Why all the fuss about that predestination thing?

The purpose of this post isn’t to debate Arminian vs. Reformed vs. Middle Knowledge (or whatever hybrid / other version of orthodox Christianity you adhere to).  It is merely to point out that some of the rancor against Reformed theology* in the debate seems misplaced.

The Bible uses the word predestined many times (e.g., Ephesians 1:5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will), so the only question is what the word really means, in context.  But regardless of your definition, unless you subscribe to the false theology of Open Theism then it seems that you would agree that these two events happened in this order:

  1. God knew who would repent and trust in Jesus and thus spend eternity in Heaven, and who would not and therefore spend eternity in Hell.
  2. God created everyone.

My point is simply that the other views aren’t as far from Reformed theology as their adherents like to think they are (“That old meanie Calvinist God who knew which people would go to Hell but created them anyway is nothing like our loving Arminian/Middle Knowledge God who knew which people would go to Hell and created them anyway!!!”).

For example, on the Molinism/Middle Knowledge view, God considered the infinite number of possibilities of “free will” choices and created the version of the universe that maximized the number of people who would be saved.  But that means one of the following must be true, neither of which is far from Reformed theology.

1. God created someone who wouldn’t convert in any one of an infinite number of universes — even if they read nothing but the Wintery Knight blog, watched nothing but William Lane Craig debates and experienced nothing but Bible-based, loving Christians.  That seems indistinguishable from Reformed theology on that point. They would have been created such that it would be impossible for them to believe under any circumstances.

2. God created people who would have believed in some other universes, but not this one.  God just didn’t give them the right circumstances.  That should strike the same chord of alleged unfairness that people hold against Reformed theology.  They would have believed if only God would have done things differently!

And under the Arminian view, using all their preferred definitions of key terms, God knew which people would not use their “free will” to choose him but created them anyway.  Which means one of the following:

1. No matter what God did, they wouldn’t choose him.  God created them knowing that no matter how events were ordered, they would not use their “free will” to believe, sort of like the previous possibility #1.  This seems barely distinguishable from the Reformed view.

2. They would have chosen God had He made their circumstances different.  God could have ordered events differently so that they would have been more compelled to choose.  But He chose not to . . .

Again, I’m not after the merits of the views in this post.  I know which one is correct ;-).  I’m just pointing out that they aren’t as far apart as people make them out to be on the emotional issues.  Even if you are correct on this in-house debate and Reformed theology is in error, the emotional reactions to Reformed theology on this point are not warranted.  God knew what people would do, including that many would spend eternity in Hell, then He created them anyway.

P.S. I had to shut down comments on the last post with a similar topic because otherwise-well behaved people were getting petty.  Don’t make me do that again! 

* Sometimes referred to as Calvinism.  I realize that some don’t care for the term “Reformed,” but I need to choose some descriptor.

32 thoughts on “Why all the fuss about that predestination thing?

  1. A major problem here is the claim that God created everyone. That is not true. He created only two people, and the rest of humanity came about by procreation. God allowed people to be born who would choose Him and He allowed people to be born who wouldn’t choose Him. I certainly hope no one would suggest that He should only allow people to be born who would choose Him!

    • Glenn, how do you reconcile that with Psalm 139:13? “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” That sounds like God plays an active role in procreation.

      • Erich,
        I reconcile it the same way as the statement that we were all in Adam. It’s a way of saying that God knows everything as it is happening, with the processes He set in motion.

        If you want to say that God created everyone individually as we are, then you have a beastly God who would create children with cleft palate, Down’s Syndrome, missing arms, missing legs, spina bifida, etc. Tell these children that God loves them but decided to play games with them and make them have all sorts of defects.

      • But Glenn, this is precisely Neil’s point. What is the difference between saying God created you with spina bifida, and God knew you were going to be procreated with spina bifida and allowed you to be created anyway? In neither case, by the way, would I say God was playing games. If God creates someone or allows someone to be created with spina bifida, it is not because He is playing games.

      • There is one HUGE difference between creating someone deformed and allowing it to happen due to the physical processes He put into place, and the actions of the corruption of the body as well as the rest of creation due to sin. Sin – The Fall – is the cause of all defects.

      • Hail the king in the north too right? How about the Jedi order. Christianity is the same thing false religion. There is no true religion it’s all brainwash, why didn’t god specify what came first the chicken or the egg.

      • And yet again we have Darwin fans who ignore the post and can’t address the specific claims, so they resort to convoluted personal attacks and fact-free claims.

