Determined to Believe: Chapter 6 - Foreknowledge, Predestination and Election

This is a book study on John Lennox’s book ‘Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith, and Human Responsibility’. Lennox openly acknowledges that he has not provided definite solutions to these deep questions of the faith and that there is mystery involved. He clearly acknowledges that God is sovereign, but that we need to think carefully about what the word ‘sovereign’ means Biblically. This book, per my understanding, is an invitation for Christians to spend time thinking deeply about what the Bible means when it describes God as sovereign.

Greetings fellow bookies (@Interested_in_book_studies) - we are now on Chapter 6! I look forward to hearing your favorite quotes and your reflections on this subject matter.

My main takeaways were:

  • foreknowledge and predestination must not be interpreted in such a way that they negate human responsibility
  • because we cannot see things from God’s point of view, we should be careful about using human analogies
  • foreknowledge is not necessarily causative
  • the term predestination in the Bible is usually not being used in reference to salvation (3 of 14 times)
  • the Bible is not saying we are chosen to believe, but it is telling us what believers have been chosen for

Questions for Discussion

  1. Is foreknowledge always causative? Give an example.
  2. Why must we be careful about using human analogies?
  3. What jumped out to you most about this chapter?

Quotes

three of the big ideas associated with God’s sovereignty: foreknowledge, predestination, and election.

the Bible itself does not regard God’s foreknowledge or predestination as diminishing human responsibility.

Christ’s crucifixion was both foreknown and predestined, but that the men involved in it were wicked and therefore morally responsible.

however we understand the terms, we may not interpret them in such a way that they negate human moral responsibility.

on the human level foreknowledge – knowing something in advance – is not necessarily causative.

it would of course be wise to be cautious with human analogies, since for the Creator and Sustainer of all things to know something in advance is hardly likely to be exactly the same as our knowing something in advance.

The idea that, because God knows about an event beforehand it must be predetermined, may rest on the assumption that God’s relationship with time is the same as ours; that he sits, as we do, on a time line that stretches from the past to the future. However, Scripture indicates that God’s relationship to time is not at all like ours.

It could be, for instance, that God knew beforehand that I would trust Christ simply because he sees it in an eternal perspective, so that the issue of causation does not even arise.

our Lord knew not only what did happen in Tyre and Sidon in his day, and in Sodom centuries before, but what would have happened had they been presented with different evidence. And that knowledge will be used at the Day of Judgment.

assumption that the word predestination always refers to salvation. This, however, is not the case. Indeed, only three of the fourteen references listed above are even arguably related to the matter of salvation.

Obviously, the words “elect” or “chosen” here do not carry the idea of selection out of a group of candidates, since there were no other candidates – just as in Acts 17:31 Christ’s appointment as judge did not involve him being selected from a group.

the fact that God chose Israel did not mean that all Israelites were believers; or that all Gentiles were unbelievers. This opens up the idea of God choosing that there should be a group such as Israel to carry out his purposes, as distinct from his choosing the individuals who should be in

Peter is not saying we are chosen to be believers, but explaining what God has chosen believers for. It is his intention to sanctify them, to make them increasingly holy, through their obedience to Jesus Christ.

That is, although the word “chosen” is not qualified, the context makes clear that the choosing was done on the basis of certain clear criteria. The king chose to issue invitations, and when the recipients chose to ignore him, or worse, he chose to issue invitations to people on the streets.

They can only be saved if God takes the initiative and provides salvation for them. On this, most if not all Christians will surely agree, whatever their position on determinism.

I hope that the reader will grant me that I fully share their concern not to detract from God’s glory in any way.

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I thought it was great that John Lennox listed many of the verses associated with foreknowledge, predestination, and election. It really is helpful to see all the verses put together and then we get to compare them for ourselves. The only problem, I guess, is that the context could be lost.

Anyway, Lennox brings up Molinism. Welcome to the debate, third perspective “ism”! The only prominent Molinist I know of would be William Lane Craig. I’m not so sure, but I have heard before (from James White and others) that Molinism is a kind of Arminianism. Now I’m not aware if that is true, because I haven’t done enough reading up on the Molinist perspective, but would anyone else be aware if it is? I’d be interested to know.

