Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Reformed Theologian Emil Brunner on Romans 9 and the Double Decree

“How did our Fathers in the Reformed Churches
manage to teach this terrible theological theory
in the name of the Biblical Gospel?”
                                        -Reformed Theologian Emil Brunner,
Dogmatics, Vol 1, page 321

Here is an excerpt from Reformed Theologian Emil Brunner, Dogmatics, Volume 1, from chapter 23 entitled “Double Predestination”, where Dr Brunner confronts the typical Reformed--his own camp’s--understanding of divine reprobation in Romans 9. The whole book (along with the other volumes) is available online from Archives.org here. This excerpt comes from pages 328-334 (bold mine):

The Ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is usually regarded as the "locus classicus" of the doctrine of a double predestination, and for this reason it requires very careful consideration. Hence it is extremely important to show very clearly the connexion of this chapter with the two which follow. They do not deal with the salvation and damnation of the individual, but with the destiny of Israel. Thus the point of view itself is entirely different from that of the doctrine of predestination. The "probandum" is not a "double decree", but, on the one hand, the validity of the divine promises to Israel, in spite of the hardening of heart of the empirical contemporary Jewish people; and, on the other hand, the reason for the defective development in Israel, namely, from the human point of view the self -righteousness of Israel, instead of the recognition of the Grace of Christ ; and, from the point of view of God, God's all-inclusive plan of redemption, which even the temporary rejection of Israel must serve.  
All this looks very different from the doctrine of a "double decree" by means of which a "numerus electorum" from all eternity is confronted by a "numerus reprobatorum" . The "nervus probandi", the main argument, is not the parable of the potter and the clay, but primarily the freedom of God in his Election and "hardening", and, secondly, the impossibility of making any claim on God. This freedom of God is balanced by the doctrine of righteousness through faith alone. Because Israel is self-righteous, it loses salvation; but if Israel abandons its self-righteousness and becomes converted, then it will receive salvation. When it seems, in the middle of the chapter, as though Paul will finally argue for a decree of rejection, then — quite apart from the detailed exegesis which we shall carry out in a moment — we should reflect that those who are here called "vessels of wrath", are the same as those who, in Chapter 11, will be represented as having finally been saved. Thus the fact that they are now "vessels of wrath" does not prevent them from being the "saved" at the end of the ages. So far as the details of this chapter are concerned, which has so often been used in support of the doctrine of predestination, the following needs to be said :  
(a) As in the whole context, so also in the example of Jacob and Esau, in the movement of thought of the Apostle Paul, this is not an argument in support of a "double decree", but it is an illustration of the freedom of God in His action in the history of salvation. When we read: "For the children being not yet born, neither, having done anything good or bad, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him that calleth ..." this does not refer to a double "decretum" , but to the freedom of the divine election. Here there is no question of the eternal salvation of Jacob and the eternal doom of Esau; the point is simply the part which each plays in the history of redemption. Paul wishes to show that God chooses the instruments of His redemptive action, the bearers of the history of the Covenant, as He wills. The theme of this passage is not the doctrine of predestination, but the sovereign operation of God in History, who has been pleased to reveal Himself at one particular point in History, in Israel.  
(b) Likewise in the following verses Pharaoh is simply an historic redemptive instrument in the hand of God, that instrument which, through its "hardening", must serve God's purpose. There is no question here of his salvation or condemnation. All the argument is concentrated on one point : God has mercy on whom He will, and hardens whom He will. The point of the whole is the freedom of grace.  
(c) Finally, we come to the critical main passage, verses 19-22, the point in the whole Bible which comes closest to a doctrine of a double decree — and yet is separated from it by a great gulf. The parable of the potter and the clay, taken from Isaiah 28:16 and Jeremiah 18:6, expresses the absolute right of God to dispose of His creature as He chooses. The creature has no right to claim anything over against God; He may do with it what He wills. He does not have to account for His actions to anyone. God is the Lord, and His authority knows no limits.  
The difficult verse is 22: "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction : and that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He afore prepared unto glory ..." The sentence breaks off here. The whole phrase is a conditional question: If God does this, what will you say? The "vessels of wrath" which are here mentioned as the means of the divine plan of salvation, are the Jews. The passage does not say that they have been created as vessels of wrath, still less that from all eternity they have been destined for this, but that, on account of their unbelief, they are "fitted unto destruction" ["Ripe and ready to be destroyed." Moffat's Trans. (Tr.)].  Paul never uses the idea of the "wrath of God" save in the sense of the divine reaction to human sin and man's refusal to obey. There is no more reference here to a negative decree, or to a negative purpose in creation, than there is to a negative ultimate end; for in Chapter 11 it is said of the same Jews that after their temporary rejection has served the purpose of God, they will be restored to the Divine favour, as soon as they repent, and are converted. Paul never forgets for a moment the personal relation and that conditionalis divinus, that is, the Living God.  
In any case, the "vessels of wrath" mentioned in this passage are not the "reprobi" of the doctrine of Predestination. Here, indeed, there is no mention of individuals as individuals at all, but the whole People of Israel is being discussed, and the point is not that the "People" as a whole will be lost eternally, but that now, for the moment, they play a negative part in the history of salvation, which, in the future, after they have been converted, will become a positive one. The final issue of the judgment of wrath will be their salvation. Here, again, we notice that there is a remarkable "incongruity" between those "on the left hand" and those "on the right", as in Matthew 25. The "vessels of wrath" are designated by an impersonal passive, κατηρτισμένα εἰς ἀπώλειαν, they are "ripe for destruction". Thus it is explicitly stated that it is not God who has made them what they are. The linguistic phrase is deliberately in the passive, denoting a present condition, and can equally well be translated "ripe for condemnation". Over against them stand the "vessels of mercy" whom God "hath afore prepared unto glory". In the first case no active subject, and no indication of an act of predetermination; in the second instance, an active Subject, God, and a clear indication of eternal election. Thus even in this apparently clearly "predestinarian" passage there is no suggestion of a double decree! The examination of the statements of Scripture regarding this doctrine leads, therefore, to a completely negative result. There is no doctrine of a double decree in the New Testament, and still less in the Old Testament.

