This post is in response to Dr. Leighton Flowers regarding the role of and particularly the means of God’s personal involvement in a person choosing to respond to the Gospel. My response is intended to be a defense and clarification of my view; I do not mean it to be an attack on Dr. Flower’s view, whom I hold in the highest regard. I believe our difference in this specific can be summarized in one word: unmediated. I suspect that Dr.Flowers may find more here to agree with than disagree with.
In this matter, I’m reminded of the dangers of quarreling over words, or of spending time on disputations (2 Tim. 2:14). I hope that my response below will demonstrate a Christian charity between fellow believers bought by the blood of Jesus. I pray that my readers will not focus on matters of doubtful disputation leading to their ruin, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ, who offers redemption to every person in the world (1 Tim. 4:10, John 2:2, 2 Peter 2:1, etc), who graciously offers this salvation by simple trust in Him (John 3:16, Eph. 2:8-9), which we are free(d) to do, and who promises eternal life to those who are believing in Him. In this core element, Dr. Leighton Flowers and I are in full agreement, standing together against the flood of faithless and merely moralistic teaching — and though I am not the Judge, I imagine he has done far more than I have done in this regard. I pray for the grace of God to be shed even more fully upon him, his family, and his ministry. I would sincerely ask for his prayers, as well. May God lead us into His truth.
In a previous post graciously published on another website, I presented a view of salvation as inherently relational and thus not merely the response to divine information (a resonant post at Yield to God may be found here). In his response (here), Leighton contests that Scripture is not “mere information” but is “inspired” (I agree), and he posits that my approach borders on irresistible regeneration. He also wondered why in the world I was quoting Irenaeus, since he felt Irenaeus was against my position.
In this response, I will cover my attachment to Irenaeus along with the validity of my quotation of him, the points of consensus between Leighton and myself, and several points of divergence, and some reasons why I feel my view is not only sustainable but preferable. Notably, I have opted to take what I feel is an entirely non-Augustinian approach to the matter.
OUTLINE / SUMMARY:
1) Irenaeus and Consensus. Irenaeus’ writings defending free will do not demand my view, neither do they demand Leighton’s view; yet I believe they are most resonant with my view.
2) Spiritual war. Our need for God’s unmediated presence in order to save us from slavery to the hostile spiritual forces.
3) The unmediated presence of God Himself. A clear difference between God’s inspired declarations and His unmediated presence, along with quotes from a variety of Christian sources.
4) Does this view make inability an empty theory? The value of recognizing “IF.”
5) The Living Word. Assessing Leighton’s use of Hebrews 4:12 and John 6:63 to claim that Scripture is living, versus my view that Jesus Christ Himself is in view.
6) Throwing myself into the “C”? The objection that my view propels a person to accept the view of irresistible regeneration.
7) Not “Could He?” but “Does He?” Summarizing with an appeal to the reader to agree that whether it is needed or not by some inherent inability in man, to focus on what God does do, for God does act in an unmediated way upon the hearts of sinners to draw them to Himself.
PART ONE: IRENAEUS – AN APOLOGIST WHOSE NAME MEANS “PEACE”
Let me say as an aside that Irenaeus is one of my favorite church fathers. I have read all of his writings. On a recent trip to Europe, I discovered that his church existed in Lyon where we were passing through. I had a moment in the morning between trains to run, sprint, and catch subways to briefly visit his church in Lyon, France. Once there, I was met by a gracious deaconess who spoke less English than I spoke French. “L’église est fermée” (“The church is closed”), she told me, to my chagrin. But, nonetheless, she contacted the rector and then gave me a tour through it: the aptly serene and stained glass-lit chapel was flanked by stained glass portrayals of the Apostle John, Polycarp, Irenaeus, and the 2nd century martyrs of Lyon, facing with the worshiper toward the cross and the icon of Christ exalted, as these men and women had faced and worshiped in this place so many hundreds of years before. Below the church is the crypt of Irenaeus, with artifacts from the early Christian community. As you might imagine, that brief visit was one of the high points of my trip to Europe.
I mention this simply to say that I respect Irenaeus greatly; my views have been shaped by his writings, and so the next statement is made with that in mind: Irenaeus’ body of work can indeed resonate with both Leighton’s views and my own. Irenaeus spoke of our freedom as being possible inasmuch as our soul was a reflection and even in some strange sense a participation in the energies of God (Fragments, 5) — a view not foreign to other Eastern authors, and not incommensurate with my own views. Perhaps this shared unity can be for us a place of Irene — “peace.”
