Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Prerogative Equals Unconditionality

Continuing with the series on Romans 9, we’ll now address the issue of God’s prerogative in saving who He wishes and how Calvinists often misinterpret its implications.

God’s Prerogative Reaffirmed

When speaking to zealous Calvinists, especially those who are very young and/or “educated” by internet echo chambers, the strawmen abound. It’s not uncommon to hear nonsense like,

“Arminians believe that man uses faith to save himself!”

“Free will means that God HAS to save someone who chooses to have faith!”

“The poor Arminian god can’t save people because he’s not sovereign enough to make them believe!”

The problem is further exacerbated by factually sloppy reformed polemicists who put forth no effort whatsoever towards accurate portrayal when discussing Arminian theology, James White being one of the worst offenders,

“…while the synergists get a lot of mileage out of preaching “Jesus loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life if you will only let him into your heart” the absolutely necessary counterpoint to their feel-good proclamation is “however, I can never tell you He can truly save you perfectly and completely because, after all, my entire point is that He is helpless aside from your cooperation. (White, J. , ‘Phil Johnson on “Desire”‘)”

In contrast to White’s blundering portrayal of God being helpless, the scriptural teaching that he attacks so vehemently paints a far different picture than the one he attempts to dupe believers with. In the initial post in this series, we saw that God has an absolute divine prerogative to save whoever He wishes to. On that particular issue I have no disagreement with our Calvinist brethren. What that prerogative entails is another matter altogether.

Sovereignty Defined

The term “sovereignty” itself denotes power, dominion, and authority. A king is sovereign over his country, a man is sovereign over his house. To say that God is “absolutely sovereign” is simply to say He’s omnipotent –all-powerful over everything. I wouldn’t think anyone who believes scripture to dispute such a claim. As stated above, this naturally extends to who is saved; God not only has power to save, but a divine right to choose who is saved.

From that premise, the reasoning of most (sans those few who are more logically astute) Calvinists goes something like:

“God can save whoever He wants, therefore God saves who He wants to on an entirely unconditional basis.”

Those of you versed in logic may recognize that this type of reasoning is a non-sequitur, a fallacous conclusion that doesn’t necessarily follow from the premise(s).

The Critical Flaw in the Calvinist’s Reasoning

The reason why such logic doesn’t follow is that power tells us what one is capable of, not how that power is used. One who exercises his power one way rather than another isn’t more powerful for doing so. This can be easily demonstrated from an example of temporal authority. Let’s say there’s a general in the U.S. military who has been assigned an aide. The aide’s task today is to fill out some forms. The general has several options to get him to do so:

1. Give the order for him to do so and expect him to obey it without supervision.
1. Give the order for him to do so and expect him to obey it while occasionally checking on his progress.
3. Give the order for him to do so and stand over his shoulder to ensure he obeys it.

Q: Which of these options, if taken, will give the general more authority?
A: None. His rank and how he carries out his mission are two separate issues.

Q: Which of these options, if taken, is an indicator of a more power and/or authority on the general’s part?
A: None. All of these options are within a general’s authority to employ. His choosing one or the other tells us nothing beyond that.

How much authority someone has is no indicator of how said power will be used. Much as in the case of the general above, how and on what basis God chooses to save sinners is His prerogative; one method doesn’t make Him “more sovereign” than another, nor does His omnipotence necessitate only a particular method. This is why the occasions in which the over-zealous Calvinists hurl the typical “you deny God’s sovereignty” charge against someone who believes in conditional election merely show that they’re ignorant of what God’s sovereignty actually means and entails.

Armed with these mistaken principles, Calvinists then proceed to interpret Romans 9 in a likewise errant fashion, so that when the chapter speaks of God’s prerogative in who He saves, e.g. “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion,” many eager young Calvinists automatically read, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, which of course means that I do so on an entirely unconditional basis in accordance with the Westminster confession!” In fact, such a statement doesn’t tell us God’s basis for His choices, merely that who is saved and how is His to decide, which does not preclude His saving people on the conditional basis of faith in Christ.

Bottom Line:

The concept of God having power to choose who to save itself tells us nothing about how or upon what basis He chooses to save.

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49 Responses

  1. Do you suppose to know the mind of the Lord? Read scripture where man questions God in Job for instance. He doesn’t have to explain Himself to you or anybody else. Paul anticipated your objection in Romans 9,

    10 Not only that, but Rebekah’s children were conceived at the same time by our father Isaac. 11 Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: 12 not by works but by him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.”[d] 13 Just as it is written: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”[e]

    14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”[f]

    16 It DOES NOT, therefore, DEPEND ON HUMAN DESIRE OR EFFORT, but on God’s mercy. 17 For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”[g] 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

    19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?

    22 What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?

    God doesn’t have to explain Himself to you. The fact that it says it in scripture should be enough.
    Again you Arminians love to isolate scriptures and make them what you want them to say. Read things in context and you will get a better picture.

  2. Jordan,

    Did you just not read the post?

    @He doesn’t have to explain Himself to you or anybody else.

    Where did I ever imply that He did? If you’d even bothered to read the post, you’ll see that I defended the idea that it’s God’s prerogative to choose who is saved and on what basis.

