17. Indicatives over imperatives. To take a classic case, Arminians assume that God would never blame us for breaking his law unless we were able to keep it. So they operate according to the principle that ability limits liability. Up to a point the Bible endorses this commonsense intuition. In the law we have the category of unwitting sins. So the law recognizes cases of diminished responsibility. Even here, though, it is noteworthy that the law only classifies ignorance as an extenuating rather than exculpatory circumstance. This already represents a declension from Arminian ethics.
Moreover, the Bible also operates according to a principle of federal representation. For example, the Bible says that the one sin of the one man resulted in the condemnation of his entire posterity (Rom 5:12ff.). This may strike us as unfair, but for now I’m just stating what the Bible says. As long as this is a debate between fellow Christians it shouldn’t be necessary to justify Scriptural doctrine.
The Arminian assumes that the purpose of the law is to supply a standard of conduct. And this is one function of the law. And if that were the only purpose of the law, it seems reasonable to suppose that it would be an attainable standard. Of course, that is not the only reasonable supposition. Professionals often measure their work against the greatest representatives in the field. In most cases, this is an unattainable standard, yet it is hardly useless on that account. Such an ideal of excellence challenges us to do better than if we lowered the bar.
Moreover, a standard of conduct may serve as a standard of judgment. In various fields, a candidate is disqualified if he can’t meet a certain standard of excellence. Here the standard does not presuppose that everyone is able to rise to the challenge. To the contrary, it is used to eliminate the majority of candidates in order to isolate and identity an elite few. I mention these two alternatives to illustrate the fact that the Arminian intuition rests on a snap judgment, which begins to lose its initial plausibility once we start to consider a few concrete counter-examples. This is a weakness with intuition. It is apt to overgeneralize. Something that had seemed self-evidently true may appear obviously false as soon as someone draws our attention to a major exception.
Furthermore, revelation, and not reason, is the Protestant rule of faith. I am still old fashioned enough to believe that theology is the queen of the sciences, and reason is her handmaid. However plausible the Arminian formula may seem—and as we’ve begun to see that it is deceptively simplistic even when judged by reason—the principle that ability limits liability runs smack up against the Biblical diagnosis of man’s moral condition. One reason that the Reformed/Arminian debate will continue until the end of the church age is that the Arminian cannot bring himself to submit to the superior wisdom of God. The Calvinist can raise all the same objections, but he is prepared to bow before the judgment of God. This isn’t a groveling act of obeisance or abject act of intellectual suicide; on the contrary, it is supremely rational to defer to a supreme intelligence. This is what sets apart the sheep from the goats: the sheep follow the Shepherd—day or night—whereas the goats will only follow the Shepherd’s lead during the day—when they can see the path for themselves. The Calvinist is a full-time follower whereas the Arminian is a daylight disciple. When the sun goes down, the Calvinist takes out his Bible (Ps 119:105) while the Arminian whips out his flashlight.
The Bible also teaches that God had an ulterior motive in giving the law. And that was to expose and even intensify our depravity (Ezk 20:25-27; Rom 3:20; 5:20; 7:7,13; Heb 10:3). This represents the antipode of the Arminian assumption. Here the law presupposes our moral incompetence. It also implies a distinction between God’s decretive and preceptive will; God lays down certain precepts that he never intended us to keep. A classic example would be his command to Abraham to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22).
18. Indicatives over conditionals. A favorite charge of Arminian authors is that Calvinism renders the admonitions of Scripture, such as the apostasy passages in Hebrews, otiose. Unless apostasy were a live option for the true believer, these would cease to be genuine warnings.
While this line of argument may enjoy a lot of intuitive appeal, it is logically fallacious. For example, conditionals include counterfactuals. We have a string of these in 1 Cor 15 with reference to the resurrection. Yet Paul is proposing the antecedent in order to demonstrate the impossibility of the consequent. The whole point of a contrary-to-fact conditional is that it is factually false but counterfactually true. The Arminian, with his commitment to conditional election, sufficient grace, hypothetical universalism, and freedom of future contingents is already knee-deep in the truth-value of counterfactuals. The primary point of difference is that Arminians index counterfactuals to the will of man whereas Calvinists index counterfactuals to the will of God.
