Why Does God Still Blame Us? The Crucial Question of Romans 9

Just recently I have “come out” in regards to my Reformed convictions. This is scary and liberating at the same time. It is scary because, as a Calvinist,  I have been on the receiving end of some of the most vicious, vitriolic and vile speech I have ever seen in my life. But, it’s liberating because, now, I get to write more freely about things which I feel are important about the issue. Romans 9:19 is one of those things.

Romans 9 is one of the most discussed passages, I dare say, in the entire debate over Calvinism—I believe rightly so.[1] Nobody (I can’t imagine) objects to the idea that Romans 9 is about God’s sovereignty. I don’t even think that anyone objects to the fact that this passage is, at least in part, about election, and God’s sovereignty in such. Much of the debate, however, is whether or not the passage addresses sovereignty and election on an individual or corporate basis. In other words, is this passage talking about God choosing (electing) individuals for salvation (i.e., a certain person is chosen to be saved but not the other person), or it is talking about some sort of corporate election (i.e., God has elected that those who believe will be saved)?

I have seen and been involved in much debate over this issue for a while now. Some may say that it is ultimately impossible to determine which “election” this passage is talking about. I disagree.

This is where Roman 9:19 comes in. The reason why I think this verse, in particular, is an important one for this discussion is two-fold.

First, Paul, quite gifted in rhetoric, often uses imaginary objectors to help make his points. As it turns out, these are incredibly useful not just for Paul, but also for those reading him (us). Let me demonstrate what I mean. Looking at the context of Romans 9:19, we see that Paul has just finished telling his readers that God loved Jacob and hated Esau (v. 13), that he has mercy on whomever he desires (v. 15), that nothing God does in terms of election has anything to do with human will or effort (v. 16), that Pharaoh himself in the Exodus narrative was raised up for the sole purpose of showing God’s glory in his own destruction (v. 17), and that, finally, God not only has mercy on whomever he wills, but “he hardens whomever he wills”(v. 18).[2]

Here comes the statement under discussion:

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?”
—Romans 9:19

How is this verse helpful for us? Here is how. Paul’s imaginary objector offers an exegetical guidepost for us as we read Paul’s argument. Here is what I mean. If we are reading Paul up to this point, and his statements do not cause us to ask this question that is raised by his imaginary objector, then it is likely that we have arrived at an incorrect understanding of this passage. Paul’s own response to the objection shows us this. Notice that Paul doesn’t say after the objection, “No, you’ve got it all wrong. You see, what I am saying is that God is sovereign, yes, but in a way in which people still determine their own destinies and fates.” No, he says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” (v. 20). The reader’s objection is predicated on a correct understanding of Paul’s statements—namely, that God is the one who softens and hardens hearts as he wills, not as man wills of himself. It is not the objector’s conclusion that is being corrected (i.e., the God is that sovereign), but the very fact that they are objecting (i.e., that humanity is left not responsible for their actions). A few commentators help bring this to light.

Thomas Schreiner remarks:

The question would scarcely be raised this way if the previous verses taught that the ultimate factor in human destiny were human choice.[3]

R.C. Sproul comments (on the objection raised in Romans 9:14, but applicable here):

This is this particular objection that is raised by Arminianism again and again and again. And one of the reasons I am convinced that I am understanding Paul in Romans is that because every time I teach the Reformed doctrine of election I get the same objection from my Arminian friends: “There is unrighteousness with God!” And the fact that Paul is anticipating that response gives me confidence that I have understood the position he is coming from.[4]

John Gill comments:

We may be assured, that since the objections are the same, the doctrine must be the same that is objected to: and this we gain however by it, that the doctrines of particular and personal election and reprobation, were the doctrines of the apostle; since against no other, with any face, or under any pretence, could such an objection be formed.[5]

In other words, as Sproul above proposed, we can be sure that our interpretation of this passage is the right one because 1) individual/particular election is the only thing that would have elicited such a response from Paul’s objector, and 2) this is the response Calvinists typically receive after explaining their docrtine of election.

Here is Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown:

This objection shows quite as conclusively as the former the real nature of the doctrine objected to—that it is Election and Non-election to eternal salvation prior to any difference of personal character; this is the only doctrine that could suggest the objection here stated.[6]

Matthew Henry concurs with Gill:

Had the apostle been arguing only for God’s sovereignty in appointing and ordering the terms and conditions of acceptance and salvation, there had not been the least colour for this objection.[7]

Henry here is arguing against this notion that what Paul is speaking about is that God has only elected or predetermined what type of person will be saved (i.e., the one who believes). He is exactly right, too, in my view. If Paul were arguing such, then his predicted objection in this verse would make absolutely no sense. It would be unwarranted and out of place.

