July 8, 2013

Why I Am An Arminian
Part VI: Convinced by Scripture

In this final post, I'll look at the most important reason for believing any theology: why I think Arminianism is what the Scripture teaches. One thing that you may notice though is that I am not always using specific Scriptural passages, but rather looking at biblical themes. I have found that it is usually true for Arminians to argue thusly, and it is usually true that Calvinists focus on individual texts.

Personally, I find thematic arguments from Scripture to be far more important. Passages can be taken out of context, and as we saw in the last post, I believe that most of the "Calvinist" passages do exactly that. Scripture wasn't meant to be studied piecemeal like that. Most of the books in the Bible were meant to be read as whole works. Even the ones that are compilations (such as Psalms or most of the Prophets) have predetermined sections that should be treated as whole units. To focus in one portion is, to some degree, dishonest to the nature of Scripture. I recognize that we must do it for the sake of practicality in quoting, but it shouldn't be part of our theology building.

It is also important to note that the biblical themes listed here are not sufficient to develop the Arminian position. Arminianism is a theological system which attempts to balance several different themes in Scripture. No where does the Bible explicitly describe Arminianism (though all of its basic points are either explicit,such as universal atonement, or clearly implicit, such as the freedom of the will), so we need to keep that in perspective. In this post, I am not trying to construct Arminianism from the Bible, but I am demonstrating why I believe Arminianism is more consistent with the Bible than Calvinism is.

So here are the basic biblical themes and passages that I think point towards the Arminian position being more biblical:
Divine Laments

There are many divine laments in Scripture. The basic structure of it is that God proclaims that He regrets what it is that His people are doing. Inherent to the structure of most of the laments is the concept that God wanted one thing, yet His people did something else. A short list includes:

Calvinists argue that everything which happens, God wanted to happen. Indeed, He decreed that it would happen to establish His plans for creation. However, is that really biblical? Though there are many divine laments in Scripture, I would like to focus on a single set (a triad actually) of them from Jeremiah because not only does it cut directly to the heart of my point here, they also are firm proof against the Calvinist position IMO.

They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire--something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. -Jeremiah 7:31
See also Jeremiah 19:5 and 32:35 where Jeremiah repeats the same basic phrase. One question that I must ask is how much clearer does the Bible have to be that there are things which occur that God did not want? I have trouble with a theology that will take a verse like this and say "well it didn't enter into God's revealed mind, but it did enter into God's secret mind". The statement is pretty blunt: "in no way shape or form did I want this to happen." I know that Calvinists must interact with this text somehow, but I seem to just lack the imagination to think of how.

With that said, the entire collection of laments makes a similar point: there are things which happen which God does not want, i.e. God regrets. By regret, I don't mean to imply that God expected anything else, or that God didn't see things coming. He's omniscient. What I mean is that things happened that God didn't want to happen. This seems to me to be a consistent theme throughout Scripture, and especially the prophets. Calvinism must claim otherwise, and the only way to deal with these Scriptures is to argue that somehow God didn't really mean it (whether it be by accommodation theory, or the two will theory).

Imago Dei
What does it mean to be made in the image of God? Let us first consider the term in its original context:
Then God said, "Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." - Genesis 1:26
It is interesting that the concept of being in God's image is directly tied to the idea of us ruling over the earth. It is very important to understand that God has given humanity responsibility over creation. We are charged with it. In this, we can understand that God's leadership style is that of delegation: He assigns responsibilities to various creatures.

This is not something which is in direct opposition to Calvinism, but it does stand in contrast to the Calvinist definition of Sovereignty (See link). We can see this basic delegation style of leadership in the parable of the vineyard. It is interesting that this seems to be the biblical model of divine sovereignty, yet Calvinist's insist that God must cause all things to happen in order to be sovereign. That simply doesn't make theological sense, and also has no biblical basis. I contend, as with my Arminian siblings in the Lord, that God is sovereign over His sovereignty, and can rule however He wants.

Potter Metaphor

Where does the concept of God being a potter originate from? Does it come from Romans 9? Actually it comes originally from Jeremiah, whose take on the metaphor is actually rather Arminian.
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD:
2 “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” 3 So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. 4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. - Jeremiah 18:1-10
What Calvinists have right is that the potter metaphor is about God being sovereign. What it is not about though is absolute minute control of all things (something which Calvinists confuse with sovereignty).
The point of the passage and the metaphor is that God is not bound to Israel (indeed, the reverse is true). In the Israelite/God relationship, Israel has all the real obligations. Just because God has established Israel doesn’t mean that Israel is somehow exempt from God's law (amazingly the same point Paul was making in Romans 9-11). This implies... correction: explicitly states, that Israel can go against the will of God. God intends one thing for Israel, and yet something else happens.

This is the principle of "contrary choice": that one can do other than what they are instructed or intended to do. This is also the basic definition of libertarian free will. For those who don't know, libertarian free will is what non-theologians just call free will.

Now, I know what Calvinists would say here: "But there are two wills in God, and just because Israel could go against God's declared will doesn't mean that they could go against His secret will." Now apart from this being one of the most unparsimonious theological ideas ever, I have a couple of problems with this. First, God's secret will is so secret that He has never bothered to tell us it exists, so how do you know it even exists? Second, where in the Bible does it talk about God having two wills? Yes, God keeps some things a secret, but where does it say that God has a secret will which contradicts that which He has told us He wants? Third, I say that if God tells us He wants one thing, and He secretly wants something else, then He is lying to us (since the secret will is always His true will, since that's always the basis for what He does).
Ultimately, the 2 will theory is sophistry: an attempt to avoid texts like this where we do something other than what God wants us to do. I know many Calvinists would disagree, but hey, that's why I'm not a Calvinist.

