A Debate over Exegesis

Here a video explaining and showing the original agreement of this debate and the false narrative created by AOMIN:


Listen to what two Ph.D.s in Theology thought about Dr. White’s accusations regarding proper exegesis HERE

Also, my commentary is now available if you want to better understand a non-Calvinistic perspective: CLICK HERE


Below are my initial reflections on my debate with Dr. James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries over Romans 9:

INITIAL OVERVIEW (written immediately following the debate):

Dr. White, and those who organized this debate, were all cordial and loving people that I enjoyed getting to meet in person. (Thanks to RedGrace Media–these are the people who contacted me, on Dr. White’s behalf, to request the debate–and all the people from The Oaks Baptist, led by Dr. Heath Marion…kudos all around!)

We had full house, over 300 in attendance. I am amazed at how far people traveled to attend this debate. I spoke to one who drove in from Arkansas and a couple of guys who flew in from Barbados. Wow. The crowd was likely 85% males and most of them Calvinistic (judging by the length of the beards and faint aroma of scotch…kiddin’… kind of). Everyone, from both sides, were gracious, encouraging and loving towards me. Thank you all who came out!

After the debate, I had one young Calvinist tell me, “This is my first theological debate to attend live.” I said, “Me too.” He seemed surprised and went on to tell me that he would have never known it was my first debate, which made me feel better, because I was pretty nervous. I had horrible cottonmouth in my opener…yuck


  1. The first main issue Dr. White seemed to have with my presentation is my use of the phrase, “noble cause” or “noble purpose.” He asked where that was even mentioned in Romans 9 and seemed surprised when I referenced verse 21:

“Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for a noble purpose and another for an ignoble one? (I guess he wasn’t familiar with this translation so he didn’t link the concept?  To me the question just revealed how much Dr. White still hasn’t fully grasped our perspective.)

I wish I would have also referenced verses 4 and 5 because Paul lists out the noble purposes for which Israel was set apart (which Paul also speaks of in Romans 3:2). Since Dr. White also acknowledge these things, I’m not sure why he made a case about mere phraseology.

Instead of addressing my argument he used a tactic that he is very good at: marginalization. This is where you attempt to belittle a view or presentation as being far-fetched and unique only to the one presenting it so as to “marginalize” them and make them appear all alone and strange. Kool-Aid drinkers fall for these tactics, so don’t be a Kool-Aid drinker…think critically for yourselves.  Many scholars from my perspective use different phraseology, just as those in the Calvinistic camp, so don’t be fooled by this debate ploy. Deal with the content and meaning of the phrases and don’t get caught up on semantical arguments like White did in our debate.

  1. I have to admit I’m also disappointed in Dr. White’s continued accusation that I did not provide an exegesis of the text, but I expected it and even predicted it. Regardless of what Dr. White may ASSUME, “exegesis” is NOT defined as “starting with the first verse and going line by line making comments with which everyone is expected to blindly agree.” It should also be noted, that despite how things are now being spun, the agreement was never to provide a full exegesis of an entire chapter in 20 minutes (that would be a weak exegesis indeed). I have posted the pictures of my original text agreements with Dr. White and you will see that I clearly spell out my intentions in defending my interpretation of Romans 9, so there is no reason for Dr. White to now act surprised and perplexed as to my use of scripture outside of Romans 9 to help support my interpretation of Romans 9.

Exegesis is defined as, “exposition or explanation. Biblical exegesis involves the examination of a particular text of scripture in order to properly interpret it. Exegesis is a part of the process of hermeneutics, the science of interpretation.”

Watch THIS DEBATE between Dr. White and an Unitarian and notice his hypocrisy. 

In THIS LINK (known to be supported by Calvinistic believers) there are several principles of biblical exegesis listed. So, let’s use this “unbiased” source to consider and evaluate the FACTS and then you decide which party actually engaged in the most thorough biblical exegesis (which can and should be objectively judged separate from your own interpretive bias):

“Grammatical Principle: Usually, the exegete starts his examination of a passage by defining the words in it. Definitions are basic to understanding the passage as a whole.”

FACT: I provided definitions and requested for my opponent to provide his definitions prior to the debate, which went virtually unanswered by Dr. White in that he provided no definitions at my request.

(Keep in mind my Calvinistic friends, this is not about if you agree with my definitions or my interpretations…its about who followed the key principles of exegetical hermeneutics in relation to this debate.)

FACT: Prior to the debate I provided a line by line outline and podcast commentary of my interpretation of the entire chapter and context of this passage…and posted it on all the debate pages encouraging all attendees to be familiar with the content.

“The Historical Principle. As time passes, culture changes, points of view change, language changes. We must guard against interpreting scripture according to how our culture views things; we must always place scripture in its historical context. The diligent Bible student will consider the geography, the customs, the current events, and even the politics of the time when a passage was written. An understanding of ancient Jewish culture can greatly aid an understanding of scripture. To do his research, the exegete will use Bible dictionaries, commentaries, and books on history.”

FACT: I am the only one who presented evidence from other 1st century sources that supported my interpretation of the text. (Quotes from Clement of Rome, which were never refuted. It was only insinuated that because Clement used the word “elect” that he must be “Calvinistic”… question begging)

FACT: I am the only one who addressed our Western cultures tendency to over simplify doctrine to one basic common meaning when more nuance is needed to understand the various choices of God in redemptive History. I provided both scriptural and extra-biblical evidence to support this contention.

FACT: I spent a lot of time focusing on the biblical doctrine of “judicial hardening” as it relates to “understanding ancient Jewish culture” and how that would affect the natural abilities of mankind in light of their rejection of their own Messiah (vs. 6). My argument was ignored while my method was questioned. Why? Because I didn’t start in verse 1 and go line by line saying things that fit the tradition of Calvinism’s interpretation. (more to come on this point later)

“The Synthesis Principle. The best interpreter of scripture is scripture itself. We must examine a passage in relation to its immediate context (the verses surrounding it), its wider context (the book it’s found in), and its complete context (the Bible as a whole). The Bible does not contradict itself. Any theological statement in one verse can and should be harmonized with theological statements in other parts of scripture. Good Bible interpretation relates any one passage to the total content of scripture.” 

FACT: I used more scripture to interpret the meaning of Chapter 9 than my opponent.

FACT: When I referenced other related text Dr. White rebutted me for doing so saying that he does not have to “run to other texts” to support his perspective. For example, he repeatedly rebuked me for referencing Romans 11, a passage clearly related in this immediate context. Instead of explaining how those outside passages do relate and fit within his interpretation, he merely rebuked me for referencing them while pretending his interpretation needs no external hermeneutical backing…as if Romans 9 is an island.

(Ignoring the fact that in this debate Dr. White spent much time in Romans 8, and also referenced Roman 11 and Ephesians 1 to support his interpretation; should we now hold all Calvinist to this standard when they are exegeting a text that is difficult for their perspective? This is a double standard. Imagine Calvinists attempting to prove their views of sovereignty using only Exodus 32, for example.)

  1. White insisted that he covered the entire chapter exegetically while I only hit on a couple verses.

FACT: I happened to have my manuscript so this one is easy to refute. All the verses listed were also on my PowerPoint presentation so they would have been difficult to miss. Below are all direct quotes from my opening presentation that deal directly with the text in Romans 9, as can be verified in the video upon release (this is not the complete manuscript, but only the parts where I quote or reference texts in Romans 9, the rest of my presentation is commentary and illustrations about these texts):

  • Throughout this entire letter Paul has contrasted the salvation of those who pursue righteousness by work through law versus; Those who pursue righteousness by grace through faith. Which is in general a contrast between the Jew and Gentile. This is why Paul summarizes this chapter in verses 30-32 by contrasting the Gentiles who are attaining righteousness versus the Israelites who are not?
  • AND WHY isn’t Israel attaining righteousness? Is it because God didn’t really love them or desire for their salvation? No, Paul tells us plainly why Israel wasn’t attaining righteousness in verse 32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. Paul also quotes from Hosea (in Romans 9:25-26) and in that context Hosea states it even more explicitly: “…even as the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods.” (Hosea 3:1). So, their unbelief is clearly not because God doesn’t love them or want His elect nation to be saved…(Notice I started with Paul’s own summary of the chapter to show that this was about faith vs. work not monergism vs synergism, but then I go to the beginning and begin to walk through each verse…)
  • God clearly desired all Israelites, including the hardened ones, to be saved: In Romans 9:1-3, Paul, under the inspiration of the HOLY SPIRIT expresses self-sacrificial love for the hardened unbelieving Jews, which sounds like Jesus. One who was willing to sacrificially give himself up for His enemies.
  • This is the nation, according to Romans 9:4-5, that has been entrusted with the very WORD of God…the Messiah and His message are ordained to come through Israel. They are CHOSEN, ELECTED for that noble purpose. So, why did Israel reject their own Messiah and even stand in opposition to His Word?
  • So let’s unpack this. This lump of clay represents the lump of clay Paul speaks of in Romans 9:20-23…According to the Calvinist this lump of clay represents all of humanity… in our perspective the clay represents hardened Israelites at this time, not all of humanity…we believe Israel, over the years, has BECOME calloused by their own choosing despite God’s enduring them with great patience…and only NOW is God judicially hardening or giving them over to their rebellion to accomplish redemption through them. (summary of the whole argument surrounding the clay/potter and the objector)
  • So, God has given Israel over to their calloused hearts and blinded them in their rebellion so they cannot recognize their own Messiah…so doesn’t that prove God’s words has failed? (vs. 6a) – (We both agreed this was the KEY point in understanding the point of Paul, so it makes sense for us to spend more time on this point of our contention for the purpose of a debate. It is unfortunate that Dr. White didn’t engage that point at any depth given he agreed that this was the KEY to this chapter. Instead, White felt I should have given equal time to every verse, I guess?)
  • Not every descendant of Israel is chosen to do what God elected Israel to do, or as Paul put it, “For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel.”(vs. 6b)…Not every Israelite was chosen to fulfill the promise that God originally made to Abraham…to bless all the families of the earth…The false perception of the Jews in that day was: They assumed they were: 1. BORN AUTHORITIES … it is my right to carry the WORD and 2. BORN CHILDREN OF GOD: Being a descendant of Abraham gives me the right to called a child of God that is guaranteed salvation!
  • And Paul’s response to that way of thinking is to say, “Not every Israelite is chosen to carry out the purpose for which God elected Israel and…VERSE 7: “…nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants.”
  • But it goes further than that… At this time in history, God hasn’t hardened every Israelite, He has reserved for himself a remnant! A remnant to do what? To FULFILL HIS PROMISE by bringing the word! (Romans 9:27-28)
  • …which is exactly why Paul goes on to give a history lesson using Ismael in contrast with Isaac and Esau in contrast with Jacob (7b – 13) Here is the POINT: A distinction MUST be made between those chosen BY GOD to bring the WORD and those chosen to be saved as a result of BELIEVING that WORD. (I go on to give commentary on the selection of one brother over another and what that is referencing in OT texts)
  • So, what does Paul mean in verse 13, when he quotes from Malachi: “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” …So, what is Paul’s point? Being the seed of Isaac does not ensure your salvation, especially if you stand in opposition to the word of God, as did your own brothers the Edomites. (I give more commentary on this because it’s a major proof text for Calvinists)
  • Verse 14 asks the question… Is God just to condemn a direct descendant of Isaac to hell? Ask the Edomites, who stood in opposition to the God fulfilling the Word of Promise.
  • Paul goes on to quote from God’ s exchange with Moses in Exodus 32-33: 15 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (I give commentary related to the OT text)
  • 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. What is IT referring to in verse 16? Same thing He introduced in verse 6, God’s Word! (more commentary)
  • Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in verses 17-18 to make this point. Just as God hardened Pharaoh in his rebellion to accomplish the first Passover, so too He hardened Israel in their rebellion to accomplish the Real Passover.
  • NOW…what would one of these calloused Jews say in response to this? Paul tells us in Romans 3:5 “But if our unrighteousness brings out God’s righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us?” Which is the same question Paul raises again in Romans 9:19: “Why does He still find fault?” PAUL’S OBJECTOR represents an Israelite who has GROWN CALLOUSED and is being JUDICIALLY HARDENED in that condition. He DOES NOT represent someone born decreed by God to be totally unable to willingly respond to God’s own appeals to be reconciled. (This is a key point that Dr. White never rebutted)

As I recall, Dr. White did not go past verse 27. However, I touched on every verse except 29 and 33, spending the bulk of my time on the KEY verses that hit most directly on our point of contention in this chapter (after all, it is a debate and there is little reason for me to address the parts where we agree given the time restraints). Plus, I didn’t take time to read aloud every verse given that they were provided on the screen and I figured the audience at this type of debate would have been familiar with the basics.

