritual resurrection! Well what about verses 28-29? Don’t they have reference to the final resurrection? Yes they do, but we must let the context determine Christ’s purpose in looking forward to the resurrection event.Jesus anticipates that the Jews will object that He has the power to grant new life. Jesus tells them plainly that He does have this power (verse 21, 24, 26) and that not only can He bring about a spiritual resurrection in those who believe in Him, but He will one day call the dead from their graves as well. However, Jesus is speaking not of a specific resurrection to life of believers in verses 28-29, but the general resurrection of the dead. The point Christ is making is that they should not be surprised at His claims to be able to grant life to those who believe since He will one day raise all of creation from the dead in order to judge them (verses 28-29). If He has been given the authority to do that, then surely He has been given the authority to give spiritual life to those who come to Him in faith.Therefore, I think it is self evident that the context Gordan mentions actually argues against his position while lending further weight to my initial interpretation of the passage in question. Gordan has much more to say on this issue, however, so let’s hear him out:

> I don’t have a huge problem with anything in the preceding paragraphs, except Ben’s conclusion:

“I think it is self evident that the context Gordan mentions actually argues against his position while lending further weight to my initial interpretation of the passage in question.”

“Self evident” normally means that a thing is so obvious it shouldn’t have to be proved. That is certainly how it is employed here. Ben thinks it’s obvious that this text argues against my position, but hasn’t bothered to show how. What in my position is contradicted here, and how? It’s evident to Ben’s self but not to mine. I can agree with nearly all of what he’s written and not feel undermined by it.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m right and he’s wrong. It just means that Ben’s view is not really self evident. It still has to be proved.

GR: Who will come to Jesus to be regenerated? How does a spiritually dead person decide to get resurrected? Ben believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity. I think he’d say, no spiritually dead person would choose to believe. But as an Arminian, Ben believes in Prevenient Grace. According to this doctrine, before any sinner may savingly believe in Christ, God must first grant a gift of grace that allows that sinner to overcome his totally depraved nature and make that decision from something like neutral ground.In short, Arminian Ben sees the same dilemma the Calvinist does, in that no carnal man will or can receive the things of the Spirit (specifically, the Gospel of Christ.) Where the Calvinist solves this dilemma with the doctrine of Regeneration, the Arminian solves it with resistible Prevenient Grace. The two doctrines accomplish the same thing: they allow the sinner to obey the demands of the Gospel.Now, here’s the catch for Ben. If John 5:40’s “life” must include Calvinistic regeneration (since that is the starting point of life in Christ) then why does Prevenient Grace get a pass? Doesn’t the Arminian process of receiving eternal life in Christ begin with Prevenient Grace? If so, then it is just as rightly included in the “life” of John 5:40 as the Calvinist’s doctrine of Regeneration. That is, they both stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ.So, if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient Grace.

KD: Gordan is really reaching here. His argument simply does not follow and seems to be based on a gross misunderstanding of how Arminians view prevenient grace. I do not believe that prevenient grace must be included in “life” as he contends. The new life cannot be given until one exercises the God ordained condition of faith. This is the order presented to us by Jesus in John 5:40. The “come” of 5:40 is synonymous with faith, just as the “come” of John 6:44 is synonymous with faith. Jesus is therefore saying that one gains life through faith. Prevenient grace comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith. Prevenient grace is described in John 6:44 as a drawing. The Arminian then sees the ordo salutis as: draw [prevenient grace] --> come [in faith] --> life [regeneration, i.e. the beginning of eternal life and salvation]. This order is supported by comparing John 5:40 with John 6:44 [which is what initially provoked this debate].

> Yes, I am really reaching there, on purpose, in order to show the absurdity of your argument. It’s called a reductio ad absurdum, I think. Using your own argument against you ought to illustrate its illegitimacy, which it apparently does. You react pretty strongly against it, as you should.

Here’s my point, remembering what we’ve said above about the fact that you and I see Regeneration differently: Ben, if you go through the last half of the paragraph you’ve written above and substitute Calvinistic regeneration in all the places where you have Prevenient Grace, you will basically have my argument about why your entire contention on this issue is wrong-headed.

