God's Vocation, Our Vocation

Mark R. Talbot
Monday, July 16th 2007
May/Jun 1999

The Scriptures declare that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 4:16) and that he is “kind toward all he has made” (Ps. 145:17). But is this all that needs to be said about God and his posture towards creation?

Recently, some evangelicals have been trying to revise some long-standing Christian convictions about God’s nature and his ways with human beings. This growing coalition of theologians and philosophers argues that the statement “God is love,” when properly interpreted, tells us virtually all we need to know about who God is, why he created the world, and how he relates to us. As Richard Rice puts it in his chapter in the recent book, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God, “From a Christian perspective, love is the first and last word in the biblical portrait of God…. The statement God is love is as close as the Bible comes to giving us a definition of the divine reality.” (1)

Rice’s task, in this collaborative effort, is to argue that this new perspective is found in the Scriptures. Love, he goes on to say, “is the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God’s inner reality…. Love is what it means to be God.” Love, moreover, “is not only more important than all of God’s other attributes, it is more fundamental as well,” for it is “the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise.” So a “doctrine of God that is faithful to the Bible,” Rice concludes, “must show that all of God’s characteristics derive from love.” In this way, “the assertion God is love incorporates all there is to say about God.” (2)

At first glance, these claims may not seem very remarkable. Yet reducing all of God’s attributes to love has tremendous ramifications for our faith. More particularly, it has deep implications for how we view our vocation-for how we think about what God has called us to be and to do. In the Scriptures, the Hebrew and Greek words for vocation are used primarily to signify God’s calling or summoning us to become his people. The same words are used, secondarily, to signify God’s calling or summoning his people to lead a particular kind of life-a life of holiness, purity, righteousness, love, and peace that manifests who God is and what he is about (1 Cor. 1:2, 7:15; 1 Thes. 4:3-8; 2 Tim. 1:9; 1 John 4:7; 1 Pet. 1:13-15, 3:9-12). Our work is to do God’s work (John 9:4). So, as Rice and his fellow authors say, our view of God affects not only “our understanding of the incarnation, grace, creation, election, sovereignty and salvation;” it also “has direct impact on practices such as prayer, evangelism, seeking divine guidance and responding to suffering.” (3)

It is worthwhile, then, for us to contrast this new way of thinking about God with the conception of God it is attempting to replace.

The Historical View

For most of Christian history, as the proponents of this new view freely admit, Christian theologians have thought about God and his relation to the world in terms of his “sovereignty, majesty and glory.” Working from the Scriptures, these theologians have claimed that God is a sovereign, whose will is irresistible, so that whatever he dictates ineluctably comes to pass (Is. 55:10-11; Gen. 1:3, 9; Heb. 11:3). In this view, it is part of God’s majesty that nothing can thwart or hinder the accomplishment of his purposes and that, consequently, his will is “the final explanation of all that happens” and his relation to the world “is thus one of mastery and control.” (4)

In this historical view, God’s glory is “the ultimate purpose that all creation serves.” God’s glory includes the fact that he is “supreme in goodness as well as in power,” as well as that he “is caring and benevolent toward his creatures.” Yet the historical view implies that “God is equally glorified and his purposes are equally well served by the obedience of the righteous, the rebellion of sinners, the redemption of the saints and the destruction of the wicked.” (5) And this, the proponents of this new perspective believe, is at least “existentially repugnant” and perhaps even “logically incoherent.” (6) So to avoid a claim like this, Rice and his colleagues offer their new perspective.

Rice and his co-authors recognize that “agreement with Scripture is the most important test for any theological proposal,” because “[b]y definition, the task of Christian theology is to interpret the contents of the Bible.” (7) Rice, however, goes on to say that “[it] is a challenge to ascertain the biblical view of almost anything,” because Scripture “contains an enormous range of material, and on almost any significant topic we can find diverse statements if not diverse perspectives as well” (16). In an endnote he adds, “This is why biblical scholars often object to expressions like ‘the biblical view of’ or ‘according to the Bible.’ They insist that there are biblical views, but no one biblical view” (177n7). This comes dangerously close to denying that God, who cannot contradict himself and cannot lie, is the primary author of the Scriptures. So, Rice concludes, unless a good case can be made that the new perspective is at least as well-grounded biblically as the historical perspective, “it has little to recommend it to believing Christians.” To that end, Rice argues both that the historical view “does not reflect faithfully the spirit of the biblical message, in spite of the fact that it appeals to various biblical statements” and that “[t]he broad sweep of biblical testimony points to a quite different understanding of the divine reality.” (8)

Yet when we examine Rice’s actual arguments for these two conclusions, we find them to be very weak.

