Flowers vs. White

May 29, 2015

This is the full debate video over which soteriological view is taught in Romans 9. Professor Leighton Flowers defends a non-Calvinistic Southern Baptist perspective and Dr. James White defends the Calvinistic perspective.

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Whew! This exercise was much more than Flowers vs. White. The debate resounded: grace vs. law, life vs. death, spirit vs. flesh, revelation vs. intellect, humility vs. arrogance, encounter with Christ in the inner man vs. head-knowledge of God, a word in due season vs. rote memory, wisdom of God vs. teachings and traditions of men. Ye that have ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the church. The destiny of the Southern Baptist Convention is in the “vs.” balance. Which way will it go?

mark sorenson

While I admire Mr. Flowers courage (this is not false praise) in debating Romans 9, I came away feeling like he felt that Romans 9 applied only to the nation of Israel as being hardened. Now THAT to me is very interesting but probably not what he meant.


The thing that jumps out from viewing the White/Flowers debates is the two very different views of the nature of proper exegesis on display. Before I went to seminary I was taught by multiple mentors that in order to properly interpret a text you have to **compare scrpture with scripture**. This means you have to look at the text in quesiton and also look outside of that text to other texts that speak of the same subject. When I went to seminary we were told the same thing, by people with Ph.D’s who had written published books and articles sometimes on the interpretation of a particular passage. After this experience I thought that all educated and intelligent Chritians knows this principle and practice this principle when interpreting a particular text.

If you look at the video you find that Leighton Flowers clearly understands this principle and tried to apply it during the debate (i.e. he went outside of Romans 9 to compare scripure with scripture). In contrast James White suggests that we stay with **only** the text of Romans 9 and go verse by verse and we do not go outside the text to compare scripture with scripture. In other words White is denying the principle of comparing scripture with scripture. And there are good reasons for this on White’s part. HIs false interpretation of Romans 9 is only possible if you limit your focus on the text of Romans 9 if you ignore or minimize what other texts say about what is presented in Romans 9. White does not even go to texts in Romans 10 and 11 (when Romans 9-11 function as a unit). I have heard that other calvinists have also chided Flowers for going outside the text to establish the meaning of the Romans 9 texts.

If this is so, and if what White does is the best they can do, then the “interpretive war” is over, the calvinists have lost. If they can only maintain their false interpretation of Romans 9 by discarding and even arguing against the interpretation principle of comparing scripture with scripture, then they’ve lost the war. This will be especially apparent to other faithful Bible teachers who know and understand the importance of comparing scripture with scripture.

This is why the Bereans were commended in scripture: even though the apostle Paul came to town and shared things with them, they said that no matter what anybody says, it still needs to be evaluated and tested by scripture and that includes comparing scripture with scripture. At one time in my past I used to preach a sermon once a year that I titled: “Be a Berean.” I spent the whole time getting across this mentality that the Bereans had, that they checked it out from scripture even when it was the apostle Paul! LIke the Bereans we want our people to have the same mentality. No matter who it is, no matter what they say, always check it out by scripture and always do so by comparing scripture with scripture.

    Mark Sorenson

    That sounds interesting but in Romans 9, Paul is using Old Testament scripture to explain why the word of God has not failed. It is necessary to , at a minimum, try and understand his arguments on this key question. The 300 pages John Piper devotes to this question has yet to be addressed seriously by any Arminian. And Piper was an Arminian in seminary briefly. The specifics of this doctoral dissertation are mind blowing and life changing.



      Leighton Flowers did deal with this issue of the fact that God’s Word at not failed, though to some it might appear that way since the majority of Jews in the first century had rejected Christ.