Especially this sentence of yours: “Prevenient grace comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith.”

Bravo. I completely agree. Thing is, this is what I’ve been contending: Regeneration comes before saving faith and therefore cannot be part of the “life” that results from faith.

Your argument about why PG ought to be exempted is exactly the same as mine for why Regeneration ought to be exempted. Somehow your argument is airtight and logical when you employ it and absurd when I do. Nice.

KD: The fact that one must first come before one can attain life in John 5:40 makes it impossible for us to understand the drawing of John 6:44 as regeneration. It must, therefore, have reference to prevenient grace as Arminians have always contended. Gordan has done nothing to prove otherwise. He has only succeeded in strengthening the Arminian interpretation by drawing (no pun intended) our attention to John 5:21-24, and 26.

> If we were in a courtroom, this would be called Assuming Facts Not In Evidence. Specifically, the thing we’re trying to determine in this whole discussion is whether Ben is right to insist that the “life” of John 5:40 must include regeneration. But in this paragraph, he simply assumes he is right and moves on to use the conclusion to help bolster the argument. Life must mean regeneration, so you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, so that proves Ben’s argument about John 6:44, that it must refer to prevenient grace there and in the rest of John 5, thus supporting the argument that “life” in v.40 includes regeneration. Ingenious! Ben, if I’m ever on trial for my life, I want you as my lawyer.

KD: Prevenient grace does indeed “stand at the beginning of the sinner’s experience of new life in Christ”, but that grace is not the same as regeneration. Prevenient grace enables the sinner to believe unto life. John 5:40 tells us that coming must precede life, and John 6:44 tells us that drawing must precede coming. That is exactly what Arminians believe concerning the ordo salutis and Gordan’s statement that, “…if John 5:40 means that you have to come to Christ to be regenerated, then it must also mean that you have to come to Christ to receive Prevenient grace” is a painfully obvious case of non-sequintur.

> Again, not non-sequitor, but reductio. If you allow me as a Calvinist to define what this Calvinist must believe about Regeneration, then I tell you that everything you think Prevenient Grace must do is done by what is called Regeneration or Effectual Calling in my view, and so it corresponds to the drawing in the very same manner as Prevenient Grace would in your system.

GR: 2. Another problem with saying that Regeneration has to be included in any thought of eternal life, is this: why stop there? I mean, why not go back farther? You have to be alive in the flesh before you can be alive in the Spirit, right? So why not include fleshly life in the “life” of John 5:40? You can’t enter into eternal life by faith while you’re physically dead any more than you can believe without being regenerated. So, surely physical life stands just as vitally at the starting point of life in Christ as Regeneration does. Why include one and not the other, aside from the fact that it seems to help your argument?

KD: And I thought Gordan was reaching with his last comments. This argument barely deserves an answer. All we need to do is look at the context to understand what kind of life Jesus is referring to in John 5:40.

>Well, right, and it especially helps to read into that context Arminian concepts like decisional regeneration. (Seeing as how they are not there explicitly…) Again, I’d agree with the charge of “reaching.” Guilty!

But I’d contend I’m only reaching in the same manner that you have been the entire time. In this way: If the new life in Christ begins necessarily with Regeneration, then Regeneration must be included in “Life.” But I’m saying that’s an arbitrary place to stop. Calvinists would contend that other forms of life are logically necessary in order for us to experience eternal life. Other things like election and the physical ability to hear the Good News are just as vital, right? So Salvation in its fullness, the “life” we want in Christ, where does that really begin?

KD: We have done that above, and I am confident that any unbiased reading of the text would reveal that Jesus is speaking of a transition from spiritual death to spiritual life: a spiritual resurrection [i.e. regeneration].

>Again, I am happy to agree that spiritual resurrection and new life is in view. But I think you’re hung up on metaphors and analogies and mixing some. Yes, Regeneration is sometimes referred to as a raising from death. But it’s also referred to as a calling, a washing, a circumcision, the opening of the heart, being secretly taught by God, having the Law written on our hearts, having our stony heart replaced, etc. To demand that the “life” of 5:40 must be speaking of the quickening of regeneration is like demanding that the washing of Baptism must be the same thing as the washing of regeneration. (Since Paul spoke once of the washing of regeneration, then every time he speaks of Baptism, Regeneration must be included…) So, you’re inconsistent with your own methodology if you don’t wind up advocating Baptismal Regeneration. Hey, it’s all in there in the concept of spiritual washing. Any fair reading of the context would show how self evident that is….

