The Return of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Which Pot, Chair, or Bed is “Just Right?”

Why I’m Not (at this time) A Calvinist – Part I (and also entire argument are following, including separate posts): So, my entire argument is composed of the Prelude, and then Parts I, II, and III.

One thing I’ve always disliked about either Calvinistic or Arminian arguments is that they all seem so separated from the whole of Scripture and the entire Bible story. I have yet to read a defense of either side which was holistic and made me feel like I dissected both part and whole of the Bible. So, this is my way of trying to be different – by being as comprehensively aware as possible, in terms of the big picture of God, the Bible, and humans. This is the big picture of life, through the entire lens of Scripture, through John and Jacob’s terms! Or so I hope.

I split it into 3 parts, since it is kinda long. The full version is 14 pages, single spaced. Each footnote is important. I will include links to each part (they will link to the document in google docs, since its easier to read this way). The one downside of this is that all footnotes are at the bottom, as opposed to the bottom of each page. I am more than willing to email anyone the complete document as an attachment, which will be the easiest way to read it, and will require less “scrolling.”

Enjoy! And please feel free to agree/disagree. I was as fair as I thought I could be.

Why I’m Not (at this time) a Calvinist – Part I

Why I’m Not (at this time) a Calvinist – Entire Argument Together


8 thoughts on “The Return of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Which Pot, Chair, or Bed is “Just Right?”

  1. Penza,

    I really appreciated reading through your argument. I can’t find the exact sentence now, but I found your point of view refreshing concerning that theology cannot be divorced from the STORY of Scripture. It’s interesting to me that you and I feel strongly about this same point, yet come to such different conclusions about it in regard to this issue. God had made each person so different — and it is wonderful.

    I applaud you, Mike, because you have obviously taken time and effort to ensure that you understand Calvinist theology well. For the most part, I feel that you have treated the “Calvinist” soteriological system fairly; with one significant exception, which I will get to. I believe your statement “Calvinists give God too much credit” indicates that you have a good understanding of what Calvinists affirm and why they affirm it. I’m sure you will understand that I take that statement as a back-handed compliment, even though I know you didn’t intend it as such. :-)

    I was fascinated to read how you agree with some aspects of both Calvinism and Arminianism. I was reminded of myself a lot, since I have quite a bit of both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic in me; even though I remain a “protesting” Protestant (I hate being Protestant, yet I am). The point is, I tend to find myself agreeing and disagreeing with just about everybody in the theological spectrum. It sounds like you experience some of this as well. Kudos to you for having some convictions and backbone about what you believe.

    Respectfully, I want to submit that Calvinist theology is NOT the same as determinism or fatalism. I feel that a Calvinist theologian who speaks fatalistically suffers from a lack of intellectual discipline. To equate predestination (or even unconditional election) with determinism makes the assumption (a priori) that mankind knows as much as God. We don’t, and we must never forget this dichotomy as we speak about eternal matters such as salvation. I think you would agree that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true, yet we do not (yet) understand how they are both true. If this is the case, then we are forced to layer our theological truth-claims into different sets of knowledge, God’s knowledge and human knowledge. [This is one reason why Scripture remains so difficult for us; I am convinced that when we read the Scripture, we are being offered a window into divine knowledge that we cannot otherwise understand.] In other words, just because God “determines” something from His perspective does not automatically mean that we can perceive it as being “determined.” Divine sovereignty does not negate human responsibility (although I would say that it “trumps” it, so to speak). Therefore, predestination cannot be the same as fatalism.

    You (the classic Arminianist on this point) would say, “Yes, but we don’t have to ‘punt’ so soon. God’s chooses on the basis of His omniscient foreknowledge, and this solves the problem!!!” I agree that it solves the problem. However, I disagree that this is what the Bible actually teaches. I admit that God’s election on the basis of His foreknowledge might be true, for all I know, but I don’t see where the Bible actually says this. In fact, Paul has the perfect opportunity to say this very thing in the flow of his argument in Romans 9, yet he doesn’t. Paul asks the question, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?'” The Arminianist answer would be, “Because God looked into the future and saw who would resist.” But Paul does not say this. What Paul writes instead is something much more difficult to swallow (as I said, the 2nd most difficult truth-claim in the Bible for me to accept, right after Jesus’ claim to divinity). Paul says, “But indeed, O man, who are you to reply back to God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ …” Finally, I affirm that God unconditionally elects on the basis of His gracious will, not His foreknowledge, because this passage seems to indicate so. I am willing to accept a different interpretation, but I have yet to hear one that is convincing. Paul makes other harsh statements as well: “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens;” and “…vessels of wrath prepared for destruction…”