The doctrine of the double decree is, however, not only not supported by the evidence of Scripture, it is also impossible to equate it with the message of the Bible. It leads to an understanding of God and of man which is contrary to the idea of God and of man as given in revelation. It leads to consequences which are in absolute and direct opposition to the central statements of the Bible. Of course, the champions of the doctrine of Predestination have never admitted this, but, on the contrary, they have taken great pains to evade these conclusions, and to smooth out the contradiction; but in this speculative effort which, from their own standpoint, was inevitable, their process of argument becomes sophistical and contradictory. If God is the One who, before He created the world, conceived the plan of creating two kinds of human beings — non pari conditione creantur omnes, Calvin says explicitly — namely, those who are destined for eternal life — the minority — and the rest — the majority — for everlasting destruction, then it is impossible truly to worship this God as the God of love, even if this be commanded us a thousand times, and indeed at the cost of the loss of eternal salvation. Essentially, it is impossible to regard the will which conceives this double decree as the same will which is represented as Agape in the New Testament. All Calvin's arguments against these objections come to the same point in the end : these two conceptions must be kept together in thought, because both are stated in the Word of God. God is Love, that is the clear Biblical message; God has conceived the double decree, that is — according to Calvin's erroneous opinion — equally clearly, the Biblical message ; thus one must identify the God of the double decree with the God who is Love. But when we reveal the error in the second statement, the whole argument, which demands the impossible, falls to the ground. The Bible does not urge us to believe that the God whom it reveals to us as the God of love has created some human beings for eternal life and the rest for eternal doom. Equally inevitably the double decree contains a second consequence for the Idea of God which is in opposition to the Biblical message: God is then unmistakably "auctor peccati" . Zwingli drew this conclusion courageously, without "turning a hair", only making the excuse that the moral standard which is valid for us cannot be applied to God. This at least can be said, and in itself the idea is not contradictory. Calvin, on the contrary, is terrified of this conclusion, and calls it blasphemous. In point of fact, it is impossible to say of the God whom the Biblical revelation shows us, that He is the Author of Evil. But Calvin tries in vain to eliminate this conclusion from his doctrine of predestination. Here, too, his argument simply ends in saying: "You must not draw this conclusion!" — an exhortation which cannot be obeyed by anyone who thinks.