19. Minimal over maximal meaning. As a rule, dogmatic and systematic theology ought to confine themselves to the positive assertions and strict implications of Scripture. The objective is to develop a belief-system where the creedal aspect is brought to the fore. Christians are believers. Our priority should be to determinate what the Bible obliges us to believe, and not what it allows us to believe. Arminian theology leans on possible inferences and natural intuitions. This is not a solid foundation for faith. It doesn’t take very seriously the ethical imperative of faith. Indeed, it often reads more like an evasive strategy.
20. Systematic over incidental treatments. Some Biblical writers are more sweeping thinkers than others, while some Biblical books and genres of Scripture major on a particular theme. It is only logical, then, to begin with certain books and authors when developing a division of theology, viz., election (John; Romans/Ephesians); justification (Romans/Galatians); assurance (1 John); covenant theology (Hebrews); charismatic theology (1 Corinthians); christology (John); polity (Acts; Pastorals); worship (the Psalter); ethics (Exodus-Deuteronomy; Proverbs); the problem of evil (Job; Romans).
21.Unilateral over bilateral harmonization. In harmonizing one set of passages with another, it may not be possible or plausible to harmonize in either direction. For example, metaphors are reducible to literal properties or predicates. The attributes ascribed to God by classical Christian theism (e.g. necessary, timeless, omnipotent, omniscient) are already abstract or literal, and therefore irreducible. There is nothing to refine away. But in the case of emotive attributes like love, wrath, regret, jealousy, and frustration, there is an anthropomorphic aspect. The many moods of human love cannot be mapped back onto God. So some allowance has to be made for hyperbole, as well as a distinction drawn between the conceptual content of an emotive attribute and secondary aspects that are incidental to its mode of subsistence. In finite, sensuous agents, love has aspects that are inapplicable to a sovereign, spiritual agent.
22. Progressive over prior revelation. The NT writers will often justify their position by appeal to an OT passage. For example, John defends reprobation by invoking Isa 6:9-10 (Jn 12:40) while Paul defends it by invoking Exod 9:16 and Mal 1:2-3 (Rom 9:13,17). Arminians try to deflect this appeal by claiming that apostolic exegesis violates original intent. This counter-move is objectionable on several grounds:
i) It disregards the authority of apostolic exegesis. When a Bible writer interprets a passage of Scripture for us, we should take this inspired gloss as our point of departure rather than reinterpreting the original by our own lights. It is not the place of a commentator or theologian to double-check the exegesis of an Apostle.
ii) It disregards the principle of thematic development. Scripture is an organic whole. The meaning of a passage is to be found, not only in the original context but also in the telic context. God has choreographed the unfolding of revelation and redemptive history in order for it to converge on the Christ-event and its fallout. When interpreting Scripture we should not only read the end from the beginning (promise), but also the beginning from the end (fulfillment). Both perspectives are necessary.
Points (i) and (ii) are complementary. Because of their position in redemptive history, the final context of OT revelation is realized in the writers of the NT. They represent the terminus of a divine trajectory (e.g. Lk 24:25-27; Rom 15:4; 1 Cor 10:11; 1 Pet 1:12).
For example, Ezekiel extends the Edenic motif to the Restoration of Israel (Ezk 47:1-12), while John extends Ezekiel’s typology to the Church Triumphant (Rev 2:7; 22:2,4). It would be retrograde to deconstruct Revelation back into Ezekiel and then deconstruct Ezekiel back into Genesis. This is like playing a sonata backwards; Scripture resembles the movement of a sonata: exposition, development, recapitulation. To collapse the end of the arc into its inception dehistoricizes the natural flow of Scripture.
iii) When, moreover, we are exegeting Paul (or John or the author of Hebrews), the question of immediate importance is, How does Mal 1:2-3 function at this stage of Paul’s argument? It is Romans, and not Malachi, that supplies the governing context. Rom 9:13 is not simply a roundabout way of getting at Malachi’s authorial intent—anymore than Malachi an indirect way of getting at Paul’s authorial intent. The meaning of each is not exhausted by the other. So in determining Paul’s use of a primary source, it is the secondary source that furnishes the point of reference.
This is not to deny the value of comparison, but we should not assume that a given verse serves the same purpose in both the primary and secondary source materials. Because the setting is different, every time a NT author applies an OT verse to his circumstances he necessarily recontextualizes the passage.
