Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Relational Theology's response to the Classical Concept of Predestination

This discussion seeks to deliver the Biblical view of Predestination and put the concept in its PROPER PLACE! Only Relational theology has a logical and biblical answer to this enigma muddled by classical theology.

The resolution is not complicated. It is a small stone that becomes a stumbling block just because theologians don't look where they are going!

There are two imperatives in this discussion in order to be thorough. First, we have to perform exegesis on every instance (especially the strongest ones) that seem to suggest "specific predetermination", i.e., "since God is sovereign, He has pre-ordained everything in this world including the exact ounces of coffee I will be drinking at what time tomorrow to the last second".
And we are going to show that in many instances they may mean something else apart from what is commonly believed.

Second, we have to agree and declare that IF God wanted to predetermine everything, He CAN. However, we also have to show that He chose NOT to (and that He has the freedom to chose NOT to, something the classicists have a difficult time comprehending or accepting).

I would like to note the TDNT's take on the Greek, proorizo (to foreordain, to predestinate). The first commentary sentence after the definition is a non sequitur, "Since God is eternal and has ordained everything before time...." Now, God is indeed eternal but it does NOT follow that He "has ordained everything before time"! Are we saying that God CANNOT HELP but foreordain everything since He is eternal? That seems to limit His sovereignty and Almightiness if we are not giving Him a choice to do as He wishes, and we must give room that God could be so exciting that He could (and has) risk NOT foreordaining so that events MAY surprise Him! Inconceivable? Only because we are thought to think Hellenistic in our logic. I affirm that God is mightier than this traditional concept.

However, if we look at the pages of Scripture, we see God in revelation actually showing us in NO UNCERTAIN terms (no anthropomorphic cop-outs lest we accuse God of the inability to communicate His very thoughts and heart to man!) that He gets surprised at the turn of events, angry at the turn of behaviors, happy, sad, relenting, etc.

K. L. Schmidt, in his TDNT comments actually qualifies and limits the scope of predestination, "The omniscient God has determined everything in advance, both persons and things in salvation history (emphasis mine), with Jesus Christ as the goal."
Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (5:456). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. p. 456

Yes, predestination is specific in the Bible, but many times it ONLY relates to the Salvation plan of God. The Bible points out specific parts or phases in the salvation plan as foreordained. We agree with this. But we believe it is a quite faulty non sequitur argument to apply this to everything that God does, or everything that happened in the Bible. If God is INDEED SOVEREIGN, then He CAN do ANYTHING including LIMITING Himself or His powers but NOT His attributes. Note that knowing the future or omniscience is NOT a Divine attribute but a Divine right which can easily be given up at least temporarily. The Baby Jesus did NOT have this in the INCARNATION (as discussed in another blog), yet He remained God, the Only Begotten Son of God!

Kenneth Wuest's discussion on predestination in Ephesians 1:4,5 is quite interesting and educational.

The words, “in love,” are, in the a.v., construed with what has gone before, but Nestle in his Greek text punctuates so as to relate them to what follows, thus, “in love having Predestinated.”
(1:5) Expositors and Alford take it with the preceding “that we should be holy and without blame in love.” Bible expositors are in hopeless disagreement as to whether the words “in love” qualify that which precedes or that which follows. We cannot report the discussion of the matter by Expositors and Alford, since it is too lengthy. Vincent takes the words “in love” to go with “predestinated.” The author can only give his opinion as to what he thinks is the correct interpretation here after weighing the arguments on both sides, each of which has cogent reasons for its position. In either case, we have the truth. It is true that “the electing act and the object it had in view, namely, holiness and blamelessness on our part, were both due to God’s love and had their explanation in it” (Expositors). It is also true that the motivating factor in God’s act of predestinating us, was divine love. Perhaps we will have to wait until we see the great Apostle in heaven before we can settle the matter with certainty. While the present author would not be at all dogmatic in his interpretation, and not even sure that he is right, he leans to the opinion that the words “in love” are to be construed with “predestinated”. The verb “chosen” (selected out) is too remote from the words “in love,” and the word “predestinated,” so near, that it would seem to decide the case for, “in love having predestinated.” As one reads the Greek, the grand sweep of the sense of the passage tends to the same thing, for instance “even as He selected us out for Himself in Him before the laying down of the foundations of the universe, to be holy and without spot in His penetrating, searching gaze, in love having predestinated us, etc.”

Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader (Eph 1:3-5). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

Without intending so, the Greek scholar, Wuest tends to support a Relational Theology foundation for his translation. Note that the English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 , one of the latest translations of the Bible into the English language circa 2007 has placed the phrase, "In love" into the next sentence along with verse 5 instead of being a continuation of verse 4.