    @Paul anticipated your objection in Romans 9

    All you did was quote the passage with no explanation for how it supposedly contradicts what I’ve written.

    @The fact that it says it in scripture should be enough.

    What is the “it” you’re referring to? You’re not making any sense.

    @Do you suppose to know the mind of the Lord?

    I know much of what He’s revealed in His word.

    @Read things in context

    I linked to an in-depth review of the passage in context at the beginning.

    It’s quite obvious that you haven’t understood the material presented here, all you’ve done is drop a proof-text as a knee-jerk reaction against what you don’t understand.

  3. I apologize I did not read it thoroughly, but now that I have I think you are saying the problem with Calvinism is that we don’t give a basis of why God choses, am I right?

  4. Good post brother.

  5. Jordan,

    We believe in the truth of Scripture. We don’t believe in Calvinist conclusions from it.

  6. Why I am asking the question above is that God uses this method out His pleasure as stated in Ephesians 1:3-5
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ:
    According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:
    Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.

    I don’t believe in Calvinism b/c I think Calvin is the all to end all. I follow the system because as the King of Preachers C. H. Spurgeon said

    “And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else”

  7. Roy, thanks!

    Jordan,

    @I think you are saying the problem with Calvinism is that we don’t give a basis of why God choses

    Closer, but not quite: I’m saying many Calvinists read that God has the right to save who He wishes and assume an unconditional basis for His choice. My argument against such an assumption is that the fact that God is absolutely sovereign doesn’t tell us exactly how He chooses to bring people to saving faith.

    The nonsensical quote you cite by Spurgeon utterly fails to explain his ridiculous assertion of how Arminians “add” anything to Christ’s work. Further, by his own admission, that was his own opinion and not the word of God. The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ, not Calvin’s opinions on predestination.

  8. What you add is the fact that you participate in your salvation. You make that “quality decision”. In fact it is God alone provides salvation. You say you believe in total depravity. If so then you would never choose God, unless ,He grants you repentance as scripture states.

  9. “A man is sovereign over his house.” Uhh, did you let your wife read this before posting? 😉

  10. What you add is the fact that you participate in your salvation. You make that “quality decision”. In fact it is God alone provides salvation. You say you believe in total depravity. If so then you would never choose God, unless ,He grants you repentance as scripture states. You only believe after he changes your heart, one of stone to one of flesh.

  11. Jordan,

    @What you add is the fact that you participate in your salvation.

    I’m a recipient of it if nothing else, that’s not adding to Christ’s work but receiving the benefits thereof.

    @In fact it is God alone provides salvation.

    Which is why we believe we need to believe in Christ as our Savior to provide it in the first place.

    @You say you believe in total depravity. If so then you would never choose God, unless ,He grants you repentance

    We believe God grants men repentance in opening their hearts that they may believe. You don’t seem very familiar with our theology.

  12. So explain how you differ from calvinism.

  13. So explain how you differ from calvinism. After all God doesn’t grant all repentance. If He did none would go to hell.

  14. Kevin, not to worry –my wife is an even stauncher complementarian than I am 😉

  15. Good post. A case in point about how God exercises His sovereignty in ways other than how strict monergists suppose he must is found in Jeremiah 18. Here we find the familiar potty/clay analogy, but God specifically states that He makes His decisions on the fate of the clay (ie nation) contingent on it’s response to him–whether of repentance or disobedience. Yet his doesn’t change the fact that HE is the potter in the least–He just sets the terms on how the clay turns out, and in this case the terms are that His decision is conditioned on the response of the clay (Jer 18:1-11).

  16. Ooops–should be ‘pottER/clay’ analogy.

  17. To Doubting Thomas’s comment about the potter/clay analogy, I would like to add that we should especially read this illustration in light of the Jew/Gentile issues at the heart of Romans.

    When Paul says that God has the right to make some clay into special pots and other clay into common pots, he is answering the Jewish objection that it is not fair for God to grant righteousness to all Gentiles who believe while hardening the Jews who have tried to establish their own righteousness through the law.

    The Gentiles were unrighteous clay who were made into “special pots” through faith in Christ; the unbelieving Jews were clay who thought they would receive the promises of God because of the “works of the law,” yet they find themselves outside of the covenant.

    In fact, Paul explicitly states that the reason for the Jews’ failure to attain righteousness was because of something they did (and thus was not bestowed unconditionally):

    Romans 9:31-32
    …but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as a way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why? Because THEY PURSUED IT AS IF IT WERE BY WORKS.

  18. I had a practical experience in the past which could actually be a “peek” into the argument of Romans 9. I know personal experience does not bode well for an exegesis (well maybe a Wesleyan would disagree!), but I think this experience gave me insight into God having mercy on whom He wills and vice versa…

    When that whole thing about the impending rapture was going on recently, my father made a joke about it and said something like, “And now they’re calling everyone to repent!” It was said funnily. However, my mother surprisingly grew kind of “dark”… And she said, “What do they think that’ll do?” I sensed a disturbance in the vicinity, and decided to explain that these people were not actually Christians, but she pressed on saying, “What, are they saying that they can just ‘repent’ and then God will forgive them of EVERYTHING they’ve ever done?!” An argument ensued. “Are you saying that people lie murderers, rapists (et al) would be able to just ‘repent’ and be saved!?” And on she went. I tried to defend the doctrine as we know it “justification by faith alone,” but she just couldn’t accept that fact–she saw it as arbitrary, unjust and, frankly, silly.

