Highlighting an Important Series Critiquing The Calvinist Interpretation of Romans 9

Back in 2010 J.C. Thibodaux started what would eventually become a four part series on Romans 9, with special focus on the problems inherent in the typical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. This short series was slow going as it did not conclude until 2012.  For that reason it can be hard to follow the series by just looking through the site.  Since it is a very good and concise critique of the typical Calvinist approach to Romans 9 as a proof-text for unconditional election, and because these posts continue to get a lot of traffic, I thought it would be good to highlight them together in one post:

Romans 9 in Context: God’s Just Prerogative in Confounding All Confidence in The Law of Works

Where Calvinism Gets Romans 9 Wrong: Prerogative Equals Unconditionality

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

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

 

Great Quotes: Daniel Whedon on Foreknowledge and Free Will

“Whether there is any foreknowledge or not, it is certain that there will be one particular course of future events and no other.  On the most absolute doctrine of freedom there will be, as we shall soon more fully illustrate, there is one train of choices freely put forth and no other.  If by the absolute perfection of God’s omniscience that one train of free events, put forth with full power otherwise, is embraced in his foreknowledge, it follows that God foreknows the free act, and that the foreknowledge and the freedom are compatible.  The difficulty does not indeed lie in the compatibility of the two.  The real difficulty (which we distinctly confess to leave forever insoluble) as may soon more clearly appear, is to conceive how God came by that foreknowledge.  But that is no greater difficulty than to conceive how God came by his omnipotence or self-existence.  It will be a wise theologian who will tells us how God came by his attributes.  It will require a deep thinker to tell how the universe or its immensity came about by its real or actual deity; or how the present self-existent came to be, and no other.” (The Freedom of the Will: A Wesleyan Response to Jonathan Edwards, pg. 229)

For the context of this quote, you can read Whedon’s entire book free online.  The section dealing with the compatibility of free will and foreknowledge can be found on pages 267-293.  The above quote was taken from a recent edited version which is why the page # is different.

Related:

Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism and Why You Should Be An Arminian

Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 8: Can Free Agency be Harmonized With Divine Foreknowledge?

Dr. Robert Picirilli: Foreknowledge, Freedom and the Future

Great Quotes: Thomas Ralston on Calvinist Arguments Against Free Will Based on Greatest Motive Force

Let us now contemplate these motives which are said to act upon the mind so as necessarily to influence the will. Let us look them full in the face, and ask the question, What are they? Are they intelligent beings, capable of locomotion? Are they endued with a self-moving energy? Yea, more: Are they capable of not only moving themselves, but also of imparting their force to something external to themselves, so as to coerce action in that which could not act without them? If these questions be answered in the negative, then it will follow that motives, considered in themselves, can no more act on the mind so as necessarily to determine the will, than a world can be created by something without existence. If these questions be answered in the affirmative, then it will follow that motives at least are free agents – capable of acting without being acted upon, and endued with self-controlling and self-determining energy. Necessitarians may fall upon either horn of the dilemma; but upon which horn soever they fall, their system must perish.

If the attempt be made to evade this by saying that motives do not act themselves, but God is the agent acting upon man, and determining his will through the instrumentality of motives – if this be the meaning, then I demand, why not call things by their right names? Why attribute the determination of the will to the influence of motives, and at the same time declare that motives are perfectly inefficient, capable of exercising no influence whatever? Is not this fairly giving up the question, and casting “to the moles and to the bats” the revered argument for necessity, founded upon the influence of motives?

Again, to say that motives exercise no active influence, but are only passive instruments in the hands of God by which he determines the will by an immediate energy exerted at the time, is the same as to say that God is the only agent in the universe; that he wills and acts for man; and, by his own direct energy, performs every physical and moral act in the universe, as really and properly as he created the worlds; and then that he will condemn and punish men everlastingly for his own proper acts! Is this the doctrine of philosophical necessity? Truly it is. And well may we say this is fatalism! This is absurdity!

From: Thomas Ralston on Freedom of the Will Part 9: The Doctrine of Motives

For the beginning of the series, see here.

