Friday, December 08, 2006

Letters Along the Way

I recently received a voicemail from a college guy I've been "discipling" with questions regarding the issue of Predestination. While I did not go into the depths of exegetical/theological wrestling, I thought it was an interesting enough discussion to post here and see who I could get riled up. I thought it better to respond, rather than a 30 second voicemail, with an email that I've included the text of below:

I thougth it may be easier and more helpful to respond to you via email. I hope all is going well, and look forward to seeing you in a week or two!

Regarding the "election" of the unsaved:

This is a VERY touchy area theologically. My view is different from most at CBTS, but I'll describe both. The question is essentially "Does God elect people to damnation in the same way that He elects people to salvation." I say "yes" but be advised I'm in a SMALL minority. Most, even the most Calvinists say "no."

Those who say no, even the calvinists typically describe this topic (commonly referred to as reprobation) in terms of God "passing over" those He hasn't elected. In other words, some He chooses to salvation and this is CLEAR from Scripture (remember Ephesians 1?). The rest, He simply doesn't choose...that is, He leaves them to go their own way, in there depravity. Without His intervention, they naturally don't choose Him (Rom 1:18, 3:11) and thus spend an eternity under His condemnation. Since scripture does NOT explicitly say that He elects them to damnation, this option supposedly provides what theologians refer to as a theodicy, that is a justification or vindication of God. I infer (perhaps they imply) that it would be morally wrong, or evil of God to elect people to damnation; entirely capricious. Since it is all of grace that He chooses ANY to salvation, He is not compelled to choose all; hence those He doesn't choose, will never choose Him.

The problem I have here is that I'm not convinced this "vindicates" God (as if we had to). [Editorial note - My wife's somewhat less theologically nuanced, though equally satisfying response to this argument was: "That's stupid! It doens't solve anything."] If He COULD have done something and He DIDN'T, I don't see how this makes Him anymore benevolent or less capricious. Furthermore, I think there are at least two scripture passages that have direct bearing here:

Romans 9:17-23 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth." 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.....22What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory...

1 Peter 2:6-8 For this is contained in Scripture: "Behold I lay in Zion a choice stone, a precious corner stone, And he who believes in Him shall not be disappointed." 7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe. But for those who disbelieve, "The stone which the builders rejected, This became the very corner stone," 8 and, "A stone of stumbling and a rock of offense"; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.

These verses are pivotal for me. I emboldened the most significant phrases, but in the larger context, they are even that much more persuasive. To be sure, others don't ignore these texts and would offer up alternate interpretations or ways of getting around them. Bottome line: you must wrestle with the texts and correlate them into your understanding of the doctrine of God. The reason why it's such a touchy issue is because of what some people infer (which is different from imply) from this doctrine. Many think to come to the conclusion that I do is to impune God with with evil actions or motives. However, it comes back to your understanding of sovereignty (which is a worldview shaping doctrine). Here's a quote from Karl Barth that I recently posted on my blog (be forewarned though, quoting Barth at [his college] won't do much but get you in more trouble :-)

"From the act of atonement that has taken place in Jesus Christ, it is clear that in evil we do not have to do with a reality and power which have escaped the will and work of God, let alone with something that is sovereign and superior in relation to it. Whatever evil is, God is it's Lord."

That last statement in bold is fantastic and thoroughly biblical. I grant you this is a short and perhaps slanted response, but that's the nature of email. Let me know if you have more questions or if there are other texts in particular that you're wrestling with. Of course none of this rules out moral responsibility. Yes we do make genuine choices that have eternal consequences, but NONE of this is outside of the sovereign control of God. "Whosoever will may come?" Yes. But be sure to balance it with "No one comes unless the Father draws them" (John 6:44). There is a tension to be sure, but who ever said theology was easy? :-)

- Nate

PS, I think I'm going to post a copy of this on my blog, if you don't mind. You've raised an excellent question that I think is worth wrestling with in a public context.


Luther's Stein said...


Just two things from me; first, I wonder if part of the difficulty of this problem springs from our use of "election" as a theosophical term for "determinism." I prefer not to speak of an election of the lost to damnation, not for the purpose of defending God, but because I think when we use the term "election" to speak of simple determinism we might be destroying some of the biblical nuance of the word -- the gracious act of God in setting his heart to love his enemies and give himself to them. However, when it comes to an issue of determinism, any who argue for a comprehensive doctrine of decrees has to acknowledge this. So perhaps the issue lies in the matter of defining "election" -- perhaps this is a job for TDNT!

