Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Conversion of Lydia

Sometime ago, I happened upon a web page critiquing Calvinism that was written by a self-professed former Calvinist named Steve Jones. During Mr. Jones' discussions on the five points, he briefly mentions the story of Lydia found in Acts 16. Here are his comments:

The conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:14) does not prove the Calvinist's point. God was not here opening the heart of a totally depraved rebel. She was already "a worshipper of God," not a so-called "spiritual corpse."

Mr. Jones' argument appears to be that Lydia was already a believer. Thus, the reference to God opening her heart should not be understood as God causing Lydia to accept the Gospel message. Rather, this would be looked at as some sort of post-conversion blessing being bestowed by God. Now, I didn't then, nor do I now believe that Mr. Jones' brief treatment of Acts 16 is compelling and worth even responding to. However, I saw where a commenter on a reformed blog used this same argument recently. This caused me to wonder if Mr. Jones' understanding of Lydia's conversion was a common one so I thought that I would go ahead and offer a few observations.

First, here is Acts 16:14 as it reads in the NASB under the heading of (ironically) "First Convert in Europe":

A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.

The verse states that God opened Lydia's heart so that she would respond to Paul's preaching. The very next verse states that Lydia and her house-hold were baptized after this response to Paul's preaching. The Calvinist argument is that Lydia, despite being a "worshipper of God" was not a Christian convert before Paul's sermon. Her acceptance of Paul's words came only after God enabled her to respond. Lydia's conversion to Christianity at this point is evidenced by her baptism afterwards. Also, the Calvinist's view of free-will (i.e. compatiblism) is consistent with these events as described by the biblical narrative.

Now, Mr. Jones' objection seems to be based solely on the phrase "worshipper of God". He appears to be assuming that this phrase demands one to be a Christian convert. But I would only point out that the Pharisees themselves were "worshippers of God". Indeed, modern practicing Jews can be said to be "worshippers of God". Even Christ Himself stated that people honor Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:8,9). Obviously, this phrase does not demand a Christian conversion. Also, if Lydia were already a Christian, why would God need to open Lydia's heart to respond to Paul's preaching? Why would Lydia put off baptism until that point if she were already converted? It would seem that in order for Mr. Jones' interpretation to hold up he would need to:

  • explain why the term "worshipper of God" can only be applied to Christians
  • show that Lydia's response was something other than regeneration
  • explain why Lydia was not baptized until her encounter with Paul

Until these issues are dealt with by non-Calvinists who are in agreement with Mr Jones, I see no reason to amend my original evaluation of Mr. Jones' comments on Lydia's conversion.

1 comment: said...

I'm kind of new to this whole internet / blog thing, but wanted to reply concerning the conversion of Lydia. First of all, I have not read what Mr. Steve Jones wrote, but assuming you have correctly represented him I would have to say he is clearly wrong. While it is true that no one whose salvation is already secured would need to "attend to the things spoken by Paul," it seems equally clear that Lydia was not a Christian, was in fact worshipping God in accordance with Judaism, and was out by the river side because there were others of like conviction. The difficulty this passages holds is in the means by which God opened her heart. Those who say it was a miraculous conversion effected by the Holy Spirit upon her heart that then enabled her to obey the gospel are met with the same objection as originally imposed against Mr. Steve Jones in this blog. Why does one whose salvation has already been secured need to repsond to anything?