I recently encountered a guy espousing the belief that Romans 9, as viewed from a perspective of “systematic theology”, proves the veracity of unconditional election. I immediately had my doubts and realized quickly enough that we differed on various word definitions. Suffice it to say, however, that never having undergone formal theological studies, the term “systematic theology” mystifies me. At a minimum, though, it stands to reason that Christians ought to be able to agree that if the Bible is to be believed, there must be doctrinal consistency throughout.
According to this individual, Rom 9 is foundational to Calvinist thought regarding election. Perhaps if Rom 9 ended at verse 29, it might be easier to imply individual election. However, Paul’s own summary is, well, interesting. Starting with verse 30, “What then shall we say? That the Gentiles [a group of people] who did not pursue righteousness have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; but Israel, [a group of people] who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. Why not? Because [Israel] pursued [righteousness] not by faith but as if [righteousness] were by works.”
I find these words intriguing to say the least: Gentiles have obtained righteousness through faith and the Israelites continued to strive for righteousness through the law. It seems obvious that Paul is talking about masses of people, not individuals (i.e. individual election).
Even from the beginning, there was corporate election wherein the nation of Israel was God’s chosen people aka caretakers of the law. Perhaps this is an argument as to election being to service and not salvation? But I digress. As was evident, however, no one could keep the law and so God, though His sovereign choice, allowed not only Jews, but also Gentiles to enter into His presence and kingdom through faith. In reality, I believe this to be foreknowledge. But again, I digress.
Paul says that Israel was “broken off” because of unbelief. Was this ALL of Israel? I don’t think so. Maybe, just maybe this is something akin to “hardening of heart”? To which, does not God show mercy on individuals in response to their belief or unbelief? Here, and quite frankly elsewhere (i.e. Eph 1:4) I see no indication of God choosing some over others. The choice is predicated on the individual’s decision of faith – to believe or to not believe. Ultimately, it doesn’t appear to me that Rom 9 is a passage Calvinists can (systematically or otherwise) use to support the concept of individual election.