Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wooden kimono

Robert Hamilton wrote an article a few years back which is getting a lot of buzz among Arminians in the blogosphere. It’s about 60 pages long, so I’m not going to comment on the whole thing right now.

Instead, I want to focus on the ironic character of his article. Although it’s a critique of Calvinism, we also find that, to make room for his own interpretation, Hamilton has to either debunk a number of other Arminian interpretations of Rom 9 or debunk some standard Arminian assumptions.

So I think his article presents a dilemma for Arminians. It’s like a protection racket. Arminians have to pay protection money to Hamilton to keep the Calvinists out of their neighborhood. Even if his article were successful in refuting Calvinism, Hamilton collects his share of the pizzo from his fellow Arminians. How much are the beleaguered Arminians willing to fork over for his services?

1. To take a few examples, Hamilton, in agreement with Reformed exegetes, treats proginosko as synonymous with “choosing beforehand” rather than “foreknowing”:

Speaking of those ‘who love God’ (8:28), Paul states that God has ‘foreknown’ them (i.e., loved and chosen them beforehand)...This is true both of the election through Jacob of physical Israel (who are said to be ‘foreknown’ as a people; i.e., corporately chosen beforehand by God; Romans 11:2) and of the election through Christ of his Body, who are similarly said to be ‘foreknown’ here in Romans 8:29 and ‘chosen in Him [i.e., Christ], before the foundation of the world’ in Ephesians 1:4.

2. Likewise, he makes a key concession on the hardening of Pharaoh:

In regard to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, Reformed theologian Robert Reymond has astutely pointed out a weakness in the argument commonly pressed in Arminian circles to the effect that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart only in response to Pharaoh’s prior hardening of his own heart in Exodus 8:15, 32 and 9:34. As Reymond notes, ‘God twice declared to Moses, even before the series of confrontations between Moses and Pharaoh began, that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart ‘and [thereby] multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt’ (Exodus 4:21; 7:3). The first time then that it is said that Pharaoh’s heart was hard, the text expressly declares that it was so ‘just as the Lord had spoken’ (Exodus 7:13), clearly indicating that Pharaoh’s hardness of heart had [come] about due to God’s previous promise to harden it. And the first time it is said that Pharaoh ‘made his heart hard,’ again we are informed that it was so ‘just as the Lord had spoken’ (8:15; see also 8:19; 9:12, 35).

3. He apparently makes yet another key concession regarding the incompatibility of divine foreknowledge and libertarian freewill:

The reader may be wondering why I do not simply adopt one of the existing Arminian accounts of Romans chapter nine. While I agree with the basic tenets of Arminianism (most importantly for present purposes, that election to salvation is contingent upon an authentic faith-response on the part of man), I have not felt satisfied with any of the existing exegeses of Romans chapter nine by Arminian theologians with which I am familiar. Arminius himself interprets Romans nine as teaching a contingent election of individuals to salvation based on faith foreseen by God (‘Analysis of the Ninth Chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans,’ The Works of James Arminius, London Ed., Vol. 3, trans. William Nichols, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1986, pp. 485-519). This position in my opinion leads to certain intractable problems of a philosophical nature concerning the nature of divine foreknowledge, problems that are avoided if one instead adopts a corporate view of election to salvation as primary.

4. He takes issue with Shank’s “crucial exegetical claim” on the nature of election:

Though there are important insights in Robert Shank’s analysis (Elect in the Son, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1970, 1989; pp. 115ff), in my opinion Shank fails to provide sufficient evidence for what is perhaps the crucial exegetical claim of his analysis, namely, that there is a shift in the Apostle Paul’s train of thought between Romans 9:29 and 9:30, from the hypothetical case (that God could deal with us in absolute, unconditional terms if he so wished) to the actual case (in which, according to Shank, Paul teaches that God does not deal with us so; cf. p.120). Paul’s statement in 9:24 (‘even us, whom He also called . . .’) seems to firmly root Paul’s preceding comments regarding God’s unilateral election in historical reality, not merely in a hypothetical sphere; hence, I find Shank’s analysis unconvincing in this regard.

5. He also takes issue with Cottrell’s non-soteric interpretation of election in Rom 9-11:

I have been similarly dissatisfied with other Arminian accounts of Romans nine that I have encountered, such as Cottrell’s view that the election in Romans nine is merely an unconditional election to ‘service’ without relevance to one’s salvation (Jack Cottrell, ‘The Nature of the Divine Sovereignty,’ in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. by Clark Pinnock, Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 1989, pp. 97-119; see especially p. 114). Though I agree with Cottrell that the election in view in much of Romans nine, though unconditional in nature, is not an election to salvation, it seems clear to me that the grace said to be extended by God to the Jews in this passage does not relate merely to their service, but instead to something more directly preparatory to their participation (or nonparticipation) in the covenant of grace (cf. my treatment of the notions of particular prevenient grace and hardening in my essay below).

6. Then there’s his position on the fate of the Jews. While he thinks that God will save the end-time generation of Jews, God has hardened every Jewish generation between the time of Christ as the end-time generation. So, by his own admission, God unilaterally deprives them of the opportunity to be saved:

Without delving into competing eschatological views here, this salvation of ‘all Israel’ I take simply to refer to a future generation of Jews before the end of history who will turn en masse to faith in Christ, the Deliverer, who will at that time ‘remove ungodliness from Jacob’ (11:26)...The salvation of “all Israel” is clearly not yet a reality in history, for it is beyond disagreement than many Jews since the time of Christ have died without faith in him.

7. If that were not enough, he broadens this out into a general principle, according to which God doesn’t have to be equitable in his treatment of sinners. Yet it’s hard to see how this is any improvement over what Arminians find so objectionable in Calvinism. For them, Calvinism is unjust because it’s unfair, and it’s unfair because it’s inequitable–especially in the unequal opportunities to be saved. Yet Hamilton allows for that:

The central theological lesson to be gleaned from Romans chapter nine, then, is that God may sovereignly discriminate in the dispensing of particular prevenient grace. That is, God maintains an absolute, sovereign right to either extend, withhold, or diminish the opportunities for any unbeliever (i.e., one who suppresses the truth revealed by universal prevenient grace) to access further truth and have the ability to freely respond in faith to that truth in a way leading to salvation. God has sole discretion to decide if and when he will extend particular prevenient grace to any unbeliever or conversely harden any unbeliever.

…This may be a conclusion hard for some Arminians to accept, who are accustomed to thinking of God as always taking every available opportunity to draw each individual toward salvation (see Note 9 for one indication that Arminius himself would have objected to such thinking). My exegesis of Paul’s teaching in this chapter leads me to conclude that God does not necessarily act in this way. Though God’s genuine desire to see all people saved indeed constrains him to extend universal prevenient grace to all people, the teaching of Romans chapter nine is that God is under no obligation to extend grace beyond that point, but instead may be selective in the dispensing of additional, particular prevenient grace…God’s holiness requires that only condemnation, not grace, be considered obligatory to one who has suppressed God’s truth and violated the Law of God. It is to God’s unending glory that in his wisdom he devised a way for those who merit such condemnation to become the recipients of saving grace by faith in Christ. Yet, God is not bound to draw all persons in the same measure or in the same manner toward this free gift of salvation, though all persons do have sufficient means (through the dispensing of universal prevenient grace) to draw near to God in faith (cf. my earlier discussion of Romans 1:21 and 2:4).

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