Having said that, though, I believe my view resonates better with Irenaeus’ view and with the consensus of the historical Holy Spirit-filled church through the world. Irenaeus saw “the Light” as Christ Himself, not merely the inspired gospel message: “He is the Salvation of the lost, the Light to those dwelling in darkness, and Redemption to those who have been born; the Shepherd of the saved, and the Bridegroom of the Church; the Charioteer of the cherubim, the Leader of the angelic host; God of God; Jesus Christ our Saviour.” (Fragments, 54). We can properly urge someone to use their free will (just as Irenaeus often urged) because of the enabling, unmediated presence of God, whether or not one recognizes this is so.
On the note of the early church, I want to point out that the quote from Athanasius Dr. Flowers uses regarding the sufficiency of scripture can be read in full context at the end of this post. I think the reader will find that, in context, it is not particularly supportive of Dr. Flower’s position.
Dr. Flowers and I agree on a very wide and deep level on most issues of doctrine, such as a corporate view of election and a non-imputation of Adam’s guilt. In my previous article, I was not so much attacking Leighton’s view as I was presenting my own. Thus, when I drew (and am about to draw) dichotomies, I am not necessarily saying that Leighton holds the view I am disagreeing with: I may have determinism, Pelagianism, or other views in mind that I am rejecting.
Let me sketch out some areas I believe Dr. Flowers and I would share full agreement on.
- First of all, this is not Robert Picirilli; it’s a picture of him.
- I believe Leighton would agree, and this will become highly relevant later on.
What I called “mere information” Leighton prefers to call “divine inspiration.” I certainly agree with him that the propositional truths of Scripture are in a different category than, say, a grocery list or even a profound poem by Milton. Scripture was “God-breathed.” However, the inspired Bible is not God Himself; it is instead information from God. Likewise, the message of the Gospel is not God Himself; it is information from God. This is all I meant by “mere information.” It is the same kind of difference as the picture of me versus me. I might compare this to being told how to dance the Argentine tango, versus being embraced in the dance and led through experience. One is informational — no matter how gifted the teaching — the other is unmediated connection. Indeed, the Trinity is sometimes described as a perichoresis — an interpenetrating dance of eternal love. God invites us to not merely affirm a verbal invitation, but to surrender to being “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). I believe Leighton would affirm this distinction.
In practical terms of response-ability, I agree that the message of the Gospel produces faith in its hearers (Rom. 10:17) and it is then the response-ability of the hearer to “mix” that faith within their heart (Heb. 3), resulting in salvation if they do. But I’ll clarify that in a moment.
There are a few directions I could take in responding to Leighton. I could make a defense of the depravity of man, or I could take a decidedly non-Augustinian approach. I’ve already made a sketch-video explanation of “Dead in sins” along with my wife (using her artistic skills), which also covers prevenient grace, and I don’t feel it is necessary to add to articles confirming mankind’s natural inability. Certainly we should agree that “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” (John 6:44). Suffice to say, I believe that the unmediated presence of the Triune God is the drawing-in view (John 12:32, 16:8), while Leighton would hold that the mediated means of the scriptures are in view. The unmediated presence and influence of God is going to be my focus for this article. Let us set aside the issues of depravity and focus on what Tozer called “God’s pursuit of man.”
PART TWO: SPIRITUAL WAR
I believe that Leighton’s view downplays the cosmic spiritual war that surrounds us. The unsaved are styled as “blinded by the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4), walking “according to the prince of the power of the air,” who is “the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2). It is not merely foolishness, ignorance, and lies which we battle, but “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).
People are not merely uninformed (for which they would need only God’s inspired truth propositions); they are enslaved to a dark power which seeks to hinder and blind them to God’s truth. A significant aspect of Jesus’ ministry was casting out demons; “the reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the Devil” (1 John 3:8) We see Satan has been cast down by Jesus, and “all things have been put under His feet” in one sense, but “at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him” (Heb. 2:8).
