One of my readers, blank slate, offered a skeptical response to my essay “Why a perfect God might have hardened Pharaoh’s heart“. In reply, Mr. slate wrote:
“The corresponding passage in Romans (which, after all, gives the “inspired” interpretation of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart) speaks of vessels of wrath destined for destruction — it can’t be plausibly argued that being created to be a vessel of wrath doomed to destruction is to be created for your own good.”
I replied with the suggestion that Mr. slate check out some exegetical treatments of Romans 9 and the phrase “destined for destruction”. Alas, Mr. slate declined, noting that he’d been unpersuaded by Arminian exegesis in the past and had thought John Piper had carried the day.
Undeterred, I persisted with one important recommendation:
“I suggest you check out N.T. Wright. He refocuses the context of Romans 9 from soteriology and on to ecclesiology where it belongs. Wright critiques both Arminians and Calvinists for reading the text through a Pelagian/Augustinian grid. Piper is an obvious example of that kind of reading which is, to my mind, a profound misreading.”
It seemed to me that this was a really important point. After all, the day before this Mr. slate wrote the following my blog:
“Ultimately I realized that unless you are going to be completely disingenuous with passages such as Romans 9, something like Calvinism is virtually unavoidable, which is one of the things that finally led me to reject Christianity.”
So Mr. slate noted that his Calvinistic reading of Romans 9 was instrumental in him losing his Christian faith. One would assume, then, that b. slate would be very interested in a critique of a Reformed reading of Romans 9 given that this would hit at one of his reasons for leaving Christianity.
Alas, Mr. slate was not interested and he politely declined my advice:
“Thanks for the suggestion — but frankly I don’t care enough about the Calvinist vs. Arminian controversy any more to read a book on it. Ten years ago I might have cared deeply, but now I no longer care for much the same reason that I never cared about the Sunni vs. Shiite controversy to begin with.
“Somewhat along these lines — I used to care about cessationism vs. the continued existence of charismatic gifts. Now — yawn.
“I guess you could say that I got burned out on intra-Christian theological controversies.”
There is a salutary warning here for Christians. I think at this point of one section of an essay I wrote three years ago titled “Why conservatism is often riskier than you think.” There I wrote as follows:
[G]etting a richer range of options, recognizing that you didn’t need to lose your faith to begin with, doesn’t automatically return your faith.
Why is this? Because we don’t exercise that kind of control over our beliefs. We can’t choose what to believe. So if we lose our belief, even if it is for a bad reason and we come to recognize that it was for a bad reason, that doesn’t mean we’ll get our faith back.
Numerous illustrations spring to mind. Here’s one. You’re about to eat the stew when Carla says “Wait! The dog vomited in the pot!” You quickly decide not to eat the stew. Then Marla walks in and corrects Carla: “No, the dog actually vomited in that pot over there.”
Thanks for clearing that up Marla. So you can eat the stew after all. It’s perfectly good. But do you immediately get your appetite back? Sadly no.
So let’s be careful that people don’t lose their faith for the wrong reasons.