Dr. White and my Calvinistic brethren, just because you do not agree with the exegetical commentary doesn’t mean it was not given. My wife did say I was talking too fast, so maybe it didn’t soak in for some who have on different lenses, but the facts do not lie.

To the Dr. White fans, I love you, but don’t just blindly believe everything he says is true. Think for yourselves and objectively evaluate the FACTS as listed above. (this is meant for those echoing his talking points on social media)

  • He made the claim that I did not exegete the text, but clearly that is not true. NO, I did not provide a full scholarly exegesis of the entire chapter, but neither did Dr. White. That is provided by both of us in other sources….sources I made readily available and encouraged all in attendance to be familiar with PRIOR to attending. We each gave a brief 20 minute commentary explaining how we interpret Paul’s intention in Romans 9, period.
  • So, instead of spending most of the night complaining about what I didn’t say or the method in which I said it, why not spend your time addressing the arguments that were presented? Here, I will list the 5 major points of our contention as I see them:

1. Paul is addressing the false presumption that Israelites rebellion against the word means that His Word has failed (vs. 6): Paul does this by (1) proving that their rebellion is actually a means God has sovereignly orchestrated to fulfill his Word…(i.e. by judicially hardening Israel to bring redemption and even the potential salvation of those being judicially hardened) and (2) it is not unjust of God to do so. Israelites are not owed the right to be God’s authoritative mouthpiece, nor are they owed salvation. Paul proves this with several history lessons, which I unpacked. This argument was ignored and it is the crux of our disagreement…a point that Calvinists have a very hard time even recognizing, much less rebutting, given the lenses through which they view this text.

(My contention: if and when a Calvinist sees this point clearly enough to be qualified to rebut it, they actually start to see its merit and question whether the “dreadfulness” of their system’s claims are worth holding on to given that another credible interpretation exists. At least, that was my experience. Prove me wrong by actually rebutting my argument instead of pretending my commentary didn’t meet some arbitrary exegesis standard that no one can apparently reach unless they blindly agree with you.)

2. The Calvinist is unable to draw a distinction with a difference between the inabilities of the natural man to respond to God versus that of a judicially hardened man. Listen to Dr. White’s answers carefully and you tell me if you find a difference in the abilities of the natural man and the judicially hardened man. Also notice that in all our discussions Dr. White has not engaged with Acts 28:27-28, an actual didactic text which explicitly spells out man’s ability to respond to God prior to “becoming calloused.” The strongest argument is not typically the one your opponent addresses but the one he continually ignores.

 3. The clay in Romans 9 represented the judicially hardened Israelites, not all of humanity from birth: The only rebuttal offered was a reference to verse 24 where Paul includes in the Gentiles AFTER completing the discourse on why God’s word hasn’t failed in relation to Israel. I answered this by pointing out that all nations benefitted from the redemptive work brought to pass by God’s hardening and mercy-ing of Israel, which was not rebutted in the debate. (My line by line commentary expounds on this further for those who are interested)

(My contention: I suspect this point wasn’t understood by most who haven’t grappled with the text from my perspective, so it is perceived as being “unrelated.” We tend to disassociate from things that we don’t fully comprehend because it takes work to understand them. It’s easier to dismiss something as being “unrelated” than it is to do the work in order to understand why many very intelligent biblical scholars do think it is related. You don’t have to agree with those scholars, but be objective enough to at least vet their views for what they are before you blindly dismiss them as not being related to the given text.)

4. Paul and Moses express self-sacrificial love for ALL their enemies, where as, according to 5 point Calvinists, Jesus only willingly sacrificed Himself for SOME of His enemies, making these mere men more self-sacrificial than Christ: White answered this by talking about how we don’t know who the elect are, but that doesn’t even address this argument. The fact is that in Calvinism Jesus was only willing to sacrifice himself for a select few, whereas Paul and Moses where willing to sacrifice themselves for all. 5-pointers cannot deal with this rationally IMO and this is why Amyraldism is on the rise within their camp.

5. Is it a secret as to whom God chooses to save and those He chooses not to save? No, Paul tells us plainly why Israel wasn’t attaining righteousness in verse 32, “Why? “Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works.” And why did God choose to save Gentiles? Again, Paul tells us plainly,“That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith.” White never addressed these verses yet it’s the apostle’s own inspired self commentary of his intentions in this chapter.


I do have some self-critiques based on the little time of reflection and listening to my very poor quality voice recording off my phone:

  • I am a preacher and I can’t help but speak passionately. I think my style may have been too “preachy” for some in the audience. I wish I were more of a teacher/preacher as that would have better fit the format of a debate, I think. But, then again, others seemed to really like that style, so to each his own. Why this matters? Because I think some from the Calvinistic perspective see this as pure emotionalism and thus miss the content.  As an unrelated example, we have an African American preacher who regularly speaks at our camps and his style is very theatrical and entertaining. He will break out in song in the middle of his sermon and is constantly moving (I personally love it). I had several of my “theology police” types on staff write negative evaluations about his preaching not being very deep in content, so I made the extra effort to go back and listen to all the audio to his messages. He had some of the deepest, verse-by-verse, exegetical content of any of our speakers. I think they were distracted by his delivery and thus failed to focus in on his content. While I’m not attempting to equate myself with the abilities of this speaker, I do think my style could have similarly been a distraction to some. I can only beg the audience to listen to the audio (when it comes out) and don’t be overly distracted by my passion, really try to understand the content.
  • I have learned that after a debate there are always things you wish you would have had the opportunity to say, but the structure did not allow it, or things you wish you said differently. For instance:

I made a comment about how we should humble ourselves like a child and Dr. White rebutted by sarcastically stating, “I think I just heard Prof. Flowers say that a child is humble?” The audience laughed and he concluded, “We can just let that comment stand on its own merit.” (or something to that effect). Sorry, but Dr. White was joking about Jesus’ statement, not mine:

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 18:4

I was asked about the calling referenced in Romans 8 and then again in Romans 9. Though I attempted to clearly illustrate that there is more than one type of “calling” and God makes several “choices” in order to bring about His redemptive plan, I feel this point did not get fully developed in relation to Romans 8, since it wasn’t the chapter I focused upon. I referred to the illustration in Matt. 22 to help the audience clearly distinguish the different choices of God, but because it was a reference to outside text it gave Dr. White the ability to say that I am avoiding Romans 8 and 9.

In reality, if I were attempting to avoid anything I wouldn’t have debated him on this chapter and I wouldn’t be publishing a commentary. My goal was to use Christ’s parable to help people understand the context and thus what I believe is the apostle’s intention in those chapters. The assumption Calvinists make is that God’s calling to salvation is effectual in the same manner God’s calling of his messengers is effectual (or at least “persuasive”).

I also wish I had more time to CX Dr. White’s view on the reason for Christ’s parables and judicial hardening in general. You be the judge, but his answers on these points seemed to be nonsensical. Same with equal ultimacy…and the issue of God “restraining evil.”  White never explained what is left to restrain if God has determined whatsoever comes to pass. Is He restraining his own determinations? Maybe someone can interpret on my level? (9th to 10th grade)

I made the assertion that Calvinism gives mankind a perfect excuse and that it removes man’s true “responsibility” (which I did define as “the ability to respond” to God’s own appeals since the Fall), and White dismissed it as a red herring and told me it should be dropped, yet he offered no reason for us to believe men do have the ability to respond in any meaningful way to the appeals of God…yet God inexplicably holds us responsible (justly punishable) with eternal torment for his own glory (the mystery of Calvinism). I understand why Dr. White would like us to just drop that one, but it is not going to happen. It’s the biggest of all the blights on Calvinistic dogma.

Lastly, Dr. White made a special point to continually bring up the idea that a “former Calvinist,” like myself, should already know all the answers that I was posing. I had to remind him that many Calvinists today claim to be former “Arminians” who still have the nerve to pose questions of us. Should we make it a new rule that if you already know the answer that your opponent will give to a particular question then it cannot be asked? If so, why does White even bother to debate at all? I cannot imagine that he is not well informed enough as to not already know how many of his opponents will answer any given argument, yet he still poses the question and makes an argument. Again, just a double standard and a distraction.

I’m sure I’ll think of other things after the video comes out, but that is more than enough for now.  Thanks again for all those who made this possible and to Dr. White for being the iron that has served to sharpen me over the last several months.


68 thoughts on “A Debate over Exegesis

  1. Dr. James White MO was expected; reminds me of the forums. Having said that, I trust your goal was achieved by the opportunity to present a robust exegesis to the public, and to give them a view to contemplate.
    Thanks for your work.

  2. Thanks for your work Leighton. Given everything I have read today the responses of his ‘followers’ was to be expected. I appreciated your breakdown and everything you provided in advance. Keep it up! Blessings to you and your family.

    1. Yes, thank you for your humility but also thank you for calling out Jame’s White’s history of false accusations that he makes against his opponents. “He made the claim that I did not exegete the text, but clearly that is not true.” He made similar false allegations in his debates with Steve Gregg, Michael Brown, and Dave Hunt as well. “So and so said this, but that’s not RELEVANT to the passage.” This seems to be a staple tactic of Dr. White’s and I’m happy you nailed him for doing it to you. Hopefully some open-minded Calvinists were in attendance and were willing to read Romans 9 in context, and not interpret certain verses as proof-text. Paul didn’t use chapter numbers when he wrote the epistle. Romans 9-11 are a literary unit. I find it amusing that Calvinists claim “sola Scriptura” but never seem to use that maxim in their own eisegesis.

  3. Thanks for your insights here, Dr. Flowers. Congratulations on your first debate as well! This content is extremely invaluable and necessary to educate and inform the body on Romans 9 utilizing it’s Old Testament context, as you so expertly explained. Be blessed, brother!

    1. Nathan says something in his comments that reminds me of one of the reasons that I reject Calvinism and specifically its interpretation of Romans 9: Nathan speaks of how Leighton should be thanked for “utilizing it’s Old Testament context.” When I was a new believer my mentors drummed into me the interpretive principle of always “comparing scripture with scripture” (meaning that when examinng one text you always see what others texts on the same subject say as well, so if it is stated in the OT you see if the NT talks about it, and if it is stated in the NT does the OT talk about it). When I went to seminary they taught us the same principle: which verified what my mentors had been telling me. When I worked in counter cult ministr with Walter Martin, we always had to combat the proof texting of cults by comparing scripture with scripture.

