John 6: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading

If we had to pick two passages that are used the most to defend that Calvinistic understanding of soteriology they would be Romans 9 and John 6, probably in that order. After all, what could “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” possibly mean besides God chooses which individuals will be saved and they will be unable to come unless they are chosen?

The biggest barrier to Calvinists and non-Calvinists understanding one another’s perspective is the different ways we read the Bible. It isn’t that one of us isn’t reading the Bible and the other is. We both are. Instead, we’re both wearing “goggles”, or interpretive lenses, as we read the text and this greatly informs our conclusions.

Rather than this being a polemic against the Calvinistic “goggles”, I will endeavor to explain the non-Calvinistic (as I see it) reading of John 6. I will contrast the Calvinistic view when necessary as a way of further clarifying my reading. Just like with my Romans 9 reading, what follows is not intended to be an in-depth exegesis, but a top-down overview of what we think is the flow of the passage.

From the Top Looking Down

Calvinism: Jesus is talking to the Jews about how all come to have faith in God. Specifically, God chooses before the foundation of the world all who will have faith in God, and when chosen, they will come.

Non-Calvinism: Jesus is telling the Jews why it is that though they see him they do not believe in him. Specifically, it is not His job to draw them but the Father’s and how the Father draws is through the prophets who told of Jesus’ coming.

The persuasive strength of Calvinist view, as I see it, is that it’s simple. And I don’t mean that derogatorily. A single, tweet-length assertion is all that is need to explain this view. I wish I had such a brief, simple answer. This not only plays in our current learning environment (when was the last time you watched a Youtube video past 10min in length? 5min?) but it also plays to our Christian milieu where everything is assumed to be about salvation and how it works.

The strength of my view is that it takes each verse of this passage with as much weight as the next, allowing the passage to explain itself. My view can explain how each sentence fits into the next and it takes the scope and audience for what the Scriptures tell us it is and does not insert them from an outside theological system.

Keep the above summaries in mind and let us see which fits the flow of Jesus’ argument here.

Setting The Stage

The pericope in contention takes place right after the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water. Jesus had slipped away in the night (walking across the water) and when they awoke in the morning and saw that he was no longer there, they followed Him to the other side.

Jesus ties in the work they did to get to the other side of the sea so as to be fed and says they should instead work for the greater food. They answer, v. 28b

“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”

They are probably thinking that “food that endures to eternal life” means earthly food that does not go bad. They want some of that! v. 29,

Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

So just like they had worked to get to the other side of the sea to find Jesus so that He would feed them again; belief in Jesus is a work they must do. This is where I may get stopped with some objections. I’m going to head those objections off by pointing out that I’m not making a theological argument nor forming a doctrine based upon that. I’m making an exegetical observation. Jesus acknowledged that they worked to get to Him, told them they should work for unperishable food, they asked what that work is, and He answered, “believe in him whom he has sent”.

The Jews ask about this belief, v. 30-31:

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Remember, this is one of the key points to understanding the non-Calvinist perspective: The Jews asked for a sign so that they could believe in Jesus. I do not need to see their request for a sign as completely pure of heart; I just need to recognize how this sets off the rest of the passage.

Understandably, they’re still focused on eating for free. But Jesus is on earth to give them what they really need, v. 32-34:

Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

I’m of the opinion that the Jews still have no idea what Jesus is talking about. The “bread” they are asking for is still the bread they received on the other side of the sea. However, the fact remains, they have again asked Jesus for something, first a sign, and now bread.

We will now be reading over the texts in question. To summarize, the Jews came searching for food but Jesus says it is better to work for spiritual food and, upon being asked, says that this work is believing in Him who was sent. The Jews then asked Jesus for a sign to believe and for bread so they could eat.

The Key Question

This is the first of Jesus’s seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John. He makes this statement in response to the Jews request to receive the bread that doesn’t perish, v. 35-36:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.

This is one of the key points to understanding our perspective. Remember, the Jews asked for a sign, they asked for the bread like Moses gave them in the wilderness. Jesus is saying “I’m the sign, I’m the bread, I am standing right in front of you and you don’t believe.”

Notice what happens next. Jesus does not try to persuade them to believe but instead, and here comes the key, tells them why they do not believe. The Calvinist seemingly assumes that Jesus is answering the question “How can everyone who has ever existed come to faith?”. In contrast, we see Jesus as answering the question “Why don’t the Jews believe in Him?” Here are three points that I think strongly support this reading:

  1. The teaching that follows has exegetical markers that point to what Jesus’ purpose on Earth is.
  2. Jesus does not try to persuade them to believe and lets them leave. Almost all of them do. Thus displaying what Jesus’ purpose on Earth was.
  3. The purpose of the Gospel of John is “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).” It would be natural in a book meant to convince readers who have never seen Jesus to address the question “Why didn’t those that saw Him believe?”

Let’s keep these three points in mind as we follow Jesus’ argument as to why He is here.

The Purpose of Jesus on Earth

Jesus goes on to discuss why He is here, v. 37-38:

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Jesus is not here to give them a sign so that they will believe. Instead, He is here to do the will of the Father.

The “for” begins a purpose clause. Why is it that only those whom the Father has given will come? Because Jesus is on Earth not to do His own will. The strong, and in my opinion, inescapable implication is that Jesus is not on Earth to pursue followers. It is up to the Father to “give” those who come, not for Jesus to go out and get them. As we see in the rest of the pericope, and truly the narrative of the Gospels in general, Jesus does not pursue them.

What is the will of the Father?

39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

Remember, what starts this entire explanation of why the Jews don’t believe is “you have seen me and you do not believe”. Jesus is talking to and about those that have seen Him on Earth. Jesus is talking about what God’s will for Him is while on Earth, while those people are looking on Him. I’m open to anyone showing me an exegetical marker that universalizes Jesus words to all men who have ever lived. Absent of that, I have to stick with the limitations in the audience and scope the Scriptures give me.

Of course, I agree theologically that “eternal life” and “raise him up on the last day” also applies to later Jew and Gentile converts. But that’s because those promises are given elsewhere in the Scriptures. Right here, in this passage, the promise given is to those who behold Jesus while he was on Earth and believe in Him.