And again, I must point out the lack of any straightforward causation in any of your “contextual data.” Even if we grant that the resurrection spoken of includes regeneration, there isn’t a hint of explaining what caused that: the verses you’ve called as witnesses on this count merely show correlation, which is a different thing. The believing one is also the regenerated one. The believing one is the one who is resurrected.

To the verse itself, I know you see causation there, but even if I were to grant the whole rest of your argument (that “life” includes regeneration) the text still doesn’t say that belief causes this. It says that the Jews refused to come. They refused to have anything to do with the eternal life that Jesus was offering, regardless of what the process was for that, or what steps are involved in the human heart. Jesus is simply saying that they have refused to come to Him. The blame for their spiritual deadness lies completely with them.

And why? Well Calvinists would say, because they’re unregenerate and they hate the light because their deeds are evil. So, without any reference to what the actual process may be, if they have to come to Jesus to get eternal life, they’re not going to do it.

GR: Or why not go all the way back to God’s foreordination before the foundation of the world? Calvinists would say Regeneration only happens because Predestination has already happened long ago, so why not extend the line back to the real, genuine beginning of life in Christ? So then, Jesus would be saying, “You refuse to come to Me, that you may be predestined.”

KD: Is Gordan really contending that “real” and “genuine” regeneration in Christ begins at some eternal decree? Wouldn’t that make the elect eternally regenerated? Is this really where Gordan is willing to take us in order to preserve his doctrine? Look at this statement again and let the absurd implications sink in:Surely Gordan misspoke and didn’t think very carefully about what he was saying since I am quite confident that he doesn’t believe the elect have been regenerated from eternity. I think that it is only fair that we give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

> Thanks for giving me the “benefit of the doubt” whilst you rant and rave about how absurd and careless I am, btw. Of course, I did not argue for eternal regeneration or anything of the kind. I merely pointed out that election and salvation are logically, absolutely connected, as a way of showing that it would be wrong to disconnect them. That is much different from saying they are the same thing.

KD: While Gordan’s statement is plainly and painfully ridiculous, he is actually on to something very important when he says, “life in Christ”. It is undisputable that spiritual life resides only in the person of Jesus Christ (John. 1:4; 5:26; 6:35; 11:25; 14:6; 1 John. 1:2; 5:11; Col. 3:3, 4). It is just as certain that we come to be in union with Christ through faith (Eph. 1:13; 3:17). The born again believer is truly a “new creature”, but only “in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:17). Gordan’s belief that regeneration precedes faith puts him into the absurd theological position of explaining how someone can be given new life outside of union with the only source of life- Jesus Christ.

>Ah, yes, you must be speaking of the “absurd theological position” of affirming that we were chosen in Him before the foundation of the world. Anything that God does for us in the process of saving us is “in Christ.” We are regenerated by the Spirit of Christ, so that can hardly be outside of Him.

KD: He must also affirm that a holy God can give life to sinners before the blood of Christ has been applied, since he believes that regeneration precedes justification.

> Ummm. ..can you say Old Testament saint? God gave them life before there was any blood to apply. Now, I’d contend He gave them life because He knew perfectly well what He was going to do, and who He would apply that blood to. But your objection is based on the issue of time and space, who does what before which. If God can give spiritual life to the patriarchs thousands of years before the Blood was shed, this is in no way “life apart from Christ.” David claimed to have been made to trust while still a suckling infant, and John the Baptist was regenerated in the womb. So arguing against the idea that the new birth might begin seconds before the sinner mouths the words “I do” seems like making a mountain out of a molehill. These are all examples of God knowing from eternity those who are His. The fact that He does not make us privy to that information prior to their confession of faith shouldn’t freak us out.

KD: His theology forces him to accept the unbiblical view that one can be born again before being forgiven (which is part of what it means to be justified).

