ROSES Smell Better than a TULIP

I have never been a connoisseur when it comes to flowers. In fact, on one Valentine’s Day, I sought to be a good husband and bought my wife some flowers. The store where I purchased them had a great deal. So, again thinking that I was being a good husband, I bought what I thought were roses. Unfortunately, it turned out that the flowers were tulips, explaining why the store had such a great deal on the flowers. My wife and I had a good laugh over my blunder. While the tulips were nice, roses would have been much better.

Theologians like acronyms. Calvinists from the time of the Synod of Dort have contrived an acronym explaining the core concepts of Calvinism. The acronym is TULIP. TULIP stands for the following:

Total depravity: Man[1] is incapable of saving himself and is paralyzed by a sin nature.

Unconditional election: God has elected to save some and allows others to be condemned.

Limited atonement: Christ only died for the elect and not for the world.

Irresistible grace: Man does not have the ability to respond to the grace of God by himself. He needs the Holy Spirit to help him respond.

Perseverance of the saints: The elect will persevere in their faith.

The acronym holds problems with many texts of the Bible. For instance, the Bible notes that a person can resist the Spirit of God, even to the point of quenching the Spirit of God (Acts 7:51; 1 Thessalonians 5:19). In addition, there are several passages that indicate that God wishes to save all even though not all will be saved (2 Peter 3:19; Ezekiel 18:23). Also, the Bible presents the idea of a degree of human free will, something that otherwise makes the law of God seem somewhat bizarre.

Molinists, Congruists, Arminians, and even some Calvinists have adopted a better acronym to describe the truths of the Bible. Kenneth Keathley, in his book Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, provides an acronym first presented by Timothy George.[2] The acronym is ROSES. It is interesting that George is a Calvinist and Keathley a Molinist and they both agree that ROSES is much preferable to TULIP. This brings to mind, what does the acronym ROSES indicate? ROSES represents the following:

Radical depravity: This takes the place of total depravity, the T of TULIP. Radical depravity, as Keathley notes, “more correctly emphasizes that every aspect of our being is affected by the fall and renders us incapable of saving ourselves or even of wanting to be saved.”[3] Radical depravity allows for libertarian viewpoints, especially soft libertarianism as argued by Keathley, as it “contends that interaction between character and free choice is a two-way street, providing for a better model of human responsibility.”[4] The varying ideas of determinism and libertarianism will be discussed in a future article.

Overcoming grace: This doctrine takes the place of irresistible grace, the I of TULIP. Overcoming grace is the idea that God’s continual calling overcomes the wicked nature of a person to allow a free response. Keathley presents an “ambulatory model”[5] which recognizes two fundamental principles: the monergistic grace of God (that is, God is the only worker in salvation); and grace is resistible (that is, God offers grace to all, but the difference is the rebellion of the unbeliever as contrasted with the reception of the believer).[6]

Sovereign election: Sovereign election takes the place of unconditional election, the U of TULIP. This doctrine affirms that God desires the salvation of all, but provides it for a few. This is possible to the three modes of knowledge that God holds: natural knowledge, which indicates God’s knowledge of all necessary truths; God’s free knowledge, which refers to those things which will occur in the future; and God’s middle knowledge, which represents God’s knowledge of what free creatures would do in certain circumstances. Sovereign election upholds both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of mankind.

Eternal life: The doctrine of eternal life replaces the P (perseverance of the saints) of TULIP. Instead of claiming that the elect will be saved and persevere, eternal life emphasizes that believers are transformed by the grace of God and are given a faith that will remain. The former leaves one in a constant state of flux, whereas the latter provides assurance as indicated when fruits of the Spirit and the internal witness of the Spirit are observed.

Singular redemption: The last doctrine, singular redemption, replaces the L (limited atonement) of TULIP. Simply put, singular redemption holds that Christ’s death was sufficient for the salvation of all, but efficient only for the elect, those who would respond to the Spirit’s call.

ROSES is a much better acronym for the truths of Scripture than is TULIP. As noted earlier, Timothy George, the innovator of the acronym, was himself a Calvinist. The acronym provides the ability to naturally accept the two fundamental truths provided in Scripture in that God is sovereign and that people are responsible for their actions. Thus, of the array of flowery acronyms, I much prefer the smell of ROSES to that of a TULIP.

© October 10, 2016. Brian Chilton.

Sources Cited

George, Timothy. Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response. Nashville: Lifeway, 2000.

Keathley, Kenneth. Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010.

Notes

[1] The terms “man” and “he” are used in this article to describe individuals of both sexes.

[2] Timothy George, Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response (Nashville: Lifeway, 2000), 71-83; referenced by Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 2.

[3] Kenneth Keathley, Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2010), 3.

[4] Ibid., 64.

[5] Ibid., 104.

[6] Ibid., 105.

Advertisements

Allow Biblical Theology to Shape Systematic Theology, Not Reverse

This week on the Bellator Christi Podcast, I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Chad Thornhill. Dr. Thornhill is the Professor of New Testament Greek, the Chair of Theological Studies, and Associate Professor of Apologetics at Liberty University. Dr. Thornhill discussed his findings from his book A Chosen People: Paul, Election, and Second Temple Judaism as it pertained to the understanding of individuals in the Second Temple Judaist period.

In addition to his discussion pertaining to his research, one of the most important points made by Thornhill on the podcast related to biblical hermeneutics (that is, Bible interpretation). He said that he taught his students not to read information back into Scripture, seeking to prove a particular point. Rather, the student should interpret the Bible according to the information given by the author to his intended audience.[1] This technique is much more difficult as it must involve in-depth research by the Bible student. But the difficulty is worth the time invested as it presents a far more accurate interpretation.

Truthfully, adherents of all theological interpretations have been guilty of reading into a passage what the person wants to read. This is true for both Calvinists and Arminians, for Molinists and Thomists alike. In the end, biblical theology must shape a person’s systematic theology. What is meant by “biblical theology” and “systematic theology”?

Biblical theology is understood as the “study of the Bible that seeks to discover what the biblical writers, under divine guidance, believed, described, and taught in the context of their own times.”[2] In other words, biblical theology is the understanding of the biblical writer’s theology. What did he believe? What was he intending to communicate? What did he desire for his readers to know? What were the circumstances surrounding his message? To answer these questions, one must use exposition to find the answers; that is, to remain true to the writer’s intention. Using this method, a person will eventually see the big picture of the Bible, which leads to a true systematic theology. Now, what is “systematic theology”?

Systematic theology is understood as an articulation of “the biblical outlook in a current doctrinal or philosophical system.”[3] Systematic theology looks at the overall picture as it pertains to particular doctrines. Whereas biblical theology will seek to examine, for example, what John believed about Jesus in his Gospel and letters; systematic theology will show what the Bible teaches about the identity of Jesus. It is imperative that one possesses a strong biblical theology before one can hope to hold a strong systematic theology.