The Scope of God’s Love

Of course, everyone should concede that, while the assertion God is love appears only in 1 John, it “succinctly summarizes a pervasive biblical theme.” (9) For, as Rice observes, the Old Testament Scriptures are full of claims about God’s “everlasting love for his people”-indeed, about his love being “the rationale for Israel’s beginning as a nation”- as well as about his love being the explanation of his “steadfast commit-ment to his people in spite of their infi-delities.” (10) And surely none of us should doubt that “God’s love comes to its fullest expression in the life and death of Jesus.” Rice’s quotation of Romans 8:32-“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all-how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”-as well as of Romans 5:8-“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”-and of John 3:16 makes that quite clear. So, as Rice claims, “the statement God is love embodies an essential biblical truth. It indicates that love is central, not incidental, to the nature of God.”

Yet is love, as Rice immediately goes on to claim, “the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God’s inner reality”? And, even more importantly, does Scripture show love to be “the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise”? In order to answer these questions, we must determine the scope of God’s love in the Scriptures-we must, in other words, see how widely (or narrowly) his love extends. Is love, according to the Scriptures, God’s basic posture towards all human beings?

None of the Scriptures Rice has quoted establishes this. In fact, the Scriptures make it quite clear that God’s love for human beings is properly understood only within the context of his calling or electing some human beings-and not others-to be his people. (11) In the Old Testament, God issued a corporate call to the nation of Israel to become his people through his first calling Abraham to leave his homeland and then his subsequently calling Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt (Is. 51:1-2, Hos. 11:1). And, thus, as theologian Geerhardus Vos argued almost a century ago, divine love has a “particularistic character” in the Old Testament, so that while it is not at all unusual for the Old Testament writers to talk of God’s universal benevolence or goodness or kindness to all human beings and to all the rest of his creation, they reserve terms like “love” and “lovingkindness” to characterize only Yahweh’s special relationship to Israel, his covenant people. (12) Indeed, as Deuteronomy makes clear, when God set his love upon Israel, he did so to the exclusion of all other peoples (4:19f., 10:14f.).

In the New Testament era, God’s love for human beings becomes, in one sense, more general, even as, in another sense, it is for the first time clearly seen to be more particular. God’s love becomes universalized by becoming denationalized: the Good News of God’s gracious and fatherly love to all who believe in redemption through his Son is now, in this new era, to be preached to all nations and not just to the Israelites (Matt. 28:16-20, Rom. 10:1-13). Yet this gracious, redeeming love is now also revealed to be individualized, for it now becomes apparent that this love extends only to the particular individuals whom God specifically calls to faith (Acts 13:48; Rom. 1:6-7, 8:28-30, 9:1-11:32; Eph. 2:1-10; Rev. 17:14). (13)

Of course, there is still a corporate aspect to election, even in the New Testament, since the individuals are called to be part of Christ’s church. And so a passage like John 3:16-17:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

must be read as proclaiming God’s “purpose to save the world organically”-or as a whole-and not as “a purpose to save every person in the world individually.” (14)

God’s Love and God’s Wrath

So the scope of God’s eternal, saving love is restricted in the Scriptures. But this, of course, suggests that love may not be “the one divine activity that most fully and vividly discloses God’s inner reality.” It also suggests that love may not be “the basic source from which all of God’s attributes arise.”

And, indeed, when we read the statement that “God is love” in its context, it is clear that the kind of love that John is claiming God has manifested to believers must be understood in relation to his holiness. For John understands God’s love for us in terms of his righteous wrath, which is the inevitable response of his holiness to our sin. So immediately after John declares that “God is love” he goes on to say that “[t]his is how God”-this God of love-“showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” And so “[t]his is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). The fact that the plural personal pronouns in these claims refer only to believers (5:13) means, then, that it is God’s wrath, and not his eternal saving love, that is generally disclosed to human beings.