      Sadly, at times when discussing Romans 9 I get calvinists tell me I am wrong for going to other texts outside of Romans 9 to determine the meaning of verses in Romans 9!! Paul quotes OT texts in Romans 9, how can you then NOT go to these texts? To understand the potter analogy you have to go to OT prophetic texts where the potter analogy is used and explained. To understand the reference to hating some and loving others you have to go to Malachi. Paul makes references to objections, these same objections are present earlier in Romans in Romans 3. The Jewish context of Romans 9 is further discussed and confirmed in Romans 10 and Romans 11. Etc. etc. etc. I have actually had calvinists tell me don’t go outside of Romans 9, you have to stick to Romans 9 alone to be interpreting it correctly! I will ignore such unbiblical advice and such wrongful interpretive method: as should all of us.

      1. Robert,

        I was thinking the same thing today when I was reading Calvinists’ comments about the debate. If it was Paul, himself, who introduced historical context, I don’t see how anyone can object to it being mentioned.

        Dr. White says something like: “I’m the only one who walked straight through Romans 9 this evening.”

        Translation: “I’m the only one who ignored historical and Biblical context… And, I believe this is a virtue.”

        Because many who follow Dr. White also (unfortunately) allow him to do their thinking for them, they blindly accepted his statement. Even though they saw Prof. Flowers go over the text with their own eyes, they still allowed Dr. White to define reality for them.

        It may not mean Prof. Flowers was unconvincing, though. I figure, if the majority of folks who showed up were a self-selected group of die-hard James White fans and TULIP followers, then naturally they wouldn’t be moved by Prof. Flowers’ presentation.

        But when the video becomes available to everyone else, by God’s grace, it’ll reach Prof. Flowers’ target audience: Christians on the fence, Calvinists who have private doubts (including many James White fans), people who wonder how to understand Romans 9…

        Those are folks who wouldn’t have gone outta their way to attend the debate person because they don’t have a personal stake in seeing the other side “go down in flames,” lol 😛 Those are the ones who CAN be swayed by the ARGUMENTS. And I have confidence they will be.

        There’s no way God won’t make that debate a blessing to spread His truth 🙂

  4. To combat cottonmouth in future debates, try swishing your mouth minutes before with extra-light olive oil; haven’t tried this myself (though I will do so in a month when I have to testify for the defense in a medical malpractice case) but I’ve heard it works.

  5. Sounds like you did a good job in defending sound doctrine concerning God’s sovereign use of hardening to provide more mercy, as explained by Paul in Romans 9. And it sounds like you kept the focus on edification rather than on “winning”! I wish I could have been there! I can’t wait to see the video of the event!

  6. You must have been a bit frustrated. Dr. White has the bad habit of taking quote a bit of time demeaning his opponent’s intelligence, if not his character, before presenting any attempts at a rebuttal of their assertions. He also, so it seems to me, is weak in the OT and NT history. White did not fare well at all when he debated Dr. Michael Brown who also presented OT Scripture and effectively related them to NT texts.

    Unfortunately, White has been debating himself for so long that I think he has come to the point where he applauds his own rebuttals.

    And, thanks so much for the link on proper exegesis and your comments on it, also.

  7. Pastor Flowers,

    It was good to meet you in person at the debate. My mom had watched a video of Dr. White debating a Muslim before so I invited her to go with me last night. After speaking with you shortly before the debate began, she told me she wished Dr. White was debating another rude Muslim because you were a very nice man. Haha.

    Attending a debate in person makes me feel more sympathetic to the debaters because you can get more of a feel for the time constraints, the speed at which things are being addressed, and the difficulty of responding to and catching everything that deserves a response. I’ll offer my impressions of what was said and what you have written here at least on a few points. I was taking notes and still really need to watch it again on video to remember all that was said.

    First, I didn’t have any scotch yesterday, but I do think I had the longest beard in the whole place (not that any relation to my soteriological beliefs crossed my mind when I started growing it).

    Dr. White asked where you found the noble purpose you kept referring to in the text and you pointed to verse 21. I took this as Him simply letting the audience consider the validity of your answer and moving on to his next question. He has a tendency of doing that which sometimes aggravates me because I think he should hammer home his point more often. The noble purpose that you refer to is bringing the message of Jesus, and there is nothing in verse 21 about bringing the message of Jesus. I think it’s obvious that you got the term “noble purpose” from that verse in the translation you’re using, but the meaning you attach to that term is not there. In fact, the term isn’t really there in the original language either. It simply speaks of vessels one for τιμὴν (honor) and one for ἀτιμίαν (dishonor). If the honor of the vessel in the Potter and clay analogy Paul is using is meant to be in reference to bringing the message of Christ, then you should be able to point to a clear statement in the immediate context that says that God is choosing, making, forming, preparing, calling, etc. people to bring the message of Christ. There is no such statement.

    This relates to what you say about verses 4-5. You say, “This is the nation, according to Romans 9:4-5, that has been entrusted with the very WORD of God…the Messiah and His message are ordained to come through Israel. They are CHOSEN, ELECTED for that noble purpose.” Verse 5 does say that Christ came according to the flesh from Israel, but this had already happened and I can’t see anyone objecting that the word of God had failed because Christ wasn’t a Jew. You seem to be making the argument that bringing the message of Jesus to the world (and also say that this is being fulfilled through the apostles) is explicitly stated in these verses. I don’t see it there. The only thing I can think of is that you are possibly looking at a poor translation that renders νομοθεσία (law giving) as “word”. I, and I’m sure Dr. White also, would agree that the gospel was sent out through a select group of Israelites, but that is not being written about here in Romans 9.

    It seems that you ran all over scripture picking stuff up (some things that are true and others that might be contended) and then imported those things back to Romans 9 to explain away what Paul wrote there. I think Dr. White’s point about your exegesis was that you would not approach other passages that way if you were defending any of the core essential doctrines of Christianity which shows inconsistency in your exegetical approach. You also make claims like the ones in the preceding quote saying, “according to Romans 9:4-5” but the things you claim are not in the verses. This is not the same level of exegesis as Dr. White Pointing out the soteriological usage of “calling” in Romans 8:28&30 and then following that same usage in a consistent stream of thought through Romans 9:11&24. I think that also may be the cause of the complaint that you didn’t really exegete that many verses.

    I would also add that I think he should have followed the stream of thought about the people who are also identified as the elect, the chosen, and the called being adopted as sons, the children, and heirs of God beginning in 8:14-17 and followed that consistent stream of thought through ch.9 especially verses 6-8. The Israelites are not the true children and heirs but the elect are. This makes total sense and follows directly from what precedes it. Nothing else has to be imported into the text to try to make it sound like Paul is talking about people being chosen for bringing a message. It just seems so clear to me that Paul is talking about being chosen as children and heirs of God’s promises, which he goes on to clearly demonstrate is not based on our wills or efforts but on God’s choice and authority to make us for whatever use He wants. I’m really trying to look at both views of this passage without any lenses here, and I think I can objectively say that the Calvinist’s view is clearer and more consistent.

    Another point, that I caught during the debate, and is also quoted here is where you said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. What is IT referring to in verse 16? Same thing He introduced in verse 6, God’s Word!” I brought both the English and Greek to the debate with me, and thought it sounded obvious that “it” was referring to showing mercy and compassion in verse 15. I looked at the Greek and there isn’t even an “it” there. I expected a pronoun or even more likely a verb like ἐστὶν (it is) with a pronoun for its subject contained in its personal ending, but there is nothing even there to be referring back to any antecedent. A wooden translation without regard for flow in English would be: “So then, not of him willing, nor of him running, but of the mercy-ing God”. It is simply a continuance of the flow of what has been said about God choosing who he wants to be His children and heirs and a statement that His choice of a person doesn’t depend on anything they will or do. There is not really anyway to make this verse be a reference to the word of God that hasn’t failed in verse 6 or all the supposed baggage that is attached to that term based on something that wasn’t really stated in verses 4-5.

    Please don’t take this the wrong way brother. I’m not criticizing you personally at all. I actually think you did about as good a job as could be done at defending your view, but that view is seriously flawed. I just can’t see this treatment of Romans 9 as anything other than eisegesis.

    I have many more thoughts on the content of the debate, but I don’t have the time to address all of it. I think you did a good job given the position you were arguing from. I could be critical of Dr. White also. At one point he accused you of making an assumption, in a question that you asked, about God being obligated to show mercy to everyone. I don’t even remember the exact question now, but I do remember thinking that you didn’t necessarily have to make that assumption to ask the question in regard to the point I thought you were trying to bring out. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t think there was a good answer to your question, but I felt it was too quickly dismissed. I realize how difficult it is to try to address everything and do it meaningfully and effectively in that type of format. I can play armchair quarterback from a much easier relaxed position here at home, but I realize that if I were in that situation I would be full of regrets for what I didn’t say or said incorrectly or ineffectively. Both of you in the debate have my respect for the time, effort, and endurance it took to prepare for and participate in that debate.

    God bless you brother, and even though I think you’re mistaken on your soteriology, your gracious Christlike attitude in discussing it makes a bigger impression on me than anything else.

    1. Do you really think that a vessel for τιμὴν (honor) doesn’t include preaching and living the Gospel? And by “immediate context” do you mean the arbitrary limit of one verse away or less?

      1. DIZERNER,

        You ask, “Do you really think that a vessel for τιμὴν (honor) doesn’t include preaching and living the Gospel?”

        If you’re asking if I think that a true vessel of honor will preach and live the Gospel, the answer is yes. If you’re asking if this was Paul’s point in Romans 9, the answer is no. Let me make two points here. First, there is nothing about preaching, bringing the message of, proclaiming, living, etc. the Gospel or message of Christ anywhere in the context of Romans 9. The claim that this is what Paul was writing about in Romans 9 can be seen as nothing but pure eisegesis imported into the text because it is found nowhere in the text. Second, if you want to talk about the purposes of the vessels that are being talked about in Romans 9 the following verses are very clear. The preposition εἰς in both verses 22&23 is used to denote purpose. In verse 22 the following noun is ἀπώλειαν (destruction), and in verse 23 the following noun is δόξαν (glory). If you could show me any verse here that says the vessels were prepared, formed, made, etc. for preaching and living the Gospel, then I will gladly withdraw my contention that the interpretation that has been presented is eisegesis.

        You also ask, “And by “immediate context” do you mean the arbitrary limit of one verse away or less?”

        I don’t know what I wrote that would have given the idea that I had set any arbitrary limit on the number of verses intended by “immediate context”, especially one verse or less away. I gave examples of the soteriological use of certain terms in ch.8 and mentioned the clear stream of thought that continued on in the use of those same terms in ch.9 without any mention of “bringing the message of Christ” or “preaching and living the gospel” to give any indication that the use of those terms had changed to the view being presented by Pastor Flowers. Does that sound like an arbitrary limit of one verse or less away for providing your understanding of the use of a term? I said that I agreed the Gospel was originally sent out through a select group of Israelites, but the fact remains that there is nothing in the context of Romans 9 that would lead anyone looking at it objectively to believe that this is what Paul is writing about in Romans 9 because it is never mentioned there.

        The stated subject being debated was which soteriological view was supported by Romans 9. Just because something is true does not mean that Paul is writing about it in Romans 9. It may be true that certain people were chosen to take the Gospel to the nations, but there is not even a hint of it in Romans 9. To follow a soteriological theme all the way up to the verses that go against a person’s views and then claim that the subject has changed from people’s salvation to being chosen to bring a message without there ever being any mention of bringing a message in the text is a highly suspect way of interpreting a text.