Often and unfortunate as it may be, biblical expositors will often elevate the systematic theology of John Calvin, Augustine, Aquinas, Arminius, Wesley, and Molina over that of the biblical text. When this is done, the expositor will jump through hoops in order to twist the Scripture into his/her theological system. Expositors force passages such as John 3:16, 2 Peter 3:9, and Romans 9 into their paradigm, while often being untrue to the nature of the text. If such a passage does not fit into one’s systematic theology, then that particular aspect of one’s systematic theology needs to be examined against the biblical text and against the overall message of the Bible itself. The great theologians such as those mentioned earlier need to be studied fervently. If perchance a person holds to a doctrine that has been rejected by the vast number of theologians throughout history, then one had better possess strong and valid reasons for accepting such a claim. Yet while Calvin, Aquinas, Wesley, Molina, and Arminius are important and extremely knowledgeable, one should take note that they are not infallible. The Scriptures are infallible. The theologians were mere mortal men trying to understand the truths of Scripture. So, we should study them with the understanding that if their teachings contradict the Scriptures, then the Scriptures should be accepted and the particular theologian’s viewpoints rejected.

Systematic theology is extremely important! My major in graduate school was in theology, particularly systematic theology, so I hold a great deal of interest in the matter. Do not misread the message of this post. I believe that systematic theology is of utmost importance. However, I do think the challenge offered by Dr. Chad Thornhill should be adhered by all students of the Bible. The Bible should shape our systematic theology, not the other way around. Such is true also for a person’s political and social beliefs. If the Bible is God’s Word (which I believe it is), then it is the final authority of truth.

© August 16, 2016. Brian Chilton. 

Sources Cited

[1]  Chad Thornhill, interviewed by Brian Chilton, Bellator Christi Podcast (August 15, 2016), podcast, http://www.blogtalkradio.com/pastorbrianchilton/2016/08/15/election-from-the-perspective-of-second-temple-judaism-w-dr-chad-thornhill.

[2] Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996), Logos Bible Software..

[3] Ibid.

 

How Does God’s Immutability Affect Me?

I have told many before that I am a walking Murphy’s Law. If something is going to happen, it will likely happen to me. A few days ago, I was sick. To make matters worse, my wife was about to leave on a business trip to Orlando. I was so sick that I feared that I might land in the emergency room. I feared that my digestive system was again disturbed. I went to the doctor and they confirmed that I had the flu. I was actually happy that it was the flu rather than my digestive system. My mother-in-law kept my son for me that afternoon and evening. However, my night was about to become bizarre. I took my nausea medicine which makes me woozy. The medicine had just entered my system when our neighbor called and told me that the brake lights were left on. How was that possible? So, I went out in the dark, while woozy, trying to figure out why the lights were on. So, I eventually had to move the truck towards the garage light, take off the battery cables, while becoming increasingly drowsy. Needless to say, my night had changed from strained to downright bizarre. Things often change at dramatic pace. Often, faster than what any of us would like. However, we can find comfort in the attribute of God known as immutability.

 Immutability means that God does not change. Wayne Grudem defines the immutability of God as that “God is unchanging in his being, perfections, purposes, and promises, yet God does act and feel emotions, and he acts and feels differently in response to different situations.”[1] Norman Geisler adds “That God is unchangeable in His nature has solid support in biblical, historical, and philosophical theology. Despite many anthropomorphic expressions, the Bible has clear and repeated references to God’s immutability.”[2]

 In Numbers 23:19, we find Balaam presenting his second of four oracles to Balak. These oracles come after Balaam had the bizarre incident where God spoke through a donkey. The miracle is not so much that God spoke through a donkey, but rather that Balaam spoke back to the donkey! Personally, I have never found a donkey to which I particularly cared to speak. Nevertheless, God used this means to set Balaam straight. Balak wanted Balaam to condemn God’s people. Yet in his second oracle, Balaam responds to Balak’s critique by noting the immutability of God. God does not change. If God chose to bless his people, who was Balaam to say otherwise? So what do we find in Scripture pertaining to the immutability of God? We find four ways that God does not change.

 1. God’s immutable ATTRIBUTES do not change (Numbers 23:19; Psalm 102:26-27).

Beginning with our passage, we read Balaam stating that “God is not a man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and he will not fulfill it” (Numbers 23:19)?[3] Also, the psalmist states that “They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end” (Psalm 102:26-27). Both Balaam and the psalmist acknowledge that God’s attributes do not change. Meaning that the attributes that we have discussed and will discuss are unchangeable. God is not one day omnipotent and the next day limited in his power. God remains the same forever.

2. God’s immutable CHARACTER does not change (Hebrews 6:17-18; Hebrews 13:8).

The writer of Hebrews notes that “when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Hebrews 6:17-18). The writer also notes that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). The writer of Hebrews shows us that we can find hope and encouragement in the steadfast character of God.

One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a woman who told me, “Brian, do you know the thing I appreciate most about you?” Anytime a preacher receives a compliment, the preacher’s ears perk up. I inquired, “No, what?” She said, “I appreciate that you are the same every time I see you. Whether in church or out of church, you are the same.” While I appreciate the kind woman’s compliment, we find that it is truly God who completely remains unchanged in his character. Such is the mark of integrity. God most certainly has integrity.

3. God’s immutable PURPOSES do not change (Ephesians 3:8-13; 1 Peter 1:20).

Paul writes in Ephesians that he was to preach “the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:9-10). Peter also writes that Christ “was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul and Peter teach us that God’s purposes do not change. The plans of God are set before time began. God doesn’t change his purpose one day to the next. God’s plans are set from eternity past.

4. God’s immutable PROMISES do not change (Titus 1:2; James 1:17).

Paul writes to Titus that “in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began” (Titus 1:2). James also notes that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). Paul and James both teach their readers that since God’s character and attributes do not change, therefore God’s promises do not change. Thus, if God promises you something, it is as good as done.

I read a story about a pastor who met with an elderly man at the point of death. Due to his medication, the older gentleman said, “Pastor, I am ready to go. But I wish I could have peace.” The pastor said, “Sir, why do you not have peace?” The gentleman said, “I would have peace if I could simply remember the promises of God.” The wise pastor replied, “Do you think God has forgotten? It doesn’t matter if you remember them. As long as God remembers his promises, he will fulfill them.” The gentleman lying in the hospital bed found peace that night because he realized that God will always fulfill his promises seeing that God is unchanging.

So, how does God’s immutability affect you? Here are five ways.

  1. God will always be faithful, despite the unfaithfulness we experience with others. Nearly all of us have experienced unfaithfulness from time to time. Your experience of unfaithfulness could come from a spouse who discontinued their promised love for you. Your experience of unfaithfulness could have come from a friend who promised to have your back, only to stab you in the very back they proposed to protect. Your unfaithfulness experience could have come from an employer who fired you days before you were set to retire. While we experience unfaithfulness in life, due to his character, God will always be faithful to us.

 

  1. God will always fulfill his promises, in spite of our experiences of worldly lies and manipulations. While some people seek to manipulate you for profit or gain (others just enjoy getting one “over on you”), God will fulfill his promises due to his unchangeable character. Jesus promised that he would never leave you nor forsake you. That is a promise you can take to the bank.

