Friday, October 26, 2012

The Debater's Potter - Part 14 - Chapter 9

Welcome again to this series in which I interact and respond to Dr. James R. White's The Potter's Freedom(TPF), which he intends as a defense of the Reformation (or his view of it anyway) and "the" rebuttal of Dr. Norman Geisler's Chosen But Free(CBF). as a non-Calvinist Non-Arminian.

If you're just jumping in here please go back to The Introduction. Each of the articles are very long and so I won't have space to restate previous information. So, if you think I'm making a bold unsupported claim and you haven't read from the beginning, don't blame me! :)

This time we'll be looking at what appears to be Dr. White's strongest argument in all of TPF. So, let's just jump right in shall we?

Chapter 9 - Responding to CBF on Romans 9

"This tremendous passage of Scripture is so clear, so strong, that it truly does speak for itself. The student of Scripture that wishes a full discussion of the passage is directed to John Piper's The Justification of God. Before examining Dr. Geisler's comments, a brief exegesis of the passage will be offered."
If this passage of Scripture so clearly presented Calvinism then Dr. White's book would surely be superfluous, and he wouldn't have to suggest that the "student of Scripture" go get John Piper's book. Surely, if the passage is clear the "student of Scripture" ought to be be able to understand it without the help of White, Piper or anyone else. 

Anytime we make an assumption about Scripture we undermine our ability to understand it. The assumption that will drive Dr. White's interpretation of Romans 9 throughout this chapter of TPF is stated in the second paragraph:

"This portion of Paul's reasoned, organized argument regarding the nature of salvation..." 
Is the letter to the Romans really an argument regarding the nature of Salvation? I would make the argument that it is a letter explaining, contrasting, and defending the righteousness of God. We are shown to not have it, to be unable to attain it, that it is freely given to those who believe, that we cannot maintain it, that it is not about fleshy obedience, that God conforms us to it through suffering, that it does not fail because God keeps His promises, that we are to be willingly conformed to it, that we are trust in it as we live in this world system, that we are to accept the weaker Brethren because in it God has accepted even them, we are to entrust well being and our salvation to God because of it. The entire letter is about God's righteousness, not our salvation. Our salvation is a byproduct of His righteousness, and is therefore entirely dependent on it. That's Paul's argument in Romans; in short anyway.  

For an in depth study of Romans listen to Dr. Andy Woods' sermon series "Divine Righteousness Revealed."  

Dr. White's assumption about what Romans is about is somewhat understandable. After-all Paul does explain a lot about salvation in Romans. His next assumption however is entirely different. I don't know how he could defend it. 

"Surely Paul had heard this many times in his public ministry: 'If this gospel message you proclaim, Paul, is so wonderful, why is it that only a small number of Jews embrace it, while the majority of the covenant people reject it? Are not your main opponents the Jews, to whom the promises were made? Are you not just a renegade Jew who has left the faith?' Such accusations must have been common place in the public disputations with the Jews. And upon speaking of God's work of predestining, calling, justifying, and glorifying, one can just hear these objections growing in volume. 'Oh come now, Paul, if God is so sovereign and powerful, then why do His very people, the Jews, by and large reject Christ?' It is to this issue that Paul now turns." 
Surely? Must have been? One can just hear these objections? Dr. White invents these objections and intends on painting Paul's writing as a supposed answer to them. The unsuspecting reader has just been led to make a completely unsupportable assumption about the Text, and will be led down the garden path unless someone steps in to protect them. 

Before we move on please go back and read these assumed objections. If Paul had just explained that God selects who will believe and who will not believe - as Dr. White teaches - does it make sense to object to such a teaching with the argument that it can't be true because the Jews don't believe? According to Dr. White this objection was answered by Jesus in John 6, and Paul in Romans 8. Why would Paul "now turn to" an argument that had he had supposedly answered just a few verses before, and to which the Lord had supposedly answered as well. What else do these passages have in common? Dr. White says that each of them are so clear that they speak for themselves. Funny that Paul would have to repeat their supposed arguments then isn't it? 

