Friday, 24 October 2008

Proof-texting unconditional election

In response to a recent post on sovereignty I received an anonymous comment suggesting my analysis contradicted the Bible. This is a bold claim, though I am prepared to defend my position. I will add that this post is an object lesson in why proof-texting can be a poor technique. While short texts of Scripture can refute error, they need to be understood and applied correctly. Anonymous did not expand on the texts or explain how they contradict my claims.

My claims and anon's quotes are in italics, my response is in roman type.

Anon: This is a sad commentary. You analysis says exactly opposite of that the Bible says.

However others thought it a good commentary. jc_freak and travelah agreed with it, and kangaroodort affirmed it and linked to it. While this particular post was short on Scripture, it was not intended to be exegesis of a particular passage. Other posts have defended my view. In this post I was trying to identify a logical error, that being:
  • I don't think sovereignty by necessity means God can force people to love him.
God can still be sovereign even if the whole whole rejects him. Our acceptance or rejection of God does not alter the fact that he is King and owns the cattle on a thousand hills.

bethyada: Calvinists have claimed that God chooses specific men for salvation because he is sovereign. Those are saved to maximise God's glory in his mercy, and others are damned to maximise God's glory in his wrath.

These ideas, I think, are incorrect. The issue of sovereignty is a logical question. And damnation, while giving God glory, does so less than salvation.

Anon:
Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory. (Romans 9:21-23)
And yet I quote this very passage latter on. Rather than interact with my interpretation you just quote it with the assumption that your interpretation of it is the right one and that alone is enough to refute me. Re-read my response. You are reading "prepared" to mean "pre-prepared." While that is possible, especially given the following mention of "prepared beforehand" other verses suggest that men prior to redemption are objects of wrath and yet become objects of grace. See Ephesians 2:
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
If we remain disobedient God prepares us for destruction, but he desires repentance.

bethyada: I don't think it possible for God to force anyone into heaven. Or rather force anyone to love him; heaven is the destination. So I think the Calvinists are incorrect about sovereignty over who is saved because it is not an question of sovereignty.

Anon
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18)
And what does mercy have to do with forcing people to love him? God can have mercy on whoever he wishes, but he has said he will not do so unless we repent. And if he gives us mercy we can still choose not to love him.

bethyada: God can create, God can woo (prevenient grace), God can save, God can give eternal life, God can create freedom of the will.

None of which man can do.

However I think that if God creates us as beings that have the ability to choose or reject God then I think it logically impossible to force love from such a being.

Anon
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27)
This is not about our acceptance or rejection of God, it is about God giving us the ability to do what we desire to do. Just because we choose God and reject evil does not mean we have the ability to walk according to our choice.
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate....

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7)
God in Ezekiel says this new heart will cause us to walk in his statutes, and while consistent with an unconditional election position, is also consistent with conditional election. God can give us ability if we desire it and he has promised it. If we desire it alone we cannot do it. God says here in Ezekiel that he will do this for his own glory, but this does not necessarily mean that he will do it to those who are evil and unrepentant. The question here is not about God's abilities to help us live by the Spirit, rather it is about whether God changes us despite our will, and whether determinism allows love.

bethyada: To have such a high view of sovereignty that claims that God can make us love him, seems, to me, as preposterous as a high view of God's omnipotence means he can make 2 + 2 = 5.

So I don't think that non-Calvinists have a low view of God's sovereignty, I think they have a more accurate one.

Anon:
...declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,... (Isaiah 46:10)
My claim was specific. I am not saying that God is not sovereign. Non-Calvinists acknowledge the sovereignty of God. The comment as it stands already refutes your response. A high view of God's omnipotence does not automatically make God able to do the logically impossible. By analogy I claim that a high view of sovereignty doesn't mean that God can make free people love against their desire. A verse reinforcing God's sovereignty does nothing to prove me incorrect. If I am incorrect it is because my analogy is incorrect or inappropriate.

Further I think God can force activity and situation outcomes against the will of man; see Nebuchadnezzar's 7 years. But Nebuchadnezzar still had to choose to love or reject God.
At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,... (Daniel 4)
bethyada: Further I think God does desire every single person go to heaven. I don't think any have been created specifically for destruction...Calvinists are incorrect about this being the reason for creating beings for damnation.

Anon:
This is the wicked man's portion from God, the heritage decreed for him by God. (Job 20:29)

The LORD has made all things for Himself: yes, even the wicked for the day of destruction. (Proverbs 16:4)

For certain people ... long ago were designated for this condemn... [truncated by haloscan but from Jude] condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
And I can proof-text just as easily.
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2)
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3)
I am not claiming that all men will be saved, just that God desires such. The verses from Job and Jude do not say that men were eternally elected to be evil and thus damned, they say that God will surely punish the wicked. The verses are compatible with a Calvinist interpretation, but they do not teach Calvinism. Jude could be read that the condemnation is determined before the wickedness, yet God's foreknowledge allows him to determine their condemnation prior to the event even though the condemnation is because of the event. That is, the cause is the wicked actions even if knowledge of the wickedness predates the actions. The Job passage seems an odd rebuttal as the speaker is Zophar and the conclusion is that God decrees thus because of the evil man's wickedness.

Proverbs 16 as it reads suggests that God has created men for the purpose of destruction. This is the ESV version (which I also use). But is the verse actually teaching this? The verse in the NET version is,
The Lord works everything for its own ends—/
Even the wicked for the day of disaster.
Which is compatible with God ensuring that outcomes will be just; that is, God will ensure our actions will ultimately have their appropriate consequences. Through other Scripture we know this takes into account God's mercy.

A footnote in the NET states that the word "work" means to "work out" or "accomplish." Another says that "for its own ends" means,
"for its answer." The term לַמַּעֲנֵהוּ (lammaanehu) has been taken to mean either "for his purpose" or "for its answer." The Hebrew word is מַעֲנֶה (ma’aneh, "answer") and not לְמַעַן (lema’an, "purpose"). So the suffix likely refers to "everything" (כֹּל, kol). God ensures that everyone's actions and the consequences of those actions correspond—certainly the wicked for the day of calamity. In God's order there is just retribution for every act.
Thus God makes the day of destruction for the wicked, not the wicked for the day of destruction. (See also Matthew 25:41.)

I have no problem with quoting Scripture to support truth. The problems with proof-texting come, as can be seen here, when it is done
  • poorly;
  • without regard to context;
  • with no relevance to the issue; or
  • with the assumptions of one's position which, while possibly consistent with the text, are not specifically found within the text.
It is better to interact with the Scripture and the points made by one's opponent. Documenting not just what the Bible says, but explaining what and why it means thus.

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