Wednesday, May 27, 2009

James White on Romans 9

I recently listened to James White's explanation of Romans 9. I was surprised by his technique. He did very little explaining of the scripture, or showing the connection between the text and Calvinism. Rather, he went verse-by-verse attacking non-Calvinist interpretations of the passage. White made very few positive assertions about what the text means; and none of them supported Calvinism. It was as if he assumed the passage teaches Calvinism and made no efforts to justify that claim. That's not exegesis and in debate it's a shift of the burden of proof.

So my biggest problem is with what he didn't do - justify Calvinism based on the text. However, I also had a problem with what he did do - attack the non-Calvinist position. Sometimes White confused with non-Calvinist interpretations of the passage and non-Calvinists reconciliation of the interpretation of the passage with the rest of their theology. He asks why the reconciliation isn't in the text itself, then charges his opponents with eisegesis. Also, I personally couldn't identify with his attacks of non-Calvinist explanations of the text. Sometimes made comments about the non-Calvinist position that I could agree with, but he always applied them in ways I wouldn't such that his presentation of the non-Calvinist position was unrecognizable to me. In short, I didn't find this explanation all that helpful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Friday Files: Daniel Whedon's Comentary on Romans 9

In Daniel Whedon's Comentary on Romans 9, he argues that Paul's quotations of the old testament support the Arminian view of the passage. In some ways, I found Whedon to be a prototype of more recent Arminian explanations of the passage. Specifically, his digging into the context of "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" in Exodus 32-33 was a big step in the right direction. Whedon explains the verses and then refutes Barnes' (a Calvinist) view. He notes the Calvinist interpretation of defending God's justice is really a "might makes right" kind of view. He objects: "Power increased infinitely cannot change right. A creature can be supposedly wronged by even an infinite being. The predesinarian interpretation makes Paul pretend to give a reason, but really resorts to force, and seeks to frighten his opponents out of reasoning."


John 10:26-30 speaks of God's protection. Shank notes that 'following' in verse 27 is present active indicative - which could mean an ongoing action. His point seems to be that you have to follow in order to be protected and further sometimes sheep don't follow so they are unprotected and end up lost. (Shank. Life in the Son. p. 56-60)I derive a different conclusion - Christ's sheep do follow. Let's look at the passage.

In John 10:1-6 Christ says that sheep won't follow a stranger, but they follow the shepherd.

In John 10:7-8 Christ says others came before, but they were thieves and robbers and the sheep didn't hear them; basically indicating the true Israel was not led astray by false prophets.

In John 10:9-18 Christ explains that He is the door through which any man can enter and the good shepherd that lays His life down for the sheep.

In John 10:19-21 the crowd reacts - some oppose Jesus but others say "can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" This hearkens back to chapter 9's account of Jesus healing a the bind man.

John 10:22-24 says: Now it was the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple, in Solomon’s porch. Then the Jews surrounded Him and said to Him, “How long do You keep us in doubt? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.”

About 2 months had passed and the Jews ask Jesus if He was the Christ. This seems to be a trap since He they were already aware of His claim to being the Messiah. In chapter 8 Christ said before Abraham was, I AM and the Jews tried to kill him.

In John 10:25-27 Christ responds: “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.

The Pharisees asked Jesus "are you the Christ"? He basically says "I already told you and you still don't believe. Further, my miracles back up what I say."

The Pharisees didn't believe Christ because there were not his sheep (John 10:26). At this point Calvinists commentaries start waxing eloquent about unconditional election; but is that what Christ is saying? I don't think so, but the explanation of what it does mean undermines Shank's point.

I think it's fair to look at two different witnesses here: Christ's word and His miracles. First, Jesus told them He is Christ, and now He is backing it up through miracles. The Pharisees do not believe now, because they did not believe (and become sheep) then. If they had become sheep, they would have recognized Christ as their Sheppard and would have had a sheepish attitude which is disposed to follow. The sheep follow Christ's voice.

It’s important to understand that there are two witnesses: 1) Christ’s word and 2) the works He does in the Fathers name that bear witness to what He has said.

Jesus answered them, "I told you [1], and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me [2], 2but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.

They reject #2 now, because they had rejected #1 before. But those that accepted #1 before became sheep and now follow (v 27). In this specific case, the work Christ did was healing the blind man.

