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Foreknowledge and Predestination – A Calvinist Viewpoint

THE VAST majority of Christians who reject the Reformed view of predestination adopt what is sometimes called the prescient or foreknowledge (pre-science, prior knowledge) view of predestination. Briefly stated, this view teaches that from all eternity God knew how we would live. He knew in advance whether we would receive Christ or reject Christ. He knew our free choices before we ever made them. God’s choice of our eternal destiny then was made on the basis of what he knew we would choose. He chooses us because he knows in advance that we will choose him. The elect, then, are those who God knows will choose Christ freely.

In this understanding both the eternal decree of God and the free choice of man are left intact. In this view there is nothing arbitrary about God’s decisions. There is no talk here of being reduced to puppets or of having our free wills violated. God is clearly absolved of any hint of wrongdoing. The basis for our ultimate judgment rests ultimately upon our decision for or against Christ.

There is much to commend this view of predestination. It is quite satisfying and has the benefits mentioned above. In addition it seems to have at least one strong biblical warrant. If we turn our attention again to Paul’s letter to the Romans we read:

For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom {pg 130} He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:29, 30).

This well-known passage in Romans has been called the “Golden Chain of Salvation.” We notice a kind of order here that begins with God’s foreknowledge and is carried through to the glorification of the believer. It is crucial to the foreknowledge view that in this text God’s foreknowledge comes before God’s predestination.

I have great appreciation for the foreknowledge view of predestination. I once held it before I surrendered to the Reformed view. But I abandoned this view for several reasons. Not least is that I have become convinced that the foreknowledge view is not so much an explanation of the biblical doctrine of predestination as it is a denial of the biblical doctrine. It fails to include the whole counsel of God on the matter.

Perhaps the greatest weakness of the foreknowledge view is the text cited as its greatest strength. On closer analysis, the passage in Romans cited above becomes a serious problem for the foreknowledge view. On the one hand those who appeal to it to support the foreknowledge view find too little. That is, the passage teaches less than the advocates of foreknowledge would like it to teach and yet teaches more than they want it to teach.

How can this be? First, the conclusion that God’s predestination is determined by God’s foreknowledge is not taught by the passage. Paul does not come out and say that God chooses people on the basis of his prior knowledge of their choices. That idea is neither stated nor implied by the text. All the text declares is that God predestines those whom he foreknows. No one in this debate disputes that God has foreknowledge. Even God could not choose people he didn’t know anything about. Before he could choose Jacob he had to have some idea in his mind of Jacob. But the text does not teach that God chose Jacob on the basis of Jacob’s choice.

In fairness it must be said that at least the order of foreknowledge-predestination that we find in Romans 8 is compatible with the foreknowledge view. It is the rest of the passage that creates difficulty.

Note the order of events in the passage. Foreknowledge—predestination—calling—justification—glorification.

The crucial problem here has to do with the relationship of calling and justification. What does Paul mean here by “calling”? The New Testament speaks of divine calling in more than one way. In theology we distinguish between God’s external call and God’s internal call.

We find God’s external call in the preaching of the gospel. When the gospel is preached, everyone who hears it is called or summoned to Christ. But not everyone responds positively. Not everyone who hears the outward call of the gospel becomes a believer. Sometimes the gospel call falls upon deaf ears.

Now we know that only those who respond to the outward call of the gospel in faith are justified. Justification is by faith. But again, not everyone whose ears hear the outward preaching of the gospel responds in faith. Therefore we must conclude that not all who are called outwardly are justified.

But Paul says in Romans that those whom God calls, he justifies. Now, we grant that the Bible does not explicitly say that all those he calls he justifies. We are supplying the word all. Perhaps we are as guilty of reading something into the text that is not there as those who advocate the foreknowledge view.

When we supply the word all here, we are responding to an implication of the text. We are making an inference. Is it a legitimate inference to make? I think it is.

If Paul does not mean that all who are called are justified, the only alternative would be that some who are called are justified. If we supply the word some instead of the word all here, then we must supply it throughout the Golden Chain. Then it would read like this:

Some of those he foreknew, he also predestined. Some of those he predestined, he also called. Some of those he called, these he also justified. Some of those he justified, he also glorified.

