Saturday, January 10, 2009

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Predestined to Write This?

Into almost every small group a little predestination must fall ... the topic will inevitably come up sooner or later.  Perhaps someone will identify themselves as a Calvinist, an Arminian, or something in between.  Often the issue is framed as a question of whether to believe in predestination or "free will".  Very often people will get very emphatic about this issue.  What you do depends in large part upon where you stand, of course, but you'll want to think through how you handle this issue.

For my part, I begin by framing the issue thus:
  1. Everyone who believes the Bible is true believes in predestination.  It's an explicitly biblical term.  The question is not whether you believe in it, but rather what you believe about it.
  2. The tension between predestination and free will is real, but exacerbated by the limits of our human understanding.  To many of us, to accept the idea of predestination would seem to reduce us to mere automatons.  To be sure there is mystery here, but choice is not a zero-sum game.  The Bible clearly teaches that God foreknew, predestined and then called me, but it also clearly places upon me the responsibility of choosing to "Repent and believe the good news."  God chooses, and I also choose ... both are true without diminishing the other, in the same way that my body occupies physical space without in any way reducing the amount of space left available for the omnipresent God to occupy.
  3. The topic of predestination is often discussed in Scripture within the context of our hope security as children of God.  We are to rest, to have joy, to have courage and great confidence, for the God of the Universe has committed Himself to us for all eternity--why should we fear or doubt?  
  4. In the place where the Bible deals most directly with the implications of this topic (Romans 9), the Apostle Paul ultimately responds to our objections with a rebuke:  "But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?"  Let's not let our natural curiosity devolve into impertinence.  There are limits to what we can ultimately comprehend about the eternal, infinite, almighty King.
  5. Rejecting predestination, on the other hand, doesn't resolve the issue of God's "fairness."  After all, some seem to get a better opportunity to receive Christ than others.  For example, the glorified Jesus Christ intercepted the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus in order that he might be saved, while many others throughout history have died having never heard the gospel at all.  Yet all will appear before God and be judged for their sins, for which all are held responsible.  Tearing the "predestination passages" out of our Bibles solves nothing with respect to this issue, and in fact confuses it further.
  6. Understanding God's sovereignty over our evangelism is tremendously liberating.  We don't need to fret over whether clumsy words or inefficient methods have cost someone a chance at salvation.  Instead, we can concentrate on honoring God by obeying Him and participating in His saving works, trusting Him for the results.
In the end, we must confess there is a perspective that we have, in which we fully experience our choices and are fully responsible for them.  Yet God has His own perspective, which we need to appreciate without letting it overwhelm or frustrate us ... by simply letting God be God, and being glad that He is in control.  Or as John Piper would express it:

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. In terms of how this affects the small group, what I've tried to do when tackling issues such as this one (or, for example, baptism), is to make sure the group understands if it is an essential issue or not. If someone in the group is a supralapsarianism, great; however, that stand is not essential to someone's salvation. While such discussions can be fun, I think it is important for a leader to make sure that these discussions on non-essential to salvation topics don't derail the fellowship and trust that has been built. As says the old quote: "In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity."

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  3. Thomas -- first of all, let it be said that anyone with the audacity to waltz into the Jailer's cell and toss around words like superlab ... super ... er, that super word you used qualifies you as a first-class poindexter. And I say that in love. :)

    That said, I'll agree with you in part. Ecumenical small groups generally don't need to get too wrapped up in, say, the modes of baptism or the various "millenialisms". On the other hand, there are opportunities to help people grow in grace, and I think reinforcing a proper view of God's sovereignty can be fruitful if handled with love, patience and biblical care.

    So while I wouldn't necessarily introduce a discussion on Romans 9 into my workplace lunchtime devotional, I think it's helpful to be prepared for the discussion when and if it comes up.

    This is a good and helpful discussion, I think.