The consequences of the doctrine of predestination are just as disastrous for the understanding of Man as they are for the Idea of God. Predestination in the sense of the "double decree" means unmistakably: All has been fixed from eternity. From all eternity, before he was created, each individual has been written down in the one Book or the other. Predestination in the sense of the double decree is the most ruthless determinism that can be imagined. Before there was any world at all, before there was anything like time, causes, things, and creatures, it was already fixed — not only that there will be these two kinds of human beings, sinners who will be lost and sinners who will be saved, but also to which of both groups each human being, whom God will create, belongs. And here, indeed, we are not concerned with the milder exposition of the Infralapsarian theory — lapsus est primus homo quia Dominus ita expedire censuerat — that God does indeed (it is true) see all beforehand, but that He only wills one thing beforehand, the positive — no, eternal destruction is willed by God in exactly the same way as eternal salvation, and those human beings who are doomed to destruction have been created by God for this end in exactly the same way as the others have been destined for salvation. For every human being who thinks, and does not force his mind to accept sophistries, it is clear that the net result is that there can be neither freedom nor responsibility, that decision in the historical sense is only an illusion, since everything has already been decided in eternity. Calvin — and Calvin in particular, who cares so much about moral responsibility — tries to avoid this conclusion, but all his arguments are logically untenable, and all end in the postulate : we must hold both ideas together in our minds, since the Bible teaches both.  
Finally, the consequences for soteriology are no less sinister. If this doctrine be true, what use is it to preach the Gospel and to call men to repentance? He who is going to be saved will be saved in any case, and he who is doomed to destruction will in any case be lost. The summons to decision which all preaching contains is merely a trick, because decision is an illusion. All these absolutely devastating consequences of the doctrine of predestination for the Christian Faith and for the activity of the Church must, we feel, have been dimly felt by Calvin and the other theologians who held these views, but they did not allow them to obtrude. The fact that they must have been aware of them seems evident when we reflect that — with a few exceptions — they did not dare to preach this doctrine, nor to include it in the Catechism. It was "de facto" an artificial theological theory, an esoteric doctrine for theologians, which they did not dare to preach to the people as a whole. We can, however, only explain the fact that these theologians themselves believed that they were able to evade these conclusions, and that they did eyade them to the extent that they did not let them rob them of either their faith in the God of love or of their belief in human freedom and responsibility, by suggesting that in their own thought the true Biblical doctrine of Election and this false and unscriptural doctrine of predestination were continually being confused with one another. Because, in the genuine understanding of faith, they knew that Election and responsibility. Election and the Love of God, not only do not contradict one another, but that they are one, they were able to hold firmly to the doctrine of the double decree without drawing these conclusions from it. The harm caused by this doctrine was felt less in the sphere of Christian faith and life than in that of theological reflection, and indeed only in the comparatively tolerable form of the impossible sophistical argument. This had to be included out of — so-called — "loyalty" to the Bible. The fact that men were able to hold the doctrine of predestination with a good conscience was due to the unconscious confusion of Election and Predestination. Because they were aware that the doctrine of Election is the heart of the Bible, but did not perceive that this is very different from the doctrine of Predestination, the genuine sentiment regarding the doctrine of Election was transferred to that of Predestination. But the conflicts which this caused were made to some extent innocuous by the fact that the clear Biblical teaching prevented them from drawing the logical conclusions of the doctrine of Predestination. The logical impossibility of this situation was supported by the conviction that in so doing they were standing on the bedrock of Holy Scripture.

The whole book is available online from Archives.org here.

Also see:

Friday, September 23, 2016

Lesslie Newbigin, "the gospel...calls for a change of mind"

Here is an excerpt from the Introduction to Lesslie Newbigin’s book, To Tell the Truth: The Gospel as Public Truth (the whole book is available at an external site online in PDF here), from pages 5-6; 9; 10-13 (emphasis added):