Sin, Reprobation and Foreknowledge: The Calvinists’ Attempt to Have Their Cake and Eat it Too

The doctrine of the unconditional election of a part, necessarily implies the unconditional reprobation of the rest. I know some who hold to the former, seem to deny the latter; for they represent God as reprobating sinners, in view of their sins. When all were sinners, they say God passed by some, and elected others. Hence, they say the decree of damnation against the reprobates is just, because it is against sinners. But this explanation is virtually giving up the system, inasmuch as it gives up all the principal arguments by which it is supported. In the first place, it makes predestination dependent on foreknowledge; for God first foresees that they will be sinners, and then predestinates them to punishment. Here is one case then, in which the argument for Calvinian predestination is destroyed by its own supporters. But again if God must fix by his decree all parts of his plan, in order to prevent disappointment, then he must fix the destiny of the reprobates, and the means that lead to it. But if he did not do this, then the Calvinistic argument in favour of predestination, drawn from the Divine plan, falls to the ground. Once more: this explanation of the decree of reprobation destroys all the strongest Scripture arguments which the Calvinists urge in favour of unconditional election.” (Calvinistic Controversy: Embracing A Sermon On Predestination And Election, And Several Numbers, Formally Published In The Christian Advocate And Journal, By Rev. Wilbur Fisk, D. D.)

The Calvinist who wants to claim that the condemnation of the reprobate is conditioned on their sinfulness while the salvation of the elect is conditioned on nothing at all run into serious problems regarding the typical Calvinist accounting of foreknowledge and the exhaustive pre-determinations of a divine secret eternal decree.  If the decree is the basis for foreknowledge (as traditional Calvinism asserts), and therefore the means by which God foreknows anything, then it must be admitted that God irresistibly decreed the sinfulness of the reprobate from eternity, just as He decreed all else, and it is only because of God’s eternal decree that He is able to foreknow the state of the reprobate as sinful (because He previously decreed that it must be that way).

So the reprobate finds himself in a sinful state for no other reason than because God irresistibly decreed it from eternity.  If that is the case it is nonsense to say that God’s decree for the reprobate is based on them being considered as rebellious and deserving of condemnation already.  And as Fisk points out, it cuts against the typical Calvinist argument concerning the nature of foreknowledge, that it is based on the eternal decree.  And in doing so, it affirms the Arminian view that God has foreknowledge of true contingencies that are not based on the necessity of an irresistible eternal decree.

This is the same problem that Calvinists encounter who want to claim that Adam had libertarian free will (LFW) when he fell in the garden after the pattern of what Augustine taught (which is often quoted or paraphrased by Calvinists),

God holds us accountable because we were included in Adam so far as God is concerned.  Adam was our source, our representative, our “head.”  When he rebelled and fell into death and condemnation, we all fell with him.  Before he fell, Adam had the power not to sin; after he fell, he lost that power.  We are born in the condition of Adam after the fall: unable not to sin. (God in Dispute: “Conversations” Among Great Christian Thinkers, by Roger E. Olson, pg. 93)

Or as R.C. Sproul puts it in Chosen by God,

The Reformed view follows the thinking of Augustine.  Augustine spells out the state of Adam before the fall and the state of mankind after the fall.  Before the fall Adam was endowed with two possibilities: He had the ability to sin and the ability to not sin…stated another way, it means that after the fall man was morally incapable of living without sin.  The ability to live without sin was lost in the fall.  This moral inability is the essence of what we call original sin. (pg. 65)

Clearly, the claim is that Adam had the “ability” and “power” to avoid temptation in the garden and “not sin.”  That is an apt description of libertarian free will: the power of contrary choice.  But if Adam did not have to sin in the garden, then how did God foreknow that He would indeed sin?

This is no problem for the Arminian who claims that God has the ability to foreknow libertarian free will choices.  But this is precisely what traditional Calvinists deny.  Instead, they say that God can only foreknow what He first decrees.  If that is the case, then Adam had no power to not sin since God irresistibly decreed from eternity that he would sin.  Clearly, Adam could not have the power to act contrary to the irresistible eternal decree of God (by definition you cannot resist the irresistible).  This leads to major theological problems for the Calvinist who claims that Adam had libertarian free will prior to the fall, but this power was lost by all after the fall (following Augustine).  He would need to affirm that:

1) God could not foreknow Adam’s sin (if it were truly free), or

2) Admit that God can indeed have foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices and that not all of what God foreknows is based on a prior decree

#1 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Open Theism

#2 puts the Calvinist in the arms of Arminianism

On this score, the Calvinist simply cannot have his cake and eat it too

So if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be denied, the oft repeated argument that God’s decision to reprobate was justly in view of mankind’s sin and rebellion must fall (as Fisk notes above).

