“A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised” (1 Cor.2:14).
There is a fundamental incapacity in the natural man. He DOES NOT ACCEPT the things of the Spirit of God (willful rejection), for they are foolishness to him. Why are they foolishness? Because he is not a spiritual man. He CANNOT (not ‘does not’ or ‘normally chooses not to’) understand them. This is another phrase of inability, just as in Romans 8:7. This is not to say that there are not unregenerate, unsaved men who understand the outlines of Christian theology, for example, or the claims of the Christian faith. What it does mean is that there is no unregenerate man who SPIRITUALLY accepts, understands, and knows the things of God. They exist on a level he cannot access, the spiritual level, and he is spiritually dead. But if true saving faith is focused upon the spiritually understood truths of Christ’s perfect and substitutionary sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead, how can the natural man have this kind of faith?” (James White, “Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views.” Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2004, page 69).
Some time ago, I did a series titled “Somewhere In the Middle,” where I show how Classical Arminianism is the “middle ground theology” between Calvinism and Pelagianism. I showed that both Calvinism and Pelagianism go too far: Calvinism throws all sovereignty and responsibility on God, while Pelagianism throws all sovereignty and responsibility upon man. Classical Arminianism, however, is truly the middle ground in that it shows how God, in His sovereignty, must grant man grace and faith to believe (Ephesians 2), since man’s will is so bound and bent to sin and evil. However, the responsibility to believe is not God’s; God is NOT responsible for whether or not a person comes to Himself. God gives the grace and faith needed to believe, and man must exercise the grace and faith bestowed upon himself by God.
And this is the problem with White’s quote above. Notice that he emphasizes that man is totally depraved in his nature. And to that, I agree. However, White fumbles when he discusses man having faith: “But if true saving faith is focused upon the spiritually understood truths of Christ’s perfect and substitutionary sacrifice and His resurrection from the dead, how can the natural man have this kind of faith?”
Is there a way for natural man to have this kind of faith? In his own power, NO!!! For, as White shows in his quote above, as well as Scripture (1 Cor. 2 included), man cannot come to faith on His own.
But this is where Scripture aids us. James White misses the point of Scripture when asking this question, and he makes us think that either man can believe on his own (mentions the word “autonomy”) or that God must regenerate that person before they believe. However, White quotes a verse on the very next page after 1 Corinthians 2 that can aid us in this discussion:
“Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.’ (John 6:43-44)” (White, 70)
The only way a person can come to the Father is if the Spirit initiates the God-man relationship and goes to him or her first. But what does this mean? Does this mean that God “makes” the person come to Himself? Does the Spirit automatically FORCE a person to come to faith in Christ? The answer to that would be a resounding “No!”.
Let’s see Stephen’s words to the Jews in Acts 7:
“You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! YOU ALWAYS RESIST THE HOLY SPIRIT; as your fathers did, so do you” (Acts 7:51, NKJV).
In order for the Holy Spirit to be “resisted,” He had to have been working on the hearts of the Jews to which Stephen preached his sermon. The Jews could not have resisted a Spirit who was not pleading with them, beckoning them, wooing them to Himself.
So when Jesus talks about the Spirit “draws” people, He isn’t saying that the Spirit woos a person and they will ALWAYS accept Him and come to faith. There are those, like the audience to which Peter preached, that will reject the Spirit’s wooing and compelling, and continue to persist in their sin.
So if a person can resist the Spirit’s drawing, then, what about those who come to faith? How do they come to faith, while others persist in their unbelief? it is because they are drawn by the Spirit, and they repent of their sins and believe on His name (exercise the grace and faith God gives). This is why Jesus says,
“IF ANYONE WILLS TO DO HIS WILL, he shall know concerning this doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17, NKJV).
For those who have a genuine desire to believe in Christ, God grants them knowledge of the truth along with grace and faith so that they can believe in Him.
Paul labels “faith” in Romans 1 as “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5, NKJV). Why does he do this? If we take James White’s stance, God must first “make me willing” before I obey. How can obedience be called “obedience” when God is the one who has “forced” me to do it? How can someone obey if I force them to? How can they submit to me if I force them to bow down, to follow my rules? I cannot. And that is the problem with Calvinist theology: God must force us to submit, and then we “willingly” submit. But if this be the case, then why do I need to hear the Gospel? Why is it that “hearing” and “believing” the Gospel are so central to the conversion of the unbeliever (Rom. 10:14-17)? If we listen to James White, we would easily believe that no unbeliever wanted to hear the Gospel...and yet, we find the exact opposite throughout the pages of Scripture itself (Acts 17:32; John 3:4ff).
James White’s attempts to portray Arminianism as Pelagianism shine through here. White puts up a false dichotomy, paints a picture of ONLY two theologies---either that of Calvinism or human autonomy. The problem with this is that he forgets there is a middle ground, which is completely biblical---and that is the belief that the Spirit of grace bestows grace and faith, and man must exercise them in order to be saved. This, my friends, is what we call “Classical Arminianism.”