Disclaimer: I understand that I have not referenced Arminian commentators. Right now, I am concerned with the exposition of the Reformed interpretation so that it is clear. Perhaps I will devote a second installment later on dealing with Arminian interpretations. I just want to show how, in my opinion, this objection leaves little room for an Arminian interpretation of this passage.

So, that concludes the first of the two reasons why this question asked by Paul’s objector is important—it serves as a valuable exegetical guide.

The second reason I think this question is important is not (necessarily) a Scriptural one, but a practical one—very similar to Sproul’s and Gill’s comments above. In my many conversations with those of the Arminian persuasion (or anyone outside of the Calvinist(ic) “camp”), I cannot tell you how many times that, when I have expressed my view of God’s sovereignty in salvation, I have received the rebuttal, “Well, if that is true, then God has no grounds to condemn us. If he controls who is saved and who is not—especially if he even controls the hardness of the heart as the text says—we can’t be blamed for not believing. It is clearly his will for the reprobate.” For example, just the other day someone commented on a Facebook thread (of which I was a part), “My problem with the idea that God…predestined every action…is it would remove all responsibility for us and make us not responsible for our choices.” How close that is to Paul’s objector here! I am often absolutely stunned by the similarity—even on the verbatim level—of many of these responses to that of Paul’s objector in Romans 9:19. Yet not once has anyone with whom I have interacted acknowledged this—at least openly.

This tells me one thing: the Arminian interpretation of Romans 9 (i.e., that it speaks of some form of corporate election—really anything but individual or particular election) is very likely deficient. Why? Well, again, the “corporate” interpretation of Romans 9 does not produce the objection given in Romans 9:19. It simply can’t. The fact that God has only determined what type of person is saved (i.e., the one who believes) ruffles no one’s feathers (except perhaps an atheist). Of course God isn’t going to save those who reject him! The idea that God himself chooses to have mercy on whomever he wills, however, does ruffle feathers, as Paul’s objector demonstrates. The only time I ever get an objection in the vein of Romans 9:19 (and, again, they are many times even indistinguishable from Paul’s very words) is when I talk about individual election to salvation and God’s absolute, immutable sovereignty in the matter. This is very telling to me.

In my humble opinion, Romans 9:19 is, if not the crux, one of the most important facets of the Calvinistic interpretation of Romans 9, to which so far I have yet to encounter anyone who has been able to give a satisfactory answer (with the exception of a couple cases where the entire Epistle to the Romans was marred beyond recognition). This is something that needs to continue to be discussed between Calvinists and Arminians, not with the motive of being right or proving someone else wrong, but with the desire to arrive at the truth. And, lest someone think this a trivial matter, I truly believe that this is one of the most important debates we can be having within the church right now. Our beliefs about salvation—the way God makes it work—affect quite literally every part of Christian life. Our view of salvation is crucial to everything from evangelism to raising children. The harder we fight for truth in this area, the better.

Let’s fight for truth, not with each other.


[1] I realize that not all of Romans 9 is about this issue. Therefore, from this point forward, when I say “Romans 9” in the context of the Calvinism discussion, I am particularly talking about vv. 1-24 (possibly all the way to v. 29).

[2] Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, ed. Moisés Silva, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 515.

[4] Wade Davis, RC Sproul Why Are Reformed Christians Influenced by Arminianism, n.d., https://www.youtube.com/.

[5] John Gill, Exposition of the Whole Bible, Romans 9:19

[6] Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, Romans 9:19

[7] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 2218.

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14 thoughts on “Why Does God Still Blame Us? The Crucial Question of Romans 9

  1. we’re there three books on the mount rushmore of laymen attempts at theology i’d recommend, two are by edward schillebeeckx and one by hastings rashdall, and they are:

    christ: the sacrament of encounter with god
    jesus: an experiment in christology
    the idea of atonement in christianity

    it’s very easy to be a calvinist, it’s something else entirely to be a christian; which is to say that the enterprise of christianity is solidarity with the needy and the pressing ethics of life which are immediate, and doctrine never certain nor valuable enough to waste time waiting for unanimity to act on.

    that said, these certainly give pause when someone begins to think not only that they’re asking the right questions, but likewise have all the right answers.

    blessings.

