Corporate Election Quotes

The following is a series of important excerpts from some of the best scholarly works espousing the corporate view of election.  Taken together, these quoted sections give a very detailed description of the fundamental elements of the corporate election view, answering many common questions related to the view as well as addressing and correcting common misconceptions.  The authors’ names precede each section of excerpts and the books or articles the quotes are culled from are listed after the quoted sections, along with page numbers.  The articles are hyperlinked to their original sources, and books to where they can be purchased.  Related links can also be found at the end of the post.

Dr. Brian Abasciano

(Since several sources from the above author are being quoted in this first section, the asterisks serve as markers that a new source is being quoted)

Most simply, corporate election refers to the choice of a group, which entails the choice of its individual members by virtue of their membership in the group. Thus, individuals are not elected as individuals directly, but secondarily as members of the elect group. Nevertheless, corporate election necessarily entails a type of individual election because of the inextricable connection between any group and the individuals who belong to it.  Individuals are elect as a consequence of their membership in the group.  (Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election, pg. 6)

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God chose the people of Israel in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel (Deut 4:37; 7:6-8).  That is, by choosing Jacob/Israel, the corporate/covenant representative, God also chose his descendants as his covenant people. It is a matter of Old Testament covenant theology. The covenant representative on the one hand and the people/nation of Israel on the other hand are the focus of the divine covenantal election, and individuals are elect only as members of the elect people. Moreover, in principle, foreign individuals who were not originally members of the elect people could join the chosen people and become part of the elect, demonstrating again that the locus of election was the covenant community and that individuals found their election through membership in the elect people. (Abasciano, Corporate Election in Romans 9, 353)

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We have already noted that God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. More specifically, God chose Abraham and his descendants, but limited his election of Abraham’s descendants to only some of them by his choice of Isaac as the head of the covenant through whom Abraham’s covenant descendants were to be reckoned. He then limited his election of the covenant descendants even further by his choice of Jacob as the head of the covenant. At the same time, and as already pointed out above, people not naturally related to Jacob and so not part of the elect people could join the chosen people, becoming part of the elect. On the other hand, individual members of the elect people could be cut off from the covenant people due to violation of the covenant, rendering them non-elect.

Finally, the Apostle Paul would argue, God limited his election even further to Christ as the head of the New Covenant (Gal. 3–4; see especially 3:16; cf. Rom. 3–4; 8), which is the fulfillment of the Old. Paradoxically, this also widened the election of God’s people because all who are in Christ by faith are chosen by virtue of their identification with Christ the corporate covenantal head, opening covenant membership to Gentiles as Gentiles. Just as God’s Old Covenant people were chosen in Jacob/Israel, the Church was chosen in Christ (as Eph. 1:4 puts it). And as Ephesians 2 makes clear, Gentiles who believe in Christ are in him made to be part of the commonwealth of Israel, fellow citizens with the saints, members of God’s household, and possessors of the covenants of promise (2:11-22; note especially vv. 12, 19). Indeed, any Jews who did not believe in Jesus were cut off from the elect people, and any believing Gentiles who stop believing will likewise be cut off, while anyone who comes to faith, whether Jew or Gentile, will be incorporated into God’s people (Rom. 11:17-24).

In the New Covenant, God’s people are chosen corporately as a consequence of their union with Christ, which is effected by faith. While this is not quite the traditional Arminian position, it fully supports Arminian theology because it is a conditional election. Most directly, such election is conditioned on being in Christ. But then being in Christ is itself conditioned on faith, meaning that the divine election of God’s people and the election of individuals for salvation is ultimately conditional on faith in Christ. (Misconceptions, pp. 7, 8, emphasis his)

It is true that corporate election does not refer to the election of each individual separately from Christ or the group, but this does not in any way nullify the election of each individual member of the group as a result of the group’s election. It is also true that corporate election does not refer to the choice of anyone to join the elect people. The concept of covenantal election or election unto eternal salvation simply does not apply to entrance into the elect people.  It actually refers to a people being chosen to belong to God, to receive the benefits of his covenant promises (ideally), and to live according to his covenant commands (Gen. 18:19; Deut. 4:20; 7:6-9; 14:2; Ps. 135:4; Eph. 1:4ff.; 1 Pet. 2:9-10). All of this applies to each individual in the New Covenant as a consequence of membership in the elect people, and more profoundly, of being in Christ by faith, which is what makes someone a part of God’s people. (ibid., pp. 10, 11)

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What is imperative to see in relation to the nature of the election Paul envisions in Rom. 9.10-13 is that the significance of the individual Jacob’s election for Israel was that they were elect by virtue of their identification with him. Their election was ‘in him’, and thus intrinsically consequent upon his. This dispels another of the main objections to taking election as corporate in these verses – that the individuals Jacob and Esau are obviously in view to one degree or another, and therefore so is individual election (of individuals as autonomous entities).  This objection fails to apprehend the relationship between the election of the corporate representative and his people. The corporate representative’s election is unique, entailing the election of all who are identified with him. Its significance was never that each individual member of the elect people was chosen as an individual to become part of the elect people in the same manner as the corporate head was chosen. Rather, the individual possesses elect status as a consequence of membership in the elect people/identification with the corporate representative. In the case of the divine covenantal election, God chooses his people by his choice of the covenant head.

A great obstacle to the view that Paul is teaching direct election of individuals as individuals to become part of his people and receive salvation is the fact that the corporate view is the view of the Old Testament generally and the texts Paul interprets in Romans 9 specifically as well as the standard view of Judaism in Paul’s day. Moo, an outspoken advocate of individual election, admits as much and concedes, ‘We would expect Paul to be thinking of “election” here in the same terms, an expectation that seems to be confirmed by the OT texts that Paul quotes’. This is exactly right. As I have argued elsewhere, the burden of proof lies squarely upon those who would argue that Paul departs from the standard biblical and Jewish concept of election.  Therefore, it is an insuperable problem for the individual election view that everything Paul says here in Romans 9 fits comfortably into the view of corporate election, which could speak of the inclusion or exclusion of individuals vis-à-vis the covenant without shifting the locus of election itself to the individual.  Indeed, Paul’s olive tree metaphor in Rom. 11.17-24 evidences the view of corporate election perfectly. Individuals get grafted into the elect people (the olive tree) and participate in election and its blessings by faith or get cut off from God’s chosen people and their blessings because of unbelief, while the focus of election clearly remains the corporate people of God, which spans salvation history. The natural understanding of Jacob’s election in a first-century context would have led readers to apply Paul’s example to the character of the corporate election of God’s people rather than to the individual. Advocates of individual election in Romans 9 appear to have jumped to applying election directly to individuals because of individualistic assumptions foreign to Paul and his socio-historical milieu.

Thus, Paul’s argument based on Jacob and Esau is salvation-historical. Based on the circumstances of their conception and the timing of the divine call/proclamation of Jacob’s election as the covenant heir, Paul concludes that the election of God’s people was not dictated by any distinctive of either twin, but by the sovereign will and call of God. Generally speaking, by basing the foundational election of his people on his sovereign call rather than some meritorious distinctive of Jacob or de-meritorious distinctive of Esau, God ensured that he remained free to choose who his people are according to his own good pleasure. More specifically, he ensured that he remained free to choose the head/mediator of his covenant for any (or no) reason whatsoever, and thereby to choose similarly who his people are. Most specifically in the context of Paul’s argument, God’s sovereign call of Jacob and his descendants ensured that he could call only those who believe in Jesus Christ seed of Abraham if he so chose, that is, regard them as his covenant people, and thereby fulfill his purpose of blessing the whole world in Abraham, for Israel’s election depended wholly on his sovereign will from the beginning and therefore remained subject to the dictates of his own will. (Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:10-18, An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, pp. 59-61)

Paul’s doctrine of election is Christocentric. He believed Christ to be the seed of Abraham, the true Israel and embodiment of the covenant people of God, who was the heir to the Abrahamic covenant promises (Gal. 3.16) and the mediator and head of the new Covenant (1 Cor. 11.25; 2 Cor. 3.6), which is essentially the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant. By believing in Christ, Christians come to be ‘in Christ’ and therefore share in his identity as the covenant representative. Consequently, they are also the seed of Abraham and sons of God – that is, the elect people of God – through faith in Christ.

Thus, Christ fulfils the election of Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Israel and every promise of God is fulfilled in him (2 Cor. 1.19). God’s sovereign freedom over the election of the covenant head guarantees his sovereign freedom over the election of the covenant people. Just as individual Israelites were elected as a consequence of their identification with Jacob, individual Christians are elected as a consequence of their identification with Christ through faith.  As Eph. 1.4 puts it, God chose the Church in Christ. The ‘in Christ’ phrase indicates covenant identification and solidarity with Christ as the corporate head/representative, and therefore implies covenant membership as well. As a result of faith-union with Christ, Christians share in Christ’s election. (ibid. 61, 62)

William W. Klein

The Old Testament data concerning God’s election naturally leads to a major conclusion- election is primarily a corporate election.  The election of the priesthood puts this in bold relief.  God chose the priests as a category, but individual Levites could be disqualified.  The Davidic dynasty certainly follows this pattern.  Though “election” can apply to individuals, more frequently it applies to the election of corporate groups.  In fact, the scattered references to elect individuals find their significance in the context of the election of the community…. At its core, election in the Old Testament is corporate- the election of a people to bear the name of God. (God’s New Chosen People, pg. 35, 42, emphasis his)

In our study of the Old Testament we discerned the pattern that God chose Abraham and his seed to be his chosen nation.  Correspondingly, God chose Christ and those “in Him” to be his chosen people.  God’s free and sovereign electing grace has chosen the community of those “in Christ.”  Christ is God’s chosen One, and the church is chosen in him. (ibid. 260)

An understanding of salvific election as corporate also shifts the focus of many debates about election.  Some of these debates may be beside the point.  The debates often center on the issue by asking: Has God chosen specific individuals to save, and, if so, was it on the basis of foreseen faith or simply a matter of God’s sovereign will?  We have concluded that this question does not trouble the biblical writers.  God has chosen to save a people, and in New Testament language that people is the church.  In the old covenant a person entered the chosen nation of Israel through natural birth.  In the new covenant a person enters the chosen body, the church, through the new birth.  To exercise faith in Christ is to enter into his body and become one of the “chosen ones.” (ibid. 265)

These data present an impressive case that election is not God’s choice of a restricted number of individuals whom he wills to save, but the description of that corporate body, which, in Christ, he is saving.  God has covenanted to save his people through their identification with Jesus, his beloved and elect Son.  To become a member of that chosen people requires faith in the gospel.  Anyone who believes may enter into this elect nation. (ibid. 266)

Robert Shank

Here [in Isaiah 42:1, 6f.] is one of the most beautiful concepts in the Holy Scriptures concerning the instrumentality of Christ in Election.  Jehovah says of the Servant- Messiah, “[I will] give thee for a covenant of the people.”  The Messiah is Himself the Living Covenant of reconciliation and election, through whom the grace of God flows to the people, Israel and the Gentiles together are accepted.