Universality of Call/Atonement

Ok, time for a bit of prooftexting:
Do me a favor and don't take my word for any of those. Go in and look at the context. A proof-text isn't proof unless you know the context, so please look it up before being convinced.

Now, this is why limited atonement is the 5th point in 4 point Calvinism. It is really really difficult to justify in the face of Scripture. Mind you, people manage to do so, but you should never underestimate the creativity of the aptly self-deceived mind (a little saying of mine).

Conditionality of Reward/Punishment (assumed responsibility to the law)

This is one of the primary arguments that all Arminians, indeed all non-Calvinists, use, and there's a reason for that. Calvinists seem to believe that we believe in free will because we want control. I guess this makes sense from those that build their theology on the theme of control. But that isn't the primary issue for Arminians. Instead it is a matter of us being responsible for our sins, and God being true to His word.

It is important to note that this is distinct from us being responsible for salvation, because we aren't. Salvation comes to undeserving sinners by the grace of God. Indeed, both Calvinists and Arminians agree on these two basic points: we are responsible for sins and God is responsible for salvation.

However, one basic quality that is necessary (though not sufficient) for responsibility is the ability to do otherwise. It is inherit within the definition of responsibility, and Calvinists believe that human sinners could not have done otherwise.

But when we look at how the law is phrased in Scripture, we get a clear sense that conditionality is built into the law. The Jews were expected to do right, and not to do wrong. This implies some measure of free will.
I'll give Calvinists the point that implication is not the same thing as the Bible actually saying it. However, the idea that God expects someone who He commands to do something to have the ability to do it... is just a common sense reading of the text. You can try and get around this by man-made philosophical ideas like Calvin's accommodation theory (God needed to dumb things down for us... because He couldn't predestine us to understand) or the modern day two-will theory (God really wants us to do good, but really really wants some of us to not do good so He can demonstrate how just He is by condemning us), but none of these theories coincide with the simple reading of the text.

This idea of "the plain sense of Scripture" is known as perspicuity. The most perspicuous reading is not always the most "literal" (whatever that means) but the one which conforms most easily to the common sense of text, especially how it would have been understood by its original hearers. So let us consider the perspicuous reading of the following verses:
  • Deut 11:26-28: See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you today, and the curse, if you do not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside from the way that I am commanding you today, to go after other gods that you have not known.
  • Josh 24:15: And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD."
  • Jeremiah 21:8: And to this people you shall say: 'Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.
  • Ezekiel 18:30-31: Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord GOD. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?
(Again, please check the context of these verses. Do not take my word for it)

So, were the Israelites capable of doing other than what they indeed did? That is the question. In these cases, we see that God gives conditional demands, and then explains what He will do in one case, and what He will do in another. I don't see how someone can argue that the original hearers would understand this to mean, "Those who I preordain to do good, I will reward. Those who I preordain to do bad, I will punish." Anyone reading the plain sense of these texts will see this as a king's edict to His people, explaining how His government works. No king issues decrees explaining how and why he is doing things. He issues decrees on how he expects his subjects to behave.

It is interesting to me how the Calvinist definition of sovereignty fails to coincide with the common sense meaning of the word in English, or in any language for that matter. Likewise, they are forced to take such texts as these, and create some kind of interpretive framework within which they can be placed. However, as an Arminian, I can just take them as they are.

The Corporate Nature of Biblical Election

N. T. Wright and the New Perspective of Paul have done a lot in the area of election recently. It is important to note that election is a very minor theme in the New Testament (which raises the question as to why Calvinists focus on it). This means that it is rather inappropriate to try and form our understanding of election from a few isolated passages.

However, in the Old Testament, election is all over the place, if you take the time to remember that 'elect' and 'chosen' mean the same thing. In "My Basic Stances" (see top of page) I discuss my fundamental hermeneutical assumption (the basic idea upon which I base Biblical interpretation): that one should form a basic worldview from the Old Testament, and then allow the events and words of Christ to come in and challenge, reshape, and edify that worldview. Therefore, when building a biblical theology in regards to any subject, we are to first construct a basic understanding of that subject from the Old Testament, and then see how that subject is modified by the New Testament.

Election is no exception to this. It is interesting to note that there are no Old Testament passages on election that teach a concept of personal unconditional election to salvation. They don't exist (I don't really think they exist in the New Testament either, but I recognize that there are a couple that "sound" like they do [see last post]).

It is also important to note that within the New Testament, the concept of election is never explicitly laid out. Indeed, an understanding of election seems to be assumed within the texts, especially within Romans and Ephesians. As such, we must rely on the Old Testament to define the concept, and then see if it can be imported into the New Testament texts.

What results is some sense of corporate election: that God operates by choosing a singular man through whose line a people will be defined as God's people. In the Old Testament, this chosen one was Abraham; in the New Testament, it is Jesus. Thus, by being in Christ, i.e. the nation of Christ, we become part of the chosen: the chosen people of God.

More can be said on this of course, but if the biblical language of election refers to this corporate sense of election, rather then the defining tenant of Calvinism (individual unconditional election unto salvation) is void of any biblical support. Though I would not say that corporate election is a defining attribute of Arminianism, since it wasn't even held by Arminius itself, it is compatible with Arminianism. With Calvinism, though it does not contradict Calvinism, it does remove all sense of Scriptural support, making Calvinism nothing more than a free-floating man-made philosophy.