Christ's sheep do follow (i.e. conversion leads to discipleship). Anyone can come through the door (Christ) and join the flock. (John 10:9) They then hear Christ's voice and follow. So when Christ says His sheep follow, He is making a simple statement about the sheep; they preserver.

In John 10:28-30, Christ says: And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.”

All sins are some combination of temptation from without and willingness from within us. Satan's modus operandi isn't to overpower God, but rather to tempt us and lure us away from Him. If Satan were to draw us away from God (ultimately), then Satan defeated God. But that will never happen, because God's protecting hand on His sheep is too strong for Satan get us.

Thus we have 5 affirmations of eternal security: 1) Christ's sheep follow Him, 2) He gives them eternal life, 3) they shall never perish, 4) No one can take them from Christ's hand, 5)No one can take them from the Father's hand.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Index to Debate on Calvinism and Determinism

Here's a recap of a debate I had with Theojunkie and Turretinfan on Calvinism and determinism. The debate cover all kinds of topics, like determinism and Molinism but one aspect that we kept coming back to was Christ's death and determinism. Here's some key quotes and links to the posts:

Opening Argument: Calvinism is Determinism - A brief review of TULIP in light of Determinism Christ's death was sufficient for all meaning if He had died for the reprobate, He could have been able to save them. The "possibility" of salvation is based on a different past then the actual past - a hallmark of determinism.

Theojunkie Response 1 If Christ had died for the reprobate, then 1) they would with certainty be saved, and 2) they would not be reprobate. Salvation is not "possible" for anybody-- it is certain. No where does the bible speak of the "possibility of being saved". No where does anyone in the bible present the Gospel as a "possibility" for a person. Therefore, nothing here is based on a false history.

My Response How could Christ’s not dying for someone be the basis of His death’s being sufficient for them? Further, you deny that salvation is possible for anyone, but rather that it is certain (presumably for the elect and them alone). This implies that Christ is unable to save the non-elect. If Christ is unable to save them, how then is His death sufficient for them?One way to explain it would be that given the hypothetical that they were elected, Christ wouldn’t have had to suffer any more? (i.e. an alternative past to correspond to the alternative future). There’s a power or possibility in Christ’s death that’s accessed with an alternative past.

Theojunkie Response 2 "Christ not dying for someone" is not the "basis for his death being sufficient for all." The basis for saying that Christ's death is sufficient for all, is simply this: He is the spotless lamb of God.

Turretinfan Response 1 GIMJ claims that Calvinism teaches, "The "possibility" of salvation [based on the sufficiency of Christ's death] is based on a different past then the actual past ... ." This is not true, either, because the sufficiency of Christ's death is a matter of intrinsic value. Christ's death is in actuality sufficient for all the sins of each and every person.
Response to TF 1 Yes, but I suspect that your very concept of “actual sufficiency” with respect to a counterfactual future (i.e. the salvation of the non-elect) entails a counterfactual past. When determinists claim we are able to do otherwise, if we had chosen to, or we are able to choose otherwise, if we had wanted to; they are defining “ability” in terms of a counterfactual past. For more please see here. Can Christ save the reprobate? Under Calvinism, in one sense He can and in another sense He cannot. The sense He cannot is obvious. Given the Father didn’t elect them, Christ would almost have to “freak out” and run contrary to the Father to do so. Obviously that can’t happen. But the sense in which He can relies on a counterfactual past in which they were not reprobate.

Turretinfan Response 2 As I already said, "actual sufficiency" has to do with intrinsic value. To build on the Scriptural analogy of redemption with a price, the price of Christ's death was enough to save an infinite number of people. The question of people's choice is really irrelevant to the issue of Christ's sufficiency. If only Paul had been elected, Christ's death would have been exactly as sufficient as it is in reality.

Response to TF 2 This explanation wouldn’t be an issue if Calvinists only said the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all. But they say Christ’s death was sufficient for all [meaning the value of Christ’s death was sufficient for all], while in the background, other aspects of Christ’s death move against Christ’s death being sufficient for all. Granted, these other aspects don’t “block” the value of Christ’s death from saving, but perhaps they make use of the value of Christ’s death in such a way that the reprobate remain unsavable. If the reprobate are unsavable, clearly Christ’s death was insufficient for them. Something more than the value of Christ’s death is required. This article suggest that the “something more” is intention, and that intention is implied in the phrase sufficient for all. (link) But whatever the “something else” is, if something more is required from X for Y, X is insufficient for Y. This is why I suspect you are speaking in a divided sense.

