Thursday, December 30, 2010

"Unstated In the Verse," Pt. 2: Thomas R. Schreiner's Critique of Dr. Brian Abasciano

“It reminds me of a time when I was teaching a class on Ephesians, and I asked, ‘What is this verse teaching?’ And one student replied, ‘It teaches that we must choose God to be saved.’ I replied, ‘Does it not seem strange that the wording of the verse emphasizes just the opposite of what you said? It stresses God’s choice, not ours.’ This is seen in Eph. 1:5 as well, where as though to oppose the Arminian interpretation of God’s choice Paul adds that God ‘predestined us according to the purpose of his will’” (Dr. Thomas R. Schreiner, “Corporate and Individual Election in Romans 9: A Response to Brian Abasciano.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 49, no. 2 (June 2006): 380).
In my last post on Schreiner’s critique of Dr. Abasciano’s conclusion regarding Romans 9 (that it is primarily about conditional election and that only), I stated that in the logical ordering of decrees in eternity, we can posit (a safe interpretation) that God decreed Christ as Savior before believers were decreed as elect in Christ. As a result, there is a case for corporate election (as Abasciano espouses) in Ephesians 1. The phrase “in Christ” tells us that faith is what joins us to Christ...but the fact that “He chose us” points to God’s sovereignty, that He determined that believers would be saved by virtue of faith in Christ. In other words, the fact that there are even believers is a testimony to God’s sovereignty; had God not established grace and faith as the conditions for salvation, and granted them to us, man would never have ever been “elect.” Instead, we all would have been “reprobate.”
Schreiner attempts to make Ephesians 1 all about individual election and God’s choice. But Ephesians 1 also points to human choice as well. And that is the concern of this post: to establish the fact that man makes choices in salvation, and God makes choices as well. This all goes to show that divine sovereignty and human responsibility work together...that the two concepts do not create a “paradox” or provide “tension” in the biblical text.
Ephesians 1:13 states---
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise” (Eph. 1:13, NKJV).
The phrase “in Him” is used twice in this verse, some eleven times or so in Ephesians 1 [Eph. 1:1,4,5,6,7,10,11,12,13 (2X)].
Notice that the text says “you also trusted.” The believers at Ephesus trusted in Christ after hearing the gospel (called “the word of truth”).
But Ephesians 1 is not alone in describing genuine human choice; Romans does the same. Romans 5 finds Paul discussing the parallel between the physical union in Adam and the spiritual union with (in) Christ:
“For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).
There are similarities between the union with Adam and union with Christ: for one, Christ is called “the second Adam” in 1 Corinthians 15. Secondly, both involve choice: that is, in Adam, all humanity willingly chose to Christ, one must choose to receive Christ’s atonement. However, there is a difference: one is born in union with Adam, but one is not born in union with Christ as God’s elect. One must receive salvation in order to be elect (due to faith in Christ, the “Elect One”).
Dr. Schreiner attempts to focus on God’s choosing Christ and choosing believers in Christ; but what about Romans 5, which indicates that man chooses to receive salvation? If the interpretations of the passages I have provided are correct, then Schreiner’s ideas of the Arminian view are not entirely correct.
It is an interesting thought indeed: God chooses in Ephesians 1, and humans choose in Romans 5. How can we reconcile these two texts? Schreiner would say that the answer is found in his view of compatibilistic freedom. And how exactly does this work? I will share more of Schreiner’s view in posts to come.

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