Taylor Craig said...

I already left a rather long comment on part 4, but there are a few topics here I would really like to here you further on.
1. Divine Laments. In a way, I think Arminianism ends up hurting the doctrine of the love of God. even though classically Calvinism emphasizes God's power and Arminianism His love. As you pointed out, God is often said to weep over those of His people who do not obey Him. Naturally hell, or the eternal state of the damned, is full of people who do not do what God wants and are eternally cut off from Him. Does God weep eternally for these? Since we love those God loves, do we eternally weep for them? Are we unhappy in the final state because it could be so much better? I think Arminianism HAS to accept that Heaven is not perfect, because it would be better if one more person was moved from Hell to Heaven. This is the ultimate "purposeless evil." Sin left an unredeemable mark on the world. I do not see how this can hold up in view of Romans 8 and the general theme of complete redemption.
2. Universality of Atonement. First, it seems to me that this universality could very easily be a corporate universality, especially since you argue (very persuasively) that election is corporate. Second, I would like to hear you define universal atonement--does that mean that the sins of all are paid for? Then why do any suffer for those sins in hell? is it double jeopardy? Is it just about universal intent? Even with a perspective merely of foreknowledge, it seems that God could hardly intend the atonement to apply to all and yet know that it won't. And in any case, if it is merely intent, then all those passages will be explained anyway if one is a Calvinist, and limited atonement is just another way of saying the same thing that four-point Calvinism holds.
I think my comment to post 4 about "free will"addresses your points about responsibility and the potter metaphor, so I won't make an already long comment longer.
Finally, about corporate election: I think this is a very important point, and I have a number of things to say about it.
1. I don't think Calvinists have to exclude corporate election, and I think your case for it is very strong.
2. I think we can hold to a double meaning in many cases--that not only is the group of believers elect, but each believer is also elect individually. This may help to explain why there can be so much controversy over these passages--they might mean both, just like many pistis Christou passages might mean both, just in different ways.
3. I think it is harsh to say Calvinists focus on election. I would say we focus on the absolute grace of God to those who are saved--the work of the Spirit precedes even faith. I think we focus on election to the extent that it is the discussion at hand and inasmuch as it relates to other teachings.
4.I tend to think that even if the remainder of the passage is talking about corporate elction, aren't the references to particular people, namely Jacob, Esau, and Pharaoh, enough to prove some individual election in Romans 9? I mean Jacob was chosen to be the progenitor of the faithful and Esau of the unfaithful, which I think necessitates Jacob to be faithful and Esau to be unfaithful. So they were predestined and reprobate before they were born.
5. As I said before, I think corporate election does not exclude individual election. However, even if individual election is never discusses in the Scriptures as such, I think it is a necessary outworking of a number of other Scriptural doctrines, such as "dead in sins" and the nature of the will and the necessary causal connection between faith and works. Maybe we shouldn't use the term "election" then, but the doctrine is still Biblical.

Jc_Freak: said...

Divine Laments. I understand what you are saying here, and I do see a way to say that you are wrong here, but I simply just don’t think about the issue that way. Sometimes the way we frame an issue affects whether or not something looks wrong. To me, whether or not heaven is “perfect” in that sense seems moot. Naturally, yes, God wants all to be saved, and there is a sense where God will regret the people who go to Hell. But I don’t think this is a challenge to complete redemption, because a redemptive life is a life aware of where we came from. After all, of course sin would have left an indelible mark, because sin will still be part of our history. Unless God is planning on wiping out history, but then why let the history happen? This seems to be a necessarily conclusion regardless of whether you are Arminian or Calvinist. Besides, isn’t “purposeless evil” redundant? To me, evil is when we fail to live up to our purpose as human beings. While God may turn our evil to good by doing something purposeful with our sin, our sin without God’s intervention is naturally without purpose. That’s what makes it sin.
I don’t think that we will be sad for those who are lost, not because we are heartless, but because we will move on, and God will wipe those tears from our eyes. God will take on that burden for us, because that is what God does.

Universality of Atonement You said, “First, it seems to me that this universality could very easily be a corporate universality, especially since you argue (very persuasively) that election is corporate.” Indeed. I think we see this very clearly in the OT festival of Yom Kippur.
In terms of what does unlimited atonement mean, I have often said that the difference between the two doctrines is very slight. We agree with the infinite power of the atonement. We agree in the application of the atonement since it does not apply itself to us until we have faith, thus it is applied to us in time. So yes, the difference is God’s intent. What does God intend for the atonement to be for, or who I should say. But it is not that unlimited means that the atonement was designed to save everyone, but that it was designed to save anyone. “Whosoever will”, as the Scripture says. To be honest, many Calvinist seem to think that this view of God’s intention is compatible with Calvinism, calling themselves 4-point Calvinists, or Amyraldians. What makes the doctrine of limited atonement is that God does not want the reprobate saved.
Brian Abasciano of SEA often says that the bigger issue here is the honesty of God. When He offers salvation to all people, is He being disingenuous to some. Personally, I do think this issue is minor, but many Calvinists think that it is incredibly important. Perhaps I am making it seem like a small issue because deep down I think it is, thus someone else may be a better person to talk about the relevance of the disagreement.

Jc_Freak: said...