Turretinfan Response 3 GIMJ's argument glosses over the difference between sufficiency and savability. The price is sufficient to save, but is not used to that end. To go back to the ransom analogy, if the cost to ransom any and all captives is $1 Million, then a payment of $1 Million is sufficient for all, even if it is not intended or used to free all the captives.... Intention is not something "added" to Christ's death to make it sufficient - it is not even, itself, the thing that makes the death of Christ efficient. It is the "joy that was set before him," as Scripture teaches. The act of offering is what makes the sacrifice efficient, and the Holy Spirit actually executes the effect in the life of the elect.

Response to TF 3 Owens says God lays the sins of the elect on Christ first, then Christ carries them to the cross and pays the price, actually satisfying justice through His death. The intention, sin transfer, offering, and acceptance are all required. Without them, Christ’s death would not, and could not save anyone. As it stands, you seem to hold to the contradiction that the value of Christ’s death is both sufficient and it requires something else.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Friday Files: Beet's Commentary on Romans 9

In Joseph Agar Beet's commentary on Romans 9 (pages 255 -288 in his A Commentary on St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans) he explains that Paul is teaching that God's plan was to save through the Gospel not the Law. Beet is a good author - he asks good questions and gets right to the point. I love the way he explains why the word 'faith' doesn't appear in the first part of the text. "Paul puts, not faith, but Him that calls, in contrast to works. For God's purpose is no more a result of faith than of works." The objection in verse 14 is that "we are working so hard and God is letting in believers who hadn't been previously working". Paul responds by explaining God is being merciful, so merit doesn't come into play. Beet sees hardening as a punishment for prior sins that makes obedience more difficult, but not impossible. Beet sees the multiple hardenings in the Exodus account of Pharaoh as making obedience more and more difficult. But God hardens through longsuffering by showing them the way to salvation, so they have no right to complain.

Don't let me get me

God is both willing (John 6:39) and able to preserve us (Jude 24). To this Robert Shank responds "Our keeping ourselves in His love, in full anticipation of the mercy of our Saviour unto eternal life, is prerequisite to his safekeeping of our souls. We can trust Christ to save us, and we can trust Him to keep us; but we must trust Him." (Shank. Life in the Son. p. 279) But as Pink said: "I’m a hazard to myself, Don’t let me get me, I’m my own worst enemy". If God's not protecting us from ourselves, He's not protecting us. God saves us from the inside out.

Shank is really right about one thing and really wrong about another. We do need to trust Christ, but that's not an a prerequisite for His protection - faith is the instrument of His protection (1 Peter 1:5). Peter understood Christ's protection through experiencing trials; trials he failed but his faith failed not due to Christ's intercession (Luke 22:31-32). Shank sees Peter as a special case "that does not govern what may be true in other instances". (Shank p. 360) But the problem is twofold: 1) we see that faith is God's tool to protect us not something God requires before He will protect us and 2) if God could protect Peter through faith, He can protect us through faith. Shank grants that God is willing to protect us: "It is not the Father's will that any who come to Jesus should subsequently be lost." (Shank p. 360) So if He's willing and able, what's the hold up?

God promises not only the end (eternal life), but also the means (His protecting of our faith). He will "keep us strong" (1 Cor 1:7-9). Again, Shank puts the cart before the horse. He says: "The great promises of the faithfulness of God in performing His work of grace in our hears by His Spirit until the day of Jesus Christ all assume a corresponding faithfulness on the part of man." (Shank. p 110) But God's grace is what keeps us strong. He keeps us blameless (1 Thess 5:23-24). He strengthens us and protects us from the evil one (2 Thess 3:3). He will carry out His work in us (Phil 1:6). God doesn't wait on us to be faithful to protect us; He protects us by keeping us faithful.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Files: Godet on Romans 9