To take a comparison, a commentator on Matthew or Luke would not take Mark as the controlling context for what a parallel passage in Matthew or Luke could mean, any more than a commentator on Chronicles would take Samuel or Kings as an external check on a companion passage in Chronicles. What matters first of all is how the later author understood the relevance passage in relation to his situation, and not how the verse applied in its original setting. As long as the extrapolation is convergent rather than divergent with the import and implications of the original, no violence is done to the original.
iv) We must also distinguish between intent and implication. Intent is psychological and private; implication is logical and public. The logical implications of a given passage are not limited to the conscious intent of the author, to which, in any event, we lack direct access. If a Christian carpenter cited Deut 22:8 to warrant the installation of smoke detectors, he could not very well justify that on the basis of original intent, and yet it is a valid inference from the underlying principle of a safety regulation. He derives a general principle from a specific case-law, and the reapplies that principle to a new situation.
v) Even in their original setting, these verses have a predestinarian force. On Mal 1, the Edomites are expressly said to be the object of God’s eschatological curse (1:4; cf. Isa 35:5,9ff.; Ezk 35:9; Obadiah 10,18). This implicates their spiritual destiny. Moreover, the OT operates from a principle of tribal solidarity. The fate of the clan is bound up with the fortunes of its patriarch. Indeed, covenant theology exploits this principle. The love/hate language is stereotypical terminology in OT covenant theology. Moreover, God generally coordinates grace with the means of grace. The fact that the covenants of promise extend through the line of Isaac/Jacob rather than Ishmael/Esau again implicates the spiritual fate of the Edomites. They are an accursed people, cut off from the stream of revelation and redemption (cf. Jn 4:24; Eph 2:12). Of course, this doesn’t amount to strict numerical identity, for election can cut across family lines (cf. Amos 3:12?); but as a rule, if a people-group is born outside the pale of special revelation, then that represents the peremptory judgment of God. There is no neat separation in Scripture between historical and spiritual destiny.
On Isa 6:9-10, by hardening Israel the Lord cuts off any opportunity of repentance that would spare the nation from exile. It may be objected that this has reference to the temporal fortunes of the nation rather than the spiritual fate of individuals. However, that analysis is superficial; for by this act of reprobation God is also condemning the people to remain sunken in idolatry. The principal evil is not exile but idolatry; exile is merely the formal sanction, while idolatry carries its own penalty—for idolatry is the paradigmatic sin in Scripture. To be left in a state of idolatry is a sentence of damnation. Hell is the ultimate exile—exile from God’s presence. As with Mal 3, God’s action is preemptive with respect to the spiritual opportunities of generations to come. In the case of Israel, it will terminate in the Restoration, but not for the apostate generation.
On Exod 9:16, I have already discussed the hardening of Pharaoh under (4). I would only add that:
a) Pharaoh is presented as a mere puppet in the hands of God. Arminians often charge that Calvinism reduces men to puppets. They are half-right where the reprobate are concerned. Pharaoh is a foil for revealing God’s sovereignty (Exod 14:4,17-18). He is merely a means to an end. That is why God gave him life and put him on the throne in the first place. No consideration is ever given to his own spiritual well-being. On the contrary, he was set up for the fall. His only raison d’être is to serve as a cautionary tale. As such, he illustrates the grace of God towards others, to the conspicuous exclusion of himself—for in God’s hands he is instrumental in a redemptive plan to which he is not party. Rather, he is to be used and discarded—like a ladder that is kicked aside once the summit has been scaled. Giving Pharaoh a "fair chance" to repent would jeopardize the whole enterprise. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is conditioned on God’s glory and not Pharaoh’s freedom. Of course, we shouldn’t feel sorry for Pharaoh. He was a ruthless ruler enjoyed all the perks of absolute monarch.