Corporate election:
1. I believe I said as much at the end of the section. Indeed, I believe that NT Wright is such an example. However, I think that unconditional election becomes devoid of any Scriptural support if one excepts this view, and that is ultimately my point.
2. Agreed. An individual becomes one of the elect by joining God’s people. Thus that individual is elect.
3 Perhaps. However, I would say that unconditional election is the defining doctrine of Calvinism, so I don’t think it is a minor point. See here for what I mean be ‘defining doctrine’: http://jcfreak73.blogspot.com/2010/02/distinctive-vs-core-doctrine.html#distinctive_doctrine
4. I would consider Jacob’s election over Esau to be based on foreknowledge. I don’t think it necessitates unconditional election. There is certainly no reason why Esau couldn’t be part of the elect. After all, all of Jacob’s children remained in the elect.
5. Here I would simply have to disagree. I agree with Total Depravity, so clearly I don’t think it leads to Calvinism. The Bible doesn’t directly discuss the will, so like unconditional election must be concluded from other doctrines. To be honest, if we conclude that limited vs unlimited atonement is moot, and you give that conditional election is not directly taught, then I don’t know what else there is in Scripture from which to conclude Calvinism. Even if Calvinism can be made to be consistent with the Bible, which I would disagree with, without unconditional election I don’t think there is a way to conclude from the Bible.

Taylor Craig said...

Divine Laments:
If we can move past the damned, is there anything we can't just "move past?" Which would mean that God doesn't have to work anything towards good--He just needs heaven to happen, and then we will "move past" everything.
By purposeless evil, I mean evil that is not redeemed. I think that God had an ultimate plan for sin. I think, whether Calvinist or Arminian, you have to accept that God ordained sin, in the sense that He knew it would happen and could have prevented it, but chose not to. Without tampering with free will as you understand it, He could have kept Satan out of the Garden or something. So in some sense the universe is better off because sin happened. I believe some have phrased it as: Everything that ever happened is "plan A."
With this definition, damnation, even sin, is then purposeless evil from the Arminian perspective. I think the existence of purposeless evil, the denial of the perfection of history as a whole, is a huge mark against God's sovereignty.
Universal Atonement:
I agree that the point is minor. However, i also think it is redundant with other Calvinist-Arminian disagreements. The Arminian "whosoever" really is open-ended. for the Calvinist, its still "whosoever," but God knows who that "whosoever" includes and even controls who it includes, and so it seems like it logically follows that in dying for whosoever believes Christ died for the elect and the elect only. But as I said, this is a minor point.
Corporate election:
2.By a double meaning, I meant Romans 9 is talking about Arminian Corporate election and Calvinist unconditional election simultaneously. I would say they are intricately connected.
4. What about Pharaoh? God seems to have had an active role in hardening his heart. Someone once said there's a way out of that one, but I have yet to hear it actually laid out.
5. I understand Salvation fundamentally as Union with Christ. Even our faith is partaking in the Faithfulness of Christ. Believers are those born from above, into this new headship, which is federal and legal and ontological. I believe the incorporation into this body of the corporately elect must be initiated by the individual working of the Spirit in the life of an individual. Thus, I think Unconditional Election is necessitated. I don't think you need Romans 9 or Ephesians 1 and 2. My whole soteriology requires it, although I don't need to frame it as unconditional election unless we are having this discussion. Maybe the terminology is off (maybe individual election is mixing terms), but the idea is still there.

Taylor Craig said...

What does it mean for a group to be elect? Not all of Ancient Israel was saved, no matter your interpretation of Romans 11. So what does it mean? I think it means the experience of direct divine revelation. The problem of the OT was an unfaithful elect. This is the source of the divine laments. (does God ever weep that the Assyrians don't follow Him? honest question, I can't think of anywhere.) The solution of the NT is an elect that cannot be unfaithful, because the elect is defined as the faithful. So the elect is both a group and something that can be said of individuals, as we both agree.
The question, then, is how one is incorporated into this body, the body of Christ? In ancient Israel it wasnt by choice in the vast majority of cases. Often the Israelites didnt even want to here God speak. but they were still elect. In the same way, NT election starts with God working on individuals. The "born from above" metaphor seems to mandate this. The idea of the law being written on our hearts demands this. The New Creation passages seem to demand this. The "dead in our sins" passages seem to demand this. The tight connection between faith and works seems to demand this (since true faith leads to works, preservation of the saints at least is entailed).
The NT is God bridging the gap. He comes to earth in the incarnation, and He dwells eternally with us in the Holy Spirit. The elect are those with whom God dwells. As with OT Israel, God dwells with exactly whomever He pleases--He comes to Abraham before Abraham believes in Him. He speaks to Israel regardless of whether they will listen. But now, He speaks and we do listen. Because His grace is now internal and irresistible. (another honest question: are there any Divine Laments in Scripture following the crucifixion?) The ultimate question is whether the work of the Holy Spirit must precede faith. I think it must. Those in Adam cannot of their own means do anything towards their inclusion in Christ. Not even faith. The sin in the garden was one of faithlessness--not trusting the promises of God. Those in Adam cannot undo that sin.

Taylor Craig said...