      Regarding John Piper’s book THE JUSTIFICATION OF GOD which earlier was his thesis at Fuller, Piper like James White in the debate with Flowers makes the same mistake (i.e. Piper tries to interpret Romans 9 by looking at Romans 9 and not dealing with Romans 10 and 11, Romans 9-11 function as a unit). One of the major failures of Piper’s book is that he only took a part of Romans 9 to discuss, but the later verses in Romans 9, verses Piper completely neglects and does not deal with, and yet they are critical to understanding Romans 9. This is yet another perfect example of failure to compare scripture with scripture (in this case Piper even fails to even compare scripture with scripture within even the chapter itself! If I had and others in my seminary had engaged in this kind of “exegesis” we would all have failed. John Piper’s book from an exegetical standpoint is a failure. From a propaganda standpoint is it is quite good as he presents the calvinist view very well. HIs propaganda obviously worked well with you as you view it as “mind blowing and life changing.” For others it is mind blowing all right, it is mind blowing that someone could fail in their exegesis to this extent.

      Andrew Barker

      Mark Sorenson: I came across quotes from NT Wright the other day and he’s also very much in the same vein as Leighton. This might also explain why Piper was openly critical of the stance taken by Wright, particularly with respect to seeing Romans 9 in a more Jewish context. Piper was also calling for his ‘followers’ to not look outside the text to see what the true meaning was. This is remarkably similar to the stance taken by James White in his so called exegesis of Rom 9.

      White and Piper both want to strip Rom 9 of its Jewish context and see it simply in terms of individual and personal salvation. Exegesis is not meant to constrain, for the sake of it, but to provide a structured way of assessing the true meaning of any given passage. To me it should progress from the level of verse to surrounding verses, chapter, book, rest of the Bible and then be seen in the light of the sociopolitical climate if necessary. What White ends up with is half truths. He knows we are chosen, but doesn’t correctly understand how we are chosen. He knows God is like a potter, but White thinks that gives God the right to choose some for salvation and others not. Whereas earlier Rom 2:5-11 makes it abundantly clear that God is totally impartial in salvation. He draws wrong conclusions precisely because he ignores the context when exegeting the text. That is, at least, how I see it.


        ” … so called exegesis of Rom 9.”

        Dr. White’s delivery was eloquent eisegesis, not exegesis. If White, Piper, et al can trap you in Romans 9 by excluding the whole counsel of God, they own you. Flowers had enough spiritual sense not to fall in the trap. An objective Christian (from another denomination, without a dog in SBC’s fight) could easily see which man exercised more humility, grace, and life. The fruit of the Spirit carried the day.


        Andrew, you might find this interesting:


        “Paul’s Christian theological reflection begins, I suggest, from within exactly this
        matrix of thought, with the realization that what the creator/covenant god was supposed
        to do for Israel at the end of history, this god had done for Jesus in the middle of history.
        Jesus as an individual, instead of Israel as a whole, had been vindicated, raised from the
        dead, after suffering at the hands of the pagans; and this had happened in the middle of
        ongoing “exilic” history, not at its end. This by itself would have been enough, I think, to
        propel a Jewish thinker to the conclusion that Jesus had somehow borne Israel’s destiny
        by himself, was somehow its representative. When we add to this the early Christian
        belief in Jesus’ messiahship, and Paul’s own exposition of this theme, there is every
        reason to suppose that Paul made exactly this connection, and indeed made it central to
        his whole theology. The creator/covenant god has brought his covenant purpose for Israel
        to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah, Jesus.6 The task I see before us now is
        to show how the actual argument of Romans, the “poetic sequence” of the letter, relates
        to this underlying “narrative sequence,” that is, the theological story of the creator’s
        dealings with Israel and the world, now retold so as to focus on Christ and the Spirit.”

        Thing is, I don’t think Romans was ever meant to be a systematic theology. Perhaps we might understand it better if we try to think like newly converted pagans trying to understand Judaism and where they fit in to this Christian thing. :o)

          Andrew Barker

          Thanks Lydia :) NT Wright describes himself as Reformed, but he’s probably more in the mode of my local vicar who also says he’s Reformed, but flatly denies any such thing as double predestination. (I’m working on him :) )


            Andrew, Are you in CofE?