Writing of Rom 9:1-5 Dr. White states:

"It should be noted that this immediately raises an important point: Paul is speaking of individual salvation. It makes no sense to say "I could wish myself were accursed for the sake of the nation of Israel so that it might be returned to a position of receiving national privileges and favor."
Throughout this chapter Dr. White finds ways to insert, or finds instances of, the idea of "individuals" because he seems to think that makes the chapter about individual Salvation. But here are just a few questions I would like to ask the Doctor to answer. 

If Paul is speaking of individuals then: How does the following "pertain" to individuals:  "the adoption", "the glory",  "the giving of the Law", "the service of God", "the promises", and "from whom Christ came."  None of these things pertain to individuals, but the Nation of Israel. Christ most certainly did not "come from" the supposed individuals Dr. White claims he is writing about who were not then saved. Perhaps Paul is writing about Mary and Joseph? His Grand Parents perhaps? This is not "exegesis" it is eisegesis to the extreme.

White states that Rom 9:6 is "vitally important and provides the key to one of the great controversies in interpretation of the rest of the Chapter." He then goes on to tell us that Paul's "Ministry had often been charged with teaching a doctrine that made it appear as if the word of God had failed." Yet he doesn't supply any reference to these supposed charges. It's interesting that at the start of the chapter Dr. White used the phrases "surely" and "must have been" but as he gains momentum he presents what he previously postulated as fact.

Shockingly Dr. White then makes a statement I can agree with! He notes that Paul's answer is that God has not failed to fulfill His promises because not everyone born into the Nation of Israel is actually of Israel. Of course I won't be agreeing with how he builds on this fact, but it is simply a fact stated in Rom 9:6.

He continues:

"But the key is this: Paul is not talking about nations and he is talking about God's sovereign election in salvation, for it was God's right and freedom to limit His promises to the children of promise, and not to anyone else."
Did God limit salvation to the children of promise? Those who were born through Isaac? Is Paul in Rom 9:7 or the LORD God in Gen 21:12 talking about saving individuals? Well Gen 17:23-25 seems very strange if Salvation was not available to Ishmael and his descendants doesn't it? Why is Abraham circumcising those who may have no part with God? Wouldn't that be like a Pastor baptizing everyone at the local whore house? The passage is talking about bringing honor, service, covenants and dealings with God to the one nation and not the other.

While Paul's actual point is about Isaac's sons, Esau and Jacob but Dr. White's use of Rom 9:7 would require that salvation is not available outside of the descendants of Isaac. Dr. White will follow Paul's lead and further limit the group being talked about to a particular portion of Isaac's descendants. Yet his employment will not match Paul's. So we must watch how his argument fails him before we even get to Jacob who God called Israel.

The LORD God says that while His promise other promise is about Isaac He will make a nation out of the son Ishmael the son of the bondwoman because he is still the son of Abraham. In fact Ishmael was a gift from God to Hagar because He had heard her affliction. Gen 16:11 

What is the LORD God talking about with His "election" of some specific portion of those in Isaac and not those in Ishmael? Let's let Him speak.

Gen 17:19-22

19 Then God said: “No, Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac; I will establish My covenant with him for an everlasting covenant, and with his descendants after him. 20 And as for Ishmael, I have heard you. Behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation. 21 But My covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this set time next year.” 22 Then He finished talking with him, and God went up from Abraham.
God had "blessed" Ishmael, indeed God fulfilled His promise about Ishmael. Gen 25:12-18 It was just a different promise than God had made to Abraham about Isaac. This is all exceedingly difficult for Dr. White's argument.

