Editor’s Note: This is a continuation in a series of posts between Adam Robles and John Barron on the doctrines of Reformed Theology. This is not debate per se, and we are not following a particular format. Because of this, as new posts are published they may seem incomplete. You should read the previous posts to get caught up and understand vague references. The posts can be found HERE, I suggest reading them in order.
In response to the three main challenges offered in the previous article:
Response 1: The trouble with the word arbitrary is that it carries with it a decidedly negative connotation. You defined arbitrary as, “that it’s not based on anything about the object.” When a human makes an arbitrary decision, based only on his own will he does so fallibly, with limited knowledge and often times with a heart completely skewed by sinful desires. This kind of arbitrary is the kind that carries connotations of randomness, capriciousness and irrationality. God is a completely different kind of decision maker. He is non-contingent, infallible, infinitely wise and completely holy. An arbitrary decision by God, cannot carry the connotation the word has when applied to man. Ephesians 1:11 says: “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.” His will is completely trustworthy because his will is not like our will, it is perfect.
That being said, arbitrary is not a word that the Bible uses when talking about God’s decision making, but partiality is. In the Old Testament law, and repeated in the New, we are told we are not show partiality, because God shows no partiality. (Deut 16:19, Proverbs 24:23, Luke 20:21, Romans 2:11, James 2:1,9) Partiality is showing favor or bias towards one kind of person over another. God cannot elect someone based on something in that person because God does not show partiality. Whether you are rich or poor, smart or stupid, spiritually attuned or spiritually cold, meak or arrogant, God chooses who he will grant the repentance that leads to life. God shows no partiality.
Response 2: The reason the verses cannot be said to pertain to a group, rather than individuals is because (1) the personal pro-nouns used are singular and (2) often, the passages refer to deeply personal themes instead of faceless groups.
Here is a passage from the very next section of the John 6 passage I started with. Notice the personal pronouns, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”(Verse 44) And again, a few verses later talking about the unbelievers, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.” (Verse 65)
Romans 9, the classic text pertaining to election, exhibits the same behavior using the singular personal pronouns, but also demonstrates my second assertion. Verses 6-13 describe God’s election in choosing Jacob, but not Esau, “they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls.” His election cannot be based on anything the twins did, it is based on “him who calls.”
Many have asserted that this is talking about groups represented by the twins, and not the twins themselves. If this were the case, then the example Paul gives using Pharaoh would make absolutely no sense. The very next paragraph describes how God was just in choosing to use Pharaoh for his own purposes. These purposes did not involve saving him but instead involved God hardening him. All this to demonstrate that, “he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
In verse 19 Paul offers and answers the obvious objection against his teaching of unconditional election,
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?
“Why have you , made me like this?” It is a weighty objection. It is a deeply personal objection. Notice this is not an objection made by a nameless, faceless group. This is the objection of a singular person. One who is not “given” by the Father. But if we take sin seriously, our response will be the same as Paul’s. Paul addresses the objector, “Who are you, O man?” It is not possible to read these passages on election consistently if election is not personal.
Response 3: If this is a valid argument against the reformed position, then it must be a valid charge against any orthodox Christian position. What I mean is that orthodox Christianity affirms that God has perfect knowledge of future events. From your perspective, this would mean that God knew when he spoke through the prophet Ezekiel that there would be many people hearing the prophecy (and reading it later in the Bible) who were definitely not going to be saved. Is it misleading for God to tell someone who He knows without a shadow of a doubt will be in eternal torment that he has an opportunity for life? Is it misleading for God to plead with them, “to turn from their sins, that they don’t have to die in them?” I don’t think so. But then, I don’t think this is a valid objection to either position.
We are commanded to love unbelievers whether they turn from their sin or not. When we preach the Gospel to people our preaching serves one of two purposes it either brings them closer to repentance and life, or it brings them closer to judgment and death. Why can’t God’s words be the same? Jesus had perfect knowledge of everyone he encountered, including if they were elect or not. Yet his message was the same, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He knew which people were being given by the Father and which were not. That doesn’t make it misleading, it was speaking the truth in love. Accept the offer and live. Reject it, and the wrath of God abides on you.