The passage used to support Middle knowledge is Matthew 11:20-24, about Sodom repenting if such works were done there as in Capernaum, as well as miracles done in Korazin and Bethsaida if had been done Tyre and Sidon. Lennox makes a very valid plea here:

Let me remind the reader that our approach is not To proceed from “isms” but from Scripture, as there is a danger (and it lurks here once more) that the moment we use the “ism” our attention is likely to be drawn to a whole package of ideas and be diverted from the fact that scripture actually teaches that God has knowledge of what “would happen if” - a kind of knowledge we may find it hard to grasp. (p 110)

This is so accurate, it hurts. When “isms” are brought up, one can so easily get caught up with what Lennox calls “the whole package.” One only has to look at the political arena. Every side has its own misconceptions about the other. That’s what I see here as well. I must admit that I’m also quite guilty of this as well. I could be reading a great book on apologetics or theology, but then I find out (either from the book itself or from a secondary source like a YouTube video or webpage) that the author subscribed to Reformed theology, I immediately think of predestination and election, and how this shapes their thinking on evangelism and witnessing to nonbelievers. It is hard to stop doing this subconsciously, but I’m getting better managing this unnecessary bias.

I thought Lennox’s argument on the word “choice” used in scripture was pretty convincing. “The fact that God chose Israel did not mean that all Israelites were believers; or that all Gentiles were unbelievers. (p 115)” Lennox argues. The words “election” and “choose” don’t always carry the meaning ascribed to it (namely, unconditional election). I particularly found his advice to always ask “what for?” every time we come across these words to be helpful, especially when he links it to the parable King’s banquet found in Matthew 22. To balance this out, his argument on the term “appointed” in Acts 13:48 did not impress me. It does not seem very strong to me. Who knows, maybe I don’t understand it properly. His definition of the Greek root word of “appointed” still has the “to cause someone…” in his given definition and explains it away as meaning in context the Gentiles in Acts 13 replace the Jews “to [consciously] get into line [for salvation]” (p 121).

I have a question to ask: Lennox quotes Calvin again, and in that quote Calvin writes, “All are not created on equal terms…” and goes on into explain predestination. Does he mean, when saying all are not created equal, that only the elect are created in God’s image or am I putting too much weight on one easily misunderstood phrase? This may seem mean spirited or a little confronting, but I ask this honestly.

Lastly, I’m totally on board with Lennox when he asks why God doesn’t save everyone if human responsibility has no part in theistic determinism (or Calvinism, to mention labels). The quote by R.C. Sproul here grieves me: “I don’t doubt For a moment that God has the power to save all, but I know that he does not choose to save all. I don’t know why” (p 123). I put a big frowny face in the margins of my book right beside that quote. Lennox wisely quotes 1 Timothy 2:3-4 soon after.

I was wondering what people thought of Thomas McCall’s four premises that lead to the conclusion that all persons will be saved if election was true. Which premise is the weakest? Does it hold water?

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No.
I have used this before.

10 And David said, “O Yahweh, God of Israel, your servant has clearly heard that Saul is seeking to come to Keilah to destroy the city because of me. 11 Will the rulers of Keilah deliver me into his hand? Will Saul come down as your servant has heard? O Yahweh, God of Israel, please tell your servant!” And Yahweh said, “He will come down.” 12 Then David said, “Will the rulers of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?” And Yahweh said, “They will deliver you.” 13 So David and his men got up, about six hundred men, and went out from Keilah and wandered wherever they could go. When it was told to Saul that David had escaped from Keilah, ⌊he stopped his pursuit⌋.
(Sa 23:10–13 LEB)

I think we see God’s foreknowledge but we also see that it did not come to past.

And here is quote from Michael Heiser:

This has significant implications for not only the fall, but the presence of evil in our world in general. God is not evil. There is no biblical reason to argue that God predestined the fall, though he foreknew it. There is no biblical reason to assert that God predestined all the evil events throughout human history simply because he foreknew them.
Heiser, M. S. (2015). The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (First Edition, p. 66). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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Good example @Jimmy_Sellers - I had never thought of addressing the question of sovereignty with that text.

