An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 5: Taking The Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

[updated with some necessary corrections on 2/5/13]

Part 5: Taking the Mystery Out of Mr. Patton’s Strange Arguments

Patton: These two issues, human freedom and sovereign election, are not contradictory when put together, but they are a mystery.

This is the same claim Mr. Patton made in his first post called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”

We have already begun to highlight the problems with this claim.  Mr. Patton makes an assertion here and nothing more.  If human freedom and sovereign election is understood in the Arminian sense, then there is no mystery.  If “human freedom” is to be understood in a compatibilist sense (which Mr. Patton holds to), then there is still no mystery.  The mystery is removed by redefining “human freedom”.  The only reason we would have for seeing this as a supposedly “apparent” irrational “mystery,” would be if “human freedom” was taken in the true libertarian sense, and if “sovereign election” were understood against the backdrop of exhaustive determinism.  But Mr. Patton rejects human freedom in the libertarian sense, so his claim here is puzzling.

Patton: This is one of the mistakes that I believe the Arminian system of conditional election/predestination makes. There is no need to solve all tensions, especially when the solution comes at the expense of one’s interpretive integrity.

Again, Mr. Patton quickly turns the “unanswerable problems” that his Calvinism creates into an attack on Arminianism.  We have already shown how this is an easily reversible argument in Part 4.  It is also interesting to see Mr. Patton imply that Arminians handle the tension (that only Calvinism creates) by giving up on interpretive integrity.  Again, this would seem to be easily reversible when one considers the way that Calvinists typically try to “interpret” the many passages that seem to plainly contradict their system, since it seems to us that Calvinists very quickly jettison interpretative integrity for the sake of making such passages “fit” with their Calvinism. [8]

Patton: There are many tensions in Scripture. There are many things that, while not formally irrational, just don’t make sense.

Fair enough, but how do we determine what is “formally” irrational and what is only “apparently” irrational?  My guess is that if it is part of a Calvinist claim, then it can only be “apparently” irrational, regardless of whether or not the Calvinist can in anyway show how the irrationality is only “apparent”.  Let’s see…

Patton: The doctrine of the Trinity, the Hypostatic Union, and creation out of nothing all fit this category. All of these are beyond our ability to comprehend.

True enough, but none of these doctrines are illogical.  To say something is beyond our ability to comprehend does not mean it is irrational.  But Mr. Patton knows that the claim against his Calvinist “tensions” is that they are actually illogical. So how does reference to mysteries that are clearly not illogical help him to explain illogical “tensions” in his system?

It is quite true that we simply do not know how God could create things out of nothing, but there is nothing illogical about that.  That is an example of a true Biblical mystery and no Christian has a problem with that mystery.  Likewise, there is nothing illogical about one Being existing in three persons.  It is beyond our comprehension because we have no examples to look to in our finite experience (in our experience, all beings are both one being and one person, so it is very hard to imagine a single being who is also three persons).  It would be a contradiction if the doctrine said that God is one person and three persons, or one being and three beings, but the doctrine doesn’t say that.  If it did, Christians would be right to reject it as “real” and not just “apparent” irrationality.  So the Trinity is likewise an example of true Biblical mystery, and no Christian has a problem with such mysteries (when properly understood). [9]

Patton: Once we fit them into a rational box and figure them out, we have entered into heresy (although I do not believe the Arminian view is heretical).

This is a bizarre statement.   Surely Mr. Patton knows that Arminians, like all Christians, fully affirm the Biblical mysteries he just described (the Trinity, creation ex nihilo and the hypostatic union) and therefore, do not need to “fit” such Biblical mysteries into a rational box, since there is no indication that these mysteries are irrational in the first place.  All of this just deflects and confuses the issue.  While it is true that both mystery and contradictions cannot be “figured out”, they cannot be figured out for entirely different reasons.  “Mystery”, as Patton has so far demonstrated, cannot be “figured out” because it goes beyond human capabilities and comprehension, but does not contain contradiction.  Contradiction and irrationality cannot be “figured out” because it reveals error.  To say a contradiction cannot be “figured out” is simply to say that it is false and, by definition, cannot be made true.

Patton: The issue of human freedom and unconditional election is in the same apophatic domain.

No it isn’t.  It is not the same at all, and Patton hasn’t shown that it is.  Instead, Mr. Patton has given us examples of legitimate mystery and then just asserted that the tension involved in his system is likewise legitimate.  But examples of true mysteries do nothing to prove that contradiction is mystery.  Again, all we get from Mr. Patton on this is baseless assertion.

Patton: We can’t make sense out of them and once we do, we have entered into error.

Rather, we can’t make sense of them because they reveal error. Talk about twisting things out of shape.  Mr. Patton has now essentially claimed that to allow contradictions to reveal error is itself an error.  What a mess Mr. Patton’s polemic is creating.

Patton: There are many things that God reveals that confuse us and baffle our thinking.

True, but irrelevant.

Patton: Theyseem irrational.

