Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Seven (Romans 9)

Isaac Blessing Jacob Gioachino Assereto, 1640 There now remains only two chapters left in the book under review, they are:

Chapter XIX: Does Romans 9 Teach Unconditional Election and Reprobation?

Chapter XX: Does God Cause Evil?

The first chapter is the one I want to spend the most time responding to, because it is one of the only texts that Pastor Rogers actually spends time trying to make his readers understand.  The second chapter I will most likely skip because it reiterates many of the same points (however I am sad to do so, because I would like to respond to each verse he cites–perhaps in a later post, I’ll keep you posted).

     Chapter XIX: Does Roans 9 Teach Unconditional Election and Reprobation?

There really is nothing too original in this response; if you’ve read one response to Calvinism’s use of Romans 9 by limitation to corporate salvation and God’s dealing with nations, you’ve read them all.

There are a few glaring problems with this chapter that one could pick up on at the outset, and they are disquieting indeed:

1) To be blunt, I do grow weary of those who parse or atomize the Scripture to such an extent that the original meaning of the letter is completely incomprehensible.  Does anyone–in Christian circles–really believe that Paul did not have a consistent message he was trying to convey in each of his letters, that we need to grab verses from all over the Bible to try and explain away every occurrence of the word election?  I was recently on the campus of Oklahoma State talking with people about God’s word, and I asked one of them what they thought about the Bible, he said, “I like it.  It’s just that everyone seems to have their own interpretation, so it is confusing.”  I responded, “I would like to suggest that each of the authors had a message they were intending to get across.  Would you write a letter to a group of people with the hope that they would each interpret it in their own way?”  What Pastor Rogers has presented here, is exactly that type of mentality.  For example: He will state on Page 121 that Romans 9 is to be considered “nationally” and not as “individual” salvation, however Romans 10:9 is used throughout his book as salvation language on an individual basis (14, 22, 51), but then Romans 11 (specifically verses 5-7) is about national Israel again.  This is bothersome for obvious reasons.

2) Chapters and verses were a later edition to the text, so continuing from what I said in (1), there is no reason to destroy Paul’s language in such a way that it no longer flows from the verses preceding it.  Romans 9 does not exist in a vacuum, as if Paul was not making a point prior to it; it is a disquieting reality that Pastor Rogers’s treatment really picks up at verse 9 of Ch. 9.  Why?  Most probably because his interpretation does not flow naturally from Chapter 8:28 through the latter verses of Chapter 8, with their clear language of God’s elect (v. 33) and personal/individual salvation (v. 39).  As I intend to show, there is no reason to pick apart the text and draw in all sorts of outside verses to convolute the passage.  Instead, Paul has a flowing, consistent, and straightforward message.  Again, it becomes national when election is mentioned, and individual salvation when it is not.

Pastor Rogers quotes Everett F. Harrison (don’t know him) saying:

“…election which is treated on an individual basis in 8:28-30, 33 is now viewed from the national perspective of Israel” (121).

First is the odd admission that “election…is treated on an individual basis in 8:28-30”, which it is.  But the real question is, where does this change to the national perspective take place?  I’d be curious as to the answer.  Perhaps Pastor Rogers offers it, let’s go on.

After citing verses 9-13, Pastor Rogers has this to say:

“Thus, this section is not really about individual salvation and reprobation, but rather it concerns the Messianic line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and Jesus Christ” (122).

This interjection is made quickly, but it certainly isn’t substantiated, and it ought to be because of the weight to his argument it seems to create.  If he’s going to attempt to interpret the rest of this chapter through the lens of nationalism, then this must be convincing. I would challenge anyone reading this to read first from Romans 8:28-39, and see if you can find that “Messianic line” that he is attempting to insert here (I know this is not the argument he’s making, but I want to show the consistent message of Romans).  Then read Romans 9:1-8, again, where is the “line” of the Messiah the object of the passage.  Sure, Paul mentions Jesus as being one of the benefits of the Jews (v. 5), but his point is who makes up the true Israel, he says, “For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” (v. 6b).  Why is he making this point?  Because the Jews want to know why the promise to them has seemingly failed (v. 6a & 11:7), that is, why are they not believing on Jesus.

HERE IS THE POINT: This has everything to do with who are the children of the promise and who are not (vv. 6-8), not with the continuation of the Messianic line or the corporate blessings of Israel.  But this will be proven further.

“Therefore two nations, not two individuals, are under consideration in the words, ‘the elder shall serve the younger.’  This is corporate election for covenant blessing and service, not corporate or individual eternal salvation” (122).

Once more, this has not been shown to be true.  In order to show that not all Israel are Israel (v. 6), and not all who are physical children of Abraham are spiritual children of Abraham (Romans 2:29 & Galatians 3:29), Paul goes on to give well-known examples (of individuals…not nations; what is the purpose of giving the case of Sarah and Isaac? If we aren’t speaking about the Individuals, Jacob and Esau, then what does it mean in a national context that they were not born yet (11)?  Another tenuous connection to nations would have to be presented…I don’t doubt it would be) to prove his point.

