Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Dr Chad Thornhill and Dr Ben Witherington discuss Romans 8-11, foreknowledge and election

Dr Ben Witherington has been interviewing Dr Chad Thornhill about his new book, The Chosen People: Election, Paul & Second Temple Judaism in an 8-part series.  In Part 7, they discuss Romans 8-11, foreknowledge and election; here is an excerpt:

BEN: One of the confusions of Tom Schreiner and other committed Calvinists is the assumption that when Paul talks about individuals like Jacob and Esau in Rom. 9, he is referring to them NOT as representative heads of a people, but as isolated individuals, and so Paul must be talking about the double predestination of particular individuals. As you point out even when Paul uses the singular pronoun it can refer to the representative head of a group of people. I find this whole Calvinistic line of argument: 1) far too modern considering the dyadic personality of ancient peoples and how they viewed themselves as primarily parts of collectives; and 2) more to the point it completely ignores for example Gal. 4 where Hagar and Sarah very clearly represent two groups of people—namely they are the prefigurements of the Judaizers and of Paul and those who agree with him. Paul lines up those who represent Arabia, Sinai, and the ‘now’ Jerusalem and slavery in one camp, and those who represent the Jerusalem which is from above and those who are free in another. In some ways I find this just as individualistic and wrong as Mr. Warren’s whole discussion of God having a ‘will’ for your individual ‘purpose driven life’ which is somehow custom tailored to the individual and much more particular than what the NT says about the will of God for believers in general— namely their sanctification, their exercising of God’s gifts in their lives etc. We seem to insist on reading the Bible through highly individualistic late Western eyes, and the reading of Paul especially suffers from this malady. Would you agree? 
CHAD: As I developed in earlier chapters, the concept of corporate representation was alive and well in Jewish literature, and at times was specifically connected with the concept of election and the language surrounding it. Jacob and Esau themselves in Jubilees serve as representatives of two groups. Jacob serves such a function throughout the Old Testament as well. Paul is working with this existing framework of Jacob and Esau as representatives, but he reorients what this entails. There is a sense here too that God’s choosings are counter-intuitive. It is not the older, but the younger. I think this is significant because Paul completes his argument by stating explicitly that God’s people are not just made up of Jews, but also Gentiles. This would have been counter-intuitive to many Jews, so Jacob and Esau both serve as corporate representatives and as illustrations of the fact that God is the one who gets to make the rules. I think the bigger problem with the individualistic interpretation is that Paul is not answer the question here of how God decides who to save. He is rather answering the question of why we should think Gentiles can be included as full members in God’s people without submitting fully to Torah and that many Jews are being left out. This is not, then, about God’s “fairness,” as some translate adikia in 9:14, but about his rightness, or faithfulness, if you will. Paul gives the explicit download of the argument from 9:1-23 in 9:24: Jews and Gentiles are both in God’s people, and this is not based on ethnicity or Torah-observance, but their identification with and commitment to God’s Messiah. 

You can read the rest of Part 7 here, begin at Part 1 here, or see the full list here.

The Chosen People: Election, Paul and Second Temple Judaism is based on the author’s 2013 doctoral dissertation, “To the Jew First: A Socio-Historical and Biblical-Theological Analysis of the Pauline Teaching of ‘Election’ in Light of Second Temple Jewish Patterns of Thought” which is available from SEA here.

Further Reading:

This book is not to be confused with similarly titled The New Chosen People: A Corporate View of Election, by William Klein, which is an excellent introduction to Corporate Election, now available in a revised and expanded edition.

Related Posts:

Thursday, December 10, 2015

TC Moore, "Puritans and the Proof in the Pudding: Is Slave-owning Unrelated to Calvinism?"