 

  1. God will never change truth, despite society’s promotion of skepticism and doubt. Since God is unchangeable, his truth is unchangeable. Societies have come and societies have gone. But God’s truth still remains. It is said that Voltaire claimed that a hundred years after his death that the Bible would be no more. Ironically, it is said that Voltaire’s home was turned into a Bible translation facility around a hundred years after his death. From his home, a particular Bible society distributed the very Word that Voltaire claimed would be doomed. God’s immutability means that his truth remains forever.

 

  1. God will always be with you, despite the seeming chaos you experience. God’s steadfastness provides order in the midst of our chaos. God will provide order when no one or nothing else can.

 

  1. God will be your rock in an ocean of turbulence, an ever present help in times of trouble. Due to his steadfastness and unchangeable nature, God is an anchor and rock in the midst of the turbulent times in which we live.

Lighthouses_csg007_Kereon,Brittany,France

Turn to God—our unchangeable hope!!!

 

© March 15, 2016. Brian Chilton.

 

Sources Cited

 Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011.

Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994.

Notes

[1] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 163.

[2] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology: In One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 444.

[3] All quoted Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001).

Comforts Found in the Moral Attributes of God

God not only possesses non-moral attributes, which describe God’s essence of being; but God also possesses what are termed moral attributes. These attributes demonstrate the moral qualities of God. The moral attributes describe how God relates to individuals. Whereas the non-moral attributes depict the awesome power of God, the moral attributes demonstrate the personal qualities of God. This post will examine each of the nine moral attributes as given in John S. Feinberg’s book No One Like Him, and will provide comforts that the modern Christian can find in each of these divine moral qualities.

holiness

Holiness

Feinberg notes that “Scripture offers a two-fold picture of divine holiness. On the one hand, God is holy in that he is distinct or separate from everything else…other passages that speak of his holiness may be seen as referring to his majesty.”[1] Isaiah writes “For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this: ‘I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed'” (Isaiah 57:15). The believer can take comfort in knowing that God is higher than the problems of life. While individuals may become victims of the evil treachery of the wicked, God will eventually judge the wicked. Those who are wicked may be able to act in horrific ways now, but there is coming a day when every person will give an account of his or her life. God will not be bribed (2 Chronicles 19:7) and God will not be mocked (Galatians 6:7).

Righteousness

Feinberg defines God’s righteousness as His “moral purity…he has established a moral order for the universe, and he treats all creatures fairly.”[2] In fact, the book of Deuteronomy states that God is “the great, mighty, and awesome God, showing no partiality and taking no bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:17). It is also said that God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2). Therefore, the Christian can take comfort in knowing that God’s moral character will not change. Often some individuals will act in fashions that are contrary to their character. For instance, good people will at times act in an unfavorable way. Bad people will sometimes act friendly. However, God is God; and God will never change. That fact can provide great stability to a life found in chaos.

Love-of-God1

Love

John famously wrote that “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God has a love all people. While it is noted that this love may be in greater or lesser degrees, as with Jacob and Esau (Romans 9:13), Feinberg notes that “The NT teaches that God’s love extends to all people, not just to those who trust him.”[3] John indicates as much when he wrote that “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). Some would claim that God’s wrath discredit’s God’s love in some fashion. However, this need not be the case. Tony Lane indicates that wrath may be a natural function of love as “there is not true love without wrath…Failure to hate evil implies a deficiency in love.”[4] Lane brings forth a compelling point. No one would ever think that a parent could be termed loving who willingly allows his or her child to suffer abuse without repercussions to the offender. Such actions would not constitute love, but something far worse. Thus, God’s judgment towards those who remain rebellious is found perfectly in the heart of love.

Grace

Feinberg states that grace is “best understood as unmerited favor.”[5] The great grace of God was involved in one’s salvation, for “you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift” (Ephesians 2:8). Some individuals live under the impression that they are owed something: someone owes them a living, or a corporation owes them particular benefits. However, when an individual understands that they do not deserve salvation or heaven, one can appreciate the great grace that God has bestowed upon such a one. Jesus said that “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him” (Luke 11:13). Salvation is not deserved. Salvation is a gift given by God to individuals.

Mercy

Related to the concept of grace is that of mercy. Feinberg compares mercy to grace in that “Both involve unmerited favor, but the difference is that whereas grace may be given to those who are miserable and desperately in need of help, it may also be given to those who have no particular need. On the other hand, mercy is given specifically to those whose condition is miserable and one of great need.”[6] It is not a popular thing in polite society to proclaim that people deserve to go to hell, but that is exactly what the Scriptures indicate as “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). When a Christian understands what it is that he or she really deserves, such a one will earnestly appreciate the great loving mercy demonstrated by God in saving them. The word saved begins to take on a new meaning.

longsuffering1

Longsuffering

Longsuffering is best understood as God’s “patience toward us.”[7] One of the fruit of the Spirit is indicated as patience in Galatians 5:22. Paul indicates that God “endured with much patience objects of wrath ready for destruction” (Romans 9:22) and Peter writes that “the Lord does not delay His promise as some understand delay, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Comfort can be found in that while evil is present and often goes unpunished; God will rectify all things in the end. God is patient desiring all that would be given the opportunity to come to Him. However, at some point in the future, God will bring justice to those who do evil. Just because God has not judged yet, does not indicate that He never will.

Goodness

Feinberg indicates that the major point concerning God’s goodness in the Scriptures is that “God is concerned about the well-being of his creatures and does things to promote it.”[8] Paul Moser writes that God’s goodness would include “uncoerced human volitional…cooperation with God…To that end, God would want people to be related to God on perfectly loving terms that exclude selfishness and pride and advance unselfish love toward all agents.”[9] While theologians may argue the uncoerced aspect of Moser’s assessment, almost all would agree that God advances unselfish love towards His children. Each Christian can find comfort in knowing that God is indeed good.

Lovingkindness

Due to the other attributes listed, one can obtain a good picture of what God’s lovingkindness would be. The believer could easily pray along with David, “God, Your faithful love is so valuable that people take refuge in the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 36:7). While the world becomes increasingly hostile, the Christian can take comfort in knowing that God will always be loving and kind towards His children. Even when God must discipline, His actions are performed with kind motives.

Proclaiming Truth Square

Truth

Truth speaks of things as they really exist. In this note, Feinberg describes God as a “God of truth. He knows the truth and only speaks the truth.”[10]  God is a reality. God is the source of all things. Thus, God knows things as they really exist. God is the ultimate source for reality. Since God is transcendent, God knows all things that was, are, what will be, and even what could be. God’s truth extends from God’s omniscience and omnisapience. In addition, it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, when Jesus said that “you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32), then it can be trusted that God will lead us in the right paths and inform of certain realities. The great comfort found for the Christian is in the fact that God can be trusted. Those things that God promises will come to be. The Christian does not have to worry about whether the truths of God can fail or falter. They can rest in the great comfort that the promises of God are certain realities from the Certain Reality.