Incoming Prooftext

We’ve done all this work to get here. We’re finally here. We’re now ready to consider John 6:44.

The Jews begin grumbling. They don’t get it. And Jesus doesn’t explain it to them. He merely further clarifies why it is that they see him but do not believe, v. 41-44:

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

This is a striking answer. They cannot understand how it is that this person who’s parents and birthplace they know is now saying “I have come down from heaven”. If Jesus was trying to draw people to Himself he would have explained it to them; “well guys, you see, my mother was a virgin and the Holy Spirit…”. Nope. He does not explain it to them. Because that’s not what he’s on Earth to do.

Do you see how our understanding of 6:44 flows neatly into the context of the entire discourse? Jesus is responding to their grumbling, and they are grumbling about what Jesus previously said. They did not ask him, “How is that all men can believe?” They asked him, “How is that you can say you’re from heaven?” And Jesus’ answer is, “It’s not my mission on Earth to explain that to you, if God had drawn you, you would believe in me now”.

The main weakness of the Calvinist’s perspective is that it raises this verse out of its context, isolates it on a pedestal far above the concerns of the narrative as told by John, and then on to it pours alien assumptions about the audience, scope, and what “drawing” means.

The Drawing

Here comes the other key to understanding our perspective. How does the Father draw them? How does the Father give those that come? By an inward irresistible means? Notice the exact parallels between “no one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” and v. 45:

 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

“No one can come unless X” and “Everyone who has X comes” are negative and positive ways to express the same thing.

“No one can dunk unless they can jump high” = “Everyone who has a 36-inch vertical leap can jump high”.

Hearing and learning from the Father, through the Prophets of course, IS being drawn by the Father. 

Having a 36-inch vertical leap IS jumping high.

Maybe this should be my tweet-length mic drop: “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me”. That is a single sentence after “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” but if I quoted just v. 45 that would give you an entirely different impression of what the drawing is.

Put Those Goggles On

At this point let’s back out of the passage and return to the concept of the goggles we are using to interpret the text. As you can see, I’m using exegetical markers from the passage to tell me what the author/speaker means by each sentence in the passage ie. the audience, the scope, and the main point. Here is my summary again:

Jesus is telling the Jews why it is they see him but do not believe. It is a question a 1st-century reader would ask and a question the author, John, would have a serious interest in answering. Jesus is explaining to them that it is not His job while on Earth to make them see that He is the sign they are looking for. Instead, it is the Father’s will to give/draw certain individuals to Him during this Earthly mission, it is the Son’s job not to lose those individuals. How is God drawing/giving these certain people? By teaching them from the prophets. And if the Jews who are now standing in front him had learned of God they would come to him. It is God’s will that the Son would not lose any that the Father gives him.

In contrast, the Calvinist tends to simply quote v. 44, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” and import already decided definitions for not only what “draws” means but also who the audience is and the scope of the teaching. It seems to be merely assumed, as an a priori first truth, that all of Jesus teachings are universal, applying to all men in all time, every time Jesus opens his mouth. I do not see this principle in the Bible. 

Of course, what I’m saying has far-reaching theological and doctrinal implications but I’m not intending it to. I’m merely following Jesus’ flow of thought and pointing out the exegetical markers that inform that flow. I’m contrasting it with the Calvinistic view to show the assumptions inherent within and how the text does not bear those assumptions out.

 

 

 

 

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You Are Free From Sin

Christian, I have good news! We have been set free from sin (Rom 6). This does not mean we do not sin, but it means we have been separated from its dominion over us. We are not wretched or incapable. We are saints who are blessed beyond measure (Eph 2).
 
The price that comes with this freedom is that we have responsibility for our sin. When we follow the path of death (Rom 8) it’s not because of some in-born, out of our control,  nature. That thing was crucified with Christ. It is not because Jesus refrained from giving us enough grace to resist. We followed death because we wanted to. Some of these disordered desires may be miraculously removed from us in an instant and others may continue to be a constant reminder of our need for God’s grace. But God’s purpose in our lives is not for us to be trapped, despairing in our wretchedness. He wants us to experience the life abundant in the fullness of joy. This was Jesus’ explicit purpose on Earth. 
 
Far from empty ear tickling, this truth is too much for some to stomach. Preferring to think of themselves as unresponsible, they dump their sin at the feet of Jesus and say “If Jesus did not want me to do this, I wouldn’t have”. Perhaps subconsciously, they realize that if they are powerless in the face of sin, then their sins are not so bad. After all, how could they have done differently? But that’s exactly what Jesus came to do; to give us the ability, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, and to show us how, through his Word (Incarnate, written and whispered) to be reconciled to God and, ultimately, live differently. THIS is the New Covenant (Jer 31:33).
Sin is suffering. Jesus does not want us to suffer. The hard truth is that our suffering is caused by those who sin against us and our own disordered desires. That terrible thing I did? I did it. Not my flesh, not my sin nature, not Jesus seeking to teach me a lesson…me. God wants to be with us in our suffering as loving Father and comforting Spirit, not as the conductor in our symphony of misery. According to Ephesians 2, what have we been raised to and blessed with if not “being raised with Christ” and able to experience “the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus”? What are the good works that we are to walk in if we do not have the ability to walk in them? What is the “new man” that God created us to be if not men and women capable of becoming more like Christ and therefore refraining from sin more, and experiencing, more and more, the abundant life? 
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The End of Protestantism

Usually, I spend my time writing about stuff I disagree with. It is easier to poke holes in other people’s boats. However, I’m sitting in a boat too. There are positions I believe to be true that others can poke at and it’s only fair I give the opportunity.

I am about fours years behind. I watched a lecture/panel discussion at Biola (I attend their seminary, Talbot School of Theology) on Peter Leithart’s controversial article titled “The End of Protestantism“. Leithart is an author, theologian, and now the President of the Theophilus Institute.  Upon watching Leithart’s opening lecture, I ended up wholeheartedly agreeing with most of what he said. I also found his responses during the panel discussion to be fair-minded even though I’m not sure what to do with his prescriptions yet. Yet there is a void in my understanding of Leithart; I’ve never read the original article!