"Pure" Calvinism: Predestined to Slavery 

 Here is an example of the "genetic relationship" between Calvinist theology and slave-owning [from the lyrics of Hip Hop artist Propaganda's song "Precious Puritans"]:
They looked my onyx and bronze skinned forefathers in they face, 
Their polytheistic, god-hating face. 
Shackled, diseased, imprisoned face. 
And taught a gospel that says God had multiple images in mind when he created us in it. 
Their fore-destined salvation contains a contentment in the stage for which they were given which is to be owned by your forefathers’ superior image-bearing face. 
Says your precious puritans. 
"Fore-destined salvation" is the Calvinistic doctrine of Election and/or Predestination (both involve exhaustive definite foreknowledge and causal determinism). To what does Propaganda connect this doctrine? The false gospel of a hierarchy of image-bearing in human beings. How did that happen? Calvinist theology *necessitates* that the fate of enslaved Africans was the *predestined* will of God. Calvinist theology *necessitates* that the social injustice enacted by Puritans was *God-ordained* for *God's glory.*
The end of Calvinism is oppression. Call it: Applied Calvinism. The Puritans' problem wasn't disconnecting their theology from their practice. It's the modern-day Calvinists who have a problem with the very clear connection the Puritans made—and practiced. Here is the ugly truth: Whenever and wherever the powerful in a society believe they are specially chosen by God, oppression results. That is the historical fact—whether it is pleasant or not.

Click here to read the full post (from October 14, 2012).

Further Reading:

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Monday, November 23, 2015

Preston Sprinkle, “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence”

Preston Sprinkle’s manuscript, “A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence”, presented at the Evangelical Theological Society’s annual meeting, is available online.  

His book Fight: A Christian Case for Non-Violence is one of the few books by Calvinist authors that I recommend getting a hold of (you can also read TC Moore’s review here--as Moore notes, “perhaps most delightfully surprising is how directly he challenges the nationalistic idolatry and violent misinterpretations of those in his own Neo-Reformed camp like Mark Driscoll and Wayne Grudem. Before reading Fight, I don't recall ever reading another Neo-Calvinist author break ranks and so clearly call out their fellow Calvinists on any subject whatsoever.”).

Here is an excerpt from his manuscript:
I also find non-Christocentric versions of pacifism, or nonviolence, to be ethically and theologically anemic. If Jesus does not walk out of a grave and sit at the right hand of the Father, then we have no business loving our enemies. Unless Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale, I will most certainly destroy my enemy before he destroys me. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, all forms of nonviolence, I believe, are uncompelling. 
To be clear, I believe in Christian—or more explicitly, Christocentric—nonviolence. Christocentric nonviolence says that we should fight against evil, we should wage war against injustice, and we should defend the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, and oppressed. And we should do so aggressively. But we should do so nonviolently. 
In other words, Christocentric nonviolence does not dispute whether Christians should fight against evil. It only disputes the means by which we do fight. 
Now, rather than asking the questions: Are some wars just or should a nation wage war as a last resort, I want to ask and answer the question: should Christ-followers use violence as a means of confronting evil or defending the innocent.
The full manuscript is available here.

Further reading:


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Comments on the Refugee Crisis

Here are some of the better comments I have come across regarding how Christians should respond to the refugee crisis:

  • Chuck Gutenson (who has an excellent video series on "The Order of Salvation" at Seedbed) writes (bold mine):
    I can understand folks who are not followers of Jesus saying, "I'm all about protecting me and mine, and I do not want any Syrian refugees allowed into the US no matter how small the risk." I can understand a new follower of Jesus saying they had not yet studied Scripture enough to have an informed position. What I cannot understand are longtime followers of Jesus who are opposed to receiving these refugees. Not after Scripture tells us to welcome the stranger, love our enemies, be prepared to lose everything for the sake of the Gospel (Those who save their lives will lose it, and....), and Jesus himself models the ultimate love "while we were still hostile to God." No, I cannot understand that...it seems as if our sense of entitlement to safety has overtaken our sense of obedience to the Gospel.

  • Scott Fritzsche, one of the contributors at Unsettled Christianity, shares the UNHCR dialogue, "Christian Perspectives on Caring For Regugees and the Displaced" (bold mine):
    1. For Christians, the call to respond to the needs of migrants, refugees, and those fleeing persecution and seeking asylum is not ideologically based - it is biblically mandated.  
    2. The Exodus from slavery to freedom became the linchpin of Hebrew identity. From generation to generation, and in the present day, the memory of the Exodus is kept alive in both the Jewish and Christian traditions, not as ancient history but as our history, our story (Cf. Exodus 3:7-8, Deuteronomy 6:20-21, 23-25). The laws of Israel’s God show a “preferential option” for the stranger, the alien, the poor and defenseless. “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19). Since the plight of the dispossessed matters to God, it must matter to God’s people.  
    3. The foundational event in the history of Christians is the Christ event: the incarnation, life, teaching, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Through the Christ event, we see God and know who we are and what we are called to do. Jesus was a Jew; he shared the passion for justice and concern for the stranger found in the Hebrew Bible. Jesus’ story is the story of welcome, of inclusion, of service both to citizens and to the strangers in their midst, particularly those who were considered outsiders. Jesus told his followers that when they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, and visited the sick and those in prison, they were doing it to him. When they failed to do those things, they failed to serve him (Matthew 25:31-45).

