Sunday, February 28, 2010

Romans 9: The Soulwinner's Burden and Hope

Within the last thirty minutes, I just finished listening to Dr. Ken Keathley’s chapel sermon from September 2009, titled “The Soulwinner’s Burden.” Dr. Ken Keathley, as you all know by now, is the author of “Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach,” as well as a Professor of Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I attend.

Dr. Keathley preached his sermon on Romans 9:1-3, 10:1 with a lot of grace and strength. I sat and listened, spell-bound as he explained the Word with such clarity. And when it was over, I found myself with a new level of respect for someone who has been a wonderful professor as well as a dear friend. If there’s anyone I know who practices what he preaches, it would be Dr. Ken Keathley. I could go on, but as I always say, I’m a little biased...

Now, on to the content of the sermon itself. The text was Romans 9, the famous proof-text of Calvinists who attempt to convince the world that God picks the saved and damns the unsaved. What impressed me most about the sermon was his take on Romans 9:11 and the purpose of election. As he stated it, the purpose was not according to “works,” that being “works of the law” as Paul writes in Romans 9:32. “The dividing line,” as Keathley said, “is not the elect and the reprobate, but the believing and the unbelieving.” When we get to verses like Romans 9:16, that have been misappropriated by Calvinists, the references to “him who wills” and “him who runs” cannot refer to “those who believe,” seeing that works and faith are not the same thing (Rom. 9:32). If they are the same thing, then the Bible contradicts itself. However, like Paul, I too say “Let God be true, but every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4).

In his discussion of Jews and Gentiles, Keathley showed us just how skillful Paul was at crafting this chapter of the epistle to the Romans. In his discussion of Rom. 9:15-17, Keathley stated that here we find that God had mercy on Israel, the Jews (v. 15), but hardened the heart of a Gentile, Pharaoh himself (v.17). However, beginning in verse 19, we see the Jews questioning their responsibility if everything is going according to plan and God’s word has not failed (v.6). Paul’s answer is that God has the rights over the clay, to use the clay as He sees fit. If He decides to have mercy on Israel, for example, but then use Pharaoh in his unbelief, then it’s God’s prerogative. The “vessels of wrath,” being unbelieving Israel, are the ones in verse 22 who are now being used in their unbelief; the “vessels of mercy,” being the church, is now being used in its belief to win the world for Christ. God is now having mercy on the church, while still using unbelieving Israel to bring the world to Himself (Rom. 11:15).

Keathley connected verses 25-29 with the earlier portions of the chapter, stating that, “they are not all Israel who are of Israel” (v. 6) is demonstrated by verses 25-29, which refer to the multitude of Gentiles who believe, versus the “remnant” of Jews who believe. Paul quotes from the Old Testament to show that God’s Word foretold that things would be the way they are--- that few Jews would believe, while great numbers of Gentiles would.

Verse 30 concluded with the reason for the mass Gentiles and the few Jews: “that Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, HAVE ATTAINED TO RIGHTEOUSNESS, even the RIGHTEOUSNESS OF FAITH” (NKJV). While the Gentiles have received salvation, the Jews have not. Why? “because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by THE WORKS OF THE LAW.” The reference to works in verses 11 and 16 then, are not referring to faith. Contrary to Calvinist thought, faith is not a work. Faith, however, is the reason to why the Gentiles are now being shown mercy, while the Jews are being used to bring many to glory.

While all the above points made my heart leap with joy, nothing made me pause more than Dr. Keathley’s emphasis on the anguish and sorrow in Paul’s heart: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I HAVE GREAT SORROW AND CONTINUAL GRIEF IN MY HEART. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh” (Rom. 9:1-3).

Keathley emphasized the great sorrow that Paul had---after just taking the reader to one of the “highest mountain peaks” of the Scriptures, Romans 8, where the believer is encouraged in Christ!! In Romans 8, Paul becomes introspective, focused on the believers in Christ; but in Romans 9, Paul becomes “extrovert,” focusing on the lost condition of his own countrymen, Israel (the Jews). Keathley told us that he prayed that we would have hearts like Paul---that our hearts would bleed for the lost peoples of the world, that they would come to Christ and be saved.