And again, Mr. Patton does nothing to help us know how we can tell the difference between real (formal) irrationality and only “apparent” irrationality.  The best we can assume is what I mentioned earlier: any irrationality in Calvinism must, by definition, be only “apparent” rather than real.  How do we know that?  Because Calvinism is true, of course!  This is a wonderful situation to be in as a Calvinist.  The Calvinist system is now entirely safe from falsification of any kind.  You can’t point to irrationality to disprove Calvinism.  In fact, that itself would be “error” and lead to “heresy.”  Ah…but how nice that the Calvinist can still use rational arguments to disprove opposing systems like Arminianism.  It must be so nice to be a Calvinist!  This is another point I made to Patton way back in 2008,

“Also, when you affirm tensions that seem to me to be plain contradictions (though it seems you would deny that or at least try to “reconcile” it) you give up all rights to criticize an alternative theological system on rational or coherent grounds. You forfeit the right to point the finger at Arminian theology and say, “that doesn’t make sense with what the Bible says”, etc. You put your system in a position of being impossible to falsify and yet attack other positions based on incoherence.

Now maybe you have never done this. Maybe you have never said that Arminianism leads to conclusions that simply do not make sense or are incoherent, etc. But if you have attacked Arminianism on logical grounds with respect to what you perceive as Biblical realities, then you have no right to affirm “apparent” contradictions within your own system and even go so far as to make the acceptance of such “apparent” contradictions (“tensions”) into a pious act for the sake of just trying to be more honest with the Bible etc. Do you see where I am coming from? Hopefully I am misunderstanding you on this.” (Link)

…But that hasn’t stopped Mr. Patton in the least, and based on many more posts criticizing Arminianism on logical grounds, I am confident I have not misunderstood him.  Again, it must be nice to be a Calvinist.  If you disagree, you are just afraid to embrace tension.  You are just trying to make the Bible “fit” your man made system, traditions or false common sense assumptions.  If you point out inconsistencies, they will just appeal to mystery and shame you for not being willing to embrace Biblical mystery as they do.  Indeed, you might even be told that you are actually committing error (being irrational) in expecting things to be so rational.  You are just so hung up on your western thought and American common sense.  You just want things to be fair.  You just want to get your way.  You just want to be sovereign over God.  You just want to talk back to the Potter. You might even be told that you are just trying to satisfy the desires of your sinful nature.  And on and on…

Patton: Yet we find God saying, “Chill. Just trust me. I got this under control. While I have revealed a lot and I know you have a lot of questions, this is a test of trust. I love everyone but I did not elect everyone. Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Will you trust me or will you redefine things?”

And so we can add “you just don’t trust God” to the list of why anyone would dare criticize or reject Calvinism.  My goodness, who wouldn’t want to be a Calvinist at this point?  And notice again the blatant question begging in that, for Mr. Patton, the only possible reason for rejecting Calvinism would have to be an attempt to redefine Biblical teaching.  Does Mr. Patton really believe that Arminians have no Biblical grounds at all for rejecting Calvinism?

Patton: God’s sovereign unconditional election can stand side-by-side with man’s responsibility without creating a formal contradiction.

So Mr. Patton keeps asserting.

Patton: We may not know how to reconcile these two issues, but that does not mean God does not know how. Their co-existence does not take away from their collective truthfulness.

But if such issues are false, God certainly does not know how to reconcile them.  The One who is Truth cannot reconcile falsehood.  Their “collective truthfulness” is certainly taken away if they cannot co-exist at all (i.e. they are false).  Assertions and question begging do not prove co-existence.

Patton: I believe that the Arminian system sacrifices biblical integrity for the sake of intelligibility and doctrinal harmony.

Funny, that’s what I think about Calvinism!

Patton: The Calvinistic system allows tension and mysteries to abide for the sake of Biblical fidelity.

Well, allow me to counter-assert that the Calvinist system improperly labels irrationality, contradictions and error as “mystery” for the sake of Calvinist fidelity and to render Calvinism unable to be falsified, even by reason and truth.  And let me point out again that Calvinists will often go to great lengths to try to remove such “tension and mystery”.  The doctrine of compatibilism is just one such example.

Patton: As I said before, I have had people say to me (often) that they are not Calvinists because the system attempts to be too systematic with all its points for the sake of the system itself. I think that it is just the opposite. The Calvinistic system creates more tensions than it solves, but seeks to remain faithful to God’s word rather than human intelligibility.  I think it is a good illustration where the West meets the East. Revelation meets mystery. Cataphatic theology meets apophatic theology. While Calvinism is not formally irrational, it is emotionally irrational. I get that. But I think we need to take both pills.

Translation: Calvinists are brave and noble because they accept “tension”.  If you reject Calvinism, that is probably because you are just too western, too rational, too intelligible, too Cataphatic, too emotional and just not brave or tough enough to “take both pills.”  Shame on you!  And note again that while Mr. Patton never tires of asserting that Calvinism is not formally irrational, he has still not taken up the task of demonstrating why this is so.  Why should we just take his word on it, especially when it is the main point in dispute? The question begging continues.

Admittedly, Patton would probably not put things as gruffly as I have here, but this is exactly what his arguments amount to when simplified and taken to their logical conclusions, and it is time that Calvinists like Patton are taken to task for such claims.  They have gotten away with this stuff too long, and it has made fruitful and honest discussion nearly impossible.  The Calvinist and Arminian debate is first and foremost a debate about Scriptural interpretation, and interpretation involves reason just as any other thing that looks to discover truth.  Calvinists need to stop making the outlandish claim that Calvinism is superior because it accepts mystery where Arminianism does not.  They need to stop talking like they are just tougher and braver for accepting hard truths that Arminians are just too afraid to face.  They need to stop telling Arminians why they believe as they do, when they really haven’t a clue. They need to stop demonizing logic and reason while, hypocritically, using logic and reason against those who disagree with them.  They need to stop telling Arminians that Arminianism is all about philosophy, when their arguments are extremely philosophical.  They need to stop talking about accepting “tension” when they are not willing to accept “tension.”

