Brian Abasciano Responds to Thomas Schreiner’s Recent Review of His Book on Romans 9:10-18

Excerpt:

Concerning the hardening of Pharaoh, after a note of agreement, you just assert positions opposite to mine without substantiation. So I’ll take the opportunity to share something merely anecdotal. Before publishing the book, I submitted my chapter on the hardening of Pharaoh to a distinguished Reformed scholar who is writing a major commentary on Exodus, asking for feedback. I was expecting some serious pushback or criticism of my reading. But to my surprise, the scholar largely agreed with my reading and, if anything, seems to think the divine hardening even less deterministic than I do and plans to cite my work. It is not as if it should be obvious that the divine hardening of Pharaoh was deterministic or irreversible.

Brian Abasciano, “A Response to Thomas Schreiner’s Review of my Book on Romans 9:10-18”

Related articles:

Brian J. Abasciano, “Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner”

Brian Abasciano, “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election”

Dr. Brian Abasciano Responds to Dr. Dan Wallace on the Issue of Corporate Election

Brian Abasciano on the Corporate Perspective of Paul and His Culture, The Translation of Romans 9:6b, and Corporate Election in Romans 9

Brian Abasciano on the Meaning of “Calling” 

Klein, William W. “Paul’s Use of Kalein: A Proposal”

Brian Abasciano, Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9:1-9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis (This is Dr. Abasciano’s doctoral dissertation and the basis for his first book on Romans 9.  It is essentially the same as his first book on Romans 9, but longer)

Corporate Election Quotes

Muppet Calvinism

A puppet representing Calvinist thought seems about right to me…

MUPPET

Better than TULIP?

Corporate Election Quotes

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

Dr. Brian Abasciano

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

William W. Klein

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

Calvinism’s Bad Check

or: The 5-Pointer’s Impossibility of a Sincere Gospel Offer to All Men

The doctrine of Limited Atonement (Christ dying for the salvation of only God’s elect) is perhaps the most controversial of all Calvinist doctrines. Besides having no scriptural foundation to speak of (evidenced by the fact that not a word of scripture implies anyone being excluded from the atonement, whereas its universality is repeatedly proclaimed therein), it’s come under fire for, among other things, making the offer of the gospel insincere where the non-elect are concerned. Reformed scholars and apologists have put forth much effort to deflect this charge (see for instance Dr. Roger Nicole’s Covenant, Universal Call And Definite Atonement). The standard defense that’s usually mounted is declaring that the offer is genuine, but that the non-elect (or reprobates) are simply unable to fulfill its stipulation of faith without being regenerated, and thus never collect on what is genuinely offered to them.

While this defense may seem sound upon first glance, a crucial aspect it glosses over is the essential relationship between Christ’s atonement and the salvation that is being offered. This produces an apparently irreconcilable inconsistency as the syllogisms below should succinctly prove.

Premise 1: An “offer” made to one that he[a] cannot collect on, even should he meet its stipulations, is not a genuine or sincere offer to that man.

Premise 2: The gospel offer that God extends to all men[b] everywhere is that if anyone truly believes in Jesus Christ, he shall be saved from eternal condemnation (Romans 10:9-11, John 5:24).

Conclusion 1: Therefore if any man could not be saved even if he truly believed in Christ, then the gospel offer to that man is not genuine or sincere.

The second syllogism’s first premise is what I believe most Calvinists miss when they declare the gospel offer to be genuine in their view.

Premise 1a: Without the benefit of Christ’s sacrificial death as the atonement for one’s sins[c], then even if he truly believed in Christ, he could not be saved.

Premise 2a: The doctrine of Limited Atonement is that Christ’s death as the atonement for sins, such that one may be saved from eternal condemnation if one believes, is only applicable to the elect. It does not and cannot ever apply in this way to the non-elect.[d]

Conclusion 2: Therefore if the doctrine of Limited Atonement is true, a man who is non-elect (and therefore does not have his sins atoned for at the cross), even if he were to truly believe in Christ, could not be saved.[e]

Some Calvinists may contest premise 1a, but its truth should be fairly evident. To contend otherwise, that faith in and of itself could save one from sin without Christ dying for him, is patently absurd.