Based on what I saw in the lecture, I’m looking forward to starting with the original article from four years ago and seeing where the conversation has evolved since. Here it goes!

 Protestantism is a negative theology; a Protestant is a not-Catholic. Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can.

This is accurate. In my conversations with fellow Protestants, any view resembling Catholic theology is vigorously dismissed out of hand. When I say “resembling” I do not mean ideas that align with Catechism. I mean ideas that might possibly be something a Catholic could agree with are vehemently rejected without taking the time to find out if the idea is biblical. We are defined by what we oppose.

Mainline churches are nearly bereft of “Protestants.” If you want to spot one these days, your best bet is to visit the local Baptist or Bible church, though you can find plenty of Protestants among conservative Presbyterians too.

This is also true in my experience. My family and I are just coming out of a church transition and we visited several churches to find a new home. In the five churches we visited in only one of them could I imagine this Protestant desire to define themselves by what they are against. Four of these churches were varying degrees of large and successful with diverse church cultures.

Protestantism ought to give way to Reformational catholicism. Like a Protestant, a Reformational catholic rejects papal claims, refuses to venerate the Host, and doesn’t pray to Mary or the saints; he insists that salvation is a sheer gift of God received by faith and confesses that all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church.

I do not quite know what Leithart means by a Reformational catholic church. His description above does not sound like a return to Roman Catholicism, which is a good place to start, but what kind of church practice is he prescribing? In the lecture at Biola Leithart only offered that he thought a Reformational catholic church would take the Eucharist each service. That would be different than the liturgy I am used to but does not sound unbiblical.

In the lecture, Leithart was pushed by the other panelists and during the Q&A to further define the liturgy of these churches. He did not commit to a specific structure because he believed the Holy Spirit would inform the reform and it was beyond his ability to see where the Spirit would take it. That is reasonable but my Western thinking brain still wants more to go on. Maybe Leithart’s vision of these churches has come into sharper focus in the last four years.

Though it agrees with the original Protestant protest, Reformational catholicism is defined as much by the things it shares with Roman Catholicism as by its differences.

I do not know how to convince people to hold in tension the necessity of the Reformation and the faithful witness of Catholic history which gave us the doctrines of the Trinity (Constantinople, 381 CE) and the Hypostatic union (Chalcedon, 451 CE). Did the gates of hell prevail against the the Church for 1500 years before the Reformation?

A Protestant exaggerates his distance from Roman Catholicism on every point of theology and practice, and is skeptical of Roman Catholics who say that they believe in salvation by grace.

I also do not know how to convince people to read the Catholic Catechism. When you do, you will find much to disagree with. However, you will also find that Catholics believe they are saved by grace. They do not believe that getting baptized saves them. They believe that if you believe in Jesus then you will get baptized. If you do not get baptized, then you do not actually believe in Jesus. The physical demonstration of faith and faith itself are not wholly separate entities under Catholicism. You may disagree, but is that wholly unreasonable and unbiblical? If so, how?

A Protestant believes (old-fashioned) Roman Catholic claims about its changeless stability. A Reformational Catholic knows that the Roman Catholicism has changed and is changing.

Some Protestants don’t view Roman Catholics as Christians, and won’t acknowledge the Roman Catholic Church as a true church. A Reformational Catholic regards Catholics as brothers, and regrets the need to modify that brotherhood as “separated.” To a Reformational Catholic, it’s blindingly obvious that there’s a billion-member Church of Jesus Christ centered in Rome. Because it regards the Roman Catholic Church as barely Christian, Protestantism leaves Roman Catholicism to its own devices. “They” had a pedophilia scandal, and “they” have a controversial pope. A Reformational Catholic recognizes that turmoil in the Roman Catholic Church is turmoil in his own family.

Leithart put to words the direction I have been going for the last two years in a way I could never have. I will not try to improve them except to say that seeing brothers as “other” is something I need to repent of.

A Protestant views the Church as an instrument for individual salvation. A Reformational Catholic believes salvation is inherently social.

This is one of the biggest problems in the Protestant understanding of the Gospel and I scarce know where to begin. Perhaps it is enough, for now, to say that we have allowed the radical individualism of our culture to warp how we see the biblical text.

A Protestant’s heroes are Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and their heirs. If he acknowledges any ancestry before the Reformation, they are proto-Protestants like Hus and Wycliffe. A Reformational Catholic gratefully receives the history of the entire Church as his history, and, along with the Reformers, he honors Augustine and Gregory the Great and the Cappadocians, Alcuin and Rabanus Maurus, Thomas and Bonaventure, Dominic and Francis and Dante, Ignatius and Teresa of Avila, Chesterton, de Lubac and Congar as fathers, brothers, and sisters. A Reformational Catholic knows some of his ancestors were deeply flawed but won’t delete them from the family tree. He knows every family has its embarrassments.

Not acknowledging this history is one of the easiest ways to see Catholics as “those weird guys over there” instead of our brothers.

[The Reformational catholic] knows there are unplumbed depths in Scripture, never dreamt of by Luther and Calvin.

Amen.

A Protestant is indifferent or hostile to liturgical forms, ornamentation in worship, and sacraments, because that’s what Catholics do. Reformational Catholicism’s piety is communal and sacramental, and its worship follows historic liturgical patterns.

I must confess I do not know how this works and considering it gives me the hee-bees. I do not know how to separate the historical liturgical patterns from the corrupted practices of the Reformation-era (and at least two centuries before that) Roman Catholic Church.

A Protestant wears a jacket and tie, or a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, to lead worship; a Reformational Catholic is vested in cassock and stole. To a Protestant, a sacrament is an aid to memory. A Reformational Catholic believes that Jesus baptizes and gives himself as food to the faithful, and doesn’t avoid speaking of “Eucharist” or “Mass” just because Roman Catholics use those words.

While the politically correct language of the Protestants is an annoyance, I do not understand the importance of the cassock and stole. Why must we take on that bit of church history in order to acknowledge it as our own?