Christ is the Elect, the one Mediator between God and men, the Living Covenant of reconciliation and the election, the electing God, the locus standi in whom alone men are elect and outside whom no man is elect.  In the face of many affirmations of Holy Scripture, it may in truth be said that Christ, who is our Life (Col. 3:4), is Himself the Election.  Instrumentally and comprehensively, the election is Christocentric. (Shank, Elect in the Son, 44, 45, emphasis his).

In Paul’s Ephesian doxology, as in certain other Scriptures, an essential aspect of election is explicit: the election is Christocentric.  The first step toward a correct understanding of the Biblical doctrine of election is the recognition that the election of men is comprehended only in Christ; outside of Christ there is no election of any man. (ibid. 29)

In the realization of the kingdom purpose of God, the election is first of Christ and then of men in Him.  Clement, first century bishop at Rome who could speak of Peter and Paul as being of his own generation, wrote in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, “God…chose out the Lord Jesus Christ, and us through him for a ‘peculiar people’” (64:1).  [Frederick] Godet affirms that, in election, “Christ Himself is its first object; and hence He is called the Elect, absolutely speaking, Isa. Xlii. 1: Luke ix. 35 (most approved reading).  His brethren are elect in Him, Eph. i. 4-6. (ibid. 31; Shank quotes Godet from his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, p. 326, italics his).

A second aspect of election is implicit in Paul’s Ephesian doxology: the election to salvation is corporate as well as Christocentric…Obviously, the corporate body of the elect is comprised of individuals.  But the election is primarily corporate and only secondarily particular.  The thesis that election is corporate as Paul understood it and viewed it in the Ephesian doxology, is supported by the whole context of his epistle:

…gather together in one all things in Christ…the redemption of the purchased possession…his inheritance in the saints…the church, which is his body…who has made both one…to make in himself one new man…that he might reconcile both unto God in one body…the household of God…all the building fitly framed together…an holy temple…builded together for an habitation of God…of the same body…the mystery from the beginning of the world [now disclosed in] the church [as fulfillment of] the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord…of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named…glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages…one body…the body of Christ…the whole body fitly joined together…increase of the body…we are members of one another…Christ is the head of the church…the saviour of the body…Christ loved the church and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church…they two shall be one flesh [but] I speak concerning Christ and the church.

The concept of the corporate body of the elect is intrinsic in all the above excerpts.  Consider 2:12, “you were without Christ, being aliens in the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise….”  The concept of the corporate election of Israel, a concept derived from many Scriptures, is clearly apparent.  The concept of corporate election is equally apparent in Paul’s assertion that Jews and Gentiles together are “reconciled to God in one body on the cross” (v. 16).  The New Testament comprehends believers, not in isolation, but as members of the body of the elect.  The election of individual men cannot be isolated from “the church, which is his body” any more than it can be isolated from Christ Himself. (ibid. 45, 46)

[Shank compares Calvinist election with the corporate view]:

A central thesis of Calvin’s doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is of particular men unconditionally, who comprise the corporate body incidentally.

A central thesis of the Biblical doctrine of election may be stated thus:

The election to salvation is corporate and comprehends individual men only in identification and association with the elect body.

With this thesis before us, let us cite Lange’s comment on Romans 8:28-30:  “…Christ is the elect in God’s real kingdom in the absolute sense, so that all His followers are chosen with Him as organic members, according to their organic relations (Eph. I).”  Lang cites Hoffmann (Schriftbeweis, vol. I, p. 227) to the effect that “election relates not merely to individuals, but to the entire body, and, accordingly, to individuals as members of the body.” (ibid. 48, all emphasis his)

Paul Marston and Roger Forster

The central idea in the election of the church may be seen from Ephesians 1:4- it is that we are chosen in Christ.  The church is elect because it is in Christ and he is elect…The Bible does not say that we were chosen to be put into Christ, but that we were chosen in Christ.  Our election is not separate from his election (Marston and Forster, God’s Strategy in Human History, pp. 149, 150, emphasis theirs).

Paul also mentions election in Romans 8:32-34:

He that spared not his own son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not also with him freely give us all things?  Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?  It is God that justifies.  Who is he that shall condemn”  It is Christ Jesus that died, yea rather, that was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God.

It is important to remember that the issue of “no condemnation” was first raised in Romans 8:1: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  There is no condemnation “to the ones in Christ,” and when Paul returns to this theme in Romans 8:33, 34 he naturally refers to “the chosen ones of God.”  They are chosen in Christ, and so are free from condemnation.  The link may become even clearer to us if we consider Isaiah 50:6-9:

I gave my back to the smiters and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair.  I hid not my face from shame and spitting.  For the Lord God will help me; therefore have I not been confounded: therefore have I set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be ashamed.  He is near that justifies me; who shall contend with me?  Let us stand up together; who is my adversary?  Let him come near to me.  Behold the Lord God will help me; who is he that shall condemn me?

In this passage Isaiah is speaking of the Messiah, the elect One of Isaiah 49:7.  Paul, however, in Romans 8:31, 33-34, applies these words to the church, the “elect ones of God.”  Surely the thinking behind this is that the “elect ones” are able to say “Who shall condemn?” because they are in Christ, the elect servant of God, who alone could say such a thing in his own right.  We are elect and free from condemnation only because we are in the elect One of God…The implications of being chosen in Christ may be made clearer by analogy, and it might be best to begin with an analogy implied in scripture itself.  This is the analogy of God’s choice of Jacob.  The descendents of Jacob were not chosen to be put into Jacob; rather they were chosen in Jacob.  Their chosenness was not distinct from his chosenness.  Individuals were chosen only because they were part of the chosen nation; the election was a corporate one.  This is even clearer if we consider Gentiles who became proselytized into the Jewish nation and faith.

We have already looked at a good example of this in Ruth the Moabitess.  In becoming an Israelite she became part of the chosen nation.  She was now chosen in the nation of Israel.  This does not mean that she was chosen to be put into Israel, for though the opportunity was God-given, that was her own decision.  Rather, she became chosen in Israel, and Israel’s election had now become her election.  Likewise, all other proselytes entered into Israel and so shared Israel’s election.

An obvious parallel exists between this and the Christian’s election in Christ.  When people enter into Christ then not only does his death become theirs, but his election becomes their election.  They are chosen in him, and his chosennes was established before the foundation of the world.  But to be chosen in him is not the same as being chosen to be put into him…The prime point is that election of the church is a corporate rather than an individual thing.  It is not that individuals are in the church because they are elect, it is rather that they are elect because they are in the church, which is the body of the elect One.  Ruth was not chosen to become an Israelite but in becoming an Israelite she partook of Israel’s election.  A Christian is not chosen to become part of Christ’s body, but in becoming part of that body (s)he partakes of Christ’s election. (ibid. 152-155, bold emphasis and italics theirs).

Jerry L. Walls and Joseph R. Dongell

The reality of our incorporation into Christ saturates Paul’s thinking and helps us grasp the idea of divine choice and predestination as taught in this passage [Eph. 1:4-5].  It is in him that we have been chosen and predestined (Eph. 1:4-5), just as it is in him that we have been seated in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6-7).  This means that Jesus Christ himself is the chosen one, the predestined one.  Whenever one is incorporated into him by grace through faith, one comes to share in Jesus’ special status as chosen of God.  As Markus Barth expresses it, “Election in Christ must be understood as the election of God’s people.  Only as members of that community do individuals share in the benefits of God’s gracious choice.”  This view of election most fully accounts for the corporate nature of salvation, the decisive role of faith and the overarching reliability of God’s bringing his people to their destined end. (Walls and Dongell, Why I Am Not A Calvinist, pg. 76)

[In regards to Romans 8:29-30, compared with Rom. 5:12-17; 6:3-4)] Those now residing “in Christ” live in a new reality and benefit from the mighty events of death and resurrection that Jesus himself experienced.  The apostle can therefore address believers themselves (all whom are “in Christ”) as those who have been buried with Jesus, or as those who have died with him, or as those who have walked in newness of life, or as those who will experience the resurrection “with him” (Rom. 6:4, 8).  Since Jesus is the primary character in the events of God’s redemptive drama, we experience these only indirectly, by being “in” the lead player.  It is difficult to overstate just how significant for the whole of Pauline theology is the corporate vision of the church finding its identity, its salvation, its wealth and security “in him.”