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  2. may i say too, my last three blogs are specifically addressing this historic mistake of conflating faith with belief. faith is pistis, persuasion. faith is as gift of god and one measured at that. grace is god’s active presence in the world. it too is a gift. in plain english, god is the good and all persons seek that good and faith is the persuasion, the natural draw all humanity has to it. this is all that salvation entails to. there’s more to say, and i do elsewhere.

    what is it, however, to say one cannot do anything to earn salvation, but there is one thing you can do: believe?

    we cannot in any context, choose to believe. we are determined, aside from abnormal psychology, to belief that which appears true and makes the most sense of experience. you cannot choose to believe and thereby be saved. the former is impossible, wicked the latter is an act one takes as if god is then owing you something in return.

    but, i digress. i would love to hear your thoughts.

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  3. Compare Roman’s 9 to Romans three, especially verse 7. The parallels are obvious and it becomes plain that the objector is not an Arminian, he is a rebellious Jew. Also cross reference Ex 33:19 to Roman’s 9:15 and Jer 18:6 to verse 21 and the picture becomes clearer. This is not about determinism. Then, read “Paul and the faithfulness of God” by N.T. Wright and you’ll begin to understand how shallow it is to think Romans 9 is about God picking individuals for salvation. Blessings….

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    • Thanks for the comment.

      This is a typical response. It was the same one Leighton Flowers made right before he got destroyed by James White in his debate on Romans 9. That debate proved, at least to me, that an intense and straight forward exegesis of Romans 9 simply cannot yield the Arminian scheme, hence why Arminians grasp at so many texts outside of it to justify their system.

      There is simply no warrant within the text to assume that it is a Jew objecting. You also make the assumption that, because the objector was Jewish in Romans 3:7, that it therefore must be a Jew here. You have not proved your case, only asserted it as fact. Leighton Flowers on his website (“Soteriology101”) does the exact same thing. He asserts that this is a “Jewish interlocutor” without providing a shred of evidence. He even goes so far to say that the objection is sarcastic. Nonsense. Even if it were a Jew, what difference does it make? Corporate election, I say, does not elicit the response given in Romans 9:19. The response was to Paul referencing individuals, not races. The Arminian attempt to mitigate is, at times, almost humorous and always sad. The flesh just cannot tolerate God’s sovereignty in all things.

      As for the recommendation of Wright, I believe his unorthodoxy regarding justification speaks for itself, and speaks volumes as to your persuasions. His thoughts are, frankly, irrelevant. His “New Perspective” clouds his thinking and puts us at variance on issues far upstream from this one.

      In return, I would recommend listening to the White-Flowers debate, and just James White in general. He deals with your objection many times, and better than I can.

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      • Romans 9 or any other chapter for that matter, can not be read in isolation. After all, this is a letter, not a class on why some people get saved and some don’t. I don’t even believe that individual election was even on Paul’s radar. We just assume everything in scripture is about us, it’s funny really, and sad how few people see the big picture, the beautiful redemption plan that Paul explains has been going on since God spoke to Abraham is reduced to God picking side for his baseball game.

        “Even if it were a Jew, what difference does it make? Corporate election, I say, does not elicit the response given in Romans 9:19”

        By this response, I see you haven’t even stopped to think about what I said, you just assumed it couldn’t be. If the objector is a hardened jew, then what he is asking is why God still blames him for his sin if God is bringing good from it. It makes perfect sense in light of Paul’s explanation of what God has be doing, using the Jew’s rebellion to reach gentiles.
        Have you actually read Wright, or are you just brushing him off as unorthodox?

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      • Before we go any further (because I do not want this conversation to devolve into back-and-forth, off-topic nonsense), I think you need to walk through the text and exegetically defend your assertion (which is all it has been so far) that the objector in Romans 9:19 is a Jew and how it matters. It is, I grant, readily apparent in Romans 3. Here, however, it is just being asserted and not defended, and the txt is far less explicit. That will facilitate better conversation.

        As for Wright (and I expect this to be the last mention of him—he is not the issue at hand), yes, I am writing him off. However, I did not say he was unorthodox; I said he unorthodox in regards to justification. This is a perfectly acceptable label. His view is not what the Church has believe for 2,000 years, as far as I am aware. No, I have not read him. Being in seminary has not allowed me the time to engage with his massive volumes, especially since he has not been in any of the required reading. However, one need not read him to know what he espouses and to evaluate it accordingly. He espouses the so-called “New Perspective;” this view is unorthodox in terms of justification; Wright is unorthodox in regards to justification. It is a simple syllogism. The basis of the so-called “New Perspective” is dubious at best and, in many cases, has been proven to be altogether false. Don Carson has some good lectures on YouTube regarding the New Perspective in which he deals with Wright directly.

