Alpha & Omega Ministries Apologetics Blog
Tradition Glasses Once Again
11/20/2006 - James WhiteOver the years I have certainly done my best to be consistent in examining my own traditions in the light of Scripture and encouraging others to do the same. I've surely ruined a lot of "good" sermons that way for many, but the long-term value is more than worth it. Two examples of the damage done by man's traditions nullifying Scripture have me thinking this morning.
First, Phil Johnson has done a series on the "Lordship Controversy" over at Pyromaniacs that is well worth looking at. His article today on Spurgeon struggling with antinomianism in the early days of his ministry is well worth the read (and is short enough not to consume your day). The more I reflect on the growth of open, gross antinomianism (Hodges, Wilkin) the more I am convinced it is a cancer that is reflective of the shallow nature of so much of what calls itself "evangelicalism" today. We cannot forthrightly and honestly battle the intrusion of works-righteousness on the one side if we are not consistent in decrying its opposite error on the other. And once again, the balance is to be found in historic Reformed theology's accurate and consistent reflection of biblical teaching on the nature of God's decree, man's deadness in sin, grace, mercy, faith, justification, and sanctification. Campi has likewise commented on this issue recently as well. Given the fact that it is natural for men to compromise on these very issues, always finding a way to intrude ourselves into the glory of Christ in salvation, faithful pastors will always need to be reminding the sheep of the dangers found lurking on both sides of the narrow path.
Another example of "tradition glasses" overthrowing the text can be found in the ever-popular game, "Let's Chop Romans 9 Up and Mute Its Teaching." This game, popular on national radio programs, in books, commentaries, and in Bible college dorm rooms worldwide, seeks to allow those who do not want to believe God is the Potter, we are the clay, and He makes from one lump vessels of honor and vessels of dishonor, i.e., that He mercies whom He chooses and He hardens whom He chooses--to pretend they are still believing the Bible while rejecting the meaning of this text. The "this is only about blessings and nations and service and stuff" excuse is still quite popular, but it doesn't survive even a casual reading of the text in context, so a little more tricky gambit is often used. It goes like this.
First, cut the text up. Almost anyone reading from Romans 8:28 through 9:24 will be overwhelmed by the consistency of the argument and the inexorable force of the flow of the text. Throw as many roadblocks in the way as you can, and, it is always good to toss in The Big Three, i.e., 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, and Matthew 23:37 (in fact, go ahead and misquote the last one, nobody seems to notice anyway) even though none of these texts are actually relevant to the topic at hand. For those who are predisposed against Romans 9, they sound like they are relevant. But whatever you do, don't let anyone follow the argument and note, just like in John 6, that if you start at the beginning, follow the argument, note the use of terms, the text really does interpret itself. That would be disastrous. Chop, chop, chop. You can come up with a plausible excuse for a few verses, but that's impossible for the whole thing. Isolate and conquer. The motto of eisegesis.
Second, once you have isolated the really offensive part (9:19ff), chop even this portion up and then throw this canard out and wow your target audience. Ignore the Potter and the clay thing and get to the vessels of wrath/vessels of mercy portion. Yes, clearly, the "vessel for honorable use/vessel for common (dishonorable) use" parallel is still in view in 22-23, but tradition glasses don't see things like that. Ignore it. Just go to 22-23 and point out that "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" is a little bit different than "vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory." There is no "He" in the preparation of the vessels of wrath, see! Rely on the fact that the person you are talking to is desperate for a way out of the dreaded trap of Calvinism! See, God did not prepare these vessels of wrath! Yes, yes, of course, if they read it in context the Potter is the one who prepared both groups in verse 21 and 22-23 is the continuation of that argument but again, if you have made sure to use the right music and drag a few bright, shiny objects by you should be able to keep someone from noticing the fatal flaw of your argument. So, you either claim that the vessels of wrath prepare themselves (letting God off the hook and giving you room for your true ultimate prize, human autonomy!), or you let Satan do a drive-by here and do the preparation for the vessels of destruction (as if Satan is not, in fact, bound by God's sovereign decree). In any case, you get to give your audience a way out of the text for which they will be ever grateful.
Now, of course, it is true that the terms "God" or "He" do not appear in the preparation of the vessels of wrath in verse 22. It is also true that vessels of wrath, by nature, continue to be vessels of wrath and, in fact, outside of God's restraint upon them, would express ever greater detestation of God and His law. There is a modicum of truth in stating that vessels of wrath are complicit in their being what they are. Quite true. But that doesn't change the point being made by the Apostle. This kind of eisegesis ignores the flow of the text; it ignores that God is concerned about demonstrating His power and wrath (compare v. 17 with v. 22); it ignores the fact that the Apostle is responding to a particular objection against his teaching, an objection that is exactly the viewpoint of those who seek to get around this text!
Ironically, I completed my review and rebuttal of Frank Page's The Trouble with the Tulip book in the Sunday morning Bible studies at PRBC (the 14 part series is found here). The last three or four segments were on Romans 9. Then, tomorrow on the DL, I will be playing another nationally-broadcast attempt to deal with Romans 9 before we get back to the Dr. Vines sermon.