  • Christianity Today posts “Love the Refugee With the Compassion Christ Has Shown You”, from World Vision's Richard Sterns:
    In the U.S. a number of leaders have suggested that we should only accept Syrian Christians as refugees and keep Muslim Syrian refugees out of the country. This is the opposite of how Jesus called his followers to act. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” Jesus said. (Luke 6:27, 32) Syrian refugees, of course, are not our enemies. They do not hate us. But even if we thought they were, Jesus tells us to love them. 
    Jesus’ command goes against our instincts. We want to protect ourselves from those who might hurt us. In order to do so we may be willing to withhold our compassion from those who need it most. Yet Jesus calls us to a very different way. He asks us to love our neighbors—regardless if there may be enemies among them. 
    The four million refugees who have fled Syria are among the most love-starved people in the world. They have been forced to flee their homes. They have left family members behind, often in graves. They have left their communities. They have nothing, and where ever they go no one wants them. In Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, and most places in the West, many Syrian refugees are mostly unwanted. What a testimony it would be if the church embraced them with open arms.

And here are a few older articles:

  • In Canada, part of the exodus of Christians away from the Conservative Party during October’s national election was the result of their refugee policy.  I hope Christians in the USA will follow our lead:
The Conservative party’s about-face on the Syrian refugee crisis may not be enough to ease the minds of Christian voters disenchanted with the government’s erstwhile reluctance to make Canada more welcoming to people in need.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s oft-repeated pledge to allow 10,000 refugees into the country over four years did not always sit right with voters stereotypically believed to be at the core of his support base.
Saturday’s announcement that regulations would be relaxed in a bid to allow thousands of refugees into Canada by the end of the year appeared to do little to ease their concerns.
Ryan Dueck, pastor of a Mennonite church in Lethbridge, Alta., believes many will feel the gesture offers too little too late. He noted that Immigration Minister Chris Alexander continued to place security concerns ahead of humanitarian ones, prompting him to view the mid-campaign pledge with a degree of skepticism.

If it is true, if Muslim refugees are feeling compelled to convert just to survive, it breaks my heart.
Not least of all because convert or die is the same situation countless Christians face in ISIS-controlled areas of Syria and Iraq.
And not because I don’t want to see people “come to Jesus.”
It breaks my heart because if that indeed is the situation, then we as the Church – whether in word or deed, intentionally or not – have presented to the world the message that we’re more likely and more willing to help other Christians than anyone else, particularly Muslims.
And that is not the way of Jesus.
There should never ever ever be any prerequisite for Christians helping others and there should never ever ever be anything we ever say or do that would make non-Christians ever think we’re less likely to help them in their time of need if they’re not one of us.
If we’re not willing to help our neighbors in need regardless of who they are and without precondition, then we’ve completely abandoned the way of Jesus.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that – Luke 6:32
To be clear, I don’t think churches in Germany have put up signs on their front doors saying “Only Christian Refugees Allowed,” but it seems we’ve obviously done something as a Church – collectively and universally, not just in Germany, but also and especially in America – to present the message to non-Christians that we’re more likely to help those in need if they’re already one of us – or if they’ll let us make them one of us.
Whether intentionally or not, if that is the message the Church has sent to the rest of the world – that we’re more willing to love and serve ourselves than we are to love and serve others, especially if those “others” are Muslim – then God forgive us.
I hope this isn’t the case.