Here we are back to the same ground already covered regarding Ephesians 1:4-5, where believers are described as having been chosen and predestined “in him.”  This only encourages us all the more to read Romans 8:29-30 as referring not to a specific, set number of persons who individually progress through the five steps without mathematical gain or loss, but to the whole body of Christ, without particular focus on the individuality of its members.  The people of God as a whole, having been incorporated into Christ, are most certainly destined to arrive at the goal God has established from the beginning.  Each of us is assured of participation in that most certain end, provided we remain among this people and remain in his kindness (Romans 11:22). (ibid. 82)

Paul distinguishes the irrevocable call of the nation of Israel as a whole from the fate of individual Israelites.  While the final destination of the people of God is absolutely certain, the future of any given individual is determined by his or her continued faith and trust in God.  Gentiles who believe are grafted into the ancient olive tree, whereas Jews who fall into unbelief are broken off.  Since faith is the sole condition for remaining engrafted, Paul issues both warning and hope.  On the one hand, those Gentiles who have recently been engrafted into the ancient tree through faith must humbly guard against falling into unbelief, since they too would be severed from the tree.  On the other hand, the natural branches lying on the ground can be “grafted into their own olive tree” if “they do not persist in unbelief” (Rom 11:23-24).  In other words, the destiny of God’s people as a whole is unchanged throughout the ages, though each individual branch participates in this salvation only if he or she remains engrafted by faith (cf. Jn 15:5-6).  As Paul Achtemeier explains, Paul teaches destiny without teaching individual determinism. (ibid. 87)

Related articles:

Corporate Election (Resources)

What Does “Calling/Called” Refer to in the Bible?

Richard Watson on “Who maketh thee to differ from another?” as an Argument for Calvinism

1 Corinthians 4:7, “For who maketh thee to differ from another?”

The context shows that the apostle was here endeavouring to repress that ostentation which had arisen among many persons in the Church of Corinth, on account of their spiritual gifts and endowments. This he does by referring those gifts to God, as the sole giver, — “for who maketh thee to differ?” or who confers superiority upon thee? as the sense obviously is; “and what hast thou that thou didst not receive?” Mr. Scott acknowledges that “the apostle is here speaking more immediately of natural abilities, and spiritual gifts; and not of special and efficacious grace.” If so, then the passage has nothing to do with this controversy. The argument he however affirms, concludes equally in one case, as in the other; and in his sermon on election he thus applies it: “Let the blessings of the Gospel be fairly proposed, with solemn warnings and pressing invitations, to two men of exactly the same character and disposition: if they are left to themselves in entirely similar circumstances, the effect must be precisely the same. But, behold, while one proudly scorns and resents the gracious offer, the other trembles, weeps, prays, repents, believes! Who maketh this man to differ from the other? or what hath he that he hath not received? The Scriptural answer to this question, when properly understood, decides the whole controversy.”

As this is a favourite argument, and a popular dilemma in the hands of the

Calvinists, and so much is supposed to depend upon its solution, we may somewhat particularly examine it.

Instead of supposing the case of two men “of exactly the same character and disposition,” why not suppose the same man in two moral states? For one man who “proudly scorns the Gospel” does not more differ from another who penitently receives it, than the same man who has once scoffingly rejected, and afterward meekly submitted to it, differs from himself; as for instance, Saul the Pharisee from Paul the apostle. Now, to account for the case of two men, one receiving the Gospel, and the other rejecting it, the theory of election is brought in; but in the case of the one man in two different states, this theory cannot be resorted to. The man was elect from eternity; he is no outcast from the mercy of his God, and the redemption of his Saviour, and yet, in one period of his life, he proudly scorns the offered mercy of Christ, at another he accepts it. It is clear, then, that the doctrine of election, simply considered in itself, will not solve the latter case; and by consequence it will not solve the former: for the mere fact, that one man rejects the Gospel while another receives it, is no more a proof of the non-election of the non-recipient, than the fact of a man now rejecting it, who shall afterward receive it, is a proof of his non-election.

The solution, then, must be sought for in some communication of the grace of God, in some inward operation upon the heart, which is supposed to be a consequence of election; but this leads to another and distinct question.

This question is not, however, the vincibility or invincibility of the grace of God, at least not in the first instance. It is, in truth, whether there is any operation of the grace of God in man at all tending to salvation, in cases where we see the Gospel rejected. Is the man who rejects perseveringly, and he who rejects but for a time, perhaps a long period of his life, left without any good motions or assisting influence from the grace of GOD, or not? This question seems to admit of but one of three answers. Either he has no gracious assistance at all, to dispose him to receive the Gospel; or he has a sufficient influence of grace so to dispose him; or that gracious influence is dispensed in an insufficient measure. If the first answer be given, then not only are the non-elect left without any visitations of grace throughout life; but the elect also are left without them, until the moment of their effectual calling. If the second be offered as the answer, then both in the case of the non-elect man who finally rejects Christ, and that of the elect man, who rejects him for a great part of his life, the saving grace of God must be allowed so to work as to be capable of counteraction, and effectual resistance. If this be denied, then the third answer must be adopted, and the grace of God must be allowed so to influence as to be designedly insufficient for the ends for which it is given; that is, it is given for no saving end at all, either as to the non-elect, or as to the elect all the time they remain in a state of actual alienation from Christ. For if an insufficient degree of grace is bestowed, when a sufficient degree might have been imparted, then there must have been a reason for restraining the degree of grace to an insufficient measure; which reason could only be, that it might be insufficient, and therefore not saving. Now, two of the three of these positions are manifestly contrary to the word of GOD. To say that no gracious influence of the Holy Spirit operates upon the unconverted, is to take away their guilt; since they cannot be guilty of rejecting the Gospel if they have no power to embrace it, either from themselves, or by impartation, while yet the Scripture represents this as the highest guilt of men. All the exhortations, and reproofs, and invitations of Scripture, are, also, by this doctrine, turned into mockery and delusion; and, finally, there can be no such thing in this case, as “resisting the Holy Ghost;” as “grieving and quenching the Spirit;” as “doing despite to the Spirit of grace,” either in the case of the non-elect, who are never converted, or of the elect, before conversion: so that the latter have never been guilty of stubbornness, and obstinacy, and rebellion, and resistance of grace; though these are, by them, afterward, always acknowledged among their sins. Nor did they ever feel any good motion, or drawing from the Spirit of God, before what they term their effectual calling; though, it is presumed, that few, if any of them, will deny this in fact.

If the doctrine, that no grace is imparted before conversion, is then contradicted both by Scripture and experience, how will the case stand, as to the intentional restriction of that grace to a degree which is insufficient to dispose the subject to the acceptance of the Gospel? If this view be held, it must be maintained equally as to the elect before their conversion, and as to the non-elect. In that case, then, we have equal difficulty in accounting for the guilt of man, as when it is supposed that no grace at all is imparted; and for the reproofs, calls, and invitations, and threatenings of the word of God. For where lies the difference between the absolute non-impartation of grace, and grace so imparted as to be designedly insufficient for salvation? Plainly there is none, except that we can see no end at all for giving insufficient grace; a circumstance which would only serve to render still more perplexing the principles and practice of the Divine administration. It has no end of mercy, and none of justice; nor, as far as can be perceived, of wisdom. Not of mercy, for it effects nothing merciful, and designs not to effect it; not of justice, for it places no man under equitable responsibility; not of wisdom, for it has no assignable end. The Scripture treats all men to whom the Gospel is preached as endowed with power, not indeed from themselves, but from the grace of God, to “turn at his reproof;” to come at his “call;” to embrace his “grace;” but they have no capacity for any of these acts, if either of these opinions be true: and thus the word of GOD is contradicted. So also is experience, in both cases; for there could be no sense of guilt for having rejected Christ, and grieved the Holy Spirit, either in the non-elect never converted, or in the elect before conversion, if either they had no visitations of grace at all; or if these were designedly granted in an insufficient degree.

It follows, then, that the doctrine of the impartation of grace to the unconverted, in a sufficient degree to enable them to embrace the Gospel, must be admitted; and with this doctrine comes in that of a power in man to use, or to spurn this heavenly gift and gracious assistance: in other words, a power of willing to come to Christ, even when men do not come; a power of considering their ways, and turning to the Lord, when they do not consider them, and turn to him; a power of praying, when they do not pray; and a power of believing, when they do not believe: powers all of grace; all the results of the work of the Spirit in the heart; but powers to be exerted by man, since it is man, and not God, who wills, and turns, and prays, and believes, while the influence under which this is done is from the grace of GOD alone. This is the doctrine which is clearly contained in the words of St. Paul, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure;” where, not only the operation of God, but the co-operation of man, are distinctly marked; and are both held up as necessary to the production of the grand result — “salvation.”

It will appear, then, from these observations, that the question, “Who maketh thee to differ?” as urged by Mr. Scott and others from the time of Calvin, is a very inapposite one to their purpose, for,

First, it is a question which the apostle asks with no reference to a difference in religious state, but only with respect to gifts and endowments. Secondly, the Holy Ghost gives no authority for such an application of his words, as is thus made, in any other part of Scripture. Thirdly, it cannot be employed for the purpose for which it is dragged forth so often from its context and meaning; for, in the use thus made of it, it is falsely assumed, that the two men instanced, the one who rejects, and the other who embraces the Gospel, are not each endowed with sufficient grace to enable them to receive God’s gracious offer. Now this, we may again say, must either be denied or affirmed. If it be affirmed, then the difference between the two men consists, not where they place it, in the destitution or deficiency on the one hand, or in the plenitude on the other, of the grace of GOD; but in the use of grace: and when they say, “it is God which maketh them to differ,” they say in fact, that it is God that not only gives sufficient grace to each; but uses that grace for them. For if it be allowed that sufficient grace for repentance and faith is given to each, then the true difference between them is, that one repents, and the other does not repent; the one believes, and the other does not believe: if, therefore, this difference is to be attributed to God directly, then the act of repenting, and the act of believing, are both the acts of GOD. If they hesitate to avow this, for it is an absurdity, then either they must give up the question as totally useless to them, or else take the other side of the alternative, that to all who reject the Gospel, sufficient grace to receive it is not given. How then will that serve them? They may say, it is true, when they take the man who embraces the Gospel, “Who maketh him to differ but God, who gives this sufficient grace to him?” but then we have an equal right to take the man who rejects the Gospel, and ask, “Who maketh him to differ” from the man that embraces it? To this they cannot reply that he maketh himself to differ; for that which they here lay down is, that he has either no grace at all imparted to him to enable him to act as the other; or, what amounts to the same thing, no sufficient degree of it to produce a true faith; that he never had that grace; that he is, and always must remain, as destitute of it as when he was born. He does not, therefore, make himself to differ from the man who embraces the Gospel; for he has no power to imitate his example, and to make himself equal with him; and the only answer to our question is, “that it is God who maketh him to differ from the other,” by withholding that grace by which alone he could be prevented from rejecting the Gospel; and this, so far from “settling the whole controversy,” is the very point in debate.

