Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables

via Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables

Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables

You can view a PDF of this post here: “Jesus’ Parables as Judgment: A Response to Leighton Flowers’ View of the Purpose of the Parables”

Professor Leighton Flowers has recently written an article titled, “The Messianic Secret,”[1] wherein he explains his understanding of the purpose of the parables.  According to Flowers, the reason Jesus spoke in parables was to prevent the Jewish people from coming to repentance and faith, so as to bring about the crucifixion, otherwise the crucifixion would not have taken place.  While I will not address every single point and Scriptural reference in his article – and I don’t necessarily disagree with everything he says in the article – I do want to respond to a few of his key points.  Before I do so, however, let me first briefly explain my understanding regarding the reason Jesus spoke in parables.

Why Jesus Spoke In Parables

I believe the primary reason Jesus spoke in parables – though I do believe there exists a two-fold nature to the purpose of the parables – was to enact a form of judgment on the Jewish people.  Let us give consideration to Matthew 13:10-17 in making this point:

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’

16 But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. 17 For truly, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

To these close disciples of Jesus – those who had ears to hear and eyes to see – the parables were a means of explaining the kingdom of God.  To those who did not have ears to hear and eyes to see, but hardened their hearts at the teachings of Jesus, the parables were a means of judgment, confirming them in their rebellious way.  Note that Jesus explicitly says that he speaks in parables “because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”  He does not say that he speaks in parables so that they won’t see and hear and understand; it’s that they already don’t see and hear and understand. Verse 15 makes clear that the people’s hearts had already grown dull, that they had already closed their eyes, otherwise they would see and hear and understand and turn and be saved.  But that is not what they wanted.  Note, the parables did not harden the people or prevent them from understanding so that they would not repent and believe (and otherwise thwart God’s redemptive plan).  Their hearts were already hard, and they had already failed to understand the truth of Jesus and his redemptive mission.  John MacArthur’s words are spot-on:

While the parables do illustrate and clarify truth for those with ears to hear, they have precisely the opposite effect on those who oppose and reject Christ.  The symbolism hides the truth from anyone without the discipline or desire to seek out Christ’s meaning.  That’s why Jesus adopted that style of teaching.  It was a divine judgment against those who met His teaching with scorn, unbelief, or apathy.[2]

MacArthur goes on to explain this two-fold nature of the parables:

In short, Jesus’ parables had a clear twofold purpose: They hid the truthfrom self-righteous or self-satisfied people who fancied themselves too sophisticated to learn from Him, while the same parables revealed truthto eager souls with childlike faith – those who were hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  Jesus thanked His Father for both results: ‘I thank You, father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and have revealed them to babes.  Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Your sight (Matt. 11:25-26).[3]

Two final points need to be made before moving on to consider some of Flowers’ points.  First it is important to keep in mind that Jesus did not always teach in parables.  There are plenty of times in the Gospels where we find Jesus teaching in a more straight-forward and didactic manner (e.g. Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:14-30).  The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the best example of this.  Even though it concludes in a brief parable, “the substance of the message, starting with the Beatitudes, is delivered in a series of direct propositional statements, commandments, polemical arguments, exhortations, and words of warning.”[4]

Second, there are times when Jesus used parabolic language – the use of provincial imagery meant to communicate a spiritual truth/reality – and the intent was not to hide the truth, but to reveal and clarify the truth.  Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman are good examples of this (Jn. 3-4).

In summary, Jesus used parables to teach those with ears to hear and eyes to see, as well as to confirm those with hard and unbelieving hearts in their rebellion.  The parables were not used to keep people from repenting and believing, because the people were already unrepentant and unbelieving.  Further, Jesus did not always teach in parables, but often taught in a straight-forward and didactic manner.

Responding to Leighton Flowers

Early on in the article Professor Flowers references 1 Corinthians 2:8-9 in support of his perspective.  I find this very interesting, considering the context in which this passage is found.  First, let’s look at Flowers’ words and then I’ll respond:

As the Apostle Paul noted, “We speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory” (1 Cor. 2:8-9). Jesus knew that had they believed in Him before the right time then they would not have crucified Him. Therefore, the Lord graciously taught in parables “to those on the outside…so that, ‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’” (Mark 4:11b-12).