Reformational Catholicism meets George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism coming from the direction of Rome, and gives it a hearty handshake.

Great, something else I have to read.

Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.

As Leithart said in his lecture, God has always done something new. Sometimes that new thing went against what He previously told His people to do. I do think now is time for another new thing. The Reformation has become something the Reformers did not envision. It has served its purpose. It is time to reform again. Is not that what the Church is about?

While some of Leithart’s prescriptions make me uncomfortable, I do not have the historical or theological knowledge to call them unbiblical. I agree with his assessment of Protestantism and his call for reform, but I need to keep studying and discussing with my Christian brothers to see what shape that reform should take.

 

 

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Rom 10: What Dead Men Can Do

The ground upon which TULIP stands and falls, and one of Calvinist soteriology’s most compelling arguments, is their understanding of Total Depravity. In my view, TD is more rightly understood as Total Inability, (hereafter, TI). That is, the unbeliever is totally unable to respond to the upward call of the Gospel because of a corpse-like spiritual condition. If TI is true, then the rest of Calvinism follows.

(Aside: I use TI to draw a distinction between a common Christian understanding of the depravity of man that renders us in need of a savior and in need of a God who seeks us and the Calvinist notion that we are spiritual corpses who must first be regenerated before we can have faith)

This article will show the holes Romans 10 pokes in TI as well as point out how well a non-Calvinist reading of Romans 9 jibes with Romans 10. But first, let’s look at some of the passages Calvinists use to defend TI.

Total Inability

So that you do not have to take my word for it, I want you to hear from Calvinists about TI.

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. – Eph 2:1, 4-6

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.” – Rom 3: 10b – 12

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. – 1 Cor 2:14

This is how John MacArthur briefly summarizes TI:

Unbelieving humanity has no capacity to desire, understand, believe, or apply spiritual truth

Jeremiah Johnson, writing in that same article at Grace To You, puts in this way:

Unrepentant man is not waging an internal war between good and evil. He is utterly incapacitated by his innate sin nature.

R.C. Sproul puts it this way:

God just doesn’t throw a life preserver to a drowning person. He goes to the bottom of the sea, and pulls a corpse from the bottom of the sea, takes him up on the bank, breathes into him the breath of life and makes him alive.

According to the Calvinist, unbelievers are spiritual corpses who are utterly incapacitated and therefore cannot understand spiritual truth.

Context

As a way of continuing my examination of Romans 9, and to avoid the proof-texting that often bogs down this debate, I will go over Romans 10.

Paul ends Romans 9 with an explanation of Israel’s unbelief. They stumbled over Christ and instead of pursuing salvation by faith, they pursued it by works. They became offended with the idea of this poor carpenter from Galilee claiming to be Messiah. Even his miraculous works could not shake them from claiming salvation by the blood of Abraham in their veins. Starting in Rom 10, he clarifies their error further:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

I think this is the question of chapter 10: “Who is responsible for Israel’s faith, God or Israel?” We’re going to return to this question often. Remember, on the Calvinist understanding of TI which informs their reading of Romans 9, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” means that God is responsible to effectually save those whom He chooses to save. In my view, this is in stark contrast to Paul’s reason for Israel’s unbelief in Romans 10. I will leave it up to you as to which view of Romans 9 lines up closer to what Paul says just one chapter later.

God’s Righteousness

So what is “God’s righteousness?”

For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim);

The righteousness of God is being contrasted with the Law of Moses. Righteousness may at one time have been about ascending into heaven and avoiding the abyss on our own merits to “live by them”, but now it is about faith that is proclaimed near you, gets in your heart, and the exits your mouth in a proclamation. Why?

because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

The realm of righteousness, the path to becoming righteous, has been altered by God’s own sovereign decree. It is no longer about Law, but about what you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth (those two things seem synonymous). Two things to notice here:

  1. The ordo salutis. If Calvinism is true, then the only way you can believe in your heart and confess with your mouth is if you have been saved already. It does not seem much of a stretch for Paul to have said something like “If God chooses you to be saved, then you will believe in your heart and confess with your mouth”. Instead, he puts the order awkwardly for the Calvinist.
  2. In contrast to much of the accusations wielded at non-Calvinists, Paul does not say that believing and confessing earns you salvation. He does not say “and you have saved yourself”. “You will be saved” puts the onus to save you directly on God. It was God’s sovereign decree to set up the path to righteousness in this way, and He has promised to save those who believe and confess. That does not mean He chooses who will believe nor that He is forced to save those who earn it. He is bound by his own choice and promises to do so.

For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This righteousness is open to everyone.

How Does One Believe?

If we manage to view Romans 10 in continuity with Romans 9, as Paul certainly intended us to do, there is this nagging question that has yet to be resolved. Why do the Jews, who carried the oracles of God and the lineage of Messiah for generations, not believe in that Messiah? In Romans 9 Paul establishes that there is no injustice in God opening up salvation to the Gentiles. At the end of Romans 9, and into Rom 10, Paul claims that the Jews do not believe because they are pursuing righteousness by works even though that’s not how righteousness works anymore. That still does not answer the question; why are they not pursuing righteousness by faith? Why do they not call on the Lord?

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Imagine for a minute that we are in the mind of Paul. He is explaining to the Jewish and Gentile Christians of Rome why it is that most of Israel do not believe in their Messiah and he is about to get to where faith comes from. Instead of saying that faith comes from God’s sovereign decree or faith comes from regeneration, Paul decides to say something that makes it sound like faith comes from us. This is utterly confusing if Paul believes in Calvinist theology. This is the perfect time for Paul to explicitly tell us that regeneration precedes faith, that God chooses who to give faith to, and yet he does not do so. Maybe that is because Paul says what he means, and faith comes by hearing.

Please look at v. 17 again. Only through reaching to an outside truth supplied by a systematic theology can we miss where faith comes from.

Can Dead Men Hear and Understand?

Here we come to the end of the chapter and to stare at the weakness of TI to explain Romans 10. In the following verses, Paul is clearly talking about unbelievers since he just got done explaining why they do not believe. Remember, the stated position of the Calvinist, as quoted by two of the leading Calvinists today, is that the unbeliever is a spiritual corpse who is utterly incapacitated and therefore cannot understand spiritual truth.