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@O_wretched_man Great thoughts. I do not think it would be fair to classify Molinism as a subset of Arminianism - they are different ‘isms’ imagined by very different individuals :slight_smile: Luis de Molina was a Spanish Jesuit Priest and Jacob Arminius was a Dutch Reformer whose theological climate was heavy with Calvinism. However, I think both do tend to allow humans the freedom to choose or reject God, which is probably what James White is saying.

Thought this interview with Thomas McCall was helpful:

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Don’t worry, RC Sproul’s views troubles me too. I cannot agree on this extreme view of things.

In light of this it seems well-nigh incredible that the doctrine of predestination has been extrapolated to become an all-encompassing divine determinism that knows no bounds – as in the view of R. C. Sproul cited earlier:
The movement of every molecule, the actions of every plant, the falling of every star, the choices of every volitional creature, all of these are subject to his sovereign will. No maverick molecules run loose in the universe beyond the control of the Creator. If one such molecule existed, it could be the critical fly in the eternal ointment.

Lennox, John C. Determined to Believe: The Sovereignty of God, Freedom, Faith and Human (p. 112). Lion Hudson. Kindle Edition.

I would have a simple question in response to theological determinism.

Why would Jesus, who is God in the flesh, teach us to pray and include the line
“Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. If Sproul is correct in that every atom in the universe is already in it’s place, why would Jesus pray and teach us to pray a prayer that seems pointless.

This is the problem with things, God’s will is not being done on earth; sin has entered the picture, and the results of sin is death (death of relationships with others; as Andy Stanley says ‘sin kills’)… Death was not God’s original design in the Garden of Eden - God designed Adam and Eve to live forever with Him. This is why, just quietly to myself, I object to animal death before the Fall, and don’t believe that God used evolution to create; I believe that because of the result of the Fall it was subject to decay;

19The creation waits in eager expectation for the revelation of the sons of God. 20For the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because ofthe One who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.…

I think that the problem of natural ‘suffering’ (as opposed to ‘evil’ being active)… is because the free moral choice of Adam and Even also brought natural suffering into the world.

That’s another big problem with theological determinism - in my opinion - is that it also assigns the source of evil and suffering back to God - thus bring the character of God into question. This is a big problem for me.

I’ve had a friend who went down the path of universal salvation; I believe in response to your first quote from RC Sproul. “I don’t doubt For a moment that God has the power to save all, but I know that he does not choose to save all. I don’t know why”

His view was that if God was all powerful, and everything was determined, then this gave weight to universal salvation. It’s fairly logical to assume that an all-powerful God who loves and is completely sovereign would cause all to be saved via unconditional election.

Of course, this position of universal salvation still doesn’t deal with personal responsibility or morality being actually real, or our love being a choice (our choice is in response to God reaching out to us). It still reduces humanity to (in my opinion) autonotoms which seems to remove all meaning from love.

just a few thoughts, perhaps not clearly laid out - I don’t claim to know answers of course (I can only rest on the revealed love of Jesus shown at the cross)… :slight_smile:

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I am not familiar with McCall but I like the way he is thinking. I am not on board with his conclusion.
I personally believe that all people by virtue of their very existents are chosen by God. In the life of everyone God will reveal himself. It is yours to reject. In short you start out in the book of life. If you reject this life you are blotted out.
Just my thoughts.

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@Jimmy_Sellers
Your thoughts on the book of life got me thinking. Since abortion is such a hot topic right now, what view do you think a Calvinist would hold on abortion: are all aborted children part of the elect by default or are there some who actually are not (predetermined to go to hell by the sin in a life they would have committed)? Is this a fair dilemma? Since I’m not a divine determinist, my view is that they all automatically go to heaven because their lives were taken before they had the opportunity to live outside the womb.

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On page 115 Of my copy (digital) you will find this quote

…unconditional election has been seen by many as a barrier to the free preaching of the gospel.

In the context that it was written I understand it is referring to the church’s fulfillment of the great commission.

This got me to thinking is possible that someday in the future a law would be passed against preaching the Gospel using this as justification. I know it is far fetched but if I were an antagonist I think I could make a case against preaching based on this.