In essence, Flowers is asserting that God actively blinded or hid the wisdom of his redemptive plan from these rulers so that he could bring about the gospel – the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  This, however, is the exact opposite of the meaning of the text.  Paul is not addressing the concept of hiding the truth, but of revealing the truth.  The truth was hidden from them, not because God was actively hiding it from them, but because they themselves did not understand it (i.e. a spiritual inability to understand the things of God).  It’s not that the truth had not been made known to them, but it’s as Paul goes on to say, these things are revealed by God through the Spirit.  We understand these things because we have received the Spirit of God (vv. 10-13).  So why did the rulers not understand this mystery of God?  Because God was actively hiding it from them?  No, it’s because “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (v. 14).  This point is all the more striking when we consider the fact that Paul just spent numerous verses speaking of the unique/effectual call of God’s chosen people (1:17-2:5).  To make this a general call is to flip Paul’s teaching on its theological head, stripping it of all its polemical and pastoral power.

Further, in regards to Flowers’ reference of Mark 4:11-12, Mark basically quotes several Old Testament passages that speak of the people’s hearts already hard, their eyes already unseeing, their ears already plugged, and of the need for God to give them an understanding heart, seeing eyes, and hearing ears (Deut. 29:4; Jer. 5:21; Ezek. 12:2).  In short, it is a word of judgment on the people.  Flowers seems to think that this passage undercuts the concept of the inability of man and God’s effectual calling.  It does no such thing.

Here is another example of Flowers’ understanding of the purpose of the parables:

Jesus is not attempting to persuade everyone to come to faith in great numbers as we see following Pentecost when Peter preaches (Acts 2:41). Quite the opposite seems to be the case, in fact. To accomplish the redemptive plan through Israel’s unbelief, we see Jesus actively instructing His apostles not to tell others who he is yet (Matt. 16:20; Mark 8:30; 9:9).

In other words, Jesus used parables in order to prevent the vast majority of the Jews from repenting and believing, because if they did so, then they would not have crucified him.  Again, Flowers’ attempt here is to undercut the concept of the moral inability of man and God’s effectual calling, while putting forth his perspective of judicial hardening.[5]  Is this actually what we find though?  I think not.

First, the fact that Jesus went around preaching repentance and faith, sending out his disciples, and identifying himself as the Messiah at times, disproves Flowers’ first assertion (e.g. Mtt. 4:17; 10:5-14; Mk. 1:14-15; Lk. 4:15-21; 10:1-12).

Second, the reason Jesus hid his identity was not to prevent the vast majority of Jews from repenting and believing so as to accomplish God’s redemptive plan of the cross, but to prevent the Jews from attempting to carry out their false concept of the Messiah – a ruler of an earthly kingdom who would free them from Roman suppression.  Even his close disciples were confused about the Scriptural witness of the Messiah (Mtt. 16:21-28).  It took Jesus’ supernatural ability to open the minds of the disciples so that they could understand the Scriptures (Lk. 24:44-47).  So Flowers is correct to assert that it was for the purpose of bringing about the redemptive plan, but he’s in error to think that the crowds would have repented and believed in him if his true identity had been broadcasted.  It’s at this point, regarding the fact of Jesus not broadcasting his identity as Messiah and Jesus’ use of parables, that Flowers seems to conflate the two.  He says the following:

Moreover, Jesus purposefully speaks in parables in order to prevent the Jewish leaders coming to faith and repentance (Matt. 13:11-15; Mark 4:11-13). When great numbers began to believe Jesus was truly prophetic, notice how Jesus responded: “’Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by Himself” (John 6:14-15). Earlier in the same gospel we learn that “many people saw the miraculous signs He was doing and believed in His name. But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them” (John 2:23b-24a).

