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A Word About Foreknowledge

One of the most popular views of the doctrine of election takes the omniscience of God and uses it to replace God’s sovereign choice of particular individuals for salvation, with God’s knowledge that certain people will believe. In my experience as a Pastor this seems to be the dominant view of most evangelicals. It goes something like this: God (because he is omniscient) looked down through the corridors of time and saw each individual who would choose to believe the gospel and based upon that knowledge God elected those individuals to salvation. Those who take this view might turn to a passage like Romans 8:29 – For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…
This view has some obvious benefits in that it allows God to appear to remain sovereign, while at the same time allowing man to be sovereign over his own salvation. Essentially, what it does is provide relief for those who want to reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s totally free will. The problem with this view is that it places God at the mercy of man, rather than man at the mercy of God. Isaiah 46:9-10 says, ...I am God and there is no other, I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done… and Romans 9:15 reads, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” The testimony of Scripture is that it is God who has mercy out of his own unhindered sovereignty, the popular evangelical view places God in a box in a vain attempt to hold on to some semblance of absolute human free will. This is not to say that man is without free will, but God uses man’s free will in order to bring about his predetermined ends.
Another problem with this view is that it does not take into account the meaning of the word “foreknowledge.” Foreknowledge is from the Greek term prognosei. It is a compound word consisting of the preposition pro, which means before and the verb ginosko, which means “to know intimately.” Prognosei does not refer to having knowledge in advance, in the same way that I knew my wife would say yes when I asked her to marry me. Rather, prognosei refers to an intimate personal knowledge that is established in advance. It speaks of \
personal relationships and frequently to the intimacy between a husband and a wife (LXX Genesis 4:1). We see this concept of intimacy in 1 Peter 1:20 where Peter explains that “He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but was made manifest in the last times for your sake.” In this passage Peter tells us that the Father foreknew Christ, in the intimacy of Trinitarian relationship and that because of that relationship the Father sent the Son to make atonement for our sins (John 8:29). If this verse were taken with the typical evangelical understanding of foreknowledge, it would mean that the Father looked down through the corridors of time and saw that the Son came to die for our sins, which caused the Father to make Him the Messiah. Only the proper understanding of foreknowledge, as an established intimacy based upon God’s sovereign choice can make sense of this passage and only this understanding of foreknowledge allows the Scripture to speak for itself when it says that “He has mercy on whom He has mercy.”

February 16 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | 2 Comments »

U – Unconditional Election

The last time that I wrote about Calvinism I looked into the first doctrine, known as Total Depravity or more appropriately Total Inability. By the way, Phil Johnson has an excellent series on this subject over at Team Pyro which I strongly encourage you to check out. By Total Inability, I am referring to the doctrine that man is totally unable to respond to God because he is spiritually dead. Romans 3:10-12 – as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Because man is spiritually dead and has no ability to respond to God, all men are hopelessly condemned. This is where Unconditional Election comes in. While man was dead in his trespasses and sins, unable to respond to God, God in His mercy has chosen to save some and these are known as the elect. The Five Points of Calvinism by Steele, Thomas and Quinn defines election this way, “His eternal choice of particular sinners for salvation was not based upon any foreseen act or response on the part of those selected, but was based solely on His own good pleasure and sovereign will.” That is to say that God’s choice of the elect was not based upon anything other than His own will. Exodus 33:19 says, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” The goodness of God is seen in His mercy, as he chooses to save some who otherwise would be utterly lost in the deadness of their own hearts.

It would be impossible to examine all of the passages that teach the doctrine of Unconditional Election, but here are a few that are especially worthy of consideration.
John 15:16 – You did not choose me, but I chose you…
John 6:44 – No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him…
Acts 13:48 – And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
Matthew 22:14 – For many are called, but few are chosen.

In an earlier post I wrote that the heart of Calvinism is humility. This truth shines brightly in the doctrine of election. The doctrine of election forces us to admit that there was nothing that we could do to be saved, it puts us squarely in our place of utter dependence and cries out to a merciful God to act and save some.

February 13 2008 | Doctrines of Grace | 2 Comments »

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism Book Review

Over the course of this past semester I’ve been teaching about once a month on the Doctrines of Grace, otherwise known as Calvinism (I also promised to do some more posting on the same subject, which I promise will be coming very soon). Through the course of teaching on TULIP I ran across the book The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig Brown and decided to read through it. The book is only 124 pages long. The pages are small and the font is large, but the content of those 124 pages is excellent.

Brown spends the first part of the book introducing the subject of Calvinism through a brief historical survey and a comparison between what he calls the TULIP (Calvinism) and the Daisy (Arminianism). The rest of the book is spent dealing with the 5 dilemmas of Calvinism. When I picked up the book, I assumed that these five dilemmas would mirror the five points of Calvinism, however they seem to be taken from various realms of Calvinistic thought rather than following along with TULIP. This is a bit of a weakness in this book, in that there are some glaring dilemmas that Brown simply doesn’t deal with. For instance Limited Atonement isn’t even mentioned, which seems to be one of the most difficult of the 5 points. On the other hand, Brown’s dilemmas are extremely practical and come right into the real world of practical application. Brown deals with:
1) Responsibility – If God is in complete control of everything, to the point of predetermining all human actions, how can man be held accountable for what he does?
2) Motivation – If we are saved by grace and not by works, why should we do anything good? What purpose do good works serve? Are there rewards in heaven for what we do here on earth?
3) Obedience – If God has predetermined everything that comes to pass, why should we spend valuable time in prayer or evangelism.
4) Evil – Since God created everything and He cannot sin, how did evil come into being?
5) Babies – If people are born totally depraved, as Calvinism says, where do babies go when they die?