    This business of wrath is very troubling, yet we must account for it in our theology. This is an easy statement for me to make, but it is a very difficult belief to hold and hold consistently. The truth of Scripture is that God’s wrath is there in all its horror. I would say that God’s wrath sent Jesus to the cross just as much as His love did. I find a traditional Arminian view lacking in that it doesn’t seem to me to sufficiently accord with what Scripture says concerning the wrath of God. I understand that Arminians would offer the same critique of Calvinists in regard to God’s love. The only response I can give is that God’s love must also be larger/deeper than what we can understand or explain. I realize this is not a very satisfying answer. However, I admit that, in my life thus far, I have found very few satisfying answers to my most important questions. Finally, I fall on my knees and pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” And I ask for grace to believe that Jesus really is who He says He is.

    I realize that this doesn’t address all your concerns about Calvinism. I am only addressing the major one (the idea of election) because it seems the most important one, and the issue which finally really separates Pelagians from Arminians from Calvinists from Open Theists. I see more biblical evidence for a view of unconditional election, I simply bring up Romans 9 because it seems the most clear to me, and the passage which finally persuaded me to change my view on election from an Arminian view to a Calvinist view.

    Godspeed, Penza. I hope we can have more discussions like this in the blogosphere. I have two different blogs, both of which include some theology. I think I’ve told you about them before, I can’t remember. is my personal blog, and Allison and I share the blog I welcome any of your thoughts about any of my posts as well.



  2. Thanks Joel. I just checked out your personal blog and really enjoyed it. I was glad to see that you posted about sanctification. I’ve been recently thinking about that subject and would love to delve deeper into it in the future.

    Also, thanks for such a thoughtful response to my post. I’m glad to hear you felt I was fair with Calvinism. I really wanted to do my best and “fight” against the best version I know of.

    One of my favorite parts of your response is your line, “I think you would agree that divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true, yet we do not (yet) understand how they are both true.” I’m glad you brought that up because I didn’t speak in exactly those terms in my post, and would have loved to go deeper into this mystery. It is strange, since I agree with the beginning of your statement and disagree with the last. I think both divine sovereignty and human responsibility are both true (and we must also think about the divine responsibility that comes with that), but I think the way I understand it shows me the way they both CAN be true, and must not be chalked up to mystery. Unfortunately for me, my argument hasn’t convinced you of this :)

    I’d be curious as to how you felt about my treatment of Romans 9 particularly. I feel like the interpretation I offered, in light of Romans 1-8 as well, explains those questions you mentioned, and show us that these questions refer to how God did NOT predestine to salvation those who God predestined to service. I feel like, considering the Jewish context and audience, Paul’s statements in light of my explanations make the most sense. Also, since Romans 9 is dealing with the issue of God’s righteousness, Paul had to explain to them that their special relationship with God did not necessarily guarantee salvation (and is what Romans 1-8 is all about, many ethnic Jews are lost, faith is needed now for all).

    So, not only do I reject unconditional election because I feel it to be philosophically contradictory and contrary to human experience, but I continue to believe this passage does not push us any closer towards unconditional election TO salvation. God’s promises to Abraham (Gen 13, 17) did not include salvation, and neither are any group guaranteed salvation apart from faith in Christ.

    For example 9:6 tells us not all members of physical Israel are members of spiritual Israel. I believe verse 7 begins a separate thought – that God is free to elect individuals or groups to serve his purposes without saving them. The reason God brings up Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau is to emphasize the sovereign way in which God established Israel towards service. Therefore, Ishmael and Esau are not necessarily condemned to hell, but are excluded from these specific plans of God. All of this was done so that “God’s purpose in election” (Rom 9:11) would not fail, namely, that Christ’s purpose according to the flesh (Rom 9:5) would not fail. Basically, God has the redemptive authority to decide who God will use or won’t use. Verses 14-16 then answer this, “what shall we say? Is there injustice with God?” Nope! And this is the point of Paul’s citation of Moses words from Ex 33:19. Here, Paul does not give a defense, but simply quotes already authoritative words.

    Many assume Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15 refer to salvation because of the terms used – grace, mercy, compassion, but I don’t believe this is the case. These terms do not refer to saving grace and mercy towards salvation. These words are commonly referred to nonsoteriological grace or favor, or even temporal mercy. The first verb in Ex 33:19 is chanan, which often refers to God’s temporal blessings. See, for example Gen 33:11 or 2 Sam 12:22, Ps 31:9; 41:10; 56:1. The second verb in Exodus 33:19 is racham, which often refers to the attitude of compassion and refers to God’s temporal blessings toward Israel (see also Deut 13:17; Ps 78:38). These two words are often combined in the OT to describe God’s dealing with Israel particularly and are the basis for God’s decision to bless his people, like in 2 Kings 13:23, Isaiah 30:18).

