Defining "Responsibility" for Leighton Flowers

I was listening to Professor Leighton Flowers talk about “responsibility,” (mp3 – around 29 minutes into the debate) and he noticed that he tried to define it as “able to respond,” as in being able to respond positively to God’s commands and exhortations. That definition is just fanciful.

The term “responsible” actually means “answerable” or “accountable” – in other words, it’s about the fact that the person is going to have to answer or respond for what he does. It means that the person will have to face the consequences of his actions. When we say that man is “responsible,” we’re not talking about some hypothetical philosophical ability to do something, but instead we’re talking about the fact that man will have to give an account for all his actions before the Judge of All the Earth on judgment day.

Inability to do what is right is consistent with responsibility for doing what is wrong, because “responsibility” doesn’t imply some very specific kind of hypothetical philosophical ability to have done otherwise, but rather it implies that the person will be punished for his sins – unless the person has a penal substitute in the person of Jesus Christ.

8 Responses to “Defining "Responsibility" for Leighton Flowers”

  1. Leighton Flowers Says:

    Actually, I am attempting to define what is MEANT by the use of the term in the minds of the ones using it. (see “connotation”)

    At under “responsibility” we find:

    noun, plural responsibilities.
    1. the state or fact of being responsible, answerable, or accountable for something within one's power, control, or management.
    2. an instance of being responsible :
    The responsibility for this mess is yours!
    3. a particular burden of obligation upon one who is responsible : the responsibilities of authority.
    4. a person or thing for which one is responsible :
    A child is a responsibility to its parents.
    5. reliability or dependability, especially in meeting debts or payments.

    Clearly the first definition of the word most clearly explains what most people would naturally think when the world “responsible” is used in a conversation about God holding man responsible, which is why so many people are baffled and confounded in conversations with Calvinists over this particular issue.

    If Calvinists dropped the word “responsible” and started saying what is intended, “justly punishable” (due to the imputed sin of Adam even though the man is unable to respond willing or affect the outcome in any way shape or form–i.e. “reprobated”), then I think much of the confusion would go away, but so would many of the nominal adherents to the 5 point systematic.

    I challenge you or any Calvinist to give example outside of your own system of people who are referenced as being “responsible” who are in the kind of condition of the reprobate in the Calvinistic systematic. The whole “innocent by reason of insanity” defense rests upon the connotation of what we mean by the word “responsible.” As would our conversations regarding the death of the unborn or infants. (see Piper's teaching on the subject)

    Even the words “answerable” or “accountable” fail to match the connotation of Calvinists intended meaning. How does one give account or answer for something he has absolutely no control, answer, or accounting for?

    Calvinist view of God: Sir, given an account to why you refused to believe in me and love me.

    Reprobate: Because you salvifically hated me first and decreed for me to be born in a condition of inability in which I could only hate you. Why didn't you choose me so I could love you too and be saved?

    Calvinist view of God: Who are you to answer back to me? (Rom 9 plucked from its context)

    Reprobate: You asked me to give account and the accounting books point back to you…I agree that I can't resist your election, but if you ask me to give an account, that is the answer.

    Calvinist view of God: Who are you the pot to question the clay?

    Reprobate: You're the one who asked for an accounting of why I refused to believe in you. You made me like this…that is my accounting. That is my answer. You are the “responsible” one and I'm punished for it, but you're God and if that is what makes you glorious then I suppose that is your prerogative.

  2. Turretinfan Says:

    Thanks for your response, Prof. Flowers. Some comments in reply.

    1) I appreciate your clarification. Your audio actually says, “Responsibility, as you've probably heard me say, I believe literally means 'response' 'able' – that person is able to respond to God.” Nevertheless, I understand you mean that you think it has the connotation you've identified.

    2) Calvinists don't deny (rather they affirm) that people have power, control, and management of their actions. Remember, Calvinists are compatibilists, not incompatibilists. Just because God is sovereign does not mean that people lack the power to do evil. They have that power and frequently exercise that power. Their power over their actions is compatible with divine sovereignty predetermining what those actions will be.

    The error in your thinking is to impose an incompatibility between God predetermining and man having power.

    We see that same problem in your appeal to Webster's regarding choice.

    3) As to your challenge, the problem lies in the construction of the challenge. No one except for God can divinely predetermine whatever comes to pass in a what that is fully compatible with moral responsibility.

    You're asking us to compare the relation of creatures to one another with the relation of creatures to the Creator. Any such analogy is going to fall short.