 

Conclusion

While the non-moral attributes of God demonstrate God’s awesome power and complex being, the moral attributes of God provide comfort like no other. The non-moral attributes stretch the powers of the mind, whereas the moral attributes of God stretch the depths of the heart. The theologian and Christian leader owes it to individuals to teach them about God’s moral attributes. It may be that one has suffered from infidelity and needs to know that God is always faithful. Another may have suffered from great wickedness and desperately needs to know that God still loves them and will bring justice to their assailants. People need the comfort that can only be provided in knowing the moral attributes of God.

 Note: This work represents the academic work of Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this article have been submitted to the author’s university. Any attempt to improperly use the information found within this article for academic papers without proper citation may result in charges of plagiarism.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the Holman Christian Standard Bible. Nashville: Holman     Bible Publishers, 2009.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Lane, Tony. “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God.” In Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God. Grand Rapids, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Moser, Paul K. “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God.” In God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible. Edited by William Lane Craig and Chad Meister. Downers Grove: IVP, 2009.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014

 ________________________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes

[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: Doctrine of God, Foundations of Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 341.

[2] Ibid, 345.

[3] Ibid, 351.

[4] Tony Lane, “The Wrath of God as an Aspect of the Love of God,” in Nothing Greater, Nothing Better: Theological Essays on the Love of God (Grand Rapids, Cambridge: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2001), 159-160.

[5] Feinberg, 354.

[6] Ibid, 359.

[7] Ibid, 362.

[8] Ibid, 366.

[9] Paul K. Moser, “Evidence of a Morally Perfect God,” in God is Great, God is Good: Why Believing in God is Reasonable and Responsible, William Lane Craig and Chad Meister, ed (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 59.

[10] Feinberg, 370.

Comforts Found in the Non-Moral Attributes of God

Theology truly matters. Often, many individuals do not ponder the attributes of God. However, it is important for an individual, especially the believer, to acknowledge the grandeur of Almighty God. It is especially important for one to hold an understanding, at least on a basic level, of the non-moral attributes of God. Non-moral attributes represent the characteristics of God’s being that does not relate to God’s moral nature. For instance, love would be a moral attribute, whereas omnipotence would be a non-moral attribute. Acknowledging these non-moral attributes of God can strengthen the faith and provide comfort for the believer in many ways. This article will consider some of the ways that knowing each non-moral attribute of God can provide comfort and strength to the believer.

God

The Aseity of God

John S. Feinberg defines aseity as that “God depends on nothing other than himself for his existence.”[1] Feinberg later states that “Aseity…is best understood as God’s self-existence.”[2] It is important for the Christian to understand that God depends upon nothing for His existence. In fact, the apostle John described what this means when he wrote that “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). The Christian can take comfort in knowing that everything depends upon God, yet God depends upon nothing. Such knowledge should keep the Christian humble.

The Infinity of God

Feinberg describes that the infinity of God is defined as “that he is free from limitations.”[3] While there is much that could be addressed concerning the infinitude of God, it is especially important for Christians to be aware of the fact that God is beyond limitations. This is particularly addressed by then angel of God when he indicated to Mary that “nothing will be impossible for God” (Luke 1:37). Or, consider the statement of Jesus when He said, concerning salvation, that “with man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Luke 19:26). When Christians understand that God is infinite, they will not live as though they are defeated. Rather, they will depend upon the infinite power of God.

The Omnipresence of God

One of the most comforting aspects of God’s non-moral attributes is that of God’s omnipresence. God’s omnipresence “signifies that God is present in the totality of his being at each point in space.”[4] While it is intriguing to consider how God is present with unbelievers, it should be comforting for believers to know that they, and their loved ones, hold a personal relationship with this ever-present God. This is particularly comforting when one considers that this God is present with one’s family when no one else can. For God transcends any earthly and universal distance. In addition, one should also take note that God sees all. As Solomon states, “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch over the evil and the good” (Proverbs 15:3). Nothing escapes God’s attention.

God Is

The Eternal Nature of God

Feinberg states that “God’s infinity in relation to time is eternity.”[5] Undoubtedly, God’s eternal nature is of greatest comfort to an individual when one or a loved one approaches the point of death. Jesus eloquently promises that a believer “though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who believes in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). Thus, the believer can take comfort in knowing that the believer will never really taste death, but will be ushered into the eternal presence of God at the point of death.

The Immutability of God

Immutability is understood in that “God is unchanging.”[6] The world is ever-changing. Technological advances tend to change the way individuals live from year to year. People change. However, the one constant is that God never changes. While there are debates as to the extent of God’s immutability, it cannot be argued that God’s nature never changes. The Christian can be comforted in knowing that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

The Omnipotence of God

Feinberg persuasively argues that God’s omnipotence is defined as that “of a being with unlimited power to do all the things a being with God’s other perfections could possibly do.”[7] Thus, as mentioned earlier, one can take comfort in knowing that God can do what no one else could.

stairway to heaven

The Sovereignty of God

Sovereignty is tied to omnipotence. Feinberg states that “Whereas omnipotence tells how much and which powers God has, sovereignty clarifies the extent to which God uses those powers.”[8] This writer is of the Congruist persuasion, termed by Norman Geisler as “moderate Calvinism.”[9] Congruism allows for God’s middle knowledge. Even so, such compatibilist models allow for divine sovereignty and human freedom as a cooperative function. Nonetheless, the Christian can take comfort in knowing that God has everything under control. Even when the world seems chaotic, God is still in charge.

The Omniscience and Omnisapience of God

Omniscience and omnisapience are two related concepts. Omniscience addresses God’s ability to know “all things in general and that his understanding and knowledge are unlimited.”[10] God’s omnisapience indicates that God is “all-wise.”[11] Thus, God both knows everything and knows what to do with the knowledge that He possesses. When the believer is confused and does not know which way in which he or she should go, it would be comforting for the believer to know that God knows everything and knows how that he or she should live. In addition, God will impart wisdom and knowledge to the believer.

 The Unity of God

Finally, it is important for the believer to understand the unity of God. The unity of God describes the fact that God is the only god that exists. There is not another. Thus, the believer should know the identity of God and the importance of focusing on the truth pertaining to the one God.

Conclusion

The Christian leader needs to stress the non-moral attributes of God. While these attributes are often complex and stretch the boundaries of the imagination, great comfort comes when one understands the amazing limitless attributes of the Creator. Perhaps the Christian leader could deliver a series of messages on these attributes. If so, the series may be one that the Christian would never forget.

 Note: This work represents the academic work of Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this article have been submitted to the author’s university. Any attempt to improperly use the information found within this article for academic papers without proper citation may result in charges of plagiarism.

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the English Standard Version. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Feinberg, John S. No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations for Evangelical Theology. Wheaton: Crossway, 2001.

Geisler, Norman L. Chosen but Free:A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010.

Copyright. Pastor Brian Chilton. 2014.

_________________________________________________________

[1] John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God, Foundations for Evangelical Theology (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 239.

[2] Ibid, 242.

[3] Ibid, 243.

[4] Ibid, 249.