So in spite of Rice’s claims to the contrary, God’s love-or God’s redeeming love, at least-is clearly not the source of all of his attributes, since that love is his merciful response to his righteous wrath. In attempting to show otherwise, Rice says that we must see God’s wrath “not as a contradiction of his love but as an expression of it.” (15) So, following the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel, he notes “the striking contrast between God’s anger and love as the two are described in the Hebrew Scriptures.” In the Old Testament, there is “a profound difference in their duration”: “God’s anger is temporary, his love is permanent.” Moreover, “God is also reluctant to get angry, but eager to show mercy (Ex. 34:6, Ps. 103:8).” From this, Rice concludes, with Heschel, that

in the prophetic view of God love is essential, while anger is only incidental. God’s “normal or original pathos,” [Heschel] observes, “is love or mercy.” “The pathos of anger is … a transient state,” “by no means regarded as an attribute, as a basic disposition, as a quality inherent in the nature of God.” It is always described “as a moment, something that happens rather than something that abides.”

Insofar as we are considering Israel, as God’s Old Testament covenant people, there is no reason to question the essential truth of what Heschel has said. For, as we have seen, the Old Testament Scriptures are full of claims about God’s “everlasting love for his people” as well as about his love being the explanation of his “steadfast commitment to his people in spite of their infidelities.” Yet is God’s love as everlasting and as steadfast towards all human beings? The New Testament’s answer is no, for nearly all of its authors make it quite clear that God’s wrath shall remain, for all eternity, on those to whom he does not grant saving belief (John 3:31-36; 1 Thes. 5:4-10, 1:4-10; Rev. 14:6-13, 19:1-3; Mark 9:42-48).

Of course, throughout the Scriptures, God is portrayed as a holy God whose eyes are too pure to look on evil: long before there is any articulation of God as a God of love, (16) it is revealed that God is a God of holiness who calls his people to be holy (Ex. 15:11, 19:1-6; Lev. 19:1f.). (17) It is a fundamental aspect of God’s inner reality, then, that he cannot tolerate wrong (Hab. 1:12-13). So throughout the Scriptures, God is portrayed as a God who must by his very nature call sinners to account: in fact, the Scriptures declare that he hates those who do wrong (Ps. 5:4-6).

The Scriptures also assert that nature, conscience, and history reveal enough of God and his purposes for all human beings to know that they owe him obedience, thanks, and praise (Ps. 19:1-6; Acts 14:16f., 17:24-31; Rom. 1:18-2:16). And yet the Scriptures also assert that this general revelation of God has not led even a single human being to seek him (Rom. 3:11). It has not led even one of us to be righteous or to do what is good (Rom. 3:10,12). Every single human being has sinned and fallen short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Indeed, not one of us has found in God’s continuing kindness, patience, and tolerance towards us an adequate occasion for repenting of our sins (Rom. 2:4).

Because of this, each of us is storing up wrath against himself or herself on the day when God in his holiness will righteously and decisively judge all people (Rom. 2:5). (18) Romans 1:18-32 makes it clear that those who refuse to honor God properly experience his wrath now as well as store it up for the future day of judgment. As Adam’s children, we are all accounted sinners (Rom. 5:12-21) (19) -in fact, in some mysterious, not-fully-fathomable sense, we have been acting sinfully from the time when we were conceived (Ps. 51:5). So sinfulness is now our “natural” state, whereby we are alienated from God-indeed his enemies (Col. 1:21 and Rom. 5:9f.)-and thereby children of his wrath (see especially Eph. 2:1-3).

