D.A. Carson Illustrating the Difference Between Arminian and Calvinist Conceptions of Grace

In Exegetical Fallacies, D.A. Carson dismantles an analogy by which Donald Lakes seeks to deny alleged differences between the Arminian and Calvinist understandings of grace. Carson then counters with an example of his own that helpfully exemplifies the difference that is truly at play.

Donald M. Lake, for example, in attempting to argue that grace is no weaker in an Arminian system than in a Reformed system, offers us the analogy of a judge who condemns a guilty criminal and then offers him a pardon. Although the man must accept it, such acceptance, argues Lake, cannot be thought of as a meritorious work, a work that in any sense makes the man deserving of salvation. “Calvin and later Calvinists,” he adds, “never seem to be able to see this fundamental distinction unfortunately!”

But to argue that the role of grace in the two systems is not different, Lake would have to change his analogy. He would need to picture a judge rightly condemning ten criminals, and offering each of them pardon. Five of them accept the pardon, the other five reject it (the relative numbers are not important). But in this model, even though those who accept the pardon do not earn it, and certainly enjoy their new freedom because of the judge’s “grace,” nevertheless they are distinguishable from those who reject the offer solely on the basis of their own decision to accept the pardon. The only thing that separates them from those who are carted off to prison is the wisdom of their own choice. That becomes a legitimate boast. By contrast, in the Calvinistic scheme, the sole determining factor is God’s elective grace. Thus, although both systems appeal to grace, the role and place of grace in the two systems are rather different. Lake fails to see this because he has drawn an inadequate analogy; or, more likely, the inadequacy of his chosen analogy demonstrates he has not understood the issue.


D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Carlisle, U.K.; Grand Rapids, MI: Paternoster; Baker Books, 1996), 121–122.

The Institutes of the Christian Religion (Abridged Version) by John Calvin

The following is a summary of and reflection upon an abridged version of Calvin’s Institutes produced by Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (see it here on Amazon). I should note that I did not read the final book, Book IV: Outward Means by which God Helps Us, in its entirety; and therefore, it was directly not taken into consideration in the writing of this review.

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Summary

Calvin’s understanding of how men know God, know themselves, and the relationship between these two types of knowledge is seemingly foundational to the entirety of his theology (1:1:1). For Calvin, knowledge of self is intrinsically linked to knowledge of God while knowledge of God results in proper assessment of self (1:1:1). Genuine knowledge of self necessarily assumes knowledge of God. One cannot fully grasp the existence of the creature apart from his fundamental relationship to his Creator and Sustainer (1:1:1). Comprehension of man’s falleness assumes an ideal, one that is rooted in God’s creative-design; transgression implies the reality of Judge (1:1:1). On the other hand, without knowledge of God, no one ever truly knows himself (1:1:2). Lacking insight into the purpose for which He was created, ignorance of his original nature and its divine intent flourish. Unaware of God’s standard of righteousness, man consequently assesses his moral condition inaccurately (2:1:1).

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“Grace Amazing” by Jimmy Needham (ft. Trip Lee)

Jimmy Needham, in his song, “Grace Amazing” (from his album, Nightlights) truly does present grace as it ought to be presented, amazing. And how does he do this? The same way any good Soteriology (doctrine of salvation) does–by starting with a good Hamartiology (doctrine of sin), namely, our total inability or total depravity. As Needham says, “That’s how it is with us all. We weren’t just damaged we fell dead at the fall.” And in doing so he recognizes that salvation is dependent on God’s sovereign grace. “Unless You breathe life into me I won’t ever feel my dead heart beating. But you open these blind eyes to see.” And the fact that God has made believers alive, who once were dead and could not give life to themselves, is what makes grace amazing. The Blind don’t give themselves sight; God does. In short, grace is amazing because the recipients of grace had no part in it. “That’s what makes Your grace amazing.”

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What the Law Still Cannot Do

The following is an illustration from Michael Horton’s book, Introducing Covenant Theology. Horton’s illustration can be found in his chapter entitled “New Covenant Obedience” and under the subsection “What the Law Still Cannot Do.”

It’s an illustration of a sailboat. It’s an illustration I have never forgotten, probably never will forget, and come back to time and time again.

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