Dr. White turns Romans 9:6-13 into two examples, but I believe Paul is making one singular argument. Of Rom 9:10-13 he writes:

"The declaration of 'God's purpose according to His choice' (or election) is the keystone of this section. Everything points to this one assertion. The pronouncement by God that the older would serve the younger was made on the basis of a choice by God (dare we say "free choice"?) that was made before their birth and before they could 'do' anything good or bad."
Dr. White quotes Paul but misses what Paul wrote. The choice was that the older brother would serve the younger. Not that the older brother would go to hell and the younger would go to heaven. Not that the older would not believe and the younger would. The choice was that God would honor the younger with the honor, duty, service and responsibilities of Firstborn even though he was not the first born. Not able to make a very convincing argument he quotes John Piper on the passage putting the emphasis on God's action in choosing. That it was not a reaction to anything but a "free" choice by God. Such is not under dispute in the slightest. Why do we need to read Piper on it?

White would have us to believe that this is talking about individual election to Salvation, and that it is not to do with nations and God's use of people groups for His own purposes. When God explained it to Rebekah, the mother of Jacob and Esau, He said that she had two nations in her womb. Gen 25:21-28

White notes in passing:

"Much is made of the terms "loved" and "hated" here, and we will see how these terms are to be applied when responding to CBF's commentary" 
The LORD God explains Himself in Mal 1:2-3 but I believe the whole chapter is informative to our discussion. Read Mal 1:1-14 The Lord is magnified beyond the border of Israel! My Name shall be great among the nations! Read this chapter to find out why, and to get some sense of why Paul quotes this when explaining God's righteousness in not giving the promise to those who reject His Son.

Of Rom 9:14-16 White offers:

"Paul is ready with an Old Testament example to buttress his arguments: Exodus 33. This tremendous passage contains themes that find their full expression only in the New Testament's full revelation of the doctrines of God's free and sovereign grace." 
The mantra of the Jews complaining to and about Jesus throughout the evangelistic letters, Matthew, Mark, Luke & John is that God has chosen Israel that because they are born Jews they are good with God and don't need their sins washed away. They claimed they didn't need to repent, and didn't need to be born again. The constant complaint that we actually read in the Scripture about Paul's ministry is that he preached that you didn't need to follow the Law in order to be right with God, that in fact to try to follow the Law is a fleshy practice that denies faith in Christ. What is the consistent complaint that we actually read in Scripture? God only works with Israel, and within the confines of Israel's practice, therefore your message is false. This is one of the things that need to be answered by Paul in order to defend the righteousness of God.

If we read Exodus 33 to find out what Paul is quoting we find that Moses didn't know who he was going to lead. God wasn't going to tell him yet either. The focus wasn't to be on the people, but on God. Read Exodus 33:12-23. Paul's point? The same here. Israel is focusing on their bloodline, the people, not God. They are believing in their birth heritage and not in God's promise. God choose Jacob over Esau despite their birth heritage.  Moses was to focus on God's glory and God would have mercy on whom He would have mercy on. Mose's job was to do the work God had called Him to, and let God do His part. Again, this is not about personal salvation. This was actually about deliverance from the bondage of slavery for the Nation of Israel, and not about personal salvation. The Nation was delivered but many individuals perished in the wilderness after that deliverance. The most important part of this deliverance was not that the people were freed, but that they were used to demonstrate God's power, and give a pattern for the Christ in the Passover. This is about being used by God, not about being given salvation.

Ignoring what the passages are about Dr. White limits the discussion to his intended subject:

"It does not say, "I will have mercy on those who fulfill the conditions I have laid down as a prerequisite of my plan of salvation." 
Of course not Dr. White, that's not what the LORD is talking about with Moses at all. Dr. White lays it all out there though:
"This divine truth, so offensive to the natural man, could not find a clearer proclamation than Romans 9:16. We truly must ask, if this passage does not deny to the will of man the all-powerful position of final say in whether the entire work of the Triune God in salvation will succeed or fail, what passage possibly could? What stronger terms could be employed?"
There's a lot to respond to here. Dr. Geisler, whose work TPF is supposedly a rebuttal of, doesn't say that man has the "final say"; as has been clearly demonstrated from CBF. This passage isn't talking about God failing to or successfully saving people. It isn't even talking about personal salvation. If this passage is the strongest example of the theology then I humbly suggest that the theology, in that it is not found in this passage, is demonstrated as being false.