Now it is only in this context that the sort of love of which John speaks makes any sense. For that love isredeeming love-love that has been willing to pay the only price adequate to deliver human beings from God’s righteous wrath, the price of the death of God’s own Son (Mark 10:45, Eph. 1:3-8, Heb. 9:15, 1 Pet. 1:18f., Rev. 5:9). (20) Such love consists in Christ standing in the place of sinners and taking the wrath that they deserve upon himself (see Rom. 5:6-11 with Gal. 3:13 and 2 Cor. 5:21). As Paul puts it, God’s righteousness is demonstrated both in his publicly displaying Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins-so that it is clear that no sins are ever left unpunished-and in his justifying us by our faith in that sacrifice (Rom. 3:21-26). The love that John attributes to God is, then, holy love-love that exhibits both God’s justice and his redeeming mercy. And, indeed, in the light of all of the biblical evidence it is not inappropriate to say that “[i]f there is one attribute of God that can be recognized as all-comprehensive and all-pervading, it is his holiness, which must be predicated of all his attributes, holy love, holy compassion, holy wisdom, etc.” (21)

God’s Vocation

So here is one clear instance where one of God’s attributes, properly understood, cannot be reduced to love. Declaring that “God is love” and that he is “kind toward all he has made” is not, then, all that needs to be said about God and his posture towards creation; in order to remain true to the Scriptures, God’s holiness and his consequent wrath toward sin must also be declared. As D. A. Baer and R. P. Gordon say after a careful survey of God’s kindness, faithfulness, and steadfast love in the Old Testament, God’s wrath is still “a true word, a right word, [and] sometimes an inevitable word.” (22)

Of course, for those whom he calls to be his people, it is true that redeeming love does indeed have the honor of being God’s last word (Ps. 25:10). But as long as the scope of God’s gracious, redeeming love does not extend to every human being, we cannot say that such love is the last word in the biblical portrait of God for all human beings. And if the reason God’s redeeming love doesn’t extend to all human beings is because he has not chosen for it to do so-as the Scriptures seem to make clear (see especially Rom. 9:1-29 and Prov. 16:4), then why isn’t the conception of God that this implies “existentially repugnant”? For if God can save all, then shouldn’t he?

In order to answer these questions it is useful for us to ask about God’s “vocation,” about what God is called or summoned to be and to do. Ultimately, Scripture makes clear, all initiative always lies with God and so, in the final analysis, God is not subject to anyone’s call. He has no vocation set for him by any other being. For he is “the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords” (1 Tim. 6:15) who “has established his throne in heaven” and whose “kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Like Nebuchadnezzar, we shall all one day be brought to acknowledge that before God:

All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing.
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven
and the peoples of the earth.
No one can hold back his hand
or say to him: “What have you done?” (Dan. 4:35).

Yet to speak of God’s “vocation”-of what God himself is called or summoned to be and to do-can accomplish at least two things. First, it can remind us that what God does is not arbitrary, that he is bound to act in particular ways. And, secondly, it can drive home the fact that God is not at our beck and call, that human beings exist to fulfill his purposes and that he does not exist simply to secure our happiness.

We need these reminders because, as C. S. Lewis observed, it is tempting for us to put God in the defendant’s dock and ourselves on the judge’s bench. (23) Even among evangelicals, there is a widespread (and sometimes not fully recognized) tendency not to acknowledge God as our Judge but to make ourselves judges over him. It then becomes all too easy for us to remake God into our image of what we think God should be.

So what does Scripture tell us about God’s “vocation”-about what God himself is called or summoned to be and to do?

It tells us, as Jonathan Edwards established in indisputable detail over two centuries ago, that God’s glory is indeed “the ultimate purpose that all creation serves.” As Edwards summarized the scriptural evidence:

It is manifest that the Scriptures speak on all occasions as though God made himself his end in all his works, and as though the same being, who is the first cause of all things, were the supreme and last end of all things. (24)

God’s “vocation,” in other words, is to manifest his own glory. This, as Edwards argues, can be established by examining what the Scriptures say or assume about God’s ultimate end in creation and in providence, about what God has set as the ultimate end and final good for human beings, and about what Christ ultimately seeks. There are, in addition, many Scriptures that either declare or assume that God created the world for his own name’s sake, so that his perfections would be known, and his praises sung. (25) In addition, Edwards argues philosophically and theologically that God must make his own glory his own last end, and that his doing so is in no way selfish or inappropriate. (26)