18 But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have, for

“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
    and their words to the ends of the world.”

19 But I ask, did Israel not understand? First Moses says,

“I will make you jealous of those who are not a nation;
    with a foolish nation I will make you angry.”

20 Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

“I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me.”

21 But of Israel he says, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.”

Can corpses hear anything? According to Paul, these unbelievers hear spiritual truth. Can utterly incapacitated unbelievers understand spiritual truth? According to v.19, these unbelievers understood the Gospel. They understood the Gospel enough to be jealously angry that God has included Gentiles. They have understood enough to know what Peter and the other Apostles have been preaching at them for decades and have rejected it (how do corpses reject things?).

Indeed, “…of Israel he says, ‘All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.’ ” Paul lays the blame for Israel’s unbelief directly at Israel’s feet. They heard the Gospel. They understood the Gospel. But they are disobedient and contrary. Nowhere here is the idea that they were made that way by God’s sovereign decree. That’s not the kind of thing God decrees. No, they did this to themselves.

This is where TI becomes devoid of reason in the face of biblical theology. In what way is God holding out his hands to corpses? As R.C. Sproul put it, either God is reaching down to “pull a corpse from the bottom of the sea” or He is not. There is no rational sense in which God can be said to be holding out his hands to unbelievers and refusing to do the one thing that will cause them to believe; make them alive.

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Radical Free Will

I recently read an article from Christ Hold Fast in which the author, Gerhard Forde, both misrepresents the free will position and re-defines the Gospel as his particular theological viewpoint. I am going to critique both aspects of his article.

Christ Hold Fast is an organization of Lutheran bloggers, podcasters (is that a word?) and speakers.

Free Will Against God

The article is called “Radical Gospel” and is an excerpt from a longer paper entitled “Radical Lutheranism“. Forde starts the excerpt:

The radical gospel of justification by faith alone simply does not fit, cannot be accepted by, and will not work with an anthropology which sees the human being as a continuously existing subject possessing ‘‘free choice of will’’ over against God and/or other religious goals.

Free will is assumed to be “over against God”. Is there another way of looking at free will besides countervailing the sovereignty of God? There has been since the beginning of the Church. Nowhere in the Early Church Fathers will you find a view of humanity which states it does not have free will to choose God or not. Not until Augustine in the 4th century does Forde’s view of humanity enter Christendom, and even then Augustine held both views through out his life. I am hard pressed to believe Forde had never heard of such men as C.S. Lewis, A.W. Tozer, and Herschel H. Hobbs. Let me quote each on free will:

When we carry it up to relations between God and Man, has the distinction perhaps become nonsensical? After all, when we are most free, it is only with a freedom God has given us: and when our will is most influenced by Grace, it is still our will. And if what our will does is not ‘voluntary’, and if ‘voluntary’ does not mean ‘free’, what are we talking about? C.S. Lewis – Yours Jack, pg. 186

“God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.” – A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

“According to the good pleasure of his will” expresses God’s sovereignty, which means that He can act in accord with His nature and purpose as redeeming love without the advice or consent of anyone outside Himself. However, the Bible also teaches the free will of man as a person made in God’s image. To violate man’s free will would make him less than a person, only a puppet dangled on the string of fate. The Bible never teaches that. – Herschel Hobbs, God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Free Will

Those of us who affirm free will do not do see it as “against God” but indeed as affirming His sovereignty. Truly, I have yet to hear, and I would love to hear in the comments below, someone who holds to the Calvinistic, or in this case the Lutheran, understanding of sovereignty deal with this view of free will. Specifically, is God not free and powerful enough to create the world with truly free creatures? If the answer is, as R.C. Sproul seems to say, “No, God must meticulously control every molecule or He is not God” then answer me this; are you not putting God in a box by saying what He must do in order to be sovereign?

Conditional Grace

Grace is unmerited. We do not control whether or not God gives us grace. We do not force God to give us grace by doing good things nor by believing in Jesus. But is it unconditional? Forde asserts that it is:

Here we arrive at the crucial point. Here the pious old Adam can only recoil in horror from the thought of unconditional grace and try to protect the continuity of the old self by making compromises: some fateful mixture of grace and law, a little bit of human cooperation, …

This seems like another time when a biblical doctrine is created whole cloth out of the demands of systematic theology. Unconditional grace could be described in another way; mysterious grace. That is, we do not know why God gives grace to some and not to others, it is completely unconditional after all. The why is hidden in the mysterious will of God. Yet, the Bible teaches that it is no mystery at all who God chooses to give grace to:

“Matthew‬ ‭23:12‬, “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” 

Psalm 18:27: You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty.

1 Peter 5:5-6: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

Isaiah 66:2: “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.

James 4:10: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.”

2 Kings 22:19: “Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people—that they would become a curse and be laid waste—and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I also have heard you, declares the Lord.”

Zephaniah 2:3: Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, you who do what he commands. Seek righteousness, seek humility; perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord’s anger.

Matthew 5:3: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

It seems like Forde must take each of these passages and see God as effectually humbling, even when the passage says they humbled themselves, despite the Bible never coming out and saying this is what is really going on in the background.

Perhaps even worse, several of these passages contain imperatives, ie. commands, for human beings to cooperate with God and humble themselves. Such imperatives are pervasive in Scripture. Apparently, Forde sees God as giving human beings commands and then ordaining that they will disobey those commands. This would be like chaining your dog to a post, calling him to come farther than the length of the chain you gave him, and then punishing him for being unable to come. If a human being did this, it would be called cruelty. A monergist must call this “glorious”.

Radical Division

Forde is a great writer. I’m drawn in by the magnetism of his words. But as I re-read his paragraphs, I come to see what it is he is saying:

Furthermore, we miss the radicality of that if we do not see that this death is announced as accomplished fact: you have died. The death is not something yet to be done, one last act of spiritual suicide for ‘‘free choice.’’ If Jesus died for all, then all have died (2 Cor. 5:14). The being of the hearer is simply stamped with the theologia crucis, the death and resurrection of Jesus is done to us by the proclamation of the accomplished fact.