Dr. White then returns to his argument with regard to individual salvation:

"The fact that they are singular shows us again the personal nature of the passage. The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to "nations" cannot begin to explain how nations "will" or "run"
Dr. Geisler is not particularly strong on Romans 9. I am not going to lengthen this article to deal with his errors but I am going to respond to Dr. White from my point of view; which I believe will exonerate (in some regard) Dr. Geisler as well. Dr. White builds a straw-man and quickly knocks it down. "The interpretation that attempts to limit Romans 9 to "nations"..." I don't limit Rom 9 to nations, nor does Dr. Geisler. However, I do recognize that God is talking about nations and people groups throughout most of this chapter, and in the quotations that Paul uses. In some places there is talk of individuals, like what Paul is leading up to as he begins at Rom 9:16
Dr. White continues:

"Lest someone think, 'Well, yes, God shows mercy and initiates salvation, and only then does the will of man freely embrace it," as is argued constantly in CBF, Paul closes the door by giving his own interpretation of his argument the example of Pharaoh."
As has been demonstrated, this is not what is constantly argued in CBF.

Of Rom 9:17-18 Dr. White writes:

"It was God's intention to bring His wrath upon the Egyptians. God's actions were not 'forced' by the stubborn will of the Egyptian leader. God said He would harden Pharaoh's heart, and He did." 
Not too long ago I did a study here about the drawing of God, and included in that is an examination of Pharaoh's hardened heart. Who hardened it first? Why? Check out The Drawing of God. Back in 2009 I wrote a short article Pharaoh's Hardened Heart Didn't Start With God. In short, Pharaoh hardened his own heart first. Further, God was judging the Egyptians for what they did to Israel. 

No one is saying that God's actions were forced by Pharaoh. Who says this? Yet it is only an act of extreme eisegesis to say that God just picked Pharaoh at random to be hardened.

What must be noted as well is that God didn't raise up Pharaoh in order for him to go to Hell. He raised up Pharaoh to be USED in the purpose of demonstrating God's power; that's simply what the Text says.

Dr. White then repeats a puzzling backslide from his position about the Sovereignty of God. In Part 8 we read: 

"We dare not think that Joseph's brothers were forced against the desires of their hearts to commit the evil... They desired to do this: indeed if God had not intervened it is sure they would have killed him outright.... but God preserved Joseph's life..." 
Now in this chapter we read:
"Pharaoh was surely never forced to do anything sinful (indeed, God probably kept him from committing many a sinful deed.)"
What do you mean Pharaoh was never forced to do anything sinful? Don't you say that God decrees every event in His Creation? Don't you say that people cannot choose, or act in accordance with their own will but that God decrees everything? It is sad that even though Dr. White rightfully sees the glaring blaspheme of his doctrine he doesn't abandon it, but just tells "just so stories" to imagine away the obvious conclusion that if God were to decree, orchestrate and bring to pass every event in His Creation that He would have to be the author of sin. 

He continues about Pharaoh:

"But he is but a pot, a creature, not the Potter.... There is simply no other way to understand these words." 
Who then has the responsibility for the action? If Dr. White's argument is true is it not right to ask: Does my pot have the responsibility for my burned lap when I spill my tea?

In fact that is the very excuse that Paul's imagined objector responds with! For something has happened here that happens very often with Reformed Theology. Dr. White has inserted the Objector's theology into the Preacher's words and made a mess of the whole thing. See James 2 From the Text for another example.

Dr. White calls Rom 9:19-20 the crescendo of the passage. 

19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” 20 But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
The excuse is "God made me this way!" How often have I heard that from Homosexuals as I have engaged in the work of Street Evangelism? Hundreds of times. But let's examine this for a second - Dr. White is saying EXACTLY THAT. He has been arguing throughout TPF and now also, that one cannot believe, cannot repent unless they have been born again first. God made them unable to believe. God made them unable to repent. God made them slaves to sin. Does that not give the person an excuse in direct opposition to Romans 1:20-19?