This dilemma, then, will prove, when examined, but inconvenient to themselves; for if sufficiency of grace be allowed to the unconverted then the Calvinists make the acts of grace, as well as the gift of grace itself to be the work of God in the elect: if sufficiency of grace is denied, then the unbelief and condemnation of the wicked are not from themselves, but from God. The fact is, that this supposed puzzle has been always used

ad captandum; and is unworthy so grave a controversy; and as to the pretence, that the admission of a power in man to use or to abuse the grace of GOD involves some merit or ground of glorying in man himself, this is equally fallacious. The power “to will and to do,” is the sole result of the working of God in man. All is of grace: “By the grace of God,” must every one say, “I am what I am.” Here is no dispute; every good thought, desire, and tendency of the heart, and all its power to turn these to practical account by prayer, by faith, by the use of the means of grace, through which new power “to will and to do,” new power to use grace, as well as new grace, is communicated, is of GOD. Every good act, therefore, is the use of a communicated power which is given of grace, as the stretching out of the withered hand of the healed man was the use of the power communicated to his imbecility, and still working with the act, though not the act itself; and to attempt to lay a ground of boasting and self sufficiency in the assisted acceptance of the grace of God by us; and the empowered submission of our hearts to it, is as manifestly absurd as it would be to say, that the man, whose arm was withered, had great reason to congratulate himself on his share in the glory of the miracle, because he himself stretched out the invigorated member at the command of Christ; and because it was not, in fact, lifted up by the hand of him who, in that act of faith and obedience, had healed him. (From: Watson’s Theological Institutes, Volume 2)

 See also: Does Paul Support Calvinism’s View of Irresistible Grace in 1 Corinthians 4:7?

Dr. Brian Abasciano on the Conditionality Implied in Romans 9:16 and its Connection to John 1:12-13

“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”  Romans 9:16 (ESV)

“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” John 1:12-13 (ESV).

Piper’s further, detailed argument for 9.16 as speaking of unconditional bestowal of divine mercy founders on both fundamental presupposition and its particulars. For the former, Piper assumes that the language of 9.16 is incompatible with God bestowing his mercy on a condition sovereignly determined by himself. But our exegesis has found this to be a false assumption. As for the particulars, appeals to 9.11-12 and Exod. 33.19 are contradicted by our exegesis of these texts as well as of 9.16, and the reader is directed to the relevant portions of the present volume. Curiously, Piper’s final main argument invokes Phil. 2.13 (because of the somewhat similar language of ‘willing’ (τὸ θέλειν) and ‘working’ (τὸ ἐνεργεῖν)) as somehow ruling out any condition for the bestowal of God’s mercy. But that text does not particularly talk about God’s mercy (except insofar as any blessing of God can be considered mercy) and it does not indicate anything about God’s bestowal of mercy, or any divine action, being unconditional. Piper seems to be overreaching here, and we conclude that Phil. 2.13 is largely irrelevant to Rom. 9.16 and the question of the conditionality of the mercy it mentions.

Piper, 154 n. 3, notes one further reference, cited by Sanday/Headlam as an analogy to 9.16 (though Piper mistakenly refers to 9.6): Jn 1.12-13. This reference actually works against Piper because the regenerating act of God there, performed by God alone, is presented as the divine response to human faith (cf. justification in Paul’s thought, which is performed by God alone in response to human faith). John 1.12 indicates that people become children of God by faith. That is, upon believing, God gives them the right to become something that they were not prior to believing – children of God. John 1.13 then clarifies that they become children of God not from human ancestry (that is the significance of ‘not of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh [which equates to sexual desire that might lead to procreation], nor of the will of a husband [who was thought to be in charge of sexual/procreative activity]’), but from God, describing their becoming children of God as being born of God. ‘Becoming children of God’ and ‘being born of God’ are parallel expressions referring to the same phenomenon (it would be special pleading, and a desperate expedient at that, to argue that becoming God’s child and being born of him are distinct in the Johannine context or that the text would allow that a person could be born of God and yet not be his child), so that God’s act of regenerating believers, making them his own children, is a response to their faith.

The parallel with Rom. 9.16 is significant and quite supportive of our exegesis. Both contexts make the point that elect status (which equates to sonship; cf. Rom. 9.8) is not bestowed by human ancestry, but by God, whose will is to choose as his own those who believe in Christ. Even if one were to deny that reference to θελήματος σαρκός or θελήματος ἀνδρός is to human ancestry specifically and insist that it refers to human willing in general, it would not make the divine action of regeneration any less a response to human faith and hence any less conditional on it. Nor would this be inconsistent with Jn 1.13’s attribution of the act of regeneration to God. The text indicates that God is the one who grants the right to become children of God and the one who regenerates. His doing so in response to faith is a matter of his discretion and would not somehow make the human choice to believe the source of regeneration instead of God any more than it makes it the source of justification. (Excerpt from footnote #153 on page 191 of Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9.10-18: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis, by Dr. Brian Abasciano, paragraph breaks added for easier reading)

Double-Talk From a Double Predestinarian

Dr. John Piper recently responded to the question, “What did the death of Jesus on the cross accomplish for the non-elect? Anything?” His reply, oddly, raises more questions than it answers. Despite his views on unconditional election and reprobation, Piper frames his answer in terms of God giving those who aren’t chosen a “chance” at salvation. Ted Kaczynski, aka the Unabomber, was identified partially by his unusual, but correct use of an oft-misquoted proverb that’s very applicable here: “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.”

To understand the issue, the reader should understand that Piper is a 5-point Calvinist, and believes that whether one is saved or not is strictly up to the choice of God, with no input from man or conditions fulfilled by man whatsoever, and that God unchangeably chose or rejected each individual before the world was ever made. He also believes that Christ didn’t die for the ones that weren’t chosen in any sort of way by which they could be saved (this is commonly called “limited atonement”), and that whether one accepts the gospel or not is entirely dependent upon whether he has been “regenerated” by God beforehand (per Calvinism, one who is regenerated inevitably will believe the gospel, one who isn’t regenerated never can). With that said, let’s examine Piper’s response.

In one sense, as soon as we sin we should be punished eternally. We shouldn’t get another breath. There should be no reprieve. There should be no time given to us. So clearly then, in some sense, the time given to us is grace. And grace for a sinner requires some kind of payment or purchase or warrant from a holy God. And Christ would be the one who provides that.

So I’m inclined to say, “Yes, the fact that the non-elect, the unbelievers all over the world are still breathing and have another chance to believe is a gift, just like the offer of the gospel is a gift. And that offer is provided by the cross.”

I’m not sure I agree with that logic. I do believe God, in His just nature, punishes sin; and that atonement is required to escape one’s being punished. But now there has to be some sort of payment for delaying that punishment? I also did a double-take when I read this. The guy who regularly stresses double-predestination just used the phrase “chance to believe?” Read on, it gets weirder.

Now here’s the catch. Romans 2:4 says, “Don’t you know that the patience of God is meant to lead you to repentance? But you, by your hard and unrepentant heart, are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when the righteous judgment of God is revealed.”

So if a non-elect person spurns-which they do-they spurn this grace, the grace itself becomes added judgment. Which makes me wonder, “In what sense was it grace?” In some sense it is. It’s a real offer, it’s a real opportunity. But if you spurn it, if you reject it, it backfires and mounts up with greater judgment.

I would agree with Piper’s sentiment that one who spurns God’s grace opens himself up to harsher condemnation. What’s confusing about his answer is his use of terms like “real offer” and “real opportunity.” Per Piper’s own views, whether you will believe and be saved or not has already been unconditionally and immutably settled before you were ever born.

Previously, Piper insinuated that the non-elect are given a “chance to believe” (“chance” apparently not implying randomness, but being used in the idiomatic sense to convey opportunity). But the only “chance” involved is the [to us] unknown factor of whether you are already one of the chosen ones: If you are one of the elect, there’s no chance that you won’t believe; if you’re one of those who have been unconditionally rejected with no possible appeal or recourse, there’s absolutely no chance that you will. And whatever you are, your position as elect or non-elect can’t and won’t change. It’s not a matter of there being a “chance” of backfire for the unchosen in the Calvinistic view, such “grace” cannot do anything but backfire.

It’s like the more kindness is shown to a person that they resist, then the more wicked they show themselves to be. And the more wicked they show themselves to be, the more judgment falls upon them.

I think the answer is yes. I think real grace, real common grace, real offer of salvation-right now, just watching this-is grace. And if you’re a non-Christian, grace is being offered you at this very moment in my warning you that, if you spurn this, judgment will be greater.

Again, I’d largely agree with the sentiment. The question is how can this kind of statement square with Piper’s divinely fatalistic views? It’s also notable that Piper isn’t just talking about how people perceive things, but about things that God intentionally does.

And that’s a gift to you right now that God may be pleased to then use to awaken you to say, “Whoa. I don’t want to multiply my judgment. I want to respond to this moment of grace.”

That’s what I think the upshot of this conversation should be: respond to the grace. You’re alive! There’s still a chance to believe and be saved.

Again, per 5-point Calvinism, if you’re not among those elected to salvation, tough beans. God hasn’t chosen you, Christ didn’t die for you, and the Holy Spirit most certainly won’t regenerate you. You are lost without remedy, condemned already beyond repair, there isn’t a single ray of hope, and you never had a prayer. The accessibility of salvation to you is absolute zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how can a person to whom salvation isn’t even remotely applicable have any sort of “opportunity” to be saved?

Put even more simply, if Christ didn’t die for the forgiveness of one’s sins in any sense, then there can never be an “opportunity to be saved” for him, because there is no way to be saved unless Christ died to forgive his sins.

Such doublespeak is strong cause to question Piper’s personal theology. If his determinist views are so repugnant that he has to “balance” them with concepts that flatly contradict his doctrine, then he’s essentially embraced cognitive dissonance. If you reject universalism, but believe that God still genuinely offers salvation to all men, then which is more consistent and less convoluted to believe?