    Paul’s quotation is actually taken from the Septuagint, which uses the Greek words eleeo (“have mercy”)and oiktiro, which is a word which oftentimes refers to God’s temporal mercy, as in Romans 12:8 and Phil 2:27. So, it seems reasonable that these words do not necessarily refer to “salvation stuff.”

    Another helpful way to understand the passage is to analyze its context, especially Exodus 33:19 (32:9-34:10). In this passage, God’s graciousness and compassion has nothing to do with choosing anyone for salvation. Rather, he is declaring God’s right to do as he chooses with the nation of Israel. Paul is using this argument in a similar way in Romans 9:15. I do admit Romans 9:16 expresses the concept of unconditional election, but, in keeping with the context, is speaking to service, not salvation. This also makes sense with 17-18, when Paul speaks about Pharaoh, since God is able to use Pharaoh and not save him at the same time. Calvinists say v.18 is election to salvation since it contrasts Moses and Pharaoh. But why does it not solely refer to Pharaoh and use Moses as a key (and somewhat ideal) figure of God’s choosing for service? We must remember in v 18, when “God hardens his heart” God does not do so as to harden him towards being a believer, but to prolong the ultimate and inevitable decision to let the people go. In this way, God used Pharaoh both in spite of his lost state and because of his lost state but without in any way causing his lost state.

    I think then, Romans 9:19-10:21 does speak to salvation, and is a discussion of what distinguishes saved and unsaved Jews. Here, it is clear that the remnant is chosen conditionally, and the agent of this separation is faith (9:30-10:21). In this section it is clear the human decisions lead to the separation.

    Thats how I view the whole of Romans 9, including 1-8. Comments?

  3. Mike,
    Since the blog crashed last time I tried this you’re getting the cliff’s notes of my response. You basically know my objections anyways, but here are the high level overviews of each.
    1.) I commend you for looking at the larger narrative of the Biblical story, but I don’t think you have a broad enough scope. If we really want to see what the Bible is about it is God making a people for himself to spend in relationship with for all eternity. This began with Adam but after the fall God had to go about this relationship in another way. He began the restoration of his people by calling Abraham to stop worshipping false Gods in Ur of the Chaldeans and to worship the one true God.
    2.) The call of Abram was a call primarily to relationship, not service. I think that Genesis 17:7-8 makes this clear. Part of the covenant surely was that through his offspring the nations would be blessed (messianic promise) but there was more to the covenant than that. God says that He will be a God to Abraham and his offspring and that they will be his people. It isn’t just about Christ coming from the Jews, but it is about God making a people for himself.
    3.) Your assumption that God’s election is primarily about service also seems to fly in the face of Romans 9. If all God meant was that he was going to elect some to service then I think that the language in verses 22 and 23 is terribly out of place. Nevertheless Paul argues that there are some vessels of wrath which are prepared for destruction, and some that are vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory. This does not seem to be language of service but of salvation and damnation.
    4.) Finally, and most alarmingly I would have to disagree with your ideas of God’s sovereignty. I think you have even stepped outside of the Calvinism/Arminianism debate and gone where not many dare to tread. I think that the biblical record is more than clear that God can do whatever he wants. I use the term wants intentionally. Surely he cannot do evil, lie, or be unholy but that is because he is not those things. This however does not mean that God cannot do whatever he wants, because he would never want to do those things.
    Also, we must emphatically state that all evil, pain, disaster, and suffering, while it may come from the hand of Satan, it is still within God’s ability to stop any of it from happening. If you take a look at Job, the entire book is a debate about whether or not good people suffer. Job’s friends don’t think so, but Job insists that this is the case. Nevertheless he questions God’s justice because so many wicked people prosper. God’s response is not, “Job, the evil that happened to you was outside of my control. Stop harassing me about it.” What he said was, “Don’t question me.” When you read chapters 38-41 you don’t find a God that you can give too much credit to, but a God who says though you don’t understand my ways, you have no right to question them.
    But let’s pretend for a moment that your premise is right, and there are forces of evil which God cannot contend against in this present world. Then you really have no basis to make two of the claims that you do.
    A. That there will be a place one day that every tear is wiped away and pain ceases to exist. If God cannot prevent calamity from happening now, how can he prevent it then? If Satan is not a dog that has been given a short leash, a dog that can be sent to his kennel at any time, then what guarantee do we have of a future free of the same suffering we see now.
    B. While my first point dealt with heavenly matters the second deals with an earthly one. How is the perseverance of the saints possible in your system? If God cannot affect our free wills, and cannot keep evil from befalling us, then what guarantee do any of us have that those who believe will be seen through to glory? This my friend seems to be a logical inconsistency.
    5.) I lied about #4 being my final point. This last one comes courtesy of my best friend. You said, “Salvation is conditional in that it is based on God’s foreknowledge of who will freely meet the conditions designated by God for receiving salvation Those who make the right decision are chosen by God to be a part of the family, and those who make the wrong decisions are rejected by God and predestined to eternal damnation.” When you boil this down to its core this is a works based gospel and provides the Christian with something to boast in. I say works based because you have pointed out that there are conditions which must be met to receive salvation. How does this differ from a Catholic view which says that we must meet conditions before we are saved.
    Secondly, if the Christian does enough to meet these conditions and is saved, and the non-Christian does not meet these conditions, does not the Christian have the ability to boast in their salvation? Because they grabbed hold (regardless if it were a free gift) they can boast in their taking hold of the gift. The non-Christian had the same ability to take hold of the free gift and chose not to, therefore the Christian can praise themselves for receiving salvation.
    This is all that I have for now. It is a good start to a discussion that probably has no end. As much as I disagree with you and at some points get frustrated with some of your arguments I still consider you my brother in Christ and know that we will see who was right when we arrive in glory. I pray we both keep pressing into the word and into prayer and that we wrestle over this in an effort to know God as he truly is. Just as I cannot truly love my wife if I laud her beautiful blonde hair and blue eyes, we cannot truly love God if we praise him for attributes that are not his. Unfortunately we disagree on some of those, or at least their specifics, but we still agree on enough that we can fellowship together. It is a pleasure to know you and worship alongside you.
    Grace and Peace,
    R.D. Potter