In the prevailing climate of subjectivism the affirmation of the gospel as public truth is greeted with skepticism. “What do you mean by ‘gospel’? A great variety of religious ideas have beenat sundry times and placesoffered under this title. Has not this been so from the beginning? [...] All religion, including the Christian religion, is an ever changing affair, and it is futile to appeal to something which lies behind the Christian religion as we now have it’the gospel.’” What is to be said in response to this often repeated criticism? 
Plainly, Christianity is a constantly changing phenomenon. The gospel, on the other hand, is news about things which have happened. What has happened has happened, and nothing can change it.
the opening words of the ministry of Jesus include the word metanoia [“repent”/“change your mind”]. At the very beginning we are warned that to understand what follows will require nothing less than a radical conversion of the mind.
The problem of making sense of the gospel is that it calls for a change of mind which is as radical as is the action of God in becoming man and dying on a cross. With every new fact, or alleged fact, it is always possibleindeed, it is naturalto take note of it without allowing it to change our mind in any radical way. [The Roman historian] Tacitus could record the fact that someone called “Christus” had been crucified but had given rise to a pestilential sect without this information changing his mind. The two disciples on the way to Emmaus knew that Jesus had been crucified but that had not changed their belief that the Messiah, when he came, would be a successful practitioner of liberation theology. The crucifixion of Jesus was just a ghastly disappointment. What changed their minds, what brought metanoete, was the fact that Jesus was alive. And that meant that the crucifixion was a fact of a different kind. As Einstein used to say, what you call a fact depends on the theory you bring to it. 
The resurrection is, of course, the point at which the question “What really happened?” becomes most pressing. To believe that the crucified Jesus rose from the dead, left an empty tomb, and regrouped his scattered disciples for their world mission can only be the result of a very radical change of mind indeed. Without that change of mind, the story is too implausible to be regarded as part of real history. Indeed, the simple truth is that the resurrection cannot be accommodated in any way of understanding the world except one of which it is the starting point. Some happenings which come to our notice may be simply noted without requiring us to undertake any radical revision of our ideas. The story of the resurrection of the crucified is obviously not of this kind. It may of course, be dismissed as a fable, as the vast majority of people in our society do. This has nothing to do with the rise of the modern scientific world-view. The fact that a man who has been dead and buried for three days does not rise from the tomb was well known even before the invention of electric lights. If it is true, it has to be the starting point of a wholly new way of understanding the cosmos and the human situation in the cosmos. In the tradition of the Church the only real analogue for the resurrection of Jesus has been the creation itself. We cannot use any of the tools of science to go behind the creation and ask: “What was there before there was anything?” We can only take the existing world as our starting point. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the beginning of a new creation, the work of that same power which creation itself exists. We can decline to believe it and take it for granted that we have only the old creation to deal with. Or we can believe it and take it as the starting point for a new way of understanding and dealing with the world. Here two mutually incompatible ways of understanding history meet each other. The “continuing conversation between the present and past” which is the Christian reality in the world is both an ever continuing exegesis of the story which is the gospel and simultaneously a continuing insertion of new creation in the midst of the old. 
I am trying to talk about the gospelgood news about something which happened and which, in that case, does not change. The way of telling it, of understanding it, however, does change. It changes within the time span of the New Testament. But we take leave of serious historical integrity if we replace the record of the first witnesses with myths about various psychological experiences as the origin of the story. There is a gospel to announce today because in the light of the resurrection the whole story of Jesus can be seen not as a series of ghastly misunderstandings and disappointments but as the supreme action of God’s holy love, and the whole story of Israel can be seenas the two disciples on the Emmaus Road began to see itas having its fulfillment in this action. 
And when the Christian Church affirms the gospel as public truth it is not engaged in a self-serving exercise. It is not simply promoting its own growth, though surely the Church rejoices when there are more people who are grasped by the truth as it is in Jesus and are committed to following the true and living way that Jesus is. But when the Church affirms the gospel as public truth it is challenging the whole of society to wake out of the nightmare of subjectivism and relativism, to escape from the captivity of self turned in upon itself, and to accept the calling which is addressed to every human being to seek, acknowledge, and proclaim the truth. For we are that part of God’s creation which he has equipped with the power to know the truth and to speak the praise of the whole creation in response to the truthfulness of the Creator.

Lesslie Newbigin
March 1991

You can read the whole book, To Tell the Truth: The Gospel as Public Truth, at an external site online in PDF here.

If you're asking yourself, "Even if this is true, what does this fact from 2000 years ago have to do with me today?" to find Newbigin's answer, I also recommend his book, Sin and Salvation (1956), which is available in PDF online here.  

More from Lesslie Newbigin:

Friday, September 16, 2016

Does a Corporate View of the Doctrine of Election lead to a more missional worldview?

*For Part 1, "Does a Wesleyan view of grace lead to a more missional worldview?" click here.

Divine election has mission in view.
                              -Dr Clark H Pinnock

I recently re-read Dr Pinnock’s contribution to the book Perspectives on Election (Find in a Library) and I found myself highlighting completely different areas from the first time I read it. His chapter is titled “Divine Election as Corporate, Open and Vocational”.[1

I wonder how anyone could read this chapter and afterwards not be convinced that the corporate view is a more missional; more Jesus-centred; more gospel-saturateda more Biblicalunderstanding of election. 

As Dr Pinnock points out regarding the traditional view, “Everyone (I think) knows that election is not much preached about these days, and understandably so, because the traditional version contains little gospel.” (p 277)

But when we examine the Biblical idea of “election” we find just the opposite: “There is no hidden decree here but only good news through and through” (302). Dr Pinnock explains, "Election in the Bible has to do with God’s strategy for the salvation of the nations. The calling of a new people with its new way of being together in the world, this is God’s plan to turn the world right-side up.” (p 283) And: 

Election is not about the destiny of individual persons for salvation or damnation but about God’s calling a people who in the New Testament setting live according to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ and proclaim good news to the world. [...] The focus is not on the salvation of the elect body itself (though this is assumed) but on the hoped-for consummated new humanity. (276-277)

How is the idea of “election” used in the Bible?

