What Right Does God Maintain as Creator in Reprobation?

The apostle Paul writes: "Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?" (Rom. 9:21 NIV) Calvinists interpret this passage in a supralapsarian frame, whether or not most of them realize it, essentially asking: "Does not God have the right to create one person for heaven and another person for hell?" We answer: God maintains the prerogative to create one person for heaven, and another for hell, but not without the consequence of that action being an indicator of His character. In other words, if God did create one person for heaven and another for hell -- and we do not believe that He did -- then that action is, by necessary consequence, a contributing factor to how God's character is to be viewed.

We think that Calvinists misinterpret this passage; and, in doing so, they misrepresent the very character of God Himself. First, notice carefully the apostle's words: "to make out of the same lump of clay pottery for special purposes and some for common use." (emphases added) The phrase "the same lump" refers to humanity in general, not considered in theory unconditionally elected, nor reprobated. Second, notice the two purposes of God: some are used for special means and others for everyday means. There is no mention here of personal salvation, thus being created for heaven, or reprobation, thus being created for hell. Both pottery vessels are useful to God. Third, note elsewhere Paul's statement:
In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. Those who cleanse themselves from the latter [i.e., evil works] will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. (2 Tim. 2:20-21 NIV)
Consider how that, in this analogy, people have a genuine choice not only in the manner in which they are used but even to the choosing of what kind of vessel they shall be!

The apostle then posits: "What if God, wanting [thelo, willing, intending] to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" (Rom. 9:22 NKJV). This demonstrates that God was in no sense obligated to demonstrate His wrath. (He chose to reveal His wrath.) In other words, because of His grace and mercy, coupled with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary, God could have, in theory, unconditionally elected to save every single person ever to exist. Instead, He chose to show His wrath and to make His power known. This He does with great patience toward the objects of His wrath. Why did He not unconditionally elect to save all people? For the same reason He has not unconditionally elected to save anyone: He elected to save those who would believe (1 Cor. 1:21; Gal. 3:22; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 7:25). God manipulates no one into faith in Christ.

Calvinists who perpetuate the false notion that regeneration precedes faith invert God's order in the salvation process, as granted in Scripture, and add an idea not explicitly found in the New Testament: they maintain that God elected to save those whom He would "give" faith: hence one is saved and thus regenerated by grace to faith, not through faith. That is not what the New Testament teaches (Eph. 2:5, 8). Moreover, faith is not a substance that can be "given," strictly taken, but is a Spirit- and grace-induced response that is required of the individual whom God will then regenerate and thus save (forgive of sins committed, justify, sanctify, adopt as a child, dwell within, and glorify).

What Calvinism cannot logically avoid is the tension created by its presuppositions. That God would unconditionally elect only some unto faith and salvation exposes the raw nerve of the arbitrary nature of God's choices. When asked why God unconditionally elected one person and not another unto faith and salvation, Calvinists answer, "For His glory." But that is only a diversion, not a proper answer, in the classic sense. Because Jesus' propitiatory death was capable of atoning the sins of the whole world (cf. John 1:29; 1 Tim. 4:10; 1 John 2:2), God could have, theoretically, unconditionally elected to save all people. In this sense, then, Universalism and Calvinism have that element in common.

There can be no possible answer as to why God would unconditionally elect one person and not another unto faith and salvation. If all people are totally depraved, and we believe that all people are totally depraved, then there is absolutely no qualifying reason why God would choose to save one person and not another -- there is no distinguishing feature, in either man or God, as to why He should choose to save one person and not another. Calvinism cannot possibly avoid concluding that the novel doctrine of unconditional election is arbitrary by its very nature; and, due to the error of unconditional election, all the other errors must, by consistent necessity, follow: limited atonement, irresistible grace (and the accompanying error that regeneration precedes faith), and perseverance of the saints, to say nothing of determinism (what they name as "the sovereignty of God"), whether hard (consistent) or soft (inconsistent) determinism.

Let us take another look at the Potter analogy. The apostle Paul, at the Romans 9 passage, was borrowing from the Potter analogy of Isaiah and Jeremiah with regard to Israel. Given that the Jewish people were the focus proper of the Romans 9 passage (cf. Rom. 9:3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 24, 28, 29, 31, 32), the Potter analogy is quite fitting, and one with which the Jewish people would have been familiar. At Isaiah 29:16, the Jewish person is scrutinizing God's ways, suggesting that his sin will go unnoticed by a God who neither sees nor cares about his personal evil deeds. So, there is no teaching here of God unconditionally electing some unto faith and salvation, and reprobating the rest.

At Isaiah 64:8, the prophet acknowledges the LORD as Father, and Potter, while he and his people are clay, "the work of your hand," requesting, further, "Do not be angry beyond measure, LORD; do not remember our sins forever." (Isa. 64:9) So, there is no teaching here of God unconditionally electing some unto faith and salvation, and reprobating the rest.

