Monday, January 11, 2010

Predestination and Free Will

A friend of mine has asked my opinion on the challenging theological question of the relationship of predestination and free will. That is, if everything is predestined it is predetermined, and if it is predetermined, then there is no such thing as freedom. On the other hand, if there is freedom in the sense of alternate possibilities, then there is things are not determined. The issue is complex and in my view there is no definitive solution. Here is my take on this issue. Rather than go through the whole thing, I will suggest some ideas I use to deal with the issue.

1. The Bible Affirms God's Knowledge of the Future and Thus, In One Sense, All is Predestined.
As I read the Scriptures, the Bible affirms that God knows all things, that is, he is omniscient. We see this at work in predictive prophecy, where Jesus for example, can know that Judas will betray him, and that Peter will deny him. There are also a range of OT prophesies which are fulfiled in the NT indicating God's knowledge over time. For example, Jesus' birthplace Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), that he would minister in Galilee and be called Might God among other things (Is 9:1-6). The predictions of the second coming of Christ are based on this.

To me, God's knowledge of the future indicates that, looking at the world from the perspective of God in his omniscience, all is set. This is scary to some, and seems to preclude freedom of any sort. This leads some Christians to take on the theology of hyper-Calvinism. This theology suggests that all is set, and that God has predetermined some for eternal life without any reference to their own volition.

2. The Bible Affirms Human Volition.
As I read the Scriptures, repeatedly we see evidence of people living out choices in their humanity and relationship with God. There is no evidence of robotic behaviour. People make choices. For example, Jonah is told by God to preach in Ninevah, but takes an alternative option, leading to God moving against him, and he ultimately relenting. We see people believing in God and falling away like Demas and Judas. The idea of salvation by faith presupposes human response to God. Some argue that faith is gift from God given to those God chooses. There are three texts that are misappropriated here. Eph 2:8-9 speaks of a gift from God and some believe the gift if faith. However, this is poor exegesis, as the gender of faith is feminine and 'this' is neuter, indicating that the gift is not the faith. The other two texts in 1 Cor 12:8 and Phil 1:29 can be explained without a harsh deterministic interpretation. For me, faith is the response of humanity to God. It is God-enabled, but not God-coerced. God calls us, enables us by his Spirit to respond, and we either do or don't. God's desire is the salvation of everyone (1 Tim 2:4-5; 2 Pet 3:9-10). We are saved by faith, this is not a work, but a willful acceptance of God's salvation. I like to call this human dimension of the puzzle, volition, rather than freedom. You see, 'freedom' is an illusion. No one is fully free but their choices are constrained by their own limits, understanding and context. Volition carries the same sense, that we can make choices.

This precludes for me the idea of a God who creates humankind without volition and chooses some and not others to spend eternity with. There is no apparent difference between a believer and an unbeliever in terms of volition. All are made in his image, he wants all to be saved. To argue harsh determination turns God into a cosmic monster, the antithesis of the God of the Scriptures. Neither does the argument of universalism stand. Universalism removes the problem of predestination and free will by arguing all are saved. The NT definitively states some will be saved, and others will not be.

3. These work together as a dialectic, in tension.
Putting these two together is a mystery in a sense. From our point of view it is impossible to satistactorally explain it. As I see it, we hold the two together in tension. This is a dialectic. I affirm both, and hold them together as truth, in tension.

As such, we can say that God has predetermined everything and within the framework of this, there is volition. God has allowed for this element within his knowledge. One way of thinking about it is a DVD of a movie. As we buy the DVD of our lives, the story is set and complete. However, within the framework of the life, there are millions of moments and choices. There is thus a blend of a complete story, and volition leading toward its outcome. This is an inadequate explanation, but I find it helps.

So, putting it together. I do not feel a need to resort to the Open Theists perspective or that of Arminianism to accept which seek creative explanations to the problem to ensure freedom is preserved. Rather, I would agree with compatibalism which agrees that determinism and volition are not incompatible. This is soft determinism.

Having said all this, I hold lightly to the way in which the two ideas can be reconciled. I affirm both and am happy to live with the tension of uncertainty concerning the how and the exact way in which the two work together. After all, I am not God, which is good news for the universe!

