Monday, December 14, 2009

Harmonization and Hermeneutics, Part I: Explaining Romans 8

“Arminians have sometimes assumed conditions of human faith when reading Romans 8:29-30. Grider attempts (as John Wesley did) to loosen the links in the chain of the five verbs in Romans 8:29-30: ‘So, in Romans 8:30, God FORESEES THAT INDIVIDUALS WILL BELIEVE; and in due time He calls them to himself in various ways, as through preaching and by the Spirit’s summons. And AS THEY RESPOND FAVORABLY to this call, He justifies them. Then, STILL BASED ON HIS FOREKNOWLEDGE (see v.29) THAT INDIVIDUALS WILL KEEP ON BELIEVING, He glorifies them” (Cf. Walls and Dongell, “Why I Am Not a Calvinist, 83; caps mine). The italicized (or capped, as I’ve done) words signify Grider’s additions to the biblical text, added in AN ATTEMPT TO HARMONIZE PAUL’S WORDS WITH THE ARMINIAN DOCTRINE OF CONDITIONAL ELECTION...but there are no breaks in the chain of verbs...Paul posits a CONTINUITY in the beneficiaries of salvation from its first manifestation in God’s eternal counsel to its final one in glorification...Paul does not make salvation contingent on human faithfulness, but on divine grace from beginning to end” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, pages 114-115).

In all the reading I’ve done on Calvinism and Arminianism, I cannot name the countless numbers of times that I have read about the so-called “unbreakable chain” of Romans 8:29-30. According to Calvinists, this means that once they are called by God, they are on their way through a “continuous” process that never ends until glorification. In their minds, glorification is as sure as their profession and salvation.

Peterson here attacks the Arminian interpretation of Romans 8:29-30, but there are some clues within Romans 8 that casts doubt on the so-called “unbreakable chain,” or that cast doubt upon the interpretation of the chain of Romans 8.

First, let’s look at Romans 8:17—

“and if children [children of God, v. 16], then heirs----heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, IF INDEED WE SUFFER WITH HIM, THAT WE MAY ALSO BE GLORIFIED TOGETHER” (NKJV).

The language of verse 17 is not one of certainty, but one of possibility (“may also be glorified,” and “if we suffer”).

Going down further, verses 24 and 25 reveal that the hope of glorification (“revealing of the sons of God,” v.19) has not yet arrived:

“For we were saved in this hope [the adoption], BUT HOPE THAT IS SEEN IS NOT HOPE: FOR WHY DOES ONE STILL HOPE FOR WHAT HE SEES? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance” (Rom. 8:24, 25).

According to Paul, we are currently waiting for the hope, the redemption of our bodies, to come. However, since it is still off in the future, “we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” When Paul talks about waiting for it with perseverance, he’s telling us that we must persevere to the end in order to see this revelation of the sons of God (the redemption of our bodies, etc.). Right here in the middle of the passage, Paul reveals the NECESSITY OF PERSEVERANCE! While Calvinists are so consumed by the unbreakable chain, the rest of the world reads these verses in context and knows that the chain is not as guaranteed as one may think.

Then comes the unbreakable chain of Romans 8:29-30. As the context demonstrates, we must suffer with Christ, and we must persevere to the end. The hope of redemption is one that is still far off in the future, a hope that we have not seen. This is why we must wait for it with perseverance (Rom. 8:24, 25).

Notice that before verse 29 comes verse 28: “And we know that ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR GOOD TO THOSE WHO LOVE GOD...” It doesn’t say that every thing that happens turns out good, but instead, all things “work together” for good. What Paul is doing in this verse is telling us that the end result is worth it, that in the end, at the end of time, the sacrifices made for Christ will all be worth it, the trials and tribulations will have been so worth it! And then, Paul starts the so-called “unbreakable chain.”

Some may ask, “If your analysis is right, then why is the chain placed here?” The chain is here because Paul is looking to the future, seeing our glorification. With eyes of faith, Paul is looking forward to the moment in which we are revealed as sons of God (as does also 1 John 3:2-3). Paul also does the same thing in his letter to the Ephesians:

“But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), AND RAISED US UP TOGETHER, AND MADE US SIT TOGETHER IN THE HEAVENLY PLACES IN CHRIST JESUS...” (Eph. 2:4-6, NKJV)

We know that now, at this moment, many of us are not “in the heavenly places,” and are not seated with Christ in heaven yet; however, Paul writes here as though the event itself has already happened. No wonder, then, that when he writes to the Thessalonians, he labels one of the pieces of the armor of God as “the HOPE of salvation” (1 Thess. 5:8).

You may wonder what seems wrong with the Arminian analysis above in Peterson’s quote? In my opinion, nothing at all...I will get into the harmonization of Romans 8 with other passages in my next post.

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