Flowers seems to be asserting here that the reason Jesus spoke in parables was to conceal his identity as the Messiah.  Yet, the parables were primarily about the nature and expansion of the kingdom, not the person and work of Jesus.[6]  Further, John 6:14-15 only confirms the point that Jesus hid his identity as the Messiah, not to prevent the Jews from repenting and believing, but to prevent them from attempting to carry out their false ideas of the Messiah’s mission.  Lastly, Flowers seems to be implying that “Jesus would not entrust Himself to them” has something to do with Jesus concealing his true identity and speaking in parables so as to prevent mass conversions.  This is not the case, however.   Rather, Jesus did not entrust himself to them because he knew their hearts (Jn. 2:25), which means he knew their true intentions and motives.  This again confirms that Jesus was preventing them from attempting to carry out their false view of the Messiah’s mission, not that he was keeping them from truly repenting and believing.  Needless to say, this paragraph by Flowers is somewhat muddled, and it seems that he may be mixing categories.

Conclusion

The purpose of the parables is not so much on the subject of the ability/inability of man, but on the providence of God to accomplish his redemptive purposes in the way in which he ordained them to be accomplished.  It cannot be overlooked, too, that Jesus did not always teach in parables.  It would certainly seem that, for Flowers’ interpretation to hold water, one would have to conclude that he always taught, or at least primarily taught, in parables.  Yet, this is simply not the case.  What is more, Jesus hiding his identity as the Messiah is not the same thing as Jesus teaching in parables.  Flowers seems to conflate the two, which causes some confusion regarding his point and perspective (in my opinion at least).

The primary purpose of Jesus teaching the people in parables was to confirm the unbelieving Jews in their rebellion.  It was a form of judgment on the people.  To those with ears to hear and eyes to see, however, it was a means for Jesus to communicate the truth of his kingdom.

[1] Flowers, Leighton. “The Messianic Secret”. https://goo.gl/ze8jtm. Accessed on January 3, 2016.

[2] MacArthur, John. Parables (Thomas Nelson, 2015), xix.

[3] Ibid., xxi. Emphasis is his.

[4] Ibid., xxi.

[5] Note, judicial hardening is not a concept that contradicts Calvinism.  Judicial hardening is a biblical concept.  Flowers has repeatedly stated that Calvinists believe that mankind is born judicially hardened.  This, however, is not the case, and actually mixes categories.  What Calvinists believe is that mankind is born with a sin nature due to their federal head – Adam.  This means that we are born with corrupt hearts, and therefore our desire from our youth is that of wickedness (this takes various degrees and forms).  We do not desire the things of God; we are enemies of God and by nature children of wrath (note, man is not morally neutral).  This does not mean that man is as wicked as he can be.  By God’s common grace the world of men continues to thrive in its institutions with relative progress (though man’s work continues to be tainted by corruption and sin).  Throughout redemptive history God may judicially harden a nation (or individual) for his redemptive purposes (e.g. Pharaoh and the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt).  Judicial hardening, however, and the state in which man is born are not the same thing.

[6] Of course, the kingdom of God is established through the redemptive work of Christ, but this is not overly clear in his parables, which primarily focus on the kingdom itself.

Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man & Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers, Pt. 1

via Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man & Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers, Pt. 1

 

Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man & Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers, Pt. 1

You can read a PDF version of this post here: “Rightly Understanding the Nature of Man and Effectual Calling: A Response to Leighton Flowers”

Lately I have been spending quite a bit of time listening to Leighton Flowers’ podcast and reading through his blog.  He is one of the very few non-Calvinists in the Southern Baptist Convention that is actually willing to stick his head out there and dialogue with Calvinists.  For that I give him credit.  I very much appreciate his willingness to speak with me and Dale Stenberg (my fellow partner in crime on the Reformasium Podcast[1]).  I do, however, have great concerns regarding his position on certain theological topics, and I greatly question his abilities in rightly addressing our biblical argumentation.

