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Predestination or Free Will? (Post 5)

In trying to answer the question “Is our salvation the result of predestination or free will?” we have discovered that this is actually the wrong question to ask. It is not nuanced enough. This superficial question leads to confusion, disagreements, and conundrums. In Post #4, I clarified the question we should be asking. This week I’ll begin offering a helpful way to approach answering it.

To review, the more nuanced question we should be asking is this:

Is our salvation the result of unconditional predestination/election and Compatibilist free will, or the result of conditional predestination/election and Libertarian free will? 

As one who believes God’s Word is without error (see my series on inerrancy), the first place I believe we should go in seeking an answer to this question is Scripture itself.

 

What Scripture Has To Say

Support for the Calvinist View

As we consult Scripture, we find some passages that seem to support the Calvinist understanding of our salvation. For instance, a number of passages seem to indicate the Fall’s impact on us was intensive, as well as extensive, as discussed in Post #2, and from this understanding the other four features of Calvinism follow:

  • You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

  • No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. (John 6:44)

  • There is no one who is righteous, not even one; there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. (Romans 3:10-11; see from Romans 3:1-9 for the larger context)

  • And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)

Passages many take to support the Calvinist understanding of election as unconditional include:

  • [H]e chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He predestined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will. (Ephesians 1:4-5)

  • No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. (John 6:44)

  • You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. (John 15:16)

  • When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and praised the word of the Lord; and as many as had been destined for eternal life became believers. (Acts 13:48)

Passages understood to indicate God’s right to elect unconditionally include:

  • …they grumbled against the landowner,  saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous? (Matthew 20:11-15)

  •  What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy. For the scripture says to Pharaoh, “I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses. You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9:14-24)

Support for the Arminian View

On the other hand, many passages seem also to support the Arminian understanding of our salvation. Some passages seem to indicate God desires to save everyone, yet ultimately leaves that decision to each person (to exercise their Libertarian free will in choosing to follow Christ or not so choosing). For instance:

  • As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways. (Ezekiel 33:11)

  • The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)

  • … God our Savior,  who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (I Timothy 2:3-4)

  • While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30)

  • Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)

  • The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift. (Revelation 22:17)

  • Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (John 3:18)

  • You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

  • Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

  • For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

  • If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9-10)

Other passages seem to indicate God’s predestination is based on His foreknowledge of the (Libertarian) free choice we will make to receive Christ:

  • For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:29)

  • Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, exiles scattered throughout the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia,  who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient to Jesus Christ and sprinkled with his blood. (I Peter 1:1-2)

 

Conclusion

From this brief survey of texts related to this issue it is clear some passages seem to support one view, and other passages seem to support the opposite view. Even for one firmly convinced of one view or the other, all agree the biblical data is not conclusive in the way it is for such doctrines as the deity of Christ. Hence the long and ongoing debate over this topic among those who share a high view of Scripture.

So the discussion seems to be in a “stalemate.” I’ve observed people take one of four paths forward to resolve this dilemma. I don’t think any of these are the best next steps. Next week I’ll outline these four responses, and then offer a fifth response that I believe provides the most fruitful way forward in answering the “Predestination or Free Will?” question.

Until then, grace and peace.

 

For further reading see the chapter on Soteriology in systematic theology textbooks such as Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem (outlining the Calvinist view) and Classic Christianity by Thomas Oden (outlining the Arminian view). Also see books on this specific topic such as The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination by Loraine Boettner (defending Calvinism), and The Grace of God and the Will of Man by Clark Pinnock (defending Arminianism).

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