    Why am I telling you this? Well, in the aftermath of that hour-long engagement described above, I thought to Romans 9, wherein God said:

    14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 15 For he says to Moses,

    “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

    16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. (Romans 9:14-16).

    A light went on in my head… Here my mother was saying, “Surely REPENTANCE alone is not enough for salvation! Surely you have to DO something…be a good person, etc.” But wait, that’s exactly the point! God mercies whom HE wills! That is to say, God mercies the BELIEVER who really believes and truly repents! It really does NOT depend on man’s effort–his works–or on man’s desire of salvation–his striving–since God is a God WHO JUSTIFIES BY FAITH ALONE ANYONE WHO WILL COME TO HIM.
    Do you guys see what I’m saying here? What that experience has presented to me is a possible clarification of Paul’s point: One party–my mother–says, “Look, surely you have to DO something to be saved,” and on the other hand, the Bible saying, “No, God mercies whom He mercies.” But it begs the question: “WHO, exactly, does God choose to mercy?” And therein it becomes abundantly clear that God chooses to have mercy on the believer, who trusts in Jesus Christ by faith alone, and not by works.

    And isn’t that the whole point? Jewish people believed that by virtue of their psychical descent from Abraham, the Father of the Jewish people, they they were automatically saved individuals, safe in YHWH’s care simply by virtue of their ethnicity. Apostle Paul says, No, you must believe in the Messiah. Israel IS the chosen people of God, but to become a part of the remnant you must believe in the Christ, the son of the Living God by faith alone, and not of your works. I think it’s a glorious defense of justification by faith alone and not unconditional election.

  19. This post and Jordan’s reply remind me of this quote from Shank:

    “It is easy to opt for monothetism and determinism when one takes Romans 9:6-29 as a starting point, interprets it isolation from the rest of Romans 9-11 and the cardinal thesis of the Epistle (that the just will live by faith), and carries away from that passage a fatal misapprehension to use as a hammer to beat into submission every contrary passage of Scripture.” Shank (Elect in the Son pp. 140-141).

  20. The statements of Romans 9 speak for themselves. It’s not beating into submission every contrary passage, but letting the scripture establish its own priorities. I would suggest D.A. Carson’s “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility “.

    On the issue of unconditional election: Faith in Jesus Christ is the means God has ordained. All of the elect WILL believe. cf. John 6

  21. DT, I agree. Another of the fallacies Calvinists often use (which I plan to address) is abuse of the analogies in Romans 9.

    Dave, I think you’re right on target, look over my initial post in this series.

    Brendan, thank-you for your insight. Your conclusion was especially good.

    Jordan, Romans 9 does speak for itself -in context- hence JPC’s quote about Calvinists typically interpreting it in isolation. Interpreting select passages of scripture acontextually and then trying to subordinate the rest of scripture to said spurious interpretation is the root of many a bad doctrine. One of those “exegetical fallacies” Carson goes on about.

  22. Wow! You still haven’t not said how Calvinists are wrong. Get to the point. All you have said we have taken it out of context and giving a TRUE reason why. The problem with discussing in these forums is the there is lot of waiting of back and forth. Truly topics are discussed in person I believe and these forums provide little benefit unless you have people who think similarly to you. The fact is that God does not change his mind in anything waiting for men to react. God is not reactionary. Creating these men in their personalities (ie Israel in Jeremiah, etc…) God told Jeremiah in the beginning of the book that the people WOULD NOT LISTEN. Him proclaiming that message was Israel’s judgement. Another example you find where God “supposedly” changing mind are in the cases of Jonah and stroy of Nineveh and King Hezekiah where he told him to prepare for his death and then told him He would give him 15 more years. At first glance it looks like God changes His mind. But NO! He had not yet had heir, which of course Christ would come from. Also with Jonah after Nineveh repented. People say “See God changed his mind”. The fact is that God had intended for Nineveh to repent because after that happened what did Jonah say I knew You were going to be merciful to them– that’s why I ran away the first time!” But God replied, “What right do you have to be angry?” Jonah went to the top of a hill outside the city and waited, hoping for God’s judgment to destroy the city! (Jonah 4:1-5). God DOES NOT CHANGE HIS MIND. He makes the circumstances so that man will accomplish HIS Will! Proverbs 21:1 says The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases. If changed hi mind so that would indicate His imperfection. Numbers 23:19 says “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should CHANGE his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” Again provide the point of how Calvinists are wrong. For you haven’t!

  23. Please provide scripture not rhetoric!

  24. Jordan, please stay on-topic and at least attempt to address what’s being discussed. There’s nothing in this post about God “changing His mind,” so dispense with the red-herrings please. Contrary to your claims, the post itself clearly does address an area where most Calvinists misinterpret Romans 9: specifically, conflating sovereignty with unconditional choosing.

