Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Lesson 4: Predestination (Part 5)

(This is based, in part, on John Gerstner’s Primer on the Predestination from a compilation of his primers in the book Primitive Theology. I am using Primitive Theology for my Sunday School class. There is a growing list of links on the left for the posts for this class.

Some Common Objections

There are a handful of passages that seem to refute the doctrine of predestination and election. Let us examine these “problem verses.”

But first, let’s summarize where we stand. There are four broad categories representing views on salvation:
  1. The predestination, or Calvinistic, or Augustinian view. This is what we have been discussing. It is the view that, in his natural state, man will never seek God. Therefore, divine initiative is required. In this view, regeneration precedes faith. Also in this view, God has ensured the salvation of some, and for those the Atonement was already efficacious—that is the Atonement saved, it didn’t merely make salvation possible.

  2. The Arminian or Semi-Pelagian view. This is currently the majority view. It holds that the Atonement made salvation possible for all. It also teaches that God’s grace is absolutely required for salvation and that no man can save himself. It does require that man, at some level, and in his natural, fallen state, assent to the gospel. Thus, in this view, faith precedes regeneration. God has made salvation possible for all but guaranteed for none, so heaven, in theory, could be anything from empty to bursting at the seams.

  3. The Pelagian view. This is the view that man can, at least in principle, lead a sinless life and claim heaven on the basis of his own merit. It therefore denies original sin.

  4. Univeralism. This is the view that everyone will be saved.
In historic Christianity, Pelagianism and Universalism are considered heretical. Augustinianism and Semi-Pelagianism are mutually considered (by most) to be within the pale of orthodoxy—something that we can agree to disagree about and still have fellowship. Of course there are exceptions to this, and you can find the occasional charge of apostasy lobbed from one camp to the other.

So as we look at the passages that are “troubling” for the Augustinian view, I’ll remind you that many of the passages that we used to support this view can rightly be viewed as “troubling” for the majority, semi-Pelagian view.

While I fully recognize that I might be wrong in affirming the Augustinian view, I am confident of this assertion: in a pure numbers game, where you count the verses that, at face value, strongly support one view or the other, the Augustinian view wins hands down. There are, in my opinion, many more problem verses for the Arminian view.

Today, however, we’ll air our dirty laundry!

John 3:16

In the comments for this series, the question of John 3:16 arose:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
This verse is not often brought up as a problem, but I thought I’d discuss it. First of all, the Augustinian (predestination) view absolutely affirms that, without exception, whoever believes in Christ shall not perish. That part is not even potentially a problem.

What about “For God so loved the world,” doesn’t Augustianism call that into question? Well no, for a number of reasons. I’ll give two. (A third reason would launch us into the debate of whether God does in fact love everyone—I don’t want to go there at the moment.)

Even in modern English, a statement like this often doesn’t refer to all people. If I say: “Andrew Carnegie so loved Pittsburgh that he established and funded twenty public libraries,” it does not mean that Carnegie loved every Pittsburgher. In fact, even if I word it as “Andrew Carnegie so loved the people of Pittsburgh” it doesn’t imply universal love.

The “world” in many cases where it is used in the New Testament, clearly does not mean “all the people in the world”—unless we want to proclaim universalism. A good example is:
He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)
Here we even have “the whole world,” but if Jesus in fact paid for the sins of everyone in the world, then everyone in the world is saved—unless God is guilty of double-charging on the payment for those sins—exacting a price from both Jesus and the sinner.

In Colossians, we even “all over the whole world” and “every creature” clearly not meaning, literally, every person in the world:
5the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel 6that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.

23if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant. (Col. 1:5-6, 1:23)
Clearly there were vast parts of the actual world that the gospel had not reached at the time Paul wrote this letter.

1. 1 Tim 2:1-4

1I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:1-4)
Here, in verse 4, we have the plain teaching that God desires (wants) all people to be saved. Now, I want to first give an explanation for this passage that I do not find very satisfying. Some of said, in light of the first three verses, what is actually meant in verse 4 is that God requires “representatives of all manner of men, including kings (and including those who were persecuting Christians at that time) to be saved.” But I have come to believe the argument that if the passage intended to say “all manner of men” then the Holy Spirit would have inspired Paul to write “all manner of men.” This view is not without merit—for in verse one prayers are asked for everyone—yet it is doubtful that Paul is urging prayers for everyone in the human race. So, in verse 1, everyone doesn’t seem to mean literally everyone. And in fact, Paul uses the phrase “all men” elsewhere. Here are just a couple of examples:
to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men (Titus 3:2)

You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. (Acts 22:15)
It is clear that “all men” is not to be taken literally in either passage. Still, to me, the “all manner of men” explanation doesn’t smell right. I think God does desire the salvation of all men. We see elsewhere as well, in what might be listed as another problem verse:
For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” (Ezek 18:32)
So, in light of these texts, how is this problem resolved?
The answer is found in the difference between a will and a command. 1 Tim 2:4 does not tell us that God sovereignly decrees that all men be saved (otherwise all men would, in fact, be saved.) It tells of his hope for man, and, in the case of the Ezekiel passage, explicitly ties it to a command: turn from evil so that you may have life.

All men are commanded to assent to the Gospel. God desires that all men be saved. However, no man, in his flesh, can assent to the Gospel. And so God decrees that some will assent and empowers them to do so.

It is perhaps helpful if we make an analogy.

God, I think we would agree, desires that no man commit adultery. And yet some do commit adultery. If God willed that no man commit adultery, then no man would. Here however, we see a disconnect between what God desires (no man to commit adultery) and what actually happens (some men commit adultery.) In a strange way, God does not get all that he desires. This is most likely because what we mean by “desire” is not accurate but the best we can do in describing the emotions of an infinite God. A desire of God is much closer, if not synonymous, with a command. For us, however, it is emotional need. However, for God to have a deep emotional desire for what he does not have (the salvation of all men) is close to the unthinkable blasphemy of making God covetous.

It is even more apparent if you make it generic: God desires that no man sin. Yet all men sin! Here is total disconnect between what God “desires” or commands, and what actually happens.

In the same way, God desires that all men come to salvation. I think this passage can be paraphrased this way: God commands all men, even those persecuting you, to repent and be saved. So pray for them.

It should be pointed out that Calvin took the opposite view. He considered the “two-wills” explanation weaker than the “all manner of men” explanation. He wrote, in his commentary on 1 Timothy 2:4:
Hence we see the childish folly of those who represent this passage to be opposed to predestination. "If God" say they, "wishes all men indiscriminately to be saved, it is false that some are predestined by his eternal purpose to salvation, and others to perdition." They might have had some ground for saying this, if Paul were speaking here about individual men; although even then we should not have wanted the means of replying to their argument; for, although the: will of God ought not to be judged from his secret decrees, when he reveals them to us by outward signs, yet it does not therefore follow that he has not determined with himself what he intends to do as to every individual man.

But I say nothing on that subject, because it has nothing to do with this passage; for the Apostle simply means, that there is no people and no rank in the world that is excluded from salvation; because God wishes that the gospel should be proclaimed to all without exception. Now the preaching of the gospel gives life; and hence he justly concludes that God invites all equally to partake salvation. But the present discourse relates to classes of men, and not to individual persons; for his sole object is, to include in this number princes and foreign nations.

Next: 2 Pet. 3:9 and Matt. 23:37

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