Forde is making synonymous the Gospel with effectual salvation. That is, if anyone denies his particular theological framework, that God irresistibly saves those individuals whom He chooses to save, then they are denying the Gospel. This is pure sophistry. It pits Christian against Christian in a fight to see who has the “real” Gospel. It allows fans of Forde’s view to deal in strawmen and hyperbole with synergists. Instead of “I think you’re wrong about synergism because of <enter reasoned argument there>” it becomes “You’re denying the Gospel!!”. This kind of thing distracts and is a hindrance to discussing our actual disagreements.

As evidence of where this kind of rhetoric leads, Forde comes up with a strawman of his own:

The continuing crisis for anyone who is grasped by that radical gospel comes both from the fact that the world and its church cannot do other than resist and attack that gospel (as a matter of self-defense), and from the fact that they cannot escape the constant temptation to make compromises which disguise or blunt the sharp edges of its radicality.

According to Forde, the only reason anyone could insist on the existence of free will is to defend the power of man above God and in doing so they compromise the power of the Gospel. It is the true position of the defenders of free will that is radical here. Forde has not conceived of it! If the proponents of Forde (or monergism in general) would like to deal with the true position of those who hold to free will in the comments below, I would love to have that discussion. Here it goes: defending the free will of man is both a theodicy and a defense of God’s holiness (as set apart from the sins of men).

As argued above, far from attempting to defend our own abilities to countervail the sovereignty of God, we see free will as establishing that sovereignty. Further, it is my view that our view of sovereignty is bigger than the monergists, who must see God as restrained to only being able to create a meticulously determined world. God is bigger and freer than that. Ironically, I also see synergists as holding to a more powerful Gospel than the monergists. From Forde’s own words, the Gospel merely informs the elect what has already taken place on their behalf; God has already effectually saved you. In contrast, I see that Gospel as being the Holy Spirit wrought power of God that enables men to believe and draws sinful men into relationship with Jesus.

In order to have a real, fruitful discussion about our differences, monergists like Forde would have to see synergists as sincere but mistaken faithful Christian brothers instead of those who strive to defend our own autonomy from God and decrease the power of the Gospel.

 

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The Problem With Systematic Theology: An Example

Systematic Theology too often redefines words to serve itself. It is a noble endeavor to develop doctrines that clarify biblical theology and to categories those doctrines. Systematic theology, however, too often exists to prove the truth of the system. In service of this goal, proponents of a system will redefine words to mean something else. Once re-packaged, the words are used in a way that any Christian could agree if unaware of the prior re-defining.

This post has turned out to be completely different than what I first set out to write. I was asked questions about the “drawing” of John 6 but then I did some digging to find out how notable Calvinists, namely John Piper and R.C. Sproul, see the passage. I had some idea, of course, but I wanted to hear it from them. What I discovered is that their view on John 6 is an example of what happens when systematic theology is allowed to run amok. I hope to show how my brothers simply paste on definitions and doctrines derived from systematic terminology onto the text.

John Piper on John 6

I watched an excerpt from a Pastor John Piper sermon on John 6. I encourage you to watch the full video. He’s a truly great preacher. As an orator, he inspires me. So I’m certainly just critiquing the content. Pastor John says:

“Everyone that He draws, comes. They actually come. And the drawing IS the decisive cause of you coming. It’s not God’s contribution and then you are decisive. God is decisive in who comes to Jesus”

“Decisive” means that God is making the decision who should believe in Jesus. It is not the individual making the decision, but God. Then, in the next sentence, Pastor John says this:

“And this is absolutely, totally, and undoubtedly, not it any conflict at all with your coming freely. And by freely I mean simply that you want to come”

To paraphrase, Piper is saying that God decides that you will want to come to Jesus, and then you want to come to Jesus. It is only by God’s decision that you want to come to Jesus, and if God decides you will come then you will irresistibly do so. This is freedom, according to Piper.

Logically, once you say it is God who decides who is saved, the word “free” does not follow. If I could never want to choose differently than I’m not free. This meaning of freedom is foreign to any other walk of life outside of Reformed soteriology. Piper is defining freedom as doing what you want to do without being able to choose differently than what you want, and your wants are determined by someone outside of yourself. Freedom, as being unable to want to do differently, is not freedom.

The passage itself certainly does not give us that definition of freedom. Jesus uses words like “believe” and “learned”. In any other walk of life, we understand belief to be a decision of the person. If I ask someone “Do you believe me?”, no one understands me to be saying that such belief is the decision of anyone else. And yet, because of systematic theology, Jesus supposedly means that the belief of the Jews is up to someone else, namely God.

Nothing to See Here

What Piper’s system of theology forces him into believing is that when Jesus uses the phrase “everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life” (v. 40) we must forget out about it looks like Jesus is saying and look behind it to the real meaning informed by the system. There is a difference between difficult or obscure passages that require further study and wholesale redefinition. When Jesus says “everyone” He really means “everyone whom the Father decides will want to”. When Jesus uses “everyone who” as the subject of the verb “believes”, in other words, it is the “everyone who” that is doing the action of the verb “believing”, the grammar used by Jesus is insufficient to tell the whole truth. What must be added underneath the grammar is that God is the true decider of who will believe.

Now, I’m focusing on v. 40 to paint a contrast of Pastor John’s focus on the “granting” and “drawing” words. We have to deal with what it means for God to “draw” and “grant” to salvation. We should not ignore or minimize it, it’s in the Bible, after all. As a free will guy, it would be bad biblical theology for me to ignore the “drawing” and “granting” words. I need to have a cogent way of exegeting and explaining how they fit into my viewpoint. I’m saying that Piper’s system forces him to expound in detail upon the words that seem to support his system and ignore others that do not. Let me show you what I mean.

In contrast to looking at a single words, phrases or even a sentence. Let’s look at Jesus’ flow of thought. One of the passages Piper quotes is v. 44, but the paragraph starts with the Jews grumbling about his “I am the bread that came down from heaven” statement and Jesus proceeds to tell them why they should not grumble.

Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. 44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.

Piper’s systematic is supported if he just stops there, so he does. He does not read v. 45 in his sermon. But Jesus does not stop talking there even though Piper must act like He does.

45 It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—

So the reason that Jesus is telling the Jews to stop grumbling is not that God chooses who will want to come to Jesus as Piper supposes. It is because they have the responsibility of learning about God from the Prophets and if they had, then when Jesus said “I am the bread of life” they would not have been scandalized. This sentence is similar in structure to, v. 37 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” and the previous v. 44 above. It seems it would be relevant to Piper’s sermon on what “drawing” means. Instead, he imports his systematic understanding and ignores how Jesus defines “drawing”: It is the teaching of the Father that grants coming to Jesus, it is having learned from the Prophets that enables the Jews to come.

(Sproul’s take on the passage will have to wait for another post)

 

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Romans 9: A (Brief) Non-Calvinist Reading

Romans 9 is the Calvinist’s mic drop. Any time some free will guy starts spouting off about being able to choose Christ or not, all the Calvinist has to do is say “Romans 9, Jacob I love and Esau I hated, who are you to answer back to God?” If I had a nickel for every time I heard some version of this…it would be every time I have discussed with a Calvinist. The inevitable Romans 9 reference comes with the assumption that non-Calvinists have ignored Romans 9, pretend it doesn’t exist, or have no answer for it.

My purpose in this article is to show that non-Calvinists have, for generations, read Romans 9 and indeed have a reading of the chapter. We read the chapter in a way that I think fits right into the rest of the book and is consistent with the chapter as well.

The Objector

One of the key aspects to understanding our view of Romans 9 is who we think the objector is. Throughout Romans, Paul introduces an objector who asks questions that Paul then answers. For the Calvinist, the objector is an obstinate unbeliever who objects to their view of sovereignty as defined as meticulous determinism or compatibilism. We see the objector as a hardened Jew who is questioning God’s choice to bless the Gentiles with salvation through faith since it was the Jew who historically kept the oracles of God, and through whom the Messiah came. One of the strengths of our view, I think, is how we see this objector. Why?

  1. It is the same objector throughout the entire book
  2. Our objector jibes with the historical conflict of the day
  3. Our objector jibes with Paul’s purpose in the rest of the book

Let’s look at each of those (briefly):

  1. In Rom 2: 17-29, Paul first slams the Jews for being hypocrites and goes on to turn their entire worldview on its head by saying that circumcision was never physical. He says that it was always about the state of your heart. That anyone who follows the Law is “of the circumcision” (how the Jews defined themselves in Paul’s day) no matter if he actually received the snip or not. Then, right after that, Paul introduces the objector for the first time. It is Paul’s way of answering anticipated objections from Jews who are feeling put off by having their paradigm shifted. The objector asks (Rom 3:1), “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision?” and Paul answers him. This is the same objector in Romans 9 who is wondering, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” The same objector in Rom 3:5, 3:9, 6:1, 6:15, 7:7, 9:14, 11:1, and 11:11. In my estimation, it is a weakness of their position that Calvinists must assume that the objector in Rom 9:19 is different from the objector the other eight times Paul uses the rhetorical device in Romans. 
  2. Paul is writing to the church in Rome which is a melting pot of Jew and Gentile. Sometime between 41 AD and 53 AD, the Emperor of Rome, Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. During the time of this expulsion, Gentile Christians established a thriving church in Rome. The synagogues left behind by the Jews remained abandoned since Christians did not want to be associated with Jews for obvious religious and political reasons. The Christian church in Rome was probably a series of house churches. At some point after Claudius’ death in AD 53, his successor Nero rescinded the expulsion. Both Jewish Christians and Jews flooded back into the city. What were the Jewish Christians to do? Return to synagogue? Join Gentiles in their house churches even though the Law forbid Jews from entering the homes of Gentiles? One can imagine both Jews and Gentiles looking down on one another and having a difficult time finding a way forward in unity. This is what Romans is about; see 3. below.
  3. Paul’s thesis for the entire book is revealed in Rom 1:16-17.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

He is going to spend the rest of the book showing the Jews that they have to be righteous by faith, just like the Gentiles. They cannot sit on their blood heritage as Jews and be saved. The objector is Paul’s way of answering perceived objections to different aspects of this thesis. The Calvinist view of the objector has no part in Paul’s thesis.

The Choice of God in Romans 9

Let’s go through the flow of Paul’s thought in the chapter and while we do this, dear Reader, I would ask you to keep in mind one question: What choice of God does Paul have in mind? The Calvinist reading of Rom 9 is that Paul is saying that God chooses to effectually save some while not saving others; “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated”. In our view, Paul is talking about through which family/nation God chooses to send the Messiah/the message of salvation through. So, let’s see which choice of God is Paul talking about?

I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

Paul starts with displaying his heart for the Jews. I find this interesting because, in my view, I can say that God shares Paul’s heart for the Jews. God longs for Israel to come to Him, Rom 10:21, “All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people.” Yet, I do not know how Calvinists see God as sharing Paul’s heart. Paul is willing to be damned to hell for the Jews and yet God is not willing for Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross to be applied to them. Calvinists have to create two wills of God to get around this. Why does Paul feel this way about the Jews?

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen.

They were chosen by God to be adopted into His family and given the glory as God’s people. To them, He gave the covenants and the law. He also gave them the promise that through them the entire world would be blessed. In other words, the promise that through them would be the lineage of the Christ. If anyone should be enjoying the fruits the Messiah, it should be the Jews. After all, it came through them. For that reason, and because Paul is one of them, his heart grieves for them. This is the context of the objector’s first question.

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,

Paul anticipates the objection that if God had given the Jews all those blessings mentioned above, and now all those blessings have been given to the Gentiles, then God’s word has failed. God chose the Jews for the honor and blessing being in covenant with God but now God has gone back on his word and chose the Gentiles too. God failed to keep His word. Paul answers the objection by saying that Israel is not merely blood Israel. Israel has always been about faith.

and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.”

