“The overcoming grace model is consistent with the biblical tension of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. Nowhere is this tension clearer than in the Gospel of John. On the one hand, John emphasizes God’s sovereign work of election and drawing. Yet on the other hand, he presents Christ as the universal Savior ‘who takes away the sins of the world,’ makes repeated universal appeals, and issues universal condemnation upon unbelief. SOMETIMES THOSE WHO FOCUS ON THE TEXTS WHICH STRESS SOVEREIGNTY OVERLOOK THE STRONG UNIVERSAL APPEALS WHICH ARE ALSO IN JOHN...Conversely, THOSE WHO STRESS THE INVITATIONS TO ‘WHOSOEVER’ IN JOHN SOMETIMES GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO EXPLAIN AWAY WHAT IS SAID THERE ABOUT GOD’S SOVEREIGN CHOICE OF HIS SHEEP. The overcoming grace model is a deliberate attempt to preserve this tension” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, pages 126-127).
The above words tell a story of their own: that is, that there is a “tension” between divine sovereignty and human responsibility in Scripture that both Calvinists and Arminians should respect. Who are those that “stress sovereignty”? Calvinists. Who are those who “stress the invitations...in John?” those who are Arminians (according to this train of thought).
But is there really a tension in Scripture? Well, yes and no: “yes” if you approach the text with certain presuppositions, “no” if you approach the text for what it says.
Now, I realize that my last statement might get me in a bit of trouble. Someone may say, “Well, don’t we all approach the text with certain presuppositions?” Yes, we are all guilty of that; all of us have come to the Bible with preconceived notions of what the Scriptures teach. However, the question is not, “Do we all have presuppositions?”...rather, the question is, “Does Scripture confirm what we believe to be true?” If the Scriptures do indeed affirm what we believe to be true, then while we still retain our presuppositions, the Scriptures indicate that our thinking is in the right direction (and that can only help us to think right about other issues).
Let me lay out my cards on the table: I hold to presuppositions. One of my presuppositions is that Scripture can be reconciled with Scripture; in other words, I don’t argue for tension in Scripture (I agree with the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy; see the document’s section titled “Infallibility, Inerrancy, and Interpretation). The document states:
“Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored.
Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the
present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that
His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be
seen to have been illusions.”
The document acknowledges that everything in Scripture we have not yet reconciled...but that doesn’t keep the drafters of the Chicago Statement from stating that “apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored...solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith...” The fact that the writers state this demonstrate their commitment to the hermeneutical rule that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (John Calvin). And, before we rule out the idea of reconciliation of one text with another, we should at least examine the Scriptures and make all attempts at reconciliation. To fail to do so is theological laziness.
If I hold that there is no tension in Scripture, what do I think is wrong with the espousal of Molinism above? My issue with Molinism’s espousal is that it presumes a tension. And what is that tension? That Scripture presents a “divine choice,” while, at the same time, assigning “human responsibility.” Ken Keathley writes:
“In John 5:21, our Lord declares that He gives life to whomever He pleases. Yet He in turn appeals to them ‘that [they] may be saved’ (John 5:34) and excoriates them for their unbelief and places all responsibility on them (‘and you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life,’ John 5:40)” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 127).
Notice that John 5:21 and John 5:34 are treated in the text as in opposition to one another (the word “yet” tells us so). But, is this really a tension? Or, does the interpretation placed upon the text make it seem “as if” there is a contradiction between them? Let’s look at two ways to approach this text:
First, we can simply agree to tension in the text with the following interpretation:
I. The Lord chooses whomever He wills.
II. If the Lord chooses whomever He wills, then the Lord picks some to be saved.
III. Although THE LORD SELECTS SOME for salvation, HE HOLDS ALL PERSONS RESPONSIBLE for not being saved.
IV. How can the Lord hold all persons responsible for faith if He only gives faith to some?
My question is: “Is this what the text says?” Does the text actually say that all people are responsible for faith if only some are given it? Read the words of Supralapsarian Calvinist David Engelsma:
“If reprobation is the decree not to give a man faith, IT IS PATENTLY FALSE TO SAY THAT UNBELIEF IS THE CAUSE OF REPROBATION. That would be the same as to say that my decision not to give a beggar a quarter is due to the beggar’s not having a quarter” (David Engelsma, “Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, pages 57-58; quoted by Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach.” Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 147).
The one phrase in Engelsma’s quote that captures me is “my decision not to give a beggar a quarter is due to the beggar’s not having a quarter.” Insert the words of John 6 here (as Molinists espouse them) and Engelsma’s quote reads, “the Lord’s decision not to give a man faith is due to the unbeliever’s not having faith.” How can the unbeliever get faith if God does not supply it? Is not faith a gift of God (Eph. 2:8-9)? If faith is a gift of God, then it must be given by God to all in order for every individual to be responsible for belief. But if someone is not given faith, then how can they exercise a faith they have not received? This is an illogical argument altogether.
Back to the Keathley quote. Is it coherent to say that “God selects some men for salvation, but holds all men accountable for their NOT BEING SELECTED?” I think that to hold to this position is to hold to a contradiction, not a tension.
Keathley writes on contradiction:
“At this point many infralapsarian Calvinists appeal to mystery, but what we are dealing with is not a mystery but a contradiction. An epistemic paradox and a logical paradox are different. An epistemic paradox results from insufficient information, but a logical paradox indicates an error either in one’s starting assumptions or his reasoning processes. The decretal Calvinist cannot accept his own conclusions. This means that something is wrong somewhere” (Ken Keathley, “Salvation and Sovereignty,” page 148).
Which paradox characterizes John 5:21 and John 5:34? The answer it seems, is “a logical paradox.” How can a person be condemned for not exercising a faith that they never had? For the person without God-given faith to be treated as though they had faith is a logical paradox, one that is entirely contradictory.
Is there any way then, to reconcile John 5:21 and John 5:34? There is. Whom does God will to choose for salvation? Those who believe (Rom. 9:30-33; 10:9; John 3:16-18; Eph. 2:8; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 3:9)...and only those who exercise such faith are chosen for salvation.
I will conclude with the words of Robert Picirilli, as I’ve done in several of my posts:
“How does conditional election relate to the sovereignty of God? The answer seems obvious: if the sovereign God UNCONDITIONALLY established faith as the condition for salvation (and therefore for election), then His sovereignty is not violated when He requires the condition. Neither Calvinist nor Arminian, by ‘sovereignty,’ means that God acts in a way that men call ‘arbitrary.’ Surely God’s sovereignty means that He acts freely, under no conditions than that He be true to Himself. Neither a priori (from our logic) nor a posteriori (from Scriptural evidence) is there any reason to believe God could not sovereignly establish any condition He chose (or no condition at all, did He so choose) for salvation. As Arminius put this, ‘The freedom of the goodness of God is declared...when He communicates it only on the condition, which He has been pleased to impose’” (Robert E. Picirilli, “Grace, Faith, Free Will; Contrasting Views of Salvation---Calvinism and Arminianism.” Nashville: Randall House Publications, 2002, page 57).
Only Reformed (Classical) Arminianism can reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility without contradiction.