    p.s. Copying from Word throws off the formatting and I don’t really feel like fixing it.

  4. Just now saw these last two response posts. I especially want to discuss Romans 9 a little more, MP. I need a little more time to digest your interpretation. I’ve heard this angle on it before, but not worked out as detailed as you have. I like your method, though. I’m especially pleased to see you working with the Greek and Hebrew. Good for you! I’ll write more a little later on…

  5. Penza,

    I meant to say this before, but oddly enough, one of my absolute favorite theologians of all time was a classic Arminianist over 400 years before Arminius. He was a Cistercian monk named William of St. Thierry, and his conclusion is the first example that I have found to date of the classic Arminian position of conditional election (which is where I would place you based on your argument). You can find this in William’s work entitled Meditations, #1. It’s interesting to me that, in his meditations, he deals with this topic of election before he deals with the Trinity, which is in meditation #2. Anyway, you should check him out. In my opinion, he was the most important theologian of the 12th century.

    I remain unconvinced concerning your service election vs. salvation election argument. However, I am fascinated that you base your argument on context. Perhaps you should write your thesis on Romans 9 and convince me!

    Please correct me if I am misunderstanding something you wrote. From what I can tell, you seem to understanding Rom. 9 to be talking about election to service up until v.18, but then in v.19 Paul switches to salvific election. I’m not following how you arrive at this conclusion, and I want to know. I am intrigued. Maybe you can explain yourself in more detail on this point? I’m just not following your train of thought.

    Accepting your premise as true that the early part of Romans 9 is discussing election to service rather than election to salvation, I’m still unsatisfied with your explanation of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God. You speak of this as a temporary hardening, but regardless, how do you reconcile this “hardening” with “free will”? I’m sure it is clear in your mind, but right now I’m not seeing what you’re seeing in regard to how these two phenomena can be consistent. Once again, I’m just not following you on this point. Perhaps you can enlighten me further. If you hold that this was indeed an act of God over the heart/will of Pharaoh, then I feel that you have an additional “burden of proof” to show how God maintains his attribute of justice in this act.

    As I mentioned before, I feel like this question in general is the Achilles’ Heel of Arminian theology; specifically, how ought we to understand God’s wrath as it is described in Scripture? This is important because this question goes straight to the heart of atonement and what salvation actually is, i.e. what did Jesus actually DO on the cross and in the empty tomb? When we get “saved,” what actually happens to us? The answers I hear from free-will theologians I find neither intellectually satisfying nor exegetically sustainable. [Now, to be fair, I must admit that I have my own fair share of exegetical problems as well, particularly in regard to a limited view of the atonement and issues of eternal security.] But who knows? You may convince me to change my mind yet again (I wasn’t always a stern Calvinist theologian).