Edwards understands that, when God manifests himself, it is his holiness that is visible as his beauty or glory. (27) Furthermore, God’s holiness makes him zealous; and it is his zeal that motivates him both to create and especially to redeem. God’s people experience the glory of his holy zeal as his redeeming love, while those who are not his people experience that glory as his damning wrath. (28)

God, according to the Scriptures, can remember either his redeeming love or our sin but not both (Ps. 25:7 and 51:1). It is part of God’s glory that he remembers all wickedness and sin as well as that he punishes it appropriately. This means that God must punish any unatoned sin everlastingly. (29) In the Scriptures, this aspect of God’s glory is presented as completely reasonable and wholly predictable. (30)

The Scriptures also make it clear that part of the gloriousness of God’s electing and redeeming love is that it is completely voluntary and spontaneous: God is not bound to place his redeeming love on anyone and so, whenever he chooses to do so, it is not because of anything that we are or do. (31) It is part of God’s glory-that is, of his goodness and name-that he is merciful and compassionate to whom he wishes (Ex. 33:18-34:7). Indeed, the very “grammar” of mercy is that it cannot be compelled. (32) From very early in Israel’s history it is clear that “[i]f there is unpredictability in Yahweh, it is in his extension of grace, not judgment.” (33)

The proper question for us to ask, then, is not, If God can save all, then shouldn’t he?, but, rather, Why does he save any? And Scripture’s answer is: because the salvation of his people brings God glory (Ps. 79:9; Is. 44:23, 48:10f.; Eph. 1:3-14; John 13:31f., 17:1-4; 2 Cor. 4:14f.; 1 Pet. 2:9f.).

Our Vocation

Of course, we must not minimize the difficulty in our understanding why, if God can save all, he does not do so. Yet we also must not minimize Scripture’s witness to the fact that God everlastingly punishes the wicked (Rev. 20:10-14 and Mark 9:42-48)-and that his doing so is not unjust and is indeed part of his glory (see especially Rom. 9:14-24 and 2 Thes. 1:6-10). (34)

As I have argued elsewhere, I think we can show why God must punish unatoned sin everlastingly; (35) and I think we can understand that God is not unjust in deciding to pass some sinners by, leaving them in their sin. It is, however, much more difficult for us to understand why God does not choose to save all if he can, and how exactly it is glorious for him to execute everlasting wrath upon those whom he has not chosen to save. (36)

What we can be sure of, however, is that God does not take the same kind of simple and direct pleasure in the destruction of the wicked as he does in the redemption of his saints. For, as Edwards notes, God’s pleasure in redeeming and doing good to human beings is different in kind than his pleasure in manifesting his anger and wrath:

According to the Scripture, communicating good to the creatures is what is in itself pleasing to God. And this is not merely subordinately agreeable, and esteemed valuable on account of its relation to a further end, as it is in executing justice in punishing the sins of men; but what God is inclined to on its own account, and what he delights in simply and ultimately. For though God is sometimes … spoken of as taking pleasure in punishing men’s sins [Deut. 28:63 and Eze. 5:13] (37) … yet God is often spoken of as exercising goodness and showing mercy with delight, in a manner quite different and opposite to that of his executing wrath. For the latter is spoken of as what God proceeds to with backwardness and reluctance; the misery of the creature being not agreeable to him on its own account. (38)

So there is indeed a sense in which love is more basic to God’s character than anger and wrath.

Yet it is our vocation to adopt God’s vocation. So Scripture calls us to share in God’s glory (Rom. 8:17, 1 Pet. 4:13f., John 17:22); indeed, to see everything that happens to us as for his glory (2 Cor. 4:15; Eph. 1:6, 12, 14; Phil. 1:9-11) and to do everything we do to glorify him (1 Cor. 10:31, Rom. 15:7, 1 Pet. 4:11). We are to glory in what God glories in. And so it is an integral part of our vocation-of what God calls us to be and to do-to glory in not only his love but also in his holiness and, consequently, in his inevitable wrath against sin. (39) In this way, as Edwards reminds us, we embrace and practice true religion by “repenting of sin, and turning to holiness.” (40) And so, when John the Baptist came as a herald of the Gospel, he came preaching God’s coming wrath and the need for repentance from sin (Matt. 3:1-12), just as our Lord himself did (Luke 13:1-5 and Matt. 11:20-24). Indeed, warning people of “the coming wrath” has always been an integral part of the Gospel message (1 Thes. 1:10, 2 Thes. 1:5-9, 1 Pet. 4:1-6). The Good News is good precisely because it proclaims that God redeems all who will come to him from the wrath that rests upon them because of their sin.