This article is specifically in response to one of his podcast episodes titled, “Total Inability and the Effectual Calling” (Nov. 10, 2015).[2]  This post will only deal with his statements on total inability.  I plan on providing a second post shortly to address his arguments against effectual calling and his presentation of his view regarding the power of the gospel.

I will provide key quotations of Flowers from this podcast episode and then respond in kind.  These may not be 100% verbatim quotations, but I’ve tried my best to write his words exactly.  In some instances I’ve condensed lengthy quotations for the sake of simplicity (getting to the point).  At the very least, they should be accurate representations of his views.  Leighton Flowers is more than welcome to correct me if I have misquoted or misrepresented him in any way.  That is certainly not my intention, and I will make attempts to fix such errors.  I would of course also encourage anyone reading this to first listen to the podcast episode.

Leighton Flowers: “If someone has the ability to have the mental ascent of the facts being given through the Scripture, and they have the ability to be convicted by that, then they should have the ability to respond to that in faith.”

“Man can understand and place their trust in Buddha, or in Joseph Smith, or in Satan, or whoever, even giving their lives for these people and their systems, but for some reason, according to Calvinists, God decreed for mankind to be incapable of placing their trust in the truth claims of the gospel.  They cannot, by nature, put their trust in it.”

“It’s God’s doing, according to the Calvinist, that man is in the sinful state they’re in and can’t savingly believe in the gospel unless enabled to do so by his effectual calling.”

Response: Leighton Flowers seems to have a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the biblical teaching on the nature of man, as well as what Calvinists actually believe and mean with respect to the inability of fallen mankind.  Based on his statements, he seems to think that we are speaking of a physical inability.  I see no other way of understanding the connection he makes between understanding facts and being able to put one’s faith in those facts.  The same goes with his connection regarding being able to devote oneself to these false religions and their leaders, but somehow not being able to devote oneself to Jesus Christ.  In other words, if one is physically able to mentally ascent to the facts of the gospel (i.e. at least have an intellectual understanding of gospel truth), then we ought to conclude that they are physically able to respond to that truth in faith.  Again, if one is physically able to be devoted to Joseph Smith, for example, then how else can we conclude than that they are physically able to devote themselves to Jesus Christ, if they so choose.

This, however, is erroneous to the core.  First, the inability that Calvinists speak of regarding man’s response to the gospel is not of a physical nature, but a spiritual or moral nature.  This has to do with their sinful nature.  Thomas Schreiner brings this out wonderfully in his commentary on Romans, Chapter 8 verse 8:

But Paul’s argument goes further.  Not only do they refuse to submit to God’s law; they ‘cannot’ keep it.  And ‘those who are of the flesh are not able to please God’.  Paul is certainly speaking not of a physical inability to keep God’s law but of a moral inability to do so.  He does not conclude that those of the flesh are not responsible for their sins because of their inability.  Rather, he holds them responsible for their sins even though they cannot keep God’s law.  Paul apparently did not believe that people were only culpable for sin if they had the ‘moral’ ability to keep commandments.[3]

Leighton may want to object that Paul is speaking of man’s inability in relation to the law, not the gospel.  However, the point still stands, because it speaks to man’s nature in and of itself.  Not to mention that this is not the only text that we derive the teaching of total inability from (e.g. Jn. 6:44).  We could also point out that the text says that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God”.  Yet, believing in the gospel is certainly something that is pleasing to God.  Again, Paul is here contrasting those who are in Christ, those who set their mind on the Spirit, with those who set their mind on the flesh – they are hostile to God.  This is fundamentally why they are unable to respond to the truth of God; as hostile enemies of God, they have no desire to do so.  Paul Washer comments on this point as well:

Finally, total depravity does not mean that men do not possess the necessary faculties to obey God.  Man is not a victim who desires to obey but is unable to because of factors beyond his control.  God has endowed man with an intellect, a will, and a freedom to choose.  Man is therefore responsible before God as a moral agent.  Total depravity does mean that man cannot submit himself to God because he will not, and he will not because of his own hostility toward God.[4]

Yet, this is precisely what Flowers overlooks.  The inability in man is not a physical inability (which would include a mental inability), but is a moral inability.  In other words, they act according to their sinful nature, and unless the grace of God opens their eyes to see and their ears to hear, then they will continue in their willful rebellion against their Creator (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).  So yes, men and women entrust their souls to false religious systems; but that just proves the point.  They do so because they’re enemies of God and choose to serve the lie rather than the Creator (Rom. 1).