Premise 1b (from Conclusion 1): If any man could not be saved even if he truly believed in Christ, then the gospel offer to that man is not genuine or sincere.

Premise 2b (from Conclusion 2): If the doctrine of Limited Atonement is true, a man who is non-elect, even if he were to truly believe in Christ, could not be saved.

Conclusion 3: If the doctrine of Limited Atonement is true, then the gospel offer to the non-elect is not genuine or sincere.

As can be readily seen, telling a person that he will be saved if he trusts in Christ cannot be true if Christ has not died for him. Even if he hypothetically were to believe, there’s nothing to back the offer made to him. Telling a non-elect person for whom Christ didn’t die that he would be saved through faith if he did believe is tantamount to saying that his belief in Christ could save him apart from any atoning work by Christ!

The mainstream Calvinist view of the atonement and the gospel offer amounts to the equivalent of God waving bad checks payable from an empty account to entice so many wretched and beggarly souls, then charging them all the more for their disinterest in the worthless scrap. It portrays Him as tempting those who are dying of starvation with invitations to an exquisite feast big enough for all -after having given the chef explicit orders to never prepare anything for them. If you find that such duplicity and insincerity isn’t sounding like the self-revelation of the God of scripture, you’re not alone.

Footnotes:

[a] Non-specific masculine gender conveys gender inclusiveness here and throughout.

[b] John 3:16-17, Acts 17:30, Luke 24:46-47, Titus 2:11-13, Revelation 22:17; though proof for this premise is hardly necessary, since only hyper and fringe Calvinists reject the universal offer of the gospel.

[c] Those who do have this benefit in this context include those for whom it had not yet been made but were looking forward to it, e.g. the Old Testament saints. The ones without it as described here are the ones for whom it is never made per the Calvinist perspective.

[d] That is to say, only those who are elect (chosen by God) can receive any benefit from Christ’s death at all where forgiveness of their sins and eternal salvation are concerned. While 5-point Calvinists may acknowledge that the atonement does something with regards to the non-elect in their view, its power to save from sin is strictly reserved for the elect to the exclusion of all others. Any view to the contrary is forcefully denounced by Charles Spurgeon in his sermon, “The Mission of the Son of Man”: “That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the most monstrous iniquity that could ever have been imputed to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities.”

[e] The validity of the reasoning here should be apparent: faith of any sort wouldn’t be able to save him since Christ’s sacrificial atonement for sins doesn’t apply to him. In penal substitutionary terms, even if such a non-elect sinner met the gospel’s stipulation of faith in Christ, there is no substitute, no payment prepared for his sins upon his believing, nor can there ever be. He would of necessity bear them himself and still suffer condemnation despite believing.

Get the F.A.C.T.S. on Salvation!

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An Outline of the FACTS of Arminianism vs. The TULIP of Calvinism

Some New Must Read Articles at SEA (Abasciano and McCall)

SEA has been diligently providing its readers with excellent Arminian resources.  Recently Dr. Brian Abasciano’s newest theological article on corporate election was made available.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Introducing Dr. Brian Abasciano’s “Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election”]:

SEA is excited to announce the addition to our site of Dr. Brian Abasciano’s recently published article Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election which argues forcefully and compellingly for the corporate view of election. The theological concept of corporate election has been gaining force in modern scholarship for quite some time. It is widely held among scholars that a primarily corporate election is the election described in the OT. It is on this basis that Dr. Abasciano and others argue that this corporate view of election is the view that Paul and the other apostles would naturally carry over into the NT. This is not just speculation but is strongly supported by the language of election used especially by Paul, not least in Romans and Ephesians.