Undoubtedly, the distinguishing mark of the Christian is love (John 13:34f.) and that everything we do is to be an expression of love (1 Cor. 16:14)-a reflection and extension of God’s love in Christ for us. As John says, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). And while most of the New Testament’s injunctions to love refer primarily to the love we ought to show to other believers, (41) there is no doubt that we are to be loving and merciful to all human beings because God has been loving and merciful to us (Matt. 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36, James 3:13-18). In practice, then, although we know that God has not chosen to save all human beings, we are to tender his love and his mercy to each one of them, that through our offering of his love and mercy to all he may save some.

Yet what does offering such Christian love and mercy consist in? Its essence is that we set forth the truth plainly so that we commend the Gospel of God’s utterly free and sovereign love in Christ to each person’s conscience (2 Cor. 4:1-6)-to each person’s inescapable awareness that he or she has done that which deserves death (Rom. 1:32) and that God would be utterly just if he passed each of us by, leaving each one of us to die in our sins. It is always and everywhere part of our vocation, then, to preach to everyone the fact that God’s wrath rests on all human beings, yet that “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:19) as well as that whoever wishes may take the free gift of salvation in him (Rev. 22:17). For it is through such preaching that the sovereign God moves to call to himself those whom he has chosen before the world’s creation (Eph. 1:3-14). But in doing so, we must emphasize not just the love, but the holy love of God. For God’s holy judgment is the one great and inescapable reality in every human being’s life (Matt. 11:28), and the one reality that every human being must acknowledge in order to appropriate the redeeming love of Christ (1 John 1:8-10)-and so it would be unloving for us to emphasize anything else.

Richard Rice and his fellow authors are to be commended for taking the Christian proclamation seriously enough to want to be sure that they represent it accurately and in the best possible light. God forbid that we represent what God has done for us in Christ in a way that throws any unnecessary stumbling blocks before those whom his Son came to save. Yet for those of us who, as evangelicals, still subscribe to sola Scriptura as the Reformers understood that great rallying cry of the Reformation, the ultimate test of whether we affirm that the first and last word about God is love depends on how well that claim coheres with all of Scripture. I have argued that the case is exactly opposite what Rice and his co-authors maintain: that it is their new perspective, and not the historical perspective, that “does not reflect faithfully the spirit of the biblical message, in spite of the fact that it appeals to various biblical statements” and that “[t]he broad sweep of biblical testimony”-as well as its details-“points to quite a different understanding of the divine reality.” The mere fact, then, that Rice and his colleagues find some of Scripture’s claims to be “existentially repugnant” is not reason enough to reject those claims, especially since Scripture itself tells us that it is only through the secret work of God’s Spirit in our hearts that we are ever moved to accept the Gospel for what it actually is (1 Cor. 1:18-2:16).