    Additionally, to your assertion, “God is not reactionary.”, were that true in every sense, the scriptures could not truly state that God does anything because of something man does. But the fact is that the scriptures do state that God performs some actions as a response (e.g. blessings, punishment). I’ve also covered that fatal flaw in Calvinism.

  25. Your explanations of how this is makes no sense on Romans 9. You said “The reason why such logic doesn’t follow is that power tells us what one is capable of, not how that power is used.” What does this have to do with anything. What He is capable of vs all He does is for His own good pleasure. He choses based on His good pleasure and He has not stated “why” other than that. Paul then states again in Romans 9 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” 20 But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”[h] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?” It is not for to determine why God saves some and not others, but the fact that it CLEARLY states it in scripture. Also I don’t see how we take it out of context. By NO way does this CONTRADICT anything from Rom 9-11. In regards to God not being reactionary, I was just responding to the Jeremiah 18 post made by Doubting Thomas earlier. God gives blessings and cursings not as a reaction. Just because He gives those after the fact doesn’t excuse the fact that He intended to curse or bless. He determined the circumstances so that these people would disobey or obey. And all for His glory. The problem is that your God is too small. Are confusing Calvinists with Hyper-Calvinism? I don’t believe God puts evil in the hearts of men, they are sinful already! He merely shapes the circumstances so that their actions accomplish what He wants.

  26. Jordan,

    This has everything to do with Calvinism because the “sovereignty=unconditionality” fallacy is one of the driving forces behind Calvinism’s predominant interpretation of its flagship prooftext. I’m sorry discussion of basic logical principles doesn’t make sense to you. I recommend you study up on the nature of logic and fallacies in reasoning.

    @He choses based on His good pleasure and He has not stated “why” other than that.

    Even if that were granted, to infer that God’s choices must be necessarily unconditional, as Calvinists do, is still a non-sequitur.

    @I don’t see how we take it out of context.

    The standard misidentification of who Jacob and Esau represent is one place.

    @Are confusing Calvinists with Hyper-Calvinism?

    Hyper-Calvinism isn’t even part of this discussion. Are you just confused altogether?

    @The problem is that your God is too small.

    [rolling my eyes at your baseless and nonsensical insult to God]

    @Just because He gives those after the fact doesn’t excuse the fact that He intended to curse or bless.

    Not merely after the fact, but because of the fact, which is a response.

    “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Gen 22:16-17a)

    “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’” (2 Samuel 12:10) (2 Sam 2:10)

    Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.’” (2 Kings 22:17)

    “…and receive from him anything we ask, because we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” (1 John 3:22)

    You are in clear opposition to the word of God on this point.

  27. Jordan,
    The passage in Jeremiah 18 clearly teaches that to what end God ‘shapes’ the clay IS contingent on how it responds to Him–whether in repentance or disobedience. That God already knows HOW it will respond is irrelevant. The point is that He is teaching we do have a choice and God takes those choices into consideration in the exercise of His providence. Since God in His sovereignty has decreed it to be thus, who are you, O man, to argue back with God?
    (I believe that’s basically the point of the original post)

  28. Obviously this cannot be productive, especially since we are not face to face. Your proofs still have not answered what I said. God rightly condemns because God is Holy! This still doesn’t change the fact that He does all things for His glory including condemning men for their actions. Circumstances which direct their actions can only come about because God has determined they would happen to accomplish His will for HIs glory! I must bid adieu, again these conversations are best in person rather than in this sort of forum. One aside, it seems the hermeneutical method used by Robert Shank didn’t serve him so well, as he later embraced the heresy of modalism. I still think one of the best books on the subject is Carson’s “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility”. I believe it is “you who are in clear opposition to the word of God on this point. ” History supports Calvinism or Augustianism or Pauline theology. The benefit of the doubt lies with the historic protestant faith!

  29. “History supports Calvinism or Augustianism or Pauline theology. The benefit of the doubt lies with the historic protestant faith!”

    “HISTORY”? Seriously? There is hardly a trace of ‘Augustinianism’ (much less, ‘Calvinism’) in the ante-Nicene Church or even right up to Augustine’s time. That’s rather odd if Calvin or even Augustine were indeed the true interpreters of Paul. .And unlike Calvin, Augustine believed a truly regenerate person could fall from grace and finally be damned. (Paul, too, believed a true believer could be cut off if he did not perservere in the faith and share the condition of the unbeliever–see Romans 11:18-22.) Let me humbly suggest you recheck your “history”.

  30. Again I don’t where your getting your sources, but Calvinism IS the historic Christian Faith! And as I said earlier is not b/c John Calvin presented it, but because IT IS what the scripture states. You obviously have not read Augustine very well. Show me where Augustine has said that! More than likely you have taken him out of context as well! Just like everything you do, YOU take it out of context. You are taking Romans 11:18-22 out of context. Again God conducts these actions and He rightly condemns them for the sin of rejecting, and their rejection accomplishes His purpose. Read the account in Genesis 50 where Joesph’s brothers come before him 19 Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? 20 But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. 21 Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” And he comforted them and spoke kindly to them. The fact of the matter is God uses the evil intentions of men to accomplish His purposes. Not in a reactionary sense but the way HE wanted to to do it. Otherwise God’s purpose for Joseph to become 2nd in command of all of Egypt would have been done immediately. Why in the world did he make Joesph go through all of this? To accomplish what He wanted by the MEANS He wanted! This is my final post, this kind of discussion is best done one on one in person and I am sure you are probably too far away to do this. I pray God would change your heart.

