If you wish to read this entire series of posts, the first post is here and at the end of each post there is a link to the next post in the series.
I did a series of thoughts on Reformed Theology a while back at a website I used to assist with on moderation and am still active with after stepping down after 6 years and feeling it was time for others to take over while I took a sabbatical of sort. The original thread is here.
I may revise them a little for readability here as I go along but if they seem a little odd in terms of the voice and casual approach, that is why.
I will only put my posts here as I haven’t asked for permission to include others with their comments.
As I continue with this series too, I want to give credit for a great deal of the framework of the thought to the influence of Roger Olson’s book, Against Calvinism. The words are my own, but I read that book and it definitely influences me and there are elements of it that are mirrored in my statements throughout these posts and those that follow.
(A response to a question raised with regard to Penal Substitutionary Atonement or PSA.)
That might be good. I believe PSA is biblical and an aspect that is in scripture. It’s somewhat late compared to others but I’ve seen a good case that shows elements of it as early as Athanasius.
Maybe we can start a thread and take a look at it with anyone else who is interested.
I think all major views of the atonement have some merit. They are metaphors and analogies and help to see it from different directions and different characteristics of God. None of them by themselves are the whole of the atonement.
OK Picking back up, having looked at Romans 9 in particular and showing how Romans 9 – 11 ties together to demonstrate that the typical Calvinist claim that Romans 9 demonstrates God’s election of individuals (and corresponding reprobation of those irrevocably created for an eternity in hell) is simply unteneble given the themes of Romans and showing positively that when we read that passage with the understanding of the elect in the context of God’s plan as exercised in the context of the Jews and Gentiles, the next pillar of Calvinism is Ephesians 1.
Remember what we said about the difference in viewpoint between Christians in the early church to whom Paul’s epistles were addressed, as being that there was more of a sense of corporate identity than individual identity? This doesn’t change when we go to Ephesians 1. Ephesians 1, like many passages of Scripture takes on a different sense of meaning when we speak of it in a corporate vs an individual context. Calvin’s era of the renewal of Greek Philosophy and Roman Law during the Reformation and Renaissance reads Ephesians 1 in what is then the emerging emphasis upon the individual and in so doing the meaning of the text is radically different than those 1st Century Christians in Asia Minor who were the original audience of this message would have understood it. Which meaning ought we to seek to capture? I say our need is to put ourselves in the position of the original hearers and seek to understand it as Paul intended it and those original Ephesians heard it.
Not surprisingly, a similar dynamic is at work in Ephesians 1 as to what we see in Romans 9 – 11. Given that Paul wrote both passages it would be unlikely that he would radically differ in this basic dynamic from one passage to the next. If anything, there’s a far greater burden upon anyone suggesting that Paul is not consistent in this understanding than there is the one assuming that Paul is coming from the same perspective between his two epistles.
The language of this passage, not surprisingly, then is corporate and plural, not individual and singular. Greek is much more precise than English in several ways, not the least of which it doesn’t have the confusion that comes in English from both the singular and plural forms of “you” being the same word. There’s no question in the Greek here as to which is intended. It’s clearly plural here.
Just as Romans 9 is looking at the “elect” or “predestined” in the context of Pauls demonstration of God’s wisdom in using Israel as God’s chosen people to usher in the choosing of the Gentiles corporately and not down to individual salvation, Ephesisans 1 is looking at the church, of which those in Ephesus are a part.
Think of it in this manner, imagine that you decide at the last moment to come to a party that I’ve spent 6 months planning and putting all the details together. The party isn’t any different in terms of it’s overall planning and preparation for your coming in the manner you have because the planning and preparation is the same whether you come or not. The planning relates to the party as a whole, and it’s been done, planned and prepared for regardless of whether one more comes or not.
The first historical mention of this idea of predestination at the individual level doesn’t show up in Church literature and the first hint at this possibility came in with Augustine. You’ll stretch very hard to try and find it in the first 300 years of the church fathers and writings and this is to a large extent what the reformers pick up on along with some of the scholasticism type influences that have been referenced earlier.