This is significant! The motivation for predestination is love, God's love. When Paul declares, "In love, having predestinated us....", it is quite inconceivable to read this as "In love he predestined some to damnation!" which is what the Hyper-Calvinists REALLY believe. If so, their concept of Divine Love is really warped.

On the word, prorizo, itself, Wuest has this to say:

The pro (προ) (before) in the compound verb expresses the fact that the decree is prior to the realization of its object. The aorist participle may be taken as temporal, in which case the foreordination would be something prior (not in time, indeed, but in logical order) to the election, and the election would be defined as proceeding on the foreordination. But it may also be taken as modal, not prior to the election, but coincident with it, and expressing the mode of its action or the form which it took—‘in that He foreordained us’.… This is the more probable view, because no real distinction appears to be made between the eklegō (ἐκλεγω) (to select out from) and the proorizō (προοριζω) (to mark out or set limits upon previously) beyond what may be suggested by the ek (ἐκ) (out of) in the one and the pro (προ) (before) in the other; the idea in eklegō (ἐκλεγω) being understood to be that of the mass from which the selection is made, and that of proorizō (προοριζω), the priority of the decree.”
Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader (Eph 1:5). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

The following is Wuest's own scholarship into the translation of the passage:

Translation (1:3–14). May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be eulogized, the One who conferred benefactions upon us in the sphere of every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, (4) even as He selected us out for Himself is Him before the foundations of the universe were laid, to be holy ones and without blemish before His searching, penetrating gaze; (5) in love having previously marked us out with the result that He placed us as adult sons through the intermediate agency of Jesus Christ for Himself according to that which seemed good in His heart’s desire, (6) resulting in praise of the glory of His grace which He freely bestowed upon us in the Beloved, (7) in whom we are having our redemption through His blood, the putting away of our trespasses according to the wealth of His grace (8) which He caused to superabound to us in the sphere of every wisdom and understanding, (9) having made known to us the mystery of His will according to that which seemed good to Him, which good thing He purposed is Himself, (10) with respect to an administration of the completion of the seasons, to bring back again to their original state the all things in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth, in Him, (11) in whom also we were made an inheritance, having been previously marked out according to the purpose of the One who operates the all things according to the counsel of His will, (12) resulting in our being to the praise of His glory who had previously placed our hope in the Christ, (13) in whom also, as for you, having heard the word of the truth, the good news of your salvation, in whom also having believed, you were sealed with the Spirit of the promise, the Holy (Spirit), (14) who is the earnest of our inheritance guaranteeing the full payment of all to the redemption of the possession which is being preserved, with a view to the praise of His glory.

Wuest, K. S. (1997, c1984). Wuest's word studies from the Greek New Testament : For the English reader (Eph 1:14). Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

It is important to point out here that foreordination or predestination, at least in Ephesians 1, refers primarily to the process which adopted sons will undergo and the ultimate goal of the process of salvation, rather than, and almost not at all, to specific persons who will be part of the elect.

[added 2012-03-07] - Revisiting the contexts by which Paul uses these words, I am becoming more and more convinced that Paul simply meant that "God ordained as natural law" (like gravity, for example) can be substituted for every occurrence of "predestined" in the Bible. Rephrasing Ephesians 1:5 would be like God ordained as natural law that we becomes sons by adoption through Jesus Christ. Rephrasing Romans 8:29 is particular interesting since we can make a straight substitution to the ESV version and restate, "For those he foreknew He also predestined (ordained as natural law) to be conformed to the image of His Son..." Note how much more meaningful those verses become and particularly consistent with the rest of Scripture.

Context, context, context....Hermeneutics, hermeneutics, hermeneutics!
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  1. The problem of Predestination is that it is WOVEN into the entire fabric of the story of redemption. God has stated the end (Revelation) being the City of God coming from the heavens to earth, he has provided the MEANS through Christ and he started everything at CREATION. He is the alpha and omega. If God is not then "in the middle" as well then he's not present with me in the moment. It doesn't make sense. To me this is the non Sequitar.

    Let's look at "foreordained" in terms of the story vs the word...

    1. God chose to create people as male/female and he gave them a set of commands of what he wanted done.
    2. God sends Cain and Abel. Why Abel vs Cain? Why is Cain cut off? Both clearly had a relationship with God since he talked to both of them.
    3. Why Noah, Why the 2 particular animals that headed to the ark and none of the other animals did?
    4. All of NOah's sons had a relationship with God, again God chooses his line to come through one of them. Coincidence? The bible doesn't share that it is.
    5. Abraham Why him? Why not someone else? It is clear that Abraham was a man of his culture when God came to him. Why Isaac and not Ishamael?
    6. Romans 9 why Jacob and not Esau?