  2. “the other views aren’t as far from Reformed theology as their adherents like to think they are”
    Which is why both Arminianism and Calvinism are, as far as I’m concerned, orthodox.

    A couple of points. First, perhaps most importantly for your purposes, Arminiamism IS a Reformed theology. It came out of the Reformation movement. It is appropriate to speak of Arminianism vs. Calvinism, but not Arminianism vs. Reformed.

    Second, a nitpick. You’ve imposed an order on two things that are not necessarily chronological:
    1. God knew who would repent and who would not.
    2. God created everyone.
    #2 is an event, #1 is not. So you can’t really impose a chronological sequence to them. You can say that “When God created everyone, He knew who would repent and who would not,” but you can’t say there was a chronological sequence.

    Third, I don’t know *specifically* what middle knowledge or Molinism says about this, but the idea that God’s goal is to “maximize the number of people who will be saved” seems speculative to me. We don’t know if God’s goal is to maximize the *number* of people saved, or if His goal is some other criteria, like saving the people who will bring the maximum good into the world, or saving the most people who will have the strongest faith in God even if that means the total number of people saved is smaller. All of this is speculative, my point is that God’s goals probably have more than one criteria to them. It has to do with more than mere *numbers*. If, for example, God’s goal is simply to maximize the number of people saved, let’s forget everything except evangelism. No more charitable organizations, no more seminaries, no more churches! Let’s just throw every single resource we have into evangelism. Well that can’t be right. Obviously we have more to do on this earth than evangelism. So to me there must be more criteria to God’s “maximizing formula” than just the number of people saved.

    • Hey Erich,

      I know people quibble over the words, which is why I used the asterisk.

      Re. Molinism — doesn’t seem to have a perfect consensus, but that is the gist of what I’ve gotten from people who hold that view. I agree that it has liabilities, I’m just pointing out that even if they were right they shouldn’t object to Calvinism.

      • Sorry I didn’t see the footnote before. My bad. :)

        So do Calvinists in general disagree with middle knowledge? If so I was unaware of that. Especially since I consider myself a Calvinist and I hold a middle knowledge view. :)

      • No problem — I don’t read footnotes either, I just write them!

        Wow, now you are really muddying things up! I haven’t read that much on middle knowledge, but everything I’ve seen seemed to revolve around addressing perceived liabilities with Calvinism and Arminianism. I got the idea for this post from a thread on a friend’s blog who holds to middle knowledge. He didn’t claim to be the final voice, but he thought that those who don’t trust in Jesus wouldn’t have done so in any possible universe. That got me thinking that it sure sounded like Calvinism.

  3. It is interesting to me the number of times that “complainers” end up shooting themselves in the foot. “You know that ‘predestination’ thing? That’s an evil Calvinist thing.” “But … it’s biblical.” Oops! “Hey, you know that whole ‘election’ thing? That’s an evil Calvinist thing!” “But … it’s in the Bible.” Oops … again! Or one of my favorites, “You know that 2 Peter 3:9 says that it’s God’s will that every is saved, so your whole ‘God intends to save some’ thing is right out the window.” “Umm, okay, so why is God not able to accomplish His will to save all?” Oops! Oh, never mind. These things are often constructed as a “Calvinist” problem and rarely are (without even reaching to defend Reformed Theology or any such thing).

  4. I don’t get this whole “middle knowledge” thing. People seem to tend to forget that God is outside of time – He created time! God is at the end of time at the same time He is at the beginning of time because he is outside of time.

  5. “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
    “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.”
    When we try fit God into our thought patterns and our view of reality, it always results in confusion. Each of us wants to think that God thiinks as we do.

  6. One physicist, or philosopher, or someone, described this as “remembering” the future – that if time does not exist, or if you can move back and forth through time, then psychic abilities (or predestination) really collapses down into “remembering” what choices people will make. There is a false assumption that this type of foreknowledge involves an active role in the events, or diminished free will of the actors whose futures are known, but it’s really about watching something happen that will happen in the future.

  7. Is someone else’s Salvation dependent on YOU?

    One of the biggest criticisms of the Lutheran (and Calvinist) position on the Predestination of the Elect is that it removes the motivation to spread the Gospel/to do missionary work. “If God has already chosen who will be saved, why bother spending your time preaching the Gospel to sinners? God will take care of it, I don’t need to worry about it.”

