Art Katz’s Agony and Ecstasy of Paul: Contradiction and election in Romans 11

Who do many Jews and “Messianic Jews” (followers of Yeshua) hate more than John Calvin and Martin Luther? Another Jew, a follower of Jesus, Art Katz. Art said that the Jewish Holocaust was a judgment of the Holy One of Israel on His people.

Art Katz. He could be my brother Benny's twin

I am not going to discuss the merit of Katz’s Holocaust argument (I’ve done that elsewhere ). What I’d like to talk about here is Katz’s “The agony and ecstasy of Paul in Romans 9-11.” The audio can be found here, and the video here. Here is Katz:

“The end of Romans 11 is the most magnificent peon of praise to God stated anywhere in the whole corpus of the Bible. There’s no greater ecstatic statement that stretches language to breaking than Paul’s spontaneous eruption at the end of his final statement in Romans 11. The man is staggered, he is reeling, his breath fails him, ‘oh the depth of the riches.’ What has he seen that he would exclaim something so ecstatically that defies language to comprehend. ‘For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.’ “

“If you trifle with this, if you think Paul is only employing a little bit of flourish and rhetoric, some stylistic thing to end his remarkable statement in Romans 11 with the glory of God forever because it has a nice lofty sound, you are condemned, you’re short-changing God, you’re crippling yourself…it’s the issue of the glory of God forever. If we miss what Paul is saying, why he’s ecstatic, why he concludes like that, we turn the word ‘glory’ into a piece of traffic, we make it a little convenient piece of verbalism that we can put into our choruses, our songs, talk, pray, but we don’t know what it means, it doesn’t pierce us through, we don’t understand the ultimacy of the word ‘glory,’ which is at the heart of a church which is church, its very purpose for being beyond any and other consideration, of any benefit that is derived from believing, the purpose pertaining to the glory of God…The church that is not jealous for the glory of God is not a church…it has lost its reason for being. The phrase ‘the glory of God’ defies every concept. We cannot summon humanly even an understanding let alone an appropriation of a phrase like ‘the glory of God forever.’ There is no way you can even aspire to it or consider it unless it is given to you by the grace of God. Isn’t it a remarkable contradiction that we cannot live for the jealousy of the glory except that God himself communicates the something of the substance and meaning and spirit of that word; that we are dependent upon Him even to catch some sense of the thing which is central to our own reason for being. That’s why he says,

‘of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.'”

” I plead with you that Paul is not going on a flight of fancy, getting poetic to bring a nice sounding lofty conclusion to a great epistle. This is the heart, the genius of what is apostolic…This is of Him.”

What a magnificent passage. It cuts deep into my soul. I need to catch my breath. I have, however, one criticism, which has to do with Katz’s “Isn’t it a remarkable contradiction that we cannot live for the jealousy of the glory except that God himself communicates the something of the substance and meaning and spirit of that word; that we are dependent upon Him even to catch some sense of the thing which is central to our own reason for being.” (My italics).

It’s only a contradiction for an Arminian, who is someone who believes that the human mind and human freedom in its natural state are not radically corrupt, and therefore has the ability to understand and to will the things of God before he is regenerated (born again). This Arminian view contradicts Romans 3:11 “There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God.” And, of course, Ephesians 2; we are dead in sin.

If the “we” in Katz’s “Isn’t it a remarkable contradiction that we cannot live for the jealousy of the glory except that God himself communicates… ” refers to the natural (unbelieving) man, then he’s right, of course. But, he wouldn’t be talking about Romans 11 (never mind in such staggering depth) with unbelievers.

Katz says that he uses the word “ultimate” often. Who, asks Katz, ever uses that word in the sense of “ultimate things?” Hardly a soul, Christian or not. As Katz points out, Christianity is ultimately about God’s glory. How I wish he could have understood not only that the election of Israel was a sovereign act of God totally independent of what Israel does or does not do (which he understands very well), but also that this same kind of sovereign election extends to all those the Father foreloved and as a result gave to the Son before the creation of the world. (See “The moment of decision Did you accept Christ before or after you were regenerated (born again)?”.

S Lewis Johnson, in his description of the purpose of election says that its ultimate purpose is the glory of God. Election has a near purpose our salvation. It has an intermediate purpose of a holy life. And it has an ultimate purpose the glory of God.” (See “Gods glory. And mans?”).

God’s glory is the ultimate rationale of His Being. Paris Reidhead says an astounding thing: the reason (rationale) for being – it’s not clear whether he includes God’s Being, yet it seems so – is: “Lamb that was slain receive the reward of your suffering.”

If the ultimate of God’s Being is His glory, then His ultimate purpose for man is sovereign choice of those whom He has elected. Could it be that God’s ultimate purpose for Himself is the election of man? If Paris Reidhead (above) is right, the ultimate of God’s glory are those he predestinated to eternal life: ”Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will… being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:5, 1:11). “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39). “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:44).

Katz says, correctly, that only by God’s grace can a Christian appropriate God’s glory (an appropriation that is always imperfect in this life, and perhaps in eternity as well). It is also true that only by God’s grace can the Gospel be understood, can election be understood. When grace appears, contradiction disappears, surely. Yet Katz says no. When grace appears, it makes no sense, on the one hand, to pray on your knees, “Lord please change his/her will,” yet when back on your feet you tell the person you prayed for, “God voted for you, the devil voted against you, and you have the final vote.” I’m biting my tongue.

I wish that Art Katz, and many other outstanding preachers like the Wesley brothers, and my favourite modern preacher, Paris Reidhead were not Arminians. (Listen to Reidhead’s ending to his “Ten Shekels and a shirt”, the most moving sermon I have ever heard). Charles Spurgeon says a regeneration that begins in the flesh (where the person who comes to Christ believes that he has the deciding vote in his coming) ends in the flesh. I struggle with Spurgeon’s conclusion that Art Katz and the Wesleys ended in the flesh. Not that this is the only thing I struggle with (indeed should struggle with); for example, the clear biblical teaching that God decrees to save some and pass others by is hard to understand: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 16 So then it is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shews mercy (Romans 9:15-16).

Someone has said this about Art Katz:

“Art portrayed a knowledge of God that few in contemporary times have fathomed or understood. Whether the subject was the future, necessary death and resurrection of the nation Israel, or Paul’s teaching on widows and slaves in the congregation, Art strived to represent ‘God as He in fact is, and not as we think Him to be.'”

Carl Trueman, in his “Luther’s Theology of the Cross” refers to Luther’s contrast between “theologians of glory” and “theologians of the cross.”

The ‘theologians of glory,’ says Trueman, are those who build their theology in the light of what they expect God to be like—and, surprise, surprise, they make God to look something like themselves. The ‘theologians of the cross,’ however, are those who build their theology in the light of God’s own revelation of himself in Christ hanging on the cross.”

I think we can and should break down the wall between these two kinds of theologians, for the God of glory is also the God of the cross. And that is what Art Katz has tried to show.

In “a silent grave in the middle of the north woods” of Minnesota lies the physical remains of Art Katz. Thank you, dear Art, for your passion for the Gospel and love for the crucified Christ that poured so ecstatically forth out of the abundance of your agonising heart. For it can be truly said of you, to live is Christ and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21).

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