This reading of the text leaves us with a theological monstrosity, a nightmare. It would mean that only some of the predestined ever hear the gospel and that only some of the justified are ultimately saved. These notions are utterly in conflict with what the rest of the Bible teaches on these matters.

Yet the foreknowledge view suffers an even bigger problem from the supplying of the word some. If God’s predestination is based on his foreknowledge of how people will respond to the outward call of the gospel, how is it that only some of the predestined are even called? It would demand that God predestines some who are not called. If some of the predestined are predestined without being called, then God would not be basing his predestination on a prior knowledge of their response to his call. They could have no response to a call they never receive! God cannot have foreknowledge of a person’s non-answer to a non-call.

Whew! If we follow all of that, then we will see the conclusion screaming at us. Paul cannot be implying the word some. Rather, the Golden Chain necessarily implies the word all.

Let’s review the bidding. If we supply the word some to the Golden Chain the result is fatal to the foreknowledge view of predestination because it would have God predestinating some people who are not called. Since the view teaches that God’s predestination is based upon God’s foreknowledge of people’s positive responses to the call of the gospel, then clearly the view collapses if some are predestined without a call.

The supplying of the word all is equally fatal to the foreknowledge view. This difficulty centers on the relationship of calling to justification. If all who are called are justified, then the passage could mean one of two things: (A) All who hear the gospel outwardly are justified; or (B) All who are called by God inwardly are justified.

If we answer with option A, then the conclusion we must reach is that everyone who ever hears the gospel is predestined to be saved. Of course the vast majority of those who hold the foreknowledge view of predestination also hold that not everyone who hears the gospel is saved. Some are universalists. They believe that everyone will be saved, whether they hear the gospel or not. But we must remember that the chief debate among evangelicals over predestination is not over the question of universalism. Both advocates of the Reformed view of predestination and advocates of the foreknowledge view agree that not everyone is saved. They agree that in fact there are people who hear the gospel outwardly (the external call of God) who do not respond in faith and who therefore are not justified. Option A is as repugnant to the advocates of the foreknowledge view as it is to the advocates of the Reformed view.

That leaves us with option B: all who are called inwardly by God are justified. What is the inward call of God? The outward call refers to the preaching of the gospel. Preaching is something that we do as human beings. The outward call can also be “heard” by reading the Bible. The Bible is the Word of God, but it comes to us in documents penned by human beings. In that sense it is external. No human being has the power to work inwardly on another human being. I cannot get inside a person’s heart to work an immediate influence there. I can speak words which are outward. Those words may penetrate the heart, but I cannot make that happen by my own power. Only God can call a person inwardly. Only God can work immediately within the deepest chambers of the human heart to influence a positive response of faith.

So if option B is what the apostle means, then the implications are clear. If all whom God calls inwardly are justified and all whom God predestines are called inwardly, then it follows that God’s foreknowledge concerns more than a mere prior awareness of the free decisions humans will make. To be sure, God does know from all eternity who will respond to the gospel and who will not. But such knowledge is not that of a mere passive observer. God knows from eternity whom he will inwardly call. All whom he inwardly calls he will also justify.

I said earlier that the Golden Chain teaches more than the foreknowledge view wants it to teach. It teaches that God predestines an inward call. All whom God predestines to be called inwardly will be justified. God is here doing something in the hearts of the elect to insure their positive response.

If option B is the correct understanding of the Golden Chain, then it is clear that God gives one kind of call to some people that he does not give to everyone. Since all who are called are justified and since not everyone is justified, then it follows that calling is a rather significant divine activity that some human beings receive and others do not.

Now we are forced back to a serious question not unlike our original question. Why is it that some are predestined to receive this call of God and others are not? Does the answer lie in man or in the purposes of God? An advocate of the foreknowledge view would have to answer that the reason God calls only some people inwardly is that he knows in advance who will respond positively to the inward call and who will not. Therefore he doesn’t waste the inward call, he only gives it to those whom he knows will respond favorably to it.

