Friday, June 29, 2012

Why Does Calvinism Matter? - Part 11: Biblical Theology

Other Posts in this Series:

Scholars like Graeme Goldsworthy, Vaughn Roberts, and others have argued persuasively that the Lord Jesus Christ is the end or goal of “biblical theology.” But biblical theology also has a number of major sub-themes, like kingdom, covenant, law, redemption, temple, land, etc., one of which is God's saving election.

Biblical theology is distinguished from “systematic theology” in that it reads the Bible along its own storyline, from beginning to end, and emphasizes the categories that the Bible itself emphasizes, while systematic theology organizes truths of the Bible according to philosophical and logical categories. Biblical theology is the study of “redemptive history” that shows how God's saving purposes unfold in the Bible.

The doctrine of unconditional election is one of the themes of biblical theology. The Bible strongly emphasizes God's election to underscore the fact that His saving purpose does not depend on human descent (genealogy or nationality) or human wisdom, but only on His purpose of free and sovereign grace.

Consider just some of the personal manifestations of the doctrine of election in the Bible's story.

1. Seth. Immediately after the fall in Genesis 3, God promised that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15). But in Genesis 4, there was a battle between the two seeds in which Cain murdered Abel. It appeared that the seed of the serpent (the ungodly line) had destroyed the seed of the woman (the godly line). 

But God showed His gracious electing power by providing Eve a new son to replace Abel, named Seth, which means “elect.” Genesis 5:25-26 says, “And Adam knew his wife again, and she bore a son and called his name Seth, for she said, 'God has appointed [elected]' for me another offspring instead of Abel for Cain killed him. To Seth also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord.” God gave Eve another son, who was a replacement for godly Abel. There was no chance that Seth might have refused to be godly, since God appointed Seth to begin a godly line of those who would call upon the name of the Lord (Gen 5:26).

2. Noah. Due to inherited guilt and corruption from Adam (total depravity), the wickedness in the world expanded (Gen 6:3, 5), but God preserved a remnant of godly seed by choosing Noah for righteousness. Genesis 6:8-9 says, “But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD. These are the generations of Noah. Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God.” The order of verses 8-9 is critical. First, God favored Noah (verse 8); second Noah “walked with God” (verse 9). By choosing Noah for salvation, God made certain that He would preserve the godly line from which Christ would eventually arise.

3. Abraham. At the tower of Babel (Gen 11), the wickedness of the world manifested how great it had become due to inherited corruption from Adam. Human beings proudly refused to spread out across the whole earth and subdue it in submission to God but sought instead to make a name for themselves. The ungodly seed of the serpent was growing. 

But God chose Abraham to continue the godly line from which Christ would eventually come. Before God came to him, Abraham worshipped other gods with his father Terah in Ur of the Chaldeans.  Abraham had nothing to commend himself to God, but God effectually called him to salvation (Gen 12:1-3). Joshua 24:2-3 says, “And Joshua said to all the people, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor, and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many.'” God “took” Abraham for Himself. Abraham could not have thwarted God's plan to preserve a godly line by a contra-causal free will. Rather, God made certain that Abraham would respond willingly to His effectual call. In Genesis 18:19, God says the following about Abraham, “I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”  Here we see that God chose Abraham for salvation that he might teach his children in the way of faith.  This is the Calvinistic doctrine of "means."  God uses the means of preaching and godly living to draw His elect people to Himself. 

4. Isaac and Jacob. Both Isaac and Jacob were sinful men who had no personal worthiness to commend themselves to God. Isaac sinned in the same ways as his father Abraham, in that he lied about Rebekah being his wife in order to save his own skin from Abimelech king of the Philistines (Gen 26:6-9), showing that he inherited a sinful nature from his father.  Jacob was no better than his father Isaac in that he was a self-centered deceiver. 

But God chose to save Isaac, rather than Ishmael, and Jacob rather than Esau. Romans 9:6-13 says, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but 'Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.' This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: 'About this time next year I will return and Sarah will have a son.' And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad – in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call, – she was told, 'The older will serve the younger.' As it is written, 'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'” 

And so, God preserved the godly line (the seed of the woman), not by depending on those in the godly line to make wise free will choices, but by choosing one man over another for salvation, even within the nation of Israel.

God's sovereign choices demonstrate two things. First, they put God's sovereign and discriminating grace upon display, such that He alone gets the glory for preserving a people for Himself. Second, they subsume the genetic and national theme beneath the saving and redemptive theme. This shows that God's purpose in the world is not a racial or geopolitical purpose, but a saving purpose. Biblical history is not primarily a history of nations, but the history of God's sovereign redemption.