In Frederic Louis Godet takes a “National Election” approach in his commentary on Romans 9. He summarizes the flow of Romans 9-11 as follows: “1. That of God's absolute liberty in regard to every alleged required right, upon Him, on man's part; this is the subject of chap. ix. 2. That of the legitimacy of the use which God has made of His liberty in the case in question; such is the subject of chap, x., where Paul shows that Israel by their want of understanding drew upon themselves the lot which has overtaken them. 3. That of the utility of this so unexpected measure: this forms the subject of chap, xi., where the beneficent consequences of Israel's rejection down to their glory one final result are unfolded.” Godet explains the chapter verse by verse and along the way he picks apart the grammatical details to draw out Paul’s point. The OT examples of Isaac, Jacob, and Moses are not talking about eternal salvation, but rather God’s merciful (but not arbitrary) choice to reveal Himself and bless them. Godet sees the election of Jacob as primary national, but also teaching that God chooses to justify by faith. Godet summarizes the chapter as: “The word of God has not therefore been made of no effect by the fact of the rejection of the Israelitish nation (ver. 6). For, 1st, the principle of divine selection which controlled the early destinies of the patriarchal family is only realized anew in the distinction between believing Israelites and the carnal and rejected mass (vv. 6-13). 2d. God, when making choice of this people to prepare for the salvation of the world, did not abdicate His freedom to reject them on certain conditions, and if lie came to think this good ; neither did He abdicate His liberty of calling other individuals not belonging to this people, on certain conditions, and if He came to see good reason. And the use which He actually makes of this liberty, in rejecting His obstinately rebellious people while sparing them as long as possible, and even after the greatest crimes, is not tantamount to the annulling of His word (vv. 14-24).”

The two big takeaways I had were: 1) National Election and Corporate Election explanations of Romans 9 are not mutually exclusive and 2) Godet is the best at “grammar analysis” that I have seen so far.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

John 3:16 and Eternal Security

John 3:16 is perhaps the best know verse in scripture because it's one of the simplest expressions of the gospel; it's only rival for popularity that I can think of is Genesis 1:1. It states: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. This seems like a plain statement of Eternal Security, and yet so many that know and love this passage don't hold to ES.

What I Eternal Security?

Eternal Security is the union of two views: 1) the assurance of salvation and 2) once saved, always saved (OSAS). Assurance is knowing for sure that you are saved. Many folks that hold to falling from grace do think we can have assurance (i.e. I know I am saved today, but I might not be tomorrow). So assurance is not as controversial an element as OSAS. OSAS is the view that if your saved now, you always will be. Those that hold to OSAS must be subdivided into two groups: 1) those that hold perseverance is necessary, and 2) those that don't. I think perseverance is necessary; you cannot live like the devil and go to heaven. So in my view, true believers will preserver. Apostates were never true believers to begin with.

Does John 3:16 Teach Eternal Security?

Yes, in the simplest of terms, I would argue that it does as follows:

P1: Whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life
P2: I am a believer
C1: So, I shall not perish but have everlasting life

P1 is from the text. P2 isn't, but it's an affirmation of assurance of salvation. John 3:16 is a simple statement about the future of the believer. I does not say "cannot perish", just that they shall not perish. Perishing will not happen.

In Greek, the "shall not perish" is "me apolthai". Me is a negative particle and the verb apolthai is aorist middle subjunctive. While subjunctives sometimes indicate lack of certainty, subjunctives in negative assertions amount to an emphatic future indicative. (Syntax of the moods and tenses in New Testament Greek. Ernest De Witt Burton. p 78) So Christ is emphasizing the fact that the believer shall not perish. So if we are a believer, we can take Christ at His word and know that hell is not in our future. Everlasting life has implications both for here and hereafter, but "shall not perish" is all about what happens to us when we die. The believer will not go to hell and suffer the second death, so believers are secure.


Objection 1: Believers is a present active participle, which indicates ongoing action. Of course an ongoing believers (i.e. ones that preservers) shall not perish.

Answer 1: Then John 3:16 doesn't apply to those who don't preserver. Why think they are or were saved? Certainly not based on John 3:16; the simplest expression of the gospel. As stated above, those that fall way were never true believers to begin with ('believers' in the sense of John 3:16).

Objection 2: Believers is a category or class. While we are in it, we benefit, but if we leave it, we leave the benefits. So apostates were saved.

Answer 2: If believer is a category of those that preserver to the end, see answer 1. If its anyone who ever at any point believes, then they personally shall not perish. Their future will not change to anther future. If today "I will die in 3 days" is true, tomorrow "I will die in 2 days" will be true. It's not like the truth about the future will flip-flop back and forth.

Objection 3: Sometimes God's promises and warnings of the future are conditional, not in an absolute sense. If it's conditional, no need to assume the future flipflops back and forth. (Isaiah 38:1-5,Jeremiah 18:1-12,Jonah 3)

Answer 3: Whatever Christ means by "believer"; believers have eternal life. The promises to believers cannot be taken conditionally (i.e. believers may or may not have eternal life) because as shown above, Christ makes an emphatic statement about the future.