    By the way, I agree with you that not every ethnic Israelite in the OT was “saved,” as we use the term. Paul is clear that some had faith, some didn’t. The ones who did were saved, and the ones who didn’t weren’t. But the question remains, “In what or whom did an OT Israelite need to place faith in order to be saved? Was there faith confessional? Is so, what was required to confess?” I’ve heard many different answers to these questions, and I’m not entirely sure that I’ve reached definitive conclusions on any of them. This just goes to show the vast complexity of the issues we are discussing. Many, many factors come into play, and the data is far from clear.

    Finally, as a Calvinist, I feel like it’s important for me to say that, while I accept traditional Calvinist theology, I don’t for a second believe that it answers all our questions about God or about how salvation works. I’ve met too many Calvinists who talk as if TULIP is everything you need to know about salvation, and that just ain’t true. When we talk about these things, we are delving into the very mysteries of God, magic so deep (as Lewis would say) that not even Satan understands it, or else he never would have crucified Jesus.

    A little more food for thought … I hope to read more of your responses!

  6. Cool! These are great responses, I’m glad to hear of the disagreements, I’d be surprised if there were none. Some of the problems you guys had are also issues I continue to think through, so this is a great dialogue for me. Definitely stimulating. Your comments help me to think through the issues even further. So, thanks again for reading my argument and for taking time to argue with it!

    First, I’ll address Ryan, and then, address Joel.


    I’m a bit confused by your first two statements. First you say you commend me for looking at the larger narrative of Scripture, and then you say that I didn’t have a broad enough scope. Then you precede to speak about one specific chapter of Scripture to prove what you think God’s entire plan is all about. Yet, what you said I hardly disagree with. In fact, I affirm just about everything you said concerning the Abrahamic Covenant. The one thing I disagree with is that you make a distinction between relationship and service, which I don’t think is necessary. This is not an either/or, it is a both/and. I think part of God’s relationship with Israel was the service He called them to. So service fits IN the relationship. Also, many theologians have reminded us (including Kaminski in OT Survey) that this promise is ultimately made with global implications, and is finally climaxed in Revelation when people from all nations are worshipping God. My entire argument was that people do not take into account enough Scripture when talking about Calvinism, and then your critique was to simply name one, which didn’t even disagree with what I said. Maybe these first two points were to clarify how you agree with me? Otherwise, to summarize God’s plan for the world via one chapter of the Bible would be theological reductionism, and is dangerous since it only speaks of partial truths. Clark Pinnock makes a shocking quote in this regard. He says, “Exclusivity, in the sense of restrictiveness of salvation, is a hard habit to break. Once people get it into their head that they are specially privileged, it is hard for them to remember that these priviliges belong to others also.” We must not forget the words of Simeon when he meets the baby Jesus when he says (Lk 2:30-32) that “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of ALL people, a light for revelation to the GENTILES and for glory to your people Israel.” Howard Snyder has said, “The gospel is global good news. Thinking globally, God acted locally. The gospel is good news about personal, social, ecological and cosmic healing and reconciliation. It is good news to the whole creation – to the whole earth and in fact to the entire cosmos… the biblical perspective on mission has a global vision and component that comes from faith in God the Creator and his intention to bless all of humankind through the instruments he chooses.” Samuel Escobar has said, “For the apostle Paul and for Luke, the Jews wanted to limit God to being the deity of the Jewish people only…” which was a “narrow and ethnocentric understanding of God’s purpose.” I would encourage you to read THE NEW GLOBAL MISSION – THE GOSPEL FROM EVERYWHERE TO EVERYONE, by Samuel Escobar, especially chapter 5, titled, “We believe in a missionary God.” This book is all about how God’s vision for the world is actually for the whole world, not just the line of Abraham.

    Concerning your third point – Like I said in my paper, the main point of Romans 9 is that God has the sovereign right to choose to use some for His benefit while at the same time does not save them. So, yes, Paul does speak of eternal consequences in this passage, and verses 22-23 would be speaking about that. But that doesn’t hurt my argument at all. As I argued, the passage shows that Salvation enters the picture for spiritual Israel only, who are the “vessels of mercy” (9:23) or the remnant (9:27-29; ll-5) of those Jews who met the conditions of Romans 1-8 and 9:30-10:21. Verses 22-23 fit in perfectly with how I explained Romans 9. The Jews were upset that God would dare to use people (ethnic Jews), then not save them. So, verse 22-23 fit perfectly into the context of the entire chapter as I described to Joel. Just because a passage “seems” to speak of unconditional election doesn’t mean it is. The point is that we cannot tell God who God can save. God uses people whom he does not necessarily save (such as Pharoah, verse 17) and this is all OK. This is exactly what the passage is talking about. So, Paul is explaining to Jews HOW God doesn’t have to save everyone, and doesn’t, but will use some/allow them not to be saved, while those who respond to Christ’s call to salvation will be saved, and also used. Just because Paul is referring to a person’s final destiny does not mean he is speaking about it in terms of unconditional election towards salvation. That is my whole point.