Nobody is perfect, and none of us are fair or right or consistent at all times when debating tough issues.  However, such silliness as this has really gone on for far too long.  From now on, let’s try to play by the same rules and stop assuming that if people reject Calvinism it must be for some sinister spiritual or emotional reason, and cannot possibly be because we simply find Calvinism unbiblical.  I can honestly say that if I could find Calvinism in the Bible, I would happily accept it.  However, I cannot find Calvinism in the Bible, and so I find no reason to accept it or live with the supposed unanswerable questions that Calvinism apparently creates.  Hopefully, Mr. Patton and Calvinists like him will begin to accept this fact.  The sooner they do, the sooner we can have an honest, respectful and fruitful dialogue on these important issues.

Go to Part 1

________________________________________________________________

[8]  Obviously, Arminians find Calvinist attempts to deal with passages that express a universal scope to the atonement,  God’s love for the world, desire to save all and desire that all come to repentance, as contrived.  Such attempts by Calvinists to reconcile such Biblical declarations with their doctrines of unconditional election and limited atonement would seem to be anything but an exercise in interpretive integrity.  The same holds true for the many warning passages in Scripture and passages that seem to plainly teach the possibility of apostasy.  For a detailed exegetical examination of such passages, see my 13 Part series on Perseverance.

[9] Patton might be interested to know that some Calvinists are Calvinists because they apparently cannot deal with the supposed “tensions” and “mysteries” in Arminianism.   F. Leroy Forlines cites John S. Feinberg as one such example.  He cannot deal with the “mystery” of how God can foreknow anything without predetermining what it is He foreknows.  Forlines quotes him as follows:

“If indeterminism is correct, I do not see how God can be said to foreknow the future.  If God actually knows what will (not just might) occur in the future, the future must be set and some sense of determinism applies.” (Predestination and Free Will: Four Views of Divine Sovereignty and Human Freedom, pg. 32)

Forlines cites J.A. Crabtree as another example,

“No one, not even God, can know the outcome of an autonomous decision that has not been made, can he?  To assert the possibility of such knowledge is problematic.” (The Grace of God, the Bondage of the Will, vol.2, pg. 436)

Likewise, Loraine Boettner echoes the same distaste for such “mystery”,

[Arminianism’s rejection of divine foreordination constitutes a rejection of] “the theistic basis for foreknowledge.  Common sense tells us that no event can be foreknown unless by some means, either physical or mental, it has been predetermined.” (The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, 42; All quotes taken from F. Leroy Forlines’ Classical Arminianism , pg. 44)

[I wonder what Mr. Patton would make of Boettner’s appeal to “common sense”?]

As we can see from these quotes, foreordination (determinism), for most Calvinists, takes the mystery out of foreknowledge.  For them, God cannot possibly foreknow what he does not decree and predetermine will take place.  Therefore, God simply cannot foreknow truly free will choices or contingencies.  God’s foreknowledge must, therefore, be entirely dependent on his decree.

It has been pointed out by Arminians that this leads to the unfortunate and unavoidable logical implication that God can only foreknow our sinful thoughts, desires and choices, because God first thought them up and decreed them from eternity, making God the responsible author of all sin.  It is interesting that Calvinists will swallow this horrible implication under the guise of “mystery” and “tension”, but cannot bring themselves to accept the mystery of God’s ability to foreknow the truly contingent free will choices of His creatures.

Calvinist James Oliver Buswell, Jr. is an interesting exception.  He finds no problem with affirming God’s ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices,

“To the question then how God can know a free act in the future, I reply I do not know, but neither do I know how I can have knowledge by analysis, by inference from reason or from causes, or from statistical data reported by intuition, or (if it is insisted upon) by innate ideas.  Knowledge is a mystery in any event, and God’s knowledge of free events in the future is only one more mystery, revealed in Scripture.  We have good and sufficient grounds to accept, and no valid grounds to reject, what Scripture says on this subject.” (A Systematic Theology, 1:60, quoted in Forlines’ Classical Arminiansim, pg. 74)

Arminius, like Buswell, was happy to leave the mystery of how God can foreknow the future as a mystery.  There are plenty of other mysteries in Arminianism that Calvinists simply cannot tolerate (like how we can have alternative power in the will).  One doesn’t need to read too much from popular Calvinist writings to see that.  I guess Calvinists just cannot deal with a system that has so much mystery and tension.

For a concise article on how divine foreknowledge is completely compatible with libertarian free will, see here.

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Part 4: Returning the Favor (Reversing the Argument)

Patton: To the Calvinists, man is fully responsible for his choice, yet God’s election is unconditional. This creates a problem. It creates great tension.

I agree that this creates a problem, but it is a Calvinist problem based on the Calvinist interpretation.  It is not an Arminian problem, so the Arminian does not need to solve the problem by altering or fixing anything.  It simply does not exist in Arminianism since the Arminian interpretation does not create such “problems.”