But there are critics from the Reformed view who naturally recognize acceptance of the corporate view of election as a threat to the traditional Calvinist interpretation of key Scriptures and the nature of salvation since corporate election holds to a conditional rather than unconditional view of election. Foremost among these critics of the corporate view is Dr. Thomas Schreiner who criticized corporate election in an article in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS) “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election Unto Salvation?: Some Exegetical and Theological Reflections” JETS 36/1 [March 1993] 25-40. Abasciano later responded, pointing out that the criticisms Schreiner leveled against the corporate view not only lacked cogency but were primarily based on fundamental misunderstandings of the concept (Corporate Election in Romans 9: A Reply to Thomas Schreiner, JETS 49/2 [June 2006], 351-71). Schreiner then wrote a reply in the same theological journal issue criticizing corporate election once again, even going so far as to make the unguarded and surprising claim that the corporate view is incoherent (Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano).

Abasciano sought to write a response to Schreiner’s follow-up article but the policy of the theological journal did not allow for further rebuttals. For this reason he decided to write a more general theological article on corporate election specifically addressing the many misconceptions held by those who have criticized the concept. In this present article Abasciano interacts with Schreiner and other scholars convincingly demonstrating that the corporate view of election is indeed the Biblical view. He draws on the Old and New Testament witness in order to make his case while showing that the attacks leveled against the corporate view by Calvinists are based on individualistic biases in handling the primary texts or misconceptions of what the corporate view entails.

He argues for a view of corporate election that has its ultimate basis in the divine election of Christ as God’s covenant Head through whom the covenant people of God will be named and identified as God’s children. Election is therefore primarily of a people and those people draw their identity as God’s chosen people through faith union with the chosen corporate representative, Christ Jesus. In other words, as the Scriptures testify, we are elect “in Him” (Eph. 1:4). Since one comes to be in union with Christ and His people through faith, it follows that election is conditional rather than unconditional.

It is my opinion that this article goes further than any previous work in making a clear and compelling case for the corporate view of election. No doubt Calvinists will continue to resist the mounting weight of scholarship in support of corporate election, but they will need to seriously contend with Abasciano’s work in order to gain any real ground. It will be extremely difficult from this point forward for any Calvinist scholar to be able to dismiss the corporate view by suggesting it is incoherent or does not fully deal with all of the Biblical data. It is my opinion that Abasciano’s work will stand the test of time and help to finally advance our understanding of such an important Biblical concept beyond the narrow and individualistic views of Calvinistic interpreters which have unfortunately led to so much unnecessary theological confusion and tension in the church today.

Clearing Up Misconceptions About Corporate Election

In addition to Abasciano’s important and compelling new article, SEA has also made available Dr. Thomas McCall’s theological articles addressing the serious problems inherent in the Calvinistic accounting of sovereignty.  In these articles, McCall interacts with John Piper and demonstrates that his accounting of God’s primary objection in reprobation is seriously flawed and leads to terrible theological implications and absurdities.  Here is the write-up from SEA [Dr. Thomas McCall takes on John Piper and the Calvinistic View of God’s Sovereignty]:

We are excited to have added two articles by Thomas McCall, assistant professor of Biblical and systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, which critique John Piper’s theology of God’s sovereignty. They appeared in an issue of Trinity Journal that features an exchange between Piper and McCall, with McCall firing the first volley (Thomas McCall, “I Believe in Divine Sovereignty”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 205-226), followed by Piper’s response (John Piper, “I Believe in God’s Self-Sufficiency: A Response to Thomas McCall”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 227-234), and then McCall offering a final rejoinder (Thomas McCall, “We Believe in God’s Sovereign Goodness: A Rejoinder to John Piper”, Trinity Journal 29/2 [Fall 2008] 235-246). McCall makes a compelling case against the typical Calvinist view of divine sovereignty (which amounts to exhaustive divine determinism), represented by Piper,[1] and for a more Arminian view of God’s sovereignty, which does justice to his power, love, and goodness. I appreciated Piper’s humble, pastoral response to such a strong critique of his theology when he said, “I do not rush to press people to believe all the hard things I believe without regard to their own conscience. I do not want someone to believe that God is evil, or that God ever sinned. So if my affirmation that God wills sin to come to pass . . . requires of someone that they believe in their hearts that God sins or that God is evil, then I say to them, ‘Do not yet believe what I say. Your conscience forbids it. You dare not believe statements about God which, according to your own conscience, can only mean that God is what he is not. Continue to pray and study. Either you or I (or both of us) will be changed in due time’ ” (p. 234).

