Arminian Today

A Gospel Centered Arminian Blog

Posts Tagged ‘Foreknowledge

Our View of God

I saw this statement floating around several Calvinist sites.  It reads:

God is glorified in the salvation of His people, and He is also glorified in the just condemnation of the wicked.

Now at just a reading of this, I have no problem with it.  It is true!  Those who repent and are saved are His people (1 Timothy 4:10) and God is glorified through saving them.  The opposite is true as well.  Those who reject the Lord Jesus and reject His salvation, these two glorify His name because they will bow their need and confess that He is Lord as well (Philippians 2:5-11; Revelation 20:11-15).  None will escape the judgment of our God (Hebrews 9:27-28).  Those who go to hell go there because of their own sinfulness and their own rejection of the truth of God (Romans 1:18-32; 2:7-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:10).  John 3:18 reads:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

The error that Calvinists make about this statement is that they are meaning that God is sovereign in His choosing whom He will save and in whom He will condemn.  They see this as God glorifying His name either way.  God is glorified when He acts to save by His unconditional electing and irresistible grace to salvation of His elect (notice “His people” which typically means “His elect”) and the Calvinist reasons that God is also glorified in His just condemnation of the wicked.

The problem is not in the glory of God.  The problem is in the reasoning.  If election is based on a condition then those who meet the condition that God has established are saved and bring Him glory  The condition in Scripture is faith and repentance.  This is contrasted to works in Romans 4.  Works can never produce eternal salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).  What we do does not earn God’s perfect righteousness.  This is a gift given to those who have faith and repentance that is wrought in us by the aid of the Holy Spirit (John 6:44).  I have no problem teaching that salvation is a gift or that faith is a gift or that repentance is a gift since all of these only come to sinful mankind by the goodness of God (Romans 2:4).

The problem I do have is when we begin to discuss God’s glory in the condemnation of the wicked.  I understand the condemnation and I agree with it.  However, Calvinism seeks to establish that God is glorified in His just punishment of sin even though the wicked are simply doing what God elected for them to do.  Some Calvinists teach that God simply “passes over” the non-elect (this seems to be the view of John MacArthur).  God does not actively harden the non-elect and in fact, some Calvinists argue that He loves them to a degree by giving them this world, this life, the air they breathe, etc.  Yet Calvin was clear that God does harden the non-elect.  Calvin even taught that God will allow some to think they are elect only to condemn them on the day of judgement.

Calvin wrote:

“I am aware it seems unaccountable to some how faith is attributed to the reprobate, seeing that it is declared by Paul to be one of the fruits of election; and yet the difficulty is easily solved: for though none are enlightened into faith, and truly feel the efficacy of the Gospel, with the exception of those who are fore-ordained to salvation, yet experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected in a way so similar to the elect, that even in their own judgment there is no difference between them.”

And then he wrote:

“Should it be objected, that believers have no stronger testimony to assure them of their adoption, I answer, that though there is a great resemblance and affinity between the elect of God and those who are impressed for a time with a fading faith, yet the elect alone have that full assurance which is extolled by Paul, and by which they are enabled to cry, Abba, Father. Therefore, as God regenerates the elect only for ever by incorruptible seed, as the seed of life once sown in their hearts never perishes, so he effectually seals in them the grace of his adoption, that it may be sure and steadfast. But in this there is nothing to prevent an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate. Meanwhile, believers are taught to examine themselves carefully and humbly, lest carnal security creep in and take the place of assurance of faith. We may add, that the reprobate never have any other than a confused sense of grace, laying hold of the shadow rather than the substance, because the Spirit properly seals the forgiveness of sins in the elect only, applying it by special faith to their use. Still it is correctly said, that the reprobate believe God to be propitious to them, inasmuch as they accept the gift of reconciliation, though confusedly and without due discernment; not that they are partakers of the same faith or regeneration with the children of God; but because, under a covering of hypocrisy, they seem to have a principle of faith in common with them.”

Notice that Calvin even asserts that there is “an inferior operation of the Spirit from taking its course in the reprobate.”  Remember that reprobate are all non-elect.  Calvin is saying that the Holy Spirit works in the life of the non-elect to even give them false hope.  Notice that Calvin even writes that the reprobate “accept the gift of reconciliation” but are “under a covering of hypocrisy.”  The reprobate believes himself to be elect but Calvin says they are wrong and only the elect receive regeneration.

So God misleads the reprobate? For what purpose?  The Calvinist would say for His own glory.  This is why they read Romans 9:22 and see the vessels of destruction as the reprobate whom God sovereignly has not chosen.

I do believe in the justice of God.  I do believe that all people will stand before a holy God and apart from being clothed in Christ, they will not be saved.  I do believe the way to eternal life is narrow and hard (Matthew 7:13-14) and I believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) which is why we must preach the gospel to the lost (Matthew 28:19).  God certainly foreknows those who are His (Romans 8:29; 1 Peter 1:2) but I disagree that God is actively misleading people, condemning people apart from their sins.  Ezekiel 18:4 tells us that the soul that sins shall die.  Ezekiel 18:32 tells us that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked.  His desire is for us to turn and live.  This is done by the preaching of the gospel of His grace (1 Corinthians 1:21, 30-31; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14).

