Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

A Response to Leighton Flowers: What is the "Dead" State of Fallen Man?

Perhaps, dear reader, you are aware of the criticisms of Calvinism recently put forth by Leighton Flowers, a Southern Baptist preacher, professor and Youth Evangelism Director for the Texas Baptists. Flowers is a prolific podcaster and blogger who presents a distinctively Baptist approach to non-Calvinism. I have listened to nearly every podcast he has released, and have briefly interacted with him on the "About" page of his blog site, Soteriology101.com. In what would seem to be an amazingly courageous move, Flowers has also debated the formidable High Calvinist heavyweight, James White. Unfortunately, this was an epic exercise in missing the point, and I found both of their debate presentations and post-debate follow up responses equally disappointing.

This photo was Leighton's humorous take on
his recent debate with James White
See the debate here: https://youtu.be/lzoZjSTysIs
A BRIEF CRITIQUE

There are a lot of good things to say about Leighton Flowers, so let's start there:
  • He is respectful in his manner of dialogue with opponents
  • He conducts himself with humility
  • He generally speaks positively of Calvinists and accepts them as brothers
  • He articulates a clear theology of salvation from a "traditionalist" (i.e., non-Calvinistic) Baptist perspective
  • He serves as a ministry leader, and is not just a "talking head" with opinions
  • He has a sense of humor (a characteristic that is woefully lacking in so many Calvinist/Arminian dialogues on the internet)
There are some notes of concern as well, and at least one of them is genuinely alarming:
  • He doesn't always have his facts straight (as an example, in one of his podcasts he mentions D.A. Carson as an example of a non-Calvinist scholar - Huh???)
  • He frequently overstates the persuading power of his views, which have not actually proven persuasive to thoughtful, Biblically grounded Calvinists
  • He often presses illustrations to logical extremes that amount to "straw man" arguments
  • He sometimes ignores critical distinctions that are consistently drawn by mainstream Calvinists
  • In contradiction to his typically respectful comments about Calvinists, he has actually said more than once that he believes this passage might refer to them:
    • And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. (2 Peter 3:15-16)
We can only assume that Flowers has not thought through the implications of that last point, which are quite inflammatory. Viewed charitably, the statement is a bit out of character, though nonetheless troubling. All in all, Leighton is far friendlier toward Calvinists than many others who engage in this type of debate.

A SIMPLE REFUTATION: IS FALLEN HUMANITY TRULY "DEAD" TOWARD GOD?

Let's take a brief look at an issue Leighton Flowers has often mentioned in his polemic against Calvinism. According to Flowers, Calvinists routinely compare man's "dead" state to that of Lazarus in the tomb, while he prefers to relate it to the state of the prodigal son in Luke 15. The prodigal son was only figuratively dead, right? He still had the natural ability to return to his father, right? So, perhaps fallen man is just "mostly dead":



Leighton's view ignores both the context and the content of Ephesians 2:1-3, which states:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Agreeing with Leighton, the clear implication of this text is not that fallen man is incapable of doing anything. However, it is actually much worse than that. According to this text, fallen man is incapable of doing anything that is not sinful. Humanity's "dead" acts are trespasses against God's law and are worldly, demonic, disobedient, fleshly and lust-driven. Believing in Christ for salvation does not seem to fit with this set of "dead" capabilities that remain in fallen human beings.

Much more telling, and far more detrimental to Leighton's position, is the obvious context of Ephesians 2. See Ephesians 1:19-20, which comes just a few verses prior:
... and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places ...
Without question, the flow of the text shows us that Paul is linking the believers' dead state prior to salvation with Jesus' dead state prior to his resurrection. Was Jesus "mostly dead" in the tomb, or was He "all the way dead"? Does Jesus' death and burial more closely resemble that of Lazarus, or that of the prodigal son?

This context-based exegesis stands like a sumo wrestler in opposition to a weak speculation that draws all of its force from the misapplication of an unrelated passage.

Reminding us of the three most important rules for proper Biblical interpretation: context, context, and context.

The whole Bible, taken in context, will always lead us inexorably to something along the lines of Calvinism. An army of critics will never change this, though they may push back with all their might.

5 comments:

  1. I wonder, on Calvinism, how you can know you're saved; that you're one of the Elect? How is it you know you are not one who, later, will show the world that you were never, "really of us", like those the Apostle John writes about? Since it was their 'departure' that demonstrated they were never "of" the church, what does that say about their status prior to departing? Members in GOOD STANDING we may presume, yes? However, on Calvinism, how is assurance of salvation possible? How can you know that you, likewise, will not fall away and demonstrate that you were never "of" us (the true church), like those John writes about?

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  2. John,

    Thank you for your question. This is an important issue that has been addressed by many different Calvinists over the years (some more helpfully than others). Rather than try to "reinvent the wheel" here, I will point to James Anderson's excellent treatment of the subject:

    http://www.proginosko.com/2009/12/calvinism-assurance-and-inerrancy/

    While it is true that self-deception is a possibility, a believer may be reasonably assured of both present and ultimate salvation by following Paul's admonition, "test yourselves to see whether you are in the faith." (2 Cor. 13:5). It is more a matter of evaluating one's current and ongoing status than figuring out whether one was elect and therefore will be saved. The good news is, anyone who fails the test is offered this remedy: repent and believe the Gospel. All who truly obey that command may be sure that they are elect. On the other hand, mere pretenders and insincere hypocrites should be gravely concerned and have no assurance at all. Nevertheless, struggling believers may find great assurance by holding fast to faith in Christ and clinging to Him through all their ups and downs.

    I hope this helps.

    Blessings,
    Derek


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  3. "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Rom. 2:13 NIV It in your and Flowers best interest to figure out what that law is Paul is referencing. For there is one hell of a price to pay if you don't have the faith to obey it.

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  4. An individual must first hear what the sin is that has been mandated through a change of the law that an individual must repent of before God will declare any person righteous. Rom. 2:13 "Repent and believe the 'gospel'" is an error.

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  5. Hi,
    Thank you for your thoughtful response. I just heard about Dr. Flowers and am just now listening to his debates/podcasts.
    I was wondering if you noticed in Ephesians, how the phrase, "and you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked"
    Specifically says, in which you once walked- sins which you were once doing-
    It doesn't say, in which you were born.

    I'm wondering if by highlighting some of the text, we can miss other valid points of it.

    Second, and probably most important. Is that the parable about the prodigal son is a direct example from Jesus about the lost. Jesus also gives another parable about the Good Samaritan (a sinner- who does what is good-).
    I'd like you to consider that your own preconceptions about the text, about what you think it means/says, and by elevating some things above others, causes you to miss certain points about sinners.

    Thank you for your time,
    R.T.

    ReplyDelete

Feel free to respond to anything written in the posts, or to the comments left by others. All comments are reviewed before they are published.

Please be charitable. If you disagree, do so with grace. Keep your words positive, focused, and on-topic. We don't expect everyone to agree, but we do expect everyone to treat everyone else with respect and grace, speaking the truth in love.

Thanks!
Mgmt.