        Again, I ask that we remain on the topic of the text. Wright is not relevant because, as I said, my disagreement with him lies far upstream from this particular issue, so dialogue with him is truly pointless.

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    • I would also like to point out, in case you continue to believe that Romans 9 has nothing to do with individual election (I think it addresses both individual and corporate election, but more so the latter), that this text is by no means the only text that supports such a doctrine as individual or particular election.

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  4. I hope to do a complete outline of Romans at some point on my blog. Well, not complete in the sense of covering everything, but I’d like to give a big picture view of what Paul is laying out and what it means. Rather then go through all that here, all we really need to do is look at the big questions Paul is addressing.
    The question being answered first in both Chapter 3 and nine is if there is any advantage in being a Jew. (Vs 4-5.) Then, the question is whether God’s word has failed because Israel rebelled. (Vs 6-8. )And of course, here he brings up the fact that it is not just about bloodlines, but it is the children of promise. And of course, we know the promise goes way beyond the Jewish nation. And Paul goes into how God worked through Issac instead of Jacob to bring the promise to fruition. There isn’t anything here in the Jacob and Esau story about salvation, BTW, it is obvious that God is picking Jacob to be the leader of a nation, and if we want to truly understand all that, we need to look at their story in Mal 1:2 and Gen 25:23. Paul has a habit of picking bits of the Torah out and just laying them down, assuming his readers know their Torah well, so he doesn’t fill in all the gaps. Basically, God picks Jacob before they are born but it’s not until after Edom has become wicked that God curses the nation. There are always reasons why God does what he does. It’s not just arbitrary choices, Now, I believe in God’s foreknowledge, but I don’t believe it’s based on his determinations, rather, he makes choices based on what he knows people will do. We don’t know if Esau died justified or not, but we know that God didn’t hate Esau anymore then anyone else, he hated what his nation had become.

    Then, Paul references Exodus 33:19. This is interesting, because it’s in the context of God’s relationship with Moses and instead of being a statement about God just arbitrarily picking some people to hate and some to love, here we have Moses arguing with God and making deals with him! So, when Paul is saying it depends on God’s mercy, what is he saying? What is God’s mercy based on? This is incredible to even contemplate, but just as in Job, God shows mercy on those who have a relationship with him. Look what Moses says in vs 13″If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
    then:
    14The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

    15Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

    17And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

    No, it isn’t about man’s desire of effort, but it is about man’s obedience and love for God. This theme runs all though scripture. And I beat this drum over and over again for a reason. Faith is first and foremost willingness to humble oneself, but also to have to courage to speak directly to God and treat him as a friend. But, I don’t want to get too far off track. All this is important, because God hardens Pharaoh because Pharaoh refused to do what God asked of him. Exodus 8:15″But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said.”
    And he hardens the Jews for the same reason. So when we come to verse 18: “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy and hardens who he wants to harden.” we know by looking at the scriptures that Paul has given us, then God’s choices are not arbitrary. God “wants” to have mercy on some because they have been humble before him and he wants to harden others because they have refused to humble themselves. So, who can the “One of you will say to me” in vs 19 refer to? What has Paul been talking about all along, but God’s plan for Israel and how he worked even through Israel’s rebellion to bring redemption to the world? The one talking back here is obviously one who has been hardened because of his rebellion and he’s doing exactly what we all tempted to do when we sin, blame it on someone else, preferably God, just as Adam and Eve did. The one talking back isn’t the guy reading this a couple thousand years later, unless that guy, too, is trying to blame his sin on God. “Who resists his will?” Well, duh, we all do! (Which is why we all deserve to be objects of wrath) And to keep this somewhat short, we see from Jer 18:6 that the pottery also has free will and God forms it according to how it responds to him. And of course, the point that Paul is slowly getting to here is finally summarized in vs 30-31: The gentiles have obtained righteousness because of the Jew’s rebellion. So, Paul lays out the whole story of Israel here to show us how salvation is obtained, not by works, but by faith. Now, wouldn’t that be a waste of time if God was just picking people for salvation based on some arbitrarily choice? If that were the case, none of this would really matter. The whole point here is to obtain righteousness by submitting to God, and Calvinists want to say that’s not even possible, that if you’re supposed to be saved, it will just happen irresistibly, and you’ll have no choice in the matter. Talk about missing the forest for the trees!

