Tuesday, August 20, 2013

U is for the way you Undermine me

Tenet: Unconditional Election

What I Remember it Meaning: If you're chosen, you're in, period...you can't not choose God.

What it Actually Means: God has chosen from eternity to extend mercy to those he has chosen and to withhold mercy from those not chosen.

Engaging Unconditional Election

Okay. So I looked up a couple of people's thoughts on election and discovered, just two tenets in and we are already getting down and dirty. Before I get into some Mark Driscoll, I do want to share I was disheartened at his lack of a broader perspective that includes the Catholic tradition, let alone the Orthodox Christian. But...we'll let him throw the first mud, which can be found here.

But first a little detour to explain his comments. Rooted way back in Augustinian theology was this thing called prevenient grace. Basically it means that before man has been reconciled back to God, man has been given a choice whether to partake in the salvation of Jesus Christ or not. So, basically there is this opportunity that God affords to man that involves free will. That's right folks. Just two tenets in and predestination rears its head.

The doctrine of prevenient grace has been very controversial because it has little, and arguably no, biblical basis. Furthermore, it assumes that a person can simply exercise faith, when the Bible says not only is salvation a gift from God, but also even the faith to believe in Jesus is a gift of God’s grace.
Because heaven is God’s home, he has the right to decide who lives there forever with him. Since we are saved by grace, which is a gift that God gives, he has the right to give it as he determines is best. And, we need to trust him to do what is right and best. 

Now, let's get a Catholic voice in here. Mr. Thomas Aquinas. (This dude is legit!)

Aquinas also reminds me of these.
God wills to manifest his goodness in men: in respect to those whom he predestines, by means of his mercy, in sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of his justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.... Yet why he chooses some for glory and reprobates others has no reason except the divine will. Hence Augustine says, 'Why he draws one, and another he draws not, seek not to judge, if thou dost not wish to err.

And now someone from the conditional election camp...none other than the author of The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer.

God sovereignly decreed that man should be free to exercise moral choice, and man from the beginning has fulfilled that decree by making his choice between good and evil. When he chooses to do evil, he does not thereby countervail the sovereign will of God but fulfills it, inasmuch as the eternal decree decided not which choice the man should make but that he should be free to make it. If in His absolute freedom God has willed to give man limited freedom, who is there to stay His hand or say, ‘What doest thou?’ Man’s will is free because God is sovereign. A God less than sovereign could not bestow moral freedom upon His creatures. He would be afraid to do so.

Alright. So a lot of guys talking about a lot of things that we don't normally think about. It basically boils down to God predestines or we have free will. My buddy Samuel just left and talked about how he understands those concepts in complimentary terms which is pretty cool. Me being a theological mutt, I am kind of all over the place. So, once again, let me jump over to the Orthodox Church and quote a couple of guys.

First, is St. John of Damascus, who adds this to the debate:
We ought to understand that while God knows all things beforehand, yet He does not predetermine all things.  For He knows beforehand those things that are in our power, but He does not predetermine them.  For it is not His will that there should be wickedness nor does He choose to compel virtue.  So that predetermination is the work of the divine command based on fore-knowledge.  But on the other hand God predetermines those things which are not within our power in accordance with His prescience.

Following him is St. Gregory Palamas:
Therefore, God does not decide what men’s will shall be.  It is not that He foreordains and thus foreknows, but that He foreknows and thus foreordains, and not by His will but by His knowledge of what we shall freely will or choose.  Regarding the free choices of men, when we say God foreordains, it is only to signify that His foreknowledge is infallible.  To our finite minds it is incomprehensible how God has foreknowledge of our choices and actions without willing or causing them.  We make our choices in freedom which God does not violate.  They are in His foreknowledge, but ‘His foreknowledge differs from the divine will and indeed from the divine essence.’

So...that is a lot of information. And your head may be spinning as much as mine. But when I pull back from the lens, here is what I see. The playing field here is not really even salvation...it's the nature of God. That is why this is so heated. You have a crew of people (Calvinists) emphasizing God's sovereignty and a group arguing that this brand of sovereignty somehow prevents God from being good. That is really what is at stake here. Is God sovereign or is He good?

So, if you know me, you know quickly where this going...I'm Team Jacobus! Always have been, probably always be. I think of myself as a pretty teachable guy, but the way that I approach the Lord, I just don't see this changing too much. The problem is, I don't see anyway around double predestination once you start down that road. If God chooses certain people, there is no way around him not choosing the others. Calvinists argue that this view is too anthropocentric and not christocentric enough. Arminians argue that Calvinists are missing their point altogether.

The deal is, as I understand goodness, a supreme deity cannot be good and choose arbitrarily that I am elect and my buddy Ryan isn't (which is funny, because at one point he was a Calvinist who believed he wasn't chosen...now that sucks!). This isn't about God choosing based on merit. This is about God giving over the reigns of choice to humanity. And if that limits the sovereignty of God for you, I'm sorry. I get it...I really do. I like the idea of not having any responsibility because, you know, God chose that. (Okay, low blow on my party and caricature that nearly no good Calvinist would hold.)

I fall in the camp of God's foreknowledge, instead of God's predetermined choice. And part of it comes down to what many saints throughout history have argued: God will not cause men to purposefully sin against Him. First, thing's first: Pharaoh. Yikes. I concede you are right...but even in the end Pharaoh had a choice. The plagues were a testing ground for Pharaoh and God ultimately did give him a choice. Re-read it. There are plenty of places where it says that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Ultimately Pharaoh led himself to his own demise by pursuing the Jews into the desert.

Instead of saying that God caused Pharaoh to sin, I am firmly in the camp of saying that God knew Pharaoh's heart and therefore his response. God causing someone to sin against Him is like Jesus' house divided. God invoking sin against Himself just doesn't work. God choosing His own creation to cause the death of His Son is a terrifying thought. Throughout Scripture it says that God knows the heart of man. Therefore, as I said, I go with foreknowledge...not predestination.

So, I think this lands me square with 0 points this round. I know, how disappointing. But I think I will choose to get over it.


  1. If only more people would understand the point you've made in the last two paragraphs. Pharaoh seems to be the go-to argument for practical predestination in the Bible, yet it's so often misread/misunderstood.

    While I agree with the bulk of your post (as I suspected I would), I've always had a hard time accepting any argument which uses the "goodness" of God as its basis. We know God is good, but who are we to define what "good" is? We know the things that God tells us are "good" in the Pentateuch. There are plenty of proverbs and other passages which suggest what "good is". But since the Bible was written for mankind, these definitions are largely directed toward how to be a "good" person. There's no passage that I'm aware of (by all means correct me if I'm wrong)that defines goodness in such a way that we can say "it is / is not good for God to save this person and condemn this one".

    As a result, when you say "as I understand goodness, a supreme deity cannot be good and choose arbitrarily..." I get a little caught up. I'm interested in finding a resolution to this issue - any info you can provide would be appreciated.

    Overall, enjoying this series! Looking forward to the rest.

  2. I think that is kind of a challenge...in a good way. Maybe we as Christians trivialize goodness and make assumptions as to one is good when it comes to God. I have not really thought about God's goodness looking certain ways and not others. I guess because we are (rather poor) reflections of God, I assumed that goodness was something we understood.