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  4. The discussion about supralapsarianism reminds me of a story my pastor passed on (I think it may have originally come from R.C. Sproul)
    Scene: ordination board
    Board: Could you tell us whether you subscribe to supralapsarianism or to infralapsarianism
    Candidate: Certainly. If you tell me what they are, I'll tell you which one I believe in
    :)

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  5. Was I predestined to find this post?
    I can't say for sure that what I read will help me when I am confronted with a Calivinist zealot again, but I do know that denying "Free Will" exists in the Bible (as this calvinist did) just shows a lack of education and ability to maintain an argument. True, you won't find the words "Free Will" in any bible I have read, but the concept of our sinful nature is well documented and our human desire to follow that sinful nature, as many will concede = our Free Will.
    AND without our FREE WILL there is no reason for the Salvation that Christ provided by His sacrifice. It is leaving our sinful nature behind and accepting His Grace that defines the Gospel.
    IOW, God's omniscience does not obliterate our Free Will

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  6. The above appears to be an example of people talking past one another. Allow me to re-state my thesis: Yes, we fully experience freedom of will, and we are clearly held responsible for the exercise of that will. The mystery is that such freedom can co-exist with God's complete sovereignty over all things, which is also clearly taught in Scripture. I attempted to make these very points in #2, leaving me to wonder if the writer took the time to fully read my post before reacting to it.
    Moreover, any serious treatment of this issue must at some point deal with the more explicit text, whether Romans 8-9 or Ephesians 1.
    Grace and peace to you.

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  7. it is only a mystery if you belive God is not eternal. humans are temporal beings, ie. time surrounds us, we have history, we age, we die. God is eternal - he is the I AM. past, present, future are all the same thing to the one who lives outside of time.

    for sure if God is in time as we are then he MUST MAKE things happen. If he says the Seahawks lose to the Steelers then he must find referees willing to MAKE it so. it is indeed mysterious how the infinitely good and just God could do evil to accomplish what MUST happen. Good thing God is eternal.

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  8. Mark -- I appreciate your point on God not being "in time". That is certainly the case, and pivotal to understanding his relationship to His creation. However, we do need to be careful with terms. God will not, indeed cannot, "do evil", or He would cease to be good, and thus, cease to be Himself. 'When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed ...' (James 1:13-14)
    Rather we may say that God permits evil in His creation for His eternal purposes, yet He Himself is not tainted in any way by that evil. Just as he raised Pharaoh up for the very purpose of oppressing the Israelites, yet Pharaoh's decisions to oppress were his own.

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  9. jailer - be careful of what? re-read my second paragraph. it is obvious i do not believe God does evil. Calvinism puts God in he position of doing evil because their view of determinism has God as subject to time. in other words they project on to God what is normal of man. this idea, that God is the author of evil, is rightfully repugnant to calvinists so they are forced to resort to "mystery" to resolve the tension their bad theology creates.

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  10. Obviously I disagree with your characterization of Calvinism's view of "determinism". Moreover, I don't know any Calvinists who believe God is subject to time ... in fact, those I know believe precisely the opposite. However, let me rather deal with the question of mystery. I would say that mystery is entirely biblical:

    "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Is. 55:9)
    or
    "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (1 Cor 13:12)
    or
    "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!"

    What this says to me is that we must be willing to accept two equally biblical tenets: God's sovereign will and man's responsibility for his own choices. To man this may appear to represent paradox, but that is only because man (a sinful, finite creature himself) is subject to the limitations of his own understanding.

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  11. Jailer's comment that he doesn't know any Calvinists who believe that God is subject to time can be faulted only in that believing that would pretty much disqualify one for the name "Calvinist". Actually, it's plausible that it would disqualify him for membership in most serious theological camps: I think the truth that God CREATED time is pretty widely accepted in theology.

    As for the tension between predestination and free will, it may be helpful to notice that this sort of thing comes up in secular philosophy also: In logic, Goedel's famous result establishes that a logical theory cannot be proved consistent from within the theory. In mathematics, Bertrand Russell's paradox shows what happens when set theory tries to "swallow itself". Examples like these hint at how impossible it is for a creature to try to "comprehend" God.

    I've always liked the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith on God's decrees: "God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established." I think a plausible case can be made that the very end of that statement asserts that God CREATED FREEDOM.

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  12. Intrigued by Presbyter's comment that referenced Bertrand Russell's Paradox, I'll share a little investigation on Google, and some enlightenment by a brighter bulb. (I'll also throw in what I found about Goedel.) Russell's Paradox, it seems is as follows: Some classes (or sets) have themselves as members and others do not. Is the set of all sets that are not members of themselves a member of itself? If it is, then it is not, and if it is not, then it is. Whew! Presbyter seems then to be saying here, that any theory that would try to comprehend God, is much more ambitious than set theory trying to incorporate itself.
    Apparently Goedels most famous result was his incompleteness theorem, that stated formal theories cannot prove everything that is true... they are of necessity incomplete and the point would be that by His very nature, God must stand above any theory.
    Okay...what was I doing?...oh yeah, back to the laundry room.

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