First the example of Isaac and Ishmael through Sarah, to prove that just because Ishmael was physically born of Abraham does not mean that he was a child of promise (i.e. true Israel, a true Jew…inwardly).

Then the example of Esau and Jacob through Rebekah (these are all individuals.  What nation is Rebekah?).  To make the point later, that “it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy,” Paul makes this statement, “though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls…”  Calls?  That sounds vaguely reminiscent of Romans 8:30.

“When you read this passage [that is, Rom 9:12-13], it is quite natural to place verses 12 and 13 together, since 13 immediately follows 12, thereby lending support to Calvinism.  It appears that they both come from the same book of the Bible and the same time frame.  However, verse 13 is not a quote from Genesis, as verse 12 is–2000 BC–but from Malachi 1:2-5–400 BC, hundreds of years after Jacob and Esau were dead” (122).

Yikes! About all I really want to say–but I suppose I should elaborate.  I wanted to write out this whole passage from his book because it fits exactly in with what I said in point (1) and (2) above.  This is a blatant atomizing of the text.  In any other circumstance, Pastor Rogers–I am sure–would balk at the idea of someone suggesting that one verse shouldn’t be interpreted by the one before it, as if Paul’s letter was some disjointed, schizophrenic declaration of random and unrelated facts.

And then to follow up that statement by saying, “thereby lending support to Calvinism.”   […….]  We can begin to see why the interpretation can’t possibly be what Paul is trying to say.  Nuff said.

But the problem with this understanding really comes with the verses that follow…

**Sidenote: Let’s assume for a moment that this actually is supposed to be taken nationally–which it is and it isn’t–how does this solve the problem of God’s love for Israel and His hatred for Edom?  All of the blessings that are enumerated in verses 1-5 were clearly not given to Edom.  Pastor Rogers has already said that this is national blessings, but clearly these national blessings result in eternal blessing (covenant, prophets, Christ, etc.); and these blessings were not given in equal measure to Edom.  Is God playing favorites?  Is he electing one nation over another?  People seem to have no problem with God choosing nationally, but if it is even hinted at that He would violate our treasured free will, everything imaginable–even the kitchen sink–is thrown at the argument in order to evade the possibility.

“Even John Calvin admits that it is the posterity of Jacob and Esau in view.  ‘The words, ‘Jacob have I loved’, refer to the whole progeny of the patriach, which the prophet there opposes to the posterity of Esau.’  Calvin says in his commentary on this verse, ‘I therefore chose you for my people, that I might show the same kindness to the seed of Jacob; but I rejected the Edomites, the progeny of Esau'” (123).

Anyone who knows me, knows I’m kind of a stickler for citations, especially as they were in their original context and intent.  Maybe it is the aspiring historian in me, or maybe I believe it is important to be fully honest in the case you present.  Either way, I want to provide a fuller citation of Calvin’s words here (Note: I do not take Calvin’s words as Gospel truth, but this is clearly a ploy to gain some credibility for a contrary doctrine, by appealing to the namesake of the theological system).

From the same citation that PR provides [which to be fair, he does cite: Calvin, Institutes, book 3, 210]:

“…it is now sufficiently plain that God by his secret counsel chooses whom he will while he rejects others, his gratuitous election has only been partially explained until we come to the case of single individuals, to whom God not only offers salvation, but so assigns it, that the certainty of the result remains not dubious or suspended…Hence Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi which I quoted (Rom. 9:13Mal. 1:2), that when God, after making a covenant of eternal life, invites any people to himself, a special mode of election is in part understood, so that he does not with promiscuous grace effectually elect all of them. The words, “Jacob have I loved,” refer to the whole progeny of the patriarch, which the prophet there opposes to the posterity of Esau. But there is nothing in this repugnant to the fact, that in the person of one man is set before us a specimen of election, which cannot fail of accomplishing its object….”

And now the second quote he quotes from Calvin [Calvin’s Commentaries, vol. 19, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, etc., p. 352]:

“…from the first chapter of Malachi, where the Lord, reproaching the Jews for their ingratitude, mentions his former kindness to them, — ‘I have loved you,’ he says; and then he refers to the origin of his love, — ‘Was not Esau the brother of Jacob?’ as though he said, — “What privilege had he, that I should prefer him to his brother? None whatever. It was indeed an equal right, except that by the law of nature the younger ought to have served the elder; I yet chose the one, and rejected the other; and I was thus lied by my mercy alone, and by no worthiness as to works. I therefore chose you for my people, that I might show the same kindness to the seed of Jacob; but I rejected the Edomites, the progeny of Esau. Ye are then so much the worse, inasmuch as the remembrance of so great a favor cannot stimulate you to adore my majesty.”