In the apostolic era, some men tried to cast out a demon by invoking Jesus Christ (Acts 19:15). Their words were essentially the same words the Apostles would use, but the invocation of the name and saving power name of Jesus didn’t work, because the Spirit, in this case, was not present in power. So also the scriptures or message of the Gospel are not sufficient of themselves to cast from us the oppressive presence of spiritual darkness inflicted on humanity by Satan and his forces of evil. We need a Power stronger than they, which will liberate us in just an unmediated way as they afflict us.
Irenaeus intimated this when he wrote,
…the Word, who existed in the beginning with God, by whom all things were made, who was also always present with mankind…it was not possible that the man who had once for all been conquered, and who had been destroyed through disobedience, could reform himself, and obtain the prize of victory; and as it was also impossible that he could attain to salvation who had fallen under the power of sin — the Son effected both these things, being the Word of God, descending from the Father, becoming incarnate…. He bound the strong man, (Matthew 12:29) and set free the weak… (Against Heresies, III.18)
PART THREE: THE UNMEDIATED PRESENCE OF GOD HIMSELF
Leighton writes, “Is Micah arguing that the Holy Spirit inspired revelation of the gospel is ‘merely information?’ This argument presumes that the gospel itself is not an intimately personal work of the Holy Spirit.” Of course I agree that the Holy Spirit was intimately involved in writing Scripture. But Leighton wants to emphasize the possibility of the Gospel message to “enable” fallen man to say “yes” to God, absent an unmediated spiritual presence of God. Sadly, in much of popular Christian culture today, it makes good sense for a book on the Holy Spirit to have been called “Forgotten God.” It is His personal presence which I most strongly wish to bring to the forefront of my reader’s minds.
I agree that the Gospel message is sufficient to enable belief, but only within a paradigm of God’s unmediated activity in the hearts of unbelievers. With Leighton, and all Christians, I believe that the Gospel message is a production of the Holy Spirit. However, it is not a procession of the Holy Spirit and must not be conflated with His personal activity in our souls. Jesus is the one who “enlightens every man” (John 1:9); we are not merely made in the image of God but in some mysterious way God is in contact with each of us, for “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).
The view articulated by Leighton essentially posits that, since the Bible says that the hearing of the message produces faith, therefore the Holy Spirit’s unmediated presence is unneeded. This is a needless conclusion. Dr. Brian Abasciano explains:
[In Leighton’s view, it is] as if when the Bible portrays faith as arising from hearing the gospel message, that this means nothing else is involved … that nothing else need be involved even if other things are often or even normally involved. This is a logical fallacy. Just like saying Jesus died for the Church or for Paul does not necessarily mean Jesus died only for the Church or only for Paul, so saying things like “faith comes from hearing” does not necessarily mean that faith can come from hearing alone.
After speaking of God’s transcendence, Eastern Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware writes:
… this God of mystery is at the same time uniquely close to us, filling all things, present everywhere around us and within us … in a personal way…. In the words of St. Nicholas Cabasilas, “…more a part of us than our own limbs, more necessary to us than our own heart.” …Faith is not the supposition that something might be true, but the assurance that someone is there… not logical certainty but a personal relationship… God, says Oliver Clement, “is not exterior evidence, but the secret call within us.”
While the image of God is obscured and “crusted over,” fallen, Kallistos Ware goes further, saying, that as we are created in God’s image (indeed, in the image of the Trinity), in the deepest part of the human soul, “there is a point of direct meeting…with the Uncreated.” St. Athanasius — that “Hammer of Heretics” — wrote that the Logos, even while yet incarnate, was still “present in all things by His own power…giving life to each thing and all things.” Let me reaffirm that there is a difference between what I am calling God pressing upon the soul and God inhabiting the soul. Contra Leighton’s claim, there is no inherent danger that I might blur the distinction between God’s prevenient grace with regeneration proper. I assert that Jesus’ words “you can do nothing without me” (John 15) are not only to the Christian but can also be applied to every act of every person, for it is in Him that “all things consist” (Col. 1:17). We can do nothing spiritual without Him, and certainly receiving Salvation in faith is a spiritual act — a Holy Spirit-ual act.