Notice the contrast Paul is making here. The contrast is between who God chooses to give the promise to, not who God chooses to be saved. Not unbeliever and believer. Not elect and reprobate. But how God has always chosen who will carry the promise. What was the promise? Effectual salvation? No, the promise was that through Abraham’s family the entire world would be blessed (Gen 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 18:17-19 etc). Look at what God tells Abraham in v. 9. He does not tell him something like “I will choose to bring you to heaven”. No, it is “I will choose to give you a son”. Paul is not equating God’s choice to give Abraham a son with God’s choice to save some and not save others. Paul is giving an example of God’s choice of through which family the nations will be blessed with the coming of the Messiah. Paul gives another example of this choice.

10 And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 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— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” 13 As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

God does what He pleases. Amen. God elects certain things to come to pass. Amen. What is He pleased to do? What does He elect to do? Is it to choose to save some and reject others before they ever did anything good or bad? Meticulously determine everything that comes to pass? Choose to hate an unborn child before they’ve ever done anything wrong? That’s not what this passage is saying. “God’s purpose in election” is simply assumed to mean “effectual salvation” by the Calvinist. There is nothing in this passage that supports that assumption.

Instead, what Paul is saying is that God has always chosen before they’ve ever done anything good or bad, through whom the Messiah would come. He has always chosen which family would carry the blessing of God’s covenant with Abraham. Just like He chose to give Abraham a son, God chose Jacob’s lineage to carry the promise despite Ancient Near East culture expecting it to be the older twin, Esau.

The non-Calvinist view sees Jacob and Esau as being representative of nations. It is not that Jacob and Esau, the individuals, are excluded from our view. Far from it. But that they are in view as individuals who became federal heads of nations, Israel and Edom respectively. There are four points that, in my estimation, support this view.

  1. Paul has been talking about the nation of Israel this whole time. He was just, in the same paragraph, talking about what defines Israel as a nation.
  2. Paul calls Isaac, “our forefather” which tells us exactly in what way he is talking about the individual Isaac; as the federal head of the nation of Israel. It is the same way in which Paul has Jacob and Esau, the individuals, in view; as federal heads of nations. The Calvinist, apparently, must take Paul as switching to talking about only the individual without an indication in the text that he does so.
  3. God called Jacob and Esau “nations” in the reference Paul is using in v. 12, Gen 25:23, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”
    1. Notice how, in the Genesis reference, God switches from the plural “peoples” to the singular “one”. It’s almost as if the “one” somehow represents the “peoples”.
  4. If the Calvinist view is right then Paul is spreading fake news. The individual Esau never served the individual Jacob. The nation of Edom served the nation of Israel many generations later. Indeed, God blessed the Edomites and gave them land. It wasn’t until they turned away from God and sinned against Israel that God turned on them and Israel conquered them.
    1. What follows logically is that the Calvinist has to see Paul as either factually incorrect or as referencing the nations of Edom and Israel when he uses the singular “older” and “younger” respectively but stops doing that in the very next sentence when Paul uses their names; “Jacob I loved, Esau I hated.”

It is God’s choice to which family/nation He gives the lineage of the Messiah. It was always God’s choice to do so. So when God gives the Gentiles the same blessing He gave Israel, there is no injustice being done. It is this choice that The Objector is objecting to in the rest of the chapter.

14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! 15 For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

We agree with the Calvinist that God can have mercy on whoever He wants to mercy. That’s not our point of contention. Our point of contention is that the Calvinist assumes this to mean mercy and compassion unto effectual salvation. Instead, we see Paul as referencing the mercy and compassion of having the honor, the blessing, and the glory of the Messiah being brought through your nation.

16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

Notice the purpose of Pharaoh being raised up and hardened. It’s not effectual salvation but “that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth”. So it does not depend upon human will or exertion who is chosen to carry the proclamation of God’s name, ie. carrying the lineage of the Christ, ie. proclaiming the Gospel. Paul is saying that it has always depended upon God’s sovereign choice as to who will carry the promise of the Messiah. Before Christ came it was the Jews. Now, after Jesus’ incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection, God has sovereignly chose to open up that blessing to the Gentiles as well.

19 You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

This is another question from the objector. It is it similar to the objection in v.14. How can God find fault in the Jews who no longer have been chosen to carry the oracles of God? Paul’s answer is that it was always of God’s sovereign choice which nation He molded to carry the blessing, honor, and promise of the Messiah. Who are you to say which group of people God chooses to proclaim the Gospel? You’re still responsible for you.

So “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” is not “individuals hated by God before they were ever born or did anything right or wrong”. Instead, we see it as “those who reject the Messiah are prepared for destruction” and “those who believe in Messiah are destined for glory”. Remember, the objector is a hardened Jew who is objecting to God including the Gentiles in His family. Paul is saying, “who are you to tell God he has set this up incorrectly and salvation should be about blood heritage instead of by faith?”

Further, says Paul, God’s choice to include the Gentiles was prophesied to happen.

25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
    and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
    there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left us offspring, we would have become like Sodom and become like Gomorrah”

It was never the case that all of Israel would believe in Messiah and it was always the case that God would bring in the Gentiles. So the objector has no case against God for injustice, God told him this would happen.

The Unbelief of the Jews Explained

If the Jews were chosen from the beginning to carry the promise of God, why don’t they believe? Yes, it’s true that God has now opened up the promise to the Gentiles. It was always of His sovereign choice to do so, or not, so there is no injustice. Plus, the prophets said this would happen. The prophets said there would be a remnant of faithful Israel and that God would call near those who were far off. So why do the Jews disbelieve? Is it because God chose how many of them, and which of them, would not believe from the beginning of time? Not at all.

30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 as it is written,

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

The Jews do not believe because they pursued righteousness as if it was a matter of works. And they rejected the One that was trying to tell them they need to pursue it by faith. If Paul meant to say they rejected Christ because God ordained that they always would want to reject Christ, why did he not say so? Instead, Paul talks as if it is the responsibility of the Jews to pursue righteousness by faith. Non-Calvinists take Paul as saying it is their responsibility to believe, while at the same time it is God’s responsibility to choose through whom the message of faith comes.

 

 

 

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