For years our politicians have piggy-backed upon Christian morality for electoral advantage. We should “feel proud that this is a Christian country”, said Cameron earlier this year (pre-election, of course), in what some might uncharitably see as a call to maintain a Muslim-free view from his Cotswold village. But there is no respectable Christian argument for fortress Europe, surrounded by a new iron curtain of razor wire to keep poor, dark-skinned people out. Indeed, the moral framework that our prime minister so frequently references – and to which he claims some sort of vague allegiance – is crystal clear about the absolute priority of our obligation to refugees. For the moral imagination of the Hebrew scriptures was determined by a battered refugee people, fleeing political oppression in north Africa, and seeking a new life for themselves safe from violence and poverty. Time and again, the books of the Hebrew scriptures remind its readers not to forget that they too were once in this situation and their ethics must be structured around practical help driven by fellow-feeling.

The Passover, first celebrated as a last-minute preparation before leaving Egypt (unleavened bread as there wasn’t time for it to rise) – and the Christian Eucharist that was built on top of it – is nothing less than a call to re-live this basic human solidarity in the face of existential fear and uncertainty. And when the author of Matthew’s gospel describes Jesus as a child refugee, fleeing his country from a despotic ruler intent on taking his life – Herod not Assad – he is deliberately sampling that basic foundational [...] Exodus.

How you can Help

If you are interested in helping refugees, here are four organizations I encourage you to check out:

Imagine what a powerful witness it would be to the Muslim world if every western church obeyed the Lord Jesus' command to “welcome the stranger” by sponsoring a refugee family!

I'll finish with two tweets from Brian Zahnd:
"To have a heart that breaks for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger, is part of Christ-likeness."    
"Jesus was crucified by foreign invaders using terror tactics. His response? 'Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.'"

Friday, November 6, 2015

Questions to ask as you approach Romans 9 (with a little help from recording artist Flame) - Answering Calvinist Proof-texts, Part 3

*All scripture quotations are from NASB, unless otherwise noted.

In his song “Context”, Calvinist recording artist Flame says:

“exegesis is the careful systematic
study of scripture for the Christian this should be a habit
but to discover the original intended meaning
of the author to his audience is exegeting”
“a text can never mean what it never meant before
to its original reader or author
so if you run into a difficult passage
and you know the Bible never contradicts itself
then turn the pages to a parallel passage
and just let the scriptures interpret itself”

I’ve used these quotes a number of times in Bible studies I’ve led, both as a Calvinist and later, to help new Christians understand what our first objective is as we come to a text.

As I've said before, Romans 9 was the passage that really led me into Calvinism, and later, the passage that held me there.

In this post I want to look at the two questions which challenged that understanding, and then at a third question which confirmed my new view:

(1) What was Paul's point?

(2) What did Paul’s 1st century audience think he meant?

(3) Are there parallel passages which could bolster our conclusion?

(1) What was Paul's point?

“but to discover the original intended meaning
of the author to his audience is exegeting”

The key which allowed me begin considering other interpretations was when I finally "arced" Romans 9 from beginning to end, rather than stopping around verse 23.

I wasn't alone in skipping over the last few verses of this chapter; in fact it seems to be a common problem among Calvinists. After considering verse 23 in his commentary on Romans, FF Bruce (who considered himself “an impenitent Augustinian and Calvinist” [1]) wrote:
It is a pity that in some schools of theological thought the doctrine of election has been formulated to an excessive degree on the basis of this preliminary state in Paul's present argument, without adequate account being taken of his further exposition of God's purpose in election at the conclusion of the argument (xi. 25-32). [2]

What immediately became clear to me as I arced was the relation of verses 30-33 to the preceding context. Verse 30 began as an inference (“what shall we say, then”) from Paul's thought throughout the rest of the chapter. 

Imagine you are reading an academic article, and you're really having trouble following the author.  You find yourself thinking, "What's your point?"  In this situation, you might well turn to the author's conclusion and find, "Ah ha, so that's what he's been getting at! That's what his argument has been moving towards".

If the author's conclusion contradicted what you had read in his preceding argument, you may rightly conclude that you had misunderstood what he had been saying, and you would re-read the preceding arguments to find out how they fit and build towards that conclusion. [3]

In Romans 9, Paul's conclusion is clear:

What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, attained righteousness, even the righteousness which is by faith; but Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written,

Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense,
And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.” (30-33)
Paul is very clear regarding why some are saved while others are “separated from Christ” (v 3).  Those who are saved, “attained righteousness […] by faith” (v 31); those who are separated from Christ are separated because they pursued righteousness (or we might say, “pursued a right standing with God”) “as though it were by works” (v 32).