This is wise counsel that we should take to heart, especially as McCall eventually lands a real knock-out blow (or close to it), by drawing attention to the fact that Piper admits that his view logically implies that we might as well sin that grace may abound, and resorts to pleading that we not follow where the logic of his position leads, since it directly contradicts God’s word (pp. 243-44). Calvinism as it is typically held is logically incoherent. That is one reason why I am an Arminian. It is a theology that is logically coherent, biblically faithful, and can actually be lived by the grace of God. Praise God for his sovereingty, love, and goodness! And praise God for this irenic exchange between Piper and McCall, which, in my view, has the effect of refuting the standard Calvinistic position on God’s sovereignty and providence and commending the Arminian one.

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[1] McCall does make clear that Piper’s is not the only Calvinist view, and that he focuses on the popular Calvinistic view of God’s sovereignty, represented by Piper, that offers a theodicy for God ordaining sin and evil to the effect that it is necessary for God’s glory, and ultimately, for God to be God. But his essays still show up the deficiency of the more general and standard Calvinistic view (i.e., exhaustive determinism). Citing the judgment of Reformed historical theologian, Richard A. Muller, McCall also cautions that determinism is not the standard position of the broad Reformed tradition (p. 246 n. 34). Be that as it may, it is certainly the position of Calvin and standard Calvinism (see e.g., these quotes of Calvin; the Westminister Confession of Faith, 3.1-2; 5.1-4).

An Apparently Not So Brief Response to C. Michael Patton on Rom. 9

I wrote a lengthy response to C. Michael Patton’s post on Rom. 9 entitled “Why Does He Still Find Fault”: Predestination, Election, and the Argument of Romans 9.  Apparently, it was a little too lengthy for Patton’s taste since he deleted all but the first in a series of posts and then made a general comment about people spamming his site, to which I responded,

I apologize for the length of my posts and that several of them were posted in a row, but the question you ask in your post requires a very detailed answer. So I didn’t see it as spam. I saw it as a detailed response to a question that was repeatedly asked in this thread: that someone offer an alternative interpretation to the one you have offered if one is to properly challenge that interpretation. I do intend on putting my comments above into a post at my blog at some point, but in doing so one can never be sure how many will think it worth pursuing. So I was trying to engage your post in the most direct way as possible. I thought that is what you were after and I made sure to limit the content to Rom. 9.  But again, I apologize if that response was longer than you approve of. I did not intend to violate your blog rules.

So for the sake of sharing an alternative interpretation and taking on the claims that the Arminain interpretation simply cannot honestly make sense of the text in question (esp. Rom. 9:19), I offer the entirety of my response below which was not permitted on Patton’s site.  I will also link to it at his site as he suggested long winded commenters like myself do.  I am tempted to add to it since I have the freedom to do so now, but for now I will leave it as is and maybe develope it further in subsequent posts:

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CMP,

There is so much to say concerning this that it is very hard to put it all in a post or two.  I really do think that the Arminian interp is in far better harmony with the greater context of Rom. 9-11 than the Calvinist interpretation.  I would also take issue with your view that Paul is speaking of unconditional security in Rom. 8:28-39.  Rather, Paul is speaking of all of the benefits that come to the believer through faith union with Christ (notice the bookend “in Christ” language in Rom. 8:1 and 8:39).   While one remains in Christ through faith, nothing in this world can separate the believer from Christ.  However, the passage says nothing of those who may reject Christ at a later time and remove themselves from the sphere of God’s elective love (which is “in Christ Jesus”, 8:39).

