Searching for The Third Way: Predestination, Part 4

three-thumb.jpgThe Third Way of Predestination

In Christianity, there are essentially two views of predestination. The Calvinists teach that God decides who will be saved and then changes them, outside their own choosing, so they’ll have faith. Calvinists deny that we can choose to be saved or not saved.

Arminians teach free will. We decide whether to have faith. This, however, gives the Arminians serious problems when they are asked to interpret the predestination verses. They come up with all sorts of clever theories, all of which explain away the passages. The Arminians cannot explain why Paul considers predestination a source of great comfort for individual Christians.

The Calvinist view is indeed comforting — for the elect. It’s ugly and awful for the rest. The Arminian view is true to our experience — we make choices every day — but completely missed the message Paul wants us to hear — a message of cosmic importance!

Modern physics makes the Third Way not only attractive but very nearly irresistible. It’s a scientific fact that if God exists outside the universe, outside time, he cannot be bound by his own creation!

But as noted earlier, this thinking is very Biblical and has been noted by Christian and Jewish scholars over the centuries.

Augustine reached the same conclusion in Book XI of his Confessions

15. But if the roving thought of any one should wander through the images of bygone time, and wonder that Thou, the God Almighty, and All-creating, and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and earth, didst for innumerable ages refrain from so great a work before Thou wouldst make it, let him awake and consider that he wonders at false things. For whence could innumerable ages pass by which Thou didst not make, since Thou art the Author and Creator of all ages? Or what times should those be which were not made by Thee? Or how should they pass by if they had not been? Since, therefore, Thou art the Creator of all times, if any time was before Thou madest heaven and earth, why is it said that Thou didst refrain from working? For that very time Thou madest, nor could times pass by before Thou madest times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it asked, What didst Thou then? For there was no “then” when time was not.

In other words, Paul expected to be understood. Not perfectly, of course. The subject is beyond human comprehension. We can only get of glimpse of the glory of it all. But the scriptures gives us this glimpse to give us confidence in our salvation.

Third-Way Thinking

Now, the point isn’t that I’m cleverer than anyone else. Other people thought of all this long before I did.

The point is that the truth is very often between or even outside the assumptions of two competing views. Therefore, it’s very limiting to seek truth exclusively in Reformation era debates, as though they were asking all the right questions. Or Restoration era debates.

You should become suspicious that there might be a Third Way solution when both sides have perfectly good verses that support their views. Rather than forcing one set of verses to “explain” — that is, explain away — the other verses, we should look for a solution that profits from and reconciles all the verses. No one other approach is truly respectful of inspiration.

Oh, and there’s another point. Science is the study of God’s creation. It is, therefore, the study of God’s self-revelation. We shouldn’t run from it. We should seek the face of God in it.

(Psa 19:1-3) The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. 3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

PS —

You might enjoy this essay, reaching similar conclusions but from a different perspective.

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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0 Responses to Searching for The Third Way: Predestination, Part 4

  1. Alan says:

    I attended a John Clayton ( http://doesgodexist.org ) workshop about 30 years ago, in which he made the same basic argument. He talked about a book called Flatland ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatland ) to illustrate our view of time versus God's view. He explained that God can observe and touch any point in creation at any chosen point in time, just like we can touch any point on our kitchen table.

    That concept helps with understanding many biblical subjects (the order of creation comes to mind). But it is especially helpful with predestination, prophecy, etc.

  2. Randall says:

    I am coming to this late and just read the four parts on Predestination. Please excuse the length of this "comment" as I am responding to what you have said in four parts.

    In part 1 you mentioned our "eternal redemption" and quoted scripture that spoke of our salvation in the past tense.

    In the second part you point out that the moment (before there was such a thing as a moment) when God conceived of something he already knew exactly what the outcome would be – you used Adam and Eve as an example, but I suspect all of creation is just the same way in the mind of God.

    You have pointed out that "Heavenly time does not correspond to earthly time" and I wonder whether there even is such as thing as heavenly time. Perhaps we are simply incapable of imagining existence apart from time. How would one explain sequential events w/o speaking of one occurring before or after the other?

    Given just these few parameters, I don't understand why one would have difficulty in stating that God either chose to save a person or else he did not and that he knew that when he first conceived of that person. To say they were saved in eternity past in the mind of God, and also saved when Jesus was crucified and then they were saved when they came to faith (or the whole five points of Church of Christism if you prefer) and then they were lost again when they became apostate, but then they were saved again when they repented, but then they apostasized again and were finally lost just doesn't make sense to me as I try to imagine the perspective of God. It seem to involve too much back and forth into and out of salvation, not to mention the contradiction in words. If one was eternally saved they they are saved. If they were temporally saved maybe they could become lost again.

    And why speak of someone as saved in the past tense if ultimately they will become lost again. I do acknowledge that from our (very limited) human perspective a person may appear to us to be saved or lost. But we can be fooled. No one can ever successfully fool God. He knew what kind of soil we were when he formed us from it.

    God knew what he was doing when he did it, and he knew the final outcome of my life and his work in my life from eternity past. Indeed, it would make sense to believe that he created me for whatever purpose it was that he created me for. I don't doubt that was the case with Moses or Pharaoh, Jacob or Esau, David or Goliath, or Paul or Judas. Paul says he was set apart from his mother's womb, and he is really just a man like the rest of us. God never had to resort to plan B in my life or the life of any other person.

    In the third part I sense that we are actually pretty close in many aspects of our thinking when you say things like the following:
    "God was not looking into the future. He was seeing the existing universe in four dimensions. Our future is as real to God as our present — and as certain. But the certainty that I would be saved did not result from God making me accept his salvation. The certainty comes from God’s foreknowledge (Acts 2:23; Rom. 8:29, 11:2; 1 Pet. 1:2), which is perfect. It does not take away my free will."

