Art Sippo, a Catholic layman and medical doctor, is well known for his virulent attacks upon “prots” and defenders of the “Deformation,” etc. He has posted an attempt to interpret and explain Paul’s presentation concerning the freedom of God in Romans 9, and though Dr. Sippo will not debate these issues live in public (he seemingly will only debate a single topic, that being justification), we can still interact with his attempted exegesis as it appears in his own writings, and we shall do so here.
And not only this, but when Rebecca also had conceived by one man, even by our father Isaac 11 (for the children not yet being born, nor having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works but of Him who calls), 12 it was said to her, “The older shall serve the younger.” (v.10-12)
Before we can even begin Dr. Sippo’s comments, we note that he begins long after the key exegetical question has already been asked and answered, as demonstrated by Dr. John Piper in his classic work, The Justification of God. Specifically, Paul is going to be dealing with the answer he himself has offered to the question, “Why do so many of your fellow Jews, Paul, reject Christ?” You see this in 9:1-7:
I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, 4 who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, 5 whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. 6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; 7nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.”
Paul’s answer is found in vs. 6, “For they are not all Israel who are descendedfrom Israel.” That is, God has been free in this matter of election from the very beginning. He is not limited by genetics and nationality, and never has been. The history of His dealings with Israel completely undercuts the objection of his Jewish opponents: their own history is a constant witness to God’s freedom to act as He chooses. Paul will pile up illustration after illustration of this in what follows. Though Sippo does not begin where he needs to, he will eventually, after some meandering, recognize this over-arching theme, even if he does not make the proper application of it due to his very strong prejudice against the beliefs of “prots.”
To what was Jacob elected? Was it to salvation? Or was it to the promise of Abraham? The two are not necessarily synonymous. In the Protestant religions where ‘salvation’ is equated with an arbitrary act of a capricious God who acts hedonistically solely for “his own good pleasure” salvation is an irrational and unmotivated act that has no logical connection to the qualities of the person being saved.
Of course, it is hard to deal with Dr. Sippo’s writings in a calm and reasoned fashion, since they are neither calm, nor reasoned. One must constantly circumnavigate the rows of emotionally-laden straw men that, as we will see, actually form the bulk of his writing. Without this kind of bluster, it seems Dr. Sippo has precious little to sayin the exegetical realm. But as best we can without engaging in the same kind of behavior, we wish to give a biblical, God-honoring response that contrasts strongly with Sippo’s very man-centered theology.
I will have to assume, since Sippo does not give specifics, that he is referring to what he has elsewhere called the “calvinoid” view of salvation, i.e., Reformed theology as expressed in the Westminster Confession or my own London Baptist Confession of 1689. It is common for those who deny the freedom and sovereignty of God to save as He pleases to accuse God of being arbitrary. How the sovereign, omnipotent creator of all things could be called arbitrary should cause any serious minded individual pause to begin with—He who works all things after the counsel of His will cannot be arbitrary in His actions. Sovereign freedom is what men hate (a point we will see right here in Romans 9, with Dr. Sippo helping us along).
In the same fashion, He who does all things in perfection and in accordance with His own perfect will does nothing capricious but only what is in accordance with His holiness and sovereignty. To be capricious is to be unpredictable, and yet the Holy God acts in perfect accordance with His holiness and justice. This kind of rhetoric is nothing more than another “Sippoism,” a red-herring that covers over the underlying lack of substantive argumentation (based upon a clear ignorance of the issues involved, as we will see).
This is not a discussion of Ephesians 1, but given Sippo’s starting point in identifying the sovereign freedom of God to act outside of dependence upon His creatures, especially to denigrate that freedom as “hedonistic,” I assert this flies in the face of any serious exegesis of Ephesians 1:3-14, where we read that God does what He does in the salvation of His elect people in eternity past and in present time “according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace.” Nothing about creaturely dependence here.
Notice that for Sippo, for salvation to be rational it must be connected to the qualities of the person being saved. And just here we see the vast chasm that separates biblical truth from that religion practiced by Art Sippo. The natural man thinks salvation must be based upon human character, action, intelligence, accomplishment—something other than the free, undeserved grace of God. To the natural man, to save freely, sovereignly, by a message such as that of the cross, is foolishness, or in Sippo’s words, an “irrational act.” This kind of attitude illustrates to perfection the opposition to the gospel of grace offered down through the centuries, to which I referred in the series of sermons I just finished at PRBC (listed here). [continued]