How much power is there in God’s inward call? Is there any advantage to receiving it? If it is only given to those whom God knows will respond to it in their own power it would seem to be an inward influence without any real influence. If it does have any influence on the person who hears the outward call, then God is predestinating an advantage to some that he is withholding from others. If it has no influence on the human decision, then it is simply not an influence at all. If it is not an influence at all, then it is insignificant to salvation and a meaningless part of the Golden Chain.

It is crucial to remember that the inward call of God is given to people before they believe, before they respond in faith. If it influences the response in any way, then God is predestinating an advantage to the elect. If it does not influence the human decision, then what does it do? This dilemma is painful to the foreknowledge view, painful beyond relief.

THE REFORMED VIEW OF PREDESTINATION

In contrast with the foreknowledge view of predestination, the Reformed view asserts that the ultimate decision for salvation rests with God and not with man. It teaches that from all eternity God has chosen to intervene in the lives of some people and bring them to saving faith and has chosen not to do that for other people. From all eternity, without any prior view of our human behavior, God has chosen some unto election and others unto reprobation. The ultimate destiny of the individual is decided by God before that individual is even born and without depending ultimately upon the human choice. To be sure, a human choice is made, a free human choice, but the choice is made because God first chooses to influence the elect to make the right choice. The basis for God’s choice does not rest in man but solely in the good pleasure of the divine will.

In the Reformed view of predestination God’s choice precedes man’s choice. We choose him only because he has first chosen us. Without divine predestination and without the divine inward call, the Reformed view holds that nobody would ever choose Christ.

This is the view of predestination that rankles so many Christians. This is the view that raises serious questions about man’s free will and about God’s fairness. This is the view that provokes so many angry responses and charges of fatalism, determinism, and so on.

The Reformed view of predestination understands the Golden Chain as follows: From all eternity God foreknew his elect. He had an idea of their identities in his mind before he ever created them. He not only foreknew them in the sense of having a prior idea of their personal identities, but he also foreknew them in the sense of foreloving them. We must remember that when the Bible speaks of “knowing” it often distinguishes between a simple mental awareness of a person and a deep intimate love of the person.

The Reformed view believes that all whom God has thus foreknown he has also predestined to be inwardly called, to be justified, and to be glorified. God sovereignly brings to pass the salvation of his elect and only of his elect.

SUMMARY OF CHAPTER 6

1. Foreknowledge is not a valid explanation of predestination.

2. It makes redemption ultimately a human work.

3. Predestination is sidestepped and rendered virtually empty of significance.

4. The Golden Chain shows that our justification depends upon God’s calling.

5. God’s calling rests upon a prior predestination.

6. Without predestination there is no justification.

7. It is not our future choices, however, that induce God to choose us.

8. It is God’s sovereign decision on our behalf.

Sproul, R. C. (1996, c1986). Chosen by God. Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers.

© 2010, Matt. All rights reserved.

One Response

  1. David Emme says:

    Wander if anyo ne ever brought some other passages seen as clearer as well a clearer understanding of how God initiates and call the believer. On the second one-perhaps showing nowhere in the scriptures does God see us as our opponents proclaim? Can we say we are robots or puppets? These are not in the scriptures nor is it really stated exactly how God calls in the process of the individual. In other words-a puppet or robot is assumptive. On the other hand, in Romans 3 we see a clear and understandable definition of what a sinner does-but if we look from where these passages starting in Romans 3:10-it is a bit more than a description of what a sinner does as opposed to-describing what a sinner is. When seeing this quoting either Psalms 14 and/or 53 which both begin with the ideal-the fool has said in his heart there is no God-then the Psalmist continues elaborating where God looked down on the childeren of men to see if there be any who understand and seek after God. The answer is there is none righteous, no not one which Paul uses to describe a sinner in Romans 3. Seems like that would also take care of the ideal God saw through time who would choose him as the ideal of foreknowledge as knowing ahead of time ends right there. In my own studies which did begin with foreknowledge in Acts 2-there is a word in the greek speaking of prior knowledge as in foresight and the word is not foreknow. Saying all this, somewhat came across this websight and hope even when we disagree that we show the love of God and sometimes must remind my Calvinist friends that God uses Arminians to preach the gospel and save sinners-so we must pray for them as well and keep our bad disposition in check.

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