Patton: For the Calvinist, this tension cannot be solved and should not be solved. So how does the Calvinist live with this? How does the Calvinist answer the Why? question?—Why does God choose some and not others? Why does he still find fault?—What is the Calvinist answer to the How? question?—How can there be true freedom when God is the one sovereignly in charge of election?—We have no answer.

So Mr. Patton admits that his Calvinist interpretations create problems for which there are no answers.  That’s fine.  If he wants to embrace and “live with” the unanswerable problems that his theology creates, more power to him.  I don’t have a problem with that, though I would prefer that such “problems” would prompt him to carefully and cautiously re-evaluate whether or not his interpretation might be in error.  However, it is wrong for Mr. Patton to try to make himself feel better about his theological and interpretative problems by making the argument that Arminians do not have these problems because they improperly try to make things “fit” and try to answer questions that should not be answered or cannot be answered.  Again, Arminians do not have the same problems as Calvinists, simply because Arminians do not interpret the Bible as Calvinists do.  Arminians like me would appreciate it if Calvinists like Mr. Patton would leave us out of their problems.

Patton: We get off of our stool and punt to apophatic theology. The tension is left in tact since. We place our hand over our mouth here and say, “Though we have no answers to why God did not choose people he truly loves, we will trust him without judgement.” We will neither redefine divine election or human freedom to make it fit a more rational or logical system.

And here we go again with the blatant question begging and false assumptions concerning how and why Arminians do not have the same “problems” that C. Michael Patton has, along with seeming back slapping concerning how theologically brave he is to put his hand over his mouth in the face of such “problems” and “tensions.” [5]

Patton: While there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason to understand truth, there are problems when reason takes priority over revelation.

Indeed.  Does Patton ever do this?  Well, let’s play his game.  I will just make a few counter assertions and see if that helps clear things up.  You see, the reason why Calvinists hold to limited atonement is because they cannot reconcile unconditional election and penal satisfaction with unlimited atonement. [6]  Rather than just admit that the Bible teaches both and live with the “tension”, they try to make atonement “fit” their system, and redefine the scope of atonement by limiting it to the elect alone, despite the many clear Biblical declarations concerning the universal scope of the atonement.

Likewise, the reason why Calvinists reject the idea that true believers can abandon the faith to their own destruction is because this creates “tension” with their doctrines of unconditional election, limited atonement, and irresistible grace.  Rather than just embracing the “tension”, Calvinists try to make things “fit” by rejecting and “redefining” the Biblical teaching that true believers can abandon the faith and forfeit salvation.

Furthermore, Calvinists reject conditional election because they cannot reconcile how election can be conditional and not be meritorious.  Rather than just living with the “tension”, Calvinists “redefine” election and make it unconditional in order to make it “fit” and to make their theology more “consistent.”  This is the same point I made to Patton long ago in the second part of my comment (quoted above) on his previous post, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option” :

Let’s take another angle. You say the Bible teaches unconditional election (and you appeal to certain Scriptures) and I say the Bible teaches conditional election (and I appeal to certain Scriptures- and surprisingly some of the same Scriptures you think teach the opposite). Now, can’t I just as easily say that you reject conditional election due to the tension it creates for your view and your unwillingness to embrace those tensions? Maybe you reject conditional election because it creates too much tension for the Calvinist. (link)

Oh, and let’s not forget that the Bible (supposedly) teaches both God’s exhaustive sovereign control over all things, including our wills, and that we have freedom of will in the true (libertarian) sense.  But rather than embrace the “tension”, most Calvinists “redefine” freedom from the true sense of freedom to a “freedom” that leaves no real control of the will to the person at all.  This “solution” to the “tension” is called compatibilism.  Does compatibilism with regards to freedom and determinism leave the “tension” in tact, or does it eliminate it?  It clearly eliminates the tension by redefining freedom to mean the “freedom” to do as one must.  It becomes the “freedom” to choose what we have no choice but to choose.  They haven’t embraced the tension, but rather whittled away at the square peg of freedom until it is “compatible” with the round hole of determinism.  So in the end, their redefinition of “free will” to conform to determinism only succeeds in making determinism “compatible” with determinism and jettisons real (libertarian) freedom in the will for the sake of relieving unpleasant “tensions.” [7]

It is strange that much of the thrust of Mr. Patton’s post has to do with how Calvinists simply embrace this tension between determinism and free will with hands over their mouths, and yet Mr. Patton holds to compatibilism which plainly “redefines” freedom so that it is no longer freedom in any real sense at all, all for the sake of relieving the “tension.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches both human freedom and sovereign election, we leave the two in tact.

Not really, you “redefine” human freedom to make it “fit” with your view of “sovereign election” and “exhaustive determinism.”

Patton: If the Bible teaches that God loves everyone more than we can imagine and that God desires all to be saved yet he does not elect some, we trust God’s word and live with unanswered questions.

Not really.  Instead, you “redefine” what it means for God to “love everyone more than we can imagine” and how it is that God “desires all to be saved” in order to avoid “tension” and make such plain Biblical concepts and declarations “fit” with your doctrines of reprobation, irresistible grace, and limited atonement.  And again, it needs to be pointed out that all of what Mr. Patton says here hinges on “if the Bible teaches” such things as unconditional election.  Arminians contend that the Bible does not teach such things.  They simply do not see unconditional election anywhere in the Bible.  So again, Arminians have no need to “live with unanswered questions” that their reading of Scripture does not produce in the first place.  For us, unconditional election is a fiction, and there is certainly no need to reconcile fictions with Biblical truth (like the truth of an unlimited provision of atonement reflecting God’s love for all in His desire for all to be saved).