Calvinism, so they contend, reduces men to puppets or robots. I wonder, though, just what is the difference between the puppet/puppeteer relation and the potter/clay relation (Isa 29:16; 41:25; 45:9; Jer 18:6; Rom 9:21)?
b) Arminians claim that the episodes are concerned with historiography rather than soteriology. However, Pharaoh’s resistance is specifically classified as sin (9:34; cf. 10:16-17)—which frames the interaction in expressly soteric categories. Moreover, his sin was the result of divine agency. He sinned against the Lord because the Lord hardened his heart. Absent a redemptive remedy, this implies a divine predetermination to damnation.
iii) In Scripture, the condition of the heart is a spiritual condition (e.g. Gen 6:5; 8:21; Deut 29:4; 1 Sam; Ps 14:1; 34:18; 51:10,17; 66:18; 101:2; Jer 17:9; 31:33; Ezk 36:26). This, indeed, is axiomatic. The fact, therefore, that God is represented as turning Pharaoh’s heart to evil certainly implicates his spiritual fate. I realize that this raises theodicean concerns, but a Christian theodicy must begin with the scriptural data rather than preempt them.
23. Prooftexts over doctored texts. Arminians cite a slew of prooftexts in favor of general redemption. When you go through their prooftexts one by one, however, what you find is that not a single verse affirms the distinctive contention of the Arminian. What we have instead are a number of verses that seem to affirm universal salvation. The Arminian glosses these statements by drawing a distinction between a potential and an actual unlimited atonement. But that qualification is devoid of any textual warrant.
For his part, the Calvinist can appeal to a number of direct prooftexts for special redemption (e.g. Jn 6:37-39; 10:11,26; 11:52; 13:1; 17:2,6-7,9,24; Heb 9:15;10:14). He doesn’t have to introduce any further qualifications in order to make them bear out his specific claim. These serve as an independent point of reference for qualifying the so-called Arminian prooftexts. He can also infer special redemption from related doctrines like unconditional election and the grace of faith. By contrast, the Arminian has to engage in a tendentious appeal to a set of verses that he must first qualify on the assumption of universal atonement— as distinct from universal salvation —in order to then invoke them as proof of universal salvation. The reasoning is viciously circular.
The doctrine of special redemption rests on the convergence of at least half a dozen independent lines of evidence:
i) Penal substitution. There are verses that describe the work of Christ in terms of a role-reversal in which our demerit (via Adam) is attributed to Christ while his merit is attributed to us (e.g. Isa 53; Rom 5; 2 Cor 5:18,21; Gal 3:13; Col 2:14; 1 Pet 2:24; 3:18). This exchange implies that every-one for whom Christ died is accounted righteous in God’s sight. But if everyone is not saved, then Christ didn’t die for everyone.
ii) Election. Not only does particular election imply particular atonement, but there are verses in which election and atonement expressly coincide: Christ gave his life for those whom the Father gave to Christ (Jn 6:37-39; 11:2,6-7,9,24; Heb 2:13b). The distinction between election/redemption is not a part/whole relation; rather, it is because the redeemed were already marked out by virtue of election that Christ died for them and them alone. Even apart from passages in which election and redemption are clearly coordinate, particular election would still imply particular redemption (e.g. Jn 10:26; Acts 13:48; Rom 8:29; 9:11-18; 1 Cor 1:27-29; Eph 1:4-11; 2:10; 1 Thes 5:9; 2 Thes 2:13; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 2:8-9; Rev 13:8; 17:8). This is especially underscored by reprobation.
Arminians like William Klein drive a wedge between individual and corporate election. But this tactic is fallacious on several grounds:
a) Is the equation between class and membership foreign to NT culture? Don’t fishermen count the number of fish in their catch? Don’t shepherds name and number the sheep in their flocks? Don’t tax-collectors add and itemize taxable goods?
b) To isolate a group from its members is far more abstract than the Reformed equation. If Klein is so concerned with the dangers of imposing logical overrefinements on the text, why is he drawing such sophistical distinctions? Even on his own grounds, wouldn’t the concrete, commonsense equation between class and membership be more in keeping with the practical reasoning of shepherds and fishermen?
d) Klein drives a wedge between Greek and Hebrew modes of thought. But this is unhistorical. Even Palestinian fishermen were bilingual—not to mention members of the educated class (e.g. Philo; Josephus). Jews had daily contact with uncircumcized Gentiles. Is Klein seriously suggesting that men like Luke, Paul, and the author of Hebrews were not conversant with "Western" modes of thought. Apparently, Klein managed to get a doctorate in NT studies without ever reading anything by Martin Hengel—e.g., Judaism and Hellenism (Fortress, 1981).