    Concerning your 4th point – you say in one sentence God can do whatever he wants, and then you say he can’t do certain things since he doesn’t want to. So here is my question, what if God DID want to? Since in your system, God CAN do everything, then hypothetically God can WANT certain things, including lying, or doing evil, even though Scripture says this could not be the case. We know this would be logically contradictory, and so I reject this. God has to play by God’s own established rules too. Either God can literally do anything, or God can’t. adding “want” to the equation doesn’t change the need for you to make a decision either way. (Interestingly, if you say God can only do what God wants, and can’t want certain things, then you are saying God can’t do everything).I believe that not only is God NOT evil, God actually CAN’T be evil, even if God wanted to (which God wouldn’t, of course). Qualifying the statement with “want” doesn’t actually then help.

    I believe your statement about God’s limitless power is contradicted by the context of your example. Even in Job, God was limited. When God gave permission for Satan to do certain things, God could not rescind Satan’s ability to do these things (which by the way, were not necessarily evil). So even in this situation God was limited, yet we know (as you mentioned) that God is not scared of this fact. God reminds Job that even if all seems lost, God still knows whats up. Even when God is limited by Satan who is evil, God is still able to work everything out to God’s own glory. So, the context of Job proves even more that even in God’s own limits, God gets ultimate glory.

    I believe God can prevent tears from our eyes since God says God can. God clearly isn’t doing that now, and that is because Satan is the prince of this world. Not until Satan is vanquished can God’s kingdom be in full gear. In terms of the kingdom of God, we have experienced some of the “is” yet we are waiting for the ultimated “to come.” This will happen someday, but until then, creation groans for that day, as Scripture tells us. We know heaven will be NEW in many ways… it will be very different than our sin-filled world. This is how we can have confidence that God will pull through with God’s promise, “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but what is unseen.”

    We can know that we will persevere because God says that when someone believes, he will be saved, period (Romans 10:9-10, I John 5:11-13). There are some things God cannot change, and this includes when someone chooses to put their faith in Christ, God cannot do anything but eternally save them (and is delighted to do so).

    In response to your last point – I believe salvation is by grace, THROUGH faith. God gives us grace, and cannot give salvation apart from our acceptance of that grace. That acceptance process includes the decision to accept God’s free gift. This is a “work” but is not a useless “work,” it is a work that God initiates in us and is happy to follow through on once we accept. All glory goes to God for God’s desire to initiate salvation, offer salvation, allow us to choose, and then promise faithfulness. So it is a works based system. Its based on God’s works and our works. The version I explained is very different than the catholic version and would be unfair to group me in that category. There are a lot of things God does through us in our life. But a true Christian realizes that it is all because of God’s grace in the first place, and a Christian, in Christ’s example, lives in humble submission to God. We don’t pretend Jesus didn’t do anything, we just know that when He did, He made sure people knew it was because God was glorified by it. So we must follow in this example.

    In Christ,


  7. Joel,

    I’ve never read any of William of St. Thierry. Thanks for that advice, I’ll definitely have to check him out.

    The questions you ask me about my argument are top-notch. I really appreciate how deeply you have evaluated the discussion. I’ll try and clarify what I mean about some of that.

    In terms of Romans 9, let me clarify a few things:

    First of all, I will admit that God’s dealings with Pharaoh are some of the toughest truths for me to digest. One of the reasons I am able to “swallow” (albeit a hard swallow) such dealings, especially in light of what I believe about who God is, is the fact that we know Pharaoh had hardened his heart before God did. So, God did eventually limit Pharaoh’s ability NOT to harden his heart, but ultimately this can be seen as a further consequence of Pharaoh’s initial disobedience. Kind of how like Paul tells us that God gives people over to their own carnal desires when they reject Him. This is an extension of God’s gift to us of (relative) free will, and part of God “giving them over” is God allowing strict consequences for such disobedience. So, God does use pharaoh to show Himself to be more glorious, and does so by hardening Pharoah’s heart, but this is not an act solely initiated by God. As I believe, (apart from the discussion of God’s temporal eternality)… in our own terms, it makes sense to say that much of what happens in this world is God’s reaction to our own actions, and that in fact, most everything that comes after Genesis 3:1 is God’s response to human sin. So God hardening Pharaoh’s heart fits into what Paul is saying, that God is not required to SAVE Pharaoh just because he used him, yet Pharaoh made choices to disobey God beforehand, and part of Pharaoh’s consequence was that God used this disobedience for God’s own glory, and ultimately, for Pharaoh’s demise.

