Thoughts on “Double Predestination”

Do you believe in double predestination?

If you’re theologically reformed, as am I, sooner or later you’ll get that question. The first and most important step in answering it is to understand what the person means by that phrase. Defining terms should always be our first step in any theological discussion. Unless we mean the same thing when we use the same words, we’ll never know if we agree or disagree, whatever the topic.

If they mean that before the foundation of the world, God the Father chose a people for Himself who would be saved, leaving others in their sin then, yes, I believe that. I believe that because that’s what the Bible teaches. Many people, especially those unfamiliar with reformed theology, equate that belief with double predestination. But, that’s not what the term means in a classical sense.

True double predestination, sometimes called equal ultimacy, teaches that God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect.

If this is what the questioner means, my answer is “no,” I do not believe in double predestination.

To explain why, let’s start with what the Bible says about the salvation of the elect. The Bible tells us that before we can believe, God must change our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26, John 6:65). Left to ourselves, we will never seek God because our hearts are naturally opposed to Him (Romans 3:11-12). For those whom He’s chosen to save, God steps in and does a work in their heart so they will repent and believe the gospel.

If, then, God is as active in the reprobation of the wicked as He is in the salvation of the elect, that implies God must do a work in people’s hearts to cause them to reject Him.  That, in turn, implies that human beings start out neutral, neither rejecting God nor choosing Him, and only after God inclines them one way or the other do they reject or accept Him. The Bible does not allow that position. It is clear that all men since Adam start out as God’s enemies with no desire to please Him or follow Him (Romans 5:10). Therefore, God does not have to do a work in someone’s heart for them to reject Him. That is man’s natural state apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Men do not start out neutral, they start out in rebellion against God.

But what about passages like Exodus 10:20 and others? This seems to teach that God did a work in Pharaoh’s heart that caused Pharaoh to reject Him. While it does say God did something in Pharaoh’s heart, that does not imply that Pharaoh’s heart was neutral before God’s action.  God was in the midst of showing His power and glory to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. His plan was to do this through a series of plagues, each of which showed His power in greater and greater ways and which, when completed, would result in Israel being set free and Pharaoh, who fancied himself a god, shown to be merely a man subject to the God of the universe (Exodus 9:16).

There are many reasons wicked men pull back from their wickedness that have nothing to do with repentance. They might, for example, relent because the consequences of continuing cause them personal hardship or harm. In the case of Pharaoh, God did not want him to relent until all ten plagues had been carried out. Therefore, He strengthened Pharaoh’s resolve to resist so that His plan for Egypt and Israel could be fully worked out (Exodus 11:9). In other words, God wanted the people of Israel to be released on His terms, not Pharaoh’s. God was not hardening Pharaoh’s heart against Him –  Pharaoh was already opposed to God. God was hardening Pharaoh’s heart against letting the children of Israel go before the God-ordained time.

In summary, God does not work in the hearts of men to cause them to reject Him. He does, however, graciously choose to work in the hearts of untold numbers of men and women from among every nation, tribe, people and language causing them to see His beauty and accept Him and for that we should praise Him (Revelation 7:9).

 

Does Everyone Get A Chance to be Saved?

English: A "Jesus Saves" neon cross ...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day. Someone I follow tweeted II Peter 3:9. That was quickly followed by another tweet saying “That’s a hard truth for many to accept but ALL have been offered the chance to repent.”

I couldn’t help myself so I replied to this person: “All people who have ever lived in the entire history of the world?”

They gave the standard response of “all means all” so I attempted to take it a step further, hopefully pushing them to think a bit:

“A native American living in what is now Montana in the year 1300?” I replied.

That’s when things got interesting. At first the person claimed they would not respond to “semantics.” However, I assured them this was not semantics but a specific application of their stated belief. After all, if what we believe does not work in application, perhaps we should rethink what we believe.

They next claimed that we don’t know how God works it all out but since we do know “all means all” there must be a way.

But, the truth is we DO know how God works it out. Romans 10:17 tells us faith comes by hearing the words of Christ. People who do not have the opportunity to hear the gospel cannot be saved. Now that’s a really hard truth.

So back to our native American in Montana in 1300. If the “all” of II Peter 3:9 includes him or her, then one of two things must be true:

  • There was a gospel witness in North America several hundred years before our current knowledge of history tells us there was.
  • There is a way other than hearing and responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ by which men may be saved.