If instead Paul's argument had been, as the Calvinists claim, that "His promise gave expression to an 'electing purpose' (9:11) by which God aims to preserve his complete freedom in determining who will be the beneficiaries of his saving promises, who will be the 'Israel' within Israel (9:6b). His purpose is thus maintained by means of the predestination of individuals to their respective eternal destinies. [...] Within the context of Romans 9, this means that God maintains his sovereign 'purpose of election' by determining, before they are born, who will belong to the 'saved' among Israel",[4] Paul would have concluded and summarized his argument very differently. As another blogger noted, a Calvinist conclusion should read something like:

What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith unconditional election of individuals (with faith merely being evidence of an individual’s prior election); but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works had not been unconditionally and individually elected for salvation. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever is irresistibly caused to believes in him will not be put to shame.” Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved have always been vessels of mercy, otherwise there is no hope for them. [5]

In particular, we would be left wondering why Paul brought up faith at all, if, as John Piper suggests, “Neither the bad willing/running of ‘works’ nor the good willing/running of faith had any influence at all on God’s decision to show mercy”[6] and “‘willing and running’ cannot legitimately be limited in such a way that some willing, like that act of trusting Christ, does ultimately determine God’s bestowal of mercy, namely, the mercy of salvation”[7] (I would point out however, that to trust/have faith in/rely on/believe is not always a type or subset of “willing”; compare, for example, John 1 where “believe” (v12) can be contrasted with both “the will of flesh” and “the will of man” (v 13).  Likewise, on the broader phrase "willing and running", we know from the testimony of the Lord Jesus himself that "to believe in Him whom [God] has sent" is the one "work" that God does require (John 6:28-29).)

The burden of proof, then, is on the Calvinist to explain how Paul's argument fits with his conclusion (and not to stop the exegesis at verse 23, mid-sentence!).

(2) What did Paul’s 1st century audience think he meant?

“a text can never mean what it never meant before
to its original reader or author”

After I saw the conclusion in verses 30-33, I knew I had to re-examine the argument that had led Paul there.  As I considered, it struck me to wonder, “How would the Roman Christians have understood the phrase in verse 11, 'God’s purpose according to His choice' (or “God's purpose of election” ESVUK)?” Would they have understood Paul to mean some pre-temporal decree of certain individuals to salvation?

In the context, Paul seems to be talking about God's purpose in choosing Isaac and Abraham, and choosing Jacob to continue that purpose. So what was his purpose in choosing Abraham?

We find a hint back in chapter 4, where Paul also talks about Abraham and God's purpose; there with regard to circumcision.  He says:

The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised." (v 11-12)

This led me to look into the Old Testament, to find out if there are any explicit statements there about God's purpose in choosing Abraham.  In fact, we have a very clear statement, and one which fits very nicely with both Romans 4 and Romans 9, in Genesis 18:17-19 (note also, that Paul actually quotes from this very same chapter in Romans 9:9!) bold mine:

The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do,  since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice, so that the Lord may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.

And in fact, we can see the fulfilment of this–that through Jesus all nations are blessed–stated in Romans 9:4, “and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever.” And in verses 24-26:

even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ And her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’”

And it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ There they shall be called sons of the living God.”

I had to conclude, then, that the Roman Christians, fluent in the Old Testament, would have understood the choice/election of Abraham in verse 11 to be a reference to God continuing through Jacob and not Esau, his purpose to bless all nations through the Messiah.  This choice of Jacob was not based on anything Jacob had done, but was purely of God’s sovereign choice.  It had nothing to do with Jacob’s own eternal state, which would still be determined by his faith in God to bring about what He had promised, just as it was for Abraham (Rom 4:21).
As NT Wright put it:

This was never an abstract ‘doctrine of predestination’, attempting to plumb the mysteries of why some people (in general, without reference to Israel) hear and believe the gospel and others do not. Paul never encourages speculation of that sort. Rather, it was a way of saying, very specifically, that the fact of Israel’s election (starting with the choice and call of Abraham) had always been there to deal with the sin of the world; that Israel’s election had always involved Israel being narrowed down, not just to Isaac and then to Jacob, but to a hypoleimma, a ‘remnant’, a ‘seed’; and that this ‘remnant’ itself would be narrowed down to a single point, to the Messiah himself, who would himself be ‘cast away’ so that the world might be redeemed. [8]

(3) Are there parallel passages which could bolster these conclusions?