Objection 4: The promise of not perishing is absolute with respect to the category but conditional when applied to the individual, because the individual may or may not remain in the category. It's like saying everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet. The individual is dry when he wears the coat and gets wet when he takes it off.

Answer 4: The conditionality just extends the category until the end. In the raincoat example, the raincoat wearer is told he will not get wet, but he ended up wet because he took the coat off. So he should have understood the statement "everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet" as implicitly; "everyone who wears a raincoat will not get wet, if he keeps the coat on or while he wears the coat" or something similar. So the category "believer" is "one that preservers to the end"; in which case see answer 1 above.

Also, the raincoat analogy breaks down, because of the phrase "shall not perish". The clincher is "shall not perish", not "everlasting life". Everlasting life may be (mistakenly) taken as a temporary blessing during this life, but "shall not perish" is about what happens to us in the future when we die. Rain lasts a while, so in the analogy the guy is sometimes dry and sometimes wet. But "shall not perish" will turn out one way or the other when we die.

There's a third problem regarding who the promise is made to. It's the end of Hollywood week on American Idol. The judges have grouped the contestants in three rooms: one group will make it through, one group will be cut and the last group is a mix. Simon comes into the first room and says: it's not good news... it's great news; you will make it onto the show. Your singing was great, just change your hideous outfits. Randy walks into the next room. Sorry dogs, that singing was really, really, really O.K. So it's the end of the line. Paula and Simon walk into the final room. Paula says "I can promise you two things: 1) if today was final cut you would make it and 2) today isn't final cuts." "No wait." "Here are the two things I can promise you: 1) you might make it through final cuts and 2) if you do you will be on the show." Simon cuts her off. "What Paula is trying to say is we can't promise this group anything. Try to join the group that will make it through, not the group that's going home.

If 'believer' is understood as those who at any point believe and the promise is understood as conditional, then the believer isn't really being promised anything. The promise would look like "if you believe at any point, you will get eternal life so long as you continue believing until the end". In which case the promise is being given to those who make it until the end, not those who believe at any point in time.

Recapping the Objections

Like many things, the truth itself is simple, but explaining away objections gets complex. Interpreting this passage turns on three questions:
  1. Is the promise conditional or absolute?
  2. Is the category 'believers' those who believe at any point in time or those who believe until the end?
  3. How do we apply promises given to the category 'believers' to the individual?

Hopefully, these tables will help summarize the various combinations and problems.

Understanding the Passage: The Promise given to the Category 'Believers'

Any PointTo the End
Promise AbsoluteEternal Security - Correct Interpretation of the passageWhy think apostates are saved? This undermines assurance
Promise ConditionalContradicts "shall not perish"Contradicts "shall not perish"

Understanding the Application: The promise as it relates to the Individual

Any PointTo the End
Promise AbsoluteEternal Security - correct application of the passageAmount to ES and this undermines assurance
Promise ConditionalNothing promised to the 'any point' guy, and the category shifts from 'any point' to 'to the end'. This really belongs over here ->Contradicts "shall not perish"

If you are a believer, you shall not perish but have everlasting life; and that is eternal security.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Can vs. Do True Believers Apostatize

The questions “can salvation be lost?” and “is salvation ever lost?” seem about the same, but one is about the possibility, the other is about the actual occurrence of apostasy. Arminius noted the distinction:

a distinction ought to be made between power and action. For it is one thing to declare, that "it is possible for the faithful to fall away from faith and salvation," and it is another to say, that "they do actually fall away." This distinction is of such extensive observance, that even antiquity itself was not afraid of affirming, concerning the elect and those who were to be saved, "that it was possible for them not to be saved;" and that "the mutability by which it was possible for them not to be willing to obey God, was not taken away from them," although it was the opinion of the ancients, "that such persons never would in reality be damned." (The Apology or Defense of James Arminius – Articles 1 &2)

