Tag Archives: James White

William Lane Craig discusses Romans 9 and “corporate election”

Here’s the post on Reasonable Faith. He’s responding to a questioner who is an atheist,and who thinks that Calvinism makes belief in Christianity impossible.

Part of the question:

In Romans 9, Paul describes Jacob and Esau as being judged as loved and hated (or “loved less”) before they did any good or evil. Paul then goes on to liken all of us as clay molded by a potter, and states that it is not the will of he who runs but of He who shows mercy which saves us. Paul relates God telling Pharaoh: “for this purpose I have raised you up …” and then discusses an idea that the vessels God made for “common use” are there only for the purpose of showing His patience to his more special pots.

Many Reformed think this passage shows double-predestination and unconditional election, and I am forced to agree with them – as is Christ Himself in John 6:65! The Reformed God is something I view as tyrannical and unworthy of worship, and indeed it is tough for someone outside the faith to respond to the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 with anything but hatred: as the prominent Reformed scholar James White describes this very chapter, “I understand that the only way one can believe this is by an act of grace.”

In my view, this defeats your position of molinism, since one cannot freely choose God on his own in any potential setting without God’s prior help. Furthermore, the context of the related story in John 6 has disciples abandoning Christ, prompting what He says in 6:65 and proving that Christ is not offered as a free gift to all! What is left for the freedom of man to choose Christ given these passages?

Part of the answer:

Second, let’s talk about Paul’s doctrine of election in Romans 9. I want to share with you a perspective on Paul’s teaching that I think you’ll find very illuminating and encouraging. Typically, as a result of Reformed theology, we have a tendency to read Paul as narrowing down the scope of God’s election to the very select few, and those not so chosen can’t complain if God in His sovereignty overlooks them. I think this is a fundamental misreading of the chapter which makes very little sense in the context of Paul’s letter.

Earlier in his letter Paul addresses the question of what advantage there is to Jewish identity if one fails to live up to the demands of the law (2. 17-3.21). He says that although being Jewish has great advantages in being the recipients of God’s revelatory oracles, nevertheless being Jewish gives you no automatic claim to God’s salvation. Instead, Paul asserts the radical and shocking claim that “He is not a real Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. He is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is of the heart, spiritual and not literal” (2. 28-29).

Paul held that “no human being will be justified in God’s sight by works of the law” (3.20); rather “we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law” (3. 29). That includes Gentiles as well as Jews. “Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one” (3. 29-30).

Do you realize what that meant to Paul’s Jewish contemporaries? Gentile “dogs” who have faith in Christ may actually be more Jewish than ethnic Jews and go into the Kingdom while God’s chosen people are shut out! Unthinkable! Scandalous!

Paul goes on to support his view by appeal to the example of none less than Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Abraham, Paul explains, was pronounced righteous by God before he received circumcision. “The purpose,” says Paul, “was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised [i.e., the Gentiles] and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised [note the qualification!] but also follow the example of faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised” (4.11-12).

This is explosive teaching. Paul begins chapter 9 by expressing his profound sorrow that ethnic Jews have missed God’s salvation by rejecting their Messiah [= Christ]. But he says it’s not as though God’s word had failed. Rather, as we have already seen, “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his descendants” (9. 6-7). Being ethnically Jewish is not enough; rather one must be a child of the promise—and that, as we’ve seen, may include Gentiles and exclude Jews.

The problematic, then, with which Paul is wrestling is how God’s chosen people the Jews could fail to obtain the promise of salvation while Gentiles, who were regarded by Jews as unclean and execrable, could find salvation instead. Paul’s answer is that God is sovereign: He can save whomever He wants, and no one can gainsay God. He has the freedom to have mercy upon whomever He wills, even upon execrable Gentiles, and no one can complain of injustice on God’s part.

So—and this is the crucial point—who is it that God has chosen to save? The answer is: those who have faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul writes in Galatians (which is a sort of abbreviated Romans), “So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3. 7). Jew or Gentile, it doesn’t matter: God has sovereignly chosen to save all those who trust in Christ Jesus for salvation.

