So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer,writes: “The clay has no right to question the potter.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.171, emphasis mine)
The problem is that Calvinists don’t ask who the clay represents, and who Paul anticipates that will ask that question. (Sometimes Calvinists will suggest that Paul is addressing proto-Arminians, but which only shows that Calvinists are not reading the text, but are instead just proof-texting.) Calvinists say that it is high time that the clay stops questioning the Potter, and I say that it is high time that Calvinists start listening to what the Potter actually says. Challenge Calvinists to see what the Potter says at Jeremiah 18:1-13, in terms of why and when the Potter hardens, and who He warned that He would harden.
Walls and Dongell writes: “...the chief objectors to Paul likely are Jews!” (Why I am Not a Calvinist, p.90, emphasis mine)
That’s correct, because Romans 9 is an evangelical appeal to the unconverted Jew. Calvinists need to read Romans 9:1-3, in which Paul pours his heart out for his lost fellow Jews. The rest of the chapter follows from that passion, but Calvinists ignore who Paul is in dialogue with, and that’s because Calvinists are head over heels in love with Calvinism.
The Jews were the ones hardened, as per Jeremiah 18:1-13 and Isaiah 6:9-10, and also stated at Romans 11:25-26: “For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery--so that you will not be wise in your own estimation--that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written, ‘The Deliverer will come from Zion, He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.’” (Romans 11:25-26) Thus, it stands to reason that Paul anticipates the reaction of the hardened, legalistic Jew, which is the subject of the chapter.
Calvinist, Erwin Lutzer, writes: “If Arminianism were correct, we should expect Paul to answer ‘God finds fault because men have a free will and therefore could have chosen to be obedient.’ Here is the opportunity to set the record straight. But Paul said nothing about free will. Rather, he said, ‘On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? (v.20) The potter has power over the clay to make one vessel unto honor and another to dishonor. God’s purposes in salvation history are being fulfilled.” (The Doctrines That Divide, p.214, emphasis mine)
Lutzer is technically making an “argument from silence.” Second, Lutzer is also not referencing the Potter’s dialogue with the clay, as per Jeremiah 18:1-13, as it specifically relates to the hardening, as this is a continuation of the dialogue between Israel and God at Jeremiah 18:12: “But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” Next see God’s reply: “Therefore thus says the LORD, ‘Ask now among the nations, Who ever heard the like of this? The virgin of Israel Has done a most appalling thing.’” (Jeremiah 18:13) Just because God doesn’t specifically refute their argument on Total Inability, doesn’t mean that God is agreeing with it. But that’s what Lutzer’s logic would require, as per his “argument from silence.” God merely complains that they would throw Total Inability at Him, while He offers pardon, in exchange for repentance. In fact, unrepentant Israel is really playing the part of Job, in questioning God, except that Job tried to retract his accusations, while Israel continues to press forward, as Paul anticipates. One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “I have always thought that the Jeremiaic potter/clay metaphor is so thoroughly against the Calvinist worldview that the only way for Calvinists to justify their interpretation of Romans 9 is to distance Paul’s view from Jeremiah’s.” (SEA)
Often Calvinists will insist that you cannot cite Jeremiah 18 because at Romans 9, the Holy Spirit is revealing a “new truth.” However, notice that Paul’s argument is not based upon any alleged new truth, but based upon what is “written.” (Romans 9:13)
This reminds me of John 21:21-23: “So Peter seeing him [John] said to Jesus, ‘Lord, and what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow Me!’ Therefore this saying went out among the brethren that that disciple would not die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but only, ‘If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you?’”
It’s a mistake for Calvinists to think that because God can unilaterally harden someone, that He does. The context of Romans chapters 9 through 11 is of a Jewish hardening, and although a sovereign God the Potter could have unilaterally hardened Israel, the reality is that the hardening was explicitly conditional, as prophesied by Jeremiah: “‘Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?’ declares the LORD. ‘Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, “Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds.’”’” (Jeremiah 18:6-11)
So the hardening flows from their persistent state of unrepentance. Additionally, God had also said concerning Israel: “I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts.” (Isaiah 65:2) So God had reached out to them, throughout their entire history. So this is the basis of the Jewish hardening at Isaiah 6:9-10. One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “In Jeremiah, he clearly presents the idea of clay as ‘going its own way.’ With a potter’s wheel, a potter doesn’t just simply make a pot exactly how he wants it. The clay spins, and the potter shapes it as the centripetal forces pull the pot apart. The potter then shapes the pot using these very forces which are attempting to rip them apart. However, often the air in the clay, or the lack/abundance of moisture, or just the wrong shape, will make the pot form incorrectly, and the potter will collapse the clay back into a lump and start over again. A potter may do this three to four times per pot. In fact, it is this idea of restarting the clay that Jeremiah is using. Israel isn’t quite shaping the way God wants it to, so He is going to collapse it and start again with a remnant (note: it is not a different piece of clay, but restarting from the same clay). This makes no real sense in the Calvinist view, for if they were right, then why did the clay go astray to begin with? If we then take this to Romans, then we see God collapsing Judea down, and starting with another new remnant (the apostles), and will build His people back up.” (SEA) One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “The way I respond to Calvinists who say, ‘the clay cannot judge the potter,’ is this: I am not judging the potter. I am judging another lump of clay who presumes to believe it understands the potter better than the potter’s own self-revelation.” (SEA) One member of The Society of Evangelical Arminians explains: “I agree with this idea that you are proposing of focusing on the doctrines of the goodness of God. One of the key things that I have constantly pushed in my discussions with Calvinists is that Arminians center their theological distinctives on the righteousness of God, whereas Calvinists center their distinctives on God’s sovereignty. It is not that one precludes the other, but that the center of discussion will ultimately be revealed as one or the other. I believe this is one of the reasons why Calvinists ultimately gravitate to Romans 9:20 when challenged about how their doctrine depicts God’s righteousness. Their interpretation of that verse has provided an escape for them by their implicit suggestion that we are not allowed to examine the righteousness of God in salvation. We must just accept it. Arminians (and other non-Calvinists) begin at the goodness/righteousness of God and move outward from there.” (SEA, emphasis mine)