The Election of Grace
My thanks to Nicholas Wolterstorff for taking the time to read and review The Election of Grace ["All Called, Some Predestined," September/October]. I respond—and I kid you not—on the prompting of a respected third party.
I frequently had the strange feeling of reading a review of a book which I had not written.
(1) Far from saying that my project in this volume is to develop a "narrative doctrine of election," I say the virtual opposite: that I deliberately decided not "to offer a studiously and rigorously narrative account of election." Both the content of the (second) chapter in which I say this and the opening of the following chapter should have dispelled any ambiguities to which that sentence may have lent itself, independently considered. I nowhere decline "to engage in a detailed discussion of Paul's teaching on election and predestination on the ground that Paul's teaching is not part of the NT narrative."
(2) Wolterstorff says that I never spell out the reasons for my restrictive discussion of election in the NT. However, I indicate more than once that, in this volume, I am swayed in the direction taken by the historical prominence of the theological debate on predestination arising from the NT witness. It was a very narrow decision, and I may have got it wrong, but I thought that, between the preface and the body of the book, the reason was clear.
(3) Again, I read that I never explain why my position does not entail "eternal reprobation or passing over of those who do not believe"; instead, I simply declare it. I confess that I would have understood better the opposite criticism, namely, that I over-exert myself on this point. I am not surprised that Wolterstorff thinks that I refuse to make a logical inference. I feel the force of that point and knew that this would be a familiar reader response. However, in the book I labor the point that such reprobation seems difficult to square with a genuine offer in history to those who reject the gospel. Anyone who both believes in the genuine offer and believes in predestination to life has ample reason to suspect that the latter cannot really entail antecedent reprobation. Wolterstorff's response will be that entailment is just a matter of logic and not of biblical testimony; on that, I simply make a declaration. He says that if (a) one person has faith because of God's predestination and (b) not all are predestined, then it "follows straightforwardly" that (c) those who lack faith lack faith "because God did not predestine that they would" have it (my italics). However, it is biblical testimony that impels me to scrutinize the claim that (c) does follow straightforwardly. I believe that the problem with his formulation is that the word "because" is not being used identically in the two cases. Wolterstorff may think that my logic is askew, and, had he said that, I would have sympathized, though not agreed. What is strange is to read that I simply declare but never explain why I refuse the inference. If I have reason to affirm both x and y and to believe that affirming x means affirming not-z, this explains why I believe that y does not entail z.
I do not address here his other points. However, I take the opportunity to encourage readers to take seriously what I say in my preface about the limits of the volume, each of whose chapters could easily have been expanded into a separate volumes.
Stephen N. Williams Union Theological College Belfast, Northern Ireland
Copyright © 2015 by the author or Christianity Today/Books & Culture magazine.
Click here for reprint information on Books & Culture.