[5] Ibid, 255.

[6] Ibid, 264.

[7] Ibid, 294.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Norman L. Geisler, Chosen but Free:A Balanced View of God’s Sovereignty and Free Will (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2010), 19.

[10] Feinberg, 299.

[11] Ibid, 320.

The Biblical Balance between Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

touching-god

Several issues in theology become heated, but none like the issues between Calvinism and Arminian models. As my studies in theology have progressed, I have noticed an inconvenient truth. The Bible addresses both divine sovereignty and human responsibility. One cannot choose to accept one without the other and maintain biblical soundness in their theology. Apologist Ravi Zacharias even stated that “any system that does not hold to divine sovereignty is unbiblical. If any system does not hold to human responsibility, it is unbiblical” (Zacharias, podcast, 2014). The Bible teaches both. Some passages of Scripture provide evidence for this within the text itself. For the purposes of this article, four passages of Scripture will be given that indicate both divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

 

Philippians 2:12-13

Paul wrote, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). Paul indicated that a person must work out their own salvation. Richard R. Melick writes in his commentary about the meaning of “working out one’s salvation,”

The Philippians were to make salvation work in their lives…Salvation was central to Paul’s theology. Normally the word has its full soteriological sense of spiritual deliverance from sin and the world. Paul described salvation as a past event (Eph 2:8–9) and as a future consummation (Rom 13:11). Here he spoke of working out salvation…Personal salvation brings with it responsibilities which Paul related to Christians’ obedience. The responsibility was to live in accord with their salvation, letting the implications of their relationship with Christ transform their social relationships. Paul really meant, in the first place, that they were to act like Christians (Melick 1991, 109-110).

Nonetheless, the process of “working out one’s salvation” depicts human responsibility. However, Paul goes on to state that the one working out one’s salvation is being worked in by God to do His good pleasure. In other words, Paul is expressing divine sovereignty in the process. Thus, one evaluates sovereignty and responsibility in the text.

 

Romans 8:28

Paul wrote

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified (Romans 8:28-30).

In this popular text, Paul addresses the fact that individuals love God. The act of “loving” demonstrates human responsibility. For those who love God, Paul states that God will work all things for good. In addition, Paul states that the individuals who love God were called, foreknown, predestined, and would be glorified; all of which demonstrates the sovereignty of Almighty God. Were individuals held responsible for loving God? Yes. But did God work sovereignly to bring them to that love? Yes. In some sense, both the sovereignty of God and human responsibility worked together.

 

Matthew 18:7

Jesus said, “Woe to the world because of offenses! For offenses must come, but woe to that man by whom the offense comes” (Matthew 18:7)! Jesus first indicated that “offenses must come.” Why must offenses come? We are not told. However, the fact that offenses must come indicates the sovereignty of God. God uses the offenses (the bad) for His glory and the glory of His saints (the good). Nonetheless, sovereignty is presented. Then, Jesus flips the lesson back on the one bringing the offense demonstrating the responsibility of the person bringing the offense. Therefore, Jesus presents a lesson on sovereignty and human responsibility.

 

Matthew 16:13-17

Matthew writes that,

  When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven (Matthew 16:13-17).

In this passage, the faith of Peter is praised. For Peter willingly proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God. Thus, the human response was demonstrated resulting in human responsibility. However, Jesus indicates that Peter could not have known this unless God the Father revealed this truth to Peter. Hence, divine sovereignty is clearly indicated. Therefore, both sovereignty and human responsibility are demonstrated in this passage.

mind in universe

The Theological Move: Moderate Calvinism

So which system fits this combination the best? It must be admitted that this writer’s perspective has changed in recent days, primarily by an exposure to different systems. Also, I can say that I did know that so many variations of systems existed until now. Norman Geisler states that there are four primary systems concerning the blend of sovereignty and human responsibility: “Of course, there are other shades and variations of views, but Pelagianism, Arminianism (Wesleyanism), moderate Calvinism, and strong Calvinism are the four main perspectives” (Geisler 2011, 786). In Geisler’s view, “the biblical, theological, and historical evidence favors the moderate Calvinist view” (Geisler 2011, 786). What is moderate Calvinism? Millard J. Erickson writes that moderate Calvinism is…

“what B. B. Warfield regarded as the mildest form of Calvinism (there are, in fact, some Calvinists who would deny that it deserves to be called Calvinistic at all). Warfield termed the position ‘congruism,’ for it holds that God works congruously with the will of the individual; that is, God works in such a suasive way with the will of the individual that the person freely makes the choice that God intends (from B.B. Warfield, The Plan of Salvation, 90-91)…” (Erickson 1998, 385).

The system is balanced between divine sovereign election and human freedom to respond…something that the Bible teaches. The system does not allow such strict determinism as do strong Calvinists that human freedom is eliminated. Neither does the system negate divine involvement in the salvific process as does Pelagianism. In fact, moderate Calvinism can be likened to what is called Semiaugustinianism. Everett Ferguson writes that “the final phase of the conflict over human nature and salvation aw the triumph of what may be called ‘Semiaugustinianism,’ as expressed by Caesarius, bishop of Arles (502-42)…Although Caesarius and the Council of Orange were largely Augustinian, their views allowed for predestination to grace, but not for predestination to glory (the absolute gift of perseverance)…” (Ferguson 2005, 301). Naturally, there are differences between the Semiaugustinianism of the sixth century and the moderate Calvinism being promoted by Geisler and Erickson. As I have studied theology, my theological base has moved slightly from Remonstrant theology to the congruism, or moderate Calvinism, promoted by Erickson and Geisler. Some strong Calvinists would still see the system as a form of Arminianism. Geisler and Erickson would not agree. Nonetheless, whatever system one finds as the best fit, I feel it is demonstrated that a middle system (one that is not inclined to either extreme) best fits the teachings of Scripture. For in the end, the sole authority of the doctrines for the Christian faith do not come from Calvin, Arminius, Augustine, Geisler, Erickson, or even me; it must come from the Bible itself.

 

Bibliography

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998.

Ferguson, Everett. Church History: Volume One—From Christ to Pre-Reformation. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2005.

Geisler, Norman. Systematic Theology: In One Volume. Bloomington: Bethany House, 2011.

Melick, Richard R. Philippians, Colossians, Philemon, vol. 32, The New American Commentary. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1991.

Zacharias, Ravi. “He Saw, He Left, He Conquered.” Podcast. Just Thinking Broadcasts. (April 14, 2014).

 

THE TENEABILITY OF DIVINE PRESCIENCE IN ROMANS 8:28-30 BASED AROUND THE TERM “PROGINWSKW”

Jacob Arminius

NOTE: The following is an academic paper written by Pastor Brian Chilton. The contents of this paper are for educational purposes only. The contents of this paper have been scanned into programs that would flag any attempts for one to use the paper as their own intellectual property. Any person who attempts to reuse this or any other paper on this site in order to falsely claim this work as one’s own will be guilty of plagiarism and could face severe penalties at their college or university. Please be advised.