Now go and preach the gospel to all (Romans 11:32).

The Definite Plan of God and Free Will of Mankind

Acts 2:23 shows us both the definite plan of Almighty God and the freedom of mankind.  While God offered His Son according to His own purposes and plan, He also still held the people responsible who crucified the Lord of glory (Acts 3:13-15; 5:30; 7:52; 13:27-28; cf. Luke 22:22).  While this verse clearly shows the sovereignty of God in the giving of His Son, it does not speak of man’s relation to God nor of our individual salvation.  To read into Acts 2:23 “unconditional election” to personal salvation does not do justice to the text and is reading our theological notions into the words of Dr. Luke in Acts 2:23.

What we do see in Acts 2:23 is that God decreed that His Son would be given for the sins of the world.  Jesus died according to the definite plan of God.  However, the acts of evil men in killing the Son of God on the cross is their own acts that God will hold them accountable for.  To read into Acts 2:23 that God “caused” people to mistreat the Son of God and kill Him is misleading.  God foreknew all this because of His omniscience but He did not cause the evil acts no more than He did not cause the fall of mankind into sin.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things.  He controls all things and upholds all things by His own power (Hebrews 1:3) but He does not directly cause all things otherwise He would be guilty of sinning (James 1:12-15).  Furthermore, that God foreknows is not the same as cause.  Foreknowledge means that God knows beforehand.  God knows does not mean God causes.  That God knows evil acts will occur does not mean that He causes them.  Because He foreknows all things, He is able to take the evil acts of mankind done by their own sinful will and He is able to turn them for His own purposes and glory (Romans 8:28).  This is the case here in Acts 2:23 and with other passages such as Genesis 50:20.

Dr. Harry Ironside wrote about Acts 2:23 some good words:

Notice how two things come together here that often trouble thinkers among men.  First, God’s predetermined purpose and wicked man’s free will.  God had predetermined that His blessed Son was to come into the world and give His life a ransom for sinners.  But God had not predetermined that men should curse Him, spit upon Him, and heap every kind of indignity upon Him.  These things were of men’s godlessness led on by Satan.  Peter says, “God sent Him; God knew all that would take place; but you are responsible for your sins in that you laid hold of Him and with your wicked hands crucified and slew Him.

One point about this is that God did foreknow the evil acts of men toward His Messiah.  Notice in Psalm 22:16-18 how the Scriptures prophesy about how evil men would treat the Lord.  Further, Isaiah 53 points to the evil acts of men toward the Lord’s suffering Servant, our Savior.  God did foreknow all that be done to the Lord Jesus but He allowed these free acts to continue to fulfill His own decreed purpose, salvation to those who have faith in Him (John 3:14-18).

The twin truths of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility are clearly seen in this text.  God foreknows the evil acts of sinful men but He also has His own definite plan that will come to pass according to His own will.  What a mighty God we serve!

Jesus’ Foreknowledge and Causation

There are certain events in the ministry of the Lord Jesus that demonstrated that He foreknew them and that this shows He was God.  For instance, we read that Jesus knew that He would die on the cross (John 12:32), that He would die on the cross and details about His crucifixion (Mark 10:33-34).  Jesus knew that Judas would betray Him (John 13:18-27) and that Peter would deny Him (Mark 14:29-31).  He was able to read the thoughts of the Jews in Mark 2:8.  Clearly, Jesus was God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6).

Yet what is striking about these events is that Jesus did not cause them.  He foreknew them, such as the sin of Judas, but He did not make Judas sin.  He simply knew it would be.  The same is true of the Father’s foreknowledge of the death of His Son in Acts 2:23.  Peter states in Acts 2:23 that the Father knew this would happen and He planned it so but the text does not say that the Father caused the people to kill Jesus nor does Peter remove their own guilt in the death of Jesus.

There is a difference here.  To foreknow sinful acts is not the same as causing them.  That God foreknew the fall of Adam into sin is not questioned.  To say that God caused Adam to sin is a different position altogether.  Some hyper-Calvinists hold that God caused the fall.  He didn’t just foreknow the fall but He planned the fall and He rendered the event certain.  Many Calvinists hold that God renders all things to come to pass for His glory.  They point to passages such as Ephesians 1:11 which says, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.”  They point to that underlined phrase saying that God renders all things certain for His glory.  As R.C. Sproul likes to say, “If there is one rebel molecule in the universe, God is not sovereign.”  This is because Sproul believes that sovereignty must mean total control of all things.