I know God is doing all he can to save all peoples. I know his because of the cross where Jesus voluntarily lived out his destiny and died for me on the cross. In so doing, he showed me the path of life. True freedom is to live out my humanity as I was created to do. It means me discovering the heart of God, seen on the cross, and give my life for his service. That is freedom, the freedom to love. Spirit, enable me to become that for which I was created, an image bearer living by faith springing forth into love.

14 comments:

George said...

Thanks for that perspective on a difficult topic. In my thinking of late it only goes to reinforce the danger that by digging through Scripture and fitting pieces together we think we have found a picture of the face of God. In reality we are more likely to create a picture that is merely a reflection of ourselves. This does not mean we do not study the bible and seek to discern the message it holds for us, but rather than immerse ourselves in the bible we would be better to let the bible immerse us in its own time.

God created us for fellowship, in love, we are made in His image. To suggest that he would discard some is to deny that Christ died once for all. Take the Bible to the cross and lets its words be illuminated by the light of the Son, this is where truth will be found.
In my humble and often crippled opinion.

Dr Mark K said...

I agree with you to an extent. On the one hand, yes, we see ourselves in God, anthroporphistic thinking. This is a danger if we push this too far. On the other hand, we are made in the image of God and created to do this. Our knowledge of God is found in reflection on creation and our humanity, which reflects God. Jesus himself shows us God, and he was as much a man as God. So there are two equal and opposite dangers here. Again, we must walk the tension of the dialectic.

An example is a harsh deterministic view of God as Father. If we hold that God creates some for destruction and some for eternity in a harsh deterministic manner, and we say that God is our father and the model of all fathering. Does this mean I can randomly choose to love one of my children and reject the other. I could say, kick a kid out, 'for my good pleasure', while pouring wealth and blessing on an other.

We are encouraged to think from our humanity to God, but with care that we do not cross lines here. Better to work back from God through the revelation of his will.

I agree with you wanting to work from Christ to theology. That is the way. If we have a christological, christocentric, christotelic view, we will see well... Woops, too many Christo words...

Your crippled opinion is valid as any other brother... including my tragic own.

George said...

Philippians 2:12 - it's not over till it's over, tension as you say brother tension!

B-REX said...

I like you what you wrote in this blog Mark. Far better to hold them both in tension. Totally agree with you on it.

Scott K said...

Hi Mark, how are you? hope your well bro!

As you know I find this topic every interesting, including your post. I am not sure of something though, something you said, that is of what you meant, and of how far you would go with the text you quoted - regarding your statement:

"There are three texts that are misappropriated here. Eph 2:8-9 speaks of a gift from God and some believe the gift if faith. However, this is poor exegesis, as the gender of faith is feminine and 'this' is neuter, indicating that the gift is not the faith. The other two texts in 1 Cor 12:8 and Phil 1:29 can be explained without a harsh deterministic interpretation."

The Text says it's a gift of God, and you afirm this in the statement made. So if faith is not the gift then what is it thats given. What this gift meantioned in this passage. And, what would you say about Romans 9?

Looking forward to hearing your answer to this hard topic.

Dr Mark K said...

Yo Scott. Phil 1:29 says that the present suffering of the Philippians is a gift alongside faith. This can be pushed in the direction of hyper-Calvinism and is one interpretation. However, as I remember saying in our Philippian's class, the suffering and faith are both gifts. The suffering is inflicted by the agency of Romanised Philippians rejecting the gospel and intimidating the Philippians. Thus, although the suffering is a gift, the agency is not God in direct terms. Analagously, this opens up the possibility that God is not the direct agent of the faith as well; rather, the people believe, and it is a gift. It does indicate at the least, that God is sovereign over both and allows them, and for positive reasons.

Eph 2:8-9 is obvious. The genders of gift (doron, neuter)and faith (pistis, feminine)rule it out grammatically. It is then likely that salvation is the gift.

In 1 Cor 12:9 faith (pistis) is a gift. However, one of the the points of the passage is the diversity of gifts whereby some are given this and that. So, pistis is preceded by hetero, the dative of heteros, whereby the gift is given to 'others' and so not all. As such, it is a total misreading to argue that this is salvation faith. One of the key points of 1 Cor 12 is that there is a diversity of gifts that God distributes, he does so at his will, and no one gets them all. Thus the faith here is some extra dimension of faith which some Christians have in the Lord. Comparable passages include 1 Cor 13:2; Rom 12:6.

