Irresistible Grace – the 4th point of TULIP – the standard for the serious Calvinist. To be clear I’m persuaded that Reformed theology gives the best account of the Bible’s teaching on soteriology. So this post isn’t a foray into Calvinist bashing. But it is to observe the level of nuance the Reformers had that so many of us (myself included) often lack.
I’ve been revising some stuff on pneumatology for some seminars I’m doing and have had as my guide the great Bat-Fink (Herman Bavinck) and his Reformed Dogmatics. In vol 4, pages 80-82, he outlines the debate that went on between the Remonstrants and the Reformers on the issue of the ‘immediate and irresistible’ work of the Spirit. Here’s how he outlines the issues:
1. Remonstrants: The working of God’s Spirit is a purely moral one, a working whose fruit is dependent on human assent and compliance.
Reformers: No, God’s Spirit itself directly enters the human heart and with infallible certainty brings about regeneration.
2. Cameron and the theologians of Saumur: The Spirit enlightens the intellect which then impacts the will to respond.
Reformers: No. The Spirit has an immediate operation on both the will and the intellect.
So far, so Calvinist, but note the distinction in the next section:
3. Rome (Trent): “neither is man himself utterly without doing anything while he receives that inspiration, foreasmuch as he is also able to reject it”
Reformers: Dislike the term ‘irresistable’ and prefer the term ‘efficacious.’ Why? Because the Reformers said that ‘grace is often and indeed always resisted by the unregenerate person and therefore could be resisted . . . the point of the disagreement, accordingly was not whether humans continually resisted and could resist God’s grace, but whether they could ultimately – at the specific moment in which God wanted to regenerate them and work his efficacious grace in their heart – still reject that grace.’ This last point they’d deny. And I’d agree. But the distinction is worth noting – can people resist grace? Yes, they often do. Can they resist when God intends to regenerate? No, his work is immediate and irresistable.
As my systematics teacher taught us, sometimes, the most important word in careful and precise theological formulation is ‘distinguo.’