    It is true that Lutherans believe that God has already chosen those who will be saved (but they do NOT believe that God has predestined anyone to hell, regardless of what some people believe Luther may have said at one point in his life). It is also true that we Lutherans believe that sinners do not have a free will to choose God. So no matter how hard we try to convince sinners of their need for a Savior, if God has not predestined them for salvation, they will NOT believe, they will not be saved.

    The advocates of Free Will Theology say that a sinner IS capable of choosing God. Therefore, it is our job as Christians to witness to every human being with whom we come into contact in our daily lives, because our efforts may be the trigger for them to “accept” Christ.” These Christians base their belief on the passage of Scripture that states, “for whom he did foreknow, those he did predestine…”. They take this to mean that God’s predestination is based on God foreknowing that at some point in the future, that a particular person would make a free will decision to believe in Christ.

    Lutherans and Calvinists say that this is impossible since Romans chapter 3 tells us that no one seeks God. Making a decision for God is “seeking” God, and therefore an impossibility according to God’s Word.

    But are we Lutherans and the Calvinists really off the hook when it comes to sharing the Gospel? It is true, we absolutely should be out preaching the Gospel to our neighbors simply because Christ commands us to do it, but, really, what are the consequences of our disobedience on this one issue? A slap on the wrist when we get to heaven, but no direct consequences for the “un-elect” person to whom we failed to share the Good News?

    Lutherans state that we do not know what criteria God used to choose/predestine those whom he will save. But I would like to propose this idea: Yes, it is true that a particular person’s election is not dependent on HIS decision to believe since Romans chapter three states that this is impossible. But…is it possible that this person’s election is dependent on God foreknowing that YOU would obey his command to go out into the world and preach the Gospel, and in particular, he foresaw that YOU would share the Gospel with this individual, and based on YOU being faithful/obedient and sharing the Good News with that person, God chose/elected that person to be saved??

    To believe this would certainly increase our motivation as Lutherans to share the Gospel instead of sitting at home enjoying the blessings of salvation all to ourselves. (Maybe we should share this idea with our Calvinist Christian brothers and sisters to light the “evangelism fire” underneath their behinds also.)

    Gary
    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • If God chooses, pre-destines, those who He will save, then by extension He has pre-destined those who will go to hell. Simple logic, which too many Lutherans and Calvinists don’t want to admit.

      Rom 3 is citing a Psalm with hyperbole. If no one can choose to follow God, If salvation is only for the pre-destined, and no one can seek God, then there are a lot of Bible verses lying:

      Man’s ability to choose:
      Josh. 24:15: Choose to serve God.
      2 Chron. 15:2 – “If you seek him…but if you forsake him” indicates choice
      Ezra 8:22 – “everyone who looks to him” vs “all who forsake him” indicates choice
      Ps. 10:4 – “does not” indicates choice not to seek God.
      Ps. 86:5 – one chooses whether to call on God
      Jeremiah 29:13 – choice of seeking God
      Mark 16:16 – “whoever believes” and “whoever will not believe” indicates choice between the two
      Luke 8:12 – The devil must prevent them from believing
      John 1:12 – choice to receive or not
      John 3:16-18 – “whoever believes” vs “whoever does not believe” indicates choice
      John 3:36 – “whoever believes” vs “whoever rejects” indicates choice
      John 5:24 – “whoever…believes” is a choice
      John 5:40 – “you refuse to come to me”; refusal is a choice
      John 20:31 – “by believing” indicates choice
      Acts 16:31 – “Believe…” is choice
      Acts 17:30 – choice of repenting
      Rom. 1:16 – “to everyone who believes” makes it a matter of choice
      1 Cor. 15:1-2 – the Gospel was received and taken a stand for, i.e. choice
      2 Cor. 4:4 – Unbelievers must be blinded so they can’t choose
      1 Tim. 1:16 – “those who would believe” vs those who wouldn’t is choice
      Heb. 11:6 – must believe God exists, which means he must have the ability to believe or not
      1 Pet. 3:1 – the husband has a choice to become a believer
      Rev. 22:17 – “whoever wishes” indicates choice