    And then I see there is one thing in which we are not close at all. I think we agree that he knew the end from the beginning; but you seem to want to protect the notion of free will, and I wonder why I should bow down at the altar of Freewill.

    What did Freewill ever do for me that I should worship it? I believe it is a false god for some – really too many in the western world. When was my will ever truly free? If my will was free, why didn't I (or anyone else that ever lived since Adam) choose to be good? We all choose to rebel against God. And we choose to do what we want to do in accordance with our nature. And if our nature is corrupt, we are in bondage to it. I think that is quite biblical. Christ came to set us FREE. We would not have needed that if we had not been in bondage. One is either a slave to sin or free in Christ and now his slave. I assert the notion of free will is way overrated. Arminians and Calvinists agree on the doctrine of total depravity which teaches that means every aspect of man's being (his body, his intellect, his will etc.) is corrupted by sin as a result of the fall. One who teaches that the will is truly free is more Pelagian than Arminian.

    To be sure we have a will, and we are responsible to God for the choices we make. But having a will and having a free will are two very different things. We say God cannot sin – is that b/c there is something he is incapable of accomplishing? The answer is certainly not – he cannot sin b/c he is infinitely holy and sin is contrary to his nature. Just so, we cannot be good in and of ourselves b/c we are corrupt. We can only be good as he enables us to be good. And that is why we would never choose God apart from his intervention in our lives.

    You said:
    "God is omniscient. He knows everything and therefore has never chosen to not know something, as many have argued."
    I could not agree with you more.

    You also said:
    "He predicts the future based on his perfect knowledge of the future. He just looks at what in his higher-dimensional existence already exists. Because in God’s world our future exists before God even looks, God does not cause our future."
    Why is it wrong to say he caused the future? Let's not think of him as some sort of superman who has higher dimensional powers. He is the God of all creation, and from the moment he conceived of it in his mind he knew every outcome and every detail and chose to do it the way he did. What conclusion could one draw other than he wants it to be this way. He designed it to be just exactly this way!

    If he wanted it to be differently he could have made it differently. Just b/c he made Satan does not mean he is the author of sin. John is the author of the gospel of John, but God is the ultimate cause of John's gospel. And here's what I think is the real rub:
    Arminians want to protect God's holiness so much that they cannot allow it to be said that God is the ultimate cause of evil, and Calvinists want to protect God's sovereignty so much that they cannot allow it to be said that God is not the ultimate cause of anything. I can understand both positions, and in my limited ability to reason and and try to believe what is best fall on the Calvinistic side of things – but all the while I know I am believing the worst explanation for God's sovereignty there is, except for all the other understandings of the matter that I am familiar with. I hope Arminians can do the same from their side of the divide. I think both groups understand they are finite creatures trying to understand our infinite God. I can only pray that the Pelagians and semi-Pelagains among us will learn how to read and think critically.

    You also said:
    "God knew precisely what he was doing. And he did it despite (or dare I image “because”?) it would result in my being in heaven with him! From before the Creation, God knew I’d be among those to “hear” and “believe.” He knew every single sin I’d commit. Every stray ungodly thought. And he acted in our time and space to change things — to change things in a way that led to my salvation!
    and
    (Rom 8:31-32) What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
    and
    Do you see Paul’s point? God created the Universe and acted over and over in time and space to make a world in which you and I would be saved! And if God would do all that for use — including giving up his Son — for individual, known believers, then how can we imagine that God would ever abandon us?
    and
    Now, I might one day foolishly abandon my God. I’m quite capable of such stupidity. But God will never abandon me."

    All I can say is amen and amen again! It is not that I might let go of his hand, but rather that he will not let go of mine.

    But then you go back to exacting Freewill again when you say:
    "And the answer is: I don’t know. I really don’t.
    But God is love. He didn’t shape history to exclude anyone. Rather, I can only imagine that God considered every possible option consistent with free will.:

    Why do you say he didn't shape history to exclude anyone? Surely you have read what Paul wrote about Pharaoh in Romans 9. If God had intended to save Pharaoh he could have found a way to do it. I assume you have children that there is absolutely nothing you would hold back if it meant the difference between their eternal salvation or damnation. Even if you thought it would violate their freewill, you would work to save them rather than let them be lost of their freewill.

    And then you conclude with yet another call to our free will when you say:
    "And so, Calvin was close to right. We are certainly predestined and foreknown. However, we also have free will. But God acts in history and makes decisions that affect who gets to hear the gospel.

    Finally in part four you address Calvinism and Arminianism, but you misrepresent Calvinism:
    "In Christianity, there are essentially two views of predestination. The Calvinists teach that God decides who will be saved and then changes them, outside their own choosing, so they’ll have faith. Calvinists deny that we can choose to be saved or not saved. Arminians teach free will. We decide whether to have faith. This, however, gives the Arminians serious problems when they are asked to interpret the predestination verses. They come up with all sorts of clever theories, all of which explain away the passages. The Arminians cannot explain why Paul considers predestination a source of great comfort for individual Christians.

    Both Calvinists and classic Arminians assert that man is so depraved that he cannot come to God. Arminians that deny this doctrine are probably semi-Pelagians calling themselves Arminians. The difference is that Arminians believe in something called prevenient grace aka prevailing grace. The idea is that God works in the lives of every person w/o exception effectively enough to enable them to overcome the effects of the fall and either choose him or reject him. It is an interesting idea, but I don't see it explicitly taught in scripture. On the other hand I will acknowledge I accept ideas and beliefs which I might not be able to say are explicitly taught in scripture. I would like to know what scriptures you believe teach the concept of prevenient grace aka prevailing grace.

    Peace,
    Randall

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