. Keathley didn’t get to preach all of Romans 9-11 (I wish he had!), but he knows, as do I, the hope that Paul had in the plan of God. For if one reads Romans 11, we find that Paul still held out hope for his people: “and they also, IF THEY DO NOT CONTINUE IN UNBELIEF, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again” (Rom. 11:23). There is hope for Israel yet...and when Israel is ready to receive the Messiah, He will embrace Israel with the love that a father has for his son.

This is the hope we have: that, despite what seems to be a dark situation, God is still there and is still in control of everything. Paul had that same hope for his people...that, despite their current situation, God was still crying out for them to come to Him in faith. And for the lost peoples of the world, as well as our loved ones who refuse to yield, God is still working in their hearts as well. Thank you, Dr. Keathley, for such a timely message. It is only this message of hope and belief for all who are willing that will change the face of our world and please the One who has given us the Great Commission.


The Seeking Disciple said...

I will have to take a listen to this sermon. Thanks!

Deidre Richardson said...

The Seeking Disciple,

It was a sermon that I will never forget. You can find it at the following web address:

Let me know if you can't access it. The name to look for is "Ken Keathley," and he should be on the second row of preachers, last one on the right.

Kaitiaki said...

Diedre, it sounds as if this is a sermon I would enjoy as well - a pity my sounds don't work. However, please don't knock the Calvinist by such oversimplifications.

Let me deal with just the two points you raise: "the famous proof-text of Calvinists who attempt to convince the world that God picks the saved and damns the unsaved." I trust we are agreed that those who are unsaved are damned - right? If there is no punishment for sin, where is God's justice? So, the difference between what you said and the way a Calvinist would recognize it is: ... God picks the saved out of the damned - we are all damned if not saved.

Now, if that sounds like what you heard from the good doctor - I am not surprised. We both use the same book after all. :)

Which brings me to the second "Contrary to Calvinist thought, faith is not a work. Faith, however, is the reason to why the Gentiles are now being shown mercy, while the Jews are being used to bring many to glory." Now the strange thing about this quotation is that I have so often heard it - only in the contexts *I* have heard it the word Calvinist is replaced (just as unfairly) by Arminian. I do not agree, however, that faith is the primary reason that marks the difference between Jew and Gentile at the present. That would be God's grace - faith is the indicator of that grace but that's not the point I wanted to make.

Now you call this the "Center for Theological Studies." Theologically speaking the claim that "faith is a work" which makes the difference between the saved and the lost is contrary to Calvinistic thought. Let me state it again: NO Calvinist (assuming that to mean someone who believes in the system of doctrine propounded by John Calvin) believes faith is a work which causes us to be saved. On the contrary faith is (we believe) a gift of God. We can't even *have* faith unless God puts it in our hearts.

Now, if you meant it was a work of God, the Holy Spirit, in the unbeliever's heart then I might (cautiously) agree it is a work. The key here is that (for a Calvinist) faith "as a work" is not something man does or, indeed, can do. We would certainly never claim that our salvation depends on something we do which makes God decide we are more worthy to be saved than the rest of the damned.

It is God to whom we ascribe all the glory for our undeserved salvation. It is God whose promise to save the lost by the foolishness of preaching that makes us spend the time to seek out those who need the Gospel. It is God who sustains us when all seems to have gone wrong and the world seems to be against us - not because we are Calvinists but - because we are Christian.

It sounds like your good friend moved you in a way that brought glory to God. I am so glad!! The world, the Church and our nation needs such preaching. May God bless you in your studies and the good doctor for his work in honoring our Lord Jesus Christ.

Deidre Richardson said...


Thanks for responding.