That’s why Paul can go on in Romans 10 to say, “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For ‘everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved'” (10. 12-13). Reformed theology can make no sense at all of this wonderful, universal call to salvation. Whosoever will may come.

Paul’s burden, then, in Romans 9 is not to narrow the scope of God’s election but to broaden it. He wants to take in all who have faith in Christ Jesus regardless of their ethnicity. Election, then, is first and foremost a corporate notion: God has chosen for Himself a people, a corporate entity, and it is up to us by our response of faith whether or not we choose to be members of that corporate group destined to salvation.

Of course, given God’s total providence over the affairs of men, this is not the whole story. But Molinism makes good sense of the rest. John 6. 65 means that apart from God’s grace no one can come to God on his own. But there’s no suggestion there that those who refused to believe in Christ did not do so of their own free will. God knows in exactly what circumstances people will freely respond to His grace and places people in circumstances in which each one receives sufficient grace for salvation if only that person will avail himself of it. But God knows who will respond and who won’t. So again the fault does not lie with God that some persons freely resist God’s grace and every effort to save them; rather they like Israel fail to attain salvation because they refuse to have faith.

My view of election and Romans 9 is corporate election. Like middle knowledge, once you understand the concept of corporate election and re-read Romans 9, it turns out that the whole thing reads naturally. If you reject corporate election and middle knowledge because you like Calvinism, then there are lots of problems with the rest of the Bible, as William Lane Craig described here.

If you’d like to see Bill take on an atheist professor from the prestigious University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, who argues that Calvinist theology disproves the existence of a benevolent God, then read this debate.

This evil satire of Calvinism is not funny at all!!!

I don’t even think you should read it. It’s so evil!

Excerpt:

In this post I would like to look at the extent of the atonement. By using proper exegesis of scripture it can be proven with certainty that Jesus died to effectually secure salvation for Paul of Tarsus. And for Paul alone.

First, let’s take a look at Galatians 2:20. This is the most important verse in the Bible, because it explicitly states the extent of the atonement (bold mine):

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

This verse is key. It indisputably proves that Jesus loved and gave himself only for Paul.

And:

In Matthew 18:12 we learn that the shepherd only wanted to save one sheep. In fact he abandoned 99 sheep to save the one (bold mine):

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?

This passage is so clear. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that the shepherd found and saved only one sheep (Paul). The shepherd left the 99 other sheep on the hills. By doing this the shepherd maximized his glory. Moreover, he increased the appreciation and adoration of Paul, whom was effectually retrieved. If other sheep could have been retrieved, it would have diluted the value of the shepherd’s act.

This is so awful, that I have no words to describe how awful! Awful!

Here’s another thing that you shouldn’t read!

All kidding aside, I do believe in definite atonement. Sufficient for all, efficient for some, based on God’s foreknowledge of who would respond to his taking the initiative to draw a specific group of people toward him, who did not want him at all, but who he knew would freely responding to his loving them FIRST.

I apologize to all of my Calvinist readers for posting this. Please forgive me. You have to allow me my fun once in a while. Isn’t that what friendship is all about?

MUST-HEAR: Michael Brown debates James White on Foreknowledge vs Calvinism

This is the second of a two-debate series. The first debate is here.

The MP3 file is here.

Participants:

Format: (from James White’s blog)

For those interested, we will be covering three texts of Scripture on Thursday: John 6, Romans 8/9, and Ephesians 1. Each will have 8 minutes to provide their exegesis of the text; then we will have four minutes of cross-ex each, then three minute conclusions before moving on to the next text. I know, not a lot of time, but that still covers 90 full minutes (we will not be taking any breaks at all).

The following Thursday we will repeat the process, but this time covering Michael’s chosen texts, Luke 13:34-35 (Deuteronomy 5:28-29) Ezekiel 18:21-32 (Jeremiah 3:19-20; Ezekiel 22:30-31) I John 2:1-2 (2 Pet 2:1).

Michael Brown basically represents my view on these issues. This is another great debate – but more technical than the first. Congratulations to Dr. White and Dr. Brown for this entertaining and collegial series of debates. Both speakers were very civil again, but not boring. We need more debates like this to make Christianity seem interesting to men. Men like to learn theology (and everything else) by see truth emerge from a struggle. We’re competitive.

