Discussing Reformed Theology: responding to objections to Unconditional Election

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.


  1. My point is that by definition, IF it is nothing in us, not our personality, not our physical body, not our anything, the choice is arbitrary. Arbitrary means a decision not based on any reason or system, which is what you’re describing.

    The only way for His choice to be meaningful is if there is something about us. Not how good we are, or how good looking, or our status. It’s our trust in Him. I think God’s elect are the body of believers.

    “him” = the believer, not necessarily a specific individual.

    Paul seems to be addressing someone who is dissatisfied with the idea that God can do what He wants. Is the “honor” and “dishonor” referring to salvation in these passages? I dont think this is necessarily true. The majority of the chapter seems to be discussing God’s decision to choose one nation over another, namely, Israel. The Jews were the chosen people of God, as a group. Remember other peoples could convert into Judaism and become a part of the group. Just like the Christian church, it is a group of people God has chosen, namely, believers i.e., the Church.

    Remember Jacob became Israel, who became a nation. God had predestined this group of people, this nation, and loved them as a group. Thus it’s not an individual being chosen, it’s a group, Israel first and the Church later.

    God is not misleading anyone, even if He knows they will never believe because even though He know it, He is not a direct cause for their rejection. This is not a problem on my view, it is a problem on yours, because God actively prevents the belief. On my view, even though God knows some hearing or reading will not choose Him, He is not the active cause. What it is that causes the unbelief is what makes the difference. On my view, the unbeliever chooses to not believe, and God knows it. On your view God predestines the unbelief.

  2. To the discussion about the Potter and the clay, I would simply say, God is the potter without a doubt, but what Calvinism (or whatever reformed title it is being given) ignores is that God doesn’t ignore the way the clay reacts to His hands. In the original context of Paul’s subject, the very verses after the “potter and clay” theme is introduced in the Old Testament, the Bible says:

    Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel! The instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, to pull down, and to destroy it, if that nation against whom I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I thought to bring upon it. And the instant I speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it, if it does evil in My sight so that it does not obey My voice, then I will relent concerning the good with which I said I would benefit it.” (Jeremiah 18:5-10)

    As to whether or not Romans 9 is speaking of individuals or nations (I think it can be both) either one comes to the same conclusion. Hebrews 12:14-16 plainly shows that Esau wasn’t interested in following the call of the God of Heaven in the way that Jacob was, and thus the descendants of Jacob were used to introduce God’s salvation to the world through Jesus; which is the overall theme of Romans 9 to begin with if one continues to read on to Romans 10:1-4 and also verse 12.

    Fleshly Israel didn’t like the fleshly gentiles being considered a part of God’s chosen and saved people – but in Christ they were; and God, as the potter, had a right to consider how the clay would/was reacting to His call – a call that, for the most part, the Jews were rejecting while the gentiles were open to receiving it. The Jews, again as a whole, now found themselves on the other side of the potter and the clay discussion, and they didn’t like it.

    These studies can become sticky real quick like. For simplicity sake, the thing to keep in mind when it comes to the election of the unconditional kind is that groups can be and are indeed unconditionally elected by God, but whether or not the individual gets to enjoy the blessings of the group’s unconditional election is another thing. Israel as a nation was “unconditionally” elected, but that doesn’t mean that all of Israel was going to be saved; in the same way, the church (the spiritual body of Christ – Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18) as a place of salvation in Christ is “unconditional” but that doesn’t mean everyone is going to be saved through it – and in both cases it’s because of the way the individual responds to the call of God.

  3. I think the big problem with these Reformed proof texts is that Romans 9 is talking about election for service – not election for salvation.

    If there is no condition for salvation, then explain why all through the N.T. it gives the condition as faith in Christ?

  4. AD Robles says:

    Glenn…once again…I’ve asserted that there is a condition for salvation….faith in Christ. We agree on that point.

  5. AD Robles says:

    Arbitrary as I understand it does not mean its not based on any reason or system. Only that it is based on nothing but the your own will. My point is that with God, an arbitrary decision is an infinitely wise and just and good decision.

    If Romans 9 were talking about nations….then examlpe of hardening an indiividual…namely Pharaoh…comes out of left field.