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Three simple things that really made a huge impact on me were:

  1. the term predestination in the Bible is usually not being used in reference to salvation (3 of 14 times)

  2. When it says chosen, you need to ask yourself, chosen for what? This is important because paradigm pressure may lead me to read something into the text. Which leads to the third point,

  3. the Bible is not saying we are chosen to believe, but it is telling us what believers have been chosen for

Three simple, yet powerful takeaways from this chapter for me.

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@c3vanzyl Good stuff! Yes, i think one of the most important takeaways from this chapter is that we should let the Biblical text help us define the words rather than bringing our definitions of the words to the text.

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One thought concerning God’s foreknowledge and God living outside of time as we know it. I remember reading something that C.S. Lewis said that really got me thinking. He asked, “Does God know what you’re going to do tomorrow?” His answer was, “No, he doesn’t know what you’re going to do, he SEES YOU DOING IT.” I’m still processing that. It would make sense in what you all were talking about above concerning I Sam 23, where God seemed to foreknow something that would happen that didn’t. Maybe God can “see” all the scenarios happening. I don’t know - it’s definitely an interesting way to think about it.

I also agree with @Jimmy_Sellers concerning the Book of Life - that everyone who lives (including the preborn) have our names in the book and some later have their names blotted out. John 1:9 says that the light “lighteth EVERY man that comes into the world”. I remember that John MacArthur, a Calvinist, had to write a book about children and election because there were so many in his congregation that had miscarried or had lost children and were distraught not knowing if they had been “elect” or not. So he had to come up with a para-doctrine to assuage them - that all children and adults with mental disabilities must be part of the elect.

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I very much enjoy following the discussions here :). Thank you everybody for contributing. @Jimmy_Sellers , i am not sure everyone’s name is written in the book of life since the beginning. If so How would one explain this verse :
Revelation 13:8 English Standard Version (ESV)

8 and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain.

I suppose in this verse in revelation it conveys the meaning there are some people that have never been written in the book of life to begin with. I am not sure if other translations would not convey that meaning though

In any case wishing everybody a blessed week ahead.

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The takeaway from this chapter for me was simple really, though not so easy. To pay very close attention to what the scripture is actually saying and that can mean slowing down my preconceived ideas and looking closer. It is helpful to hear from the differing learned men and what they teach, but still the studious thinking better be from what scripture actually says as I look deeper and closer. WITH PRAYER!

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@mitwit I agree one of the big takeaways was being willing to reconsider our assumptions and taking the time to do so. I think one way we can do that is to study Scripture in a diverse community so that we are exposed to a multiplicity of perspectives. Have you found any useful methods for revealing blind spots in your own studies?

@Jazzphysicist @Jimmy_Sellers Do you guys think the Book of Life is a literal object or that it is just a metaphor for those who God has foreknown?

Thank you for yours thoughts. Here is a link to a previous post on this topic that might further flesh out my thoughts. Part of what has pushed me in the direction of ‘equal opportunity’ before a just and righteous God is the existences of evil. In one of the RZIM modules (Suffering) Vince Vitale introduced me to what he calls Non-ID theodicy, from the course note:

Summary of Non-Identity Theodicy
God can be understood as loving and good in the face of evil and suffering so long as:

  1. Those who come to exist could not have come to exist in a world without evil and suffering.
  2. God offers everyone a great life overall (this can include the afterlife).
  3. God is motivated in creating and sustaining the universe by a desire to love those who come to exist.

I hope this adds a little clarity to what I think.
Regarding Rev 13:8 what do we do with Rev 3:5?

The one who conquers in this way will be dressed in white clothing, and I will never erase his name from the book of life, and I will declare his name before my Father and before his angels.

Again thank for your thoughts.

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@SeanO,
Here is an interesting article on “Heavenly Tablets and the Book of Life”. The author does not make any conclusions but he uses many different sources starting with ANE tablets through the Jewish writings including the Talmud and Mishna.

This always brings me back to the question “If they believed it should I also believe it?”:grinning:
Here is another interesting link.

https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/book-of-life

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I think it is just a metaphor for those God has foreknown, at least in most passages i am familiar with. At least as used in revelation passages, it seems it would be best interpreted such.

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@Jazzphysicist That is the explanation that currently makes the most sense to me as well, but I have not studied it in depth.