e) Klein’s disjunction is in tension with the inherent individualism of his Arminian soteriology. One can’t combine freewill with a consistently corporate model of our spiritual destiny. Personal autonomy and corporate identity are antipodal positions.
f) While intent is subjective, implication is objective; so even if—for the sake of argument—we were to grant that the NT authors did not draw a conscious inference from corporate to individual election, the class/ member relation would still obtain as a matter of logical necessity. Klein confuses logic with psychology. The fact that St. Paul didn’t have an opinion on Goldbach’s conjecture doesn’t render its truth-value indeterminate.
g) Like every other relativist, Klein can’t keep his word. For example, he complains that reprobation is inconsistent with the universal offer of the Gospel (ibid. 267). So he invokes logic when it suits his purpose—in his own mind, at least.
h) But to address the issue directly, the sacred authors do, in fact, describe election as terminating on individuals. The elect are named and numbered (e.g. Jn 10:3; Rom 11:4,25; Rev 2:17; 6:11; 13:8; 17:8)— including the use of proper names (e.g. Rom 9:11,13) and singular personal pronouns (vv15-16,18). Klein casts God in the role of the thief rather than Good Shepherd—for the thief doesn’t call the sheep by name.
Moreover, the designated individuals (e.g. Pharaoh; Isaac/Jacob) are not isolated cases, but typify a general principle in God’s redemptive and reprobative economy. That is why they are singled out for discussion—owing to their representative significance.
Furthermore, Paul distinguishes between natural election and spiritual election (Rom 9:6-7; cf. 2:28-29). But this implies individual discrimination inasmuch as national election is corporate (i.e. inclusive of all members of the stipulated class) as over against spiritual election—which represents a subset of the total (cf. "some," 11:14). Election operates within people-groups and not simply upon people-groups—cutting across ethnic lines and family ties (cf. 9:6-13,24). For additional argumentation, cf. D. Moo NICNT (Eerdmans, 1996), 571-72; J. Piper, ibid., 65-71.
i) Klein misses the big picture. In Rom 9-11, Paul is addressing the problem of Jewish unbelief. Invoking the principle of corporate solidarity—in this case, the national apostasy of Israel—would simply paraphrase the original problem—offering a description of the problematic phenomenon in lieu of an explanation. It is precisely the general infidelity of Israel that has called into question the ultimate fidelity of God in keeping his promises. Paul’s solution appeals to double-predestination. Yes, God chooses one tribe over another, but he also chooses one member over another. And his choice is not merely for service, but implicates the eternal fate of individuals (cf. 9:3,22-23).
iii) Covenant theology. In chapters like Jn 6, 10, and 17, Father and Son are represented as having entered into a contract to save a people. The Father chooses who is to be saved and commissions the Son to die for them; the Son is a voluntary party to this contract, being sent out with the understanding that he will receive what he has contracted for. The elect are his "wages."
iv) Intercession. The intercession of Christ is grounded in the sacrifice of Christ—owing to the indivisible character of his priestly work. Hence, sacrifice and intercession are conterminous (Heb 1:3b; 7:27; 8:1,3; 9:24b).
v) Programmatic passages. There are verses that map election onto redemption and redemption onto application (e.g. Rom 8:32-34; Eph 1:4-14). Here the very same set of personal subjects is in view from start to finish. Commenting on this correlation in Eph 1, B.B. Warfield observes that "salvation is traced consecutively to its preparation (4-5), its execution (6,7), its publication (8-10), and its application (11-14)," Biblical and Theological Studies (P&R, 1968), 318.
vi) Efficacy. The sustained argument of Hebrews is emphatic on the subjective efficacy of Christ’s atonement (e.g. 4:14; 7:16,24-28; 8:6,10,12; 9:12,14-15,26-28; 10:12-18,22). Here there is no daylight between objective sufficiency and subjective efficiency. Hence, if everyone is not saved, then it follows that Christ didn’t die to save everyone. This line of argument receives additional confirmation from the fact that saving faith is also the reflex result of divine agency (e.g. Jn 1:13; 3:5-6,19-20; 6:44,65; 8:34,44; Rom 7:18; 8:70-8; Acts 16:14; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1ff.; 4:17ff.; 1 Jn 3:10; 5:19).