I noticed that u seem to believe that I am wrong about the idea that Calvinists have labeled faith as a work. I have a good example to support my belief, coming from a Calvinist. In his work "The Justification of God," John Piper writes regarding Romans 9:11---

"The predestination and call of God precede justification (Rom. 8:29) and have no ground in any human act, not even faith. This is why Paul explicitly says in Rom. 9:16 that God's bestowal of mercy on whomever He wills is based neither on HUMAN WILLING (WHICH WOULD INCLUDE FAITH) nor on human running (which would include all activity)" ("The Justification of God: An Exegetical & Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23," Second Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007, page 53).

I capitalized the words above so that you would be sure to see it. In Piper's mind, faith is "human willing." The problem with this is, that, if (according to your view) Calvinists viewed faith as a gift), Piper would not label it as a "work." All would agree that John Piper is a well-known Calvinist; if he is labeling faith as a work, then to him at least, faith is a "human willing." If faith is a gift from God, it cannot be a "human willing," except that man exercise that gift of faith. However, the idea that man exercise the gift of faith is nullified in Piper's thought because that would then make faith a "human willing." I'm not just making the claims I am to distort the Calvinist position.

Dr. Ken Keathley discusses this same thing in his book:

"The first argument we will examine is the rather surprising claim made by some Calvinists that FAITH IS ACTUALLY A TYPE OF WORK WITHIN A NON-CALVINIST SOTERIOLOGY. They contend that if faith is the human condition to salvation, then in effect the act of trusting merits the receiving of salvation" (Ken Keathley, "Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach." Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2010, page 108).

One of the examples Keathley provides in his work is that of R.C. Sproul Sr., whom I will quote here:

"Since God commands us to trust in Christ, when we do so we are obeying this command. But all Christians agree that faith is SOMETHING WE DO" (quoted from Keathley, "Salvation and Sovereignty." Also, see Sproul Sr.'s work, "Willing to Believe," pp. 25-26).

John Piper and R.C. Sproul, Sr. are both Calvinists---yet they assert that faith is human willing...which is why regeneration must precede faith. God must regenerate before faith because, if a person believes before regeneration, then in their minds, faith is a work (and the person "merited" their own salvation). Of course, I disagree with them both, but I'm providing these examples to show you what they believe. So, whether you knew it or not, there are Calvinists who do make this assertion...and yes, they follow John Calvin.

Deidre Richardson said...


Secondly, regarding your point about the separation mark of Jew and Gentile: let me say that, according to Romans 9 and Romans 11, the issue with the Jews is that of faith, not of regeneration or God giving grace to the Gentiles and not the Jews, etc. This is why Paul mentions faith as the explanation of the Jews’ failure to obtain salvation (Rom. 9:30-32), that the Jews will not believe whereas the Gentiles do and are being won to salvation. In Romans 11, Paul tells the Gentiles, “BECAUSE OF UNBELIEF THEY WERE BROKEN OFF, and you stand BY FAITH” (Rom. 11:20).

Whatever Calvinist theology says, it doesn’t say that the Jews and Gentiles differ because of grace or regeneration. Notice that the Jews have been far more graced than the Gentiles (9:4-5). Even the promises themselves belong to them! So the issue is not one of grace, but of faith. And the Jews refuse to believe, which is why they “own” the promises but have not “received” them.

The Scripture’s emphasis is not on grace, which is assumed, but on faith, belief. “But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to THOSE WHO BELIEVE” (Galatians 3:22, NKJV).
The issue is faith and those who choose to exercise the faith they have been given.

When Jesus is born, the angels sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14, NKJV) The angels sing because God’s good pleasure has come in the form of Christ, who is the propitiation for the sins of mankind (1 John 2:2). Grace came in the form of Christ; faith is a gift given, but salvation is extended to all (1 Tim. 2:4, John 3:16).