Not being in possession of exhaustive historical knowledge, I cannot rule out the first option completely but I will say it is highly unlikely, especially as far west as Montana. And the further back we move this date toward the date of the resurrection, the more certain we can be no such witness had yet come to these shores.

That leaves the second option, which is where logically consistent Arminianism  must go – God has made some provision other than the one revealed in the New Testament for people to be saved.

As with history, even less do I have an exhaustive knowledge of God. But, I can know what He’s chosen to reveal. And one of the thing’s He’s revealed is that general revelation is not sufficient for salvation (Romans 1). No gospel witness (special revelation), no salvation.

But, some may say, couldn’t God give such people a gospel witness directly, not coming through human beings or the scriptures? A better question is, does the New Testament allow for such a belief? When speaking of God, it’s never a matter of ability. It’s not what can God do but what does God do. Can God fill my living room with Snickers bars? Yes. Is there any biblical evidence to suggest He will do so? No.

In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts we encounter a man named Cornelius:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” (Acts 10:1-3)

So what did this angel say next? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?” No, the angel instructed him to send for Simon Peter. Despite his reputation as a devout man, Cornelius needed salvation. So God’s messenger instructed Cornelius to send for a man who would share the gospel with him. Could the angel have shared the gospel with Cornelius? Yes. Did God choose to work that way? No.

In fact there is not one example in the entire New Testament of anyone receiving the gospel apart from the preached or taught word. The only possible exception would be the apostle Paul. But, like the other apostles, Paul had an encounter with the risen Christ that not only saved him but set him apart for special service as an apostle – an office that no longer exists.

So does “all” then not mean “all?” Actually yes, it does – in context. When not speaking hyperbolically (I tell you that ALL the time) “all” means the complete number of people or things in view. If I say, at the start of a church business meeting, “are we all here?” I do not have in view a farmer in Uzbekistan or a banker in London. I mean, of the group of people we expect to be at this meeting, are any of them still missing?

Any time we see the word “all” in scripture, or elsewhere in literature, we need to ask “who is in view?” and in II Peter, that “who” is the elect.

The simple but hard truth is that everyone does not get a “chance.” There were thousands of people who perished in areas of the world where the gospel was unknown for generations. There are thousands of people today who perish apart from a gospel witness. This is why the Great Commission is so important. In fact, it’s why the Great Commission exists at all. If the going and the telling are not necessary for the salvation of the lost, then it’s merely a Good Option, not a Great Commission.

Islam – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part IV

Abraham Kuyper, Lectures on Calvinism, Islam
Portrait of Abdul Hamid II, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire (1876-1909). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Islam made it’s appearance in the seventh century, it’s humble beginnings belied it’s future influence. By Abraham Kuyper’s time, under the Ottoman Empire, Islam was practiced over a large portion of the world including many places, such as Syria and Asia Minor, that had been Christian for hundreds of years earlier in history. Though the Ottoman Empire was in it’s final decades by the time Kuyper delivered these lectures, Islam would live on.

As we continue to look at Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism given at Princeton University in 1898, we’ll now consider his views on Islam and how that belief system answers the three life-system questions.

How Does Man Relate to God?

In paganism we saw that God is indistinguishable from the creation. Kuyper sees Islam as the antithesis of this. In Islam, there is no contact between the creature and God. As Kuyper puts it, in Islam God’s role is to “avoid all commingling with the creature.” This leads to Islamic beliefs about heaven or paradise being a place of personal sensual indulgence and pleasure rather than a place where man is in the presence of God.

How Does Man Relate to Man ?

One need only look around to see that there are many differences among men. According to Kuyper a belief system must explain why that is and their explanation of that translates into how other people are treated. He says of Islam:

Under Islamism, which dreams of its paradise of houries, sensuality usurps public authority, and the woman is the slave of man, even as the kafir is the slave of the Moslim.

In other words, if heaven is a place where sensuality is king and that is achieved by subordinating some people to others, the same attitude will reign on earth. If it’s going to be a woman’s job to cater to my sexual needs for eternity in paradise, why should I see her as my equal here and now?

How Does Man Relate to the World?

Islamism places too low an estimate upon the world, makes sport of it and triumphs over it in reaching after the visionary world of a sensual paradise.

It was a bit difficult to draw out Kuyper’s beliefs about Islam in this work since he deals with it less than any of the other belief systems. However,he later wrote a more extensive work dealing with Islam. If you’d like to explore Kuyper’s teaching on this topic some more, it can be read at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library:

The Mystery of Islam by Abraham Kuyper

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Paganism – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part III

Paganism

What comes to mind when you hear the word “pagan?” Maybe someone in a more primitive time or place prostrating themselves before the an idol? While there is some truth to that – such a person would be a pagan – there’s more to it than that. Paganism is not just idol worship but a world-view that, as we’ll see in a moment, confuses two very important things – God and the creation.