1 [ Back ] Clark Pinnock, Richard Rice, John Sanders, William Hasker, and David Basinger, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity; and Carlisle, England: Paternoster, 1994), 18. (Unless otherwise noted, all endnotes refer to this book.)
2 [ Back ] 19, 21, 21, 21.
3 [ Back ] 8.
4 [ Back ] 11, 11. Scriptural support for these claims includes the fact that the New Testament repeatedly portrays God as a master, sovereign, or despot-the Greek word in all of the following passages is despotës-whose will is (and ought to be) all-determining (see Luke 2:29-32; Acts 4:23-31; 2 Tim. 2:21; 2 Pet. 2:1-10; Jude 3-16; and Rev. 6:10) and that God is portrayed in both Testaments as the rightful Disposer of all persons and things (see, e.g., Ex. 33:19 and Rom. 9:10-29). Indeed, it is part of God's very glory to work out everything "in conformity with the purpose of his will" (Eph. 1:11).
5 [ Back ] 11, 12, 12. This was, for instance, the position of Augustine (354-430), Anselm (1033-1109), Aquinas (1225-1274), Luther (1483-1546), and Calvin (1509-1564). Scripturally, Rom. 9:1-29 is the locus classicus for the claim that God is as glorified by the rebellion of sinners and the destruction of the wicked as by the obedience of the righteous and the redemption of the saints, which I discuss in my final two sections.
6 [ Back ] 102, 143.
7 [ Back ] 16. The next quotation is from the same page.
8 [ Back ] 15.
9 [ Back ] 18f. As has been frequently noted, in Hosea 11 the Old Testament comes very close to saying that God is love. See, for instance, Alan Richardson, ed., A Theological Word Book of the Bible (New York: Macmillan, 1950), 132, s.v. "Love"; and Willem A. VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), Vol. I, 280, s.v.
10 [ Back ] 19. The rest of the quotations in this paragraph are from the same page.
11 [ Back ] It would take many pages of close argumentation to show this. For readers who wish to corroborate it for themselves, the articles mentioned in note 9 are both important, along with the entry on "Love" in Colin Brown, ed., The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), Vol. 2, 538-551. But the best place to start is with the address by Geerhardus Vos that is cited in the next note.
12 [ Back ] Geerhardus Vos, "The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God," in Richard B. Gaffin, ed., Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardus Vos (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1980), 440. Cranfield, in his article on "Love" in A Theological Word Book of the Bible claims that selectiveness is one of the main features of God's love in the Old Testament-"The word bachar (choose) occurs in connection with God's love, Deut. 4.37, 7.5f., 10.15, Is. 43.4 with 10, 20. It is a distinguishing, selective love. Cf. Amos 3.2, Exod. 19.5, Deut. 14.2, 26.17f., Ps. 135.4, Mal. 3.17" (op. cit.).
13 [ Back ] This is particularly clear in Paul's writings. As W. Gnther and H. G. Link say, "Rom. 9:13ff. and 11:28 show in particular how Paul's thought links up with the [Old Testament] election-tradition [see, also, Rom. 9:11f.; Eph. 1:4f.; 1 Thes. 1:4; and 2 Thes. 2:13]. The klëtoi ("called") are the agapëtoi ("beloved") (Rom. 1:7; Col. 3:12)" (The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, op. cit., 544).

