Monday, March 08, 2004

Predestination, Foreknowledge, Hyper-Calvinism, Open-Theism

I want to talk more about the "universal offer" of the gospel to all mankind. This is related to the question of whether God loves everybody, as has been debated furiously on this and other blogs. But today I want to just touch upon implications for God's sincerity.

Among the Reformed, the "standard" position is that the gospel offer is genuine for all men, given that God loves all men and desires their salvation, but that God will only work in the hearts of the elect, predestined without regards to their works, to enable and even ensure the sinner's acceptance of the offer. All other men will reject the offer, though it was genuine, and so stand eternally condemned. To assume otherwise is to, in the minds of this camp, attack the character of God.

Another school of thought, one of many deviations that get labeled hyper-Calvinist, is that there is no point describing an offer that cannot possibly be accepted as genuine in the usual sense. The phrase genuine offer implies that the one offered can accept or reject. In the case of the gospel offer, this camp (in which I count myself) holds that the correct Reformed position is that the offer is not genuine for anybody: The non-elect have no chance to accept it, and the elect have no chance to reject it. What the so-called offer actually reveals is grace: You cannot accept the gospel in your fallen state unless God unilaterally changes your heart. There is no offer of any kind in the usual sense of the word offer. This camp is naturally less inclined to agree that God loves everybody, and argues that the "standard" position is non-biblical and a liberalization which, like all liberalizations, has at its root the desire to make God more like we would be, if we were God.

The "standard" school of thought is more man-centered than the so-called hyper-Calvinist. The second position is, in my opinion, more in-line with the biblical truth that our primary concern is not with our salvation, but with God's glory.

I don't care what people call me, so in this post I will stick with the labels "standard Reformed" and "hyper-Calvinist", although if you ask me a more accurate labeling is "liberal Reformed" and "self-consistent" Reformed.

Both camps agree that the gospel should be presented to everyone. I suppose the standard school views this offer as genuine, although for the life of me I don't see how, given that they also believe that only a definite "some" have been chosen to respond positively. In my camp, the gospel is presented to all not because God loves everyone and everyone is given a genuine offer, but rather because presenting the gospel glorifies God. To the elect, it may be the instant when God begins His work in their hearts. For the non-elect, their inevitable rejection demonstrates the depravity of man, for what can be more depraved than rejecting the Holy God who gives you your very life. Ultimately the instinctive rejection of natural men magnifies God's glory by demonstrating the depths of His mercy toward the elect.

It is interesting to see how these two viewpoints are criticized by non-Reformed. The hyper-Calvinist position is typically dismissed outright as unbridled heresy. Serious criticism is reserved only for the standard position. A similar thing occurs in end-times debates, where dispensationalists dismiss postmillennialism, with its things-will-get-better optimism, as patently absurd and not worth discussing, while reserving their scholarly attacks, such as they are, to amillennialism.

Ironically, the criticism that non-Reformed bring against the standard position is the same that the hyper-Calvinist charges: such a viewpoint makes God insincere. I agree with their criticism. However, they themselves cannot escape the very same complaint.

In reality, although variants abound, broadly speaking there are only three positions one can take with regards to predestination.
  1. The Reformed or Augustinian view being that it (predestination) refers to God setting aside for His pleasure a people who will be redeemed by the work of His Son and sanctified by the work of the Holy Spirit.

  2. Another view, call it non-Reformed, which states that predestination, actually refers to God's foreknowledge. The elect are simply those that God, knowing all things, foresees will accept the gospel. Thus God loved Jacob and hated Esau not as act of divine selection but because He foresaw that Jacob would accept Him while Esau wouldn't.

  3. The third possibility is basically open theism, which teaches that God does not know the future. In spite of the repeated use of "predestination" and "elect" in the scripture, there is no such thing, either of the "chosen" or "foreknew" variety.

If a Christian is not of the first school, the Reformed, he must be of the second. Because the third way of thinking, open theism, falls way outside the pale of orthodoxy. A god that does not know the future cannot make promises that we can trust, he is not sovereign, he is not God.

So the serious criticism that the standard view makes God insincere comes from group two, which counts among its proponents the majority of professing Christians.

However, their view makes God just as insincere as the standard Reformed view. For in their teaching the omniscient God, who knows in advance who will reject the gospel, still "genuinely" offers it. It is really no different from the standard Reformed position: one group says God makes an genuine offer to those whom He knows are incapable of accepting it, the other group has God making a genuine offer to those whom He already knows will choose to reject. A distinction without a difference.

In a strange-bedfellows development, only the hyper-Calvinists and open theists are self-consistent. The open theists can maintain that a genuine offer is made to all, because God has no clue who will accept or reject the gospel. Wrong, but self-consistent. We hyper-Calvinists are self-consistent because we outright deny the existence of a genuine offer to all, and so avoid the unseemly gymnastics of the standard Reformed position, which tries in vain to shoehorn into scripture that which is not found. The non-Reformed cry out for the foreknowledge view but, after stating it, immediately sweep it under the carpet without wanting to acknowledge that, taken to its logical conclusion, the foreknowledge view leads to many of the same "pitfalls" they find in predestination.

No comments:

Post a Comment