      2. What is the Word that hasn’t failed referenced in vs 4-5 if not the Messiah and his message of redemption (the gospel which it the subject of the entire letter)?

        What is the promise if not the promise to bless all the nations with the Word?

        What was Abram and his lineage uniquely chosen for that Lot and his lineage wasn’t chose for (even though we know Lot was still saved)?

        Gods promise to Israel has not failed bc most Israelites have rejected the word. In fact God is actually accomplishing His promise in and through Israel’s rejection. He actively blinded the calloused Jews to accomplish redemption and fulfill the Word of Promise.

      3. Hey, thanks for answering; sorry for my slightly hostile tone. See, I think I see and saw a bit of an unbalanced bias in your objection here, and tried to bring it out. For one you mention the term “Romans 9” eight times or more, and I realize it’s what the debate was on, but do you realize think it’s an island? I’m sure you realize that the original letter wasn’t even divided into chapters. Ask Paul about his letter to the Romans, and he’d understand; mention “Romans 9” and he would be confused. This isn’t a trivial point, because when you objected this:

        First, there is nothing about preaching, bringing the message of, proclaiming, living, etc. the Gospel or message of Christ anywhere in the context of Romans 9. The claim that this is what Paul was writing about in Romans 9 can be seen as nothing but pure eisegesis imported into the text because it is found nowhere in the text.

        I’m positive you’d admit that there is something about “living the Gospel” in Romans 8. I’m certain you’d say there’s quite a bit about “preaching” the Gospel in Romans 10. I’m sure you’d say there’s tons about living out the Gospel in Romans 7. And lots of information and emphasis about proclaiming the Gospel in Romans 11. And a whole lot about living the Gospel in Romans 12. But when we get to Romans 9, you’d think Calvinists see it as it’s own book of the Bible. Can you really insist that Romans 7, 8, 10, 11 and 12 are in no way the “immediate context” of Romans 9? Can you insist that Romans nine is a veritable exegetical island? Yet you say:

        The claim that this is what Paul was writing about in Romans 9 can be seen as nothing but pure eisegesis imported into the text because it is found nowhere in the text.

        I’m sure you’d see supporting Romans 9 with John 6 and Ephesians 1 as strong exegetical backing. But why is using Romans 10, 11 and 12 to define Romans 9 suddenly eisegesis?

      4. You all seem to be having so much fun in this side of the theological “pool”, I thought I would jump in and make a splash or two myself. 🙂 Has anyone noticed verse 17, right in the middle of Romans 9? “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.’”

        Sounds to me that God’s choices of hardening and selecting in this chapter are certainly for the purpose of “proclaiming” His sovereignty and for “proclaiming” His calling to salvation for whosoever will! Remember, many Egyptians joined with Israel when they “heard” the declaration of God’s name in conjunction with the display of His power through His use of the hardened Pharaoh and His choice to mercy Israel (who were not all true Israel) (Ex 12:38).

        Also, it is obvious that the passage is speaking about a different type of election of individuals (Isaac, Jacob) that does not guarantee salvation to all those born from them, but only those who are brought into “these chosen” through faith in the verbal “promise” given to Isaac and Jacob (which is the same way Isaac and Jacob got saved as well). They are THEN counted as seed (vs. 8)! There is no indication in the context that they were ever “counted” as individuals in the “seed” before creation! Unless you want to use eisegesis! Splash! 🙂

      5. Pastor Flowers,

        You asked, “What is the Word that hasn’t failed referenced in vs 4-5 if not the Messiah and his message of redemption (the gospel which it the subject of the entire letter)?”

        In the debate you said that “it” in verse 16 was in reference to the word that has not failed in verse 6. I pointed out that there was really no “it” in verse 16 to be referring back to a previous antecedent. Instead verse 16 goes on addressing how God dispenses His mercy at His pleasure and how that doesn’t depend on the will or effort of man. This verse can’t be referring to verse 6, but if you think that the word of God that hasn’t failed in verse 6 is explained in verses 4-5 as being about Christ and people being chosen to carry the Gospel to the nations, then that idea isn’t there either.

        I have agreed with you that there were a select group of Israelites chosen to initially take the Gospel to the nations. This is one component among many in God’s plan of salvation. If the key to understanding the verses that follow about God having mercy is that Paul is talking about being chosen for the noble purpose of bringing the Gospel to the nations, then I think it would be clearly stated that this is what he is talking about. There is no mention of taking the message of Christ to the nations in Romans 9 though. If we go back to Romans 3 it says that the Jews were given the words of God and that some of them disbelieving did not nullify the faithfulness of God. There is no statement of bringing the Gospel to the nations here either.

        To answer your question from what is explicitly stated in the text, let’s look at verses 4-5 and what in those verses could anyone have claimed to have failed, dropped off, or faded away as is meant by the verb ἐκπέπτωκεν in verse 6. I don’t think there would be anyone denying that the Israelites were descended from the patriarchs or that Jesus was not an Israelite according to the flesh. The nation and the Messiah had already come from the seed of Abraham and the word of God concerning these promises had already been fulfilled.

        In verse 4 several things are listed that had just been described as belonging to the elect in ch.8. Verse 4 says that to the Israelites belongs the adoption. Chapter 8 says that all who have the Spirit of God are “sons of God” (v.14). They “received the Spirit of adoption” (v.15). They are “children of God” and “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (vs.16-17). Rm. 9:4 also lists glory. Chapter 8 says to believers who are both Jew and Gentiles that they may be glorified with Christ (v.17). Verse 18 speaks of the future glory to be revealed to us, and the golden chain of verses 29-30 ends with glorification. Rm. 9:4 also lists covenants and promises. Many of the covenantal promises were already fulfilled, but many of the promises were carried over into the new covenant. These would include things like the promises of forgivness of sin and healing that would be accomplished by the suffering Servant. Chapter 8 gives some related promises to the elect: They are promised adoption and redemption of the body (v.23). All things work together for their good (v.28). They are justified and glorified (v.30), and nothing can separate them from the love of God (v.39).

        By the majority of the Jews disbelieving, all these things could be seen as having failed because these unbelieving Jews were not receiving the promises of God. This is why Paul explains that the word has not failed because the Israelites according to the flesh were neither all of Israel nor children of God (9:6-8). The children of promise are the true children of God (v.8). These would be the children and heirs described in chapter 8 and later described as vessels of mercy prepared beforehand for glory from both the Jews and the Gentiles in 9:24. Paul’s point was that the promises were still being fulfilled in these children who God had selected as heirs of His promises.

        You also asked, “What was Abram and his lineage uniquely chosen for that Lot and his lineage wasn’t chose for (even though we know Lot was still saved)?”

        The text doesn’t mention Lot, but the people who are mentioned are used as illustrations of children being heirs of promises by the decree of God although they were not entitled to these promises by birth. Isaac was not the first born son of Abraham, yet God miraculously brought about his birth and declared him to be the child of promise. Abraham gave gifts to all his other sons, but he gave Isaac all he had (Gen.25:1-6). Jacob was also the second born son of Isaac, yet before the twins were born God declared Jacob the heir. In both cases the first born and heir by right of birth was rejected for receiving the promises (like national Israel) and the second born was declared to be the heir of the promises (like the elect). I don’t think these examples are meant to deal with whether or not the first son was damned and the second saved as much as with God’s choice of which son is the child of promise which relates to the heirs of the salvific promises of God I already mentioned (the Israelites according to the flesh aren’t the heirs of these salvific promises, but the elect are).

        The second illustration also relates to the soteriological point being made by adding in “because of Him who calls” which is being used in Paul’s argument here in a very soteriological way both before and after this verse (8:28,30, & 9:24) as Dr. White pointed out during his opening statement.

        I hope what I’ve written gives you a clear idea of where I’m coming from on this. I think all the information needed for clearly understanding what Paul is saying in verse 6 is explicitly stated in the surrounding verses. You and Dr. White both agreed that verse 6 is key to understanding the chapter, but I don’t see any explicit statement of bringing a message anywhere in Paul’s argument. That forces me to reject bringing the message of Christ to the nations as being intended to be key to his argument. I will continue to discuss it further with you if you desire, but my comments may be a couple of days apart. I really don’t have the time to devote to online discussions every day. Thanks for the response brother and God bless you and your family.

      6. The promise is the same thing and that is clearly in view. God made a promise to bless all people through Israel and He accomplished that through both hardening and mercying Israelites. So it is referring to Hod mercying of Israel in in order to fulfill his promise through them even though they deserved to be wiped out.

      7. Dizerner, Brian, and Johnathan,

        I see a lot of people were busy commenting yesterday. While I would love to have the time to devote to carrying on 4 different discussions on this subject at once, I simply don’t have the time to do it in any meaningful way. I had some contact with Pastor Flowers leading up to the debate, met him at the debate, and just wanted to continue our discussion afterwards because I know he was extremely busy with preparation in the time leading up to the debate. It looks as though he is staying pretty busy afterward also, but I’m in no rush to post comments multiple times a day or even every day.

        Please excuse me for not responding to everything y’all wrote. It is in no way meant as a snub. I pray that God blesses all of you and speaks the truth to all of us through the serious study of His word. Y’all have a great day.

      8. No problem. If you ever manage to scrape the time together, I’d still like to know how John 6 is exegeting Romans 9 but Romans 10 is eisegeting it. God bless.

      9. Pastor Flowers,

        You say, “The promise is the same thing and that is clearly in view. God made a promise to bless all people through Israel and He accomplished that through both hardening and mercying Israelites.”

        Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you here, but it seems that you are saying that the promises mentioned in verses 4 and 8 are the same thing as bringing the message of Christ to the nations. You mention the promise to bless all the nations of the earth through the seed of Abraham, but that promise is not mentioned in the text. Even if that were specifically mentioned, a select group of Israelites initially bringing the message of Christ to the nations would only be one of many components in the accomplishment of that promise. You seem to be saying that Paul’s argument here is that God’s promise to bless all the nations through Abraham’s descendants has not failed because he is one of a select group of Jews who has been chosen to take the message of Christ to the nations. None of this is stated in the text. What is stated are the salvific promises that I pointed out in ch.8.

        What goes along better with the illustration of Isaac in ch.9 is the promise and covenant with Isaac mentioned in Gen. 17:19-21 where God tells Abraham that He will establish an EVERLASTING covenant with Isaac and his descendants. He will bless Ishmael and make him fruitful, but His covenant will be established with Isaac. The promises of chapter 8 are everlasting soteriological promises, not just steps in the accomplishment of those promises. The word of God that has not failed is the fulfillment of these promises. Paul’s point is that they are being fulfilled in the elect (the children of God and heirs of His promises in 8:14-17 & 9:7-8) instead of in the children according to the flesh (9:6-8).

        You are saying that one component in the accomplishment of a promise is what is clearly in view, but that component is never mentioned in the text. Then by assuming that component to be the key to understanding the rest of the text, you force unnatural understandings on the verses that follow like saying that mercying = choosing to carry the message of Christ to the nations. Brother, let’s both try to take off the lenses of our existing soteriological views for a minute and look at verse 6. What is the word that has not failed? Is it one unmentioned component in the accomplishment of a promise or is it the fulfillment of the promises mentioned in the preceding context? What is the mercying about in verses 15-16? Is it choosing people to do something that is mentioned nowhere in the text or is it choosing people as children and heirs to God’s salvific promises? I can’t help but see one view as forcing a meaning onto the text that isn’t there and the other as taking a meaning from the text based on what is explicitly stated within it.