    Let me also clarify how I see Romans 9 to be semantically connected. In terms of the big picture of Romans 9, I believe Calvinism’s answers don’t actually answer the question that Paul is dealing with in this chapter, rather they intensify it. Paul is explaining how a righteous God can use a certain people and not be obliged to save them at the same time (central verse is 9:14). Calvinistic interpretations of this chapter do not help to answer the question. So Paul is explaining that Israel is God’s special people, but that doesn’t mean they all get unconditional salvation because of this. Romans 1-8 is mainly a conversation of how traditional Jews are lost in light of the coming of the Messiah. Like I mentioned before, the Calvinist would say Paul is saying, “Not all Israel is saved because God didn’t intend to save all Israel, but rather chose a few before time began.” I maintain this does not answer the question of God’s righteousness, it intensifies it. This is not an answer at all! If this is really the answer, then Paul is showing God to be more unrighteous and unfair than ever.

    So, the only approach to Romans 9 that addresses this issue is that the election spoken of in verses 7-18 is election to service. As I explained before, this is where Paul is explaining that God’s covenant promises to the physical and spiritual Israel are respectively different. Paul is clarifying to them that they are confusing the difference between the two groups (and also what Calvinists do).

    So, I take the semantic structure of Romans from the overall structure of Romans 9-10. Romans 9:1-6 is Paul posing the problem and his answer to it. 7-18 is the first discussion of unconditional election for service, then 9:19-10:21 is Paul’s statements about conditional election to salvation. I have already explained in depth how I view 7-18 working. But let me clarify a few more things about how I view Romans 9:

    I believe Paul is applying unconditional election for service in Romans 9:16. So, Pharaoh (vv 17-18) fits in this argument to illustrate God’s sovereignty in the way he chooses those who will serve his purposes. So, this passage, combined with the Isaac and Jacob example, as well as Exodus 33:19 shows that God is free to choose whomever he pleases for roles of service. So 17-18 shows God’s prerogative to use some and not save them at the same time. We must remember that there is nothing about eternal destinies in verse 18. Pharaoh was used by God because of God’s mercy, since it further fulfilled God’s covenant purposes. So Pharaoh is parallel with Israel regarding the key point of the whole chapter… that God’s mercy does not always include salvation.

    So God “hardening Pharaoh’s heart” was a prolonging of Pharaoh’s inevitable decision to let the people go until all the plagues could be inflicted. In this way, God used Pharaoh both in spite of his lost state and because of his lost state but without in any way causing his lost state. It is so cool how God uses people’s rebellion to accomplish his very purposes (see also Romans 11:7-11, 25).

    After this section, I see Romans 9:19-10:21 to be a discussion of what distinguishes the saved remnant of Israel from the unsaved Jews. Here it is clear God’s choice for salvation is conditional, and separates spiritual Israel from the unsaved mass (19-29) with the agent of separation being faith, NOT election (9:30-10:21). In the latter section, there is no hint of unconditional election but is clear that the separation is because of their own choices. So the Jews had no one to blame but themselves, since God is and always has been inviting all to be saved (10:21). So this is how the section ends. Ultimately, Israel’s lost state is not a reflection on God’s unfaithfulness, God’s word has NOT failed (9:6)! God kept every promise as regards God’s covenant purposes and privileges (9:1-29), especially since God sent the messiah to give them every opportunity to believe (9:30-10:21). So their refusal is their own fault, and God is STILL righteous!

    I hope that helps. I am happy to clarify my understanding of Romans 9-10, but wince when I think some people create an entire theology from one tiny part of Scripture. I am absolutely convinced that God’s (also via Jesus and the Holy Spirit) is a missionary God whose ultimate prerogative is for all nations to be blessed THROUGH Israel and now the church. I am contemplating writing another blog post on why I am so strongly against seeing God as only a Jewish God, or seeing God as ultimately concerned with only those who eventually are saved. God is a Global God, and it is impossible to understand the Kingdom of God from only one or two chapters of the Bible, which was why I steeped my argument in the metanarrative of Scripture, and used Romans 9-10 as a part of the whole.

