This month Justin Dillehay, pastor and contributing editor at The Gospel Coalition, wrote a piece about his conversion from Arminianism to Calvinism being spurred on by Romans 8. Let’s examine the story he is telling his reading audience so that, later, when he gets to discussing the Scriptures, you will believe him despite the fact that Pastor Dillehay misses Paul’s point completely and provides flimsy argumentation for his claims, if any argument is provided at all.
In other words, I was one of you so the following anecdote can be trusted.
I appreciate Pastor Dillehay accurately portraying non-Calvinism’s general view as influence-response. That’s charitable. But what does Romans 8:28-30 have to do with how people become saved? Is the question that Paul is answering, “How do I know I’m saved?” or “How did I become saved?”? Is that the concern of Paul’s audience that our inspired author of Romans is attempting to assuage? Keep that question in mind as I will return to it after we examine Pastor Dillehay’s narrative.
How did I become a Calvinist? Pffft, it’s simple, I ran up against the Bible. The implication being, of course, that Arminians have, in contrast to Calvinists, not “run up against” Romans 8:28-30. Or, at least, have not “run up against” it sufficiently. He says as much:
Arminians don’t have a robust answer to Rom 8:28-30 because Pastor Dillehay says they don’t. After all, he didn’t find it while he was an Arminian so his testimony it doesn’t exist must be true.
I know that is a bit sarcastic but do you see the presumptions Dillehay is making that he hopes go by unnoticed? He’s not making an argument, he’s telling a story.
1. I was one of you so I’m not biased; you can trust what I’m saying
2. All I did was read the Bible and now I’m a Calvinist
and then what he goes on to say in the next quote…
3. Since the preaching of a Calvinist caused me to doubt, Arminianism is weak and Calvinism is correct. Watch:
See, all he did was hear a single sermon about Calvinism and, because of his subjective experience from the sermon, we can trust his claim that Calvinism is true.
Narrative, Not Evidence
If all Pastor Dillehay was doing was telling the subjective experience of his conversion to Calvinism; that would be fine. We all have those monumental, epiphany experiences that changed the course of our lives. But instead, he uses his personal anecdote as a substitute for evidence, as a way of making his argument sound compelling.
The problem is; his argument isn’t compelling on it’s own merits. He smuggles in Calvinist presuppositions from the beginning and misses Paul’s point completely.
Will the Chain Be Unbroken? is not the question. The two relevant questions are; Who is Paul talking about? Who are the “Fore-known ones”? and Why is Paul talking about them? Pastor Dillehay simply assumes the “foreknown” are every-single-Christian-ever and seems unaware of any other option for who they are and unaware that the non-Calvinist can happily consider the chain unbroken depending upon who they are. Pastor Dillehay assumes the foreknown ones are the individually-elected-from-eternity-past of Calvinism without argument or evidence. Look:
Foreknown = individually elected for salvation. Pastor Dillehay assumes this definition and either does not realize he is assuming it or is hoping his readers won’t notice. Dr. Flowers has elsewhere provided a compelling case for who the “foreknown-ones” are.
Knowing the Mind of God
So, we all know the drill from here, right? Those who are individually predestined for salvation are also called and justified and glorified. Those who have been around the soteriological controversies for even a short period of time are aware of the Calvinist Golden Chain of Redemption argument.
Let’s return to this question: is this really about how people become saved? Is the audience concerned about their eternal security in God’s family as Pastor Dillehay presumes they are?
Here is an excellent article where Pastor Bob Hadley clearly argues that, according to the context and a solid exegesis of Romans 8, the Roman Christians are concerned with the question of whether or not their present sufferings are worth it and whether or not God’s promises to vindicate their sufferings can be trusted. For the rest of this post, though, let’s assume the question is what this pastor presumes it is. Let’s evaluate Pastor Dillehay’s answer to this question of how Christians can know they are saved:
Pastor Dillehay makes a good point that Paul is making a “knowledge claim” but I don’t see how he answers his own question. How can being “foreknown” in the mind of God be something we can know? How can being “predestined” by the mind of God something we can know? Is being “justified”, which is a divine position before God, something we can know? We can have hope in future glorification, to be sure, but how can we “know” eventual glorification?
In this article, while I’m sure this is not on purpose, we have a clear example of someone telling an anecdotal story about their subjective experiences so that when they get to their argument you will not notice how weak it is. So that you will not notice that Pastor Dillehay sees Paul telling his audience that their assurance in salvation rests in the impossible task of knowing the mind of God.
So even if Pastor Dillehay is correct, and the Roman Christians are wondering how they can know their salvation is assured, he sees Paul as completely failing to provide that assurance.
As such, Pastor Dillehay completely fails to argue his case. His final paragraph is a series of conclusions he did not even argue for much less provide biblical evidence for.
Actually, that’s not even what Pastor Dillehay claimed Forlines said. He said Forlines argued, “The nature of that loving relationship requires a free—and undetermined—response on our part…. God could influence us, but he respected our personhood by always leaving the final decision up to us.” Response to what? The Gospel appeal. Final Decision for what? Faith…
Forlines, and non-Calvinism, is arguing that which individuals would put their faith in Christ is not guaranteed because such a guarantee would destroy the opportunity for a loving relationship. The non-Calvinist argument is not that there can be no other guarantees in the plan of salvation.
So we have this former Arminian who is seemingly unaware of the difference between a guarantee as to which individuals will put their faith in Christ and a guarantee as to what God will do for those individuals who place themselves in Christ by faith. But you can trust his evaluation of Arminianism because he was once an Arminian.
Actually, you didn’t show this from the passage, Pastor Dillehay. You didn’t make an argument for this claim, you just claimed it was true. Yet, Paul tells us exactly what guarantee he has in mind “if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified together” (v. 17). It is guaranteed that if we suffer then we will be glorified.
The only other alternative reading to Romans 8 is that “people can fall out of the chain at an point” because that’s what Pastor Dillehay believed when he was one. See how that works?
Actually, yes, that’s exactly what it means. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say that God guarantees the outcome no matter what we do and then also say that what we do matters to the outcome. If your goal is to be rational, you’re going to have to pick one.
Yes, that is exactly what it means. If you’re saying that God guarantees an outcome then you are exactly saying that the outcome is assured regardless of our behavior.
I cannot understand how anyone who does not already agree with Pastor Dillehay could find this argument compelling. Returning to Dillehay’s charitable recounting of the non-Calvinist position, his argument is thus:
- Non-Calvinist believe that God’s action in salvation is influence-response relationship because that makes a loving relationship possible
- But that cannot be true because that means which individuals enters the family of God is up to human beings who are fickle.
- Therefore, God must predestine which individuals enter His family so that His purposes of working all things out will be accomplished
This argument is terrible for two reasons. First, the two premises have nothing to do with one another. Human beings can be fickle and influence-response can still be necessary for a loving relationship. Second, it pictures God as so weak, and so unpersuasive, His Word/gospel/messengers as so lacking influence, that He is unable to accomplishes His purposes without predestining everything.
A great basketball player can guarantee a win over an opposing team, while only having control over how he personally plays, and then go out and accomplish that guarantee even if he plays against real opponents. But not God. God can only guarantee victory if He also controls (predestines) the opponents and not just his own actions in the world. This view of God claims to elevated God while it actually weakens Him.
The narrative comes full circle: Since the author was once an Arminian, and when he was an Arminian he had no answer to this conundrum, and since the first time he heard a Calvinist sermon he doubted his previous non-answer…Since the author tells you this is true, therefore you can trust the author when he claims that only on Calvinism is God in charge, only on Calvinism is the outcome secure, and only on Calvinism can there be a guarantee.