At first glance, the distinction seems simple enough. The statement “I can pick up this pen” is about my ability, the statement “I will pick it up” is about the future. Still, when it comes to the questions can vs. do true believers apostatize, it seems hard to believe the answer to one could be yes, and the other no. If we can, but no one ever will, does that impinge on the idea of ‘possibility’? Not really, if you hold to the foreknowledge of God (Matthew 26:53, Acts 27:24,31). That goes for all views of foreknowldge: Calvinists, Molinists and Simple Foreknowledge. But Molinists and Calvinists are in a possition to explain how this works; even though they have different ideas of possible. For example, here's what Francis Turretin (who was a Calvinists and a determinism and a compatibilist) had to say:

“The question does not concern the possibility of failing on man’s part and in a divided sense. For no one denies that believers considered in themselves as to the mutability and weakness of their nature, not only can fail, but could not help failing if left to themselves (especially on the approach of the temptations of Satan and of the world). But the question concerns the possibility of failing on God’s part, as to his purpose in the compound sense and with regard to the event itself. In this sense, we say that defection is impossible, not absolutely and simply, but hypothetically and relatively.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p594)

Here’s Turretin's concept in action, used to explain scripture:

“The passage…(Ezk 18:24) does not favor the apostasy of saints. 1. It is hypothetical, not absolute; (bhshvbh tsdyq) “when the righteous turneth away” (i.e. “if he turneth away”). However, it is known that a condition puts nothing into being, but denotes only a necessary connection of the antecedent with the consequent. If some possibility of defection be denoted on the part of man (when viewed in a divided sense), it cannot at once be inferred that there is a possibility in the compound sense on the part of the grace of God and as to the event. For what is possible with regard to the nearest and known cause is impossible with regard to the remote and hidden (which is in the decree of God). Here then, where God prescribes to man his duty and acts as law giver, he does not disclose the event of the things decreed by him. “ (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic TheologyV2 p 612)

Here’s another statement about David, that takes it even a step further.

“It is one thing for a believer sinning grievously to be damnable by his own merit (if regarded as to himself in a divided sense); another, if considered in the compound sense and as to God’s decree. In the former sense, it is true that he is exposed to death and if he continues in that state, will certainly be condemned. But in the latter sense, it is rightly said that thy will be absolved and saved (God so arranging the matter by his immense love and wisdom that he may not die in that state, but may be restored and return to the way by a renewed act of faith and repentance before he reaches the goal). Hence according to a double relation, these two propositions (although seemingly contrary) can be true at the same time. It is impossible that David (elected and man after God’s own heart) can perish. It is impossible that David, an adulterer and murderer (if death should talk him away in his impenitence) can be saved. The former by reason of God’s decree; the latter by reason of the heinousness and demerit of his sin. But this difficulty divine providence and grace solves,taking care that David (or any of the elect) should not die in that state in which on account of impenitence he would be excluded from salvation.” (Francis Turretin. Institutes of Elenctic Theology V2 p614)

So for Turretin, looking narrowly at just man's weakness, apostasy is possible, but looking more broadly at man's weakness in light of God's protection, apostasy is possible.

On the other hand, here's how Molinists William Lane Craig explains it:

Congruism could maintain that God via His middle knowledge knows just what gifts of grace to accord in any possible world to each believer's will so as to elicit a continuing response of faith from that person. Hence, every believer will persevere to the end in whatever world he exists even though he is free and it lies within his power to reject any particular gifts of God's grace.
Such a Congruist doctrine of perseverance appears very paradoxical because even though the believer freely perseveres and is able to reject God's grace, nevertheless there are no logically possible worlds in which he apostasizes. Is such a doctrine coherent?

It does seem coherent, I think, for the Congruist to maintain that the believer freely perseveres even if he is not free to apostasize. That the believer freely perseveres is evident from the fact that for any particular congruent grace accorded him, there are worlds in which the believer rejects that grace. But via His middle knowledge, God in each of those worlds offers the believer some other gift of grace to which God knows the believer will freely respond. So even though there are no possible worlds in which a believer falls away, nonetheless believers persevere freely. The crucial point, once again, is that God's grace is only extrinsically efficacious, and therefore the believer's freedom is not causally constrained by God's action....