    Much Love,


  8. Penza,

    Your arguments are intriguing. I see your points more clearly, I think, although still not in totality. I see how you make the argument that Paul is distinguishing between physical Israel and spiritual Israel, which comes from Rom. 9:6, and understanding the rest of the argument through this rubric. This looks forward to chapter 11, where Paul speaks about how the Gentiles have been grafted into the covenant people of God. They are able to be grafted in because the true Israel was not a strict ethnic identity in the first place, but rather a covenant identity made through faith.

    I am still troubled that you set up a major division between vv. 18-19. This does not seem to reflect a natural reading of the text to me. Perhaps I need to understand you better to see why you break the text here. Verse 19 seems to be the logical next step in the argument after v.18, not the start of another section. It also seems that the first division of the chapter occurs between vv. 5 and 6 rather than 6 and 7, but this matters less for the discussion at hand, I think.

    I also hear your argument about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart after Pharaoh had already done so. This is not an atypical explanation. However, I do not think it accurately reflects the story as Scripture tells it. Notice the progression as the story unfolds in terms of the person to whom (and when) the author gives credit for hardening Pharaoh’s heart: Exodus 3:19; 4:21; 7:1-3, 13, 22; 8:15, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 14:4-9, 17. To me, the weight of evidence from the story seems to indicate that God is in control of Pharaoh’s heart all the way through. In fact, it seems to be one of the story’s main themes. The entire story of the exodus is told in the framework of what God does — God is the active agent — and then how everything takes place exactly as He said it would. This is also a major theme of the Pentateuch as a whole.

    All this is to say that the Scriptural evidence seems very thin to support the conclusion that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in response to Pharaoh’s own hardening. In fact, there seems to be no textual evidence for this. I admit that the temporal markers in the text do not preclude this conclusion; nevertheless, I submit that the conclusion must be read into the text and cannot be read out of it, as the story is written in Exodus. At most, you might make the argument that Pharaoh hardens his heart simultaneously as God, but this doesn’t seem to me to be the best explanation of the textual evidence, either. The author doesn’t credit Pharaoh with hardening his own heart until after the second plague, well into chapter 8. To me, the best explanation of the evidence seems to be that God did it from the beginning; and that, if indeed there was any responding involved, it was Pharaoh who acted in response to God.

    Now, a classic Arminian can still agree with all this, because he would say that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart on the basis of His foreknowledge and thereby retain God’s attribute of justice. The central problem I have with this argumentation is that it doesn’t seem to accord with Paul’s interpretation of the Exodus story in Romans 9. Paul says explicitly that God either hardens or has mercy on the basis of His will (Rom. 9:18). Regardless of whether Paul means this salvifically or not, I don’t see how one can maintain God’s justice in this statement without accepting some concept of God’s unconditional and unilateral movement in the human heart. This is the difficult pill to swallow. God is justified in doing this because He is the Creator and we are the creature, which is exactly the argument Paul seems to be making in Rom. 9:19-24.

    My central point here is that it seems to me that the Exodus narrative of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart leaves theologians with a difficult problem that is not easily solved, regardless of whether salvation is at stake here or not. Specifically, how does God maintain His attribute of justice in the midst of being the active agent in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart? Based on what I’ve studied up to this point, it seems that theologians traditionally have maintained God’s justice either based on creation theology or omniscience theology.

    You seem to take a different tack entirely, essentially denying God as the active agent in the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart and affirming instead that God responded to Pharaoh. Granted, this lets God off the proverbial “hook,” and you certainly maintain God’s justice that way. However, it seems to me that you do so at the expense of faithfulness to the story as it’s written in Exodus. Perhaps I’m wrong about both the Exodus narrative and Paul’s discourse in Romans. Again, maybe you should write a dissertation on Romans 9 and dissuade me!

    My specific encouragement is not to write off compatibilist thinking so quickly, but to continue to struggle and interact with it. Perhaps complete divine sovereignty and complete human responsibility can co-exist without contradicting. This really isn’t such a stretch when you think about the fact that we confess that God is simultaneously both Three-ness and One-ness, or that Jesus is fully God and fully man, without confusion, separation, division, or contradiction.

    That’s just my two cents. Bear in mind that there are, have been, and will continue to be many Christians, both godlier and smarter than I, who disagree with me. Please keep me updated on how your thoughts progress as you delve deeper into Romans and the rest of Scripture. I am intrigued by your interpretation of Romans, even if I still disagree. Who knows? You may change my mind someday!

    Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon us…

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