  31. Jordan,

    @Your proofs still have not answered what I said.

    Primarily because what you’ve been saying is largely off-topic….

    @The fact of the matter is God uses the evil intentions of men to accomplish His purposes.

    No one’s arguing that point.

    @He does all things for His glory including condemning men for their actions

    The issue here is conditionality vs lack thereof as it pertains to election in Romans 9, not God’s glory.

    @it seems the hermeneutical method used by Robert Shank didn’t serve him so well, as he later embraced the heresy of modalism.

    a.) Do you have any credible evidence of this claim?
    b.) How does that address Shank’s arguments on soteriology?

    @Calvinism IS the historic Christian Faith!

    No, Christianity is the historical Christian faith, Calvinism didn’t come along for over a millenium.

    @I believe it is “you who are in clear opposition to the word of God on this point.”

    Why exactly? You’re the one saying God doesn’t “respond” to anything man does, and I’ve just shown where scripture plainly declares that He performs some things because of (i.e. in response to) things men do. So if I’m the one agreeing with what scripture says, then how can I be the one in opposition to it? You’re talking nonsense.

    @History supports Calvinism or Augustianism

    We’ll make do with believing the Bible rather than your fanciful revisionist “history,” thanks.

  32. Rom 9 has long been a hang-up to me as an Arminian. Thanks for helping me think through this chapter.

  33. It is amazing that Jordan wants to attack Shank but refuses to use that same measure of judgement on the heretic Augustine. That man is a Saint in the Catholic Church and founded many of their practices including infant baptism, Maryology and the need to “compel” meaning torture those who oppose the faith. Lets not even start with Calvin.

    It seems that Jordan is unaware that what is being discussed is whether Romans 9 teaches unconditional particular election to Salvation. Another quote from Shank would be appropriate here:

    “Calvinists find the Sovereignty of God in Romans 9, and well they should, for certainly it is there; this is precisely Paul’s point in 9:6-29. But the Sovereignty of God is equally pesent in 11:32, Titus 2:11, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9 and other texts positing universalism (God’s desire for the whole world to be saved and that none perish). One of the great fallacies of Calvinism is the assumption that unconditional particular election is an essential corollary-virtually the sine qua non-of the Sovereignty of God. This is by no means so , and the assumption should be examined and seen for what it is: an assumption, and one without warrant.” Shank (Elect in the Son pp.143)

  34. kentscantlin, glad you enjoyed the article. If you want to read further, you might also look at Brian J. Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation, “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis”.

    JPC, great quote by Shank, it concisely states the point I’ve been making here. Yeah, I noted Jordan’s attack on Shank, but the complete free pass Augustine got; the irony wasn’t lost on me. On that, I looked up whether Shank turned from Trinitarianism; the only reference I could find to it was a semi-anonymous poster on some message board and one guy who says he heard it from someone (but didn’t identify the source). I contacted a minister who was a personal friend of Shank’s (until he died in 2006) by email and asked him if he knew anything about whether Shank had turned from his Trinitarian beliefs. The minister replied he’d “never heard of any such thing.”

  35. To be fair to Augustine, he didn’t invent infant baptism–the evidence shows it had been going on for at least a century and a half before his time, and indirect evidence from Irenaeus pushes that time back at least another half century. It’s easy to pick on Augustine at times, particularly since he introduced the novelty of strict monergism into the discussion regarding grace, predestination, and free will, mainly in an overreaction to Pelagius. However, let’s be careful about blaming him for introducing EVERYTHING into the church that we usually associate with Roman Catholicism. 🙂

  36. JC, I think what Jordan may have been referring to was the fact that when Shank was kicked out of his Church (after writing Life in the Son), he joined the Church of Christ, of which some in that camp deny the Trinity. Other than that indirect inference I don’t know where he could have gotten that from.

    Doubting Thomas, if there is evidence that infant baptism came before Augustine, I apologize for attributing that to him. Do you know where I can find this information? Thanks

  37. JPC,
    I don’t have the lsources in front of me, but I know Cyprian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria both mentioned it in the 3rd century, with Cyprian making the comment that baptism should not be delayed until the 8th day after birth. Hippolytus also speaks of baptism for those too young to “speak for themselves” in his ‘Apostolic Tradition’ written early 3rd century. Irenaeus speaks of infants being among those ‘born again in Christ’ and elsewhere speaks of regeneration occuring baptism (I’m not here to debate ‘baptismal regeneration’–just reporting what I’ve read in the early church documents). I’ll try to get the exact sources and quotes later.

  38. It should also be pointed out that not only does saying that someone chooses whoever he wants to choose not imply that the choice is unconditional, as you rightrly point out, but also that this language practically is alomst always used of conditional choice! For all intents and purposes the language actually implies conditional choice, though it technically does not denote that. It could be used of unconditional choice. It just hardly ever is. Calvinist assumptions and arguments often run so contrary to the normal usage of words and language, it is bewildering.