I would also argue that Paul is primarily speaking of the corporate body of Christ, the church, in Rom. 8:28-30 and of individuals secondarily only as they relate to and are identified with the elect corporate body that ultimately finds its identification in Christ (for more on the corporate election view see here).  So while these things are true of the corporate body of believers, they are only true of the individual on the condition that he or she remains in that elect body through faith.  This truth is clearly brought out in Romans 11:16-24.  So Rom. 8:28-39 does not preclude the possibility of apostasy on the part of the individual who may ultimately be broken off from the elect body through unbelief.  However, in his reflection on all of the covenant blessings and benefits that belong to the church as a result of their union with Christ, Paul’s thoughts quickly shift to his own people who have largely been denied these benefits due to their unbelief.  So the question naturally arises, have God’s promises to Israel failed?  Has God been unfaithful to Israel in denying them participation in the new covenant that the Gentiles are now enjoying?

In short, the answer is a resounding “no”, since God has the sovereign right to choose His covenant people on whatever basis He decides upon.  This basis is union with Christ through faith rather than heritage or works.  God decides who His covenant partner will be and who His covenant people will be.  This is Paul’s point in Rom. 9:1-13.  God chose His people through His sovereign election of the covenant heads (the patriarchs) and this election was not based on man’s decision but God’s decision.  But God’s ultimate purpose in election was to open the door for all people to enjoy His love as God’s chosen covenant people and that purpose has now been realized in Christ (cf. Rom 4:16-25).  Therefore, the children of the promise are not those that God unconditionally elected from all eternity, but those who receive the promise by faith (cf. Rom. 3:21-4:25; Rom. 9:8; Galatians 3:15-29).

The promise is ultimately the promise of a new covenant people through Christ Jesus (Rom. 4:16-5:9; Gal. 3:21-25).  It is through faith that we receive the promised Spirit and become children of God (Gal. 3:14, 22-29).  The first part of Romans is concerned with God’s divine right to name His covenant people based on whatever conditions He decides to set forth or based on whomever He decides to choose as the corporate representative through whom His people are named and draw their identity.  It was through Isaac that Abraham’s offspring would be “named” (i.e. called), for it was through Isaac that the promise would come to the people.  Further, God named His people through Jacob/Israel.  The covenant people of God were chosen in Jacob/Israel and this according to God’s sovereign right to make Jacob His corporate covenant representative rather than Esau.  The concept of corporate solidarity is plainly seen in Paul’s reference to the prophecy given to Rebekah (Rom. 9:11-13).  The people of God are tied up in the corporate representative Jacob/Israel and derive their identity and name through Him,

Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger. (Emphasis mine; Note: the person Esau never served the person Jacob)

This is a prophecy of the destiny of these two people groups tied up in the persons of Jacob and Esau through whom these people would be “named” (i.e. “called”) and derive their identity.  God had the sovereign right to choose Jacob as the corporate representative of His covenant people, but this was only the beginning since the true “Seed” of Abraham was yet to come.  And it is ultimately through this chosen “Seed” (Christ) that God’s people will draw their identity as God’s chosen covenant people, and through whom all of the blessings and promises of the new covenant would be imparted to those who put faith in Him (Rom. 4:16-5:5; 9:8, 30-10:13; Gal. 3:14, 21-4:7).  Note especially Gal. 3:16-22, 29.

Furthermore, God has the divine right to make inclusion in the people of God based on the condition of faith in Christ, through which we are joined together with Him and receive all of the spiritual blessings that reside in Him (including election, cf. Eph. 1:3-13). So it is not of works or heritage, but of faith in Christ.  It is to this that the Jews protest since they believe that the promises belong to them unconditionally as children of Abraham and observers of the covenant laws and customs.  But God reserves the right to have mercy on whom He will have mercy (i.e. on those who put faith in Christ) and to reject/harden those who reject His divinely appointed means of effecting the new covenant and naming His new covenant people (through faith union with His chosen covenant Head and corporate representative- Jesus Christ, the true “Seed” of Abraham through whom the “promises” are received by faith, Rom. 4:13-17).