      Salvation available to all and not just a pre-elected group:
      Ezra 8:22 – “everyone who looks to him”
      Ps. 86:5 – “all who call to you”
      Isa. 53:6 – “We all…have gone astray…laid on him the iniquity of us all”
      Joel 2:32 – “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord”
      Mark 16:15-16 – “all creation” and “whoever believes”
      John 1:12 – “all who received him”
      John 3:16-17 – “whoever believes” and “to save the world”
      John 3:36 – “whoever believes”
      John 5:24 – “whoever believes”
      John 6:40 – “that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him”
      John 6:47 – “he who believes”
      John 7:37-38 – “If anyone is thirsty…Whoever believes”
      John 11:26 – “and whoever lives and believes in me”
      John 12:26 – “whoever serves me…My Father will honor the one who serves me”
      John 20:31 – “by believing you may have life”
      Acts 2:38 – “every one of you”
      Acts 10:34-35 – “God does not show favoritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear Him”
      Acts 10:43 – “everyone who believes”
      Acts 13:38-39 – “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is justified”
      Acts 16:31 – “Believe…and you will be saved.”
      Acts 17:30 – “all people everywhere”
      Rom. 1:16 – “salvation of everyone who believes”
      Rom. 3:22 – “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”
      Rom. 5:18 – “the free gift came to all men”
      Rom. 10:4 – “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
      Rom. 10:9 – “If you confess…and believe”
      Rom. 10:13 – “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord”
      1 Cor. 1:21 – “those who believe”
      1 Tim. 1:15 – Christ came to save “sinners” (re. Rom. 3:23 all have sinned)
      1 Tim. 1:16 – “those who would believe”
      1 Tim. 2:4-6 – “who wants all men to be saved”… “a ransom for all men”
      Titus 2:11 – “For the grace of God has appeared bringing salvation to all men”
      Heb. 2:9 – “might taste the death for everyone”
      2 Pet. 3:9 – “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”
      1 John 2:2 – “propitiation for…the whole world”
      1 John 4:14 – “Savior of the world”
      1 John 4:15 – “Whosoever shall confess”
      1 John 5:1 – “Everyone who believes”
      Rev. 22:17 – “whoever is thirsty” “whoever wishes”

      Man’s ability to seek God:
      Deut. 4:29 – “But if from thence thou shalt seek the LORD they God, thou shalt find him,
      if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul.”
      1 Chron. 16:11 – “seek his face”
      1 Chron. 28:9 – “If you seek Him, He will be found by you”
      2 Chron. 15:2 – “If you seek him…” Many more in 2 Chron.
      Ps. 9:10 – “those who seek you”
      Ps. 22:26 – “they who seek the Lord”
      Ps. 34:10 – “those who seek the Lord”
      Ps. 40:16 – “all who seek you”
      Ps. 69:6 – “may those who seek you”
      Ps. 119:10 – “I seek you with all my heart”
      Is. 55:6 – “Seek the Lord while He may be found”
      Jer. 29:13 – “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me
      with all your heart.”
      Hos. 10:12 – “it is time to seek the Lord”
      Zeph. 2:3 – “Seek the Lord”
      Acts 17:27 – “so that they should seek the Lord”
      2 Cor. 3:12-18 – “Whoever turns to the Lord”
      Heb. 11:6 – “He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”

      • It is very important when quoted Scripture to know to WHOM the speaker is speaking. I would encourage you to look at your passages again. In the OT it is rare for the writer of the passage to be speaking to unbelieving pagans. The OT almost exclusively speaks to believers.

        I am in full agreement that a sinner MUST believe, the question is this: Does belief occur following normal human reason and logic, or does it occur by a supernatural act of God? Any why are there so many passages in the NT that refer to the “predestined”, the “called”, the “elect”, the “appointed”. For instance Acts 13:48: “And all those appointed by God to believe believed.”

  8. Acts 13:48 (ESV)

    And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.

    You can’t get much clearer than that; God decides who will be saved.

    • Yeah, God decides who will be saved. He predestined the way of salvation, and he predestined that the elect would be those who chose his way of salvation. He still let people make their own free-will choices.

      Your second comment is no more than the usual double-talk from Calvinists and Lutherans. But it isn’t a bit biblical.

      Funny how man can choose to go to hell but he can’t choose God’s way of salvation.

  9. Atheists will tell you that the Bible is full of contradictions and irrational/illogical statements. Here is one of them:

    “The Bible says that Jesus is the Son of God, but as eternal as his Father, without a beginning. That is illogical! How can a son be as old as his father and not have a beginning?? Anyone who believes this nonsense is an uneducated, superstitious fool!”

    Are Christians fools for believing something that IS illogical, irrational, unreasonable and makes no sense whatsoever?? I hope that your answer is: “No! God, the King of Heaven and Earth, says it is so, so I believe it is so, regardless of the fact that it defies human logic, reason, and common sense.”