        God bless brother.

      10. Gen 12:3 is the promise and the way it is carried out to through Sarah rather than Hagar, which is clearly in full view. See also Gal 4:21ff

      11. Dizerner,

        Just to clear up any misunderstanding, I would never attempt to exegete Romans 9 by using John 6.

        God bless.

      12. I didn’t ask if you would. If James White did it, would you see it as eisegesis or not? Thanks for any answer.

      13. Pastor Flowers,

        Paul quotes from two passages in Romans 9:7-9. Neither of them are from Gen. 12. The quote in verse 9 can be found at Gen. 17:21, 18:10&14. The quote from verse 7 can be found at Gen.21:12. Both passages are talking about the rejection of Ishmael and choosing of Isaac for the covenant promises. Both support the exegesis I have presented of Romans 9 being about God freely choosing who are and are not His children and heirs of His promises. Gen. 12:3 doesn’t support your view of this being about a select group of Jews being chosen to bring the message of Christ to the nations, and this isn’t even the verse Paul is quoting from. Let’s put Romans 9:6-9 next to Gen. 12:3, 17:18-21 & 21:12 and see which passage or passages go along with your view about choosing to bring a message and/or my view of God rejecting and choosing who to make heirs of His promises.

        Rm.9:6-9 “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 shall have a son.””

        Gen.12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

        Gen.17:18-21 “And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. As for Ishmael, I have heard you; behold, I have blessed him and will make him fruitful and multiply him greatly. He shall father twelve princes, and I will make him into a great nation. But I will establish my covenant with Isaac, whom Sarah shall bear to you at this time next year.””

        Gen.21:10-12 “So she [Sarah] said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named.””

        The word of God in Rm.9:6 is the salvific promises that were originally given to the Jews mentioned in 9:4 but that Paul had just said belonged to the elect in chapter 8. These promises were still being fulfilled and the word of God had not failed because the true children of God and heirs of His promises were not the Israelites according to the flesh but the ones He chose from among both the Jews and Gentiles. There is nothing ambiguous or unsure here. Paul clearly states what he is talking about and uses multiple illustrations to back up what he is saying. In all of this you have not put forth one verse that speaks of choosing a select group of Israelites to carry the message of Christ to the nations, yet you say this is the key to understanding what Paul is talking about.

        Bringing Galatians 4 into the discussion only supports what I’ve been saying. There is certainly no mention there about carrying a message either. Paul repeatedly tells the Gentile Galatians who are being pressured to be circumcised under the law that they are children of promise, sons, and heirs of the promises. The symbolism that Paul points to is that Isaac was the child of promise telling the Gentile Galatians, “Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.” (v.28) and his mother, Sarah, was a free woman while Hagar was a slave and her son was according to the flesh instead of according to the miraculous fulfillment of a promise. As children of promise, they are born into freedom and not enslaved to the law and thus should not be circumcised under the law. He also makes the point that just as the one born according to the flesh persecuted the free child of promise, the ones enslaved to the law were persecuting them for their freedom. Paul’s emphasis here may be different in that he is dealing with the problem of false teachers telling Gentiles that they must be circumcised under the law, but he touches on some of the same themes that are addressed in Romans 9. Nothing here supports the idea that Paul is speaking about people being chosen to carry the Gospel message in Romans 9.

        The contrast in how we handle the text of Romans 9 is amazing. This is why I wish Dr. White would push the point about what the noble purpose is instead of simply moving on to the next question. This is what should be brought out in a debate between the Calvinistic view and the view you were presenting. My criticism is in no way directed at you personally, but the view you presented is simply based on ideas imported into and imposed onto the text without the slightest bit of warrant. It also requires the denial of what the text explicitly states. When exegeting verses such as 1Tm.2:4 or 2Pt.3:9 I would never take an approach like this. I would use the same methodology as I am using here and begin looking at the surrounding verses to determine what is being said. Ask yourself why you are unable to do that with Romans 9. God bless brother.

      14. Dizerner,

        I guess I would have to see exactly what he was doing, but I really can’t think of any way of using John 6 to actually exegete (extract the meaning out of) verses in Romans 9 without calling it eisegesis. I have never heard him do that though.

      15. Okay, thanks. I don’t see any reason to call exegeting scripture with scripture as eisegesis, there are a whole lot of verses that only come into focus with the whole counsel of God, or they can be easily misunderstood. This whole obsession with calling everything eisegesis, as if that were some real argument or proof in itself, just feels very disingenuous and ill-motivated to me. An attempt to show Scripture in harmony could never be, in my opinion, true eisegesis.

    2. Hi Matt. Been a while and hope you are well these days. Well bearded from the sound of it.

      “I would also add that I think he should have followed the stream of thought about the people who are also identified as the elect, the chosen, and the called being adopted as sons, the children, and heirs of God beginning in 8:14-17 and followed that consistent stream of thought through ch.9 especially verses 6-8. The Israelites are not the true children and heirs but the elect are. This makes total sense and follows directly from what precedes it. Nothing else has to be imported into the text to try to make it sound like Paul is talking about people being chosen for bringing a message. It just seems so clear to me that Paul is talking about being chosen as children and heirs of God’s promises, which he goes on to clearly demonstrate is not based on our wills or efforts but on God’s choice and authority to make us for whatever use He wants.”

      I basically agree with much here, yet fail to see anything uniquely Calvinist about it at all. Though it would be more accurate to say Paul is defending the identity and criteria of being chosen as children and heirs of God’s promises in light of Israel’s rejection and God’s right to determine these things contra Israel’s presumption. He already addressed the issue of defining being chosen starting in 3:21 and following through to chapter 8:39.

      “The only thing I can think of is that you are possibly looking at a poor translation that renders νομοθεσία (law giving) as ‘word’.”

      As I read it above, he is referring back to Romans 3:2, with Romans 9:4-5 obviously picking back up from the issues of Romans 3:1-8. See in 3:2 “First, they were entrusted with…” We basically don’t get to “second, third, fourth,” so to speak, until Rom. 9:4. Prof. Flowers is on firm footing making this connection, as well as pointing to what that entails about Israel’s vocation, lest we think God had no purpose in election and His very words, the adoption, the glory, the covenants, and the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises were all superfluous and Paul thinks so as well (which, then, makes no sense of his mentioning all of it).

      So, saying,“There is not really anyway to make this verse be a reference to the word of God that hasn’t failed in verse 6 or all the supposed baggage that is attached to that term based on something that wasn’t really stated in verses 4-5” is not accurate as a critique.

      In fact, the critique here is quite wrong, especially since the “supposed baggage” is basically the issues Paul is talking about in the book of Romans. Issues which, as we argue, are really actually about the very things Paul is actually talking about. Namely, Paul is talking about issues like God’s righteousness, Christ, the Jews, the Gentiles, God’s purpose in election, the promise given to Abraham, salvation, justification by faith in Christ and not works of the law (as even testified by Torah itself), etc. pertaining to the occasion of the letter, and not what some people in the Reformed tradition prefer he was talking about or insist he was “really” talking about despite all the things he seems to be talking about.

      “Another point, that I caught during the debate, and is also quoted here is where you said, “So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. What is IT referring to in verse 16? Same thing He introduced in verse 6, God’s Word!” I brought both the English and Greek to the debate with me, and thought it sounded obvious that “it” was referring to showing mercy and compassion in verse 15. I looked at the Greek and there isn’t even an “it” there. I expected a pronoun or even more likely a verb like ἐστὶν (it is) with a pronoun for its subject contained in its personal ending, but there is nothing even there to be referring back to any antecedent. A wooden translation without regard for flow in English would be: “So then, not of him willing, nor of him running, but of the mercy-ing God”. It is simply a continuance of the flow of what has been said about God choosing who he wants to be His children and heirs and a statement that His choice of a person doesn’t depend on anything they will or do.”

      This too is correct as far as it goes, however, Prof. Flowers is also essentially correct. Perhaps he needed to nuance it better though. I haven’t read his book yet, but I’ll try to explain briefly as possible what I think he aiming at.

      I think while the “willing or running” also points back to v.15’s mercy and compassion, which echoes the concluding “bottom line” matter (Ex. 33:19) of God’s conversation with Moses that began with Ex. 32:31-32 that Paul was channeling back in Rom. 9:3, it is not only that.

      So, while it is not directly a reference back to Rom. 9:6, it is still said in support of the thesis stated there which controls the whole discussion. This, I think Prof. Flowers is trying to keep at the front of the discussion. Rightly so, as Dr. White essentially agrees this is the “key.”

      The issue of the debate is what does Paul mean by it and thus what follows from it in the rest of the passage, how that fits within the section of Romans 9-11, the rest of Romans, the Pauline corpus, and the rest of the canon, how Romans is situated in its historical, social, structural, rhetorical, cultural, conceptual, and occasional background, define terms and categories, and so forth. I.e. the things that matter in a debate on which soteriological view Romans 9 supports. Everyone agrees with what Paul says in the text. What does all that mean? That’s the key issue.

      Exegesis includes all this in the work that uncovers and unpacks it in the hermeneutic process towards interpretation. Quoting the text and commenting one’s conclusions about it is not exegesis, but rather, it is either simply proof-texting in chronological order and stumping for one’s theological shibboleths. If this is all Dr. White did in the debate (as he has done with the chapter in previous debates), he did not do much by way of exegesis.

      As the prior quote from you above points towards, Paul is defending the contention that being an Israelite is not the determinant factor in being God’s eschatological people, because Israel was the house of flesh from whom Christ came (Rom. 9:5) which is the center of God’s eschatological elect people He has the right to define. Hence, as Paul argues in Rom. 9:7ff, the purpose of God according to election is shaped by the promise, not by ancestry or works. This is essentially Prof. Flowers point (though he can correct me if I misrepresent him).

      As God divided through the guilty Israel (Ex. 34:7b cf Ex. 32: 37-38) throughout their history, He has the right to do with Israel over Christ, the means by which Christ comes as the fulfillment of the promise, and how it includes Gentiles as well per Rom. 9:24. Moreover, if I understood correctly, Dr. White has complained about Prof. Flower’s argument that the lump is referring to Israel in this passage. If so, that is absolutely absurd. Paul writes “αλλα και εξ εθνων” concluding the Potter/clay imagery for a reason. To help White out, it makes sense to see the Israel as the lump since the clay was always Israel in the OT texts Paul echoes and Israel is the primary focus here. Hence, 9:6b and two different types of vessels from the “same lump” (αὐτοῦ φυράματος) and then “also from the Gentiles.” He can try to view it like this: “also us, whom He named, not of the “lump” (Jews) only, but also of the Gentiles.” See? Not that hard to understand and is, in fact, crystal clear. I didn’t know any Calvinists actually disputed the fact that Israel is the lump of verse 21.

      Hence, God’s word doesn’t fail even in light of Israel’s failure and rejection of the righteousness from God. God’s promise succeeds and His word hasn’t failed. Again, nothing particularly Calvinist about any of this though. So, while your grammatical point is essentially correct, Prof. Flowers exegetical point is also essentially correct. Perhaps he just needs to nuance or tighten up the connects back more clearly if it wasn’t clear in the debate. but that there is a connection is quite clear. I am guessing his book explores these in details that blogs and debates do not afford.

      So yes, as you point out, what Paul means in verse 16 is that God’s criteria of who the children and heirs are doesn’t depend on anything “a person” or “they” will or do, which in context is the Jew willing and running after the law and thereby dictating the terms of righteousness based on works per Rom. 9:32; 10:3, and/or perhaps even Paul’s (channeling Moses’) own willing or running for Israel’s sake per Rom. 9:3 (cf Ex. 32:31-32).