The point, as made above, and the same that Calvin is making is that, yes, even the national blessings of Israel over the Edomites are as much a mercy and grace of God as personal/individual salvation.  Of course a national inference can be made, because of course Israel partook in so many more blessings than any other nation, but the conclusion is reached through the use of individuals and their personal stance before God, based on His mercy, compassion, and grace alone.

Now speaking about Romans 9:17-18:

“First, note verse 17 says that God raised him up to demonstrate His power in time and space continuum, not to damn him for eternity.  The reason–so that God’s name could be proclaimed” (124).

I will not dispute the latter assertion.  God says this was to display his power, and so it is.  But the first part is a product of declaring this whole chapter as having nothing to do with salvation whatsoever.  But, as said, that is the whole context of this chapter, starting all the way back in Romans 5:1, 8:30, 8:39, 9:3.

But more importantly how are we to understand 9:16&19?  “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (a la John 1:13).  Are we really to believe that the extension or withholding of God’s mercy does not result in or negate salvation?  Pastor Rogers charges the Calvinist with not taking the plain meaning of the text, but seriously, who would read this chapter and come to these conclusions without referencing arguments steeped in this traditionalism?  Arminians struggle a lot with this passage…and there is good reason.

In order to demonstrate the falsity of this conclusion it is imperative that the foundation be laid correctly, that is why verses 1-8 (the ones PR conveniently omitted) are crucial to understanding the rest of this passage.  It is difficult to deal with all he says, because it is founded on a faulty premise.

I do want to a make a point at this juncture:

Does this–or your–interpretation of Romans 9 truly warrant the objection that Paul has to deal with in Romans 9:19?  “You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?'”  How is it that the interpretation Pastor Rogers tries to create makes God very comfortable, and makes this question utterly unnecessary and irrelevant.  And when it is asked, Paul’s response is not, “Because you have free will, man!”  It is, because the Potter has the right over the clay who are you to answer back to Him (v. 22-23)?

Even more striking is Pastor Rogers’s neglect of the entire question.  Why does he not try to tie this in?  Answer: Because he is not allowing the passage to speak for itself, in a consistent way.  I know from experience that he would not treat any other passage that he is dealing with in such a way, he goes verse by verse by verse…why not here?

Now speaking on Romans 9:22-23:

“At first glance the verses do seem to teach the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election to salvation and reprobation” (126).

Thus invalidating his accusation that a Calvinist must import meaning, when, in fact, he is about to do it…  Why can we not take the simple reading of the text at face value?

“It is important to remember that the preceding verses and illustrations do not deal with individual salvation or the origin of evil, and in like manner, neither do these” (126).

I have to ask, once more, how do I understand the words “wrath” (v. 22), “mercy”, “glory” (v. 23), “called” (v. 24), “my people”, “beloved” (v. 25), and–most importantly– “SAVED” (v. 27).  Come on, truthfully, tell me you can believe this assertion.  I want to take the opposing side serious, but this is just throwing up so much dust in the air as to divert from Paul’s plain meaning that it is more upsetting than thought engaging.

Note: PR continues to cite Calvinist authors, which is somewhat manipulative in my mind, because most of these authors would not support a word he says, but he uses them to attempt a claim to credibility.  I would rather he just let the Scripture speak, because I’m not trying to cite Calvinists or Arminians or Moderate or Molinists…only the Bible (Biblicism was what we were going for originally, I think).

I really don’t feel the need to offer a Calvinist objection to his claims on what verses 22-23 mean, I’m content to let Paul define and explain his terms (as I just showed, this has everything to do with salvation, until we can be allowed to say that…the rest of what I say has little meaning).  I am a “double Predestination” kind of guy, but not in the sense that Pastor Rogers would probably think.  I believe that God sovereignly elects in a different way than he passively reprobates, but yes the determination is made by God, not man.

In a less than climactic style, thus ends my dealings with Pastor Rogers’s presentation of Romans 9.  He omits any reference to verses 23-26, anything in Romans 10, and especially Romans 11:1-10 (specifically vv. 5-7).  Truthfully, it is a sad thing.  These verses are loaded with glorious and great realities about the salvation of man by the free and undeserved grace of God to poor sinners, to a people who were not His people, and did not deserve to be.

Instead the end of his chapter presents more emotional argumentation and unsubstantiated assertions, such as: God would not actually be sovereign or truly loving if He did not give man a real free choice or libertarian free will (based on more appeals to pre-fall Adam and Eve in the garden).  I wonder what it says about Him that He never offered redemption to the fallen angels?  But I won’t drag this on…

In my next post I will–Lord willing–wrap this all up in some concluding responses and observations, so that will be my last post on this book, and I can move on to other things.

SDG,

Jon

Postscript: Since this is the final “rebuttal” post of his book, I would welcome any and all comments, considerations, corrections, and rebukes.  

Also, for a fuller handling of the entire chapter, see HERE.

See the author’s response to my review: here.

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~ by TSL on March 13, 2013.

One Response to “Responding to a Disenchanted Calvinist – Part Seven (Romans 9)”

  1. […] I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, & […]

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