Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Relational Theology's response to the exercise of God's sovereignty in Romans 9

Does God exercise His sovereignty in an unbridled sense? Much of classical theology assumes so. That is why they teach TULIP! Only Relational Theology makes sense out of this chapter and fit the pieces of the puzzle which classical theology has "systematically" scrambled.

Let's call a spade ---- a spade! Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else!

Yes, we will give answers to this very important theological question. However, in the process of studying and dissecting both Paul's explicit and implicit declarations in this oft neglected chapter, I have stumbled in an even more important principle that has to do with the security of the believer's salvation. Of course, this will have tremendous negative implications on the classicist's cherish concept of sovereignty and its implications.

The 9th chapter of the book of Romans has always been touted as one of the anchors of the classicist in discussing the sovereignty of God and its repercussions on the security of salvation, "Once saved, always saved". However, this is mostly due to their tunnel vision on the explicit statements of the English without due regard to the implied presumptions of these very statements from the Greek and with a Jewish perspective!

The first job of an inquisitive exegete is to dive into the mind of the author, using his way of thinking, the context of his discussion and if necessary, the historical background not of the treatise itself but the history behind the subject matter. Conservative and True hermeneutics, after all, is one that exposes the original grammatico-historical context of the author under the socio-religious context of the audience, as well as their level of learning. It is interpreting the passage with the mind and heart of the author.

So here is St. Paul, a scholastic Jew, with a very analytical mind, pro-Israel but with a passion for the Gentiles and he is speaking to the Roman church composed perhaps with a mixture of Jews, Hellenistic Jews, and Hellenistic Gentiles. He has just discussed his magnum opus or doctoral dissertation on Soteriology in all its phases, Justification, Sanctification and Glorification. He has just concluded chapter 8 which is perhaps, the most glorious chapter any child of God would savor word for word about his relationship with God post-salvation.

Then he pauses for an interlude and brings Israel into the picture. Why? A careful exegete must ask what relation does a discussion on Israel have on the dissertation on the doctrine of Salvation by grace through faith on the finished work of the Lord, Jesus Christ. While we are at this, why does St. Paul devote not only chapter 9 but the next two chapters as well to Israel as some sort of backdrop for the doctrine of salvation (of course, strictly speaking, the chapters never came about until 1560 when the Geneva Bible was published, but we mean the length of his discussion devoted to Israel as a focal point)?

I cannot help but believe that there is really only one reason and a side note in the process. The one main reason is to show that Israel is really a very accurate type of the church and that what was true about Israel is essentially true about the church. It was to show that the church is Israel but with borders extended to accommodate the Gentile world. It was to show that, essentially, God would deal with His church the same way He dealt with Israel as a prototype.
Hmmm, simple enough you would say, but only until you analyze the impact of the repercussions of this comparison.
  1. Like Israel, the "chosen people", the church is a gathering of the elect (v. 4,5)
  2. Like Israel, "who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God", so is the church! (v.4,5)
  3. Like Israel, the church is called by God Himself as "My people" or "sons of the living God." (v.26)
Now, these points we have heard before either from the pulpit, Bible study, or even seminary. What we do not usually hear are the next repercussions of this comparison.
  1. Like Israel where "they are not all Israel who are of Israel", SO IS THE CHURCH!!! Christ Himself declared this grave truth in Matthew 7:21, "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who DOES (emphasis mine) the will of My Father in heaven". So let us not rest complacent on the fact that we are elect to declare that we are secure. There is really no foundation to this claim and this belief. Where am I going with this? God's sovereignty has a lot to do with His power of election but that truth has very little to do with the security of the salvation of the elect!
  2. Like Israel, the chosen people, the church who are the elect can be rejected by God for disobedience and unfaithfulness. Just look at the letter to the church in Laodicea in Revelations 3:16, "I will vomit you out of my mouth!"
  3. Israel was a chosen people, but not all will go to heaven! In fact, Israel was exiled and rejected by God because of its disobedience and unbelief, and it is these very passages in the book of Romans that will assure the church that they would be treated by God the EXACT SAME WAY. See Romans 11:20-21, "Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either."
  4. Like Israel where only a faithful remnant will be saved, so is the church. How many times does one read in God's word that "he who endures to the end will be saved" compare that to how many times the Bible actually declares, "Once saved, alway saved". The real honest answer is ZILCH for the latter, preponderance for the former.
  5. I will make this the last but there maybe more: Note that v. 4,5 declare this about Israel's special dispensation, " to whom pertain the adoption (same as the Church), the glory (same as the Church), the covenants (same as the Church), the giving of the law (same as the Church), the service of God (same as the Church), and the promises (OH YEAH! same as the Church); of whom are the fathers (same as the Church) ..."
Now, the side note of St. Paul is a short but precise discussion on the Sovereignty of God. Again, this is often taught especially in Reformed and Presbyterian circles but they seem to always teach a monolithic perspective on sovereignty, i.e, "this is God's behavior and He CANNOT help but exercise it just this ONE WAY", a totally false conclusion if one includes Biblical experience into it!