      To conclude then, we do agree on many things here. I am, however, not sure how any of what you said fits specifically with “the Calvinist view,” since I agree with large swaths of it.

      Moreover, aside from a correct, but as demonstrated, ultimately irrelevant minor grammatical quibble, I am still not clear how what you say here refutes (or heck, even ultimately disagrees with) Prof. Flowers essential point about the relationship of Romans 9:16 to Paul’s thesis in Romans 9:6 (cf Rom. 3:1-8; 9:1-5). Nor do I see how it disagrees with or refutes Prof. Flowers’ understanding of what Paul is talking about here in Romans 9 generally.

      I mean, I don’t want to take it that your central disagreement with Prof. Flowers is actually with the idea that God’s purpose according to election is Christ-centered (Rom. 9:5) and Paul is informing us that God is fulfilling his word and promise by means through Abraham –> Isaac–>Jacob to bring about Christ according to the flesh as the fulfillment, but not all of physical Israel is automatically included in that as children and heirs of the promise; and that, rather, you think Paul is perhaps “really” talking about something else. Surely not.

      Anyway, good to see you again.

  8. Calvinists study the Bible in a skewed, context denying way. Maybe someone could be a Calvinist out of ignorance. But anyone who is saved and astute in bible study, should have come out of Calvinism.

    1. Strange–I came to believe in the doctrines of sovereign grace through reading the Bible in context…

      1. That is strange, Tim! 🙂 You must have had some outside help bringing you to some of those conclusions, though it is somewhat understandable if you were using the KJV with its Calvinistic use of dynamic equivalence in places in support of its theological perspective. (cf. Acts 2:47 “should”, 13:48 “ordained”, Rom. 9:8 “are counted”, 9:15 the 2nd and 4th “I will”).

  9. Leighton, I look forward to seeing and listening to the video. Sounds like White turned up but didn’t really want to engage. It confirms my suspicions that a person really has to be ‘determined’, to be a Calvinist. 🙂

  10. Amyra,

    You wrote:’Dr. White says something like: “I’m the only one who walked straight through Romans 9 this evening.” Translation: “I’m the only one who ignored historical and Biblical context . . . And I believe this is a virtue.”

    If you are right about this Amyra, then this shows that White failed in his interpretation of Romans 9. And this confirms directly what I had said in my earlier post (i.e. calvinists try to limit their interpretation of the text of Romans 9 only to the text of Romans 9 and they will tell you that you are mistaken to go outside of Romans 9 to compare scripture with scripture. Ironically, in my past experience dealing with non-Christian cults, this is precisely what they do as well when eisegeting biblical texts (they limit their observations to the text and do not allow other texts to inform or clarify the text in question).

    If White had written a paper on “the exegesis of Romans 9″ for a paper in the exegesis class at my former seminary and mad this claim, the professor would have responded: ” Yes you are the only one who limited himself to the text and you ignored the historical and Biblical context, and this is not a virtue this is to fail in the exegetical process.” And he would have given him a straight “F” on his paper. If White did make this claim, he is also confirming that his interpretation of Romans 9 is pure eisegesis because that is precisely the opposite of what proper exegesis of texts is about. In proper exegesis you always compare scripture with scripture, you always carefully consider the historical and Biblical contexts of a passage. This is hermeneutics 101, this is not rocket science, not difficult, and is practiced by all good exegetes of the Bible.

    White’s claim is also amazing in that even if say you wanted to just look at Romans 9 in its immediate context, THAT immediate context INCLUDES Romans 10 and 11 as well. Because Romans 9-11 function as a unit. One of the glaring problems with Piper’s doctoral thesis/book on Romans 9 is that he makes this same error, trying to limit the interpretation of Romans 9 to Romans 9 alone ignoring Romans 10-11.

    But for the sake of argument, let’s say none of this historical and Biblical context existed, that in fact we only had Romans 9. You STILL could not establish that the text is discussing the false calvinist doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation. Why? Because if God had in fact done the actions of unconditional election and reprobation, these actions would have occurred in eternity and the discussion of these actions by Paul would have been from an eternal perspective, in eternity, not in time, not in actual history. If you look at the text of Romans 9 there is no reference to eternal decrees, you do not see or find the words “unconditional election” or “reprobation.” Everything in the text refers to an **in time** perspective. It is all about actions that God has done in actul history or is doing in actual history. How was hating and loving Jacob and Esau in eternity when they did not yet exist? HOw was God hardening Pharoah in eternity when he did not yet exist? Paul says that God AT THAT TIME was with much patience enduring the vessels of destruction: how could God be doing that at that time if this was referring to his plans in eternity. And then there is the fact you cannot find the word “decree” in the passage. In fact nothing is said anywhere in the passage about decrees or decrees made in eternity. If the Bible were actually teaching unconditional election/reprobation then there would be references to eternity, references to decrees, references made to decrees made in eternity. But there is nothing of the sort whatsoever in the text of Romans 9.

    I have to say Amyra, if you are correct that White said what you say that he said, then he failed and anyone aware of proper exegetical method will see his “interpretation” as a blatant example of eisegesis. And if the majority of the crowd in attendance was made up of calvinists who also eisegete the passage in the same way that White does. This is very encouraging as it means that this is the best that they can do. Which again is a fail in any good exegesis class.

    If this is what they do with the text and if this is the best that they can do, this partly explains why with regard to unconditional election/reprogation two of the three major Christian groups (Catholics and Eastern Orthodox) have already rejected calvinism and its false doctrines of unconditional election and reprobation, and have moved on. It will only take some more time for Protestants to reject these things and move on as well. Actually among Protestants the majority have already rejected unconditional election and reprobation. As it happens everytime calvinism rears its ugly head, it will rise up for a time, cause unnecessary division and confusion among God’s people, and then reside again into the dust bin of history. Just give it time.

    1. Robert,

      I hope and pray you’re right about Calvinism subsiding. It’d be nice if some of the mouths I’ve been hearing lately could be silenced by SOUND doctrine, which obviously involves comparing scripture with scripture. It’s amazing to me how easily some have accepted this idea that it’s not “exegesis” unless it’s isolated from the rest of the Bible. Talk about radical! Prof. Flowers could have marginalized Dr. White based on that!

      I’ve heard Dr. White say many times non-Calvinists “can’t walk straight through the text of Romans 9,” and he always adds that “they have to go running to other texts,” as if “proper exegesis” disallows the introduction of other passages that speak to the same issue or context. At the same time, I’ve OFTEN seen him bring in Romans 9, Ephesians 1, and John 6 when confronted with other passages that are problematic for him. So, he kind of has a double standard.

      I wasn’t at the debate, but based on this article I’m guessing he came with the same unreasonable expectation. Also, someone who was there reported that Dr. White made the following statements:

      “Who walked through the text of Romans 9? 98% of Professor Flowers’ debate isn’t on Romans 9.”

      “I wanted two robust interpretations of Romans 9, but we didn’t get that tonight.”

      “We must follow the APOSTOLIC interpretation of the [OT] texts cited in Romans 9.”

      I’m taking it that by “robust” he means: “isolated and Calvy-consistent,” and by “apostolic” he means some understanding OTHER than the one that naturally arises from context of the OT scriptures Paul cited? Could be wrong. But that’s how I’m taking him.

      Always good talking to you!

  11. Pastor Flowers,

    I am a Calvinist and a big James White fan and had not heard of you before the interactions leading up to the podcast. I just want to say, Thursday night was not about who won or lost, who was right or wrong, etc. God was glorified through both of your presentations and I am thankful for that and thankful for your emotion and passion for the proclamation of the Gospel! I’m sure there will be some back and forth about approach from both sides (waiting for Tuesday’s Dividing Line!) My honest critique, having never been to a debate like this before, is that you and Dr. White simply approached the text differently. I felt Dr. White very much centered everything around Romans 9 from the start, grabbing other supporting text as needed; where as you built up to Romans 9 in your presentation of other texts. I don’t know what approaches are typical in a debate… I believe you both addressed the text, I just walked away feeling like you spent less time in Romans 9, though you were very clear in the presentation of your soteriological view. I would also add that you are a very dynamic speaker…an SBC preacher indeed 🙂

    Again, thank you for your presentation and bringing glory to God. I may not have changed my mind about Calvinism, but I did earn a lot of respect for you!

    1. I agree also that I did build up to Romans 9 because I was attempting to diffuse some of the preconceptions given that is arguably the greatest Calvinistic proof text. Sometimes you have to knock down a wall before building another…obviously that wall is not going to go down so easily as a 20 min opener provides in the mind of ones who are convinced of their current view. However, it does effect those still open to learning both views, in my experience.

      I think many Calvinists did not follow my presentation due to the lenses they have on. They see thoughts and ideas that I bring to the text as new and unrelated simply because they are new to them. This is why I appealed to early church fathers and other scholars who have held to my view for centuries. It is easy to fool your self into thinking that your view is the only viable option and thus not even objectively consider other viable options. As I have said before I have come to terms with the fact that people will not agree with me. I am okay with that. But it still drives me crazy when people can’t understand my perspective due to their preconceived ideas and unwillingness to objectively think outside their own worldview. As it is been said, “it is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

  12. Matt Mayo wrote:
    It may be true that certain people were chosen to take the Gospel to the nations, but there is not even a hint of it in Romans 9.
    What would you say Rom 9:4 is in reference to?
    Rom 9:4 Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;

  13. Looking forward to listening to the debate and to more of your podcasts. Thanks for everything

  14. Much to glean from the old proverb:”The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” – Prov 18:17. Mr. White (as I will not call him a “Dr.”, he hasn’t earned a legitimate doctorate) and his lemmings came out swinging postdebate, calling it a complete and quick KO. I’m looking forward to the truth in listening to the debate for myself, but your thoughts Prof Flowers, easily brings back the balance in the debates perspective. I applaud you for having the courage to go up against a professional debater in the midst of his fan boys. Bravo and God Bless!

    1. I appreciate the support and I love that verse. But regardless of how one may feel about the legitimacy of Dr Whites degree, no one can deny his level of scholarship overall. IMO, that is a distraction from the topic and is not encouraged here.

      1. Prof, I understand and respect your POV. Only that I would not call what he does scholarship, but more along the lines of maximizing professional debate tactics. It was disheartening to see him crumble when going against an atheist scholar like Ehrman. It was obvious that Mr.White doesn’t have the requisite credentials (not like a Dan Wallace or Mike Licona) to understand the text from a scholarly academic standpoint, and that in turn imploded his confidence and affected his old standby debate tricks.

        At anyrate he’s a sharp guy and it’s no small achievement to do as many professional debates as he has. I’m looking forward to listening to your exchange and perhaps even subsequent follow-ups, as it seems support for your debate performance is strong! God Bless!

    2. CHAZZJY,

      Seriously mate…no need for that.

      What’s wrong with his doctorate? It was granted from an institution with legal authority to grant those credentials.

      CES is a fine institution. Dr. Walston runs that place with class, integrity, and requires top notch scholarship. Whatever personal regard you have for Dr. White is irrelevant, and no reason to consequentially slag on the institution because he comes out of there. Dr. White’s scholarship, as Prof. Flowers points out, is undeniable and furthermore, it is a reflection of that institution’s ability to produce top notch people.

      There are plenty of Ph.D grads doing nothing of note from a lot of seminaries, especially the ones in my denomination (SBC) that pass those credentials out like candy, and the “dissertations” you can download online demonstrate it. CES is quite good at education, and Dr. White doesn’t even have a Ph.D, but rather a TH.M, Th.D, and a D.Min.