1. Christ died provisionally for the sins of all, such that any who believe in Him will be forgiven.

2. Or Piper’s view, where if you’re not one of the elect, you’re given an “opportunity” that you can’t possibly take, to accept an “offer” of salvation from God that isn’t really His will that you accept, just so you’ll have a “chance” to obtain faith that isn’t even accessible to you, wrought by a Savior who didn’t die to forgive your sins, but whose death fortunately did provide “grace” that will inevitably backfire and condemn you even more. Makes perfect sense. Where do I sign?

Does Jesus Teach Unconditional Eternal Security in John 6:37-65?

John 6:37, 44, 65

All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out…No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day…And He was saying, ‘For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted by My Father.

We dealt briefly with the context of this passage above when discussing John 10:27-29.  Jesus is speaking to Jews whose hearts are not right with God.  They are not faithful Jews and do not know the Father.  Because they are not in right covenant relationship with the Father, they cannot recognize the perfect expression of the Father in the Son.  Since they are not willing to do the Father’s will they cannot properly discern the truth of Christ’s words (John 7:17).  Those who know the Father will recognize the truth of Christ’s words and be “drawn” to Him (6:44, 45, cf. John 3:21).   They will be given to the Son and come to faith in Him as a result (6:37).  To them alone has the Father granted access to the Son (6:65).

The passage has to do with the Father giving the faithful Jews to their long awaited Messiah.  It has nothing to do with a pre-temporal unconditional election of certain sinners to come to faith in Christ.  This is a conclusion that many have read into this passage according to a prior commitment to a theological system without any contextual warrant.

Jesus assures anyone who would come to Christ in faith that they will not be rejected.  They will be accepted in the Beloved One of God (6:37).  The Father will not fail to give all the faithful Jews to Christ and Christ will not fail to receive them to Himself.  Christ will “raise them up at the last day.”  These Jews can be sure that their destiny is secure in Christ.  However, the promise is only for those who are presently and continually “eating”, “drinking”, “believing”, “coming”, “listening”, “following”, and “beholding.”   Only those who persevere in saving faith will be raised up at the last day (6:40).  There is no promise here for those who stop believing and no guarantee that those who begin to believe will inevitably endure in that faith.  The “all that” in verse 39 is the sum total of believers.  It is the corporate body of Christ and that body will certainly be “raised up at the last day” because that body is comprised of those who are presently and continually “believing” in the Son (vs. 40).

From: Perseverance of the Saints Part 12: Examining Passages Commonly Appealed to by the Advocates of Unconditional Eternal Security

The Fallacies of Calvinist Apologetics – Fallacies #14: Conditional Election Makes God a Respecter of Persons?

Related Fallacies:
Equivocation

John Hendryx, who we’ve noted has employed numerous fallacies in defense of Calvinism and distortions against Arminianism, is at it yet again. This time he’s trying to prove that it’s conditional election, not unconditional election, that makes God into a “respecter of persons.” Before I address his points, I believe that the idea that God is impartial has to be defined and qualified carefully: God being impartial does not mean that He treats everyone exactly the same in every respect, nor does it imply that He gives the same circumstances or blessings to everyone. Scriptural references to God’s impartiality appear to refer primarily to how He makes His judgments of men’s hearts and actions, and how He accepts people who fear Him. It doesn’t imply God having some kind of warped, hyper-egalatarian mentality where He ensures everyone’s lot in life is exactly on par. Having examined the issue myself, I think it would be difficult to make a solid case for either conditional or unconditional election violating the principle of God’s impartial judgment in scripture, since election isn’t really the same thing as judgment. However, Hendryx seems to think this does make a good case against Arminianism, and so he tries to paint Arminian doctrine as making God into a respecter of persons, while exonerating his own doctrine. As we shall see, this is one of the worst possible maneuvers, and backfires on him badly.

Redefining Partiality

Hendryx cites Leviticus 19:15, Proverbs 24:23, 1 Peter 1:17, Acts 10:34, Romans 2:11, and James 2:1-9 among others, to prove that God is impartial. Quoting him,

They are clearly warning the believer against showing favoritism or partiality, because they declare that God Himself does not show partiality or favoritism. And. most importantly, in each of these instances it means neither we nor God give special treatment to a person because of his position, merit, wealth, influence, social standing, authority or popularity. Thus ‘respecter of persons’ means we are not to favor one person over the other because of ANY superior personal trait in the one favored, and likewise we are not to show prejudice toward those who lack these characteristics.

Hendryx’s definition of “respecter of persons” is too narrow: to show respect to persons extends beyond just showing favoritism due to superficial personal traits, it implies special treatment based upon any unobjective, uneven or irrelevant criteria. Let’s give an example: Suppose a judge renders his verdict in a case, but bases his decision not upon guilt or innocence, but upon how much he personally likes the plaintiff and defendant. Is that showing partiality? It most certainly is. Keep that in mind as we continue….

So when God unconditionally elects a person in Christ does he first determine who he will choose based on their position, wealth, good looks, influence etc? No.

We’re agreed on that point.

By definition unconditional election means unconditional. It is not conditioned on ANYTHING in us or potentially in us.

This is also technically correct. Judgments are to be based upon what is actually done (guilt, innocence, or other objective criteria pertaining to action), not personal traits.

God does not stand to gain from currying anyone’s favor … even those who are in high positions … because God gave them that position, wealth, authority or social standing to begin with. The Bible unambiguously teaches, therefore, that God is no respecter of persons in election. Those who are chosen are chosen “in Christ” not because God is thinking about what he has to gain by helping them over others.. God has no need for such things, so, by definition, his choosing us cannot be tainted with such a motive.

This is something of a non-sequitur: having a motive of personal gain is one way to show partiality, but is by no means the only way. Proving that God has need of nothing and that He doesn’t judge on the basis of material gain or influence doesn’t automatically establish impartiality. Looking at our example of the judge above, if asked why he rendered the verdict that he did, which responses would indicate partiality or impartiality?

“The evidence that came out in the proceedings made it overwhelmingly clear.” – impartial
“Multiple eyewitness accounts establish this beyond reasonable doubt.” – impartial
“The argument was logically sound and airtight.” – impartial
“I rendered judgment strictly as the law dictates.” – impartial
“I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine!” – partial (motive of personal gain; but there are plenty more than just this)
“He looked guilty.” – partial
“I just had a feeling.” – partial
“He’s my nephew.” – partial
“The other guy made his case much more eloquently.” – partial
“I don’t like his type.” – partial
“I just wanted to do it that way.” – PARTIAL

Note that the last example is unconditional, a verdict rendered simply by arbitrary fiat (hereafter, just “fiat”). It is not objective, and it therefore doesn’t really matter what other reasons he has for declaring one guilty and the other innocent in such a case, such a ruling is partial. Hendryx refers back to the quote from James 2:1-9,

James question is rhetorical, of course. Because yes indeed God HAS chosen the poor of the world … i.e. those who are spiritually bankrupt who have lost all hope in themselves… S0 God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished. … So according to the Bible, showing special favor to the poor is the very antithesis of what it means to show favoritism or respect of persons.

Hendryx again displays a misunderstanding of what impartiality is. The quote he cited above from Leviticus declares,

“You shall do no injustice in judgment. You shall not be partial to the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty. In righteousness you shall judge your neighbor.” (Leviticus 19:15, NKJV)

Which plainly indicates that it is partiality to show favoritism in judgment to a poor man simply because he is poor. I would instead interpret James as referring to correlation and contrast: people are seldom granted riches in both spiritual and material possessions. Hendryx also unwittingly argues for conditional election in stating,

“[So] God is not looking to benefit from those who are already full, but shows special care those who are empty or impoverished.”

If God elected on that basis, that would still be conditional election, since being empty and impoverished would be a condition to being elect.

So far, Hendryx’s major errors have been in equating partiality as being based upon,
1.) personal traits
2.) motive for personal gain

And in concluding that judgment that isn’t for personal gain must be impartial (which is not necessarily true, since judgment based upon fiat is also partial).

Redefining Synergism

…it is actually those who defend CONDITIONAL election who make God a respecter of persons. This is because, if it were true that meeting some condition prompted God’s decision to elect his people then His choice of them would be based on their wisdom, prudence, sound judgment, or good sense to believe. He would therefore be looking at the character or merit of that person and choosing them because of it.

This is entirely incorrect for one simple reason: election based upon whether one does (or will) believe is not rooted in traits, but action: belief in Christ. Hendryx’s reasoning falls completely apart when applied to actual cases of judgment. If a judge discerns from the evidence that a man is innocent, and declares him “not guilty,” is he showing favoritism because of the man’s “good sense not to commit the crime?” Not at all, his judgment is based upon action, not character. Whether the man is smart, stupid, sensible, foolish, etc, is irrelevant. A just and impartial verdict is based upon the objective criteria of his actions.

The Bible, on the contrary, declares that we are all ill-deserving and, as such, God reserves the right to have mercy on whom he will, which is not based in any way on the will of the flesh (John 1:13; Rom 9:15, 16).

Simply having the right to do what one wishes doesn’t make on impartial, those are separate issues (as supreme power allows for fiat). God is both sovereign and impartial (and therefore doesn’t rule by fiat).

If God is basing his election on who will have faith then this would, in fact, make God a respecter of persons because these persons are meeting God’s criteria in order to be chosen.

In synergism God’s love for his people is not unconditional but is given only when someone meets the right condition… i.e. whether someone has faith or not. He chooses them only if they believe in him. Isn’t that favoritism?

Here is Hendryx’s third major error: basing decisions upon objective and relevant criteria (such as action) is not showing favoritism. Complaining about objective criteria as a basis for decisions is directly analogous to (and exactly as ridiculous as) accusing a judge of partiality in his rulings because he’s “biased in favor of the innocent.” Decisions based upon objective conditions (rather than merely who the persons involved are) are the very epitome of impartial judgment. In labeling that as “favoritism,” Hendryx has the issue completely and totally backwards.