I should not say that the problem of the Old Testament was the unfaithful elect. The problem was sin. Election, or the direct divine revelation to a specific group of people, is to combat sin. The problem then is the unfaithful elect. Then, in the NT, God makes for Himself a faithful elect. It would be rather sophistical of God to achieve a faithful elect by electing the faithful via foreknowledge. Instead, I think he elects unfaithful people and makes them faithful by the fuller revelation of Himself—the work of the Son as applied by the Spirit. This is the context of many Old testament prophecies. The context of the Joel passage about pouring our God's Spirit is that God will restore His people and then they will praise Him (the atonement cannot be this restoration followed by the ability of people to be saved, for those who praise Him are the ones who were restored—this would mean at least limited atonement). The context of the Ezekiel dry bones is God restoring His rebellious people and, causing them to follow all His laws by giving them a new heart. The interpretation of the prophecy is that God's Spirit will come, and then the people will know that He is the Lord. The context of the Jeremiah new heart passage is restoration of the people—the elect—followed by their repentance. In fact, the new heart passage almost explicitly states that in the Old Covenant the people were capable of breaking it, but in the New one they will not be. This would be sophistical of the New Covenant were only made with those who did not break it.
Again, the restoration that precedes repentance cannot be the general Incarnation, but rather the specific work of the Holy Spirit on those who believe. Those who repent are those whom God restored, not just a part of them. This is the glory of the new covenant.--that the people are faithful. The work of redemption is superior (Hebrews, Great High Priest) and the application is superior—internal and effective. Indeed, such was the Adamic covenant—absolute, unconditional corruption infects all those born of man, because they are born of man. The only way this could ever really be dealt with is by equally internal and effective application of the New Covenant—absolute and unconditional righteousness bestowed upon all those born of God, because they are born of God. One is not born of God, ie regenerated, because he has faith anymore than he is born of man because he is sinful.

Jc_Freak: said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jc_Freak: said...

First let's keep one comment per topic to keep the conversation manageable.

Divine Laments
Not all sin is redeemed, for if all sin was redeemed then no one would go to Hell. So I still don't follow in terms of what you mean by "purposeless evil".

You said, "Which would mean that God doesn't have to work anything towards good--He just needs heaven to happen, and then we will "move past" everything." Again, I don't see how this follows. According to the Bible God tarries for the sake of lost. Why would us being able to put things behind us change the fact that people weren't saved? I also point out that we get past it, but God doesn't. God will always remember those who He had to condemn. He takes that pain on for our sake, just like on the cross.

Finally, I absolutely reject that this is "plan A", and I don't see that in the biblical narrative at all. Plan A was Adam in the garden. That seems to be more based off of human comfort than exegesis. Indeed, that is the entire point of my presenting the Divine Laments. They are God explicitly saying that what is happening isn't plan A.

Jc_Freak: said...

Corporate Election
A) Pharaoh: the first few times it says that he hardened his own heart, and then it said that God hardened it. I have no problem with the idea of influencing our thoughts or wants, but He doesn't create our sin, and He leaves the acceptance of the gospel to our will. But that doesn't mean He doesn't influence us. In this case, Pharaoh's stubbornness had it's origin in himself, but God encouraged what was already there for the purpose of making an example out of him.

B) We seem to agree fundamentally on the notion of Corporate election. While Calvinism can be made compatible with it, like you have done here, my point is that you loose biblical support for UE, which is extremely important for Calvinism to demonstrate.

I absolutely disagree with your assessment about how grace works here. To be honest, you have so much here, I don't really know where to begin. I don't want to open up another topic. Yes, God will dwell with who He chooses, but that doesn't mean He needs to choose at random. He chooses for a reason which is why God chooses the faithful, because He values faith. He doesn't have to choose the faithful, but He does. And yes, God's choice is what unites us to Christ, not our faith. I also think that prophecies you mentioned apply to God's people, and one can enter or exit the people of God. With the NT, you have a mass entrance into the people of God, so yes they would apply to church, not just OT Israel.

Taylor Craig said...

Divine Laments:
First, I think Isaiah 14: 27 and Job 42: 2 seem to imply that everything is plan A, even if the whole concept of omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty didn't already require it. Could God have somehow preserved free will and kept Adam from falling? I think the answer has to be yes. So, in some way, God allowed the fall. Which, in turn, means that He has a good purpose for it. A purpose for it better than what could have come from not allowing it. Plan A.

I think I'm just being unclear with all my talk about “unredeemed sin.” Let's stick with the “plan A” terminology. I think they're the same concept.

I think the concept of being able to “put things behind us” basically is excusing God for not being truly sovereign and not really working all things out for the good of those who love God. Do you and I somehow end up better off in some measure because someone else isn't saved? Is heaven a perfect place? Anything less than an absolute and unqualified yes to those questions means reducing the power of the teaching of Romans 8: 28 and taking away the comfort the Christian can have in God's sovereignty.

Taylor Craig said...

Corporate Election (and some Divine Laments as relates to corporate election)
I understand the Divine Laments as revealing the limitations of the corporate election of the Old Testament. (If they were about sin, then God would also weep over the Assyrians and all other enemies of Israel, which He does rarely if at all—I can't think of such a passage) Despite His revelation in the “heart of stone” of the Two Tablets to the nation of Israel, some of the elect were still falling away. Thus NT corporate election is the election of a people to whom He has revealed Himself more fully and irresistibly—in the Heart of Flesh of Jesus Christ incarnate, with whom the believer then partakes of a mystical union at the moment of conversion. So yes it is still a people/corporation, but everything about it necessitates Calvinist Unconditional and Individual Election. In fact, the purpose of the New Covenant is to be unbreakable—that those who hear the Word of God (as the internal revelation of Christ and as a causal if not temporal prerequisite for faith) are not capable of turning away.