As we saw last time, Kuyper says a life-system is defined by the answers to three questions:

  • How does man relate to God?
  • How does man relate to man?
  • How does man relate to the world?

This time we’ll look at how he says paganism answers those questions.

How does a Pagan relate to God?

In paganism, man worships God in the creature. Any belief system that doesn’t have a concept of the independent existence of God apart from creation is pagan. As Kuyper says, this is true of the lowest animism and the highest Buddhism.

In our day, this can be said of the many belief systems that enshrine nature and ecological concerns above all things. These groups are sometimes called neo-pagan but they are really just a resurgence of the garden variety paganism of centuries past.

This would include any belief system claiming man contains the divine or that man has the ability to become divine or has within himself all that is needed for redemption. This too fails to separate God from His creation and is therefore pagan – because ultimately what is worshiped in such systems is man.

How does a Pagan relate to his fellow man?

If there is no differentiation between the creation and the creator, then men will equate the “good” they see in creation with divinity. So, if I’m healthy, wealthy & wise, it must be because I’m more god-like than those who aren’t so fortunate. According to Kuyper, from this line of thinking comes the caste systems of India & Egypt. Those who are furthest from god-likeness (as evidenced by their low station in life) are inferior and therefore to be subordinated to those who are of higher caste. The more god-like something is, the more right it has to rule over the unwashed masses. Roman emperor worship was in this category. The Third Reich was in this category as well. Much has been written about their fascination with paganism and I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to view their belief in a “master race” which had the power of life and death over their “inferiors” as a consequence of that.

We see this today in the radical environmentalism that weeps over the felling of old growth forests while treating as sacrosanct a woman’s right to kill her unborn child.

How does a Pagan relate to the world?

Kuyper says, paganism has too high an estimate of the world. Paganism says the world is to be worshiped. The planet is not a resource to be used for the betterment of mankind but a god-like living thing to be preserved in it’s pristine state, even if that means human beings have to suffer and die to accomplish that.

Next time: How does Islam answer the three life-system questions?

What Is Your World View? – Lectures on Calvinism by Abraham Kuyper – Part II

Abraham Kuyper on world view
Abraham Kuyper in his study (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We live in a world that compartmentalizes life. I’m not the same person at work as I am at home, as I am with my friends – or on social media. This is, sadly, often true in the church as well. While the excuse many people give for avoiding church, because it’s full of hypocrites, is just that, an excuse, there is some truth in the accusation.  Our faith is often not in evidence past the threshold of the church on Sunday.

Abraham Kuyper would have had none of that. For him, Christianity impacted all of life. This is the second in a series of posts that looks at his Lectures on Calvinism. You can read the introduction here.

In this first lecture, Kuyper’s point is that belief systems have consequences. It is our actions and reactions Monday – Saturday that show what we really believe, not what we claim on Sunday. We all operate out of what he calls a life-system (we’d probably say world-view) that is grounded in our beliefs. Taken to a cultural level, the life-system adopted by a culture, influences how that culture is governed, views religion, art, science and all of life.

According to Kuyper, life-system is revealed by answers to these three questions:

  1. How does man relate to God?
  2. How does man relate to man?
  3. How does man relate to the world?

Every belief system answers those questions somewhat differently.

Lecture one is an overview of how five major belief systems answer these questions:

  • Paganism
  • Islamism
  • Romanism (Roman Catholicism)
  • Modernism
  • Calvinism

The Struggle

Kuyper saw the struggle of his day being between the life-systems of Christianity and modernism. This modernism sprang from the soil of the French Revolution in 1789 and was fertilized by Darwin some 70 years later – a crop which continues to bear fruit in our day. France after the revolution was the first nation in the western world to adopt a consciously anti-God philosophy. Kuyper, rightly I believe, attributed the tyranny of the French Revolution to this godlessness and he believed that tyranny in general resulted from having an incorrect view of God. He argues that the best counterbalance to tyranny is found in the Christianity of Calvin which he credits with being responsible for the expansion and embrace of liberty and constitutional statesmanship in the western world – something he explores in more depth later in the lectures.

How would you answer Kuyper’s three life-system questions?

Next time: What is paganism and how does Kuyper say it answers the three life-system questions?