Here's Dr. White's response to this excuse:

" can God hold men accountable for their actions, for who resists His will? Paul's response is swift and devastating: Yes indeed God holds man accountable, and He can do so because He is the Potter, the one who molds and creates, while man is but the 'thing molded.' For a pot to question the Potter is absurd: for man to answer back to God is equally absurd." 
See Dr. White is putting the theology of Paul's objector into Paul's words, and because of this he allows no rebuttal of the argument just a slap on the wrist. If the people have no choice but to do what God has decreed for them to do, then it isn't wrong for them to complain if He finds fault. So instead of rebutting their excuse Dr. White has Paul rebutting a straw-man. Of course it is absurd for a pot to answer back to a potter. Yet it is just as absurd, perhaps more so even, for the potter to find fault with the pot when he is the one who made it that way.

If God had made Pharaoh to be who he was with no way to escape then yes Pharaoh could say "Why do you still find fault? You made me like this!" But that's not what Paul is talking about now is it? For the word "formed" here is moulded, not created. It is like how a potter takes suitable clay and forms it into something for a purpose. It is not like God creating a person in order to be something. It is a refashioning, not a creating. God found fault with Pharaoh, and He found fault with Israel. Interestingly enough He didn't find fault with Esau, He simply chose to bless Jacob (Israel).

What's the point here? There's nothing special about Israel that God must honor. He is free to bless, and use for honor those whom He will. 

God chooses to use those whom He chooses based on His will. He refashions those whom He finds fault in for dishonorable service, and blesses undeserving others for honorable service. That's Paul's point. God has chosen to use the Church instead of Israel at this time. Calvinists, including Dr. White, tend to ignore, some or all of, the very next verse. 

Rom 9:21

21 Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor?
To make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor. Are we "honored" with Salvation? Is Salvation an "honor"? We honor veterans and heroes. We honor the Christ! Is the free gift of Salvation Rom 6:23 an "honor"? What bout being Firstborn in a family, do you think that's an honor? It sure is! Especially if you were not the actual first born son! Is it an honor that the Church is being used by God in the world today instead of Israel? It sure is! Is it a dishonor that Israel is not being used by God today? It sure is!

Dr. White offers:

"Why are there vessels prepared for destruction? Because God is free. Think about it: there are only three logical possibilities here. Either 1) all "vessels" are prepared for glory (universalism); 2) all "vessels" are prepared for destruction; or 3) some vessels are prepared for glory and some are prepared for destruction and it is the Potter who decides which are which."
Dr. White really needs to be helped with avoiding the False Dilemma Logical Fallacy because he repeatedly employs it in his argumentation. What if this passage is about God using people and people groups, you know like what the passage reads like if you don't add to it? For example... that's just one more POSSIBLE option.

He continues:

"... there must be vessels prepared for destruction. There is no demonstration of mercy and grace where there is no justice." 
Sometimes I think Calvinists are as confused about the word Justice as they are about the word All. What justice do these people have?
"...He demonstrates His wrath upon "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction.... these are sinners upon whom God's wrath comes. They are said to have been specifically 'prepared for destruction.' That is their purpose." 
What Justice does the one who is made to sin, be judged for that sin, and spend eternity suffering in the lake of fire for that sin which they could not avoid get? Think of it this way. A child is abducted and brainwashed into hating someone. They are specifically trained to murder that person. When the time is right the abductor unleashes the trained killer on the target the abductor intends to have killed. When the murder is done the abductor pins a badge to his chest, puts on his Police cap and arrests the child. Later the abductor sits in the Judge's chair and presides over the trail of the child. The child is sentenced to death by lethal injection for his crime. What justice did this child get? What about the judge? Is he "righteous"? Does saying "Who are you pot to complain to the potter who fashioned you about how he has made you to be?" defend the "righteousness" of the judge?

The concept is absolutely absurd, to the point of being offensive. Is this a defence of the Christian faith? Who is supposed to be convinced by this?