God loves his people because he loves them. Is there some better reason OUTSIDE or ABOVE God that should make him do so? The Arminian would have us think so.

This is also a bit strange, nothing makes God love anyone; He does so freely, and extends saving grace to those who freely believe. And Arminians don’t believe in anything “above” God, so Hendryx seems very confused in his verbiage at this point.

Redefining Conditionality

It is the synergist who believes God shows favoritism or partiality because it is based on whether or not that person meritoriously meets the condition God gives him.

To define believing as a “meritorious” act goes completely against the theology of all major Synergists. Something being a condition does not make it meritorious, as even demeritorious things can be conditions (sin is a condition for damnation). As orthodox Synergists maintain, faith is a condition to salvation, but is of itself of no intrinsic worth or merit. Hendryx is in such a fervor to promote his Calvinist agenda that he’s stooped to badly misrepresenting Synergist theology.

Redefining Context

Hendryx drones on with his ridiculously Westernized canard about parents unconditionally loving their children and making sure they don’t get hit by oncoming traffic (apparently while making sure that the children they don’t like do get run over). He tries to use this analogy to establish that God’s love for His children isn’t conditioned upon things like faith. This is countered easily enough: first, God does love all men in the world unconditionally, which is why Christ was sent (John 3:16, which also specifies the condition of faith for eternal life). Secondly, trying to frame God’s relationship to His children as being strictly analogous to the relationships between human parents and our children is fatally flawed: none of us (apart from Christ) are His children in any sense pertaining to salvation, but we’re rather children of wrath. But the scriptures declare,

“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26)

So faith is a condition to even being His child to begin with; Hendryx’s analogy, contrary to Galatians 3, incorrectly assumes that the elect are God’s children in some special sense apart from faith.

So now God is partial?

He leads into this with some minor issues, noting that God is not obligated to save anyone and his choices are always good (I agree). He cites people’s varying circumstances and stations in life, people treating their own children differently from their neighbors, Jesus’ selective healings & resurrections of the dead (e.g. Lazarus), and so on, to prove that in actuality, God does show favoritism. As I pointed out at the beginning, God’s impartiality is descriptive of His judgment and acceptance, trying to twist it to mean that people should have identical circumstances in the world is stretching it well beyond its intended meaning. Nonetheless, we now start to see a subtle shift in Hendryx’s argument: he was just arguing that condtional election (as opposed to his view of unconditional election) makes God out to be playing favorites, but now he’s actually acknowledging that he believes God is showing favoritism, and that he extends it to election as well. He argues,

…everyone is born equally guilty in Adam and so it is perfectly just that not all get the same benefits in this life when they are born. If this is true of everyday life why is it such a stretch to carry the same idea into eternity? it is hypocrisy not to recognize this inconsistency.

The question really is not whether God shows favorites but IN WHAT SENSE does God not show favorites because God chose Abraham out of all the people’s of the earth, not because he saw something good in him, nor because he earned God’s favor, but because God chose to.

I agree that not everyone gets an equal lot in this life; I don’t believe that’s what the Bible’s teachings about God’s fairness and impartiality are in reference to. But Hendryx has turned it into a problem for himself: No sooner has he finished arguing that conditional election implies God playing favorites, than he takes supposed examples of God’s “favoritism” in regards to people’s life circumstances and tries to extend them to election. As the saying goes, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.” It’s a stunning display of cognitive dissonance for him to condemn one view of election for allegedly being partial (and therefore inferior to his view), then holding up alleged examples of partiality, and proceeding to use those to promote his own view of election! This inconsistency is Hendryx’s fourth major error. First he tries to blast conditional election for making God partial in His choosing, yet now he’s backpedaling and making the claim that God is partial in His choosing, He’s just partial in a different way.

If God doesn’t satisfactorily explain to you the good reasons He has for what he does, do you thereby condemn Him for it?

No one’s arguing that God needs to explain all of His reasons, we’re discussing how God’s revelation of His impartiality relates to divine election. Despite his decrial of condemning God based upon not understanding His reasons, Hendryx himself is quick to condemn the Arminian understanding of God as partial, and he does so without even understanding what partiality in judgment means.

Sanity Check

The issue of people having different circumstances in life doesn’t necessarily denote God being partial at all. As a counter-example, if I give my children different chores according to their ability, different bedtimes appropriate to their ages, different gifts to fit different interests, and different rewards and punishments fitting for differing behavior, I’m not playing favorites. However, if both are equally guilty of willfully disobeying a rule that carries a standard penalty, it would be playing favorites and partial judgment for me to unconditionally punish one and unconditionally pardon the other. The last major underlying error apparent in Hendryx’s reasoning is the idea that everyone being guilty makes God’s choosing some unto salvation impartial. Everyone being guilty of offending the supreme God would make His treatment, at the very least, equal to or less than what we deserve. I must stress though that this is not the same thing as impartiality. The issue is not fairness to just an individual, but partiality between individuals.

Take for instance a judge who is rendering his judgment against two men who have been proven to be equally guilty of the same crime. If he unconditionally shows leniency to the one, but condemns the other, his judgments are at worst, what the men deserve, but they are not impartial, as he is showing favoritism to one over the other. While this example pertains to judgment, not election, it is nonetheless exactly analogous to the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election. Hendryx condemns conditional election as making God partial, yet himself proposes a scheme of election that is partial by definition. By that token, conditional election would be akin to the judge offering both men an opportunity for acquittal: say he offers that if one or both of them will sign a pledge of loyalty and service to their rightful ruler that apologizes for and renounces their evil acts, then the judge will show undeserved leniency to whoever signs it. One signs it and goes free, the other does not and is condemned. Was the judge showing favoritism in giving a different verdict? Not at all. The conditions were laid out; he judged them worthy of condemnation by the same standard to both, and showed undeserved leniency (or not) based upon the same objective (yet non-meritorious) condition to both. This is likewise analogous to how election is conditional per the Arminian view, and plainly demonstrates that God shows no respect of persons, but rather shows leniency based upon the objective standard of faith in Christ.

If God’s impartiality does apply to election, then unconditional election will invariably be shown wanting. The only options when choosing impartially are,

1.) Everyone is chosen unconditionally.
2.) No one is chosen unconditionally.
3.) Only some are chosen, but upon an objective basis.

The only way for God’s choosing to be impartial is if only some are chosen unconditionally, AKA unconditional election. If God is impartial in election, and only some are elect, then conditional election is the only game in town.

Bottom Line:

* The impartiality that the Bible attributes to God has to do with His righteous judgments and acceptance of righteous men; it doesn’t follow from this that everyone will have identical life circumstances.
* Hendryx’s definition of partiality is too narrow. There are more ways to be partial than simply judging based upon personal traits or for personal gain.
* The act of choosing one over another by fiat is, by definition, showing favoritism.
* That all men are guilty of sin is irrelevant to the issue of God’s impartiality: choosing one over another unconditionally is still being partial.
* God choosing according to one’s belief is not basing His choice upon a personal trait.
* God choosing based upon objective and relevant criteria (like faith) is not showing personal favoritism.
* Something being conditional is not the same as it being obtained by merit.
* If God’s impartiality does extend to election, then conditional election is the only impartial method by which some (not all or none) can be chosen. Thus such an argument ultimately backfires on the Calvinist.

Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Proof-Texting From a Translation Choice

So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.
(Romans 9:16 ESV)

Romans 9:16 is often cited by Calvinists to prove that who is saved is in no way connected with free will or any kind of “human effort.” The problem with this claim is that the wording of the translations that they appeal to is often doubtful, and the actual wording of the passage seems to indicate something different. Looking at the Greek wording, the passage doesn’t directly state anything about human will or exertion per se, but is talking about people who will and do. Notably, and perhaps even more important, there is also no word for “depends” in the verse, as is rendered in many translations. Several versions that render it with better word-for-word accuracy give us a better picture of what is being said:

” So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. “ [ASV]

“So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.” [NKJV]

“So then [it is] not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shews mercy.” [Darby]

“so, then — not of him who is willing, nor of him who is running, but of God who is doing kindness:…” [Young's Literal]

Even the ESV (quoted above) qualifies itself with the footnote, “Greek not of him who wills or runs”.

The Significance

Looking at the two renderings, “it does not depend upon man’s desire or effort” and “it is not of him who wills or runs,” they may appear to convey the same idea, but consider the exegetical implications:

By inserting the term “depend,” the former strongly implies that there is no connection between anything people do, and whether they obtain mercy or not. The latter, being more accurately translated as, “it is not of,” makes no such demand. It rather expresses that the mercy that is shown in the New Covenant flows from God, not from man (regardless of what he desires or does). The main difference in what is expressed by the two renderings is that the former conveys that nothing people do could be “selection criteria” for God showing His mercy, the latter simply tells us that people aren’t the ones who are showing the mercy -God is. Or even more concisely, the former apparently denies human cooperation in obtaining salvation, the latter only denies human origin of salvation.

The Meaning in Context

The context of Paul’s writing here is the issue of why many in Israel haven’t obtained the covenant mercy of God, while many Gentiles have. This would seem unfair to the Jews who desired Him and clung to the law. Against this, Paul makes the point that they who desire righteousness and keep the law aren’t the ones showing mercy -that is for God alone to grant. This point was addressed in the first post in this series,

At first glance, God choosing a heathen over a practicing Jew would seem to convey unjustness in God’s judgments. Here, a key point and theme of the passage is brought out: divine prerogative. That is to say, God’s blessing is His to give to whom He will in His Holy purpose. No one can claim it by accident of birth or merit of deeds. In answer, Paul asserts God’s right to show His covenant mercy to whom He wishes. It doesn’t matter what men want or do, who and how God chooses is His prerogative, no one else’s.

Since none of us merits His blessing, then none can rightfully lay claim to His favor or obligate Him to extend His covenant mercy. Man cannot ‘elect himself;’ just as in the case of His choice of Isaac over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau, it is God’s prerogative to decide to whom the promise goes.

