Why I Left Calvinism: Election and Romans 9-11


I love Calvinists – I was one for 15 years! I attended and got my M.Div. at RTS – I pastored – full-time – a PCA church for 9 years… I still have Calvinist friends who I love and admire for their devotion to God…
All said to say I don’t mean this presentation to be taken as coming from resentment or in any way mean-spirited. And I welcome comments below IF given is “good faith” by those open to the possibility that they are wrong – as I readily acknowledge that I could be… But in all good conscience I must confess that according to Scripture and conscience I can now take no other position – to borrow Luther’s famous words,  “Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!”

But I was raised a Baptist, a “PK” – “preachers kid” the son of a “Sothern Baptist” pastor – Where did this journey into Calvinism begin for me?

I became a Calvinist – young restless and “Reformed” – as a young college student in my twenties – I was confronted with Romans 9 [THE MOST AVOIDED CHAPTER IN THE BIBLE?!]– that God “hated” Esau – that God hardened and prepared some vessels to show His wrath and make His power known…  that “God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (9:18) This fed into my youthful zeal to stand for God and His Word in my fight against a lukewarm church and an evil, depraved world.

But what I came to realize many years later was that what was omitted from these initial and powerfully persuasive arguments was (as Paul Harvey used to say) “the rest of the story” – i.e. reading on through Romans 10 and (especially) 11.

If you are a “Reformed” Calvinist listening to this… If I can cause you to wrestle with any ONE thing it would be THIS:
The same language of hardening, stumbling and election beginning in Romans 9 is brought to its legitimate conclusion in chapter 11. In other words it is unwise(if not hermeneutically invalid)  to take statements/words/concepts from Romans 9 in exclusion/isolation  from how they are contextually used at the terminus of the flow of Paul’s argument. These words and phrases are used in service to a rhetorical argument. To extract them from Romans 9 would be like taking Jesus’ indisputably clear and plain commandment (in Luke 14:26) to true disciples to “hate your parents” as the final word on the subject. We must consider then (“hate your parents”) rhetorically and we must acknowledge these are hyperbolic – because we are told to love all others – even our enemies.

One day I was shocked to see this: that (using the exact same terminology of chapter 9) Paul says that the “hardened” (non-elect) in indisputable contrast to the “elect” – are NOT beyond hope! They are NOT simply and forever “reprobate”!

In 11:7 he says, “What then? What the people of Israel sought so earnestly they did not obtain. The ELECT among them did, but the others were*HARDENED*” This –  without a reasonable doubt – is purposefully echoing the central arguments of Romans 9.

Then (11:8-10) Paul returns to the language of “stumbling” that he introduced in Romans 9: 32-33, “…They stumbled over the stumbling stone…. “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall…”

Now here is the most critical point that changed everything for me: Paul asks concerning  these who were “hardened” – those who were NOT “elect” – those who had “stumbled”:

“Did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all!” (vs.11)

Why is there yet hope for the hardened and non-elect? Because they can be grafted back in again! (11:23) Why? Because “God is able”(vs.23)! That is the Sovereignty of our God!

[And THIS is what I retain from my Calvinism – NOT a construal of “sovereignty” that somehow requires that God meticulously determine ALL events – but that in ALL events – in ALL things – He has the first and last Word! He sustains creation in its freedom – but that freedom never, ever trumps GOD’s freedom to do His overarching “good pleasure”! Not marionette string puppets!]

This reminds me of Jonah – God sent him with a sure and decisive “word”: “In forty days Nineveh will be destroyed” (3:4) If some Calvinist theologians had been there to witness it – they would have demanded, “This is God’s Word!” But God is even greater than such a “word” – He IS the “final” Word – and He IS “ Jonah said, “..a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Do you see this? This changed everything for me in understanding the true “doctrine” of Election: As in all other places of Scripture – Election is for the service of God’s’ plan of salvation – NOT (simply) for the salvation of the Elect! For example – God’s choice/election of Israel was to bring salvation to the Gentiles… Jesus’ choice of the 12 was to declare the Gospel of the Kingdom to all who were NOT chosen (“elect”) to be in that inner circle, etc.

Paul goes on to explain the reason for the hardening of the non-elect:

“11 because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. 12 But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their full inclusion bring!”, “what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? 16If the part of the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; if the root is holy, so are the branches.”

Do you see that Paul is saying the “service” of the “Elect” is to bring salvation to “the whole batch” – to “the branches”? And, even more shockingly – by the sovereign “hardening” of the NON-Elect Jews, salvation came to the Gentiles. But in no way are we being told about the hardened being absolutely and irrevocably doomed to an eternal hell – to the contrary!


I cannot say enough here of the mystery – the wonder – the paradoxes of God’s sovereign working to bring salvation to “all Israel” – and to “the full number (pleroma)  of the Gentiles” (11:25-26).


Paul then makes his concluding theological assertion and summary of it all:

“For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. ” (verse 32)

Note: There is simply no justification to limit the scope of this “all” – and here is why:

Notice with what wonder Paul breaks out into unrestrained praise after this grand crescendo (Romans 11) to this theological symphony (Romans 1 through 11),

“33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  34 “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?” 35 “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay them?” 36 For FROM him and THROUGH him and TO him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.”

Of special importance is the usage of the term, “all things” – there is no phrase more universal in scope in the NT than this – it simply IS “all-encompassing” – dare I say, universalistic! And this is why I say that the “all” upon which God will have mercy is unlimited.

Do you see here that “all things” have come full circle? FROM >> THROUGH >> TO!

This IS:

“the restoration of ALL THINGS” (Acts 3:21)

“the recapitulation of ALL THINGS” (Ephesians 1:10)

“the reconciliation of ALL THINGS” (Colossians 1:20)

“Behold – I am making ALL THINGS new!” (Rev. 21:5)

The heart – vision – and purpose of God is NOT ultimate division through the very center of His created world – but shalom and harmony under the Lordship of Jesus Christ – who WILL sovereignly set ALL things to right (this IS the revelation of HIS Righteousness!)…

So – to return to my central thesis/proposition:

Richest Blessings!

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