This brings us to the passage that you seem to find so convincingly in favor of the Calvinist interpretation (Rom. 9:19).  Paul is not addressing the protest of an Arminian but the protest of a Jew.  Paul just mentioned that even the hardening of Pharaoh ultimately served God’s purpose in that His name might be displayed in all the earth.  However, Pharaoh was not hardened arbitrarily.  His hardening was the result of His rejection of God and God’s right to do what He willed with His covenant people.  This is the parallel drawn with present day Israel.  The Israelites have experienced a hardening due to their rejection of God’s chosen means to effect His covenant and name His covenant people (through Christ).  However, just as with Pharaoh, their rejection and subsequent hardening have actually served to further Gods’ purpose in that His name is now proclaimed among the Gentiles and His glory more fully displayed through the inclusion of the  Gentiles as God’s covenant people through faith in Christ.  So the objection is not about why does God harden us irresistibly and then blame us?  The objection is: why does God hold us accountable when our rejection and hardening actually served His purpose in increasing His glory and making Himself known among the nations?  It is similar to the objection raised in Rom. 3:7,

If my falsehood enhances God’s faithfulness and so increases His glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?

This brings us to Paul’s use of the Potter imagery which draws on Jeremiah 18.  Rather than being used at this present time for noble purposes, the Jews are being used for “common use” in that they are still serving God’s purposes, but not in the way that God originally intended.  God has been forced to use them through their failure rather than through their obedience and faithfulness.  God had noble purposes for Israel, but they could not be fulfilled due to their rejection and rebellion.  Therefore, God endured them as objects of wrath just as He endured and sustained Pharaoh while simultaneously preparing objects of glory even through their rebellion and stubbornness (in the case of Israel God continued to enact His plan to send the Messiah through Israel [by whom He would prepare a people for glory] despite Israel’s continual rebellion and rejection of God and His covenant).

God could have destroyed them entirely many times, but endured them with great patience for the sake of His promise to bring the promised “Seed” out of Abraham’s descendents, through whom He would bless the world (Rom. 9:4, 5).  As Jer. 18:5-11 plainly testifies, God had noble plans for Israel but brought destruction on them instead due to their rebellion (Jer. 18:5, 9-12).  In the same passage God states that the nations of whom God warns of destruction can come into favor and avoid destruction through repentance (Jer. 18:7).  This is exactly what has happened in Paul’s day.  The Jews have been rejected, not unconditionally but as a result of their rebellion, and the Gentiles have been spared destruction and given hope through Christ due to their positive response to the Gospel (see also Isaiah 29:16; 45:9 which describes the same basic concept of judgment for rebellion as described in Jer. 18).

The Jews have rejected God’s ways and purpose fulfilled in the person of Christ and will now suffer the just consequences while the Gentiles who had previously rejected God and were cut off from the promises of God, will now enjoy His favor through their acceptance of God’s purposes in the person of Christ.  The allusion to Jer. 18 and the imagery presented there makes the Calvinist interpretation of these passages impossible.  So God reserves the right to say “not my people” to those who were formally His people and to call them “my people” who were formally cut off from the benefits of God’s covenant people (Rom. 9:24-29, and note again that “called” is used in these passages in the sense of “naming” a people for God, and not as some divine summons made irresistible for the “elect”; for more on that see here).  “My people” are those who receive the promise through faith in Christ (both Jew and Gentile) and “not my people” are those who reject Christ (both Jew and Gentile).  Romans 9:30-33 sums this up nicely in again locating the distinction between the people of God and those rejected of God as being based on those who have faith and those who do not.  Nothing is said of an unconditional election in Paul’s conclusion to this section, because this was not at all what Paul had been discussing in the chapter.

As we continue to read Rom. 10-11, the Arminian interpretation only gains strength while the Calvinist interpretation falters repeatedly.  Much, much, much more could be said, but I have already gone on far too long.   Thanks for letting me share an alternative perspective.

God Bless,

Ben