Paul’s use of “called”
So let’s take a fresh look at Paul’s use of “called,” which is surely informed by the prophetic use of the word.
(Rom 1:5-6 NASB) through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake,6among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ;
The Christians in Rome are “the called of Jesus Christ” among the Gentiles. Notice it’s not “you have been called” but “you are the called.” “Called” is a status in this passage (the NIV misses this but the NASB gets it right). Just so in —
(1 Cor 1:24 NASB) but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
— “called” is again a status, not a verb. And then there’s —
(Rom 9:7 ASV) neither, because they are Abraham’s seed, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called.
Isaac’s seed was “called,” not because they would be issued an invitation they would irresistibly accept, but because they would be God’s covenant people (also 9:12).
Therefore, we might take “called” as referring to being brought into the covenant–
(Rom. 8:30) And those he predestined, he also [brought into the covenant]; those he [brought into the covenant], he also justified [=acquitted]; those he justified, he also glorified [=brought into God’s presence].
To test this theory, let’s try Romans 9 –
(Rom. 9:23-26) What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory– 24 even us, whom he also [brought into the covenant], not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
And consider when Paul uses “calls” in the present tense —
(Gal. 5:7-8) You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8 That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.
Well, “invites” refers to people not yet saved. Paul is speaking to the saved. But “brings you into the covenant” works fine. We are “called” because we’ve been grafted into the called community, the covenant community.
Now, Paul sometimes refers to individuals as “called” (as in 1 Cor 7), but the individuals were “called” when they were added to Israel, the covenant community.
Calvinism insists that God only calls the elect, and the elect are unconditionally chosen regardless of their works and their faith. It’s all God. There’s no human element to who is elect and who is not. It’s not arbitrary, but God hasn’t revealed his reasoning. But it has nothing to do with the goodness or willingness of those elected.
Therefore, those who are “called” are only those irresistibly elected — whom God has chosen and whom cannot resist God’s call — which is always effective.
I think this is mistaken. Rather, the meaning of “called” must be found in the covenant theology of Paul and the prophetic use of the word with respect to Israel. And Israel was elected by God. But it was the calling of a covenant community. Not all Israelites made it to heaven. Indeed, only a remnant became Christians and so remained a part of God’s covenant community.
If we don’t hear the Old Testament echoes in the word, we replace Paul’s covenant theology with interesting Augustinian metaphysics. I think even those who are Calvinists need to see these verses through the eyes of Paul as a Jewish rabbi working valiantly to bring the Gentiles into Israel and hoping that his beloved Jewish kinsmen would be provoked into jealousy — and accept Jesus.
Of course, it seems to me that the story — a key part of God’s story — is all about choice. The Jews made bad choices and Paul hoped to change some of their minds.
On the other hand, the old Calvinism/Arminianism debate is not a salvation issue, and many Calvinists behave like Arminians when it comes to evangelism and mission work — indeed, many are far more effective than many Churches of Christ. So theory notwithstanding, the result can be much the same.
Last note — while I obviously lean toward the Arminian side of the issue, I tend to actually find myself somewhere in between — as explained in the Third Way series.