>No, it simply means I believe regeneration and justification are different things. As to the issue of “before,”…. again, I think you’re temporally hung up. I happen to think the two things occur as part of one event, time-wise. I don’t at all envision a bunch of regenerate people walking around who still reject the Gospel.

KD: I appreciate the fact that Gordan and I may never see eye to eye on this subject, but I hope that he will at least admit that his initial charge that my understanding of John 5:40 was not based on sound exegesis was without foundation.

>Ben, let’s clear this up. It ought to be easy. I have been accused (albeit humorously) of thinking I was reading your mind in my initial post on this topic. That was totally unfounded on your part, Ben. But I’ll give you props for it: It garnered a chorus of guffaws from your amen corner at your blog. Regardless, what I said was, it looked to me as if you may have employed a certain bad methodology. There is a difference there. Here’s what it looks like vs. Here’s what Ben did.

I am happy to see that what it looked like to me was not the reality.

I agree that we won’t agree about this. I will admit that I charged you with a methodology that you did not, in fact, use. I think you have done your best to exegete the text.

But I can’t agree that your exegesis has been “sound,” no. I’m sure you feel the same way toward me, and worse, as you have stated as much in other words.

Let me summarize my objections to your take on this, by way of closing this:

1. Yes, some of the verses prior to John 5:40 speak of a spiritual resurrection, or raising to new life.

2. Yes, sometimes Regeneration is spoken of as a resurrection. This is, however, not a metaphor that is exclusively used this way. Regeneration is also called other things. But also, the fullness of salvation, including grace, faith, repentance and justification is referred to in such terms (e.g. Ephesians 2, Romans 6, and, I’d contend, the rest of John 5.) Similarity of metaphor is no warrant for conflating all these things. Jesus and the devil are both called lions: this doesn’t make them identical, nor demand that when the Scripture speaks of a lion it must necessarily have both beings in view.

3. Your argument rests completely on the insistence that Calvinists must be very rigid in the application of the resurrection metaphor. And yet, this insistence only goes one way. Your view doesn’t have to do this. You’d get upset, I’m guessing, if I pointed out that you think the text teaches that dead men are upbraided for not doing what is necessary to be resurrected. You’d get indignant if I pointed out that you’ve got dead men coming to Jesus to receive life. The way most Arminians avoid this is by asserting that spiritual death does not make one as unable to act as natural death does, and so the metaphor is not very strictly applied. The dead can still act, in your view. You’d say (I’m guessing) they only can act because God gives them a means for acting through Prevenient Grace. But then, the metaphor doesn’t really hold, does it? Once dead men can act, by whatever miraculous means, they can’t really be called dead anymore.

So, Calvinism is destroyed by a strict and wooden application of a particular metaphor, but Arminianism keeps right on trucking by playing fast-and-loose with the very same metaphor of death/resurrection.

3. John 5:40 remains simply a statement of the Jews’ culpability. They are to blame for not coming to Jesus, and thus, their state of spiritual death is their own fault.


kangaroodort said...


I love the picture. Where did you find that one?

I agree that this exchange is starting to get cumbersome because of its length and I am quite sure neither of is likely to lay down and give the other the final word.

I think a cross examination would be nice, but I forsee problems with that. I will e-mail you with more and maybe we can figure out how to best proceed.

I might even just address some of your comments in this combox and leave it there. We'll see.

Talk to ya soon.

Ben said...


You have done a great job with this post and in your defense. The problem as you rightly pointed out is that both sides view and define regeneration differently.

As i have pointed out before if one reads Arminius one would see similar language to regeneration that Calvinism uses, the problem comes in when to the Arminian this is just the beginnings of regeneration and to the Calvinist it is the all of regeneration. I mean that, too the Calvinist regeneration is a one time event sort of like circumcision was/is and to the Arminian regeneration is a long process that the person goes through. That being said it will be hard for anyone on either side to ever come to a resolution to this, unless one changes their view of what regeneration means and how it is defined.

Again, great post in showing the core of the problem.

Rhett said...



gordan said...

I'm going to end comments on this thread, because I told Ben (Kangaroodort) that I'd give him the last word here.