Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, September 16, 2011

Why "God Hated Esau" is of No Use to Randal Rauser - Part 1

For a textbook example of how the failure to apprehend Biblical paradox can lead to erroneous theological conclusions, check out Randal Rauser's article, "Why 'God Hated Esau' is of No Use to the Calvinist."
First of all, I'd say every word of Scripture is of use to a Calvinist. But let's take a look at his arguments to see what's good and what's not so good, and whether he has a point.
Where Rauser Gets It Right
First, we should point out a couple of positive features.

1. He refreshingly notes that some Calvinists believe that "God loves all people but has a special love for the elect." Non-Calvinists often miss this point, but Rauser does not. The truth is, all mainstream Calvinists affirm this, while hypers deny it. 

2. He correctly notes that the principle of "Scripture interprets Scripture" compels us to place greater weight on the clear passages when we are examining less clear passages. That's a useful principle that no self-respecting Calvinist would argue against.

Pretty good so far.

Where Rauser Goes Wrong

1. Rauser's confusion begins when he proposes two different kinds of Calvinism
Non-Omnibenevolent Calvinism (NOBC): God loves the elect and hates the reprobate. 
Omnibenevolent Calvinism (OBC): God loves all people but has a special love for the elect.
Here's what he misses: Biblical Calvinism embraces the paradox of God's love and hatred for all unrepentant sinners. What Rauser terms OBC and NOBC are each essential components of mainstream Calvinism. In other words, there is a sense in which God loves all people, and there is a sense in which He hates all the wicked. He is nonetheless omnibenevolent. So, we have three apparently contradictory propositions:
  • God loves all people, sinners included (Matthew 5:44-45, Luke 6:35)
  • God hates all unregenerate sinners (Psalm 11:5)
  • God has a special love for the elect (Ephesians 1:3-6)
These propositions are not actually contradictory or mutually exclusive. They appear to be, and yet they are not so hard to reconcile on Calvinistic terms. Different Calvinists resolve the paradox in different ways, but every mainstream Calvinist affirms these three undeniably Biblical truths. Rauser's artificial division of two separate Calvinisms - one affirming one truth of Scripture, and the other affirming another truth of Scripture - creates a false dilemma that is not applicable to mainstream Calvinism.
I don't believe Rauser purposely creates a straw man here; I think he is truly unaware of the beautiful Biblical paradox that Calvinism embraces (in fairness, this might partially result from the fact that most debating Calvinists are so zealous to get their point across that they fail to present a balanced perspective). However, Rauser's misunderstanding fatally clouds his analysis and renders his arguments invalid because he assumes that Calvinists believe God can only love or only hate a given class of persons. Scripture presents a more complex disposition, and most Calvinists are willing to accept this.
Properly speaking, God loves and hates all of the unconverted, including the unconverted elect who are under His wrath (Ephesians 2:3). The non-elect are loved through Common Grace, while the elect are loved with Saving Grace. Unconditional Election means God has chosen to show saving mercy to a subset of sinners who are chosen beforehand according to His own wise counsels. Reprobation means that God has chosen to allow some sinners to go on in their natural course of rebellion and receive the just punishment they are due. Even so, the reprobate are extended much mercy and patience throughout their earthly lives (Romans 9:22, Romans 11:32, Psalm 145, 15-17). There is nothing to prevent God from saving them if they are willing to be saved. No one suffering in hell can deny that God showed love to him, that God was kind to him, that God was patient with him, that God was willing to save him on condition of repentance, or that God treated him justly. No one suffering in hell can say that God somehow prevented him from repenting; all who are there know that they were unable to repent simply because they were unwilling - and that they remain unwilling in spite of their sufferings. Esau included. 
That is the ugly face of human sin. No wonder God condemns it.
To the elect, God grants a willingness to be saved; yet for His own part He is always willing and ready to save all who come to Him. He is truly omnibenevolent! Jacob and Esau were both loved and hated in various ways, but Esau was not loved with electing love, while Jacob was. Thus we conclude, in opposition to Rauser: the phrase, "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated," is of great use to the Calvinist because it highlights the electing love of God. Yet it does not diminish His general love for all people, or His general hatred for all the wicked. 
All the words of Scripture are useful to the Calvinist because he strives to take all of them together, as the whole counsel of God, and hold them in their proper balance.
In part 2, we will examine Rauser's hermeneutical arguments and support our thesis with a study of the Biblical texts themselves.

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