Monday, November 25, 2002


The foreknowledge view of predestination contends that the oft-mentioned elect in scripture refers to those whom God, looking forward in history, foresaw would make a favorable response to the gospel message.

It is an appealing position, for it strikes a nice balance between God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will. God can make plans as if He has preordained all that happens, but since it’s based on what he knows about future human responses, there is no dreaded violation of man’s vaunted free will. The Atonement can be truly substitutional, with Christ actually bearing the sins of those he knows will respond positively to the Gospel message.

The logic is convoluted, but manageable. Oblique references to the elect (e.g., Matt. 24:24) can always be taken to mean those God foreknew rather than those He predestined. Even verses that refer to predestined can be (torturously) shoe-horned into the foreknowledge view, although be forewarned, it ain’t pretty.

For example, the passage
4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Eph. 1:4-6)

Might actually mean: just as He chose us, knowing from before the foundation of the world that we would choose Him… In love (again, knowing that we would choose Him,) He predestined us for adoption according to the kind intention of His will (and the proper exercise of our will)…

More problems occur in passages like:
"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day (John 6:44)

which must, in some sense, actually mean: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him (having foreseen that they would come to me); and I will raise him up on the last day

After struggling to explain to these verses, in an anthropocentric attempt to preserve man’s critical role in salvation, Arminianism proclaims as its greatest triumph the famous passage:
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

However, far from a reason to declare victory, this passage, in fact, heralds the death of the foreknowledge view of predestination. Although one might distort scripture to render all other references to predestination to actually mean foreknowledge, logic has an elastic limit, and upon simple investigation in cannot be stretched to the point of accommodating this passage into the foreknowledge view.

"Aha!", quoth the Arminian, "He foreknew before he predestined." To which the Calvinist responds: of course He did. God knew something about each of His elect before He chose them, but it wasn’t whether they would do good or bad, but rather if their election would bring glory to God. Election is not a cosmic lottery—God chooses, and not randomly. Otherwise we have God, before the foundation of the world, rolling the dice for Saul of Tarsus and declaring "we have a winner!" and then noting "Great! he will be persecuting Christians when I convert him—I’ll make him an apostle, think what great copy that will make!" No, God loved Paul before Paul was born, and Paul’s conversion glorified Him. That is why Paul was chosen. And without question it was related to what God foreknew about Paul, but not that he foresaw Paul’s positive response to the gospel—as if there was anything about Paul’s conversion that you might convincingly portray as Paul choosing Christ and not Paul being taken by Christ.

So, the presence of the word foreknowledge does not weaken the predestination argument—if anything it clarifies God’s sovereignty and any misconception that Calvinists view election as random.

What about the foreknowledge view—is it not strengthened? Not at all. Lets us condense this passage to its essence: God foreknew, predestined, called, justified, and glorified.

In fact, the foreknowledge view is: Those whom God knew would respond positively to the gospel he predestined (to what?), called, and glorified.

The first problem is that while it is straightforward to accommodate foreknowledge into the Cavinistic view, it is not so easy to accommodate the presence of the word predestined into the foreknowledge view. But let’s ignore that problem and concentrate on the word called.

First note that the same group of people is carried from start to finish in the golden chain: all those he foreknew he predestined, all those he predestined he called, all those he called he justified, all those he justified he glorified. Try changing any all to some and see if you can make any sense out of it.

The problem for the Arminian is with the word called. This can mean one of two things, either the "outward" call given to many, or the "inward" irresistible call of Calvinism. Well, it can’t be the latter, or we have Calvinism! The Arminian cannot allow that all who are called are justified, otherwise you must ask why was this necessary divine act given to this group, who was to respond positively anyway, why did they need it? And if they need it, and it is effectual, aren't they then just the predetermined elect of Calvinism?

So the call must actually be the outward call given to many – but short of universalism we know that this call is not irresistible or effectual, many who receive this call respond negatively and are not justified. Thus the foreknowledge view, to avoid slipping into Calvinism through the backdoor, must hold that the call in the Golden chain is the normal outward call that can be rejected. They are then forced into interpreting The Golden chain as something like:

all those he foreknew he predestined, all those he predestined he called, some of those he called he justified, all those he justified he glorified.

This makes the mind reel. Not only does predestined serve no purpose here, but the assumed quantifier has to change from all to some and back again. Contrast this with how naturally each step of the chain, including the foreknowledge, fits into the Calvinistic view, and you begin to understand how this passage in no manner supports the Arminian foreknowledge schema.

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