I think we really need to consider what “election” means. It does not mean salvation, for that was not the case for Israel. It doesn't mean general blessings either, for Israel's blessing was linked to their obedience, not to their election. It doesn't mean just offering a covenant or promise, for then in the New Covenant the whole world would be elect. I think the best way to understand it is Divine Revelation. For Israel, this is the law. For the church, this is Christ revealed internally by the work of the Spirit. In both cases the opportunity for faith follows the Divine Revelation, not the other way around. Faith is an attribute of the elect, a potential one in the Old Covenant, a necessary one now. Election is not a status conferred upon the faithful. I see this as the whole point of the Jeremiah 31 New Covenant passage and others like it.

Pharaoh: I don't see how this is acceptable and yet creating sin is not. In this particular case God added to the sinfulness of Pharaoh's heart, increased his state of rebellion against God, and brought about an externally sinful act. You have said that Calvinism eliminates the concept of true rebellion, but it is essential to the Biblical narrative that Pharaoh still be considered rebellious, indeed more rebellious than before, even after God pushed him further into that rebellion.

Moreover, God is glorified through this instance of sin by displaying His awesome wrath and power. If the cross is the greatest display of God's love and glory, then God is somehow glorified by the fall. If God didn't sin by making Pharaoh commit an act of sin (if pharaoh was going to do it anyway why did God intervene?), then He is not morally implicated in the fall either, and His impeccability is preserved.

Jc_Freak: said...

Corporate Election:
I'll talk about your comments about laments with the laments. I'll focus exclusively on your points about election.

To elect something is to choose it, generally for some kind of purpose. I consider election in the case of the NT to be election to God's purposes and kingdom. One of the basic problems about talking about any theological concept is of course that no concept is isolated in our thinking, and election is an example of that. I find most of your comments about election here to be derived from the rest of your theology rather than something inherant to the idea of election.

But I see election as the beginning point of restoration. God's kingdom is a restoration of His creative intentions in the garden. As such, election is election unto that destiny. We are, as a people, predestined to serve God, and represent God faithfully as His delegates within creation. That is the purpose of the human race. The elect people of God is that portion of humanity called back to that purpose. Thus we are choosen to be on His team so to speak. We are appointed to that role in His gov't that humanity was created for.

So I would agree with you that election is more than simply salvation. And I certainly agree with you that there is an individual aspect to it. But the corporate aspect is primary and the individual is secondary, for my individual purpose is connected to my humanity, and God's intention for humanity.

Jc_Freak: said...


I see a world of difference between the two. In what I discribed, God is not causing Pharaoh to sin, but is only shaping how the sin manifests for the sake of the demonstration of His glory. But the sin has no origin in Him. I don't see that being true within Calvinism.

Additionally, while God is able to use sin for His glory, and I have trouble with the notion that the sin was needed for the sake of His glory. It implies that God needs sin for some reason, and I find that very troubling. While God was glorified through Pharoah's sin, He would have recieved more glory IMO if Pharoah hadn't refused Him at all.

Taylor Craig said...

Maybe I'm misunderstanding it, but that view of election seems to be the ultimate cop-out on God's part—instead of choosing a people for Himself, He is going to “choose” those people who first chose Him to be on His team. In other words, He is “electing” to shirk the responsibility of creating a roster in favor of letting whoever wants to join, join. That could hardly be called election, and whenever Paul mentions election, especially in Romans and Ephesians he seems to take some sort of comfort in God's role in election, so I find it hard to believe that it is merely passive, which seems to be the way that you are defining it. Again, I might be completely mischaracterizing your position, so please correct me if I am. When you say, “We are, as a people, predestined to serve God, [by our faith and obedience] and represent God faithfully [by our faith and obedience] as His delegates within creation. That is the purpose of the human race. The elect people of God is that portion of humanity called back to that purpose [i.e., who accept God's offer of salvation to those who believe, resulting in obedience],” it makes it seem like God is entirely passive in actually “electing” anyone.

Taylor Craig said...

Would Pharaoh have continued to oppose God without God hardening his heart?
If no, then God caused Pharaoh to sin and incur guilt in a situation where Pharaoh himself would not have. In fact, letting Israel go might have been the beginning of repentance for Pharaoh, but God denied him that opportunity.
If yes, then why did God do anything? He interfered with Pharaoh's free will for no reason? That contradicts the idea that God values LFW in and of itself.

I talked about the idea of God needing sin on part 4, but for other readers here's a summary—the depravity of humans not only highlights God's goodness by contrast, but, much more importantly, reveals part of God's perfect character that otherwise could not be revealed, especially mercy, justice, and self-sacrificial love. Who are we to say that these aspects of God's character would be better off hidden? If God has chosen to reveal parts of His perfect nature by causing men to sin, then so be it!

Jc_Freak: said...

I don't think that Pharaoh would have let the Israelites go, but he would have continued to oppose God. There is more to opposing God than action of course. I don't think that Pharaoh would have become a disciple of God earlier, but I think he would have sent the Israelites away for the preservation of his own kingdom. This is still opposing God. Like I said, the hardening of Pharaoh's heart changed the manifestation of the sin, it didn't cause it, for God would never cause sin.

However, also consider that at the time, Egypt was in control of the kings of Canaan. By continually weaking Egypt at the heart, God was also weakening the possible support Egypt could have granted the Canaanites.