In the New Testament, those who are beloved by God are those who will inherit eternal life. Election to eternal life, then, in spite of many recent arguments to the contrary, is always "individual, personal, specific, [and] particular" (F. H. Klooster, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, edited by Walter A. Elwell [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], s.v. "Elect, Election," 349). For a survey of the theological options, along with a careful argument from Scripture for individual election, see Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), chapter 5. For careful theological rebuttal of nearly all of the recent arguments against individual election, see Thomas R. Schreiner, "Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election unto Salvation?," in Thomas R. Schreiner and Bruce A. Ware, eds., The Grace of God, The Bondage of the Will (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), Vol. 1, 89-106.
14 [ Back ] Vos, op. cit., 443. My use of the word "must" in the preceding sentence in the text presupposes that we subscribe to the doctrine that there is just one divine Author behind the many human authors of Scripture, and that we consequently must not pit Scripture against Scripture in a way that denies that it makes a consistent set of claims.
15 [ Back ] 178n28. The remainder of the quotations in this paragraph are taken from 19f.
16 [ Back ] No doubt, God showed his love for his chosen people long before he declared himself to be a God of love. Yet it cannot be denied that his declaration that he is a God of love comes much later than his declaration that he is holy.
17 [ Back ] As John E. Hartley says: "In Leviticus, Yahweh makes himself known to Israel as their holy God. Holiness is not one attribute of Yahweh's among others; rather it is the quintessential nature of Yahweh as God. This is supported by the declaration that his name is holy (20:3; 22:32), for as Eichrodt says, '[God's] nature and operation are summed up in the divine Name'" (Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 4, Leviticus [Dallas: Word Books, 1992], lvi). Later passages, such as Is. 6:1-3, Amos 4:2, and Rev. 4:8 portray God's holiness as the expression of his inmost self.
18 [ Back ] It may seem, from what Paul goes on to say in verse 7, that there are some who will earn eternal life by persistently seeking "glory, honor, and immortality" through their repentance and good works. But the larger context of 1:18-3:20 makes it is quite clear that Paul thinks there is no one who persistently does that.
19 [ Back ] For a clear defense of the claim that Paul is asserting in Rom. 5:12-14 that we have all sinned in and with Adam and not merely that we all have sinned like him, see John Stott, Romans: God's Good News for the World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), 150-154.
20 [ Back ] To understand why the death of God's Son is the only adequate price that can be paid for our sins, see the last section of my "Morality of Everlasting Punishment," in Reformation and Revival Journal, Volume 5, Number 4 (Fall, 1996), 117-134.
21 [ Back ] R. A. Finlayson and P. F. Jensen in New Bible Dictionary, third edition, edited by J. D. Douglas and others (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1996), 419, s.v. "God."
22 [ Back ] D. A. Baer and R. P. Gordon in VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, op. cit., Vol. 2, 214, s.v.
23 [ Back ] See "God in the Dock," in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), edited by Walter Hooper, 240-244.
24 [ Back ] Jonathan Edwards, The End for Which God Created the World, in John Piper, God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards, With the Complete Text of The End for which God Created the World (Wheaton: Crossway, 1998), 183 (Chapter Two, Section One of Edwards' text). Piper's book, which includes a 123-page introduction and many clarifying headings and explanatory footnotes, is by far the best way to introduce oneself to Edwards' text.
25 [ Back ] See Piper, 185-220 (Chapter Two, Sections Two through Four). As Donald Guthrie and Ralph Martin note, "It is astonishing how frequently the NT writers in general mention the glory and majesty of God" (in Gerald F. Hawthorne and Ralph P. Martin, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters [Downers Grove, IL and Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1993], 360, s.v. "God").
26 [ Back ] See Piper, 137-181 (Chapter One, especially Sections One and Four).
27 [ Back ] In this paragraph, I am generalizing not only on what Edwards says in The End for Which God Created the World but in some of his other works, such as his great A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections (New Haven: Yale, 1959). Piper surveys much of Edwards' thought in his introduction to Edwards' book.
28 [ Back ] For Scriptural corroboration of all these claims, see Hartley, op. cit., lvif.
29 [ Back ] I argue for this claim as well as for the claim of the previous sentence in "The Morality of Everlasting Punishment."
30 [ Back ] See the article on "Anger" by Bruce Baloian in VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, op. cit., Vol. 4, 377-385.
31 [ Back ] For confirmation of these claims, see Cranfield, op. cit.
32 [ Back ] See D. E. Garland in Geoffrey W. Bromiley and others, eds., The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, revised edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), Vol. 3, 323, s.v. "Mercy; Merciful."
33 [ Back ] Baloian, op. cit., 382.
34 [ Back ] See Piper, 207-209, 215f., and 226. We do not have to agree with everything that Edwards claims on these pages to appreciate his attempt to understand these difficult claims of Scripture.
35 [ Back ] See my "Morality of Everlasting Punishment."
36 [ Back ] John Piper makes one of the best attempts to make sense of this claim in his The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993). See, especially, 186-189.
37 [ Back ] The NIV does not bring out the aspect of emotional satisfaction that God is declaring he will get in executing his wrath at Eze. 5:13. A more accurate translation would be: "Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be comforted. And when I have spent my wrath upon them, they will know that I the Lord have spoken in my zeal." (For corroboration, see VanGemeren, ed., New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, op. cit., Vol. 3, 1071, s.v.) God's comfort (or emotional rest) will result from the fact that the spending of his anger and his wrath will have manifested his holiness.
38 [ Back ] Piper, 220f.
39 [ Back ] For the considerations that can lead us to do so, see the section entitled "Justice and Punishment" in my "Morality of Everlasting Punishment."
40 [ Back ] Piper, 196. Among the passages Edwards cites in support of this claim are Rev. 11:13; 14:6f.; 16:8f.; Is. 66; and Rom. 15:5f.
41 [ Back ] As the references to "one another" at John 13:34f. and 1 John 4:7, and to "his brother" and to "the children of God" in 1 John 4:20f. and 5:2, make clear.
Monday, July 16th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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