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism is an excellent book for anyone who is struggling with the Doctrines of Grace. This will be one of my fall back volumes for anyone who is wrestling with Calvinism and its implications.

January 02 2008 | Blog | 2 Comments »

T – Total Inability

The title of this post may be a little bit of a surprise to some of you, because the T in TULIP is not traditionally known as “Total Inability” but rather as “Total Depravity”. In recent years there have been a number of reformed theologians who have opted for this “inability” instead of “depravity” because it seems to be a much clearer explanation of what the Bible teaches about the condition of man’s heart and his inability to respond to God.

The doctrine of “Total Inability” teaches that man is completely and totally unable to respond to God, due to the fact that man is spiritually dead. It is not as if all men are as evil as they could possibly be, but all men are equally dead. It may be best to think of this concept as a battlefield. After a major battle scores of dead bodies are to be found upon the field. Some of these bodies were simply struck by a stray bullet that hit the right place, resulting in death but no major dismemberment; others were struck by large caliber weapons resulting in major disfiguration. In the same way, not all men have been as damaged by the effects of sin, but all are equally dead.

Man’s spiritual death is to be found throughout the pages of Scripture, the following is merely a smattering of passages that teach the fact that man is spiritually dead.
Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned-
Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…
Psalm 58:3 The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil.
Romans 3:10-12 as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”

Genesis 6:5 The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.

To be dead is to be unable to respond to anything. I’ve been in crematoriums, where the remains of human beings are being burned and stored. One thing is for sure in a house of the dead, they are completely unable to respond to anything. In the same way, man is totally unable to respond to God b/c man is spiritually dead.

Total Inability is the foundational doctrine upon which all of the Doctrines of Grace rest. It is because of man’s total inability to respond to God that God must be the one initiating salvation through election.

John MacArthur uses the following illustration to show the relationship between Total Inability and Unconditional Election. To deny the doctrine of election, after understanding the doctrine of Total Inability, would be like looking at a man caught in a series of rapids and totally unable to free himself and then calling out “Listen, I’ve got good news for you.” “If you can get out of there, we can help dry you off.” What the man needs is a power far greater than himself to reach in, lift him out of his desperate situation and save him.

October 22 2007 | Doctrines of Grace | Comments Off on T – Total Inability

The Truth About Calvinism

A couple of weeks ago I began a series with my High School students on Calvinism. On a Sunday night we all gathered together at the Black’s home and I got to introduce the High School students to TULIP. For those of you who are unfamiliar with TULIP it is an acrostic that highlights 5 crucial doctrines that relate to salvation. The 5 points of Calvinism are as follows:

T – Total Depravity
U – Unconditional Election
L – Limited Atonement
I – Irresistible Grace
P – Perseverance of the Saints

No less than the great Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon said that “Calvinism is the Gospel, and nothing else” (The New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 1, page 50). Yet these doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to cause no end of debate amongst Christians. I found more questions on that Sunday night over these doctrines than I have ever received on dating, courtship, or any of the other typical things that student ministries tend to deal with. The reason for all these questions seems to be that Calvinism is thoroughly biblical and practically bleeds from the pages of Scripture, inspiring young people to want to understand their Bibles.

After our introduction to Calvinism a few students wanted to continue the discussion, especially revolving around the doctrine of Unconditional Election. This always seems to be the sticking point for young people, because it seems so unfair to them that God would sovereignly choose those who will be saved. As we talked, we looked at a number of different verses especially focusing on Ephesians 1 and Romans 9. After looking at the verses, one student said something to the effect of “I understand that this is clearly taught in the Bible, but it’s just so hard to believe that this is the case.” As I subsequently pointed out to this student, her statement really gets to what I believe is the heart of Calvinism. Calvinism is about the sovereignty of God, it’s about election and total depravity and all of the other points, but it’s about more than that.

The heart of Calvinism, or the way that we see it most practically lived out, is the humility that it creates in the hearts of believers. It seems to me that the most practical outworking of the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” is humility. Calvinism seems to have a way of tearing into our hearts and ripping out the last remnants of pride that we have in our theology of salvation. It teaches us that salvation has absolutely nothing to do with us, it is all about God and His sovereign choice to save sinners who are so depraved that they would never choose Him. I have said before that the doctrines of “Sovereign Grace” seem to be a watershed issue for people in their spiritual growth. Those who come to terms with these doctrines seem to have entire worlds of spiritual growth opened up to them that they previously did not know existed. I believe that the reason for this is that Calvinism humbles us, it breaks our pride and it reminds us of who is really in charge.

September 24 2007 | Doctrines of Grace | 7 Comments »

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