Cooperating with Grace

I'm in the midst of reading about linguistics and biblical interpretation, specifically, the "seven standards of textuality", which are: (1) cohesion of grammar and syntax, (2) coherence semantically, (3) authorial intention, (4) acceptability, (5) informativity, (6) situationality, and (7) intertextuality. Obviously those seven terms are more or less meaningless apart from their explanations, but for the moment I am only interested in the fourth standard—acceptability—and its implications for the Calvinist doctrines of total depravity and irresistible grace, particularly in light of Romans 10:17.

Listen to how Peter Cotterell explains "acceptibility", and the tie-in to the above-mentioned doctrines will be clear.
The reader of the text accepts that the text accepts that the text is meaningful, that is to say, not so ungrammatical as to be incomprehensible, that it offers the possibility of a genuine dialogue leading to an intended goal, and that the special circumstances that gave rise to the text are relevant to the interpretive process. In H.P. Grice's terms a text creates cooperation (W. VanGemeren, ed., A Guide to Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, 152).
Four terms there that rub hardline Calvinists the wrong way, when referring to God's relation to sinful mankind: accepts, dialogue, relevant, and cooperation. Each of these terms communicates the fact that communication always involves the "efforts" of two parties: the sender and the receiver. This Law of human nature is not suspended for the sake of God's saving work, according to Romans 10:17: "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." It is not mystically imposed through the Holy Spirit, apart from physiological means such as hearing and cognition. It does not just "happen" to the sinner unawares. But this is what the doctrine of total depravity, when expounded by most Calvinists, asserts—that no "cooperation" exists in the regeneration of the believer. But this has to be an overstatement, for "faith comes from hearing" and, by necessity of scientific fact, through cognition, i.e. understanding. One cannot be saved if he does not "hear" the gospel.

But we cannot understand the gospel, they say, because we are totally depraved! Then we are hopeless! For "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." Notice Paul does not say, "hearing comes from faith, and faith from the Spirit." Even Ephesians 2:8-9 does not say that. But the issue is not hearing, but understanding, Matt. You are mixing the issues. But I am not! For I am simply referring to man's cooperation in terms of hearing. Man does bring something to the table—an ability to hear and discern meaning from strings of writing and groups of sounds. lkjfal;kj;kjf klj; lk. Does that mean anything to you? No, but the sentences I'm writing do mean something to you. And they mean something to those who speak English but are unregenerate. That is, lost sinners are capable of "understanding" on some level, what the text of Scripture is saying, even if they may not understand fully what it means.

Here's my point: mankind is not so utterly depraved that communication between him and God is impossible. Only by such universal possibility (see my forthcoming post on general revelation) can the gospel be specifically received by those who accept it. Thus, mankind cooperates, on one level, with God in the process of salvation. Even this is grace from God, but it is common grace, extended to all..

Popular Posts