And if foreknowledge of libertarian free will choices be affirmed (as it must be to claim that Adam did not have to sin in the garden), then the arguments against Arminianism based on the incompatibility of free will and foreknowledge must fall (as well as arguments that try to paint LFW as logically absurd).

The only way to avoid the horns here is to accept the view that Adam’s fall was irresistibly predetermined by God and Adam’s posterity are therefore sinful and rebellious by divine necessity so that God’s decision of reprobation cannot be based on a sinful state that God simply found them in (of their own accord), and justly left them in as a result.  Instead, it is a state that God Himself necessitated by way of an irresistible eternal decree.  The reprobate has no power over his depraved state or over his actions, and never did.  So reprobation can only be based on raw decree, which includes the fall of Adam and the sinful state and actions of all his posterity.

Related: Calvinism on the Horns: The Problem of Divine Foreknowledge in Calvinism And Why You Should be an Arminian

John Piper on God Ordaining All Sin And Evil Part 1: An Arminian Response to Piper’s First “Question”

Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation (Book Review)

John D. Wagner has produced  an updated and expanded version of “Grace Unlimited”, originally edited by the late Clark H. Pinnock.  This updated version is called “Grace For All: The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation.”  This newer version contains several new essays along with some changes and heavy editing of  a few essays that appeared in the original version.

Essays that remain from the original version include: “God’s Universal Salvific Grace” by Vernon Grounds; “Conditional Election” by Jack Cottrell; “The Spirit of Grace (Heb. 10:27)” by William G. McDonald, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner; “Predestination in the Old Testament” by David A. Clines; “Predestination in the New Testament” by I. Howard Marshall; “Exegetical Notes on Calvinist Texts” and “Soteriology: Perseverance and Apostasy in the Epistle to the Hebrews,” both by Grant Osborne, and “God’s Promise and Universal History: The Theology of Romans 9” by James D. Strauss, updated and expanded by editor John D. Wagner.

For the purposes of this review I will focus on the new material and make some closing comments that will address some of the older material as well.

The first essay in this new volume is “Arminianism is God Centered Theology”, written by Roger Olson.  In this section Olson clears up many misconceptions and misrepresentations of Arminian Theology commonly propagated by Calvinist authors and those who simply have not carefully studied the subject.  In doing so, Olson convincingly demonstrates that Arminian Theology is thoroughly Evangelical and grace oriented.

Another new essay in the volume is “Calvinism and Problematic Readings of the New Testament Texts Or, Why I Am Not a Calvinist” by Glenn Shellrude.  This is an excellent essay which looks at numerous Biblical texts and the overall tenor of Scripture against the backdrop of Calvinist determinism.  Shellrude succeeds in showing that one cannot read or understand Scripture in any coherent manner when the fundamental presuppositions of Calvinist determinism are in view.

Picirilli’s contribution on “The Intent and Extent of Christ’s atonement” focuses on the exegesis of the many key texts that point towards an unlimited provisional atonement in accordance with God’s love for the world and desire to save all.  Picirilli does an  excellent job showing how these texts support the Arminian view and are simply incompatible with the Calvinist “limited atonement” claims.

The next new essay in the volume is J. Matthew Pinson’s “Jacob Arminius: Reformed and Always Reforming” which looks at Arminius and his Theology in historical context and how his Theology is thoroughly “reformed” despite being at odds with Calvinism on many crucial points.  Like Olson’s essay, this essay serves as an important corrective to so many false views and claims about Arminius and his Theology.