  39. Just because you have power you don’t have to use it. Along these lines, look at Romans 9:22 and how that verse is so wrongly interpreted by Calvinists who are so quick to point out that God “fitted vessels for destruction.”

    The problem with that is a major one. The verse DOES NOT SAY God fitted “vessels for destruction.” It says he endures, with long suffering vessels “fitted for destruction.”

    God does not, with malice aforethought, use his power to “fit people for destruction,” then turn around and endure, with much long suffering, those same people that he supposedly “fit” in the first place.

    Point that inconvenient fact to a Calvinist and you will get an emotional response bordering on hysteria. A Calvinist is so anxious to use Romans 9:22 as a proof text for the Sovereignty of God, that he can’t see the forest on account of the trees.

    God doesn’t “fit anyone for destruction.” They may “fit” themselves, but don’t blame it on God.

  40. […] “Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong:  Prerogative Equals Unconditionality,” by J. C. Thibodaux at the Arminian Perspectives blog, making the case that God having the sovereignty and prerogative to save anyone does not commit Him to act in a particular way. […]

  41. @ Dave,
    Your answer was brilliant, just brilliant!

    @ we should especially read this illustration in light of the Jew/Gentile issues at the heart of Romans.

    Thank you, that summed it up beautifully for me. Now, I’ve re-read the whole chapter and see it exactly as Paul’s defense as to why God chose the believing Gentiles vs. the attempting-righteousness-via-the-law-w/o-faith Jews. Verses 1-5 and then 30-33 perfectly sandwiches this idea.

  42. Before I was saved, I heard the gospel preached and backed up with quotes from the Scripture. The preaching of the gospel that I heard was in a style of communication that implied to me that I had the inherent ability to accept or reject God’s call to believe in Christ as my savior in order to be saved. The scriptures that were used to support the gospel also implied to me that I, of my own will, needed to make a decision to accept Christ as my savior in order to be saved. When I actually looked up the scriptures that were used in the sermons, again, the Bible text implied to me that I, of my own will, needed to make a decision to accept Christ as my savior in order to be saved. I had no idea whether the preacher believed man had the inherent ability to accept of reject God’s call or not. For several months God was convicting me of my sin and that I was headed to hell, if I did not obey the Scripture and have my sins forgiven by faith in Christ. I was saved believing that I had the inherent ability to accept or reject God’s call to accept Christ as my savior.

    As a new believer, I began to study the word of God from that perspective. As I came across the very few verses (approximately much less than 0.5%) that syllogisticly could be used to build a theology of “no inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit) to trust His word, to follow His commands and to believe in Christ as our savior”, I only temporarily mentally noted that those few verses by themselves could be used to build the “no inherent ability of man to accept or reject Christ as our savior” theology if a person ignored the implication of the majority of the Scripture and the implication of the style of communication used by God in the Scripture. However, I proceeded to interpret those few scriptures from an “inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call”, the precedence set by the majority of scriptures in the Bible; and I did not have any problems understanding and interpreting them from a that perspective or precedence. During those early years of my Christian life I had not even heard of Calvinism.

    Years later I begin to come across Calvinists and heard their teaching and read of their theology of “no inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call”. This teaching of theirs seemed very strange to me; however their teaching and teaching method of just using those very few verses (much less than 0.5%) in the Bible appeared to me to be very intellectually appealing and very scholarly to me because they did a very good job of academic and scholarly syllogistic development using those few verses. I began to search myself as to why I had trouble accepting their very academic and scholarly syllogistic development of their “no inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call” theology. The first thing I realized about myself, was that my inherent common sense logic intuitively realized that the Calvinistic interpretation of those very few scriptures contradicted the obvious implication of the majority of the Bible.

    When a Calvinist would give their interpretation to me of those few scriptures in their syllogistic logic loop chain, the thought that repeatedly came to my mind was “What about the rest of the Scripture, the majority of Scripture!” I would ask a question like “But, what about this verse over here in the Bible?”, then they would jump back to repeating their academic and scholarly syllogistic logic loop chain. I would again ask them the same question “But, what about this OTHER verse over here in the Bible?”. And again they would jump right back on to their academic and scholarly syllogistic logic loop chain. Obviously the verses I brought up were verses that implied the “inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit) to trust His word, to follow His commands and to believe in Christ as our savior”. After I had asked them about many more verses in the Bible that implied “the inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call”, they would start accusing me of having a proof-texting mentality. At first, I was baffled, because I had never heard of the idea of proof-texting before, and did not know how to proceed in the discussions with them, except to just ask them to give me more details about their theology of “man not having the inherent ability to accept or reject God’s call”.

