I’m not familiar with Setterfield’s work, so I did a little poking around this morning. It seems that he hasn’t done as much original research as much as he has taken the results of many other scientists’ research and compiled them. I think that this article http://www.hope-of-israel.org/light.htm highlights the main points, but part two in the article by Hugh Ross may be the reason that Setterfield’s ideas haven’t gain more traction.
The interview with Megan Phelps is very interesting. I won’t be able to give you a full analysis of everything that is going on there (like some serious historical confusion about the Dead Sea scrolls and Constantine’s influence on scripture, and a Christian sub-culture that doesn’t allow asking questions, etc), but let me throw out a few things to ponder about this section of Romans.
One question is how Paul and Megan look at the exact same passages and come to exactly different places on the justice of God. There is a sense in which ‘who are we to ask?’ is valid from an authority perspective, but God always welcomes our questions from the relational perspective and I don’t think what God is saying here is, “It is what it is, deal with it.”
People coming to Phelps’ conclusion often approach Roman 9-11 as if it were entirely about personal salvation. Given the overall structure and nature of the book and the numerous references to Israel, Jews, and Gentiles, I believe a lot more is going on here.
In chapter 9, Paul is speaking to the Jewish Christians that, as the chosen people of God, are trying to grapple with Gentile inclusion into the people of God. The same thing is happening in Ephesians, notably chapter two. Anyway, 9:6 “It is not as if God’s word has failed” about all the promises to Israel. Paul says, “think about it, it has more to do with faith and promises than genetics and works” v6-9. This isn’t new, God has always operated in a counter-intuitive way. Before Jacob and Esau were born it was said “The older will serve the younger.” Please note: Phelps and a lot of other Christians miss this because of the placement of the verse. God did not say that He hated Esau before he was born. That is a reference to Malachi 1:2-3 about an event when the nation of Edom gloated over Israel’s misery and didn’t help them. The entire book of Obadiah addresses this national conflict. So you can see here, that if this is about personal salvation, a verse about the conflict and relationship between people groups is a bit odd here. The average Jew should have been thinking, “That’s messed up that the younger brother gets the blessing.” However, because of a really poor choice on Esau’s behalf that is exactly what happened. Scripture teaches both that God foreknew this, and that Esau would make a poor choice on his own. Christian Jews might say, “How is it that the Gentiles get part of our inheritance and birthright?” Paul: “In the same way that Jacob did. Esau had the right and in God’s great mercy Jacob received the inheritance. The point is, including the Gentiles, though it wasn’t their right, is a function of God’s mercy and is totally in keeping with how he has operated in the past. So is God unjust? No, He is just far more merciful than you thought (v15).”
Here is another example. Did Pharaoh get to be Pharaoh because he was awesome? No. In the conflict of power (see Exodus 9) God says, “I’m the one that put you in the place of power that you are in.” Interesting that in Ex 9:17 it says ‘in order to show my power to you” in Ro 9:16 it is quoted as “power in you.” Either way, God is going to save the lowly (the Israel slaves) and reject perhaps the mightiest man on the planet. In Exodus 4 God tells Moses that He will harden Pharaoh’s heart, in Exodus 9 it says that Pharaoh hardened his heart. (Same pattern as with Esau, God saw the choice they would make before they were even thinking about it).
[Side note: (Hardness of heart is not necessarily a permanent position that necessarily leads to damnation. The disciples were rebuked for hard heartedness in MK 16:14.)]
The point of God’s hardening was not for the damnation of Pharaoh, though it may have led to that, but for the salvation of hundreds of thousands of people. The disciples were kept from understanding what Jesus was really up to so that they would not force him to be a merely local king, so that Christ could fulfill His role as savior of the world. Paul sees this sort of thing as mercy, not as judgement, and is proving to Israel that their God has always operated with them as He now is with the Gentiles.
V19-21 Is Phelps’ question. If we don’t see the choice that was involved in the earlier examples that Paul gave, then we will answer the question “Who resists His will?” as, “No one.” On the other hand if we allow for actual human freedom, as it seems scripture does at many places, then we see that God blames us for things that we have actually done, not wrong things that He set us up to do, though He knew about it and planned for it, and uses it.
The quote about who are we to talk back to God is from Isaiah 29:16 where God is chastising Israel because their hearts are far from Him (v13).
In v22 he makes a case about objects of wrath and objects of mercy. We must remember that according to Eph 2:3 we are ALL by nature objects of wrath, so even in the harshest possible case it isn’t as incredible that God allows some to be condemned as it is that He saves some.
But again, the big point Paul is making here is that God planned for the Gentiles to be included. He starts proof texting from Hosea and Isaiah.
The scandal here is not that God’s election is exclusive, but that it is far more inclusive than the Jews thought.
V30 starts to tie everything together. “What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith;
31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
32 Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. (Rom 9:30-32 ESV)
Would God include a younger son? Sure. Would God include the Gentiles? You bet, because it is entirely consistent with His just, merciful, and compassionate nature.
As a Gentile all I can say is, “Praise the Lord!”