Another new contribution comes from Fundamental Wesleyan scholar Vic Reasoner which focuses on John Wesley’s attention to  grace in his own articulation of Arminian Theology called: “John Wesley’s Doctrines of the Theology of Grace.”  Not surprisingly, Dr. Reasoner spends a good deal of time describing Wesley’s view of entire sanctification and it’s relation to God’s powerful working of grace in the hearts and lives of believers.

The final essay that is new to this updated volume is Steve Witzki’s “Saving Faith: The Act of a Moment or the Attitude of a Life Time?” which argues strongly for the need of continuance in faith to reach final salvation.  While Witzki’s essay argues against  any Theology that would deny the possibility of apostasy, he especially takes aim at the popular and very dangerous version of “Once Saved, Always Saved” that would deny the need for perseverance in faith at all, claiming that an initial moment of genuine faith is all that is needed to guarantee one’s eternal place in heaven regardless of any subsequent eventuality, including loss of faith and rejection of Christ.  Witzki’s exegetical work is devastating to this dangerous  and surprisingly popular “saved regardless” view of eternal security.

Overall, this is a great effort by editor and contributor John D. Wagner,  pulling solid essays from the original “Grace Unlimited” and many newer essays of several contemporary and important Arminian writers together in order to take this work to a whole new level.  My only complaint would be that the corporate election view as articulated by such notable scholars as Brian Abasciano and William Klein was not represented in this new volume.  However, Wagner does incorporate some minor elements of this view in his contribution to the essay on Romans 9, while still not fully capturing the essence of this view as articulated by the best proponents of the view like Abasciano, Klein and Shank.

I also found it disappointing to see Dr. Jack Cottrell representing the Arminian election view in his essay since, despite the name of the new volume referencing “The Arminian Dynamics of Salvation”, Cottrell is not, himself, an Arminian, as he denies two key features of Arminianism: total depravity and the need for enabling grace to overcome that depravity in order to make a faith response possible.  For those reasons, Cottrell’s soteriology is more  properly classified as semi-Pelagian  and not “Arminian.”  And while Cottrell does  a good job describing the classical Arminian “election by foreknowledge”  view in his essay, he also unfairly dismisses the corporate election view and demonstrates that he does not fully understand the view he is rejecting in his brief interactions with Robert Shank’s work “Elect in the Son.”

Despite Cottrell’s misunderstanding of the corporate view and the fact that a key contributor to this volume on Arminian Theology is not even Arminian,  this updated volume is a huge improvement over the original publication and is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in the topic of Arminian Theology.

Great Quotes: Richard Watson on John 17

It has been urged, indeed, that our Lord himself says, “I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me.” (John xvii 9). But will they here interpret “the world” to be the world of the elect? If so, they cut even them off from the prayers of Christ. But if by “the world” they would have us understand the world of the non-elect, they they will find that all the prayers which our Lord puts up for those whom “the Father hath given him,” had this end, “that they,” the non-elect “world,” “may believe that thou hast sent me:” (verse 21) let them choose either side of the alternative. The meaning of this passage is, however, made obvious by the context. Christ, in the former part of his intercession, as recorded in this chapter, prays exclusively, not for his church in all ages, but for his disciples then present with him; as appears plain from verse 12: “While I was with them in the world, I kept them in they name.” But he was only with his first disciples, and for them he exclusively prays in the first instance; then, in verse 20, he prays for all who, in future, should believe on him through their words; and he does this in order that “the world,” in its largest sense, is not cut off, but expressly included in the benefits of this prayer.

Related: Great Follow-up Comments by David Martinez on the Recent Conversation Between James White and Austin Fischer

Dr. Brian Abasciano’s Follow-up Response to James White on Acts 13:48

Brian Abasciano, “A Reply to James White Concerning His Faulty Treatment of the Greek and Context of Acts 13:48

Excerpt:

The pluperfect construction places the disposing prior to the belief of the subjects of the verbs in Acts 13:48, which means that it could have happened any time before they believed. But strikingly, White does not contest this point, which shows a concrete error on his part, but sidesteps it by attacking my suggestion that the people in view could have been disposed to eternal life by various means, including the preaching of the gospel the previous week, and he does so on the basis of Calvinist theology as opposed to exegetical points drawn from the context of Acts 13. Ironically, he accuses me of eisegesis at this very point when his reply is a vivid display of it.