To maintain that the warnings of Scripture are the means by which God guarantees the perseverance of the elect is in fact to adopt a Molinist perspective. That perspective need not be so radical as Congruism. The Molinist who holds to the perseverance of the saints may regard (4) and (4') as false because, in counterdistinction to the Congruist, he holds that there are realizable worlds in which believers do reject God's grace and apostasize. That is to say, such worlds are not merely logically possible, but are feasible for God. But the Molinist who holds to perseverance will simply add that God would not decree to actualize any of these worlds, or even more modestly, that God did not in fact decree to actualize such a world. In the world He chose to actualize, believers always persevere in the faith. Perhaps the warnings in Scripture are the means by which God weakly actualizes their perseverance. That is to say, in the moment logically prior to creation, God via His middle knowledge knew who would freely receive Christ as Savior and what sorts of warnings against apostasy would be extrinsically efficacious in keeping them from falling away. Therefore, He decreed to create only those persons to be saved who He knew would freely respond to His warnings and thus persevere, and He simultaneously decreed to provide such warnings. On this account the believer will certainly persevere and yet he does so freely, taking seriously the warnings God has given him. (A Middle Knowledge Perspective on Perseverance and Apostolic Warnings)

So for the Molinist, God chooses a world in which He knew we can, but would not fall away.

So 'possibility', understood either the robust libertarian sense, or the minimal determinist sense, is quite consistent with the thing never actually happening. Thus both Calvinists and Molinists may, in their own ways, affirm that true believers can, but will not fall away. In fact, anyone who believes God uses His foreknowledge providentially could uphold this difference. For example, Charles Finney (who was neither a Molinist or Arminian) said:

Everything revealed in the Bible concerning the perseverance and final salvation of the saints, and everything that is true, and that God knows of the free actions and destinies of the saints, may be of this class. These events are nevertheless certain, and are known to God as certainties. Not one of them will, in fact, turn out differently from what he foresees that they will; and yet by natural possibility, they might every one of them turn out differently; and there may, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of anything, be the utmost danger that some or all of them will turn out differently from what they in fact will…..

2. It is not intended that saints, or the truly regenerate, cannot fall from grace, and be finally lost, by natural possibility. It must be naturally possible for all moral agents to sin at any time. Saints on earth and in heaven can by natural possibility apostatize and fall, and be lost. Were not this naturally possible, there would be no virtue in perseverance.
3. It is not intended, that the true saints are in no danger of apostasy and ultimate damnation. For, humanly speaking, there may be, and doubtless is, the greatest danger in respect to many, if not of all of them, in the only sense in which danger is predicable of any event whatever, that they will apostatize, and be ultimately lost.
4. It is not intended, that there may not be, humanly speaking, myriads of chances to one, that some, or that many of them will fall and be lost. This may be, as we say, highly probable; that is, it may be probable in the only sense in which it is probable, that any event whatever may be different from what it will turn out to be….

It is intended, that all who are at any time true saints of God, are preserved by his grace and Spirit through faith, in the sense that subsequently to regeneration, obedience is their rule, and disobedience only the exception; and that being thus kept, they will certainly be saved with an everlasting salvation. (Charles Finney’s Systematic Theology. Lecture XLVII - Perseverance of Saints)

The distinction between "cannot apostatize" and "will not apostatize" really helps make sense of passages that speak of salvation as conditional on perseverance (i.e. Matthew 24:13; Colossians 1:23; Hebrews 3:14; Revelation 3:5) and also warning passages like Ezekiel 18:24, Hebrews 6:4-6 & 10:26-29. Perhaps they are truly saying we can loose our salvation, but other passages teach that we never will. Of course, just because we can hold this view (i.e. there's no logical contradictions) doesn't mean we should (i.e. it's taught in the bible). So, God willing, we need to look at biblical passages about the future of believers. Since examples go beyond warnings, we also need to look at the alleged "examples of apostasy", such as David, Judas, the Israelites who rejected Christ, Hymenaeus and Alexander, and false prophets of 2 Peter 2 and Jude. This topic also naturally brings up questions about assurance of salvation and antinomianism which should be discussed.

Can Arminians hold to Eternal Security?

Steve Hays recently pointed out that I believe in Eternal Security and most other people that call themselves Arminians1 don’t. (link) In fact, for many that call themselves Arminians, this question is near and dear to their heart. This isn't a "how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" issue; questions about security are intensely practical and personal. Looking into “warning passages” may have been what lead them to Arminianism in the first place. They might even view ES as a dangerous doctrine or a license to sin. I can relate, but my journey lead me to a different view of security. Of the two forces binding us to God, love and fear, I find love the strongest.

I didn't come by this lightly. I grew up Baptist and was taught ES as a child, but in high school I was so jolted to read the Hebrews warning passages that I questioned a great deal of what I had been taught. Through careful examination and study, I came back to believing Eternal Security is scriptural.

