Confusing Bible Verses, Free Will, & Determinism (Part 2)



(The FreeThinking Theist)


March 9, 2017


Tim, I can’t say I admire your exegesis in your article Confusing Bible Verses, Free Will, & Determinism (Part 1), explaining the biblical texts. Within the context of John 6:44 it’s clear the key is not the word “can” but the statement as a whole that those who come to Jesus (believe in him) are able only to do so because the father draws them. That is that the Father has freed them to do so. Freed them from what? the bondage of their will in sin and unbelief.

Also, the Bible definitely does use the language of ‘calling’ in a way that implies a certain response, at times. For example, Romans 8:29-30:

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

This passage makes it clear that all who are called are also eventually glorified (saved). That is, if God chooses to call you, then you are chosen to be saved. This seems to debunk the interpretation you argued for in the article.

What say you?

– J & R

Tim’s Response (with help from Johnny Sakr):

Thanks for the question, guys. The first step in response is to point out that you seem to agree with me in that no one can come to Christ unless they are called. You said, “those who come to Jesus (believe in him) are able only to do so because the Father draws them.” This is exactly the point I am making — if one is able to do x, then they can do x. If one can do x, then they are able to do x. As I noted in (part 1), just because one is able to, or can do x, it does not logically follow that he or she will do x.

The following syllogism reflects your case:

(1) If God gives Person (P) the ability to do X, P can do X
(2) God gives P the ability to do X
(3) Necessarily, P will do X.

This performs a fallacy in Modal Logic – much like the syllogism regarding theological fatalism. The fallacy here is in the conclusion – (3) – because it does not follow from the two premises. A correct construction is as follows:

(1) If God gives Person (P) the ability to do X, P can do X
(2) God gives P the ability to do X
(3) Necessarily, P can (or may) do X.

Although P ‘can’ do x – that is, as per John 6:44 – to believe – it does not follow that Person (P) necessarily will do x – P could choose to do otherwise. Just because one has the ability to do x, does not mean they cannot refrain from doing x. They could very well perform not (-x) and refrain from using this ability. For example; God has the ability to destroy all evil right now at this point in time. However, just because God does not use this ability at this present time, does not mean that He does not possess this ability.

So, “can” does not necessitate “will.”

The second step in response to your objection is to ask a simple question: “Is everyone who is called chosen?” Nope — at least not according to Jesus! Consider what the second person of the Trinity has to say in Matthew 22:14:

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

When we take the other words of Jesus into account we see that the “many” referred to in Matthew seems to mean ALL people. Consider the words of Christ again in John 12:32:

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

So, Jesus is clear that many/all are called or drawn to Him, but not all are chosen or saved. From the words of Jesus we can infer that one can be called or drawn, hear His voice, and yet still not be saved. For further biblical support, consider Hebrews 4:5-7:

And again in this passage he said, “They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

The warning offered in this passage of Hebrews is consistent with the idea that one can be called and still choose to reject the call and harden their own hearts through disobedience! So, according to the biblical data I have offered it seems that anyone who is saved must be called and drawn, but not everyone who is called or drawn is chosen or saved. Why? It seems to be the case because they freely chose not to respond to the calling/drawing. On the contrary, if one responds positively, then they are chosen/saved. That is to say, God chooses to save those who respond to His call. He is not required to, it is by grace alone that He calls and loves all people and chooses to save those who respond to His call by placing their faith in Christ and loving Him in return (Ephesians 2:8)! William Lane Craig discusses the proper interpretation of this often cited Bible verse:

“Ephesians 2:8 emphasizes that this setup, this arrangement, is by God’s own choice. . . “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God — not because of works, lest any man should boast.” . . . The word “this” [in Greek] is neuter whereas faith is feminine. So “this” doesn’t refer to the faith, this refers to this arrangement of salvation by grace through faith. That arrangement is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God. It is God’s sovereign choice to save people in this way by grace through faith.”

So, what do we do with Romans 8:30? The passages of scripture I have offered seem to appear contradictory to this verse at face-value — at least if we assume that Paul is offering an exhaustive list of all that occurs in the salvation process. With that in mind we have a couple of options: (1) affirm that either Paul or Jesus got it wrong and there is an error in the Bible, or (2) infer that Paul’s intention was probably not to provide an exhaustive list regarding an Ordo Salutis.

Considering all the biblical data logically, the inference to the best explanation is that this is no error, but rather, Paul was not intending to be exhaustive in his writing and Jesus knew exactly what He was talking about.

Stay reasonable (Philippians 4:5),

Tim & Johnny


About the Author



(The FreeThinking Theist)

Timothy A. Stratton (PhD, North-West University) is a professor at Trinity College of the Bible and Theological Seminary. As a former youth pastor, he is now devoted to answering deep theological and philosophical questions he first encountered from inquisitive teens in his church youth group. Stratton is founder and president of FreeThinking Ministries, a web-based apologetics ministry. Stratton speaks on church and college campuses around the country and offers regular videos on FreeThinking Ministries’ YouTube channel.

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