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    • “The question being answered first in both Chapter 3 and nine is if there is any advantage in being a Jew.”

      I’m sorry, I just don’t see that in the text here in ch. 9. It makes sense in ch. 3—it’s rather apparent. But, it seems to me that this is an importation into ch. 9 that just isn’t there, at least explicitly. I still say it is an assumption.

      “There isn’t anything here in the Jacob and Esau story about salvation, BTW, it is obvious that God is picking Jacob to be the leader of a nation.”

      I don’t deny this. As I said, I think there are elements of both in this passage. It seems that, based on vv. 14-24, that this passage is most definitely talking about individuals. Again, I think the response in v. 19 shows that. Corporate election doesn’t offend anyone. I think you have to deal also with the fact that Pharaoh, as an individual, was raised up for the very purpose of showing God’s glory by his destruction (damnation, no doubt). It is truly inescapable in this passage. I think the Arminian position sees the corporate aspect in this passage (which the Calvinist grants is there), but he then makes it the only aspect. That is error.

      “There are always reasons why God does what he does. It’s not just arbitrary choices.”

      Of course there are reasons, but the text makes it clear that they are not based upon the individual’s actions. His election is based purely upon his goodness, and reprobation is based upon his justice. If we start believing that God elects anyone because of anything in them, we have devolved into works salvation (not to mention denying the truth of Rom. 9:11).

      “He makes choices based on what he knows people will do.”

      The text explicitly and plainly denies this. I cannot accept that God’s foreknowledge is not based upon his determinations. That notion simply does not fit with a deity of omnipotence and omniscience. God cannot learn. It is not as if he created everything, and then looked down through time and learned then what people will do. That destroys his very deity. Furthermore, in Rom. 8:29, it says that God foreknows people, not the acts of those people. It is upon that basis—the pure goodness of his will—that one is predestined to “be conformed to the image of his Son” (and what else can that possibly mean but salvation?). There are other texts that support this; I’m sure you know them.

      “God didn’t hate Esau anymore then [sic] anyone else, he hated what his nation had become.”

      Again, the text doesn’t say this. It is talking about a person. He represents a nation, but Paul is talking about a person. I think this is supported by God’s treatment of Pharaoh. Nobody with a sensible mind would think based on God’s treatment of Pharaoh showed that he loved him or desired him to be saved. Pharaoh had no chance, because he didn’t want it.

      “Then, Paul references Exodus 33:19. This is interesting, because it’s in the context of God’s relationship with Moses and instead of being a statement about God just arbitrarily picking some people to hate and some to love, here we have Moses arguing with God and making deals with him! So, when Paul is saying it depends on God’s mercy, what is he saying? What is God’s mercy based on?”

      Your interpretation of this passage does not fit into the context of Rom. 9, especially the objections. If God’s mercy is based upon anything other than his good pleasure, then Paul’s statements in Rom. 9, as well as the objection raised to him, do not make sense in the slightest. If God has mercy on those who “have a relationship with him,” then his mercy is predicated upon something in the creature, the creature about which Scripture declares even his righteousness is filthy rags.

      Also, you keep using this term “arbitrary.” This shows that you really do not understand the Reformed position at all (and I hope, if you are honest, you really want to). It is a common straw man. Nothing God does is arbitrary (otherwise we could say that everything he does is arbitrary). Everything he does is based upon his goodness and justice—all to the end goal of his own glory. God does not pick at random; everything has a purpose. If you are going to argue against a position, it is imperative that you be fair about it. Importing foreign (even disagreeable) terms upon the opposing position is dishonest and unfair.

      “No, it isn’t about man’s desire of effort, but it is about man’s obedience and love for God.”

      This statement could not be more contradictory.

      “Faith is first and foremost willingness to humble oneself, but also to have to courage to speak directly to God and treat him as a friend.”

      All of which comes from God himself. An unregenerate heart will never do these things, because it will not and cannot (Rom. 8:8).

      “All this is important, because God hardens Pharaoh because Pharaoh refused to do what God asked of him.”

