Predestination. This is one of those really thorny topics that can send any small group Bible study into a spiraling, out-of-control tailspin.
Many people reject the concept of predestination completely out-of-hand, but this is difficult to do, as there are direct statements in the Bible that affirm the principle. Romans 8:28-30 is a classic text:
- “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (ESV)
On the positive side, the idea of predestination, for believers in Christ, tells us that God has the deck stacked in our favor, so to speak. As we are unable to save ourselves, God steps in to make sure that we finish the race, that God has set before us, so that we might live forever, with Him.
But some are concerned that if God predestines some to salvation, what becomes of everyone else? Nowhere in the Bible is the concept of predestination ever used to describe the eternal destiny of those who are separated from God. Yet some are concerned that a number of Christians believe in a so-called doctrine of double predestination, whereby some are elected to glory, and the others are elected to be damned into hell forever. For many, this does not seem fair.
What is a Christian, who believes in the authority of Scripture, to think?
First, and foremost, one must recognize that various Christians, in good faith, differ on this point of doctrine. A measure of humility is required when discussing predestination.
Secondly, the key to understanding predestination comes from understanding what is means to say that God foreknows those whom he predestines, when it comes to interpreting Romans 8:28-30. One school of thought, championed by many Calvinists, suggests that to foreknow means to know someone out of love. We see this sense of “foreknowing” in Romans 11:2, as in “God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew.” (ESV). God’s divine foreknowledge is therefore the first part of a “Golden Chain of Redemption,” as the New England Puritans would say, that leads to predestination, and ultimately towards glorification.
Another predominate school of thought, championed by a number of Arminians, suggests that divine foreknowledge is not so much about knowing someone personally, but more in the sense of knowing what someone will do in the future. In other words, God foreknows what a person will do, and therefore, on that basis, God then predestines that person towards their eternal destiny.
There are other possibilities of understanding divine foreknowledge, but the main point here is that Christians have been divided over the question of predestination for centuries. Churches have split over these things. Whole denominations have been founded championing one idea over and against another. I am under no illusion that this current blog post will decide the matter, once and for all.
Might it not be a good idea for Christians, with different views, to be able to sit down together, and share their different viewpoints, with an attitude of love and respect, in hopes of possibly learning something new from the other?
A third point is in order. It might help to actually spend some time, digging into God’s Word, verse-by-verse, to get at the answer, praying all the while that the Holy Spirit might teach us.
The following are two videos, roughly 11-12 minutes each that explore the interpretation of Romans 8:28-30 in detail, from different viewpoints, in hopes of helping us all to learn more about what God is saying in His Word. The first is by John Piper, a well-known Calvinist Bible teacher. The second is by Leighton Flowers, an Arminian Bible teacher. I hope you might find these videos edifying:
February 3rd, 2020 at 7:51 pm
Good videos. I liked the second one best because it makes better sense from an Old Testament perspective.
February 3rd, 2020 at 8:11 pm
Thank you, Dr. Mariottini. I would be curious to know how, in what sense, the OT favors more of a non-Calvinist view (either here, or back on your blog).
Is there anything found in Second Temple Judaism that supports this, or strictly textual elements as found in the OT?
February 4th, 2020 at 6:58 am
Take for instance the case of Adam. If there was ever a perfect person, Adam would be it, because God created him. Adam was given the choice between good and evil and he chose evil. Then God had to cast him out of the garden because he could eat from the tree of live and live forever.
Or take the case of the Flood. In Genesis 6:5 God says that he was sorry he had made man. Why? Humans failed to become what they were created to be. He then destroy the whole earth and save Noah and his family (8 people). Did God foreknew that everyone on earth would sin and die like that?
Take the case of Sodom. God had to come down in order to see whether the cry of oppression was true or not. Then, God did not find even ten righteous person in the city. Did God fail to call people in Sodom? Did he predestined all those people to die?
Calvinism cannot answer these questions, so there must be a better answer.
February 5th, 2020 at 10:56 am
After I put up this blog post, I saw this at The Gospel Coalition website, by Justin Dillehay, on “How Romans 8 Made Me a Calvinist.”
Just goes to show how divisive this issue has been for centuries, within the church.
February 5th, 2020 at 6:29 pm
This question has caused me a lot of concern for many of my years and after many troubling times I still don’t think I have a good grasp of the answer. It often gives me deep searches of my inner self. If God has made His mind up already, why do we continue to evangelize?
It seems to make no sense.
February 5th, 2020 at 7:29 pm
Great question, Jerry.
I highly recommend J. I. Packer’s classic book on this, _Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God_. In short, the standard “Reformed” answer is to say there is something called the “preacher’s call,” whereby we are all required by God to present the Gospel to every human, that God places in our path, as an act of obedience. In other words, we continue to evangelize because God commands us to do it.
And yet, this “preacher’s call” is different from the “effectual call,” whereby God elects a person to be saved. The issue is that we, as humans, never know who is “effectually called.” That is a profound mystery of God. But the “preacher’s call” goes out to everyone. And we are to trust that God will reach those who are His, but commands us to be the vehicles for presenting the Gospel to others.
Here is a short 3-minute video by Pastor Kevin DeYoung that might be helpful:
Here is a 5-minute video with John Piper on the same question:
February 5th, 2020 at 7:37 pm
Great article on the Synod of Dort, that just celebrated its 400 anniversary last year:
February 6th, 2020 at 11:05 am
Thanks Clarke for the feedback. It helps me to understand where the Reformers and the Armenians are coming from but as you might expect doesn’t completely resolve my understanding of this critically important and difficult aspect of biblical teachings. I suppose I come down on the Armenian interpretations even though it is helpful to hear what Piper is saying: That we should carry the gospel to all to allow those who are the elect to know that they are. He also answered one of my questions as to why there may be those who are not of the elect to be preaching to those who aren’t or maybe even those who are. (He says that God also elects those who are to be the missionaries). However, that surely doesn’t preclude having “false missionaries” since I haven’t met a Reformer yet who didn’t think they were of the elect. I surely hope they are and as an “Armenian” I surely hope that I am also. Meanwhile I will continue to put my faith in God’s loving grace and receive His justification and thereby, do what I can to help the ministry of His church.
February 6th, 2020 at 11:15 am
These are very helpful reflections, Jerry. Thank you.
Just one correction to make, which is vitally important. This issue is at the heart of the conflict between Reformers (a.k.a. Calvinists) and Armininans (NOT “Armenians”). Jacob Arminius, from which we get “Arminians” was the late 16th/ early 17th c. Reformer who challenged the teaching of his mentor, Theodore Beza, who was the successor of John Calvin, in Geneva, Switzerland. The “Armenians” are traditionally known as an ethnic group in eastern Turkey, who trace their spiritual roots back to Eastern Orthodoxy, part of the Eastern branch of the worldwide Christian movement, which is quite different from Protestantism, which is uniquely a part of the Western branch of worldwide Christianity.
February 6th, 2020 at 2:09 pm
Thanks for the clarification. I know better but must have relied on autocorrect for my typing.
Appreciate all your good work keeping this Blog going.