Go to Part 5

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2

Go to Part 3

___________________________________________________________________________

[5] However, there are moderate 4 point Calvinists who, unlike Mr. Patton, seem to have the guts and fortitude to live with the “tension” in affirming unconditional election, penal satisfaction and unlimited atonement.  Why do they do this?  Because they find unlimited atonement to be so clearly taught in Scripture that it would be exegetically dishonest to deny it.  For examples of some of these more noble and brave-hearted Calvinists, see here  and here.   It would seem that if Mr. Patton truly finds tensions to be so desirable as likely markers for Biblical truth, he should become a 4 point Calvinist.

[6] This seems to primarily be an allusion to Job’s response to God in Job 42:1-6.  But Mr. Patton’s allusion to Job is strange, since Job did not shut his mouth in the face of blatant contradictions.  Rather, Job shut his mouth in the face of numerous divinely relayed examples of things that are beyond his comprehension or power to control (like creation, the mysterious nature of the creatures that God created, God’s control over the elements, and many other such things, Job 38-41).  These are legitimate mysteries and not contradictions.  Even the main “mystery” in Job concerning why Job is suffering is actually plainly revealed in the first few chapters, and that mystery has nothing to do with any sort of contradictions or mutually exclusive concepts.  Again, the tactic seems to be using examples of real Biblical mystery to legitimize Mr. Patton’s Calvinist “problems.” But what Mr. Patton needs to do is demonstrate that his Calvinist “tensions” and “problems” can rightly be called Biblical mysteries, rather than unacceptable contradictions that reveal error rather than Biblical truth (or mystery).  Unfortunately, this task is never taken up by Mr. Patton.

[7] Compatibilism fails to account for real freedom as described in Scripture, or account for accountability as described in Scripture.  For more on this, see The Reality of Choice and the Testimony of Scripture.  See here  for more.  But Calvinist compatibilism does more than to just claim that two mutually exclusive ideas are actually compatible.  It actually works to make them logically compatible (and in the process eliminate the supposedly desirable mystery and tension of the whole thing).

An example of mutually exclusive concepts would be a bachelor and a married person.  You simply cannot reconcile these two concepts.  They are not compatible.  One cannot rightly be a bachelor and married at the same time.  But if you can cleverly redefine “bachelor” to mean  “a married person”, then Viola! “married” and “bachelor” are now compatible!

But if one doesn’t like the compatibilist “solution”, one can just say it is an “apparent” and not “real” contradiction, with no “apparent” burden assumed or required to actually demonstrate how this is the case.  When it comes to Calvinism, bare assertion regarding such sensitive and difficult issues will just have to suffice.  After all, since Calvinism is so obviously true, it simply can’t be a “real” contradiction, no matter how real it seems.  And if you find that unacceptable, then perhaps you just don’t have the fortitude to deal with the hard truths of the Bible.  You probably just aren’t willing to do the right and noble thing and “put your hand over your mouth” in the face of such profound “mysteries.”  You probably just don’t have enough room for “tension” in your hyper-rational theology.  For this reason, Calvinism becomes essentially impossible to falsify on logical grounds.  How nice for Calvinism.

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

[Updated with some additional material on 1/28/13]

Part 3: False Assumptions and Question Begging

Patton: Therefore, [according to Arminianism] God’s predestination of people is “fair” and makes sense. After all, there are too many questions left unanswered when one says that God chooses who will be saved and who will not. Why did he choose some and not others? Did God make people to go to hell? Is God fair? “Why does he still find fault, for who resists his will?”

The Arminian chooses this position because, for them, it is the only way to reconcile human freedom and God’s election.

Here is where Mr. Patton really missteps.  First, Patton assumes that the Calvinist view is the Biblical view.  This assumption is essential for his further argument regarding why Arminians hold to Arminianism and reject Calvinism.  Since he assumes the Calvinist view is the Biblical view, he assumes the only reason an Arminian would have for rejecting that view would be a matter of desiring fairness, answers to questions Calvinism can’t answer, emotional reasons, or a need for consistency.

But what if Calvinism is not the Biblical view?  In that case, none of this would follow.  Even if it is the Biblical view, none of this necessarily follows.  Arminians might reject the Calvinist view simply because they do not find it Biblical! Why should they be called on to accept Calvinism just because Calvinists think it is so Biblical?  And why should they be thought to reject it for the reasons Patton describes, if it can simply be the case that they do not think the Calvinist interpretation of Scripture is correct?  Mr. Patton’s assumptions are rooted in blatant question begging, in assuming that since Calvinism is so obviously Biblical, one can only have non-Biblical reasons for rejecting it.

Patton: Both [human freedom and God’s election] are clearly taught in Scripture.

Amen!  They are indeed, and there is no “tension” there, because Biblical election is not Calvinist election!  So the problem of “tension” is a Calvinist problem, and not a Biblical problem, unless it can be proven that Calvinism is entirely Biblical, which is the very issue in dispute between Calvinists and Arminians.

Patton: Therefore, in order to have a reasonable and consistent theology, one or the other must be altered.