Another way of stating this biblical truth that God deals with men according to their moral (and covenantal) standing before God is to say that “God deals with man according to his obligation, not according to the measure of his ability.”[5]  Dr. Robert L. Reymond goes on to say,

Before the Fall, man had both the obligation and the ability to obey God.  As a result of the Fall, he retained the former but lost the latter.  Man’s inability to obey, arising from the moral corruption of his nature, does not remove from him his obligation to love God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself.  His obligation to obey God remains intact.  If God dealt with man today according to his ability to obey, he would have to reduce his moral demands to the vanishing point.  Conversely, if we determined the measure of man’s ability from the sweeping obligations implicit in the divine commands, then we would need to predicate total ability for man, that is to say, we would all have to adopt the Pelagian position, for the commands of God cover the entire horizon of moral obligation.[6]

Second, Flowers mixes categories, and in so doing, puts the emphasis and focal point of the discussion where it shouldn’t be.  This only muddies the water.  For instance, he says, according to the Calvinist “God decreed for mankind to be incapable of placing their trust in the truth claims of the gospel.”  I find it interesting that he has to bring in God’s decree when Calvinists themselves don’t address the issue of man’s inability from that angle, but from the angle that is presented to us in Scripture – the moral responsibility of mankind.  Flowers seems to want to go where the Scriptures don’t lead us.  It seems like a desperate attempt at producing an emotional response, rather than producing an exegetical response.

Another problem I have with this response by Flowers against the inability of man, is that it assumes a fatalistic determinism.  Yet, Calvinists do not put forth a fatalistic determinism with regard to God’s decree and man’s responsibility.  Rather, what we hold to is known as compatibilism – the belief that God’s exhaustive sovereignty and man’s responsibility/choices are compatible with one another; man’s responsibility is of a moral nature before their Creator.  Several passages serve to demonstrate this compatibility between God’s sovereignty and man’s will (e.g. Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 4:23-28; Phil. 2:12-13).  In other words, Calvinists readily assert the moral responsibility of mankind, and we do so while at the same time affirming the exhaustive sovereignty of God over all things, even in the matter of our salvation.  Why do we do it?  Because that’s what the Scriptures clearly teach.  So Flowers’ presentation is overly simplistic at best and woefully misleading at worst.

With regard to this compatibility, Louis Berkhof remarks:

There is not a single indication in Scripture that the inspired writers are conscious of a contradiction in connection with these matters.  They never make an attempt to harmonize the two.  This may well restrain us from assuming a contradiction here, even if we cannot reconcile both truths.[7]

I might add that the only place where such an attempt is made is in the person of Paul’s interlocutor in Romans 9, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault?  For who can resist his will?’”  I don’t think Flowers recognizes it, but this is in essence the objection he raises as well.  So I will supply the same response that the apostle Paul did:

But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?  Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’  Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?  What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

In conclusion, I would very much like to ask professor Flowers his understanding of God’s sovereign outworking of the gospel itself.  Does he believe that God sovereignly decreed that Christ be crucified for the forgiveness of sinners?  If so, then how does he, according to his theological system, work in the many sins of man that were necessary in bringing about that redemptive plan?  If he asserts that God merely foresaw the sinful acts of man, then he places the cart before the horse, essentially asserting that man committed these sinful acts before God even decreed Christ’s crucifixion, and ultimately it would put the redemptive plan itself in the hands of man, not God.  So, what of passages like Acts 4:23-28?  I would very much like to see professor Flowers address such passages, and if he has already, then I’m sure I will come across them in due time, and most certainly provide some response to them.