    The analogy that God gives us, however, is that of the potter and the clay – where God is the potter and we are the clay. Of course, no one calls pottery “responsible,” but one portion of the clay can be made made into a beautiful vase, while another can be made into a chamber pot or skeet target. There's no injustice in the potter doing that, and when the vase receives flowers, and the chamber pot receives what suits it, no one asserts any injustice.

    4) “Calvinist view of God: Who are you the pot to question the clay?” << I'm not sure what you were trying to say here. Were you trying to say "question the potter"? If so, that would be more accurate. But remember that when God tells the pot “who are you to question the potter,” the pot does not simply repeat his objection (as in your dialog) but rather falls silent. Recall how Elihu makes a similar comment in his speech to Job (see Job 33:4-6), which God then amplifies in his speech from the whirlwind, to which Job has no rebuttal (see Job 40:3-5 and 42:1-6). Even Eliphaz recognized the same thing in Job 4:17-20 “Shall mortal man be more just than God? shall a man be more pure than his maker? Behold, he put no trust in his servants; and his angels he charged with folly: how much less in them that dwell in houses of clay, whose foundation is in the dust, which are crushed before the moth? They are destroyed from morning to evening: they perish for ever without any regarding it.” -TurretinFan

  3. @servingofsalt Says:

    Man is a slave, a servant, a child, a lost lamb gone astray, and clay. Clay is not alone, the only reference to our being captured, or enslaved to our will against God, against nature, against what He calls good. What is mercy without God's intervention to bring us into His determination, instead of our own? Should I ask my children to rescue themselves when the flood waters rise? Should my intervention only be to tell them to desire, to will for a rescuer? Or by mercy, love, justice and grace, would I step into their demise and pull them out by my own hand? One is merciful and a true rescue, while the other is an irrational attempt, directed and coordinated by the will of floundering, flood-soaked souls. How can the one drown, acquire the means, let alone the responsibility, to rescue himself? God is responsible to save us, otherwise, the idea that man can rescue himself through the means of choice, and not by the revelation of grace, trumps divine authority. Please consider, Scripture confirms for us that our case is worse than mere drowning. He must not only rescue us, but He must also make us aware that we have already drown in our sins, dead in our fleshly pleasures, inwardly and outward. Only then, does He mercifully reveal to us that He, the God of our salvation, has raised us from that point to life with Him as children, heirs, slaves, servants, sheep brought back, and clay molded by the will of the potter. We are responsible for our sin, while is He able to overcome our willful ignorance, successfully, according to His good pleasure and will. Our rescuer overcomes the will and responsibility of man, by His promise and by His will. This is revealed to us, as grace. God reveals His love towards us in that, while we were yet sinners, dead and drown in our sins, Christ died for us. A low view of Christ's authority as rescuer, lowers the view of sin and ultimately, lowers the consequence of its deadly nature in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls. To exalt Christ, that is, lift Him up as the serpent was with Moses, naturally exposes sin, and properly places the dangers of its destructive path before us. This allows for Holiness of a just God to be seen, as well as, the merciful hand of a gracious God to be known by His people. Our rescuer is not lacking in love, when we say He chooses to save His people, for what earthly father would say that about rescuing his own? In fact, it is the abundance of love, the overwhelming, overflowing love of our God that abides in us, through His response in our inability to know what is good. A child is no more responsible, than we as children having a like faith in our Father, to save themselves by their own choice or might. A father who leaves it to the child to save themselves, is no lover at all, but a hater, selfish and by all means, corrupt. Not our God and Savior. He chose for us, knowing better than we, mere rebellious, sinful children, whom He delivered to show His glory, not over us or despite us, but in us. Praise the God to whom all salvation, and all power, and all honor, and all praise belong to. Praise His Holy Name!

  4. Ron Van Brenk Says:

    Prof. Flowers,

    Is it possible for you to make any distinction between directly responsible and indirectly responsible?

    Are you not conflating those distinctions somewhat in your Reprobate Defense?

    This situation is quite unlike your concept of an inanimate gun holding the gun holder responsible. Would you compare yourself to an inanimate gun? Would you deny that you had some personal intent in pulling the trigger?

    By your own hypothetical Defense, you would refuse to hold anyone in this world accountable for anything. But then you know you are not playing in the real world.

    As to degrees of culpability, well that is another matter…

  5. Leighton Flowers Says:


    You make some good points, but let's break it down further if you don't mind?

