Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty, Peter Sammons. Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic, 2022.
Summary: A carefully and biblically argued defense of the doctrine of reprobation, dealing with a number of misunderstandings of this doctrine.
Reformed theology takes the sovereignty of God as a starting place–God’s authority and power that accomplishes all things in accord with his will, for God’s pleasure. This includes election, the eternal, unconditional choice of all those who will be saved. Many struggle with this, even though most who affirm this also inform the importance of human choice. Far more difficult, and far less discussed in modern circles is the doctrine of reprobation. By this is meant, in the words of the author of this work “the eternal, unconditional decree of God for the non-elect. In this decree, he chooses to exclude the non-elect from his electing purposes of mercy and to hold them to the strict standards of justice to display the glory of his righteous wrath” (p. 47).
Stern stuff indeed. Because of this, it is not believed by many, or taught even by those who believe it. Peter Sammons believes and teaches reprobation as a integral part of Calvinism and mounts a defense of this doctrine in this volume. For Sammons, reprobation properly understood is not hyper-Calvinism but simply Calvinism.
Key to his argument is a careful study of Romans 9, which spans four chapters of this book. He sees it as explaining why not all believe, although humans know who is elect or reprobate, that reprobation is pretemporal and unconditional, it is not based on foreknowledge of actions, God hardens and shows mercy to whom God wishes, yet God’s decrees do not nullify human responsibility.
He goes on to define a number of key terms, parts of election, perhaps the most importance of which is ultimacy. Double ultimacy contends that God directly intervenes in the hearts of both the elect and the non-elect, a position Sammons associates with hyper-Calvinism and argues makes God the author of sin. He argues for single ultimacy, the direct work of God in the elect and the indirect work through secondary causes in the non-elect. He distinguishes predestination from fatalism and Islamic predestination and argues the impossibility of single predestination (election only) as inconsistent with the character of God. He addresses the arguments against reprobation of its unfairness and that it makes God the author of evil.
As noted earlier, Sammons argument for both the justice of God’s decrees of reprobation and the significance of human choices hinges on a careful discussion of causality–of God as primary and ultimate causality but of secondary proximate and efficient causes. As a particular case, he considers the causality of hardening. He concludes the work with a plea to teach this doctrine as one aspect of revealing the “grandeur of our great God.”
I found the logic of the theological argument more persuasive than the discussion of Romans 9. I am not convinced that you can base the election or reprobation of individuals on the basis of Jacob and Esau and God’s choice of the progenitor of the chosen people in a physical sense. The destiny of people groups, Israel and the Gentiles are the concern of Romans 9-11. That said, I will not be the one who will say what God can and cannot do. Nor do I feel the need to be God’s press agent, putting God’s best foot forward, as it were.
I have seen this doctrine caricatured and treated dismissively. It has been poorly articulated. If you care about such things, Sammons offers a careful, detailed argument that deals with objections and other views. This is a substantive work and not a caricature and those who would deny reprobation need to respond to works like this, or those of the great Reformers.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
3 thoughts on “Review: Reprobation and God’s Sovereignty”
Thank you for posting this review. Perhaps some of your issues with the treatment of Romans 9 have been addressed remarkably well in John Piper, The Justification of God: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Romans 9:1-23, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993, 1983); on desiring God at https://www.desiringgod.org/books/the-justification-of-god [accessed 21 JUN 2022]. The
endorsements of Piper’s book include the following:
“Written in an irenic spirit with a keen awareness and interaction with all significant scholarly studies on Romans 9. Theology aside, it is a work of scholarship in its own right and the best on Romans 9.”
– G. K. Beale, Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary
“I find The Justification of God the most compelling and forceful exposition of Romans 9:1-23 that I have ever seen.”
– Richard Muller, Professor , Calvin Theological Seminary
“Piper leads one through complex exegetical issues, engaging important literature fairly, summarizing the arguments frequently, and stating his conclusion (and warrants) clearly.”
– Leander Keck, Emory University
“Even for non-Calvinists Piper’s work is too carefully reasoned and stays too close to the text to be ignored.”
– David G. Dunbar, President, Biblical Theological Seminary
Also, I recommend Martin Luther’s Bondage of the Will as another supplement to Sammons’ work due to Luther’s historically significant treatment of contingency versus non-contingency in the mind and decree of God. For those unfamiliar with Peter Sammons he serves as Assistant Professor of Theology at The Master’s Seminary where he earned his M.Div. (2011), Th.M. (2012), and his Ph.D. (2017). His dissertation was published as Peter Sammons, Reprobation: from Augustine to the Synod of Dort: The Historical Development of the Reformed Doctrine of Reprobation, Reformed Historical Theology 63 (Göttingen Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2020). He is also director of academic publications at The Master’s Seminary and managing editor of The Master’s Seminary Journal.
Pingback: The Month in Reviews: June 2022 | Bob on Books