Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Romans 10:2 - The Elephant in the Room No One Seems to Want to Talk About

Over here there's been an extended conversation about unbelievers who are nevertheless recipients of God's grace.

(and the same thing has popped up over here, too)

I am not going to pretend to have been a terribly profound advocate of the Catholic view; Mike Burgess is the real star, in my judgment. But there has been rather assiduous avoidance of something on the part of the Protestants involved: namely, Romans 10:2. St. Paul says of the Jews:
For I bear them witness that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge.
I'm perfectly willing to grant that I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. But this passage seems to me to be rather devastating for the claims of certain Protestants - the Reformed - that God's grace is "irresistible". Why? Because it's not possible for anyone to have zeal for God apart from grace. This should be non-controversial in the present conversation, since the Protestants involved all agree with Romans 3 that "no one seeks God." So - if anyone actually does so, they must be recipients of God's grace.

Now if the Jews are zealous for God, it seems inescapable that they have received grace from God in order to be so. And yet they are not believers in Christ or in the Trinity. And these facts tell me rather unambiguously that God does not force anyone to believe, and that he gives grace even to people who wind up not believing in him.

Now the Protestants in the referenced thread are just ignoring this. And I'm perfectly willing to believe that perhaps they are embarrassed for me - that they think only a fool would be proposing this, and that out of charity they don't wish to make me look like a fool. And if all that's true - and I concede that it is certainly possible - then I commend their charitable spirit.

Nevertheless, I am perfectly willing to be embarrassed. So please - go ahead and shellack me. Explain how this verse does not mean what it seems (to me) to mean. Explain how the grace given to the Jews such that they have zeal for God but do not believe in Christ is nevertheless "irresistible".

As it stands right now, it seems to me that Protestants are just ignoring the implications of this verse. I've checked Hendriksen and Murray, and neither of them comes close to even mentioning this issue, as far as I can tell. I've checked Calvin and Luther...ditto.

I am perfectly willing to admit, too, that you wouldn't want to build a whole house on one verse. And I don't think that one needs to do so in this case: I think that there are quite a few other passages in the NT that demonstrate God doesn't "irresistibly" force anyone to believe. But I also think that if you're going to say that God's grace is irresistible, you're going to have to explain how this passage doesn't invalidate the claim.

I'm still waiting.


Mike Burgess said...

Well, I'm humbled. Thank you for the kind words. Let us pray that God will be glorified.

I'll be curious to see if anyone brings up the distinct but related notion of falling away.

Keep up your erudite work, my friend.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie takes a stab at it.

But she misses the mark, as I point out.

Mere zeal is not the issue. Zeal that is approved by Paul is the key, and this is said of unbelievers who deny the Trinity and that Christ was their Messiah.

The errors are their own, but the genuine zeal for the living God can only be a gift of the grace of God.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Carrie continues to attempt to defend her proposition in the combox, but she seems to be digging a hole. She seems to want us to think that Paul is not commending their zeal - which is preposterous.

By way of attempting to deal with the possibility that she's wrong about that - which, of course, she is - she says that there's no reason to suppose that commendable zeal is only by grace. This, too, is preposterous, unless one wants to be [demi-hemi-semi-]Pelagian. But this is really just an empty denial. She will be unable to justify this from the Bible.

But this demonstrates something of a problem with sola Scriptura and particularly with letting Scripture interpret Scripture. In the first place, who is going to judge when two people differ? Sola Scriptura obviously solves nothing, since Scripture cannot adjudicate. This is something that Crimson Catholic has demonstrated with devastating finality (I'd link to it, but unfortunately I didn't save a link, he hasn't turned on the stuff in blogger to make his archives available, and trying to find it without these aids is something for which I do not have time right now).

With respect to the issue of Scripture interpreting Scripture: this only goes so far. Obviously I'm not saying that one passage cannot illuminate another: this would be false. The issue arises, however, when we must decide which passage(s) illumine others. This is a subjective enterprise usually informed to a debilitating degree by our own theological preconceptions. Frankly it is for this reason that I do not hope to persuade Carrie or anyone else at Beggars about Romans 10:2. They simply refuse to imagine that they could be mistaken about the passage because of their preconceptions.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Now Protestant BJ has conceded at least half my point.