            Andrew, I once heard Wright describe himself as a good Calvinist then went on to teach our part in sanctification. :o)

              Andrew Barker

              Lydia: Nearly! Born and bred open brethren but now live in Wales which is rather devoid of strong evangelical witness. The family now attend Church in Wales which is of course Anglican. CinW disestablished long ago. Current it is going through a debate on whether to adopt same sex marriage. If it does, our vicar will be out of a job and we will all be looking for a new church!

          Scott Shaver



        Listen to the debate. White repeatedly said that there are corporate aspects to Romans 9 similar to what Flowers was saying. His charge was that it was not only corporate but also individual. He didn’t deny that at all.

          Andrew Barker

          Joe: The debate is not whether election is corporate or individual. That is actually jumping the gun a bit. The underlying difference is whether or not people are elected by God’s choice and His choice only or whether we become elect through exercising our own God given wills and making that free choice.

          My own view is that God does not choose beforehand who will be saved. Nobody is ‘elected unto salvation’ so the question of whether this is individual or corporate doesn’t arise as such. The way I read scripture is that individuals make a choice and they become part of the elect. They do this essentially as individuals BUT the whole concept of an elect implies there is a body of people who make up this elect. So individual Christians become part of a corporate body, the church. This is shown in Paul’s writings where on the one hand he says “the Son of God who loved me, and gave himself for me” ….. rather individualistic you might say, but also he states that “Christ gave himself for the church” which shows the corporate nature of salvation?

      David (NAS) Rogers

      While the cost is prohibitive for most, Brian Abasciano’s three volume work “Paul’s Use of the Old Testament in Romans 9: An Intertextual and Theological Exegesis” does give a serious analysis of Romans 9 and arrives at some different conclusions than Piper.


    While it is true that we should compare scripture with scripture that is not where we start. We have to be able to understand what the text is saying before we can compare to things that speak on the same subject. This debate shows that the subject matter that is at stake is the major disagreement. Is this election unto salvation or election unto service is the main distinction that separates the two debaters. You will also see it in the way they would utilize other passages. Neither rejects the principle you are talking about, they understand the base text differently and so the peripheral texts they use to compare it to are different. That is why White wanted to stay on point. You start at the center (the text at hand) and work your way out starting with close context and moving outward from there.


      You state that “We have to be able to understand what the text is saying before we can compare to things that speak on the same subject”.

      Joe where did you learn this? Who taught you this principle?

      I ask because the principle you declare here is false. You cannot understand what the text is saying first, in isolation from other texts WHEN THE TEXT IN QUESTION contains quotations or references or allusions from other biblical texts.

      And that is precisely the case with Romans 9 texts (throughtout the text of Romans 9 Paul literally cites other texts). If this is true, and it is true of Romans 9 then how could you properly understand the text of Romans 9 by interpreting the text in isolation or without considering the other biblical texts that the text itself cites?

      Perhaps this is not clear in Romans 9, so let’s take a more clear illustration of this principle. If you just randomly opened to some text in the book of Revelation and told yourself that I am going to understand this text in Revelation first, in isolation from, without considering any other biblical texts. You would never get any text in Revelation right if that is what you did. Fact is, the book of Revelation has more quotations or references or allusions to other biblical texts than any other book in the Bible. No, in order to properly interpret/exegete Revelation you would have to compare scripture with scripture and in doing so you would arrive at the proper interpretation of that text in Revelation. The same is true of the texts in Romans 9.

      If you don’t know the Old Testament texts on the potter and the clay for example you will not get or properly understand the references to these texts that Paul makes. If you don’t know OT history of Israel, you will not understand the points that Paul makes in Romans 9 that directly deal with the history of the Jewish people. Another thing that you miss if you tried to start with Romans 9 alone first, is that the structure of the book of Romans is cyclical. In other words, Paul will mention a point early on in the book of Romans and then later come back and develop these points further in later texts in the book of Romans. A perfect example of this is the objections that Paul brings up in Romans 9: they are first mentioned in Romans 3. If you don’t know what he said about these objections in Romans 3 which occurred 6 chapters before Romans 9: how are you going to properly interpret these same objections when they appear in Romans 9?