“so if you run into a difficult passage
and you know the Bible never contradicts itself
then turn the pages to a parallel passage
and just let the scriptures interpret itself”

I’ve mentioned a few parallels already, so here I will dig into verses 19-23:

You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory

When I first turned from Calvinism and began to email back and forth with one of my more studied Calvinist friends, I offered my alternative interpretation of these verses, to which he responded, “we need to walk through this. I cannot understand this text in any other way than to understand that God has indeed predestined before the foundations of the world that there would be vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, for His own glory.

First, I had to point out to him the leaps my friend had made:
(1) There is no mention of "before the foundations of the world" anywhere in the passage; and
(2) He had moved from “God… endured with much patience” to “God … predestined … vessels of wrath … for destruction, for His own glory.

Next, I questioned how he understood a few other New Testament texts which seemed to me to carry the same idea: Ephesians 2, Romans 2:4-5, 2 Peter 3:9 and 2 Tim 2:20-21.

In Ephesians 2:3-5 we see that we “were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy […] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” – in other words, we were vessels of wrath but became vessels of mercy.

In Romans 2:4-5, we see that God’s patience is meant to turn vessels of wrath into vessels of mercy; those who refuse to repent are preparing themselves for destruction:

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God

Likewise in 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”

And 2 Tim 2:20-21, perhaps the clearest of all, says:

Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

As Calvinist Bill MacDonald wrote, against the common Calvinist view, "God does not prepare vessels of wrath for destruction, but he does prepare vessels of mercy for glory".[9]

FF Bruce takes much the same approach:

While Paul will allow no questioning of God's right to do what He will with His own, he lets his emphasis fall, not on God's wrath towards the reprobate, but rather the postponement of His wrath against men who have long since become ripe for destruction.  As has been pointed out earlier (2:4), the mercy and forbearance of God are intended  to afford men time for repentance; if, instead, they harden their hearts yet more, as Pharaoh did after repeated respites, they are simply storing up an increasing weight of retribution for themselves against the day of requital. [10]

Jeremiah 18, where Paul's illustration seems to have originated, also confirms this.  There, the Prophet Jeremiah watches a potter as "the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make" (v 4).  The Lord tells the Prophet:
“Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.”’ But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ (v 6-12)
If a vessel of wrath, prepared for destruction, "turns from its evil" it becomes a vessel of mercy.  And like in 2 Peter 3, God longs for it to be so: “Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.” (v 11, and cf Romans 11:20 & 23)
[1] FF Bruce, "Original Forward and Comments", in Paul Marston & Roger Forster, God's Strategy in Human History. (you can see his comments Google Preview here).
[2] FF Bruce, The Epistle of Paul to the Romans, p 190 [Bruce].  In John Piper's book, The Justification of God, which is generally considered the leading Calvinist exposition of Romans 9, he too stops his examination at verse 23.
[3] Dr Greg Boyd, in his excellent sermon on Romans 9, similarly argues that Paul's conclusion does not fit the Calvinist interpretation.
[4] John Piper, The Justification of God at 218 [Piper].
[5] Kingswood Hart, “New Calvinist Bible – Romans 8-11” (March 27, 2014), link.
[6] Piper supra note 3 at 153.  
[7] Ibid at 157.  However, in the next sentence, Piper correctly points out, “Faith is indeed a sine qua non of Salvation; Rom 9:16, therefore, necessarily implies that the act of faith is ultimately owing to the prevenient grace of God.” But then gets around this by stating, “But this is a theological inference, however true, beyond Paul’s explicit concern here. There is no reference at all to faith in Rom 9 until verse 30.”
[8] NT Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. As quoted by Michael F Bird, “N.T. Wright on Election in PFG” (October 18, 2013), link.
[9] William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary, p 1719.
[10] Bruce supra note 2.

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