Second, it appears that you have changed your profile picture to a picture of Nich Lechey (or is that Justin Timberlake) is holding Noah . . . can you confirm this?

NWMihelis said...

I catch your drift, but typical of my minimalistic approach, would not invest that much meaning into the term itself. I'm okay with using it as "simple determinism" as the word just means to choose. Obviously the context/discourse is what determines (no pun intended) the "biblical nuance" See Luke 14:7 or Acts 15:25 for example. True, TDNT would surely have something to say here; I'd check my version, but we were short on TP last month...then again, don't you have the family pack...I mean full set? :-)

As for the picture...confirmed. My wife actually changed it. For the record, I did suggest putting a sweater vest over the tank top for your sake, but she wouldn't let me.

Luther's Stein said...

Agreed as to the roll of context -- we will have to agree to disagree regarding the sweater vest.

Josh said...


Just a quick thought on the idea of God "passing over" those who are not elected for salvation. As I read the Bible, I do not read the specific words that "God chooses people to burn in hell." What I do read is -

Josh. 11:18-20
"Joshua made war a long time with all those kings. There was not a city that made peace with the children of Israel, save the Hivites the inhabitants of Gibeon: all other they took in battle. For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might destroy them utterly, and that they might have no favour, but that He might destroy them, as the Lord commanded Moses"

I Peter 2:8
And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.” They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.

Did God "pass over" Pharaoh or was there an activity by God to bring Pharaoh to the actions he committed. Did God "pass over" Judas or was there an activity by God to bring Judas to the actions he committed. (If it was predicted before Judas was even born, it does not seem that Judas was "passed over."

I am no scholar, but to remove God from the damnation of the wicked seems to go against the teachings of the Bible.

In conclusion, I understand the difficulty and the caution that must be taken on the subject, but if you are in the minority on this truth, than let’s hold hands and walk this lonely road together. (of course you can hold you wife’s hand with your other hand and I will hold my wife’s hand with my other hand) What a weird mental picture this brings.

Pitchford said...

If you would just cool it with the hand-holding, I'll walk the same lonely road with you guys. I appreciate all the textual evidence brought to bear, I tolerate all the Kittel-and sweater-vest slurs, and I agree with the theology espoused. Which is why I keep coming back...

robertlhall said...

Good post, although I agree with Baylor on the use of the term. I think you are flirting with an open view if you don't admit God's sovereignty over the damnation of the lost...although people do it without realizing the implications.

By the way, I thought that was a sweatervest...I will still defend them. I am sure there is some sort of illustrative or metaphorical use they could be put to.

smlogan said...

if you would just cool it with walking the lonely road, everyone else could get back to hand-holding.

you know (as well as i) that thomas is the authority on boy-bands. leave that genre to him...

i too am with you on this, and in my experience it has easily been the most unpopular of all the doctrines i embrace.

certainly the God who sits in the heavens and does whatever pleases him needs no justification from men - and nothing is more frustrating than when people begin their theological rant with: "i just don't think it's fair that God..." sadly, i've even had profs in grad school use that line.

as for texts that inform the discussion, i'll never forget the day i wasn't speed-reading through deuteronomy (baylor and hall: stop hearing schwarzeneggar) and stumbled over 28:63 "It shall come about that as the LORD delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the LORD will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you..."

G said...

One who argues with his Creator is in grave danger, one who is like a mere shard among the other shards on the ground! The clay should not say to the potter, “What in the world are you doing? Your work lacks skill!”
This is what the Lord says, the Holy One of Israel, the one who formed him, concerning things to come: “How dare you question me about my children! How dare you tell me what to do with the work of my own hands!" Isa 45:9, 11

NWMihelis said...

G and Logan:

Nice additions. Logan, that verse is one of my favorites in the whole Pentateuch. Probably second only to Ps 115:3 in the OT

G said...

You need to change the e-mail address on your comment notification. Every time I comment here, I get an e-mail saying that your cbvb address does not exist. Still clinging to the past I see. Time to move on.

smlogan said...

yea, nate...
it is insanely loaded with theology.
and i'm with you on 115.3 - right along the last few chapters of Job.