Again, let me emphasize that this is a side note and not a main discussion point with Paul. Making this a major subject issue for the book of Romans clearly tends to NEGATE the sense of the rest of the book! If God is sovereign and He pre-ordains everything because He cannot help but do it just that one way, WHAT IS THE POINT OF ALL THIS OTHER DISCUSSIONS ON SALVATION????

If everything is carved on stone by God, why bother doing anything out of our own free will (including accepting the Love of God!)?

Now that we've stretched that classical theological point to its extreme logical (but ridiculous!) conclusion, let us now get our bearings straight and interpret this with what I believe is the mind of Paul.

The issues at hand are the following statements:
  1. v.7 - "In Isaac, your seed shall be called". Note that literally, NOT ALL of Isaac's descendants are saved!
  2. v.11 - (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls)
  3. v.12 - “The older shall serve the younger.” This is a clear predestination statement.
  4. v.13 - As it is written, “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated.”
  5. v.15 - For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.”
  6. v.16 - So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.
  7. v.17 - For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” This is another clear predestination statement.
  8. v.18 - Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens.
One who happens to be purely classical and has heard only a little about the relational theological viewpoint would be tempted to say, "Here is proof of God's absolute sovereignty. Any other view like relational theology only tends to depict God as weaker or less powerful or less sovereign than He really is!"

And here is Relational Theology's response:

On the contrary, Relational Theology upholds a MORE POWERFUL and MORE SOVEREIGN God than classical theology proclaims. We declare a Sovereign God Who CAN CONTROL the exercise of His sovereignty depending on His wisdom and His Love. The classical view of sovereignty is unbridled, as if God cannot help but exercise His Sovereignty only ONE WAY and what He does for one, He does for all! May it never be that God would be so impotent that He abides by a dignum Deo predictable behavior! That is the classical view at its logical extreme!

The relational view has a FLEXIBLE God and His flexibility is derived from His infinite wisdom and His infinite love. The relational hermeneutic applied to this passage in Romans is simply that to remind the Roman audience that God is indeed sovereign and He can do ANYTHING He desires but ONLY IF He wants to. And the Biblical record shows that for the most part, God has NOT CHOSEN to arbitrarily exercise His sovereignty. Hence, what He has ordained for Isaac, Jacob, Esau and Pharoah may NOT BE NECESSARILY applicable to anyone else!

To claim that it applies to everyone is an subtle and implicit claim that God CANNOT control Himself nor His powers which makes Him indeed a lesser and weaker God! And here is why we believe this is a side note, precisely because although it emphasizes God's absolute sovereignty, this particular exercise of such sovereignty is not necessarily applicable to all people nor all events nor all situations.

Apart from this, Relational Theology highlights the best attribute of God which is LOVE! Precisely, because He HAS CHOSEN NOT to apply this kind of exercise of sovereignty to all!

This is now the powerful context by which we approach the rest of Romans chapter 9, especially verses 19 to 33. We not only appreciate God's absolute sovereignty, but we appreciate His absolute unconditional agape.


  1. Calvinists like to use chapter 9 to demonstrate statements of God's sovereignty of individual predestination, as in the case of Jcaob and Esau, and Pharoah,implying that at least iin the case of Esau and Pharoah, they are individually lost. However the context of chapters 9-11 deal with Israel as an entity, not a individuals. When Paul talks about Jacob and Esau, he is talking about the nations of Israel and Edom (the 'hate' quote comes from Malachi 1, which clearly names Edom by name). In the case of Pharoah, he is the representative of the nation of Egypt. Therefore the vessels of destruction are nations and the vessels of mercy are Israel, and whatever nation believes in Israel's God.

    Would you concur with this assessment?