He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will…. (Eph. 1:4–5)
I won’t go into the deep exegesis of this but how we read the phrases in this passage in relationship to one another is important and there’s clear ties in the original language as to how they relate together. To take individual predestination from this passage you have to read in as meaning that “He chose us to be in Christ before the foundation of the world” in that strong sovereignty sense that we’ve seen is the theme of the reformed approach. That’s not what is being said however. The “chose us” is not tied to “in Christ” as an object of what God is choosing. What God “chose us” collectively to as a church and not individually as single believers is not whether we’ll be in Christ or not, but rather that we are to be “holy and blameless before him in love.” God indeed has chosen that those in Christ collectively in the Church will be just this and he’s prepared things through Jesus Christ that it will be precisely this way. All have been invited but not all will choose to come. (Sounds much like a parallel of one of Jesus’ parables, doesn’t it? Matt 14:1-22 and Jesus there too seems to clearly be speaking of a shift from the Jews to the Gentiles) Just as Paul spoke in the passage in Romans 9 of the contrast between Israel and Gentiles in terms of Israel’s overall vocational role in God’s plan, God has chosen that those who are collectively the church will be this way.
So too, from the foundation of the world God predestined that whoever is in Christ would become holy and blameless in his sight. But he didn’t predestine certain individuals — as opposed to other unfortunate individuals — to be in Christ. This is left up to our choice which God has chosen to give us. Now that you’ve chosen to be in Christ, what was predestined for the group becomes predestined for you. You, with Paul, can say “In Christ WE (who have chosen to believe) were predestined to be holy and blameless…”
When we approach this passage with our own culture and individual focuse it’s easy to miss these nuances. They’re vital however as is clear here.
With this in mind then it’s not so difficult to see what is at work in vs 11.
Eph 1:11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will,
In Christ WE have obtained an inheritance. Paul had at his disposal a very easy means to make this individual in focus but he doesn’t. We collectively as the Church have been predestined in this manner for an inheritance. That’s a very different thing than being predestined to be in the church itself. If there’s any remaining confusion it’s completely dispelled as the passage continues and says in verse 13 and 14 which complete the thought.
Eph 1:13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
If the Calvinist sense of Predestination in a Strong Sovereignty, deterministic manner were at work here, it wouldn’t say that this took place “When you believed”, it would say “When God predetermined” or some other such thing. The inheritance was predestined collectively in God’s plan. The individual inclusion in that inheritance is predicated on our belief. Scholastic, predetermined thought that is most concerned with seeing God assert His power rather than His love type thought screams at this and argues that even the act of belief and placement of faith is a “work” and therefore negates grace and makes salvation of our effort rather than God’s work. You have to start however with the thought of Strong Sovereignty and circle that thought back upon itself to make that claim. Scripture here certainly isn’t assuming that. If God decides and determines that He is going to limit Himself and confer real choice then that is no less of God in terms of His plan than it would be if He chose another method. Calvinism here has to presuppose it’s own conclusion in order to read things in this manner. In effect, Calvinism is daring in a manner of speaking of telling God that if He doesn’t do things in the way that their belief in God’s Sovereignty requires then God is somehow being inconsistent. To be fair, that argument can be reversed and said of what I’m pointing out as well if Calvinistic Strong Sovereignty is indeed how God chose to do things. The key however isn’t what God “must” do because of who He is (which Calvism assumes and by doing it assumes that God must be controlled and held to a single possible path); the key is what in fact has God decided to do in terms of how individual destiny is established. It seems pretty clear even here in the midst of a “pillar” of reformed theology that when the whole passage is read that choice is right there and election is corporate, not individual. Far from being a difficult passage for what I’ve put forward as to Weak Sovereignty, this fits in better than what Calvinism asserts. I love this passage and hold fast to the hope it gives us in Christ.
The next post in this series can be found here.