[1] Reformasium Podcast “Lively Discussion from a Reformed Perspective” www.reformasium.com

[2] “Total Inability and the Effectual Calling” Podcast episode by Leighton Flowers. http://www.stitcher.com/podcast/soteriology-101/e/total-inability-and-the-effectual-calling-41204682. Accessed on December 16, 2015.

[3] Schreiner, Thomas R. Romans (MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 412-413.

[4] Washer, Paul. The Gospel’s Power & Message (MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 117. Emphasis is his.

[5] Reymond, Robert L. A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 454. Emphasis his.

[6] Ibid., 454-455. Emphasis his.

[7] Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology (MI: Eerdmans, 1941), 106.

Enabling Power of the Gospel?: A Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers

via Enabling Power of the Gospel?: A Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers

 

Enabling Power of the Gospel?: A Response to Dr. Leighton Flowers

I’ve listened to a fair amount of Dr. Leighton Flowers.  Not only have I spoken to him three times on his podcast, but I’ve also engaged him in discussion on the subject of Calvinism via Facebook.  One thing I’ve heard him say quite regularly is something along the lines that the power of the gospel message is that it enables people (all people) to believe when it is brought to them.  So recently I asked him to provide me with some Scriptures that he believes teach this view.  Keep in mind that his view is raised in opposition to the Reformed or Calvinistic view that God effectually calls His chosen people through the gospel message.

Following is the list of verses that Dr. Flowers provided.  Several of these verses are similar in character.  Therefore, rather than comment on each verse, I will provide a response to Dr. Flowers’ use of these texts as a whole.  That being said, I will provide specific comments on two of the verses in the list.  I encourage you to read these verses and ask yourself, “Do these verses teach that the revelation of God somehow enables all who hear it to believe, or is Dr. Flowers reading that into the text?”

 

Ps. 18:30 “This God – his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.”[1]

Ps. 119:130 “The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.”

Prov. 30:5 “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.”

Isa. 55:11  “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Matt. 7:24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.”

Lk. 11:28 “But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’”

Jn. 8:31-32 “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’”

Jn. 20:31 “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Acts 28:23-28 “When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers.  From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.  And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved.  And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, ‘You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.’  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’  Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.”

Rom. 1:16-18 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’”

2 Cor. 5:20 “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.  We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

2 Tim. 3:15-17 “And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

Heb. 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

1 Pet. 1:23 “since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”

 

What these passages teach us, at least in part, is the necessity of revelation – special revelation.  That is, if someone is to believe the message of Christ, they must first hear that message.  I cannot believe X if I have not heard of X.  The same concept is expressed by Paul in Romans 10.  This, however, is not the same thing as saying that the message itself enables people to believe, only that they must come in contact with the message if they are to believe.

Some of these verses speak of the blessings upon those who obey God’s word, but they do not speak of this enabling concept put forth by Dr. Flowers.  A call to be reconciled, or a statement on the blessings of obedience to the word, is not the same thing as the word having some enabling effect on people.  Dr. Flowers has to assume that.

Dr. Flowers assumes, as do non-Calvinists in general, that if there is a call to believe in the word, that of necessity means that man is morally able to do so.[2]  Yet, in John 6:35 Jesus says, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  Here is a verse that falls in line with these other verses Dr. Flowers referenced.  However, two verses later, Jesus says, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (v. 37).  So here we see that the Father’s giving results in the sinner’s coming to Jesus.  Again, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.  And I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 44).  There is an inability of man expressed in this verse that is only overcome by the effectual drawing of the Father, ultimately leading to the glorification of the one drawn (raised up on the last day).

I want to now provide a specific comment on Romans 1:16 and 1 Peter 1:23. First, Romans 1:16.

The power that Paul speaks of here is not a mere enabling of sinners to believe, but a saving power.  As Paul says, it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”.  It is a power unto salvation.  The power of the gospel is that it reveals the righteousness of God through faith.  It destroys the idolatrous ways of the Gentiles and the legalistic ways of the Jews.  Yes, it is through faith; one must believe.  But that is not the same thing as Dr. Flowers has been asserting regarding enabling.  Again, he must assume this.

