Dr. James Ach and J/A
While perusing the Twitter page of Leighton Flowers of Soteriology 101, I viewed this interesting exchange between Flowers and James White wherein White asks Flowers if he believes that the apostle Paul could have resisted his salvation during that infamous event in Acts 9 on Paul’s way to Damascus. One of White’s responses is actually a little shocking for a Calvinist, and is a tacit admission that grace is not irresistible as Calvinists claim. But I’ll get to that in a minute!
First, let’s address whether or not Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 was an example of irresistible grace (“IG”). When Calvinists can prove that God saves everyone the way they claim he saved Paul, only THEN should Acts 9 be used as a proof text for IG.
There are several things to notice about the experience Paul had in Acts 9:
*Lord what will you have me to do?” Acts 9:6
If grace was irresistible, why would it be necessary for Paul to ask what he must DO? Shouldn’t that have already been taken care of through irresistible grace?
*”Who art thou Lord?” Acts 9:5
Since when does a person who is irresistibly converted need to ask who Christ is? Yes, Paul said “Lord”, but “there are lords many” (1 Cor 8:5) and Paul had not YET understood that it was THE Lord or lords that he was talking to (Phil 2:9-11, Rev 19:16). It is even arguable whether Paul was even saved at all during this particular exchange, and was not technically saved until later considering the context of Acts 22:16. Now granted, it wouldn’t make sense for God to call someone if He knew they weren’t going to be eventually saved, but one must understand the importance that “ordo salutis” (order of salvation) plays in Calvinism. (Calvinists themselves often use this exact same logic when explaining the calling of Cornelius in Acts 10.) The timing of Paul’s salvation means quite a lot considering this is used as a proof text for IG. It also shows that God actually DOES elect those for service those whom He knows will choose Him (1 Peter 1:2), something the Westminster and London Confessions reject (* See notes below).
*It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” Acts 9:5
Notice Jesus said it is hard, but not impossible for Paul to kick against the pricks. If IG were true, this statement from Christ would be false because it WOULD BE IMPOSSIBLE for Paul to kick against the pricks. (Kicking against the pricks was a farmer’s term for describing the resistance of a goat or cow when trying to milk them.) This is where we now arrive at James White’s surprising statement about this event.
@Soteriology101 A heart of stone will endure anything if its love of self and its desires is strong enough. [Emphasis Added]
So James White’s response to Flowers’ explanation that sinners rebel and become hardened in their rebellion , not because of arbitrary reprobation, was to assert that those with a heart of stone, like Paul, will ENDURE ANYTHING if their sinful self wants to kick at God bad enough.
WAIT A MINUTE!! HOLD THE HORSES! Did you catch that!
First of all, Since when has a Calvinist ever shown the Bible offers a DEGREE OF RESISTANCE? Either you are hardened from eternity from ever choosing God (whether by deliberate choice of God or “passing over”, the results are the same) or you have absolute freedom to choose. But in this case, we are talking about someone whom Calvinists claim was elected unto salvation. How then can it be said that Paul’s heart of stone caused his resistance if grace is irresistible? If grace can not be resisted, does it really matter HOW HARD Paul’s heart was? If grace was as irresistible as White claims, then Paul wouldn’t have and couldn’t have “endured” in a Jacob vs Angel of the LORD (Genesis 32) style battle. If Paul truly fought until he couldn’t fight anymore, THAT’S EVIDENCE OF HIS RESISTANCE. White’s response has just earned him a trip to the ER to repair his foot from a self-inflicted bullet wound.
There is also Paul’s own testimony to King Agrippa in Acts 26:19 “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision”. Paul’s own version of his testimony shows that he very well could have disobeyed Christ, otherwise claiming that he was not DISobedient would be meaningless.
Some Calvinists rely on Galatians 1:15 where Paul utters that he was separated from his mother’s womb and called by God’s grace as proof of irresistible grace, but Paul is not describing his salvation experience but what God called him for, which was to be a light to the Gentiles: “To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood” Galatians 1:16.
Those involved in this conversation raised the issue of Jonah as similar to Paul’s conversion. However, Jonah was already a saved man. Thus God did not have Jonah swallowed to saved Jonah, but to save Ninevah (an entire article can also be written on how the story of Jonah completely debunks Calvinist compatibilism and election from Jonah chapter 3:7-11 alone). God imposed a COMPELLING action upon Jonah FOR SERVICE (Matt 12:41, Luke 11:32), not an IRRESISTIBLE one for salvation. God imposed a COMPELLING action upon Paul FOR SERVICE, not an IRRESISTIBLE one for salvation.
Paul’s encounter with Christ was certainly unique. Nevertheless, something should be kept in mind. Such unique encounters are the exceptions, not the normal means God uses on a regular basis. That is an important fact to remember when attempting to use exceptions to include an entire class. In other words, you can’t use Paul’s exceptional encounter as the example of how God saves everyone even if Paul was converted the instant he was blinded (which again, the evidence shows that he WASN’T..not yet). I have yet to encounter any honest Calvinist who has testified that their conversion included bright lights followed by 3 days of blindness and a visible sighting (1 Cor 15:8) of the Lord Jesus Christ.
James White asked “So God would have had to go to Plan B or C”. Well James…YES! That’s exactly what He DID do when Jerusalem as a whole rejected Him (Matthew 23:27-29), He went to plan B and SENT IT TO THE GENTILES TO PROVOKE THE JEWS TO JEALOUSY! Romans 11:11-14.
* “II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions;yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions.” Westminster Confession, Of God’s Eternal Decree, Chapter III, Section II.