    On my view, God doesnt predestine unbelief that same way he predestines belief. Unbelief comes natural to the children of Adam. God doesnt do anything to those people in most cases. He does predestine belief actively though…thats why faith is a gift.

  6. AD Robles says:

    Eugene, the problem with Israel argument is that Paul directly address that argument in the text itself. Solution: True Israel is spiritual Israel….they are all unconditionally elected…and all saved.

  7. AD,
    Yes, but the condition of “faith” in the reformed version is that God has to give the person the faith first, and that is an arbitrary – yes arbitrary – choice by God as to whether or not HE wants to give the person the necessary faith. SO there is no condition really for the person, because God unconditionally forces them to have the faith to choose Him! Forget the double-talk, if God chooses who to give the faith to, then he by extension chooses who to withhold it from, and then blames the person for not having the faith! Reformed theology is nothing BUT double-talk!

  8. AD Robles says:

    What you are calling double-talk is an absolutely crucial distinction. A distinction that without which you cannot interpret the Bible consistently.

  9. AD Robles says:

    Some reformed people might deny double predestination…I dont. But i also dont make the error of equal ultimacy.Which you seem to be insisting on. God’s predestining of sinners to salvation is not the same thing as his passing over others. They are different kinds of predestination.

    • I’ve never heard the term “equal ultimacy”. But I do NOT insist that every one has an equal ultimate end. What I “insist” is that God allows everyone to make their own personal choice as to whether or not to follow Christ, put their faith in Christ’s work, worship the true God, etc. NOWHERE in Scripture does it say – without eisegesis – that God selects who to give faith to and who He withholds it from; nowhere does it say that God makes the choice for people, rather it says everywhere than man has the free will to choose for or against Christ. And to claim that God DOES make the choice, makes Him an unloving and unjust God to require people to choose and yet withhold the ability for them to make such choices.

  10. AD,

    Spiritual Israel was made up of individuals who chose to go after God (Deuteronomy 30:19), not individuals made up of unconditionally elect people.

    As to when you say, “On my view, God doesnt predestine unbelief that same way he predestines belief.” you need to realize that your statement is wholly inconsistent with consistency. If one is “unconditionally elected” then by default another is “unconditionally rejected”. You can’t have it one way without the other. The scriptures don’t allow it and neither does basic consistency.

    If one is wholly dependent upon God to initiate the process of salvation (hence the term “unconditional”) then one is wholly dependent upon God to initiate the process, thus making anyone who is not a part of the first group a part of the second group by default. Reformed theology negates those who don’t believe to their condition because they can’t believe, otherwise they would also be “unconditionally elected.”

    A reformed blogger spammed me on WordPress one time because I took his comment which said, “Now before we get too deep into a discussion of the five points of Calvinism, my point today is to simply ask you to think about one thing. If you are reading this and have been saved by God’s grace, then you are one of His chosen people. Before you even existed, God chose you to be one of His children. He chose you to be saved. He chose you to live for eternity with Him in Heaven. How does that make you feel?” and I revealed the truth of its teaching by simply looking at the other side of the coin, which simply says, “If you are reading this and have not been saved by God’s grace, then you are not one of His chosen people. Before you even existed, God did not choose you to be one of His children. He chose you to be condemned. He chose you to live for eternity with Satan in Hell. How does that make you feel?

    Teachers of reformed doctrine can try to deny this truth, but the falsehood of “unconditional election” necessitates it.

    Remember the Potter takes the clay’s reaction to His hands into account as the context of Jeremiah clearly reveals, and when it came to Pharaoh, the same sun that melts the wax hardened the clay, and the clay of Pharaoh’s heart had determined that it would rebel against God, thus resulting in Pharaoh’s fall from the position that God had allowed him to have. If you look at Jeremiah 18:5-10 again, it fits perfectly well. God wasn’t going to change His course of action, and Pharaoh had decided that he would follow suit, thus resulting in God hardening the heart of Pharaoh by doing the same exact things that softened the hearts of the Israelites.

    All will be used to fulfill the purpose of God, thus resulting in His sovereign nature, but how we are used in that purpose (to what end) is determined by we allow ourselves to be used by Him (again Jeremiah 18:5-10).

    This may seem like a lot of words by many people, but in relation to the tangled webs of reformed theology it’s quite short and simple to understand.

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