      That’s not what the text says. Before Moses ever even goes into Egypt, God said he would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 4:21, 7:3). This falls directly in line with what Paul says in Rom. 9, that God even “raised him up” for that purpose. God did not just react when Moses arrived in Egypt and Pharaoh refused to free the Hebrews. No, God had been there since Pharaoh’s birth, as the text says, “raising him up for this very purpose.”

      “God “wants” to have mercy on some because they have been humble before him and he wants to harden others because they have refused to humble themselves.”

      That’s not what the text says. Do you not see that you are importing words into the text to fit your theology? The text says that God has mercy on whom he will have mercy, not those who humble themselves. It also says that he hardens whom he wants to harden, not those who reject him. To say so would fly directly in the face of what Paul says in Rom. 9:11.

      “The one talking back here is obviously one who has been hardened because of his rebellion.”

      You haven’t proved this, though. You assume that because Israel is spoken of in the context (although Pharaoh is not Israel and Paul speaks of the Gentiles as being part of the “clay” in v. 24), that the one responding must be a hardened Israelite. That just seems like pure assumption. Also, you haven’t demonstrated why the objector being a Jew would be important.

      “‘Who resists his will?’ Well, duh, we all do!”

      You do not take into account God’s perceptive (which we resist) and decretive (which we cannot) will. The fact that you make this statement shows that your misunderstanding of this is clouding your interpretation. Paul is clearly talking about God’s decretive will, which no one resists, because no one is able (hence the reaction by Paul’s objector). Even pagan Nebuchadnezzar understood this.

      “We see from Jer 18:6 that the pottery also has free will and God forms it according to how it responds to him.”

      Libertarian free will is a philosophical imposition on the text. Nowhere in Scripture is the human will ever described or presented as free (except before the Fall). We all have freedom of choice, but no free will. Our wills are bound to our sinful nature outside of regeneration (Rom. 8:8). Besides, in this illustration, you left out the part where “the clay was marred in the hands of the potter” (v. 3).

      “Now, wouldn’t that be a waste of time if God was just picking people for salvation based on some arbitrarily choice?”

      Again, you keep using this term “arbitrary.” It is a straw man, sir. God’s election is based on his good pleasure and purpose. And, no, it would not be a waste of time, because God is glorifying himself out of it, just as he did with Pharaoh.

      “If that were the case, none of this would really matter.”

      How so? You think God’s glorifying himself with his own creation doesn’t matter?

      “The whole point here is to obtain righteousness by submitting to God, and Calvinists want to say that’s not even possible.”

      Of course it’s not possible, otherwise we could just save ourselves by changing ourselves. It is possible, however, through regeneration. That’s the point. Men are helplessly lost (as they themselves desire to be) outside of the regenerating grace of God. If you believe that man can submit to God of his own power outside of God’s regeneration, your issue is not with Calvinism, but with the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:8).

      “If you’re supposed to be saved, it will just happen irresistibly, and you’ll have no choice in the matter.”

      This is a caricature and a thorough misunderstanding of Reformed theology. Nobody comes to Christ who doesn’t choose to, of their own will. The issue is that no one will come to Christ unless they want to, and we are clearly taught that nobody wants to outside of God’s regenerating grace (Rom. 8:8). Once we are regenerated according to the grace and pure goodness of God, then we will desire to come to him. Read Christ’s teaching in John 6. In fact, the multitude’s reaction to his words there are similar to the reaction given to Paul here and, ironically, your reaction in your reply.

      “Talk about missing the forest for the trees!”

      What’s interesting, though, is that we haven’t even gotten to the forest. Just like Mr. Flowers against Mr. White, you have done everything but work with the text of Romans 9. You say that no text must be read in isolation. Absolutely! Yet, you take this and run to everywhere else in Scripture except the text in question (even pagan philosophical constructs like “free will”) and then impose those texts onto this text. I am the first to say that Scripture presents theology as a whole unit, and that Scripture must interpret Scripture. However, I also realize that, before a text has a canonical context, it also has an immediate context, which you have not even dealt with. You still have not did what I asked and demonstrated why you believe the objector is Jewish or why it matters. You merely run all over Scripture, ripping other texts out of their own immediate contexts and, without exegeting them, place them over this passage. That is not good interpretation. Furthermore, since Scripture is a congruent whole in terms of doctrine, I must point out that my interpretation of this passage falls directly in line with other passages of Scripture (Rom. 8, Eph. 1, 2 Thess. 2, 1 Pet. 2, etc.). Scripture must interpret Scripture, and to deny that God elects some and rejects others according to his goodness and justice (because nobody deserves to be chosen—ever) is to deny the clear teaching of Scripture.