Arminianism holds that God is sovereign but this sovereignty is not defined as omnicausality.  God foreknows all things but He does not cause all things to be rendered certain otherwise this makes Him guilty of sin.  How could it not?  If God caused Adam to sin or caused Hitler to destroy people in the Holocaust, even if by secondary causes, this still makes God the ultimate decision maker in deciding and rendering certain sinful acts.  In fact, all sin is ultimately to be laid at the feet of the God who causes all things to come to pass.

Yet if we hold that God created the world with a limited amount of freedom of the will then we see that suffering is the direct result of sin and not God.  We live in a fallen, sinful world (Romans 8:20-22) and so this world is full of despair and despondency.  Sin abounds all around us.  Is this the act of God?  No!  Scripture is clear that God does not sin nor does He tempt anyone to sin (James 1:12-15) but the primary cause of all suffering and pain and hardships is laid at the feet of us.  As the Catholic thinker G.K. Chesterton put it, “The problem with the world is me.”  Our sin and our free will decisions to rebel against God lead to the evil that abounds around us.

This view does limit God.  I acknowledge that.  I believe that God limits Himself.  He could have created a world where He caused all things but He did not.  He created Adam and Eve with free will and gave them His commands (Genesis 2:16-17) to which they freely chose to rebel (Genesis 3:11).  Our free will now is tainted by sin and by our sinful natures that we inherit from Adam our father.  The only hope for us is the gospel and the work of the Spirit through the gospel.  Our free will is corrupted by sin and we cannot choose God.  We would not.  We dare not.  We hate God in our sinful natures (Romans 3:10-18).  We need the intervention of the grace of God to set us free from sin and its powers (Titus 2:11-14).  None of us will freely choose God and thus why we need the Holy Spirit to draw us to salvation through the gospel (John 6:44-45; Acts 16:14-15; 1 John 4:10).  We Arminians believe this work of the Spirit is called prevenient grace and this enables us to believe and be saved.

Yet we stop short of making God the direct cause of all things.  He is sovereign even when He does not cause sin or the free sinful acts of mankind.  No doubt God sees all things and He foreknows all things but He does not make people rebel against Him.  He allows them to continue in their rebellion all while reaching out to them with the cross (Matthew 22:1-14).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/25/2012 at 10:07 AM

Open Theism and Moral Government Theology

It is not surprising that many proponents of open theism are also supporters of moral government theology.  In fact, prominent MGT teachers the late Gordon Olson and Winkie Pratney also hold to a similar view of an open view of God that is found in the writings of open theists such as Greg Boyd or Clark Pinnock.  A MGT evangelist that I follow in Facebook also often promotes open theism with various posts on Facebook questioning the traditional view of God and the future.

MGT teacher Gordon Olson held that the future is partly open and because MGT requires complete free will of humans, even God does not know our future free will decisions.  Otherwise, how could they be free?  Greg Boyd questions the power of prayer and evangelism if in fact the future is already settled by God.  How could prayer be powerful if God has already determined to do something apart from the free will decisions of men?

Winkie Pratney also follows Olson in that he teaches that free will effects God.  God makes adjustments to His plans based partly on the free will decisions of men.  Pratney points to the example of the sickness of Hezekiah (as does Boyd) in Isaiah 38:1-4 or the case of Jonah.  Both Olson and Boyd point to God’s testing of Abraham in Genesis 22:1 and the angel’s reply to Abraham in Genesis 22:12 as proof that God was seeing what He could not see in the heart of His servant.

Why is open theism so prominent among MGT proponents?  It is because of the MGT insistence that man was created with free will and that after the fall of man, man does not receive a sinful nature and are not totally depraved.  No doubt we are sinners (Romans 3:23) but we are sinners because we choose to sin against God.  Sin is a complete choice that even sinners can make to not sin.  Sinners then do not sin because of their nature to sin but because they choose freely to sin.  Even in our fallen state, we can still choose not to sin.  This radical view of man’s nature leads to the belief that man can thus freely, at any time, choose to reject sin and accept Jesus Christ and His sacrifice for sins.  Jesus’ death on the cross makes our salvation possible but we must freely choose to accept the work of Christ for our sins.

The Arminian view is that we are totally depraved.  Our total depravity means that we are not only sinners by choice but by nature as well.  Fallen humanity can not freely choose, apart from the grace of God, to become Jesus’ disciples.  We need the aid of divine grace to save us.  Where we differ with Calvinism is that we believe that God does not force people to repent of their sins.  He draws them.  He convicts them.  But He does not force people (or drag them) to salvation in His Son (John 1:12-13).  The work of salvation, however, from beginning to end is the work of God.  He saves sinners who believe in His Son (1 Corinthians 1:21).  God sovereignly knows those who will believe (Romans 8:29-30) through His foreknowledge (1 Peter 1:2).  The elect become those who in Jesus (1 Timothy 4:10).

Both Arminianism and Calvinism do not hold to open theism.  While some open theists seek to claim Arminianism they would do so going against the teachings of Arminius.  We shall look more at that at a later time.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

08/06/2011 at 11:14 PM

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