Again, here is where Mr. Patton’s argument against non-Calvinists entirely breaks down.  Arminians don’t need to alter freedom or election since Arminians are convinced that the Bible does not teach Calvinist unconditional election.  Patton assumes that the Arminian starts with an assumption and then “alters” what the Bible teaches in order to get the Bible to fit that assumption and remain “reasonable and consistent.”  But on what basis can Patton make such an assumption?  On the basis of his “assumption” that Calvinist election is Biblical election.  But again, that is the very issue in dispute! I pointed this out to Patton in a comment in a similar post he wrote called “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  (I corrected some typos to make it more readable)

Mr. Patton,

Just a few quick comments with regards to two of your statements:

In the end, my argument is that the Arminian tradition attempts to reconcile tensions that are best left in tact for the sake of a rational understanding.

and…

This post is primarily focused on the issue of unconditional election. This concept creates too much tension for the Arminian.

I can only speak for myself but I do not reject unconditional election because it creates too much tension for me. I reject unconditional election because I do not see it in Scripture. I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible. Now you may say they exist but that brings us back to a matter of exegesis and interpretation.

I also reject Calvinism because I see so many Scriptures that seem to plainly contradict it as a system. And I do mean contradict (I am not referring to creating “tension”).

Now it seems that you became a Calvinist because you found some tensions in the Bible that you could not resolve without becoming a Calvinist but then you also affirm that you see Calvinism as superior because it holds to so many tensions. Strange.

Anyway, I am fine with you being a Calvinist but I get a little frustrated when Calvinists tell me why I hold to Arminianism and it seems that the two statements above get quite close to that. You are welcome to your tensions and you are welcome to see them as evidence for the truthfulness of your system but I think it is pushing it to tell Arminians that they are Arminians because certain concepts “create too much tension” for them, etc.

You can see my full comments here.  Unfortunately, Mr. Patton did not really interact with my comments at all.  He  did make some general comments that might have partially been in response to me here.  I left some follow-up comments here.

Therefore, it is not a matter of Arminianism not “allowing” inconsistencies and Calvinism “allowing” them (which apparently appeals to Mr. Patton).  Rather, Arminianism simply does not “create” the same tensions that Calvinism does.  Arminianism doesn’t need to “allow” for inconsistencies that are foreign to Arminianism (i.e., since they are foreign to how the Arminian understands and interprets the Bible).  Only Calvinism needs to do that. So it is inaccurate and question begging to paint Arminianism as a system that “cannot allow” inconsistencies, simply because it does not interpret the Bible in the same way as the Calvinist.  This is also an easily reversible argument (as we shall see in Part 4).

Patton: However, the Calvinist is not satisfied with a redefining of God’s election to make it fit.

Could the question begging be any more blatant than this?  Patton assumes the Calvinist definition of election is correct, and then says that Arminians “redefine” it to “make it fit.”  But that is not the case.  The Arminian does not see Calvinist unconditional election in Scripture, and therefore has no need to make anything “fit.”  As I said to Mr. Patton in the comments quoted above, “I don’t see the need to reconcile tensions that do not exist in the Bible.”

Go to Part 4

Go to Part 1

Go to Part 2

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

See Part 1: The Set Up

Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

 Patton:  However, I think we need take a step back and see that while the shoe fits when it comes to some particular issues in Calvinism these accusations are far from forming the bedrock of the primary issues in Calvinism. You see, one of the many reasons I am a Calvinist has to do with the tension that is allowed within the Calvinistic system that is not allowed in other systems.

The central core of Calvinism primarily centers on one doctrine: predestination. While the sovereignty of God has its place, it does not ultimately determine where one lands.

This is highly debatable among Calvinists.  This may be Mr. Patton’s opinion, but I think that he is probably in the minority.  Sovereignty (defined as God’s exhaustive control over everything) is what leads to the Calvinist understanding of predestination in many Calvinist’s minds.  However, it is true that the Calvinist view of predestination can lead back to such a view of sovereignty, but it does not demand it.  Unconditional election and predestination can just as easily fit within a system that does not hold that God exhaustively determines all things.  Also, for many Calvinists, “predestination” is essentially synonymous with the doctrine of God’s exhaustive determinism and is not limited only to matters of salvation (like unconditional election and reprobation).  In other words “predestination” simply means that God “predetermines” everything in reality (i.e. exhaustive determinism, the Calvinist version of “Sovereignty).

Patton: An Arminian can believe that God is sovereign to a similar degree as a Calvinist. But an Arminian cannot believe in predestination the same way as Calvinists.

This is a confused statement.  The Arminian view of sovereignty is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty just as the Arminian view of predestination is incompatible with the Calvinist view of sovereignty.  Mr. Patton’s distinction here is not really accurate.

Patton: Both Calvinists and Arminians believe in predestination.

Just as both Calvinists and Arminians believe in God’s sovereignty (which Mr. Patton happily admits here ), which is why Mr. Patton’s previous comment is awkward and strange.

Patton: In other words, whether or not God predestines people is not the issue. All Bible believing Christians believe this doctrine. The issue has to do with the basis of this predestining.

The Calvinist says that God’s predestination is unconditional. God did not choose people based on any merit, intrinsic or foreseen.