I’ll stress again that God having the prerogative to show His mercy to whoever He wishes doesn’t imply that He chooses unconditionally. While by no means precluding the idea, the thrust of the passage in question (according to more accurate renderings) apparently being salvation’s origin (rather than its non-criteria), Romans 9:16 doesn’t serve as viable evidence for Calvinism’s doctrine of unconditional election.

Proof-Text Pitfalls

Reliance upon doubtfully inserted terms in garnering scriptural support is nothing new. I recall arguing over the meaning of Hebrews 6:4-6 with an eternal security proponent some time back: I’ve heard several good arguments against that text not implying apostasy of a true believer, but this particular gentleman built his entire case around the presence of the word “if” in the passage. Imagine his shock when it was pointed out that the Greek wording of verse 6 doesn’t even contain an “if,” and that other translations now give the participle form of apostasy an apparently more accurate rendering (“have fallen away” rather than “if they fall away”). When building a case from a passage, it’s best to ensure that appeals to the wording reference actual words in the original text, and don’t rely upon version-specific translation choices or insertions. In the same way, while the wording “it depends not on human will or exertion” makes a strong-sounding polemic for unconditional election, that exact wording is very doubtful, and the more textually-reliable rendering doesn’t give anything approaching iron-clad support for it.

Bottom Line

Romans 9:16 provides strong evidence for God’s prerogative of showing mercy to whom He wishes, but doesn’t lend such support to the idea that He lavishes His mercy on a strictly unconditional basis.

Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: “Not of Works” means “No Conditions”

10 And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac
11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls),
12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” [quoting Genesis 25:23]
13 As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.” [quoting Malachai 1:2-3]
(Romans 9:10-13)

The Appeal

The typical Calvinist treatment of the text quoted above goes something like this:

…Paul chooses the twin brothers Jacob and Esau as a case study in divine election. Paul sets out to prove that election to salvation flows solely from God’s will and purpose

Furthermore, in order to make it absolutely clear that election has nothing to do with human merit or choice, Paul says that God chose one to salvation (Jacob) and one to reprobation (Esau) before they were even born; before either had done good or evil.

(Schwertley, Brian; “Chosen by God: The Doctrine of Unconditional Election”)

The standard apologetic for Calvinists is to frame the analogy of Jacob and Esau as representative of elect versus non-elect individuals, then go on to interpret Jacob’s election being “not of works” as being an analogous expression of, “nothing a man does or chooses can have anything to do with whether he’s elected/saved”- AKA “Unconditional Election.”

The Catch

As we’ve noted before from the context of the passage, the contrast being given in the Jacob vs Esau analogy isn’t meant to reflect the difference between John M. Elect and Joe D. Reprobate, but between national Israel and the true Israel of God (the Body of Christ), which illustrates God’s choosing of those who walk by faith over those who live under the Mosaic law.

Since Paul isn’t contrasting individuals, but the corporate bodies of national Israel and those who are true children of Abraham through faith, there is very little basis to interpret the statement that election and salvation are “not of works” to mean that “no conditionality is involved.” A far more fitting interpretation is that the “works” he’s referring to are the works of the law that national Israel attempts to keep. That is to say, election isn’t based upon how well one keeps the law given at Sinai, which partially explains why many in Israel are not among the chosen (which is what Paul is explaining in the chapter, note verses 1-8). This interpretation also fits the context much better in that it correlates precisely with the point Paul makes in his conclusion of the matter at the end of the chapter (verses 30-33),

30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith;
31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness.
32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.
33 As it is written: “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” [quoting Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16]
(Romans 9:30-33)

Israel has not obtained righteousness because they sought it not by faith, but by the works of the law. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that being chosen unto righteousness is not of works, but rather of God who has rejected those who rest in the law in favor of the those who follow in Abraham’s footsteps of faith, and calls us into fellowship with His Son. The analogy of one being chosen over the other before they’d committed any good or evil is very fitting then, both in highlighting the irrelevancy of the law in terms of our salvation, as well as in a more literal sense, for the sacrifice of our Lord and the redemption to which we are called to in Him were planned from the very beginning (Eph 3:9), even before any law had been given.

Bottom Line:

The scriptural teaching that election is not of works doesn’t preclude conditions to salvation (such as faith, which is not a work), but rather indicates that the choice of to whom God shows His mercy isn’t based upon adherence to the works of the Mosaic law.

Preach Reprobation and Preach it Hard!

As I noted in my previous post, according to Jesus, far more will be lost than saved (Matt. 7:13, 14).  In Calvinism this can only mean that God has reprobated from eternity far more than He has elected to save.  According to Calvinism, God’s reprobation of most of humanity is “for His glory”.  From this it seems safe to conclude that God’s action in reprobation brings Him far more glory than His action in electing to salvation.  The fact that far more will end up in hell than in heaven in accordance with God’s irresistible eternal decree brings God ultimate glory [1].  If that is the case, it seems to me that Calvinists should focus much more on reprobation and God’s act of reprobation the majority of mankind, consigning them to an eternity of unimaginable suffering for the sins and unbelief that God irresistibly decreed for them from eternity, than on God’s electing the few to salvation [2].

But when Arminians focus on the “horrible decree”, Calvinists typically want to quickly divert our attention to the few who get saved instead of dwelling on the many who have been reprobated to eternal suffering by way of God’s irresistible eternal decree.  Why not glory in the reprobation of many, especially since it seems that reprobation must bring God far more glory than election unto salvation?

For all their talk about Arminians supposedly robbing God of His glory, it seems that Arminians are the ones who are trying to give God more glory by focusing on God’s irresistible decree of reprobation in discussing Calvinism. 

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[1] This note is an update after receiving feedback on the post from a fellow Arminian.  He pointed out that this post could be seen as misrepresenting the Calvinist position since in Calvinism reprobation can be seen to give God more glory “in conjunction” with election so that “the misery of the reprobate serves to highlight and exalt the blessedness of the elect”.  I agree that this is the Calvinist view, but I would argue that my post doesn’t misrepresent this position (though I could have made my point clearer), since in Calvinism this really doesn’t explain why God needs to reprobate the vast majority of humanity.  If the argument is that the more that are reprobated, the more election looks good, then God would have ultimately glorified Himself by reprobating all but one person, or something like that.  So the question remains: Why would God need to reprobate so many?  If it is to enhance His glory in election then reprobation of more than are elected gives God more glory, and Calvinists should at least focus on reprobation more, especially on the fact that God gets more glory in election by reprobating far more than he elects.  That is something that Calvinists typically want to downplay, even denying the obvious (as some, like James White, seem to almost deny the charge, immediately focusing on the Revelation text of a multitude in heaven to draw attention away from the fact that there are far, far more that are reprobated) in order to take attention away from the disproportion between election and reprobation.  If the disproportion brings God greater glory, then it should be a focus of Calvinist preaching, rather than largely ignored, downplayed, or swept under the rug altogether. 

[2] As I mentioned in my last post, I agree with Wesley that whether we view reprobation as passive or active, it amounts to the same thing (see his two sermons, Predestination Calmly Considered and On Predestination).  It is also unclear how reprobation can be considered passive in any way that would relieve the difficulty that Calvinists seem to hope to relieve when considered against the backdrop of God’s exhaustive deterministic control (what Calvinists wrongly term “Sovereignty”).

1 Corinthians 15 and the Claims of Calvinism

Calvinism as a system claims that God reprobated a large segment of mankind so that they can never be saved. [1] It further claims that the atonement is for this reason limited only to the elect who alone will benefit from the atonement and be saved (with no possibility of falling away).  In such a system Jesus died only for the sins of the elect.  If this is the case it seems that many passages of Scripture are disingenuous in commanding all people everywhere to repent and believe on Christ when repentance is impossible for reprobates and Christ did not die for them anyway (For more on that see here).

If Calvinism is to be consistent in these claims it cannot allow for a person to rightly tell someone that Christ died for them.  The best one can do is say that if they repent and believe, Christ died for them [2] or that Christ died for sinners (meaning “some sinners” but not necessarily the sinner they are presently speaking to) or that Christ might have died for them, or something similar [3].  Therefore, consistent Calvinists say it is wrong to tell the unsaved that Christ died for them [4].  This may seem shocking enough to most Christians, but Calvinists today are often claiming further that the Bible never gives us an example of anyone telling unbelievers that Christ died for them.  It is with this claim in mind that we turn to our text:

 1CO 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

1CO 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.

1CO 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,

1CO 15:4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, (NASB, emphasis mine)

Paul is recounting to the Corinthians the content of the gospel message as Paul first preached it to them.  The need for this reminder is made clearer later in the chapter where we discover that some are denying the resurrection and by extension are denying the gospel that Paul preached.  Paul makes it clear that the message as he describes it here is the message he first brought to them “of first importance”.  This gospel message includes three main components.  The first is that “Christ died for our sins” followed by the fact that Christ was buried and then rose again on the third day, all of which happened “according to the Scriptures”.  This is the specific content of the gospel message as Paul first delivered it to these Corinthians.  They “received” this gospel by faith and are currently standing on these truths delivered to them by Paul when he first preached this specific gospel message to them.

We can draw several conclusions from what Paul says to the Corinthians in this passage.  The one that most concerns us at present is that the initial message of the gospel to the Corinthians prior to their receiving (by faith) the message Paul preached is that “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures”.  The rest of the gospel message about the resurrection reinforces this central truth.  We know this because Paul later explains to them that if Christ is not raised then their faith is worthless and they are “still in [their] sins” as a result.  Therefore, the central message of the gospel, according to Paul, is that “Christ died for our sins”.  The resurrection is no less important in that it gives ultimate verification to the primary message of the gospel, Christ’s death for the forgiveness of sins.