    It seemed strange to me that Calvinists would let approximately less than 0.5% of the Scripture set the precedence when approximately 99.5% of the Scripture contradicted their conclusion. I often wonder if it is the scholarly aura created by the academic syllogistic logic sequencing of 0.5% of the Scripture by Calvinists that prevents Calvinists from seeing or paying attention to the obvious implication of the majority of Scripture, the “inherent ability of man to accept or reject God’s call”? Also, there seemed to be something wrong with my method of discussing my conclusions with them. For a number of years, I pondered those two questions. Finally, I realized that they were experts at getting folk like me to get started on a verse hurdling contest, and then they would start accusing folk like me of being guilty of proof-texting. I asked myself why I was throwing the verses that I used at them? I intuitively/logically realized that the “majority (great than 99.5%) of the Bible”, and the style of communication in all the Bible, was communications from God to man in a style that reeked with an implication of an understood presupposition that those being communicated to (mankind) have the inherent ability to believe or reject what was being communicated to them from God and the Holy Spirit. From that point on, I very early in discussions with Calvinists point out to them this majority implication of the Bible, instead of getting caught up in a verse hurdling contest. I now also point out to them that the volume of scriptures that they use makes up only approximately 0.5%, or less, of the Scripture. I also realized that the majority of people that get saved, intuitively/logically see this implied understood “inherent ability of man to believe or reject” presupposition in the majority of the Bible without even being fully cognizant of it; and therefore, like I was at first, are unable to rationally explain it at first. Since the majority of Scripture reeks with an implication of an understood presupposition that those being communicated to (mankind) have an inherent ability to believe or reject what was being communicated to them from God (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit), I believe most folk, like myself, intuitively/logically let that set the precedence and will automatically interpret Calvinism’s 0.5%, or less, supporting scripture verses from that perspective. Also those Calvinist 0.5%, or less, Scripture verses are easily understood from the “inherent ability of man to believe or reject” perspective. Now days, when I ask Calvinists to interpret the 99.5%, or greater, of the Scripture, that reek with the implication “that man has the inherent ability to believe or reject what is being communicated to them from God (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit)”, from their “no inherent ability of man to believe or reject” perspective, the majority of the time the answer I get is along this line “Yes, God communicates with man in a style that implies that man has the inherent ability to believe or reject what was being communicated to them from God (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit), but God knows that man does not have that inherent ability to believe or reject.” To me, that response seems to imply that God has been deceiving mankind on this theological issue for millennia, implying that God is a deceiver. When I tell them that implies that God is a deceiver, they usually respond by saying that “— My (God’s) ways (are) higher than your ways — from Isa. 55:9”. This type of response is what I get from the majority of strict TULIP type Calvinists (5 point Cal.), strict TUIP Calvinists (4 point Cal.), strict TIP Calvinists (3 point Cal.).

    Also, when I ask strict TULIP, TUIP and TIP type Calvinists why 99%, or the majority, of the time they preach in a communication style that also implies “that man has the inherent ability to believe or reject what is being communicated to them”, they usually reply by “saying that is the way God does it in the Bible”. To me, that answer seems to be saying “If God is deceiving man on this issue in the Bible, then so can I”.

    There is a significant number of TULIP, TUIP and TIP type Calvinists, that I mentally like to think of as baffled-Calvinists. These baffled-Calvinists are mentally confounded between the highly intellectual, scholarly, and academic syllogistic chain reasoning argument presented by strict TULIP, TUIP and TIP Calvinists and their own common sense logical reasoning ability that sees that the “majority (great than 99.5%) of the Bible”, as well as the communication style of all the Bible, is communications from God to man in a style that reeks with an obvious implication of an understood presupposition that those being communicated to (mankind) have the inherent ability to believe or reject what is being communicated to them from God by the Scripture and by the drawing of the Holy Spirit, such as the Gospel message. These Baffled-Calvinists see the obvious contradiction between the implication of the strict TULIP, TUIP and TIP Calvinist interpretation of the less than 0.5% of the Scripture and the obvious implication of greater than 99.5% of Scripture that implies that man has the ability to accept/believe or reject what God is communicating to them by the Scriptures and by the drawing of the Holy Spirit, such as the Gospel. In an effort to resolve this contradiction, these Baffled-Calvinists will say that both are true and that we can not understand it because “— My (God’s) ways (are) higher than your ways — from Isa. 55:9”. To me, their answer seems to implying that God is justifying their contradictory theology? I do not believe it is logically proper to use Isa. 55:9 to justify contradiction in theology. Isa. 55:9 can be used to explain some hard to understand theology (such as the Trinity), but not contradictory theology.

    I refer to myself as an “inherent free-willer” which means I believe in the inherent ability of mankind to accept or reject God’s call (which is through the Scripture and drawing of the Holy Spirit) to accept Christ as savior, and I believe that no one can come to Christ unless the Father who sent Christ draws him ( John 6:44), and I believe in the eternal security of the believer, and I do not believe in the Calvinistic concept of unconditional election, limited atonement and irresistible grace, and I believe that God has elected before the beginning of the world those in the new testament era whom he foreknew He could convince to believe/trust in Christ as their sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins, and I believe that God has elected before the beginning of the world those before new testament era whom he foreknew He could convince to believe/trust in Him and his plan for the forgiveness of their sins.

    The churches that I have regularly attended, so far, in my Christian life are churches that were/are inhabited by a mixture of “inherent free-willers”, “TULIP type baffled-Calvinists”, “TUIP type baffled-Calvinists”, “TIP type baffled-Calvinists”, “modified Arminians, that believe in eternal security” and some “Molinists”. I have found that these types of Christians worship, minister and fellowship together without fighting over their differences in the area of free will of man. I believe the peaceful fellowship occurs because all these types have one thing in common in the area of free will of man: in the practical everyday world, they all witness, teach and preach in a communication style that assumes/implies the free will of man.

