Dr. White, in his recent debate with Leighton Flowers, repeated a sentiment he has repeated before that I would like to flesh out. The full debate can be viewed here. His remarks begin at the 18:30 mark.
It is usually a grave mistake to disagree with Dr. White. However, if you allow me to ride the fence, I don’t believe I am actually disagreeing, but I am going to play with the words used. Perhaps the disagreement is a simple issue of terms and definitions.
Dr. White makes the claim,
“Many people, including even Reformed theologians, don’t view verse 20 as a full response. I do. I believe [that in] what follows you have a full response to the argument that was just made”.
The issue here is what exactly Dr. White means by “full”. I believe Paul’s answer is full. But I would agree with “some Reformed theologians” that it is incomplete. That is not used as a pejorative. Being a Christian, I believe Paul “spoke from God as [he was] carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2nd Peter 1:21). I also believe that given the “God-breathed” nature of Paul’s letter (2nd Tim. 3:16), this answer is exactly what God wanted. Nothing is missing from how God wanted to answer the objectors. This answer is incomplete, but it’s perfect. It’s perfectly incomplete.
Paul’s answer is a great demonstration of presuppositional apologetics. In Romans 9, while teaching the doctrine of election, Paul anticipates the objections that his readers will present. Objections that we hear today often. In verse 19, the objection that is anticipated is “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” This is usually the first question out of everyone’s mouth (other than why evangelize?) when first hearing the doctrine of predestination. Paul knows their response to God’s sovereignty in salvation will be, “If God chooses, than why would He find fault in the ones He didn’t choose?” The objector can’t wrap his mind around compatibilism.
Now, Paul is going to answer the objector. However, Paul does not give a complete answer. He does not go off on the brilliant theological tangent the Holy Spirit is capable of accomplishing through Him, but instead presuppositionally cuts right to the core. He takes a bee-line straight to their hearts; and cuts deep in search for the real issue: by what standard?
Paul recognizes that the intellectual question is a guise for an emotional problem.Instead of Paul explaining compatibilism in a detailed and theological manner, he instead points out that they are actually suffering from an emotional problem.
Let me provide a different example. This story is true, but for confidentiality’s sake, I will not use their names and will slightly change the circumstances.
A friend of mine mentioned to me some of Paul’s passages about women in church. She didn’t like them. She asked about Paul’s famous verse that “a woman should remain silent.” She asked why we don’t silence all women the second they speak.
Now, there was a need to explain to her the proper interpretation of the passage given the immediate textual context and other passages of women in ministry throughout Scripture to harmonize with the text. However, I didn’t start there, and I never ended up getting there at all. The first thing I asked was this:
“Let’s assume for a moment that the Bible does in fact teach that women must be silent completely. Would you obey it? Or, would you judge God and determine that He is wrong?”
See what I did? I didn’t give a full answer, but I gave an appropriate one. I attacked the root of the problem.
The details of interpretation were secondary. The issue at hand was the idea that we get to judge God. Even if I provided the answer, my friend would still be in a dangerous position. She is still prone to stumbling upon a new biblical text that doesn’t align with her sense of morality, and now she is right back to where she started. She is the judge; that’s the real problem.
What Paul knew was that these hypothetical objectors were acting like Atheists. The real question that needs to be answered before we interpret Romans 9 is in regards to our ultimate authority. Are we willing to submit to whatever the Scripture teaches?
Paul presuppositonally exposed these objections for what they are. They are atheistic-like attempts to be God. When we dare say “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” We are questioning the fairness of God. And in order to judge whether God is or is not fair, we need an objective standard to impose above God. Thus, God is not God. That standard is.
Paul realized that what needs to be settled before deep theological exegesis is a commitment to the idea that God is the fixed, objective standard of all things ‘good’ and there is no standard outside of Him to hold Him accountable to. If ever we feel God is unfair we need to repent and mold our idea of good to His, not the other way around. In other words, by what standard does one determine Romans 9 to be unjust?
God is the standard of fairness. Thus, let the Scriptures speak. And if they seem unfair, remember who you are and remember who God is.
Paul’s rhetorical question is so good that it applies outside of election. When we read what the Bible says about women in the church, or women in marriage, and we don’t like it, Paul asks us, “Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”.
When we read about God killing people in the Old Testament, including women and children, if we don’t like that, Paul asks us “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?”
When Job questioned God for all the horrors that fell upon him, God made Job answer back. Something Job quickly realized he couldn’t do.
So no, Paul’s answer in Romans 9:20 is not “complete,” but it’s perfect, it is sufficient. It isn’t lacking. Who are we, oh men, who answer back to God? That’s a great question.