Thanks BJ.

Obviously I would not want to make more of this concession than what it is: I don't suppose for a minute that BJ is ready to cross the aisle to the Catholic Church, and I'm sure he disagrees with us about many other things. But at least there are some things that we can agree on, and it's ridiculous to create disputes where none need exist.

Mike Burgess said...

As the kids say, RdP, you da man. Keep going. I'm glad TF is hanging in there on the Openness thread, too. Makes for some fun discussions, in my book!

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Mike,

Thanks! But I'm much more impressed with your labors than my own. :-)

I'm signing off for Holy Week; see shortly forthcoming post.

God bless you this Easter.

-- Reginald

Jeff said...

It's important to be clear here.

Those God intends to save will be saved. His specific salvific grace will not be thwarted by man. The elect will be drawn to Christ. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him.

I'm not quite sure how this passage has anything to do with contradicting this truth.

Even using your supposition that the zeal these folks have for God in Romans 10:2 is by grace (I do not argue against that per se for that which any man has is by grace), this further proves the point that the intention of the grace bestowed is not thwarted. If God, by His grace, intends for these unbelievers to have a zeal (although not a saving knowledge) then his intention is accomplished and his grace is irresistable even here.

But I believe you are possibly missing the point of irresistable grace in that it affirms that all whom the Father intends to save will be drawn to Him with the end result of being with Him in Heaven.

It comes down to what you mean by grace. You may be referring to common grace whereas I am treating (as does the doctrine of irresistable grace) of special grace.

Reginald de Piperno said...

It's important to be clear here.


There is a specific context for purposes of which I have made the argument that I did, and it is twofold. You may see the relevant posts/comments over at Beggars All (referenced in my post here above, and in my first comment in this thread) for that dual context.



Reginald de Piperno said...

FWIW, it was suggested that JPII's comments in the quoted article were contrary to Romans 3. But that is not the case, because the Pope explicitly (and repeatedly) in the quotation attributed everything he said to the grace of God.

Now, some folks at Beggars All would say that this was impossible, since the people in question do not necessarily become Christians. But that does not follow, for (as I demonstrated by means of Rom. 10:2 and Acts 17) there are at least some non-Christians whose attitudes or orientation with respect to God are commended though they remain non-Christians. But no one can have a commendable zeal for God apart from his grace.



Phil said...

Having stumbled onto this site I have to agree that Jeff is right here, much as I enjoyed your article Reginald. What would St. Paul personally have to say about God not forcing anyone to believe?
God does give common grace to all, but only saving grace to some. The amount of common grace was that they had a better mind than their gentile neighbors, and had a head start in the law and profits, but they still rejected Jesus Christ because God did not give them the regeneration enough to accept. Makes sense.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Phil,

Thank you for stopping by.

I don't know how you came to read this post, but it was a reaction to a specific post (and ensuing conversation in the combox) on another blog.

It was suggested there that Pope John Paul II believed in or taught some form of universalism.

My purpose in this post was to point out that at the time of my writing it, none of the Protestants involved over there would address the significance of Romans 10:2 (and Acts 17, for that matter) with regard to their false claim that "no one seeks after God," by which they meant that the only people who seek God are those who become Christians.

This notion is false, as demonstrated by the fact that the non-Christian Jews referred to by St. Paul were commended by him for their zeal for God - and yet they were (and remained) unbelievers.

Clearly they only way that they could have a commendable zeal for God is by his grace.

But this is entirely consistent with what the Pope said in the quotations referenced there: that human openness to God is an effect of God's grace, and that it's not just Christians (or those who will become Christians) who enjoy this measure of God's grace. Consequently - and contrary to the claim/insinuation of the post at the other blog - there are people who are non-Christian, who never become Christian, who may truly and genuinely and zealously seek God (again - Romans 10:2).

There is a mystery beyond human understanding with respect to God's sovereign purposes, their certain fulfillment, and the fact that we have free will. The former does not nullify the latter, and vice versa.