Thursday, July 27, 2023

Questions for Dr. Leighton Flowers regarding Original Sin and the Grace of God

The following is a post corresponding to my previously publish video (available here):

Dr. Flowers,

I’ve been asked to debate the question of whether Provisionism is Semipelagian.  This arose because I posted a blog entry in which I went through the first eight canons of the second council of Orange, and then posted a tweet from Soteriology101 that conflicts with that canon (here's a link to this post).

Dr. Kurt Jaros asked if I would debate the question that he believed was raised by my post.

It is a bit of an unusual debate topic, in that Kurt doesn’t claim to be a Provisionist.  Since your site seems to be the focal point of “Provisionism,” as such, I thought I would ask you a few questions to help clarify your position in advance of the debate.

On the question of Original Sin

  • I understand that you deny that you and I were born guilty of Adam’s sin.  If I understand you correctly, this is because you deny the idea of guilt being transmitted from Adam to others, except by way of imitation or bad example.
  • I understand you also deny that Adam’s sin results in the incapacitation of any person’s free will.  Although you believe that “every person who is capable of moral action will sin,” you do not believe that this has to do with their free will being incapacitated.  Instead, they simply have a “nature and environment inclined toward sin.”

Question chain 1: Are you saying that some people are incapable of moral action?  Do you mean infants?  If so, do you believe that infants have any sin of any kind, either personal or from Adam?  In the sad case where infants die in infancy, do you say that Jesus died for these infants?  If so, why was that necessary?  What sins does Jesus bear or take away for infants who die in infancy?

Question chain 2: In the Provionism doctrinal statement does “inclined toward sin” define “nature” or just “environment”?  If the former, do you agree with Calvinists and Arminians that Jesus was not born with a fallen nature, although the rest of humanity was? In other words, are you saying that Jesus was born with a nature inclined toward sin? If not, would you please correct the error that says that if our nature is fallen, then Jesus’ nature must also have been fallen?

On the question of the Grace of God

  • I understand that you reject the Calvinist doctrine of effectual calling.
  • I understand that you also reject the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace.
  • I understand that your reason for rejecting both the Calvinist and Arminian views on this is that you believe that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, in the sense that anyone can hear the Gospel message and respond by believing.
  • I understand that you say it is unfair to describe your position as one in which man is “unaided” or as one in which there is no grace prior to faith, or as in one in which man initiates the process of salvation.
  • I understand that you allege that God does graciously aid man prior to faith and God does take the initiative, in the following ways:
    • The Holy Spirit inspired Scripture, which is provided so we can read and believe and have eternal life.
    • The preaching of the gospel is a human means of sharing the divinely inspired message of the gospel.
    • Christ’s death on the cross was itself gracious.
    • God’s creation and general supervision of the creation are also gracious.

Question chain 3: What about God working internally in a person prior to faith?  Do you agree that this is necessary? Is the natural man able to humble himself and pray for salvation before God begins to work directly in the person’s heart?


Soteriology101 and the Necessity of Grace

 A twitter user with the handle, The Arminians, provided a quotation from Ryerson, (citation and link added, and wording of the quotation updated to reflect the original by TF, original is shown in the screenshot below):

... they differ ... from the Pelagians, by holding the doctrine of human depravity—the natural corruption of the human heart, and human inability, without Divine grace, to turn from sin to holiness—teaching at the same time, that a sufficient measure of grace is given to every man to profit withal ... 

-Ryerson 1882 (The Canadian Methodist Magazine, "Canadian Methodism; Its Epochs and Characteristics," "Essay III: the Supernatural Character of Canadian Methodism," p. 221)

Soteriology101 responded:

Provisionists would agree with this statement but only with the caveat that “divine grace” would include all the means God employs to call sinners to reconciliation, most especially including the inspiration and dispersion of his gospel appeal. 

Some have pushed back on this caveat saying that is not the “normal meaning” of divine grace in these historical discussions. I understand that, but it is our contention that this IS the problem. Speaking of the aid of divine grace while presuming the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing the gospel isn’t included as a necessary and sufficient divine grace is a huge and unbiblical omission. 

If nothing else, for clarity sake, one holding to this position should say, “Despite all of the divine grace that brought us both general and special revelation (ie creation, the conscience, the law written upon our heart, the incarnation, the death burial and resurrection, the inspiration of scripture, the dispersion of the gospel, the Holy Spirit indwelling of the bride of Christ, etc) making Himself abundantly clear and all men without excuse, the corruption of men is so great that even more divine grace is needed than what has been provided in all the divine graces listed above.

Notice the clear admission: "that is not the “normal meaning” of divine grace in these historical discussions. I understand that, but it is our contention that this IS the problem." 

A second is like unto it:

Soteriology101 wrote (copy of now-current version of the tweet, with a screenshot below):

Calvinist: God decided all will be born unable to believe but will effectuate faith in some. 

Arminian: God decided all will be born unable to believe but He will give that ability back to everyone. 

Provisionist: That premise ☝️was introduced into the church in the 5th century and cannot be established by the Scriptures. 

God graciously created us in His image with the capacity to accept or reject His revealed truth. He didn’t determine or even allow for all humanity to lose this innate capacity to believe divine revelation only to reestablish it.

Notice the clear denial of the necessity of grace to restore man's ability in preparation for faith.