But does Paul say that Christ died only for the sins of the elect?  To the contrary, Paul’s initial message to these unsaved Corinthians was that “Christ died for our sins.”  The natural way to understand Paul’s language here is that Christ died not only for Paul’s sins, but for all of their sins as well.  This is the message they needed to receive in order to be saved.  In accepting the truth by faith that Christ died for their sins, they received the forgiveness that results from Christ’s death to all that believe.  So here we have a clear example of the gospel message being preached to unbelievers and the central message of that gospel being not that Christ died for the elect, or that Christ died for sinners (meaning “some” sinners), but that Christ died for “our” (everyone’s) sins.  This is, according to Paul’s own words, the content of the gospel message delivered to them “as first importance.”  Paul is now admonishing them to remember that message that they received (that Christ died for them) and to continue to stand on that message, less their faith prove to be “in vain”.  But if it is unclear whether Christ died for them, how then can they be called on to stand firm on that truth?

Suppose we take Paul’s words to mean Christ died for “our” (the elect’s) sins [5].  That would be a most unnatural way to read the text.  Beyond that, it is hard to imagine how they would appropriate that message.  Is it by believing that Christ died for the elect alone that they are saved?  Surely not.  They could believe that Christ died for Paul and others that at least appeared to be elect (see note #3 below) without believing that Christ died for them in particular.  Indeed, according to Calvinism there is no way to know if Christ died for us until we repent and believe (and even then we cannot know for sure that Christ died for our sins until we persevere to the end [death or Christ’s return] in faith, see note #4 below).

But believe what?  According to Paul it is that Christ died for our sins.  That is the preeminent message of the gospel and it is a message that is grossly at odds with the claims of Calvinism [6].  We can’t trust Christ to save us if Christ did not die for our sins [7].  We can only trust that Christ might have died for us, though the odds are against it (see note #1 below)

We will now take a moment to examine the first part of Paul’s message as it has further relevance for Calvinism in that it seems to plainly contradict the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance:

1CO 15:1 Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand,

1CO 15:2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.  (NASB, emphasis mine)

In verse one Paul makes it clear that he is addressing those who received his initial gospel message that Christ died for their sins and was buried and raised again.  Not only did they receive this message, but they are presently standing on that message and as a result will be finally saved, with one important qualifier: they must continue to hold on to that truth in the faith that they initially received that truth in.  In other words, if they turn from the truth of that initial message that they received and deny the resurrection, they would in turn be denying the very truth that will ultimately save them.  In such a case their initial faith in the death and resurrection of Christ will prove to have been in vain, since it did not continue.

This is problematic for Calvinism in two important ways.  First, Calvinism asserts that true faith will always endure because God will preserve that faith and cause the believer to persevere in that faith Himself.  So if one receives the truth of the gospel and stands on that truth he will certainly continue to stand on that truth to the end.  If one does not continue he never really stood on that truth to begin with and never truly received that truth to begin with.  But this is at odds with the way Paul speaks of the matter.  Paul does not doubt they received the message; nor does Paul doubt their present commitment to the message.  Paul only questions whether they will continue in that message or turn aside to deny the resurrection, an indispensable part of the message initially received.

If Paul believed that those who fall away never believed in the first place we would expect him to end with “unless (otherwise) you never really believed to begin with” or something similar.  But instead Paul simply points to the fact that in abandoning the faith one will not attain to the object and hope of that faith once exercised since he has turned away from the very message that will ultimately save him.  Therefore, their faith, while it truly existed for a time, will prove to be “in vain” since it does not continue to the point of fully receiving the promise of the gospel- final salvation.

We see similar language in Romans 11:16-24.  After describing election in the context of the ancient olive tree (which represents God’s covenant people beginning with their identity with the patriarchs and ending with their identity with Christ, the final and supreme Head of the covenant), Paul goes on to warn the Gentiles who have entered the new covenant through faith in Christ and have been grafted into the people of God as a result, that they must be careful not to be arrogant over the Jews who have been broken off from the olive tree as a result of their rejection of Christ, the final and supreme Head of the covenant.  The problem for Calvinism is that Paul describes these Gentiles as believers who have been grafted into God’s chosen people and who are presently standing by faith.  There can therefore be no doubt that Paul is speaking to saved individuals who are presently enjoying the blessing of the new covenant through faith union with Christ.  The specific language makes this indisputable,

Ro 11:17 If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root,

Ro 11:18 do not boast over those branches. If you do, consider this: You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

Ro 11:19 You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.”

Ro 11:20 Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but be afraid.

Ro 11:21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.

Ro 11:22 Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.

Just as in 1 Corinthians 15 we find Paul telling those that he describes as presently saved and enjoying the benefits of salvation that they can yet be “broken off” from the people of God and the salvation that belongs to them alone if they do not “continue” in God’s kindness through faith.  Again, if the Calvinist accounting of perseverance were true, we would expect to find Paul telling them that they would have never been in the olive tree and have never believed in the first place.  However, Paul says exactly the opposite; describing them as true believers who can be broken off from a tree they are presently attached to, enjoying all the benefits of God’s elect people in Christ Jesus. [8]

Conclusion:  We have found that Calvinist claims about limited atonement and inevitable perseverance are severely challenged by the language of 1 Corinthians 15.  We have also found that the Calvinist claim that it is unscriptural to tell sinners that Christ died for their sins is inaccurate, as we have Biblical precedent in Paul’s initial gospel proclamation to the Corinthians that “Christ died for our sins.”  We have also examined a few possible counter arguments and found them to be severely problematic given the context and specific language employed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.

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[1] If Jesus is correct that “few” in contrast to “many” enter through the narrow gate unto salvation (and I assume Calvinists would agree that He is correct), then we must conclude that God has reprobated the vast majority of humanity “for His glory” (Matthew 7:13, 14).  Somehow, it would then seem that reprobation must bring God more glory than election unto salvation.  It should also be noted that when I speak of God reprobating people, it could be conceived as a direct action of God or as a more indirect action, as in “passing over” the many that will as a result be left reprobate.  I agree with Wesley and many others that this amounts to a distinction without a difference, or as John Wesley notes after carefully dissecting the claims that passing over is very different and less offensive than direct reprobation, it is “the self same thing.” (See Wesley’s famous sermons, Predestination Calmly Considered and On Predestination).

[2] This would probably seem to most to be the inverse of what the Bible claims and what we should tell unbelievers about the Gospel- that because Christ died for them, they should repent and believe.  Peter actually says exactly that in his second sermon in the book of Acts (For a more detailed study of that passage see here).

[3] In such a scheme Calvinist parents can have no real assurance that Christ died for any of their children or that God even loves their children in a saving way (God may instead “hate” them in reprobation as He did Esau).  Nor can a Calvinist parent tell their children that Christ died for them or that God loves them in any meaningful way.  Calvinist Erwin Lutzer tries to claim that Calvinists can have strong assurance that their children are elect, but that claim is easily refuted given the fundamental premises of Calvinism (for more on that see here).

[4] But really it is unclear how a Calvinist could even tell someone who appears to be a saved believer that Christ died for them as they may yet fall away and, by Calvinist assumptions, prove that they were never saved or elect to begin with.  Calvinism severely undercuts Biblical assurance in many ways (for more on that see here).

[5] Another possible Calvinist explanation would be to claim that Paul was speaking of them as they presently were in saying that Christ died for “our sins” since upon their believing Paul could now say that Christ had in fact died for them.  But this would be an extremely awkward way to understand the text since Paul is recounting his initial message to them and admonishing them to continue to believe it as they first received it.  Not only that, but as noted above, even if they appeared to believe, Paul could not say with confidence, according to Calvinism, that Christ died for them until they demonstrated their faith was genuine and saving by persevering to the end.  But isn’t it true that even in Arminianism many might not have genuine saving faith?  Indeed it is, but that would not change the fact that Christ died for them since in Arminianism Christ died for all, even those who will never believe.  So Arminianism would still be fully in harmony with Paul’s gospel message.

[6] Again, we find the same basic gospel message in Peter’s second sermon recorded in Acts 3.  For details concerning that message see my post, Provisional Atonement Part 3: The Integrity and Justice of God in the Gospel Offer.  But even if the Bible nowhere showed anyone preaching the message that “Christ died for your sins” it is everywhere implied, especially in those passages which command all to repent and believe on the message on the basis of Christ’s death along with those passages which use universal language in describing the extent of the atonement, of God’s love or desire for all to be saved.  There are many things that believers speak about in ways that the Bible never directly does.  For example, the Bible nowhere describes the Trinity as we often explain it to those who have questions about the Trinity (as God in three persons, or One eternal Being existing in three persons, etc.).  However, we can confidently say such things based on what the Bible does say, even if the Bible does not use that specific language.

Furthermore, the Bible only records a few accounts of the gospel message being preached to sinners and we should not assume that there were not many other ways the message was articulated in the hundreds or thousands of other times the gospel was preached to unbelievers.  And thankfully, we have in 1 Cor. 15 clear evidence that Paul indeed preached to unbelievers that Christ died for their sins (since, in that context, “ours” naturally includes “yours” as well as “mine”).

[7] A Calvinist could possibly answer this by pointing out that in Calvinism God must cause us to have faith irresistibly and would only cause those that Christ died for to believe that Christ died for them.  But this still does not address the resulting disingenuous nature of the offer of salvation throughout Scripture or the specific language that Paul used in presenting the gospel message to the Corinthians as recounted in 1 Corinthians 15; neither does it address the difficulty inherent in the fact that only a faith which perseveres to the end can be considered genuine in Calvinism (see note #4 above).  There again, the Calvinist has no solid grounds for believing that Christ died for them at all since he may yet fall away and prove that his faith was not genuine after all and that Christ did not die for him, though he thought he did.  Only the Arminian view allows for us to accept the straightforward language in Scripture concerning the gospel offer and the nature of the gospel to be received, that Christ died for all and there is therefore forgiveness of sins available for all (Acts 3:19-26).

[8] We should further point out that if Paul’s warning to these believers can never attain or actually happen since God will inevitably preserve them in the faith, then it is nonsense for Paul to tell them to “be afraid” lest they are broken off as a result of not continuing in the faith.  Paul speaks to them as true believers joined to God’s elect people and for that reason, according to Calvinism, they have nothing to fear since it is impossible for true believers to fall away. Everything in Paul’s language points us towards the real possibility of apostasy and away from the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance.  For a detailed study of several Scriptures which contradict the Calvinist doctrine of inevitable perseverance, see my series here.

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