Debates are a fickle thing. In order for them to be helpful, which, unfortunately, many are not, there needs to be a few crucial ingredients. (1) Both speakers need to really understand the position they are defending. (2) Both speakers need to be clear and competent presenters. (3) Both speakers need to really understand the opposing viewpoint. And (4) both speakers should avoid overindulging in rhetoric. In other words, articulate truth and avoid ad hominem, as well as sensational argumentation.
Unfortunately, the debate between Dr. Fernandez and Mr. Comis wasn’t very good. In fact, it was pretty bad. Point (4) was about the only thing that shined, and even that wavered at times.
Honestly, the only reason I listened to this debate was because I saw it on James White’s blog… well, and it was either listen to this or cycle through my songs, yet again. I do love the Beautiful Mind soundtrack, but when it’s hot, and it has been hot, a depressing score tends to push me over the edge. Sweat and minor keys don’t mix well. At least not for me. So in an attempt to avoid suicidal thoughts, I thought I would give this debate a listen, which in turn led me to pause before ferocious dogs, wondering if I should go ahead and throw myself inside their fenced-in lairs.
So should you listen to this debate? No. Not really.
That being said, I want to touch on one aspect of the debate; a point that the Calvinist, Mr. Comis, should have handled more adequately, but did not. Let’s set up the issue.
Calvinists love to ask Arminians why one person is ultimately saved over another person. What’s the ultimate reason? For the Arminian, the answer is man, as it is the individual who must either freely accept or freely reject the offer of the Gospel. Mr. Comis jumped on this by saying that this makes faith a kind of work. After all, it’s the individual summoning the faith- choosing to do the right thing, which is, well, a good thing, and thus a work.
Now Dr. Fernandez was quick to point out that faith is contrasted with works. So in other words, it would be absurd to call faith a work when faith is the very opposite of a work. Romans 3:27 might be helpful here. It reads, “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.”
Dr. Fernandez described it this way. Imagine several people are offered a gift. Two refuse and two accept. Would anyone say that those who accepted the gift somehow earned the gift? Of course not! It’s a gift that is accepted with open, empty hands. The same is true, he argued, with criminals on death row. Suppose a judge offered pardon to ten men. All they have to do is accept. Would you say that accepting the pardon is somehow a work? Would they have earned the pardon? Surely not.
Mr. Comis, by way of reply, didn’t say much, or at least didn’t say much of anything particularly substantive.
Now while it’s true that faith is consistently contrasted with works, the Scriptures also contrast election and works, thereby establishing a link between men autonomously choosing to believe and boasting. For if man is the ultimate determining factor in receiving salvation, it must be asked if the individual is smarter or wiser or more prone towards humility or enjoys better circumstances, etc., than those who do not believe. Along these lines consider four passages. Spend some time reflecting on the relationship between boasting, election, and works. I think you’ll see that election, for Paul, does remove all potential grounds for boasting.
“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:26-31)
“And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad–in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls– she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:10-15)
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began” (2 Tim 1:8-9). [Note the implicit link between “not by works” and predestination.]
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Eph 2:8-9) (Link with 2 Tim 2:25-26 and Phil 1:29).
Must Listen Factor: Low
Length: Like 2 hours… Q and A is too long
To Download: Really? Ok, click picture