We need to stop right here, as Mr. Patton’s comments wrongly imply that Arminians base “predestination” on “merit”, simply because Arminians hold that predestination (more appropriately, election) is conditional.  Mr. Patton should know this is not the case.  Arminians hold that election is conditioned on faith, and faith holds no merit (Romans 4).  It is also simply an obvious non sequitur to assume that if something is “conditional” it means it is “earned” or “merited”.  This is a common Calvinist mistake and a misrepresentation of Arminian theology that is still perpetuated, despite Calvinists (like Mr. Patton) being continually corrected on the matter.

Also, it must be pointed out that Mr. Patton is conflating election and predestination, as Calvinists often do.  Unfortunately, even Arminius seemed to conflate the two based on his ties with Reformed thinking.  But many (if not most) Arminians today do not see election and predestination as the same thing, because the Bible doesn’t view them as the same thing.  Election has to do with God’s choice of His covenant people to belong to Him and bear His name.  Predestination has to do with God’s predetermined purpose for His covenant people.  Predestination is not about God predestinating some sinners to become believers.  Rather, predestination has to do with God’s eternal purposes for believers (to adoption as sons, to an inheritance, to be conformed to the image of Christ, etc.).  Calvinists, like Mr. Patton, will likely disagree with that important distinction, but it is a distinction that should not be overlooked, especially when trying to compare the Arminian view with the Calvinist view.

Patton: This is called unconditional predestination because there are no conditions in man that need to be met. It does not mean that God did not have any reason for choosing some and not others, but that the reason is not found in us. It is his “secret” and “mysterious” will that elects some and passes over others.

The Arminian says that God’s predestination is conditional. It has a founding in the faith of the predestined. In other words, God looks ahead in time and discovers who will believe and who will not and chooses people based on their prior free-will choice of him.

This is not a very good description of Arminian election.  The Classical view would better be expressed as God’s election of “believers” in Christ.  Jesus is the “elect” and only “in Him” is anyone “elect” (note again Mr. Patton’s conflating of terms).  Arminian election has its “founding” in Christ, not “the faith of the predestined.”  So God foreknows those who are joined to Christ in faith and therefore it can be said that election is “according to foreknowledge.”  It is not so much a foreknowledge of an act of faith, but a foreknowledge of people (“believers”), joined to Christ.  Faith is how one comes to be joined to Christ (Eph. 1:13), but it is the person “as a believer” who is in union with Christ that is the proper Biblical object of foreknowledge, not just the act of faith that joins one to Christ.  God foreknows and elects “believers” because they are joined to Christ (Eph. 1:4).  To be fair, some Arminians have expressed it as Mr. Patton does, but that is not the best way to express it.  It ignores the main focus and purpose of election in Arminianism, an election based on Christ and those who come to be in faith union with Him.

The corporate view is even more robust and even more Biblically accurate in my opinion, but it is not the Classical approach.  The corporate view does not rely on foreknowledge as the Classical view does, either.  Mr. Patton doesn’t even mention the corporate view, so I will not spend time delving into it at this time. [4]

Go to Part 3

_______________________________________________________________________

[4] For more on the corporate view of election, which I believe to be the Biblical view, see “Corporate Election Quotes” and “Corporate Election (Resources)

An Arminian Response to C. Michael Patton’s “The Irrationality of Calvinism” Part 1: The Set Up

[Some important updates have been added regarding the footnotes as of 1/19/13.]

C.Michael Patton is the President of Credo House.  He has now written two separate and similar posts defending the “irrationality” of Calvinism as actually being a strength of the system, specifically over and above Arminianism. In this newest post, Mr. Patton levels many unfair and unfounded criticisms against Arminian theology and “Arminians” in general,  betraying a basic lack of understanding concerning what Arminians believe and why they believe it.  For this reason, an Arminian response seemed appropriate in order to set the record straight.  This response will interact with the entirety of C. Michael Patton’s post, which would make for a very long interaction as a single post.  For that reason, the response will be broken into parts.

 Part 1: The Set Up

Patton: I am a child of Western thought. Therefore I like to figure things out. If possible, I like to figure it all out. It causes some problems sometimes with me and God and I need to deal with it better. Sometimes I only really follow or engage with God when I get it.  When things make sense to me, it eases my intellectual anxiety and engages my will. Who?, What?, Where?, How?, and, especially, Why?

Honestly, I don’t like the way this starts out.  It makes it seem like logic and wanting to figure things out is just a “western” thing.  That is not the case at all.  It’s pretty basic to human nature and our desire to understand and make sense of reality and the world we live in.  This desire goes far beyond just questions of theology, and it is not limited to “western thought” in the least.

Patton:  Theological gurus call this “cataphatic” theology. Cataphatic theology emphasises God’s revelation and our understanding of it. Taken to an extreme, we can find ourselves in arrogantly awkward position of, as A. W. Tozer put it, “trying to look God eye to eye.” When we have to understand everything, we attempt to trade our finitude for infinitude. And this should scare us to death. We need a healthy dose of “apophatic” theology. This emphasizes mystery.

Actually, we need a balance of both.  There are unhealthy extremes on both ends.  Patton admits this later on.

Patton: Our Eastern brothers and sisters normally get this better than we do. They are content without publishing a new theology book every year. They normally don’t write papers explaining the mysteries of the world, have societies discussing the nuances of our faith, and they don’t argue about too much.