The fact is that even in a human court room the child would not be held accountable for the crime, the abductor would. The one who fashioned the child to do the crime would be punished. Even in a corrupt human court! Is God less righteous than a human judge?

Paul's imagined objector is ignoring Paul's argument and making excuses! "God made me this way! It's His fault!" But no oh fool! Here's Paul's answer:
Rom 9:

22 What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
God "endured with much longsuffering the vessels prepared for destruction." Why? To show His glory on the vessels He had prepared beforehand for glory. It is interesting that God is not said to have prepared the vessels for destruction, and that the word "prepared" in vs 22 means to be "mended" or fixed up. It is a word used of fixing a fishing net. Whereas in vs 23 prepared means to make ready. God endures what has been refashioned for destruction in order to show mercy on those He has made ready to be used of displaying His glory. This is the very same message we find in 2Peter 3:9?

God finds fault because people, themselves of their own will, do wrong. He blesses whom He wills to bless even though they don't deserve it, and finds fault with those who have fault.

At verse 24 out of 33 in the chapter, and skimming over verse 21, Dr. White leaves his argument for God's work as Potter creating pots for the purpose of doing evil and being destroyed in Hell, and other pots for doing good and being welcomed into Glory to turn to some approximation of Geisler's discussion of Romans 9. I'm going to skip that portion of the chapter because frankly I found Dr. Geisler's work on Romans 9 to be less than excellent and I have no desire to attempt a defence of it.

Dr. White's last thrust before he moves on is:

"Given how clear and forceful this passage is, how can the Arminian escape its force?"
I have two answers. Dr. Geisler, whom you claim to be rebutting is not an Arminian. Second, the passage apparently doesn't say what you think it "clearly and forcefully" says.

Why do I mention what verse he stops at? Well because he starts his discussion of Geisler's work with a quotation from John Piper:

"It is remarkable and telling phenomenon that those who find no individual predestination to eternal life in Rom 9:6-13 cannot successfully explain the thread of Paul's argument as it begines in Rom 9:1-5 and continues through the chapter." 
Throughout TPF Dr. White complains about how Dr. Geisler doesn't answer all of his favorite authors' work. Perhaps Dr. White should read more of Paul, and more of Dr. Geisler as well.

In Rom 9:25-29 Paul defends God's going to the people of the nations, from the OT scriptures and shows how God is not done with Israel. We find some interesting things that are troubling for White's position however. His idea that the reason people don't believe in Jesus is because they cannot because they are not the Elect, His people. Yet God says that He will call people His people who are not His people. And though they are not His people they will become the children of God.

But the big question is this. Is Dr. White correct in stating that the reason one person doesn't believe is because the Potter has made them that way? Did the Nation of Israel not attain the righteousness of God because God had created them not to be able to do so? Let's listen to Paul answer this question.

Rom 9:30-33
30 What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; 31 but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. 32 Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone. 33 As it is written: 
“Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”
Why haven't they attained God's righteousness? Because they did not seek it by faith. This makes no sense if Paul's doctrine is White's doctrine, and the excuse of the imagined objector is valid.

I think it is telling that it is the Calvinists, including John Piper, who do not present an argument that cannot successfully explain Paul's argument throughout the entirety of the chapter.

Well that concludes my examination of Dr. White's strongest argument in his book. I found one partial point of agreement because he simply restated exactly what the verse stated. Everything else he wrote crumbled under the weight of examination by the Scriptures.

My reading ahead in the book really took a hit when my kindle updated the book and removed all of my notes. I lost many hours of work and so I am well behind in my reading. Currently I'm reading the 10th chapter and it seems that Dr. White has left his attempt to rebut Dr. Geisler and is now defending the 5 points of TULIP.  We'll be taking a look at Limited Atonement next time.

Right now though, at the conclusion of Dr. White's "rebuttal" of Chosen But Free offered in The Potter's Freedom I am completely unimpressed and I am simply amazed by the praise heaped on the book. 

1 comment:

Kevl said...

There were a couple of factual errors in the original that I have just corrected. Oops! I was trying to get this done before hitting the streets for Evangelism tonight.