5. Moses. God effectually directed the beginning of Moses' life so that he would grow up in Pharoah's household and be perfectly suited to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and captivity in Egypt. Before God effectually called him, Moses murdered an Egyptian and fled to Midian, away from God's people. Moses was no great leader, nor was he a godly man by nature. But God chose him to lead Israel out of captivity (Gen 3:2-10; Acts 7:35). Did God's plan for Moses to deliver the seed of the woman out of bondage to the seed of the serpent depend upon Moses' free will, which might have chosen other than it did? Could Moses have chosen not to follow God's instructions in the burning bush and thwarted God's design? Surely not!

6. David. After the period of the Judges, when Israel became more and more like the Canaanites with each successive Judge, God gave Israel a king “like the nations,” just as they had requested. The biblical text wants us to see Saul as a Canaanite king. Saul was commanding and self-centered. He used the people for himself and wanted personal glory from them. Saul did not descend from the tribe of Judah, but was a Benjaminite, and so never should have been king in the first place. Saul was a representative of the seed of the serpent. 

David, however, is the seed of the woman. Samuel went to Jesse's house and looked over Jesse's sons In 1 Samuel 16:11 it says, “Then Samuel said to Jesse, 'Are all your sons here? And he said, 'There remains yet the youngest, but behold he is keeping the sheep.' And Samuel said to Jesse, 'Send and get him, for we will not sit down till he comes here.' And he sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy and had beautiful eyes and was handsome. And the LORD said, 'Arise and anoint him, for this is he.'” So, the LORD chose David unexpectedly. David was the runt of Jesse's sons. 

1 Samuel 13:14 says, “The LORD has sought out a man after his own heart.” But this does not mean that God sought a man who had a character like His because the Hebrew word “heart” (leb) means “mind.” What 1 Samuel 13:14 means is that God sought a man after His own mind, or a man after His own choosing. God chose David not because of anything in David, but because of His own sovereign purpose.

7. The Old Testament Prophets. After David, Solomon's reign benefitted from David's strength. But after Solomon, the kingdom was divided and began to decline as it slipped into more and more ungodliness. God chose and sent prophets to warn His people to repent in light of coming judgment. One example is when God explicitly says that He chose Jeremiah to declare His Word to the nations. Jeremiah 1:4-5 says, “Now, the Word of the LORD came to me saying, 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, and before you were born, I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” In this context, the Hebrew, word “knew” (yda) means to set affections upon or to choose. The role of the prophets was to call the seed of the woman to repentance, while declaring God's coming judgment to purge the seed of the serpent from the Old Testament church. The work of the prophets was so important that it could not be left to their own contra-causal free wills, but was brought about by God's sovereign and meticulous providence.

8. The Lord Jesus Christ. God chose Jesus Christ to be the promised seed, to live a righteous life, to die, and rise again as a mediator for God's people. The human nature of Christ did not have contra-causal freedom to accept or reject God's call upon His life. 1 Peter 1:20-21 says, “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for your sake, who through him are believers in God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” According to BDAG, the current standard Greek Lexicon, the Greek word translated “foreknown” carries the idea of “foreordained” or “chosen.” Christ was chosen before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in time.

9. The Eleven Apostles of Christ. When Judas was still among the disciples, Christ carefully distinguished between Judas and the rest of the disciples saying that He had chosen all but the one who would betray Him. Jesus said, “If you know these things blessed are you if you do them. I am not speaking of all of you; I know whom I have chosen. But the Scripture will be fulfilled, 'He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me'” (Jn 13:17-18). Here Christ identifies Judas as one who lifts up his heel against Him, linking Judas with the seed of the serpent. The other eleven disciples are “chosen” and in the line of the seed of the woman, but not Judas. Later, after Judas had already gone out from the disciples, Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide” (Jn 15:16). Christ chose the eleven disciples for eternal salvation, but not Judas.

10. Paul, the Twelfth Apostle. Not only were the eleven Apostles chosen for salvation, but the twelfth capital “A” Apostle, Paul, was also chosen for salvation before he was born. In Galatians 1:15-16, Paul says, “He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace was pleased to reveal his Son to me in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” God chose Paul for salvation that he might preach the gospel among the nations.

The doctrine of election holds redemptive history together. God's saving purpose could not be thwarted because God chose men for salvation to advance His saving story. The men he chose could not have refused His call or in any way  disrupted His design, but rather because God chose them, they willingly believed Him and did according to His intention.

Time and again, God made surprising choices, choosing one man over another, in order to show that salvation history is not a human product, or a cooperative effort between God and men, but is the work of God in spite of sinful men. God is the hero of redemptive history, not human beings who might have happened to use their free wills to make good choices. God acts in history and human beings respond according to His pleasure. Calvinism matters because it preserves the purpose and glory of God's grace throughout redemptive history.   

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