Jc_Freak: said...

Also, I have a post I am planning on that you may be interested in. It'll be the next thing that I publish when I get around to it.

Jc_Freak: said...

Yes, you would be misunderstanding my position. I would never say that God chooses those who first choose Him. That seems wholly incoherent to me. Rather God chooses a people. He did not have to choose anyone, but He has chosen to have a people who are holy: distinct from the world, and reserved for His purposes. They are not chosen unconditionally, but chosen in Christ, in that Christ is the chosen one, and all who are with Him possess the same promises as Christ.

To understand this, you have to understand a group in terms of a locus, as opposed to borders. Those who are connected to the locus are part of the group, rather than those who are within the boundary. Nations didn't used to be defined by borders, but were instead defined by allegiance to a particular city or person. Likewise, the people of God are not defined by either individual merit or birthright, but by their association with the chosen one of God. In the OT, that one was Abraham. In the NT, it is Christ. This whole scheme is based off of the assumption that election works in the NT the same way it does in the OT.

Taylor Craig said...

Pharaoh: OK I suppose that makes sense of Pharaoh specifically, but Im not sure it does justice to that example in the greater context of Romans 9, but I'll address that on part 5.

That sounds like the way I've heard Barthian election theory described. I would also try to draw strong parallels between Old Testament and Mew testament election. The question is, how does one become “in Christ?” For Abraham, it was by lineage, which was in effect unconditional. For Christ, it is by Spiritual birth, which is likewise unconditional. Of course, Galatians and Romans make clear that all who believe are children of Abraham, and likewise that all who believe are in Christ. However, these characteristics are about the continuity between Israel and the Church, and we are looking at the discontinuities.
I don't think you really answered my earlier objection, so I will try to rephrase it: a group has a locus as well as a means of connection. It is meaningless to say that God ordained/elected the group by electing the locus without electing the means of attachment to the locus. Therefore, in order to say that NT election is about a group of people who have been elected to Christ, the means of connection has to be elected as well. Otherwise God is simply choosing a locus, not a group around that locus.
It is clear for Romans and Galatians that the means of attachment is faith, an act of the individual. Therefore God, in choosing the locus and the means of attachment to the locus, is in effect choosing a nebulous group of people who will make some future choice to be in that group. This God's election puts the ball back in man's court. Man has the initiative to become elect or not. God elects to leave the actual election of any particular person up to man. In fact, God chooses the group of people who will choose Him—thus putting man's decision logically prior to God's. This sounds like the ultimate cop-out on God's part. Hos active choosing of people failed in Israel, so now He's going to give up on actually picking people and let people do what they will. God's election of Israel was completely independent of anything they did—it was God coming down to them. Now, in the supposedly greater election, he's waiting for us to make the first move and become part of this abstract group that He has elected, namely, those who make the first move towards Him. This from the God who said, “you did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last.” (Jn 15:16—a verse conspicuously absent from part 5)

Jc_Freak: said...

Alright, I'll only be replying to election.

First of all, on the idea that in the OT election was by lineage, I think this ignores the remnant concept from Jeremiah, the expansion of it in Hebrews, the overall message of Romans 9-11 and also the fundamental Johanian perspective that the difference between the Jews that followed Christ and those that did not was whether they were trully Jewish. The Bible makes it quite clear that the true elect in the OT were those who shared Abraham's faith, not simply those who were his descendants.

Secondly, salvation is a multi-faceted operaton. There are many things going on at once: election, justification, regeneration, sanctification, etc... What I have to say about election applies only to election, not to the entire salvation enterprise. Besides, your statement about "putting the ball back in man's court" completely ignores the Arminian doctrine of prevenient grace which describes God as being constantly active in the hearts of the unbelievers, drawing those persons to His people.

Third, the concern here is with the biblical use of the word 'election'. Surely you can extend the word beyond its biblical usage. If I do sound like Barth (a compliment which I have been given before), that merely only demonstrates that corporate election does not force Arminianism, but merely reinterprets the biblical use of the word, since Barth himself was a Reformed thinker.

Finally, your general analysis of corporate election I find to be off. It seems that you are principly concerned that since corporate election is not individual, that it is therefore flawed in some sense. But it is what it was designed to be. It certainly isn't a cop-out because it is what God planned all along. That is exactly the point of Hebrews and Romans 9-11. It also doesn't put man's choice logically prior to God's, for Christ has to be sent first! How can I choose Christ if Christ isn't there? God is clearly the first mover of election.

Taylor Craig said...