Particularly for the unbelieving and unregenerate, the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to “convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). Jesus promised to send the Spirit to directly convict the world, which is in addition to the message of the Gospel entrusted to Holy Spirit-filled Apostles. Jesus elaborated, “…of sin, because they do not believe in Me,” thus showing that the ministry of the Spirit is beyond merely the gospel message that these people are already rejecting. He elaborated, “…of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more,” thus showing that the message of who Jesus is would be insufficient without the unmediated witness of God — Jesus is physically departing from the world’s sight, but the Triune God will still be spiritually present to convict the world of what the righteousness of God looks like. Beyond the Gospel message preached by Spirit-filled believers, the Spirit is also actively “convicting” within the soul of the yet-unbelieving, while the Father and Son are personally “drawing” the world.
The Council of Orange strongly affirmed this view of God’s personal work in our hearts, preparing the will and empowering our faith:
If anyone maintains that God awaits our will to be cleansed from sin, but does not confess that even our will to be cleansed comes to us through the infusion and working of the Holy Spirit, he resists the Holy Spirit himself who says through Solomon, “The will is prepared by the Lord” (Prov. 8:35, LXX), and the salutary word of the Apostle, “For God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).
Further on, they write:
If anyone affirms that we can … assent to the preaching of the gospel through our natural powers without the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who makes all men gladly assent to and believe in the truth, he [ignores] “For apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5), and the word of the Apostle, “Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5).
Leighton believes that the mediated means of Scripture is sufficient to penetrate to the depths of the human soul. But the relational and partially unmediated nature of salvation, the cosmic spiritual war that afflicts and enslaves humans, and the self-enslavement of the sinner all point to man’s desperate need for something more than an inspired text preached by inspired people. Leighton contrasted our positions, saying,
Micah says, “Yet, by God’s [unmediated] contact with our souls, He may free [us] to receive the message of the Gospel.” And I would counter this saying, “By God’s personal and direct spiritual contact with our souls, by [only the] means of the Holy Spirit-inspired gospel, He enables us to freely respond.” (brackets and emphasis mine)
I disagree with Leighton’s view that the gospel makes a direct contact with our souls in a way commensurate with the unmediated contact by God Himself. The Bible is inspired by God, but it is packaged in the form of information. This is different from, say, the reception of Communion, which is a physical act, not an informational proposition. Both intellectual and physical acts can be spiritual, but they are not inherently spiritual. Based on previous discussions, Leighton believes that the Holy Spirit’s activity could have simply been paused after the writing of Scripture and people would still be able to come to faith. He does not believe the Holy Spirit has paused His activity, but that ultimately it is unnecessary, redundant, and not needed to bring men to saving faith. But the Bible does not contain the Spirit of God. From within my paradigm this sounds like Leighton is saying that a picture of a man is the man.
Adrian Rodgers affirms the need for an additional spiritual connection from God beyond the preaching of the Gospel:
Spiritual blindness makes beggars of us all. … The blind need more than light in order to see. … I used to think, as a young preacher, that what you had to do to get people saved is just to tell them how to be saved. Just turn on the light. But it doesn’t matter how much light there is, if the person is blind because he cannot see it … That’s the reason I frequently say to you, I can preach truth, but only the Holy Spirit can impart truth … You must let the light shine. You must preach. But remember, there is another dimension. (Jesus is God’s Answer to Man’s Darkness: John 20:30)
Along with the Christians quoted above, I diverge from Leighton in that I believe we need God’s Spirit pressing upon our soul, in addition to His message in Scripture. This presence is not through the means of nature, or the Bible, or through information that tells us what God is like or what He has done. While God does work through means, He also often works without means, in an unmediated way. In some cases, we even see God working entirely without means by his unmediated presence, such as in the visions reported among unsaved people in Muslim countries.
Irenaeus writes of this intimate activity of the Trinue God as figured in the parable of the Good Samaritan. After speaking of the Holy Spirit as dew, he stated:
… we have need of the dew of God, that we be not consumed by fire, nor be rendered unfruitful, and that where we have an accuser there we may have also an Advocate, [1 John 2:1] the Lord commending to the Holy Spirit His own man, who had fallen among thieves, [Luke 10:35] whom He Himself compassionated, and bound up his wounds, giving two royal denaria; so that we, receiving by the Spirit the image and superscription of the Father and the Son, might cause the denarium entrusted to us to be fruitful, counting out the increase [thereof] to the Lord. (Against Heresies, III.17)
God is near to us always, and His presence ameliorates the effects of what would otherwise be a total alienation from God on our part. The Eastern Orthodox have spoken of this as God being “closer to us than our own hearts,” even in an unsaved state. This is even as we are indeed “alienated from God,” “Children of darkness,” etc. The alienation is on our side, not God’s, in that, even though God’s wrath is against the sinner, He has died for and pursued the world (John 3:16) so that we might all be saved (John 2:2, etc) and reconciled to Him (2 Cor. 5:19-21) if we will but yield to His pursuit and provision.