      Your principle of starting with the text in isolation is not good biblical interpretation/exegesis nor is it to be recommended. And that is again precisely why White’s interpretive method in the debate was not biblical exegesis but eisegesis. It is sad that you agree with this defective interpretive method. Leighton Flowers in contrast did attempt to interpret in the correct manner. And White chided him on this and other calvinists have done so as well: this does not demonstrate that their interpretation is preferable or better: it shows they are not practicing proper exegesis of biblical texts.

Jim P

Prof. Flowers did address Romans 9 in seeing the cooperate aspect of Israel election. That is much of the focus of the book and yes, much of Paul’s letters are defending the entrance of the gentiles in God’s work as equal with Jews. That was not in the thinking of the Jewish mind, also the gentile mind. At the same time, Paul needed to convince the gentiles that the Jews do hold a privileged position in God’s plan and they have no right to feel arrogant toward them because of their present hardness. The focus is hardly individual election.

Forcing something into what Paul is laboring trying to explain, distorts the clarity of his work. Man’s bent on being big-shots gets in the way of appreciating God’s work and then being a part of that work.

mark sorenson

Paul sites the verse found in the context of Exodus, Chapter 32 thru Chapter 34, “l have mercy on whom I have mercy and I have compassion on whom I have compassion” as an explanation of God’s righteousness in Romans 9. The use of that Old Testament verse in that way of the explaining God’s righteousness has driven scholars crazy for centuries. Piper diplomatically introduces the arguments from both sides in exhausting detail. The failure in this thread to recognize this life changing fact is heart breaking.

Yes, you can go outside the text to Romans 10,11 or wherever but you simply must deal initially with the text in Romans 9 and what point it is that Paul is trying to make. The reformed position (which includes Piper and White) is the unbridled freedom of God to be the means and the ends of salvation and compatible reprobation.

mark sorenson


I listened to Yarnell. He briefly mentions Exodus 33:19 only stating that the verse confirms the mercy of God but not the wrath of God. Therefore it does not answer the question of why verse 15 is supposed to answer Paul’s previous question about the righteousness or unrighteousness of God in verse 14. In other words, the immediate context of conversation leading up to and including verses 14 and 15 are not even addressed.

The question remains; How does verse 15 answer the question regarding the ‘righteousness’ of God. It is precisely this question and the attempt to answer this question that has been the topic of true scholarly debate.


    In the text, Paul is expanding rather than limiting who can be saved. Consider that while this may be congruent with the conclusions of Calvinist, it does not prove that paradigm which must be read into the text before it can be found there.

    “The problematic, then, with which Paul is wrestling is how God’s chosen people the Jews could fail to obtain the promise of salvation while Gentiles, who were regarded by Jews as unclean and execrable, could find salvation instead. Paul’s answer is that God is sovereign: He can save whomever He wants, and no one can gainsay God. He has the freedom to have mercy upon whomever He wills, even upon execrable Gentiles, and no one can complain of injustice on God’s part.” – William Lane Craig

Eric Nixon

Chapter and verse marks are extra-biblical and are their for the benefit of helping us keep together as we read and study together. Understanding that Romans was a singular letter, how is it that chapter 8 has bearing on chapter 9 and yet chapters 10 and 11 are to be separated from chapter 9 as if they have no bearing on the whole of the letter as chapter 9 does. I am simply trying to understand the logic behind this concept of hermeneutics.


    Exactly. Chapter 9 is why Paul can go on to say in Chapter 10 that “There is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and bestows his riches upon all who call upon him. For everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved'”


I think the question of Romans 9 boils down to this: Are you going to look at soteriology in the scope of Romans 9 from a God-centered perspective or a man-centered perspective. Listen, all misnomers and misrepresentations aside, there are many respectable Bible scholars on either side of this issue. However, if I’m going to lean a certain way on this issue, I’m going to lean God’s way not man’s way. I believe the most consistent view of Romans 9 with the rest of the scriptures from a God-centered perspective is to view Romans 9 as most non-extreme Calvinists do. God is sovereign and I would gladly submit to that over submitting to a man-centered view of salvation.

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