At the Jeremiah passage we find God commanding his prophet to preach repentance to the wandering Jews. The clay pottery of Israel was marred in God's hands; "so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him." (Jer. 18:4) The Jewish people were God's covenanted people; He had bound Himself to these people, had raised them from childhood, and took upon Himself the molding of this great nation. "Can I not do with you, Israel, as the potter does?" (Jer. 18:6) Note, though, that this firm-yet-gentle Potter did not reprobate the clay: this Potter chose, instead, to form it into another pot, "shaping it as seemed best to Him." So, there is no teaching here of God unconditionally electing some unto faith and salvation, and reprobating the rest.

As a matter of fact, with regard to the people of Israel, the LORD asked: "What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad?" (Isa. 5:4) From a Calvinistic perspective, one might imagine an answer similar to, "Because You sovereignly decreed for Israel to turn from You -- You decreed to reprobate the majority of them, and they could only do what You have, from eternity past, decreed for them to do." But that is not what we find in Scripture.

We do not find a God who has decreed what we do, what we think, or say, or what choices we make, as Calvinists erroneously and grievously insist in no uncertain terms whatsoever. The choices we make are our choices, even the choice to respond in faith toward Christ, by the grace-incited activity of the Spirit of God. We are not vessels decreed to be either heaven-pots or hell-pots. We are all already hell-pots (John 3:18). But by the grace of God, through the Spirit of grace working in the hearts of wicked people, some respond with faith in Christ and become heaven-pots -- all to the glory of our great God and Savior.

In answering the question of our post, What right does God maintain as Creator in reprobation? we must consider His attributes. When we suggest (we cannot insist, since we cannot exhaustively know the mind of God) that God does not have the right to reprobate people by an arbitrary decree we do so based not on our feelings, not on philosophical grounds, but upon the moral attributes of God, including His justice and goodness, as well as the Name He revealed to us (cf. Exodus 3:14, 15). William G. MacDonald concludes: "God's character is on the line in every doctrine and especially in the doctrine of election. Whom he chooses, how he chooses, and whether his criterion for choice is [unknown] or announced tell us much about God, even if we had no other doctrines to compare."1

God confessed to Israel that He decided/chose/elected to "set" His love upon them (Deut. 7:7); yet this "electing love" did not guarantee the salvation of every Jewish person (Rom. 9:6, 7). This is because God's salvation is neither unconditional nor automatic. God is a relational God, and His salvation is experienced by grace through faith toward Him in Christ through the Spirit (cf. Rom. 3:21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26; 4:3, 4, 5, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 22, 23, 24).

The Arminian conception of election is the only model which glorifies God and rids His holy and just character of an unwarranted charge of being arbitrary in His choice of who to save: "For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." (1 Cor. 1:21; emphasis added; cf. Gal. 3:22; 1 Tim. 4:10; Heb. 7:25) Therefore God has conditionally elected to save, and those whom He will save are believers in Jesus Christ -- these are the elect of God, the choice ones, the ones chosen by God for salvation.

Moreover, Christ Jesus Himself is the focal point of both our election and our salvation in Arminian theology, since in Him is derived both aspects. In Calvinism, God's decree to unconditionally save and reprobate is the focal point. From our perspective God's decree does not save: only God, by grace through faith in Jesus, saves. Jesus must be the centripetal figure in our theology, our views of God, our faith, our merit, our righteousness, and our salvation. In Him, through faith in and union with Him, is where our salvation is derived. In a statement: God has elected to save those who are in Christ (Eph. 1:4).

Those who are "in Christ" are those who, by grace, have placed their faith in Him alone. These persons were foreknown and foreloved by God (Rom. 8:29, 30). These persons will be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). These persons will be justified and glorified (Rom. 8:30). None are saved or condemned eternally merely by a decree of God, arbitrarily conceived or otherwise, but are thus due solely to their relation with Jesus Christ (John 3:36). Though Calvinists are typically the ones leveling this charge against Arminians, we believe it more appropriately belongs to them, that they deprive God of His essential qualities of freely and sovereignly saving whomever He desires to save. He has explicitly declared to us His desire that all people without qualification be saved (1 Tim. 2:4; 4:10; 2 Pet. 3:9), since He in no sense imaginable delights in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23; 33:11).

God has revealed to us whom He shall save and whom He shall eternally condemn; hence from this God-inspired revelation we can boldly claim that God does not have the right merely and primarily to decree, arbitrarily or otherwise, the eternal reprobation of any human being apart from that individual's personal rejection of the proffered grace of God found in Jesus Christ the only Savior. After all, as Arminius states, "If the consequence of a doctrine is false, then that [doctrine] must also be false."2 God Himself, by His own methods and standards, leads us to this biblical conclusion and conviction.


1 William G. MacDonald, "The Biblical Doctrine of Election," in The Grace of God and the Will of Man, ed. Clark H. Pinnock (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, Inc., 1995), 207.

2 Quoted from Keith D. Stanglin and Thomas H. McCall, Jacob Arminius: Theologian of Grace (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 116. See Jacob Arminius, "Examination of Perkins's Pamphlet," in The Works of Arminius, the London edition, three volumes, trans. James and William Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), 3:318.


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My name is William Birch and I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition but converted, if you will, to Anglicanism in 2012. I am gay, affirming, and take very seriously matters of social justice, religion and politics in the church and the state.