Can Arminians hold to Eternal Security? Sure! Arminius himself left the question open, as did the Remonstrants. Here’s the fifth article of the Remonstrants:

ART. V. That those who an incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his lifegiving spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory, it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand; and if only they are ready for the conflict. and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled, nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the word of Christ, John x. 28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable. through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scriptures before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.

Articles of the Remonstrants (link)

Since they left the question unanswered, Arminians fall on both sides of the fence today.
So what do I believe? Perseverance is necessary for salvation. God preserves His people through middle knowledge, such that we can, but will not fall away. God, knowing how we would choose in various circumstances, puts us only in those circumstances that keep us in the faith. Breaking the Law of Moses could never cause us to lose our salvation, but unbelief could. But God keeps us from unbelief.

God willing, I will explain my views a bit more in the next few posts.

1I say "call themselves Arminians" because a large number of Baptists are Arminians who hold to eternal security. Oddly enough one of the reasons they but don't call themselves Arminians because they equate Arminianism to falling from grace.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Files: Goodwin on Romans 9

John Goodwin's 531 page commentary on Romans 9 is the longest and most detailed account of Romans 9 I have read. I loved it. I will try to give a brief overview and highlight what I found to be some of his most insightful points. The structure of his work is as follows: a brief overview of the chapter to show how his view flows with the contours of the text, a detailed exposition of the text, a table of scriptures mentioned with some commentary on them, some general comments on interpretation, and some questions on answers on the broader implications of the text. The work also includes the "Banner of Justification", which explains justification in detail and it includes "Agreement and Distance of Brethren" which highlights the differences between Calvinists and Arminians.

In his introduction, Goodwin explains two problems with the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. First, they miss Paul's point about justification by faith. They argue that if election is conditional on faith, then faith amounts to works. But this misses Paul's point by 180 degrees. Second, they interpret verses 6-23 outside of the flow of the rest of the chapter.

Goodwin’s explains that just as physical decedents resemble their parents, spiritual decedents do as well. Abraham’s spiritual decedents resemble Abraham, in that they believe God’s promises for justification, so those who do not trust God are not Abraham’s spiritual children and God rejects them without any unfaithfulness to His promise.

The choice of Jacob and Esau teaches us that God does not have to honor works of the law or national lineage, but rather is free to call people to salvation through whatever terms He wants. The objection of injustice is that God has to reward the Jews for their good works. Paul responds God is being merciful, so He can show mercy however He likes. The objector wrongly assumes hardening is irresistible, but Paul corrects him by explaining God hardens through longsuffering, so those hardened may still repent.


  • In verse 1, the expression "in Christ" is an oath
  • In verse 6, the objection “for they are not all Israel who are of Israel” exceeds the Jews position. The Jews did not think all Jews were saved, so they would have agreed not all Israel are Israel. This shifts emphasis from nationality to the law. The Jews real objection was the word of God was of no effect (i.e. that the law given to Israel doesn’t really bring salvation.)
  • In verse 8, Goodwin interprets “children of the flesh” as those seeking to obtain salvation through the works of the law.
  • In verse 8, Goodwin interprets “that is” as an interpretation of “in Isaac shall thy seed be called”. The interpretation (see bullet point just above) is broader than the text, due to the allegorical nature of the OT text that Paul explains in Galatians 4.
  • In verses 7-11, Ishmael had done evil when he was rejected and Isaac had done good, so the example of Jacob/Esau was necessary.
  • Verse 16 isn’t about prevenient grace, but rather saving grace.
  • In verses 17-18, hardening is either just God presenting the occasion for stumbling or God knowing that a person will sin, given the occasion (i.e. middle knowledge).
  • In verse 22, hardening is via mercy and longsuffering, which could lead to repentance. This is demonstrated in that Pharaoh did repent, but repented of his repentance. (Ex 10:16-17)
  • Hardening is part of God’s consequent will, and an accidental effect of His grace to bring us to repentance.
  • Goodwin concludes vs 22-23 are the application of the illustration in verse 21. He supports this based on the "de" in verse 22. He points out that the KJV doesn't translate "de", but it should have been translated "and" showing the connection between verse 21 and verse 22-23. This use of de is similar to Luke 18:7: "and shall not God avenge his own elect". So verses 22-23 explain how the potter example works.

Link to Romans 9 for reference.