The verses up for debate this time

Luke 13:34-35:

34“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

35Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Deuteronomy 5:28-29:

28 The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, “I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good.

29 Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

Ezekiel 18:21-32:

21 “But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, he will surely live; he will not die.

22 None of the offenses he has committed will be remembered against him. Because of the righteous things he has done, he will live.

23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

24 “But if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked man does, will he live? None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness he is guilty of and because of the sins he has committed, he will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

26 If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die.

27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life.

28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.

29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.

31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?

32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Jeremiah 3:19-20:

19 “I myself said, ” ‘How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation.’ I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me.

20 But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel,” declares the LORD.

Ezekiel 22:30-31:

30 “I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.

31 So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

I John 2:1-2:

1My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

2He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

2 Pet 2:1:

1But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves.

My thoughts

This may be a bit repetitive – I’m a software engineer! Not a theologian!

In the first section, Brown makes the case that the Father (in the Old Testament) and Jesus (in the New Testament) have fervent desires for people to repent and be reconciled. But God chooses to allow people to freely choose to resist him. I believe that God could coerce the will (but then it’s no longer free). But he chooses not to. Free will is needed in order to have a love relationship with us. Calvinism doesn’t allow for people to resist God’s desire that specific people be saved, so on the Calvinist view, humans cannot love God since their will is coerced by God.

One commenter recently asked me whether non-Calvinists think that God rolls the dice and hopes to save as many as possible. The answer is NO. On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge view, when God chooses which universe from the vast range possible universes he will create, the fate of each person is sealed for Heaven or Hell – but not by determinism! God chooses the time and place in which we will all live, and he knows whether we each will freely respond to his drawing us to him or not, because of where he places us.

Those who can respond to God in some possible time and place will be placed in a time and place in the universe where God will draw them to him in a non-coercive way (preaching, Bible, apologetics, natural revelation, etc.) so they can freely respond to this undeserved grace, be saved. And God  CHOSE the universe where that would happen WITHOUT FAIL, but without violating the free will of people – because he foresaw their choices in ALL circumstances, and CHOSE the circumstances to elicit that free choice to respond.

At the instant of the Big Bang, the group known as the “elect” is set. God locks into reality the exact amount of grace that each individual in the elect needs in order to freely respond to God’s saving grace. No guesswork, no rolling of the dice. God is sovereign over everything that happens from that moment on. He foreknows what each person will freely choose in every decision, and he is sovereign over how all those decisions will play out. At every moment of time God says “I am happy with this”. And in the end, his aims are achieved – without violating anyone’s free will.

Another one of my concerns with Calvinism is that it seems to make life meaningless. Let me explain. There are two kinds of decisions. First, you can make a decision that 1) affects where you end up when you die, or you can make a decision that 2) doesn’t affect where you end up when you die. On Calvinism, God makes all 1) decisions for you. Nothing you do can affect where you end up when you die. On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge, you make the 1) decisions – but you make them in response to God’s unilateral saving grace being extended to you.

On the Foreknowledge/Middle Knowledge view, you do NOT choose God, because NO ONE desires God. But you choose to respond to God’s grace when he takes the initiative to reach down into your sinful, rebellious life and reveal himself to you. He rescues you, and he knew that he would rescue you from eternity. He knew you from all eternity. All you do is hold the life jacket he throws you. Which is nothing. But if you don’t hold it, you’re to blame, not God. In fact, because he knows what you’ll do, he probably won’t even throw you one unless he knows you’ll take it.

My specific views are spelled out more here: What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

And don’t forget that I blogged about the very first White-Brown debate (before the two-part series). I highly, highly recommend this introductory debate.

MUST-HEAR: James White debates Michael Brown on Calvinism vs Foreknowledge

This is the first of a two-debate series. (Part two is here)

The MP3 file is here.

Participants:

Format: (from James White’s blog)

For those interested, we will be covering three texts of Scripture on Thursday: John 6, Romans 8/9, and Ephesians 1. Each will have 8 minutes to provide their exegesis of the text; then we will have four minutes of cross-ex each, then three minute conclusions before moving on to the next text. I know, not a lot of time, but that still covers 90 full minutes (we will not be taking any breaks at all).