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      • “We all have freedom of choice, but no free will.”

        Um, ok? There is no way I can read any sense into this statement. It’s like saying we have freedom but we don’t have any freedom. Total non-sequitur.

        “Pharaoh had no chance, because he didn’t want it..”

        Again, what does this even mean, if God, as you suppose, hardened his will at birth (which is not what is stated)

        Well, if we just ignore all the scriptures that Paul is referencing, yes, you can read the chapter as if it stands alone and make it about individual election. But that is not how scripture works and not how Paul builds an argument.
        “If you’re supposed to be saved, it will just happen irresistibly, and you’ll have no choice in the matter.”
        “This is a caricature and a thorough misunderstanding of Reformed theology.”
        Uh, no, it is exactly what every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to about these issues tells me. Sure, you dress it up with some phantom free will that is not really free at all, but it still comes down to God irresistibly changing your mind. Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit has to convict sinners and open their eyes, but no, scipture is clear that this is never irresistable.
        But I will move on, I’m not a fast typer and I didn’t expect to change your mind, but hopefully plant seeds of truth that will someday blossom. Hope you had a great holiday and have a great week!

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      • “There is no way I can read any sense into this statement. It’s like saying we have freedom but we don’t have any freedom. Total non-sequitur.”

        I think it’s actually very simple—almost surface-level obvious. There is a difference between the will and choice. The will is the faculty by which we desire something. Choice is the action by which we move toward the thing desired. The former is a noun, the latter a verbal idea. There is non-sequitur here. The fact that you so quickly dismiss it as such even more clearly demonstrates how you have not given enough time to study what Reformed theology believes in order to properly refute it. The problem is that Arminians conflate will and choice, making them the same thing, yet they are not. Everywhere in Scripture we are given choices and told to choose between two (or more) things. That is obvious and no Reformed theologian of whom I am aware denies this. The problem is that choice does not exist in a vacuum; it comes forth out of the will. Everywhere in Scripture we are shown that we have freedom to choose. But, if our wills are corrupted, we will choose nothing but evil, unless our wills are renewed in regeneration (hence Paul’s statement, I believe, in Rom. 8:8). Jonathan Edwards actually lays out the difference between the will and choice very beautifully. I must confess, however, that his “Freedom of the Will” is very difficult to read. I would suggest finding a good summary of this work. I think Sam Storms has a good one. The moral it, though, that there is indeed a distinction. We are absolutely free to choose. But no one, nowhere, at any time, will ever choose anything which their wills do not first desire. Our wills, by nature, do not desire God (otherwise regeneration would be unnecessary), and therefore is unable to choose him.

        “Again, what does this even mean, if God, as you suppose, hardened his will at birth (which is not what is stated)”

        I think it is stated, however. It says that God raised him up for this very purpose. How could this mean anything else than that this was God’s purpose for which he was raising him up?

        “Well, if we just ignore all the scriptures that Paul is referencing, yes, you can read the chapter as if it stands alone and make it about individual election. But that is not how scripture works and not how Paul builds an argument.”

        I agree. But, again, I also understand that arguments have an immediate context before they have anything broader. Otherwise language is meaningless. We could just hop all over the canon importing meaning upon whatever text we deem unacceptable. This seems to be not far off from what you did above.

        “Uh, no, it is exactly what every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to about these issues tells me.”

        I don’t care who told you this. They were misinformed about their own beliefs. Reformed theology is not fatalism. It is the acknowledgement of an omniscient and omnipotent deity who, by definition, must control all things absolutely. It is history driven by a person, not a force. Furthermore, it most certainly is a caricature for the precise reason(s) I gave above. You say “it will happen irresistibly and we will have no choice in the matter.” This is a caricature because of the difference between the will and choice. No one is ever saved who doesn’t want to be and no one is ever damned who doesn’t want to be. A person is regenerated irresistibly (because no one can regenerate themselves, nor do they want to; that would make Scripture utter nonsense), and then they choose Christ freely and under no coercion, because that is what their changed wills desire. If their wills do not desire Christ, they are, by definition, unregenerate. Therefore, if someone is regenerate, they will act according to the new creature into which they have been made. In the end, everyone will get exactly what they wish. It is truly very simple if one will just take the time to understand it, emptying their mind of all their infused Western Enlightenment philosophical constructs.