THE TENEABILITY OF DIVINE PRESCIENCE IN ROMANS 8:28-30 BASED AROUND THE TERM “PROGINWSKW”

One of the great theological debates of Christendom is based upon two different views of human freedom as positioned under the umbrella of divine sovereignty. Does the human being have a choice in the matter of salvation? Does God predetermine the decisions of a person before one is born? At the center of the debate between Calvinists and Arminians is the understanding of election and foreknowledge. Calvinists, named after John Calvin, believe that God predetermines every action and decision that a person makes. Calvinism is a determinist belief system. Opposed to the Calvinist doctrine stands the Arminian position named after Christian reformer Jacob Arminius. Arminians believe that human beings have freedom to choose or reject the grace of God that is bestowed upon them. One of the central tenets of Arminianism is the belief that God foreknows the decision that every person will make before the person makes the decision. This foreknowledge is also known as prescience, a term that will be used in this paper frequently. If the Arminian understanding of prescience is seen to be untenable, then the foundation of Arminianism crumbles. This paper will attempt to demonstrate that the interpretation of proginwskw as prescience in Romans 8:29 is a tenable position. It will begin by presenting the Arminian understanding of proginwskw as prescience. Then, it will present common objections to the idea of proginwskw being interpreted as prescience. Finally, the paper will provide a few arguments defending the plausibility of proginwskw as prescience.

Proginwskw as Divine Prescience

Romans 8:28-30 is a core text for Arminians. Romans 8:29 stands front and center for the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge. Arminians argue that Paul indicates divine prescience with the term proginwskw. Paul writes, “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”[1] For the Arminian, Paul is interpreted as stating that foreknowledge (proginwskw) is God’s knowledge of events before the events transpire. For a clearer understanding of the concept, one must examine the term used by Paul. However, defining the term only complicates matters. The term translated “foreknowledge” is the term proginwskw. Proginwskw is defined as, “to have knowledge beforehand, to foreknow; of those whom God elected to salvation; to predestinate.”[2] Gundry-Volf writes, “The verb ‘to foreknow’ proginosko, usually means ‘to know beforehand’…When used of God’s action, therefore, it could refer to God’s eternal foresight of what will come to pass.”[3] However, Gundry-Volf also shows that the Calvinist interpretation of the term as follows, “Against this view J. Murray[4] argues that Paul writes not of God’s foreseeing the faith of persons but foreknowing persons ‘whom he foreknew’ (Rom. 8:29; 11:2).”[5] The trouble is determining which definition or interpretation Paul intended for proginwskw. Arminians understand that proginwskw  indicates God’s prescience, or prior knowledge of all things yet to occur. This is logical considering God’s omniscience. The psalmist writes, “Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite.”[6] Picirilli explains the doctrine, The Arminian affirms, in other words, that there are events that actually can transpire in either of two (or more) ways, yet God knows which will take place. He knows all future events perfectly. This means that they are all certain, else he would not know what will be. (It also means…that all future events are in accord with his overall plan and purpose, that nothing ever happens in his universe that is outside his knowledge or control, or that thwarts his ultimate plan.)[7]   Picirilli shows the general Arminian understanding of foreknowledge in that God is certain of the decisions made by individuals in the future. Roger Olsen, a Baptist Arminian, while conquering some of the misconceptions concerning Arminian doctrine in his book Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities, illustrates the importance of Romans 8:29 in lieu of the Arminian understanding of foreknowledge. Olsen writes, “Few of Arminianism’s theological critics would claim that Arminians do not believe in predestination in any sense; they know that classical Arminianism includes belief in God’s decrees respecting salvation and God’s foreknowledge of believers in Jesus Christ. They also know that Arminians interpret predestination in light of Romans 8:29, which connect predestination with God’s foreknowledge of believers.”[8] Olsen shows that Romans 8:29 is one of the building blocks of the Arminian understanding for divine prescience. This interpretation dates back to the founder of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius, the founder of the modern Arminian movement, wrote about divine prescience. His writing succinctly shows that God foreknows people and their decisions before they are made. Arminius writes, From these decrees the fourth proceeds, by which God decreed to save and to damn certain particular persons. This decree has its foundation in divine foreknowledge, through which God has known from all eternity those individuals who through the established means of his prevenient grace would come to faith and believe, and through his subsequent sustaining grace would persevere in the faith. Likewise, in divine foreknowledge, God knew who would not believe and persevere.[9]   Arminius showed that foreknowledge is essentially God’s supernatural transcendence of time. God is able to know future events and actions because God is not bound by the restraints of time. However, many Christians are not satisfied with Arminius’ idea of prescience. Some have great problems with proginwskw being interpreted as divine prescience.

Problems with Proginwskw as Prescience

Calvinists possess several objections to the Arminian understanding of prescience in regard to the term proginwskw. However, these objections can be boiled down to two major problems with the Arminian understanding of prescience: problem that sovereignty negates prescience and the conflict with proginwskw defining the foreknowledge of a person and not the person’s action. First, the problem of God’s direction will be examined.

Sovereignty Negates Prescience

John Calvin, the founder of the Calvinist movement, had a great problem with the idea of prescience. Calvin’s stern opposition is seen in his commentary on the book of Romans. Calvin writes, But the foreknowledge of God, which Paul mentions, is not a bare prescience, as some unwise persons absurdly imagine, but the adoption by which he had always distinguished his children from the reprobate. In the same sense Peter says, that the faithful had been elected to the sanctification of the Spirit according to the foreknowledge of God. Hence those, to whom I have alluded, foolishly draw this inference,—That God has elected none but those whom he foresaw would be worthy of his grace.[10]   Calvin views the idea of predestination to such a strong degree that prescience is not an option. In other words, God’s decision is final and not based upon any human interference. Therefore, the view that proginwskw refers to God’s knowledge is a gross misinterpretation according to Calvin. Calvin’s understanding of God’s sovereignty leaves little room for human freedom. If Calvin is correct, then every action, including human decisions, was foreordained. If this is correct, then human freedom is merely an illusion. Every action has its root cause in the sovereign God. Humans would have no choice but to act according to the pathway ordained for them. The previous interpretation is glorious for one elected in Christ. However, the view has a darker side. If one is not chosen to be part of the kingdom of God, then there is little hope for an individual chosen for damnation. Also, there is the problem of human responsibility. If God is the sole proprietor of human actions, how could a human be held responsible for any action?