      Many other seminaries generally can’t produce people with near the resume or level of scholarship produced by Dr. White.

      I very much respect the institution that issued his credential as well as the man who runs it. Moreover, while I may not agree with Dr. White’s soteriology, I certainly respect him, and have zero problem with his “attitude” or rhetorical skills in a debate either. Rhetoric is a very important part of debate, regardless of how people feel about its importance. Rhetoric is the art of persuasion, and in a debate, it can be used as “tricks” if necessary to put an opponent off balance. If that is unwelcome, then people who don’t like it shouldn’t debate.

      As for Dan Wallace, very few people have command of the Greek as he does.

      However, and I say this as a personal friend of Dr. Licona, even he had trouble with Ehrman. Also, Dr. Licona went to Pretoria, did his work almost entirely from the U.S. independently, and that place is not any more or less credible than CES academically.

      Yes, I did just type a defense of Dr. White…off to the shower.

      1. I agree, Jonathan. Dr. White may be wrong as two left shoes about Calvinism. But nobody can deny he’s a total Boss in every other area. Like him or not, he’s extremely intelligent and a fierce debater. May God keep putting His truth in front of Dr. White…until he WILLFULLY accepts it, in Christ.

  15. You know, I have to say outright, Dr. White expresses himself with much hubris, as long as his camp allows him to continue in this fashion, no real debate will happen with anyone who debates him.

  16. Waiting to have the video released to see the debate. But from what I could gather, I believe that you argued for one time hardening of heart of Jews by God for the noble purpose . I was surprised to hear that. Normally I have not seen any theologian who affirms libertarian free will to admit that God ever hardens the heart of man. For example Roger Olson denies that God ever hardened the heart of Pharoah. I wish to know which Bible verses you depended on to show this “one time hardening of heart of Jews by God to achieve noble purpose”?

  17. If I had a nickel for every Calvinist who, when confronted by an opponent who has studied their theology inside out and is able to point out both the glaring scriptural and logical contradictions inherent in Calvinism, claimed that such an opponent “just doesn’t understand Calvinism”, I’d be richer than Bill Gates. Calvin died 500 years ago. We have a wealth of written material from Reformers up to today, and yet somehow NO ONE BUT A CALVINIST can understand Calvinism. Every cult says the same.

    1. Hi MALLEN, I Find your comment offensive and misinformed. For starters, Calvinism is not a “Cult.” Calvinism is not a denomination. We don’t have Calvinist meetings. And most importantly, we don’t worship John Calvin. I was present at the debate, and I just finished watching the video. I don’t deny that Mr. Flowers has likely had some Calvinist leanings in the past, however, based upon his presentation of Total Depravity, it seemed clear to me that he did not think Calvinists distinguish between “Born into sin” and “Judicial hardening” and I struggle to understand how someone who has studied Calvinist theology “inside and out” could make such a simple mistake (See 2:05:00 in the video). Again, I’m not denying that Mr. Flowers has leaned Calvinist in the past. Particularly with his views on God’s sovereignty in salvation, but I don’t think anyone who believes in the doctrines of Grace would believe that born into sin and judicial hardening are interchangeable concepts.

      On the other hand, I would argue that the Arminian seems unwilling to hear and understand how the Calvinist interprets scripture, particularly God’s sovereignty and providence. I was at the debate. I commented above. I heard Professor Flowers make his presentation. I’ve heard this position on election before. I understand how he arrives at his conclusion and while I don’t disagree, I at least acknowledge his position and was happy to hear him present it as an educated, well spoken bible teacher. What I haven’t seen, MALLEN, is an Arminian willing to let the Bible speak for itself and set aside preconceived notions about man’s ability. If you can’t watch the video and understand how the Calvinist arrives at his/her theology based on the text, then you sir need to take off the blinders.

      We need to get away from thinking that just because you disagree with someone on a theological point they automatically belong to a cult.

      1. Matt, you make some good points with “We need to get away from thinking that just because you disagree with someone on a theological point they automatically belong to a cult.” But then you say out of the other side of your mouth “What I haven’t seen is an Arminian willing to let the Bible speak for itself and set aside preconceived notions about man’s ability.” Well, here you go. I am Arminian willing to let the Bible speak for itself and set aside preconceived notions, and I don’t find it teaching Divine determinism. Do you think perhaps you are engaging in some of that very unhelpful behavior you are decrying?

      2. DIZERNER, my apologies if I came across that way. I am not insinuating that by virtue of holding Arminian beliefs in your theology, you belong to a cult. I am also not insinuating that you are inferior, or lack understanding of the bible. My comment specifically is, up until seeing this debate and hearing Professor Flowers’ positions in his podcast leading up to the debate, I have never heard an Arminian (save for Dr. Michael Brown) give an explanation of Romans 9 without saying something to the effect of “I don’t believe that because it interferes with our free will” or “I can’t worship a God that never gives people a chance” or “when the Bible says predestination it really means foreknowledge…”

        I thought Professor Flowers did a fantastic job of presenting his view of corporate election. My personal feeling is I wish he would have spent more time inside Romans 9, but I understand why he made his presentation the way he did. On the other hand, my view, being a former Arminian, is that within SBC churches specifically, the topic of Election is pushed aside which leaves people to generate their own opinions without biblical teaching from pastors and elders. Both Dr. White and Prof. Flowers acknowledged this in the debate. So all I meant to say is, I wish we had more Arminian brothers like Prof. Flowers who were willing to go toe to toe and debate the difficult issues and not automatically dismiss everyone we disagree with as being in a cult.

      3. Hi Matt D.

        You may want to read a bit more widely if you have not come accross any Biblically solid arguments from Arminian / non-Calvinists. (I find this statement incredible as there are many, many great non-Calvinist theologians beginning anywhere pre-Augustinian to th epresent day).

  18. Listened to the debate and went through Romans 9 again. I don’t agree with your claim of noble purpose of Messiah coming to be gleaned from Romans 9:21. There apostle is clearly making an analogy for how God acts in relation to those who are saved and those who are not. The potter arbitrarily takes from the same lump of clay to create sacred vessels to used in say, Holy of Holies and also to create vessels used for common use. I think you are reading too much into the text than what is actually there.

  19. Dr. Flowers,

    I’ve just finished listening to this debate a second time. I have also listened to Dr. White’s brief discussion of it from his point of view on his broadcast the Dividing Line.

    I came away with a tie. I believe both of you scored well against each other.

    I see the distinction you are making about the narrower election of being the preacher of the message to those the message will be heard by.

    Not all are called to be preachers or teachers or elders or deacons or or or as a function of the Church. We are individual believers and will account for our unique “election” and purpose, that noble purpose or noble cause, as you put it.

    That being said I’d like to add some thoughts to this debate to focus on and consider what I believe was not being focused on and why it should have been focused on in the particular manner and way the Apostle Paul exegetes it in Romans 9. There may be a disconnect. Maybe not? Please read the following and consider what I have to add.

    Considering the “election” of noble causes. I see two. The one has to do with the noble cause God revealed to “ABRAM”. What does Genesis 12 reveal? God comes to a barren man and woman, who probably are so hardboiled by now with other’s suspicions as to why they are indeed barren and not able to do what is customary for everyone to do, that is, bear children and more importantly, bear a son to pass on the valuables of the parents successful life lived before their Creator “too” after their union in a marriage before God. Here we have a society that looked down harshly on a marriage without a “family”. That is so simply because a family is not the marriage but the offspring of the marriage. That’s what family means in godly cultures, not the marriage, but the offspring that comes from the marriage. Abram’s brothers were able to bring forth children yet he was not. This reality he bore was an embarrassment to him and reflected at a minimum subconsciously in their culture that there was some “guilt” or secret sin or sins they were involved in and because of that therefore God was exercising His “judgment” on them. Abram was then given good news! God promised him that He, God, would make him great, make his name great and how was He going to do it? By removing the suspicion and curse of being a non-family marriage in the midst of families galore!

    Abram was 75 years old when that promise was made to him that from being a cursed soul with no family to show for his marriage he would now be blessed by God and grow to become a noble cause family, a GREAT NATION in fact and a great nation that once it became what God promised Abram it would become it would be the very vehicle of blessings to all families of the earth!

    Here’s where it gets interesting. I want to jump forward to the book of Acts and highlight Acts 26:18 now then come back and pick up from there to define what I believe is being missed when we say God made Abram’s family a noble cause and a great nation whereby all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

    Act 26:18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

    What is the power of Satan? Why is Satan fighting so fiercely to undermine God’s definition of marriage and family as being a marriage between one man and one woman? Why is the family under assault and has been under assault from the garden of Eden onward?

    Family shows hope and promise and indicates a necessity for “FAITH” in the One True God not the false god, Satan, the god of this world system. Faith is under assault. But it is not under assault when you are not a true believer. The devil assaults true believers. He attacks them. He wants to destroy a true believer’s “hope” and “love” and “faith”, all these are gifts of God which Satan has been excluded from and now will no longer be able to enjoy. He has been cast out. He will be cast down. How? By the noble causes of God’s Elect. More like ONE NOBLE CAUSE. It isn’t the noble cause of the great nation of Abram that is in view here. No, it is a greater noble cause that is in view. And what is that noble cause, you may be asking? It’s the second “blessing” God makes to Abraham not Abram. Dr. Flowers, I noticed you conflated the two in the debate when you made reference to “Abraham” and NOT Abram when referencing Genesis 12.

    Notice something now. When the great nation has become such Moses says this about her and about her “noble cause”:

    Exo 19:4 You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.
    Exo 19:5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine;
    Exo 19:6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”

    See it? This great nation of ABRAM is to become a KINGDOM OF PRIESTS AND A HOLY NATION. The problem is it is a conditional promise and requires EVERYONE from EVERY Tribe to participate in the PRIESTHOOD. And within this Priesthood is the Levitical Priesthood to be sure this great nation walked out the Law of Righteousness so they could be so blessed as God’s treasured possession among all the people, for all the earth is His.

    You when were describing the noble cause to Dr. White in the debate you pointed to this verse:

    Rom 9:23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—

    You go on to explain that there is a special “election” for some of the Jews of this great nation. And that is correct. I believe Dr. White missed your point. Their work was to proclaim to all the good news about the greatness they are, being the children of Abram. Their place and everyone else’s place in this great nation and noble cause is understood by that calling and election which is a calling and election within the great nation Abram’s posterity grew to become as God said she would grow to become. Some preach and teach and some learn and receive BUT all are to be equals of that GREAT AND HOLY NATION, A KINGDOM OF PRIESTS. So in essence we have a “priesthood” within a PRIESTHOOD. I would point to how the Apostle Paul writes something similar when he writes about the function of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers equipping the Saints UNTIL WE ALL ATTAIN TO:::>

    Eph 4:13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
    Eph 4:14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
    Eph 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
    Eph 4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

    The point is, both FAILED! And thank God for that because that is exactly what God said was going to happen. God kept His promise to Abram and made from his loins A GREAT NATION. Once they became that great nation Moses then defines for them their noble cause which they were intended to NOT ACCOMPLISH but rather, they were predetermined to fail to accomplish by God so as to not accomplish the noble cause.