PART FOUR: DOES THIS MAKE INABILITY A MERE THEORY?
I suppose that someone might object that this view of the pervasive presence of God so utterly mitigates the “total inability” of man that it becomes a mere theory without effect in the real world. But this focuses on the wrong point. The point is that if God did not, then. That is so say, if we were left to our own devices, without God’s unmediated presence, if He were merely a Cosmic Clock-maker or Cosmic Book-writer, then we would be unable to respond to the message of life, for the reasons given above and to follow. It is beneficial to recognize what our state would be under such an if. One might posit any number of ifs, such as, “If Jesus did not die for us, and rise again, we would be without hope.” Yet we do have hope, because He did die for us. The if overturned by redemption and the if overturned by prevenient grace are both precious truths to be embraced in thankfulness to God.
PART FIVE: THE LIVING WORD OF GOD – ASSESSING HEBREWS 4:12 AND JOHN 6:63
One of the key biblical passages informing both our views is Hebrews 4:12: “The Word of God is living, and powerful.”
In his use of this passage, Leighton implies that this is referring to the message of the Gospel, or perhaps more broadly the entirety of Scripture. I personally disagree for two reasons; one exegetical, the other, broadly contextual. My position is that “the Word” is referring to Jesus, not the Bible.
One of the earliest quotations of this passage is from Origen (225 AD). In the poetic beauty of so many of the early writers, Origen weaves the passage from Hebrews in with multiple Old Testament allusions:
The texts of the New Testament, which we have discussed, are things said by Himself about Himself. [In] Isaiah, however, He said [Isaiah 49:2-3] that His mouth had been set by His Father as a sharp sword, and that He was hidden under the shadow of His hand, made like to a chosen shaft and kept close in the Father’s quiver, called His servant by the God of all things, and Israel, and Light of the Gentiles. The mouth of the Son of God is a sharp sword, for “The word of God is living, and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing to the dividing of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and quick to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart” [Heb. 4:12] … according to the prophetic word, He made His mouth as a sword, as a sharp sword. Can any one behold so many wounded by the divine love, like her in the Song of Songs, who complained that she was wounded: “I am wounded with love” (Song 2:5) …
So one of the earliest recorded usages of the passage (if not the earliest) insists upon the Word being Christ Himself.
The Scriptures are not living — Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for searching the Scriptures thinking that they contained life — yet they simply point us to Life Himself. “You search the Scriptures,” Jesus told them, “because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me! Yet you refuse to come to me to receive this life” (John 5:39-40). The message merely points us to God; it is not God Himself. There is a blessed difference — a difference I was ignorant of for many years — years filled with Scripture memorization, study, and debate. During this time activities such as listening to God, contemplating His being, and resting in His presence were utterly neglected. There is no life in Scripture per se — there is only a message pointing us to the One who is Life.
The other reason for embracing this view can be drawn from the immediate context. Immediately following Hebrews 4:12, the author explains that this Word of God is the discerner of the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Does Scripture discern our heart? Is Scripture the one before whom “all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account,” the judge of all the earth? Who is this Judge? Who is this Word? I believe it is He of whom it was said, “The Word was with God, and the Word was God,” He who is the theme of Hebrews: Jesus Christ. He is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the exact image of His being” (Heb. 1:3). This “glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” is what the Holy Spirit shines into people’s hearts in an unmediated, mysterious, spiritual act (2 Cor. 3:18, 4:6) when we turn to Jesus Christ and the veil is taken away. The True Light which lightens every man (John 1:9) shines upon the unregenerate also, not only in the inspired testimony of the Gospel message (that there is life to be had) but also in the Life which is pressing upon them, “convict[ing] them of sin and unrighteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).
Nonetheless, this verse is admittedly contested among commentators. Whether one takes my view or not, I would point the reader back to John 5:39-40. Scripture is not God, and let’s be cautious of any inclination to conflate God’s unmediated working in our hearts with the message He has prepared in Scripture.