We see a similar statement in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”  Here Paul is again saying that God saves those who believe in the gospel, essentially what he asserts in Romans 1:16-18.  Yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, we again find the effectual calling of God:

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” [Emphasis added. Cf. 1:30-31]

God has a chosen people in the world (Jew and Gentile).  To them, Christ is seen as the power and wisdom of God for salvation.  Look, power is used of the gospel again.  Yet, as is obvious to any honest reader, this has nothing to do with a general enabling to all who hear.

Finally, 1 Peter 1:23.  I have to wonder if Dr. Flowers views the statement, “born again through the living and abiding word of God,” as the enabling power of the gospel he speaks of so frequently.  If he does, then he must believe that everyone who hears the gospel is saved because all who are born again are saved, and he believes that all experience this enabling power when they hear God’s word.  If he doesn’t view this statement as the enabling power of the gospel, then I have to wonder why he referenced it.  Again, all this verse teaches us is the necessity and power of God’s word in bringing salvation.  Any concept of enabling all people who hear God’s word is wholly absent from the text.

Now, let me say something to avoid any confusion regarding the Calvinist view of the gospel and its power.  Dr. Flowers has said essentially the following on other occasions:

“We Traditionalists actually believe in the sufficiency of the Bible to lead people to salvation.  According to the Calvinist, the Bible can’t lead a reprobate or non-elect person to salvation.  It doesn’t have the sufficiency to do so.  God has to do an extra work of grace.  They have to be regenerated, made alive, and then the Bible is sufficient.  The Traditionalist perspective is that, since the word is brought by the Holy Spirit, it’s the means by which anybody can be saved.  So we have a higher view of Scripture than Calvinists do.”[3]

There is much that is misrepresentative of Calvinism in this statement, but I will attempt to be brief.  First, the reason why Reformed/Calvinist churches are historically known for placing the Scriptures at the center of their worship services is that they whole-heartedly believe in the sufficiency of God’s word to accomplish that which God wills (Isa. 55:11, to reference one of Dr. Flowers’ verses).  Second, when Dr. Flowers says that, according to the Calvinist, “the Bible can’t lead a reprobate or non-elect person to salvation,” he’s operating on his supposition.  A reprobate is someone that God has justlypassed over in the administration of His redemptive grace, leaving them to justice for their sins.  However, Dr. Flowers doesn’t believe the Bible can lead a reprobate or non-elect to salvation either, because he doesn’t believe in the reprobate/non-elect; at least, not in the Reformed perspective.  Further, if God does this “extra work of grace,” then they’re not reprobate/non-elect.  Rather, what we Calvinists affirm is the consistency of God in His redemptive plan.  We see this, for example, in Ephesians 1:3-14:  The Father chooses a people to the praise of His glorious grace; the Son dies in their place, accomplishing the grounds of their redemption; the Holy Spirit applies the redemptive work of Christ, sealing them as a promise of their glorious inheritance.  Lastly, tying the previous two points together, Calvinists believe that the Spirit sovereignly works through the proclamation of the gospel to sanctify and save God’s people.  You see, we don’t believe that the gospel enables people, we believe that the gospel effectually saves people.  In fact, the Baptist Catechism, Q/A #3 reads:

Q. How may we know there is a God?

A. The light of nature in man and the works of God plainly declare there is a God; but His Word and Spirit only do it fully and effectually for the salvation of sinners. [Emphasis added.]

I will end this post with two Scriptures that sum this up well.

1 Thess. 1:4-5 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction….”[4]

2 Thess. 2:13-14 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.  To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 

[I want everyone to know that Dr. Flowers and I have had friendly conversations on this, often inflammatory, debate in the past.  I may have strong disagreements with his perspective, and at times am troubled at some of the things he says, but I view him as a brother in Christ, and I believe he views me as a brother in Christ.  I have not attacked Dr. Flowers in this post, but have sought to explain why I disagree with his theological perspective.

Grace and peace…]