The Calvinist interpretation has problems when it comes to Romans 9-11. For, in these three chapters, Paul is placing blame on the Jews for their unbelief, and is not merely accepting of the fact that God has chosen a portion of Jews to be saved (with the rest perishing). God has not “graced” the Gentiles any more than the Jews; nor has He “called” more people than the Jews, or intended to damn more of His own people than the Gentiles. In fact, the Jews are prized first, with regards to the Gospel (Rom. 1:16). Jesus even told the apostles to go “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6).

Paul mourns the fact that the Jews have everything (Rom. 9:4-5), and yet, still are not saved. Why is this? “for they (Israel) being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, HAVE NOT SUBMITTED TO THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:3-4). Indeed, as Paul quotes Isaiah’s words from the Lord, “All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people” (Rom. 10:21, Isaiah 65:2).

Kaitiaki said...

Quite honestly, Diedre, I think you are managing to convince me that using the labels Calvinist and Arminian is not helping the discussion. I do differ in belief from you - I distrust logic and systems, I would rather put my trust in the plain teaching of the Scriptures. But, we are stuck with them. The simplest way to describe the whole body of my belief is with the label "Calvinist" - in the same way as I would say I believe the Apostles' Creed.

In the end, however, why is soulwinning a burden on our hearts? Is it because of our labels? I hope not. I hope and trust it is because we know the living God. We understand his justice requires the sinner to spend the rest of eternity in Hell if he does not repent.

We understand his mercy has provided a way of escape for sinners in that danger. And that way requires them to repent of their sin and accept Christ's sacrifice on their behalf. We know that implies someone needs to tell sinners that because "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God." And, unless someone tells these sinners of their danger, there is no way anyone will be saved.

You found your motivation in this sermon from the heart of Paul which is no more than a pale shadow of the anguish God feels over the loss of one sinner. That I truly understand, it is also mine. I find my encouragement that my labors will not be in vain in knowing that God sends us out as the means by which he will fulfill his decree to save his (adopted) brothers and sisters.

When it seems I have spent all my efforts and they have come to naught I can remind myself that nothing is wasted - it is all a part of his plan. And, weary though I may be, all is forgotten the minute someone asks me to speak about my Lord.

I just wanted you to know my responses are not designed to destroy what may be an underlying unity in Christ, in spite of the difference in our labels.

Kaitiaki said...

That said: John Piper's quotation seems (to me) to be dealing with an error when he says "The predestination and call of God precede justification (Rom. 8:29) and have no ground in any human act, not even faith." The question I would have to ask of the R C Sproul one would be "what is the rest of the context."

But, putting both aside for the moment. Let us talk about faith. How do you describe yours?

Let me share my description with you. See if you find you can agree with it. "Hebrews gives me the framework: it is the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. I was going to say faith is trusting that God will do what he has said he will."

That description is adequate is it not? Its focus is God and his character - there is my assurance. It also is the evidence of things not seen - that's where my description becomes inadequate. As evidence of God's action in making me born again so I no longer hate him but love him it is enough but still not complete. There is no place in the description to show that love - it's adequate but not accurate.

In Hebrews we find Paul also has the same problem he needs to talk about how the faith he just defined led to salvation for those who had it. Faith, true faith always leads to works. Take Abraham in Ur of the Chaldees. He had faith from the moment he heard God tell him to get up and go and God would give him a new land as his own. Actually he had before that but let's not quibble over it.

He knew God's character and believed God would do as he promised. There's the faith. He couldn't see proof that God would do it but he believed it anyway. And, there's the rub. If we stop the story with Abraham in Ur there is no real faith. He needs to get up and go and do what God says.

In order to get the promised land? Partly, but mostly because he wanted to be with God. God was his friend; anywhere in the world would have been ok with Abraham. Motive is demonstrated also through the way we complete our actions. Now, I admit, that after many decades in the land where he was a stranger (though the owner of it all) he complained to God that a servant would inherit everything, not the son God had promised. And, yes, he took matters into his own hands in trying to get an heir instead of waiting for God to act. But sin did not negate the promise of God. This Abraham knew.