When God spoke, “Let there be light,” there was light. Likewise, when Jesus personally spoke to people, saying “Rise,” or “Receive your sight,” His words vivified and gave life. But we ought not confuse the means with the Person. When others copied Jesus’ words and attempted to cast out a demon possessed man (Acts 19:13), they found those words insufficient — the words did not possess life in themselves.
Even Jesus Himself, speaking these words of life, said that “No one can come into me unless the Father draws Him.”
What greater proof could there be that the words of the Gospel are insufficient without an additional action from God? The work of salvation involves the preaching of the gospel of Jesus’ work of redemption, the conviction of the Spirit, and the drawing of the Father. It is an intrinsically Triune effort.
I see no reason why Leighton or his readers would not expand his view of Scripture-as-the-personal-work-of-the-Holy-Spirit to every aspect of Christian life, and indeed many Christians do this to their own spiritual impoverishment. For instance, can we simply read the list of the Fruit of the Spirit and so be empowered to perform it, since we have read words that of themselves are allegedly sufficiently full of Spirit and Life? Is it a restriction upon the purpose and power of Scripture to say that Christians need the indwelling Spirit, since it is by Scripture (alone?) that a man may be “made perfect, thoroughly equipped for every good work”? This kind of thinking lies under the surface of much teaching, viz., when John MacArthur preached a sermon on “Putting on the New Man,” in which he only mentioned the Holy Spirit twice — once off-handedly, the other as claiming essentially that the Spirit works in the background in a kind of automatic way. The Spirit is indeed the “forgotten God.”
Leighton and I both believe the same gospel: that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners (of whom I am the greatest). This salvation is graciously offered to every person, conditioned only upon a trust in Him which we can exercise. But unless I am grossly misunderstanding him, Leighton believes that the only need of fallen man to trust in this Gospel is to hear it. There is nothing that must occur “behind the scenes,” no additional unmediated work of the Spirit upon the sinner’s enslaved, blinded, darkened heart. To this I cannot concur.
PART SIX: THROWING MYSELF INTO THE “C”?
Leighton asserted that my view of prevenient grace ultimately capitulates to Calvinist/Bezean regeneration. I disagree. Arminius pointed to the resistibility of grace as the keystone of His divergence from Beza (there is also, of course, the unlimited nature of the victory Jesus won on the cross, and other matters). Because the grace of God’s Holy Spirit working personally upon unregenerate hearts is both resistable and not indwelling (even though it has internal effects) — merely pressing upon the soul or shining light through a window as it were — it avoids the excesses of the Genevan and the Hippolitan before him. Also against TULIP-ville, the Scottish Reformed (such as Torrance) would point to the ontological union and universal “Yes” of God to us in the person of Jesus Christ, but recognize the responding “No” of some to Him as real; absurd, to them — nonreducible, inexplicable — but clearly real. God extends amazing grace and unity with Himself, but some resist Him. By maintaining these points, Wesleyans, Classical Arminians, and Scottish Reformed stay within a soteriology generally consistent with paleo-orthodoxy and general Church consensus contra deterministic soteriologies.
PART SEVEN: NOT “COULD HE?” BUT “DOES HE?”
But perhaps we could leave behind the questions of whether this presence (the Reality, not just the picture) is necessary; whether He is needed to overcome some inability; whether He might be capable of crafting an inspired message of life and grace that would, on its own, enable belief. I don’t think that He could while maintaining the supreme purpose of creation as sharing Himself with beings in His own image (see my article on this, “Trinity, Love, Theosis”). But let us lay that aside for a moment, and recognize together that He doesn’t leave us with just the Gospel. He is closer to us than our own hearts. The gospel message is never merely alone. The message itself is not alive, but He who accompanies it is very alive.
Jesus is alive and active, and it is He who goes out looking for the lost sheep, bringing it home upon His shoulders. He does not only send a message throbbing with His own love and grace and power (which the Gospel surely is), awaiting the response of the lost sheep; He also comes Himself to find the sheep. He does not only send a vibrant and hope-filled message that there is light to be had if they will but come; He shines the light of Himself upon the lost. The Light of the world is shining upon, pressing upon, seeking to awaken us, making it possible to open our eyes to Him — “The light shines in the darkness…” “Awake, sleeper, and Christ will give you light.”