    You wrote, “Calvinists don't deny (rather they affirm) that people have power, control, and management of their actions. Remember, Calvinists are compatibilists, not incompatibilists. Just because God is sovereign does not mean that people lack the power to do evil. They have that power and frequently exercise that power. Their power over their actions is compatible with divine sovereignty predetermining what those actions will be.”

    I understand that compatibilists teach men are free to do what they desire, but their desires and circumstances that bring these choices about occur through divine determinism…Compatibilism is a form of determinism and it should be noted that this position is no less deterministic than hard determinism. (see

    So, I'm not sure what significance you believe man's power or control is, given that man is only able to use that power/control in accordance with his desires which are determined by God. In short, it means little to speak of man doing what he wants when what he wants is determined by God. You've just added one causal link in the chain of hard determinism and call it “compatible” when in fact the link is as much determined as everything else is.

    You wrote, “As to your challenge, the problem lies in the construction of the challenge. No one except for God can divinely predetermine whatever comes to pass in a what that is fully compatible with moral responsibility.”

    So, you admit that the term “responsibility” as meant by Calvinists would only fit within the discussion of man's relationship with God in a Calvinistic worldview…which is my point. You have no other basis, except your own systematic, on which to base the plain meaning of the word.

    That is exactly why I suggest for Calvinists to drop the word responsible and replace it with “justly punishable” (due to the imputed sin of Adam)

    More in the next post…

  6. Leighton Flowers Says:

    continued from above…

    You wrote, “The analogy that God gives us, however, is that of the potter and the clay – where God is the potter and we are the clay. Of course, no one calls pottery 'responsible,'”

    I do and and I believe the text supports that view:

    In Romans 9 Paul was likely drawing upon the analogy introduced by God through the prophet Jeremiah, which you can read in Jer. 18:1-6…

    Paul’s fellow countrymen, like their fathers before them, were flawed pots in the hands of the Potter. It pleases the Potter to remake them into vessels to use for the accomplishment of His redemptive plan. Did the clay come to the Potter flawed already, or did the Potter himself spoil the clay? If the clay represents all of humanity from birth, as in accordance with His eternal decree, it would certainly imply that the Potter did the spoiling and the remaking. But, in the proper context of the clay representing Israel, it is clear the spoiling (or callousing) is a direct result of their own rebellious choices, not the molding of the Potter.
    The Potter is merely acting to remake the already flawed clay into something useful for a greater redemptive good. Some vessels are selected out to be used for noble purposes, like apostleship, while others are sealed in their calloused condition to fulfill God’s redemptive plan. This indeed would give cause for all to glory in the free choices of such a righteous Potter sovereignly working to fulfill His promise.

    The context of the Potter and clay analogy, recorded first in Jeremiah, sheds more light on the responsibility of the clay in relation to the Potter:

    “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”’ But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ (Jer. 18:7-12)

    When this passage is pointed out to some Calvinistic scholars they attempt to disassociate it with Paul’s use of the analogy in Romans. For instance, James White writes, “Where is there a discussion of vessels of honor and dishonor in Jeremiah 18? Where is there a discussion of vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy? There is none.”

    Only someone set on dismissing human responsibility would not be willing to acknowledge the clear connection. The vessels made for honor are those fashioned by the Potter to “bless it” (vs. 10), “build up,” and “plant it” (vs. 9). The vessels of dishonor can be seen in the fashioning to “uproot,” “pull down” and “destroy” (v.7) including “fashioning calamity” and “devising a plan against,” (v.11) which is also consistent with the Jewish hardening described in Romans chapter 9 and Romans 11:25.

    To be continued…

  7. Leighton Flowers Says:


    Paul is not oblivious to the need of the clay to respond to the expressed will of the Potter, as he also draws upon this analogy in his letter to Timothy, to whom he writes:

    “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:20-21)

    Clearly, the biblical authors speak of the clay as if it is able to respond (and thus be held “responsible”) to the will of the Potter. The supposedly inanimate corpse-like object is called on to “turn from its evil” and “cleanse himself” so as to avoid the impending “calamity” and be “useful to the Master.” Unless one concludes that the Potter gets pleasure from torturing vessels He Himself spoiled and left hopelessly flawed from creation, the biblical implication of the vessel’s personal responsibility in this analogy seems abundantly clear.

    You wrote, “Were you trying to say “question the potter”? If so, that would be more accurate.”

    Yes, that was a typo…thanks

    Thanks for the discussion… got too much to do, so it may be a while to get back with you. Blessings friend.

  8. Rick Tatina Says:

    Pharoah was going to be hardened before Moses even went to Him. God did that to make His name known even to the ears of Rahab in Jericho.

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