    This brings me to the second blessing. Notice in the following Words that there is no “if then” condition attached to this following promise, it is rather accomplished just by the gift of Faith given to Abraham, Abraham by that gift of Faith accomplished everything required for this second blessing to be proclaimed to everyone in every nation. We are yet to see this greater noble cause come to fruition. The end is in sight and it is coming!:

    Gen 22:15 And the angel of the LORD called to Abraham a second time from heaven
    Gen 22:16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son,
    Gen 22:17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies,
    Gen 22:18 and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

    Also now consider this with that. Under the “LAW” OF RIGHTEOUSNESS as given by Moses, the great nation failed to achieve their national noble cause as that kingdom of priests and holy nation. BUT, under this second blessing, a promise not made to Abram, but a blessing PROMISED and made to ABRAHAM, the father of our Faith, while as yet there was no “LAW” OF RIGHTEOUSNESS to govern his life of FAITH he, Abraham, obeyed God’s voice and attained to the fullness of the second PRIESTHOOD, a Priesthood first identified by the introduction into the story line of the King and Priest Melchizedek.

    Now, where does that leave us? It leaves us with understanding what is being explained by Paul in Romans 9 and why the first priesthood of Levi’s calling failed and the great holy nation noble cause priesthood of Abram was predetermined to fail and did fail as we read it was prophesied they would fail in the book of Deuteronomy and Joshua. God did not fail to keep His promise. Abram’s children grew to become a great nation. They were to keep the Law of Righteousness. They couldn’t because of their fallen nature. God’s greater and more nobler noble cause is in view with His promise to Abraham that in his loins is one offspring, the Lord Jesus Christ, that when He is born into this world will be able to cause His great noble cause and “BLESSING” to be received by every nation and families from every nation on earth because He would not and indeed, did not fail God’s eternal purpose or as you call it, the noble cause.

    Peter is writing about this greater PRIESTHOOD when he write about it here:

    1Pe 2:1 So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.
    1Pe 2:2 Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—
    1Pe 2:3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
    1Pe 2:4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,
    1Pe 2:5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
    1Pe 2:6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
    1Pe 2:7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
    1Pe 2:8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.
    1Pe 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
    1Pe 2:10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
    1Pe 2:11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.

    We have two nations and two priesthoods. The one nation has a priesthood within itself and is a very narrow band of souls from the loins of Abram. It is this great nation God is speaking about promising Abram He will give him while He makes him a great name and a blessing in the earth and by him all the families of the earth will be able to be blessed, that is, those who have been called out of the world the god of this world, Satan, governs by his power. But the ability to see this blessing and “hope” is to see that the intent was not to succeed but to not succeed! No one can succeed by the keeping of the Law of Righteousness to be blessed by God as God has promised He would bless families and nations by having their sins atoned for by God Himself. Why? Because works is not FAITH. Faith, however, produces the works of God. The other, more nobler cause and greater holy nation is made up of people called out from every tribe, kindred, tongue and nation, families and members of families from every nation. These people are those who have been identified as the “ELECT” from before the foundation of the world.

    Rom 9:30 What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
    Rom 9:31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
    Rom 9:32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,
    Rom 9:33 as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

  20. I must thank you, Leighton, for renewing in me a passion to rightly understand the entirety of Romans. Since Ch. 9 is pretty clear to me, personally, this debate only moderately interests me from my own perspective, though I’m very interested in seeing how the alternative views can be cast in a way that Calvinists can break free from their traditions in in it. I have been renewing my devotions in studying Romans as a whole, and in connection with Galations/Ephesians/Hebrews.

    This part of the debate did bother me —

    “Paul uses the example of Pharaoh in verses 17-18 to make this point. Just as God hardened Pharaoh in his rebellion to accomplish the first Passover, […catch this…] so too He hardened Israel in their rebellion to accomplish the Real Passover.”

    In the debate, you make it sound like this was actually in the passage. There is clearly a reference to Pharaoh’s hardening in 9:17, but I don’t see Paul actually making the clear connection to the judicial hardening of Israel that you seem to find as an interpretive key to Ch. 9, and I think you make too much of this whole judicial hardening issue in your exegesis I don’t think it’s directly in view in Romans 9, and even if it is a fact that God did harden the non-Remnant Israel at that time with the specific purpose of ensuring the crucifixion, I don’t see that explicitly taught, and particularly don’t see it as critical to a non-Reformed view of Romans 9. Incidentally, I also really don’t see how you can read Romans properly with a lens of eternal security (or any strictly transactional view of salvation for that matter). Romans as a whole seems to me to be mainly a covenantal and relational apologetic, describing the historically consistent role of faith, law, grace, living by faith, living in the Spirit, etc. and how those concepts have always played a role in identifying God’s people and how they should live as such (within the framework of explaining God’s consistent faithfulness both to Old Covenant Israel and to New Covenant believers).

    Frankly, Ch.9-11 was one of those sections that was always the most self-evident to me — and I frankly don’t see how it’s been twisted so much by the Reformed views. It is 1-8 that I always had the most trouble understanding (when you have to make sense of every verse, anyway). I don’t think you can even debate Ch.9 in the abstract — it MUST be understood in the context of 9-11 as a whole, especially, but also in the larger context of the whole letter.

    Overall, I prefer the general approach taken by NT Wright to most of Romans, though he carries the covenantal language and references so far I’m not smart enough or have a firm enough grasp on the second temple and exhilic themes he relies on for me to follow it entirely. However, when I let go of my traditions and approached Romans for the first time with his views at least as a backdrop, it really started making sense as a whole to me for the first time. I’m not “there” yet, but am seeing things in Romans I never saw before as I read and re-read it. Previously, I could make sense of select passages or the greater themes, but I could never make the traditional views fit as I handled every reference verse by verse until I started looking at it from this more Hebrew “new perspective” (so to speak).

    Here are a couple of articles that those interested can explore…. some of it can be hard to chew…


    1. Thanks for your feedback. Funny you reference Write because a PhD friend and mentor tells me my arguments are very much in line with him, yet I’ve not studied him extensively. In fact I just ordered two of his books for a section of my dissertation. I look forward to diving into more of his take on these matters.

      The issue of judicial hardening seems blatantly obvious to me so I don’t know what to tell you on that point. That is what “cutting off” and “hardening” mentioned throughout is all about. The parallel with Pharaoh also seems obvious to me and I draw those connections in my book, The Potters Promise.

      But I suppose we all have our way of approaching this text… Forever learning.

      1. Yep! Forever learning, indeed!

        Did you order his “The New Testament and The People of God”? It’s pretty foundational. I think you’ll enjoy the last half of this short clip of NT Wright responding to Piper on his criticisms of Wright’s contextualization based on First Century Judaism.


    2. Also, you question my parallel, yet in the article you linked so does Write: “Israel’s “failure,” therefore, was part of the strange covenant plan of the creator god whereby this god intended to deal with the world s sin. This, I suggest (looking ahead once more to chaps. 9-11), is the theme that emerges at two crucial points: the “predestinarian” passages in 9:14-29, and the theme of Israel’s casting away in 11:11- 15. In the first of these, the “hardening” of ethnic Israel is seen as the strange means whereby the whole people of the creator god can be saved, just as Pharaoh s “hardening” was the necessary precondition for the exodus. In the second, Paul speaks of Israel’s stumble as somehow instrumental in the salvation of the world. The two belong closely together, and both point to the eventual thrust of his argument to the Roman church: if this is why Israel has “stumbled”—so that you Gentiles can obtain the salvation won for you in the death of the Messiah—then you have no room to boast, and Israel has no reason to regard itself as forever cut off. Its stumble was necessary as part of the preparation for the crucifixion, both historically and theologically; now that this has been accomplished, Israel itself can once again be rescued, and indeed attain an honorable (and not a second-class) position within the renewed people of god. The gospel is “to the Jew first, and also equally to the Greek.”

      1. Don’t get me wrong… I didn’t mean to imply I didn’t agree that it was true or a legitimate parallel observation. It’s more a matter of perspective and degree/emphasis. While I agree that it’s true, and it has great value in consideration, and Paul clearly alludes to it, I don’t think it’s the interpretive key to the passage and the extent to which you relied on it detracted from as larger overall message and exegesis. I also had an issue specifically as I stated with the way it seemed you were equating the view with the literal text of the passage itself.

        This is one of numerous echoes and themes Paul uses as devices throughout. One thing I love about Wright is his “symphonic” view of scripture and creation, full of overtures, crescendo, echoes of themes, decorative, and the like. It’s also what makes his views so intellectually challenging (and ultimately satisfying). Paul must have been an amazing erudite man, and Wright is clearly his equal. I struggle with both Wright and Paul, and I don’t struggle with a lot. (though the older and less naive I get the more I tend to struggle – funny, that! ).

      2. Well, you may be right if just you and I were sitting around talking about the text but in contrast with a misinterpretation (like that of Calvinism) I felt it necessary to address at least two of their key misapplications. 1) who is the objector (hardened Israelite vs a reprobate of Calvinisms system)

        2) who is the lump of clay? (Israel who has grown calloused and is now being judicially hardened vs all of humanity born totally disabled to respond to Gods own appeals)

        Those two points debunk the overall Cal interpretation IMHO.

    3. Hi Darin! I hope you don’t mind if I jump in. I was drawn to your denial of Romans expressing truth about salvation with a “lens” to of eternal security, but affirming there is a framework of God’s “consistent faithfulness” to Israel and to new covenant believers. After ending with such a positive expression of eternal security in Chapter 8, wouldn’t it be natural for Paul to answer the obvious question the reader would have after hearing such promises? “If it seems that God is not keeping His promises to Israel how can we be sure that He will keep His promises to Gentile believers?”

      IMO that is what Paul is answering in 9-11.

  21. Prof. Flowers I finally got around to listening to the entirety of your debate with Dr. White. I can’t believe that when I was a Calvinist that I was blind to Dr. White’s double standards. Maybe my former Calvinism gave me license to “pass over” Dr. White’s inconsistencies. He didn’t like you establishing judicial hardening as a historical context in coming to a proper interpretation of Romans 9. However, if you listen to Dr. White’s debate with Gregg Stafford on the deity of Christ, Dr. White does exactly what you did in Romans 9 when he and Stafford were engaging in cross-examination over John chapter 1. He didn’t spend a lot of time on it, but he did say to Gregg Stafford that his interpretation was incorrect since he was ignoring the historical context of John by not taking into consideration the worldview of the author of John; namely, that Stafford’s interpretation was inconsistent with the worldview of the “monotheistic Jew who wrote it”. Way to go Dr. White! Historical context! Dr. White did the same thing in his debate with Patrick Navas on Chris Date’s “Theopologetic’s” podcast over the deity of Christ. As he and Navas were debating Colossians 1:15 and following, Dr. White made reference to the historical context and background of the letter to the Colossians in order to show how Navas’ interpretation of Jesus was in accordance with the false teachers Paul was writing against. This made it all the more disappointing in his debate with you since he declared that his Romans 9 exegesis is the same for how he demonstrates the deity of Christ. But if you listen to those two debates about the deity of Christ he did what you did in coming to a proper interpretation of the text; Historical Context!. As Dr. White famously says, “inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument”.

  22. Dr. Flowers at the end of the debate you offered to take a free will offering to support Dr. White’s ministries. Isn’t that the same as supporting the error of his doctrine?

    1 Timothy 5:22 cautions us as to those we should support in ministry. My church called a pastor who has been with us for a year. Last Sunday he preached on Ephesians 2:1-10, introducing it with a reading of Ezekiel 37. In relating these two scriptures in the context of his sermon I got the impression he was teaching that God had to bring you to life,regeneration, to receive grace so that you could have faith to be saved. It concerns me a lot and I am going to ask him if he has Calvinist beliefs. If he does I don’t feel like I could stay but I love this church. Do you have any advice for me in this context?

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