        “[S]cipture is clear that this is never irresistable.”

        Can you show me in Scripture where saving, regenerating grace is ever resistible or has been resisted? I can’t think of a single circumstance. It certainly is not the case with me. Praise God, if God did not regenerate me against my wishes I would never have freely chosen him. I, for one, am thankful for his irresistible regenerating grace.

        Thanks for the conversation. As of now, I have listened to and engaged in many, many conversations with those of the Arminian persuasion, and I remain altogether unpersuaded. The Reformed schema, when compared with the ultimate authority that is Scripture, seems to me to be, as a soteriological system, completely faithful. Until someone can persuade me otherwise, I must remain in this persuasion. “I can do no other.”

        Thanks for the good wishes. You are a nice person, and it is always pleasant to speak with someone who doesn’t resort to name-calling or slander. Granted, there were numerous straw men in your presentation, but I know that is simply because you have been misinformed. I find this to be the case with most of the Arminian persuasion: they simply have not been informed well regarding Reformed theology. That is precisely why I write these blog posts.

        I wish you well, truly. May God bless your relationship with him. As I said at the end of my post, never stop searching for truth in Scripture.

        God Bless.

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  5. God blames us because we sin, not God, but us.

    Calvinism affirms that God is sovereign & man is responsible… how exactly can both be true?
    Its not revealed in his word, lets continue to search but lets not be like the young arminians who add external philosophy where the bible does not speak.

    As Christians we can be comforted knowing that the spiritual realm is greater than us & we should not speak where God does not.

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    • Thanks for the comment.

      “God blames us because we sin, not God, but us.”

      You’re not asking the same question as the objector in the text is, though. Of course God blames us because we sin. The objector, however, is asking, in light of the manner of God’s dealings with Pharaoh, “How can God blame us if we are ‘raised up for this very purpose’ of being destroyed for the glory of God?” The question you are asking is downstream from the one being asked in the text.

      “Calvinism affirms that God is sovereign & man is responsible… how exactly can both be true?”

      Now you’re actually asking the exact same question the objector is asking in Rom. 9:19 and thus proving the thesis of my entire article. The objector in Rom. 9:19 is asking how human culpability can exist in light of God’s absolute sovereignty over the destiny (even the disposition of the heart!) of every single individual. The fact that you are leveling this objection against Calvinism leads me to believe that the Calvinistic system is the one that rightly interprets this passage. This is the whole point of my article, do you see?

      This is actually a very interesting question. It’s interesting because this accusation is commonly leveled at Calvinism: absolute divine sovereignty and human culpability just simply aren’t compatible. The interesting is that I could level the exact same accusation at the doctrine of the Trinity. I cannot for the life of me wrap my mind around (much less explain!) how there is only one God, but that the Father is God, Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. This doctrine is utterly incompatible with human reason, yet we are required to believe it because of the clear witness of Scripture to its reality. Yet, I never hear an Arminian leveling the logic claim against trinitarian theology. If the Arminian expects to reject the compatibility of absolute divine sovereignty and human culpability on the basis of not being able to conform it to human logic, then every Arminian should, if they are consistent, become a Unitarian.

      “[It’s] not revealed in his word, [let’s] continue to search but [let’s] not be like the young [A]rminians who add external philosophy where the [B]ible does not speak. As Christians we can be comforted knowing that the spiritual realm is greater than us & we should not speak where God does not.”

      Calvinists are often accused of hiding behind the “mystery” card. However, as I said before, anyone who has issue with this must ultimately be a Unitarian. God is so much higher than all of us, you are correct (Rom. 11:33-36). I truly believe the Reformed scheme best acknowledges this b appealing to mystery consistently when the human mind simply cannot understand the ways of God. The Arminian scheme attempts to rationalize, and there impose the foreign concepts of free will and prevenient grace into theology when Scripture just does not teach such things. It teaches freedom to choose and regenerating grace, for sure, but not the other two. The Reformed scheme recognizes man’s smallness and, when Scripture teaches something than we cannot understand, accepts it as truth, anyway, without trying to rationalize it to conform to fallen human logic.

      However, to say that Scripture does not speak on this issue is simply falsehood, and far worse than appealing to mystery. I think Is. 10:5-15 and Acts 4:27-28 address this issue directly. Assyria, Herod, and Pilate were all held accountable for what they did, yet they are all described as being weapons wielded by God’s predetermined plans. I agree: be silent where God does not speak. He speaks clearly here, however.

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