    David C. Geminden

  43. Gods sovereignty vs mans free will is also a false dilemma, being that there are more than two options. It is also an invented ideology which attempts to portray that if God programmed man with a will to choose, that this challenges the sovereignty of God. This is refuted by Romans 2, God is the one that puts the law in mans heart and designed him with a conscious (Image and likeness) that serves as a referee of moral values and duties. Therefore the contrast of Gods sovereignty vs mans free will is false.

  44. In regard to the reference of “young Calvinists”, please note some of the dead guys. (Pink, Edwards, Spurgeon, Toplady). Current teachers would include Grudem, MaCarthur, Piper, and Packer. These are not children who just got off the TULIP bus. I am thankful for the security in reformed teaching and that the term backslider is rarely applied.

  45. Mark,

    We are well aware of those guys. We have posts and articles that interact at some level with most, if not all of them. Thanks for the reminder.

    As for the reformed view offering security, I would suggest that it really undercuts assurance of salvation:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/a-telling-and-ironic-tweet-by-john-piper-on-waking-up-in-the-morning-as-a-believer/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2013/05/09/an-important-admission-on-salvation-assurance-from-prominent-calvinist-c-michael-patton/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/perseverance-of-the-saints-part-13-salvation-assurance/

    God Bless,
    Ben

  46. Good day, brother.

    I grant you that your argument on the point of sovereignty is good. Having authority and using it are two seperate things.

    However, I believe you failed to address a critical point: if God does NOT use that authority, then we are lost. According to Proverbs 13:19, it is an abomination to the wicked to turn away from evil. How does a man who finds it an ABOMINATION to turn away from EVIL not only turn away from it, but turn towards the biggest antithesis to evil in existence? Logic dictates that that would present to a wicked person the most extreme, vile abomination in existence.

    According to Ephesians 2:1, we, before our salvation, were DEAD in our trespasses. Again, logic dictates this: a dead man cannot drag himself to hospital for CPR. When Jesus said: “Lazarus, come out!”, no one heard a feeble voice from inside, saying: “But I don’t want to, Lord.” Scripture doesn’t say that we are dreadfully wounded and need a flu shot. It says that we are dead and need to be brought to life.

    So, in conclusion, I don’t think this remains a question of “is He sovereign?”. I think we both agree that He is. But the difference in our reasoning is how He uses it. Unless I’m mistaken (please correct me if I am), you believe He CAN override our free will should He wish to, but doesn’t, leaving the choice to rise from the dead to us. I believe (with us being dead and all) He HAS to bring us back if we are to believe at all. How are we saved? By faith in Jesus Christ. Who provides that faith? Certainly not fallen man. Certainly not a wicked, wretched abomination who’s thoughts are only evil continually (Gen 6:5).

    “I believe the doctrine of election, because I am quite sure that if God had not chosen me I should never have chosen him; and I am sure he chose me before I was born, or else he never would have chosen me afterwards; and he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love.” – Charles Spurgeon

  47. Marnus,

    Thanks for stopping by. While this is my blog, I did not write this particular post. However, your main point seems to be about what it means to be dead in sin. Arminians like myself see the Calvinist understanding of what it means to be dead in sins as contrived rather than derived from what the Bible actually teaches on the subject. If you are interested in why we do not find that line of argument from Calvinists convincing, there are numerous posts here that deal with the subject in great detail. Here are a few to get you started if you are interested:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2012/10/24/jesus-says-the-dead-will-hear-unto-spiritual-life/

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/what-can-the-dead-in-sin-do/

    And this is a rather lengthy interaction with a transcript of a conversation between Paul Washer and a student concerning election. I include it because Washer’s main argument for unconditional election is rooted in the same argument as you put forward here. I especially address that aspect of his argument near the end of the post:

    https://arminianperspectives.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/paul-washer%E2%80%99s-%E2%80%93-%E2%80%9Cdoctrine%E2%80%9D-of-election-an-arminian-critique/

    God bless.

  48. Marnus,

    You’re addressing an entirely different topic, regeneration before faith.

    @Again, logic dictates this: a dead man cannot drag himself to hospital for CPR.

    “Dead” in this context is separation, not ability.

    @It says that we are dead and need to be brought to life.

    Yes, but we’re raised with Christ through faith (see Col 2:12).

    @Unless I’m mistaken (please correct me if I am), you believe He CAN override our free will should He wish to, but doesn’t, leaving the choice to rise from the dead to us.

    Actually, he leaves the choice whether to hear Him to us, and those who hear Him are brought to life. Christ directly states this: “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)

    @I believe (with us being dead and all) He HAS to bring us back if we are to believe at all.

    That statement simply isn’t supported in scripture.

    BTW, re the Spurgeon quote, the statement, “he must have elected me for reasons unknown to me, for I never could find any reason in myself why he should have looked upon me with special love” is not actually unconditional election, it’s election for unknown conditions (which isn’t the same thing).

  49. I agree with your post and find it so confusing why people choose to be more comfortable with a “roulette-style” salvation. If that were so, how do the generations continue birthing the next generation where one of their own finds themselves eternally separated from God?

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