These arguments convince me that the case for faith as a gift in the direct sense is weak. However, that anyone believes is a gift from God enabled by his work in our world, lives and beings. We cannot believe without him and his work within us.

Humbly, Mark.

daninkorea said...

Just wanna let you guys know that the 'ArdellaJ' Chinese comment is talking about pornography so you might want to delete & ban.

Also, I did want to follow up on what 'ScottK' said and Dr Mark K's response.

DrMarkK, you say that believing that the gift of Ephesians 2:8-9 is "poor exegesis," and that the genders 'rule it out grammatically.' Dr James White would say that your approach indicates 'less than thorough study of the Greek language':

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

The relevance of Paul's testimony here is based on the meaning of "that" in the phrase "that not of yourselves." What, in the preceding clause, is not of ourselves, but is the gift of God? Again, careful exegesis shines the light upon both traditional readings as well as those offered on the basis of less-than-thorough study of the Greek language. It is obvious that one cannot simply say "faith is the gift" and leave it at that. As is quickly pointed out, the word "that" is a neuter gender in the Greek language, and "faith" is a feminine term. And while that is well and good, it is only part of the story. In fact, there is nothing in the first phrase that matches "that" in gender ("grace" is feminine, "have been saved" is a masculine participle). Instead, the neuter demonstrative pronoun "that" is functioning to wrap up the entirety of the preceding clause. There is nothing in the first clause of Ephesians 2:8 that finds its origin in man, and that includes faith." Dr. James White, Debating Calvinism.

Not only is faith clearly a gift of God (see also 2 Peter 1:1, Philippians 1:29 - your exegetical gymnastics notwithstanding), but repentance is also that which is given to us or not given (e.g. 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Acts 11:18, 5:31 etc etc). Of course faith and repentance need to be given to us because otherwise we, who love the darkness and hate the light (John 3:19) would never come to the light. We would never repent or have faith. If we do, it shows our deeds have been done in God (John 3:21).

Why is that so hard for you to believe?

Also, what is the difference between what you call 'harsh determinism' and 'hyper Calvinism' and actual determinism and Calvinism? Are you using those terms in their historical sense or are you attempting to give new meanings to them?

Also also, what is your view of Ephesians 1:11 (since you seem to believe that God does not work all things to the counsel of His will)?

Also also also, in your opinion what logical or exegetical fallacies is Samuel Storms guilty of here? http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/faith-and-repentance/

I heard that you teach at Laidlaw College (that I once attended) and would hate to think of you making these mistakes in class. I hope to help you think about it more deeply, Biblically and non-Catholic-ly.

Dr Mark K said...

Thanks Daninkorea. I have removed that piece of porn, thanks for pointing it out!

Dr White is correct and I agree with him as do most scholars. And don't think I am not in agreement with Calvinism. If you read my post, I do agree with predestination. I believe God is omniscient and that predestination follows from this. It is harsh Calvinism I disagree with. Indeed, many historians argue that Calvin himself was not a hyper-Calvinist.

What I am saying is that, if the whole clause is in mind in the 'this' in Eph 2:8, it changes the way in which 'faith' can be understood. It means salvation and the process are from God. We all know that. Where faith is concerned in this text; is it a gift in a sense that God gives it to some and not others? Is it a gift in the sense that God enables humans to respond? It is a gift in the sense that God grants it only to those who accept it etc? The text does not say what harsh Calvinists want it to say.It is reading into the text a certain presupposed interpretation.

I mentioned compatibalism earlier in my blog. That resolves this issue. Worked into the predestined world is human response. To push to harsh Calvinism makes God a cosmic monster. We simply don't have to go there.

On 2 Pet 1:1, you can take 'faith' there subjectively as God having granted us personal salvation faith in a harsh sense. Or you can take it objectively, as God has granted us a great 'faith' i.e. 'the faith.' Pistis is used like this regularly in the NT.

The point I am making is that such exegetical gymnastics on both sides of the debate don't really help and divide us. You can mount fine philological and other arguments to buttress your own macro narratives, arguing this and that about fine details of the text until you are blue in the face. Yet, good scholars know that these same texts are capable of reading them in a different way.