  2. Thank you for your comment.

    I have to confess that in my hermeneutics, allegories would be the last resort when interpreting even passages like this. Hence, although I would agree with your assessment that the Malachi passage relates as much to nations as to individuals, Paul's use of it in the Romans 9 discussion would primarily be on an individual basis. Our relational theology does not deny predestination. It just rejects that false notion that God uniformly predestines everything and everyone else and in the same way.

    Nevertheless, extending the analogy to nations is perfectly valid due to the basis (Malachi) of his quote. However, the New Testament writers like Paul, Peter, Matthew and even Jesus ("You are gods" John 10:34)have been known to liberally pull many Old Testament passages to use as supporting quotes, which if it were done today would ironically be considered "Scripture Twisting".

  3. But it seems evident to me that when Paul speaks of 'neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they children, but in Isaac shall thy seed be called', he is narrowing the scope of who are the chosen people. Ishmael was illegitimate because the promise was to both Abraham AND Sarah's seed. Therefore that nation was not favored. Isaac was the child of promise which would in turn produce Jacob, from who another promise was made ('the elder would serve the younger', meaning that the descendants of Jacob would be favored, and indeed become the twelve tribes of Israel.) The relationship between Israel and Edom remained in that state even in Malachi's time (See Malachi 1:5, better yet read the passage in context) I don't think that Paul was just randomly pulling out scriptures. As far as Pharoah is concerned, it wasn't just his child that was effected that fateful night, but all of Egypt.

    You'll see time after time that God's judgement on evil kings of nations surrounding Israel affected the whole nation, hence total destruction that included women and children and livestock. These are the vessels of destruction. God's purpose for Israel was to show Himself to the nations of the world that He is God of a people He chose.

  4. I don't disagree with you at all. I am just a bit strict with hermeneutics. I prefer not to stretch or expand beyond the words AND context of the passages I analyze.

    Here is a good example of strict hermeneutics and I still have to do a separate blog on this.

    Matthew 16:18, "..upon this rock I will build my church". There are various interpretations to who or what the "rock" means. I am really disappointed with most of the hermenutics out there which are completely biased and untruthful. The most popular version is that the rock refers to Christ and THAT is the WORST interpretation. The 2nd bad interpretation is that the rock refers to Peter's faith, but that is just because people who say this are afraid to agree with the Roman Catholic version that the rock refers to Peter (Cephas). However, Christ is God and is the greatest communicator and Peter is among the simple uneducated fishermen of his day, so why would He play with words?

    Clearly, the rock refers to Peter. The Christ-is-the-Rock people do isogesis and not exegesis to force their interpretation. They say that the Greek for rock is PETRA is feminine and refers to a big rock while Peter's name is PETROS which is masculine is just a small stone (talk about splitting hairs!). Well Jesus is masculine and Christ is masculine as well, so why force PETRA to refer to Christ. Also, it is obvious that if there were ever a play with words, it would intuitively between PETRA and PETROS and NOTHING MORE.

    I got into a lot of trouble with this when I was a Sunday School teacher, so I just retorted and said, "Christ is the Solid Rock, the Rock of Ages, but no one can use this verse to support that. They will have to use other, clearer verses BUT NOT THIS ONE! In this case, the Roman Catholics are not only the majority, but they are also the most logical and hermenutically accurate, but ONLY on this one verse."

    Going back to our subject, it is quite clear to me that Paul's discussion at least starts with an individual context. The principle in Romans 9:17-18 applies primarily to individuals and that would be the only basis for applying it to groups of people.

    Furthermore, when Romans 9:30 talks about Gentiles, Paul obviously means Gentiles on an individual basis. When He talks about the remnant, he certainly means the remnant but on an individual basis.

    Again, your extension to groups is perfectly valid but the way I see it, it is more a result of the individual application than it is THE application itself. Let us assume that God said He hated Edom instead of He hated Esau (which He did not say), does this mean that He hates the nation but not the INDIVIDUALs in it? Obviously, He would hate the nation precisely because of its individuals.

  5. Well, I'm not going to argue much more on this. Even if it is on an individual basis, I don't see it pertaining to salvation, but God;s purpose for those individuals. A person could be used for dishonor, yet still be saved (I Cor 3:11-15).

    But I also believe God will judge nations. Jesus condemned such in His 'woes'. And in Matthew 25:32, the sheep and the goats are speaking of nations being judged rather than individuals.