An Arminian Look at the “Golden Chain” in Romans 8:30

Most of my education has come from Calvinists with some notable exceptions (I had Scot McKnight and Grant Osborne as professors while at Trinity). My exposure to Arminian theology was almost always through the lens of a Calvinist. Passages of Scripture were taught to me from a Calvinist perspective. Of course I wasn’t told it was a “Calvinist” perspective. I was told it was simply what the text said and it naturally supported Calvinism. Arminians, I was told, had no real response to the interpretation and it was a difficult text for their theology. Calvinists admitted they had hard passages too but far less than the Arminian camp had.

Recently I picked up Jerry Walls and Joseph Dongell’s book Why I Am Not a Calvinist (IVP Academic). I’ve known about this book but never read it. In Romans 8:30 we read, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he glorified.” (ESV) Calvinists point to this passage as a support for eternal security. The “golden chain” demonstrates that those who are called will be glorified. John Piper says this verse shows the “ironclad chain of divine work.” He continues, “What is evident from this verse is that those who are effectually called into the hope of salvation will indeed persevere to the end and be glorified. There are no dropouts in the sequence. . . The links in the chain are unbreakable, because God’s saving work is infallible and his new covenant commitments are irrevocable.” (Five Points, pp. 68-69 Christian Focus)

Walls and Dongell offer three different possible readings all from an Arminian perspective. Here’s just the first one.

“Many point out that Paul expresses the last step in the past tense (glorified) even though for Paul and all Christians to date, glorification lies in the future. Less often realized is that the third and fourth steps (called and justified) are likewise presented as past events, though God has been and continues to be about the business of calling and justifying people down through the ages. This may show us that Paul is viewing the entire series not from a vantage point within history but from the end of human history, after God has brought to completion the whole redemptive plan. Seen from the end of history, Paul observes that all Christians who have been glorified have of course been foreknown, predestined, called and justified.” (p. 81)

They quote from James Dunn’s commentary on Romans:

“Paul is not inviting reflection on the classic problem of determinism and free will, or thinking in terms of a decree which excludes as well as one which includes. . . . His thought is simply that from the perspective of the end, it will be evident that history has been the stage for the unfolding of God’s purpose, the purpose of the Creator fulfilling his original intentions in creating.” (p. 81. Citing Romans 1-8 (Dallas: Word, 1988, p. 486 Now published by Thomas Nelson)

The point of this post is modest. I’m not advocating for one interpretation over the other. I simply want to point out that there are other possible interpretations of the text which are viable. As I said earlier, I’ve been told that Arminians had no real response to this passage. At best their responses were weak attempts to avoid the obvious. The interpretation suggested by Walls, Dongell, and Dunn seems plausible and should at least be considered as a possibility.

 

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About Louis

I am a 1997 graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
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2 Responses to An Arminian Look at the “Golden Chain” in Romans 8:30

  1. Agreed. I have had similar thoughts about that passage before.

    Another observation: In this chapter Paul is not discussing the question of who “gets to” become a Christian (to use a non-Pauline term). Rather, the whole of chapters 5 through 8 are directed, I understand to believers.

    Natural literary units and patterns affirm this observation. First, verse 28 to 30 are the culmination of a pericope that stretches from v. 18 through 30. This section is all about the Christian’s hope of glorification. This section is designed to flesh out and affirm Paul’s claim at the end of v. 17 that “we may also be glorified with him.” Who is the “we” in v. 17? It is all those who are children of God as affirmed by the witness of the Spirit. So when Paul lists the “golden chain” in vv. 29 and 30, he is describing all the things that God has done and is doing for those who are children of God.

    Second literary observation: I think Romans 8:18-39 as a larger literary unit is set in chiastic parallel with Romans 5:1-11 (with the whole of chaps. 5-8 forming a chiastic pattern–as per Osborne’s commentary). Paul’s emphasis in both of these outside units is the same: Christians “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God”; they have no reason to fear that they will somehow experience God’s wrath. Again, his message is directed to those who are already believers, and his approach is to point to God’s past good work to affirm hope that God will continue to act lovingly toward those who are already his own (5:9-10; 8:31-32). To paraphrase in modern parlance, he is affirming that, for the believer, God is good, all the time. It is also interesting to note that in 5:3-5 there is another sequence that could be called a “golden chain” (suffering produces endurance, which produces character, which produces hope, which will not put us to shame). But do I know anyone who claims that “There are no dropouts in the sequence. . . The links in the chain are unbreakable”? No, I think we all affirm that many people suffer without growing in endurance, character, or hope. Again, Paul is describing what happens to believers who have already been reconciled to God and who (as chapter 8 amplifies) are walking by the Spirit.

    Paul’s point in 8:28-30 is, I think, that the believer should have full assurance that God is doing everything necessary (a cornucopia of blessings that Paul lists in chronological order) so that the believer can have solid hope about his or her coming glorification.

    Thanks for sharing. (And I might reblog this if I may–I’ve pointed my readers to your useful blog several times in the past.)

    Like

  2. Thanks for posting this. I’ve wondered for quite a while how Arminians would interpret that.
    Jeff

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