Puritan Gems

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Christian "P" Word

Predestination: Just a cursory glance through the Scriptures will inevitably lead the reader to this word. Yet even the majority of those who view Scripture as the Word of God tend to dance around it. In their attempt to hold on to some semblance of human autonomy, the opponents of sovereign grace have cojured up several ideas in an attempt to redefine this term, or avoid it altogether:

1.) Predestined according to foreknowledge of faith.

According to the system of doctrine know as Arminianism, God predestines individuals based on His ability to look ahead through the portals of time and see who would believe in Christ and who would not. Those who hold this view focus on the word "foreknowledge" and attempt to wrest the word from it's biblical context and redefine it as a "pre-known mental ascent". However, the word "foreknowledge" is Scripture has a much different meaning. In Acts 2:23, the word is used in conjunction with God's "determinate counsel". In Romans 8:29, it refers to the elect, "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son". To view "foreknowledge" as mere mental ascent concerning the faith of a person does not work in this passage, since God also "foreknows" the reprobate in that sense as well. Rather, it can be defined more accurately defined as "divine favor". The same definition would apply to the term in Romans 11:2 and 1 Peter 1:1-2, referring in particular to the elect Israelites to whom God has granted salvation. 1 Peter 1:20-21, like Acts 2:23, uses the term to refer to Christ and to define His preordained work as the lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).

In contrast to the very popular interpretation, nothing is mentioned in Scripture about God predestining people based on a foreseen faith. In fact, by definition, this would not be predestination. It would be ratification, like a divine "stamp of approval" on the faith that we apparently must generate of our own resources. In scripture, God's foreknowledge always refers to people, never to their actions. God has determined who will believe (Acts 13:48), not determined on the basis of who would believe. This view requires that God must learn something about his own creation before he acts accordingly, and makes salvation a reward for the faith we've obtained, rather than by grace alone.

2.) Corporate predestination.

A newer, more covert theory suggests that God only predestines an abstract, impersonal entity of Christian believers, those who choose to be "in Christ" are the ones who are corporately predestined to salvation. According to this slick display of literary gymnastics, the phrase "in him" in Ephesians 1:4 does not refer to what Christ chose for us, but rather the position that we chose for ourselves in order to Christ to choose us. In other words, we choose to be in Christ, and based on that wise and nobel decision, God predestines us to that we should be holy and blameless before him.

"even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved." (Ephesians 1:4-6)
However, it is quite clear from the Scriptures that God predestines individuals (2 Timothy 2:19), not some abstract corporate entity. For, to what purpose was Christ death other than to provide actual atonement for His people, "that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29)?  This requires a particular and personal atonement, or else Christ could not have been assured of being the firstborn of many. In fact, it would have been quite possible for Christ to have died for nobody. The only possible answer would be to revert back to the "foreknowledge of faith" approach, which we have already shown to be both unbiblical and irrational.

3.) Optimistic Predestination

This view is common among Pelagianism and, to some degree, Open Theism. In this view, God predestines everyone to eternal life. In contrast, Satan predestines everyone to damnation, and we humans are left with the deciding vote. Such a view is nothing short of a denial of God's Sovereignty, and actually teaches that Satan plus man can overcome God's eternal decrees.

"Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases." (Psalms 115:3)
"The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!" (Psalms 33:10-12)
"all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?" (Daniel 4:35)
According to Job, Satan himself cannot act outside of God's will, much less aid us in ascending to Christ's throne and overturning his immutable decrees. Once again, this is not predestination, by definition.

4.) Just ignore it, it's not important. We can't understand it anyway.

For many who come face to face with the Biblical view of Predestination, this is the unfortunate option they go with. But one cannot be a herald of the whole counsel of God and ignore any part of Scripture, for it was given to us that we might have hope. If the Prophets and Apostles, inspired by the Holy Spirit, thought that this doctrine was important enough to teach us over and over again, who are we to say otherwise? As for the second charge, is it that predestination is really that hard to understand, or is it that we understand it all too well, and just don't like it? Our depraved nature loves to have authority that it doesn't deserve. Charles Spurgeon illuminates the real reason why Christians run from this doctrine.

"Men will allow God to be everywhere except on his throne. They will allow him to be in his workshop to fashion worlds and to make stars. They will allow him to be in his almonry to dispense his alms and bestow his bounties. They will allow him to sustain the earth and bear up the pillars thereof, or light the lamps of heaven, or rule the waves of the ever-moving ocean; but when God ascends his throne, his creatures then gnash their teeth; and when we proclaim an enthroned God, and his right to do as he wills with his own, to dispose of his creatures as he thinks well, without consulting them in the matter, then it is that we are hissed and execrated, and then it is that men turn a deaf ear to us, for God on his throne is not the God they love. They love him anywhere better than they do when he sits with his scepter in his hand and his crown upon his head. But it is God upon the throne that we love to preach. It is God upon his throne whom we trust." – CHARLES SPURGEON
The real reason why man rejects the idea of predestination is because our natures strive for autonomy.  We want to be in control, and it grates our sensibilities to find out that we are not.  "...apart from me you can do nothing."  (John 15:5).

So, having concluded that God predestines everything that happens without being contingent upon his own creation, the obvious question is, why do Christians pray and evangelize? After all, if God has already foreordained everything that comes to pass, wouldn't such exercises be an exercise in futility?

This type of questioning focuses on the fact that God ordains the ends, but ignores the fact that God ordains the means. God has determined who will believe (Acts 13:48), but He also has determined that these will be reached by the foolishness of preaching (1 Corinthians 1:21). Likewise, prayer is the means by which we "...may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding," (Colossians 1:9). In fact, it is the sovereignty of God that is the basis for the confidence we have in prayer. If God isn't absolutely sovereign, on what basis will we have such confidence? Maybe our prayers could be hindered by the "free will" of others. It is God's sovereignty that gives meaning to everything that happens in history, both good and evil, aside from which there could be no meaning at all.


Anonymous said...

Isaiah 55:8
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD

It is hard for us to accept things we don't understand and perhaps we are afraid of who (incl. us) may not have been chosen?

Puritan Lad said...

Having been on the other side, I'm familiar with that fear. However, such fear stems from a misunderstaning of election. It is God's election that is the basis for the confidence in our salvation, knowing that he predestined us to adoption. Otherwise, we are stuck with our own works as a basis for salvation, and that is a dead end.

Carol Noren Johnson said...

Yesterday my chiropractor, who read my book and asks me theological questions now, wanted to know what Calvinism is and between neck and back adjustments I didn't get there yet. (By the way, we are doing well after our crash in December.) The chiropractor's background is 7th Day Adventist, and I am pondering what to tell him to read. I just think Scripture which is so clear to me now on this topic, but found two books in my husband's library to loan him--one on the five points, and one Boettner's "The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination".

People do want to know. It makes God seem politically incorrect if He plays favorites.

Puritan Lad said...

Glad to hear you are doing well.

Boettner's book is excellent. I would also recommend John Owen's "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ". Not an easy read, but well worth the effort.

Anonymous said...

But we don't know who is predestined to adoption that's what I think people don't want to deal with, so they ignore it.