    We could go on and on with the story. Only 2 animals went on the ark, Noah could not have prevented any large animal from getting on the ark should it have wanted to. Somehow God worked at the level of desire of the animals to want to get in the ark. He then saves them all. All seem to make it. I think we have to come to grips with the story and God's predetermining acts before dismissing the concept. We have free will. But our free will doesn't negate God's freedom to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    All we know is that God's love comes to specific people (even animals) and he changes them into new kind of people. That humbles me and makes me profoundly grateful.

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      We don't exactly disagree. Much is foreordained or predestined in Scripture especially as it relates to God's redemptive plans.

      Our case against the common classical concept of predestination is that of "specific predestination" where classicists tend to believe that everything else NOT MENTIONED IN SCRIPTURE is also predestined including how much sugar I will put in my coffee tomorrow.

      Even the foreknowledge of God is true only in those cases explicit in Scripture and mostly also having to do with His redemptive plan. But many things outside of it, God chose NOT to know, or limited Himself from foreknowledge.

      We have to accept this if we truly let the Bible speak for itself. God gets angry, surprised, delighted, disappointed, frustrated, jealous, relents (most especially), etc. That is God's word and that is what the Greatest Communicator chose to communicate and make man's puny mind understand, plain reading and plain language usage.

      We have only two logical choices given the above scenario and the synthesis of all of Scripture. Either God exercises the ability to limit His foreknowledge or God is a hypocrite who pretends NOT to know so that He gets surprised, angry, relents, etc.

      I believe you would agree with me that God does have the ability to limit His powers and God is NEVER a hypocrite.

      Plain common sense logic from the plain reading of the word. The Greatest Communicator would be indeed satisfied if we PLAINLY get His point.

      God bless.

    2. You list several points on the Biblical narrative relating to God's actions in history and though not very directly related to the point of this blog piece, I still find this spot as the most appropriate place for a response.

      1. God chose to create people as male/female and he gave them a set of commands of what he wanted done. [God has the prerogative to chose. No arguments here. I wish to clarify however, that commands were given in the context of a covenant relationship and not just as a Lord commanding His subjects. Obedience was going to be the evidence that Adam and Eve value that relationship.]
      2. God sends Cain and Abel. Why Abel vs Cain? Why is Cain cut off? Both clearly had a relationship with God since he talked to both of them.
      [God looks on the heart ALL the time because He is omniscient (omniscience does NOT include foreknowledge. This is discussed in another blog.). Having said that, it seems instinctive that forgiveness, the result of which precedes worship, comes only through the shedding of blood. Abel did so for his offering but Cain, even if He gave the best fruits of his labors, did not follow the prescribed (albeit, instinctive) manner to gain access to the throne of grace. Great lesson here, we come to God His way and not ours.]
      3. Why Noah, Why the 2 particular animals that headed to the ark and none of the other animals did?
      [Why Noah? The Bible is explicit and plain here, Noah had the right heart and relationship with God (Genesis 6:8).]
      4. All of NOah's sons had a relationship with God, again God chooses his line to come through one of them. Coincidence? The bible doesn't share that it is.
      [Hmmm, I think you read the Bible only up to the rainbow part. If you read on, Noah cursed Ham but blessed Japheth and Shem, not arbitrarily but because of their behavior when he got drunk and naked. So, this was NOT in any way God's choice at all but God honored the words of Noah.]
      5. Abraham Why him? Why not someone else? It is clear that Abraham was a man of his culture when God came to him. Why Isaac and not Ishamael?
      [Whoa! Hold your horses. Why Abram? This Iraqi's heart was obviously right with God as demonstrated by His obedience to God's calling. God looks on the heart and acts accordingly. Pls. read my other blog on Man being created in God's image. God gave up control over man's unsubmitted heart. He deals with man according to their heart condition. Why Isaac and not Ishmael? Again, you just have to read the Genesis account plainly without the glasses of any bias. God promised; Abraham created a solution; God told Abraham he misread Him; God simply delivers on His promises His way. Isn't this basic? Nothing here is God's arbitrary choice.]
      6. Romans 9 why Jacob and not Esau?
      [Well, this is a quote from Malachi. "Hated is a strong word" but God wants us to understand Him plainly but PLAINLY ALWAYS requires a CONTEXT. I really don't need to answer this since the New Testament already answers this except to say that God looks on the heart. As far as Esau is concerned, please read Hebrews 12:16, his heart was just not right with God. Plain and simple.]