Monday, January 16, 2006
Philippians 1:29 and the Gift of Faith (Part Five): A Look At The Interpretation Of Norman Geisler
This is the final installment of my look at non-reformed writers who disagree that Philippians 1:29 teaches faith is God’s gift. Specifically, I’ve directed my scrutiny towards contemporary writers who have written full works against Calvinism.
I saved Dr. Norman Geisler for last. I do so because compared to Laurence Vance, Dave Hunt, and C. Gordon Olson, I respect him the most. I have at least 20 books by Dr. Geisler, many of which are valuable resource tools. I have attended his seminars, and found them excellent. Despite my respect for Dr. Geisler, I have to disagree with much of what he wrote in Chosen But Free (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999). Here is Geisler’s interpretation of Philippians 1:29 (page 183 1st edition; page 190, 2nd edition):
“ ‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him... .’ This is taken to mean [by Calvinists] that faith is a gift of God to certain persons, namely, the ones who are elect. Response: There are several indications here that Paul had no such thing in mind. First, the point is simply that God has not only provided us with the opportunity to trust Him but also to suffer for Him. The word "granted" (Greek: echaristhe) means "grace" or "favor." That is, both the opportunity to suffer for Him and to believe on Him are favors with which God has graced us. Further, Paul is not speaking here of initial faith that brings salvation but of the daily faith and daily suffering of someone who is already Christian. Finally, it is noteworthy that both the suffering and the believing are presented as things that we are to do. He says it is granted for "you" to do this. It was not something God did for them. Both were simply an opportunity God gave them to use "on the behalf of Christ" by their free choice.”
Geisler notes “several indications” that faith is not a gift according to Philippians 1:29. Let’s work through them slowly.
“First, the point is simply that God has not only provided us with the opportunity to trust Him but also to suffer for Him. The word "granted" (Greek: echaristhe) means "grace" or "favor." That is, both the opportunity to suffer for Him and to believe on Him are favors with which God has graced us.”
Geisler is correct that the word can mean “grace” or “favor.” Dr. Geisler though has read in a word not explicit in the text: the word “opportunity.” To see Paul’s use of the word “opportunity, ”See Galatians 6:10: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” The Greek word is kairos, it is not echaristhe.
Contrary to Dr. Geisler, Paul’s point is not that “God provided us with the opportunity to trust Him” and “suffer for him.” The word “granted” does not imply a choice to embrace an opportunity or reject an opportunity. Rather, the believing on Christ is something given to man as a demonstration of the grace of God. While not an exact method of determining meaning of word in a verse, note Paul’s use of the word elsewhere. Attempt to read in the idea of a choice to embrace an opportunity or reject an opportunity in the following verses:
1 Corinthians 2:12
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.”
“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name…”
“But, meanwhile, also prepare a guest room for me, for I trust that through your prayers I shall be granted to you.”
Of course, context determines meaning, so the above verses don't really end the argument against Geisler. However, If Geisler could show somewhere in the New Testament the word echaristhe being used in the way he suggests, he would have at least a beginning basis to help substantiate his interpretation.
“Further, Paul is not speaking here of initial faith that brings salvation but of the daily faith and daily suffering of someone who is already Christian.”
Somehow, Geisler was able to distinguish between two types of faith. No better response is needed than that offered by James White: “…[U]nregenerate men can exercise saving faith that brings forgiveness of sins without receiving this faith as a gift from God, but the regenerate man for some reason is not as capable of producing daily faith! Are we to believe that the faith that accepts the promises of Christ unto salvation is somehow ‘easier’ than the faith the Christian needs for every day living? Surely not!” [James White, The Potter’s Freedom, (New York: Calvary Press Publishing, 2000), 320].
“Finally, it is noteworthy that both the suffering and the believing are presented as things that we are to do. He says it is granted for "you" to do this. It was not something God did for them. Both were simply an opportunity God gave them to use ‘on the behalf of Christ’ by their free choice.”
Paul earlier tells the Philippians, “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it...” (1:6). While this true, Calvinists do not deny that the faith given becomes our faith: God doesn’t believe for us, we are regenerated and are able to believe. No Calvinist believes that our suffering in this life is not our suffering. What A Reformed person believes is that both the beginning of our faith, and its end (sanctification) is the result of God’s work in our life (see Philippians 3:7-14). Suffering and persecution are not opportunities to choose one way or the other. They are external forces that come upon us. Generally, one does not seize the opportunity to suffer. Suffering seizes us.
If one continues to read past Philippians 1:29, Paul informs his readers to “…it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (2:13). In his own life, Paul notes that his persecution was for the sacrifice and service of the faith of the Philippians (2:17-18). Paul saw the things happening to him were for the greater glory of God.