And this is why I quoted Irenaeus: “…The light shines…”. This light which lightens every man is Jesus Christ himself (John 1:9), the eternal Logos of God. The Light Himself shines in the darkness of the unregenerate heart, and people may respond by opening their eyes to Him or resisting Him.
This personal pursuit is echoed in the poem “The Hound of Heaven:”
…Still with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following Feet,
… ‘Rise, clasp My hand, and come!’
What unmediated intimacy is expressed here, in the flight from God who ultimately, personally, shows man that there is no rest but in Himself!
We see the unmediated pursuit echoed in Wesley’s line,
The first faint spark of pure desire
is kindled by Thy gracious breath.
We hear it in the popular Christian song,
You have run down every road / And you’ve lost your way back home / And you feel so dirty / You know you’re unworthy… There’s no distance too far / That I can’t reach you / There’s no place that’s so dark / That I can’t find you… (Jordan Feliz, “Never Too Far Gone”).
Surely this language of poetry and worship evokes that God’s pursuit of man is more about the unmediated presence of God than the information set down in words of Scripture by the Holy Spirit in the Gospel message, no matter how inspired it is.
A.W. Tozer — certainly no follower of TULIP — wrote,
…the miracle of the perpetuation of life is in God. God did not create life and toss it from Him … All life is in Him and out of Him, flowing from Him and returning to Him again, a moving indivisible sea of which He is the Fountainhead. That eternal life which was with the Father is now the possession of believing men, and that life is not God’s gift only, but His very self. (God’s pursuit of Man, p.11)
Yet again, Tozer writes:
… [it is an evil, this] habit of languidly “accepting” salvation as if it were a small matter and one wholly in our hands … “No man can come to me except the Father draw him” … God has indeed lent to every man the power to lock his heart and stalk away darkly to His overtures of grace, but while the “No” choice may be ours, the “Yes” choice is always God’s. He is the Author of our faith as He must be its Finisher. (Ibid, p. 38-39)
For Tozer, the “No” is in a different category of action than the “Yes,” for it is God Himself who is not merely providing us with a choice, but personally, unmediatedly, intimately pressing us in that direction. I agree.
The gospel message is inspired, a work of the Spirit, and a personal communique from the Good Shepherd. But that is not all the Good Shepherd does to light our way home. He sends Himself — not only on the Cross, not only in regeneration and Christian living, but in every space in between.
May God bless us — everyone.
End note – Athansius’ quote in context:
… although the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth — while there are other works of our blessed teachers compiled for this purpose, if he meet with which a man will gain some knowledge of the interpretation of the Scriptures, and be able to learn what he wishes to know — still, as we have not at present in our hands the compositions of our teachers, we must communicate in writing to you what we learned from them — the faith, namely, of Christ the Saviour; lest any should hold cheap the doctrine taught among us, or think faith in Christ unreasonable. For this is what the Gentiles traduce and scoff at, and laugh loudly at us, insisting on the one fact of the Cross of Christ; and it is just here that one must pity their want of sense, because when they traduce the Cross of Christ they do not see that its power has filled all the world, and that by it the effects of the knowledge of God are made manifest to all.
4. For they would not have scoffed at such a fact, had they, too, been men who genuinely gave heed to His divine Nature. On the contrary, they in their turn would have recognised this man as Saviour of the world, and that the Cross has been not a disaster, but a healing of Creation.
5. For if after the Cross all idolatry was overthrown, while every manifestation of demons is driven away by this Sign, and Christ alone is worshipped and the Father known through Him, and, while gainsayers are put to shame, He daily invisibly wins over the souls of these gainsayers — how, one might fairly ask them, is it still open to us to regard the matter as human, instead of confessing that He Who ascended the Cross is Word of God and Saviour of the World? But these men seem to me quite as bad as one who should traduce the sun when covered by clouds, while yet wondering at his light, seeing how the whole of creation is illumined by him.
6. For as the light is noble, and the sun, the chief cause of light, is nobler still, so, as it is a divine thing for the whole world to be filled with his knowledge, it follows that the orderer and chief cause of such an achievement is God and the Word of God.
(Read the full document here: http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/2801.htm )
Click here to read the article at Yield To God.