First point: well the church extends back in time, and salvation belongs to the true elect, those of faith. However, physical Israel was still elect in a sense. The New covenant was always the way salvation worked, but that doesn't mean the Old Covenant never happened. Physical Israel really was elect in a sense, and entrance into this elect group, although not necessarily leading to salvation, was unconditional (aside from some very peripheral exceptions that prove the rule, namely Rahab and Ruth).
Second point: I'd like to talk to you more about prevenient grace. Where do you see that in Scripture? If you accept total inability without it, then wouldn't Calvinism necessarily follow unless Scripture also teaches prevenient grace? And you didn't include anything about texts that support prevenient grace in part 6 where you offered Scriptural support for Arminianism. Do you see it as a theological necessity that has little to no textual basis, or do you see support for it in texts you simply didnt have the space to bring up?
Corporate vs individual election: yes I think I can see why you would say that, and to a degree that charge sticks. I guess the question is whether election is about people or about methods of salvation. I would contend that election has to pertain to individuals somehow, even if they are only elect as part of a group. This could be based on foreknowledge of foreseen faith and perseverance, or it could simply be that people move in and out of an elect group, but however you configure it, there are people who are the elect—it is not just a group that is elect as a group, but each person in that group would also be elect.
Now, for each individual to whom the term “elect” can be applied, did they choose God first, or did He choose them first? Obviously He had to do something first, otherwise no one would be saved. However, that prior action has nothing to do with election. Nohing was different in the way He treated the elect and the reprobate. So insofar as anyone is elect, God elected/chose them because they chose God first.
This seems to fly in the face of the reason election is brought up every single time it is brought up—to demonstrate God's sovereignty. All the way from Israel and Deuteronomy 7:7 to the disciples in John 15:16 to the church in Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 and 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 and others, the emphasis is not merely that God's decision must precede man's in terms of salvation, but also in election. Prevenient grace would acquit you of the former charge, but it seems that any non-calvinist system (or non-Thomist) has to make election either not about persons (and merely about abstract groups) or not about God's sovereignty (because, as applied to personss, God's choice is completely secondary to ours). I suppose thats why Unconditional election is the U in TULIP and the alternative is conditional election, and this isn’t the proper thread for lots of exegesis, but I'm curious to see if you would accept putting that kind if spin on it.

Taylor Craig said...

Hey did I actually upload all the comments I thought I did? its been a while and they havent shown up...just making sure im not leaving you hanging, keep taking your time to respond if thats what it is

Jc_Freak: said...

Sorry about that Taylor. I haven't published them yet so that I can keep track of what I have responded to and what I have not, since I don't want to ignore anything. My sister is getting married in June (which I am officiating), my work hours are changing, I am trying to find a new job (hopefully a pastoral assignment), and my internet it down so I only have access to it at work. So responding is quite difficult.

Jc_Freak: said...

By June, I of course mean September.

Taylor Craig said...

Like I said, don't worry about it at all, take all the time you need. I'll be praying that all of this works out for you and isn't causing too much stress, sounds like you've got quite a lot on your plate.

Jc_Freak: said...

There is a lot here, and very provocative stuff. Let me start with the main thread:

Corporate Election: So t there are several ways you came at this topic, so it is difficult to determine where to start, but you asked the question: "Now, for each individual to whom the term “elect” can be applied, did they choose God first, or did He choose them first?" I don't really think the question applies to my position. I guess I would say neither. God first chose Christ.

I think if we want to talk about us choosing God, it is a bit of an equivocation. When I am talking about my free choices in terms of free will, I am talking about the I guess you can say that I choose to submit to His grace, but that isn't choosing Him, as if I am making some kind of selection. That is merely a way of talking about free will actions.

Likewise, if we say that God chose me personally, it doesn't seem to work with the notion that God wants to save everyone, which is a clear biblical doctrine. But there is a sense where I say that I am chosen, right?

Well, I would say I am one of the chosen, rather than saying that I am chosen. So again, we see the language of the question breaking down.

So I guess I would say that election is primarily about method, though that method has people as its target. Perhaps you can consider like a safe haven. If you are in a war torn area, and have some resources, instead of stopping the whole war, you instead create a safe haven. You mark out a location, and all persons who are allowed within that location will benefit from the security that you provide them (though there would be some condition in order to enter). We can call this your kingdom.

Now God's kingdom isn't of this world, so it isn't a marked out bit of land. But it is a safe haven, and if you become part of His people, you enjoy the benefits of His rulership. However, I would say that the condition of election is regeneration. So I am not going to say election is the process of salvation, but it is the goal of salvation. It is what you are being saved to. It is where the Savior brings you.

OC vs NC: I don't think the distinction between the old and new covenant is as much as you say. I don't think the OC was unconditional. This is why I brought up Jeremiah's remnant theology. There were many who were born of Abraham but who were rejected as part of the people.

What changed from the OC to the NC wasn't the condition, but the locus. Instead of us having the faith of Abraham we instead have faith in Christ. That is the shift. But the condition was still faith.

What about physical Israel then? Well, what about the physical church? There is the church visable and invisable. There was Israel visable and invisable. The two shouldn't be confused. The covenant was only effective for those who were faithful to it. We see this throughout the prophets.

Prevenient Grace: Excellent question! I see PG all over Scripture but most of those passages can be easily interpreted in Calvinist ways. Various verses about God drawing us, and salvation being a gift, and how God acted first, etc... Ultimately, I do recognize it as a theological scheme that makes the Scripture makes sense, rather like the Trinity. There isn't a verse that blatently shows it, but it holds everything else together, and allows for conflicting ideas to be harmonious.

So I wouldn't say it has little to no textual basis, but rather it is a theological necessity that is implicit but not explicit in Scripture.

You ask, "If you accept total inability without it, then wouldn't Calvinism necessarily follow unless Scripture also teaches prevenient grace?" I'm not sure. I have so many reasons to reject Calvinism, that I think I would be left with stark contradition. I think withoutit, Scripture would simply cease to make sense.

Jc_Freak: said...

I've been thinking about your question about the biblical evidence for prevenient grace, and I think my answer is insufficient. It is worth showing you some places where I do see it, though I would expect you to see those verses talking about regeneration. But Brian's post on this is so precise and broad, that I think it is better to merely reference it: http://evangelicalarminians.org/the-facts-of-salvationf-freed-to-believe-by-gods-grace/