So, I affirm both predestination and that human volitional response to God's salvation through faith (which God will enable for all if they are willing), are both component parts of God's work.

On Eph 1:11; amen, God does work all things to the counsel of his will. His will is to grant us all volition, enable us to believe, reveal himself to us in love and grace and miracle, and draw us to him. His hope is that all are saved. Or, do you believe his hope is that some are not? He actually wills people into existence to send them to eternal destruction? Nice?

This preserves the integrity of a Biblical Narrative that affirms God is omniscient and all things are predestined; and at the same time, through history, people, of their own volition, reject or accept God. The point is, God knows it all either way and he enables it.

I do not try to resolve it further because we stand on the human side of things. This is the key point, as Paul says, 'do not go beyond what is written.' As Isaiah says, 'you ways are not our ways' etc. Don't try to tie it all up. Clearly both sides of the debate are in Scripture (that is why the debate goes on). We are to affirm both. If we were standing in heaven with the full counsel of God with us, seeing the world from his perspective, it would be clear. But it is not, as Paul says, 'we see as in a mirror, dimly.'

Indeed your comments prove the point that we should not seek to go to the point of trying to nail down the system in perfection; as you question the integrity of my teaching and critique my exegesis, dare I say it, arrogantly and flippantly? Come and sit in my classes. Share a meal with me, my shout. Talk to me as a brother, our of love, rather than cast aspersions. This is not the way of the cross brother.

The real tragedy of the Calvinist-Arminian debates is the cost of love in the body of Christ. I say affirm that which is clear, seek to resolve as best as you can, leave the rest and walk in love. Shalom.

Dr Mark K said...

One more question. This whole discussion assumes that 'faith' in 2:8 is our response of faith. Could it be 'faithfulness' in the sense of 'Christ's faithfulness.' I know there are good arguments against this, but a number of scholars are asking this question (cf. Eph 3:5). If so, then the gift is salvation by grace through the faithfulness of Jesus. I am not convinced, but open to the possibility.


There are more ambiguities in the texts like this than we like to admit. As such, we must be incredibly careful to avoid absolutism. We must show epistemological humility.

I wonder on the predestination, free will thing, whether it is like an optical illusion. Check this out http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/albert-einstein-marilyn-monroe.php. When you look at the picture close up, it is Albert Einstein. When you move about 15 feet away it becomes Marilyn Munroe.

When we look at salvation from our point of view it is as if we choose God by our own will and volition. When we get further away and see it from God's perspective, we realise that he knew all along and that all is predestined. Yet, when we move closer to the picture, it changes back again.
That is because it is both, cleverly designed.

That is how I see it my brother from another mother. Bless you.

Scott K said...

"The will of man without grace is not free, but is enslaved, and that too with its own consent." - Martin Luther

Scott K said...

"A man who has no part in the grace of God, cannot keep the commandments of God, or prepare himself, either wholly or in part, to receive grace; but he rests of necessity under the power of sin."
Martin Luther

"It is false that the will, left to itself, can do good as well as evil, for it is not free, but in bondage."
- Martin Luther

Scott K said...

"To will is of nature, but to will aright is of grace."
- Augustine Sermons

"Grace does not destroy the will but rather restores it."
- Augustine On Grace And Free Will

"Who does not tremble at these judgments, where God works even in evil men's hearts, whatever he wills, yet renders to them according to their deserts?"
- Augustine On Grace And Free Will


Have got to love these guys! :-) Praise God for the reformation or we would be thinking our wills are free, that we are not in bondage to anything, believe our wills are but an optical illusion. We might find ourselves saying things like:

"There are more ambiguities in the texts like this than we like to admit. As such, we must be incredibly careful to avoid absolutism. We must show epistemological humility."

"I wonder on the predestination, free will thing, whether it is like an optical illusion. Check this out http://www.123opticalillusions.com/pages/albert-einstein-marilyn-monroe.php. When you look at the picture close up, it is Albert Einstein. When you move about 15 feet away it becomes Marilyn Munroe."

"When we look at salvation from our point of view it is as if we choose God by our own will and volition. When we get further away and see it from God's perspective, we realise that he knew all along and that all is predestined. Yet, when we move closer to the picture, it changes back again.
That is because it is both, cleverly designed."

God Bless you.

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