Now, sometimes when we talk to people we don't always distinguish between the cause and its result. We ought to but we don't. It depends a little on who we are talking to and the point we are trying to make. [*grin*] Actually when I started that sentence I was thinking about R C Sproul's use of language but isn't that what Paul does in Hebrews?

If faith is an assurance and an evidence ... how can it achieve anything. As we read the accounts we see each of the people did something because they believed it was what God wanted them to do. Abel (for example) offered a sacrifice - he didn't wait for it to happen. So, if we sometimes use language the same way Paul did and it looks as if we are claiming faith is a work ok. I can live with that.

What is vital is that faith does not (of itself) lead to salvation as if faith is the cause of that result. James deals with that very idea and says "You say you have faith - good. So do the devils and they tremble." Faith by itself is worth nothing. It depends on what it makes you do.

And each of the Calvinists you have quoted will say that: neither the faith to believe, nor the work which flows from it, is something we can boast about. It is all given to us as a gift from God. That, I believe is the very point the John Piper was trying to make.

Deidre Richardson said...


In response to your comment about faith: I am glad that you commented on faith and how it moves us to action. But faith doesn't move us to action if we are "regenerated" before we believe. If God regenerates, then He does so in order to "make us believe." Grace is not enough to free the sinner's will, so that the sinner must choose. No---for the Calvinist, God must change everything about you before you believe. If God changes you before you believe, then it's not you who's God who "made you believe." In the modern-day court system, we would not accuse someone of doing something if they were "held hostage" while doing it...bc that would go against their own act of choice. Now when it gets to God, God can regenerate someone before faith...and "spiritual hostage" is praised as the work of can this be???

But the downside to Calvinist thought is, "what happens after salvation?" What happens after the person gets saved? If regeneration happened prior to salvation, then why is it that so many of the "regenerate" do the things they do after salvation? I mean, God does everything perfect, does He not? So if God regenerates us before faith, why does He only regenerate us enough to believe but not enough to be perfect and walk in complete sanctification? that is a question that the Calvinist has to answer.

I was reading yesterday about Puritan exegesis (the book is called "Opening Scripture" by Lisa Gordis-- Chapter 6 on Roger Williams), that the Puritans conducted hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) and exegesis (drawing out of what's in the biblical text) according to what they believed to be the "Reformed View of Spirit Illumination"; this view states that, since the Spirit illuminates the mind, and everything the Spirit does is perfect, then all teachers, preachers, and exegetes must look at the Scriptures the same way and interpret them in the same manner. Roger Williams, however, posed a problem for them, since they didn't understand how Spirit illumination works.

I think Calvinists today would say that, even with the Spirit's illumination, we're still prone to sin. However, their problem lies too, with Spirit illumination. What about if the Spirit so chooses to work with the human will and mind that God gave us, such that grace frees the will to choose to accept or reject Christ? Peter's sermons are full of things about not resisting God's grace (Acts 7:51) and to repent and believe the gospel. In Paul's message to Agrippa, Agrippa is "almost persuaded" to be a Christian. It's fascinating that he uses the word "persuade."

Classical Arminians approach the issue of salvation with "by grace through faith," which is the biblical account (Eph. 2). While Classical Arminians hold to the idea of regeneration, we believe that persons are regenerated by grace through faith into the kingdom of God, that nothing is done apart from God's grace through faith. Calvinists seem to assume that regeneration is done apart from grace and faith---but where is the evidence? And if God's regeneration prior to faith is all that is needed, then why even need "grace and faith"? I mean, if it's all the work of God, and the individual cannot choose to believe, then why all the passages on grace and faith...and so few on regeneration? In this scenario, grace and faith become "routine," stuff that the elected are supposed to do for the sake of doing. With this approach, preachers should start saying, "Be regenerated," instead of "repent and believe the gospel."