Proginwskw Understood as Foreknowledge of Person and Not Action

Proginwskw can be viewed as foreknowledge in another sense which does not necessitate prescience. John A. Witmer and F. F. Bruce show that foreknowledge could refer to the foreknowledge of a person and not a person’s future actions. Witmer writes, These verses give Paul’s explanation of what it means to be one who has “been called according to His purpose” and why God keeps on working all their experiences together to their benefit (v. 28). Believers are those God foreknew. This does not mean simply that God foreknows what believers will do, but that God foreknows them. Nor does divine foreknowledge merely mean an awareness of or acquaintance with an individual. Instead it means a meaningful relationship with a person based on God’s choice (cf. Jer. 1:4–5; Amos 3:2) in eternity before Creation. “He chose us in Him before the Creation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).[11]   F. F. Bruce adds, “God’s foreknowledge here connotes that electing grace which is frequently implied by the verb ‘to foreknow’ in the Old Testament. When God takes knowledge of people in this special way, he sets his choice on them.”[12] Witmer and Bruce thus conclude that proginwskw refers to God’s foreknowledge of a person. Foreknowledge in this sense is preserved by God’s choice of a person unrelated to the person’s future decisions. Witmer and Bruce’s conclusion is tenable, but it does not necessarily negate prescience. If God foreknows a person, then God would know the personal characteristics of the person and future decisions that such a person would make. Witmer and Bruce could be correct in that this divine decision was made regardless of human decision. However, it could be argued that the human decisions that the person would make could be known in regard to the foreknowledge and election of, and by, God. In essence, Witmer and Bruce show that God’s decision to choose such a person could still possibly be based on God’s knowledge of the person’s future receptivity to the grace offered to that person. Witmer and Bruce may be correct, but their argument still leaves the door open to an interpretation of proginwskw as prescience.

Arguments for a Prescient Understanding of Proginwskw

In the previous section, two Calvinist arguments of varying degrees against a prescience understanding of proginwskw were presented. In this section, three arguments will be presented defending a prescience interpretation of proginwskw as a tenable position: the context of Romans 8:28 with proginwskw, a pre-Augustinian understanding of prescience and proginwskw, and a proginwskw prescient interpretation in relation to divine sovereignty.

Context of Romans 8:28 Fits with Prescient Understanding

Proginwskw in verse 29 must be understood in the context of the pericope in which it is contained. Paul wrote, “And we know that God causes all things to work for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[13] At first, it would seem that a more Calvinist understanding is appropriate due to the terms “causes,” “called,” and “purpose.” However, the phrase “to those who love God” is referenced here. The phrase tends to indicate a personal response to God. This is not unusual for Paul. In Romans 10:9, Paul writes, “That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”[14] As in Romans 10:9, Paul shows a personal response in Romans 8:28. It could be argued that for God to bring all things to good that it would require a Sovereign direction on God’s part. There is no reason why God’s direction in any way hinders a free personal response on the part of the human being. William Lane Craig shows how middle knowledge could serve as an answer to the dilemma. Craig writes …middle knowledge can help us understand the basis of divine knowledge of future contingents. Divine foreknowledge is based on (1) God’s middle knowledge of what every creature would freely do under any circumstances and (2) his knowledge of the divine decree to create certain sets of circumstances and to place certain creatures in them. Given middle knowledge of counterfactuals of creaturely freedom and the divine decree, foreknowledge follows automatically as a result, without any need of God’s peering into the future, as detractors of divine foreknowledge imagine.[15]   While middle knowledge is not a classic Arminian position in the traditional sense, Craig shows that middle knowledge does help present prescience as a tenable option. In regard to verse 28 and other segments of Paul’s writings in the book of Romans, one could conclude that a prescience view of proginwskw is a good, if not probable, interpretation of Paul’s use of the term. It is not impossible, as was shown in Craig’s evaluation of middle knowledge, for one to conclude that prescience is at least a possibility in solving the divine sovereign/human freedom dilemma. Therefore, a prescience view of proginwskw is a tenable position.

Pre-Augustinian Understanding of Prescience

It can be argued that the determinism found in Calvinism has enjoyed a rich history within the church. John Calvin certainly promoted a deterministic viewpoint concerning humanity. However, others such as Thomas Aquinas also promoted a sense of determinism. Aquinas wrote, “Now if a thing cannot attain to something by the power of its nature, it must be directed thereto by another; thus, an arrow is directed by the archer towards a mark. Hence, properly speaking, a rational creature, capable of eternal life, is led towards it, directed, as it were, by God.”[16] Aquinas also writes, “Predestination has its foundation in the goodness of God.”[17] According to Aquinas, God is the prime mover even for human actions. While Arminians may not have as rich a history as classic Calvinists, it may be surprising to note that Arminius’ interpretation of prescience is not a new interpretation. In fact, the interpretation of divine prescience dates back to the early church fathers. McCall and Stanglin write, Furthermore, if we take ‘foreknowledge’ in Rom 8:29 to be referring to God’s foreknowledge of something about an individual (the ‘theoretical/intellectual’ [Turrentin] or ‘cognitive’ [Baugh] aspect), then Arminians have a remarkable amount of support from the patristic tradition. Such Fathers as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Hilary, Ambrose, Jerome, Chrysostom, and John of Damascus all agreed that God predestines on the basis of what he foreknows about a person.[18]   Therefore, it cannot be said that the Arminian understanding of prescience holds no historical support. The view is supported among numerous early church leaders and apologists. This ancient Christian view of prescience is observable in the teachings of Justin Martyr. Martyr, a Christian leader and apologist of the second century, wrote, For among us the prince of the wicked spirits is called the serpent, and Satan, and the devil, as you can learn by looking into our writings. And that he would be sent into the fire with his host, and the men who follow him, and would be punished for an endless duration, Christ foretold. For the reason why God has delayed to do this, is His regard for the human race. For He foreknows that some are to be saved by repentance, some even that are perhaps not yet born. In the beginning He made the human race with the power of thought and of choosing the truth and doing right, so that all men are without excuse before God; for they have been born rational and contemplative.[19]   Two things should be noted from Martyr’s writing: Martyr’s emphasis on God’s foreknowledge of future events, and Martyr’s emphasis of the rationality of every human being. Therefore, one could conclude that Martyr held an opinion that matches the Arminian understanding of prescience. Another example of an early church father that held to the belief of divine prescience is found in Irenaeus, a church father of the second century. Irenaeus wrote, Again, we could have learned in no other way than by seeing our Teacher, and hearing His voice with our own ears, that, having become imitators of His works as well as doers of His words, we may have communion with Him, receiving increase from the perfect One, and from Him who is prior to all creation. We-who were but lately created by the only best and good Being, by Him also who has the gift of immortality, having been formed after His likeness (predestinated, according to the prescience of the Father, that we, who had as yet no existence, might come into being), and made the first-fruits of creation-have received, in the times known beforehand, [the blessings of salvation] according to the ministration of the Word, who is perfect in all things, as the mighty Word, and very man, who, redeeming us by His own blood in a manner consonant to reason, gave Himself as a redemption for those who had been led into captivity.[20]   In the selected passage, Irenaeus shows that a prescient view that combines divine knowledge and human free will as an acceptable position. Irenaeus and Justin Martyr serve as examples that the view of prescience did not originate with Jacob Arminius. Furthermore, the church fathers show that the idea of prescience was an accepted position extremely early in the history of the church. While the early nature of the belief does not prove that prescience was what the Apostle Paul had in mind when using the term proginwskw in Romans 8:29, it does demonstrate that such a view was early enough to be the likely use of the term since it was the general understanding of the early church. At the very least, the belief of the early church fathers demonstrates the early acceptance of prescience and, therefore, shows the belief to be tenable. Boyd reinforces this fact, “To be sure, early orthodox Christians uniformly reject divination practices and, at least up until Augustine, vigorously attacked all forms of determinism. Yet the association of providence with the conviction that God knows the future exclusively in terms of what will and will not come to pass was almost uniformly adopted from the start.”[21] Therefore, one can find support for the Arminian doctrine of prescience in the early church.