First, we see it used throughout the Old Testament, where election was corporate and included all those connected to the covenant head (Abraham, then Jacob/Israel). Dr Pinnock writes:

God established a special relationship with Abram with world transforming potential. ... God committed himself to this covenant with Israel, a lowly tribe, and established a relationship which will eventually include all peoples.
God declares: “You shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5). The election is of a people (it is corporate); Israel is God’s holy people and treasured possession. ... God gave Israel a most-favored-nations status and for a reason. ... Israel was not called to an exclusive salvation but to a priestly vocation intended to bring the whole world to God.
They have been blessed, but with favor come expectations. God loves the people in Israel but has a ministry in mind for her, namely, a mediating role in the salvation of the world. Isaiah expresses the heart of it. Most succinctly God says, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth” (Isa 49:6). The idea of a priestly kingdom is that Israel is going to serve as a representative people and will have a mediating role within the wider world. (p 284-285)

Does this same understanding of “election” follow into the New Testament?

Dr Pinnock continues, “The point and meaning of the election of Israel is now to be found in Jesus of Nazareth. ... In the New Testament the election is narrowed down to Jesus Christ himself.” (293)

We hear God’s voice at the baptism of Jesus: “You are my Son, the beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). God says at the transfiguration: “This is my Son, My Chosen; listen to him” (Luke 9:35). This was no election to salvation (Jesus did not need be saved) but to service. In particular, he is the one through whom God brings salvation. Dying on the cross, he was taunted in these terms: “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!” (Luke 23:35). (292)
Election is now seen as relative to the Son, to his mission, death, and resurrection. Jesus is “the elect” par excellence and God has chosen to elect us “in him.” We become part of the corporate “us” in the body of Christ. (294)
[I]t needs also to be understood as participation in Jesus Christ. By faith we share in his death and resurrection. ... In Christ, with Christ, into Christ, and through Christ--all such expressions speak of a new corporate reality. It is the presence of the risen Lord with us in the community which is his body and the realm of the Holy Spirit. ... It makes us all part of the process of world transformation. (294)

Notice how Gospel-centred this is! Further connecting the goal of election to the mission of God, Dr Pinnock writes:

This is how I see it: God's mercy is freely available and the elect body open to any and all who hear God's call. .... When a person believes in Jesus, he or she is incorporated in the body of Christ, and all that had been predestined for the group now applies to that person as well. God is sharing his life with the world and does so through the instrumentality of Jesus Christ and his church. (287- 288)
He has predestined the church to be conformed to the image of his Son and uses it to bear witness to the rest of humankind. The election of Israel, too, did not have in view only salvation; it also had in mind a priestly vocation, intended to bring the whole world to God. The love by which God loves the church is meant to spread into the whole world. The church is not a community intended for a salvation exclusively its own. It comes with a calling to reconcile the world to God through its praise and ministry.(288)
Those who know God are meant to make him known. Divine election is a wonderful gospel doctrine. God has unconditionally elected a people to serve as the vehicle of salvation for the whole of humanity.
God has chosen a people for the sake of all the nations. This interpretation of it upholds the perfect love and goodness of God. God's ways are fair; he saves all he possibly can. He does not leave anyone out arbitrarily. (313)

And finally, “God's desire to save all sinners is clear, and election does not contest it. Indeed, election is an instrument and means to make salvation happen.” (297)

Our calling is to be partners in God’s work of salvation. Mission and outreach, not salvation as our private possession, is the goal of election. Too often we have taken our own salvation to be the goal and assigned mission to paid emissaries. Too often we can be so busy edifying ourselves that we have little time for our neighbour. (287)

The church is not an end in itself; it has been given the power of the Spirit in order to take the gospel to the world and to make disciples of every nation.” (285)

[1] In footnote 3 he recommends William W Klein’s excellent book The New Chosen People: A corporate view of Election, and in footnote 4 adds, “If my favorite exegetical source is WIlliam Klein, my favorite systematic authority is Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, vol. III (Grand Rapids: Eardmans, 1993).”  As I’ve mentioned before, Dr Klein’s book was the single biggest influence in my own adoption of the corporate election view.  

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