Debating Determinism

Greg Boyd has written an excellent post about the ways that the ninth chapter of Romans can be interpreted. I recommend that you read the whole of it here. He ends it this way ...

On the basis of these six considerations I conclude that the deterministic interpretation of Romans 9 is as misguided as it is unfortunate. It is misguided not only because it misinterprets Paul, but because it fundamentally clashes with the supremacy of God’s self-revelation in Christ. And it is unfortunate because it tragically replaces the unsurpassably glorious picture of God as Jesus Christ dying on the cross for undeserving sinners with a picture of a deity who defies all moral sensibilities by arbitrarily fashioning certain people to be vessels fit for eternal destruction — and then punishing them for being that way. It exchanges the picture of a beautiful God who reigns supreme with self-sacrificial love and flexible wisdom for a picture of a God who reigns by the arbitrary exercise of sheer power.

I unequivocally affirm that the sovereign God “has mercy on whomever he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whomever he wants to harden.” I would simply add that the “whomever” he has mercy on refers to “all who choose to believe” while the “whomever” he hardens refers to “all who refuse to believe.” The passage demonstrates the wisdom of God’s loving flexibility, not the sheer determinism of God’s power.


  1. Of all the arguments I've heard against determinism, the emotional argument here is among the scariest. It's not new, but it's scary.

    He begins from the simple declaration God is love, and therefore Jesus must be love, and since love is non-deterministic, God can't be deterministic. The flaw is assuming love must be non-deterministic. It's not a single step from that error to assuming all religions are equally pleasing to God, but it's been an unstoppable trend so far. Since the practice of accepting "God is love" as the sufficient proof for any and every declaration, Christianity's become unrecognizable.

    The most effective, generous, and respected saints of 1600, 1700, 1800, and 1900 would unequivocally reject the Christianity of the 2000's. That's not a good thing.

    Determinism and free will are not enemies; they are the hand and the glove of the work of salvation. Neither is explainable without the other. I have no particular beef with people who focus on the glove rather than the hand or vice versa. My complaint is with people who start happily at God is love but never get around to including the other big statements in their stories. "God [is] a consuming fire," "God [is] a jealous God," "God [is] God of gods," "God [is] judge," "God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints," "God [is] holy." Every part of the story needs to integrate.

    God is love. That's the foundation of the story, but tell the whole story. Tell how love can be jealous, consuming, judgmental, fearful, and holy. When we're done telling the complete story, we won't be mingling our love for our God with every other god.

    (Incidentally, I do believe determinism will play a bigger part in the story than Boyd gives it in this piece, but that's not a major concern to me.)

  2. Thanks for your great feedback Kevin. What do you think of the idea of interpreting the word with the Word (ala John 1:1)? Do you see those attributes that you delineated as ones that are descriptive of the Jesus? we see in the gospels?

    1. I'm not 100% sure I understand your question, but yes, God spoke last and most completely through His Son (Hebrews 1.)

      So I think you're asking whether I see Jesus judging, being fearsome, and holding holiness as critical? Or whether Jesus is a completely different revelation than the whole Old Testament (though some of my quotes earlier were from the new.)

      I'd put this forward first:
      Jhn 12:47 & 48 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.

      And what/Who is that Word He has spoken?

      Yes, Jesus came to Earth without His Judge's robe, but He was well aware of His role.

      Mat 25:31 & 32 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth [his] sheep from the goats:

      The book of Hebrews makes the case explicitly for the God of the New Testament being more fearful than the God of the old.

      Hbr 10:28 & 29 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?

      And there's hardly a more balanced expression of Jesus' mercy and justice than John tells us he received directly from Jesus in Revelation 2 & 3.

      Again, these verses rely upon man's free will for their meaning. I'm not specifically addressing determinism when I question Mr. Boyd's words. I'm very unhappy with the church's slide into seeing love one-dimensionally, and therefore seeing God one-dimensionally. Somehow the God Who *IS* love is a fearful and consuming fire.

      Mr. Boyd finesses chapter 9 of Romans in directions I can't accept, but I'm more scared by his assumptions about love.

    2. Thanks again Kevin for the response. Here is my take on interpreting the word with the Word especially with regard to love ...

      1) In Jesus we see God in the flesh. Consequentially everything else in scripture that is written about God should be filtered through his

      life, teachings and ministry. It is what sets Christianity apart from other religions.

      2) Regarding jealousy, Jesus tells us that he is the Way and none comes to God apart from him. We are called to deny ourselves, pick up our

      cross and follow him alone. That speaks to me about how he is jealous that we live and love as he did.

      3) Regarding judgement, Jesus tells us that we are judged by the way that we love others by caring for the poor, the imprisoned, and infirmed.

      In a sense, the sin that is judged is our lack of love.

      4) Regarding consuming passion, in the gospels we see the express image of God as one who is passionate in compassion and consistently

      challenges the hypocrisy of religious people who do not love. Love seems to be the fire that consumes Jesus and eventually brings him to the


      5) Regarding Levitical law, Jesus overruled it when the religious leaders brought the woman caught in the act of adultery to him. Doubtful that

      the Jews were ever qualified (i.e. without sin) to stone adulterers and others. In this love trumped judgment.

      6) Regarding holiness, there is no clearer picture of it than Jesus in the gospels. His holiness caused him to embrace lepers, cry with

      compassion, and minister to hurting people everywhere he went. His holiness did not separate him from sinners but drew them to him. Holiness is

      not about sin but about love.

      So when I look at Jesus I hardly see a one dimensional flavor of love but the express image of God's love and God himself.

      I so wish that we could have this conversation in person Kevin. The written word is not the best to communicate these ideas - for me anyways.

  3. I really liked this:

    Paul was not concerning himself with the eternal destinies of people. His concern was solely to show God’s sovereignty in electing people to a historical vocation.

    I find it interesting how we tend to just leap to eternality when it is not there sometimes. I will go over the article again when I have more time to soak it in.

  4. Enjoyed Kevin Knox's responses and stance. I want to say this in the most loving way possible. Avoid Boyd. He is spreading heresy with a smile on his face.

    check out this link:

    1. I am not interested in heretic hunting and name calling Eddie. Even so, I would appreciate anything that you might contribute about what Boyd actually said in his post. -Thanks, Bob


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