The following Thursday we will repeat the process, but this time covering Michael’s chosen texts, Luke 13:34-35 (Deuteronomy 5:28-29) Ezekiel 18:21-32 (Jeremiah 3:19-20; Ezekiel 22:30-31) I John 2:1-2 (2 Pet 2:1).

Michael Brown basically represents my view on these issues. This is a perfect debate – it’s 100% time well spent.

I blogged about their previous debate here. I highly, highly recommend this debate.

My thoughts

My own reservation about Calvinism is that it requires that God create people who go to Hell. They go to Hell only because God chooses not to draw them to him. So there are people pre-destined to Hell for eternity who are not responsible since it’s God’s choice where they are saved or not. Basically Calvinism has God creating some creatures, say, sheep, who have a predisposition to wander into lakes. These sheep then wander into a lake. He then picks some of them out who are no different than the others, and lets the rest drown. Then God turns to the ones he saved and says “aren’t I great for having saved you and not them?”, when he could have saved all of them. That’s not love.

I think a much better view, a more Biblical view, is that although all the sheep are initially rebelling against God, he still foreknows which will respond to his rescuing efforts. The sheep all want to try swimming to safety by themselves – none of them wants God’s help. So they are all doomed to death, unless God acts to save them. God can see which sheep will respond to his rescuing activities, so he reaches out to those sheep and they respond and they are saved. The rest die swimming away from him. That’s love. Love respects the free will of the beloved to resist, even if it means letting them choose their own destruction. And this view is different from Calvinism, because in this view God is all-loving and all-merciful. He is not willing that any sheep should perish, but that all the sheep would be saved. If all are not saved, then it is not God’s fault. He allows the sheep to choose to resist him.

I totally agree with Romans 9, where it says that God creates some people for destruction, and that those people cannot resist God’s will that they be created for destruction. But on my view, those people are people who would resist him in any time, in any place, even if he tried to save them. They cannot demand to be saved even though they resist God. They cannot say to their maker that they should not be created only to be damned, either, because being damned is their own fault. They don’t have a right to demand that they be saved because they would freely choose not to respond to God in any set of circumstances that God might try to place them in in order to save them. So God is permitted to create vessels of wrath for his own glory – but it’s their fault, not God’s.

I agree with Brown that vessels of wrath are free to repent and become part of the elect if they choose to respond to God’s drawing them towards him. Where does it say in the text that the vessels cannot change their destination by repentance? It doesn’t. People choose to respond to God or not, and that determines what kind of vessel they are going to be. God knows in advance what kind they are going to be and creates the vessels of wrath anyway.

My specific views are spelled out more here: What are the differences between Wesleyan Arminianism and Calvinism?

MUST-HEAR: Audio debate between James White and Michael Brown on Calvinism

A nice friendly debate with more light than heat. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The MP3 file is here.

Calvinism is the view that God decides whether you go to Heaven or Hell. Nothing a person does or abstains from doing throughout their entire life affects their post-mortem destination. In fact, no other person or circumstance affects where they end up, either. Everyone who goes to Hell goes there as a direct result of God’s free choice that determines, apart from any actionor circumstance, that a person will go to Hell.

Summary:

  • Introduction to Calvinist James White and some of his 90 debates
  • What is Calvinism and why is it important?
  • Does God love all people the same way in Calvinism?
  • Does God desire the salvation of all people in Calvinism?
  • Is the offer of salvation to all people a genuine offer on Calvinism?
  • Does Calvinism diminish or augment God’s sovereignty?
  • Can God accomplish his will by permitting evil creaturely actions?
  • Did Jesus die only for the “chosen”, or for the possibility of salvation for all?
  • Does a person’s responding to God’s offer of savaltion detract from Gods glory?
  • Does our ability to resist God’s grace mean that we are “stronger” than God?

There is a little static in the audio for a few seconds every time they come back from a break, but nothing major. There are no commercials. And the debate is SO worth it, because there are almost no good debates on this topic, although you may be interested in reading the debate between William Lane Craig and Ed Curley.

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