But why is that?  Personally, I think a lot of that is because Eastern theologians almost unanimously reject Calvinism and so don’t find themselves in the position to always try to reconcile irreconcilable problems.  Honestly, a tremendous amount of Calvinist scholarship is caught up in dealing with problems that Calvinism alone creates (and this post by Mr. Patton is yet another example).

Patton: Taken to an extreme, it can lead to an unexamined faith where people know what they believe but they have no idea why. And God did go through a lot of trouble to explain quite a bit of himself to us. While there are secret things that belong to the Lord (apophadic), the things revealed belong to us (cataphatic). We need balance. We need a cool yet passionate head about us. We need to hold some theological ropes very tightly, but we need to loosen our grip on others. There is quite a bit that we can know about God, but there are so many things that we don’t get and we will never get.

Agreed.

Patton: Why all of this? Because I am going to talk about something that is very divisive in the Christian life. And, for the most part, I am going to try to encourage some of my Western brothers and sisters to take a que [sic.] from my Eastern brothers and sisters and step down off the stool and quite [sic.] trying to look God eye to eye. I am going to encourage us to allow some tension in a very debated issue in Protestant Christianity.

The reason for all of Mr. Patton’s set up now seems rather clear.  It is to create the idea that it is unreasonable to reject contradictions and irrationality in a theological system, namely (and only) Calvinism, of course.  That’s right, Mr. Patton has just introduced a new so called “tension” into the mix, the wild claim that it is irrational to have a problem with irrationality.  Of course, this is circular and self-defeating, just as the main thrust of Mr. Patton’s entire post.  Not only that, we see another slam on “western thought.”  Why does Mr. Patton keep going back to that?  The answer seems to be that if he can convince his readers that their problems with irrationalities in Calvinism are just an unfortunate and invalid symptom of less sophisticated “western thought”, his readers will be more likely to feel OK about embracing such irrational “tensions” in Calvinism.

I have seen this same tactic many times before.  For example, Craig Brown, in his little book, “The Five Dilemma’s of Calvinism,” says,

“In my defense of the Reformed faith, I will be ‘the Devils advocate’ and attack five principles of Calvinism from the standpoint of American common sense.” (pg. 9, see here for a post dealing with this quote and other aspects of Craig’s book)

So the argument is now framed to be more of an issue of Calvinism versus flawed Western or American thinking, rather than Biblical truth. [1] Indeed, Mr. Patton will eventually spin things to such an extent as to potentially convince his readers that those who embrace such irrationalities (“tensions”) are nobler and just more honest with the Bible than those who do not (namely Arminians, of course). [2]

Patton: I am a Calvinist. It is funny. I often hear people talk about Calvinism as a closed box system that forces everything to fall in line, even when we have to sacrifice biblical integrity to do so. I often hear the accusation that Calvinism is a system that makes rationality its primary goal. And this is often true. Sometimes Calvinists do attempt to fit things into a system and engage in questionable logic driven hermeneutics to do so.

An admission that should not be soon forgotten.  It is important to note here what Mr. Patton apparently means, though it is not very “apparent” from what he says here.  Mr. Patton speaks about Calvinism being a “closed system” because Calvinists often pride themselves on the logic of that “system.”  Indeed, many people seem to embrace Calvinism because the logic or coherence of the “system” appeals to them, or seems compelling.  Patton finds this ironic since he embraces Calvinism because it has the same “tensions” (“apparent” inconsistencies, or irrationalities) that he sees in the Bible.  So it is not coherence that attracts Mr. Patton to Calvinism, but “apparent” incoherence. [3]

If Mr. Patton’s post were simply about explaining why he personally holds to Calvinism and finds it attractive, or how he finds it ironic that people are drawn to Calvinism based on the supposed logic of the system when he embraces it for its “irrationality”, that would all be well and good, but Mr. Patton does more than that.  He attacks Arminianism in the process, and unfairly so.  That is why this response seemed necessary.

Go to Part 2: Theological Imprecision and Misrepresentations

__________________________________________________________________

[1]  Craig Brown and other Calvinists will actually take this a step further and say that Arminians embrace Arminianism and reject Calvinism, not just because Arminians are influenced by “western thought” or “American common sense”, but because Arminianism so strongly appeals to our sinful nature!  See the following posts to see such wild claims for yourself: The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Part 1 and J.I. Packer Calls Arminianism “An Intellectual Sin of Infirmity”  

[2] Unfortunately, this is a typical Calvinist tactic.  The aim is to shame “logical” and “rational” interpreters as not submitting to what the Bible says as, supposedly, only Calvinists have the guts and the fortitude to do.  Besides painting the Calvinist as more noble and honest than those who refuse to “embrace” such “tensions”, it also amounts to saying, “So what if Calvinism doesn’t make sense; neither does the Bible!” As will be discussed further, there is no reason to assume that such “tensions” are inherently “Biblical” tensions.  Rather, they are the direct results of the Calvinist interpretation of the Bible. They are Calvinist tensions, not Biblical ones.

[3] For further evidence that this is Mr. Patton’s view and one of the main reasons for writing these posts, see his comments in the thread of a similar post called, “Why Calvinism is the Least Rational Option.”  You can see that comment here  (which seems to be a partial and general response to a comment I made earlier in that thread that will be quoted below).

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)

*************************************************************

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)

**************************************************************

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)

***********************************************************

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

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 210 other followers