Prescience Needs Not Hamper a Sovereign Understanding

Romans 8:30 give the results of God’s action towards the believer. Paul writes, “And these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.”[22] Must a prescient understanding diminish the understanding of God’s ability to bring about the promises in Romans 8:28 and also in Romans 8:30? Earlier in the paper, the understanding of middle knowledge was shown to provide tenability to divine foreknowledge. The idea of middle knowledge helps also in demonstrating that prescience does not negate God’s sovereign plan. Craig and Moreland write, “When we understand that God timelessly knows the things he knows, and that his knowledge of something does not cause that thing to happen, then we have the resources for developing a posture to the problem. Still others utilize a notion called middle knowledge, roughly, God’s knowledge of what every free creature he could create would do in every possible circumstance in which they could be placed.”[23] Craig and Moreland show that knowledge does not demerit God’s sovereign ability to bring forth the promises that He made. Prescience could be understood to show that God is able to place individuals in circumstances in which an individual would freely choose the grace of God given to them. Some would claim that if individuals were placed in circumstances that would lead them towards a decision that the individual would not be able to choose differently. While God would know the decision made before the decision was made, the decision would still be left to the individual. Goetz adds that this understanding helps one understand God’s allowance of moral evils without attributing those evils to God, “Moreover, while God can bring something good out of a moral evil one experiences (St Paul reminds Christians in his Epistle to the Romans 8:28 that in everything God works for good for those who love Him), one must not confuse the idea of His doing so with that of His intending that one experience moral evil as a means to the end that one justly experience perfect happiness or any other end.”[24]  Goetz demonstrates that God can act to bring certain ends despite His allowance of human freedom. This understanding of prescience does not prove that Paul intended that proginwskw be used in such fashion. However, this understanding detracts the view that prescience and divine direction are impossible to reconcile, thus leaving prescience as a tenable position.

Conclusion

Even though this paper did not attempt to prove the Arminian understanding of proginwskw as prescience as the correct interpretation, it did show that such a view is tenable. Calvin and others, like Witmer, argue that such a view is not necessary when understanding proginwskw in light of the remaining portion of Romans 8:28-30. However, it has been shown that prescience is tenable especially in light of middle knowledge. Although middle knowledge is not a classic Arminian position, it does show how a prescient understanding of proginwskw can remain as a plausible option. Also, it was shown that many pre-Augustinian Christians such as Justin Martyr and Irenaeus held views that corresponded with, if not promoted, divine prescience. Finally, employing the use of middle knowledge, it was shown that prescience does not necessarily hamper an understanding of divine direction. Therefore, the paper concludes that the understanding of proginwskw as prescience is a tenable position.

 binoculars

BIBLIOGRAPHY

All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995.   Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologicae, the Fathers of the Eastern Dominican Province, translators. The Summa of the Summa. Edited by Peter Kreeft. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1990.   Arminius, Jacob. Declaration of Sentiments, in Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments. Translated by W. Stephen Gunter. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012.   Bruce, F.F. Tyndale New Testament Commentary: Romans. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.   Boyd, Gregory A. “Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations for Ascribing Exhaustively Definite Foreknowledge to God: A Historic Overview and Critical Assessment.” Religious Studies 46, no. 1 (March, 2010).   Calvin, John and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.   Craig, William Lane. “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence,” Four Views of Divine Providence. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.   Goetz, Stewart. “The Argument from Evil,” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology. Edited by William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.   Gundry-Volf, J.M. “Foreknowledge, Divine,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid.  Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.   Irenaeus, Against Heresies, http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/early-church-fathers/ante-nicene/vol-1-apostolic-with-justin-martyr-irenaeus/justin-martyr/first-apology-of-justin.html#P3736_674774. (Accessed October 8, 2013.)   Martyr, Justin. The First Apology of Justin. http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/early-church-fathers/ante-nicene/vol-1-apostolic-with-justin-martyr-irenaeus/justin-martyr/first-apology-of-justin.html#P3736_674774. (Accessed October 4, 2013). McCall, Tom and Keith D. Stanglin. “S. M. Baugh and the Meaning of Foreknowledge: Another Look.” Trinity Journal 26, no. 1 (Spring, 2005).   Moreland, J.P. and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003.   Murray, J. The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968. Quoted in J.M. Gundry-Volf, “Foreknowledge, Divine,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters. Edited by Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993.   Olsen, Roger E. Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006.   Picirilli, Robert E. “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43, no. 2 (June, 2000).   Strong, James. Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001. Witmer, John A. “Romans,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Edited by J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.


[1]All Scripture, unless otherwise noted, comes from the New American Standard Bible, 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: Lockman Foundation, 1995), Romans 8:29.
[2] James Strong, Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2001).
[3]J.M. Gundry-Volf, “Foreknowledge, Divine,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 310.
[4] J. Murray, The Epistle to the Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1968), 316-317, quoted in J.M. Gundry-Volf, “Foreknowledge, Divine,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters, eds. Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 310.
[5] Gundry-Volf, 310.
[6] Psalm 147:5, NASB.
[7] Picirilli, Robert E. “Foreknowledge, Freedom, and the Future.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 43, no. 2 (06, 2000): 262.
[8]Roger E. Olsen, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006), 179.
[9] Jacob Arminius, Declaration of Sentiments, in Arminius and His Declaration of Sentiments, W. Stephen Gunter, trans. (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2012), 135.
[10] John Calvin and John Owen, Commentary on the Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 317–318.
[11] John A. Witmer, “Romans,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, eds. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 474.
[12]F. F. Bruce, Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Romans (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1997, 166.
[13]Romans 8:28, NASB.
[14]Romans 10:9, NASB.
[15]William Lane Craig, “God Directs All Things: On Behalf of a Molinist View of Providence,” Four Views of Divine Providence, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and Dennis W. Jowers (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 85.
[16]Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologicae I.23.1, trans. the Fathers of the Eastern Dominican Province, The Summa of the Summa, ed. Peter Kreeft (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1990), 175.
[17]Ibid  I.23.5, 177.
[18] Tom McCall and Keith D. Stanglin, “S. M. Baugh and the Meaning of Foreknowledge: Another Look.” Trinity Journal 26, no. 1 (Spring, 2005), 24.
[21] Boyd, Gregory A. “Two Ancient (and Modern) Motivations for Ascribing Exhaustively Definite Foreknowledge to God: A Historic Overview and Critical Assessment.” Religious Studies 46, no. 1 (03, 2010): 41-59, 49.
[22] Romans 8:30, NASB.
[23]J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2003), 282.
[24]Stewart Goetz, “The Argument from Evil,” The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology, eds. William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland (West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012), 477.