    This is the same attitude that Lutherans believe must be taken when looking at the Doctrine of Predestination: It may make no sense, but God says it, so I believe it! God DOES choose those who will be saved, but he does NOT choose/predestine anyone to hell. There are too many passages of Scripture that support both of these seemingly contradictory positions. Does our position on this doctrine seem foolish, unreasonable, illogical, and nonsensical? Yes! It certainly does!

    But, as it is true that Christ IS the Son of God, but coeternal with his Father, without a beginning, so it is true that God chooses, based on what criteria we do not know, those who will be saved, but at the same time, God also passionately desires that ALL men be saved, and Christ shed his blood to justify ALL men. Man chooses to send himself to hell. God sends NO ONE to hell.

    Logical and reasonable? No.
    The truth? Yes.

  10. Guys, thanks for visiting and commenting but please take the debate somewhere that matches the topic. As I noted in the post: “The purpose of this post isn’t to debate Arminian vs. Reformed vs. Middle Knowledge (or whatever hybrid / other version of orthodox Christianity you adhere to). It is merely to point out that some of the rancor against Reformed theology* in the debate seems misplaced.”

    And that point still stands: Even if God “chose” and “predestined” people based on what He knew they’d freely choose — regardless of the “free will” choices of everyone else — then He still created them knowing with 100.000000000% certainty which would go to Hell and which would go to Heaven.

    • Your last point is absolutely correct, except for the fact that there is no passage of Scripture that states that our election is based on God’s foreknowledge that we would make a decision in the future. You are reading between the lines to fit the Bible with your theology. I suggest that you take the opposite approach: believe the plain, simple rendering of Scripture and THEN build your doctrine.

      God chooses who will be saved, based on what criteria or reasoning, the Bible does not say.

      Man decides to send himself to hell.

      Not logical, but it is the simple, plain rendering of Holy Scripture.

      • There is no scripture which says “trinity” either. The point is, either God knows everything which will happen or he isn’t omniscient. God knows then who will choose and who will not choose. That IS the plain reading of Scripture. Read the early Church fathers and you won’t find Calvinism until you read Augustine because he is the one who invented it.

        I didn’t build any doctrine. I didn’t know anything about reformed teaching when I became a Christian and this is how I understood the Bible from the very first time I read it. And that was pretty simple. Calvinism/Lutheranism etc makes things difficult. With your doctrine, you can never know if you are one of the elect until the end. You may think you are because you think you believe, but, hey, you can’t know, can you? Even R.C. Sproul has admitted that.

        Now, if you want to continue this, honor Neil’s request and e-mail me so it isn’t here.

      • Come on to my Lutheran blog to continue this discussion. My Lutheran readers would be interested in your position.

        Gary
        Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals

    • The Reformed think to much. Yes, that’s right, the Reformed, Calvinists and Arminians, think too much.

      They refuse to accept the plain, simple rendering of Scripture on the Doctrine of Predestination and several other doctrines because the plain, simple rendering of the passages do not agree with the rules of human logic and reason.

      Lord Reason is held higher than Lord Jesus. What a shame.

      Jesus told us to have the faith of a child…not to insist that everything he says in Scripture agrees with man’s way of thinking.

      • Why can’t you honor Neil and drop it?

        The plain teaching of Scripture is against you. It isn’t a matter of human logic and reasoning – it’s a matter of proper exegesis. Johnny-come-lately Augustine invented your doctrines.

        Your behavior here is why I won’t bother to comment on your blog.

        Now drop it.

  11. My above comment was addressed to the owner of this blog, not to you, Mr. Chatfield. This is the comment, from the blog owner, to which my last comment is addressed:

    “And that point still stands: Even if God “chose” and “predestined” people based on what He knew they’d freely choose — regardless of the “free will” choices of everyone else — then He still created them knowing with 100.000000000% certainty which would go to Hell and which would go to Heaven.”

    As I said, you Reformed…Calvinists, Calminians (3 point Calvinists), and Arminians… think WAY too much! Just accept the Word of God with the faith of a small child. A small child doesn’t go off into the “weeds” beating his head against the wall wondering why God “created people that he knew he would later send to hell…”. A small child believes whatever his father says, whether it makes sense or not, because a small child believes that his father is AlWAYS right!

    God predestines the Elect.
    Man damns himself to hell.

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