You Should Have Seen this Coming-A Debate on the Views of God’s Sovereignty

But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled.” -Acts 3.18

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.” -Romans 8.29

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.” -Ephesians 1.3-6

As I sit reading Norman Geisler’s book Chosen but Free it is impossible for me not to get drawn into the whole debate on the relationship between God’s sovereignty and man’s free will. Therefore, over however many posts it takes me to work this out of my system, I plan on addressing various views of this issue, raising (and hopefully resolving) certain theological and philosophical questions, and generally trying to establish a framework for how we should view these doctrines. This will also be a little rough, I imagine, as most of it is going to be free-form thought and not a well-orchestrated treatise a la Jonathan Edwards.

That said, let’s begin by looking at what I take to be the only three possible situations; which I shall label as the Calvinist view, the Arminian view, and the moderate view. The issue at stake here is the proper relationship between God’s sovereign decree of events (predetermination) and man’s free ability to choose (spoken of in terms of God’s foreknowledge of their choice). The perspective we place here will inform how we see many things occurring, with a particular emphasis on how this balance informs our view of the act of salvation (our soteriology).

The Calvinist View

For the Calvinist, God’s predetermination of events precedes (or is independent of) foreknowledge, and so God predetermines events to occur and then works through time to influence their occurring. Thus, take something such as the death of Christ as spoken of in Acts 4.24-28,

And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit, “‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’”- for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

In this passage, what we see is that God had “predestined” the murder of Christ “to take place,” and so in order to do this he “gathered together” a collection of peoples “to do whatever [his] hand and [his] plan had predestined to take place.”

Note, this isn’t to say that God externally coerces people to do what he predetermines, like a marionette, but that there is some way in which his predetermination of an event to happen makes it such that people act in a way which fulfills it. More on how later.

The Arminian View

This view places the greatest emphasis on the free choice of mankind. What it says is that man is entirely free in his choices and yet God is in complete control of the universe, the reason for this being not that there exists some type of “coercion” to do what he has determined, but because his predetermination is based on “the knowledge of what the free agents will do under whatever persuasive means He may use on them” (Geisler, p.51). So, in short, God’s foreknowledge of man’s decisions is what guides his predetermination of what will happen.

Arminians read this view into passages like Romans 8.29 (above) where it says that God predestined some to salvation as a result of his foreknowledge. Thus, they would argue, God’s predetermination of a persons salvation is based fully upon his foreknowledge of them first choosing (to have faith in) him.

The Moderate View

Finally we must present the moderate view. In the words of Geisler, “[the third alternative] postulates that God’s election is neither based on his foreknowledge of man’s free choices nor exercised independent of it” (p.53). Moreover, “whatever God forechooses cannot be based on what he foreknows. Nor can what he foreknows be based on what he forechose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God” (p.53). Thus, in this view, what we get is God’s predetermination of what will happen and his foreknowledge of what does happen existing both simultaneously and independently of the other.

* * *

Going on from here, I believe that the next post will be a refutation of the Arminian viewpoint. This whole series should be a lot of fun and I hope some of you out there will respond with comments and objections helping me to shape this debate as we go along. Please, engage and enjoy!

3 Responses to “You Should Have Seen this Coming-A Debate on the Views of God’s Sovereignty”

  1. jonathonwoodyard Says:

    Looking forward to your refutation of the various views.

  2. Keith Walters Says:

    “Thus, in this view, what we get is God’s predetermination of what will happen and his foreknowledge of what does happen existing both simultaneously and independently of the other.”

    That sounds like malarkey if you ask me.

    BTW my feed reader has not been updating so it was like Christmas when it did and I had 10 new posts from you :)

  3. Todd Burus Says:

    Sounds like malarkey to me to. I tried to be diplomatic in my handling of the post against that view, but in the end, as much as I have thought about it, I can’t see any way that this view is not still Arminianism, and reading through the rest of Geisler’s book I would have to say his words confirm that.

    If you haven’t read “Chosen but Free” you should. It’s a nice exercise in how to completely misrepresent a position and then co-opt their terms and pretend like they actually apply to you (kind of like emergents treat Bible interpretation). It borders on atrocious in my opinion.

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