Friday, December 11, 2009

A Mystery No More

“Acts does not give the basis of election, but the Arminian idea of election based on God’s foreseeing faith clashes with Acts 13:48, where faith is the consequence (not the cause) of election. PREDESTINATION is not based on what human beings do, BUT IS HIDDEN IN GOD” (Robert A. Peterson, “Election and Free Will: God’s Gracious Choice and Our Responsibility.” Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2007, page 72).

One of the most common arguments offered by the Calvinists regarding “predestination and free will” or “election and free will” is that of mystery: we can’t know it. I’ve talked to numerous classmates of mine, and most of the response I’ve received is, “It’s a mystery; we can’t know it.” One person just threw his hands into the air and said, “We’ll never know.” Now, I’ve never provoked these persons I’ve talked to; but I’ve always wanted to know, “How is it that the Bible can give us ‘predestination’ as a term without also giving us something we can know about it?” If there’s any little thing that we can know about predestination, then the concept itself is no longer a mystery. When people turn to mystery on this subject, therefore, they are clearly contradicting the message of the Bible.

Peterson may very well be right regarding Acts’ silence on the basis of election; but the rest of the Bible is not. And a good rule of thumb in studying the Bible (as well as this debate) is to reconcile one passage of Scripture with another...with another...with get the point. We cannot just take one passage of Scripture and “proof-text” it as a way to endorse our view or theological belief. And that is a flaw in Peterson’s book: he does not take time to size up one passage with another. Instead, he takes each passage for what it is; using his approach, the everyday believer and theologian will end up with contradicting messages in the Bible. And if this is reality, what are we saying about the character and nature of God to say that HIS WORD (which reveals His character and nature) is CONTRADICTORY?

Fortunately, sound hermeneutics will be performed here. Peterson believes that predestination is “hidden in God,” but let’s match up his view with Ephesians 1, a Classic Calvinist passage:

“Having PREDESTINATED US to adoption as sons BY JESUS CHRIST to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will...” (Eph. 1:5, NKJV)

This verse teaches us something about predestination (so it’s not a mystery). We learn in this verse that the predestination is “to adoption as sons.” This means that God allows us to become part of His family. How are we adopted? “By Jesus Christ.” Through faith in Christ, we can be adopted as sons. This kills the mystery of how predestination and free will work together: we are given a genuine choice of whether to accept or reject the gospel; when we accept Christ by faith, we become “sons,” part of the family of God. Our predestination comes by faith in Christ, with its goal being adoption (sonship). Mystery solved.

Go to Romans 8:29-30, the so-called “unbreakable chain” of the Christian life:

“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” (Romans 8:29, NKJV).

Romans 8:29 tells us that the goal of predestination is to make us more like Christ.
Go back now to Ephesians 2:

“For we are His workmanship, CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10).

Ephesians 2:10 reveals that we are “created for good works” IN CHRIST JESUS! Only by faith in Christ does a person become “predestined” to good works (the works being prepared beforehand). Here, once again, we see HOW predestination becomes possible (by union with Christ) as well as the PURPOSE (to do good works).

So, if predestination tells us the HOW as well as FOR WHAT (goal or purpose), why does Peterson tell us that it is “hidden in God”? The mystery that was hidden in God has been revealed:

“HAVING MADE KNOWN TO US THE MYSTERY OF HIS WILL, ACCORDING TO HIS GOOD PLEASURE...that in the dispensation of the fullness of the times He might GATHER TOGETHER IN ONE ALL THINGS IN CHRIST, both which are in heaven and which are on earth---- IN HIM” (Eph. 1:10).

There is one “mystery” stated, and that is that God would reconcile the world through Christ.

In Ephesians 3, Paul goes on to state the mystery revealed by God to him once more:

“how that by revelation He made known to me THE MYSTERY...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs of the same body, and partakers of His promise IN CHRIST THROUGH THE GOSPEL” (Eph. 3:3,6).

Gathering the Gentiles to Himself in Christ is part of reconciling all things to Himself.

Paul writes further in the same chapter:

“and to make all see what is the FELLOWSHIP (or stewardship) OF THE MYSTERY, which from the beginning of the ages HAS BEEN HIDDEN IN GOD...” (Eph. 3:9)

The mystery was that the Gentiles should also be a part of God’s people...and that has now been revealed. When Jesus says that “For God so loved THE WORLD, that He gave His only-begotten Son” (John 3:16a), Jesus is saying that God truly loved every nation and every person in every nation on the earth!

And that brings up another response. Whenever an open theist like Clark Pinnock says that election is “corporate,” the classic attack made is that if God elects a particular group, He elects the people in that particular group (take Israel and her historical election, as Robert Peterson notes). But the same thing can be said for the Arminian argument: if “God so loved the world” (which He did), “that He gave His only Son” (which He did), then God gave His Son for the world (which He did). But in giving His Son for the world, He gave His Son for EVERY SINGLE PERSON IN THE WORLD!

If Calvinists are going to be consistent, then they have to acknowledge that, if God gave His Son for the world, then the world refers to every person in it (and not “classes of men,” as they like to state for verses like Titus 2:11, and so forth). So when God talks about the Gentiles being part of the family of God, He is saying that, in the same way He came for EVERY SINGLE JEW, He came for EVERY SINGLE GENTILE! Every single person in every single nation in every single land on the earth has an opportunity to be saved!

The idea of world reconciliation also found in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:

“Now all things are of God, WHO HAS RECONCILED US TO HIMSELF THROUGH JESUS CHRIST, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, THAT GOD WAS IN CHRIST RECONCILING THE WORLD TO HIMSELF, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:18-19, NKJV).

Our predestination, as Paul tells us in Ephesians, is no longer “hidden in God,” but has been made manifest in Jesus Christ. We are “predestinated” to adoption IN CHRIST. And, since the mystery has now been revealed, we know how predestination operates because it does so by faith in Jesus Christ! All the knowledge we need is found in Christ, “for it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).


Kevin Jackson said...

It's worth noting that the Greco-Roman concept of adaption is quite a bit different than the English concept. Understanding this entirely takes away the Calvinistic flavor of Eph 1:5.

In English adoption is a verb - ie parents adopt a child into the family. In Greek, huiothesia is a standing. One is not adopted, rather, one receives the adoption because one is already son. By being a son, one has a standing to receive the inheritance. This is the adoption.

A good verse to see this in is Romans 8:23 - where believers wait for their adoption. "we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies."

Another verse is Romans 9:3-4 where Israel has the right of adoption but is failing to exercise it. So "the adoption" is a position - the standing of a child of God. It is not something that God randomly does, it is something that he gives to believers.

In Eph 1:5 it is not that some are predestined to be adopted into God's family, rather, those who are believers are predestined to receive the adoption in Christ. Big difference!

Deidre Richardson said...


Thanks for responding.

It's funny how Peterson refers to "mystery" at least some four or five times in his book. I recommend you buy this book, not because of good argument-- but because of all the bad arguments. Arminians need to invest in these resources because, chances are, the average person is reading Peterson's work (and believing every word)!

I've written several new posts on Peterson's book, which will be coming out in the next few days. If you think Peterson's work is bad here, it gets worse. Let's just say that John 10 is coming up soon...since you're a born and bred Arminian, I imagine that you can imagine me gritting my teeth as I write the words "John 10"

Kevin, keep reading...and continue to pray for the blog.